In this session, marketing expert Lynn Ellis joined Ashley MacQuarrie and Michael Barber for a discussion about improving online search for schools. Watch the video or read the transcript below to hear about why search is important for school leaders, best practices for updating a website, and using keywords.
Michael B (00:12):
Hi everyone, and welcome to our All Things Enrollment Marketing weekly YouTube live. I am joined by my always present co-host and fearless enrollment marketing leader, Ashley MacQuarrie. Ashley, it’s lovely to see your face.
Ashley M (00:28):
Good to see you, Michael.
Michael B (00:29):
And we are joined by a new member, well, I shouldn’t say new member of our enrollment marketing team, but a new face on our YouTube lives from our enrollment marketing team and that is Lynn Ellis. Lynn, welcome to our Thursday chats on All Things Enrollment Marketing.
Lynn E (00:44):
Hi, nice to be here.
Michael B (00:46):
Thanks for making the time. Also, I want to just apologize to all our subscribers, we tried to go live last week, couldn’t get it to work, so this is your replacement. So we are doing an All Things Enrollment Marketing conversation on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday, but we will be back pending any challenges with the livestream on Thursday.(01:08):
But let’s go ahead and kick off today’s conversation. We’re going to talk about all things search and why search engine optimization is important for school leaders. So I want to start there with this chat and start us off with why search is important. I’m going to turn it over to answer this question first to Lynn. Lynn, why is search important for our school leaders?
Lynn E (01:34):
I want to hit on three big things why search is so important for schools, visibility, credibility, and low cost marketing. Visibility, you want to be seen, you want people around you to know that your school exists, to know what you’re about and know what you’re really good at. And coming up high in search, when somebody is coming in looking for a school for their children, whether you’re a K through five school and they’re looking for their first school, they’ve moved to the area or they’re looking for a better fit for their child, if they’re looking in search for schools around them, you want to come up really high. And when I say high, I mean bare minimum first page, but as high as humanly possible. If you’re first or second or third, you get credibility, this is my second point. When you are found high in a Google search, you automatically are seen as more credible. People have this idea that Google is in some way ranking the sites that are coming up and if they’re ranking you high, then you must be credible, you must be something that they should look into.
And the third one is, low cost marketing. So that right there, if you’ve searched for a school and found this school high in the search, that is marketing that you didn’t have to pay for. So schools usually have word of mouth marketing, that’s really good. You have really happy families that are telling their friends and acquaintances about your school. You also have paid advertising that you may or may not do, you may do digital ads, you may do radio ads, billboards, and those cost money. But in between those, you want to be able to reach the people that may not be acquainted with the families that are so happy with your school, you’re reaching them through coming up high in the search. And that is marketing that is ongoing that you are not paying for. So you get visibility, you get credibility, and you get some marketing that you’re not paying for.
Michael B (03:48):
Such good insights, for sure, visibility, credibility, and essentially some low cost marketing opportunity, although there’s a lot that goes into search, which we’ll unpack over the next few minutes. Ashley, anything to add beyond visibility, credibility, and obviously the marketing impact of Search?
Ashley M (04:08):
Lynn really covered a lot of it. I think that everything really starts with the Google search, there are other search engines out there, Bing, but anything that you can do to make Google happy, to make Google’s robots scan your site more frequently, more frequent updates, gives you more keywords that Google can pick up. It tells Google that you’re a relevant and valuable authority on a topic, and it’ll show your site more frequently. And if you’re making frequent updates, then Google sees like, this is a site that gets updated often and is maybe more valuable to people.
Michael B (04:51):
I think on that point on making sure that you’re showing up and just helping school leaders understand where we’re referring to, we’re obviously referring to those listings that they’re not paying for. So alternatively, to pay per click where you’re paying for a listing and search results, when we say search or search engine optimization and making sure your content’s fresh, that’s trying to get your website ranked in those non-paid listings or organic listings as some practitioners might refer to them. On that topic of publishing content to your site frequently, is there a rule of thumb, like a golden rule that Google tells us, or what is the cadence we should be thinking about as a school leader?
Ashley M (05:40):
Well, for our schools, we are usually publishing a longer piece of blog content, usually around once a week, but for a school, it’s easier to make more frequent updates. And I have seen that a couple of times a week is ideal for updating a website. But the good news news is that doesn’t mean you have to publish a blog post every week, it just means maybe you add a photo, maybe you update your calendar, Google has event features and is always scanning for what’s going on in your local communities.
And so for a school, updating your calendar, adding relevant information like your bus schedule or your menu, those are updates that still show Google that this site is active and is frequently being updated and is providing content that people are looking for. So a couple of times a week making those changes, it can actually make a difference for your search presence.
Michael B (06:32):
And when you see making those changes, it’s obviously probably helpful to do that not only on your.com, but your local business, or in this case your local school listing that’s feeding everything, the maps. That Google Business listing is just as important as the work that you’re doing on your website as well, so you can show up for those local results too.
Ashley M (06:51):
That’s huge, absolutely. And a lot of people don’t know that the Google business listing, that shows up for a site-based school even higher often than the Google searches like the Google listings that we see with all of the links there. And so that can help you actually push down some of your competitors if you are updating that Google business listing frequently. And those listings, they have a place to post events, they have a place to post photos and updates and all things like that. But a lot of schools we see, maybe they haven’t even claimed and verified it, but they’re definitely not using it to the full potential.
Michael B (07:34):
Let’s turn to beyond obviously how you go about indexing on Google, how do you get ranked? Well, I think at last check, Google looks at 500 plus different signals, but there are some basics to indexing or Google returning your website as a result, when I say that word index, fancy word for returning your website as a result on their listing, that starts with what we call metadata. Lynn, could you take a crack at just defining metadata in its simplest form for our school leaders and what it means to them?
Lynn E (08:10):
Metadata is really about telling Google what your site is about. So you have a meta-description for your site overall, if somebody is looking for your school and the school pops up, there’s a short paragraph underneath that search result that says something about the school. If you don’t write that, Google writes it and they may or may not get it right. It’s your opportunity in 250 characters or fewer to say something about your school that’s immediately going to catch people’s eyes, and it also catches Google’s keyword eye. So you want to make sure that the relevant keyword, say you’re a classical education academy, you want that front and center in that meta description.
Then you also have titles. So page titles are places where you want to put keywords so that when people are looking for something specific on your site, say, they want to know something about the faculty or the staff at your school, if you hide that in the title of, Our Amazing Innovators, for instance, and I’ve seen some pretty crazy titles for that staff page, and I know that people are trying to be creative and say something about what their staff and their school is about, but Google doesn’t know what that means. So you need to use titles that really explain to Google what that page is about and help it know that that’s something that they should return for that search.
Michael B (09:51):
It’s such good insights. Ashley, anything to add there on metadata?
Ashley M (09:56):
I think another metadata is your alt text on images, and that’s super important, it’s an opportunity for … most schools are taking a lot of photos, they have photo galleries or they have header images on their website. And a photo is an opportunity, it’s a piece of content that can get indexed by Google, but you have to tell Google what’s in that image. And the alt text is where you describe what your image is, you can use keywords if you want to be descriptive. But it’s also really important for compliance for your website because accessibility tools that make it easier for people maybe with site impairment, they use the alt text to describe what’s in an image. So super important for both things.
Michael B (10:45):
You both mentioned, obviously page titles as one component of metadata, we’ve mentioned the page description or meta description on page, the last thing is the meta keywords themselves or the keywords you’re trying to optimize for. What are some basic keywords that every site-based school should be thinking about or even online school should be thinking about that they should be optimizing for that you’ve seen that work? I’ll turn this over to … we’ll go Lynn first, sorry, normally have to give direction because I feel like I’m sitting in a room with you two, but we’re not, we’re virtual. So I’ll say, Lynn, can you tackle that question first?
Lynn E (11:23):
Yeah. Think of it in terms of two strings, branded keywords and non-branded keywords. So branded keywords have to do with the name of your school, say, I decided to go start my own school and call it Ellis Academy. I want to make sure that Ellis Academy is something that I’m ranking for, so I’m putting that name in as many places as I can that fit. I’m not just randomly throwing in Ellis Academy everywhere, but I’m putting it in places that sound natural and making sure that in the alt text, say, I have a picture of two students at Ellis Academy, I say two Ellis Academy students playing on the playground, one is swinging on the swing, the other is sliding down the slide. I’ve now describe the picture, but I’ve also put that keyword in there. So those are branded keywords, you want to make sure you’re ranking for things that are directly tied to your brand.
I’m a former math teacher, so say it’s also a math focused high school, so I want to make sure that I’m a ranking for those terms that have to do with what my school is about. It’s a STEM school, it’s math focused, it’s a high school, so I want to make sure that those are keywords that are showing up everywhere that I can. If I’m writing content, I’m making sure that I’m writing about those things that are so vital to what my school’s about.
Michael B (12:56):
Such good insights there of how you optimize those keywords. And probably also for schools that are really focused on a certain geographic locale, probably also important to bring in keywords that bring in your location or maybe zip code. What are some thoughts there given from a school that’s got a physical location, should they be thinking about local keywords?
Ashley M (13:21):
Absolutely. One of the easiest first things that we do just right off the bat is changing, for example, the site title that displays at the top in the tab in your Chrome browser. We would say, for example, tuition-free public high school in Portland, so just those keywords right off the bat. A lot of people, their site title, for example, on their website might just be home, that’s a real missed opportunity because you can get those keywords in and, yes, absolutely you want to get your city in, ideally you’re charter school, you want to get tuition-free in and then if you’re a STEM school, you might include that or maybe if you’re an online school, you would certainly include that.
Michael B (14:10):
Any last thoughts before we wrap it up? Any tools that school leaders could use or free places you’d recommend they go to get either more education on SEO or potentially tools out there that could help them?
Lynn E (14:24):
One of the tools I like to use is something called Answer the Public, and it’s a keyword research tool, but if you are a school leader thinking about putting some blog content on your site that’s relevant, that’s getting those keywords in there, that’s getting the message out, but you don’t know what to write about, you can go to Answer the public. And what it does, is it gives you a list of questions that people are asking and it tells you what the search volume is on those questions.
For instance, I looked up dual language education, I just put those words in to Answer the Public. And the top two things that came back were, what is dual language education, and dual language schools near me. So that tells me if I’m a dual language school, writing a blog post titled, What is Dual Language Education is a really good title to use and a really good topic to write about because people are searching for it.
Dual language schools near me, I live in Washington State, so say I’m in Tacoma, Dual Language Schools in Tacoma, putting that into the title in some way that’s interesting, but also uses those keywords. If people are looking for a dual language school in Tacoma, they’re going to find that blog post a place where I can really let my school shine and let the personality of my school show through, but I’m answering the questions that people are asking. If you think about the way Google comes up in search, you have your first sites that come up and then you have this list of questions with answers to them. That’s a lot of what’s happening now, is people are asking Google questions.
Way back when Google started, I remember seeing the first iterations of Google, people were looking for a word, maybe two words, now they’re asking questions. And so using a tool like Answer the Public to see what questions they’re asking can really drive your content creation and really drive what keywords you’re putting out there on your site for people to see.
Michael B (16:34):
And I would say my tip that I’ll wrap up with, and then Ashley we’d love any other tips from you, is if you ever wonder what those questions are that your potential parents or kids might be looking for is, whomever is answering the phone for your school, find out what questions they hear every single day, and that can become your top 10, top 15, top 20 blog posts, it becomes an FAQ page on your website.
And I think we’re starting to trickle into interesting territory to potentially talk about AI and like Chat GPT and that impact on charter schools in the future of architecting some of the content on your website for that Q and A interaction, but a whole nother topic that we’re not going to tackle today. But any last tips for school leaders as it relates to search, Ashley, before we wrap up?
Ashley M (17:24):
Just one other thing, if signing up for a new tool or exploring something like that is intimidating, just Google your school and see what comes up and see what comes up in … Google your school name and also Google Charter schools in your city and look on Google, there’s a section called related searches, and people also ask usually, and those can give you some nice clues about what people are searching for and what they’re finding, both when they Google your branded term and also maybe an unbranded term that relates to you.
Michael B (17:57):
Such good tips there as well. Well, we are of course, as usual overtime, I think eventually we’re going to have to extend these to our weekly 20-minute chat on All Things Enrollment Marketing, but we’ll wrap it up there. Thanks again for all of you that joined us today live on our YouTube channel, if you’ve got any questions for this team, feel free to pop them into the comments, we’re always looking out for those comments. So if you’re watching it live now or in the future, feel free to drop your question there and we’ll get you an answer.
As always, I will wrap up with just a small call to action. If you have questions on All Things Enrollment Marketing, we have this handy guide, I’m realizing it probably reads backwards, so I’ll read it to you. It is Digital Marketing for Charter Schools, it is a meaty 55 pages, including planning worksheets. It’s available on our website charterschoolcapital.com, and I’ve also popped in answer to public.com into our live chat today, which was a tool that Lynn mentioned a few minutes ago.
If you want any directions to those tools, please feel free to reach out. As always, we’ll be back on Thursday, we’ll try and keep it to 10 minutes, maybe we will, maybe we won’t. I will say thank you to our guest today, Lynn, we appreciate you being here, and a big appreciation to my co-host, Ashley, for joining us as always, we will see you in like 48 hours or something like that. Take care of you all, bye.
Ashley M (19:14):
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