Higher Education Marketers: Here’s How to Convince Your Boss to Invest in SEO

October 31st, 2023 by Alison Zeringue

Key Insights

  • SEO is critical for higher education institutions, yet only 51% have an established SEO strategy.
  • If your institution isn’t investing in SEO, you’re missing opportunities to reach prospective students and keep up with your competition.
  • Understanding and communicating the long-term benefits of SEO to your higher-ups can help your institution make the case for more resources.
  • Pitching the value of SEO to your boss doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. All you need is a little bit of industry insight, institutional data, and the right angle.

For today’s tech-savvy students, the quest for higher education starts with a simple Google search.

Prospective students are looking for your institution online, but will they find you? Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a term often tossed around in marketing meetings, and it’s never been more relevant.

So, how do you move it from a buzzword to a budgeted line item?

And, more importantly, how do you get your decision-makers to hop on board?

In this blog post, we’ll show you how to convince your boss to invest in SEO and make bigger waves in the search engines with a proper strategy.

Business team members in a conference room discussing investing in SEO - Search Influence

Benefits of SEO in Higher Education Marketing

You’ve likely heard that a quality SEO strategy leads to better search performance.

But what does SEO for higher ed really do? And what makes it such an influential marketing tactic?

When you invest in the SEO process, you get:

  • Increased Visibility: A well-optimized website can dramatically increase your institution’s visibility in the search engines. This makes it easier for prospective students and their families to find you while searching for educational opportunities.
  • Higher Quality Traffic: Effective SEO efforts attract users actively seeking information related to higher education, thereby improving the quality of organic traffic to your website. These high-intent visitors are more likely to take desired actions, such as applying or requesting more information.
  • Better User Experience: SEO is not just about pleasing search engines; it’s also about providing a good user experience. A well-optimized website is generally more user-friendly. This positively impacts metrics like time spent on the site, bounce rate, and conversion rate, which in turn can boost your SEO rankings.
  • Competitive Advantage: A strong SEO strategy can give you a crucial edge over competitors. If your institution ranks higher in search results than other schools, students are more likely to visit your site first, giving you the first shot at making an impression.
  • Analytics and Insights: SEO tools provide valuable data on visitor behavior, popular content, and more. This data can be used to make informed decisions about your marketing strategy, academic programs, and even campus facilities.
  • Improved ROI: SEO allows you to reach the right audience at a lower cost by focusing on target keywords most relevant to your institution and its programs. This offers a better return on investment (ROI) than other marketing channels.

Despite all the benefits, SEO in higher education lags. As we found in our Higher Education SEO Research Study conducted with UPCEA, 51% of universities don’t have a strategic SEO plan.This means over half of participating universities miss out on opportunities to grow their awareness, analytics, and applications.

To truly win in the higher ed landscape, SEO must be a priority.

Luckily, it’s not too late to make the financial case for SEO investment and start climbing the search engine results.

But, if you keep pushing off investing in SEO, you just might pay later — in losses.

How to Convince Your Boss to Invest in SEO

While the merits of SEO are evident to those immersed in the digital realm, making them resonate with leadership is a different ballgame.

Approaching the conversation with a combination of data, foresight, and understanding can be the key to unlocking the coveted resource you need: SEO buy-in from your boss.

Follow this blueprint to advocate for SEO services in your marketing budget.

Build a Strong Case

Decision-makers want facts before dishing out dollars.

Start by laying solid groundwork.

  • What is SEO?
  • What skill sets are needed?
  • What are the benefits?
  • How does it strategically fit within your institution’s goals?

Be sure to also emphasize its return on investment (ROI) potential. Money talks.

Show the Gaps

Presenting an audit or analysis of your institution’s current website and online marketing strategy can highlight the areas where you’re falling short.

You can tap tools like Sitebulb, Screaming Frog, Semrush, and Ahrefs for handy website analysis insights. But if you’d prefer to pass the baton to experts, you also could lean on an experienced SEO agency to conduct a professional-grade audit for you.

Maybe you’re missing meta descriptions. Or you’re dealing with poor site speed and insufficient keyword research.

Your task at hand is to show how SEO bridges these gaps.

Leverage Competitor Analysis

You may not invest in SEO. But your competition does.

It’s one thing to understand the benefits of SEO. It’s another to see competitors already capitalizing on them.

Creating a competitive analysis can be a strong motivator, especially if those competitors are outranking your institution in organic search results.

Doing keyword searches of certain degrees or programs is one easy way to get started on your competitive analysis. Take note of who ranks in the top positions, compared to where you rank, and you have a baseline of where you currently stand — and where you need to go.

Demonstrate to your higher-ups what SEO is doing for your rivals, and you increase your chances of seeing what it can do for you.

Offer Scalable Solutions

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Present a phased SEO strategy that starts small and expands as you show results.

A scalable approach ensures that initiatives will mature, evolve, and provide value over time.

Your decision-makers are more likely to approve budgets if they see this sense of scalability.

Scalability is sustainability. The SEO strategies that can adapt and grow are the ones that endure.

Use Real-World Examples

For the higher-ups, seeing is believing.

Don’t just talk about what SEO can do for your university. Show its potential, armed with solid proof.

Bring out higher education case studies and results from other institutions who’ve invested in SEO. Take, for example, New Orleans-based university Tulane SoPA, which saw a 569% increase in keyword ranking in the top 1-3 spots on Google — with help from frequent blogging.

These real-world SEO examples can make the concept more relatable, compelling, and actionable.

Connect SEO to Broader Initiatives

SEO isn’t an isolated tool; it’s a cog in the larger machinery of a higher ed digital marketing strategy.

It works best when used in tandem with paid search marketing, like Google ads or other well-performing marketing efforts. Therefore, it fits — not trumps — your institution’s broader marketing and outreach initiatives.

This can make it easier to get buy-in if decision-makers see SEO as a component of a larger strategy rather than a stand-alone effort.

Break down the big-picture, complementary value of SEO, and you may just seal the deal.

Large group of spectators watching a presentation in a lecture hall - Search Influence

Common Objections From Decision Makers

Every proposal faces scrutiny, and SEO is no exception. It’s a natural part of the advocacy process.

However, preparing for and addressing these objections head-on can turn potential setbacks into stepping stones.

Prime yourself to deal with these common objections before setting up the proposal:

  • Objection: SEO is expensive! Think of the initial setup, the ongoing monitoring, and the potential need for hiring an external SEO company.
  • Counter-Argument: While SEO is an investment, the effects and impact on our website traffic are long-term, versus paid advertising, where once we stop paying, the traffic stops coming.
  • Objection: SEO typically doesn’t provide immediate results, so what’s the point?
  • Counter-Argument: SEO is a long-term strategy that requires time to yield results, but once it does, the benefits endure. A well-optimized website can maintain high rankings for a long time, ensuring a consistent inflow of targeted traffic.
  • Objection: SEO doesn’t align with our institution’s core goals and objectives.
  • Counter-Argument: Improved online visibility and targeted traffic can directly impact key performance indicators like student recruitment, donor contributions, and brand reputation — a goal any institution wants to reach.
  • Objection: We’re already ranking pretty well without investing in SEO.
  • Counter-Argument: There’s no way all of our web pages rank #1, or even on the first page, of the organic search results. Plus, there’s always the opportunity to increase our rankings for keywords that our competitors currently rank for.

The Consequences of Neglecting SEO

Ahrefs data shows that 90.63% of webpages receive no organic search traffic from Google.


They don’t prioritize SEO. Or, at least, they don’t prioritize it the right way.

If your institution turns a blind eye to all that SEO has to offer, you risk:

  • Loss of Visibility: With numerous higher education institutions vying for the attention of prospective students and parents, failing to invest in SEO means your institution may not show up in search engine results. This results in lost opportunities to drive students to your website.
  • Decreased Enrollment Rates: Students nowadays often begin their college or university search online. If your institution isn’t visible during these crucial moments, you’re missing out on a large number of potential applicants, affecting your enrollment rates.
  • Increased Marketing Costs: Without a solid SEO strategy, your school may rely more heavily on paid advertising channels, which can be significantly more expensive in the long term. In contrast, organic search traffic generated through SEO is essentially free.
  • Losing Ground to Competitors: Other institutions that invest in SEO will take the top-ranking spots in search results, garnering more attention and credibility. This competitive advantage can result in a cycle where they continue to attract more students, donors, and faculty, widening the gap between you and them.
  • Damaged Reputation: A poorly optimized website that doesn’t rank well may be perceived as less reputable or authoritative. It’s a psychological factor — many people equate high search engine ranking with credibility.
  • Missed Opportunity for Data-Driven Decisions: SEO tools like Google Analytics provide valuable data that can help your higher ed institution understand what prospective students are looking for. Without this insight, you won’t be able to make more informed decisions on everything from course offerings to campus facilities.

Be sure to drill these risks into the minds of your decision-makers. No one likes consequences or the act of underperforming, and these looming threats can help accelerate their decision.

Higher Ed SEO Leads to Greater ROI

UPCEA Chief Research Officer Jim Fong summed it up perfectly in our Higher Ed SEO Research Study webinar: “SEO is not something institutions can kick the can down the road on. It’s going to become increasingly important, especially as the number of programs increases and the number of potential students stays the same or even decreases.”

As SEO industry veterans, Search Influence has the skills, expertise, and bandwidth to take on all of your SEO initiatives. Convince your higher-ups to invest in SEO, and we’ll take the heavy lifting off your plate with our expert SEO services.

Ready to get started with SEO? Get in touch today and see how we’ll put our higher education marketing experience to work for you.


Image sources:

  1. https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1573164574572-cb89e39749b4?ixlib=rb-4.0.3&ixid=M3wxMjA3fDB8MHxwaG90by1wYWdlfHx8fGVufDB8fHx8fA%3D%3D&auto=format&fit=crop&w=2938&q=80
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