Using SEO to market & sell online courses is one of the best long term sales strategies you can devote your time and resource to.
Yet it's not often talked about.
Popular marketing methods like Facebook ads and selling courses using YouTube can work well, but organic traffic from search engines like Google or Bing can also generate a stream of highly relavent leads for your online course sales funnel for years to come.
In this article you'll learn:
- Why SEO is such a good source of potential online course customers
- The basic principles of SEO
- How to make an SEO strategy for your online course.
SEO stands for search engine optimization.
It's one of the most important things you need to know about as someone who owns an online business.
A search engine's job is to take in questions that people search for and provide them with the best possible answers.
The search engine uses an algorithm to determine how relevant and useful different web pages are, and ranks them in search results accordingly.
As an e-commerce seller, you're not going to grow or sell anything if your website is on page 10 of the search results.
3 out of 4 users never click beyond the first page of Google search results. Why would they? 99% of the time they'll find exactly what they're looking for on page one.
The key to ranking higher up in search engines is to create content that matches what search engines are looking for with their algorithms. That's the fundemental aim of SEO.
SEO is mainly done by creating high quality content on your website in the form of a blog, so that's mostly what this article will focus on.
2) Why Is SEO Good For Selling Online Courses?
1: Hyper Relevant Traffic
Optimising your SEO will drive more traffic to your website, and result in more people who might be interested in buying your course.
Not only that, but the people that SEO brings to your site will be highly interested in your topic, because they have what is called 'user intent'.
'User intent' basically means that the user intended to find you.
They searched for a topic because they were interested in it.
And that means this person is actively wanting to learn more about whatever topic brought them to your site.
Imagine that you wrote a in-depth 4000 word article on a topic very closely related to your online course.
Anyone who lands on that article via a Google search is quite likely to opt in to your email list and potentially take your course.
Ranking well in Google, Bing, and other search engines will bring super relevant people to your website that are already interested in what you do.
2: Free Leads
Another huge benefit to focusing on SEO in your online course business is that organic traffic from search engines is also free.
If Google ranks your content well in search results (because their algorithm deems it to be the most useful or relevant for the searcher) then you'll receive free traffic to your site.
A percentage of organic visitors to your site (usually somewhere between 2% - 20%) will then join your email list where you can educated them further abotu what you do and pitch your course.
This is a huge benefit in comparison paying for advertising, for example with Facebook ads or Google ads, in order to be visible and in front of your potential course customers.
SEO tends to be a great long term strategy as well.
Once you've created some great content for your website, it will continue to automatically bring traffic, email leads and paying course customers to your website for years to come.
Again, in contrast to paid ads, this is a huge advantage. With paid ads you only get traffic when you spend money, so you'll have to pay over and over again to get new leads.
With SEO, you put the effort in once to create great content and if it ranks well it will continue to pay off for years to come.
4: Builds Trust With Your Audience
When you publish high quality content on your site for free you build trust and authority within your audience.
Anyone who lands on your articles and finds them useful is going to be thankful that you wrote them for free and that they learnt something from it.
Before you get anywhere near tying to sell your course to people, they are already getting value from you and building trust that you know your subject well and are good at sharing your knowledge.
3) Basic Principles of SEO
Google has over 200 ranking factors they look at. This article from Brian Dean over at Backlinko has done a great job in listing them all out and explaining them clearly.
You don't need to devote hours of your time to learning them all though. We're going to go through some of the main overarching things you can do to optimize your website for search engines.
1. Keyword Optimization
A big part of SEO is optimizing your keywords. After all, search engines like Google need to look at words to determine what information is relevant for a given search.
Every blog post or page on your website should have its own keyword strategy. Your keywords are the terms that you're hoping to rank highly for in search engines.
There are keyword planning tools, but the easiest way to figure out which keywords to target is just to sit down and brainstorm. Write down all the keywords that you can think of about your niche. It can help to think about what sorts of questions people might search for about your niche.
You can use Google's autofill suggestions to get some ideas about what kinds of searches are already popular.
You can also look on Q&A websites like Quora to see what kind of questions are popular and frequently asked.
To rank highly in Google, you'll want to find questions that people are asking, and then try to provide a better and more complete answer than what any other website is currently providing.
2. Title Tags
Search engines use the title of your blog post or web page to evaluate your website in the same way you'd look at the title of a book to learn what it's about. Google's algorithms give a good amount of weight to titles, because they usually are an accurate representation of what a webpage is all about.
For that reason, you're going to want to use compelling and accurate titles that incorporate some of your main keywords.
3. Header Tags
Header tags are kind of like title tags, except they're used throughout your posts.
H2 and H3 header tags are most commonly used. An H2 tag typically signifies the start of a new section in your article, kind of like chapters in a book. An H3 tag can be used to further break down sub-headings underneath the main heading.
H2 and H3 headers both give more information to search engines about the general topics of your posts.
4. Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions usually don't factor into a search engine's algorithm very much, but they can have a massive impact on how people perceive your website in search results.
A meta description is a short summary of what your webpage is all about. Usually it's only about 160 characters or a few sentences long.
It's your pitch to get searchers to click through and read your content, so it should be optimized. Give readers a taste of what your article contains, and give a strong call to action to get them to click through and read more.
5. Content Is King
We'll talk in more detail later about what high quality content looks like.
But for now, just know that longer posts do much better in search results. How long is long? Over 1,500 words is a good starting point but you really long articles of 3000 words or more often perform really well if there's enough to say on the topic to warrant it.
It's not just words either. Search engine algorithms also look for images and other multimedia content, because this creates a better experience for users.
You can try every SEO trick in the world, but if your content is bad then you aren't going to rank highly in search engines for very long.
6. Image Tags
Having images on your page are great, but Google can't look at images and figure out what's in them (yet!) So you need to use image tags to tell search engines what your images are all about.
In WordPress when you upload an image, it will give you the ability to add an image title, caption, alt text, and description.
Filling in all of these additional details might help search engines, but to be honest I think it's a bit overkill. Personally I just add an alt text for each image, because this is mainly what search engines look at to determine what an image is all about. All it takes is a few words like "man playing guitar."
7. There Are Plugins For Most Of This
If you're new to SEO, it might already seem like there's an overwhelming amount that you need to keep track of for each blog post you make. But there's no need to get stressed out.
Lucky for you, there are free WordPress plugins like Yoast SEO and All In One SEO that will do a lot of the work for you.
Just write up your posts and they'll analyze them to tell you where you might need to improve. They'll automatically create title tags and URL structure for you, as well as allow you to easily edit the meta description and other details of your post.
With Yoast, it gives you a red, yellow, or green stoplight to let you know how well you've done at optimizing the SEO of your post.
8. Backlinks and Link Building
Many digital marketing gurus will sell you on the idea that you need hundreds of backlinks and link building to be successful and rank highly in search engines.
Whilst this can be the case in super competitive niches, if you're in a less competitive space, it isn't nearly as important.
Plus it's easy to obtain backlinks the wrong way and get penalized by Google for it, resulting in a drop in your rankings instead (see below for more on this)
But what is a backlink you ask?
A backlink is a hyperlink coming in to your website from another website. It's other websites linking to your page.
In theory backlinks are a strong indicator that someone found your site valuable enough to share a link to it.
But in reality, people have been abusing backlinks and doing shady stuff with them for years. Including paying people to link to their website or other things that Google considers "black hat" SEO tactics.
Google is cracking down on people who obtain backlinks disingenuously more and more.
There are some honest ways to get backlinks, like making a guest post for someone else to feature on their blog in exchange for including a link to your website.
But it's hard to say how Google will view these practices in the future and they might continue to clamp down on any kind of link building strategies.
So basically, link building is both the most challenging part of SEO to do in an honest way, and also the most risky in my opinion.
I'd much rather focus on just creating awesome content for my website, and people will naturally start to link to it.
If you do want to build backlinks to your site as part of your SEO strategy, make sure you follow strictly white hat techniques like the approaches covered in this article.
4) Things That Google Hates (And Will Punish You For)
As much as we want to make our website easy for Google to read and understand, there are specific things you can do wrong that will really hurt your search ranking as well. So it's equally important to avoid these SEO faux pas as it is to do the right things.
1. Thin Content or Low-Quality Content
In the early days of the internet, it was possible to throw 300 words up on a web page, or even just stuff as many keywords as you could on to a page, and that would be enough to get you highly ranked in Google. But not any more.
Google doesn't like content that offers little or no value to the end user.
Pages with low word counts or low quality affiliate pages get penalized by Google. The same goes for unhelpful or untrustworthy content.
2. Duplicate Content
Google really looks down upon websites that have big chunks of copied text.
Having images or videos that have been posted somewhere else are fine, but re-using big pieces of text can get you in trouble. Even if it's just a big quote.
If you simply copy and paste content from another website on to your own page, there's almost no chance that you're going to rank highly in Google.
I'd recommend running your blog posts through a plagiarism checker before posting them to your website and making sure they're under 5% plagiarized content. Even if you've written your article 100% originally, there's always the possibility of using a couple of common phrases that could get flagged as plagiarism.
Google has even become smart enough to start cracking down on article spinning. That's when people either manually rewrite text from another site or just use a program to automatically replace words from a thesaurus in an attempt to avoid getting flagged as plagiarism.
3. Keyword Stuffing
Having keywords in your text is critical to your SEO success, but it's sometimes a bit of a balancing act too.
You need to use keywords, but you should make it sound natural to someone reading. Your keyword should definitely make up less than 1% of the overall text.
Google is smart enough to tell when you're just trying to shove a keyword into a page as many times as you can to try and game the system.
4. Paying For Links
I already outlined why using backlinks isn't a great strategy, but it's worth pointing out again that it violates Google's guidelines to buy links in exchange for products or money.
5. Spammy Advertising
Every advertisement you put on a web page lowers Google's opinion of your site.
Advertising is often a necessary part of running a website. You need to use it to earn some revenue just to pay for hosting. But there's a big difference between having one or two tasteful ads on a page versus having an ad inserted every couple of paragraphs in your article.
It's worth noting that Google even views text affiliate links as advertising, not just big banner ads. So make sure not to overdo it and link to 20 different products in a post either.
6. Bad User Experience
Anything that creates a bad user experience hurts a web page's rank. It might sound very vague, but you can probably think when you're adding something to your website if it's going to help or hurt the user. Things like pop-up ads that cover the entire screen, or even just videos that autoplay can create a bad user experience.
With more and more people viewing websites on mobile devices, having a good responsive design for your website that can adjust to different screen sizes is very important as well.
7. Page Speed
When it comes to page speed, it's a good idea to get it as fast as possible to give a better user experience.
Making your site load as fast as possible isn't necessarily a huge issue. If you're a new site on shared hosting, that might be tough. But you should make sure your site loads at an average speed at least. You can test your website using Google Pagespeed Insights and other tools.
If your site is a bit slow, try using a caching plugin. Image size is also a huge factor for how fast a page loads, so try to keep images below 200 kb and avoid animated gifs and other large file types.
Summary -The Most Important SEO Ranking Factors For Your Site
The big things that Google or other search engines take into account for SEO purposes are:
- Providing useful quality content
- User experience
- Technical SEO such as meta descriptions and title tags
- Domain age and site authority
- Page speed
- Being mobile friendly
- Having a secure and accessible website
Things that will hurt your website's ranking are:
- Thin or low quality content
- Duplicate content
- Slow page speeds
- Keyword stuffing
- Too many advertisements
- Shady backlink strategies
5) Making An SEO Strategy To Increase Your Online Course Sales
An SEO strategy is a way of optimizing your website to make it as helpful as possible for users, and to make it clear to Google what the intent of your site is.
A huge part of SEO strategy will revolve around your blog. What kind of topics you write about, how you format it, and other details.
Step 1: Find Your Keywords and Make A List Of Topics
The first step in using SEO to get people to buy your course is to think about all the things someone interested in your search might type into a search engine.
Take some time to brainstorm the kinds of topics and keywords that someone might look for. This is really more of an art than a science, and you'll get better at it with time.
If you have a course about learning how to play guitar, you might list some things like:
- How to learn to play a guitar by ear
- How to play guitar faster
- How to play guitar with small hands
- Why play guitar left handed
- Where to buy a guitar
- How long does it take to get good at playing guitar
- Can you learn to play guitar online
The more specific of a question or series of words you can come up with, the better. These are called long-tail keywords.
A long-tail keyword is something that people are less likely to search than a generic term like "guitar lessons," but that means there's also less competition and it's easier for you to rank for them.
If you're still having trouble with keywords that relate to your course topic, try starting to type questions related to your niche into Google and see what kind of suggestions it gives you.
You can also use free online tools like answerthepublic.com, neilpatel.com/ubersuggest, or keywordshitter.com (pardon the language!) They'll spit out a huge list of keywords, and will usually give you an idea of each keyword's search volume and SEO ranking difficulty.
-> Read more about How to choose an online course topic that sells
Step 2: Make A List Of Potential Blog Post Titles
After you've made a huge list of keywords, it's a good idea to organize them by volume, difficulty, and your gut feeling about how well they'll perform.
I'd recommend keeping an Excel spreadsheet or Word document with a list of every topic you might want to turn into a blog post.
You can find estimated search volumes for each keyword for free by installing Keywords Everywhere in your browser.
Understanding how difficult it will be to rank for any given keyword is a skill that can take some time to develop.
You can use a keyword research tool like AhRefs to help, or you can just look at the top ranking articles for that keyword and try to judge how high the quality is or how 'authoritative' the sites they are.
Step 4: Start Blogging
Now you've got a list of topics to write about, it's time to start creating blog posts!
Your Blog Post Structure
How should you lay out your blog? Maybe you've never written one before.
Start off by writing a title. It shouldn't be that hard since you've already got the keyword or question you're writing about.
Just make it a bit more catchy sounding.
Introduce your topic in about 150 – 300 words. You want to convey to your reader why the topic is important, what problems or pain points they might encounter, and how you're going to help them with your post.
It's a good idea to give a brief summary of some main takeaways they'll get from reading the post too.
You should break the rest of your blog post down into a series of subheadings. These are like the main chapters of your blog post.
They help break your blog down into more readable chunks, as opposed to just being a giant wall of text.
You should mark your subheadings by using an H2 header format to let search engines know they're headers.
Under each subheading, write a few paragraphs answering the question or elaborating on the topic that the subheading presents. Give your readers the most in-depth answer you can.
At the end of my posts, I like to add a conclusion subheading that summarizes everything talked about in the post. Then I'll ask a question to the readers and ask them to answer in the comment section below to boost engagement with them.
Don't forget to include your keyword in your post at least three or four times.
Step 5: Capture Email Leads
At the bottom of every post, and within posts (where relavent) you should have an email opt in form to capture leads to your email list.
You can also just link to your online course if you wish, but usually you'll find that your site visitors convert better to course customers via email marketing, as this gives you a chance to build more trust and educate them about the value and benefits of your course.
To entice people to opt in and join your email list you should create some kind of free Lead Magnet.
A lead magent is a giveaway (this could be an ebook, mp3 or useful downloadable 'cheat sheet'), which people can get in exchange for joining your list.
If you offer something high value like this on all of your blog posts, you'll convert a percentage of site visitors (usually between 2% - 20%) to your email list, and from there you can educate them further about your online course.
Step 6: How Long Should My Blog Posts Be?
The answer to this will really depend on your competition from other sites more than anything else. But at the bare minimum, I'd make all of your posts at least 1,000 words long.
When you go to write on a particular topic, go and do a Google search for the keywords you're going to write about to see what other types of articles on the topic already exist.
Take the first three or four search results, and copy and paste them into a Word document to see what their total word count is like.
I'd break them down into three main categories:
If the articles that come up in your search are less than 1,000 words, or you see lots of links to forums, or the articles linked just don't answer the question you asked very well, they're low competition links. You can usually beat these kinds of articles by writing an article of your own that's at least 1,300 words. This will mostly be the case for long-tail keywords you came up with.
These are decent articles that answer the question you searched for in 1,500 – 2,000 words. The top search results are pretty good. Maybe they use some cheesy free stock photography images, but the written content is good. To beat these types of articles, you're going to want to write at least 2,500 words. The most common kind of medium competition articles are list posts, such as "X ways to tie a knot."
These are well-written, lengthy posts, more than 2,500 words. They might feature professionally-made infographics or videos. To beat these, you'll need to write the best blog post you can. You'll need it to be at least 3,500 words long. You want to do a lot of research and create the best resource that you can on the topic. It's a lot of work, but on the bright side these competitive keywords usually have higher search volume, so you'll get more traffic from them.
If your website is brand new and isn't established, I'd recommend focusing on writing shorter articles about long tail keywords and questions. That way you'll start building up authority with Google and bringing in some easy views.
If your site is a bit more established, you might want to focus more on medium and high competition topics to bring in more traffic.
Step 7: How Many Blog Posts Should I Write?
To make sure you'll get a good amount of traffic to your website, and therefore a regular stream of customers to buy your online course, you should aim to write at least 30 to 50 blog posts of varying lengths.
Some of your blog posts will be viral hits that will bring in thousands of views. Others might be total duds that never make it to page one of the search results for their keywords.
The problem is that you don't know which will be which until you've written them! You might have a good idea of how much better your post is than its competition, but there is still some magic and mystery involved with SEO that can be hard to account for.
If you can, it's a good idea to set up a posting schedule and post 1 – 3 new blogs per week if you've got the time to write that much. If you have the budget, you can even hire a freelance writer to write some articles for you.
Step 8: Track And Measure Your SEO Success
The only way to know how your SEO efforts are working is to track and measure them.
You can also keep track of which blogs are generating traffic to your online course sales page. And of course, you can see if your total number of course sales have gone up since you started implementing an SEO strategy.
However, don't be discouraged if you don't start seeing results right away. It can take weeks before Google indexes your blog post.
Even then, they need to gradually start recommending your site to more and more users and seeing what their user experience is like.
So it might take months of testing before Google is confident enough to put your blog post on the first page of the search results for a keyword.
Step 9: Make Sure You Have Good Technical SEO
As you're writing blog articles, make sure to keep all the points we discussed earlier in mind.
- Give your posts title tags and write meta descriptions for them.
- Assign alt tags to all images in your posts.
- Take some time to try and speed up your website's load time if possible.
- Add an SSL certificate to your website. Most web hosts can provide you with one for free. This gives your website HTTPS encryption. It's a must-have if you're taking payments through your website. But it's becoming the standard even for websites that don't.
You can also use free online tools like seositecheckup.com to analyze your website and see if there are any areas where your SEO is falling short.
6) SEO Is More Than Just Website Content and Blogs
Search engine optimization applies to more than just what you do on your blog to get your posts to rank in Google and Bing.
It applies to other platforms like Youtube and Pinterest as well. If you're posting videos online, or pinning to Pinterest you want to make sure they're searchable so that people can find them too.
In other places on the web you can follow many of the same SEO strategies that you'd employ on your blog:
- Create accurate and captivating titles
- Make good use of descriptions and keywords
- Provide valuable content to build an audience
- Create a call to action to join your email list
I hope you can now see the benefits that focusing on SEO can bring to your online course business.
It can generate you a stream of free and highly relavent visitors to your website for years to come.
These site visitors will enjoy reading your articles, see you as an authority, trust you and want to learn more.
Some of them will opt in to your email list and then if you do a good job of email marketing a percentage of these will also go on to buy your online course.
It's a great long term strategy that will pay off for years ahead.
It's also a great tool to utilise before you have even made a course.
So go ahead - decide which topics you're going to write about and create some killer content for your site.
Follow the guideline above to make sure it ranks in Google.
And then watch how your email list and online course sales start to increase.