SEO in Higher Education: An Often Overlooked Opportunity

In an effort to engage more fans on Facebook, reap more retweets and pin every pretty picture we see, are we in higher education ignoring the digital tactic with the greatest potential for all of us?

Meta descriptions, keyword analysis, and inbound links are not sexy phrases often uttered in higher education circles, but perhaps it’s time they should be.

It’s time we got serious about search engine optimization (SEO).

When students start researching an institution, they’re generally searching within three content areas — academic programs; cost and financial aid; and campus location and community, according to the 2012 E-Expectations Report.

In all three areas of content, more students said web search was a better way to learn about an institution than social media. It wasn’t even that close. The following represents the percentage of college-bound high school juniors and seniors who identified the best way to learn about:

  • Academic Programs: 52% web search vs. 38% social media;
  • Cost and Financial Aid: 17% web search vs. 10% social media; and,
  • Campus Location and Community: 45% web search vs. 35% social media.

Unfortunately, it appears we aren’t listening.

A recent report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that 100 percent of colleges and universities studied are using some form of social media — 98 percent ran Facebook pages, 84 operated Twitter accounts and 51 percent blogged.

The numbers investing in search engine optimization aren’t nearly as enthusiastic.

Only 42 percent of four-year privates, 34 percent of four-year publics, and 21 percent of two-year colleges are investing in an SEO process to improve search results, according to the 2012 E-Expectations Report.

Social media strategies should continue to play a role in our overall marketing mix, but perhaps our digital priorities could stand some examination. Proper SEO isn’t easy or cheap. But in an industry where digital dollars are scarce, it might make sense to spend more in those avenues students find more valuable when researching the products we provide.

photo credit: timlewisnm via flickr cc

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