Local SEO and Google My Business for Higher Education

local search engine optimization

Although it’s summertime and hockey season is over, it’s impossible to stop some people from spending time at the rink. Put yourself in the shoes, or skates, of a hockey player who wants to find a local rink with stick practice. You pick up your phone, open the web browser, and type in this: “hockey rinks with stick practice.” Three rinks show up at the top of the search results page.  You click on the first one, see that it has stick practice, and even can get directions right on your phone! After work, you drive straight to the rink and play a quick game or two.

Why is this story so important?  Because it demonstrates the power of local search engine optimization (local SEO). Previously, you didn’t know that the rink had stick practice; you didn’t know it existed! To the owners of the rink, you were worth 0. But since you found the rink and signed up for stick practice, you’re now a valuable customer who is worth something to the owners…all because the rink appeared when you searched on Google.


What Is Local SEO?

You know what SEO is and means. It’s the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of organic traffic to your website and other online resources. You decide to invest in your website and add new content based around keyword topics so that you appear when people search for those keywords online.

Local SEO is a part of SEO. The goal of local SEO is to drive traffic through organic searches that have local intent. What’s local intent? If somebody includes a specific location or ends the search with something like “near me,” the search has local intent. The person plans to find and interact with a business that is nearby. “Near me” local searches have become more and more popular; in fact, over the last two years, these types of searches are up over 500%.1

Local searches don’t always follow that same set up. Think back to the hockey rink story. When you searched “hockey rinks with stick practice,” you didn’t include a location or “near me.” Nonetheless, Google still showed local results. Google’s smart; it knows your intention was to find rinks that were nearby, so that’s what it gave you.

It’s worth noting here that searches with local intent tend to generate more value than generic researches. When somebody searches with local intent, he or she is more likely to go somewhere and buy something soon. After you searched for hockey rinks, you stopped by and paid for stick practice that very day.

Local Search Results   

Google wants to provide its searchers with the best experiences and best results possible. So, when somebody searches online with local intent, Google makes it easy for the person to find local results.  Here’s an example of what somebody might see at the top of the search engine results page if he or she searches “mba programs in boston”:

local pack for mba programs in boston

The block above is the local 3 pack. It includes the three local business listings that are most relevant to the search. In this case, it lists three business schools in Boston that offer MBA programs.

What’s noteworthy is that this local 3 pack is a rather large block that appears before the organic search results. It’s the first thing people see after they do a local search, as it stands out relative to the organic and paid listings.

You’ll also notice that the listings within the local pack have extra pieces of information that you don’t see with typical organic results. There are review rating, address, business type, and even links to the website and directions. All this information doesn’t come from your website; it comes from Google My Business. And it can have a big impact on search.


What Is Google My Business?

Google My Business (or GMB) is your free business profile on Google. It includes all the important information about a business that potential customers want to see: name, address, phone number, business type, services, reviews, photos, directions, and so on. These listings show up in Google Maps and right on Google search engine results pages. For general local searches, the GMB listings show up in the local pack, but for more specific searches (like branded searches), you might see a knowledge panel.  Here’s an example of a knowledge panel:


This knowledge panel appears on the right side of the search engine results page, and it includes a lot of information about the business. This extra information, most of which comes from GMB, gives searchers reasons to click and interact with the business right on Google. Search page features such as knowledge panels are becoming more and more prevalent online. Moz has a tool called the MozCast that tracks changes in search engine features. The most recent graph shows that knowledge panels appear in 37% of searches, while local packs appear in 39% of searches.2

Google My Business presents a great opportunity for local businesses to reach and interact with prospective customers online. You as the business owner can submit information on GMB, so it gives you some control over what people see about you on Google. And, GMB gives business owners a leg up over their competition when it comes to SEO, especially if they consistently stay up to date and take advantage of any new features.3

Google My Business and SEO

How does Google My Business impact SEO? Local SEO is aimed at driving traffic through organic searches that have local intent. When you update and optimize your GMB listing, you make it more likely that your school will show up in local searches on Google. You also drive traffic to your website and (since the listings have an address and link for directions) your actual location.

What factors influence your business’s local ranking on Google?

Distance: how close are you to the searcher?

Relevance: how applicable are your products or services to the search query?

Prominence: how do you stand out? how well-known are you?

Out of these three factors, prominence is the one over which you have the most control.  You can make your business more prominent with features such as new GMB posts and reviews. Reviews are super-important; according to BrightLocal’s most recent consumer survey, 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses, and 89% of consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews.4

Businesses that are more prominent can even show up before businesses that may be closer to the searcher! Look at the screenshot below from a mobile search on Google Maps.  Some of the schools have an address just outside Boston, but they show up in the top 5 or 6 because they are more prominent than some of the other schools.


Google My Business for and Local SEO for Schools

Most people think that Google My Business is only important for small businesses like pizza places and auto body shops. But every business needs to be active on Google My Business…even schools and institutions of higher education. Why?

When prospective students or their parents search for schools, they often have local intent. That is, they want to find schools or programs in a specific area. A prospective graduate student, for example, might look for a school that is close to where she works. Or think of a mother who researches private high schools for her daughter. She’ll want to see schools that are close to where they live. When the prospective student or parent searches on Google, they will see local results that come right from Google My Business. That’s just how it works.

As such, it’s important for schools to have optimized GMB listings. Not only do you need your school to show up; you need your school to stand out from the others. Great photos or reviews right on Google will encourage people to click through to learn more. And more click throughs will lead to more applications and more enrollments.

Common Questions About Google My Business and Schools

But my school attracts students from all over the country. Why do we need to use GMB if our students aren’t all local? A business school in Boston doesn’t only attract students who live near Boston. There might be someone in California who specifically wants to find a school in Boston. Maybe she wants to live in Boston while going to school.  Maybe she wants to work in Boston after graduation. Maybe she just likes the snow. Regardless of her intentions, while she is in California, she searches for schools in Boston.

We are an online school, so we don’t even have physical locations. Why do we need GMB? There are schools that only offer online programs, and certainly there are great ways to market these programs.  GMB can be one of the ways to reach your students; for example, schools need listings for specific searches like branded searches. When somebody searches for your school, the knowledge panel will likely show up. The more information this has, the more likely the person is to interact.

Here’s a final way to look at Google My Business and higher education. Back in the day, land determined social status. The more real estate you had, the more powerful you were. The modern-day search engine results page is similar. The more real estate a school occupies on the page, the more powerful the school is compared to its competition. Your prospective students go online to search for schools.  If you don’t show up, they’ll find and enroll with your competitors.


ESM Digital: Your Local SEO Experts

Do you want your school to dominate local search? Of course you do! Be sure to contact ESM Digital to get started. We’re experts when it comes to local SEO, including Google My Business. We’ll make sure your GMB listing is claimed, updated, and continually optimized so that it shows up in relevant searches. Our team will also help you come up with customized strategies that target your preferred locations.

~Joseph Colarusso


1. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/consumer-insights/near-me-searches/

2. https://moz.com/mozcast/features

3. https://searchengineland.com/google-my-business-adds-more-branding-tools-introduces-searchable-shortnames-318527

4. https://www.brightlocal.com/research/local-consumer-review-survey/