When it's time for a prospective student to start looking for the right college, decisions are made over weeks (if not months) of extensive online searching, comparison shopping and visiting campuses - to find a school that closely speaks to them on an emotional level.
At the beginning of their search, students are looking for the ideal program for their chosen major in conjunction with nice grounds, a fun set of extracurricular programs, and good job opportunities upon graduation.
If you prioritize search engine optimization (SEO) into your digital marketing strategy, these web searches should end in investigations of your school’s website. Of course, getting prospective students onto your website is just step one, and your admissions digital marketing also needs an action-oriented strategy for moving prospects into the funnel.
As you focus some of your digital marketing efforts on prospects at the top of the funnel, you will learn a lot about what your individual prospects want out of a college experience and how you fit into those needs. But before you dive too deep, there are a few basics that many students will search for that will help you start developing an SEO plan:
One of the major deciding factors for anyone going to college is location. Whether they want to cross the country or stay close to home, most prospective students are looking to go to school in a specific state or region. If you aren’t actively highlighting your city, state or region in your web content, you could be missing out on searches that are actively looking for what you have to offer.
To capture some of these this search traffic, consider developing content about how your students get involved in local events, how your school is giving back to your state, or what’s special about living in your specific city.
Pro Tip: Add "Geo modifiers" to your page titles so that prospective students will see your city and state in the search results if they're searching for a specific program.
Another area where you can optimize your search visibility is program strength. Especially in the early program consideration, students want to be sure that their chosen school not only has their chosen career path, but also programs that will help them succeed. Some will seek out specific degree programs while others may investigate an entire department, researching every professor and class they can get information on.
Work with your program and department leadership on content that speaks to prospective students about their journey - how that fits into their career path, and how their classroom experience is different.
Pro tip: Using your content, tie your programs back to the way that students are searching for degree programs. For example, you might call your acting program a "conservatory-style theatre program", but knowing that your prospective students might be searching for "drama", "theater", "acting" or "broadway training" can help you reach more students.
With costs continuing to rise and the fear of excessive student debt, many students are choosing their degree, school, and program based on job prospects at the end of the path. To top this off, the structure of internship programs is often difficult to understand from the outside.
If you want to get the best prospective students to apply, work on producing helpful and content on your internship programs and the likelihood that they will become real jobs for your graduates.
Most students have a few favorite extracurricular activities that serve as a combination of hobby, sport, and secondary career paths, and they'd like to continue these activities into college. In many cases, these extracurriculars are extensions of departments and degree programs, but not always.
By highlighting the student experience outside of the classroom, you can show searching high-schoolers and parents how much fun they can have continuing to follow multiple dreams in your school. This can be done by developing content about your extracurricular programs, particularly pieces that highlight personal accounts from current students.
While these are only a few of the many concerns that consume prospective students early on, you can start with these examples to start adding SEO optimization to your digital marketing strategy. As you learn more about what drives interest and what doesn’t (by evaluating your website analytics), you can add more specificity and creativity to your content strategy.