If you’re in the higher education marketing space, you’ve probably heard people talk about search-engine optimization (SEO). It’s something many people have heard of but know few details about. Implementing good SEO practices for your college or university website has an impact. It's not smoke and mirrors or black magic. With a little forethought and elbow grease, you can implement impactful SEO practices yourself.
In fact, one of the most important things you can do for your university website is write SEO-friendly content. Here are a few tips for getting started.
Answer Searchers' Questions
Thanks to cool developments such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, search-engine algorithms are better than ever. They exist to help users find the best answers to their questions. When writing content, think about what users are searching for. Think of searches as questions, even if they don’t end in a question mark. Answer these questions with your content, and answer it better than other college websites appearing in related search results.
Writing for search engines and writing for what’s best for your audience go hand in hand.
Identify Searcher Intent
What are users really getting at with their searches? Search engines have a solid beat on figuring this out, and so should you. If you know your audience is searching for terms related to applying for college, financial aid, dorm life and more, this says something about their intent. It seems like this audience wants to know a thing or two about preparing for college life.
With this in mind, don’t just write for a single phrase or slight variations of the same phrase. Write something that addresses the intent behind all those searches—and, if you’re in tune with your audiences, you should naturally write with the same language in which they write and speak.
Stay Organized and Descriptive
There are a few housekeeping things to address whenever you write SEO-rich content. Add these to your list before hitting the "publish" button.
- Headline Tags: Keep your content organized with H1 and H2 tags. Most content editors will have a tool that allows you to quickly give a headline or sub-head an H1 or H2 tag.
- Meta Description: It’s not a ranking factor, but it’s something searchers read when browsing results. A descriptive and inviting description will only help the chances of being the chosen result.
- URL: An easy-to-remember URL includes terms relevant to the content. For example, on a page about applying for college financial aid, your URL might include the words, “college financial aid guide.” While it’s not the highest-impact item, it can still be helpful.
- Image Alt Text: Including alt text on images will help with regular search results. Plus, it’s also great for Google Image searches. Want to know how important factoring in image search is? Take a look at this search distribution chart from Moz. That big orange chunk is Google Images’ share of searches. Don't ignore it! (Plus, alt text is important for staying compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.)
Keep the Whole Topic in Mind
Don’t write about a topic and leave out important, relevant information. If you’re writing on the topic of applying for college, would you leave out information on test scores, application deadlines or fees? Don’t be afraid to take a long-form approach to your content in order to effectively cover the topic.
If you don’t want to cram everything into one piece, link out to relevant sub-topics that cover the information. Both internally and externally linked content is beneficial.
Deliver User Experience
User experience is key—not only from a technical perspective (i.e., page load times, intuitive navigation, avoiding errors, etc.), but also from an engagement perspective. The better your content is at answering questions and keeping users engaged on your site, the better it will rank. The less people hit the “back button” to return to the results page, the better off you are.
If you can nail down everything outlined above, you’re well on your way to delivering a great user experience. That’s good for your audience and search engines. When creating content moving forward, don’t think of the human user and search engines as totally different entities. Think of them as the same. What’s good for one will be good for the other.
One Last Note...
Don't wander in content creation without a target. When planning your content, ask yourself these questions first:
- What are people searching for?
- Who is searching for it?
- When are they searching for it? Is there a seasonal or cyclical trend?
- How are people searching for it? What language do they use?
- Why are people searching for it?
- Lastly and most importantly, how can you provide the best content to fulfill what people are looking for?
When you know the answers to the above questions, you're ready to write search-engine-friendly content.