14 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Does your online course marketing plan look anything like most course launches?:

Actually, almost all new course creators suffer this problem. You’re an expert in your field, but not an online marketer. You’ve just spent months brainstorming, scripting, recording, editing, uploading your course, and you even ran your first beta round. And now what? How do you bring more visitors to your sales page and enroll more students?

The answer is search engine optimization (SEO). 

Today, you’re going to learn how to start bringing in a constant stream of highly targeted leads directly to your course without paying for ads or monitoring social media all day.  

What is SEO, and how does it work?

Search engine optimization is the practice of optimizing a website’s quantity and quality of traffic (visitors) from a search engine’s results page. When done properly, SEO brings in free, passive traffic directly from Google every day. No paid ads needed. In simpler terms, it’s basically the practice of optimizing your website and its content so that Google likes it and ranks you higher for terms relevant to your business. 

For example, if you’ve got a course for learning guitar, SEO will help you be more visible when people search for “online guitar course”. 

How does SEO work?

Think of search engines like a massive digital library. Only instead of books, they store copies of websites. Google sends out bots called “crawlers” to investigate every website. These guys figure out what a site is all about, and then index it in the library.

When someone searches “online guitar course”, Google’s algorithm scans the index and displays what it thinks is the best answer to the query. Search engines evaluate your site based on hundreds or even thousands of factors, including content, user behavior, authority, social media and links (a lot more on this later).

Google even judges your page based on speed. It’s trying to show the best results for users, so if your pages load slowly, you’ll be penalized. That’s how advanced the algorithm is. So, if you think about it, SEO is optimizing your pages to please Google’s algorithm and demonstrate to it that you’re the best answer to a search term.

Related: The 3 Most Common Mistakes Online Course Creators Make

Why is SEO so powerful for course creators?

Imagine a steady stream of interested visitors coming to your website every week, all without paying for ads, spending all day on Reddit, or monitoring Facebook groups. Some course keywords have hundreds or even thousands of searches a month. If you rank at the top of Google, the majority of the visitors will come to your site.

Back to our guitar course example. 

About 450 people search for an online guitar course per month. That’s 450 highly interested customers looking for a guitar course with the intent to purchase. That’s roughly 112 per week, or 16 per day.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have 16 interested customers come to my sales page each day with no extra effort. Even if I only convert two, that’s hundreds of dollars in sales a day. Can you see the potential power of ranking for a key term with regular search volume?

Compare this to other marketing methods, and it becomes a no-brainer. 

  • Google or Facebook Ads: They’re becoming more and more expensive, and ROI is decreasing. Plus, they require a lot of capital to get off the ground. SEO requires only time and patience (plus knowledge on how to do it right)

  • Social Media: Facebook requires constant monitoring and customer service. It’s highly valuable for sure, but it requires a lot of time that could be better spent elsewhere. With SEO, you do the work upfront, and from there it’s 99 percent hands-off.

  • Affiliates: Finding affiliates for your courses is one of the best ways to get sales in the beginning, but you’ve got to pay up to 50 percent or more to the affiliate. With SEO, you keep 100 percent of the sale. 

The benefit is pretty clear: SEO is the only marketing method that brings in steady traffic for free without a heavy time investment. Once you put in the work upfront, it’s nearly hands-off traffic to your course daily.

You just need to know how to do it right.

Related: 3 Effective Marketing Strategies For Selling Digital Products Online

How to do SEO for courses the right way

SEO is both very simple and very complex at the same time. It’s simple in that, for the most part, you really only have to do all the things a business would naturally do to attract an audience:

  1. Create content about your products

  2. Create an active social media presence

  3. Connect with others in your industry

  4. Create a great user experience on your website

  5. Make sure your site can be crawled by Google and is secure for visitors

It’s complicated in that you have to do all these things the right way, or you’ll basically be floating in the ocean without a rudder: You’ll know the destination, but get blown so far off course, it’ll take forever to get there (or you’ll hit an iceberg and sink).

There are a few things most people aren’t aware of but are absolutely vital to SEO. But before we get to that, let’s start with the foundation of all good SEO: Keyword research.

Keyword research: Discover what your audience is actually searching for

Proper keyword research is the foundation of search engine optimization. If you don’t do the keyword research right, your SEO efforts will be a waste of time and money. Most people get it wrong in the beginning and end up wasting months going in the wrong direction. 

Proper research is all about finding out what your audience is actually searching for and which order you should target them. First, let’s cover finding the keywords. The best way to start is just to brainstorm using that big thinking machine in your head. You can even use Google’s auto complete to help. 

Bonus tip: Use the related searches box at the bottom of the Google results page to get more related ideas. You can find a lot of gems there.

Once you have all these ideas, use a keyword research tool to find cold hard data on all key terms related to your course.

Here’s where most online course creators (and people in general) go wrong. Most people think Wow, this term has the most traffic. I’ll target that one first, because it will bring the most visitors to my page

The terms with the highest volume (head terms) have the highest competition. And because Google heavily favors established websites with lots of content, links and authority, chances are you’ll get crushed by larger competitors if you go for these “head terms.” Also, head terms are usually very broad, so if someone lands on your course page from one of these terms, they might not be interested in an online course.

Here’s what to do instead to bring in low-competition traffic

If you want easy traffic, you should actually do the opposite of targeting head terms. Target the low-volume, more specific keywords first and build from there. Specific keywords also usually have more targeted intent than head terms, so your ROI will be higher.

For example, don’t target guitar course or guitar class. Instead, go for “online guitar course for beginners” so you’ll get low competition traffic. Once you start getting traffic, Google starts warming up to you more. So all the low-competition traffic will slowly give you enough juice to go after the bigger head terms. Simple enough, right?

Okay, now you’ve got all the key terms related to your course. Next up is planning it out.

Related: 4 Crucial Things To Consider Before Creating An Online Course

How to plan and create your content for perfect SEO

Planning and structuring your content topics properly is a major SEO advantage that could catapult you over competitors who are just producing content for the sake of content. The best way to plan your content is in what’s called “content clusters.” 

A content cluster is when you create one article on the main topic and several other articles on a subtopic within that topic. Then you link to the subtopics within the main topic’s article. Like this:

For example, you might have the main topic of “how to play guitar.” Here, you’d write a massive, fully exhaustive guide to everything you need to know about how to learn the guitar, including subtopics like basic theory, guitar chords, fingerboard exercises and picking techniques.

Then you’d create articles on each of those subtopics and link to each of them within that article. And also, you’d link all the subtopics together as well.

Why organize your content into clusters?

The reason you organize your content into clusters is because it makes it easier for Google to understand what your website is about, and it also provides more value to your users. Say I’m a newbie looking to learn how to play the guitar: It’s much better for me to be directed to a website that not only covers all the topics in a single page but also provides in-depth information on each of those subtopics too. It gives me everything I need to know to learn guitar in one spot.

Compare that to a website that just creates random guitar articles, and it’s easy to see why Google prefers this type of structure.

How to write good content for SEO

Writing informative, easily readable content based on your key terms is crucial for SEO. Content for the sake of content is not going to cut it these days. Yes, targeting the right keywords is important. But what’s even more important is you satisfy the reader’s query and provide them with an enjoyable reading experience. Even professional SEO writers neglect one or even both of these principles from time to time.

Here are a few quick tips for writing good content around your keywords.

1. Short, readable sentences

Google prefers easily readable and easily scannable content.

That usually means the following:

  1. Short sentences 

  2. Simple sentences with minimal punctuation and simple grammar

  3. Short paragraphs

The reason is that web readers are easily distracted. They have infinite options all within a single click. If you make life hard on them, they’ll click back to Google and find someone else.

Short, simple sentences are easy to read and easier to extract value from.

2. A quick and highly targeted introduction

Long intros that only state basic facts are horrible for readers and SEO. They accomplish nothing other than wasting everyone’s time.

For example, someone searching for “how to improve guitar speed” does not need to know “guitar speed is a measure of how fast you play the guitar” or “if you want to play faster, then you’ll need to do exercises to improve your speed.” They know this already.

With the guitar speed article, it’s best to open with a line like “Welcome to the most comprehensive guide on improving guitar speed quickly and painlessly on the internet. In this guide, I’ll show you…”

3. Value. Value. Value

Readers want value.

They want solutions to their problems. They want to know how they’ll benefit from learning new information. They want practical, actionable advice that will improve their lives. They want to be engaged and entertained, not bored to death.

Your articles have to satisfy the query, but they also have to convey real, tangible benefits to readers, or they’re going to stop reading. This is a very complex concept, but the best way to convey value is to tell the reader how they benefit from the information they’re reading and provide extra details to help them understand. Don’t leave them asking “Wait, what? Tell me more!”.

So, in an article about playing the guitar faster, tell them that doing spider exercises improves dexterity. Then, tell them that improving dexterity leads to faster, cleaner playing in just a few weeks. Then explain to them how it works in a way that’s simple for them to understand.

Do this in all of your articles with all the most important information.

Related: How Podcasting Can Help You To Skyrocket Your Online Course Business And Sell More Digital Products 

SEO and links: How to get natural, SEO-boosting links

Links are Google’s main way of evaluating the quality of your web page. If other websites link to yours, Google takes that as another website saying “Hey, this is a great web page!”. The more links you have from around the web the better Google assumes you to be — more or less.

Mads Singers, an SEO specialist who has been active in the space since 2007, says: “Think of it like voting in a Google election with each link being a vote. The more links the better chance you have of winning the top spot. Your goal in SEO is to optimize the quantity and quality of links to your course page. If you just sit around waiting for links to come to you, you’re going to have a tough time. You need to get out there and make things happen.”

Lucky for you, there are a lot of free and easy linking opportunities all over the web.

Here are a few quick wins:

1. Social media

If you don’t have them already, set up profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media sites. Place a nice link in your bio or Facebook page pointing back to your course page. Google loves these.

You can also start a Google My Business for your course. You only need a physical address. Just set it up, and that will get you a fast and powerful link.

2. Forums 

Find relevant industry forums online and use them to boost SEO and traffic. I prefer Reddit and Quora, but there are plenty of others.

On Reddit, find a relevant subreddit and participate in the conversation. Share your link or content when appropriate, just make sure not to be spammy. You can also drop links to your course page on relevant questions in Quora. Just be 100 percent honest that it’s your course. 

3. Your industry

Chances are you’ve already collaborated with others or talked to affiliates about promoting your course. Maybe you’ve attended live events too. In that case, reach out to people you’ve worked with already or are interested in working with. See if they’ll link to your course.

You can also ask for a link exchange where you link to one site in exchange for their linking back to yours.

3. Manual outreach

Look for people reviewing courses in your niche and see if they’ll place you in their rankings. There are plenty of websites reviewing courses of all kinds. Some might ask for a payment, but there’s a good chance that a few will add you in for free. You might get some sales from the reviews, too.

SEO is by far one of the most effective ways to bring targeted traffic to your course. As soon as you begin ranking, you’ll start bringing in highly targeted traffic weekly without any extra effort.