Colleges and Universities Are Yet to Realize The Potential of Social Media and SEO

The global economic recession has had varying impact on education sector across countries. The financial crisis has negatively impacted state budgets, and therefore, education, which is largely state or public-financed, has also been impacted. There are cultural variations too; Asians tend to place higher value on education and therefore education sector in countries like India has been considered recession-proof.

According to International Labour Organization’s (ILO) assessment report of education sector, in many European countries – Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, there have been cuts in education budgets either as a result of a reduction in overall expenditure on education or only in particular areas of education. In North America and in some Latin American countries, education spending is being reduced in particular areas.

In India, the education sector in private space has escaped major blow; and is attracting private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) funds. According to a “Private Equity Pulse – Education” report by Venture Intelligence, the PE and VC funds have already invested $300 million in domestic education firms.

Education Sector Needs to Adopt Internet Marketing

In the face of economic downturn, the education sector needs to utilize internet marketing effectively to attract local and international students, faculty and funding.

Students joining colleges and universities today have been exposed to the Internet since childhood. They spend a good part of their time being online using multiple devices. They are savvy in using the world wide web to find information and use social networking sites and instant messenger to stay connected with each other. How teenagers and young adults receive, process, and act on information has fundamentally changed. They do research online and form opinions before selecting an institution to apply for admission.

Adoption of Social Media
Recent studies show that 13% of the Fortune 500 and 39% of the Inc. 500 currently have a public blog. It is interesting to note that college admissions departments continue to lead the pack with blogs at 41% of US colleges and universities.

A research report “Colleges and Universities Adopt Social Media to Recruit and Research Potential Students” draws following conclusions:
1. Adoption is being driven by admissions departments’ recognition of the increasing importance of social media in today’s world.
2. Usage of YouTube has also increased substantially. Video is now being used to deliver virtual tours of campuses, virtual visits to the dorms, and sample lectures from the faculty.
3. 78% of private schools have blogs, versus 28% of public schools, and 50% of schools with undergraduate populations of less than 2,000 have blogs.

There is evidence that these powerful tools are not being utilized to their potential. Schools using social media must adopt social media optimization best practices in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Merely publishing a blog will not result in being read by the prospective students. The blog must be optimized for both social media and search engines.

Social Media Marketing techniques

You must create something unique, compelling and worthy enough of being submitted and linked to. Add value to users, including links to areas that could help them with their goals and purposes. Your college blog should be the student communities first source of information finding. Students will link to your social site and tag is as helpful or the ‘ultimate’ guide in that space: for example, career counseling for student community.

Post blog to Social Media sites: Del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon, Flickr, MySpace, Reddit, Spurl, Blinklist, Shadows, Simply, Yahoo Answers.
Place a retweet button on your blog articles.
Have a RSS feed of Blog for people to subscribe to.

Make your content more accessible by tags and to add a “Digg This”, “Add to del.icio.us” or Technorati chicklet to your Web site and RSS feed. By making tagging and bookmarking easy for users, it encourages readers to submit the content for you.

Less than.06% of the blogosphere garners all the attention, links and authority when stacked up against the rest of 133 million blogs indexed by Technorati. If you want attention, interest and links, you absolutely aim to be included in that.06%. You need to consistently create useful and unique content.

Publish your college page on Facebook with frequent updates on events and abstract of research by faculty. Several basic Facebook Applications are available for Business pages
Discussion Boards: Enable students to publish their ideas
Reviews: Students can leave honest opinions about your institution.
Video: you can upload video of college events or campus tour.
Events: Organize gatherings or let people know about your upcoming events.
Wall: The Wall is an open forum for students to leave comments,

LinkedIn
1. Create a LinkedIn company profile for your college
2. The key to building out your institution’s LinkedIn network is to ensure that everyone is participating. By getting your faculty, staff and alumini to join and link to each other, you’ll grow your college network exponentially.
3. Include targeted keywords in your company’s profile
4. Create unique anchor text for links
5. Activate your blog feed to your homepage on LinkedIn

Webinar: Consider hosting webinars where prospective students can ask questions on text chat. You can record and upload webinar events on college website.

SEO for Education Sector

SEO will remain the most important tool in the arsenal of internet marketing for schools, colleges and universities. Prospective students perform research on search engines to select institution to apply for admission. Foreign students form a substantial proportion of student population in countries like USA, UK and Australia.

It is interesting to note from a random survey of college websites that basic SEO principles are not followed.

Not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a “?” character) as well as static pages. It helps to keep the parameters short and the number of them few. Web pages that are hidden behind search forms (when people submit the form your website generates a page with content that is specifically written for that query) cannot be accessed by search engine robot. Search engine robots don’t fill out forms or select from pull-down menus.

Some random, examples of dynamic content from college websites with search engine unfriendly URLs are:

eco.cba.cmich.edu/default2.asp?40.3 of Central Michigan University

hputx.edu/s/668/howardpayne.aspx?sid=668&gid=1&pgid=252&cid=1308&ecid=1308&crid=0&calpgid=874&calcid=1263 of Howard Payne University

brownmackie.edu/Programs/default.aspx?discipline=13&program=296 of Brown Mackie College

There are several solutions available to make hidden pages accessible: create a html sitemap with links to all hidden pages. If the number of pages is too large, create a xml sitemap and submit to search engines.

There are many tools available that will re-create a dynamic site in static form. There are also tools that will re-write your URLs, if you have too many parameters, to “look” like regular non-dynamic URLS.

Frames are another big turn-off for search engine robots. Using frames can prevent them from finding pages within a Web site or cause them to send visitors into a site without the proper frame “context” being established. There are many websites still using frames, e.g. website of Rice School of Architecture and Aravali Institute of Management.