The following blog has been written by two colleagues on the Noel-Levitz Web Strategy and Interactive Marketing Services team, Jennifer Croft and Cynthia Williams. Jennifer is an SEO consultant with 30 years of marketing experience who has worked on more than 500 websites, including 50 higher education websites. Cynthia is a writer with more than 25 years experience developing content for all forms of media, including eight years experience writing effective optimized content for college and university websites.
Writing for the web is an art form. Do it well, and you’ll satisfy readers who scan and skim, as well as those who pore over every word on their desktops, laptops, tablets, phablets, and smart phones. Excel at it, and you’ll also attract free, qualified traffic from search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. But how do campuses begin to strengthen the content of their web page and maximize the SEO potential of those pages, while keeping it manageable? The following six strategies have worked for many campus web content creators.
1) Prioritize the pages you optimize
To get the best return on your investment of time and/or money, focus your initial search engine optimization efforts on “magnet” pages, the ones on your website that are the most likely to attract search engine clicks.
For most colleges and universities, these are degree and program pages, followed by accreditation pages, financial aid pages, and rankings, awards, and recognition pages.
If your institution has a significant number of degree and program pages, and you need to further prioritize your work, use the following criteria to select pages for optimization:
- Programs or degrees that have capacity for students and need an enrollment boost
- New programs or degrees that you need to build awareness for
- Programs or degrees that are more unique to your institution and therefore have less competition for search results from competing campuses
- Popular programs and degrees that will have large numbers of students searching for them (e.g. criminal justice, nursing)
Helpful hint: Use web data to drive your priorities. If you’re not using tools such as Google Analytics, or are not sure how to best analyze your web data, email us and we’ll be happy to discuss strategies and best practices for web analytics.
2) Incorporate keywords into your web writing
To determine which words and phrases are the most popular (and therefore have the highest search volume), it’s important to conduct keyword research. For more on this, read our previous post on optimizing search keywords.
Helpful hint: For maximum effectiveness, insert keywords into headings and subheadings (H1 and H2), body copy, anchor text in links and photo captions. Check out these examples of how to do this for college web pages.
3) Plan your page
Once a visitor has landed on your page, the key to getting your copy read is to have clear goals for what you’d like to accomplish with the page. What are the main points you want to communicate? What questions will you answer? What information will be presented on this page that isn’t already covered on another page? What information should be left off this page, either deleted or moved to another page?
Keep the focus of each page tight. By maintaining a narrow focus, it’s easier to position the page for SEO (particularly in terms of URLs, title tags, and H1 headings). In presenting your information, follow the inverted pyramid delivery, presenting the most important information at the top of the page, with less important information placed toward the bottom.
Helpful hint: Ideally, you should have a unique page for each degree or program.
4) Consider how the page relates to other pages
In pre-planning for a page, it’s also helpful to consider how the page relates to other pages on your site. For example, if your school offers a BA and a BS option for the same major, and you intend to create a separate page for each degree, you’ll need to decide what information to include on each of the respective pages and how to cross-reference them.
It’s also important to consider:
- Where the page will reside on your website
- Which other pages on your site will link to the page
- Which other pages the page will link to
Helpful hint: Google frowns on duplicate content, which is categorized as sentences, paragraphs, or entire pages that are identical, similar, or even reminiscent of content on other webpages (on your own site or another site). If you decide to cover the same topic(s) on multiple pages, you’ll need to rewrite the copy to make it unique for each page.
5) Optimize the length and amount of content on the page
Google doesn’t like pages that are too short, but web visitors generally don’t like pages that are too long. Ideally, you want to find a happy medium between these two demands and create pages with about 300-700 words of content. If you have a page that’s too long, split the copy and create multiple pages; if the page is too short, beef up the content or eliminate the page.
On all pages, break up the text, keeping it in short chunks. You can use bullets, links, and pull quotes to help separate the text and give visitors points of interest.
As you’re writing each page, don’t assume the reader knows something about your school. Many won’t, so it’s important to include brief, top-level information on your pages. Including something as simple as “Centennial University, located in Denver, Colorado, offers more than 35 bachelor degree programs” can go a long way toward helping visitors lock in on key points.
Helpful hint: Be sure to include calls to action on your pages, and don’t hesitate to include more than one. For example, on a degree or program page, you could include calls to action for requesting more information, scheduling a campus visit, and e-mailing a faculty member.
6) Manage the approval process
Your beautiful, optimized copy won’t ever find its way onto your website unless it’s approved by everyone who has control over the page you’re crafting. To ensure a smooth approval process, it helps to do some work upfront, conveying the benefits of SEO to everyone who will be editing and/or signing off on the pages.
To prepare proofreaders and stakeholders, explain these basic principles of SEO:
- It’s impossible to predict how visitors will enter the site and which pathways they’ll take once they get there. Therefore, some basic information will need to be repeated across different pages, and it will need to be rephrased, to avoid duplicate content issues.
- A certain amount of keyword repetition is included in each optimized page, by design, in order to help reach keyword-density objectives that are vital for SEO success. The copy, however, will seem more repetitive when it’s read and proofed, all at once, in a Word document, than it will when it’s presented on the web page.
Helpful hint: In your Word document, highlight your primary keywords in green to show yourself and others how you’ve optimized the page for SEO.
Search engine optimization + great writing = clicks + action
By following the best SEO practices when writing for the web, you give your pages the best chances to successfully climb to the top of Google page rankings. What’s more, by making sure that you’re always producing great copy, you’ll also inform, engage, and motivate your visitors to take action.
See an online SEO tutorial for college webpages
Noel-Levitz has an easy, online SEO tutorial to help you and your colleagues understand these strategies and how to implement them. Visit the college and university SEO strategies page to see before and after examples. And if you are looking for guidance on SEO or have questions, please contact us.
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