The rising popularity of online courses has allowed creators to share their expertise and build businesses that scale.
However, building an online course business involves a lot more than creating a great course — you also need to get good at marketing it.
I have seen many creators with solid courses struggle with marketing, often because they don’t understand the online marketing landscape in its entirety.
Over the years, I have helped hundreds of course creators with marketing and scaling their business. Plus, I am currently the Partner Marketing at StationX, a popular cybersecurity training platform.
So, I have created a comprehensive guide on how to market online courses. To make it simpler, I have broken down the entire process into five distinct categories:
- Create a Marketing Plan
- Get More Traffic
- Build Your Email List
- Engage Your Audience
- Sell Your Course
The five categories cover 36 actionable tips in total, and we’ll deep dive into each of them to help you get started.
- Create a Marketing Plan
- Get More Traffic
- Grow Your Email List
- Engage Your Audience
- Sell Your Course
- 26. Build Your Personal Brand
- 27. Craft Your Sales Content
- 28. Create Social Proof
- 29. Run A/B Tests
- 30. Create a Webinar/Video Series
- 31. Create an Irresistible Offer
- 32. Introduce Scarcity to Improve Conversions
- 33. Offer a Money-Back Guarantee
- 34. Offer a Payment Plan
- 35. Send Abandoned Cart Emails
- 36. Create an Affiliate Program
- How to Market Online Courses – Summary
Create a Marketing Plan
In order to effectively market an online course, you should have a clear marketing plan that includes which traffic channels and content topics should be part of your focus.
1. Define Your Buyer Persona
Before you start executing any marketing activity, you should build a clear understanding of who your target audience is.
Understanding your target audience and defining your buyer persona is critical to planning your content strategy, choosing your core marketing platforms, setting the right pricing, and fine-tuning your sales copy among many other things.
To begin with, you should understand the demography, purchasing power, interests, and relevant pain points of your target audience.
So, you can hang out in niche relevant Facebook Groups and discussion forums, talk to your potential customers, look for statistics around your niche, etc. to collect as many details about your ideal customer as possible.
And if you already have professional experience in your course niche, it will be much easier to develop this understanding.
If you’re looking for a template to get started, you should check out Digital Marketer’s Customer Avatar Worksheet which is what I personally use for my business.
2. Create a Unique Value Proposition
Your unique value proposition will be the foundation on which your course brand gets built. Your value proposition should clearly communicate to your audience about what you’re offering, how you’re different and how they’re going to benefit from it.
Having a clear value proposition is super important for smaller businesses like yours as it helps you convince your users to do business with you rather than your competitors.
Moreover, it can help you narrow down your niche and create a more relevant sales pitch for your target audience.
For example, let’s say you teach people how to lose weight with a vegan diet.
So, your unique value proposition can be that you create quick recipes that take under 10 minutes to prepare. And this can help you target busy professionals.
3. Identify Your Core Marketing Platforms
It will be nearly impossible for you to tap into all the major marketing platforms and strategies initially. So it’s important to narrow down your focus and identify the core marketing platforms for your business.
And this would depend on several factors, including your buyer persona, your niche, your skill/comfort level with creating different content types, and your course creation budget, to name a few.
For example, if you’re good at creating videos and want to tap into a free traffic source, you may want to keep your focus on Youtube.
On the other hand, if you have a marketing budget and you want to get results quicker, you can run paid advertisements on platforms like Facebook.
4. Plan Your Content Strategy
Once you have identified your major marketing platforms, you will need to plan your content strategy. To begin with, you will need to identify topics and questions that are most likely to interest your audience.
And if you market online courses on multiple platforms, you will need to understand what kind of topics will work best on which platforms.
For example, you can create content on popular topics while keeping Pinterest and Medium in mind, but for Google, you will need to identify more niched down topics which you can rank easily in their search engine.
Moreover, you’ll need to plan what kind of content will work well at different stages in your sales funnel.
For example, you may want to create blog posts in order to attract a new audience, do Facebook lives to engage your audience, and probably use a webinar for selling your course.
We’ll talk about the specifics of these things in detail in the next chapters.
Get More Traffic
The most critical step in your marketing strategy is getting traffic and unless you can get new people into your funnel, you won’t be able to get any results.
In this section, I’ll cover some of the most effective traffic strategies you can use to promote your online courses and I’ll also help you narrow down your focus.
5. Learn to Get Traffic with SEO
If you can get your search engine game right, Google can be one of the best ways to generate reliable, free traffic for your website.
To share an example, Rachel Kable, a mindfulness expert, has grown her blog on the back of organic traffic from Google. And she uses her blog to promote her online courses.
At the same time, getting results from Google will take time, so you will have to plan and execute your SEO efforts much before you can start expecting any results.
To begin with, you will need to identify relevant, low competition topics and create high-quality content around them. On top of that, you’ll have to promote your blog and get links from other websites by publishing guest posts on them.
You can find tons of SEO-related advice on the internet and the #1 resource I recommend you should follow in Brian Dean’s Backlinko blog.
6. Promote Your Blog on Pinterest
Pinterest is one of the most popular ways of generating free traffic for a blog, probably second only to Google. Unlike Google, you can get results faster and even on more competitive topics on Pinterest.
To promote your blog on Pinterest, you will need to create catchy, engaging images that include text and use them to pin your blog posts.
Plus, you may want to join Pinterest Group Boards by reaching out to the creators of popular Group Boards, and this will help your blog posts get visibility quickly.
To share an example, Alex and Lauren created a successful online course business in the health and fitness niche, primarily by growing their blog, Avocadu, through Pinterest.
They also teach an online course about Pinterest Marketing – Pinterest Traffic Avalanche.
7. Start a Youtube Channel
Starting a Youtube channel is an extremely popular way to build an audience and market your online courses.
To grow your Youtube channel initially, you can identify and target low competition keywords. And Youtube SEO is still much less competitive than Google, so you can build an audience relatively quickly here.
Moreover, with Youtube, you can get traction even in highly competitive niches (without SEO) if your content is solid. Youtube’s algorithm promotes channels and videos with higher watch time and it rewards long and engaging videos.
On top of that, you should create attractive thumbnail images and engaging titles that get more people to click your videos, and you can also nudge your users to share and subscribe to your channel, which will help your videos do better.
8. Start a Podcast
According to a study, 45% of Podcast listeners in the US have an annual household income of more than $250,000, which is more than three times the average annual household income.
So, if you are creating a premium course, starting a Podcast is one of the best ways to build an audience with high disposable income.
To promote your Podcast, you should syndicate it in as many places as possible, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and Soundcloud.
Plus, you can ask your audience to subscribe, share, and leave reviews, which will help you build a loyal audience and get more visibility on the podcasting platforms.
Moreover, you can collaborate with other Podcast hosts, invite them to your show, and get invited on theirs.
9. Repurpose Your Content
You can only create limited pieces of unique content in a given time, but repurposing your best-performing pieces of content will allow you to maximize your presence with minimal effort.
For instance, you can take a blog post and use it as a script for a podcast episode, a Youtube video, or even a Facebook Live.
Similarly, you can use answers that you posted on Quora and Reddit and convert them into blog posts or scripts.
Moreover, you can republish your blog posts on platforms like Medium and Linkedin Pulse, and it can be another reliable way to generate free traffic.
Medium editors regularly curate content and amplify their reach, so creating high-quality content is the most important thing you can do to get visibility on the platform.
As far as Linkedin Pulse is concerned, it’s highly untapped and it should work well for you if you’re in one of the business niches.
10. Participate in Reddit and Quora Discussions
Participating in Reddit and Quora discussions is another proven method for generating free traffic with relatively less effort.
When it comes to Reddit, you can look for subreddits relevant to your course topic and start engaging over there. You can share useful posts or respond to other people’s questions, and insert a useful link from your website within your posts without being too promotional.
With Quora, you can look for questions relevant to your course topic, respond to them with in-depth answers, and insert a link to your website within your answers. And if your answers add value, it is likely to receive more upvotes and views and ultimately more traffic.
11. Publish a Course on Udemy
To get traffic to your course website, you can publish a smaller course on Udemy. Udemy is the biggest online learning platform out there and has a huge audience of 40 million+ students that you can tap into.
Udemy allows you to send educational announcements to your students, and it lets you add your website link within those emails. So, you can promote your blog posts and other free content and use that to get people into your course funnel.
Moreover, since your goal is not to make money with Udemy, you can even publish your course for free on the platform, which will help you get more students on Udemy and send more traffic to your website.
12. Run Paid Advertisement
Running paid ads can be one of the fastest ways to drive highly-relevant traffic to your marketing funnels. And among paid ad channels, Google, Facebook, and Youtube are the most popular options.
With Google Ads, you can show search ads on the top of the search results page or display ads on blogs and websites through the Google display ad network.
With search ads, you can specifically target visitors looking for specific keywords in your niche and you either send traffic to a blog post or to your course sales page directly.
When it comes to Facebook ads, you can target users based on parameters, like their location, interests, age, profession, even prior purchase behavior. And you can show them different types of ads, including image ads, carousels, and video ads.
With Youtube, you can show ads based on keywords, plus you can target specific Youtube channels or even videos. And you can even target Youtube users based on their search history on Google.
Apart from these, there are several other platforms where you can show ads, including Instagram, Pinterest, and Reddit, and depending on your niche and your business, you may go with one of these.
Grow Your Email List
In order to convert your website visitors into buyers, you should first turn them into email subscribers and in this section, I will explain how you can generate more leads from your funnel.
13. Create a Lead Magnet
To build your email list and get your website visitors to share their email address, you will need to incentivize them by delivering something of value, and lead magnets are one of the most popular ways of achieving that.
Plus, delivering a highly-quality lead magnet will help you demonstrate value and build initial trust with your audience.
There are so many different lead magnet ideas that you can try. You can use a checklist or an eBook as your lead magnet.
For example, at StationX, we offer a free cybersecurity career guide as a lead magnet and it converts really well.
Similarly, you can package your free content as a mini-course or even an email course to create an even more appealing lead magnet.
For example, Tom Kuegler, who teaches writers how to build an audience and earn a living on Medium, offers a 5-day free email course on his website.
14. Create a Content Upgrade
While general lead magnets work well, you can offer a targeted content upgrade to collect email addresses in your blog posts.
The primary difference between a content upgrade and a lead magnet is that content upgrades are specifically tailored for individual blog posts. And for this reason, they often convert better than general lead magnets.
Plus, content upgrades are usually very simple to create. For instance, if you have a long-form article, you can offer a PDF version of the article that your audience can read later. Or you can get your podcast audio transcribed and offer that as a content upgrade.
Here is an example of “a PDF plus templates” as a content upgrade from Wishpond:
15. Create Interactive Content
Quizzes and interactive tools are another very effective way to generate leads and at the same time, qualify them.
In order to create marketing quizzes, you can use a specialized quiz builder like Interact or you can use a generic forms solution like Paperform. The key here is to ask them relevant questions and provide a personalized response based on their answers.
For example, Nadalie Barod uses a quiz – “What Should Your Goal Be?” on her website to generate leads:
Apart from quizzes, you can also use interactive tools like calculators and chatbots to get users to sign up for your list.
For example, if you sell a weight loss course, you can create a calculator that helps users calculate how many calories they will burn with different activities, and you can use that to collect their email address.
16. Use Different Opt-in Form Types
To build your email list, you don’t just need a useful lead magnet or content upgrade — you also need to catch the attention of your audience and persuade them to sign up for your list with the help of an opt-in form.
Now, there are a wide variety of opt-in forms out there, and you need to try different types of forms to see what works best for you.
You can use a full-screen opt-in form, a form on the sidebar, a bar on the top, or a slide-in form that appears from the side. Or you can implement a popup on the top of a page or embed a fixed opt-in form at the bottom of a page, etc.
You can also use a combination of different opt-in form types on your web pages without making it too intrusive for your users.
In order to create such opt-in forms, you’ll need a specialized tool like ConvertBox. Or, you can use the opt-in forms provided by your email service provider.
17. Use Best Practices for Opt-in Forms
Besides trying different opt-in form types, you need to use proven best practices to maximize your email sign-up rate.
Firstly, you’d need to create a clear call to action and visually appealing forms and for that, I recommend that you use one of the templates provided by your opt-in form solution.
Another important thing is to show your opt-in forms at the right time. So, you can implement timed popups that appear after a user has spent a certain amount of time on a page, or you can show exit-intent popups that appear when a user is about to exit the page.
Apart from this, you can create multi-step forms and show Yes/No buttons at the first step, to reduce friction for users.
Here is an example of a multi-step popup from OptinMonster:
18. Personalize Website Content
Building a personalized landing page for different visitors is one of the most powerful conversion marketing techniques.
You can show personalized headlines, copy, and even images to different visitors. And you can even show different lead magnets to different visitors to take personalization to the next level.
You can personalize your landing page based on where the user comes from, like a specific domain or a Facebook Ad. Or you can introduce personalization based on their Google search query or whether they are part of your email list.
And a tool like RightMessage will help you achieve all of the above.
19. Create a Newsletter Referral Program
Once you have an initial email list, you can create a referral program and encourage your audience to refer your email newsletter to their network.
To make this more effective, you can incentivize them by offering a free mini-course or an ebook, or a discount on your paid course.
And to achieve all this, you can use a tool like SparkLoop, a referral tool for email newsletters, which integrates with most of the popular email marketing services out there.
Engage Your Audience
Engaging your audience is one of the most important steps in your funnel and it is critical for driving your course sales down the line.
In this section, we’ll cover some of the most popular engagement strategies you can use.
20. Create a Welcome Email Series
According to a study, welcome emails have an open rate that is 86% higher than regular emails. So, sending a bunch of emails to onboard users right after sign up can be the difference between building a relationship with them or them turning cold.
Moreover, if you’re able to provide value to your subscribers with your welcome emails, they get to know, like and trust you which will make the selling part much easier.
For example, at StationX, we send our new subscribers a series of emails about myths in the cybersecurity industry and it works very well for us.
Moreover, you may want to introduce your sales pitch early into your welcome email series, as users are more likely to be open to your offer right after subscribing to your list.
21. Share Useful Content Regularly with Your List
To state the obvious, sharing content regularly with your audience will be crucial to keep them engaged with your brand. Your regular emails should entail informational content that delivers value and not just promotional content that sells your course.
So, if you run a blog, a Youtube channel, or a podcast, you can share your new content pieces with your audience via email. Plus you can even share links for webinars and Facebook Live sessions within your emails.
To make your emails more engaging, you may also want to personalize your email content, introduce an element of storytelling, include interactive content like quizzes & surveys as well as prompt users to reply to your emails.
22. Segment Your Email List
Segmenting your email subscribers to share targeted content with them can be another great way to boost engagement with your audience.
For instance, you can get users to choose their interests or challenges in your welcome email series and share targeted content with them accordingly.
You can also segment them based on where the user’s sign up came from, whether or not they clicked on a link, attended your webinar, or already bought your course.
The idea behind segmentation is that you’re sending the right emails to the right people which will help boost your email engagement and reduce unsubscribes.
23. Monitor the Performance of Your Emails
Keeping track of metrics like your email open and click rates with email marketing platforms can be crucial to maintaining email deliverability and the overall ROI of your marketing efforts.
For instance, if you don’t clean up your email list regularly to remove users who hardly ever engage with your emails, a large percentage of your emails can land in spam folders. And this can seriously impact your email deliverability.
Moreover, you can use metrics like open and click rate to test the subject lines and copy in your emails and improve engagement.
24. Build an Online Community
Besides engaging with your audience through email, you should consider creating an online community to take audience engagement to the next level.
Broadly speaking, you can go about it in two ways.
So, you can use a specialized community platform like Mighty Networks, which will allow you to build a community on your own website.
Or, you can use Facebook Groups, where your audience is already likely to be present, so it will be a little easier to spark engagement.
25. Retarget Your Visitors
With Retargeting, you can show ads to users on your email list who haven’t engaged with your emails recently. And by engaging with users through targeted ads repeatedly, you can create brand recall, which helps improve your overall conversions.
Moreover, if a user from your email list visits your website again, you can show them a purchase CTA instead of an opt-in CTA.
Finally, with retargeting, you can show ads to users who may have visited your site earlier but are not part of your email list yet.
And you can show different ads to users based on what action they took or how much time they spent on your website.
Sell Your Course
The last and probably the most critical step in your marketing process is to convert your leads and visitors into buyers. In this section, we’ll talk about some of the most effective sales conversion techniques you can use.
26. Build Your Personal Brand
Crafting a personal brand that positions you as somebody who can deliver value will be crucial to driving your course sales.
To build your personal brand, you will need to share a compelling story that can capture your professional background or real-world experiences. Plus you’ll need to share appealing photographs and well-designed graphics that bring across your personality.
And you can present your brand on your website, social media accounts, Youtube channel, etc.
Here is a great example where Rachael Kable shares a relatable story with a slick photograph and appealing graphics to present her personal brand.
27. Craft Your Sales Content
Before you write the sales copy for your website, emails, or webinars, you need to get your core sales message right. Simply put, you should be able to put in a few sentences why your potential customers should buy your course.
Your sales message should convey things like the exact pain point you solve for your users and what makes your offer unique and valuable.
And when it comes to acing your sales content, the truth is that you don’t need to have great style or flair with writing. And all that is needed is to convey the value your course delivers as concisely and simply as possible.
Here is a good example of a no-frills sales copy on the website for a meal-prep course by Jasmine Shea, where she conveys exactly what somebody can expect from her course.
28. Create Social Proof
People want to see if others have found your course useful before buying it themselves. So, social proof will be one of the most important factors that will drive your course’s success.
To display social proof, you can share student testimonials on your website, Youtube channel, emails, among other places. And to present an even more compelling case, you can even ask some of your students to record and send a short video testimonial with their smartphones.
Here is a great example of establishing social proof through testimonials from Avocadu’s Yoga Fat Loss Bible program.
29. Run A/B Tests
You are not likely to perfect your subject lines, email copy, landing page, Facebook ads, or any part of your sales funnel in the first attempt.
So, running A/B tests for different steps in your funnel can be one of the simplest things you can do to improve conversions and any decent sales funnel software will let you do that.
Moreover, while running A/B tests, you need to keep the 80/20 rule in mind and prioritize experiments that are most likely to move the needle with the least effort.
Consider this, Graham Cochrane, who runs a course in the audio recording niche, discovered that by merely introducing his sales webinar pitch in the first email instead of the third email, he could increase his sales by 89%.
30. Create a Webinar/Video Series
Creating a sales webinar or a video series and sharing them with your email list is one of the most popular ways of closing a sale for an online course and the majority of top course creators use one of these two approaches.
Within your sales webinar, you should aim to deliver a lot of value and build trust before making your sales pitch. You can conduct a live sales webinar, plus record it and make it available to your audience for later viewing.
And if you want to use a video series to sell your course, your initial few videos can pack in a lot of valuable information, and your last video can contain your sales pitch.
31. Create an Irresistible Offer
I learnt about the importance of creating an offer when I enrolled in this online program by James Wedmore called Business By Design where he covers the topic in detail.
Adding bonuses to your core content can go a long way in making your courses more appealing and improving your sales conversions.
To create bonuses, you can create additional content around a topic related to your main course topic, and you can add things like templates, action plans, worksheets, etc. You can also offer group coaching calls and throw in access to a private community or a Facebook Group.
Plus if you have multiple courses, you can bundle them together and offer a smaller course as a bonus with the larger course.
32. Introduce Scarcity to Improve Conversions
Introducing scarcity is one of the most effective persuasion techniques to increase the perceived value of a digital product.
Now, there are several ways you can create scarcity to market an online course.
Firstly, you can offer your course for a limited time window and close the cart afterwards. And you can also offer a discount to users who sign up for your course early.
Plus with a tool like Deadline Funnel, you can create a personalized deadline (with a countdown timer) for every user, which will allow you to create scarcity even if your course is available throughout the year.
33. Offer a Money-Back Guarantee
A segment of potential buyers may hesitate to purchase your course if they haven’t known your brand for a considerable time.
To address their concerns, you should offer a money-back guarantee and commit to refund any user who is not satisfied with your course. It is a fairly popular practice in the online course space where there is no shipping cost, and the refund rates are usually very low.
I generally recommend creators to offer a no-questions asked 30-day money back guarantee but if you’re selling a high-ticket program, you may want to reduce it to 14 days.
34. Offer a Payment Plan
Another simple way to improve your conversion rate is by offering a payment plan for your course. You must do this if you sell a premium course because some users may be reluctant to shell out a large amount upfront.
Moreover, you can offer a payment plan as an additional option alongside a fixed upfront price and charge slightly more in case of a payment plan.
And nearly all the popular online course platforms or shopping cart solutions out there will allow you to create a payment plan for your users.
35. Send Abandoned Cart Emails
According to a study, nearly 70% of shopping carts are abandoned on average across industries. So, sending a promotional email to users who reached your payment page but didn’t make the purchase can be one of the most effective ways to improve your conversions.
Within your abandoned cart emails, you can offer a discount or an exclusive bonus and you can even introduce scarcity into your offer to get them to take fast action.
Moreover, you can tweak your sales pitch to address possible user concerns and you should be able to nudge some of them into buying your course.
36. Create an Affiliate Program
One of the most popular ways to market online courses is to create an affiliate program/JV and incentivize other content creators and influencers to promote your course.
For instance, you can ask bloggers and Youtube channels to review your course, and you can leverage their reach and the trust they have built with their audience.
You can also create a Joint Venture with other creators who have a sizable email list and get them to promote your course in exchange for a revenue split.
The best thing about affiliate marketing and Joint Ventures is that you don’t spend any dollars upfront because you pay affiliates only when a sale is made.
Almost all the top course creators have some sort of an affiliate program for their courses and it is my favorite marketing strategy.
How to Market Online Courses – Summary
As you can see, there is a wide range of activities you need to plan for online course marketing. I have tried to simplify the entire marketing process and I’ll summarize it for you here.
Firstly, you need to choose your traffic sources and content strategy based on factors like your target audience, skill set, and budget.
Then, you will need to choose the right strategy to get your website visitors to sign up for your email list. Plus you will need to keep your audience engaged by sharing content regularly, monitoring your email performance, etc.
Finally, you will need to implement best practices like crafting your sales message, creating bonus offerings, introducing social proof, etc. to sell your course.
I hope you enjoyed reading the article and it helped you learn how to market online courses.
If you have any questions or if you’d like to suggest any marketing tips that I may have missed, feel free to post them in the comments below.
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