It is fairly safe to say that due to the internet’s evolution, SEO has become one of the most misunderstood tools for website marketing. Misinformation and generalizations spread faster than a concrete understanding of the details. Despite being a bastion of higher education, colleges and universities are not immune to the damaging effects of misinformation.
Luckily we are here to help. Here are some of the biggest SEO myths that are hurting enrollment opportunities for colleges not keeping up with the times.
1. SEO Is Not a Priority Investment
When it comes to digital marketing, a key component is your school’s name and your most popular programs. If your program is known for offering a top-notch petroleum engineering education, your college deserves to be at the top of Google’s search rankings when a motivated student searches the term.
The people who put together the popular lists with titles like “Top X business schools in the Midwest” are probably more familiar with running Google searches than with the actual quality of the program itself. Information is spread from site to site until it becomes common knowledge. Your SEO needs to be able to put your school in circulation within the online groups that discuss higher education. If nobody can find you, nobody will talk about you.
2. SEO Is No Longer Relevant
This is a terrible thought to drive your university’s digital marketing strategy. SEO should be one of your top priorities. Why? In 2011, ThinkEducation did a study and found that a huge majority of higher education searches, 84%, did not begin with a school’s name, but used keywords instead. Your page rank is everything to you, and one of the core aspects of driving enrollment for quality students.
Another study conducted by Chitika showed that having the top rank for a Google search page will direct 32.5% of that keyword’s traffic to you, yet that number drops to below 1% if you are ranked twelfth.
3. Reminders Are More Effective Than SEO
From an investment perspective, is it more worth it to splash prospective students with emails and mailers, or hope they find your site online? The answer is definitely being found online. Why? More people are using the internet for everything. Prospective students currently looking for college grew up in a world where the internet was ubiquitous. Most university marketers did not.
We can see this increased reliance on the internet by looking at distance learning statistics. As of 2013, 65% of students had taken at least one class online, and 77% of college presidents say their institution offers online classes; 75% of community colleges currently develop their own online classroom content. Many students looking at colleges report that they are deeply suspicious of the university email barrage that inevitably winds up in their spam folder. Your search engine rank, partially helped along by SEO and good content, positively correlates with reputation and education quality to both parents and students.
That is not to say emails are not important. Email campaigns, lead-generation sources, and geographic landing pages targeted by demographic are some of the biggest factors when it comes to bringing in new students. Direct marketing campaigns are also very successful.
4. Online Integration Speaks to Lower Quality Education
The baffling thinking that drives this statement is that by increasing spending on improving search engine rank, or by offering online education courses, the college will be tarnishing their reputation somehow. The fact of the matter is, the college experience is forever changing.
According to Adam Newman, managing partner of the Education Growth Advisors, “Colleges that fail to focus on supporting the academic needs and expectations of students do so at their own peril.” He argues that with the increasing number of options, students are able to take eight years to get a bachelors degree, slowly chipping away at the required classes while they work full time. These students are still getting a quality education. Over half of college administrators, and nearly as many professors, feel that online education quality is the same as if taken in a classroom. The public is turning around to this line of thinking, too. As of 2011, 29% of the general public reported that online and brick-and-mortar education was equal.
5. SEO Can Reach the World
As the internet market has become oversaturated, Google has compensated by making the search location increasingly important. Higher education is not exempt. The majority of a private college’s enrollment comes through local students. Many students search for colleges within their own state to avoid out-of-state fees.
Another fun fact: the number of searches run on mobile devices for higher education increased by a staggering 49% in the last year. Why is this important? Because Google uses the GPS on mobile devices to target searches specifically for that web user. SEO needs to get your institution optimized for local students and parents searching for higher education opportunities.
As more people use mobile for searching institutions, those institutions in turn need to provide custom landing pages for each locale. Prospective students are more likely to be wooed if they feel the university is reaching them directly.
6. Online Education Ads Trump SEO
This is untrue. Google Ads are slowly losing their ability to bring new students into colleges and universities. In just the last year there have been a 7% decrease in clicks on online education advertising through Google. The cost per click has increased by 12%. The reason this trend is happening is twofold.
The market is getting more competitive. Students and parents are more savvy when searching schools. Ads have to compete more to get their attention, but that is tough with high education where you want to stand out, yet want to appear respectable and established.
Students and parents want to search on their own. People are taking more time before enrolling in colleges and universities. This is partly due to rising education costs. Every graduating high school student is well aware of the high price of a bachelors degree, as are parents, so both parties are putting in more research time before pulling the trigger. Also, there is far more information on higher education than ever before.