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Higher Education Marketing founder Philippe Taza has worked in the Canadian higher education industry for nearly a decade. He took some time to share his thoughts on how schools should approach Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

What are the first things to consider when starting SEO?

The first thing to consider when starting SEO is to determine the goals of the SEO campaign. What are you trying to achieve with your website? It’s fine to have general goals regarding training students and improving the workforce, but in order to measure the success of your website, you need to define clear cut goals that can be tracked and measured. A completed goal, therefore, can be anything from having a prospective student fill out an information form, download a PDF brochure, or inquire about programs.

By doing this, you will be able to measure your website’s progress, and, most importantly, you’ll know exactly what you want to achieve by engaging in SEO. Keywords are the key, but behind them is the why, and the why is because you want to reach your target audience, you want to reach prospective students that are researching educational options online. These days, prospective students go first to Google, Bing and other search engines, so you have to ensure that your website ranks well on organic listings on the search engines. Most often what we find is that the bulk of traffic comes from keywords that are related to your brand or school name, and it should be really coming from your program pages. Those are the ones that should be ranking. Keywords related to program pages, therefore, should be something you focus on at the early stages.

How does one go about researching keywords?

The first step would be to go to Google and do a search for your top programs. Does your website rank for those keywords? Most likely, it doesn’t, which will help you identify the need for this work. Following this you can look at Google Analytics to determine what keywords are bringing traffic to your site, and what keywords are bringing completed goals to your website. Finally, there are keyword research tools. Google Adwords has a great keyword research tool, for example, where you can determine the popularity and the competition of a keyword, and then determine the best combination of keywords you should optimize your website for.

How important are keyword reports?

Keyword reports are very important, and fittingly, there are several kinds of reports. You can have a keyword ranking report, which tells you how a particular keyword is related to a particular search engine. We talk often about Google, but there’s,,, etc. So what market are you trying to reach? If you’re a Canadian school trying to target the local market, is probably what you should be aiming to rank for. However, because this is a fluctuating landscape and because your competitors are also trying to rank for those keywords, it’s necessary to run these keyword reports on a weekly basis. You have to keep an eye on your position, which fluctuates all the time.

There are also keyword reports in Google Analytics that tell you how much traffic came to your site for a keyword, how many pages were viewed for that keyword, how much time they spent on average on your website for that keyword and what the conversation rate is for that keyword to your goals, etc. As well, there are also reports in Google Webmaster Tools, which tell you the impressions a keyword is getting your website on search engines, how many clicks are coming from that impression and how that is evolving over time.

As you can see, there are a lot of different keyword ranking reports we can generate, and we use all of them to determine the efficiency of our work.

What are some common mistakes made regarding keywords?

Schools often overlook the importance of the research. They also overlook the fact that the SEO process has to be focused. You have to focus 2-3 keywords per website page and you got to have site wide initiative keywords.

Another common mistake is thinking keywords have to be one word. They can, in fact, be 3 to 4 words, like “Accounting Schools Toronto”, for example. If you’re trying to rank for the keyword “Accounting”, you’re competing with all the accounting firms, KPMG, Ernst Young, Deloite, and that’s going to be challenging. But if you’re trying to compete for “Accounting Courses Toronto,” “Accounting Courses Newmarket”, or “Online Accounting Courses Canada”, using 2 to 3 word phrases, then you’re more likely more to rank well.

What’s involved in a link building campaign? Is this a necessary step?

Yes, it can be very useful. Link building involves getting links from other websites that are authorities on a particular subject pointing back to you. That link, by the way, should be keyword rich, so the anchor text pointing back to your website has to be related to the keyword you’re trying to rank for. To use the accounting example again, you’d want that link saying “Accounting Schools Toronto,” and when they click on it they’re sent to your college. Crawlers will then crawl those links and determine their semantic objective by the anchor text in them.

To find out more information about Search Engine Optimization, contact Higher Education Marketing today.