SEO 101 for Certification Course Providers
What is SEO, and how can it help you sell your certification course?
If you’ve spent any time looking into the world of online marketing, you’ve probably encountered the term “SEO” a dozen times. Unfortunately, much of the information online about SEO can be dated or outright misleading. And what’s left is often full of technical jargon that makes it hard to understand.
This is a frustrating situation, because while SEO can be complex and technical subject, most entrepreneurs and small businesses can get 90% of the way there by following some basic best practices. So, if you need a quick primer on how to improve your page content so that it ranks better in search engines, here’s what you need to know for SEO 101.
Keywords: Know what you want to rank for.
If you’re going to try to improve your search engine rankings, you first need to know what words and search terms you want to rank for. As an online certification provider, you probably want to rank for phrases like “online nursing certification course,” or “online certification for welders” (or whatever your certification program offers).
The more specific your keywords, the better. While they’ll have lower search volume (i.e. average number of searches a month), they will be more targeted. After all, it won’t help you to rank for a certification program you don’t offer.
Once you’ve identified which keywords you want to target, it’s time to look at the content on your pages and try to optimize them to include those terms.
Ranking Factors: Optimize your content for best performance.
Google’s ranking algorithm is complex, based on numerous factors, each of which has a small affect on when your page shows up in search results and what order it’s ranked in when it does. Optimizing your page for a certain term means deliberately adjusting your content to work with those ranking factors.
Some of the top ranking factors include:
- Keyword density. How often does your key phrase appear in your copy? If it only appears once or twice per 1000 words, it’s probably not dense enough. If it appears more than ten times per 1000 words, it may be too frequent, which could be a sign of keyword stuffing.
- Links. Internal links (links to other pages on the same domain) can help visitors navigate your site. Combined with descriptive anchor text (the words that the link is tied to), they help Google understand what your page is about. Backlinks (links to your website from other domains) can raise your credibility, especially when they come from authoritative sources, but they can be hard to earn.
- Title tags. This is primarily your page title. It can also include other information such as your brand name or your product category. You want to write something informative and pleasing to the reader, but that is no longer than 60 characters long.
- Meta descriptions. This is the description of your page content that appears under your title tag in search results on Google. It should be informative, and include your keyword.
- Alt tags on images. If you have images on your page, you use the alt tag to describe what’s in the images. This helps Google understand what the image is for, but it’s also crucial for blind or visually impaired users who rely on screen reader technology.
- Page speed and mobile optimization. If your page takes more than a second or two to load, or if it isn’t optimized for mobile devices, Google is less likely to rank it highly.
Google has about 200 ranking factors, some of which can be more technical, such as SSL encryption. But if you start with these, you can get a long way toward having SEO-friendly content. And speaking of content…
Content: Provide value.
Of course, none of these optimization practices will help if you don’t have the content to back it up. Google doesn’t care about the packaging nearly as much as what’s inside. At the end of the day, if you create detailed, valuable, informative content, you stand a much better chance of ranking than if you try to cut corners with thin, poorly-written pages.
Your visitors are coming to you for information. Reward their interest with thorough, well-organized articles that they will like well enough to share with others.
Black Hat: You can’t cheat your way to good search results.
Of course, no discussion of SEO 101 would be complete without a list of don’ts. Sadly, the SEO field has seen its share of scam artists trying to find new ways to game the system. In the process, they’ve lead many innocent businesses down a dark path that has severely cost them in time, resources, and lost credibility. Here are the top three bad SEO practices you should absolutely avoid.
- Keyword stuffing. Probably the oldest trick in the book, keyword stuffing involves hiding keywords in places on a page where the user is unlikely to notice, but where Google will. Alt text is one such place. Another tactic involved using white-in-white text to paste a whole lot of keywords into the bottom of a page. This is, of course, terrible for any of your users with screen readers. It’s also cheating, and Google will punish you for it.
- Link spamming. When people first figured out that backlinks affected search engine rankings, some individuals tried to cheat the system. They did this by leaving spam comments on other websites that included links back to their domains. Google quickly figured out how to adjust for this, and will penalize your website in the rankings if they catch you at it.
- Purchased backlinks. These are the next step in the backlink evolution. Some disreputable SEO consultants will try to sell backlinks by purchasing hundreds of cheap domains and then linking back to your site using the websites they control. Again, this may result in a brief jump up in search results. However, it won’t last long once you’re caught, and the damage can be hard to undo.
There’s a lot more to learn, and it’s changing all the time.
Google is constantly upgrading its search algorithm, and each time it does, the rules and best practices change a little. It’s hard for anyone who isn’t an SEO expert to keep up. But as we said at the beginning, you don’t need to be an expert to get most of the way there.
As you create your certification course, identify the most important pages on your site. Write these pages to be as useful and informative as you can, and make sure they’re optimized. Then use your blog to create more content that can answer more specific questions and direct visitors toward your key pages.
You’ll grow your organic search traffic. But more importantly, you’ll grow the amount of helpful, valuable content on your site. And, in the process win over the trust and loyalty of your visitors.
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