With 2018 drawing to a close, proactive business professionals, marketing experts, and everyday individuals are, in a multitude of ways, starting to anticipate what 2019 will bring.

For the marketing experts, 2019 will be significant in that, like the prior two decades, evolving technology and digital access developments will mold the nature and style of effective marketing. To reach as many customers, students, and/or members as possible, companies, educational institutions, and organizations will have to bear some important changes in mind as they formulate their 2019 marketing plans.

For higher education institutions specifically, 2019’s stakes will be higher than ever before. Prospective students have an abundance of enrollment options before them. In accordance with that, schools have to take the appropriate steps to reach the largest number of qualified individuals.

By reading through the following 2019 SEO changes, colleges’ marketing professionals can adapt, thrive, and connect with as many interested students as possible.

Search Engines Will Prioritize Precise Answers to Questions

As many successful SEO analysts will attest to, articles and guides that provide answers to commonly searched questions are likely to surf towards the top of search engines’ result pages, generally speaking. Because of this reality, quality content is often written with an emphasis on length—an extensive word count—and including a plethora of keywords.

This formula has been slowly falling out of style for some time, and it appears as though 2019 will finally bring about fundamental SEO ranking changes. The way search engines determine which webpages will be ranked highest is evolving, as is the way web users determine which links they’ll click and utilize.

For search engines, users’ preferences for short, concise content that quickly answers the indicated question(s) has become so apparent that long-winded webpages, helpful though they may be, are often issued mediocre or poor rankings. Webpages that precisely respond to clear-cut inquiries are on the rise, both in terms of web rankings and user favorability.

In short, multi-thousand-word webpages will need to be modified by higher educations’ SEO professionals if said pages are to rank highly on search engine results. Comprehensive guides will perhaps be more effective if broken down into smaller, easily-digestible question and answer sections; additional views and increased interest on the part of prospective students will result.

More than being a sign of changing SEO, this point is a sign of changing learning habits.

The User Will Come First

Like the previously described trend, this one has been developing and growing for some time, and in 2019, it can be expected to rise to prominence. Simply stated, users’ website experiences will directly impact SEO rankings.

More specifically, webpages cannot take “too long” to load (longer than five seconds is considered by search engines to be “too long”), or they will lose SEO ground. The amount of time the average user spends on a webpage will also impact its ranking; too short an amount of browsing is undesirable, as is too long. (Conceivably, the former indicates users’ immediate dissatisfaction, while the latter indicates that users spend too much time sifting through content.) Whether one agrees with these developments is beside the point, as they will need to be adapted to in order to maximize SEO favorability.

Educational institutions will have to invest considerable time and energy into assuring that their webpages are modernized, or they will risk losing SEO ground and falling behind in rankings, thereby foregoing potential students. There’re quite a few elements to weigh and balance when attempting to optimize website performance, including said site’s engine, graphics, layout, advertisements, videos, pop-ups, log-in requirements, and much more. Assuring that mobile website versions, which are becoming more and more popular with each passing day, are functioning well is an entirely different challenge.

Artificial Intelligence and Voice Searches Will Impact Rankings

To be clear, artificial intelligence, particularly digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, already impact SEO rankings. In 2019, though, it’s expected that AI and voice searches will command new attention and influence in these rankings. Because higher education institutions’ student bodies are comprised of younger individuals, and these younger individuals are statistically more reliant on tech, it’s imperative that colleges’ SEO analysts take the proper steps to adapt their webpages.

It’s difficult to say exactly what these new AI and voice search SEO benchmarks will be, but their general nature isn’t a mystery. When individuals search the web for information via voice, they phrase questions differently and use different keywords than they would when typing. Voice searches are more likely to be complete questions—”What is the largest university in Vermont?”—and answers will, naturally, need to be more concise. (The aforementioned brief questions and answers also play a part here.) Plus, search engine and AI coders have a pressing interest in keeping their users satisfied, and to do that they will need to implement specific search engine ranking standards.

Audio Samples and Video Will Be More In-Demand Than Ever Before

The SEO value of video has been widely covered by marketing and promotional experts. The media form’s significance is straightforward: people enjoy watching videos for entertainment, and when videos can provide visual examples and information without being cumbersome, people prefer watching them to reading text; many individuals are better at learning through video than through text. These statements are general, but their truth has been statistically proven, and the auto-playing videos of the leading news and entertainment websites serve as one readily available example of the point. Accordingly, in 2019, search engine rankings will depend on how much video a website utilizes, as well as how effectively this video is utilized. Again, video is already factored into SEO, but next year will mark a major uptick in how much it factors into SEO.

Audio samples will also be exponentially more important for SEO in 2019, as AI and voice-activated searches continue to become increasingly popular. Integrating audio responses to vocal cues will provide websites—especially those of higher education institutions—with more exposure. The same is true of videos, which can also be utilized in a number of other instances, including promotional compilations, on social media, and more.

These SEO trends will be major factors in the way websites are ranked on search engines in 2019. Websites that have performed well with SEO, as well as websites that’ve underperformed with SEO, can benefit from precise improvements; the former will have a chance to continue to thrive and the latter will have a chance to get ahead.

The implications of SEO for higher education institutions cannot be understated. If a college is unable to effectively utilize the technology that its student body has grown up with and is accustomed to, its credibility, and not to mention its exposure, may be compromised.

Many college and university websites are segmented into different departments and sections. If you don’t have an in-house website optimization expert, you should look at hiring a company that can help you keep your website organized and up-to-date with the latest optimization trends and best practices. Since more students are starting to move towards an online education platform, it is important that your university is capturing potential leads and students online. Here are some good SEO/Marketing tips you can follow to help strengthen your online marketing presence.

1. Website Audit – Perform a Website Optimization Audit (You can use some of the following tools):
a. Screaming Frog

b. Ahrefs

c. SEMRush

d. SEO Power Suite

e. Add schema markup via JSON Schema to your website

2. Keyword Research – Do proper keyword research to make sure you are targeting the correct keywords for your pages and departments.
a. SEMRush

b. Power Suggest Pro

3. Mobile & Responsive – Make sure your university or college has a good mobile responsive experience that fits the needs of your students and faculty.
4. Duplicate Content – Remove, no-index or add canonical tags to any duplicate content that is found on your website.
5. HTTPS – If you have not converted your website to https, you need to look into not only making your website a good mobile responsive site, but also adding https.
6. Page Load Speed – Anything longer than 4-5 seconds is too long for a page to load. Optimize images, use a CDN or get better hosting.
7. Social Media – Use your social media to keep potential students, current students and alumni engaged with your brand.
With a little bit of work and attentiveness, any higher education institution can establish and maintain a phenomenal digital presence. Like studying for a big test, the trick is taking gradual steps towards a larger goal.

Here’s to all the exciting SEO changes 2019 will bring!