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Google updated the entire search experience for prospective students

June 15, 2018

Google is at it again. I wrote earlier this week about the change in the mobile search experience, for students. Then after I hit publish, Google changed the desktop version of the Knowledge Key for all of higher education.

First, Google is a product. Their initial “I’m feeling lucky” actually worked. They are a powerful company because they have a product that people use, and the product, for the most part, works.

When the browser bar became the search engine, everyone started their queries with a search. Google’s core business is still search, so it wants to return the correct search results for someone searching for something.

This week, while researching a couple of schools for a proposal, I did a Google search for a school. Then I did one for another school, in this case Union college.

On that second search, the top of the SERP threw me a list of other schools. This is a screenshot of a google search for union

This is great for students, but not for schools. Remember, in order to do a search for Union, a student needs to know about Union. Union will have extended marketing resources, either via school visits, outbound emails, or social platform ads, to make someone aware of Union. Now a student is delivered more schools like Union in that search.

Super useful for students.

Each school’s Knowledge Key (the thing on the right in the above image) was updated with three categories: average cost after aid, graduation rate, acceptance rate.

How much will it cost, will I get in, and will I graduate. Three key data sets.

The Knowledge Key also has a “more about” at the bottom which includes some very contentious data. It has a cost per household income chart.

Cost per household income

Finally, it also includes a random list of rankings that doesn’t seem to include US News.

To a student starting their top 20 list, this is all they need. Every school offers the same class size (what is the difference between 9, 10, or 11), the same basic majors, a chapel on a hill, students under a tree.

These data sets, costs and rankings, are a differentiating metric. A student can understand a highly ranked party school and a highly ranked academic school. They don’t even care about the methodology, when given a bunch of rankings, they can begin to see a picture that is more accurate than a Chapel shot.

Since all higher ed marketing is about the same, rankings are useful. Google knows they are useful. I bet they come out of the “more”

So what does this mean?

A few years ago, Google offered a menu option called “Search Engine Optimization” on analytics. It showed how many people did a search for the brand, and then how many people clicked on the website. I saw the data for a higher education institution and it blew my mind. They showed the number of searches for the school, then reported that about 11% of the people clicked on the top result.

Social media platforms have taught people to scroll.

89 people our of 100 did not click on the website of the school when they searched for the school. Google took away the data, but you can still find it by searching in Google Trends and comparing that to your search engine source data.

Google continues to actively stop people from looking at the 3,000+ pages of the .edu and deliver information it knows students want. This redesign is packing it in a simple way.

If I were you, I would seriously consider your digital strategy. I’d probably consider not redoing a .edu that Google is actively trying to help students avoid. Instead, I suggest two things:

1. How are people becoming aware of your institution? School visits, list-buying, PR campaigns? Where are they landing? Redesign those landing pages, which might include Facebook, Twitter and your .edu. Consider also building pages that fit what Google is delivering. Yes, that means having rankings on the .edu.

2. How best can you maximize your digital presence? Have you turned on Do you have a calendar of posts for, including events and your best sales pitch? Do you have a Note on Facebook? How are your videos tagged on YouTube – the second most-used search engine on the Internet. If the school does convince a student to study the SERP, is it the best it can be?

What do you think? Is this a big change, a small change? A change you can get behind?

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