Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the techniques used to increase web page visibility in Google and other search engines. For private schools, the goal is to attract as much website traffic from admission prospects as possible, and this post will provide you with some basic knowledge to build an SEO foundation for your school’s website and immediately improve search standings.
If you view SEO as a highly technical cloud of mystery, let’s start by saying there’s no need to be afraid! Yes, there are aspects of SEO that involve website programming and hosting, but the reality is that the vast majority of factors that influence search results are controllable by the average school webmaster—no programming wizardry required!
Two of the most important things to do for SEO are to write clear and concise title tags and meta descriptions for every page. These are important because they provide a summary of each page that helps search engines determine whether a page is appropriate for the results of a specific search. Title tags and meta descriptions also influence whether or not users select a search result.
SEO Title Tags
Title tags are the text snippets that display above the URL in a search result:
Title tags also display in browser tabs:
Title tags are one of the most important places to display keywords—topical terms such as “private school,” “elementary school,” “New England boarding schools,” etc. that people enter into search engines. Adding keywords to title tags can boost search standings, but remember that the search result also has to be enticing to people, so a summary phrase will be more effective at getting clicks than a running list of keywords.
Another important factor to consider is the title length. Google cuts off title tags at 600 pixels or approximately 70 characters. The exact character count may vary because a “w” or “m” will take up more pixels than an “i” or a “t.”
The school’s name should appear in most title tags, but the location of the school name can vary. The best way to determine the location of the school’s name in a title tag is to ask this simple question: What’s more important to the user, the school brand or the subject?
For example, on the home page, the school’s name is most important to inform users that they have found the school’s official website. Therefore, you would write a title tag similar to this:
ABC School | A Private Boarding School in Bedford, New Hampshire
On the summer camp page, however, users are likely more interested in identifying camps followed by the location. A summer camp title is better like this:
Summer Camp for Kids Ages 6-12 | ABC School in Bedford, NH
Most importantly, title tags need to summarize page content. Using “private school” in the title tag isn’t going to boost search result standings for “private school” queries if the represented page isn’t about being a private school.
Unlike title tags, keyword usage in meta descriptions doesn’t directly influence search standings. That said, meta descriptions act as the call to action for a search result, and keywords that match the search query will appear in bold print, encouraging clicks.
Through keyword bolding, meta descriptions can have an indirect impact on search results because click-through rates do factor into standings.
With this in mind, you want to create meta descriptions that are interesting, descriptive, engaging, and succinct—truncation begins around 320 characters, but 200 characters is a better rule of thumb to avoid overwhelming users with too much text. Consider beginning meta descriptions with action words such as “learn,” “explore,” or “discover” to entice clicks.
Like title tags, meta descriptions should represent the page’s overall content.
Use this Free SEO Tool!
Portent’s SERP Preview Tool is a great free resource to see how title tags and meta descriptions will display in Google’s search results. It’s also worth noting that the Grammarly plugin works within the Portent editor. We typically do our writing in this tool, and then copy the results to a spreadsheet or directly into onMessage, Blackbaud K–12's school website system.
Adding Title Tags and Meta Descriptions to onMessage Pages
Once you have title tags and meta descriptions written, entering them into onMessage is easy. From the Pages and Menus tab:
- Go to the webpage and click on the wrench drop-down menu
- Select Settings
- Click on the link titled More Options (directly underneath the Menu information)
- Add the title tags to the Custom Title field
- Add the meta description to the Meta Description field
- Save & Close
When customizing title tags per page, it’s also important to make sure the school name isn’t getting globally appended to all title tags in the Site Settings tab. Keeping the Browser Bar Title fields empty gives you the flexibility to put the school name at the beginning or end of title tags on a per-page basis.
Create an SEO Plan of Attack
By following the guidelines above, you are taking a critical first step in the search engine optimization process. Writing well-thought-out title tags and meta descriptions will improve search standings and attract website visitors.
If you don’t have the time to write title tags and meta descriptions for every page, start with a handful of the most important pages and work backward. You can also ask your account executive for details on Blackbaud K–12’s SEO services. We offer eight SEO training courses, a website audit, and a 25-page optimization where we write the title tags and meta descriptions, as well as provide editorial recommendations for the page content.
About the Author
Mary Bratzler, an Educational Consultant with Blackbaud's K–12 Professional Services team, has 15 years of experience in data management, content management, and the “ON” products. Most rewarding for Mary are the "Aha!" moments when schools take best practices and turn them into solutions for managing their websites. Off-hours will find Mary enjoying time with her family or playing a game of Scrabble or Sudoku.More Content by Mary Bratzler & Wilson Nash
Wilson Nash is an Interactive Designer with Blackbaud’s K–12 Professional Services team. When he isn’t helping schools build their websites with OnMessage, Wilson enjoys experimenting with other forms of new media such as Motion Graphics and iOS development.