Good Content and SEO Can Help College Websites During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Beacon News | Published June 12, 2020 | Categories: SEO , Digital Marketing , Higher Education

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There is nothing normal about education right now. What's worse, no one can say for sure when normal – the normal as we've known it, that is – might return. Or, should the old normal keep up its social distancing for a while, what the new normal in education might look like.

Despite all this uncertainty, colleges and universities still have to plan for providing the best education and value possible to their students. They still have to worry about attracting the next batch of prospective students. And, with a majority of Americans still expressing reservations about returning to business as usual, schools still have to do all this from a distance.

Which makes the college website more important than ever. Same as it ever was, right? (Thank goodness something is.)

Last month, we touched base with a couple of our higher education clients to see how they were able to manage the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. Turns out that their respective websites were pretty instrumental in keeping their students, faculty and staff informed and safe. And, as we transition through various stages and phases of the pandemic, the school website will continue to play an important role in the college experience.

Which means that continued investment in SEO and fresh, relevant content, should be at or near the top of list for every higher ed marketer. Indeed, a recent survey of marketers found that 63% of respondents expected SEO to become more important this year. With SEO being one of the less expensive marketing strategies, these expectations might have something to do with the fact that 58% of the survey respondents were facing budgetary reductions.

So, we know that SEO efforts can help a school get the most bang for its marketing buck. Why else should you invest in SEO?

Why Should Schools Continue to Spend Money on SEO

Jim Yu, founder and CEO of BrightEdge, recently wrote this in a Search Engine Watch article about SEO and COVID-19:

"Given the uncertainty, SEO is our best option for responding to ongoing COVID-19-related business interruptions with speed and agility. Search is critical not only for discovery but as the channel that provides the greatest insight into consumer behavior in real-time, as it continues to evolve in response to the pandemic… As the situation changes, SEO remains our most effective method of understanding and responding to our customers’ needs now and in the future."

Yu has a great point (you may recall it from the opening paragraph): no one knows what's going to happen. But, SEO tactics informed by real data from your website visitors and search trends of your demographic, can help you adjust and pivot when new developments arise.uncertainty-II.jpg

A recent survey of high school seniors conducted during the pandemic by CAPPEX, a firm specializing in helping students navigate the college selection process, is a great example of actionable insights. The survey found interest in the following topics: 

  • Information about virtual events (57% or respondents)
  • Virtual tour options (58%)
  • Deadline changes (85%)
  • Virtual advising/counselor connecting (39%)
  • Financial aid decisions (66%)

Only one subject – financial aid – is a familiar concern; the rest are COVID-19-inspired interests. 

Understanding your audience has great benefits, especially during a time of rapid change. Choosing a college during a global pandemic is very different than under normal circumstances. Knowing what prospective students and their parents are searching for right now can help you create content tailored to their needs.

Here are a few more nuggets from Yu's Search Engine Watch piece translated for higher ed audiences:

Fresh content helps you be seen

Search engines love new content. It's an important part of the secret ranking sauce. Knowing the search trends of college-hunting high school juniors and seniors can help you craft content to address their concerns and rank well in their search queries.

Nervous parents are looking for guidance

Keeping your prospective students and their families informed about the latest COVID-19 developments and its impact on education not only keeps them up to date, it establishes your site as a trustworthy source of important information for the future.

You’ll be noticed, even if they're not currently applying

Tackling COVID-19-related topics may not yield an application download or completion right away, but that's ok. College selection involves a fairly long sales cycle. Getting noticed early can help you stay relevant throughout the consideration process.

Optimizing Your College Website Content for COVID-19

students-5201719_1920.jpgAccording to this April Search Engine Land piece, every site should have a COVID-19 page. The author is not wrong. A COVID-19 landing page is a great idea.

With so much uncertainty and anticipation about how institutions of higher learning are going to operate during the next academic year, the page will attract all of your target audiences. You can then use tailored content and calls-to-action to route the different audiences deeper into the site on their various user journeys.

Your COVID-19 landing page can also include:

  • Changing admission requirements
  • Virtual campus visits
  • Virtual orientation information
  • Updates regarding campus re-opening
  • Plans for the Fall semester
  • Available COVID-19 financial aid opportunities
  • Public health on campus
  • Latest COVID-19 vaccine, treatment updates

What are some additional ways to tailor website content for the pandemic?

Blog content

Remember, fresh content helps your site be viewed favorably by search engine ranking algorithms. And everyone is searching for and learning about COVID-19 online. The pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, so there's no shortage of material to work with. You can interview staff for narratives about how they adapted to the pandemic. Have students submit their own stories, reflections and observations. Tap your faculty for posts about interesting research inspired by the coronavirus.

Virtual Tour

Odds are, your campus isn't seeing too many visitors today. That might change, depending on where in the country you are, and how hard your area has been impacted by the pandemic. But, there's no guarantee a second or third wave won't shut down your campus again next fall or winter. You can ensure that your recruiting efforts remain effective by investing into a top-notch virtual tour experience for your website visitors. 

Shine Up Your Desktop User Experience

Apparently, with people no longer on the move, mobile search is trending down and desktop usage is trending up. When you think about it, it makes sense that a larger screen would be preferable to a smaller one when you're lounging around your home. How does that translate to higher ed websites? A few ways. Immersive content, like the virtual tour we just mentioned, makes more of an impact on wider screens. Same for photography and video. With more real estate, you simply have more room for more content, copy or visual. 

Beacon Knows SEO & Content

Looking for help with SEO and content strategy to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic? Beacon is here to help. Get in touch with our team today. 

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