I earlier posted some basic tips for SEO of University & College websites  here on Natural Search Blog. I’m now circling back around to post some advanced tips for optimization of .EDU sites. Some of these tips are more along the lines of helping out with overall marketing, though using the college’s or university’s web presence to accomplish it. Even those ancillary efforts can contribute to the overall online marketing and natural search optimization success.
I wrote those tips after getting a number of interested questions from educational professionals attending the AMA Hot Topics seminar that Stephan and I provided in San Fran a few weeks ago. Read on for the details of my .EDU secret sauce!
Advanced natural search and online optimization tips for .EDU sites:
- Want to market for various disciplines and associated keywords? Create a unique information page about each discipline/keyword and link to it on your site. All the TITLE, H1, Meta tags and body text should “sing” to the particular keyword phrase. Examples: “College of Law”, “Medical School”, “Engineering Programs”, “Top MBA School”. Be sure to link from those pages over to the proper college’s homepages and expanded program information pages;
- Get the university community to all use LinkedIn to make professors/students and the university site more findable;
- The press is always looking for quotable experts and universities are full of them – to get more inbound links and status-improving profile, provide a directory of experts for the press to consult with, listed by areas of research/knowledge expertise. Be sure to get all the experts’ permission to list them out in this way, and provide contact info — you could choose to qualify all such queries through the school’s press office, or you could provide direct phone/email contact information for each expert;
- Integrate with SecondLife  for some cool virtual reality (“VR”) integration – even consider getting a professor to hold some free/open classes in SecondLife, or provide an admission office person through there to answer questions about attending the university (be sure to post particular office hours for this – assumably you couldn’t offer info 24×7!);
- Use Social Media “chicklets” – little buttons on campus news articles from Digg, Furl, del.icio.us, etc;
- Generate Link Bait  stories – how about popular-culture-targeted stories about the professor who raises spiders or the horticulturist who is breeding blue potatos? The students who are designing the next Taj Mahal as a class project, or the weird new equipment bought by the Physics Department? Lots of interesting stuff goes on in colleges – think of ways to communicate those out online with pictures and video and you’ll surely draw in links and desirable exposure to the departments and their professors;
- Increase student interest in the university web site by opening up to allow students to submit homepage designs and/or photographs to display on the homepage — allow a different student’s work to grace the homepage every day, and provide a gallery of past day’s homepages which students could link to. Also consider highlighting a different student’s personal website each week and give badge awards out to students who make the best web presences which reflect positively upon the school;
- Create interactive campus maps by mashing up with one of the Map APIs from Google, Yahoo, or MSN (these also could enable you to provide driving directions links for every event/location page on your site). For example, check out Ohio State University’s news story about tracking Avian Flu  by mashing up outbreak and disease vector data with Google Earth — this is a great mashup, and the news story with associated video is great linkbait! Also see campus maps for Texas A&M U , Stanford , and Arizona State University ;
- Provide brief local guides of a few top local area hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, parking lots, and such. What basic info do people need when they visit your university? Provide a local guide. For public institutions, this may be dicey since you cannot show much favor to one business over another. However, you could use criteria such as listing all particular types of businesses that are within a certain distance from campus center point. The local search engines all could provide this info if you use them as research sources when compiling the guides. On the guide pages, state the criteria used to compile the listings and you should thereby avoid the appearance of arbitrarily endorsing some businesses over others;
- Create a directory of top student and professor’s blogs – encouraging the campus community to provide a voice for the university and in so doing, increase the online presence of your university;
- Provide a Press Kit of photos of the university and state on the page that people are free to use them if they cite the university in caption text below the pictures and link back to the university from that caption text. They must own the rights to the photos to be able to do this, of course! This is a great way to promote the campus, and it makes it easy for news organizations and bloggers to write interesting stories about the campus, while providing helpful links back to the site. This gets others more empowered to do the campus promotion work for the campus webmasters, while driving valuable inlinks from news sites and bloggers, which is good for SEO;
All these tips should help your university’s web presence bump up to the next level, and they should all augment your various other marketing and promotional strategies.
Be sure to tell us in the comments of this article how well these tips may be working for you, and what other innovative advanced natural search optimization work you’ve done with your particular .EDU sites!