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Sixty percent of college students spend more than two weeks researching schools before requesting additional information, including checking out your reputation online.
After all, students are the “consumers” of the education industry. And, with 93% of consumers saying online reviews influence their decisions, online reviews—for better or for worse—are a big deal.
That’s why managing your online reputation is of utmost importance. If you don’t set the tone, someone else will.
Let’s dive into effective online reputation management (ORM) strategies you (and your education SEO agency) can use together to do just that.
You might wonder why reputation management is important in SEO. Consumers (including students) tend to be more likely to post negative reviews than positive ones. Ignoring your online reputation for extended periods is as detrimental to your recruitment strategy as failing to prune flowers or shrubs properly and on schedule is to a master gardener.
Having an online reputation that’s a little rough on the edges is one thing. Sooner or later, everyone has something negative posted about them on review sites. If kept up with regularly, a few actions here and there can quickly keep undesirable comments or reviews from getting out of hand.
If your school’s online reputation is beginning to feel like more like an untamed jungle (think: full-on crisis) it’s going to take some major shearing to restore order.
In short, too many poor reviews can hurt your search engine page rank. Not receiving enough positive reviews to outweigh the sketchy ones also damages your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. And if your pages aren’t being seen due to poor online visibility, student leads are reading what everyone else says about you during their research instead of what you’ve carefully curated.
In addition, if you aren’t using online reputation management services or listening to what’s being said in real-time yourself, you might not even know you need to take corrective action until significant damage has been done.
Numerous tools allow you to track everything from social posts to news stories and website reviews about your school, its programs and faculty. Search Engine Land’s 8 best online reputation management tools for your brand provides a solid roundup of quality options.
Awario, for example, lets you monitor what’s being said on social media and on websites in addition to spotting trends. Reputology provides results in real-time to keep you abreast of specifically what’s being posted in online reviews. And GoFish digital complaint search uses Google to scour more than 40 websites where unhappy consumers go to vent.
Some of the tools mentioned are free. A few have free trials or versions. Others cost up to $1,500 per month, depending on the size of your school or agency. It can be more cost-effective, however, to partner with a full-service or SEO agency which already has subscriptions to professional listening and monitoring tools they can use on your behalf.
It’s important not only to locate negative information on school review websites and poor individual student reviews, but to identify which keywords are tied to their page rank on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Search Engine Journal suggests the following as the most important keywords to monitor to uncover potentially negative online content:
Once reputation management services have helped you uncover which specific words and phrases trigger less-than-desirable SERPs, you can create and optimize positive content for Google and other search engines to offer for those queries instead.
There’s more, however, to convincing a search engine to display content in place of existing content than including the right keywords.
Remember to submit the links to your content to be indexed, and to do off-page optimization including using meaningful HTML title tags and meta descriptions. It all plays a role in whether your positive content will outrank the negative content you desire to push down or replace.
If you have access to your site’s code, consider using Schema.org markup as well. Google, Bing, Yandex and Yahoo! all recognize the microdata as a valid way to improve the rich snippets that appear in SERPs below your page’s title.
Another way to tackle negative content is to respond directly or contact the publisher and request that it be amended, updated or removed.
If the damaging content is on a review site such as Yelp or on a social media platform, a public response can show your willingness to work with the unhappy party. Being reasonable and fair can soften the impact of what is most likely an emotional post.
You don’t want to inflame things by being defensive. This can prompt additional negative comments or negative articles. So, instead of haggling out your differences in front of an audience, invite the offended poster or social influencer to contact you through a private or direct message or through email. You’ll look professional by demonstrating that you are listening and aware of your online presence and making a legitimate attempt to correct any issues.
If the content does not provide an option to comment, reply or otherwise respond online, reach out to the page’s publisher. If a journalist or independent blogger has written a one-sided article, for example, offer to share whatever information you have that would merit a correction or update that will paint your school in a more positive light. It might take multiple attempts to get them to agree, but it can be well worth the effort.
Again, keep your communication professional. Don’t call out the negative writer or poster in ways that could backfire, making you look unsympathetic to your students’ needs.
One step to not overlook in online reputation management strategy is to take advantage of every chance to appear in search results. This includes creating social media profiles on the social media channels that make sense.
For starters, this offers a great way to publish fresh positive content on a regular schedule. In addition, potential customers (i.e., students and faculty you wish to recruit) will see so many of your blog posts, your social media posts, updates and tweets in SERPs when researching your school, that they will have to dig deep to find any negative branded content.
That doesn’t mean they won’t find it. It just won’t be the first thing your potential enrollees see when they type your university, college, trade school or professional certification program’s brand name in the search bar.
Of course, you’ll need to employ your listening skills for each of your social media accounts. Trust us. It will be worth the effort.
LAVIDGE can help. Our Phoenix-based full-service advertising agency and online reputation management firm employs SEO and reputation management experts. We’ve successfully worked with numerous education clients from K-12 to higher education and professional certification programs. We can help you too.
To learn more, give us a call at 480.998.2600 or send email to [email protected].
Help is a few keystrokes away.