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Higher organic rankings of your college or university’s web pages in search engines produces increased visitor traffic, which if exposed to effective lead generation tactics will produce more prospective student leads.

Rankings produce leads

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Pretty obvious stuff, right?

The recent Ruffalo Noel Levitz 2015 Adult Learner Marketing and Recruitment Practices Report confirms the importance of SEO, at least partially, in its recent ranking of the most effective recruitment practices for generating inquiries.

You can see below that 4 year private institutions deemed SEO as the sixth most important lead generation practice. That’s pretty high up there given the possible range of marketing activities. I say only partially confirms because, surprisingly, in that same report, SEO was missing from the top 10 lead gen practices of 4 year publics and 2 year publics.

Reruitment practices rankings

From our fairly broad experience we know SEO is an essential requirement across all levels of higher ed recruitment.  In fact, I would probably put it in the top 3 things a college or university website must do well to have an effective lead generation program.

So, if SEO is that important, you might ask what the most important website and webpage factors are that produce these highly sought after top organic rankings.

Let’s start with the most honest answer to this question and acknowledge that we don’t exactly know what they are for certain. That’s because Google (or Bing/Yahoo, etc.) never actually reveal how their ranking algorithms work.  And to make it even more difficult to figure it out, they also regularly change them. As a result of all of this mystery, a lot of very smart digital marketing people spend a lot of time trying to figure out what exactly does go into creating a page that gets high organic search rankings so they can get the best business outcomes from their websites.

Since the search engines won’t tell us what actually causes a page to get high rankings, digital marketers (and their trusty statistician sidekicks) have had to settle on working out what website and webpage attributes correlate with getting higher rankings. That is a pretty important difference but for now that’s as good as it gets. Using this approach they have determined what the main characteristics are of pages that rank highly (again, not what causes pages to rank highly).

The granddaddy of all research efforts to determine Google’s search engine ranking factors is the biannually published Moz Ranking Factors Report, the latest of which was released in late August.

Moz and various partners examined 16,521 keyword searches in Google, across a broad range of sectors and then identified and evaluated the characteristics of the top 50 websites/web pages that rank for those searches. Additionally it surveyed around 150 SEO experts from all over the world for their personal opinions about ranking factors.

The gory details of the report and survey can be found on the Moz website. On the site you will find very good summary information including infographics, breaking down and presenting their results. I highly recommend reading it if you are interested in gaining a deeper level of understanding of how SEO works.

For those of you with less time, or interest in the details, here’s my summary on their key findings.

–          Inbound linking remains extremely important
–          On page keywords are becoming less important as the algorithm is getting smarter
–          Anchor text remains very important
–          Social shares continue to show positive correlation
–          High engagement metrics correlate to high rankings

The Top 5 search ranking factors that correlate with high rankings were:

–          Domain level links
–          Page level links
–          Page level keyword and content features
–          Page level non keyword features
–          Engagement metrics and traffic

The Top 5 negative ranking factors that correlate to low rankings were:

–          Unnatural links
–          Duplicate content
–          Thin content
–          Overly optimized anchor text
–          Non mobile friendly sites

Ranking factors of growing importance, from the qualitative survey of 150 SEO experts, were:

–          More mobile friendly sites
–          Perceived value of pages
–          Instant answers provided by sites to search engine results pages
–          Engagement data (i.e. Usage, click-thru-rate and time on page)
–          Readability and usability

So that’s Moz’s latest best estimate on what SEO practices work, which practices to avoid and what the future is likely to bring in terms of SEO best practice. For those schools, particularly the public 4 year and public 2 year institutions who reported they did not see SEO as a high ROI investment, here are two statistics from the general digital marketing world about the importance of SEO you should consider.

SEO is the Top Channel for Sales Conversions, with 15% of Marketers Reporting It Produces Above Average Conversion Rates


SEO is One of The Top Lead Generation Sources, with 25% of Marketers Finding It Produces a Below Average Cost Per Lead

We recommend you dig in and start applying good SEO practice to improve your rankings and increase your lead generation. We can guarantee that many of your competition already have.

We would love to hear about SEO experiences from those of you who have climbed up the SEO learning curve and what you have learned.   Have your rankings and subsequently your lead generation results improved?  In your opinion, what factors have made the biggest difference to your rankings? What factors do you see growing in importance in the future?