In this overview of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for private schools, we take a look at what your readers see each time they visit your website. SEO for Private Schools - Part 1 explained some of the elements of SEO which have to happen behind the curtain. Now we are focused on the exterior or what your readers see and experience.
What is your message? If you don't have a message, then how can your readers determine whether your school is a good fit for them and their requirements? I hear you saying, "Parents have to visit our school to truly understand what it is we do." That's true, but in this age of instant answers, parents make snap decisions based on their perceptions and first impressions.
So, right there on your first page, or Splash Page, as it is called, you need to make sure your message appears. Let me give you an example: A reader will first see the Title Bar at the top left of his browser. That's one place where what you do behind the curtain with meta tags is actually visible to your reader. Take a look at Andover's website to see how this works. As soon as the page comes up, the title in the top left corner identifies Andover as an independent boarding school. If that's not the kind of school you are looking for, you will know at a glance.
The next thing which puts your message front and center is a well-written menu strategically placed so readers can't miss it. The first item on that menu ideally should be an About entry. That, in turn, ties in with your message. Literally, with three things, your reader's eye is drawn to that all-important understanding of what your school is all about. The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" applies here as well. So make sure your pictures on the splash page also tie in with that all-important message of what your school is.
From an SEO point of view, the idea here is not to confuse the search engines. If your message is echoed and reinforced within the key elements of your splash page, that is a good thing.
One of the advantages a private school website has over other sites is that its message is so consistent. Private schools fill a very specific niche in the general educational spectrum. As you review your site, however, look for inconsistencies. For example, anything which is off-message or off-topic will contribute to an impression of inconsistency.
If you simply must offer information that is off-message or off-topic, place that on a lower-level page. List it in a directory somewhere so that if somebody needs that information, they can find it.
Organization and consistency complement each other. Being the old English teacher, I tend to look at websites as I do when I read a How To book. I don't have time to read everything on my first pass. I merely want to find information. And find it fast. So do your parents and others who are looking for schools. Can they find an answer to a question like "Do they offer badminton?" quickly?
So, tell your website designer what you want people to find easily. Then create the content needed to accomplish that mission. After creating the content, make it easy to find with a logical, easy-to-follow index structure.
Great websites are well-built websites. Like a well-designed office tower, your website needs to make sense. Everything in a building needs to be in its proper place. Machinery which doesn't need to be seen as you walk through the lobby can be hidden behind doors or housed in sub-basements where it can function effectively. Same thing with your website.
"Do they offer badminton?" is an important question for your reader who is making a decision about whether your school offers that racquet which means so much to him. However, on a scale of 1 to 10 rating how important badminton is to other readers and visitors to your site, it probably ranks a 1, doesn't it? So put badminton in the basement in its own room. Then give clear directions to it so your readers can find it.
Here's a very rudimentary example of a path to find badminton from your splash page. Splash Page>Athletics>Winter Sports>Raquet Sport>Badminton
It is very important for you to list all the content you want to have on your website. Include content that has not yet been created. Then organize that content into categories. Then create sub-categories as needed.
Search engines will not become confused once they determine that your site is well-organized, structured, and content-driven.
What are the qualities of good content? Content that has value. Content that answers visitors' questions. After all, they came looking for something. Make sure your content provides the answers they need and want. If not, they will look elsewhere. Anticipate their questions and needs as much as you can.
Content takes many forms. It shouldn't be walls of text. But it should be factual. If it is an opinion, make that obvious. Tables, graphs, photo galleries, and videos are some forms of content that give your visitors the information they want and need quickly and efficiently.
Remember one of the basics of SEO: the more visitors you have, the more popular your site will be in the ranks.
As I touch on the various aspects of your site that search engines consider, I cannot emphasize value enough. You know your school. Its history. Its accomplishments. If you don't create content that speaks to all of those unique attributes, who will? Value impacts perception. Sometimes value is easy to recognize. Other times you just know that something has value. You feel it.
That's why quality is important. It's not something that search engines care about specifically, yet it drives stickiness, which simply is the number of repeat visits your site gets. Make sure that your videos, photos, written content, graphs, and so on are beautifully done and of the highest quality. Quality creates value. Value creates traffic.
Evergreen content is content that is timeless. In the private school world, content about the school's history is an example of evergreen content. Another example is a list of where your graduates matriculated over the past decade. Evergreen content creates value that nobody else has. If nobody else has your unique content, readers will come to you to find that unique content.
You keep your grounds looking beautiful. Your lobby makes a welcoming first impression. Ditto your website. Keep it looking fresh. Make it a place repeat visitors will come back to expecting to see something new and interesting each time they visit. Do not let your content get stale. That will turn off first-time visitors and discourage repeat visitors.
For a private school, the external links you add to your site are usually going to be minimal. For example, you probably will link to the state, regional, and national private school associations your school belongs to. Driving traffic back and forth improves your visitor experience. Search engines like that.
Expect to spend money not only on building your website but also on maintaining it. These are not tasks that you can delegate to amateurs. Create a position in your marketing or public relations department that will handle all your web chores from that all-important marketing perspective. Do not allow IT professionals to drive content or the look of your site. You need to instruct them, not the other way around.
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