Search engines have become a great part of our lives, because let’s face it, when you need to find information and you have to find it now, Google can save the day. But have you ever wondered how Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines decide what to include in their first results?
Or, most importantly, how you can have your courses rank high in Google’s results? What about the order? What determines which one gets to the top? Surely, you must be thinking about finding a way to leverage this technology to boost your course’s chances of appearing there after a relevant search.
Before you do that though you can count on this guide to help you understand everything you need to know about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) for online courses.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Simply put, it is a marketing discipline that focuses on increasing your websites traffic in terms of both quantity and quality through free/organic search results on search engines. Let’s break this down to completely understand its parts:
– Traffic Quality: Your website should attract visitors genuinely interested in the products and services you offer.
– Traffic quantity: Visitor numbers should be enough to meet your goals (leads, profit etc).
– Organic search results: Any traffic originated from being listed in the results page without paying for them. In short, unpaid traffic from that source (usually Google.com).
How does SEO work
All the search engines out there use a 3-step approach when they manage and rank websites:
Google actually uses more than 200 ranking factors to decide what goes first and which pages follow.
The first step is Web-Crawling through which search engines are able to find everything posted on the internet (no relation to Spiderman). You may have heard some other definitions for the same process like robots, web crawlers or spiders. Through a crawler algorithm, this method let’s search engines locate every single information on the world wide web.
It is the process under which crawlers collect and save the copy of a website, which then is stored in the search engine’s data center. So, the index is basically this huge storage room of websites.
The last step is where a search engine’s crawlers look into everyone on their index and match them to the relevant keywords and information – aka the algorithm which ranks results in order relevant to the searched item. Of course, these algorithms are secure and hidden from any other parties.
What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
This term is used to encompass both SEO and paid means to gain traffic. Through the years though, it has been adopted mostly to refer to paid search activities.
SEM is one of the most effective ways to grow your business by promoting your products and services through online advertising and search engine marketing. Paid search activities can be pays per click (PPC), listings and advertisements.
What is remarkable about this online marketing strategy is that it can offer you the capability to put your products out there, right in front of customers interested in buying, at the exact moment they are about to purchase and with measurable results.
Search engine marketing can grow your business by getting it on top of the right people, at the right moment, whether paid or organically.
SEM vs SEO: What’s the difference?
Using SEO is a powerful way to increase awareness, reach customers at decisive moments and can (in a way) be a free means of achieving results. You should employ SEO tactics within your online marketing strategy without a question. First page results on any query (search) get more than 33% of the total clicks, and the higher your page is, the more visibility, traffic and customers you will get.
SEM can prove significantly beneficial for your business but it is a greatly cost effective approach to drive conversion. It is also a direct way to get on top of results really fast, without all the work involved in building your page’s SEO. Search engine marketing (paid) is great for promoting products and services with a value attached to them, instead of free ones or for vanity metrics like views and clicks.
Even though, organic search results (SERPs) take longer to show up, it will eventually be a far more beneficial approach and your business can establish a search credibility which might not be established with PPC.
Simply put, driving 100 paid visitors to your website, costing 1$ each, will cost $100 and you would need to keep paying $100 per month to maintain it. While, attracting organic traffic for the same result and driving 100 unpaid visitors per month is like $100 worth of advertising being brought for free.
Which One Should I Use for My Online Courses?
So, is SEO better than SEM?
The best tactic is to utilize both. While SEM can bring immediate results, focus on it early one, while SEO takes time and can do wonders with patience. However, a good digital marketing strategy requires both of them.
It all depends on resources → Budget + Time + Expertise.
The only sure thing, is that you will have to take steps for SEO from the beginning as long-term it can be a huge advantage. For this, consider pre-launching your courses for maximum exposure.
Building backlinks for Your Academy
Backlinks, or “inbound links” as some call them, are hyperlinks that link from another website, back to yours. Backlinks are significantly valuable for search engine optimization. A website is vouching (or voting) for another one. This is democratization of the web, even though, not all votes are equal!
If there are many web pages that link to the same website, then search engines will regard its content as worth showing which will lead to surfacing on search engine ranking results. Backlinks bring relevancy and trust as that point to important pages with reliable content. So the more domains showing your site, the higher ranking it will have on search engine results.
Although, you need to be careful with backlink building. Not all links are build equally, and a lot of “bad” links from suspicious domains can damage your ranking and bring out penalties. As a rule of thumb, if someone promises a big number of links for a low price it’s not a good idea.
And you might not be an expert SEO, but you can easily judge a good website by visiting it. Just think of the answers to the following questions:
If all the above are true, then it’s probably legit and a link from there will be a vote of confidence.
While trying to aid your online school surface to the top of the search engine ranking, there are a couple of useful metrics to help you grow your business significantly higher.
Domain Authority (DA)
It is a ranking score developed by Moz which can predict the given ranking a website will have on search engine result pages and describes the website’s relevance to a particular industry/subject area. A Domain Authority score ranges from 1 to 100 – the higher the score, the better chance of high rank. Domain authority is based on three factors: Age, Popularity, and Size.
Moz also provides a chrome plugin to check the ranking of a website, be sure to download and see the DA of your website and others you are visiting.
Domain Ranking (DR)
Domain Rating is a metric developed by Ahrefs which shows the strength of a target website’s overall backlink profile (in terms of both size and quality). DR is measured on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the strongest. It is a great metric for when you want to choose websites to build links from. In general, the higher the DR of a website, the better backlinks you can get.
Both Moz’s & Ahrefs’ domain metrics are just an indicator and should not be viewed as your most important measure.
Key-Principles in SEO
The trust factor plays a crucial part in SEO. In particular, a website will be ranked on a higher position in relevant Google searches if it is a reliable source.
You can build your online school’s trust by adding content of good quality and for developing off-page trust. High quality backlinks can do that for you. For example, if Forbes, HuffPost or Business Insider write for you, it’s a high quality link. If a major online publication in your industry writes for you and gives you a link, that’s also a major vote of confidence in your niche and keywords related to your product. In some cases, this niche publication might be more important that Forbes!
As you can imagine this process takes some time but it can be really rewarding as Google tends to keep untrustworthy websites out of the radar while yours can be at the top.
Quick Win: Link to your school’s website from your social accounts, as it is bound to establish better chances of gaining Google’s trust.
It is the qualitative standard which reinforces a website’s overall ranking and visibility. Authority can be branched into Page authority which is the measure that predicts the percentage of successful ranking on a search engine’s results, and Domain Authority which, as we saw earlier, includes ranking factors based on the popularity, size and age of the domain.
There are many factors for this (more than 200); Google and the other search engines hide their algorithms and how they rank websites. Measures like Moz’s DA or Ahrefs’ AR are just indicative and by no means an absolute factor to help you rank. But they are both good measures to get you started. Use them as a compass so you know you are going the right direction.
Tip: The best measure is how you actually rank and the users you bring to your website. It doesn’t matter if Moz sees you as a 10 out of 100, it matters if you are on the first page of the result that brings your revenue!
Getting high quality backlinks to your website will definitely help you claim a higher rank in search engine results. The trust flow of your school’s website will also increase along with the citation flow which is a combination of qualitative and overall backlinks that both point to your website.
In that manner, Google is able to identify a contextual relevance of a site and provide higher rankings based upon backlinks coming from trusted sources.
Tip: Again, if Moz or Ahrefs rank a page as low, but you know it’s the authority in your industry, and ranks for relevant keywords to your business, then by all means, go get a backlink from there!
If you are teaching Cake Decoration Courses, then you don’t want to get into a result for “Buy cakes in New York”, rather you would like to be “Learn how to decorate Cakes”.
SEO is the way to go
Search Engine Optimization for courses is both an art and a science. It is uncertain to a degree, but it’s not that hard to get some measures and work to improve your search engine ranking.
Growing organically takes time but can:
Nowadays, SEO is more about being relevant and helpful. Bringing the answer to the search intent of the user and keeping them engaged. Everything matters, from the title to the presentation of the content.
Build a strong content-based brand, and as a course creator, you already have the advantage of relevant content inside your course to re-use as chunks of great content, both in your website as well as external guest articles to bring backlinks.
SEO takes patience and perseverance. Be natural, don’t spam, and don’t just talk to robots. Think of what would be the answer if you were to search for “how to grow an apple tree” and write the most relevant, complete and helpful answer, that’s how you will rank for it!