Local search engine optimization (SEO) is essential to independent schools that operate on a local, not national, level. Local SEO focuses on appearing in search engine results pages (SERP) in a specific area, as opposed to national SEO, which competes for keywords on a national level. Local SEO uses strategies that rely on marketing your school to local families who fit with your school’s mission.
Local SEO works to optimize your online presence so it is more relevant to your target families, which leads to more website traffic, inquiries and enrollments for your school. Think of local SEO as a way your independent school can compete effectively against other schools that may have a larger budget to spend.
Without local SEO strategies, your school could be losing out on a significant amount of traffic. According to research conducted by ReviewTracker, 35 percent of all search traffic is local. You want to garner as much of that local traffic as you can for your school.
Here are the top ways school marketers can effectively market to their target families using local SEO tactics.
Create a Google My Business account
If you haven’t already, you really need to set up a Google My Business (GMB) account for your school. This will help your school effectively rank high on Google Maps as well as gain visibility in Google Search results.
To get started with a GMB account, you will need a Business Profile. Create a Google account if you don’t have one yet (you might already have set one up for your Google Analytics and Google Search Console services).
Once you have entered your basic information, Google will want to verify your address. This is to prevent spammers from setting up fake addresses. Most of the time Google will want to send a postcard to your location to verify your address. Once you have that postcard, you can enter the verification code and you’ll be set! (Note: do not use a post office box. Google Terms of Service (TOS) do not allow post office or off-site mailboxes. You will need to use the actual location of your school.)
Once you have officially verified your GMB listing, you can optimize your account. You can do this by:
- Filling out your business description
- Be sure to add in your website URL
- Adding photos and videos to your listing
- Complete the GMB Q&A section to answer parents’ most pertinent questions
- Start scheduling social media posts
- Add details about your school to the service menus
- Encourage families to follow you on Google Maps
- Be sure to update your school hours and details (are you offering school virtually, using a hybrid schedule or is school on-site)?
- Make sure you enter the correct contact person for prospective parents
Then, when you’ve completely filled out your school’s GMB profile, you can start checking your insights to determine how many people have viewed your GMB profile, clicked through to your website, called your school, viewed the images and posts you’ve uploaded, etc. As soon as you’ve filled out your business profile, your information will start appearing on Search Engine Results Pages, Google Maps and the Google Search Knowledge Panel.
Ask for positive reviews
Now that you have your account up and running, your next goal should be to collect as many positive reviews on your GMB account as possible. This means you will want to reach out to as many of your stakeholders as possible:
- Students (as appropriate)
- Board members
- Community members who support your school’s mission
You might have to get creative about how you ask for reviews. Be sure to make it easy for people to click on a link to your GMB review section.
To increase the number of Google Reviews your school receives, consider the following:
- Include a request in your school newsletter
- Send out an email or text asking for a review
- Add a link to your GMB account on your website
- Create a shortened link to make it easy for people to remember how to visit your Google review page. Most link shorteners allow you to customize your link, i.e. www.bitly/YourSchoolName
- Design “Leave Us a Review” cards and make them available in your office
- Create a Google review email campaign. Keep in mind 72 percent of U.S. consumers are willing to write a review.
- Ask for reviews on social media platforms. Some networks (i.e. Facebook) have their own review program, so be sure to take advantage of their system.
- Respond to your existing Google reviews. Respond promptly and politely, even to negative reviews. Try to resolve concerns that might have been brought up.
- Create an instruction video explaining how to complete a Google review.
- Include your custom Google review link in your email signature.
Optimize for voice search
Voice search is the fastest-growing way people conduct online searches. Voice recognition programming is making it possible for people to speak into their device (smartphones, tablets, smart home devices, personal assistants, GPS, etc.) and find the information or location they are looking for.
In the past, SEO responded to people typing their queries into a search bar, but with voice recognition, more and more people are using spoken search queries. Smart school marketers will get ahead of the voice recognition SEO curve by optimizing their website and online properties to make them accessible to natural language processing (NLP). For example, think about the questions searchers might be asking related to your school, and make sure your on-page SEO and content answers them in a clear and concise manner.
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly
Since over 260 million people in the United States use their smartphone to access the internet, it is imperative that your website is easy for them to use while viewing on their phone. Check how mobile-friendly your site is in Google’s eyes by going to Google Search Console and click on Mobile Usability from the main menu.
Use local keywords
Find keywords specific to your local area by using Google’s Keyword Planner. Use the location filter to get an idea of the popular search terms specific to your region. Once you know the ideal keywords, you can use them when they are relevant to your content. You can also use local landmarks and hotspots in your community as reference points, which will send local SEO signals to Google.
Take advantage of reputable online business directories
An online business directory is a list of businesses within a certain niche. Adding your school to relevant directories will help your business get found by Google.
Google uses an open-source program called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to access and load webpages more quickly on mobile devices. AMP speeds up the way Google “looks up” your school and delivers it to searchers. The more signals Google receives about your school, the higher it will rank your listing.
Facebook, Apple Maps, Google My Business, LinkedIn Company Directory, Bing, Yelp, MapQuest, Hubspot, Super Pages, Yellow
Get high-quality backlinks
Link signals are prime factors for ranking on the first page of SERPs. Backlinks to your site are link signals to Google. Bear in mind Google pays attention to the quality of the site linking to yours. Click here to learn best practices for generating backlinks to your school website.
Create dedicated webpages
While it can be tempting to try to lump all of your school offerings together in one big page, resist the urge to do so. Instead, dedicate one page to each subject. For example, instead of lumping Music, Dance, Theater and Visual Arts on one page, create a dedicated page for each subject listed under Fine and Performing Arts.
Search engines are easily confused. If you list too many elements on a page, the web bots won’t recognize you as an authority in one specific area, thereby lowering your ranking. Think carefully about your categories and offerings and create individual pages for each one.
Local SEO continues to gain importance to improve the findability of your school’s online presence. Furthermore, the search engine algorithms constantly change. Smart school marketers understand the importance of SEO and strive to always stay on top of new technologies and developments. The above local SEO tactics will help build a strong foundation for your online presence so you will be positioned to leverage search engine advancements.
Want an easy, affordable way to stay on top of SEO developments? Learn more about SEO Coach DIY SEO Software for Schools here.