One of Google’s latest search updates is targeting students who are searching for information about colleges and universities. Every month it seems that Google displays more information on its search results, rather than sending searchers to the source. This can be terrible news for website owners, including University websites, who suddenly find that they usual readers no longer need to visit their site. Let’s take a look at the update and look at some ways to ensure that your website continues to receive organic search traffic.
College and University Data
Last week, The Verge reported that Google has started to show data from the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard within the search results when a would-be student searches for a particular college. The data includes the most important university metrics:
- Graduation rate
- Average total cost with financial aid
- Average salary after attending that school
- Acceptance rate
- Undergraduate tuition cost
Unlike when Google takes data from flights or sports results, this information is unlikely to have any major negative impact on the website which is giving up its information, i.e. the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard.
Why Does Google Do This?
Google does this for two reasons. First, Google believes that it is a better user experience to be able to retrieve the information quickly, and this is not always possible on large government websites where data is buried deep within complex site navigation. However, Google’s main objective is to keep searchers on its search pages for longer, as this increases the amount of revenue it can generate through AdWords for Search.
Will UK Schools and Universities Be Affected?
It is very likely that if Google feels that this new search feature is a success in America, it will be launched in the UK too. If this happens, it could spell one of the biggest changes in the way students research colleges and universities since the UCAS started allowing online applications in 2002.
This is good news for students, who are likely to be searching for information on their prospective university choices on mobile devices – while the UCAS website is mobile friendly, it is still rather difficult to navigate through the many options on a mobile.
How To Beat Google?
To beat Google at its own game, it is important to provide unique and valuable data that Google is not displaying. Carry out some market research and keyword research to determine what else students are looking for, and make sure your pages for these topics are more prominent.
Students are likely to be interested in social clubs, accommodation and information about the area as well as data on admissions and prices, so ensure that your website answers all of these questions.
This rule applies to all businesses really. If you wish to compete, you need to find your niche and provide valuable information that answers questions that customers are likely to type into Google. Many schools are already doing this – providing data on student grades and presenting information from OFSTED reports in web friendly format are popular ways to win over searchers.
SEO For Colleges and Universities
In 2013, University Business wrote that it was time for colleges and universities to start taking SEO seriously. Gone are the days when educational establishments could rely solely on recommendations and reviews on the official UCAS website – without good SEO, much of the information found about any given college would have been written by the students and published on social media sites, forums and blogs.
Universitybusiness.com said: “Sixty-seven percent of the surveyed students used Google, Bing, and the like to come up with their list of dream and safe schools.”
On top of this, 90% of searchers have no idea where they will apply to go. This really corresponds with ecommerce – people often search Google because they do not know what they want, not to find information from a specific website or company.
This may sounds obviously, but many university sites forget to mention their location in their pages. Students will often do location based searches, for example, “marketing degrees in London”. If a university is not optimising at this level, they may well lose out to their competitors. Let’s look at a few examples using this search term.
The first result for “marketing degrees in London” is for www.westminster.ac.uk, with the indexed page title “Marketing – Courses – University of Westminster, London”. Following this page, there are three pages from university guide sites. The next college is in position 5 – “Marketing – BA (Hons) | London South Bank University”. These universities have done a good job with their SEO. However, some perform much worse.
Royal Holloway, University of London, has not made it into the top 100 search results. They have used a long page title that does not even show fully in Google: “Royal Holloway | Management with Marketing (BSc) | School of …”, and there is no mention of London in the title – in fact, the only mention of London on the page is in the address in the footer (“Royal Holloway, University of London”). Although the college is officially in Surrey, they are within the Greater London Urban Area, and this omission may be losing them many enquiries from prospective students. A little onsite SEO could easily fix this.
The Changing Internet Landscape
These changes are a reminder that the Internet is constantly changing, and it is not only businesses that need to adapt to maintain a competitive advantage. Schools, nurseries, colleges and universities are all competing to take on new students, and without a solid SEO strategy they will struggle to win over new customers.
We do not know when this change will be released in the UK, but if you are running a school or university website, improving your content now will help you maintain a regular flow of visitors in the future, even after Google starts to display some of the core data that you used to rely on.