As Google gets smarter, school SEO gets harder

Posted on 17th Sep 2018 in International Schools

Red Abbott, Manager of Consulting Services at Finalsite, looks at how changes at Google will affect your school's digital marking...

If you’ve been watching the search engine space for any length of time, you know that it’s constantly changing. The changes aren’t predictable, but they tend to move the experience in certain directions pretty consistently. One of those shifts is in the “make searchers happy as fast as possible.” And unfortunately, that doesn't also mean "make marketers as happy as fast as possible".

Let's take a closer look at some of Google's recent changes, and what it means for you, the school marketer.

Page 1 is more important than ever

How often do you ever go past page one in search results? Never – me neither.

The bottom line is that Google has accepted this fact and waits for you at the bottom of Page 1 with a list of alternate search terms that gently suggests that (a) they’ve done their best to make you happy with a reasonable number of results and (b) rather than go to Page 2 perhaps you'd like to try your search again. One thing this does to schools is make an enormous practical difference between placement on Page 1 and Pages 2+.

Search within a search ... wait, what???

Let’s say you’re successful getting onto Page 1 for a competitive term like “private high schools in toronto.” Great! Hudson College does (at least they are right now on my computer):

Have you seen what happens when you click on a search result like Hudson College’s and then return to the Page 1 that took you there? Check it out:

(You can also watch the search results change for yourself in this short video:

Google is back with their 'helpful' suggestions, and this time they’re right there in the body of the page! Not only that, but one of these terms is for another school altogether. How important is it then, that you draw people in for an engaged visit from the moment they land on your site? A bit more than before this feature existed.

There’s a party in your Knowledge Panel – and your competitors are crashing!

Based on the image below you would think that Austin Prep has one the branded search game. The result looks great. Good looking main column, great-looking Knowledge Panel on the right - including some good stuff below the fold we can't even see.

But wait! I scroll down to look at the rest of the cool stuff in their Knowledge Panel, I wind up at a People also search for section that's made up of other schools!

This is a real bummer. It increases the chance that somebody who set out looking for me gets distracted and learns all about one of my competitors. As a result, it becomes even more important to compel the click before they get to this point. Realistically, this means I need to get them to my homepage or my Wikipedia article or one of my social profiles, because these are the things that most commonly found higher on the page then these competitors in the People also search for list.

Upshot: pay attention and adapt

All these things represent attempts by Google to get the searcher to a place of satisfaction. With that in mind, you should look for opportunities to play the game as it is now, and you should also keep an eye on developments that reveal new opportunities to outflank your peers. Remember that we've looked at these examples from the point of view of one school, but it's also true that you may be one of those crashing the party and benefiting from these features as well.

If you’ like to learn more about Finalsite’s Consulting Services or learn about an upcoming webinar with Red, visit them at

About the Author

Red leads Finalsite’s team of experts who work with schools delivering solutions for organic online searches and ads. With a long history in independent schools – as an alum, former teacher, dorm parent, coach, and now a current parent – his passion for helping schools is rooted deep in his own experiences. Alongside his degree in engineering and a master's in school leadership, it's easy to see why clients say Red "gets them" when they discuss marketing strategy!