Recent research shows that online search is a major factor in students’ discovery and choice of education institution. In fact, a new study from Google reports that 83% of searches begin with a non-branded term – for example, “MBA Canada” – rather than a search for a specific institution. With this in mind, creating a search engine optimisation strategy to improve the quality and volume of web traffic to your site is becoming more and more essential.
Luckily, you don’t need a blue-chip consulting firm and lots of expensive new tools to achieve higher rankings in search engines. You can start to improve your SEO in small steps, and you can start today.
ICEF Monitor has put together ten simple tips to help you begin optimising your online presence. When combined with other digital marketing best practices, employing sound and proven SEO practices will enable your website to rank better when people search for you or for the services that you provide. And with the ten easy tips below, you will not only improve your search results but your overall marketing and communications as well.
Ten simple SEO tips to help you get started
These tips are not only geared for Google and Bing but are equally important when optimising for search engines like China’s Baidu and Youdao, as well as Russia’s Yandex and Brazil’s Aonde.
While many language-specific search engines will still show results from English-only websites, if you really want to maximise your recruitment efforts in a certain country or region, then creating content and keywords in the native language(s) is good practice. Additionally, localising your website is not just a matter of installing a Google translate widget; consider translating selected landing pages with critical information geared towards your most important markets.
1) Use keywords
The cornerstone of your SEO is keywords – the words or phrases your customers use to search for you and importantly, the words you feel best describe who you are and what you do.
The challenge with keywords is everyone in your industry wants to use the same ones. So a popular term like “study abroad” as your keyword is too general. Whereas a keyword like “study abroad programmes in Europe and Asia” will make it easier for search engines to better understand who you are. These are called long tail keywords – which we will discuss in the next tip.
There are many online tools/software that you can use to select your keywords but you can also take advantage of Google’s free Adword tool: adwords.google.com. With it, you can discover how competitive the keywords you choose are, and by typing in your URL, Google will suggest keywords based on what it thinks your website is all about.
Once you have established your keywords you will use them in many different ways, from blog entries to URLs. So make a list and refer to it whenever you…
- create content;
- update content;
- syndicate content;
- post to social media such as Twitter or YouTube;
- and even create offline brochures.
2) Use long tail keywords versus short
As mentioned in #1, long tail keywords are longer and more specific phrases people use when searching. The advantage of them is that they are easier to achieve higher rankings with and the traffic they bring is much more targeted.
Although a long tail keyword may only attract small amounts of traffic compared to shorter, more competitive keywords, as you add additional long tails to your keyword list, your traffic will grow.
Your long tail phrases also (more often than not) include highly competitive terms in them. So if you provide “study abroad” services, using a variant of “study abroad” in your long tail keywords will also be effective, for example “XXX University study abroad opportunities”.
Going after the most popular keyword is not always the best approach, but if you aim for the tail, you’ll come closer to the top.
3) Keep your URLs clean
Search engines look at your websites’ URLs as part of their attempt to understand your content and index your pages. Choose simple, organised URLs with keywords to indicate the topic of the page. It will help your page rank higher for it.
Keep in mind that even though you might be tempted to use shorter, abbreviated URLs, this will not help your SEO. For instance, http://www.your-school-name.edu/study-abroad-opportunitities is a cleaner, more effective URL than http://www.your-school-name.edu/stu-abr
4) Choose relevant headlines for your pages
Create headlines for your pages that grab attention and use your keywords. Back up your headline with the text on your page. Importantly, DO NOT overload keywords. The days of filling a page with keywords are over. Google and the other search engines not only ignore it but are likely to punish your search results for it.
Exciting Study Abroad Opportunities in Europe (Headline)
A great way to learn and see the world (Sub headline)
At the University of XXX we offer many exciting opportunities for you to study abroad and experience new cultures. Download our guide to Studying abroad in Europe to learn more. (the text in bold tells search engines that this is important text).
5) Provide information on the images on your website
An interesting tactic which is possibly one of the most overlooked, yet influential SEO practices concerns the images that you have on your pages – they should be given relevant names. For example, the actual image of students on your website should not be called 12577.jpg but instead: students_fullsail_campus.jpg.
Also, it’s good practice when naming image files (and pdfs) to ensure there are no spaces in the file name, so use a formula such as study_abroad_in_asia.jpg or study-abroad-in-asia.jpg.
In addition, the ALT text in your images needs to be filled out as well. The ALT text is the text that you see when you mouse over an image. This text is designed for people who have turned off images in their web browser (for faster loading, for example) or for visually-impaired people so that their text reader can say what an image on the site is about. It influences SEO because it helps search engines determine the meaning of objects like pictures.
6) Choose keyword rich title tags
A “title tag” is the name of your webpage, such as “Clubclass English language courses”. It is usually displayed in the upper left hand corner on the tab in your browser. You will see it as a headline (or blue link) when your page is listed in search results. Keep it to only 75 characters long!
Note: In search results, it is believed that Bing puts more emphasis on “title tags” than Google, either way it is worth doing. The good news is that if you optimise for Bing you are also optimised for Yahoo (Bing search results power Yahoo).
The meta description of your page is the short description that shows up beneath the title tag and your URL in your listings on search engine results pages. These are limited to 150 characters, so again, include some keywords to help improve your rank and remember to make your content engaging. It won’t affect your search results, but it might inspire people to click though to your website.
7) Link Building
Many SEO experts believe that outside links to your pages are the single most influential factor in SEO results. So how do you get other sites to link to your content? There are a number of ways that are both safe and recommended. Be aware that there are also plenty of companies that make a living providing shady (called black hat) services for building external links and plenty of others that offer legitimate (white hat) link building.
If a company promises you a quick fix – stay away. In fact, if overloading keywords on a webpage was once considered the dark side of SEO, then illegitimate link building is the present one.
One sure way to build links back to your site is to provide content for others. Not only are you building links back to your site but you are creating relationships, too. Another easy way is through social media. When you post on another site and link back to your own website you are link building.
The flipside of link building is improving your own website’s internal links (this is part of your on-page SEO efforts). When you create copy on your website try to link to other pages on your website in your text. In addition, try to use the subject or keywords in the links.
For example, “We offer study abroad opportunities in the UK along with work study programmes… (links to your UK study abroad page)
And, instead of writing:
For our new brochure on Study Abroad click here.
Try: Download our new brochure on Study Abroad.
Note: Are you on Google+? If not, join today – it will give your SEO a boost.
8) Create Content
You have your keywords, now you need to create content by starting a blog, posting papers, studies, etc.
Valuable, relevant, original content will encourage people to want to visit you. Providing a useful service to your readers will drive traffic and inbound links.
In addition, search engines love fresh content. The more you write, the more you demonstrate that you are an authority on your keywords and the more the search engines will reward you. Lately search engines, notably Google, have been tuning their algorithms to place an increasing weight on high-quality original content.
9) Leverage your social media
You are most likely on social media. Now you just need to leverage it. Use your keywords and link back to your site with your social media posts. Make sure to advertise your fresh content on your social media channels. And make it easy for people to share content from your website with various social media widgets.
Just as inbound links are a “vote” for your website, sharing of your content on social media influences search results as well. Think about it, the more people that love your content, the more search engines will want to return those results. So stepping up your social media conversation will help drive your SEO, too.
10) Analyse and revise
Like any marketing initiative, you want to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts. Obviously, the most essential metric is improving your ranking in search results. It won’t happen overnight, but if you begin creating content and take the above steps you could see results within 3-6 months.
Keep in mind that it’s important to dedicate the right resources to SEO. Make sure someone on your team is responsible for your site’s SEO strategy, and make sure that person is integrated into all planning discussions regarding the structure, content, and marketing of your website.
Moreover, build some provision into that person’s workload for ongoing SEO work (as it is not a one-time effort, more like a continuous process that you need to incorporate into your website operations and long term marketing efforts), particularly because search is an ever-evolving aspect of online marketing.
Set up good processes whereby that responsible team member has some concrete actions to improve search performance and whereby those efforts can be carefully measured and reported out to the entire team via such tools as Google Analytics. For instance, check bounce rates to see if users are finding your content interesting – if you have done your keyword research diligently then the content you create will most likely be relevant. Review site visits and sources to see where your visitors are coming from. You can even check what keywords they used in the search when they found you. You can also take advantage of Google webmaster tools to check your site speed, redundant URLs, image tags and more.
Then use those reports and results to date as prompts for internal discussion and further improvement in your search optimisation and online marketing efforts.
Remember, with SEO, there is no secret. Your goal is to make it easy for search engines to understand who you are and what you do. By doing that, you’ll also make it easier for your customers to know you better and most importantly, find you!