Your school website is your most powerful online marketing vehicle. And, to keep that vehicle running smoothly, you need fuel in the form of quality content. As you create quality content for your school's website, there's one important question you should always keep in mind: are people actually reading it?
Coming up with great content is challenging enough. Making sure it gets seen and read by your target audience is another feat altogether. You wouldn't want your efforts to be in vain if no one visits your website to read it. That's where SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, comes in.
SEO is the practice that ensures those you are seeking online find you. It involves the practice of making your content is easy to find on search engines, such as Google. If you want to be a thought leader and trusted resource in your community, then both your website and your content should be easy to find. SEO can help you achieve that goal by helping you rank higher in search engine results.
When conducting an online search, most people only pay attention to the first page of the search engine results pages (SERPs). As a result, the lower your content appears on the list, the less likely it will be that your content will be found.
How Can SEO Help Your Content?
Engaging in SEO activities can help you rank higher in search engine results. SEO is all about incorporating certain elements that search engines look for in your website or in its content. So, if your blog post has all the information that Google is asking for, Google helps increase its visibility.
If your content is interesting, well-made, and is not spam, search engines rank you higher in search results and your website will receive more traffic. Keep in mind that we’re talking about unpaid traffic, also called natural or organic traffic. (Paid advertisements are an entirely different matter and will not be discussed in this article.) Believe me, you don’t want to spend money on ads if you don’t have to. SEO can help you gain traffic for free.
While you can create quality content and follow effective web design guidelines, both of these will not reach their full potential if you don’t practice good SEO techniques. And understanding and practicing SEO will enable your prospective families to find your website and your content much easier.
Factors That Affect Ranking
How do search engines rank your content? Search engines will determine if your webpages are “search friendly”. It’s basically like grading a student’s writing exam: The student’s paper should contain his name and which class section he or she is in. The contents of the paper should include a title, a detailed body, and a conclusion. Search engines operate in a similar fashion they follow checklist of factors to determine whether your web pages contain the particular information required. These are called “On-page” ranking factors which you, as owners or administrators of your school website, can control. If you have included all the necessary information, then you may pass the test.
These on-page webpage factors that affect search engine rankings, are:
- Page Quality
- Page Structure
- Page Performance
1. Page Quality
The quality of your webpage content is crucial to its ranking. You are not only promoting your school website as an authority with the quality of your content, but you are also satisfying search engine requirements as well.
The Content of Your Webpage
As previously stated, the quality of your content is what makes it worthy of its ranking in search results. Good content is what's important for both the search engine and for your readers. So how can search engines determine good content?
In terms of SEO, good content has two attributes:
- It must supply a demand.
Good content, like a market, has rules for "supply and demand". The general rule for good content is that it should be meeting the largest demand. If your target audience isn't searching for the content you create, you won't get the engagement you want, no matter how good your article is. There are certain topics you should prioritize over others in a specific occasion when they are in-demand.
For example, during enrollment season, focus on the content that your prospective parents would want to know about, such as "The Benefits of A Private School Education.” You know there will be a big demand for this topic before or during your school’s enrollment period.
- It must be linkable.
When prospective parents look at content from a reliable source, they will skim through the article to search for relevant data. The presence of original, unique data ensures that your blog gets linked to, especially if it's presented in a way that is easy to understand. Content that contains this kind of information usually gets linked to because it can be used as a reference and with a citation.
For example, if your blog is about "10 Facts That Prove Why Private Education Is Better," or "How To Prepare Your Child For Kindergarten," your readers will expect that you will share knowledge that you have researched. If you do manage to deliver, you will be considered credible and will be regarded as an authority on the topic. E-books, How To's, podcasts, case studies, and detailed infographics, are some examples of linkable content.
Because of its nature, linkable content may not generate as much user interaction as "sharable content", but it doesn't lose its value as quickly.
We'll discuss the difference between linkable content and sharable content in another blog post.
When people use search engines, they type keywords, such as “private Christian schools,” in as their search terms to find the information they are looking for. Content writers used to resort to “keyword stuffing” to gain traffic, which involved the act of repeatedly mentioning important keywords on a webpage or in a blog that were not relevant to the actual content simply in an attempt to rank higher in search queries. That practice has now been circumvented by developments made on search engines. You will now be penalized if you get caught in applying this method.
In order to gain positive results for using valid keywords, make sure that they are relevant to prospects that use them in search engines. Build your content around keywords that you want to rank for. For instance, if you build on the phrase “best private school”, it’s a more common phrase that will definitely have a lot of competition. But as you become more precise in defining your keywords, you will be presented with fewer searches, and therefore, less competition in terms of results. Instead, try “best private school in Minnesota” (or your location).
You can learn more about keywords here.
Relevancy and Context
Keep all of your webpage content fresh and relevant. Always check to see if you have outdated content on your school website. If you’re still featuring content for summer camps in November, then you certainly need to do an update. Schedule monthly or quarterly checks and update your website content accordingly. This includes all images, photos, and videos.
2. Page Structure
Search engines and your website visitors will be able to discern how well-structured and organized your webpages are arranged. They will each detect this in their own way so it’s always best to start off clean by being mindful of these elements:
HTML Tags are often overlooked characteristics on websites. Since they’re not visible on your webpages (they only work in the backend), they’re usually left “as is” or ignored altogether. Search engines however, see them. If they can crawl easier through your HTML tags, especially if you’ve defined them, you’ll have a better chance at ranking higher.
Here’s a list of HTML tags that you should define:
Also known as your page title or H1 tag, this is a keyword-driven description of what your webpage is all about.
Image taken from Hubspot
Always include one of your target keywords or phrases to make it easier for searchers to know that you have relevant results from their query. Place these keywords near the front of your title so it won’t run the risk of getting truncated on SERPs.
Search engines need to know what your image is about. Put in a description of what your image is of, rather than put nothing or leaving it as “IMG4501”.
For example, this image:
Image from pressfoto
The alt text code for this image, in HTML, looks like this:
<img class="alignCenter shadow" src="image.jpg"alt="image-description" title="image tooltip"/>
If you were to write alt text for the image above:
Best: alt="grade school children playing"
This level of description can also help you to rank on Google images. It may seem like a very minor thing, but keep in mind that a third of all searches made in Google are for images, with 12.5% of SERPs showing image pack results (source: moz.com).
This is a short description that appears below the URL when results appear on a search engine. This is only useful to describe the contents of your URL to people. Search engines will not read it. Nonetheless, mention a keyword and include a short and informative sentence for your potential visitor.
Image taken from Hubspot
After organizing your page titles, do the same for the different headers in your content. Organize your content into sections and subsections. They are usually labelled as:
<h1> for the headline
<h2> for subsections
<h3> for smaller subsections, and <h4> for even smaller sections.
Here’s an example:
article from Clapham School
Header tags may only indirectly impact your rankings, but they make your content easier and more enjoyable to read.
Header tags enable you to:
- Maintain structure
Treat H1 tags as book titles and H2 tags as chapters. Subsequent header tags can be like subtopics.
- Break up text
Your articles should be “scannable”. This means that your content should be easily readable or glanced through, especially considering the attention span of online and mobile users. Take note that only sixteen percent of internet users read an article word-for-word. The rest merely scan articles. If you have scannable content, there’s a big chance that your visitors might stick around to read everything, too.
Most of the online content platforms like Hubspot have set up HTML header structures so you can easily highlight your text and choose a header setting.
If you want to read up more on header tags, here’s a detailed guide.
Create short and sensible URLs.
- Your website visitors will easily be able to know what the webpage is all about just from scanning the URL.
- You can insert keywords in your URL if they give an accurate description of the webpage contents. In your blogs, you can optimize your URLs on each of your posts as they each have their own unique URLs.
- Just remember that search engines will penalize domains that are exact matches and that are keyword-stuffed.
For example, sanfranciscochristianprivateschoolcalifornia.com is a URL name that should be avoided.
However, using something like yourschoolname.com/topic is more acceptable.
Make sure your URLs are reader-friendly. They should make sense when they’re read and should also be informative enough to tell your website visitors where they are and what they’re reading. Structure your URL folders with clear navigation for the reader. When you eliminate bottlenecks or roadblocks to your website visitors, you can be assured that they will keep going through your webpages if they are having a good experience.
Internal linking is like voting for your own content for higher rankings. You vote for your own content by creating links to your relevant blog articles from inside your other articles. This lets the search engines, as well as your website visitors, know that you have a whole network of all your content.
Article from Covenant Christian Academy
This article on “Why Classic Education Works” contains an internal link that leads to another article in the same website. As your website visitors consume your content on your school webpages, you can keep feeding them links to articles that they consider are relevant to them. This will in turn keep their presence longer on your website, which adds to your rankings.
We have a blog post dedicated to Internal Linking, which you can read if you want to learn more about it.
3. Page Performance
Depending on how fast your webpages load, page performance also plays a significant role in determining your on-page ranking. Websites’ poor load times are detected by search engines.
Likewise, if your school website is not optimized to load on mobile devices, you can end up with frustrated visitors who will quickly leave your website. These exit rates can also pull down a webpage’s ranking.
To optimize loading speed on your webpages, you should check up on the following:
- Are your images optimized with the proper file size?
- Is your website responsive?
We will go into more detail about how to optimize images and website responsiveness in another blog post. You can also read up on how to build an intuitive website for your school.
By now hopefully you have a more solid understanding about how to create content that supports your overall school marketing strategies. Most of your efforts will likely be focused on your school blog, where most of your quality content creation takes place. But if you're not achieving your marketing goals even if you've been churning awesome content after awesome content, then you really should be learning more about SEO.
Do you want to learn more about Content Marketing? You can read more about it here.