The secret to search engine optimization is there is no secret. There’s just a list of techniques you can apply to make your page more SEO-friendly. It comes down to user experience. The factors that Google is looking for when it decides on your page rank also make your course guide easier for potential students to find and navigate.
We’ve gathered six tips that will help search engine optimize any course guide to meet the latest Google standards. Why Google specifically? Because they account for more than 86% of the global search market share.
You won’t find any advice about hiring a pricy SEO firm or rebuilding your entire website from scratch. These are real changes you can make today to improve your SEO performance. Because the truth is, when it comes to search engine optimization, small changes can make a big difference. Let’s start optimizing your course catalog.
What is search engine optimization?
Some people misunderstand what search engine optimization is. So let’s start by defining our terms. Search engine optimization is the content, formatting, programming, and hosting decisions that help you show up first in search engine results.
For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to focus mostly on on-page SEO. That is, the changes you can make to content on individual pages of your website to improve your ranking. We’re not going to get into programming and web development. Although if you really want to up your SEO game, your web developer probably has some suggestions.
1. Digitize your entire course guide
Printed course guides are still a powerful tool. Sending them directly to potential students can help interest them in your programs, but a print catalog can’t improve your SEO or help you be seen online. Some programs try to get away with uploading their course catalog as a PDF on their website, but that is still problematic.
First, search engines can’t read the contents of PDF files. You miss out on multiple opportunities to rank in search for course types and individual classes.
Second, it creates an accessibility barrier. Some people are anxious about downloading files that could potentially infect their computers. Others don’t have the bandwidth for big downloads. Worse, if someone is visually impaired, their assistive tools may not be able to read all PDFs.
When people can’t read your content, they’ll spend less time on your site which means Google will assume you were unable to meet the user’s needs. They’ll be less likely to show your content in future searches.
So, putting your course catalog online is good for potential students and for SEO. It’s an essential first step in search engine optimization.
2. Choose the right keywords
Keywords are a core element of search engine optimization. Search engines look for keywords to tell them what a page is about. If the keywords on your page match the ones a potential student typed into their search engine, you’re more likely to rank. Keep in mind that the most powerful keywords aren’t individual words at all. They’re keyphrases. For the blog post you’re reading now the phrase “Search Engine Optimize” was one of our keywords.
For each page of your course guide, you should have a minimum of around three keywords. One, the primary keyword, should tell visitors the topic of your course. You can mix in a few secondary keywords to add context.
For example, if your keyword is “Beginners Acting Class for Kids,” you might include keywords like:
- Drama class
- Acting training
- After-school activities
- Improve public speaking
3. Include keywords in titles and descriptions
The most powerful place to include keywords is in your title. Let’s say you have a course that helps behavioral health professionals get certified. Your title should probably be something like Behavioral Health Professional Certification Training or Certification Training for Behavioral Health Professionals. It should not be: Looking for meaningful work? Try Behavioral Health.
Your secondary keywords should show up in your description. Don’t get carried away here. In the early days of SEO, the more you used a keyword, the better you ranked. Now, it’s all about context. Your course description should be interesting and informative. Any keywords it uses should be grammatically correct and make sense in context.
4. Optimize your URL
This is a part of SEO that many people miss. Every page in your course guide has a unique web address. It probably looks something like this:
The part we’re interested in for SEO purposes is the last text after the backslash. This is known as the slug, and it’s a unique identifier for your page. You want to make sure that the slug includes the keywords for your course. So, if you have a course on How to Draw Animals your slug should be something like /how-to-draw-animals.
Here’s what to avoid when choosing a slug:
- Don’t use an internal course number. /290340u57 might make sense to you, but it doesn’t tell Google anything about your course
- Keep it short. /how-to-draw-cats-dogs-chickens-pigs-with-artist-sarah-smith is too much
- Use real words and recognizable phrases, i.e. don’t shorten how to draw animals to /hw-to-drw-anmls
Most website content management software includes an option to customize your slug. Exercise that option.
5. Organize your catalog in a meaningful way
Google doesn’t just look at individual pages. It also considers how those pages fit together. This is another case where improving SEO also improves the user experience. When you organize your course content in logical ways, both Google and your potential learners can easily find what they’re looking for.
Organize your course guide into logical categories and subcategories. Categories might include broad topics like:
- Career Development
- Personal Enrichment
- Business and Skills Training
- High School Completion
- Summer Camps
- Health and Fitness
Subcategories are more focused but still encompass multiple classes. So under Personal Enrichment you may have subcategories like:
- Arts and Crafts
- Outdoor Experiences
- Personal Finance
Try to choose categories and subcategories that your average student (or their parent) might search for.
6. Include location information
Mentioning the city and state where your class is located can make your listing more likely to rank for “near me” searches. So if someone types in “personal finance classes near me” your course listing is more likely to pop up in their search. Skip this step, and you could be left off the list. It’s probably not enough to include the location of your organization on the contact us page. Make sure it appears on every course listing.
Keep an eye on search engine optimization trends
The tips we’ve shared here will help you search engine optimize your course guide for 2022. Keep in mind that SEO is always evolving. What works now may not still be a best practice in three years. Keep an eye on the headlines to make sure you never miss an update. We’ll do our best to keep you informed as well.