In this article, we’ll discuss how to do our best to gain search engine exposure for your school website, and cover what search engines are looking for, and what this mysterious search engine optimisation is all about. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read the first seven parts of this series: step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4, step 5, step 6 and step 7.
Putting up signposts to help being found
Search engines – we all use them, but how do they really work, and how do you get your school website found? We’ll discuss this in layman terms, and give you some great ideas on how to start the process.
How do search engines work?
Search engine such as Google, Bing and Yahoo work primarily in similar ways. They ‘crawl’ websites, find links to new resources, crawl those and take a copy of all the pages they find. Then, when you do a search for a phrase, they match this phrase or word with what they have crawled, and determine through different algorithms what sites are best to display in results.
Pretty neat for something that happens in milliseconds, isn’t it?
Search engines ‘tweak’ the different weights they give on different parts of their calculations all the time. Back in the 1990s, if you had ‘Western Australia’ written more than your competitors; your website was likely to appear above theirs in results.
Nowadays, they look for many elements, such as content, where the content sits (such as page titles, bold, italics, etc.), the domain name, where the website is hosted and how many other websites link to it.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in a nutshell
SEO or search engine optimisation, also known in English as ‘how to get ranked better in search engines’ is a science all of its own. Typically, it is broken down by two key areas; on-site, which is what we do on your website to improve your ranking, and off-site, being what you can do elsewhere to improve your ranking.
The best ways to improve your ranking
All our little technical tricks aside, the best way to get ranked well is to have a great content that is keyword rich. We say ‘content is king’ for this very reason. As mentioned in the last chapter, keyword rich text can make all the difference.
There are plenty of other tips, such as naming pages individually and keyword rich (so, a page about school uniforms in Perth shouldn’t be called ‘Products’, it should be called ‘Perth school uniforms’ for example) and using good heading structure. You should give all of your images ALT tags, and ensure links to other pages aren’t called ‘click here’, but are actually meaningful, such as ‘Download our prospectus’.
Measuring your search engine ranking
There are a multitude of tools out there to measure your ranking on search engines, some paid and some free. An easy way to see what is actually bringing you traffic is to look in yout traffic statistics program for ‘referrer’ details – you may see that Google has brought you 219 visitors last month for ‘School Mount Lawley’; that’s great, but what if you are trying to be ranked for ‘School Adelaide’ instead?
TIP: You can get free email alerts when your school is mentioned on the web, or even your competitors. Sign up to Google Alerts at http://www.google.com/alerts/ and you can choose frequency of alerts and the keywords you’ll monitor.
A warning about SEO companies
Be careful of companies who approach you and promise ‘page one results’ or other similar unbelievable claims. It’s likely they can’t, and it’s certainly unethical to suggest they could.
Google states three great warnings on this page;
- Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue.
- No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
- Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.
What does Google suggest?
A great place to start understanding more about search engine optimisation is to read Google’s own Webmaster Guidelines. Another great document is Google’s own 32 page PDF, Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. Download it and take a read; you can then hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
We’ve explained what search engine optimisation is, and given you some helpful tips on what to do on your own school website, as well as what to look out for if engaging an SEO services company.
Miles Burke is an Author, Public Speaker and Managing Director of Perth-based digital agency, Bam Creative. His team has created websites and digital marketing campaigns for dozens of schools, and their work has been featured in the media, won plenty of awards and most of all, helped schools demystify the digital marketing space to attract enrolments and better communicate to their communities.