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University Web Developers

Search engine optimization isn't just a process, it has a goal. If the goal is to recruit students, what keywords should we be targeting? What search terms actually lead to admissions inquiries and filling out applications? (This sounds like a job for Google Analytics.)

Presumably the search phrase "where should I go for college?" might not exactly fit the bill. And not "really cool schools near my hometown". Something like "colleges in [your state or city]" makes sense intuitively, but does it really bring you prospective students? Jeff Howard's discussion of local search seems more applicable in large cities with more colleges than high school students can keep track of. Nobody searches for "colleges in Bryan/College Station Texas" because everybody in town knows both of them.

Or should we be targeting dozens of long tail keywords, such as "texas engineering schools" or "ohio aviation schools"?

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This is a very interesting question. Unfortunately, it's one I struggle with just as much as it sounds like you are. I don't have many answers, unfortunately; just more questions.

One thing I do know is that it's important to use keywords specific to each page. Even moreso, it's important to make sure those keywords make sense, and that they are well represented in the content of the page. Coming up with relevant, useful keywords is one of the most perplexing parts of my job (seriously, ask me to develop just about anything in PHP, and I don't generally have a single problem with it - but ask me to come up with a few good keywords and I will look at you cross-eyed).

I hope you get some good responses, as I am extremely interested in this subject as well.

Of course, I'm also interested in whether or not it's even worth it to bother. A lot of articles I've read on SEO techniques tend to lean toward the concept that keywords and meta descriptions really don't matter much; that all of the search engines are relying almost completely on the content of the pages now.
Hi Michael, it is great to see you focusing on SEO. EDU's have so much authority and most schools are not leveraging SEO. According to a recent report by AdAge, Education is the number one category for search based on the percentage of web traffic generated through search engine referrals. Over 40% of all education web traffic is driven from search - so it is critical to get SEO right on your page.

In response to Curtiss, I actually think that meta data is more important than ever. The Meta Title for your web pages carries more weight than any other part of the page. You NEED to have your keywords in your meta titles if you are going to rank on the SERPS. Make sure that your Web CMS is publishing all of your meta data and generating pages that are SEO friendly.

It is true that meta keywords are no longer used by Google (but they are still treated as synonyms on Yahoo!). The content and keywords on your page are important, but primarily in the weighted sections of the page (H1, Stong, etc). Use keywords in your text but keep it natural, keyword stuffing will not get you anything. What is really important is anchor text of links to your pages from other websites and within your site. Put your keywords in anchor text linking to the page you want to optimize. Google will follow these links and associate the anchor text with the keyword relevency for the term.

The best way to get consistent and targeted web traffic to your site is targeting selective keywords which your key audiences use in search queries. I aggree your Analytics program is a good place to start. But if you are not ranking you will not be getting a lot of traffic from terms. If you have any budget the fastest way to determine the best keywords is to run some Google Adwords campaigns. You can buy keywords and then see what converts. It will give you good tracking tools and you can see what will work before you invest the time in optimizing your keywords. This is probably the best advice I can give you. Test and Test before you Invest.

When you find the perfect terms you are not out of the woods. Because search is so competitive you need to find niche terms which have a lot of search traffic, but that have relatively limited competition.

The measure of how effective a keyword may be is called its’ “Keyword Effectiveness Index” or KEI. KEI is a formula which divides the popularity of the term with the amount of competition there is for that term. Keywords and phrases that have a relatively high KEI are considered to be prime keywords.

When researching keywords go one step further to determine the true competition for a keyword, which is generally measured how many pages in the Google index which references the term (undoubtedly a large number). The Title is the most important piece of meta data in determining page rank. Thus, the actual competition for a keyword or phrase is not the overall number of pages in the index, but the number of pages which use the target phrase in their titles. Analyzing this information will tell how much true competition there is for a term.

To see how many pages in the Google index use a specific search term in their title, simply type the following query into a Google search: allintitle:"your keywords”. You will see from the results how many web pages in the index use the keywords in title in the exact sequence. Moreover, you can assume that many of the pages using this title are sectional or article pages and do not have the same page strength as a home page. So the on-par competition may only be half of the pages or less.

Lastly, when considering a keyword or search phrase try a sample search on Google. If the results return a set of pages that have an equal or lesser page strength than your site it is probably an achievable term. If the results are strongly entrenched with popular sites, move on.

Good luck with your SEO project. Lastly, if you have any questions on using SEO with your CMS you can read a recent blog post I wrote on SEO and Content Management on the Ingeniux Website.
Good thoughts, David. I spent a few years doing SEO consulting, and you still gave me some new ideas. Yes, Curtiss, when I meant that we should target keywords, I didn't mean that adding more meta-keywords was the way to do it. Titles, links and content are much more effective.
You should try They have some really nice tools.
I'm still waiting to see some actual analytics, preferably from Admissions: what search terms result in more applications or more donations? As far as meta-keywords, they are so unimportant in themselves (since Google ignores them) that I adapted a script that simply lists the most common words on the page, and use those results as a basis.



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