Most higher ed institutions dominate the search engine rankings for their branded keywords. (Branded keywords = the name of your institution). Generally speaking, with the breadth of content that they have on their sites and the strength of a .edu domain, if a higher ed institution is not in the top spot of the search engine rankings for their brand name, something is seriously amiss.
The bigger SEO challenge for higher ed institutions becomes clear once you start examining keyword rankings for their main academic programs. Hundreds, if not thousands of schools, have the same program names so it is difficult for a school to rank highly for a search like “full time BA degree in psychology New York” (even with the regional geographic modifier attached.)
Up until the recent past, for program pages to rank well a school would have to ramp up its on-page SEO, making sure that Page Titles, Metatags, H1headers, Keywords, etc were all tuned up so that the page had maximum SEO effect. Some off- page SEO in the form of inbound links from other outside respected sources would also be a big help. This level of SEO investment would typically give a program page a respectable showing in the search engines.
But this minimal level of SEO activity is simply not enough anymore.
To rank highly today, and be seen by prospective students in their early stage web searching, higher ed marketers must now also produce high quality, engaging, relevant and recurring content about their academic programs, that includes related short and long tail keywords .
So how does one determine what content to produce to get the best SEO results while at the same time optimally engaging your target student.
Enter the 70/20/10 Content Formula.
This model will help you determine how content can be focused to get the optimal results on both fronts. It was developed in the advertising world to support balanced content marketing strategy in brand development. It was recently highlighted by Coca-Cola when used as part of a long-term content marketing strategy for Coke but applies equally well to higher education marketing.
70% of your content should be low risk, basic information that talks about the fundamental elements of your program. Some people refer to this type of content as link bait. But don’t get the wrong idea. To be successful with the search engines and your prospective student you must be committed to producing high quality content even at this basic level. You must provide useful articles, with merit, that are on topics proven to be of interest to your audience. This content, with a purpose, should provide basic information and answer the basic questions about you programs. Don’t overthink it, keep it clean, simple and effective and always link it back to the other basic elements of your program. Here is an example from the University of Toronto News Section.
Source: University of Toronto
The next 20% of the content that you create should be innovative, responsive content, discussing the same prioritized topics that you covered in the 70%, but taken to a deeper level. They might be a bit edgier; you might take a unique stance, or respond to seasonal shifts in the general case. This content may also take a different form as ebooks, webinars, or infographics. Deeper discussion of your priority topics provides serious prospects with more information and more insight into your program’s personality, as they form opinions about your institution and compare it to other schools. Search engines are exposed to more detailed text covering your key topics, encountering more synonyms, antonyms, and related long tail keyword phrases.
Here is an example of a popular HEM blog post that fits into the 20% definition. It combines and contrasts two main topics that are core to our blog’s content , PPC and SEO in higher ed. To this day, 6 months after it was originally published, it continues to attract significant traffic and stimulate feedback from our readers.
Source: Higher Education Marketing
It is within the final 10 % of your content where you should proactively and re-actively experiment with your subject matter. It’s where you introduce controversial new ideas, take some risk with opinion pieces, or experiment with feedback to comments to the 70% and 20%. It presents you with the opportunity to learn more about your visitor’s preferences, win readers, lose readers and celebrate your content expertise. By getting out ahead of your reader with this kind of content you can test new trends, present new ideas and have a bit of fun along the way. This recommendation may seem a bit unrealistic to some , given the rather conservative nature of many post-secondary institutions, but remember that it is your job to generate genuine interest in your institution and engage your students. This is your opportunity to do that with some flair. Just remember not to step out too far outside the range of “normal”, as defined at your institution.
Source: Academy of Learning
The 70/20/10 strategy is a means to help you more effectively organize your approach to content that will satisfy the appetite for high quality content of both your human and your search engine robot audiences.
What have been your most successful “20%” and “10 %” topics. What challenges do you see implementing this kind of approach within your higher ed institution’s content strategy?