Your school or district is vital to the surrounding community. But do people know that? Many schools do not invest time in branding, even though it can help you better serve your students and neighbors and support a strong educational community.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is often neglected on educational websites. There is the mistaken impression that SEO is not necessary and/or that "SEO" means ugly keyword stuffing tactics used in the past. In fact, modern SEO is much more about the content you provide and the way you structure it. Without content, there is no reason for people to visit your website.
Good SEO helps support your branding and also assists students and parents in finding the information. So, how do content-rich pages improve SEO? And what can you do to create content that ranks your website and makes it easy to find?
In plain terms, SEO makes your website more visible. It optimizes your online visibility, attracting more people to your website and ensuring that you can offer your product or service to more people.
Rich content helps with this by encouraging the people who do find your website to stick around for longer. This lowers your bounce rate and makes your website look better to Google. It also attracts high-quality backlinks. This is when other people link to your website. Backlinks are more likely to happen when you provide quality, authoritative content that is useful to a wider variety of people. This, in turn, ensures that your website ranks higher. In other words, it shows up at the top of the list for relevant searches.
The more quality backlinks you have, the better. Providing information that is relevant not only to your students but to the wider community helps you get backlinks. For example, having a blog about your teaching philosophy and how your faculty work can attract the attention of teachers at other schools and can generate backlinks from other schools. As backlinks from .edu sites are particularly valuable, this can push your website to the top. The content should, however, be relevant to students, parents, and educators. A page about gardening will dilute your site unless it somehow relates to your school's mission.
So, what are the elements that make your content good for SEO? You should always start with well-written, authoritative content. But there are some important things to consider.
This does not mean stuffing in as many keywords as you can. It means that you identify and target one keyword phrase for each page. For example, if your sports coach decides to post a blog post about how cheerleaders can avoid injuries, you would target the key phrase "how cheerleaders can avoid injuries" and possibly some very similar phrases such as "how not to get hurt when cheerleading." Try to use part of all the keyword phrase in the URL, page title, and any headings and subheadings. But you need to keep it natural. Avoid having the same phrase in every heading or repeated. People will notice, see what you are doing, and seek another source for the information.
Static sites eventually become tired, and more recent pages tend to rank higher than ones that have been sitting there for a while. One of the easiest ways to do this is to have blogs. Not every post on a blog has to be a full "newsletter." Blog posts can include shorter updates. With older students, you can even enlist them on the blogging front, replacing or supplementing the traditional school newspaper. Kids will enjoy posting their updates and the website will benefit, as will they. Having a separate blog for academic and sports departments helps, as well as an overall "news feed" that includes things like school events, faculty arrivals and departures, and key information for the start of a new term. It's also important to remove content that is no longer relevant, especially if it contains factual information such as dates and times of events. Old content can cause confusion for both readers and search engines and will drop the ranking of your site.
The metadata is inserted between the <head> tags on each page. Make sure every page has metadata and that it is accurate and clear. Make sure that it is also up to date. Description metadata is particularly important. This is what shows on the search page when somebody searches for your site. It should encourage people to click on the site without being too "salesy." Title metadata is the title that shows up on the top of the browser window, and is usually generated from the page title.
Site structure. Your site should be structured logically, with each page put into its own category, and with good internal links that allow for logical navigation between the different parts of the site.
Alt tags or alternative text descriptions need to be attached to every image and video media. This allows search engines to locate your page based on the images. They are also vital for visually impaired users who are using screen readers and are a basic part of accessibility.
It's common for SEO to be neglected with modern websites. Schools are particularly likely to consider it unimportant as they are typically not directly recruiting students, although good schools may attract families to the neighborhood.
However, if your school's website does not rank well, it will be challenging for students and families, especially new ones, to find your site and the information they need.
Having an authoritative website that ranks well also makes you look good in the wider community and encourages students and parents (and faculty) to believe in your school and its mission. It shows that you have knowledge and an understanding of the kind of information your students and their families want to know.
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