7 Tactics for Creating a Winning SEO Strategy for Higher Education


With organic search bringing in the majority of website traffic in higher education, building a solid online presence is critical. However, as competition for attracting prospective students grows, reaching new learners is increasingly challenging and complex.

A 2020 study by Ahrefs revealed that 90.63% of web pages get no organic search traffic from Google. In other words, without a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy behind your site, you’ll only have a slight chance of getting discovered through popular search engines.

Interested in boosting your site and improving your organic search rankings? Continuum College’s marketing team has a few tips you can try employing that’ll help you stay competitive and provide potential students with the information they want.

1. Use Google Analytics to Identify Content Opportunities

If you want to determine where to focus your content efforts, using a tool such as Google Analytics is a great place to start. As part of our best practices, Continuum uses Google Analytics to see where prospective students are coming from and what channels they’re using. We also use Google Analytics to monitor page performance, track if users find pages and determine content gaps.

When considering content opportunities, we suggest exploring which pages on your site get the most organic search traffic and studying their format, keywords and topics to get a sense of what information your audience finds interesting. Then use this data to build pages replicating their success.

Similarly, you can examine pages that get the least traffic to help determine what content isn’t as important to your audience. Or, if you discover your audience isn’t visiting pages you want them to find, plan to overhaul the content to make the pages more visible. 

2. Perform Keyword Research

Before writing the first draft of a page, it’s a good idea to consider the words you want to target. The Continuum marketing team allocates time for comprehensive keyword planning. We use tools such as Google Search Console, Google Keyword Planner and Moz to research the most common keywords and phrases students are searching for and filter them based on search volume and relevance to the content’s theme. 

Another way to identify keywords is to perform a Google search for the name of your college, program or intended keyword. Note what queries populate when you begin typing in the search bar and are bolded in the search results, which will provide insight into common search terms. 

Explore the questions displayed under the “People Also Ask” and “Related Searches” sections of the results page. You can then answer these questions on your site with compelling content that fulfills student search intent, which will help you rank on Google for the term and attract qualified leads.

3. Include Keywords in Page Titles and Meta Descriptions 

Page titles and meta descriptions are some of the first things people see in search, so optimizing them is key. Even though Google claims it no longer uses meta descriptions in its ranking algorithm, it does use click-through rate (CTR) to determine if your page is a good search result. Therefore, having a solid title and meta description is your chance to convince readers to click on your result. 

Continuum creates smart page titles that are unique to each page, have keywords at the front, use popular formats such as numbers or how-tos and are under 60 characters long. For meta descriptions, we use active voice, include target keywords and uniquely and accurately describe the page. 

4. Take a Mobile-First Approach 

In the past few years, Google has said they predominately use the mobile version of a site for indexing and ranking its content, also known as mobile-first indexing. That means if you haven’t optimized your site for mobile, you’re likely missing out on a significant portion of website traffic and prospective students. If you haven’t already, we suggest creating a mobile-friendly site using a responsive design or exploring one of the other configurations recommended by Google.  

5. Optimize Videos and Photos

With YouTube receiving billions of searches for content each month, video content is essential to helping answer student questions and providing more information about your program. To help your videos stand out, the Continuum marketing team suggests labeling videos with short, catchy titles that include important keywords upfront. 

Each video should have a unique description that contains keywords and related hashtags to make it easier to find through search. The Continuum marketing team also adds closed captions and transcribes the audio content into the video's description section to improve accessibility.

Don’t forget to optimize your images as well. We recommend giving your photo files clear, descriptive names, writing an alt tag that conveys what’s happening in the image and including captions below the photo to create a better user experience. 

6. Keep an Eye on Your Page Speed

How long it takes a page to load on your site can impact how users and search engines perceive and rank your content. A study by Think With Google found 53% of visitors to mobile sites will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. Therefore, if you have a page that lags, you may need help. 

We recommend using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to not only track how fast your site loads, but to also identify elements such as large images, plugins, unused code and more that you can adjust to improve your search rankings and user engagement. 

7. Audit and Update Existing Content

Regularly monitoring the performance of your content is the key to ensuring your site continues to provide value. As a best practice, the Continuum marketing team performs regular system maintenance and upgrades, evaluates site usability and refreshes content annually to remain current and effective.

Site auditing tools can help you regularly crawl your site to detect issues affecting the site’s visibility, traffic and ranking. While you don’t want to rely only on these tools, they are an excellent way to identify problem areas quickly. We use SiteImprove and Moz Pro to find and correct issues such as old or broken links and duplicate or low-quality content. This approach allows you to capitalize on existing content to improve conversion and boost traffic to your older content.

Want Continuum College to help support online marketing for your program? Please reach out to your Partner Success Lead (PSL) during your annual planning to choose the right package from the options in our service and financial model that include marketing.