Optimizing Website Lead Generation through SEO-Informed Information Architecture

Posted: March 1, 2023

Joy George Proofreader

Making SEO and IA Work for Lead Generation

50-70% of your website traffic finds you through search engines. Is your website ready to sell your institution to those who come seeking information?

If you haven’t updated your website recently, the answer is probably no. Higher ed institutions tend to organize their websites the way they organize their entire organization – by departments. This doesn’t work for the modern website viewer, though, especially considering most visitors view your website from a mobile device.

It might all seem a little bit overwhelming, but don’t worry. Based on our latest webinar, this article will walk you through some basic steps you can take focused on search engine optimization (SEO) – the art and science of structuring and classifying information to help people find and interact with that information on your website – and information architecture (IA) – the art and science of making your website attractive to search engines by properly classifying information on your website – to get your website ready to generate leads.

The main tip? Not seeing your website as a fount of all knowledge for all visitors but as a shopping experience for prospective buyers first.

The Goal? Findability

Stop and think for a minute. When is the last time you went onto the second page of Google search results? It’s probably been a while since that happened, right? That’s because Google is good at understanding what you want and giving you the best information it can. And for websites to be seen as the best, they have to be optimized to be noticed by search engines. 

Since your website can be found through generic searches (“colleges in North Carolina”) and specific long-tail queries (“What jobs can I get with an MBA?”), it’s important to think of each of these search queries as you are working with SEO and IA to set up your website as the ultimate buying experience for your shoppers (i.e., prospective students and parents).

But you’ve got a website, right? People know to go to yourcollege.edu, so why do you need to invest in SEO and IA? It’s simple math, really:

  • More online visibility = more website traffic
  • More website visits (with better user pathways) = more people in the funnel
  • More people in the funnel = more people to market to
  • More people to market to = more conversions
  • More conversions = greater enrollment

In short, SEO and IA is the pathway from Google to enrolled students. That’s why it’s so important to set your website in a way that is intuitive to your prospective student. Consider every query made on a search engine an entrance page to your website. From that page, the user flow of IA should model the way we research and learn. If you consider each page as the homepage, then, good IA leads visitors down the conversion funnel until they make a purchase (fill out a form, apply, etc.).

We know this isn’t the typical way a university website is considered, so bear with us here. If you consider all search queries fit into one of four “micro-moments,” you’ll get a good idea of what visitors to your site are looking for:

Image Source: Think with Google

By using SEO keyword research tools, you may be able to understand what prospective visitors are looking for and find demand for content you might not have on your website yet. Identifying these content gaps can help inform more comprehensive IA and build a comprehensive model for your website.

Take our work with University of Pennsylvania for example. When Penn launched their first online Bachelor’s degree program, VisionPoint’s SEO efforts contributed the #1 position on Google search results for coveted keywords like “bachelor of applied arts and sciences” and “organizational anthropology,” amplifying visibility among audiences who were actively searching for the types of opportunities the program offers.

Just like with Penn, using SEO as an influencer for IA can help position your website as an authoritative source on specific topics and related queries.

A Change in Thinking

Many current higher ed institution websites have lots of information, but it’s not organized intuitively for the “shopper.” Rather the first information found on the homepage tends to be the public relations push of the moment. Rarely does the information show the value proposition that makes it clear who you are as an institution and how you’re different from your competitors. These high-traffic pages tend to be missed opportunities to jump into the optimal user journey.

The homepage is a perfect example. This prime real estate gets hijacked to show campus events, callouts, news headlines, events calendars, etc. When thinking about your institution’s website as a place for online shoppers, you can begin to see how different IA can play into a better user experience. Providing pathways for different enrollment populations or segments allows people to immediately get information that is relevant to them.

Have a clear place for people to self-identify (i.e., student, prospect, alumni, first-time freshman, transfer, international, adult).

Website Tip

Many pages on websites just sit passively without any direction for users once finished digesting the information on that particular page. What should they do next? As you redesign and think about IA, think about the intended outcome of each page. Should visitors apply, sign up to visit the campus, request information, download a pdf?

If you want visitors to do something, ask them. Compel them to take action and most of the time they will.

Website Tip

Read on for specific strategies you can employ on specific pages many visitors come to for information.

Homepage

In a change from the typical higher ed website homepage, consider focusing your homepage on directing prospects to shopping or conversion. While looking at your homepage as a storefront may not align with the mentality of higher ed, looking at the page in this way will allow you to think of the information prospective students need in order to “buy.”

Don’t make your homepage look like a busy news source.

Your homepage should clearly define your distinct value proposition. Consider that each page could be the starting point for a prospective student. Using that as your goalpost should help you to craft your homepage so that visitors have a strong idea of who you are as an institution. With this way of thinking, your homepage should:

  • Get you quickly to the product – your programs
  • Push recruitment
  • Give easy access to apply, visit, and give pages
  • Help students understand relevant opportunities based on segmenting of info

Academic Pages

These pages should optimize the shopping process for your academic program offerings. They do not need to be complex, and they definitely should be easily findable, searchable, and have detailed program information.

Each program page should aid in the purchase process. To create effective program pages consider the following:

In addition to answering the above questions, each program page should include:

  • Strong imagery and video
  • Easily scannable body text
  • Data nuggets
  • Compelling information
  • Testimonials
  • Clear pathways to action

When VisionPoint partnered with Walters State Community College, building compelling, yet concise program pages was a key priority. We aimed to provide a holistic view of each program through brief descriptions, course details, faculty profiles, and success stories, so that prospects can understand the value of each program at a glance.

Academic Content

Another gateway into your program are long-tail queries into Google. These are questions like “what can you do with an MBA degree” or “what jobs use a BS in biology.”

If you can identify the highest impact SEO topics, you can use that information to create articles or landing pages to help align your content to what students are searching for at every stage of their decision-making process. Highly engaging content that satisfies search queries can be yet another way to engage with prospective students and then track search engine ranking improvements.

This is not a one-and-done exercise. Making pages that answer these queries takes awareness, consideration, intent, and decision. However, if you have content that influences visitors along their journey, it’s just another way of being top of mind when they consider a higher ed institution.

Website Tip

When we speak to client partners about creating content pages like this, we call it having a “hub and spoke” mentality. Using your program as a “hub,” you can begin to create content pages surrounding that topic that answer related queries prospective students might have such as types of careers, possible salaries, etc. The more spokes you have coming off of each hub is a signal to Google that you want to own that topic. By building clusters related to individual programs and topics, you can start crowding out competitors and become the go-to source for that information. These pages can also become the main featured snippet in Google searches, yet another way for you to become top of mind for prospective students.

One thing to remember, though, is that each of these pages (through careful IA planning) should push someone to another page such as the program page that allows visitors to raise their hand and say hello, starting that conversation and building a relationship. 

Admissions Pages

Higher ed websites generally have top navigation for the following pages: about, academics, admissions, student life, and research. However, when prospective students click on the admissions page, that information tends to be a duplicate of all the other information, just through a recruitment lens. In short, admissions pages generally try to do too much. The website as a whole should be focused on pushing recruitment. The admissions section should be much easier to navigate and focus on the procedural relationship versus selling.

Prospective students should be able to go to the admissions page and at a glance understand just the following:

  • Admittance process
  • Tuition
  • Financial aid

By keeping this page focused and simple, students can quickly understand next steps, which will, in turn, make converting easier and more meaningful.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve covered a lot of information, but you’re probably still left with questions that you want answers to. To start, we’ve compiled a few frequently asked questions as you get started on SEO and IA improvements.

Who are the right people to get in the room to make these changes happen?

Web strategists, marketing strategists, copywriters – these are the key people to help find the right formula who are able to write compelling content and work on where you place it in the structure of your website and how you’re able to get prospective students to the website. Also, consider subject matter experts (SMEs). They’ve got deep knowledge that this content will be optimized for – admissions, program coordinators/directors, etc.

What types of articles should we be writing to create hubs and spokes, or should we be linking to articles?

It’s helpful to leverage what you have, especially if you’re just beginning. If you have well-written articles, you can link to those. When you post news stories about students or alumni, link to the related program pages. We see the best results when you can be thoughtful about building clusters where spoke pages are answering long-tail queries. Internal linking can also be beneficial. The more pages (spokes) you point to a hub, the more importance is shown to Google. Also, keeping this information on different pages allows you to go in depth for people who want that information without overwhelming everyone else.

What tips do you have for personalization when we don’t know users at top of the funnel?

CRMs can definitely be helpful here. Look at your CRM or possible partners to see what opportunities are there. It could be something as basic as tagging IP addresses based on their location or behavior. If you know they’re three clicks in and came from a specific page, that may drive what you serve them next. If they spend a long time dwelling on the tuition page, that may indicate that this information is a sticking point. Being able to see different user behaviors and intents can help you optimize your website as well.

Could articles featuring successful graduates be linked off program pages?

Yes, having social proof and compelling content about graduates of a program is a great opportunity.

What are the most chronic or glaring issues that don’t align with SEO/IA vision?

Higher ed institutions have the tendency to let organizational structure dictate the direction of IA. Academic pages should be propelled and locked into the admissions flow/funnel. CTAs are often buried in the website. Having a clearly seen next step is important. Most people don’t know the way around your website and are viewing it on a phone, not a desktop monitor. If they can easily see the next step, they’ll click. If they have to scroll all the way back up a page or hunt through navigation, the million other things they’re trying to do at the same time will get in the way and you may lose them. Will they remember to come back later? Calls to action need to be in the right place at the right time on each page.

Work With Us

With over 21 years of work exclusively in the higher ed industry, VisionPoint knows how to maximize your website’s information architecture and optimize your search engine results, and we’d love to talk with you about our experience. Schedule a consultation or email info@visionpointmarketing.com to get the conversation started.