Why SEO Is So Important in Higher Ed Site Redesign

Carnegie Higher Ed Mar 20, 2017 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

Search engine visibility and user experience should always be a big part of your website development process

Many colleges and universities currently find themselves in the exciting (though sometimes grueling) process of redesigning their websites. In most cases, schools are redesigning in an effort to become mobile responsive. (Did you know more Google searches are now performed on mobile devices than on desktops?) In the process, schools are also excited to get a fresh new look that’s more engaging and interactive.

That being said, a site redesign is about more than just appearances. We have found that many of our new SEO clients have either just gone through a website redesign or are in the process of going through one. With those who have just launched a new site, we’ve discovered that in many cases, crucial technical SEO aspects were left out of the site development. This has sparked many conversations about information architecture and how it affects search engine visibility.

The architecture of a site is important for both SEO and user experience, which go hand in hand. Search engines want to serve up results that will help users. That user experience begins right in the search engine results page (SERP).

When prospective students search for colleges and universities on Google, you want your institution to show up, but you also want your results to entice them to click through to your website. Enter: metadata. Your site’s metadata content should be optimized for keywords, but at the same time it should also speak to your audience.

Therefore, one of the most important things to consider in terms of SEO during a site redesign is the ability to easily customize metadata on every page. Often we work with schools whose CMS are hard coded to not allow for customization.

It’s also important to make sure a redirect plan is in place as you migrate content from your old site to your new site. This ensures that your old site’s link equity transfers over to your new website. (See: Why It Is Best Not to Delete Webpages and the Importance of Redirects.) Essentially, your old site has a lot of rank with Google due to its age, and you don’t want to lose that.

In setting up a redirect plan, it’s important to think about how you are renaming your URLs. Your URLs should contain the main keyword you are targeting for each page. Not only that, the URL structure should be such so that search engines can easily crawl all pages. This means that parent and child names should be in URL paths.

What’s more, the URL path should also match the breadcrumbs on the webpage. A breadcrumb path allows users to easily navigate back to previous pages. In addition to ensuring that search bots are able to crawl and see all of your webpages, breadcrumbs also aid with user experience.

Good user experience can also be ensured through journey mapping, which should be a big part of any site redesign. This ensures that prospective students are navigating your site in the easiest way possible and finding the information they are looking for without hassle. Each page should lead to the next webpage in the funnel, and it should be easy for prospects to take action along the way. This includes providing different call-to-action buttons such as “learn more” and “apply” at appropriate stages on the site.

Finally, search engines should be able to actually see your content, which is why it is essential that all your content be coded as HTML. Search bots cannot see Javascript, so keep that in mind if your designer is creating interactive program cards, which are popular right now in higher ed site design.

If you’re going through a site redesign, remember it’s about more than just getting a fresh look or becoming mobile responsive. It’s important to develop your site with search visibility and user experience in mind. Want to learn more? Carnegie can help—connect with us today!

You can follow Rebecca on Twitter @beccablanchette for more analytics and SEO insights.

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