Search engine optimization is the process used to manage website content in a way that will elevate the ranking in search engines. The most predominant place that people research information and make their informed decisions are search engines. In relation to higher education, potential students may be researching schools, the academic community will be researching topics, and Web users will be looking for academic information on Google as well as any other search engines. The impact that searching on the web has on higher education is quite important. Education accounts for a very high percentage of web traffic that is generated by search engine referrals. Because of this, it is vital for colleges and universities to achieve higher rankings for popular search terms.
SEO is a place where winner takes all—there is little to no benefit of being listed as number 11 or 12 on a SERP (search engine results page). It is vital to focus on optimizing important web pages like a home page or admissions page while using keywords or phrases that are popular but have a sort of limited competition. When you optimize these niche terms, the organization can have the highest chance of success. That being said, in the sector of higher education, there is equal or greater value in optimizing websites for searching without driving all of the content toward these strategic keywords. It has been said that about 80% of a search engine's referrals will come from the bottom 20% of a higher educational institution's most popular keywords. To those in the search engine optimization field, this is known as the long-tail, a combination of the thousands of keywords or phrases that are indexed in various search engines and will drive traffic to a particular website. When you choose to follow good content development and management practices and processes, higher educational institutions can raise their content in search engine rankings and generate a noticeable increase in their search engine referrals from the long-tail keywords and terms.
In regards to SEO and search engines, Google is the boss. This search engine has the majority of search engine traffic and needs to be the basis for any program for search engine marketing. Yahoo and Bing are rising in importance, but they still only grab just a handful of the search engine traffic. The three levels of Google's technology are:
A search engine optimization plan that is successful will take all of these factors into account by ensuring the web pages are not only accessible but easy to index. This can be done by having good content and metadata that is indexed, and also by understanding the search terms that the prospective audience will use to find the content—and taking action to optimize your pages to match those search terms.
Google will index pages on a fairly frequent basis. One way to ensure that pages get indexed is to register an XML sitemap that contains instructions on how often a site should be indexed as well as what content to index. Some programs allow automation of indexing, as well as the addition of headers to a web page to tell the search engine how a specific page should be indexed. Google will return web pages during a search in the order that their page ranks for a specific search term. They do this by employing a proprietary algorithm to calculate the pagerank. The specifics of this algorithm are closely guarded, but it is known that Google will look at 4 factors to establish the rank of a page:
An SEO program that is successful will need to account for all of these factors when managing and developing their web content.
When working with SEO programs, there are two main types of optimization that can be done: on-page and off-page.
On-page optimization is a process that will require writing web content and managing a website with the intent of raising the search rankings. The auxiliary benefit of on-page SEO optimization is that the same practices are also good for content management. It does not matter if your content is accessed through a search or directly from your own website, you want the content that is important to be clear, described well, and prominent in your website architecture. On-page SEO optimization will aid in achieving these goals.
Off-page optimization is focused on creating external links to a website. Be mindful, though, that achieving top rankings is not enough. The links will need to be from trustworthy websites, ideally websites that have similar content to your own and use relevant anchor text. Anchor text is the text that is enclosed in a link to a website. This is the text that you read in content that will lead you to a link. This plays a key role in search engine optimization by telling the search engines the topic of your content. When you promote links to your own website, do ensure that there are multiple variations of your anchor text. If you use the same anchor text with many external sites, it could be interpreted as spam. When going through the process of off-page SEO, your website's popularity is not just increased by the number of websites that link to you, but the type of sites these are. More weight is carried by websites that have a lot of popularity and authority. The strongest links are those that end in .edu. Universities and colleges can build their own rankings to be stronger when they link to each other. On the contrary, some links can hurt rankings. There are automated submission programs that will offer to put your website into many search engines—these are called “link farms” and are a huge red flag, as they are blacklisted by Google.
Search engines are not capable of seeing web pages the same as end users. They will not see the aesthetics of it. They will basically process the raw text of each web page. A search engine will then analyze the web page by using an inverted pyramid bias. This means that it will assume that the most important content and information is at the top of the page. Because of this, when optimizing the content of a website, it is vital to write good meta data—this ensure that the relevant content will be placed toward the top of the rendered HTML, and will make sure that the data on the page indeed matches the search terms that were intended. What are these on-page elements and their recommendations?
Research from onlinecoursesearch.com states that “Sitemap generation add-ins or plug-ins are available for university and college content management systems.” They also recommend the use of one or more of these types of applications to help with website indexing. Additionally, the title will have target keywords such as the name of the college and the type of college that it is.
The target keywords will be scattered about the copy in a manner that is not obvious to the user. Terms like “liberal arts” “undergraduate” graduate” and even the location will occur naturally throughout the text so that the search engines will pick it up and it will rank higher. In short, you should know how to balance your aesthetics with your content.
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