Google’s New College Search Feature and How It Will Affect College Websites

In an effort to help prospective college students narrow down their search, Google has implemented a new search feature. With vital information about colleges scattered throughout the web, the new preview pane is a one-stop shop for incoming students. In this post, we’ll discuss Google’s new college search feature and how it might impact your higher education website.

The college preview pane

The new higher education preview pane aims to help users weed out which colleges may not be the right fit for them. Now, when you search for a 4-year university, you’ll be presented with information about admissions, cost, majors, outcomes, and more – all the things you want to see as a prospective student. If you’re inclined to dig a little deeper, you can find finer things like average income 10 years after graduation and notable alumni.

Google's college search feature

Effects on your higher education website

Long story short, this new search feature will likely cause your organic traffic to dip. Why? With all the critical information displayed in the search result, prospective students don’t have as much of a need to click-through to your website. If they notice that you don’t offer their intended major or the tuition cost is out of budget, you’ll be out of the picture without the student even visiting your site. The new feature helps students get a snapshot of important facts, but a snapshot isn’t always the full picture.

Some important caveats

  • While this new search feature may be scary, there are some caveats to consider. We’ve summed them up here:
  • Only applies to 4-year undergraduate colleges
  • AdWords campaigns will still appear above the preview pane
  • For colleges with the same name, the one displayed is the one closest to the user’s geographic location
  • Data is taken from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
  • Content in the various tabs is pulled from your website – meaning you still have control over it

Next steps you should take

Google’s new college search feature is geared towards giving prospective students all the information they need with minimal digging. On one hand it benefits users by showing the important data, but on the other hand, it will decrease organic traffic and hinder colleges from illustrating their unique experience.

A website content audit may be necessary to tweak the copy that appears in the preview pane tabs. Perhaps you need to revise your prospective student landing page (homepage) to feature content that Google does not promote about your institution. Additionally, you may need to be more aggressive with your PPC campaigns to help counteract the lower click-through rates.

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