420 Colleges Ranked by their Content: The Content Marketing Playoffs.



College is big business.  In 2014 Americans spent $475 billion dollars on higher education.

The competition is stiff for universities to attract and keep the best and brightest students.
Not to mention to get them to pay steep (and ever rising) tuition prices.

In fact, there are 2618 accredited colleges in the US competing for a pool of  20.2 Million students.  That may seem like quite a bit.  It’s not.  Breaks down to about 7700 students per school.

It’s competitive.
On average private colleges spend $2,232 to recruit each student. An average school will have an new incoming class of 3000 students. The universtity will spend about $6,696,000 per year recuriting a new class of students.

Colleges HAVE to be able to market themselves effectively to compete.

So we decided to hold the College Content Marketing Playoffs.

And just like the decathlon determines the world’s greatest athlete, we’ve put colleges through the paces and determined the colleges that are the best at content marketing.


Ranking the 420 top colleges on the Forbes list by the success of their content.

We’ve used data from Ahrefs and Buzzsumo to analyze the success of content from the Forbes list of America’s top colleges.

First up is the sharing battle.

We began by collecting data on how often each college’s articles were shared.  The following table shows the top 50 colleges that have the highest average shares per piece of content.

Which Colleges created the most shareable content?

Quinnipiac University is the top dog.

With published 71 articles which average just over 800 shares per post.  QU conducts and publishes polls that cover popular topics such as the 2016 elections, almost anything related to trump, popular national sentiments and trends.  These polls drive a majority of their social shares.

Notable underperformer:
Not in the top 50, Iowa state University is the most prolific school with the fewest number of shares per article.  Having published 8,692 articles and only getting an average of 13 shares per articles, Iowa State ranks 416th on the list.  Sorry Cyclones.

About the top 50:

All of the top fifty schools get at least double the number of shares that the average school gets.

Just about half of the top fifty are liberal arts colleges, whereas the other half are larger universities.  The data suggests that neither the size of the college nor type of college has an effect on the school’s ability garner social shares in most cases.  However, school size can be a factor in generating shares for particular articles (discussed below).

Of the top ten schools, 5 are small schools with under 5000 students. Two are medium sized (5001-14,999) and the other three are large universities with over 15,000 students.

Here’s how the top 50 schools with the highest average shares per article shake out in terms of school size:

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The second event is traffic generation.  

Great content has to be able to drive traffic to the website.  So based on Ahref’s organic traffic calculations, we figured out which colleges content gets the most traffic.

Which College’s Content Gets the Most Traffic?

We compared the traffic going to each college’s website.
Because colleges post content to various subdomains we took a look at the traffic coming to their domain as a whole.

With a massive 8,600,000 people visiting their site per month, MIT dominates the number one position.

mit.edu gets almost 12,000 visitors per hour.  MIT’s most popular posts and the posts that drive the most traffic tend to be about explanations of new scientific breakthroughs.  In analyzing their published articles from the past year about ⅓ fall into the broad category of Science, ⅓ are about Technology and another ⅓ are related to the internet.

One of the biggest drivers of traffic for MIT isn’t a traditional blog post.  Rather it’s something we can consider “BIG” content.  Scratch is a programming language and online community created by MIT to encourage youth ages 8-16 to start coding.  It allows members to create animations, computer games and more.  Not only does scratch do social good, it drives a large amount of traffic to the MIT site.

Second place:
Penn State similarly posts often about scientific breakthroughs.  However, Penn’s blog is far more varied in scope.  The school also concentrates on US news and politics and internal U Penn issues.

Of the top 50 we find a familiar cast of characters at the top of the list, with well-known college names dominating.
So we decided to find out which smaller schools with under 5,000 students are also rocking it.

Which small schools are traffic rockstars?

Screenshot 2017 02 06 14.38.20

If you don’t recognize some of the names, that’s the point.
Some of these smaller schools may not be household names (yet) they’re well on their way.



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We tried to level the playing field again and look at the most popular articles published by each college. By analyzing the titles for all the most shared articles, we found that the two topics, US news and news about the college itself, got the most shares.

Here are the top 20 most shared articles:

Popular article # of shares
University of VirginiaThey’ll Have to Rewrite the Textbooks467,700
University of Texas, AustinRisks of Harm from Spanking Confirmed by Analysis of Five Decades of Research85,400
University of Alaska, FairbanksFree glaciology program for girls seeks applications78,000
University of Notre DameU.S. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg to speak at Notre Dame66,000
Rutgers UniversityPresident Barack Obama to Deliver Commencement Address at Rutgers University-New Brunswick59,700
Swarthmore CollegeA Response to Yesterday’s Anti-Semitic Hate Crime from a “Whiny Brat Jew”59,200
University of Southern CaliforniaChildren’s brains develop faster with music training56,700
Florida State UniversityFSU research team makes Zika drug breakthrough54,800
University of AlabamaDean’s List Students Named for UA Fall 2015 Term52,900
California Institute of TechnologyCaltech Researchers Find Evidence of a Real Ninth Planet51,300
Oregon State UniversityLicensing agreement reached on brilliant new blue pigment discovered by happy accident50,900
University of Miami (FL)Increasing ADHD Rates May Be Linked to Heightened Academic Expectations for Young Children45,800
Auburn UniversityForbes names Auburn the best university in Alabama41,600
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyScientists make first direct detection of gravitational waves41,300
Wesleyan UniversityWesleyan Establishes Hamilton Prize for Creativity37,000
Georgetown UniversityIslamophobia in 2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Hopeful36,800
Columbia UniversityHoly Lands Reviving Pluralism in the Middle East34,700
Arizona State UniversityASU selected nation’s most innovative school for second straight year32,100
University of California, Los AngelesUCLA ranked second best U.S. public university, 12th overall in the world31,800

Though it’s the exception, by sheer volume of students, a larger college can create a massively shareable article, though it may only appeal to students and people connected to the college.  The 10th most popular article comes from the University of Alabama.  Titled: Dean’s List Students Named for UA Fall 2015 Term, the article would seem only to appeal to university students and families. With 37,665 students and likely family sharing, the post was shared 52,9000 times.

Like you might expect, the colleges who published most were more likely to have a highly shared article. There’s a 42% chance that if the school was in the top 50 publishers it also had one of the top 50 most shared articles.

So which college’s content team produced the most articles?

Which schools published the most?


Unsurprisingly, the larger universities produce the most in terms of sheer volume. A Larger staff, more departments and bigger student bodies all make it easier to produce more content.

Large schools out produced small schools by about 12.5x.

image 4

Size matters.  But does money?
Would the schools charging more money for tuition be better at marketing themselves and spreading their reputation through content?

Are more expensive schools better at content marketing?

Turns out – Yes.

Schools that charged more for tuition got a higher number of shares on average than their lower priced counterparts.
We also compared the most popular articles that the schools produced.

We also compared the most popular articles that the schools produced.  The schools at the upper echelon who charge $60,000+ per student per year also garnered more social shares for their most popular works.  And their articles were more than twice as likely to be linked to compared to schools that charged just $10,000 dollars less.

However, they did get marginally less organic traffic to their websites than schools charging between $40k – $50k per student.

Which schools came out on top in the college content marketing playoffs?

We used a weighted scoring system to determine the winner.
The top five schools were able to create a large body of popular content that drives traffic to their websites.


***But before we show you the rankings ***

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Top 5 Schools:

 #1MIT, #2 Penn State, #3 Harvard, #4 University of Florida, #5 Cornell University

It’s no surprise that all three of these schools were consistently amongst the best across the metrics we tested above.

Congrats to all the top ranked colleges and the content creators.  If you graduated from one of these schools, be proud.

Top 150 Schools with the best content marketing:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology1
Pennsylvania State University2
Harvard University3
University of Florida4
Cornell University5
University of Texas, Austin6
Stanford University7
University of California, Berkeley9
University of Wisconsin, Madison10
University of Minnesota11
University of Washington12
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign13
University of California, Los Angeles14
Michigan State University15
University of Michigan16
Columbia University17
Ohio State University18
New York University19
University of Southern California20
University of South Florida21
University of Virginia22
University of Arizona23
Yale University24
University of Maryland25
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill26
Oregon State University27
University of Pennsylvania28
Arizona State University29
North Carolina State University30
Boston University31
University of Georgia32
University of Utah33
University of California, Irvine34
Princeton University35
Carnegie Mellon University36
Colorado State University37
University of Central Florida38
Washington State University39
Washington University in St. Louis40
Brigham Young University41
University of Hawaii, Manoa42
University of Pittsburgh43
University of Nebraska, Lincoln44
University of Chicago45
Iowa State University46
Duke University47
Johns Hopkins University48
Florida State University49
University of Iowa50
University of Kentucky51
San Diego State University52
Northwestern University53
Vanderbilt University54
University of Connecticut55
University of Oregon56
Georgia Institute of Technology57
University of Massachusetts, Amherst58
George Mason University59
University of Missouri60
University of California, Riverside61
University of California, Santa Cruz62
University of Houston63
California Institute of Technology64
University of Rochester65
Rochester Institute of Technology66
Emory University67
San Jose State University68
University of Kansas69
University of South Carolina70
University at Buffalo (SUNY)71
University of Notre Dame72
Oklahoma State University73
SUNY, Stony Brook (Stony Brook University)74
Georgetown University75
Rice University76
University of Tennessee, Knoxville77
University of Illinois, Chicago78
University of New Mexico79
University of Oklahoma80
Clemson University81
Auburn University82
Temple University83
University of Alabama84
University of Cincinnati85
West Virginia University86
Brown University87
Baylor University88
Texas Tech University89
Tufts University90
James Madison University91
DePaul University92
Louisiana State University93
Drexel University94
Dartmouth College95
Montana State University96
Northeastern University97
California State University, Long Beach98
Michigan Technological University99
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona100
California State University, Fullerton101
San Francisco State University102
Ohio University103
Utah State University104
SUNY, Albany (University at Albany)105
University of Arkansas106
Loyola University Chicago107
Kansas State University108
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo109
Illinois State University110
University of New Hampshire111
California State University, Los Angeles112
Towson University113
Boston College114
Appalachian State University115
Wake Forest University116
California State University, Fresno117
New Jersey Institute of Technology118
California State University, Chico119
Miami University (OH)120
University of Maryland, Baltimore County121
University of Alaska, Fairbanks122
SUNY, Binghamton (Binghamton University)123
Brigham Young University-Idaho124
North Dakota State University125
University of San Francisco126
Mississippi State University127
University of Idaho128
New Mexico State University129
Swarthmore College130
University of Mississippi131
Calvin College132
Illinois Institute of Technology133
Villanova University134
Saint Louis University135
Howard University136
Santa Clara University137
Union College (NY)138
College of William & Mary139
Kenyon College140
Carleton College141
Brandeis University142
Western Washington University143
Virginia Tech144
University of Northern Iowa145
Harvey Mudd College146
Hillsdale College147
Lehigh University148
University of Wyoming149


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