Search Engine Optimization - SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is a set of technical and contextual principles that, when done correctly, can dramatically improve your page ranking and visibility on a search engine result page (SERP). Keyword research, meta information, high-quality contentlinks, and images are some of the aspects that a search engine will use to rank your page. Good SEO will use those aspects to answer the questions that your audience is asking.

“If you're not meeting your visitors' needs, it doesn't matter how "optimized" your site is.”

Stoney deGeyter, Director of Digital Marketing at Socket Mobile, Inc.

Choose a keyword or key phrase

Choose one primary word or phrase that is essential to your site's purpose. These are the words people would type in a search engine to find your site. Obviously, your site can be about more than one thing, but picking the right keyword or phrase is an important step in SEO, so do your research. Pick words or phrases that have a chance of being competitive. Something like "MBA" is going to be very hard to get to the top of search engine results, but something like "MBA in West Michigan" might be more achievable. 

The simplest way to do this is to head over to Google (~92% of all searches are done using Google) and start to type your keyword into the search box and see what types of suggestions come up (don't hit enter, just start to type and observe the suggestions). Some other wonderful tools for finding the right keywords are Google Keyword Planner and Google Search Trends. These tools will help you understand that maybe you should not use the keyword "Equus caballus" because people on the internet just use the word "horse".

Google search result for MBA West Michigan with14,200,000 results
Google search result for MBA with 4,110,000,000 results

Now that you have your keywords set, the next question is where do you put those? Put simply, everywhere, but more specifically, in the Meta Title, Meta Description, and Page Content.

Writing a Meta Title

A meta title, also called a title tag, is the larger, clickable text that is displayed on the search result snippet as a part of a search engine results page (SERP). Your meta title is a user's first experience with your site, so a properly written meta title could have a major impact on a user visiting your site.

The meta title has a direct impact on your page SEO. If you do not enter a meta title for your page, a search engine will often use the page title instead.

Arrow pointing to Meta Title in a Google Search Result
Good for SEO
  • Create a unique meta title for each page.
  • Use relevant keywords near the beginning of the meta title.
  • Stick to a max of 70 characters.
  • Include a call to action when applicable.
  • Include our brand. Use GVSU, Grand Valley, or Grand Valley State University.
Bad for SEO
  • Don't reuse meta titles.
  • Don't keyword stuff by unnaturally repeating your keywords.  
  • Don't use slang or office-specific terminology and abbreviations.
  • Don't use punctuation. A meta title should be one phrase.

Writing a Meta Description

A meta description is a short summary of what your web page is about. When a meta description is provided it is often displayed as part of the search result snippet on a search engine results page (SERP). The user's search term(s) will typically be highlighted if found within the meta description, so including your keywords in the meta description can have a significant impact on a user's decision to access your page.

The meta description does not have a direct impact on your page SEO, however, it plays a critical role in a user deciding if your content is relevant or not. If you do not enter a meta description for your page, a search engine will often use the first content it finds on your page as the meta description.

Arrow pointing to Meta Description in a Google Search Result
Good for SEO
  • Create a unique meta description for each page.
  • Use keywords relevant to the page content.
  • Distinctly describe what a user will learn on this page.
  • Stick to a max of ~160 characters (120 on mobile).
  • Include a call to action when applicable. 
Bad for SEO
  • Don't keyword stuff by unnaturally repeating your keywords. 
  • Don't use slang or office-specific terminology and abbreviations.
  • Don't write for a search engine crawler. Google will view this as an attempt to manipulate the results and actually penalize your page.

Content is key!

This is the most important thing you can do for SEO. Make sure you have well-written and unique content that is useful to your target audience.

Page URL

When building your page, make sure that you have the primary keyword or phrase included in the URL. 

Page Title

  • Include your keyword or phrase. Aim for 8-12 words (maximum of 70 characters).
  • When you miss adding a meta title, Google will automatically use the page title or heading (H1) to display in search results. 

Page Content

  • Aim to have at least 300 words in the content of your page, use your keywords in this content.
    • Ideally, find ways to naturally include your keywords in various styles: headings, paragraphs, alt image descriptions, etc. 
  • Write for humans, not robots or search engines. The goal of SEO is to answer the questions that your audience is asking. The better you do that, the more people visit your page, the higher your ranking will be.
  • Make sure your content is free of spelling and grammatical errors
  • Keep it up to date. Search engines love fresh content (news sites, Wikipedia, or blogs often rank very high)
  • Delete old pages. If you have a content item in your CMS that is no longer relevant, delete it. Just because you don't have links to it anymore doesn't mean Google can't find it.

“The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, 80% of people click on #2 and only 10% click on #1, after a while we figure out probably #2 is the one people want, so we'll switch it.”

Udi Manber, former Chief of Search Quality at Google


Internal Links

Create hyperlinks to other pages on your site. Did you mention the degrees you offer in your program, make sure each degree is linked for more information? Never link the word "here" always link the keywords. Example: "The Biology MS degree program also offers emphases in both Aquatic Sciences and Natural Resources."


Having other websites link to your pages shows search engine your site has authority on a specific subject matter. Building up quality backlinks will help you rank higher in search engines, just make sure the site linking to you has some relevance to your subject matter. 


Alternative Text

Use your keywords in the ALT field for images. Use unique images, avoid using stock photography or clipart. GVSU has a large photo repository you can access by visiting the Widen Collective. Don't overload pages with unnecessary images.

File Names

Search engines can read your files names and use that information as part of your SEO score. Image file names are a great place to include your researched keywords when it makes sense to do so. Your goal is still to accurately describe the image with the file name, but there are plenty of opportunities to creatively add a keyword or two in the file name. It's easy to see that "welcome-student-leaders-and-friends.jpg" is a lot easier to understand than "asset/AC120EEE-D5E0-7F80-3AA9F4A/module/56CE4F55-D444-8BC9-EC920AF061C9-625862DFB7994205.jpg"

  • Do not stuff your image file names with your keywords.

Optimize Images

Search engines prefer pages that load quickly and will subsequently rank your site higher.  A super high-res .tiff image file will increase the amount of time that it takes for your site to fully load. It may only be a matter of seconds but that delay has a dramatic impact on how a user interacts with your site.

JPEG is the most commonly used, and recommended image file type for use online. Most image editing programs allow you to adjust the quality settings of the image when saving the image as a JPEG. You should aim to use the maximum compression option that still displays the image quality that you're needing.

PNG image files will appear closer to the original source images, so if image quality is critical, a PNG may be used. PNG can be used when background transparency is needed.

PNG files sizes are typically larger than JPEG files sizes so the balance between image quality and image compression should be seriously considered. And remember nearly half of your audience is viewing your site on a mobile device (smaller screen).

Social Media

Content from social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are gaining more and more importance in search engines. Using social media can help boost your image, visibility and search engine ranking, especially when users are liking and sharing your social content. Make sure you have a plan to keep your social media up to date and you are able to post often, if you can not, don't do it. A Facebook page that hasn't been updated in months is going to hurt you, not help you. 

Give it a try, search for some of your favorite companies or brands, often times their Facebook page, Twitter profile and LinkedIn page appear above their main website listing. 

Mobile Optimization

Mobile optimization is built into the CMS so there is not much you need to worry about. However, be aware that more than half your audience may be viewing your site on mobile devices. When creating content for your site make sure to take a look at it on a mobile phone or tablet. Do you really need that giant image? Do users have to scroll down more than a couple times to get to your content on a smaller screen? 

Local Optimization

Google and other search engines are starting to focus heavily on location-based search results. This doesn't just mean using your GPS to serve you more relevant results, but analyzing content for local keywords. This makes it very important to have specific keywords and personalize content basis your target audiences. If it makes sense adjust your keywords to include location, for example, "MBA in Grand Rapids, Michigan" or "Graduate Programs in Allendale" 

Page last modified December 11, 2023