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Google takes over the second point of contact for higher education

June 13, 2018

Red or blue.

that’s the decision Google has made for most Higher Education institutions.

Red. Blue. (The ones pictured above are blue. Your school might be red.)

Google announced a new admissions tool for higher education this week. Here is the announcement 

Google wrote:

The process to find the right school for you, however, can be confusing. Information is scattered across the internet, and it’s not always clear what factors to consider and which pieces of information will be most useful for your decision. In fact, 63 percent of recently enrolled and prospective students say they have often felt lost when researching college or financial aid options.

Indeed, it is.

Google was already a huge part of the second point of contact

I’ve been watching the way the SERP has evolved for higher education for years. From the simple tabs on the first hit, to the launch of the Knowledge Key on the right-hand side. At its core, Google wants to give people a good experience on search. So it has been tweaking the SERP for the last couple of years. When people searched for a school, less and fewer people were clicking on newly updated websites that valiantly try to tell a story to the world, so Google acted.

Navigation tabs on a mobile SERP.

Every school is either red or blue. Red for schools that are reddish. Blue for schools that are blueish and greenish.

Every school gets: Overview. Cost. Majors. Outcomes. Students. Rankings. Notable alumni. Similar Schools.

This is the new nav of a school’s digital presence. With a seal or logo, depending on what Google thinks is important.

Since most .edus spend about 3,000+ pages on Overview, this is a much cleaner look at a school, with the things students really want. On mobile first. Because that is where students are starting.

Overview cribs from Wikipedia. Cost cribs from Wikimedia or the website. Outcomes cribs from US Department of Education.

Students offers data from, and from crowd-sourced images people added.

Rankings are exactly that: in a world of Chapels and hills, and posed students in a lab, the only differentiation is a ranking. Schools hate them, but if they don’t want rankings they should do better marketing. It is hard to determine a difference from a view book. it isn’t hard to determine a different from a ranking.

“Notable alumni” is the weird one: it displays the alumni who are searched for the most on google. It tends to throw up entertainers and media people, since more people search for them. It is an issue for many schools. It might be fixable by having a more robust notable alumni section on Wikipedia.

Finally, similar schools. Not what your college thinks are similar, but the colleges that people who searched for your college also searched for. This is data that is not in dispute. These are your peers.

If you know me, you know I think Google should crib from LinkedIn. I get it, Google v Microsoft (owners of Bing, powering Yahoo.)  But LinkedIn data is actually the greatest outcomes collection ever assembled and tell a nice story about outcomes. Hey, maybe Bing will incorporate this when they copy Google 3 years from now.

What does this change? 

Well, nothing. Google was still a second point of contact for your school. Remember, this is for people searching for your school,. so they have to know the school’s name. Unaware people don’t know your school’s name.

I do think there should never be a need to spend 500K on a new website that LESS people will now click.

There should, however, be time and $$ spent on a digital strategy that asks two important and obvious questions:

1. How will people become aware of the brand school? You know, a proper marketing question.

2. How can a school influence the Knowledge Key on desktop and mobile – thus putting the school’s best foot forward?

If you’re not asking and answering these, you should be. Or you could go build that website that Google is ACTIVELY trying to stop people from needing to visit.

What do you think?

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