College Search Gone Bad: Top 10 Search Marketing Mistakes Made by Colleges and Universities

By Noaman, Abu | University Business, June 2008 | Go to article overview

College Search Gone Bad: Top 10 Search Marketing Mistakes Made by Colleges and Universities


Noaman, Abu, University Business


JUST HOW POPULAR IS ONLINE search? More than 113 billion core searches were conducted in the U.S. in 2007, according to comScore, which maintains databases that provide real-time measurement of the internet's use. That's about 310 million searches per day. No wonder Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has added "google" as a verb.

Savvy higher ed leaders realize they need to add search engine marketing (SEM)--everything from site optimizations, to the management of paid listings, to submitting sites to directories--to their overall marketing plans. But several common mistakes can hinder efforts. When a potential student searches for a program your school offers, will you appear on a search engine's first page? Avoid these top 10 search marketing blunders to have a better chance of answering yes.

1. Not using geo-targeted search

Do all of your students come from within a 30-mile radius of campus? Probably not. It makes sense to use different keywords to reach different geographical locations.

Say you're a business school in Pittsburgh. Your local keyword phrase could be "Pittsburgh business school." To attract applicants from the broader region, use "East Coast business school." To reach prospective students anywhere in the nation, a phrase like "U.S. business school" would be effective. Optimizing for the keyword phrase "top business school" would attract global applicants.

2. Using copy not based on research

There are two things to consider when writing the actual copy for your website.

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First, is the copy rich with words people type into search engines? It should be. If your business school's proper name is the Herman Fischel School of Business but people search for "business schools Albany New York," include both the school's name and those keywords on the same page. Second, while it's important to address the needs of search engines, never forget that an actual person will read the copy. Search marketing gets the person to your site, but compelling copy keeps them there and prompts them to take action.

3. Using a dot-com domain instead of dot-edu for a microsite

While microsites can do a great job of giving students depth of information about specific programs, too many colleges put microsites on a dot-com. Since just one dot-edu can be obtained by each institution, search engines automatically rank dot-edu's higher. Schools that put microsites on a dot-com completely miss out on the opportunity to get a boost from the credibility factor of a dot-edu.

4. Not optimizing your microsites

Many higher ed institutions take a do-it-yourself approach to search engine optimization and will send all visitors to the home page. Bad idea. When people search for information, they want to land directly on the page that has exactly what they want. If you send visitors to the home page, there's a greater chance prospective students will just click off the site, rather than take the time to click on a number of links to find the specific program. In other words, the home page isn't the only door into your site. Think of every page as its own entry point.

5. Not optimizing all of the site's pages

For institutions that don't have microsites, should only the home page be optimized?

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College Search Gone Bad: Top 10 Search Marketing Mistakes Made by Colleges and Universities
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