We recently published an article that discussed the decline in click-through-rates on organic searches and proposed some solutions for regaining that visibility. While it’s true that Google routinely pushes down organic search results in favor of Google Ad placements and other search engine results page (SERP) features, having your school rank well in organic search is still an unignorable part of your digital marketing strategy.
Of the nearly 20 K-12 private school clients whose digital marketing efforts we oversee, all of them see the overwhelming majority of their traffic come to their website through organic search. So, yes, while the Google Ads platform and SERP feature optimization are important cogs in your digital marketing machine, organic search remains the fuel you need to establish sustained long-term growth for your website traffic and, ultimately, your school’s enrollment.
With that fact firmly established, have you noticed that a competing school routinely outranks you in your most important Google searches? When you search for “private school *fill in the blank with your city*” does your school show up first in the organic results?
If you’ve answered yes and no to those questions respectively, it’s time to start looking at how to optimize your school’s website for search!
But where should you even begin?
The hard truth is this, search engine optimization (SEO) is a multi-faceted endeavor that may take some time before you see noticeable results. The good news, however, is that we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to help you get started on your journey to top-of-page rank position!
Why It’s Important to Rank First in Search
Have you ever gone on vacation and thought ‘I wonder where the best place to get a pizza is around here?’
What’s the first thing you do? You pull out your phone and search for “best pizza near me,” and within a matter of seconds, Google shows you millions of results!
Now think about how far you scroll down the page before making a decision on where to eat. A quarter of the way down the page? Half-way? All the way to the bottom?
Chances are, you don’t make it past the first two or three blue links before making a decision or searching for something else.
The chart below from AdvancedWebRanking.com shows the click-through-rate for search results based on where they show up in the results. The blue line represents click-through-rates on desktop and the red, on mobile. Notice the sharp decline from position one to position two. On desktop, the first position result is clicked over 30% of the time while the second is clicked just over 15% of the time. Once you get past position five, only 5% of users will click on that result.
And users aren’t just searching Google to figure out where to get their next meal. They are using Google and other search engines to research bigger decisions, like where to send their kids to private school.
If your school does not rank at the top of Google’s search engine results page (SERP), then you are missing out on reaching prospective parents and future enrollments.
1. Use Keyword Research to Identify Your Target Keywords
All good SEO strategies start with choosing the right keywords to target. When searchers use Google or any other search engine to find solutions to their problems, they do so by entering queries into the search bar. The search engine then serves them the most relevant content for their search.
Keyword research allows you to identify the queries users are submitting in your area that you could potentially show up for. This process is the foundation of all search engine optimization, as you will want to optimize your website and content around keyword phrases that get traffic around your school.
2. Maintain a Healthy, Crawlable Site
A search engine’s spider, also known as a web crawler, reads the html of your website and stores its information to be indexed by the search engine. This process allows the search engine to quickly find relevant information for a user’s query. How well organized your website is directly impacts how crawlable your site is and how likely the search engine is to serve your page higher than your competitors.
You can improve the crawlability of your site by dealing with some of the most common errors that impact your site health. These include:
- 404 Errors: These errors are returned when a server is unable to find the file a user requested at the specified URL.
- Misuse or Lack of H1s and H2s: H1s and H2s act as titles and subtitles on your webpage respectively. These tags help Google determine the topic and structure of a webpage while also helping users find the most relevant content available. Using multiple H1 tags on a page or having full paragraphs using an H2 tag can make it difficult for Google to discern what your content is truly about.
- Improper Redirects: If a piece of content on your site is moved from one URL to another, you will want to set up a redirect at the old URL that tells search engines that your content has been moved. This is done, most commonly, through a 301 (permanently moved) redirect. If redirects aren’t properly set up, users may receive 404 errors and search engines will not be able to find your moved content.
- Duplicate Content: When Google crawls a site, it is attempting to learn what each page it crawls is about. If Google sees that two pages are similar or the same, it may not know which page is most relevant to show in results. This can cause a drop in rankings and traffic to those pages.
3. Update and Leverage Your School’s Google My Business
Google My Business is very important for your school’s SEO. How do we know that? Google tells us so! In this Google My Business help article, the company writes “Local results favor the most relevant results for each search, and businesses with complete and accurate [Google My Business] information are easier to match with the right searches.”
Want to learn more about claiming and setting up your Google My Business page? Check out this post where we walk you through setting up your GMB page step-by-step.
4. Create Compelling, Locally Relevant Content
I’ve heard it stated, “If content is king, context is the kingdom.”. That means producing content isn’t just about cranking out blog posts as often as you can. In order to get your content to best serve your SEO effort, you have to produce high-quality content that is relevant for your local audience.
How do you know if your content is strong? Strong, useful content will have the following traits:
- It will serve your audience, not search engines. Google is smart enough to know when you are producing content simply to try to rank or producing content that helps your reader.
- It answers questions that your audience has and/or establishes you as an expert in your field.
- It will have a bend toward highlighting topics of local interest.
5. Acquire Backlinks from High Authority, Local Sites
A backlink is when a website links to your website. In the eyes of Google, a backlink is a vote of confidence that your site’s content is relevant and useful, and because of this, backlinks are one of the most important factors in what websites they show at the top of organic search. That means that acquiring these links should be paramount to your SEO efforts.
You should seek out links to your site that are:
- Local: For local businesses and organizations, Google puts more weight in links from locally relevant sites.
- Relevant: A link from a site that is related to yours is far more valuable than a link from a site that is not.
- High authority: Google places greater trust in links that come from websites that have an established degree of authority. That means a link from CNN is far more valuable than a link from an unknown blog.
6. Get Great Reviews
What you have to say about your school certainly matters, but what your customers say about you matters even more. Reviews serve as another key ranking factor for Google when determining what websites to show in Google results. Maintaining a high rating among your parents and students shows Google that your school can be trusted.
Here are three simple tips for getting more Google Reviews:
- Ask! It may sound simple, but most people don’t think to ask their current customers to leave them a Google review. Ask your parents to go to Google and leave a review with a comment for your school.
- Put a link to relevant review sites in all of your digital communication.
- Respond to the reviews you already have! If a parent or student takes the time to leave their thoughts on your school, it would be courteous to respond.
Don’t Take On Your SEO Efforts Alone
Executing on an SEO strategy is a marathon, not a sprint, but the payoff can be tremendous. As your school climbs in search rankings, your visibility and website traffic will increase, leading to more tours and hopefully more enrollments! The best part is, you don’t have to take on these efforts by yourself.
At North Star Marketing, we specialize in helping K12 private schools achieve their digital marketing goals. We’d like to learn more about your school and what challenges you might be facing. Our team members understand what it takes to help you reach your enrollment goals. Contact us!