With reopening plans and the new school year just around the corner, it’s easy to put things like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on the back burner. But since families are not visiting campus to ask all the right admissions questions, it’s more critical than ever that your website be optimized to provide information about the admissions process to parents in the exact moment they are looking. Without proper SEO, you might be preventing your admissions pages from showing up in search results, or worse, the wrong pages and information could be showing up, creating a bad user experience and leaving a bad impression.
Here's how schools can optimize their admissions pages for search right now:
Start with a simple query for your school.
Since user experience and SEO go hand-in-hand, it’s important that you put yourself in your prospective parents’ shoes. Remove the knowledge you have about your school, your admissions process, and open up a new uncached browser (more on how to uncache or bypass your browser here @ Wikipedia). Then it’s a matter of simply querying for your school on Google, in conjunction with key admissions terms like “admissions events” to see what shows up. Do the same thing for your school in conjunction with key phrases like “open house”, “info session”, “virtual tour” or “application deadline” and whatever your admissions goals are at this time.
And then, audit those results via this 10-step SEO user experience check-list for schools:
See Where You Stack up.
After you query for your brand with admissions related terms, evaluate what shows up in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) of Google. Does the desired page on your website show up? How far down is it? Is it the correct page that reflects this query’s intent? Check in Google’s Search Console to see where you are ranking, or not ranking, and for which keywords to a more analytical perspective. Also take note of how your admissions pages stack up for brand search, versus other, more outdated pages linking to your site.
Evaluate Your Metadata:
Look at your Page Title. Is it of the proper length? Best practices are to keep the page titles under 60 characters, or 600-pixel width to avoid those pesky ellipses that cut off critical information about that page. Look at your meta descriptions as well. Are they compelling? Do they accurately describe each page’s content and why a user should choose to visit? This is as mini-advertisement for different pages on your website. Be mindful of length there too. Best practices are keep your meta description within 158 characters to stay within a 920-pixel width. Here is a great pixel width checker to reference as you’re writing them to ensure they will fit on the SERP.
Conduct a Click Test:
Now it’s time to actually click on the links. Do they go to the right pages, outdated pages, or a dreadful 404 “not found” page with no helpful links to redirect the user? Analyze and remedy accordingly. Again, Search Console can help with indexing or other issues to get the likelihood of the right pages showing up or any redirects in place so you don’t lose parents immediately.
Lean into Analytics:
Take a look in Google Analytics and try to evaluate what people are doing once they actually get to the page of your website you want them to. Are they completing goals, clicking to other pages, or bouncing at high rates? If you have a heat mapping tool (at EMG we’re fans of Crazy Egg!) that can be helpful to see where users scroll and click. These analytics may surprise you, and help inform the way in which you lay out content, calls-to-action and important links.
Take note if the content itself includes important keywords that reflect the terms parents are looking for in a school, or in the admissions process. This keyword research can ultimately help your page appear for the right brand, and even non-brand, terms. This will help users convert on the page. A great start to keyword research is Google Trends. When auditing your landing page content, make sure you talk about about why it’s critical parents engage with admissions or why that particular admissions event is a critical step in their prospective parent journey.
Have a Strong Call-to-Action:
Along those lines, there needs to be a clear sense of what that parent or student should do now, with an easy way to do so. Is it connecting with admissions online, registering for an event, or simply submitting an inquiry form? Make sure you call that out to website visitors, simply and in an enticing way, with a form or button to help them get there. Here is a great read on calls-to-action for Independent Schools.
Update your Forms:
Ensure the form is not too lengthy. Do not ask for too much information, too early in the process or you might deter families who are just beginning their search process. Here’s a tip when trying to trim down your from: Ask for just as much information as you need, for admissions to facilitate the next step. I.e. if admissions is not planning on sending a packet in the mail the first time they hear from a parent, do not ask for their full street address.
Prioritize Page Speed:
If you’ve followed steps 1-7 then you’ve worked really hard to get the right page to show up for people, and entice them to engage you with you online. But did you know that if your page takes more than a couple of seconds to load, many users will abandon the site before they even get to view the first page? Today, people expect the information they seek to be rapid, and immediate.
The good news for schools is that page speed issues are easy to spot with this handy PageSpeed checker. Run your site for free, then, work with your developer to work on the issues slowing your site down, by starting with the most critical admissions pages.
Make it Mobile-ready:
Google pays very close attention to mobile experience as part of its algorithm when it comes to ranking sites. People also need to have a positive mobile experience - after all, these days, most Google searches happen online, versus on desktop! Not every page is the same across the website. Check out your top admissions pages here to ensure they are mobile ready: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
Understand the back-end:
Steps 1-9 are really about the front-end user experience. But it’s critical for schools to understand all of the SEO blocks that may exist on back-end of your site. Many of those elements are impacting the bots' ability to crawl the site, and ultimately your ability to share the right content with families looking real-time. Start by getting a full crawl of your site. Once you are aware of the issues, you can lean into your website development team, or outside SEO experts to help with technical and content errors that impact website performance.
If you need help improving your website for search, talk to Enroll Media Group. Our SEO services cover a range of topics from User Experience and Analytics Audits, to ADA compliance and blogging. Whether it’s peak admissions season or not, families are always relying on the internet to conduct school-related searches, so it’s wise to keep SEO on the front burner, at all times.