I wrote this article a while back for my friend and piano teacher, Andrew Eales.
A talented pianist, teacher and writer, Andrew is highly respected within the piano teaching community.
My original article is below, but you can also see it on the Piano Dao blog.
What is SEO?
SEO (search engine optimisation) is a term used to describe a number of techniques aimed at improving the visibility of your website when potential clients or customers are searching for relevant terms in search engines like Google.
Google is increasingly becoming the default ‘first step’ for consumers, whether looking for their next holiday destination, a recipe for dinner, or music lessons. And with the growing usage of smartphones and rise of technology like Google Home, internet search engines will only become more important in our day to day lives.
Furthermore, whilst word-of-mouth referrals remain an important source of business for music teachers, having a website that can be easily found in search engines will compliment this by offering more information to reinforce your credentials and experience as well as allowing the user a means of contacting you for more information or to book a lesson.
As an aspiring musician myself, I have used Google to find music teachers (including Andrew) and been surprised at how poorly optimised many websites are – generally due to a lack of understanding about the basic principles.
SEO can be a confusing topic for any small business owners, but it doesn’t need to be. A couple of days spent making small changes to your site, creating a Google “my business” account, and building some links from directories could have a massive impact on your search engine visibility, especially among users searching in the local area (Google is getting very good at presenting locally-relevant results).
I’ve broken out the basic steps of SEO for a music teacher website below.
Have a Way of Measuring Results
Before you start putting any effort into SEO, it’s useful to have a way of measuring success.
One of the most important metrics to monitor the effectiveness of your SEO activity is the number of unique visitors arriving on your site from Google. This information may be available ‘out-of-the-box’ with some website platforms, but most websites will need to use a third party analytics tool like Google Analytics which you can learn more about here.
Local SEO and Google My Business
If you’ve used Google to find a store or business near you, you’ve almost certainly come across these type of results:
In the SEO world, we refer to this as the ‘local pack’, and it offers a huge amount of visibility if you can manage to appear in it – and in the frequently sub-optimised world of music teacher websites, that may not be too difficult.
To claim your Google My Business page, visit google.com/business. Google will verify that that you own a location by sending a PIN in the post that you’ll need to enter online.
Once verified, you should optimise your listing by completing all the relevant sections such as business description, photos, address and opening hours with as much detail as possible. Be sure to include relevant keywords like ‘piano teacher’ or ‘piano lessons’ in the description.
Microsoft-owned search engine Bing has a platform called places for business which works in a very similar way – so set that up too.
Understanding what users are searching for.
This is all about understanding the exact phrases your potential customers use when they’re trying to find a teacher.
There are a number of online tools available to find this information, but my favourite is SEMRush. Essentially, you type in a keyword that’s relevant to your business (like ‘piano teacher’) and it provides you with the number of times that keyword is searched for each month in the UK (we refer to this as the search volume). It also offers a useful feature of providing related keywords and their search volume, allowing you to build a list of the most frequently searched terms relevant to your business.
I’ve pulled together a list of the highest volume terms below (excluding terms which include a city or town name like ‘piano lessons London’)
You can see immediately how important this research is, given the vast difference in search volume. For example, if your website was optimised for the term ‘piano tuition’ you would only be gaining a fraction of the potential visibility for your business, even if you were to be ranking in position one.
Piano lessons near me
Piano teachers near me
Piano classes near me
Piano tutors near me
Deciding which keyword to target
Generally speaking, the aim is to optimise your website to target the keywords with the largest search volume. However, in some circumstances the competition for the top spots for these keywords might mean that you choose to target a lower volume keyword but with less competition.
One of the simplest methods of determining whether your site could rank for a given keyword is to see which sites are currently ranking in the top positions and comparing their domain authority (a score out of 100 of how important Google is likely to perceive a site to be) to your own site.
A simple to use tool is Moz Open Site Explorer– simply copy and paste the URL of your competitor’s site and it’ll give you loads of information about that domain including the domain authority. If the top few positions in the search engine results are held by sites which have a much higher authority than that of your site, then try optimising your page towards a less competitive term, and work on building the authority of your site in the meantime (more on that later).
Relevancy and Authority
How Google determines the order of search results
Before we get into the details of exactly how to optimise your website, I want to take a moment to introduce two concepts which are important in understanding how Google decides the order of the websites it ranks for a given term.
The first is relevancy. As the term suggests, this is how well Google thinks your site answers the needs of the user based on their search query.
Its algorithms analyse dozens of factors to determine this, including most importantly the keywords and phrases used on the page (discussed in more detail in the next paragraph) but also user behaviour (how quickly do users return to the search results after visiting your page? – if it’s less than a few seconds then your content probably isn’t what they’re looking for, and if that happens frequently, you may see your rankings drop) and the content on other sites that are linking to your site.
The second factor is authority. Let’s say two sites both have pages which are well optimised for the term ‘Piano lessons in Milton Keynes’ – how does Google decide which to rank first? The answer is domain authority, and the biggest factor in determining the authority of a website is the number of links from other websites, and the authority of those websites.
Consider that many of the highest authority domains on the web are major news outlets – why? Because so many other websites link to them, and they are a trusted source of content.
Making pages relevant to the user’s search query.
Now that you’ve decided on a keyword or two to target, it’s time to optimise a page on your website to rank for that term. Essentially this means giving clear signals to Google’s algorithms that your page is relevant to the user’s search query.
I’ve listed the main elements that should be optimised on a page below – use this as a check list for your own website.
This is the title that’s shown as the main (blue) heading for each listing in the Google search results, and in the browser tab when a user is on your site. The keyword you’re targeting should be at the beginning of the page title, and it should not exceed 60 characters in length. An example of an optimised page title would be Piano Lessons in Milton Keynes | Keyquest Music.
The most important heading on the page is the <H1> or first heading. This should be different to the page title but should include the search phrase, or a slight variation of that phrase. For example: Piano lessons for Children and Adults in Milton Keynes.
The term that your optimising for should be included at least four times in the main body of the page. It’s important not to overdo it though – the copy should be written in a natural way that provides useful information to the reader.
Links to a page are very important because they provide the means for Google’s ‘crawlers’ to find the page, essentially by navigating through the site via these links. As a minimum, the page should be linked from the main navigation menu.
Any images on the page should have a relevant file name with words separated by hyphens. For example, if you have a photo of yourself sitting at your piano, it could be named joe-bloggs-piano-lessons.jpeg.
Bonus tip: Having a fast loading website will help your SEO. Compressing images to the smallest possible file size before uploading them to your site will help to reduce your page load speed, and thus give you an edge on competitor pages. Kraken is an easy to use tool which can help with this.
Offsite optimisation is particularly important for new sites, and in essence, it refers to building links to your website from other pages on the web. This can include social media profiles, local business directories, or professional bodies you’re a member of (like the Registry of Guitar Tutors, for example).
As we discussed earlier, Google uses these external links not only to find your site as it’s bots crawl links across the web, but also as a way of determining the authority of your site – the more links = the higher the authority.
One thing to note here is when applying for listings in local business directories, it’s important to use a consistently formatted address – as this will help Google to understand the physical location of your business and rank it more highly for users searching in your area.
A neat way to find link opportunities for getting links is to see which sites are linking to your competitor’s websites. The Moz Link Explorer tool is a great for this – just sign up for a free account, enter your competitor site, and click on the linking domains tab. You’ll see a list similar to the below, which shows the domain of the site that’s linking to your competitor, that sites domain authority, and the number of sites that link to that domain. Your aim should be to get links from the most authoritative site as possible, as these will have the biggest impact on your own SEO.
Building links, and therefore the authority of your website is a time-consuming task and for many teachers, a few local directory listings will be adequate in order to rank for local terms. If you’re operating in a particularly competitive geographic location however, time spent researching website who may link to your site and reaching out to ask for a link will be worthwhile.
I should start this post by l stating that I’m not an SEM expert.
In fact, my hands-on experience began only about six months ago when, a few months into my role as SEO marketing manager at Car Next Door, I was approached by our CEO who asked if I could take over managing ‘the paid side of things’.
I was hesitant. I knew from my experience working with SEM colleagues at my previous role in a digital marketing agency that you can waste a lot of cash in a very short amount of time if you don’t know know what you’re doing, and I explained this to the CEO, but he was nevertheless keen for me to take on the responsibility.
Thrown in at the deep end
So there I was, thrown in at the deep end with no idea what I was doing, a fairly sizeable budget, and a very broad brief to ‘bring in as many leads as you can without increasing the CPA too much’.
After completing Google’s training program on Ads get a grasp of the basics, I enlisted the help of my good friend and ex-colleague Brandon to perform an audit of the account. Brandon has a lot of experience in paid search and social and I hoped that he could suggest some areas for improvement, whilst giving me some pointers on how to implement the necessary changes so I could learn ‘on the job’.
The plan worked; Brandon’s audit highlighted a number of issues and opportunities to improve efficiency. After chatting through the audit with my manager, I learned that the account had been set up about four years ago, and that with the exception of some new keywords and ad copy tests, very little had been changed. All the campaigns were set to manual CPC bidding strategies, and many were limited by budget. We weren’t making use of any audiences, bid adjustments, dynamic search ads, and a number of other features.
Armed with this information, I set about implementing the changes. I’d never done any of this stuff before, so everything took a huge amount of time. I found myself googling every step just to navigate around the interface. As I became more proficient with the platform though, a bigger problem became more apparent; the account was huge and basically unmanageable.
Time for a restructure?
The guy that set it up was a fan of building highly granular account structures with single keyword ad groups- and he had convinced my predecessor that this was the way to go. They, in turn, used a tool to create dozens of new ad groups each time they wanted to add one new keyword variation. To add to the complexity, campaigns were also split out by the city that they were targeting.
Here’s a few screenshots which should help to give you an idea of the situation
Although I didn’t know it for certain, I had a hunch that this setup wasn’t ideal for a number of reasons;
It made managing the account virtually impossible (especially with my lack of expertise)
The vast majority of ad groups received very few (if any) clicks
I wanted to test smart bidding algorithms, but because the traffic was being split between so many campaigns, none of them received enough conversions.
Experiments took forever to run due to traffic being split across multiple campaigns
Terms like ‘rent car’ and ‘hire car’ were triggering ads from the wrong ad groups as close variants
Confirming my hunch
To find out whether my intuition about the state of the account was correct, I did a lot of reading and caught up with a couple of old colleagues to ask their advice. Everyone agreed; the account was a mess, and a restructure was the only way to fix it.