Colleges and universities actively recruit students through search locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. A well rounded search engine optimization (SEO) strategy for your website will provide a solid foundation for your organic search engine rankings across all levels but further refinements are required if you really want optimal performance.
I think it is fair to say that local search is getting more complex and harder to do. Part of this is simply due to increasing competition in higher ed but Google is also causing it due to their on-going efforts to refine their search algorithm to provide better local search results. The explosion of mobile usage and subsequent mobile search seems to be fundamentally shifting the balance of search factors towards a much more local focus. Google is working hard to better interpret and better provide for local search intent. The recent Hummingbird and Venice updates of the Google algorithm included changes that appear to push even more general non-branded, non-geo related searches to local search results. So with all of this going on, how should a post secondary education institution proceed to optimize for local search results?
First of all I would recommend that you must get your general on-page and off-page optimization into shape as the main priority. Review these previous posts for a refresher on how to do that if needed. Once you have done that, you can take your SEO to a deeper level by applying some of the tactics below.
Here are a some of the general tactics to include in your overall SEO efforts that will positively affect your local SEO results:
Keyword Research – Be sure to include local keywords in your primary keyword research. For example, if you are promoting a program targeting prospects in Toronto, or in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) or Ontario in general, then you must include those geographically specific words in your keyword strategy.
On-Page Optimization – Include your city, region or province/state keywords in your overall page optimization plan for your site. Put these same terms in page metatags, page titles, H1s, content and internal site links. Give each separate campus location a unique page and fill it with unique content. Put a standard address footer on every page of your site, indicating its location. Google really likes structured content so use Schema Local Markup and put a Keyhole Markup Language file on you site for best effect.
Here are more specific tactics you can use to optimize for local search:
Claim Your Locations – Claim and verify your campus locations on services like Google + Places, Yahoo! Local and Bing Maps. Make sure you fill out 100% of the fields and use exactly the same information across each.
Ryerson University G+Places Page
Acquire Citations – Get listed across local directories, again using exactly the same Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) data as you are using in Google Places. Academic directories like Braintrack and Schools Training provide an opportunity to further reinforce each campuses’ unique address.
Get Reviews on Google Places – The Google algorithm definitely appears to favors positive reviews on G+ Places. Develop a strategy to encourage students with very positive comments to post them on Google Places. If you are not already checking Google Places start now and monitor it for sentiment. Put your best “reputation management” practices in place and manage this like any other public social media platform. Developing reviews is probably the most difficult tactic to implement but is very important for good results.
Optimize your Profiles on Social Media – Make sure you are using the same location data across all of your social media profiles. Register an account with location based platforms like Foursquare, Yelp and Gowalla to claim your location and build local “geo” related content and references. Add Pinterest Pins to content on your Pinterest account to highlight campus features and location.
The combined effect of these tactics should help your site rank higher for local searches and drive more local traffic. Google Analytics should then be used to track the visitor behavior of this local search generated “segment”. With better understanding of their search intent and needs you can continue to optimize your site for better recruitment performance on the local front.
Do you currently optimize your site for local search. Which tactics have you found to be the most effective?