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SEO is Vital to Effective University Marketing and Content Success

September 14, 2009

In 2005, when I was a university chief marketing officer, we made search engine optimization (SEO) a priority in our marketing plan and became more competitive online. Our web team did a great job improving our ranking and getting our name in front of more people who were searching for college. It was an important move on our part, perhaps ahead of the curve in marketing higher education at that time. But it no longer should be. There are significant sea changes happening in the marketing environment, and SEO needs to be a priority for any college or university marketing plan.

That’s why I’ve asked David Dalka to be a guest author regarding SEO. David is presently a web analytics marketing strategy consultant and marketing keynote speaker. In the following guest blog post, David makes the case as to why SEO is vital to effective University Marketing and Content Success…


David Dalka

David Dalka

In my post, How University Vice President of Communications and Content Strategy Leadership Roles Are Likely To Change, I discussed the need for the VP of Communications and Content Strategy to have new skills. I stated, the “Individual Will Have World Class Search Engine Optimization Skills.” Put simply, content constructed to meet the way people search is the best way to meet the relevant needs of a customer. Relevancy is the superior, but highly misunderstood currency that Internet search engines provide. Make no mistake, we live in times where mass marketing mediums are declining in relevancy and pricing power, as increasingly relevant and micro-targeted methods emerge. Realizing that you need to think differently–as search is about relevancy/pull and not push marketing–is step one. It requires significant retraining, especially for marketers with traditional skills. First, you have to start to comprehend why search marketing is a strategic leadership issue. Go ahead, please do that now, it’s why you are here. Got it? Good.

It’s time for the “Cult of Volume” to embrace relevancy and better success metrics. Some even go far as to suggest “The False Religion of Branding” is coming close to its final time of worship in response to Augustine Fou’s recent post, “Branding Today: Why It’s Ineffective, Irrelevant, Irritating, and Impotent.”

In these times of lowering marketing budgets, universities need to create more marketing impact with less monetary resources and staff. Currently there is a lot of buzz around social media, but even fans of the medium know that social media can be hard and resource intensive!

In addition to existing perceived value in society, universities currently have a strong portfolio of unique assets when it comes to creating and optimizing content for search engine optimization (SEO):

Quantity of Students — Most universities have thousands of students! All of them are creating content ranging from random user generated content photos on a mobile phone to research projects taking dozens of years. You should not only be leveraging this content to enable and position their personal brands for success, you should be doing it to index useful attribute based content that will be relevant to people using search engines.

Classroom Activities — Don’t have a movie studio in town? No sweat! Use increasingly low cost video cameras to create your video content to give people valuable experience and to enable the creation of personal branding content for entrepreneur enablement.

Alumni and History — This is an almost untouched, but highly fertile area. Alumni stories and lives show prospective students what their potential outcomes are in reality. More importantly, this activity can create value for alumni throughout their lifetimes and change the paradigm from endless offers of secondary education or increasingly insensitive requests for donations from alumni not in a position to give.

However, many universities have unique hurdles that make the above advantages difficult to achieve:

Department Silos — Student acquisition, career services, alumni, sports, and faculty all have different agendas and aren’t managed to mutual goals that make sense for students, alumni, and other stakeholders.

President’s Office Can’t Successfully Lead the Change (Even If It Wants To) — Put simply, there is usually a lack of understanding of content strategy and technology preventing content strategy success in the President’s office. Generation gap issues also play a role. Ultimately, this makes it difficult to visualize the drivers of the proper future state, and difficult to lead the organizational, budget, and organizational silos and content process flow mapping necessary to create the success. It’s a severe bottleneck. New leadership needs to be mixed into the President’s office either full-time or via management consulting.

Cat Herding — Many universities have faculty and departments that are allowed to do whatever they’d like with research, and this mentality often carries over to their department’s web site and web content. Universities need a clear, well thought out and consistent content strategy like MIT, Harvard, or Stanford which average more than a million unique visitors a month. Such strategies and universities are few and far between. This needs to change, yet history shows that universities don’t change well or quickly.

The potential to create a search engine optimization (SEO) savvy organization with optimal web site structure that can successfully leverage additional content is quite clear for those organizations determined to put the right leadership in place to capture the change in the way that Tom Peters would. We are moving from a primarily paid media economy to a primarily content strategy driven economy due to the effects of search marketing and social media, and the resulting weakening of traditional media monopolies. The magnitude of this change is obviously large, but it’s still in its early phases. Embrace and explore the possibilities to build meaningful long tail search marketing differentiation from peer institutions. The web often rewards first movers, and it likely will in this situation as it plays out.

The preceding was a guest blog post by David Dalka. David is a web analytics marketing strategy consultant and marketing keynote speaker available to assist the President’s Office or for profit businesses in creating effective content and community strategies. David was scheduled to give a keynote speech in October at the 2009 EMG Brand Manager’s Summit, however it was put on hold until Fall 2010.


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