When members and non-members want to find information, explore a topic or scratch an intellectual itch, they turn to a search engine, usually Google. If your association offers an education program on the topic they’re exploring, will that program be on page 1 or page 5 of the search results? If your website uses search engine optimization (SEO) for marketing education programs, they are more likely to end up on page 1.
Why it pays to focus on SEO for marketing education programs
Search engine optimization (SEO) brings people to your website. If you “optimize” content—that is, make it easily discoverable by search engines, and humans too—then your content is more likely to show up high in the list of Google search results. Besides your investment of time, think of SEO as free marketing for your education programs.
Why should an education professional care about SEO? Because if you’re the one creating or editing education and credentialing program titles and descriptions, you need to know how to optimize that content for search. You’re the best person to do this because you understand what you’re selling and how it meets the needs—and search queries—of prospective learners and attendees.
How SEO works
Search engines crawl and index web pages. When someone enters a word or phrase into the search field, the search engine identifies and ranks webpages by how well the information on the page matches the searcher’s query.
Google’s ranking criteria is based on 200-something secret algorithms, but the company shares its SEO philosophy from time to time so SEO professionals can understand what the Google search engine likes. Google adjusts these algorithms from time to time in an effort to provide the best experience to the people who use their search engine.
SEO criteria fall into two categories: site architecture and on-page factors. You must optimize your website and web pages for search if your association has any hope of attracting potential members, customers and learners to your website.
The people who developed and designed your website should have taken care of website architecture or technical SEO factors. Find out who’s overseeing SEO issues now—someone on staff or a consultant. You want to make sure they’re getting new web pages indexed by Google. Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO explains how to find out if your pages are indexed, submit a site map and take care of other technical SEO details.
Your website’s user experience determines your search ranking. Websites must meet Google’s page load speed, mobile responsiveness and encryption requirements or they won’t show up in search results. Websites must be easy to navigate with well-organized content and no broken links.
While technical SEO may be out of your control (thankfully), you can help with on-page SEO. Google seeks content that best matches the searcher’s intent—content that is easy to access and read. Google relies on a few metrics to determine how the “on-page” content ranks in search results.
• Click-through rate: how often searchers click on your web page when it comes up in a search result.
• Time spent on your website by the searcher.
• Bounce rate: how often someone comes to your website but then leaves rather than view other pages.
Optimizing website content for search (SEO)
A Google user is searching for content that, at a glance, is related to their query and provides the information they seek. Google plays matchmaker by displaying content that includes the same (or similar) keywords that the person entered into the search field. Google is more likely to display the content if those keywords are also evident in the page title, page URL and any of the headers on the page. When Google finds the keyword in those places, it makes the assumption that the page most likely contains the kind of information the searcher seeks.
Keep possible SEO (search) keywords in mind when coming up with program titles and descriptions for:
• Virtual conference pages related to education, tracks, sessions
• Certification programs
• Certificate and digital badge programs
• Courses and workshops (virtual and in-person)
• Webinar and session recordings
Think about the words someone would use when looking for a program on that topic. You can also use Google’s keyword planner tool to research a list of keywords.
Use these keywords, when appropriate, in the:
• Program title
• Program description
• Program outcomes
• Target audience description
• Program schedule/syllabus
• List of topics covered
Most website content management systems (CMS) have plug-ins (such as Yoast) that prompt you to improve SEO by optimizing these on-page factors—more places to use the keywords you’ve selected.
• Title tag
• Heading tags
• Meta description tag: Google includes this description (or preview) in the search result because it helps the searcher determine if the page is relevant. A well-written meta description boosts your click-through rate.
• File (URL) name
• Image description
To boost your time-on-site and bounce-rate metrics—and keep your web pages up high in the rankings—you want to keep searchers on your site. One way to do that is by providing links to related programs. Google likes internal links because they help searchers find relevant information.
One more thing: search engines can’t see protected pages. If you have content behind a paywall or on pages that require a member login, publish a summary or teaser paragraph on a public page so Google and non-members can see what’s behind the paywall and members can find what they’re looking for when searching on Google.
Getting your SEO tools into place
Most associations use their AMS catalog or store (e-commerce) to sell education programs. However, the AMS catalog may have limitations on SEO functionality. Are store pages indexed? Can you optimize them? If you can, do it.
For example, if the default URL for a new page doesn’t contain keywords, can you change the URL before publishing to a more SEO-friendly option containing keywords? If not, take advantage of the SEO opportunities you do have by optimizing program descriptions and other program information on your website.
Does the AMS e-commerce tool integrate with your website’s Google Analytics? Is your association using the Google Search Console? Here’s a description of each tool’s value: “Google Analytics is user-oriented, providing data related to those who visit and interact with your website. Google Search Console, on the other hand, is search-engine focused, providing tools and insights that can help site owners improve visibility and presence in the search engine results pages.”
Even a basic understanding of SEO will help you improve the Google-friendliness of the education program descriptions on your website. Here are two of our favorite resources:
• Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
• Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO
SEO increases the discoverability of your education and credentialing programs. It helps you expand your reach without having to rely solely on email marketing and paid advertising. Google becomes your marketing assistant if your use SEO for your education programs.