What did Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) ever do for you?
With Andrew Maylor from Dark Horse
SEO specialist Andrew Maylor sometimes talks about meta-descriptions and H1 tags – but mostly he makes sense. He offers an effective metaphor that involves pretending you are a regular at the gym: the more you go, the healthier and fitter you are; if you stop going because Strictly’s on telly or it’s raining, you will get out of shape and other people will get ahead. Like in real life.
You have a lovely website but only 14 people have looked at it – and they include your Uncle Brian and someone searching for scooters. How do you get potential parents and pupils straight there when looking for schools in your area?
Having a good website is never enough – it must perform – and we don’t mean include a school video explaining physics through expressive dance. There are so many changes, algorithm updates and evolutions within the internet landscape that an effective website must keep up and respond.
A remarkable website has everything in the right place, all the pages going somewhere, and links back to keep the viewer orientated, and a hierarchy of page importance; a flat structure makes it too hard for Google to pick out what’s most significant.
Google [‘other search engines are available but aren’t used for 93% of searches’] is King in the world of SEO. Most people know it helps them find gym membership or popular baby names (don’t be pressured by Uncle Brian on either). Google is actually a host of bots crawling websites at immense speed. The quicker, easier and more accurately that you meet the needs of the Googler, the more Google will favour your website and rank it higher. You don’t need to understand Andrew’s fancy words, only the importance of providing an easy plan for Google to read. It’s the difference between following a satnav or having Uncle Brian shout out random directions.
For keeping track Google analytics is a must. Google’s free platform shares your performance data to enable you to base decisions on meaningful information: if you’ve got 1000 pages on your website and only 200 of them ever get visited, why do you need 1000? Google search console is a much overlooked tool providing rich data to show how hard your website is working. Google My Business should always be claimed; searches will usually be for a school in a given area and if your Google My Business profile is in good shape, searches bringing up your school will take users to the map where your school will be marked, a gateway to much more.
By improving – hey, let’s call it optimising – the technical aspects of your site, you allow Google to find it and search, then present the user with information quickly and efficiently. As a school or MAT, you want to provide for children, be a good match for parents, be popular with teachers… but first, you must please Google!
The good news is that nine times out of 10 if you’re doing things using the right structure and the right format it will fall in line with the average human’s ability to understand, interpret and follow.
Humans are one of our favourite species and so working with you to delve into what’s needed, is our pleasure. We look at the website, the landscape, the competitors, the offer and, most of all, keywords that allow us to channel the right people your way. It’s important to allow for potential visitors at different stages or pathways – and it helps to consider what they will search for: How do I find a school to suit my child? Which schools in my area have the best results? Where did Uncle Brian go to school? Some demand a circuitous route to steer the visitor in the right direction, but your task is to speak with authority on what you provide and make clear the response you want. Speak your language with an ear to Google’s systems – systems that shift with the next algorithm, a new competitor, a technological (or educational) advance.
There was a time when keyword stuffing was a tactic used to drive the number of visits to your website. It involved robotic repetition of words or phrases: We are the best educational design company. We have the best results of any educational design company. We are an educational design company for all schools. You can still find it in some places (not here, obviously) and it explains why whatever you put into the search engine, Argos claims to sell – existentialism, circus jobs, Uncle Brian. But being human is catching on and so Google’s shifts and changes mean it looks for more natural language in website content, robotically frowning on keyword stuffing!
Google likes to receive information in what is called structured data or schema. It means structuring data without unnecessary complexity. Sometimes it’s known as nap – name, address, phone number. When the code is on the website (leave it to the techies), Google can read it and escort people to your site. Your details need to be exactly the same on the website, in Google My Business, on any other local listings of directories, and throughout your website.
Search habits have already moved beyond typing on a keyboard and expert Andrew predicts that the next shift will be the transition to artificial intelligence, as we’re already seeing with Alexa, Siri, Brian (no, not Brian).
Whilst the changing digital landscape can be a challenge, websites already have the power; you can make changes, update, or re-direct. The ability to create a different look or tone of voice, to carry out testing and experimentation, makes a website the vital platform for a school. It won’t always be a person’s first visual on your school – they might walk past daily on the way to the gym or cake shop – but at some point in their research journey, they will snuggle up on their sofa, clutching an I a Nap mug of tea, and start to learn and digest – the tea, your website, reasons not to go to the gym. You want that to be a pleasant experience, to build trust and confidence, and help the parent think, ‘This is where I want my child to go to school.’