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SEO for Colleges & Universities — How We Increased Organic Traffic by 43% in Less than One Month — No backlinks
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Is it possible to get massive results with SEO for a college in one month? (This applies to any other industry, but this case study is for a university in Mexico, hence the title).
You’ve heard this before:
- SEO takes time.
- It takes 4–6 months to see some results.
- We cannot guarantee results.
As a general rule, I agree with most of these statements; however, accomplishing massive results in a short period of time like the one you’re about to see for this college in Mexico, is possible under the right circumstances.
Here are the one-day results we got:
- Week column: when we started tracking positions.
- Day column: positions from previous day.
- Rank: current rankings “today”.
Explanation: their most important keyword went from position 43 to position 2 in one day which increased its position by 41 “steps” (green circle).
SEO Guide for Colleges and Universities
A bit of a background.
About a month and a half ago, I was contacted by some of the owners of a well known university in Mexico.
Two years prior, they hired the wrong person to do their SEO, and because of that, their enrollments had dropped by more than half (as well as their traffic) — one of these “horror” stories you’ve probably heard before.
Over these two years, they changed their CMS (Content Managment System — think Wrodpress, Joomla, Wix, etc) multiple times without taking into consideration any website remapping (aka maintaining the same architecture) or any structural improvements.
They were adding “keywords” to the content that made the copy sound weird to try to rank for these keywords (like in the old days).
And, a bunch of other things that didn’t go well and would take too long to explain…
So, yeah, the pain was real.
I quickly advised them to hire someone to put together a good site on WordPress as a starting point…
… and boy oh boy.
The site was made in two languages, starting in English with a template that had just a video above the header… and pretty much an empty home page.
No thinking about conversions, no thinking about a “student journey” when visitors arrive to the website, no thinking about engaging with potential students to give them what they’re looking for right off the bat — you know UX 101…
Did I mentioned this is in Mexico? — hola amigo instead of hello friend?
Long story short, we had to take over the dev and design and build a brand new site focusing on a strong onsite SEO and UX.
As this was a complete rehowl of the website, we wanted to begin with a great starting point, and leave a bit of room for tweaking to see how Google would react to the first version of the new website… so, before I go over what we did, here’s what we didn’t do much with:
- Internal linking: We left a lot of room for improvement. We only did very light on internal linking (I’ll tell you why later).
- Schema Markup: They have two locations in different cities, and we didn’t implement it right of the bat.
We also left room for improvement in areas like:
- CRO: Conversion Rate Optimization (Even though we really thought about this and the student journey, this is a part that can always improve).
- Remarketing Funnels with Facebook, IG and Youtube
This is the SEO Implementation We Did for This College:
Note: reminder… this applies to any other business out there.
The first step of the process was to clearly understand what we called the “soon-to-be student journey”:
- Why do they want to have a career like the ones the college offers?
- What are they thinking about when they’re searching for these careers?
- What would make sense to present to students when they arrive to the home page?
- What does it mean to have a good experience when arriving to a page?
- How do we influence potential students to take action without being pushy?
- How can we gain (or regain) trust and credibility (despite the College being one of the best colleges in their field)?
- How do we take all these things and create a layout that supports it?
Take into consideration the previous websites didn’t have any focus on these elements, so, in theory, applying all these concepts should give us a good conversion rate.
Adding Optimized SEO Titles with Strong Positioning
For each of the pages, we focused on adding main keywords and also positioning them in an authoritative and trustworthy way — as they are the top college in their field.
Example for a home page title could be:
- #1 Dental School in Texas since 1995 — University of [NAME].
You obviously have to demonstrate statements that are that strong. So, if you’ve been named the number one by an association, well known magazines or college ratings, then you can use it to your advantage.
If you’re not the number one, use an angle that makes you different than the rest.
In our example we can break the title down like this:
- Positioning and authority: #1 and since 1995
- Keyword: Dental School in Texas
- Branding: University of [NAME]
Strong Meta-descriptions to Support the Title
Once you’ve grabbed the attention of the potential student, you need to entice them to go to your website.
That means adding your keywords on the description so they get bolded, adding engaging questions, mind-reading copy (aka answering what they’re looking for), and opening loops to get them to click on your result and call to actions.
An example could be:
“Looking for a profession in the dental industry? As the #1 dental school in Texas, we not only have top-of-the-line education, but you’ll also learn how to get your dream job or start your own practice. Find out more on our site.”
“Little bit of positioning and everything else about THEM”.
Optimized Website Structure
When it comes to website structure, it’s all about using simple logic:
In this case, they have two main sections to drive students that are searching for a career in their field: bachelors and masters.
The home page has two main sections that allow visitors to go to these two sections, and the structure looks like this:
It makes sense…
Then, different fields of bachelors go like this:
And so on…
And for the masters, the same thing:
And so on…
It’s just common sense and well-organized.
They also have two locations. Following the same logic, we have:
The entire website is structured in this way to make sense of it from a website crawling and organization standpoint, as well as a user standpoint.
Also, each of these pages will link to its parent page with an anchor text that will vary depending on where the rankings hold and what keywords we want to push to the top.
Taking into consideration what the future student’s journey looks like, we optimized the content in two ways:
- Optimized content based on the visitor’s user experience which included content layout, concepts, images, videos, testimonials, copy, multiple options for contacting, and visitor flow.
- Optimized content for search engines which include adding keywords on key places like meta-tags, images, videos, and content.
The first part is obviously focused on the person visiting.
The idea is to make the experience so good that it feels easy, pleasant, and allows them to find what they want quickly so they can make the next step (contacting, calling, etc).
The second part is what got us these short-term, fast, big jumps.
The third component, something that I didn’t mention yet, is tying both parts together. That is what makes everything stick… which allows us to achieve these results so far:
Note: the dates I’m using on Google Analytics are June 1st to June 29th, but we deployed the site on the evening of June 6th.
Contact form submissions:
Zopin Chat conversations: they have a live chat where visitors can engage with a person.
WhatsApp clicks: this is how many visitors clicked to start a conversation, although I cannot show you how many real conversations happened as the tracking can’t go that deep — as soon as they leave the site, the tracking stops.
Note: each of these leads are worth about $24,000, and they usually enroll 40% to 50%.
If we take into consideration the contact form submissions only, that’s about $1,257,600 in the first month — deadline is September — two months to go as I’m writing this.
They’re eager to ramp it up even more…
This university in Mexico is well known in the entire country, but why not optimize them for the two specific cities they have their campuses on?
We created two location pages that have all the elements we’ve discussed before, adding geolocation signals like the name of the city, addresses, and a bit of each city.
We added testimonials of students on each city and a video of past and “famous” previous students praising the university with a form at the end.
They had very well done videos with emotional testimonials, great presentations, and things that made placing them on the website on key locations very easy and great to connect with visitors.
In the right circumstances, businesses can have massive results (like the example I gave in this guide), results that can bring businesses back to life after a period of darkness…
And, even though this is featuring “college SEO”, I could have named it “business SEO” or simply “stunning SEO results”…