Brand Management

SEO for K-12 Schools

Victoria Harkes
Average  to read article
20 Minutes

Whether you want to make it easier for existing students to access information about your school or be able to reach the parents of more prospective students, SEO is going to be a vital part of making your district more accessible and easier to reach for the community.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “Search Engine-Optimization”, which describes a series of techniques and processes you can use to increase your website’s ranking on Google or other search engines. SEO is a wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary field that covers UX design, content marketing as well more technical fields like web development.

In this detailed guide, we’ll be discussing everything a K-12 marketer needs to improve their SEO and website ranking, from how to write content for both Google and your visitors to the more technical aspects of SEO.

But before we do, let’s cover some of the terms we will be using.

A Brief Glossary of Terms

If you’ve been in the digital marketing space for some time, there’s a chance that you’ve come across a lot of these terms but may not have fully understood what they meant. Before we get to our guide, here is a quick breakdown of some of the terms you’ll need to know:

SERP: This stands for Search Engine Results Page which is the page that Google returns after a user performs a Google Search.

HTML: This stands for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is code that structures every page on the web. In that code, various tags form the foundations of the way your page looks and helps Google interpret and categorize the page.

Organic Search: These are the search engine results that appear organically in SERP. By organically, we mean they appear due to SEO efforts and are not influenced by paid advertising. This is generally the goal of SEO!

Web crawling: This is software used by Google that will ‘crawl’ over your web page to determine what is in it, how to categorize it and whether it is reliable or not. ‘Crawlability’ refers to how easy it is for Google’s web crawler to access and make sense of your website.

Bounce Rate: The percentage of cases where a visitor will stay on your website after reading an article and explore it vs. the times where someone will bounce after only viewing one article.

Now that you’ve got these terms covered, let’s dive straight in!

The first step... Conducting an SEO audit

Conducting an SEO audit will give you information on how well your website is aligned with SEO best practices and identify any issues with your website which may be stopping search engines from being able to decipher your web content.

These may be things like:

  • Broken pages
  • Not ‘crawlable’ i.e. Google's web crawlers access the site
  • Problems with HTML tags
  • Website Schema Issues
  • Broken Links

While you may choose to work with an SEO expert to do this, there are lots of tools that will allow you to audit your website and make suggestions on how you can fix the issues.

Our pick for an SEO site auditing tool is Semrush.

SEO Checklist

While the SEO audit will pick out things that are broken and in need of repair, next you will want to make your site as good as it can be to ensure that both people and search engines alike will love your website.

This can be things ranging from on-page user experience to making sure that your web content has the right keywords to match the user’s search intent.

This will include everything from the tools you will want to install on your CMS to keep track of your visitor's activity to ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly.

For a comprehensive SEO checklist, check out this guide.

SEO vs Local SEO

While traditional SEO is about matching search intent with web content regardless of the user's location, Local SEO also takes into account the user’s location when returning results.

This is important because 46% of all Google Searches are looking for local information. For K-12 schools, regular SEO is going to be important but many people in the school community will live locally, so local SEO is going to be an important part of your strategy.

Local SEO efforts will usually capture searches like “School Near me” or “School in my district” and the SERP will yield local businesses that match that search.

The goal of local SEO is to get inside Google’s Local ‘3-Pack’, which is top 3 most relevant businesses in a local area to a particular search.

Google search results for local elementary schools near me with a red box around the top 3 results

To get into the 3-Pack, you will need to set up a Google My Business account and fill out your account according to best practices. To do this correctly, you will need to follow this detailed guide on optimizing your Google Business account for local SEO to ensure that your school, or school board district has the best chances of making it into the 3-pack.

Accessibility

Making your website available to the visually impaired is not only ethical, but it’s also an important part of SEO.

If you want to make your site accessible, there are several things you can do from a UX (User Experience) perspective. You should make sure that:

  • The text is large enough to read
  • The page is uncluttered and well laid out
  • The color of the text contrasts with your background colors for legibility

But beyond this, including alt-text on your images also provides Google with further information about your website which will lead to better rankings.

Alt-text is a description that is read out to people with visual impairments as they scroll through your site. The benefit of using alt text is two-fold. Google will lower your rankings if you don’t use them so they present a great opportunity to use your keywords.

Getting a little Technical

Technical SEO is all about making your website more crawlable, faster and easier to interpret. If you don’t have your technical SEO right, your website will be penalized and is unlikely to rank highly. You could have the best content but if there are technical errors with your website, you need to fix these before your site gets any results.

This will include things like:

  • Removing redundant JavaScript
  • Submitting an XML sitemap
  • Site architecture that makes sense
  • Removing duplicate content

You can follow a complete guide to technical SEO here.

Create compelling content

Now that you’ve ticked all of the more technical boxes, you’ll want to make sure that you have some compelling content.

You could have all your technical SEO ducks in a row, but if your content is not answering your audience’s questions or is simply not that compelling, then your ranking will suffer.

With each update, Google’s algorithm is becoming more sophisticated. It used to be the case that marketers could use ‘hacky’ methods of rising to the top of SERP but Google is now wise to these practices and will penalize your website for employing them. Nowadays, Google recommends content that people actually want to read. As Google gets better at this, compelling content that answers questions and provides value will win out over an article that is trying to appeal to Google and not people, every time.

Not only can Google automatically detect low-quality content but it also monitors your visitor’s on-page behavior and ranks your website based on how they interact with it.

For example, if you create a blog post announcing a new after school program being launched in your school district and the visitor reads the whole article and then goes on to explore the website, this sends a message to Google that your website creates good content and it will be more likely to recommend your article in the future.

On the other hand, if your blog is not providing value and users leave, this will raise your bounce rate and will negatively affect your ranking.

For this reason, making sure that your web content is well written, structured, detailed and ultimately useful is going to be arguably the most important part of your SEO strategy.

Title Tags, Meta Descriptions and URLs

Your title tag and meta description are short pieces of HTML code that show the users and search engines what the page is titled and what they can expect to find on the page. Your URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator is simply an identifier given to a unique web address.

If you think of the internet as a library, the title tag is the title of a book, the meta description is the blurb, and the URL is its aisle and shelf number.

For example, looking at the School Bundle website, the URL for the Homepage is:

https://schoolbundle.ca

If you wanted to navigate to a particular page on that website, anything following the backslash is what we call the URL slug.

For example, the slug for this article is:

www.schoolbundle.ca/post/seo-for-k-12-schools

As you might have guessed, your title tags, meta description and URLs are all places where you should include your target keyword for that page.

For instance, if you were to target the keywords “public schools for sports in ‘X’ school district” your title might be:

The Best Public Schools in X School District

Meta description:

Want to know about the schools with the highest rankings in your local area? Check out our guide to the best public schools in X School District

URL: www.yourwebsite.ca/best-public-schools-school-district

Keywords

Keywords are phrases that Google users are searching for that you are trying to capture with your web content. These mostly revolve around optimizing your web content to include the right keywords or phrases related to those keywords in your content.

In the earlier days of Google, SEO revolved around fitting as many instances of the target keywords into an article and this would, in turn, lead to a better ranking. This is what we call keyword stuffing and Google has now become sophisticated enough to tell when you are doing it and it will penalize your site if it ‘thinks’ that you are.

Keywords are still important but Google is smart enough to know if you’re writing content for Google and not your audience. What Google wants is for you to provide as much value as possible. Long, well-written articles with lots of quality information linking to authoritative sources are going to be much more effective than simply repeating the target keywords and hoping for the best.

Search Intent

Google is also becoming more able to interpret Search Intent, that is, it can decide not just what users are searching, but why they are searching. This includes whether the searcher wants to buy something, whether they’re using Google to navigate to a specific website, if they want more information on a product or service, or they want to find out more about something. Once Google has determined what the searcher wants, it will order the search rankings accordingly.

Long-tail Keywords

These are typically more specific keywords that get less traffic. They are usually questions, rather than short phrases. For instance, a regular keyword might be “schools x district” while a long-tail keyword would be “What are the best schools in x district?”.

Targeting longtail keywords may not result in high traffic to your web page but you will be able to answer specific questions, which means that you can be assured that your web content will be very useful to those who are searching these terms and that they are likely to read and engage with your content.

Improving UI and UX (On-Site Optimization)

A poorly laid out, visually unappealing or slow-loading website is another thing that can seriously hurt your ranking. For much the same reason that people will walk out of a brick-and-mortar store and shop somewhere else if the store is messy, not pretty to look at or the service is slow or unresponsive.

On the other hand, a store that looks great, with responsive staff will encourage shoppers to spend time at the store or even buy there.

Websites are no different. Remember, if you can encourage your viewers to spend more time on your website and explore your content this is all sending feedback to Google that your site is worthy of recommending and it will ultimately help you rank higher in SERP.

If your website is slow, one thing you can do right away is to make sure that your images are optimized. Ideally, your images won’t be bigger than 100kb, as anything larger than this will start to really slow your website down. You can also use tools such as Page Speed Insights to check your website speed and give you a detailed summary with suggestions on how you can improve your page speed.

Link Building

Google doesn’t just look at your website, it also looks at websites that you share a network with and this is where link building comes in handy.

Link building is what is known as an off-page SEO strategy that involves getting your website linked by other websites with higher domain authority that are within related fields or categories to your website. If you are affiliated with reputable sites with high domain authority you can reach out to them to add a link to your website from theirs, improving your rankings.

How to Start Link-Building

This essentially comes down to networking and PR skills. If you can identify reputable businesses or NGOs in your field and arrange for a link to your website to be included on theirs, then this will help Google to recognize you as a reputable website. A few good starting places for school districts would be:

  • Your city website
  • Local news stations and larger provincial/state-wide news stations
  • Cross-Linking between your various school sites and district site
  • Provincial/State government sites

For an in-depth guide on how to conduct a link-building campaign, check out this article.

Measuring and Iterating for Continuous Improvement

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. It isn’t a matter of doing it once and then you’re all good. Other websites are constantly making changes, improving their web content and vying for the top spot in the SERPs and if you aren’t staying up to date and making changes, you will lose your place.

A great way to do this is to update your blog content to make it more recent, add to it, improve it or make it more relevant to more recent changes. Google heavily favors recency, so it will pay to update and repost old blog articles to make them more current.

If you want to know more about key metrics marketers in K-12 need to know about, check out our guide to metrics here.

Results

You may want to know how long it takes before their website starts to rank on Google and shows up in search engine results but unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. It is very much a “how long is a piece of string” type of question that depends on a lot of different factors. That said, if you are following all of the above steps and you continually are tweaking and improving your site based on key success metrics, generally speaking, you should begin to see results within 4-6 months.

It does take time for Google to begin to trust you as a reliable source but if you continue to consistently provide value to your audience, Google will be more likely to recommend you in the future.

Conclusion

When it comes to SEO, there are many, many things to consider. You need to be able to take what is easy for Google to access, interpret and categorize your site into account as well as what people are searching for and how to provide the right content for your audience. For school districts this will involve having a CMS where you can easily add descriptions, topics and tags to pages, ensure alt text is added to all of your images and know all of your sites were designed with UX in mind to provide the smoothest experience to your visitors.

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