SEO Hacks to Incorporate in to your Higher Education Digital Strategy

February 1, 2018 Ryan Reister, Mike Snusz

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and why is it important? 

SEO is the process of improving the visibility of your website or webpage in search engine results pages (SERP).  This process likely falls under the marketing umbrella of your foundation or institution.  And, why is it important?  Well, 75% of search engine users never scroll past the first page of search results, and better SEO is going to result in increased web traffic, which will hopefully increase website conversions.  In this post, we’ll be talking about Google quite a bit; that’s because 77.43% of all daily searches are done via Google.  Plus, the SEO efforts you put forth on Google will trickle down to the other search engines as well.

How do search engines work?

Well, to start, Google sells advertising revenue.  They charge in a pay-per-click (PPC) plan where organizations or institutions are paying to have their listing on Google search results.  As a consumer, you go to a search engine, you do your search and a list of results is served up to you.  What a search engine wants to do is provide the most relevant search results based on the keywords you type in, otherwise you lose trust in the search engine.  Also, if you only see ads, you’ll lose trust.  So, search engines like Google really aim to balance out their PPC and organic search results.

How does Google come up with the organic search results?  They use a tool called spiders.  Spiders crawl websites; they follow hyperlinks and catalog everything.  They are computer programs; they don’t see websites like you and I do – they don’t see visuals, they read code.  They read this code and try to figure out what your website and webpages are about.  Google says its spiders look at 200 different factors when it’s crawling your website; however, they don’t reveal all the factors – that’s their secret sauce.

Knowing this, here’s our advice: if your website is set up in a way that a search engine knows exactly what it’s about, and it’s not trying to cheat the system, the search engines will reward you.  If you’re trying to trick the search engine or spiders, you can get penalized.  For example, you won’t show up in search engine results at all.  It’s important to make sure your website is set up in a correct way.  To throw another wrench in the mix, Google’s secret sauce is constantly changing.  Google is reported to change their search algorithm 500-600 times per year – that could be up to 2-3 changes per day that affect where you appear in rankings!

Eight Tips to Improve your SEO Today

Given all the factors we just discussed, SEO can be challenging.  But, good news!  We’re here to share some tried and true tips around how to improve your SEO.  Now, this advice isn’t a silver bullet.  You’re not going to automatically see yourself rank overnight – there’s a lot of competition – you’re competing against billions of other pages out there.  But, what we can guarantee is that you’re not going to get penalized; you’re going to set yourself up for those spiders to reward you.

Tip #1: Fix Technical Issues with Website

Our first tip is to leverage a free tool called Google Search Console, also known as Google Webmaster Tools.  This tool will tell you if there are any technical problems with your website.  For example, if Google has a hard time reading your website or if their spiders are missing pages, this tool will tell you.  Secondly, you should also make sure your site is mobile friendly.  If your website is not mobile friendly or responsive, your search engine results could take a hit.

Tip #2: Perform Keyword Research

It’s important to know what people search by and the topics they’re most interested in.  Keep in mind, Google is smart; it doesn’t necessarily take the exact word a searcher types in and try to match it verbatim.  Google understands if someone is searching for a certain phrase; they are smart enough to know the topic, related topics, etc. and they know which words are synonymous with one another.  The most important thing to remember here is that if you want to rank well for a certain term, phrase or topic, you really need to have content about that topic.  You can’t just put that word all over your website.  To help with your keyword research, use free tools like Google Keyword Planner to see how much people search for a topic or phrase each month.  You could also use the Keyword Density Analyzer which gives you great information about the topics on a certain webpage, like which keywords show up the most on your pages and which phrases the search engines are taking away from your pages.  Basically, you’ll come to understand if your content is using the right words.

Tip #3: Improve keywords in Browser URLs, Titles, Headings and Copy

This next tip is around ensuring you’re thorough when it comes to the placement of your keywords.  You can’t just place keywords in website body copy, plus trying to trick the system won’t end well for you.  Make sure your browser title or page title, which is the text in the tab of the browser, has your keywords in it.  The browser title shows search engines what your page is about and it’s one of the most important places that a search engine looks.  Front load this browser title with the most important words; the first word or two is going to be the most important.  You can use a tool called Screaming Frog SEO Spider to get a list of all the browser titles on your website.  Next, scan through and see how many of them are front loaded or how many have the most important words further on in the title.  Leverage this tool to help identify quick wins and easy changes you can make.

Tip #4: Look at your Meta Descriptions

The meta description is an approximately 160 character paragraph that summarizes a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched for phrase is contained in the description.  The meta description influences search rankings, not necessarily because of the words you put it in but if people see meta description in search results and click on you, that will lead to a higher ranking.  You can use the same tool mentioned above, Screaming Frog SEO Spider to find out which pages have descriptions and which don’t so that you can prioritize where to focus.

Tip #5: Improve Structured Data

Structured data is the “extra” information that you see next to a website and meta description in Google search results.  For example, if you are searching for a restaurant, you will see not only the restaurant’s name, but also additional information such as hours, menu and stars to indicate positive reviews.  We advise that you read this article to learn more about how to optimize your structured data, we couldn’t say it better than they have already.

Tip #6: Improve Local Search

Google has said that, other than mobile, they’re really going to focus on local search.  With GPS, mobile devices and even desktop machines can see where you’re connecting to the internet from, so search engines are going to connect you to the data you’re most interested in based on your location.  The tool Moz.com/local is huge in the SEO world; it’s a free tool where you can type in the name of your organization or institution and it will tell you how you’re doing across FourSquare and YellowPages, etc.  It’s worth reviewing this tool to ensure that your name, address & phone (NAP) is consistent across the web.  The key is that NAP has to be consistent; the name on your website has to match across google directories and online business to positively impact your SEO.

Tip #7: Work on Getting Backlinks

A backlink is a link from another website back to yours.  The quantity & quality of backlinks influence rankings.  To get started, check out the tool OpenLinkProfiler, it’ll give you some great information.  It’s amazing how many other websites are linking to you – you might be surprised.  Another tip when it comes to backlinks is to find out where your competitors are and aim to get listed where they’re listed.  Ask sites that have links to your competitors to post yours as well.  Lastly, the best way to improve backlinks is to share interesting content that’s relevant and shareable.  Your goal should be to pick a timely topic, write a blog post about it, gets staff or influencers from your institution or organization to share the content on social media and hopefully other bloggers and media outlets are re-tweeting or linking back to your original piece, providing you with backlinks.

Tip #8: Check out your Sitelinks

On a Google search return, you see the main website and six or so internal links to other pages right beneath the main website link.  Those six additional links are sitelinks.  If you can save someone a click and get them right where they want to be from the search, that’s good, and sitelinks are an easy way to do that.  When it comes to choosing which sitelinks you would like to appear, think about the purpose of your website, the goal of that website and then identify the internal pages on your site that will help you reach those goals – those are the pages you should be focusing on and maximizing traffic to.  You can go in to your Google search console and have sitelinks removed; however, you can’t request what you want instead.  Google will take its best guess at surfacing sitelinks based on clicks and interactions with your various webpages.

Closing Thoughts

SEO can seem overwhelming and like a full-time job.  Here’s our advice: take the tried and true tips above and apply them to your top landing pages that are designed to convert visitors and focus on those.  Get the URLs in place, get the structure right, put good content on those pages.  Think about the pages you click on and try to mimic what you like best about them.  You’ll be a great success in no time!

To learn more about SEO strategy and other topics for online success, please click here to view our Digital Hacks webinar series.

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