For many, getting a degree or certification isn’t just something they pursue to tick off a box on their to-do list. It’s an integral milestone that solidifies their reputation and serves as a doorway to something greater.  

So with an abundance of higher education and job training options out there: 

  • How do you get your institution to stand out online from your competitors? 
  • How do you communicate quality and value to your prospective students?
  • How can you stay on top of Google standards while ensuring online content abides by your institution’s legal standards? 
  • How do you achieve all of the above cost-effectively? 

Higher education institutions and training providers have trusted Big Leap as their digital marketing partner. As a result, they’ve earned great online success. What exactly does this look like?

Keep reading for insights on the strategies behind SEO for higher education and training institutions—the key to boosting your online real estate and enrollment numbers. 

The 9 Key SEO Challenges for Higher Education & Training Institutions

Finetuning your site pages for SEO can be daunting when your institution serves thousands of students in multiple locations. 

And we’re not going to sugarcoat that—it is hard. The SEO journey for training and higher education institutions involves its fair share of challenges, such as: 

  1. Competition: It’s a tough life out there in the digital world. When 67% of prospective students use search engines as a primary source for higher education information, you need to ensure your institution and brand get vast exposure online. But of course, this is easier said than done when you’re faced with other educational hyenas trying to achieve the same goals you’re aiming for. 
  2. Target audience: Targeting the right audience can get challenging, especially when prospective students are scattered across the country or your institution offers various degrees and certifications. This often requires researching niche and/or non-branded keywords to ensure your brand finds the right people. 
  3. Emphasis on niche keywords: Niche keywords are highly-specific terms that can deliver uniquely qualified traffic. For example, let’s say you offer courses in mortgage loan origination (MLO). Each state has its own specifications for getting an MLO license. This means your team may need to dig deeper and look for geo-specific key terms relevant to certain groups in a particular state/area.
  4. Getting found for branded and non-branded keywords. Branded keywords have over two times higher conversion rates than non-branded keywords. But this doesn’t mean you should rely solely on branded terms to get your institution in front of your audience. Both types of keywords are needed to target different search intents and reach users at different stages of the marketing funnel.  
  5. Ensuring content is accurate and compliant: There is no SEO without content. And in the higher education/training world, producing content can get a bit complex. With all of the legal/compliance standards, practices, and verbiage required, there are additional layers to consider when it comes to content marketing.
  6. The audience’s slow decision-making process: Selecting a learning institution is a big decision from a student’s standpoint and it can take them a long time to commit. Thus, a good SEO strategy requires unique lead-nurturing tactics. These should offer a valuable, ongoing experience that engages, educates, and builds trust at every stage of the decision journey. 
  7. Building authority: There are two sides to this—one part is building authority in the educational space, and the other is being recognized as an authority by Google. Both go hand-in-hand, and they both take time and patience. SEO is a long-term strategy. 
  8. Winning trust: When the competition is fierce, this can definitely seem like a tall order. But it’s key to winning more conversions and qualified leads. If you’ve got all of the above in order, winning the trust of prospective students isn’t far off.

What Does SEO Mean for Higher Education Institutions?

Now, we don’t mean to be a buzzkill here. Rest assured, with the right SEO team by your side, you can efficiently tackle those nine pain points. Our education clients have, and so can you.

The Basics of SEO for Higher Education Institutions

Think of SEO as the central force that brings all key online elements together. We’re talking: 

  • Content quality 
  • Design 
  • Functionality
  • Site speed
  • User experience 
  • Backlinks
  • Internal links 
  • Mobile-first experience
  • And more…

Hitting all these areas not only offers a stellar user experience for your target audience but also helps you get on Google’s good side. The almighty search engine rewards those who follow white-hat SEO tactics with good rankings. 

7 Key Components of a Successful SEO Strategy

Many teams attempt a DIY approach to SEO. But they soon realize the strategy involves much more than just plugging in keywords. 

A successful SEO strategy for education professionals generally entails seven components. With our customized approach, our team considers all the following tactics to maximize your campaign results.

1. Competitor Analysis

This part is huge. When you’re in a highly competitive field, you must dedicate time to identify critical advantages. 

  • Where do your competitors thrive?
  • Where are they lacking?
  • What types of keywords and content topics are they targeting and not targeting? 

These are all critical questions we explore throughout the competitor analysis process. Making data-driven decisions is vital, and this is where we start. 

2. Local SEO

If you’re an institution that offers courses or licenses across multiple geographic regions, local SEO is a must. 

Local SEO for universities allows you to target specific students and have your brand show up for the right search queries. In addition, local SEO enables you to provide unique content for every location.

For example: 

  • If you offer courses in Costa Mesa, California, you want to target key terms in that region. That way, you show up to the right folks searching for classes in Costa Mesa. 
  • If you’re a university in Utah, Local SEO lets you target prospective college students searching for universities with a presence in the Beehive State. When they type in something like “Communication Studies in Utah” or “Communication Studies in Salt Lake City,”  you want your institution to show up.

In addition to injecting your site pages with location-specific content, the right higher education digital marketing agency will create a consistent standard operating procedure across those areas. Because, let’s be real, staying on top of multiple locations can get pretty stressful. 

Don’t forget to bookmark these 16 local SEO tools

3. Content Strategy and Marketing

As we said earlier, there is no SEO without content. Content is the butter to your SEO bread. Target specific types of students with tailored content. 

For example, if you’re a university that offers a diverse array of courses and degrees, you’ll need to customize your content accordingly. This might involve offering: 

  • Guides or infographics that walk through your admissions process
  • Video interviews with notable alumni
  • Webinars that explain state requirements for a particular license

The content space is vast, so it’s all about identifying your audience’s needs and pain points and creating unique content that addresses those areas. Types of content may include but are not limited to:

  • Landing page content 
  • Short and long-form blog posts
  • Thought leadership content
  • eBooks
  • Whitepapers
  • Webinars
  • Social media posts
  • Infographics 
  • Videos/video scripts

4. Reputation Management

Since everyone is hanging out online today, how your reputation lands on the internet is imperative to your success. What’s also important is what people are saying about you: 

  • Nearly 93% of users say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. 
  • 58% of users look at online reviews at least weekly. 

Reputation management oversees and manages any potential negative chatter people may express about your institution. Your reputation impacts enrollment numbers, so you need to be in the driver’s seat of your online image.

The good news is, if you’ve got the right SEO and content strategies in place, you already have a good foundation. From here, additional reputation management strategies might include: 

  • Executing a backlink and outreach strategy to build a beneficial brand identity 
  • Leveraging the right platforms to gather positive reviews
  • Responding ASAP to negative reviews

5. PPC

PPC stands for pay-per-click. It’s a paid advertising strategy that collects qualified leads quickly. You pay a fee each time a user clicks on your online ad. 

PPC is a great way to complement your organic/SEO efforts. Why? It ultimately maximizes your exposure to prospective students: 

  • PPC offers guaranteed reach.
  • PPC gives you the power to customize your targeting options. 
  • PPC helps amplify the reach of your organic efforts.

And the results are pretty stellar. PPC has an ROI of 200%

man next to graph arrow indicating increases of money

Especially in such crowded spaces like education and training, it’s worth investing in PPC to stand out from the pack. 

A good strategy for PPC for higher education increases traffic to your site without breaking the bank. You can set a budget and adjust the settings depending on how your ad performs and how PPC trends evolve

6. CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization)

So you’ve got more prospective students coming to your site. Great. Now it’s time to make sure your on-site experience is a good one—so good that it boosts conversions and increases your revenue

This is called CRO (conversion rate optimization). CRO designs a seamless on-site experience so prospective students can: 

  • Find what they need on your site
  • Easily take the actions you want them to take

Because here’s the thing: You could drive all the traffic in the world to your site, but if it’s not optimized for clicks, engagement, and conversions, all that traffic means absolutely nothing

So CRO exists to analyze site visitor behavior and ultimately minimize issues for users. Students will love you, and so will Google. 

7. Lead Nurturing

Prospective students tend to visit a potential school choice many times before they click to contact, apply, or enroll. They do this to gather more information and help them make a decision.

This is why higher education and training SEO campaigns must be ongoing. Continuing the conversation with your target audience might involve: 

  • Leaning on multi-channel marketing techniques: Email, social media, online events/webinars, the list goes on…there are several platforms for building connection and trust. All of that stellar content you created? You can repurpose them for these channels. 
  • Focusing on multiple touches: This is where retargeting efforts (another paid advertising strategy) could come in handy. For users who browsed your site but left without converting, they’ll see your ads when browsing other pages on the web. You’re essentially reminding them of all the great stuff you have to offer. 

You can also consider using email to follow up after leads take a specific action. Either way, reaching out to people at the right time is key.

What Results Can You Expect?

When executed well and right, your SEO strategy can win results in five areas: 

  1. Improved search engine rankings: More prospective students see your site when searching for potential schools they want to enroll in. 
  2. Increased site traffic: SEO boosts your search rankings, encouraging more site traffic.
  3. Better brand awareness: With better online visibility, prospective students become familiar with your institution and what you offer.
  4. Increased lead generation: Additional touch points and messaging keep that list of qualified leads/prospective students growing.
  5. Improved conversion rates: More users take the action you want them to take. Whether that’s signing up for an upcoming informational session or enrolling in a course, better conversion rates feed your bottom line.

SEO for Higher Education & Training Institutions Drives Real Success

So how exactly do these results look and manifest in a typical higher education institution or training provider? 

We’ll let these case studies do the talking. 

Case Study #1:

statistic box showing 11 million new organic users on website statistic box showing 2,281 ranking position on Google statistic box showing 228 ranking position in the top 3 positions on Google helps individuals earn their high-school equivalency diploma. This client wanted to do better at reaching their audience, specifically: 

  • Broadening their organic keyword portfolio
  • Bringing more visitors to their new website

The Big Leap team dove into: 

  • Competitor research to assess the types of topics and questions’s competitors covered and missed. 
  • Content strategy, which involved using the data from competitor research to create a content calendar rich with 15 unique blog content ideas. These content ideas helped answer the key questions and pain points’s audience faced.
  • Technical SEO site components to fix link errors and reformat the structure of their site to include their blog. This created a better user experience and a cleaner site structure—both are essential Google ranking factors. 

These SEO strategies helped earn lasting wins: 

  • 11 million new organic users on the site
  • 2,281 ranking positions on Google
  • 228 keywords ranking in the top 3 positions

Case Study #2: Higher Education Client

statistic showing 132% jump in YouTube traffic statistic showing 132% jump in YouTube traffic

A private online career college had difficulties solidifying a positive brand identity and earning good search rankings. 

This client primarily leaned on YouTube videos to nurture leads, so the Big Leap team examined their competitors’ video strategies. Through these competitor analyses and meticulous video audits, we discovered keyword, metadata, and content gaps that needed to be addressed. 

After making the necessary optimizations from the data above, our client reported: 

  • Their YouTube channel jumped to the first page of the SERP (search engine results page) one month after executing our project.
  • This higher ranking bolstered their YouTube channel traffic by 132%.

Case Study #3: Corporate Leadership & Training Firm

statistic showing 53% increase in leads statistic showing 65% increase in traffic statistic showing 421% increase in subscribers

While you might have a long track record as a reputable institution, you’ll simply be stuck with subpar results if you don’t keep up with the ever-changing tides of online marketing. To reach your full potential, you need SEO.

The Big Leap team worked with a corporate leadership and training firm that’s been around for 40 years. Even though they were a leader in their space, they realized they needed a more robust online presence to safeguard and maintain their reputation. 

We collaborated with this firm to: 

  • Target high-converting keywords.
  • Create more digestible and engaging content, which entailed building a resource library with downloadable assets.
  • Improve their on-site experience via CRO tactics to maximize conversions.

Since this campaign, our client has enjoyed a: 

  • 53% increase in leads
  • 65% increase in site traffic
  • 421% increase in subscribers

Case Study #4: Mortgage Educators and Compliance (MEC)

statistic showing 369 keywords in top 3 positions statistic showing 25% increase in keywords on the first page on Google statistic showing 43% increase in organic traffic

Mortgage Educators and Compliance (MEC) helps individuals obtain an MLO (mortgage loan origination) license from the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System & Registry (NMLS). 

While MEC offers valuable resources for soon-to-be MLOs, the institution had trouble informing its audience—who resided in all 50 states—about the services. Not to mention, their competitors ranked higher for most search terms MEC tried to target. 

Big Leap worked on driving two main SEO initiatives: 

  • Geo-specific keywords: We dove through keywords relevant to mortgage licenses across all 50 states. We prioritized states with the most keyword volume and then created state-specific pages. 
  • State page optimization: The team optimized MEC’s web pages—each covering a specific state’s licensure requirements. There was a lot of duplicate content, so we focused on injecting the pages with unique educational requirements for each state. 

These local SEO and content marketing efforts won MEC: 

  • 43.5% increase in organic traffic
  • 132% increase in keyword rankings (specifically in the top 3 positions)

Bolster Your Online Authority and Enrollment Numbers with Big Leap

graphic explaining the four signs you are ready to partner with a digital marketing agency

SEO is a complex and rapidly evolving field. While this guide serves as an excellent starting point, partnering with an SEO team is necessary to reel in the results you crave. 

At Big Leap, we’ve got everything you need—experience, awesome people, and a knack for building customized strategies. We’d love to get to know you and see if we’re the right fit.

Speak with a higher education digital marketing expert today.