Online courses have seen a huge boom in popularity in recent years. Globally, the eLearning market is set to reach $325 billion by 2025, with more and more people than ever not only signing up for courses, but creating their own too.
We’re a big fan of learning new skills and, in fact, have previously compiled a list of the best web design courses out there to help anyone who might be interested in what we do.
But we recently realised that we can do better than that! With our marketing and design skills, we're basically a fountain of helpful advice about how to construct an effective online course.
So, first things first...
Why Should I Create An Online Course?
Businesses can benefit massively from developing an online course, not only because it can become a brand new source of income, but also because it’s an incredibly useful tool for lead generation.
Inbound lead generation relies heavily on your ability to provide informative and attractive pieces of content for people at all stages of their buying journey. Online courses are a great example of this kind of content and can be used as a lead magnet to attract new customers to your business.
Creating an online course on a topic that your business has expertise in helps to position your business as a leader in its field and builds trust amongst potential customers.
In addition to bringing in new customers, it also helps to keep current customers happy by teaching them how to better their business. Online courses help to increase retention rates and encourage your customers to recommend your business to their friends.
Identifying Your Course Topic
Once you’ve decided that making an online course might be something you’re interested in, the next step is deciding what the course should be about. But how do you do that?
Evaluate your own expertise
In order to fill your course with insightful and unique information, it’s best to draw from your own experiences.
Your audience will want to see that you know what you’re talking about, otherwise why would they pay to learn from you?
So, start by thinking about which topics you’re an expert in. What areas of your business do you have some unique insight into? What’s already making your business the most money?
That’s going to be the area that people need help with the most and the area that they trust you with already.
If you’re really unsure of which specific part of your business would be the most valuable to talk about, try thinking about what topics your customers already ask for advice about.
Try to find their pain points, areas that cause them frustration and seem difficult to do. You want to be the solution to their problem.
Once you’ve got a kernel of an idea, you need to see whether it has the potential to grow into a full-fledged course by doing a bit of research.
Not only should you research into the topic itself, you should also research whether there’s already a course out there on that topic.
This isn’t so you can talk yourself out of creating your own course, but rather to get some perspective on ways in which other people have discussed it.
Rather than trying to find a topic that has never been taught before (which is a very difficult feat), try to find a unique viewpoint or a lens through which your topic can be discussed. That’s what will make you stand out from the crowd above everything else.
Narrow your ideas down
Don’t be afraid to get niche. You might think that being too specific might rule out potential customers, but actually the benefits usually outweigh the negatives.
Narrowing down your topic will help users to find your course amongst others in a crowded marketplace.
Try to understand exactly what a customer will get out of buying your course, in order for you to prioritise the right parts when narrowing down your focus.
You should aim to solve a specific problem that your customers are struggling with in the most concise way possible in order to avoid going off on tangents or down rabbit holes.
Testing The Waters
Before you go all in and start building your course, you need to see if your idea has legs.
Here are three ways you can test the water to see whether building an online course is a worthwhile option for your business:
The easiest way to gage interest in a proposed course is by surveying your customers or website visitors. A survey will help you to gain a better understanding of their thoughts on your topic of choice and can also help later with fleshing out your course content.
When constructing your survey, try to include a variety of open-ended questions that will allow participants to expand on their personal experiences.
Questions you could ask include:
Tell me about your experiences with this topic.
What are your biggest challenges with this topic?
How are you currently dealing with those challenges?
Would you consider taking an online course on the topic?
Have you ever taken an online course before? If so, what were your thoughts on the process?
However, don’t ask too many questions at once. Drop-offs tend to happen more with longer surveys, so keep it short and sweet in order to make sure as many people as possible will submit a full survey.
There are a lot of different sites that can help you to create a survey online, all of which include a variety of different templates, customisation options and distribution features. A few of the most popular options include:
If you’re looking for the cheapest go-to option, Google Forms is super quick, easy-to-use and 100% totally free.
You can create as many surveys as you want, save them automatically via your Google Suite and even turn them into templates to use again.
The only downside is that there are only 15 survey templates with fairly limited design options. You have to either choose from a set of curated themes or allow Google Forms to automatically pick colours for the survey based on a photo or logo of your choice.
However, you can edit any template you pick to include images and YouTube videos. Plus, the site enables you to explore dynamic navigation options such as page branching and question skip logic.
When it comes to distribution, Google Forms allows you to send your final survey out in a bunch of different ways. You can create a link to the survey, embed it into a website or blog, or share it via email or social media.
Speaking of social media, did you know that you can create surveys on Facebook and host them on your Business Page?
The process is actually really simple. Just follow these steps:
Enter “survey” into your Facebook search bar. Filter the results by clicking “Apps” and select the first option called “Survey”.
Name your survey.
Give Survey permissions to use your profile information.
Customise your survey questions and answers options.
Preview and then publish your survey to your chosen business Page.
The app will display your results on a dashboard and create easy-to-read graphs and charts that you can export to Excel or PDF.
Through the app you can even invite friends over Facebook Messenger to take part in the survey. Give them a bit of a nudge!
If you’re looking for a more advanced survey creator, SurveyMonkey is a great option.
With over 150 templates and the ability to collect responses nine different ways (including mobile app integration and the ability to turn your device into a survey station offline), it’s a super handy platform if surveys are something you’d like to start doing on a regular basis.
SurveyMonkey has both free and paid plans, depending on your needs and the size of your team.
With the free Basic plan you can create and send a survey with up to 10 questions or elements and view up to 100 responses per survey. For small businesses that don’t expect to get more than 100 responses, this compact service is ideal.
The paid plans that SurveyMonkey offer are tiered and essentially offer increasing amounts of data you can export and survey logic such as A/B testing and question randomisation. All paid plans give you unlimited surveys and questions, with up to 1000 responses a month.
2. Landing Page
By creating a simple landing page, you can essentially conduct a smoke test to see whether customers are really interested in your proposed course.
You don't have to create your course before making a landing page. You can simply ask people to “apply to buy” or create a “coming soon” page.
By tracking how many people give you their details for further information on the course, or those that click a call-to-action, you can start gathering information on the number of potential customers you can expect.
Make sure to dedicate some time to measuring analytics on your landing page to ensure that you’re getting the full picture. Some of the most important analytics you want to track include:
Average time on page
To help you gather more information on your analytics, you might want to look into website tracking services such as Hotjar, where you can collect data on your visitors’ interaction with your landing page.
Hotjar’s free service is able to collect data from 2000 page views a day and will give you access to up to 300 visitor recordings and three heatmaps, forms, funnels, polls and surveys. Unlimited users can be added to your account and Hotjar will also store your data for a full year.
Alternatively, it’s also perfectly fine to pre-sell your course if you want. The growth of crowdfunding platforms has shown that many people are now comfortable with pre-purchasing.
Plus you can even advertise an early-bird price or reduced rates for the first 50 people that sign up.
With pre-sales you can pick a goal of, say, 10 sales and if you reach that goal, you can consider your course idea validated and worth creating.
If not enough people take the bait then refund any money you may owe and go back to the drawing board.
Pre-selling can be a bit riskier than a “coming soon” page because it means that if enough people want it you'll have to put together your course very quickly.
However, it’s a much better method for weeding out people who are genuinely willing to pay for your course as opposed to those who just have a passing interest.
3. Taster Course
Another option is to create a free taster course in order to whet your audience’s appetite.
Of course, this is a lot more work than creating a survey or a landing page but it’s a great way of demonstrating your value as a teacher, hopefully leading more people to convert to customers than would have otherwise.
Just make sure you don’t go overboard and cram in too much info into these mini-courses. Be strict with yourself - the best content needs to be paid for.
While you’ll want to experiment with lots of dynamic teaching aids in your proper course, such as videos, webinars and interactive modules, you should keep your mini-course as simple as possible.
For example, instead of setting up your mini-course on a platform such as Teachable, Udemy or Kajabi, try sending it out via email. This free way of distributing your content is ideal because it helps you to build an email list of warm leads for your paid course.
By creating a taster course, you’ll start to get a better understanding of which topics you enjoy talking about the most, which you need to research more heavily and which are favoured by your customers.
You can build upon your taster course insights to address a wider range of topics or drill down deeper into areas that need more explanation. Taster courses allow you to hone your tone of voice and start fleshing out ideas ahead of time.
This process of refining your course content can also be supported by feedback from people who have taken your taster course.
If you get some negative feedback then you’ll know which areas need improvement. On the other hand, if you get positive feedback - great! With permission, you might be able to use this as a testimonial for your new paid course.
Keep in mind, if you do decide to create a taster course, it’s probably worthwhile to promote it with a landing page and use a survey to gain feedback afterwards.
By combining these three options, you’ll be able to know with complete confidence whether your course is going to be worth the time and effort you plan to put in.
Businesses can benefit massively from developing an online course, not only because it can become a brand new source of income, but also because it’s an incredibly useful tool for lead generation.
Actually writing, recording and designing your course can be a daunting task at first. It might seem like there’s a mountain of information to sift through and if you’re prone to a bit of procrastination (as we all are) you might end up putting it off.
By using the plan of attack below, we hope you’ll be able to motivate yourself to get going by approaching your course content in an easy, step-by-step way.
1. List learning objectives
It’s important to keep the results your customers are looking for top-of-mind when planning your course content out.
Otherwise you can end up wasting your time writing about information that, whilst relevant to your topic, doesn’t solve the problem your customer has come to you for help with.
Think about the end result you want your customers to achieve. What are the major points that you’ll need to include in order for them to get this result? What do you fundamentally want them to gain from this course?
List these learning objectives out! Not only will it help you clarify your course content, it’ll also be a selling point for anyone who wants to know about your course in the future.
2. Break down your content into modules
Using your learning objectives as a guide, you can begin to flesh out your course modules.
Ensuring that your course is broken up into digestible modules is important in order for your customers to feel as though your course is approachable and manageable.
Course creator guru David Siteman Garland found out through personal experience that the maximum amount of modules you should ever include is 12.
Anymore than that and your customers will feel completely overwhelmed and will be unlikely to finish your course.
3. Choose your content format
Once you’ve gathered the information you want to include in each of your modules, it’s time to think about the format you’re going to use to disseminate this content.
Common formats for online courses include:
At the moment, video is by far the most popular form of online course content, with some platforms such as Udemy solely consisting of video content.
There are three main forms of video content that are useful for online courses: screen recordings, talking head videos and animated videos.
Screen recordings are super useful for creating tutorials that show your customers how to do something on your computer, such as how to set up a Facebook Ad for the first time. They’re also really easy to put together; all you need is a microphone and some free screen recording software.
Most Macs already come with QuickTime installed and for Windows 10 users you can use a keyboard shortcut (Windows key + Alt + R) to start recording straight away. Alternatively, those with older versions of Windows can download Icecream, which is also free.
Talking head videos
Talking head videos are a fantastic way of explaining less technical concepts whilst introducing yourself to your customers. But they are a bit more work than screen recordings because you’ll have to write a script and feel comfortable talking to camera (eek!).
Plus you’ll have to invest in some decent equipment to film yourself and edit your video. For some insight into the best equipment for creating an online course, including audio and video editing software, check out this article by Thinkific.
However, don’t assume that you have to spend a lot of money on equipment. There are ways of keeping costs down whilst still producing a professional looking video.
Think carefully about your background in the video, how you position yourself in the frame and what kind of lighting you’re using. A lot of indoor lights are tungsten, meaning that they emit a sort-of orange light that doesn’t look great on film. Natural lighting is best.
Animated videos that use infographics to illustrate their points are another form of premium video content that can add real value to your course. According to Explee, animated videos are 8x more likely to be watched to the end than classic videos.
Some people pay designers a lot of money to create this kind of bespoke content, but did you know that there are many applications out there that allow you to create these animations without the need for a degree in graphic design?
These applications call their services “whiteboard animation” or “video scribing” and basically the way that most of them work is that you choose some illustrations you want to include and their software will make it seem as though you’re drawing these illustrations out, giving the videos a dynamic feel.
If you’re interested in giving these applications a go, check out some of the options included in this article by Make A Video Hub.
4. Develop a tone of voice
Regardless of the format you settle on, it’s important to develop your tone of voice so that throughout your course you’re able to present yourself and your points in a consistent way.
The good news is that if your online course is on behalf of your current business then you can simply try to replicate the tone of voice you’ve cultivated there.
If you haven’t got a clear tone of voice for your business already, we have a great article on How to find your Brand’s Voice. Here are some of the main things to keep in mind:
What makes your brand unique?
What adjectives best describe your brand?
What do you NOT want your brand to sound like?
Who is your audience? What would appeal best to them?
A useful exercise for helping you to set your tone of voice in stone is creating a style guide. This will help you with all of the nitty gritty bits of grammar and spelling, including things like which pronouns to use when talking to your audience.
Check out other companies style guides in order to get an idea of what to include (e.g. Yahoo’s or Mailchimp’s).
We recommend that for an online course you want to be as conversational as possible in order to engage your customers on a personal level. Try to steer clear of heavy jargon and address your audience directly in the first person.
The aim of the game is to impart a bit of wisdom while making new leads along the way, so turn up the charm, make them laugh and give them a reason to keep coming back.
5. Use stats to back up your claims
With all forms of educational content, statistics are king. It’s all well and good to offer up opinions based on your personal experience, but supporting your claims with statistics will help your case tenfold.
However, don’t just throw numbers out there without putting in the effort to make sure that the impact of those stats lands.
Tug on your customers’ heartstrings a bit with a story they can connect with and then hit them with a surprising stat - people need to be convinced with both their heart and their head in order to really get behind what you’re saying. Combining data and storytelling is the best way to convince your audience that what you’re saying is the truth.
Just beware of dodgy facts! Double (and maybe triple) check that your stat is from a reputable source and don’t include stats that are more than five years old.
Which Platform Should You Use To Host Your Online Course?
While you’re compiling your course content, it’s worthwhile to begin thinking about where you want to host your course in order to reach the most potential new customers.
Of course, you could host your course on your own website, but it’s often cheaper and easier to run via an external eLearning course provider.
There’s been an explosion in the number of eLearning platforms in recent years and they all come with a variety of audiences, customisation options and CRMs.
Most eLearning platforms can be divided into two formats: online course marketplaces and course creation software.
Online Course Marketplaces
Online course marketplaces are essentially e-commerce sites that sell online courses. Kind of like Amazon, if Amazon only sold online courses.
These marketplaces enable you to upload your course to an existing catalogue that its users can search through with ease.
These marketplaces usually don’t offer much in the way of customisation and they can be limited to certain formats, such as video courses, but because they take care of promoting and selling your course to their followers, they can result in some great exposure.
Plus, they’re usually free to join, meaning that you don’t have to worry about any up-front costs.
However, by taking over the selling process, they limit your ability to nurture any leads you might gain from your online course. You won’t own any of your students’ data, making it much harder to try and convert these leads to new customers.
Additionally, these marketplaces make their money by taking a share of your course sales and can change their commission structure without any prior notice, making it difficult to predict how much money you’ll be able to make from your course.
Udemy comes with all of the pros and cons you’d expect of a video-only online marketplace. It’s great for anyone who wants a hands-off approach as it promotes your course its 30 million students, collect payments and ensure students can access the videos; but in general it’s not a massive money-maker.
Most of the courses on the site are priced cheaply and Udemy takes a big cut of sales (50% revenue share on courses found through organic search and 75% revenue share on those found through Udemy’s paid user acquisition channels), meaning you’ll have to shift a lot of courses in order to make a decent amount of money.
Skillshare differs from Udemy because it’s essentially a subscription service. Its 7 million students pay for membership that gives them access to over 28,000 classes, the majority of which are about creative skills such as writing, cooking or photography.
For creators, it’s free to sign up but if you want to get paid, your course has to be part of Skillshare’s premium catalog. Skillshare pays instructors $10 for premium membership referrals and royalties for minutes watched in a premium class each month so, again, it’s not much of a money-maker.
Course Creation Software
Course creation software is a lot more of an all-purpose solution that offers much more customisation, multiple content formats and robust marketing tools that you can use to track your students’ progress through your course.
These sites usually charge a fixed monthly fee and some also charge a transaction fee, but in return, the advanced capabilities of these course creators enable you to charge a premium.
Teachable offers a variety of ways to customise the look of your sales and course pages. The platform has a simple drag-and-drop method for creating websites so that even beginners can make an effective sales page.
For more tech savvy users, Teachable also has a Power Editor function that enables you to dig into the website’s code in order to achieve exactly the look you want. Check out Skillsprep’s beautiful website that we made by injecting code into Teachable’s editor.
In addition to its customisation options, Teachable is also full of great marketing tools, including coupons, affiliate programs and advanced pricing options. You can integrate email marketing or automation software, add conversion pixels and segment your student lists based on enrollment, completion, code redemption and much more.
Kajabi is a pricier version of Teachable but it doesn’t have a transaction fee so if you’re planning to make a lot of sales it might be cheaper in the long run.
Like Teachable, Kajabi offers a lot of customisation options and the ability to add a range of multimedia forms of content.
Where Kajabi differs is that it has a lot of automated marketing software that Teachable doesn’t have. You can choose from a variety of template “Pipelines” that mimic your marketing funnel and help to encourage conversions, or you can create your own if-then scenarios.
Additionally, email marketing is very much at the core of Kajabi’s platform, so instead of having to integrate your online course with plugins such as MailChimp, you can make use of Kajabi’s native email provider.
Thinkific is a great platform for anyone who wants a bit of guidance when it comes to planning out your course content.
With a variety of templates to choose from, including “mini-course”, “flagship course”, “digital download”, “membership bundle” and “webinar replay”, it gives you plenty of helpful cues to make sure your course is populated with multimedia and interactive pieces of content to keep your students hooked.
Like Teachable, Thinkific also gives you full access to HTML and CSS in case you have a particular idea in mind for your web design.
Whilst Teachable has better reporting and analytics, Thinkific supports more advanced quiz elements and gives you the ability to bulk sell courses and easily manage groups of students.
Podia has a minimalist approach to creating online courses, making it super easy to set up for those without design or development skills.
But don’t be fooled by its simple layout, Podia comes packed with plenty of helpful course features including coupons, upsells, product bundles, affiliates and built-in email marketing.
Podia even offers the ability to pre-launch courses, meaning you won’t have to create a landing page on your own website in order to start collecting warm leads.
Another unique feature of Podia is the fact that you can sell digital downloads (such as ebooks, audio files or checklists) separately from your online courses.
That way, you can collect data (and a bit of cash) from warm leads who might not be prepared just yet to invest in your online course.
Marketing Your Course
Once you’re all set up and ready to go, it’s time to launch your course into the world. But how do you make sure people will see it?
Well, if you’re not going with an online course marketplace as your chosen platform, it’s important to make sure your SEO is up to scratch so that your course will rank as highly as possible amongst search engine results.
If you’ve decided to host your online course on your own website, good news! With our handy Website Audit Checklist, you’ll be able to dig into all of the elements that can affect your rankings, such as your meta descriptions, backlinks and page speed.
If you’ve decided to go with some form of course creation software, no worries. Our checklist is full of helpful advice that can be applied to these too. While you might not be able to change things such as your page speed, you’ll definitely be able to fix broken links and ensure keyword consistency across your online course.
Many of these platforms also offer analytics that can give you some insight into where you’re going wrong. As you would when tracking the effectiveness of your landing page, you should make sure to track traffic sources, average time spent on the page, bounce rates and your conversion rates, if possible.
Via Social Media
Social media is an easy way to advertise your course, generate new leads and start to build a community of followers.
Hopefully, your business already uses social media to its advantage, but if not, we have a fantastic guide to Building a Social Media Strategy (plus it even includes a downloadable content calendar for 2019).
Focus in on a few social media platforms that your ideal customers are the most likely to use and try to produce content that demonstrates your value as a teacher - whether that’s because of your unique insight, intellect or sparkling wit.
Avoid the hard sell; consumers can sniff out a sales pitch from a mile away. You’ll do a much better job of convincing people to check out your course by engaging with them in a genuine way online.
Via Blog Posts
Forgive us for using this marketing slogan, but blog posts are a great way to attract, delight and engage customers throughout their buying journey.
Blog posts help to educate those who are new to your course, business or services on what you have to offer. By giving away tidbits of helpful information, you can attract new leads who are looking for advice on your chosen topic.
If your content is, ahem, delightful enough to keep them coming back, there’s a strong chance that a blog post will be responsible for tipping the scales and causing these leads to convert to customers.
But the appeal of blog posts doesn’t just stop there. Blog posts are also a vital way to stay engaged with the community you create through your online courses.
Share news and updates, advertise new courses and share discussions that you’ve had with customers along the way in order to keep your community alive and kicking.
Blog posts are also a great tool for increasing your SEO, as we’ve discussed previously. By helping you to target long-tail keywords and build inbound links, you can start pushing your way up the search engine rankings in no time.
Email marketing has an ROI of 4400%, making it a hugely helpful tool for generating new business.
Many online course creators make the mistake of neglecting the email addresses they’ve collected through their landing or sales pages. Without a bit of nurturing, these warm leads will lose interest and quickly forget about your business.
By creating a newsletter that’s packed with interesting updates, customer stories and promotions, you’ll be able to quickly convert leads into customers. Plus, you’ll also encourage current customers to commit to finishing your course, thus increasing your chance of repeat business and referrals.
When constructing an email marketing campaign, make sure to segment your subscriber list in order to ensure that you’re sending the right people the most relevant and interesting content for them. Try filtering your subscribers based on:
Their purchase history
Their engagement rates
What content they’ve consumed
Whether they’re brand ambassadors
If you’re concerned about GDPR when it comes to handling email marketing, we recommend that you check out our GDPR guide for further information.
Via Digital Advertising
Unfortunately, with Facebook’s organic reach cap and Google features such as The Knowledge Graph, it’s harder than ever to get your online course seen without investing in a bit of digital advertising.
Luckily, whether you use Google Adwords or want to focus on boosting your social media with a bit of advertising instead, a small injection of cash into your promotional campaign can go a long way.
By combining SEO best practices, strong keywords and demographic targeting, you can reach a much wider audience than you would organically.
The key to ensuring digital advertising success is to experiment with different demographics, advertising formats and keywords in order to see what is giving you the highest ROI. Tracking traffic sources to your online course will help you analyse these results.
Additionally, some course creation platforms also give you the ability to dig further into these details. Teachable, for example, gives you the option to add a conversion pixel to your website so you can see which of your ads are having the biggest impact.
Online courses can seem like a big undertaking and, by all means, they certainly can take up a lot of time and effort. But, when done well, the rewards to reap are pretty plentiful.
At Watb, we really believe that success can be measured by how much you’ve helped your customers succeed.
Online courses are a prime example of how you can do this. Leave behind a legacy of happy and well-educated students and you’re sure to start profiting from positive feedback.
Sharing your expertise is good for your customers and good for business too!
Sharing is caring.
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