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Undeniably, search engine optimization has become a powerful way for schools to improve their online presence—particularly in today’s competitive digital landscape. Schools creating online content need to rely on effective SEO for higher education strategies to generate a positive return on investment, making keyword research a valuable part of the process. 

Keyword research can be typically understood as the process of identifying the right terms that Internet users depend on to get the result they need from a search engine, often with the intent of using this data to optimize content development and improve online visibility. 

For schools, keyword research can be the key to resonating with your prospects and becoming more discoverable. With the right strategy in place, you can see great results that can help you better reach your student recruitment goals. Read on to discover how you can get started with keyword research to boost your school’s online presence and better attract prospects.

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Why Keyword Research is Essential to Your School’s SEO Strategy

To captivate your prospects, you want to create content that covers what they want to know more about. Conducting keyword research allows you to discover these topics, giving you insight into the latest search trends that interest and impact your target persona. 

By jumping into keyword research, you can make sure that your content uses the same words that users – and search engines – are looking for, ultimately boosting your website traffic and enhancing your digital marketing strategy. Using the right keywords is so important, so much so that 71% of marketers in 2021 report using strategic keywords as their number one SEO strategy

At its core, keyword research is a methodical and data-driven process that equips you with the insights you need to bolster your content and SEO efforts, enabling you to reach your prospects and connect with them more effectively. That’s because this process allows you to analyze the individual impact each keyword can have on your overall digital marketing strategy. 

Throughout this research process, you’ll be able to determine which type of content to create in order to rank for different keywords and find out how much traffic you’ll likely gain by doing so. You’ll also be able to gauge your chances of ranking highly, which can give you the insights you need to better distribute your SEO for higher education efforts and resources—resulting in a higher ROI.

Determining the Right Topics and Keywords for Your School’s Content

When starting out with keyword research, it’s a good idea to focus on the value that these words will bring to your school and how you can integrate them into your existing strategy. Essentially, you’ll want to choose keywords that will match your user’s intent, so that the content you create aligns with your keywords and is relevant to the user’s search query.

You’ll also want to consider authority when conducting your keyword research. Search engines rank websites that seem more trustworthy higher on the page, so choosing a keyword that allows you to demonstrate your industry know-how and become an authoritative source is key to your school’s success, enabling you to outrank your competitors.

Example: When searching for “Career opportunities after regulatory affairs training” in Google, prospects are able to quickly discover a relevant AAPS blog post. This blog post is optimized for those interested in regulatory affairs, featuring relevant keywords and providing high value in order to rise to the top.

SEO basics for schools

A Google search of a keyword shows a high-ranking article, showing the impact of SEO basics for schools

The final thing you’ll want to focus on during your keyword research is volume, typically referred to as a keyword’s “monthly search volume.” This metric indicates how popular a keyword is, showing the number of times that users input the keyword into a search engine per month. In this way, the monthly search volume informs you of how in-demand a topic may be.

Generating Seed and Long-Tail Keywords to Improve SEO for Higher Education 

Now that you know what to look for in your keywords, you’re ready to take the first step. This is where seed keywords come in. Seed keywords can be succinctly summarized as short-tail keywords, typically one to three words long, that generate a high monthly search volume. These keywords cover a broad topic and often make up the base of long-tail keywords—those that are longer, more specific, and more likely to convert visitors.

It’s a good idea to start by analyzing what makes your school different. You can generate short-tail keyword ideas by looking at your school’s offerings, its location, and other relevant information that your audience might input into search engines to find you. Here, knowing your student persona is essential as it allows you to develop key content ideas, giving you the insight you need to create impactful content. 

Schools with different programs can have different short-tail keywords depending on the subjects on offer and the topics they want to rank for. These are great to add to a school’s homepage. School marketers can then modify these keywords and add relevant words to transform them into long-tail ones. Free online tools, like AnswerThePublic, can be a great help with this process.

By typing in a seed keyword into this tool, you can discover common questions that users ask when searching for the relevant keyword you’ve selected. The image below shows data visualization of common questions about the seed keyword, “business school”—which you can use for inspiration when developing your content strategy.

SEO education marketing

An idea map showing popular questions around a keyword for SEO education marketing.

Scrolling down further, you’ll be able to view your seed keyword combined with different popular prepositions. This data visualization, shown below, can help you identify long-tail keywords that would work for your school and its audience.

schools SEO

An idea map displaying popular prepositions used with a keyword for better schools SEO.

Source: AnswerThePublic

Because long-tail keywords are specific, they allow you to focus on what makes your school different and unique. Industry-specific keywords like these can help you highlight your unique selling point, and are often useful when reaching prospects who are closer to the end of the enrollment funnel. For this reason, long-tail keywords are great for your school’s blog and subpages.

Example: Digital School’s blog includes content created around the long-tail keyword “online technical design training.” This keyword targets a specific student persona, appealing to those interested in the school’s unique program. By focusing on industry certifications, the blog article below addresses the prospect’s motivations and concerns—maximizing the impact of the keyword and boosting the likelihood of conversion.

education SEO fundamentals

Creating keyword-optimized content, as shown here, helps schools exploring education SEO fundamentals.

Source: Digital School

It should be noted that using these keywords in the title, body copy, and meta description of your school’s content can help increase the success of your SEO efforts, making your content more visible on search engines.

Using Keyword Research Tools to Improve SEO for Higher Education

Keyword research can go much more smoothly with the help of online tools. You can use these tools to analyze various keyword metrics – including search volume, traffic potential, keyword difficulty, and cost per click (CPC) – to identify the right ones for your school and ensure that they deliver the right results.

With the help of online tools, you can get an overview of different keywords and even analyze your competitors’ use of these keywords. It’s a good practice to look at a keyword’s popularity in both organic and paid results. This way, you can better anticipate how beneficial this keyword will be to your SEO for higher education strategy—accessing real data that helps you identify your SEO strengths, areas for improvement, and new opportunities. 

For instance, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner tool if you have a Google Ads Account. This allows you to discover potential keywords, view the monthly search volume, and determine the cost of using that keyword in your Google Ad campaign. Notably, you can use the “forecast” feature in this tool to understand how many clicks, conversions, and impressions you can receive from your keyword.  

If you don’t use Google Ads, you can also consider Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool, as well as tools created by SpyFu and SEMRush. Below is a screenshot of SpyFu’s Keyword Overview tool, showing results for “business school” in the United States:

SEO for colleges

A screenshot of the SpyFu dashboard for better SEO for colleges.

The results show the keyword’s monthly volume, estimated clicks (desktop, mobile, and paid), similar keywords, and relevant questions. Scrolling further down, you can analyze the keyword difficulty as well as Google-Provided data (far left corner)—which shares the Cost Per Click, monthly cost, and search volume of the keyword:  

education marketing SEO tips

Expanding on the view of SpyFu’s dashboard for insights on education SEO marketing.

Source: SpyFu

From the information gathered here, you can determine that ranking highly for this keyword would be a particular challenge. In this case, your SEO for higher education efforts can be redirected elsewhere to give you faster and more positive results.

In this second example, the keyword “career college in Canada” is inputted into the SEMRush Keyword Overview tool. In the screenshot below, you can view various keyword metrics, most notably the volume and difficulty.  

SEO content strategy

Showing the SEMRush dashboard for insights on SEO content strategy development for schools.

Source: SEMRush 

Unlike the previous keyword, this one ranks lower at 32% and has been identified by the tool as a competitive keyword to rank for. The tool also identifies the user intent here as “navigational,” instead of “commercial” or “informational,” providing you with additional insight to create stronger content around this keyword. 

If you’re interested in checking how much traffic you receive from the keywords you already rank for, then Google Search Console can be a great resource. You can even go further and use Google’s Search Console as a Keyword Ranking Tool, discovering ways you can optimize your SEO for higher education. 

Targeting Keywords to Ensure Better SEO Results for Your School

At this point, you may have generated a list of different keywords to use. Your next step will be to make sure that your content matches the right keywords and search intent. In addition to using online tools that provide you with that insight, your team can conduct a quick Google search and analyze the top ranking sites. Do they meet the user’s expectations? If yes, how do they do it?   

If you’re trying to rank highly for a specific keyword, then you’ll want to tailor your content to resemble what already exists at the top. This way, you’re signaling to Google that your content meets the existing high standards. You can take a closer look at the content type (i.e. blog posts or landing pages), format (i.e. lists or reviews), and angle (the focus that the content takes to deliver key information).

To go beyond SEO basics for schools, you can optimize your blog content to provide even greater value than what already exists at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). By doing so, you ensure a higher chance of outranking your competition and attracting your prospect’s attention.

Keyword Clustering Basics for Your School

Keyword clustering is the SEO practice of grouping keywords into content topics, similar to themes or buckets. Embracing this strategy can generate many benefits for your school’s website, including the following:

  • A visibility boost on the search engine results page
  • Higher potential of getting a featured snippet
  • A scalable SEO strategy that provides actionable insights for your team
  • Lower chances of content cannibalization 

To get started, you’ll want to carefully analyze your list of keywords and determine which ones work together or fit into the same topic cluster or theme. In this case, you can determine a focus keyword that shows the most potential for your school and integrate secondary keywords to further bolster your efforts. 

This approach also allows you to improve your internal linking strategy. That’s because the content you create will include more meaningful anchor text, which would redirect prospects to other valuable and relevant information on your site. By doing this, you can seamlessly integrate keywords into your content instead of creating content solely around your keywords. 

Considerations to Make When Approaching Keyword Research 

It should be remembered that the right strategy can help you create impactful content that targets the right audience, engages them, and converts them into qualified leads. However, to get positive results, you need to focus your efforts and prioritize your SEO activities.

When it comes to keyword research, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of your keyword strategy? (brand awareness vs. lead conversion)
  • What is the traffic you can expect to gain from your keyword?
  • How difficult would it be to rank for your chosen keyword?
  • Is new content available for your keyword or will it need to be created?
  • Can you optimize existing content to integrate your keyword?

Asking these questions allows you to consider both your SEO and content efforts. By going through this process, you can better manage your team’s time and resources. 

Prioritizing Your Keywords for Better SEO for Higher Education

It’s a good idea to compare keywords in relation to your school’s admissions funnel. Here, you can consider which keywords are best suited for the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel. 

Those at the top would serve to boost brand awareness, attract prospects and generate more traffic. Short-tail keywords, which would be added to your homepage, can be particularly useful in this case. Keywords positioned closer to the bottom of the funnel are meant to engage your audience and push them towards converting. Long-tail keywords that reflect your school’s unique selling points, placed on subpages or landing pages, can be the way to go. 

Ultimately, you want to consider the full value a keyword has to offer your school along with your school’s business and student recruitment needs. From there, you can apply higher education SEO fundamentals to boost your ROI. You can also reach out to our team for expert guidance on building your SEO strategy.

Pro Tip: A good strategy is focusing on a range of short, medium and long-term keyword ranking goals when developing your keyword strategy. This way, you can quickly rank for low-difficulty keywords as you work on ranking for the more difficult and lucrative ones.

Reviewing Your Performance and Optimizing Your Efforts 

Analyzing your online presence and checking your website performance is a key part of SEO success. After completing your keyword research and applying your strategy, it’s important to regularly review your performance to see if you’re generating the right results. One way to check is by searching for the keywords you’ve optimized for and seeing if your school comes up on the search engine results page. Alternatively, you can check the Google Search Console to monitor your traffic and identify areas for improvement.

Keyword ranking can be highly volatile and SEO best practices regularly change. For this reason, you may want to stay up-to-date on industry trends in SEO for higher education. Conducting an SEO audit is also another way to make improvements. Through them, you may even discover keyword gaps and new opportunities for keyword targeting. With these efforts in place, you’ll be better set to continue generating positive results that boost your school’s online visibility. 

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