The University of Southampton
Digital Team Blog

Why we are prioritising SEO

SEO is short for search engine optimisation, which simply means making your website easy for people using search engines to find. The more optimisation we apply, the higher (in theory) we should appear in search engines such as Google or Bing.

Search engines have changed the way we find information, conduct research, shop, and connect with others. Content that contains relevant keywords leads to better user experience and brings more of the right users to our website.

Mac showing Google Search whilst outside

Almost everything on the World Wide Web – whether it’s a website, blog, social network, or app – can be found via a search engine. Search engines have become a connecting force and directional guide to everyday life.

Did you know that the majority of our website visitors come from search engines? This is thanks to a mixture of the University’s brand and the efforts of the SEO team. A strong intertwined SEO strategy is challenging but rewarding. It gives us a competitive edge against some of the biggest universities online, which can feed successfully into user experience testing, content writing and marketing in general. By contrast, a poor strategy leads to higher pay-per-click costs, lower on-page interaction, and less traffic to the website as competitors focus their efforts.

SEO is about discovering opportunities and ensuring that we offer the best experience for both search engine crawlers and users.

Definitely easier said than done!

How do users find us on search engines?

This is something that we refer to as ‘search visibility’, literally: ‘how visible are we in Google’. This starts with a specific query a user has searched, for example undergraduate degree course, indicating our variable ranking position (which changes daily!). The majority of users only ever click on links from the first page of search results, so it is hugely important to climb to or maintain a high spot on the page.

To increase our search visibility, we need to ensure we are following best practice. The University competes against some huge websites – other universities, NHS, WhatUni – it’s not an easy task to increase our position by simply changing a few words. It requires a lot of effort, collaboration, and understanding of how our website is currently used.

It’s also worth noting that search positions do not change overnight, it’s gradual and all about trust of an information source. The more users visit our website and take actions on particular pages which are reflective of their initial query, the better the potential position for that query.

Below is a snippet from a dashboard of subjects categorised within Languages, where we’ve targeted 380 keywords to date. It’s worked out by:

  1. Taking all rankings for all tracked keywords.
  2. Applying an estimated click-through-rate (CTR) based on each ranking position. The CTR calculation ensures that higher ranking keywords are appropriately weighted in the score.
  3. Adding all CTRs and dividing by the number of keywords we are tracking in that campaign, which gives a single metric of 0% -100%, calculated to 2 decimal points.

It is typical to aim for around 35% search visibility on average for targeted keywords. By using this indicator, we can measure search visibility over time to understand our impact in Google. We have some way to go, but there is a strong opportunity here and we have an ambitious goal.

Moz dashboard showing search visibility for tracked SEO keywords

*Search visibility can be represented through a scoring percentage using SEO analytics tools.

There are three main ways we are aiming to improve search visibility scoring:

  • on-page optimisation
  • overall site authority
  • targeting more keywords

What have we found in practice?

Whilst working on keyword research for the education section of the website, we found unexplored opportunities due to changing search behaviours. This gave us a chance to focus our efforts in supplying content designers with high volume and highly relevant keyword phrases, to integrate with their content production.

It was and still is no small task, and work is still underway, but we’ve already found rewards within the first week. Content scores have increased from an average of 70 to around 95 and, with the new platform underway, we are predicting these will improve even further.

Excel spreadsheet displaying SEO scoring technique for course pages

With a higher score, we have shown more effort for optimisation, adhering to best practice guidelines from search engines, thus in theory paving the way for us to appear not only higher in search engines but for more queries, expanding our search traffic potential. All of which can help with the University’s goals and strategy.

So what’s next for the SEO team?

SEO isn’t a singular project, it requires regular analysis, opportunity sizing, and optimisation – we have thousands of keywords being tracked across education and these will continue to grow, improve and be used as a benchmark for quality. SEO is an integral part of the content design process and content design is a crucial part of the SEO process. SEO is ‘baked’ throughout the entire product development process, to ensure that we are maximising our traffic potential and getting in front of the most relevant audiences.

With a new addition to the team, we’ll continue to provide knowledge and expertise across the University, including collaborating in content cycles and workflows.

Moving into the next phase will mean taking all of our keyword research and insight gathering, and stitching it together. We’ll map where each search query is being sent, uniting the website as a sole function and avoiding any content duplication. From a technical side, the implementation of our new CMS is definitely keeping us busy!

We’re recording our Show and Tell’s and posting these on the University’s SharePoint site.

Please get in touch if you have any questions, and watch this space!

Written by: Kath Sellwood & Rayne Prendergast

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