“Private School” Versus “Independent School” and other SEO Tips from the Top 25 School Keywords

November 20, 2014 Daren Worcester

It was once explained to me that there isn’t a single person at Google who knows exactly how the company’s search algorithm works. While this is surprising at first blush, it makes complete sense when one considers the myriad of factors and complex coding determining search results.

What we do know, however, is that keywords are at the heart of search results. Keywords are the terms or phrases used to conduct searches. Simply put, if a keyword phrase entered into Google doesn’t appear in a page’s text, title, URL, or any other crawlable location, then the page isn’t going to appear in the search’s results.

Now comes the fun part: optimizing a site for the right keywords, which can get tricky when writing an element such as a title tag where there’s a limit of approximately 55 characters. This forces SEO-conscious schools to make tough decisions between “private school” or “independent school?” “Upper school” or “high school?” “Boarding” or “residential?”

To shed light on the “private school” versus “independent school” debate, we reviewed the top 25 “private school” keywords in Google Adwords, which are as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 10.20.26 AM



Ready. Set. Aim for longtail searches.

Even with the best site-wide keyword optimization, most schools aren’t going to generate search traffic from any of the top 25 phrases. There’s simply too much competition from all of the other schools, associations, and directories.

This doesn’t mean the top keywords are without merit. Think of them as a starting point to build upon by appending other qualifying terms such as the school’s location, day/boarding, coed/single-sex, etc. This will create a keyword phrase that returns longtail results, which is SEO-speak for describing a search that will garner far less volume than mainstream searches.

For example, while “private schools” receives an average of 8,100 monthly searches, “Boston private schools” receives 320 searches, and “private boarding schools in Boston” fetches 10. These longer-tail searches are where schools should focus their optimization efforts because the longtail represents the perfect intersection between rankability and high-quality search prospects.



“Private schools” KO “independent schools”

In the battle of heavyweight keyword terms, “private schools” bests “independent schools” with an 8,100- to 5,400-search margin. The only real surprise here is that the disparity wasn’t greater, which is often the case at the local search level:

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 10.25.10 AM

In the undercard matches, “high schools” proves to have more search popularity than “upper schools,” and “boarding” bests “residential.” All of which is straightforward from an SEO perspective, but every school’s communications team must decide whether the search value of a term such as “private schools” outweighs the marketability of being an “independent school.”

It’s worth noting that Google sees these terms as synonyms. This is why a well-established organization such as NAIS can display on the first or second page of search results for “private schools.” Schools in small markets without a lot of competition could enjoy the same benefit, but large-market schools will need to use “private school” in order to appear in results for associated searches.



Googlers want the best.

When someone new to the windy city wants pizza, they’re likely to conduct a search for the “best pizza in Chicago,” because who wants average pizza? We can see from the “best schools” and “best high schools” results that the same search practices can apply to schools, but does that mean your school should optimize for being the “best?”

My nose would grow if I claimed to have never used “best” in a school’s browser title tag, but from a marketing standpoint, I have more reservation about this term than I do “private school.” Being labeled the “best” isn’t a self proclamation; there needs to be justification. A title tag that reads “Voted Best Private School in Chicago” is more intriguing and influential than “Best Private School in Chicago.”

There are other ways to optimize for the term “best” without making unsubstantiated claims. Consider writing a page header such as “It’s Our Goal at Blackbaud Academy to be the Best Private School in Chicago.” Fill the rest of the page in with examples of how the school strives to provide the “best” educational experience possible, and the page will be well on the way to earning search referrals.



It’s good to be a Montessori school.

Of the top 25 private-school searches, the term “Montessori” accounts for approximately 273,600 searches. Powerful findings.  To put that in context, “private” only appears in 33,500 of these searches. What’s more, a Google search for “Montessori schools” returns 282,000 results, whereas a search for “private schools” finds 11,800,000 listings. This means there will be far less organic search competition for “Montessori” at the local level.



Don’t ignore the employment page.

It’s not surprising to find “private school jobs” and “independent school jobs” appearing in the top 25 school searches. If you check your school’s website analytics for the last year, you’ll likely find the employment page in the top five for page visits.

It’s worth the effort to optimize the employment page for both “private school” and “independent school” if it can be written seamlessly, as well as the school’s location and employment-related buzzwords such as “jobs” and “careers.”

Increasing traffic to the employment page can draw-in new visitors who are likely to spend time on the site getting to know the school. On a holistic scale this can improve the site’s metrics for pages visited and total time on site, key metrics tracked by Google, which in turn could ultimately help the home page perform better in admissions-related searches. When it comes to SEO, the website’s knee bone is always connected to the hip bone.
To learn more about keyword optimization, please ask your account manager about our SEO training and optimization services.

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