Strengthen the effectiveness of your international SEO campaign
How to increase your international student prospect pool by implementing a digital marketing strategy: Part 7
In today’s digital market, search engines are the kingmakers of international education. We interviewed more than 1,000 international students through our International Student Admissions Service (ISAS) and found that around two thirds of international students begin gathering information about studying abroad this way. On top of this, Google found that the search terms used in this discovery stage are very broad and non-branded – such as ‘MBA Bulgaria’ – rather than searching for a specific course and place of study.
Quite simply, international students might not know the answers to these questions yet. This opens up a crucial opportunity for universities to step in and help influence their decision. The challenge here for education providers is to ensure that their institution’s pages are appearing under the relevant search terms – and are being displayed higher up on the list than their competitors.
A key tactic in targeting prospective students is through a search engine optimisation strategy. Not only will this improve the volume of web traffic to your university website, it will also increase the quality of the prospect that finds you.
So where should you start?
In our recent blog post, we touched upon the importance of considering all search engines and the importance of ensuring your SEO strategy is in line with the most popular search engine in your target market.
With this in mind, universities should begin by identifying their strongest geographical and linguistic demographics. This can be achieved by examining your website using Google Analytics’ Geo Reports, which can be found in the ‘Audience’ section. Alternatively, universities can examine their enrolment pipeline to get a breakdown of nationalities for current student prospects along with their existing qualified students.
Think carefully about keywords
Your bank of keywords will act as the foundation of your entire SEO strategy. Think carefully about the words and phrases that your customers use to search for your institution, as well as the words that best describe who you are and what you do.
The problem in this approach is that lots of universities will be using the same keywords, such as ‘study abroad’. Therefore, universities should think about more targeted phrases – e.g. ‘Business Management Studies degree programmes in New Jersey’.
A useful tool to clarify what your search terms should be is Google’s Adwords. It’s free to use and helps you to discover how competitive the keywords are that you’re using. It also makes suggestions of what would work well for you based on your university website.
Once you’ve created a bank of these phrases and words, ensure you consistently refer to them when writing, refreshing or syndicating content. This applies to all of your relevant communication methods, including your chosen social media channels.
Don’t forget about your URLs!
URLs are typically the last thing that gets thought about before uploading new content. However, search engines look to URLs to help understand the content and figure out how it should be indexed. Therefore, choose simple and organised URLs with keywords to indicate the topic of the page – avoid abbreviations at all cost as your search engine doesn’t speak this language!
The same principles apply to your headline – try not to use keyword stuffing in an attempt to rank higher. This will only cause the opposite effect as PageRank (Google’s algorithm) has become wise to this technique and doesn’t regard it as valuable. If anything, Google thinks of this technique as trickery - so it’s likely to punish your search results for it.
Why you should pay attention to your tagging
The ‘meta title’ is essentially a data tag that “explains” what the page is about, so that the browser can understand it. This should be kept simple and short.
The meta description tag is the information that appears beneath the title tag and your URL in your listings on search engine results pages. Using keywords within this won’t overly affect your search results but it will help entice people to visit your page.
A final point to think about
If you have the resources it is well worth ensuring your website continuously has fresh content being added to it. However, all content must be relevant and valuable in order for Google to recognise its usefulness and effectively bump it up on the search list.
Make further use of the content you’re producing by leveraging social media platforms and by using third party websites to share your content from your website. This will hugely increase your SEO ranking as they are essentially providing a “vote” to your website. Not only are you building links back to your site, but you are creating relationships with other trustworthy websites too.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you begin following the above steps, as well as review and revise your work regularly, you could see results in as little as three months.