Each year, universities across the country vie for the interest of college-bound high school students. While some students have a clear destination in mind, others start with a vague notion and list of criteria—academic reputation, social life, cost of tuition, etc.—then proceed from there. The latter category of students often turns to the same platform they do for any other query: Google.

To capitalize on enrollment inquiries, your university needs to show up at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). And to rank high, they need to implement ongoing search engine optimization (SEO) initiatives. 

But what if you can’t seem to stand out on Google’s SERPs? 

Here are five SEO tips to help your university rise to the top. 

#1 Distinguish Your University—Create Esteemed Content

When it comes to SEO content, there’s another acronym you should keep top of mind: EAT. Google’s algorithm rewards content that demonstrates Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. For that, you must curate valuable content that’s informative and created to satisfy user search intent. 

This means crafting pages like: 

  • Academic departments and programs
  • Major focuses
  • Faculty and staff
  • Campus life
  • Financial aid
  • Admissions
  • Application requirements

Reminder: Don’t underestimate the value of contributing to a university blog. While each web page is designed to answer a specific student query and convert them to a bonafide undergraduate, your SEO-optimized blog will draw in a large number of prospects and funnel them to the appropriate pages. Consider each web page another building added to your campus. While the addition of a science lab or second library is attractive, you need the walking paths for students to actually visit them—the blog acts as these pathways.

#2 Your Community is Key—Focus on Local SEO 

Roughly 56% of public four-year college students attend a university that’s under an hour’s drive away, with approximately 70% living within two hours. That means the majority of your acceptance pool will live within 100 miles of your campus. Consider these prospects the primary focus of your marketing efforts.  

Here, local SEO puts your university on the map (literally), increasing visibility with local search results. 

What steps can you take to accomplish this?

  • Set up and manage a Google My Business
  • Use local keyword mapping in content 
  • Make sure that your school is always listed with the accurate name and contact information

#3 Use the SERP Shortcut—Consider Google Ads

While an SEO campaign will likely take a while to make its impact felt, a pay-per-click (PPC) paid ad campaign can drive enrollment immediately. PPC ads sit at the top and bottom of search engine results pages. The more common the keyword (think “degree” or “university”), the more competitive the keyword, thus the more expensive.

To minimize the costs of PPC campaigns, incorporate long-tail keywords, focusing on searches most likely to be made by local students (think “bachelors in mathematics in Oregon”). 

#4 Speed Up Your Website—Optimize On-Page Experience 

Last year, Google updated its SEO algorithm by prioritizing on-page experience with its Core Web Vitals. This means your website needs to load quickly and respond to inputs immediately. To stand out in this category, you must focus on three metrics:

  1. Largest contentful paint (LCP) – LCP measures the site’s loading performance. Ideally, your LCP should be less than 2.5 seconds.  
  2. First input delay (FID) – FID measures the site’s interactivity. Ideally, your FID should be less than 100 milliseconds.
  3. Cumulative layout shift (CLS) – CLS measures a page’s visual stability. For a better user experience, CLS should be greater than .1.  

#5 Follow Your North Star—Set Clear Goals and Monitor Your Progress

To stand out in a crowded market, simply incorporating aspects of SEO to your website isn’t good enough—not when more than 60% of all clicks on organic search go to the top five results. Instead, you need to outline a clear game plan that lists intended outcomes and then pursues them through methods like:

  • Technical SEO
  • Voice search optimization 
  • Strategic link-building
  • Local SEO 

By identifying bellwethers, you can leverage tools like Google Analytics to measure the success of the campaign and then make tweaks, or pivot as needed. 

Increase Enrollment with Higher Education Digital Marketing

For a successful SEO recipe for universities, all you need are a few key ingredients. And by incorporating the tips above, you can entice eager students who are hungry for knowledge and start driving results tomorrow. 

But what if you need some extra help?  

For that, Semgeeks can help you build a content strategy that appeals to technical search optimization parameters without sacrificing an engaging and authentic student experience.  

Want to find out more? Reach out today! 


BackLinko. We Analyzed 5 Million Google Click-Throughs.  https://backlinko.com/google-ctr-stats

Econofact. Going Away to College? School Distance as a Barrier to Higher Education. https://econofact.org/going-away-to-college-school-distance-as-a-barrier-to-higher-education

Word Stream. How Does Google Make Its Money: The 20 Most Expensive Keywords in Google Ads. https://www.wordstream.com/articles/most-expensive-keywords

Google Developers. Understanding page experience in Google Search results. https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/experience/page-experience