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Why Eccentric College and University Program Names Can Hinder Organic Traffic

As higher education institutions try to gain a competitive edge with offbeat program names, fewer students can find them in search engines.

Is your institution guilty of giving programs catchy and unique names in order to stand out? You know what I’m talking about: your once aptly named bachelor’s program in Culinary Arts becomes a bachelor’s in Breakfast Art and Brunch Management. Okay, maybe the changes aren’t that unusual, but naming programs something stylish has become a trend in higher ed.

Schools usually take the route of naming programs something unique because, from a branding standpoint, it makes sense. To be able to say that you are the only school in the country or world that offers a certain type of degree gives you an edge. So, then, what’s the problem?

Well, consider that 70% of perspective students rely on search engines to begin their college search. Here’s the dilemma: these students aren’t searching using your school’s funky program name. So, when you don’t show up in Google for “Bachelor’s in Culinary Arts program,” prospective students are going to think you don’t offer this program (even if you do offer it, just under a groovier name).

You want to send as much traffic to your website as possible, right? You want students to be able to find your website, right? That’s why it’s important that your program names line up with the ways that prospective students search. In short: speaking your prospective students’ language is vital.

Carnegie recently helped a college in Massachusetts name a couple of their graduate programs. The school had a new degree that was tentatively titled “Master of Science in Data Analytics in Healthcare.” The client told us, “I want to make sure we name it something market-facing, contemporary, and importantly, as lined up with common Google searches as possible.” They also expressed that they were worried the term “Health Informatics” was dated, which is why they were trying to steer clear of it. It made sense—at least until we started our research.

What we found was that, even though “Health Informatics” might sound dated, it’s actually the #1 way people are searching for this kind of degree. After all, the audience for this program is made up of professionals looking to advance their careers who have probably heard their mentors and former professors refer to the degree in this way. However, we also found there was a growing number of queries for “health analytics degree.” Therefore, our final recommendation ended up being: “Master of Science in Health Informatics and Analytics.”

We helped the same school name a program that was tentatively titled “Master of Science in Organizational and Professional Communication.” Going into the project, I was pretty confident that my keyword research would show that Professional Communication would be the route to go. But I was wrong.

After performing extensive keyword and competitor research, we recommended the program be named “Master of Arts in Strategic Communication.” Now, I perform keyword research for higher education programs every day, and even I was surprised by the search volumes I found. This just goes to show that guessing how prospective students are searching is simply not enough. Having data to back up your marketing decisions is essential.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to make it difficult for prospective students to find you. To the contrary, you want to make it as easy as possible. Naming your programs with the most searched for words and phrases in mind is key. So, while it’s tempting to name a new program something hip, it might close the door on a lot of prospective students finding you!

You can follow Rebecca on Twitter @beccablanchette for more SEO and analytics insights.

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