Should Higher Education Marketers Worry About Google Algorithm Updates?

Posted: January 30, 2020

Joshua Dodson Vice President of Marketing & Innovation

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The phrase “Google it” has become synonymous with “ask”. As higher education pivots toward the most device-dependent cohort of learners to date, more prospective students are turning to the internet first when deciding which college to attend. And this trend has a direct impact on your institution’s visibility. Over 70% of higher education website traffic comes from organic (unpaid) searches, making search engine optimization (SEO) critical to the success of your marketing strategy. 

That said, SEO is evolving faster than any one strategy can address it. Google changes its search engine algorithms almost nine times per day. However, only a few major Google algorithm updates will impact where (and if) your institution appears in your audience’s search engine results. The BERT update is one of the latest of such changes. 

What is BERT?

BERT is a natural language processing model that enables Google to deliver more precise search results in response to the needs of its users. Specifically, it leverages context clues and linguistic processing to recognize the subtleties of human speech patterns and understand the meaning behind each query. In short, Google just got smarter. As the search engine’s most ambitious algorithm update in the last five years, BERT will affect one in ten U.S. searches. This means that your institution’s online visibility can either rise or fall depending on the quality of your SEO content. 

The takeaway is simple: strengthen your SEO. Ensure your paid search ads, website copy, online articles and other content pieces are crafted with both the needs of your audience and the latest SEO best practices in mind. Think of Google as a matchmaker, delivering search results that are just right for each individual user. In that sense, the BERT update is a welcome upgrade. Its AI-driven technology will enable you to filter in and attract even more best-fit audiences that are likely to engage with your content — the prospective students, parents, influencers, alumni, donors and other constituents who are searching Google precisely for the types of programs and opportunities your school offers. 

Five Ways to Improve Online Visibility

BERT is yet another signal to marketers that we need to focus on creating high-quality content that matches the intent of searchers and brings value, in terms of information, to our audience. To help get you started, we have compiled five SEO writing tips you can apply right now to make your content more search-friendly and move your institution closer to the top of your audience’s search engine results:

  • Use primary and secondary keywords that build semantic relationships with key topics. Google rankings are based increasingly on topical authority more than overt keyword usage. For example, if you are writing an article on red wine, mention specific types of wine, like ‘Merlot’ and other varietals. 
  • Include your primary keyword in your HTML page title and main heading. 
  • Use keyword-friendly subheadings to break your content into short, scannable sections to facilitate search engine crawlability. Avoid convoluted sentence structures that will hurt your site’s rankings. 
  • Use keyword synonyms rather than stuffing the same keyword throughout a piece of content. Google rewards variance and excessive keyword repetition can downgrade your ranking.
  • Write for humans, not robots. As Google algorithms become more intuitive with updates like BERT, content that delivers real value to human readers is poised to rank higher compared to click-bait content that is written for the sole purpose of being seen. 

Most importantly, have an SEO strategy in place to guide your content development. SEO is no longer an afterthought or a nice-to-have. More schools are competing with limited marketing budgets for fewer students. That means that organic content powered by SEO may very well be the differentiator you need to avoid becoming invisible in the eyes of your audience. 

It’s All About Content

That doesn’t mean you should panic over every change in search engine technology. These ongoing advancements simply affirm that content is (and will continue to be) king. Give your SEO strategy the same time and focus you would give your branding, creative work, digital strategy, media planning and other key pieces of a full-funnel marketing effort. This will lead to a stronger, more credible presence in an overcrowded marketplace, moving your institution within striking distance of your awareness and engagement goals.

VisionPoint Marketing is a full-service marketing agency with nearly two decades of experience helping higher education institutions achieve their goals. If you have questions or want to start a conversation about how we can help you improve your SEO performance, please visit our website or reach out to our team.