Intro to SEO: Search Engine Optimization

What is SEO?*

SEO is search engine optimization and can feel like a complicated and technical field. But who uses those search engines? People do. So we are really optimizing for people and making our website as helpful and accessible as possible.

How search engines operate

  •  SEO organicIn the past year, 57% of Wagner’s web traffic came from organic search, which means someone put keywords into and clicked a resulting link to
  • Here are some keyword samples:
    • Someone searches Google for “psychology skills” and is the top result. This page is actually the 13th most popular on our entire website. Thanks, Google!
    • “wagner college peru trip”
    • “lily mcnair”
  • To serve up the best results, search engines do two things: crawl pages by following links and getting a lot of raw data, then looking at relevance and popularity in order to provide the best answers.

However, search engine spiders don’t see design and photos. They only see HTML and text. Try entering your own site at and look at “text-only version.” Here is a comparison of what search engines see (on the left) and our actual page design (on the right):

Left: what search engines see. Right: what we see.

Left: what search engines see. Right: what we see.

Who Cares?

  • Worldwide, Google sends 90% of traffic
  • Eyes are drawn to top results — the #1 position in Google search results receives 18.2% of click-through traffic, then it drops off sharply.
  • We want to boost our rankings so searchers can find our content!
  • also search uses Google to power internal search.
  • Making SEO-driven changes will also improve our web accessibility, usability, and mobile access.


How to improve ranking

Who are your users?

Student looking up

  1. Build an audience persona. What is that person looking for?
  2. Brainstorm some possible keywords. When they type keywords into a search box, will they be satisfied with results on your page?
  3. Use tools like Google’s keyword planner to search for optimal keywords by landing page.
  4. The more specific, the lower the competition (eg, “college in NYC” vs “college in Staten Island”).

“The point of using keywords is not to rank highly for all keywords, but to rank highly for the keywords that people are searching for when they want what your site provides.”

Use Keywords Strategically

  • Make sure keywords are prominently used in your page title, headers, the first paragraph of text, the alt tag for images, the URL, and the meta description.
  • The “title tag” can be different than your page title. Aim for 65-75 characters. Place important keywords close to the front. Include “Wagner College.” Should be descriptive and readable.
  • The page title, description, and featured image is also what social media uses.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing

Snippet editor

Facebook post:

Facebook post

Optimize Your Content

Search engines favor websites that publish high-quality content, and keep that content fresh. Our web content should be useful, information-rich, and easy to skim.

  1. Customize your page URL: The shorter is better, but it should be descriptive and be close to the page title. Use keywords. Use hyphens to separate words. (But be careful! If you edit an existing page’s URL, you may cause broken links on other pages.)
  2. Write a meta description, which will be used in Google results and social media. It should be readable and compelling. Will cut off after 160 characters. If missing, Google will create from other elements.
  3. Make page hierarchy clear. Use H2, H3, etc.
  4. Write content for the user, not for your boss or for your department. Use a friendly, active voice.
  5. Use image ALT attributes that are descriptive and accurate.
  6. Make sure content is not buried inside images or rich media.
  7. Delete or draft pages that are old
  8. See some helpful before/after samples

Internal linking

Because search engines crawl sites based on links, it’s important to make those links both abundant and of high quality.

  1. Link within your site and within Links are like votes to increase rankings.
  2. Never use “click here” in a link, because that doesn’t tell search engines anything about the content. Use descriptive keywords. Again, keywords!

Link building strategies

The most reliable way to get others to link to our site is to provide fresh, valuable content that participates in conversations across the web.

  1. Create content that inspires social sharing and natural linking (“linkbait”). Be newsworthy. Writing fresh content will keep your site active, give you material to share on social media, and showcase what your office/dept is doing.
  2. Get other high-quality sites to link to Wagner. Are there other sites that could link to your content?
  3. Look at competitor’s backlinks (other sites linking to your site), and do the same (Open Site Explorer tool)
  4. Send out graphic icons/badges that link back to site.

Publishing your content

After writing great, newsworthy content, it’s important to get that content onto people’s screens. Use social media to share content. Look for highly influential people to share your links.

To measure the success of our SEO efforts, we can look at Google analytics. If you would like access to Wagner’s Google analytics account, please email Anna Mulé.

  1. Pay attention to search phrases that result in high conversion, then optimize those keywords.
  2. Custom report: Pages receiving visits from search queries for new users
  3. Custom report: Top landing pages getting traffic from organic search



*Much of this content is adapted from Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Thanks, Moz.