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March 30

Search Engine Marketing for Higher Ed: Part 1


by | Mar 30, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Although there are many ways to go about it, search engine marketing is one of the key ways to do lead generation. 

Traditionally, there is a lot of relationship building that happens with college fairs and other recruitment activities. 

That’s good, but we have to keep in mind that so many people start their college search by asking Google. 

Faton Sopa helps us understand how to improve our search engine marketing for higher ed. In this conversation of The Higher Ed Marketer, we talk about search engine marketing (SEM) with Faton Sopa, Cofounder and CEO of Manaferra.

SEM, and its subdiscipline of SEO (search engine optimization), is still considered a 21st-century mystery to many higher ed marketers. 

However, with a solid content marketing strategy, any college or university can turn its website into an SEO darling.

In part one of our interview with Faton, we discuss the sub-disciplines of search engine marketing and how to establish authority through content.

What is search engine marketing?

Search engine marketing is a term that covers a lot of different things. 

A lot of people tend to think that when we say “SEM,” we really mean “SEO.” 

Well, search engine marketing includes SEO, but it includes a lot of other things, too. Faton explains.

SEM is a high level term that includes a lot of sub disciplines. 

Search engine marketing implies search engine optimization, which means organic results, or those “not paid” results in Google. 

[But it also includes] paid search results—which are basically Google ads. 

Under organic results, which means SEO basically, then we also have content marketing, digital PR, lead generation, landing page optimization, lead tracking, and more. 

And then as part of Google Ads, we have conversion rate optimization, landing page development, optimization, campaign strategies and others. 

Many marketers tend to forget that search engine marketing is the big umbrella with many disciplines underneath of it.

What other search engines should higher ed marketers consider?

Not only are there more than one discipline under this vast umbrella, there are also multiple search engines you should be aware of!

“Search” is quite wide. 

It started with platforms like Alta Vista, and then Google and some others. But then we started to see search expand into other verticals. Then it became every website having a search bar and an algorithm behind it which can be called a search engine. 

[This led to] search engine verticals. If people want to search for music, the best search engine might not be Google. Actually, it might be Spotify. 

[If people want] to search for video content, then they might go to YouTube. So that’s [also] a search engine. 

Or if they’re searching to buy a product, or [product] reviews, they might go to Amazon. 

So depending on the context and the intent of the user that is making that search, the platform [can change]. 

[The idea of “search”] is quite bigger than Google itself, but because Google has that monopoly on the market, when we talk about SEO, it means we are talking about Google mostly.

YouTube is the second largest search engine behind Google. 

This is such an incredible piece of information to understand as marketers because your content has to be specific to the kind of search engine people will use to find it.

We’ve got to make sure we’re optimized for search, not just for Google, but for these other places that we might be showing up. 

How does content build brand authority?

Not only do you want your education brand to show up in the results of whatever search engine is being used, you also want there to be an instant recognition and trust with the end user consuming the content. 

Content is one of the three pillars of SEO. The three pillars are link building, technical SEO, and content marketing. 

We have heard that content is king. It is true! 

The reason why people search for a query is to consume content. 

[Providing] content is the only way you can fulfill the demand of the user that is coming from search engines, and not only from those that come directly from search engines, but also from referral or from other sources. 

Content helps you not only answer the question that people are asking the search engines, but it also helps you establish that credibility or authority you have as institutions in front of your future students.

It also helps you build a kind of relationship with the user, which in the future [could be an enrolled student]. 

The goal of content marketing is to serve the users [by helping them answer their] question during this [stage of] their journey, and help them narrow down [their options] until they come to a phase where [they give you their] information and become a lead. 

Then the admission team can take over to try to actually convert them to an enrolled student and so forth. 

The content is the fuel of SEO.

As higher ed marketers, we have to answer the questions people ask. 

The most successful marketing is not about promoting ourselves, but answering the questions that people ask. 

People are out there looking for answers to the questions that they have! 

Prospective students start off asking broad questions in the search engines. 

Then, they keep narrowing it down, yet still asking questions. 

About 25 years ago or more, if you had a question about going to college, you might go and ask your mom, your dad, or a teacher.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Now they ask Google. And that is the case for everything. 

We’ve got to start accepting this new reality and create enough content on our website that will provide the fuel for our search engine marketing efforts.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Faton Sopa to get even more insights into:

  • The sub-disciplines of search engine marketing (4:50)
  • Establishing authority in your website’s content (15:20) 
  • If gated content is appropriate in the conversion funnel (23:21)

Want to Improve Your Digital Marketing Results?

Then you’ve got to know how to write for the web. That’s why we want to send you our popular ebook: Writing for the Web: 7 Secrets to Content Marketing Success for Education Marketers!

With this helpful resource, you’ll learn how to: writing for the web ebook

  • Grab your reader’s attention immediately
  • Pull your reader’s attention deeper into your content
  • Write so that Google (and other search engines) find you easily
  • Increase your website’s conversion rates

In short, you’ll be able to write the copy that makes your digital marketing strategy work for you. Download your copy today!

Featured image by Wright Studio via Adobe Stock

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