The Educated Marketer


Taking control of prospective student search results (it isn’t through advertising)

by Leah Peters | Dec 21, 2015

 |  college recruitment, inbound marketing


Prospective students don’t search for specific colleges or universities, but these simple marketing tips will help college admissions offices help prospective students find you.

9 out of 10 prospective students don’t know what school they’d like to apply to when they begin searching online, according to Google reports. In other words: they aren’t searching for your particular school by name.

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news: students are increasingly using the Internet -- including Facebook! -- to gather information and make decisions about what schools to attend. They’re searching for the programs and degrees that interest them, for the institutions that exist in the region that they’re attracted to, and for other factors -- size of the institution and the grounds, whether the campus is urban or rural, and so on.

If you’re leveraging the power of inbound marketing (and we think you should be!) then you need to take control of what kinds of results students are getting when they begin their (online) college search.

It’s not about you (except that it is)

We’ve already noted that prospective students tend not to be searching for specific schools online, so let’s assume for the moment that they’re not going to be entering your institution’s name into the search engine. So how do you end up at the top of a prospective student’s organic search results?

You anticipate what they’re searching for.

The key word is “keywords” -- the search terms that aptly describe your institution and that are likely to be used by students searching online for schools.

This requires that you know some important information: who they (the prospective student) are, and what they want, and who you are as a prospective institution.

Without a clear sense of your prospective student -- and without a clear institutional vision -- you’ll have trouble creating content and keywords that draw organic search results to your college or university website.

Keywords are Key

Are you a small private Christian liberal arts college in a rural area with exceptionally strong programs in nursing, with partnerships that facilitate student volunteer outreach and service learning in developing countries or underserved areas? Then you need to generate worthwhile content rich in the kind of keywords that are likely to be used by a mission-minded student with an interest in nursing and service. This student’s searches might include things like:

  • Small private college rural
  • Private college [your state]
  • Great nursing program in [your state]
  • Service learning nursing
  • Missions nursing programs
  • Outreach opportunities nursing college
  • Bachelor of Science Nursing Christian college
  • Small Christian college rural

The list could go on and on, and you’ll want to be doing research so that you’re making sure your search terms line up with what students are searching for and what makes your institution uniquely suited to their particular interests in their particular area. Search engines rank for relevance and geography!

The Long and the Short of Keywords

Be aware that it’s not enough to have your site’s content rich in short-tail keywords like “Bachelor of Science in Nursing” or “Christian college.” By tailoring content to return results for longer-tail keyword searches like “Bachelor of Science Nursing Christian college Virginia,” you’ll be better able to attract the attention of the prospective students who are interested in what you have to offer.

Land them in a good place

Okay, they weren’t searching for you, specifically, but thanks to strategically optimized content and keywords, they’ve found you! Now you’ve got to keep them interested.

You don’t want prospective students simply to land on your institution’s homepage; chances are too high that they’ll bounce right off!

Instead, you want them to land softly -- on a blog post that highlights interesting volunteer mission work performed by students in the nursing program, or on a thoughtfully composed list or quiz to help the prospective decide if a career in nursing is right for them.

Taking control of prospective student search results and effectively reaching prospective students begins by attracting them with something that’s of value and interest to them: that answers their question or provides a solution to their problem. You don’t want to jump to the sales pitch at once; researching college is a long process, and, remember: they’ve possibly only just heard of you! At this point, your goal should be to create trust and demonstrate the value your institution has to offer.

Summing it up

Prospective Christian college students are probably not searching for your school in particular. That’s why you need to know those prospective students, determine what they’re searching for in a school, and be clear on what your institution offers that’s unlike anything else: its programs, ethos, location, and more.

When you have a strong sense of what defines your institution, and what your prospective students need, you can begin to take control of those online college searches, produce and promote great content, and see your search engine rankings rise organically.

 Learn how to beef up your college recruitment with our free Inbound Marketing checklist.

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