Using SEO To Grow Traffic And Increase Enrollment In Your Massive Open Online Course Or MOOC

Using SEO best practices can help you raise awareness about your massive online open course or MOOC

No doubt about it…the growth of the digital space has fueled growth in online education.

With high-speed internet (HSI) become more commonplace in homes around the world, people are leveraging HSI to enroll in online bachelor’s degrees, online courses for professional development or in a massive open online course (MOOC) to expand their knowledge.

Online learning is definitely a hot topic and those willing to spend the time and energy to put together a well-developed, informative course offering can actually generate a lot of interest…and a lot of traffic.

But what if your course just isn’t performing? You feel as though it has great content. You put the time and energy into building a curriculum that should appeal to your audience. Still, no one is finding it…therefore no one is enrolling.

It’s tough, but there can be many reasons that your online course is playing dead right now. 

  • No askers – Meaning no one is able to find your course at all.
  • No buyers – Even if they do find your course, you may not be enticing them to convert to enroll.
  • Not even for-free takers – In this case, your call-to-action or course description isn’t even good enough to entice enrollment for free.

In each of these situations, the issue points to one primary problem…content. Not necessarily with the content you have created for the course itself, but with the content that is designed to generate interest in the course.

You know…the marketing content.

NOTE: Before you roll your eyes and sigh that you “aren’t a marketer”, you need to understand that EVERYONE who is trying to attract and convert users needs to be a marketer. If you want your course to succeed, you need to learn about marketing, engagement, retention, and conversion. These fundamentals will help you better understand what is needed to attract, retain, and enroll your attendees.

Let’s assume that your eLearning course is as awesome as it can get and yet you are unable to reach the heart of your target audience and encourage them into choosing it. What’s the plan? How are you going to get your course in front of the right audience? How will you convince them to give it a try? That’s where your marketing skills need to kick in.

Taking Analytical Approach To Driving Traffic To Your eCourse

The first step is to take the emotion out of your plan. YOU know it’s a great course, but you need to convince others that it will be valuable to them and to do that you need to think like them. ‘

Analyzing your audience and understanding their behaviors can help you adjust your marketing tactics

Using simple mathematics, it’s easy to break down the goals of your eCourse if you think through the student journey.

Step 1 In The Student Journey – Discovery – potential students learn about your course either through organic search or word-of-mouth positive experiences from previous students.

Step 2 In The Student Journey – Exploration – those potential students explore your course details and determine that the course would advance their understanding of the topic.

Step 3 In The Student Journey – Enrollment – the potential student enrolls and pays the enrollment fee.

Step 4 In The Student Journey – Attendance/Completion – the student downloads or participates in the online course and completes the requirements.

Step 5 In The Student Journey – Advocacy – course and tells others about the positive experience.

Sounds easy, right? It can be if you understand that good content that is optimized for the search engines can help prospective students find your course and it can also convince them to enroll.

Understanding The Essence Of SEO And How It Impacts Your ECourse

Search engine optimization is just that…optimizing your content so the Google search algorithm places your pages at the top of the search engine results (also known as SERPs). While you definitely want your content to be user-focused, if you don’t take time to also tune it for the search engines, it may not perform well in the SERPs, making your eCourse difficult to find.

SEO is an uneven blend of skills, science, and art which may seem shaky in the beginning but works its charm over time and in the best way possible. Think of SEO as the “gift that keeps on giving”. If you write well-structured content and it is listed, then the effort of writing it will be seen in a high number of prospective students.

The challenge for eCourse developers is that potential students are often overwhelmed with content coming in from all directions. They see ads for eCourses, hear about them from friends or family, see them in emails and maybe even on social media sites like Facebook or Pinterest.

Sometimes, the volume of marketing that is focused on students can be frustrating

What you need is to find a way to capture the student’s attention at that point when they are ready to cut through the noise and enroll. At that point, it’s highly likely that they are conducting a Google search using terms like:

  • What is the best eCourse for learning about marketing?
  • Good eCourse for building a web-based business
  • Best online course for using Pinterest
  • Review of online course to understand email marketing

At that point, they are searching for the answer and you want your content to be front and center. You want them to FIND you.

There are a couple of things you need to be aware of, however, when it comes to developing your content and optimizing it for SEO.

First, remember that you should write for your audience, first! That means the content should be written in plain language, at the appropriate reading level for visitors. Don’t try to stuff keywords into your content in order to make it more attractive to the search engines. Doing so might actually result in a search engine penalty, rather than traffic.

Well-researched and written content will always perform better in search results

Do you research, write a helpful, well researched article and ensure that it includes the appropriate keywords and uses the best practices for search engine optimization.

The second thing to keep in mind is that SEO requires a high level of patience, perseverance, and keyword research. Patience and perseverance are something you are going to have to develop on your own, but keyword guidance is something that I can help with.

Making The Right Keyword Choices To Attract Potential Students

The basic process of keyword research goes like:

  • Brainstorming possible ecourse or elearning keywords
  • Filtering out low performance keywords that don’t align directly with your specific course curriculum
  • Researching the most relevant keywords that also might be under-served (meaning a lot of content isn’t available already)
  • Checking the search volume for each of the remaining terms to narrow down the final keywords. 
  • Carefully placing those keywords in your article in a way that you aren’t over-using (aka “stuffing”) them.

However, the heart of this entire process lies in the first step itself – Brainstorming. 

The process of keyword research always sparks the old “chicken or egg” conundrum of SEO. Do you write your article first and then research the keywords that would help the article perform well? Or do you research the keywords first and then write the article with the keywords in mind?

In reality, it’s a bit of both.

I prefer to write a rough draft of the article first, see how it evolves during the drafting process, and then research keywords that would help elevate the content. It is difficult to imagine the best possible keywords without understanding the user’s search engine behavior and trends, so it’s helpful to have the beginnings of the article drafted and then image who would be reading the content and what search terms they might have used to locate it in the SERPs. 

As you brainstorm the searches that the visitor might have used to find the content, consider that there are three fundamental categories of search engine queries that the users tend to search for:

  • Navigational queries: When the user wants to reach a particular web address, like social media channels.
    • This means typing in “Facebook” or “ESPN”. In these cases, the user knows exactly what they want and where they want to go.
  • Actionable queries: When the user has an actionable intent in mind, like booking a table in a restaurant.
    • These are queries like “what is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago” or “coffee shops near me”.
  • Informational queries: When the user is looking to learn about certain topics or categories, like how does the internet work?
    • These are the searches for content that will help the user solve a problem like “how do I report a fake Facebook friend request” or “are there eCourses that will help me learn to build a website?”

Researching keywords for eLearning

Researching the keywords related to your industry not only helps you to form a good search engine marketing strategy but also educates you about the trends among your target audience and your competitors rankings.

These keywords will help you in developing a more relevant course with the audience in mind as well as fuel potential targeting keywords for any paid media, PPC, or social media advertising campaigns. 

While finalizing your keywords, you must keep the following points in mind:

  • The relevance of the selected keyword to your content – Whether you deal with simple educational courses or complex workplace safety training courses, the keywords must be relevant to your content and the reader.
  • A potential customer or client’s likelihood of searching for the specific keyword
  • Would the person searching for this keyword be able to find the answer to their query on your website?

Look To Your Competitors For Keyword Guidance

One of the best ways to find the most relevant keywords is by evaluating the ones your competitors are ranking on. And if you find paid advertisements with certain keywords, then those keywords are even more valuable and capable of converting sales.

If you are able to understand what content is allowing your competitor to rank, and then create better, more informative content that helps your target audience, then you may be able to outrank them and direct their traffic to your content.

Sometimes, analyzing your competitor marketing actvities will help you generate new ideas for your content plan

For finding the best keywords, you can follow these steps:

  • Create a list of topics –  Any number of categories that you believe are crucially related to your industry. It should be based on your reader’s preference or what you cater to.
  • Check out the “related searches” –  Google’s suggested keyword searches based on your search query will also tell you the trending keywords.
  • heck competitors ranking – This might require the help of professional paid tools for better results but it is one of the most important steps in keyword research. It will also give you quicker and easier results. The aim of this exercise is to find the sweet spot of keywords – between the ones which are difficult to rank on due to competition and those which are fairly easy to rank on.
  • Filter the list: To make your life simpler, you can use tools like Google AdWords or AHrefs and shorten the gargantuan keyword list.

Understanding The Important Of Keyword Placement

Once you have your list of perfect keywords, it is time to deploy this army at the sweetest spots that will help you MOOC to attract attention and enroll students. 

Your website’s name and address – URLs play a pretty significant role when it comes to making your eLearning website rank higher on SERPs. This is why the name of your website matters. For all the web pages that you want to rank on search engines, always keep in mind that an SEO-friendly URL will always rank better and allow the readers to know the nature of your eLearning course or MOOC in a much better way.

As custom elearning providers, for maximizing the reach of your course, you must consider including the page keywords in the URL of those pages as well. For instance, being a corporate sales training course provider, you can purchase a website URL, like www.salestrainingonline.com or you can use it for landing pages, like www.xyzbusiness.com/online-sales-training 

The page titles – Title tags are the page titles that you see in your search results which you click on to land on any page. And these titles are important for search engines to decide the relevance of your website/page for a particular search result. 

Simply put, these titles tell google about your work and then Google tells about it to other people. A good title can grab the user’s attention quickly and make them click on your page besides appearing (read-Ranking) in Search results. And the non-complicated and straightforward titles work the best. 

Meta Descriptions – The two-sentences-long descriptions below the Title tags in a search result are 160 characters long meta descriptions that play an important role in making your course rank on top. 

These descriptions offer a brief about your course and can be made stronger with keywords easily. And while Meta descriptions cannot contribute to the ranking of your pages directly, they can be crucial for your website’s CTR (click-through rate).

Within The Content – Apart from these rules, optimizing the images used in your course, their captions and the sub-headings (H1, H2, H3) of your on-page content can also play vital roles in making your MOOC reach a wider audience. The key to good SEO is not just focusing on increasing the reach radius but increasing the relevance of your reach as well. 

In the end, the people who land on your online course must have something to gain from it and you must gain something from them. 

A Few Final Thoughts

Creating online content like MOOCs is not an easy task, but for those who do it successfully, it can be an exciting, engaging activity. Creating the course curriculum and content, however, is only half the exercise.

To be successful in the world of eLearning, you need to not only play the role of an educator, but also that of a marketer. Be willing to spend the time to understand your potential audience and then develop marketing content that will not only attract potential students, but also convince them to enroll.

Best of luck with your eLearning activities, I hope these tips helped!


Christopher Pappas - Guest BloggerChristopher Pappas is the Founder of eLearning Industry’s Network, which is the largest online community of professionals involved in the eLearning field. Christopher holds an MBA and an MEd (Learning Design) from BGSU.


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  1. Thanks for sharing such an informative and helpful article.


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