As a higher education marketer, you may be charged with improving the performance of your college’s website. It goes without saying that a high-functioning website is the key to capturing prospective students’ interest and enrollment applications.
There are a lot of components that can go into website design, like user experience for all parties, which institution departments need to be represented and how/where, and the overall look of the website for branding and messaging purposes.
In this post, we’ll unpack how, even if you don’t have control over all or any of those things, you can still drive a ton of enrollment traffic to your site just by controlling the content alone.
Are you a higher education marketer looking to use these steps and increase your search engine presence and enrollment for 2017? Get the step-by-step details to attract and convert student leads in our “2017 Guide to Content Marketing.”
To attract lots of traffic, your site needs to rank high for topics your prospects want to know about.
The number one key to getting your website to rank high in search engines in 2017 is fundamentally simple: Create new pages constantly, with meaningful, helpful content that people (the ones you care most about) are searching for.
The easiest way to create new pages constantly is to create new blog posts, although you can also add other types of content. This technique is called content marketing, and it’s about to become your new best friend.
Follow these steps, and in as little as 12 weeks, your institution’s website can start getting ranked on page 1 by Google, using blog posts, videos and other content that your prospective students will find and return to again and again. We know it works because we did it in 12 weeks in 2016. Boom – added search engine authority and higher trust factor in the ever-shifting world of prospective college students.
Step 1: Define your personas
Would you sign up to give a talk if you didn’t know who the audience was? You’re doing just that if you embark on a content marketing project without knowing your website’s audience. You need student personas – probably more than 1 or 2 – to define exactly whom you want to reach and what their behaviors and beliefs are. Here’s our definitive resource on exactly how to develop your student personas.
Step 2: Make a list of keywords
This is, ahem, key to your success in content marketing. Don’t just start writing without purpose. Write to be easily found by your audience, who has specific questions (these will be uncovered in your development of your student personas). The trick is knowing how your personas would word those questions. Once you can decode that, you can come up with a list of phrases using the exact words your ideal prospects, or personas, would use. These phrases are known as keywords – even if they’re more than one word long.
In days past, Google had a tool that would actually show you exact wording people were plugging into the search engine. Nowadays you can only get a tiny variation of that, buried deep inside a paid Google Adwords account, once you already have ads running. Boo. That’s why the new keywords research platform Storybase is so cool. I cover how to use Storybase in this eBook, but suffice to say that Storybase will have you up and running with exact questions and topics in a wink.
Step 3: Create your content calendar
Be patient if this sounds like a lot of preparing to get prepared, but the number one fail point of content marketing is failing to prepare well. The first planning consideration is which kind of content to include. For best searchability, content should definitely include blog posts and videos, and call-to-action downloads, but could also include photo galleries, quizzes, and social media updates (latest Tweets, Snaps, etc).
The second planning consideration is frequency. To carry off content marketing like a pro, you need to be consistent, posting at least two or three times a week to really gain any searchability traction with Google. Don’t rely on last minute brainstorming to come up with content ideas each week – build out a content calendar which plans out which topics you’ll cover each week, and in what format.
Step 4: Decide where your content will live on the website.
Maybe you already have a designated blog URL, and it just hasn’t been regularly posted to. No problem – Google will forgive you once you’re up and running for a few months. But if you need to, set up a specific URL on your institution’s website, like “www.abcuniversity/admissions/blog,” and figure out the CMS (content management system) behind it. In other words, how will you log in and update it? How and where will you add videos (hint- they MUST at least be on the main pages)? Is your site built on a WordPress, Drupal, or other platform? Believe it or not, your blog does NOT have to be on the same platform as the rest of your site. It can be on a different platform and still look cohesive to your general website, while still giving you conversion opportunities and easy usability on the backend. If needed, we here at Parisleaf can help train you quickly to update your CMS with content.
Step 5: Create and publish!
Wait, don’t walk away! You don’t need to do it all by yourself. Recruit the best writers, videographers and photographers on your marketing team, as well as among current students and alums. They are the experts, after all, on many of these topics you might include in your content. Just be sure to have one or two master editors put the polish on each item before it’s published. By polish I mean your institution’s cohesive voice. Who you are as a college. Your values, perspectives, voicings, visual identity… your bigger picture, the way you relate to others, what you stand for. Find that hard to define, exactly? You’re not alone – many schools struggle with it. Talk to us, we’re great at discovering just that.
Step 6: Capture student leads
Be sure each blog post has a “call to action”, which is a bit of text describing the next step the reader can take, and a button such as “Contact Us.” Your page template may already contain one, or you can add a button at the end of each post. The button should lead to a landing page you may need to create, where prospects can fill out their info and submit a form. Boom – dozens more chances to get students’ emails than simply waiting for them to find and fill out an admissions info form. Not sure how to create a great call to action or landing page? Check out this resource.
Step 7: Tweet, Linkback and Post to Facebook
Get those blog posts out there via Twitter and Facebook for more exposure and traffic back to your site. Skip LinkedIn as that’s not where Gen Z hangs out. Prospective students are still looking for answers to an ever-growing list of questions they have about college.
Build backlinks to your blog posts and other relevant places on your website, which is one of the most important ways to crush it with SEO. In 2017 the backlink authority you build with Google is priceless, especially if those backlinks are coming in from your competitors (i.e., other college websites – which may be a challenge, but not impossible). Reach out to anyone you’ve quoted in any posts and ask them for a backlink to that post, maybe in a blog post or resource they wrote. Be patient; although many bloggers would love to show off that they were quoted by a college or university, it takes time to build backlinks. When you quote or pull info from another source online, be sure to post that article on social media with a friendly @ to give a nod to the original source. Those are just two ways to build backlinks. Here are more really good ways to build backlinks.
Step 8: Monitor your progress
This is the fun part. Use Google Analytics, along with your blog platform’s dashboard, to check the traffic to blog posts and also the behavior of people who access those pages. Do they stay for more a than a few seconds (indicating they actually read it)? Do they click the call to action offer on the page? (Here’s how to add a call to action and content offer.) For our blog we use Hubspot, and we love their blog analytics and their keyword reporting feature. It shows you up-to-the moment stats on how your blog posts are ranking for whatever keywords you want to track. More details on that here.
Whatever the results, don’t pat yourself on the back for too long. A rolling stone can gather moss quickly in SEO land if it stops rolling. Repeat more of what’s working, make adjustments to what’s not, and keep pumping out the content.
If you’ve been consistently creating new content and blog pages, in about three months you should start to see direct traffic to your blog posts from searches on your personas’ keywords – seriously cool. It’s like the feeling you get when you can read minds AND see the future in a crystal ball. Boom. You just did that. And the prospects coming to your site will be much more likely to linger on the site, fill out a contact form, establish relationships with your admissions staff, and tell their friends. Job well done.
Make your job easier by making your institution’s site the authority on the burning questions students have about college and the application process. That way, when they want to know, they’ll come to you.
PS- To get you started, here are 50 common questions prospective students have before applying to college, some with links to blog posts that have answered them. These will give you an idea of the potential here to step up and really own these topics – and the intellectual and social space – on your institution’s own blog.
Ready to increase your search engine presence and enrollment?
Get the step-by-step details to attract and convert online student leads in our 2017 Guide to Content Marketing.
About Kaley Shorter
A creative in her own right, Kaley has tapped years of journalism, CRM management, inbound marketing and customer experience shaping to launch Parisleaf’s blog to international recognition in less than four months. Kaley still makes it home in time for dinner with the family, disc golf and rocking out on stage at the piano.