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What Role Does SEO Play in a Higher Ed Website Redesign?

When a higher education institution embarks on a website redesign, it is not a decision that comes lightly. The effort that goes into planning a website redesign is astronomical, especially for such an essential and intricate website like a higher ed site. To understand the role of SEO in a higher-ed website redesign, first, we need to take a look at the factors that influence a redesign in the first place:

  • The college or university is undergoing a rebranding.
  • A college or university needs to increase student applications and enrollment rates.
  • Digital user experience needs improvement across the site.

Planning, strategy, UI, and UX design is at the front of most modern EDU redesigns. However, it is important to understand what is powering the engine. Behind every decision, digital strategists must ask themselves:

“What effects will this decision have on SEO?”

The role of SEO in a higher-ed website redesign is crucial. From content strategy to lead generation to UX, SEO is a driving element in each of these redesign factors.

SEO Increases Traffic & Applications/Enrollment

A desire to increase enrollment is a common cause of website redesigns in higher ed. One question that digital strategists need to ask themselves throughout the redesign process is what will increase quality traffic on the website? Any user who has used a search engine knows that the most relevant search results to the search query are on the first page. 75% of people never scroll past the first page of search engines [1].

Knowing this, the marketing team must put effort into the search engine optimization strategy to improve rankings within Google search results. The closer to the first Google search result, the more traffic that site will likely receive. The first five organic results on the first page of Google account for 67.60% of all the clicks [2].

The more relevant traffic that hits a higher education website, the higher the chances of those users becoming leads. Learn more about enrollment strategies for the different stages of the admissions funnel.

SEO Improves Higher Ed User Experience

Google wants users to find information relevant to their search query in as few clicks as possible. Search engines recognize the target keyword and scan the page for pertinent information related to that keyword or keyphrase. These algorithms use more than 200 factors to rank websites [3]. If the bots find enough relevant information and find the domain is credible, Google awards the page and increases its ranking for that particular keyword or phrase.

Some of the key ranking factors that Google puts a high value on are:

  • Websites that are designed and developed to be fully responsive, meaning the site works effectively on mobile, tablet, and desktop.
  • Websites that load up quickly on all devices. 1 in 4 users abandons a website that takes more than 4 seconds to load [4].
  • Websites without broken links and missing content. User experience is damaged when they arrive at a broken link, and the authority of the institution’s domain decreases.

Now, what does this mean for higher ed? Higher education institutions that value SEO have websites that give a positive user experience. The higher the search ranking, the closer the web page is to the #1 spot on Google. The closer a higher ed site is to the #1 spot on Google, the higher the user’s experience. Learn more about higher education UX best practices.

SEO Drives Credibility

Google’s business model allows it to feature what it deems as the most relevant result to a particular query in its first search result. As any marketer can attest, this is not a simple accomplishment. Marketers can spend years trying to move one or two spots closer to the first search result. This is such an effort because of the credibility and status that accompanies being in the first search result.

Users searching a particular query will put enormous authority into the first result they see, and the first search result is often what they click on. The higher a college or university website is in Google search results, the more prestige and authority it has to searchers. Learn more about prospective student search intent.

SEO is at the Forefront of Content Strategy

For a higher education content strategy to be successful, the content appearing on the website must be meaningful and relevant to the user’s search intent. SEMrush reported that in 2020, 75% of marketers reported that SEO was the most effective content marketing tactic they implemented [5]. For higher ed institutions, the content strategy is to optimize academic program pages typically.

It’s almost impossible for higher ed institutions to rank within the first ten results on Google for every one of its academic program pages. Higher ed is a competitive industry, with thousands of universities vying to get in front of prospective students on the first page of Google.

One SEO strategy that we typically recommend to institutions is to narrow down their optimization to specific focus programs and locations with high value to the institution. Doing this gains critical insights, including the competition between other institutions, the trends driving the search behavior, and the keyphrases dominating search results. Higher ed marketing directors know which program pages the institution values most, and developing a clear and effective content strategy can elevate these pages to the ranking results.

To understand what content to put on your program page, marketers need to know which search terms and phrases their target audience uses in their search behavior. Understanding which topics and keywords a higher education institution rank for will allow marketers to adapt their content strategy to influence those rankings positively. Marketers should also identify what keywords and strategies competing institutions use to best remain competitive within the ranking results.

When asked what role SEO plays in a higher education website redesign, the answer is that SEO and website redesigns go hand in hand. A website redesign should be considered if only SEO is at the forefront of discussion.

In Conclusion

The role of SEO in a higher ed website redesign is huge. SEO is the leading driver of any higher education content strategy because marketers need to know what their audience is searching for. The more relevant content a higher ed institution can produce, the higher their chances of ranking for those corresponding keywords in the search engine results. The closer a college or university website is to the Google search results, the more traffic it is likely to receive. The more relevant traffic a website receives the higher the chances of engagement and lead generation.

What to learn more about higher education SEO? Contact us, we’d love to be part of the conversation.


[1]  27 Mind-Bottling SEO Stats for 2021 & Beyond 

[2 & 3]  31 SEO statistics for 2021 and what they tell us

[4] Website Load Time Statistics: Why Speed Matters in 2021

[5] The State of Content Marketing 2020



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