Key actions

Here are the key action points covered in this comprehensive guide on how to optimize your Thinkific site and courses straight away and make it SEO-friendly in 2024:

Connect Google Search Console to your Thinkific site
Submit your sitemap to Google
Do your keyword research with user intents in mind
Target “long tail” keywords first, and “direct” keywords only once you have gained some traction
Aim for 1 page = 1 group of keywords that are related to each other
Place your target keywords, close variants, and related terms on your web page
Write your on-page content with your audience in mind (never write thinking of a search engine)
Provide the best user experience possible
Create user-friendly URLs
Optimize your page title and description
Optimize your image file name, size, and Alt text
Create internal links with optimized anchor text where it makes sense
Acquire backlinks to your key pages

Who is this guide for?

This SEO guide is for course creators using Thinkific to host their site and online courses but know very little about SEO. If you’re reading this, you already understood that SEO is a fundamental element of any marketing strategy. SEO is a huge topic on its own, therefore, in this guide, we will focus on the parts that we, as Thinkific users, can control. I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive as possible without too much jargon so that you can start optimizing your Thinkific site, courses, and communities straight away.

Recommendation: read this guide entirely before making any changes to your Thinkific site.

What is SEO?

First of all, let’s be clear about what SEO is: it stands for Search Engine Optimization. Put simply, it’s a discipline encompassing a variety of technics and strategies helping search engines like Google, Bing or Yandex discover a website, understand its content, and index its webpages so that they can appear in the search result when someone looks for something by entering a series of “keywords” (also known as “search terms”).

Often, people are referring to SEO as: “how can I rank higher in Google?”, which is essentially the goal, however, it’s important to keep in mind that even though Google undoubtedly dominates the global search engine market share, it’s not the only search engine out there.

Why is SEO important for your Thinkific site?

We probably all dreamed about going to Google, looking for “best course on our_area_of_expertise” and seeing our Thinkific course landing page in the top 3 results 🤩 Wouldn’t it be great if people could find us when looking for a course related to what we teach? You bet! Is it possible..? Absolutely! However, it takes a lot of effort to get there.

If you’re currently investing in other marketing channels such as PPC, social media ads, or email marketing, you know that you can get results quickly. The challenge though is that it costs money, and the cost per click is getting higher by the day. On the other side of the spectrum, you have SEO, which can be done at a relatively low cost in terms of ROI, but takes longer to get results. Essentially, paid traffic is a sprint whereas SEO is a marathon.

If you want to maximize your chances of success and grow your business, you must invest in SEO for your Thinkific site.

The 3 pillars of SEO

Thinkific is not only an LMS (Learning Management System) but also a CMS (Content Management System) since it hosts all our web content. The challenge is that Thinkific is not as flexible as other CMS when it comes to SEO. There are a lot of elements that we can’t control, and the main reason is that it would be impossible for the folks at Thinkific to operate such as platform if everyone could do anything they wanted.

Having said that, they also give us the opportunity to optimize many areas of our website, so let’s focus on these. In order to do so, and to keep things simple, we first need to understand what are the 3 pillars of SEO.

1. Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the technical elements of our website and web pages: our web hosting, the speed of our site, how secure is our site, its accessibility, our images, etc. In order to rank well, we must do our best to make our Thinkific site technically pleasant in the eyes of Google.

2. Content

By content, we mean any piece of information present on our Thinkfic site: the text on our landing pages, our images, our videos, etc. The competition is fierce when it comes to ranking in Google, so our content must be of high quality in order to stand a chance. There is no point to stuff our pages with keywords, Google will actually penalize us for it by pushing our page down the search result, or even not indexing our content at all.

3. Links

There are essentially 3 types of links:
Internal links: these are the links pointing to another page of our Thinkific site
External links: pointing to a webpage outside of our Thinkific site
Backlinks: these are on another website and point to a page in our Thinkific site

To improve our SEO, we must use these 3 types of links smartly. More on that later…

Now that we’ve covered and understood the 3 pillars of SEO, let’s look at keywords and user intent.

Keywords and user intent

We couldn’t write a guide on SEO without talking about keywords. They play a crucial role in any SEO strategy. While this guide is not meant to cover keyword research, here are a few recommendations to make sure you are efficiently targeting the right keywords.

Use a keyword research tool such as Semrush or Ahrefs. These are paid tools, however, you can choose a monthly subscription and cancel at any time. Via the Thinkific Academy, you can enroll in the free course from Adam Enfroy called “Building your content empire” where in the lesson “Blogging for beginners” Adam covers how to use Ahrefs.

Do not target difficult keywords. Unless your Thinkific website has already a lot of authority, do not try to rank for highly competitive keywords. It’s better to target low-difficulty keywords that still have a decent monthly search volume. In Ahrefs, the KD (Keyword Difficulty) score helps to understand your chance of ranking for this keyword.

Understand the user intent behind a keyword. Generally speaking, there are 4 types of intent:

TypeIntentExample
InformationalLooking for an answer to a specific question or general information“how to optimize a website for SEO”
NavigationalTrying to find a specific site or page “Thinkific support page”
CommercialLooking to investigate a product, brand, or service“best LMS platform”
TransactionalIntending to complete an action or a purchase“buy laptop HP 15s-fq5023ns”

1 page = 1 main keyword. Each page of your Thinkific site, would it be your home page, your course landing page, or your community landing page should target 1 main keyword only (or close variations). If you have multiple pages targeting the same keywords or close variations of these keywords, search engines like Google would be confused as they wouldn’t know which one to pick to show on the search result.

Aim for “long tail” keywords. A long tail keyword is made of multiple words, for instance, “black winter trousers for men “, as opposed to “trousers” which is what we call a “direct keyword”. Long tail keywords have a much lower monthly search volume, however, they usually have a lower KD score, and convert way better since our page is giving the web visitor exactly what they are looking for.

How does Google index a website?

We’re going to focus on Google here as it largely dominates the search engine landscape. Again, the way Google works is a complex topic on its own, however, in order to keep things simple, the only thing we need to understand is that Google uses 4 steps in order to present a web page on the search result page (a.k.a SERP): crawling, indexing, rendering, and ranking.

The 2 steps we are going to focus on here are crawling and indexing. Google uses “bots” also called “spiders”; they are smart pieces of software that spread around the web to discover websites. A bot would typically start at the root of a website (the home page), scans its content, and follows any links found to go to other pages. Based on the content found on each page, and the way the bot understands it, Google will then place the page in its index. If a page is not in Google’s index, it will never be served on the SERP.

One more point to clarify: Google does NOT index a website, it indexes web pages individually. Therefore, it is important to get our SEO right across our entire website so that Google can index all our important pages.

So now you may wonder: “did Google even index my Thinkific pages?” Good question..! There is actually a very simple way to know which pages of our Thinkific site are currently in Google’s index.

Open a new tab in incognito mode in your web browser, go to Google and type in the search bar site:yourdomain.com

Any web page that appears as a search result is currently indexed, so we can quickly check if the most important pages of our Thinkific site are there.

Alright, so far we’ve covered the basics of SEO in terms of understanding its 3 pillars, the importance of keywords, and the current state of our Thinkific site when it comes to its indexability by Google. It’s now time to do all we can to improve our current SEO state!

Optimization of your Thinkific site and courses

In this section, we’re going to cover all the elements that are under our control. We’re going to take into account the 3 pillars of SEO (Technical, Content, and Links), and make sure that we make it easy for search engines to discover our content, understand it, and index it.

Google Search Console

The very first thing to do is to connect Google Search Console (GSC) to our Thinkific site. This is a free tool that you can’t ignore if you’re serious about SEO. Luckily, the great team at Thinkific has put a nice article on how to connect GSC to your Thinkific school (note: you can ignore the part “Verify With Google Analytics” at the bottom of the article). You will need a Google account to set up GSC and connect it to your site.

Google Search Console will tell us how our pages are performing in Google, what keywords (called “queries” in GSC) people are typing that generate impressions and clicks, as well as our average position on the search result page. A position between 1 and 10 means on the 1st page of Google, 11-20 on the 2nd page, etc.

Sitemap

What on earth is a Sitemap? Nothing complicated, really. It’s an XML file that sits at the root of our website and is usually named sitemap.xml. We cannot edit and control it in Thinkific, as they manage it for us. You can quickly look at it by browsing the URL https://yourthinkificdomain.com/sitemap.xml

You should see something like this which is essentially the list of all the web pages of our Thinkific site.

So now that you’ve been introduced to your sitemap, you need to submit it to Google. Put simply, we are going to tell Google: “here is the list of URLs that are part of my website, please look at it“. Google is smart enough to do things on its own, but SEO is all about making it easier. By submitting our sitemap to Google we help them discover our web pages.

In order to submit our sitemap, we are going to use Google Search Console.

Go to Sitemaps in the left menu, input sitemap.xml at the end of the URL, and click on SUBMIT.

It might take time until Google reads it, however, once done, you should see the status “Success” with how many URLs have been discovered. There is no need to submit your sitemap frequently as Google will come and check for any change regularly.

URL structure

Having our website properly structured helps Google understand which pages are the most important. However, we should also focus on what makes sense in the eyes of a web visitor.

In terms of URL structure, we’re a bit limited with Thinkific, since all the course landing pages will start with https://yourschool.com/courses/ , our community pages will be under https://yourschool.com/products/communities/ , our bundles under https://yourschool.com/bundles/ whereas our custom pages will all be under https://yourschool.com/pages/.

Consequently, the only part that is under our control is what we call the URL slug (the last part of the URL). Here are some best practices: use lowercase, use hyphens, avoid adding dates or numbers, and be as concise as possible.

One more thing to keep in mind is that while Google is increasingly not showing URLs in the search results, other search engines like Bing do. Moreover, URLs are a good way to tell our visitors what the page is about. Finally, user-friendly URLs can help improve click-through rates when the links are shared.

//yourschool.com/courses/MYCOURSE
//yourschool.com/courses/my_course
//yourschool.com/pages/blackfriday2022
//yourschool.com/pages/discover-the-full-collection-of-our-courses
//yourschool.com/courses/mycourse
//yourschool.com/courses/my-course
//yourschool.com/pages/blackfridaydeals
//yourschool.com/pages/courses-collection

Here are where you define your URL slugs in Thinkific. However, if your custom page, course, bundle, or community is already live and indexed by Google, do NOT change their URL! Just keep in mind these recommendations for any new future URL.

Course, bundle, and community

Go to the Settings tab of your course, bundle, or community. See the example below for a course:

Custom pages

Edit your custom page, click on the clog icon, develop the advanced section, and go down to the Page URL settings.

Page title and description

Page titles are a ranking factor, and can be easily changed at any time. It’s one of the MOST important elements of this SEO guide for Thinkific. Our page title is essentially telling Google what is our page about! It’s also what appears on the search result page as a link to our web page so it needs to be enticing in the eyes of a user.

Here are the best practices to follow for your page titles:

Add your target keyword as close as possible to the start of the title
Add your company or brand name at the end, after a separator (pipe sign “|” or a hyphen ““)
Limit the total length of your page title to 65 characters (otherwise it will be truncated by Google)
The minimum length should be 30 characters

Now that we’re clear on our page titles, let’s talk about page descriptions. Also called meta descriptions, they are not a ranking factor per se, however, they do appear on the search result page, just underneath the title. Web visitors tend to read them, and therefore, we must do our absolute best to make them compelling. If our description is better than the website ranking higher than ours, chances are that people will click on our page instead! So keep in mind that meta descriptions do influence click-through rates.

You will notice that in the example above, Google bolds the words that match the search: “technical“, “SEO“, and “course“, therefore, it’s imperative to add our target keywords in our description as it reassures the user that our content is relevant to their query.

One more thing worth mentioning: if Google does not feel that our meta description matches the user intent behind their search terms, they will replace our description with a piece of content taken from our web page. Therefore, it is important to target the right keyword on our page, in line with the user intent, and write a relevant description for this keyword.

Here are the best practices to follow for your page descriptions:

Add your target keywords
Limit the total length of your page description to 320 characters
The minimum length should be 120 characters
Get your web visitors excited so they want to click on your page!

Tip: use Excel or Google Sheets to calculate the length of your page title and description!
Write them in a cell (e.g A1), and type the formula “=LEN(A1)” in cell B1 to get the numbers of characters

You must review all your page titles and description for your home page, your courses, bundles, communities landing pages, and any custom pages you may have. Here is how to do it in Thinkific:

Your home page

Edit your home page from the menu Site pages in Thinkific, and click on the clog icon in the top right corner.

Your custom page

Edit your custom page from the menu Site pages in Thinkific, click on the clog icon in the top right corner, scroll down and open the advanced settings.

Your course, bundle, and community landing pages

To access both our page title and description, we need to edit the course, bundle, or community itself from the menu Manage Learning Products. The example below is for a course, however, the settings are the same for other types of products.

Note: Thinkific has a field called “keywords”, however, this field can be ignored entirely since Google and most major search engines don’t use them anymore…Also, think about it: if we were entering our precious target keywords in this field, we would basically tell our competitors what search terms we are optimizing our content for! All it takes is to right-click on our web page, view the page source, and look for the string meta name=”keywords” to see them!

On-page content

Let’s start by being clear about one thing: not all pages need to be ranked in Google or other search engines. Pages like our “contact us” page or “privacy policy” are not the most important when it comes to SEO. We need to focus on our key pages instead: our home page, our learning product landing pages, and some of our custom pages. For each one of them, we must have a clear list of keywords we are targeting (based on our keyword research).

Once that’s done, we must use these keywords in a natural way throughout our page. There is no golden rule as to how many times keywords have to be present on a page. Anyway, Google’s algorithm is beyond sophisticated and can understand a lot more than we think! The best way to approach this exercise is to write with our audience/user in mind. NEVER, ever, write your content with a search engine in mind.

Alongside our main keywords, we should use close variations, and related terms. For instance, if we were writing a piece about “LMS”, Google would expect to see terms such as “Learning Management Systems“, “online courses“, “lessons“, “platforms“, “integrations“, “marketing“, “students“, “Thinkific“, etc.

Finally, we should be clear about the intent behind each page of our Thinkific site. Course, bundle, and community landing pages are most likely going to be designed with a commercial/transactional intent. However, depending on our niche and area of expertise, it might be very competitive to rank such pages at the top of Google.

In this case, a great way to still drive traffic to our site is to tap into the informational intent. Think of search terms such as “how to…“, “what is…“, “where to…“.

Backed by our keyword research, we should identify these questions/keywords with a strong informational intent and create custom pages on our Thinkific site to give users the information they are looking for. Since the information is related to our courses, we can then invite the reader to enroll in our courses by featuring them on our custom page.

It is also good practice to place external links throughout our content (i.e. links pointing to websites out of our own), especially when we are referencing data coming from reputable sources. This gives more credibility to our content.

By using a custom page, we can then place a block “Text & Media” to have full flexibility on how we want to format our content as it gives us access to a text editor.

Don’t forget that you can put this editor in full-screen mode by clicking on the icon

Both search engines and users like to see a well-structured page, therefore, make good use of the headings as they are translated into HTML tags such as <H1>, <H2>, <H3>, etc., that are easily picked up by search engines during the crawl of a web page.

Readability and user experience

Search engines are smart enough to understand the content/structure of a page. However, what is also rewarded is offering users the greatest experience possible when landing on a web page: well-organized content, easy-to-read text, big enough buttons, responsive content that adapt to different screen size, etc.

In fact, the user experience became such an important factor that Google added a dedicated menu in Google Search Console in 2021, and released a major algorithm update in February 2022 called “Google’s Page Experience Update”.

While there are elements of Thinkific we can’t control, there is still a lot we can do to give our web visitors the best experience possible.

Thinkific themes are all responsive, so adapting our content to different screen sizes is taken care of. That said, while this is pretty much guaranteed for the pre-built blocks in Site Builder, we need to double-check it when adding embedded code snippets. For example, we may add a “Text & media” block to embed a form coming from our email marketing software such as Mailchimp or ActiveCampaign.

Thinkific also gives us the opportunity to change the typography, and colors of our site on desktop and mobile. To access these settings, simply edit a page via Site Builder, and go to the Theme Settings tab. Make sure to pick colors that go well with each other, are easy on the eyes, and opt for a text font size that is big enough for most users.

Google puts a lot of focus on mobile experience (since most web visits these days are happening on this device), therefore, head over to Google Search Console, and open the menu “Mobile Usability”, to see if there is any issue. The typical problems are that the text is too small, or clickable elements are too close to each other.

Images

The Internet will be boring without images, and we all know how powerful they are when it comes to marketing. Most web pages display a hero banner at the top, and it’s easy to go wild with a crazy resolution because our internet connection is fast and our web page seems to load fast too. However, having non-optimized images can be detrimental to the overall SEO performance of our Thinkific site.

When it comes to SEO and images, here are the top elements to take into account:

The name of the file
The size of the image
The Alt text attribute
Copyright conflict

Name of your image: optimize them, please! An image called “img125445.jpg” means absolutely nothing. Instead, name them for what they represent, and if you can add keywords related to the ones you are targeting on your web page, even better. Also, avoid using special characters, stick to the hyphen. A good file name for your image would be “black-trousers-men.jpg“. Finally, keep in mind that images also appear on the search result page, so the only way Google can understand if the image is relevant to what the user is looking for, is by having an appropriate name.

Image size: by far the most important aspect since it directly influences the loading time of our page.

Fast loading = better page experience = happier web visitor = Google rewarding us! 😄

While WebP format is the preferred option, it is currently not supported by Thinkific, therefore, we will need to stick to .jpg or .png. PNG files have better quality but come with a larger file size. JPG files would probably be your best bet. Regardless of the format you use, you must compress them before uploading them to your Thinkific pages. I highly recommend TinyPNG for that as you can shrink your images by at least 50% in most cases.

Alt text attribute: what is that..? Put simply, it’s a text that is linked to an image. If for any reason our image can’t be loaded, our web browser will replace the image with the text we have set as “Alt text”. It’s also part of offering a better page experience to users, making our content accessible to all since Alt text allows screen readers to read information about images out loud to users who are blind or visually impaired. Here again, the idea is to describe the content of the image in a precise and concise way. It’s ok to add keywords or close variants as part of your Alt text, but do not stuff keywords in there (it may cause your site to be seen as spam…) think of the user first. A good Alt text attribute should be useful and information-rich, for example: “men wearing black trousers in the snow“.

Luckily, most of the time that we need to upload an image in Thinkific, we can set an Alt text. However, we can’t set an Alt text when uploading a course, bundle, or community image.

Copyright: use your own images as much as possible so that they are unique. If you are downloading images from sites such as Shutterstock, make sure you have a license to use them. Google is also getting smarter by the day when it comes to copyright conflicts.

Internal linking

So far, we’ve addressed 2 of the 3 pillars of SEO when it comes to optimizing our Thinkific site: Technical SEO, and Content. Now it’s time to cover the last part: links.

We’re going to start with internal linking. This type of link is simply a link placed on our Thinkfic web page that has, as a destination, another of our Thinkific pages. We already have many of them without knowing it. For example, the block All Product [smart section] from Site builder displays all our course cards (each one of them linking to their respective course landing page), and a “View more courses” button. These are internal links.

While we have very little control over the links placed by Thinkific, we have total control over the links we create manually as part of the text we place on our landing pages.

Internal linking is crucial for SEO, as it creates connections between our pages, which helps Google bots to discover our pages, and how they are related to each other. Remember what we said at the start of this guide? Bots are crawling our site by following the links they find. Also, each link we create comes with what we call an anchor text. The anchor is the text that forms part of the link.

In order to optimize our Thinkific page for SEO, we basically need to add links to other relevant pages on our site by choosing anchor texts that are relevant to the keyword the destination page is targeting.

For example, in the text below, the anchor text would be “launching your online course“, and the destination of this link is a page about the process to follow to successfully launch an online course. This type of link gives a stronger signal to Google about what the destination page is about.

One more thing to take into account: the higher the link is placed on the page, the more important it will be considered by search engines. Therefore, links in the footer of the page will help with page discovery but will not have as much weight as a link placed in the first paragraph of our web page.

Now… don’t go crazy by adding internal links everywhere 😅 Simply sprinkle them where it makes sense, and use optimized anchor texts as often as possible. Anchor texts such as “here” or “learn more” don’t have much impact.

Finally, here again, Google Search Console comes in handy, as we can see our most linked pages (both external and internal):

Backlinks

The last part of this guide on how to optimize your Thinkific site and courses for SEO is about backlinks. As a reminder, these links are not something we can control. It’s up to other website owners to decide if they want to link to our content. Within the SEO industry, there is a dedicated discipline called Digital PR, which essentially does that: acquiring valuable backlinks for a business website. I’ve mentioned “valuable” here because not all backlinks are the same.

You can look at it as the way society works: if your best friend tells you something about a product, you are more likely to check it out than if a total stranger tells you the exact same thing. That’s because there is an element of trust coming into the equation.

Well, Google and other major search engines work exactly the same way. Each website on the Internet has an authority/trust score. Government websites or websites such as Amazon are well established and trusted, so if they decided to link to our website, Google will think that our content must be valuable and we will essentially stand a much better chance in ranking for the keywords our page is optimized for.

Here again, the anchor text plays a big part. For instance, if Thinkific was linking to our online course about yoga with an anchor text “how to learn piano“, that would not carry as much weight as “online yoga classes“.

So, backlinks are another strong signal in the eyes of Google that our content is worth ranking. But how can we secure backlinks to our website? Here are some recommendations:

Create amazing content: people will not link to poor content, it’s as simple as that
Ask your network, partners, or even clients who have a website to link to yours, as long as they have sections on their website that are relevant to your content
Hire a professional who specializes in acquiring backlinks
DO NOT buy backlinks (that’s a recipe for ending up with spammy links to your website)

Let Google know of your SEO changes

Depending on the popularity and size of our Thinkific website, it might take weeks until Google crawls again our pages, detects the changes we’ve made, and updates its index. Therefore, do not be surprised if you still see outdated information about your page when you look for it on Google.

If you’ve made a lot of changes on a particular page, you can ask Google to recrawl it, so that they will put your URL into a priority queue. This can be done via Google Search Console.

Simply head over to the URL inspection menu, enter the URL of your page into the search bar, and once the data is retrieved you should see a button REQUEST INDEXING. Click on it.

SEO tools making your life easier

Here is a list of tools that will help you spot issues with your Thinkific site and pages:

Google Search Console (we’ve covered part of it in this guide, however, there is a lot more you can do with it, here is a good tutorial you can look at).

PageSpeed Insights from Google (keep in mind that many recommendations will be challenging to implement with Thinkific unless you have access to a web developer).

SEO META in 1 CLICK (a great Chrome extension to quickly check your page title, description, images, Alt text, headers, links, and much more)

To sum up

And here you have it! A comprehensive guide on how to start optimizing your Thinkific site straight away and make it SEO friendly. Here are the key takeaways:

Connect Google Search Console to your Thinkific site
Submit your sitemap to Google
Do your keyword research with user intents in mind
Target “long tail” keywords first, and “direct” keywords only once you have gained some traction
Aim for 1 page = 1 group of keywords that are related to each other
Place your target keywords, close variants, and related terms on your web page
Write your on-page content with your audience in mind (never write thinking of a search engine)
Provide the best user experience possible
Create user-friendly URLs
Optimize your page title and description
Optimize your image file name, size, and Alt text
Create internal links with optimized anchor text where it makes sense
Acquire backlinks to your key pages

Finally, remember that SEO is a long game, it may take weeks, or even months to see results, however, it is worth it!

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