So you've made an incredible online course that you know will be valuable to so many people, you publish it online with excitement like a giddy child eating ice cream for the first time. And then...all you hear is... crickets...chirp chirp...what! But why?!
Well, in this article we're going to be taking you through several strategies on how to market your online course so you can fly those course sales to the moon baby. Jump aboard comrade, we're about to take your course marketing to an intergalactic level. Pew pew!
Rather watch a video than read? Jump to our webinar covering all of this instead.
Step 1 - Set up your funnel and track performance of each stage What are the steps of your course funnel? What metrics are you tracking to measure the performance of each of these stages? Which stage of the funnel do you need to address the most? It's important you're crystal clear on this, because your funnel and the performance tracking of this is the foundation to successful marketing! How are you going to know what you need to focus on unless this is clear? We recommend measuring KPIs on a monthly basis but you can go for more or less frequent like weekly or quarterly, depending on what suits you and your team. Sometimes updating and measuring performance involves manual work so try not to get bogged down too much with this. If you do then all you'll be doing is measuring and not have any time for actual work on executing to improve the performance. Some key things to track are social media followers, website visits, sign ups to free content (eg free course, free trial, webinar, whitepaper etc.), course sales, course subscriptions, net promoter score and repeat sales.
While your course building tool or LMS should give you some performance reporting on course sales and engagement, you may need some other tools to track other parts of the funnel. Here's a few ideas: - Google Analytics for website visits
- Google Search Console for which google searches are leading to impressions and clicks to your website
- Survey monkey for tracking net promoter score
We're offering a free course funnel dashboard template for you to start implementing this step. It even has charts linked to all the data so you and your team can easily digest the numbers. Just click here to open the template, and then either click file and then make copy, or download it as an excel spreadsheet.
Step 2 - Define your audience and your ideal customer
These are two different things by the way! You might be getting some course sales from one type of customer but actually really want another type of customer. For example, maybe you're making sales of your leadership course to entrepreneurs just because they were the first ones to purchase, but what you really want is to attract Fortune 500 companies to buy your course and teach it to all their staff. Big customers can often be easier to deal with and more willing to pay higher prices after all!
Some attributes of your target audience to define might be:
- company (name and size)
- job title/occupation
- gender and age
- motivation to purchase your course (why and what's the pain point your course can help them with)
- online activity (what are they searching for in google, what social media platforms are they on, what content are they consuming online)
Step 3 - Identify any blockers and start unblocking
Sounds pretty simple right? Once you're on top of these first two steps, hopefully you'll have some ideas of where your target customers may be getting stuck in the funnel. Do try your best to see it from their point of view, going through and testing in detail each stage they would be going through. Often it can be right up the top of the funnel. How can you expect them to purchase your course if they don't even know you exist? If this is the case then it can be beneficial to focus on top of funnel performance; things like social media followers, website visits, SEO and free content are good places to start. This can be frustrating for some course creators to hear because it feels like it will take an eternity to really grow these metrics and start converting them into course sales, especially if you're just handing out all your good stuff for free!
Well, unfortunately we don't have any get rich quick advice for you because building a business and selling a product is a marathon, not a sprint. That's why not many businesses make it to 7 figures from course sales, because they're not willing to make a hard long-term commitment and think years ahead. Building a brand takes time so put in the hard yards consistently to build up your brand awareness and the relationship with your target audience so you can reap the benefits big time in the long-term.
Step 4 - Measure the outcomes of unblocking
Once you've implemented potential fixes and changes to improve growth at specific stages of your funnel, you'll need to keep an eye on this growth to learn what's working and what's not. Has website traffic increased? Has social media engagement or followers increased? Has your conversion rate of free to paid course sign ups increased? Has your learner net promoter score increased? You should be able to answer these questions after you've made some changes to address them.
Understanding your options for growth is key
Every business is different but there's a lot of best practices in digital marketing and even for course creators. Understanding these as a base and seeing how your funnel lines up can be a great place to start. After all, you need to have ideas and prioritise the tasks that focus on where you're falling short. Having this awareness and identifying growth opportunities is the key to boosting your course sales. Below we cover several digital marketing areas to think about. We even go through them all in a video webinar with a successful course marketing example of what you can model your brand off.
The social media channels that you use to market your courses can highly depend on who you are marketing to. This is why it's absolutely key to understand your ideal customer and their behaviours online. LinkedIn is great for those targeting businesses, particularly white-collar/professional services type roles. Larger businesses can tend to be on LinkedIn more too but it can depend on several factors. If you're going for more of a B2C audience rather than B2C, then maybe something like Instagram or TikTok could be best. It really depends on the specifics of that audience. Other social media platforms include Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Youtube, X (Twitter), Reddit and more. Our recommendation is to focus on just one channel and getting the most out of that for organic posting. You can branch out and test the waters a bit with the others but over time it's best to really double down on what works.
From a content perspective, here are some ideas to get you started with organic posting:
- Repurpose your existing course content into posts eg take a snippet of a video and turn it into a post. Educational content can perform well on social media so why not use something from your training that you already have?
- Post about another business whether that's because you've worked together, they've helped you with something, or you just want to recommend them to your audience. Make sure you tag them so they see it. This can be a great option to get engagement. If another business posted about you in a positive light, you would probably like it, reshare and comment - often other businesses will do the same, so it's sort of like a collaborative way to get some social media brand awareness.
- Get attention and be memorable. Remember, users on social media can be mindlessly scrolling so do something that might grab their attention and even be thought provoking.
- Test out all of these things among others and look at the numbers. Try to get an idea when the best time is to post, what type of content is best to post and so forth. Variety can help though so take this with a grain of salt.
The most popular advertising platforms to use for course creators are:
- Meta Ads
- Google Ads
- LinkedIn Ads
Meta covers both Instagram and Facebook. Google's main advertising is through search terms, but they do also offer YouTube ads and display ads through the platform too. LinkedIn is great to get very targeted with a B2B audience as you can decide on specific companies, industries, job positions, locations etc on who you want to target with your content. Google's search targeting can be very relevant. For example if you're a dental training provider you may want to run google ads which show your website when people search for "online dental training courses". Similar to LinkedIn, Meta ads is a lot about the targeting options you are putting in, but there is less occupational type data to use in there. Although, because there are so many active users on Facebook and Instagram, often B2B marketers will use Meta Ads just for retargeting of website visitors who have not purchased.
Of course running paid ads requires an actual advertising budget! Some training businesses have figured out a formula to do so profitably. Usually this requires your course prices to be on the higher end. For example, if you spend $500 on average in advertising for each course sale, and the course sells for $2,000, then you're making a $1,500 profit, not including all the other costs involved. If you're selling lower priced courses, well this can be a lot harder to make a profit as you'll need to have a very low average advertising cost per sale.
The most popular website building tools we see used by course creators are:
Try not to get too caught up about this though. The tools are important, but it's way more important what you actually do with them, and it can be a huge expense and resource investment to switch between tools. If you're thinking about this, make sure you've got a great reason to.
There's a few best practices you should really adhere to in your website design. In the video at the bottom of this article, we take you through an example to check out too. Here are a few things we recommend aiming for:
- Clear messaging: It's so common for websites to go too fancy and visionary on their home page, leaving website visitors confused what they're actually being offered. Make your messaging crystal clear and then build on that foundation with persuasion. Clarity comes first though because the worst thing you can have on a website is a confused visitor.
- Clear call to action: Do you have a button on your website? Is it above the fold? Is it clear what will happen when the visitor clicks on that button? Don't use text like 'Learn More'. It's vague and no one knows what will happen when they click on it. Google also penalises from an SEO perspective if you do this because they recognise that this worsens the user experience.
- Build trust! We cannot emphasize how important this one is. You are after all selling education which means you're selling your expertise and knowledge. Why would someone buy your training if they don't think you're an expert or they don't have some level of trust, especially if it's a high price?
- Testimonials and reviews: This is a great way to build trust. Try to show your new potential customer proof of why you are absolutely brilliant. Where possible, include names, position titles, head shots and companies. Being specific makes it more believable.
- Showcase your clients. It's important for your future customers to feel like you are incredibly legitimate. Seeing which clients you have provided training for can help build this trust.
- Sell yourself! Again, expertise is what you are selling it so sell it! People deliver training after all. Showcase the instructors and why they're top notch.
Imagine generating highly qualified leads without paying. Well, many course creators manage to do this through SEO (search engine optimisation). SEO is just a fancy term for showing up in google results without paying. If someone searches for 'leadership skills for CEOs course' and your website is the first one to show up, well that's going to help you a lot with relevant website traffic! Plus, it is so much more sustainable for your business not having to rely on paid advertising. Free sales are so much better than paying for them, right!?
So how do I rank my website for big search terms? Again, we're not trying to be party poopers here, but we need to make it clear while there's so many opportunities in SEO, it can take time and there's not a quick solution. Here's some important strategies which factor into your SEO performance:
- Matching to keywords: Do some keyword research by brainstorming, searching Google, and looking in tools like SemRush and Ahrefs. Look for relevant search terms that have some volume in the locations you are targeting. If you're getting started, it can be harder to target more competitive keywords so keep that in mind. You might be better off targeting keywords with a lower volume and much less competition.
- Domain authority: This is a term used by SEO software that is external to Google like SemRush. Use a tool like this to measure your DA so you can get an idea of how strong Google may perceive your brand as. The higher the better, and more likely you will be able to move up the rankings. Your DA is mostly affected by backlinks and referring domains, that is websites who link to your website. It's important the quality of those websites linking to you, the quantity of backlinks/referring domains you have and it's much better if these are do follow links rather than no-follow. No-follow is a technical signal to Google to ignore the passing of link power over to your site. Directories and partnership businesses can be great places to get links from. You can also suggest swapping a link for a link with your partners. Guest blog posting and PR can be other avenues too.
- Page speed: Google makes it a big priority, particularly on mobile whether your website loads fast. That's because Google has done a bunch of research to show that slow loading causes a bad UX. Try to load your website as fast as possible by doing things like optimising images. This can be done by putting images in webp format and compressing/resizing them with a tool like Squoosh. Of course, you don't want the images to be over compressed to the point that they look terrible. Aim for less than 50kb in most cases, however it depends on how big the image will be shown and the details within it that need to be seen. A small little logo might be 2kb and a big image covering the page might be 80kb after compression and resizing.
- Accessibility: This refers to making your website more accessible, for example to people with vision impairments. You can do this by adding alt text to each image, which clearly describes what the image shows. If you're not doing this, Google will penalise your website for not providing an accessible experience. It's a good idea to use PageSpeed Insights, a tool by Google to measure your page speed and accessibility and see which parts are holding back your site.
The most popular tools we see used by course creators include:
Again, it's more about what you do with these tools though! There's basically two types of emails you should be sending:
1) Automated emails
These should trigger within a specific stage of the customer journey. For example, an email to a new course sale to confirm their purchase and how to access the course as well as letting them know you will give them bonus value for buying the course such as a free call or priority support. Other great automated emails can be a series that nurture customers through stages of the funnel, for example from a free sign up to paid course user. This is why it can be a great idea to offer free content like webinars, free courses, free guides in exchange for their email address so you can then build up and nurture a positive relationship with them before they become a paying customer.
2) Bulk campaigns
Bulk campaigns are great for targeting a specific part of your database with relevant updates or offers. It's best practice to segment this into specific parts to personalise the communication. Try to avoid general newsletters that just got to the entire database where possible.
Some of our favourite AI tools for marketing courses include:
Want to consume all this content in a video format instead? Watch our co-founder and head of marketing take you through it all, plus that important example we mentioned that can give you some inspiration in this two part webinar below. Like and subscribe on our YouTube channel to show support if you've found this useful.
Coursebox offers marketing support to course creators as a service. Interested in outsourcing your course marketing instead? Reach out to email@example.com with your requirements.