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Keeping a 125 Year Old SEO Content Strategy Fresh – Penn Foster

As the digital marketing manager at Penn Foster, a nationally accredited online career school, I handle all website optimization, including our SEO content strategy. Our SEO content strategy has always been the number one source of traffic, leads, and enrollments — even above paid search and social media.

Busy day? If this blog post is TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read), click through the slideshow below. We summarize the whole post in 3 slides.

We are constantly faced with two major marketing challenges: how to keep up with the evolution of search and how to keep up with the evolution of searchers. As a 125-year-old institution, we can’t afford to not adapt to both a changing search engine and evolving semantics. Semantics, the language people use when they search, is affected by new channels, seasonality, culture, and many other factors — in my opinion, how people search significantly changes every six months. twitter-icon

Higher education in the US is a fiercely competitive space – over 7,000 institutions in the US alone – so we have to have an outstanding SEO content strategy to compete for online visibility. I keep three tenets in mind to make sure our SEO content strategy stays fresh:

1. Optimize Your Content to Answer Searchers Conversationally

Nowadays, people are getting used to phrasing searches as questions, primarily because of our proclivity to smartphones and their virtual assistants like Siri or Cortana. If you have any doubts, Google’s recent app update affirmed the importance of this trend.

So ask yourself: are you prepared to “answer that question”?

So ask yourself: are you prepared to “answer that question”?

That’s our focus at Penn Foster. We first look to answer a person’s questions through their searches and we align our content to educate, and we make sure our SEO content strategy fills topical gaps since we know they’ll make multiple trips to our site as they get to know our offerings. twitter-icon

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Our potential leads do what most searchers do online: research and check out the competition. We know a lot of people come to our site between one to five times before actually becoming a lead. They come back to see what we offer. For example, one search might be exploring the kind of student community we offer, and another will assess how we help in the job market after graduation. Our SEO content strategy must plug those gaps and be there when prospects have questions.

2. Build Content around Your Business’s Ebbs and Flows

Penn Foster is a company that’s been around for 125 years, which means we have a lot of historical data. Not just digital, but also paper data. We know our ebbs and flows in the year really well.

We pay attention and we optimize our site for those surges. twitter-icon For example, our veterinary technician program is a hot lead generator five months out of the year. But our high school program sees a big January to March push and then a late August to October push. Every program has different results and profitability.

We pay attention and we optimize our site for those surges.


Because of this, we know where we can place content pieces and bulk up our SEO efforts to make sure we’re indexed prior to these hot periods. It’s a manual process but it allows you to concentrate specifically on one area and one page. If you optimize all keywords and pages the same way, you may miss out on some great nuggets of data or information that could lead to an extra spike in traffic.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Streamline: Provide Content that is Valuable to The Searcher

As an educational institution, we have to have a certain amount of information on our website for accreditation by school boards. But we know from our analytics there’s a lot of second or third-level pages on our website that weren’t getting clicked on. Pages with no traffic have no value.

So, in a recent website redesign, we shrunk our website and streamlined our content.


We realized that we could combine the information to be more cohesive. Each program previously filled seven pages and we brought that down to four.

We rolled out the new streamlined website over the first couple months of 2014, and we’re already seeing a 40% increase in organic traffic. twitter-icon And year over year, we’re consistently seeing a10% to 20% increase in leads and enrollments.

Bonus: Track Everything for a Better SEO Content Strategy

We track everything. We’re able to track any leads at the start of enrollment, and be able to pinpoint a lead all the back to its original channel — even if it’s 5 or 6 touch points.

We track everything. We’re able to track any leads at the start of enrollment, and be able to pinpoint a lead all the back to its original channel — even if it’s 5 or 6 touch points.

We’re getting better and better at tracking. We’re rolling out a program in the coming months where we’re going to be able to track anyone who comes to our blog first, and have that itemized out for internal reporting. So then we know for sure how many leads or enrollments come from all this content our team is building and if it’s paying off.

Make sure you measure your SEO content strategy – or you won’t be able to scale and learn from your successes and failures.

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