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Once upon a time, associations were the singular source of industry information and knowledge. Today, associations find they are up against an extremely intelligent and almost omnipresent competitor: Google. The behemoth search engine’s complex algorithm delivers answers to questions almost instantaneously and, often, for free. These search results are getting smarter, too—more predictive and conversational, with the focus shifting from targeting keywords to answering questions. What’s more, is that younger learners have been conditioned from a very early age to rely on Google as a primary source of information.  In order to remain relevant and drive program growth, associations need to think about how to make their protected content accessible to search engines without decreasing its inherent value to members.

Young Professionals are the Key to Training Program Growth

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Millennials in the U.S. has eclipsed Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, Bloomberg estimates that Generation Z will surpass Millennials in size. This means the pipeline for prospective learners is substantial, if organizations can connect with them and deliver the value they’re looking for.

Unfortunately, according to our 2019 Training Trends Report, associations are not yet seeing a corresponding rise in the number of Millennial and Generation Z members or learners. According to the report, Baby Boomers, on average, make up about 50-70% of training course attendees.  On the flipside of the equation, Millennials only make up about 20-30% of learners, and Generation Z is about 10% or less. The reason? A significant percentage (49%) of organizations have not yet developed a strategy to address the needs and preferences of younger professionals.

The good news is that early observations note that Generation Z is a more pragmatic generation who are actively seeking out professional development opportunities. This, coupled with their size, make them a prime target for training programs…if these young learners are aware of them, that is.

The Case for Making Training Program Content Searchable Via Google

As organizations think about how to develop educational programs that are relevant to younger learners, the emphasis is often placed on content accessibility and delivery. Much of the discussion in today’s professional development circles centers around themes such as micro-learning, mobile learning, and gamification, for instance. There is significantly less discussion around the discoverability of this content—what questions are young professionals asking, and where and how are they finding the answers?

In 2012, Pew surveyed middle and high school teachers to understand how their students conduct research for a class assignment. Ninety-four percent of participants said their students were very likely to use Google as one of their primary tools, far outweighing any other information source, including Wikipedia, social media, peers or even textbooks. Today, these students from the 2012 survey are Generation Z young professionals. They are conditioned to look to Google for the very information and knowledge that most associations provide.

Many associations “lock down” educational content to protect both the value of that content and the integrity of their training programs on behalf of the industries they serve, and understandably so. Content exclusivity is what drives member value. The negative consequence of this, however, is that it is often done in a way that prevents search engines like Google from crawling that content as well, making it more difficult to attract new learners.  In order to grow training program attendance, associations will need to strike a balance between making educational content searchable by search engines, without giving it entirely away for free.

Use Content Marketing to Strike the Right Balance Between Value and Accessibility

As our 2019 Training Trends Report illustrates, 77% of respondents do re-use the content from their training programs. However, it’s primarily being used to reinforce key learning concepts to those that attended the course. Only 33% of respondents indicated they are using content to market and promote training courses. To get your programs in front of more prospective learners, it’s important to think about how to re-package and re-purpose smaller snippets of your course content as part of a larger content marketing strategy. This will not only help you get in front of search engines, but it will also give prospective members a useful sample of the types of questions your organization can answer and the development opportunities you provide before you convince them to register for a course.

Here is just one example of how to do this.

Finding Relevant Topics

Start by evaluating your most popular training courses and the specific topics covered. Use Google’s “Searches Related to” tool found at the bottom of search results pages to see what types of topics and questions users are searching for that may be related to your educational content. There are also several free and paid tools on the market that find the most popular questions asked across the web on specific topics, like SEMrush and BuzzSumo.

Publishing Content

Turn snippets of your most popular course material or relevant Google search queries into blog articles published on your website. Better yet, ask your instructors or subject matter experts to contribute, if possible.

Promoting Content

Promote your blog article via email, through social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and through any industry partners.

Associations don’t need to open their training material to non-members if it doesn’t align with their organizational strategy. But there are ways that organizations can, and should, openly publish samples of their educational subject matter for prospective members to discover.  Like it or not, Google is key to organizational growth.