SEO & blogging for online course creators - How to rank your products
In this guide, we take you step-by-step through creating an SEO roadmap to help users land on your website and buy your online courses.
When people look for products or information online, most start with Google.
63.4% of all searches come from Google, with its nearest competitor, Bing, claiming only 23.7% of searches.
Which means if you’re trying to sell or start an online course, you need to make yourself visible on Google.
Enter search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the primary component for making sure users can find you on the search engine results page (SERP).
Here’s how it works:
A user enters a query. Google sorts through its options, finds the nearest match to what it thinks users want and delivers them on the SERP.
Any ads are displayed first. After that, the “organic” results are displayed. If your page doesn’t land in the first five organic options, you lose 67.70% of users.
Which means the stronger your SEO is, the better your chances of winning those coveted first five positions and getting users to your products.
In this guide, I’ll take you step-by-step through creating an SEO roadmap to help users land on your website.
First, let’s talk about why blogging should be the backbone of your SEO and your go-to strategy for launching, promoting, and selling your course.
Why you should blog with SEO in mind
57% of marketers say on-page content is the most effective SEO tactic in their arsenal.
Here’s another mind-bending statistic. Having a blog increases the chance of people finding you through a search engine by 434%.
So if blogging isn’t already your top source for free traffic, it should be. The more traffic you can swing, the more chances you have to monetize your blog audience.
But it’s not enough to just blog. You have to blog with SEO in mind, regardless whether your niche is travel blogging or curating top-level business strategies.
Here’s why: Only 7% of your potential customers will go past the first result page when they’re searching for an online course.
That means if you aren’t paying attention to your SEO, you could be losing as much as 93% of your customers simply because they can’t see you. You’ll be stuck on the second, third, or fourth page.
But, when SEO is done well, you can put yourself in a high-visibility position and start generating serious traffic with little effort. (Want to learn more about doing SEO well? Check out these SEO tips.)
Case in point, consider Nat Eliason. He grew his sparkling new website blog from zero visitors to over 10,000 in just a few short months by focusing on SEO.
Today, Nat’s website pulls in over 50,000 visitors with the same process as when he started.
What’s more: 84.33% of his visitors are new. That gives him a ton of lead-generating potential every month.
If you want to repeat his results, blog with SEO as your top priority. Here’s how.
Step 1: Clean up your technical SEO
There are three sides of the SEO game.
The technical is definitely the least exciting side, but it’s an important one to start with. The greatest content in the world can’t bring you new leads if the search engine doesn’t find it.
Here are some questions to think about for technical SEO:
- How fast does your website load on different devices?
- Can the search engine easily read your site structure?
The answers to all of these questions play an important role in determining your site’s rank on search engines. Tools like SEO SiteCheckUp, Cloudflare, and PageSpeed Insights, covered below, can help uncover any issues and get you on the road to SEO success.
Squarespace users can also rejoice, as Squarespace comes jam-packed with SEO-loving features, including free SSL certificates and search engine friendly site structure.
Below are a few tools to help you check your SEO. Although all of them provide insight for addressing issues, it’s best to consult with a professional web developer for anything significant.
First up is an all-in-one SEO suite you can use for free.
To begin with, head over to SEO SiteCheckUp.
Click the “Sign Up Free” button in the top right corner.
Register for an account. Once you’re done, you’ll have access to your dashboard.
From here, select the first option, “SEO Checkup.”
Next, enter your website URL. Depending on the size of your site, it may take a few minutes to finish analyzing.
Let’s use Amy Porterfield’s website as an example.
Amy is doing great! An 82 is a very respectable score when you consider how often Google changes the way it ranks pages. According to Moz, that can be as many as 200+ changes per year.
Which means it’s worth bearing in mind that a perfect score is unlikely. You should try to get as good of a score as you can, but don’t pitch yourself in an unwinnable battle.
“Green” is plenty good enough.
Now, let’s check out the results of the report in a little more detail.
The great thing about SEO SiteCheckUp is how user-friendly its reports are. You can find areas of concern by looking for orange and red as you scroll.
While it’s not a bad idea to fix as many of these issues as you can, put your priority on anything in the red when you’re working with a web developer.
Next up is Cloudflare, a 10-minute solution to your encryption woes.
Once you’ve run your website through its analysis, scroll down the results page to get customized optimization suggestions and step-by-step explanations for how to implement improvements.
If these seem a bit out of your expertise range, you can collaborate with a web developer from UpWork or Freelancer.com.
Now, with the technical out of the way, we can start digging into the fun parts of blogging and SEO and get to our next step: finding your keywords.
Step 2: Conduct keyword research
Once your technical SEO is on point, it’s time to do keyword research to build out your blog’s editorial calendar in the next step.
But first, let’s talk about the different types of keywords. There are two types to concern yourself with.
First, “head term” keywords. These are usually one or two words and have high search volume.
For instance, “online course” is a head term. Check out how much competition it has.
While it would be great to rank for this term, your competition is going to be fierce and require some significant money to beat.
Which is just one reason why you don’t want to target head terms.
The second reason, and perhaps the most important, is that the visitors you gain from head terms aren’t necessarily ready to become leads.
They’re most likely still in the “information” stage of the sales funnel.
Ideally, you want to get traffic from lower down in the funnel. That’s where “long-tail” keywords come in.
They’re not only easier to compete for, but they also convert 2.5x more than head keywords.
So, your keyword research should be geared toward finding the long-tail keywords that users will input to find your blog and courses.
Finding them, luckily, is easy. You can start your search on Google.
Let’s take our earlier example and turn it into a long-tail: “online courses in experience design.”
As soon as you begin typing, Google starts offering long-tail keywords related to your term.
You can also get a sense of how competitive the term is by running a search through Google.
That’s going to be a lot easier to compete for than “online courses.”
A user searching for this term is most likely no longer looking for general information on online courses. At this stage of the sales funnel, they’re considering their options.
By the way, you can also get these long-tail suggestions by scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page.
And like that, you have a set of related keywords to begin incorporating into your blog to bring users to you.
Here’s another, more in-depth tool you can use for free.
First, head to KWFinder.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to find the free account sign up.
Register for an account. You’ll be taken to a page with pricing options, but keep scrolling to continue with a free account.
Once you’re at your dashboard, click the red “Go to KWFinder” button.
Let’s use a nutrition-based course in this example. Search for “online courses in family nutrition.”
It looks like this is an excellent term to add to our list from the get-go. Use the left-hand panel to navigate the suggestions and find ones that fit your course.
You can click on the “KD” to sort them from greatest difficulty to lowest difficulty. If your website is just starting out, try to aim for keywords that fall below 39.
Click the checkboxes of the keywords which work best for you and use the blue “Add to list” button to start creating a pool.
Rinse and repeat until you have a list of 30-40 (or more) easy keywords to choose from. Once you’re ready to go, click “Lists” from the top navigation bar.
Open up your list, select all of your keywords at once by clicking the first checkbox. Then, scroll down and click the blue “Export” button.
Choose the “export with metrics” option and ta-da!
You now have an Excel file filled with relevant, easy keyword terms you can use to create your content and stay organized.
From here, you can start generating blog post ideas around your keywords. One popular model for doing this is called the “topic cluster model” that Hubspot coined. Here’s how it works.
Rather than using keywords as standalone products, you divide them into different topics. Using the above example, you might divide topics into “family” and “nutrition certifications.”
You then create a pillar page for each topic. These pages provide a top-level view of everything related to the subject.
As you create new posts related to the topic, taking narrower perspectives on each, you update your pillar post with internal links.
In turn, your SEO is boosted for not just one page, but every page that’s linked to it. That leads to landing higher on the SERP.
So, start with broad-level topics and work your way down, using your identified keywords as the guiding force. As you build more blog posts and expand your content, create new pillar posts to keep upping your SEO game.
Now, there’s just one more step you have to take before you start using your keywords: setting up an editorial calendar.
Step 3: Setup an editorial calendar
When figuring out how to schedule your posts, you have to ask yourself the age-old question:
Quality or quantity?
Fortunately, this question has an easy answer. Quality should always trump quantity. Blog posts that are longer and dig deeper will pull in 9x more leads than shorter, thinner posts.
They also tend to rank higher on the SERP.
Why does content length matter so much? It’s less about the length and more about the correlation with engagement (the same is true for online courses, by the way -- if you'd like to learn more, swing by our article on how long your online course should be).
Here are the top factors Google looks at when it ranks pages organically.
Although keywords play an important role, you’ll notice most of these factors directly relate to the user’s experience when they get to your page.
So, with that in mind, it’s time to start building an editorial calendar that fits your schedule. You might be tempted to skip this step, but consider this:
How do you set one up?
Another free tool you can use is Asana.
Here’s what a hypothetical editorial calendar might look like for a blog by an online nutrition teacher in Asana.
Here’s a peep at what a Trello calendar might look like:
And a quick look at CoSchedule. CoSchedule is especially impressive because it integrates directly with WordPress.
For starting out, try to schedule at least one post a week and build from there.
Businesses with more than 16 posts a month land leads 4.5x more than those who only post up to four times a month.
But, sixteen in-depth blog posts can be a lot to take on if you’ve got a busy schedule, and it’s better to stay consistent than risk missing your deadlines or putting out less-than-fab posts.
If you’re short on time, consider bringing in a freelance copywriter. Writing and design are the two most outsourced activities in marketing today.
In either case, try to schedule at least four posts a month. As long as it’s quality, you’ll still get worthwhile traction.
Marie Forleo posts between 4-6 articles a month, most typically five, and still grabs stellar engagements because of how high-quality her content always is.
Check out her results.
We see similar trends for marketing consultant and online educator Mark Evans.
Although he only posts, on average, five times a month, he still pulls in a few hundred engagements (or more). Not bad for a guy that wasn’t on Oprah!
So, if you can post more, absolutely do. But if you can’t, don’t stress about the frequency and just make sure your calendar is filled with quality goods.
OK! With your technical SEO, keyword research, and editorial calendar out of the way, it’s finally time to start making the magic happen on your blog.
Step 4: Create killer content
By now, you should have a good idea about what content management system you’re going to use for your blog.
The most popular, WordPress, is the driving system behind 14.7% of the world’s top 100 websites.
And, as we learned in the first step, SEO-minded bloggers love it.
You can get up and running with a free WordPress blog in the same time it takes to brew a weak cup of coffee.
Alternatively, you can use Squarespace.
This platform is ultra user-friendly and includes a ton of behind-the-scenes SEO support, plus, all websites built on it have ready-made blogging capability.
Once you’ve settled on a platform, it’s time to bring all the pieces together and start blogging.
Take your keyword list and start fleshing out your post ideas, if you haven’t already. Make these keywords an important pillar of your content, but don’t stuff them everywhere.
Work them into your posts and headlines naturally. It’s more important that your content is engaging than anything else.
Remember, quality is the trump card for great SEO and SERP ranking.
Here are a few tools you can use to make sure your blog posts are quality as you write. Combined with your course tools, you’ll be on your way to blogging greatness in no time.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who hasn’t given Grammarly a spin.
This all-in-one writing magic wand identifies spelling errors, uses contextual analysis to find typos, and provides tons of helpful tips for free.
For someone who writes often, the synonym function is an absolute must-have.
CoSchedule Headline Analyzer
Your headline is where users begin their journey on your blog post, and in many cases, end. Write stronger, snappier headlines with CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer tool.
Neat, right? Hovering over the different parts breaks down why each component is essential. Looks like I need some more uncommon words...
Did you know the average reading level for US adults is between seventh and eighth grade?
Hemingway App keeps your content readable by analyzing its grade level. The web version is free to use and highlights issues as you type.
Once you’ve got your blog post proofed, polished, and ready to pop, you’re ready to start promoting.
Promoting where? Everywhere.
Step 5: Promote your blog
Backlinks are your SEO gravy. Defined simply as any link which refers back to your website, the more of these backlinks you have, the better your SERP ranking.
Guest posting is one easy way to build backlinks to your blog, and it’s turned a tidy profit for a lot of businesses. There's a reason, after all, it ranks in our top tips for selling digital downloads.
Buffer, one of the industry’s top social listening and scheduling tools, owes its initial success to backlinks gained through guest posting.
Leo Widrich put out over 150 guest posts, successfully growing Buffer’s customer base from 0 to over one hundred thousand in just nine months.
How does this strategy work so well for growing your audience and attracting visitors?
Guest posting to high-quality websites with tons of authority in your area and linking back to your blog signals to Google that you, too, are an authority.
That, in turn, makes your domain stronger. Since your Podia course is hosted as a subdomain on your website, the more authority your domain gets, the more visibility your course will get.
Let’s look at an example of this guest post strategy in action.
Larry Kim is one of those names in marketing you practically can’t escape. He writes everywhere.
Here he is on Search Engine Journal.
Finally, he also writes for several publications on Medium.
Larry recently left his marketing powerhouse WordStream to strike out on his own with MobileMonkey.
Let’s check out how his backlinks are doing for this brand new venture.
Now, let’s check out how the content is doing.
Not bad for a startup that’s barely been in the game long enough to be called a player.
Social media is another way you can build links to promote your blog and get your SERP ranking booming.
Include links in all of your profiles and share your content there with redirects or links back to your posts.
So does course leader Lesya Liu.
Now, with learners able to find your blog and Google showing you some SERP love, you’re finally ready to start nurturing your leads.
Think of this last step as iterative: although it’s the last on your list today, it should be in the back of your mind every step of the way.
Step 6: Nurture your leads with email
What does it mean to “nurture” a lead? Think of leads as seedlings. You plant a ton in one season, knowing you probably won’t harvest anything until the next.
As you water and feed those seedlings, they start to peek up from the ground. But they’re not ready for harvest yet. They have to be tended and encouraged.
Your leads are the same way. Nurturing them pays off: just like the cared-for seedlings blossom and produce bigger, juicier tomatoes, your nurtured leads produce bigger purchases.
47% bigger purchases, in fact.
Lead nurturing transforms your occasional visitors into your loyal customers.
Loyal customers are, on average, worth 10x more than the first purchase they make.
So, now that you know the necessity of nurturing your leads, here are some powerful ways to use email marketing on your blog.
Create an email list for a newsletter. If you’re following a strict editorial calendar and creating great content (steps 3 and 4), this list will grow in no time.
Here we can see how online nutrition educator Sally Twellman presents hers.
Don’t spam your list. Send weekly updates about your latest posts and offerings. Promote your product in your emails, but don’t make it the center of attention.
Check out how Copyblogger does it here in this email:
Clear but not intrusive, readers of the blog can keep scrolling to catch up on all the latest Copyblogger content, or they can click to learn more about the featured product.
It’s nurturing the lead (me) without suffocating it.
Or, take your email marketing to the next level with a drip campaign.
Here’s a visual of how they work:
You can also use drip campaigning specifically for onboarding new subscribers, whether they're from pre-launching an online course or part of your regular outreach campaigns for existing products. Groove uses this strategy to convert up to 10% of their subscribers into trial users.
Here’s a look at their model.
(By the way, if you'd like a more in-depth look at how to turn your subscribers into nurtured customers, be sure to check out our five-step guide for converting readers into buyers and using email marketing for blogs.)
Otherwise, it's simple and straightforward: use newsletters, drip campaigns, and onboarding campaigns to promote your courses and keep users engaged with your blog.
Nurtured leads will nurture you back. Treat them well, respect their time, and engage with them for growth and profit.
Blogs are your go-to source for lead generation, but you can’t just write them. You have to write them well and keep SEO in mind. To do that, remember to follow these steps:
- Let third-party tools do the heavy-lifting and make sure your site is “SEO healthy.” If it isn’t, bring a freelance web developer on board to fix any issues.
- After you’ve got your technical health in the bag, do keyword research. Keywords are what draw your users to your page and guide your blog posts.
- Hubspot’s “topic cluster” model is a great way to boost your SERP ranking and generate blog ideas.
- Create an editorial calendar. These keep you on track and help you nurture your leads with consistent content as you move through the blogging process.
- Technical SEO, keywords, and calendar ready to go? Time to start creating great blog content. Use CoSchedule, Grammarly, and HemingwayApp to make your blog the best it can be.
- The surprisingly best way to promote your blog? Do it on someone else’s blog. Guest post for leaders in your area to build links to your website and up your ranking. Link up on your social media, too.
- And last, but never least, nurture your users each step of the way with drip and onboarding email campaigns.
Follow these six steps to take it even further and make your blog a course-selling SEO powerhouse. Your traffic will grow, and your leads will spread like wildfire.