Student web searches on why I have to do homework & how a misguided SEO program taught us a lot about students

essay revision and draftingSearch engine results reveal much about ourselves, something worth reminding both teens and their parents. Not only can a search history flag a teen’s behavioral choices, such as being frustrated over grades and homework, it tells us what’s going on in general.

And web searches can even predict the future, such as a Bing analysis of web searches that accurately predicted the onset of pancreatic cancer before diagnosis (see article here).

With teenage students, their web searches certainly tell us what’s on their mind, usually something tied to popular culture, music, sports, movies, etc. When it comes to academics and school work, which are our concerns, here at the Student Success Blog, we have accidently discovered an interesting little indicator of student standing and cries for help in some of the search engine requests that have led to clicks on our site.

SEO and Why do I have to do homework?

Running a small business means taking on a lot of roles for which one doesn’t necessarily enjoy an expertise. In my case, as we started the business it was, among things, web-site building and blogging. I have enjoyed writing articles for the Student Success Blog, but I did not appreciate the rather complex and requisite alignment of every word with that website’s search engine audience. It’s not just a matter of throwing up ideas and words, as they will get lost among all the other websites and, most importantly, not be discoverable by search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.

Web marketers call this “Search Engine Optimization,” or “SEO.” The game is to create “content” (words) that the search engines will match to search user queries. The experts call these words and phrases “keywords,” and they are measured by “density,” or, emphasis and relevancy.  Search engines analyze a site’s content, measure it’s keywords, pages and “external” links to them, and then rank them against other sites as to how they fit the precise search terms of any given user.

For example, if you search “better grades,”  you will see all kinds of websites that are not my websites. But if you were to search instead, “better grades for me,” my marketing site, shows up in the 4th spot (not bad!).  Here Google finds “better grades” on tons of other sites, but by adding the “for me” to the search, Google finds my site more relevant.

Or, if you search “homework?” I am nowhere to be found. If you change that search to “why should i do my homework?” my Student Success blog post, “Why homework matters: top five (5) reasons you probably should do your homework” pops up near the top (woo!). Same goes for the various forms of questioning the value of homework, be it “how do I finish my homework,” “why does my teacher give me so much homework,” or “help me with my homework!” Each specific wording yields a different search result.

Here’s another example: our main website, has a page title, “Academic Tutoring, Coaching & Mentoring.” The language is clear, concise — and not SEO friendly. If someone were to search for “academic tutoring & coaching,” they will find us. But, as is more likely, if they search for “academic tutoring” or “academic coaching,” we will not rank. So, for the sake of language, I kept the title but added a sub-heading for “academic tutoring, academic coaching & academic mentoring,” which is awful reading but necessary SEO.

So you see, this search engine business is tricky — and very difficult to manage. I can’t possibly get every possible iteration of “grades” “homework” “parent worried about my child’s homework and grades,” etc. in my blog without just typing them over and over, which the search engines do not like.

All we can do is try to make our content relevant, interesting, and as appropriately targeted towards our audience as possible. And there’s the crux, who, exactly, is our audience, and how do we match our “keywords” to the things they’re searching for?

SEO: who’s listening?

A while ago I hired a marketing expert to look over websites for advice on how to improve our SEO results. The marketer came back to me with,

Michael, are you selling your service to kids or their parents? Because if it’s kids you’re selling to, you’re doing great. But if you want to sell to parents, you’re messaging to the wrong audience.


We have since adjusted our language, our “keywords,” as they say in SEO-speak, to focus on parents of teen students, and not the students themselves.

Meanwhile, we get all kinds of clicks from kids who are frustrated with having to do homework.

Homework? and other cries for help

However misguided, all my old content is still up on our blog, and we get tons of traffic for it, which is great. Now and then, I look into our site statistics to see how those visitors find us. Our site analytics tells us the actual search query that led to a click on our site, so I can know exactly what someone was looking for.

And some of them are great — and very telling about what was going on in that person’s life at the time. Here’s one of my favorites, obviously from a panicked school teacher, staff member, or student who was preparing a school address:

an speech that you intend to deliver to the school assembly on how procrastination destroys pupils attitudes and performance resulting in mass failure at school

I just wish that person had called me instead of just clicking on my site, as a school experiencing “mass failure” sure could use some help!

Another classic, perhaps my favorite is:

1000000 reason why kids should do homework

Poor child!

Here are a few search queries that include the word, “homework,” this from May 27, 2016, a day I chose at random:

Search Terms
why homework matters
reason why to get homework
do i have to do homework
disadvantages of accepting late homework
a short story on why it is important to always do your homework.
reasons why homework is important
why is doing homework good for you
should student do their homework
the importance of students doing homework
which will be better between leptop and desktop for homework
why we should have homework

There you have it, parents and teachers: these search queries, just a few from a single day on a single website, tell us quite a bit about how many students view homework.

Of course, the kids who are okay with homework or who are motivated to get through it, like it or not, aren’t googling about how awful homework is and are instead doing their homework.

Nevertheless, the cries for help are real.

As a result of low engagement in homework and resultant low grades, many educational experts call for an end to homework and even some school districts have banned it or disallowed it from counting towards grades.

Me, I’m a huge believer in homework, aka, “independent learning” — so long as its relevance is clear, the student is empowered to engage it, and there’s additional help available when needed.

I’d love to help students like these, and their parents, figure it out. If homework has you down, let’s talk. You can spend your precious time googling why you have to do homework, or my A+ Club can help you get through it meaningfully, and with a good grade!

– Michael

Here are Student Success Blog posts that from our “Homework” category: