Why Keyword Research Should Guide Your School Content Strategy

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), most schools realize the content they develop is a critical piece of the puzzle. This is why understanding the user experience and the power of storytelling are essential marketing strategies for schools today. But creating content is not the only strategy. In order to truly optimize their websites and blogs for millennial parents, schools need to consider the importance of keyword research.

If you are able to use keywords properly, you will understand and use the voice of your target families. For this reason, keyword research allows your school to target your messages and stand out among your competitors.

While the need for keyword research as a school marketing tool has remained steady over the years, the methods we use have evolved in order to stay in alignment with intelligent search and changing user preferences. Today’s search engines have the ability to understand natural human language, learn document structure, leverage machine learning, filter search results and classify data into predefined categories.

Why Keywords Matter to Your School Content Strategy

The goal of content marketing is to get your school’s valuable content in front of your target families. It’s also to position your school as a helpful resource and, by default, a better choice than your competitors. The better your keyword strategy, the higher your school will rank in search results, and the more people will be able to find your school.

Of course, it’s not just about getting your school’s content in front of everybody; it’s about getting it in front of families who would be a good fit for your school’s philosophy, mission, and curriculum. In order to increase your school’s visibility, you need a strong keyword research methodology.

As you might already know, finding the right keywords for your school marketing can be tricky. If you use keywords too broad, you will most likely get a lot of traffic, but very few of them will submit an inquiry. If your keywords are too narrow, your content will evaporate into obscurity, and you won’t get enough traffic. Your goal is to find the sweet spot.

Unfortunately, many school marketers struggle to find the right keywords. Perhaps they are confused or intimidated about doing keyword research, or they just don’t know where to start. If you’re guessing which keywords to use, or simply hoping for the best, don’t despair. It’s never too late to revamp your keyword research strategy or start one from scratch.

Understand the Importance of Semantic Search

One main reason keyword research has become more complicated in the last few years is because search engines have changed. Search engines today use semantic search instead of combing through content to pull out individual keyword phrases. This is a major change in how search engines operate as well as how SEO specialists need to respond to the changes.

Semantic search refers to intent-based search, which more and more search engines are using all the time. This is because users are searching from a variety of devices as well as using more conversational search language. For example, in the past, a parent might type in “Christian schools in YourTown” but now they might use a voice-activated search assistant (like Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, etc.) and say “I’m looking for the best private schools in my area.”

This change represents a shift from cut-and-dry keyword phrases to understanding the searcher’s intent. While the searcher may not have specifically asked for “Christian schools”, the search engine is smart enough to recognize that private schools and religious schools go hand-in-hand and would likely be relevant to this searcher.

How to Find Intent-Based Keywords

As semantic search becomes prevalent, your goal as a marketer is to research keywords with semantic search as a foundation.

Here are three tips to get you started:

  1. Determine your foundational keywords

Your foundational keywords are the keywords you believe will align closely with your primary message. These keywords give the rest of your content meaning, context, and structure. It isn’t easy to conduct keyword research without foundational keywords.

To determine your foundational keywords, ask yourself what queries families are most likely using to find your school. These base keywords will help you develop more advanced keyword ideas.

Try asking yourself “What are the most common phrases families use to find my school?” to help you generate a list of foundational keywords.

  1. Leverage the power of Google auto-suggest

The next step is surprisingly simple yet effective. Just type in a foundational keyword phrase and see what keywords Google suggests before you hit “return”. Look at the bottom of the search engine results page (SERP) for additional keyword suggestions.

  1. Rank your best keywords

What criteria should you use to determine your “best” keywords?

Basically, it comes down to four factors.

  • Volume

Volume refers to the average number of times internet searchers search for that term per month

  • Keyword difficulty

Keyword difficulty refers to how difficult it will be to rank for this keyword. This is based on the competition for that keyword.

  • Cost-per-click

Cost-per-click (CPC) refers to the monetary value placed on that keyword by search engines based on the amount of money an advertiser is willing to spend.

  • Competitive density

Competitive density is the number of URLs displayed in organic search engine results for a given keyword per month.

Current Keyword Research Tools

There are innovative tools schools can use to conduct keyword research. These tools will help you target your keywords to today’s families using intent-based research.

  • Ask your families

We often don’t think about asking our current families what search queries they would recommend. Sites like Seed Keywords are excellent for this. With Seed Keywords, you enter a scenario like “I want to find a private school that serves kids with a learning disability. What would you search for to find a private school that offers special services to kids with learning disabilities?”

Seed Keywords will generate a URL you can then send to your list. Parents respond to the scenario and you gain insight into which keywords you should target. This tool can help you fill in gaps in your keyword research policy and gain insights into the best keywords for your target families.

  • Consider competitor keywords

You can evaluate which keywords are performing well and decide which ones to add to your keyword strategy as well as determining what gaps exist and which gaps you want to fill. SEMRush and Ahrefs are well-known tools you can use for competitor keyword research.

  • Write for families

Since search engines have changed, the way you include keywords in your copy needs to change as well. Search engine algorithms are now assessing content for a variety of factors, including relevancy, high-levels of expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T).

When you place your families at the center of importance in your copywriting, you’re positioning your school to leverage the trend toward semantic search. Building content based on relevant topics, important themes and valuable information for your audience is more solid keyword strategy than targeting one or two keyword phrases. For this reason, today’s schools can focus more on context and relevance and less on keyword phrases.

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What tools do you use to conduct keyword research for your school’s content strategy? What should be added to this list?

About the author 

Brendan Schneider

Hey, I’m Brendan, and this is my blog. After 28 years working in private, independent schools in mostly admissions, enrollment, marketing, communications, and fundraising roles, I decided to make SchneiderB Media my full-time job, where I help schools get more inquiries through my Fractional Digital Marketer program. I also started the MarCom Society, a membership created expressly to help, support, and train marketing and communications professionals at schools.


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