We discuss SEO for course builders, membership site entrepreneurs, coaches, and private online communities with John Locke in this episode of LMScast with our host Chris Badgett of the LifterLMS team. Chris and John dive into some SEO strategies for course creators, and they discuss how SEO can be more valuable than paid ads.
John Locke is an expert SEO consultant and founder of Lockedown Design where he specializes in SEO services for all types of businesses looking to create sustainable traffic online.
SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to your website by ensuring your site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. So when you type into Google, “How to build an online course” Google will return the most relevant results to those keywords. And the higher your site appears on that ranking system, the more likely it is that a visitor will come to your site.
A lot of sites with bad SEO are focused only on the sales pages. If you include educational pages on your site you will be more likely to rank higher and have better SEO. Taking one or two of your best lessons in your course and giving them away for free is a great way to do content marketing with online courses, and strategies like that can help to increase your SEO value in a major way.
Customers buy products and services from people they know, like, and trust. Producing free educational content on your subject is a great way to build that trust, and it also serves as a terrific marketing strategy. Chris and John talk about how SEO is not about tricking search engines into thinking you are the best. It is all about actually delivering the most value to the consumers.
Having other sites link to your website is a great way to increase your SEO value. Building relationships with authorities in your industry is a terrific way to do that. John and Chris delve into several other strategies, such as keyword targeting and creating free YouTube videos that will drive more traffic to your site.
To learn more about John Locke you can head to LockeDownDesign.com and you can find John on Twitter at @Lockedown_. Also head to LifterLMS.com to find out more about how you can use LifterLMS to build your own online courses and membership sites. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!
Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest, John Locke from Lockedown Design. He’s a SEO specialist specifically for manufacturers. How are you doing John?
John Locke: I’m doing great.
Chris Badgett: Thanks for coming to the show. John and I are often on a panel discussion on Fridays on the WP-Tonic show. I knew I wanted to get him over here to you, the course building community and membership site builders, the coaches, the community builders, because SEO is important. It’s an important factor of success. Why is SEO important to these digital content and community creators?
John Locke: It’s definitely important to anyone, but for the course creators, you’re gonna want to get traction. You don’t want to be paying for every single click to your site. You don’t want to be running Facebook ads forever or Google AdWords, because your profit’s gonna diminish.
Chris Badgett: There’s a trend. I see it all the time where people are advising start-up entrepreneurs to just buy Facebook ads.
John Locke: I mean, its good as a supplement.
Chris Badgett: Right, but SEO, I agree with you, SEO, it’s the bread and butter, right?
John Locke: Oh, yeah.
Chris Badgett: So go ahead. Why else is it important?
John Locke: Basically, SEO, the thing with any type of ad, whether it’s You tube ads, Facebook ads, Ad words, you’re basically renting traffic. If you want to have a long lasting traffic that’s gonna last and last for years, you’re gonna want to get SEO built up to where traffic is coming to your pages organically. If you want to toss some ads on top of that, great. Throw some gas on the fire. But if you don’t have SEO in place, then you’re never gonna grow to the potential that you could.
Chris Badgett: So, we’re at a cocktail party, John, and you just met me, in under two minutes can you explain what SEO is or Search Engine Optimization?
John Locke: Yeah, really simple. Say if somebody types something into Google, the results that come up that aren’t paid ads, you want to be in that spot. You want to be as high as possible. When people do a search on Google or Bing, whatever comes up the top, that’s usually what gets clicked and you want to be there.
How do you do that? It’s a science. A lot of people think it’s magic, black magic, the arcane arts. It’s more science than anything else.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. And we’re going to get into that science here. One of the things I’ve noticed in the industry, just as a web designer, an online business owner myself, is a guy who makes products, a blogger, there’s all this distrust of the SEO service professional or service provider or SEO tools that are gonna make money fly out of the computer screen.
What happened. Why is this industry of SEO corrupted? It’s hard for people to know who to trust.
John Locke: Well, even people that purchase SEO don’t understand it. I’ll even go as far as to say there’s a lot of people that work in the web industry that don’t understand how SEO works. There’s a lot of design people that I know personally that have no clue how it works at all. They’ve even told me, they think its snake oil. Because there is a lot of snake oil.
Chris Badgett: You know who doesn’t think its snake oil is the business owner. Even though there’s a lot of land mines out there, a lot of businesses say yes, I want SEO.
John Locke: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: But why is that? They want leads, I guess.
John Locke: They want the phone to ring. Honestly, that’s- I’ll tell you a story. Someone contacted me the other day, just came through something on my site. I got on the phone with him and they were saying I’ve been paying this guy for nine months, I haven’t seen any of the rankings, my phone’s not ringing, I’m paying him too much for what it is. I did some checking really quick and I don’t know what his other person did beyond the first couple months, cause it’s undetectable to me. No wonder this guy is not ranking.
The clients I deal with, the only things they really understand is the phone’s ringing, I’m getting requests for quotes, which is basically like orders, we’re getting people and I asked them and they’re like I found you on Google.
That’s what they understand. If those things happen then they’re gonna love you.
Chris Badgett: Well let’s talk about the science a little bit. If we take the magical way, and it’s a lot of factors, I mean Google’s a big organization, but what are like the five or ten or so components that make up SEO?
John Locke: The number one component is, say someone is searching for how do I start a LMS course or how do I get a course online. Whatever’s gonna come up, whatever’s gonna be at the top is what’s gonna answer that question in the most thorough, in the most detail, generally speaking. So the content on the page is always going to be the most important factor.
The thing of it is, Google tracks, do you people go back and search again after they’ve conducted a search for whatever term they’re searching for and they click on a result and go to that page, do they go back and search again And they even look at things like how much of the page you’re scrolling down, are you going to other pages in the site, and they use those things to determine, are people really satisfied with this answer.
And this leads into the second thing. Probably the second most important thing besides the sheer content on the page is how many people are linking to that page and what type of people are linking to that page. If people are linking to that page in the context of I had this question, this page answered it, then Google’s gonna take that as validation that that should probably rank higher than something else that nobody’s linking to.
Those are the two most important things by far. Content and linking are the two things that are gonna have the most direct impact. I would say probably number three would be the overall experience of the page. If you have two sites that are equal in content and links, and one is mobile friendly and loads fats and just is legible and has a nice design, and you have another that looks like it was made in 1998, the site that’s more appealing to people and has a better overall experience is going to rank a little bit higher.
There’s a ton of another factors that go into that and I think a lot of people obsess over some of these smaller details, like Schema marker, like site speed, which is important, all these other things. There’s a billion of those and sometime they can have a big influence too. If your site has bunch of technical errors and 404’s and links that don’t work and things like that, if you clean them all up that can help too.
SEO is really about incremental progress. It’s about taking all the factors that you can influence and improve and improving them and making them better as compared to all the other competition out there.
Chris Badgett: That’s fantastic. One of the challenges with SEO is I think sometimes business owners, so I’m asking you as a SEO consultant, they have this idea that they just need to sprinkle some SEO or throw some money at some SEO, almost as if they need to game these things. They need to game the content, they need to game their link strategy, to somehow influence the experience. Especially back links and key words on content. I think that’s what kind of gives the industry a little bit of a bad name cause sometimes some SEO people, like back in the day, everybody’s always trying to cheat Google. Not everybody, but there are people. So, in the early days of the internet, I remember it, if you wanted to rank a page for a certain keyword phrase, like at the very bottom of the page you woud see those words repeated like 100 time. Didn’t matter, wasn’t hiding, clearly gaming the system. And over time, Google gets smarter and smarter and smarter, cause they don’t want people who are gaming their SEO to rank. They want people that actually have legitimate content, legitimate link profiles, legitimate user experience.
How do you manage the expectations of a client when they’re on the gaming strategy? Or the gaming mindset?
John Locke: That’s a great question. There’s definitely people that I’ve talked to before, and maybe even some business owners that might have built, maybe they used to program back in the day or they built their own site or they’ve dabbled in SEO, and they’ve done some of those what we call back hat techniques. They’re like bad guy techniques, where you’re cloaking text and you’re, maybe you’ve got some SEO software where you’re building out private Bog networks, we’ve seen that. Those sorts of things can work in short term, but as soon as Google sees it, your site can actually get penalized.
Chris Badgett: So, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And that’s what it, that’s the saying on the SEO industry. There’s white hat, gray hat and black hat. You want white hat consultant or service provider, like John, who’s going to do it the legitimate way. The gray hat is where it’s I’m to sure if it’s good or bad, or maybe right now it’s good, but it’s probably gonna end up being bad, you probably don’t want to go there.
John Locke: Yeah, it’s about risk mitigation, for sure.
Chris Badgett: And you also mentioned incremental, it’s like an incremental process, it’s not like a massive event, right? So, what’s incremental about improving SEO?
John Locke: Definitely a lot of the things that you’re going to, say you have a client, their sites not mobile friendly, it loads slow, it doesn’t have any content, you’re not going to be able to do all those things in one day. You’re just not going to be able to.
Chris Badgett: So what you really want is a SEO strategy? Or an SEO partner, right?
John Locke: For real, yeah. So managing expectations, and you said this, how do you manage expectations. The one thing that I tell everybody is I would love for you to commit for six months. I don’t lock people into a contract. I don’t say you have to do six months, at least. But generally speaking, that’s where you’re gonna see results. Maybe it comes a little quicker, sometimes, depending on how fierce your competition is, cause every key word is different competition. Some are gonna be easy to win. Some are gonna be really hard. You just tell them straight up. Expect about a six month time frame. If you don’t see results, then, you know, cool.
Generally speaking, if your SEO knows what they’re doing, you’re gonna see something happening, positive, in that time frame and you’re gonna be able to measure it and say traffic went up from Google search.
And that’s the thing too. Always be measuring. Have people show you what’s actually happening.
Chris Badgett: It’s a science but it’s also an art. I think its important to cut your SEO professional some room to work some different angles. But like you said, make it measurable. Make sure, let’s look at the before and after on the Google analytics. Let’s make your inbound lead process include, whether that’s the phone or email or whatever, asking how did you hear about us. Cause if they’re like, oh I just googled, that’s a good sign that your SEO is working.
John Locke: Yeah, it is. That’s something that I like to track personally. A little tool that I use in Google is, say, you can block off a time frame, say lik the last two months, and then just look at the channel where it’s Google organic. So, that would just be search. And then compare it to the exact same time frame previous to that. So it’s apples to apples and you can see traffic went up or it went down. It’s black and white.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I would just encourage anybody listening to this that you get out of the mindset that the goal of SEO is in any way to game or manipulate the system. The goal of businesses is to have a compelling offer and then Googles’ job is to help people looking for what you have to offer find you. It’s really as simple as that. That includes having relevant content on your site, talking about it in the correct words that your customers are actually searching for, and then making it si good that other websites and people are linking to it and people are talking about it on social media.
It’s not a manipulation thing, it’s just making sure your offer is plainly visibile and that people can find it.
John Locke: Yeah, most definitely. And, to speak to that too, I would say that where a lot of sites fail is that they just have sales pages and they don’t have the educational or informational pages. You have to have both types if you’re going to have a successful type of thing. That goes for eCommerce, it goes for course creation, anything like that. You gotta have both types of content.
Chris Badgett: One of the things that you specialize in is the intersection of the website and SEO. Tell us about your service. How does the SEO and the website work together?
John Locke: For those that don’t know my background, I cut my teeth building wordpress sites, working with a lot of design agencies as an outsource partner. I was always dabbling with SEP or doing SE for friends and stuff like that. So, how SEO really works together with the website is, it’s kind of baked into it. You can have pretty design but if you don’t have content and you don’t have a strategy for getting traffic to your site through links that are on sites that are related to yours that’s gonna drive traffic that’s interested in what you have to offer, then you’re probably not gonna rank above your competition.
Likewise, the project SEO, and digital marking in general, doesn’t end at the site launch. This is where a lot of people get it wrong. I see this as well, a lot of agencies launch a site and that’s kind of it. They’re not measuring what’s happening. They’re not looking at Google analytics, they’re not installing something like Crazy Egg to look and see where people are clicking, where people are scrolling to, cause that’s gonna give you a ton of information and it’s gonna tell you if your design was good or if something needs to change or be adapted. Those sorts of things are very much intersected. And, like you said, it’s not about gaming the system, it’s not trying to trick Google into thinking you’re the best. It’s about actually being the best.
Chris Badgett: Could you explain page rank for the uninitiated? What is PR or page rank from an SE perspective?
John Locke: So page rank is something that was named for Larry Page and it was basically, they say they don’t use it. There used to be tools that would track it. They use it internally still no matter what they say. Basically it measures the flow of authority from one web type page to another.
Say if you had a site like Timemagazine.com or Entrepeneur.com that’s got a lot of sites linking into. Probably thousands if not millions of sites linking into it. So, if a site on the page, or a page on that site I should say, links onto your site, the page that’s linking out has a certain page rank based on those authority signals. The whole idea is, there used to be this thing called link juice. Some people don’t like that term. You can call it link authority or whatever. Whatever you want. But basically the idea is if a page that has a lot of links pouring into it that’s on an authoritative site links to a page on your site, then your site, that page on your site, is gonna benefit from that. That’s a lot of, links are still like a huge part of SEO. I know there’s kind of a mini-movement in SEO to not look at it that way. Links always will be part of it. There’s no other way to disqualify them.
It is a measure of how authoritative Google thinks your site is. If you have a bunch of authority sites and pages, specifically pages, like linking to a page on your site, that’s gonna, it’s gonna rank higher than something that doesn’t. It basically calculates a score. The logarithm uses a lot of fancy math to basically say this should rank higher.
Chris Badgett: For the course creator out there, as an example, you train people on how to use the kettlebell for fitness, if the most popular kettle bell person on the internet like Pavel Tsatsouline, who brought the kettlebell from Russia to the United States and popularized it, if he links to your website or your new kettlebell course, it’s coming from an authority position. It’s not, its great to create content on your site, but as a SEO strategy, building relationships with other authorities or whatever is helpful as another strategy. I just had to throw that out there as an example.
John Locke: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: If somebody wanted to just work on their SEO on their own- I’m gonna give one tip and then I’ll turn it over to you. If I was just gonna give my best recommendation and you may agree or have something else, especially for a course creator or membership site person, where so much of the content is really locked down and behind a log in and not getting great SEO value cause it’s hidden, is to have a content strategy for free, completely open contact, whether that’s a podcast on your site or a blog.
Content marketing. If you want just that Google juice or whatever, if you want people to find you, you’ve got to make it easy for them to find you. They can’t necessarily see what’s inside your members are yet. So, that’s my one tip. What would you give?
John Locke: It’s absolutely something that I would agree with. If you look at people who do [inaudible 00:21:56] course of like, I’m gonna teach you to be rich, or even Marie Forleo, she has her school, [inaudible 00:22:14] give away a bunch of free content that’s as good or better than anything else you’re going to buy. Its kind of like the product ladder. You have this free tier of content that promotes you and builds your brand and associates your name with whatever it is you’re selling. Whatever your course is about. And then people get hooked into that and they begin to trust you and they become addicted to you, Then maybe they buy an ebook or they level up to a course and then maybe it goes to like a one-on-one.
It very much starts with free content that you have to produce. Here’s the thing. The market’s very, very saturated for most things. People only buy from people that they know, like and trust. First they have to know you. You’re gonna do that through free content. Then they’re gonna take your free tips and implement them and see that it helps them. So they’ll trust you. Then they feel like, okay, I can buy stuff from this person. If you don’t do that, there’s nothing to separate you from the other 20 bijillion people selling what you sell.
Chris Badgett: In our pre-chat, we were talking about the concept of traction. I think we’re getting into it. Like with [inaudible 00:23:34], for example, it helps you build a course. You can build coaching offer on there, you can build membership, you can build a community offer on there. How do these types of creatios building these types of things get traction?
John Locke: The first thing I would say is, be in tune with what people are actually searching for and then have some sort of content strategy for reaching them. I think this is what I’m seeing a lot of people fall short with right now. They’re not doing a keyword strategy for what people, how people are searching for a term.
Knowing how people are searching for something will help you create content that uses those types of phrases and addresses that need. Then you’re gonna attract the people that would be interested in your paid offering.
That’s step one. Knowing how people search for something. You could use a tool like KW finder. It will give you basically the monthly search volumes for different terms. I use AH reps as well to just give me volumes for how people search as well. Cause how you think you would want to phase, you know, put the title and the H1 and the different way you’re describing your content might not be the way people are searching for it at all. You have to be really crystal clear in what’s on your page. Don’t make it ambiguous.
Chris Badgett: That’s really good. Just to show you, this is exactly what we’re doing right now. We’re giving away free content. I was just writing down the title for this show is probably going to be something like SEO for Course Builders, Membership Site entrepreneurs, and online coaches with John Locke. When someone goes to Google and they type in SEO for membership sites, that’s what I’m trying to get. I’m trying to give them free content, results in advance before they go check out Lifter, go hire John for SEO. We’re just doing it. We’re adding value in advance of the sale.
This is a podcast. You’re probably listening to this in your car, at the gm, while you’re exercising or whatever, doing the dishes. But, I also put this on YouTube. I also have it transcribed. SEO for membership sites will be in the transcript now two times. Instead of twice I’ve probably said it more. That’s gonna go on the podcast website and that’s just part of the strategy.
I’m not trying to game the system. I just know what the best practices are that John’s been talking about. I do ask my customers at LMScast how did you hear about us? The number one answer is either I heard you on a podcast or I saw you on a YouTube video.
I want to talk about SEO and YouTube with you. We just had Matt Medieros on the podcast, talked about YouTube. Before we get into that, is there anything you wanted to add to what I just said before we look at YouTube specifically?
John Locke: Just it’s important to be building your brand at all times. That’s gonna be the lead in to any sales that you have is building brand affinity. Your name is associated with a certain thing. When I think about Chris Badgett or Lifter LMS, I know that that is the topic. Course creation plug-in. You’ve associated yourself with that phrase.
Chris Badgett: I just want to add, four years ago, I was like what’s our number one key word phrase? Word press LMS, that’s it. Early content was really focused on that phrase. That was a strategy that was started four years ago.
John Locke: It takes time. It really does.
Chris Badgett: Let’s talk about YouTube a little bit, specifically. How does SEO and website dance with YouTube? What’s the magic there?
John Locke: It’s pretty simple. Google owns YouTube and Google and YouTube are basically the top two search engines on the internet. YouTube is very addicting. YouTube is very much a platform. They’re creating their own stars. Their creating their own shows. It’s like its own type of animal you have to understand how it works. People really get hooked into the personalities. I would think of your You channel as almost like a show. If you can schedule it to where episodes always drop on the same day and time, that’s probably good.
The SEO benefit of YouTube is you’re getting cross-pollination. If you have a blog post that says everything we’re saying here, and then you have a YouTube video as well, you’re gonna have two chances to rank. You’ll notice in Google results that YouTube videos often show up very high for certain search terms if they feel that it’s answering that question. Definitely it’s something to do. I think it’s a great strategy and anybody who’s serious about building a brand and having as much SEO coverage as possible should not only have written content, but YouTube content as well.
Chris Badgett: Just to highlight something you just said, YouTube is not just social media. I think this is a big insight for some people. First of all, it’s portable. You can take your YouTube video and you can put it on Facebook, you can out it on LinkedIn, you can Tweet about it. It can go on your website, it can go on other people’s websites. It’s very portable. You don’t take a Facebook post and then put that on LinkedIn or take a LinkedIn post and put that on Twitter. YouTube is extremely portable. But from the SEO perspective, I think it’s an insight to get this, if you haven’t thought about this already. YouTube is a search engine. And it’s even subtle, since Google owns both, that the results, you don’t even have to be searching on YouTube. You can just be searching the Google box, or Google Chrome and YouTube videos are mixed in the results.
People want video. And Google’s always mixing videos within the search results so it’s a huge opportunity for ranking there.
John Locke: I’m gonna give everybody a tip for YouTube right here. If you’re making videos on your YouTube channel always use your brand name as one of the tags and I’ll tell you why. When you’re watching YouTube and that right column comes up with all the suggested videos, it looks at what’s in the titles and what’s in the tags and your search history or your viewing history, I should say like on YouTube to suggest what’s in there.
If all of your videos have a common tag, say your brand name, it’s more likely that when people happen to be watching one of your videos, they’re gonna see more of your videos in there cause they’re gonna share that common tag, which is your brand name.
Chris Badgett: Speaking of YouTube being addicting, I don’t know, maybe it was a year or two ago when YouTube started auto playing a video after the first one finished, and what used to be like a three minute experience, all of sudden you’re like five videos deep and you’re like whoa, how’d that happen?
YouTube is eating the internet. Video is eating the internet. Even live video, that’s something that’s really emerging right now. Just to bring it back to SEP, let’s talk a little bit about results that people can get if they do it well.
And I’m gonna share a story and then hand it over to you for a story. When I first started building WordPress websites for clients and I was living in Montana at the time, and I built a website. In the early days I wasn’t charging that much for it and I included a SEO service in the package I was offering and it was for a struggling, mold remediation company. Several years later, and I just did, I wasn’t an SEO genius, I just knew the basics like we’ve talked about here. I created some good, I even wrote some keyword rich articles that were informative and helpful, not just random. They were good. I advised the business owner to do a couple things on YouTube and Facebook and stuff like that. Mostly, I just created the website and the website content with SEO in mind.
Several years later I looked back and I was seeing pictures on social media and I was seeing a decent amount of success and I was talking to them about all this traffic they were getting from all over the state and they were expanding. A lot of that traced back to a very small niche in a part of the country where nobody was doing SEO. There wasn’t an internet celebrity for mold in that part of the world but we made one.
Basically, it took like a business that was doing okay and did great. A lot of that has to do with them doing great work and providing good service and getting referrals. Getting those leads in the door, getting that phone to ring, I had a part in that.
That’s just an example story of a result that somebody who hires somebody who does SEO/website can pull off. What are some of your success stories with SEO?
John Locke: Definitely. One of my earliest successes is for my friend Brandon here. He used to work at an auto shop locally. He branched off, did his own, Basically didn’t do a whole lot. I just made him a modern looking site that was mobile friendly. I made sure to include the key words where they wanted to be on the pages. Set it up to where he could put photos of what he’s doing on there and he’s getting inquiries not only from here in Sacramento but Reno, San Francisco, all over the place cause he ranks for those as well.
Another one recently is a client I have been working with not that long ago. He launched his business in 2015. He’s an industrial supplier. He called me up in October. It’s March now. Before, he wasn’t ranking for any of his stuff in the top ten. I think he had like one key word maybe on page six. We’re talking about like 200 key words now and he’s ranking for 170 of those on page one or two at this point right now. We’re trying to take on all the people who had like a 10 or 20 year head start on the internet.
What helps his bottom line is instead of having to go, and what I do with the industrial people, a lot of what they’ll do is a lot of word of mouth or they’ll go and build like a distributor network, but by getting the leads directly and they” ask for quotes directly through them, it saves them money of having them go through the network or having to pay other people for leads.
His traffic is doubling basically every six weeks or so. He’s getting more and more inquiries and we’ve accomplished more in six months than his distributor network did in the previous year and a half.
Chris Badgett: Amazing. That’s a great success story. So, for you the online course creator, the membership site owner out there, John say the same thing I do. The website launch is not the finish line, it’s the starting line. I usually reference that in terms of their course content and making sure you keep improving your course and keep improving completion rates and the results your stuing. John’s talking about that in terms of SEO strategy and building influence and getting that phone to ring.
John, thank you so much for coming on the show. How else can we get people on the internet get in touch with you?
John Locke: You can find me on my website, which is Lockedown design. Pretty much Lockedown design everywhere, on twitter I’m Lockedown under square though.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thank you for coming on the show and sharing your SEO wisdom with us today.
John Locke: Thank you for having me, Chris. It’s been a pleasure.