Put Yourself in Students’ Shoes: The Key to Improving Your Search Results

Carnegie Higher Ed Sep 12, 2016 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Prospective students are out there searching. They’re searching constantly and for everything. And when it comes to their options for higher education, that search path can be a long one.

So with that journey in mind, let’s put ourselves in the prospective student’s shoes as they conduct their college searches. Here’s a walk through some of the things you should consider to ensure your institution appears along the way.

Keywords and phrases

For your institution and the types of programs and opportunities you offer, what are the keywords and phrases that students (or parents, for that matter) will likely use to search? When was the last time you did a quick check to see how your school appears in search results when using those keywords and phrases? If it’s been more than a month…check again.

Your messaging

It’s also important to consider the marketing messages you are putting out there across all channels, from billboards to digital ads. If you search for the key messages used in that marketing, how do you appear? We’ve seen examples of an institution using an amazing and powerful statement in their marketing materials, but when someone searches for that message, the school is nowhere to be found. Or worse yet, their competitors appear in the search results.

The destination

Assuming you do appear in the search results, it’s important to confirm that it’s the right page or path behind those links. Sometimes the page that comes up in search results is not the ideal or most relevant one you would want these audiences going to on your site. Also, make sure to check the actual link itself when someone clicks on it. Is it working and taking them to the correct destination?

Real estate

On the search engine results page, there are both organic results and paid search results. Make sure to check out what is appearing up in the paid search results for any of these searches. Is there an opportunity for you to own more of the real estate? Are your competitors accomplishing a better presence in these results? (To get ahead of the game, check out How Colleges and Universities Can Score “Free” PPC.)


When doing any of the audits above, always check mobile too. Things are different on mobile, from the on-site experience to how you appear in search results. The number of search results is different in both organic and paid on mobile, so while you may be in good shape on desktop, it may not be the case on mobile. And with more education-related searches happening on mobile devices now than on desktop, this is an even more critical point.

When talking about search results, I often hear the phrase “if you’re not there, you don’t exist.” Unfortunately, this is pretty true. So taking a few of the steps above from time to time can help ensure you are there, you do exist, and you’re appearing exactly when you should to your prospective student audiences.

Follow Mark on Twitter @Cunningham527

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