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Make SEO a Part of Your School Marketing

Boy pointing to school SEO image

What is SEO? 

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and means that you put some strategy and techniques into your school website management to get free online traffic from unpaid (organic) results. It is how major search engines, like Google and Bing, show the top rankings. They base rankings on which websites deliver the most relevant content and best user experience to their visitors.

If you are a K–12 community school, you are probably thinking that you don’t really need to worry about search engine optimization and that local parents will find you just by typing in your school’s name. You might be mistaken, but if not, there are other benefits to SEO when it comes to marketing your school.

Why SEO matters to your school

Let’s say I’m just moving into the community. I have two children who are of school age, or are about to be, and I know nothing about the local schools. How will I find out? Like everyone else, I’ll Google it. What comes up on the first page of results is what I’ll check out (and those will also be my first impressions for any of the schools that show up). Now, I hear you saying, “But we are in a rural area, and there are no other schools nearby.” Au contraire mon ami. There are now! 

With School Choice on the rise, there are online schools and homeschooling for starters, or boarding schools for the more affluent. If my first impression of the local school is poor (whether you are public or private), I just may start looking for other options. If your website doesn’t show up at all or looks like a hot mess, that isn’t good either. So, the goal is to be loud and proud when it comes to your school’s web presence, and that means enthusiastically show off the best that you have, make it relevant to their search, and be found. This last step is where school SEO comes in.

Understanding your site visitor needs

The primary purpose of your school’s website is to answer your visitors’ questions, solve their problems, provide information, and engage and impress them. As you can see from the variety of purposes I just listed, this means there are a myriad of needs. The parent who is trying to figure out how to enroll their kindergarten child has a different need than the one trying to decide if your school will meet the needs of their child and if he/she will fit in there or the prospective teacher looking for the right career fit. 

If we were talking about public relations, we’d be telling you to ask yourself what your various target audience members should know, feel, and do. Your SEO strategies are similar. Once you determine who your primary target audience members are, you can select what keyword searches they might use so you can create content to meet their needs.

Keyword research for your school SEO

Steps:

  1. Keyword Research. This just means you decide which keywords you would like your school website to rank for in order to be found. Include all the areas that are relevant to your school. Keywords might include its type (public, private, Christian, traditional, classical, STEM, etc.), its location, grade levels taught, and possibly even looking at the keywords any competitor schools might be using. 
    • Once you have a list of the words you believe people would use to find what your school has to offer, then use a traffic predicting website to determine how many people will most likely use that word in the search engines. Google AdWords has an excellent and free keyword planner tool for predicting keyword traffic. (You don’t have to purchase an AdWord campaign to use this tool.)

  2. Content: You need to include these keywords in your site content. Don’t make the mistake of using those keywords as many times as possible. This “keyword stuffing” will actually get you penalized instead of rewarded. Write content that your readers will enjoy; just be sure you include messaging that contains the types of phrases those targeted audiences may use to find the information you are posting (and in different variations). So, you might include a phrase like “Phoenix public school” as well as “public school in Phoenix, Arizona,” or “private school in Houston” and “Houston private school serving the needs….”

    Be sure to remember you are talking to humans (and not writing a thesis). Have a conversation, because to your site visitors that is exactly what your website content is all about. Be friendly. Put your audience first. The best school websites always do! Use best practices for your school website copywriting.

  3. Responsive Website Design. It should go without saying that a well-designed school website is a must. It is likely the first impression you make,  so it matters. Because a majority of parents with school-age children are using their mobile devices to find anything they are looking for, they will often be viewing your website on a smartphone or tablet. So, your school website needs to be mobile-friendly and automatically respond to the size of the device. If it does not, your site will be penalized by Google and will irritate the heck out of your site visitors. In addition to a responsive website, the content they find there should be friendly, inviting, and ADA compliant. (For more on getting and keeping an ADA compliant website, visit our articles on that topic. Part I, Part II, ADA Info for Administrators) Design considerations include intuitive navigation menus (which will necessarily vary a bit based on the device) and use of images that are appropriate for the device and will be fast loading (particularly for the mobile-friendly version since bandwidth can be a factor).

  4. Website Management:
    • Page Titles: When possible, use a page title that contains one of your keywords (if it applies to your web page content). That isn’t always possible, but as an example, the name of your school could be included in the page title. So, instead of the title “Athletics” for that department, you could use “Capitan Elementary Athletics” when your school is in Capitan, New Mexico, and get more bang for your buck. Don’t get carried away, because your main concern should be for website readability and relevance, but every once in a while you’ll find an opportunity, so take it. Also, be aware that search engine results will also truncate (cut off) your title after about 72 characters, so keep them short so they make sense in the search results. 
    • Use Page Descriptions: You will have an opportunity to talk to the search engines through your meta tags, and one of those is the page description. This is what will show in the search results. Keep it brief, as it will only display about 165 characters in Google. It doesn’t give you priority as far as ranking within Google, but the description will help the person reading it decide if the content on that page is relevant to what they are looking for.
    • Use an H1 tag on the Page (Heading tag): Try to use at least one H1 tag on each web page of your site, and make sure the heading includes the keywords you are focusing on for that particular page. This is helpful to your search results and to your site visitors.

  5. Claim Your Location: One helpful aspect of getting found (if you are a brick and mortar school versus an online school) is that you can show up in the top of the first page of search results when you claim and verify your school’s location. Done right, both Bing and Google will quickly improve your search rankings when someone is doing a search in your same geographic area. You will want to be sure you select the correct category (private school/school) and that you verify your listings. While you are at it, go ahead and claim any other free listings you can find like GreatSchools, Niche, or SchoolDigger by making sure your school’s name, address, and phone numbers are listed the same way across all of your listings. If there are opportunities to have your school reviewed on any of these sites, encourage parents, staff, and students to do so where appropriate.

If the steps to implement school SEO seems overwhelming,  just choose a few of your main web pages, and start there. If you continue to do this throughout the year, you’ll see the benefits before you know it. SEO for schools is worth the effort and will improve your school communications, facilitate your school public relations, and support your school marketing efforts. It’s all about meeting your customer needs, and by doing that, you make your own job easier because you have happier customers!

For more school marketing ideas, check out our year-long marketing calendar/toolkit, and get hundreds of ideas and access to the companion website and downloadable resources. This handy resource, designed for principals, secretaries, or communications staff, will make marketing your school an easy step-by-step process.

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook