Increasing (quality) organic search traffic

Google Search Engine Optimization

Google’s Googlebot (from Google’s SEO guide)

As I mentioned in my SEM/SEO post this summer, SEO (search engine optimization) is important but can be misunderstood. The importance of paid ads on search (which only 1/3 of teens can tell are ads) aside, optimizing your web content to increase organic search traffic is a goal among many in higher ed. While there are arguments about what source traffic organizations should prioritize (and even an evolving understanding of where traffic actually comes from and how to ensure it’s correctly labeled as much as possible), understanding how to increase quality search traffic is important.

I include “quality” as a qualifier because some still operate with the ‘hit counter’ mentality that simply more is better and focus on vanity metrics (increased number of visitors) as opposed to having more meaningful goals (increased of x% of new users via X source in X amount of time) and doing path flow analysis and more to optimize your site for conversions (making registrations and applications easier to complete).

In the end it depends on your institution’s specific situation and the end goals you have in mind.

In either case, there are a few basic things you can do to optimize your site for search. First, you can pick a tool that is SEO friendly. Matt Cutts from Google has praised WordPress, which he said solved 80-90% of the mechanics of SEO. However, there’s no automatically optimized CMS. As Search Engine Land (which uses WordPress) states, “Though WordPress is search engine friendly, you will still need to do some manual SEO work for best results. Just switching to WordPress won’t rank your site on Google’s front page auto-magically.”

Putting aside all the external work necessary to rank highly (earning quality back-links being chief among them) aside, the following are some basics that you can implement right away. Here are seven top tips (from domain hosting service godaddy.com and others):

  1. Do keyword research
    1. Think of primary and long-tail keywords (3-4 words that are specific to your offering)
  2. Use title tags that are concise and help answer a search query
  3. Ensure you have a meta description on your page that your target audience would click on.
  4. Using a descriptive header (H1) tag on each page.
  5. Use keywords naturally throughout your page content
  6. Make there there are internal links that make it easy to navigate your website.
  7. Submit your sitemap to Google (and maybe even Bing) through Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
  8. Tag your images so they can be found easily in search. (Include a keyword in the lowercase hyphen-separated file name, alt text, and put related text around the image.

Details on these and more are available in Google’s own Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

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About Geoff Campbell

Geoff Campbell is an Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing at American University.

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