Will SEO Become Obsolete for Schools as AI Moves in?

A robot poses the question: Will SEO Become Obsolete for Schools as AI Moves in? Truth Tree Knows School Marketing.

By Missy Speyrer, Associate Director of Marketing and Sales, Truth Tree

In the fast-paced world of school digital marketing, change seems to be the norm. A recent LinkedIn post from Trevor Waddington sparked a thought-provoking concept. He boldly stated that because of AI, “SEO, in its current form, will be obsolete in one year.” 

So.. What does this mean for independent and private school marketing teams? 

It cannot be denied that AI will impact school marketing (and every corner of the digital world we now know), requiring pivots to your school’s marketing strategy.

Let’s discuss AI’s transformative role in reshaping today, tomorrow, and all the days after those, shall we?

The Rise of AI: A Glimpse into the Future

The process of finding the right private school typically starts with a parent’s online search to compile a list of schools to research in-depth, tour, shadow, and eventually enroll. Sometimes, finding the basic details can take time and effort–something parents and caregivers view as ‘worth it’ to find the best school for their family. 

Today, parents can save time by asking AI-powered platforms to jumpstart the search process skipping out on the window shopping phase. Maybe the school needs to be within a certain budget, have transportation available, and offer financial aid to be the right fit. A year ago, a parent would visit two separate web pages per school to identify those that met their main criteria.

With AI, parents can prompt platforms like Pi.ai with “top 5 best private schools in New York City” to see a bulleted list of prestigious schools. A parent can refine the prompt with deciding factors: “top 5 best private schools in New York City with tuition under $30,000, financial aid opportunities, transportation” to see a list of schools that meet the main parameters. 

Parents are busy. Between work, extracurriculars (for themselves and their children), managing the home, and being told how to be the best parent by doing x,y,z from every direction, parents want the shortest route to the information they seek. 

So why not turn to AI to narrow the search process? How much faster can a parent start vetting potential schools if he or she doesn’t have to first assemble a list? 

Below is a comparison of prompting AI and searching Google using “top 5 best private schools in New York City with tuition under $30,000, financial aid opportunities, transportation”:

Image shows the prompt and response from Pi.ai. The prompt was “top 5 best private schools in New York City with tuition under $30,000, financial aid opportunities, transportation” which resulted in a list of 5 schools and a defining sentence about each.
Google search results from the prompt “top 5 best private schools in New York City with tuition under $30,000, financial aid opportunities, transportation”. Image shows links to reports and school rating sites.

The parent utilizing Pi.ai can begin in-depth research on all five schools listed or ask further defining questions to narrow down the search. 

The parent searching on Google can open a couple of links to compare ratings, scroll to find school websites, and dive into each school’s tuition and transportation pages to determine a list of potential options. And then the in-depth research could commence.

So if parents are turning to AI, will SEO become obsolete? If ALL parents turned to AI, it would lose importance, but it’s seemingly the young parents tapping into AI. They’ve grown up with the internet and expect instant access to information, so it’s not surprising they’re quick to adapt and adopt. If anything, SEO will still play a vital role in your school’s digital marketing for non-AI-using parents.

Wait, what is SEO again?

SEO, or search engine optimization, is making sure your school’s website appears as high as possible in search engine results. It’s like a popularity contest, but for websites – the more popular (or relevant) a website is, the higher it will rank in search results. For schools, SEO is all about making sure websites are optimized for the specific keywords and phrases that parents are typing into the search bar. If a parent is searching for “private schools in [city]”, you want your school’s website to appear near the top of the search results. To do this, you need to optimize website content, meta tags, and other technical elements to position your school’s website as relevant and appealing to search engines.

So you’ll want to continue your efforts with SEO, but you can’t ignore that some potential parents will use AI to speed up and narrow the search process. Actually, according to a recent study, “65% of generative AI users are Millennials or Gen Z”, and I am willing to bet that climbs over time. Do your current or very near future parents fit into either of those?

“AI said we’d be happiest here, so let’s enroll at this school.” – No one

Robot leans out of a laptop screen to point at a school. A text box over the school reads "this is the school your children should attend based on your stated preferences".

It’s unlikely that a family will enroll in a school solely because AI states “This is the one. This is the school that most aligns with you as a person and a parent”. There will likely be additional research involved, but having a list that meets the main criteria is a big time-saver which could make it the preferred starting point for many parents. 

That being said, AI is only getting more refined, more polished, and ‘smarter’ by the day, so maybe AI will have some major sway down the line.

So, now what?

Remember when we prompted Pi.ai with “top 5 best private schools in New York City”? You, as the school marketer or admissions director, should follow up the response with a question(s).

If your school is not listed within the AI response, you can ask 

  • “Why did these schools make the list?”
  • “What information are you using to determine this list?”
  • “How do I get my school to show up on this list?”

Here’s what Pi.ai says I need to do to get my school listed in the top 5 NYC private schools list:

“Haha, I can’t make promises, but here are some general tips that may help improve a school’s reputation and potentially make it more likely to show up on a “top schools” list:

  • Focus on academic excellence and achievement: Set high standards and invest in a rigorous academic program.
  • Cultivate a positive school culture: Create a supportive and inclusive environment that emphasizes personal and academic growth.
  • Hire and retain top-notch teachers: Attract and retain high-quality educators who are passionate about teaching and have a deep understanding of their subject matter.
  • Engage with the community: Participate in community events and establish partnerships with local organizations to showcase the school’s positive impact on the community.”

Here’s the thing: AI is pulling, cataloging, and assembling information based on what it has ‘learned’ or what it can pull from the World Wide Web. If you are already doing these suggested tips but not mentioning them anywhere in blog posts, press releases, or your website, how is AI to know? And if AI doesn’t know, why would it list your school within the “top 5 best” if these are the criteria?

And if your school is not doing those things, are you okay with not being considered by potential families?

So with a cringe, I state that both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and AI Response Optimization (AIRO) are important for your school to maintain optimum visibility with searching parents.

So long story short, SEO will not become obsolete (sorry, Trevor) anytime soon, but I do think the version of SEO at play today will evolve and become more efficient alongside AI. 

We’re here!

Truth Tree remains committed to guiding schools through the vibrant intersection of AI and digital marketing, ensuring they not only stay relevant but thrive in the evolving path ahead. Human oversight and creativity are and will still be necessary for high-quality SEO, but it will all need to be leveraged with an AI approach.

If you’re anything like us and you find yourself intrigued and/or swooning over AI and the implications that come with it, let’s talk! You can stay tuned to our e-newsletter, follow us on social, or book a discovery call to see where you stand and how you can grow your school’s digital impact.

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