SEO for #highered : The 2013 State of Education-Related Google Searches

August 2nd, 2013 Karine Joly 1 Comment

I’m almost done taking the first session of the 4-week online course on search engine optimization for higher education, launched earlier this month by Higher Ed Experts and taught by Joshua Dodson.

I always take the first session of our new courses as a student to make sure the student experience is up to our standards and… optimize anything that should be.

Education Search Analysis by GoogleThat’s the reason why my mind has been on higher ed SEO lately more than usual.

So, when I saw that the Google Edu Team released their brand new research on education-related queries submitted on Google earlier this week, I had to write this post instead of working on my higher ed SEO homework (the deadline for my final project is Sunday – so that’s not so bad, right? ;-)

Google Education Search Analysis?

I didn’t know the Google Edu Team shared this analysis every quarter. I did see references to the research data in a report published last year on Google Education Insights. I stumbled on the report when I researched the topic of search engine optimization in higher education for my upcoming University Business article.

What is great about this report?

The fact that the data comes right from the massive number of Google search queries. So, this isn’t coming from a survey or a small sample, but the analysis reflects what happened on Google in the second quarter this year as far as education-related searches are concerned.

While Google uses this report to help higher ed advertisers plan their Google ads campaigns, this data is also very useful to inform any SEO efforts at your institution.

Education Brand Searches: +4%

According to the analysis review presented in a Google Hangout last Tuesday, the year-to-year trend on brand searches has increased by 4% compared to last year. It has decreased compared to Q1, but this is something that always happens as the education-related searches usually spike in Q1.

What’s interesting is the fact that the year-to-year evolution was flat for for-profits, so the non-profit institutions are the ones that benefited from the rise in searches and interest.

What does this mean for higher ed SEO?
Make sure you bring up to speed your site wide on-page optimization efforts so your website gets the top placement on queries including your institution name. If people search more on brand names, own yours in search engine results – and let them find you :-)

Searches on Mobile: +49%

The search queries submitted on mobile devices have increased by almost 50% in the second quarter compared to last year. Prospective students and anybody involved in an education-related search are increasingly searching on mobile.

What does this mean for higher ed SEO?
If they search on mobile devices and find your institution, they expect to be able to browse your website or your landing page easily from their device. It doesn’t mean that they will complete a form (or any other conversion online), but the experience needs to be good enough to avoid turning prospects off. In this context, the responsive web design approach makes a lot of sense.

Location Related Searches: +11%, Online: -10%

While education-related searches associated to a location have increased by 11% compared to last year, queries including a reference to “online” have decreased by 10% according to Google data.

What does this mean for higher ed SEO?
If this continues, optimizing for “online” programs, degrees, colleges might become less important (we’re probably not there yet, so don’t go crazy on this). However, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your on-page optimization efforts include a location-based strategy.

Searches on Bachelor’s Degrees and Certificates: +14%

While MBAs still get the biggest chunk of the search query pie, searches related to Bachelor’s degrees and certificates have risen by 14% compared to last year. For masters, queries have increased by 10%.

What does this mean for higher ed SEO?
You should have a look at your academic program pages and make sure on-page optimization elements also include bachelor’s degrees and certificates when applicable.

Queries on Liberal Arts: +4%, Arts & Design: -15%

When it comes to majors, business take the top “search” spot. But, searches related to Liberal Arts have increased by 4% compared to last year in the second quarter, while they decreased by 15% for Arts & Design.

What does this mean for higher ed SEO?
Any college focused on liberal arts should probably try to optimize some pages for this keyword phrase. It shouldn’t be the core of the SEO strategy but definitely a component.

Google Ads aren’t what they used to be

The Google Edu Team didn’t say that in their Google Hangout, but their research shows a 7% decrease in the number of clicks on education-related ads along with a 12% increase in costs per click. More competition, more educated searchers, less engaging ads? There are probably a series of factors that can explain the situation.

What does this mean for higher ed SEO?
They search more, they click less on ads.
Search engine optimization is even more important than it used to be. It is time to get serious with search engine optimization. And, the good news is you can do it in-house by learning higher ed SEO and what needs to be done to then coordinate efforts with your content contributors.

The Analysis from Google Edu Team [12-min VIDEO]

If you have 12 minutes to watch the Google Hangout focusing on the report findings, you can skip the introduction remarks by fast forwarding to 2:02 and you can watch until 14:32.