Are you educating prospects as part of your customer education strategy?
Then you’re likely looking for ways to market your customer education program.
A big opportunity most programs miss? Search engine optimization, or SEO for short. SEO can be a great way to find people searching for information about your product or industry—then drive them to your learning programs.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization is defined as the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. Important to note is that SEO targets unpaid traffic rather than direct traffic or paid traffic (think: ads or direct links shared).
When thinking about SEO, it’s helpful to think about the Search Funnel, which looks like this.
Each stage of the funnel shows a different level of awareness and intent. It’s important to consider each stage—not every person is going to be ready to buy your product or service today! Having content that serves people at the top and middle of the funnel means you’re reaching people earlier in their buying journey—ultimately helping you stay top of mind when it comes time to buy.
4 Key Elements of SEO
How does Google decide what to show? Google has an algorithm that tracks and weighs a combination of factors. These include:
1. On-Page SEO
This is what’s on the actual page—like whether your main keyword is in your title tag, the meta description, and page URL.
Something that’s helpful to note is that there are two types of keywords: long-tail and short-tail.
Short-tail keywords tend to be more top of the funnel and broad in scope. For example, “customer education”. Because of how broad these terms are, they’re often hard to rank for.
Long-tail keywords are more specific and often better highlight intent. For example, “how to optimize my online academy for SEO.” If someone is searching for that, they’re probably looking for an article like this. They’re aware that SEO is important, they already have an online academy, and they’re looking for ways to improve SEO for that academy.
2. Off-Page SEO
Another factor in your search rankings is how other sites rank and refer to your website. Think of things like review platforms, social media shares, and links back to your website from other sites.
3. Technical SEO
This is happening on the back-end of your content management system (CMS) or learning management system (LMS). Google is crawling and indexing the pages of your website to understand what you’re about and how content is structured. It’s also looking at page speed to make sure users have a positive experience.
4. User Signals
Finally, you have user signals. This is how users interact with your content, and looks at things like bounce rate and time spent on page. A high bounce rate is indicative that people are coming to your content but not finding what they’re looking for, which means either the content is not great quality or it’s not directly tied to what they were searching for. Time on page can also indicate the quality of the content—is it answering the question(s) the user needed to get answered?
As you can see in the chart below, you have varying degrees of control over each of these factors.
7 SEO Best Practices for Customer Education Academies
SEO is an entire field of marketing—but you don’t have to be an expert in it to get started. The following are tips and best practices anyone can apply to improve organic search rankings for education content.
1. Don’t Try to Optimize Everything for Search
Keep in mind: Not every page needs to be SEO optimized! Pick the highest quality content or the content you think is most likely to convert, then focus on optimizing those pages.
When you’re getting started with SEO, think of it like you would any other project: It will take time and happen in iterative phases. Start with a few small, trackable goals.
2. Write Good Content
Your learning content may be crawled by robots, but the algorithm is informed by real humans who are telling search engines with their actions, “This content meets my needs/does not meet my needs.”
Make sure that content is valuable and also tied to the keyword search intent. Don’t promise you’ll talk about one thing, then switch topics. For example, if the keyword you’re ranking for is “how to run a Google ad campaign,” the expectation is that you’ll walk people through how to run a Google ad campaign. If your content tells them they should run ad campaigns on a different platform or is a basic primer on what Google ads are, that’s probably missing the mark and people will leave your site. This “bounce” tells Google that your content doesn’t actually meet the expectations of people searching for that keyword.
3. Make Sure Your Platform is SEO-Optimized
Use title tags, meta descriptions, and other built-in SEO tools to help your content rank organically for search engines.
You’ll also want to make sure that you enable public viewing on content you want to be discoverable—whether that’s individual courses, certifications, and/or activities. Usually this means making sure that your LMS is capable of different types of gating: Fully gating content that needs to be restricted to certain users (like customers or employees), partially gating content that you want to share to entice new learners to your online academy, and ungating content that doesn’t require a login to view (like an article or video).
4. Do a Hygiene Check
You’ll want to ensure that good content isn’t blocked from search crawlers. Check to see that the site is being indexed. Check the Robots.txt file and sitemap.
If you don’t know how to do this, that’s OK! There are tools like this robots.txt Tester and this Sitemap Test to help you out. You can also talk to your the person on your marketing team responsible for SEO (could be your Demand Generation Manager, Website Manager, or a third-party SEO agency) for their help.
5. Focus on Optimizing a Few Pieces of Content
Pick a few topics, pages, and/or courses you want to optimize for in a timeframe.
Not sure what to focus on? Use the following questions to narrow down your options:
- What are the most-searched for topics in your LMS or help center?
- Which questions or topics generate the most support tickets that you want to point people to for self-help?
- Are you trying to generate buzz for a specific course, certification, or new product line?
Identify the courses or articles that relate to those few key topics and optimize those pages for on-page SEO.
Check out how Atlassian did this for a course on learning JIRA, a software project management tool.
6. Stay On Top of On-Page Optimization
While there are a number of SEO-ranking factors that are outside of your control, on-page optimization falls squarely within your control.
Here are a few tips for maximizing on-page SEO:
- More content is better for SEO. The more content you have that links to other pieces of content around a certain keyword, the better.
- On pages you want to be “key” pages (e.g., your main certification), write longer descriptions. Make sure to include key search terms in your description.
- Use headings (H2 and H3, H1 is reserved for the title).
- Include search terms in headings
Let’s consider an example: Say you’re offering a social media certification. Your search term might be “social media certified”. If that’s the case, your page title might be Get Social Media Certified. Your sub-headers (H2 and H3) might include things like What’s the benefit of getting certified in social media marketing? Your description might say “Looking to get social media certified? This course will walk you through everything you need to know to become certified in social media marketing.”
7. Leverage Social Sharing
You’ve seen it all over sites like LinkedIn: I’ve earned my certification in X from Y company! 🎉
Search engines like social media, and track visits to your site from social channels, so it’s a great idea to boost the reach of the targets you identified above by posting about them on social. Your LMS may include native social sharing links, or you can use Add to Profile from LinkedIn to make it easy to share certifications and other credentials on LinkedIn.
Track Your SEO Progress
Like with any activity, you’ll want to measure and track how your SEO efforts are performing.
Gather baseline data for key pages, then track changes in organic, referral, and paid traffic (if ads are used). This will help you understand what’s working and what’s not, so you can tweak your approach.
Keep in mind: Your SEO efforts largely focus on the organic type of traffic. Referral traffic means another site linked to your site. This could be social media or external sites, such as an integration partner or industry influencer. Traffic that comes from your own site (for example, Atlassian.com linking to Atlassian University) is not referral traffic if it’s on the same root domain.
SEO for Customer Education FAQs
Here are a few questions we’ve gotten on this subject over time, in case you have the same questions in mind:
What are key pieces that improve SEO on the LMS vs a content management system (CMS)?
To clarify, a CMS is what’s traditionally used for websites, using platforms like WordPress, Webflow, or Drupal. If an education team is using a CMS, it’s likely it’s structured a bit more like a content library than a true learning management platform.
Regardless of whether you’re using an LMS or a CMS, page load speed, content authority, and domain authority are important. The LMSs that act like CMSs are going to get more boost than your traditional LMS, simply because if all content is gated, it can’t be crawled. This is why it’s important to make sure you have the ability to ungate or partially gate some of your content.
A CMS will have more advantage in SEO in terms of the content on the page because a CMS typically has more content. To get around this, you can create landing pages that have more content tied to your keywords, linking to educational content.
Here’s an example of how Meta (formerly Facebook) does this:
Does the URL slug matter?
To clarify terms: URL is the link to your content. For example, the Intellum website URL is https://www.intellum.com.
The slug is what comes after the backslash (/) in your URL. For example: https://www.intellum.com/resources/blog links to the blog. The slug is /resources/blog.
Google does index the URL slug of your courses and other education content. If possible, modify the slug to shorten it and keep it focused on the search term you’re trying to rank for.
What To Look For in an LMS To Rank for Search
If you want to drive organic traffic to your online academy, the LMS you use plays a big part in that. Here are things to look for in your LMS provider:
Ability to Gate Content
The biggest factor for ranking will be if you can make some of your content (like a catalog home page and individual learning activities) public. Fully gated sites will still generate sitemaps, and pages might be indexed, but it won’t be as impactful as public content. Can your LMS support some content being public (available without logging in) while other content requires a login to access?
On-Page SEO Fields
Do you have the ability to edit not just page titles, but title tags and meta descriptions for each piece of content? Can you customize the URL slug on different pages (e.g., landing pages, activity pages, etc.)?
Can you use header tags in the body copy, or is all text the same?
Alt Tags/Alt Text
Can you include alt tags (also called alt text) for all images, including hero/banner images?
Open Graph is what people see on social media sites when a link to your content is shared. For example:
Make sure your LMS allows you to customize the title, description, URL, and cover image for Open Graph.
Will the LMS generate a sitemap of your content?
Can you noindex and nofollow individual pieces of content? This is helpful if there are specific pages you don’t want search engines to pick up.
You’ve Got This
You don’t have to be an SEO pro to apply these tips. Start simple, ask for help, and make sure your LMS provider can be a partner in optimizing your customer education program for search. Happy SEO-ing!
(Psstt... if you're looking for an LMS with strong SEO capabilities, including the highest domain authority of an external enterprise LMS, Intellum's got you.)