SEO (search engine optimisation) advice for your language school

Google is obviously now the powerhouse of search engine optimization. It has become more powerful than the Yellow Pages, Yahoo, Bing combined. Social media has become an important way of getting traffic to your website but the basis of any online marketing plan for language schools has to feature a strategy for Google. It can seem daunting, and several people think that you have to pay for traffic through Google advertising, but that’s simply not the case. This article is aimed at giving you an informative view of how language schools can use Google to increase their presence on the web and gain more traffic to their web site.

What does Google want?

First of all, and this is very important, let’s get into the Google mindset. Google now employs 30,000 full time developers. It works on projects that you have no idea exist, and is thinking 22nd Century technology rather than “how to make money off a language school”. Google does not care about your business per se, but it does care about how your business can help others. Let me explain. Google still makes the vast majority of its money through Pay Per Click advertising. That’s where it wants you to spend your money. But it’s quite clever in how it intends to make you spend it with them: its strategy is to make you like Google enough to want to spend money with them. For this, it provides you with a whole range of services and products, mainly for free, that make you think: “hmm, these guys are pretty cool”. When it comes to your language school business, like I said, it doesn’t really care much about it like Microsoft does. It cares more about you, the empowered individual. It wants you, the individual, to spend lots of time in the Google universe, and it would also like you to spend that time telling others about it. And if you do that, then it will help you in quite cool ways.

Organic SEO

organic-seoBy organic, I mean natural. Don’t ask me why I chose the term “organic”. I looked it up (on Google) and there are people who use the term “organic SEO” and I think it’s cool so it’s staying right here in this article forever. Most language schools think that a blog is essential when it comes to being high up in Google so when people type “language classes Saigon” or “French course Paris” they come out on top. And in a way, they’d be right. But why? Google wants experts to write about their preferred topic. It wants to make sure that those people who are prepared to educate, share and advise others (for free), as long as they use the Google universe, will figure quite highly in their rankings. They don’t want their natural Search page to promote commercial sales sites. Why? Because they have Adwords for that. So they’ve set out their stall, and with every swathe of updates that do their algorithms, sales sites are losing more and more ground. Even Analytics, their tracking application, now doesn’t show over 80% of the organic keywords people typed to get to your website. But they’ll show the Adwords keywords just fine. So, in order to get good placing using organic SEO, they want you to write lots of articles. They want you to write:

  • Regularly
  • As an expert in a niche area
  • Using Google Plus (or a link to it)

And the more people come to your site (and crucially, the more they share it with others – links to your sites are very, very important), the higher they’ll push it up the rankings. So, for organic SEO, if you are a language school, my advice is to:

  1. Get yourself a Google Plus account (as a person who works for the school, not as the school itself)
  2. Link that Google Plus account to your website, making you a Google author (this is called Google Authorship – it puts photos on the links in Google Search and this really makes people click a lot more).
  3. Choose a niche area on language training that is relevant to your offer. Obviously, general articles will be lost in the mass of information out there. Language training is a huge, huge industry.
  4. Write down a list of at least 10 to 12 articles you could write about that niche. For example “How to learn English in London if you’re a busy executive” or “How to negotiate in German in 3 east steps” or “why learning Spanish in Malaga is a nice alternative to Madrid and Barcelona”.
  5. Find the time to write these articles intelligently, with at least  500 words per article. Use  headlines. Some people advise to write it like a Google News article. Make sure that for each article you use 2 or 3 specific keywords that people are likely to type in Google to enable them to find your article. These key words need to appear in the title, in the page “slug”, and in the article itself. Read here for more good advice.
  6. Publish each article at regular intervals (once a month is fine), making sure they appear on your Google Plus page too.

As long as people are linking to your site, then Google will take these articles seriously and your website ranking should go up.

Adwords (Pay-Per-Click)

AdwordsAn online marketer once said to me “You don’t have a traffic problem”. He’s right, no one really has a traffic problem because anyone can buy traffic. You just open up a Google Adwords account, create a couple of Ads, choose some keywords, set a budget and hey presto, people come to your site. The difficulty with Adwords is not traffic. It’s about conversion. It’s about how much your clicks cost, and how many clicks it takes to find a customer, and how much that customer is worth to you. Let’s say your language course is an open week-long English course that is sold at 500 euros per person. Let’s say that you use an agent who takes up to 30% commission of that 500 if he sells that course. That’s 150 euros. Let’s say you want to get 2 courses sold through Adwords. That would give you a budget of 300 euros. You’ll need to develop:

  1. Some advertisements or “ads”
  2. Some keywords
  3. A price to pay for 1 click on each keyword
  4. A “goal” on your website – what do you want your visitor to do when he arrives on your website? E.g. if you want him to fill in a form, you’ll need to put some code on that form so that you can track how successful your ads are. It’s not about who clicks – it’s about who contacts you after they click.

If you’ve never done it, it’s worth a try even just to better understand the nature of what people are looking for and doing when on your site, and how you need to better convert them when they’re looking at it (see what your website should be doing for more ideas on that). My advice is to find somebody trustworthy and knowledgable to do it for you. It’s very, very hard work and you can lost a lot of money quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing. I personally work with Firebots, one of the 14 certified Google Adsense Partners. Lastly, I can guarantee that Adwords is the most powerful PPC medium. Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter all do it too, and with them you can even choose people who are interested in what you have to offer (yes, you can even target those people who want to learn a language). Annoyingly, the results are wildly unpredictable and untrustworthy. One day, Google will have demographics via Adwords to help even more, and that will make them even more money.

Google Places For Business

Places for BusinessThis is where you set up an account for your business. To repeat myself if you’ve got this far, Google Plus is where you set up your individual account. When you set up Google Places for Business, if someone types in your company name, then a lovely page comes up to the right to show your company’s profile. Sometimes, if the key word is right, for example “Language School Tokyo”, then Google will show all of those schools that have got their Places for Business Accounts, a bit like a Yellow Pages. It will show a map and next to the name of your school will be a letter. This letter will then show on the map. There is no excuse for not having done this so far. Do it. Now. Go here. You can put photos up, hours for business, a little description. Google will like you more than it does now, and that’s important. It will help for your organic SEO. You will also see that people can leave reviews of your school! You can encourage all of your students to do this, although they will have to have a Google Plus account too. Once they start doing this, they can grade their course from 1 to 5 using a star system, and the average of all those grades will be shown when your school comes up in Google Search. There is a clear difference between people that click on sites that have reviews and those don’t. Obviously, you’ll have to tell your students at the end of their course, and also perhaps send them an email afterwards too. You won’t get a huge amount of people, but one a course every week can build up nicely.

Google Analytics

google-analytics-trackingAs I’ve said previously, in online marketing, no one knows anything. It’s very much a matter of launching different versions of the same thing and finding out which one works best, and then improving the one you choose bit by bit. You can not do this without Google Analytics, which is a free and very powerful tool on how to follow your website’s performance. It can help you see on which pages people are arriving at your site, how long they stay for, where they’re from, how they arrived. You can even create customised reports to suit your needs best. What I use the most is the conversion feature. I set up some “goals”, and this allows me to see what works or not with the features I set up. For example, on the French version of this site, I have some free webinars that I provide to language schools in France. To access them, the visitor has to fill in a form that explains where he is from etc. I have set up a goal that allows me to see what the percentage rate is of people who click on the link to the form and of those who actually fill it in. The people who do fill in the form then go straight into MailChimp, my newsletter service, and they receive an email that gives them access to the webinars. What would I do if I was a language school? An example would be:

  1. I propose a free English test. My target market is Russian students so I make the interface in Russian. At the end of the test, they have to fill in a form to get the results by email.
  2. I create an Ad in Google Adwords targeted at Russia. I choose lots of different keywords to see what works best (eg Free English Test, Test My English, English Test for Russians, etc.)
  3. I add in some Google Analytics tracking code onto a thank you page. This page comes after the Russian visitor has filled in the form.
  4. In Google Analytics, I’ll be able to see which keywords perform the best to get the most amount of people filling in the form.
  5. I can then keep testing until I’m sure that I have an optimal process in place and lots of Russian people interested in learning English with whom to communicate.

My lovely conclusion

So, there you have it: 4 valuable areas where Google can help my create and follow traffic on to my language school site. Once again, I hope you’ve enjoyed this (rather long) article.

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