OSU SEO and Google

Here’s an article from the Portland Business Journal about some of the work that I have been involved with during my OSU graduate assistantship. The nice thing about search engine optimization is that you increase your page rank while also increasing your site’s accessibility. I think this article will drive a few more visitors to the OSU Admissions Blog.


OSU finds road to success goes through Google
The Portland Business Journal – April 14, 2006 by Aliza Earnshaw, Business Journal staff writer

In an effort to reach prospective students where they spend much of their time Oregon State University has revamped its marketing efforts, employing techniques familiar to the business world.

By redesigning some of its Web pages so they appear higher in Internet search results, and paying other Web sites for links back to OSU’s site, the university hopes to make itself more visible to prospective undergraduate and graduate students, as well as drawing more out-of-state and international applicants.

Both search engine optimization and pay-per-click are familiar tools for businesses looking to increase their online visibility.

These tools and techniques are much less commonly used, however, in the world of higher education, except among for-profit institutions.

OSU is in the vanguard of public institutions adopting these Internet marketing techniques, said Kent Lewis, president of Anvil Marketing Inc., a Portland search-engine optimization firm that has been consulting with OSU on its Web site overhaul and marketing campaign.

Research Lewis did last year for Banc of America Securities shows that for-profit universities like University of Phoenix and Walden University do not do a good job of optimizing their Web sites to get prominent placement in “organic” Internet searches — that is, to rank high when prospective students use a search engine such as Google to look for college programs.

Instead, the for-profit colleges are relying heavily on paid placements that appear beside organic search results. This technique is expensive, and getting more so, says Banc of America’s report, as various for-profit colleges bid up the price of the most desirable search keywords.

OSU, on the other hand, is investing judiciously in retooling its Web site, and in shifting some of its marketing dollars from traditional advertising media to the Internet.

The university began redesigning portions of its Web site even before engaging Anvil Media at the end of 2005, said Blake Vawter, associate director of admissions, marketing and communications.

“We took a fresh look at our admissions Web structure, which is, in many cases, the front door for students looking at Oregon State,” Vawter said.

Web services manager Dan Crouch and his team began by making the admissions Web pages more readable to a wider range of Web browsers, including browsers used by blind students.

“It’s not a guarantee of better Web search results,” said Crouch, “but it gives you your best crack at making the page appear the same on any Web platform,” and therefore, being picked up more often by Google and other search engines.

Crouch and his group also used Web analytics software to see where users of the admissions Web pages were going, how long they were staying on certain pages, and whether these users eventually asked for information on OSU, or went so far as to apply to the university.

After redesigning some of the pages, results improved dramatically, said Crouch.

Before last summer, “if you typed ‘OSU admissions’ or ‘Oregon State admissions’ [into a Web search], we were outside the top 100 results on Google,” said Crouch, placement that meant that only the most persistent people would find OSU.

After the redesign, however, “we were No. 2 within 10 days,” said Crouch.

Since engaging Anvil Media, OSU has made other changes to optimize search results, and on the advice of the agency, is employing some “pay per click” advertising, to drive prospective students to OSU’s Web site.

OSU has also created a blog on its admissions Web site, which should further boost the university’s online presence.

“Google loves blogs,” said Crouch. The search giant’s mathematical formulae rank sites with new content higher than sites that remain static.

OSU has seen a big uptick in visits to its admissions Web site since the blog went live, especially in visitors from different countries.

With such promising results, OSU is looking at optimizing the Web pages of its most popular departments and majors, such as marine science, said Vawter.

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