Looking for a really good Italian language school? The one that’s perfect for what you want?
These days, the first thing that any of us does when searching for information is to type what we’re after into Google.
There ARE other search engines (bing.com, duckduckgo.com, yahoo.com), but the vast majority of people use Google.
However, just because Google is ubiquitous in search, that doesn’t mean that it, or any other search engine, will find you your ideal Italian language school:
The perfect school for you may exist. But it is statistically very unlikely to be visible on the first page(s) of the search results you’re shown.
Type “italian schools italy” or something similar into Google and what you will be shown is a “ranking” of thousands of websites. This ordering is achieved with a secret search algorithm (a sort of formula).
It’s secret for obvious reasons – if it wasn’t, it would be much easier for unscrupulous businesses to game.
So what factors does the secret algorithm take into account, when deciding which language schools you should take a look at first?
First, there’s the site content, obviously. The texts on each page, and across the whole website.
But descriptions of Italian courses don’t vary that much, and there are hundreds or thousands of language schools in Google’s index.
So just how DO they decide, in just miliseconds, which of those many schools to show you?
You’ll likely be offered a few of the schools that have been around the longest, especially if they are part of some sort of network, or have some sort of official status.
But inevitably the results you get will also include plenty of “spammy” sites, as these employ expert “search engine optimization” teams to devise strategies which make them attractive to search engines.
Perhaps you’re hoping for something more than a few of the oldest, largest schools in the most obvious places?
Maybe you were searching for a school that really meets your needs? A professional, but friendly, operation which is client-focused and will really help you learn Italian?
Rankings based on a secret algorithm will exclude a lot of good options. At best, you’ll only be shown some of the excellent Italian language schools that are out there.
Not that it matters.
In any case, what you’ll see FIRST in your search results are sponsored advertisements, not “real” results.
Businesses advertising on search engines typically pay a fee each time you click their ad. And the more they are willing to pay, the more visible they will be.
Which means top of the page, right in front of your eyes, for the most profitable operations.
You search for “best language school in Italy” and you get advertisements, followed by a Tripadvisor description (written by the school’s owner) and a load of other junk.
It’s not even always obvious which are the ads. You may need to look carefully to distinguish the paid results from the “real” results.
Sometimes the ads show in a pink box. But it’s a very pale pink, which doesn’t contrast well with the white of your screen.
A lot of people will be clicking on those ads because they think they’re in some way “recommended” by the search engine.
Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.
And there’s another thing you may not know…
Google knows what you want better than you do
Or thinks it does.
Search engines make more money from advertising if they are able to personalize the results they serve up according to your tastes and preferences.
It works like this: if they can show you more relevant results, you’ll be more likely to click on an advert, so they’ll earn more from their advertisers (the real clients).
One simple way to personalize what they show you is by using your location (your Internet connection address).
Say you’re in Rome, studying Italian, but are looking to change city.
You don’t know where you’ll go next, so you turn to Google and search for “Italian schools in Italy”.
Hey, surprise! Seems there are lots of schools in Rome topping the list!
That didn’t help much, did it? Though it was supposed to.
If you’d typed the same query from New York, you’d have seen a much more geographically even distribution of schools.
Google thought you’d like to see schools near your location, in Rome, and personalized the results for you.
Guess if you’d been looking for a takeaway pizza, that would have been helpful.
Another way that results can be personalized is if you’re logged into a Google account while searching, in which case the ads you see may be chosen based on what Google has learnt about you from reading your gmail and from the other searches you have made.
For example, I’m often shown ads for language courses and Internet marketing…
Which can be useful sometimes, but is also a little creepy.
The best teachers, or the best marketers?
Good Italian language schools are likely to be commercially successful, and so have well-resourced marketing departments.
But then so may the not-so-good ones, who spend their cash on marketing rather than on quality teaching, or learning resources that you, the client, could benefit from.
Schools in less well-known cities, newer businesses in their first few years of life, or small operations run by teacher-owners, are unlikely to get a look in, though they may be excellent choices for you.
So while the perfect school for you may well exist, statistically it’s very unlikely to be visible on the first page(s) of the search results you’re looking at.
So how DO I find the right Italian language school?
Basically, don’t be lazy and rely on Google to tell you what you should do.
Laziness is what keeps bad schools, and bad search engines, in business!
With a little effort, you should easily find a language school that meets your needs. Here’s how:
- Avoid general or subjective search terms. Be as specific as you can. Terms like “Italian language schools in Bologna”, “Recognised Italian language schools” and “Family-run Italian language schools”. will give you more targeted results than the more generic “Italian schools”
- Look beyond the first page, which is often full of junk anyway. Take more time to go through the first two, or even three pages, looking to identify 4-5 possibilities that might suit you
- Correlate the results from searches with different keywords, to draw up a short-list of schools that appear to fit your specifications
- Double-check your short-list is complete by entering a few of your search terms in other, rival search engines. Their algorithms will be different, so perhaps they’ll throw up other candidates you should consider?
- Now you have your short list, a careful reading of the websites may be enough to make a decision on
Don’t ignore the obvious…
Or it may be that the sites of your short-listed schools are all much the same.
In which case, you could try e-mailing your short-listed schools with a list of questions.
The objective is to see who responds in a way that shows that they actually give a damn about getting your business.
Notice how quickly you get a response, and whether it’s a standard reply, or one which actually answers your questions!
Then cross the bad apples off your short-list, narrowing down your choice to just one or two options.
Before you make your final choice, there’s one more thing you should do.
Here’s where Google finally comes into its own!
Search for the names of the schools you’re considering. You’ll be shown a variety of results, which will hopefully include student reviews and comments.
Sites like http://www.tripadvisor.com may have forum comments relating to the schools that interest you (but don’t take them too seriously – these things work better when there are lots and lots of clients, restaurants and hotels for example).
Basically, if you’re about to make a bad choice, there’s likely to have been someone else who suffered before, so wrote about it on the web.
Although he absence of criticism is no guarantee, it’s always worth checking, just to be on the safe side.
In Italy, when we need an electrician, a plumber, or say, a language school, the first thing we do is ask a friend. Or friends.
People we trust, who may be able to save us a lot of time.
– Hey! Where’s a good place to learn Italian? Any idea?
– Have you thought of…?
P.S. OnlineItalianClub.com’s sponsor school is currently running a promotion. -20% on 2014 Italian courses. Details here.