How to Market Online Courses from Scratch
By Nate Johnson
Reading Time: 5 minutes
If you're researching how to market online courses, you may think it's impossible to start from scratch. Well, it isn't.
One of the most common concerns we hear when entrepreneurs contact us about creating their first online course and the uncertainty that lies ahead is…
I’ve got the content, but I have no idea how to market online courses!
And it’s certainly a valid concern! After all, we’ve had some of our customers come to us as new clients with an email list or social media follower list of over 100,000 subscribers or followers.
If you have an email list of 100,000 subscribers, you’re not going to have a difficult time selling a new online course…even if you get a 1.5% close rate from your list.
But what if you don’t have anyone and you feel like you’re going to launch your course out into the wild only to hear the sound of crickets?
That’s when it’s time to get creative!
Let’s take a look at a few strategies for the online course creator who doesn’t have an established authority presence or massive email list…
First up on the list…start producing free content on the website which you’ll be selling or marketing your course from as soon as possible.
These don’t need to be epic, cornerstone blog posts. The keys here are frequency and relevancy. And eventually Google will begin to reward you for it.
Choose topics to write about which are relevant to your niche. Think through what it takes to achieve what a student might achieve at the end of your course and cherry pick a few micro-topics to write blog posts around.
Again, you can limit these to maybe 400 to 500 words if that helps you cover more topics with more frequent posts. A few years ago, SEO professionals used to espouse that blog posts needed to be long, 3,000-word content to rank in Google and gain traffic to a website.
This is no longer the case…the emphasis is on authority. And it would make sense that an authority on a topic is someone who writes on a subject accurately with their topics and has the enthusiasm to write about it frequently.
Ok…now we’re starting to generate organic search traffic through writing about topics relevant to our niche, so now it’s time to…
Start building an email list!
If people are reading our blog posts, we can assume that they want to know what we know, right? But they’re not likely to read that post and just say…
“Hey, this is a really cool site…let me look around and see if I can find a subscribe form where I can hand over the valuable email address I’ve used since college in exchange for nothing!”
No…we have to offer something in exchange for that email address. And if we do this right, we’ll have an email list of super-targeted subscribers who will purchase almost anything from us as we create courses, ebooks, or anything else related to their pursuit of knowledge in our niche.
So, what do we offer?
In marketing terms, this is called a lead magnet. It’s something free which is so valuable to our blog readers that they’ll make a transaction with us for it.
And what is that transaction?
Well, there’s no money involved. But, you’ve likely encountered it 1,000 times…
You’re presented with a modal, popup, or any other website element which fades in and offers to give you this valuable resource in exchange for your name and email.
You take the bait, receive some awesome resource for free, and the website gets your approval to email you in the future. Once you have approval to email them, you begin providing valuable, actionable, and free content.
You build trust and authority.
When you have a course to sell, well, you’ve already set the tone that you’re a boss in your niche and you know what you’re talking about!
This is a strategy which was a cornerstone tactic responsible for getting the word out for a company I started in 2012 with my business partner, Ben.
We had no audience to start out with and no one knew who we were. But, do you know who people did know and follow?
Influencers in our niche who had been building a following for years, but who didn’t have a product like ours.
So we sent them our product (fill in the blank here…course, ebook, etc.) and let them check it out. If they liked it, we asked if we could write a guest post for their site on a topic which would be useful for their audience.
In return, we received exposure to their followers (some of whom eventually became our customers), a nice little author bio at the bottom of the post which mentioned our product, and a nice, big, juicy, authority backlink which told Google that we were in the game!
And after all…we’re blogging for our own site anyway. Why not sit down and knock out two posts at a time while we’re in writing mode? One for us and one for exposure!
Remember those blog posts we’ve been writing for our site? Well, we can also set up a branded YouTube channel and start creating videos using those as scripts!
Setting up a YouTube channel is beyond the scope of this post, but it’s simple. And your videos don’t need to be anything super detailed, long, or technically or visually impressive.
You can create some slides covering the content of your blog post with bullet points, fire up a software like Screenflow or Camtasia, and start speaking into a cheap microphone while you record your screen and read your blog post.
Then you can post your blog posts as videos on your YouTube channel and add appropriate keywords (terms someone would type into Google or YouTube to learn what you’re teaching) for your niche as tags for your video.
And with over 1 billion hours of video watched on YouTube each day, well, trust us…
At least a few people are going to find you!
When we talked about the guest posting strategy above and getting people to mention you just because you saved them from two hours of blogging, there’s a lateral tactic we can use as well.
You’re going to need social media accounts anyway, so get those set up!
You’ll want your brand on at least Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You likely already know how this is all done.
But don’t stress…keep it simple.
Start promoting your blog posts, any guest posts you’re awarded, maybe some inspirational quote images, or anything else.
The best part?
You only need to do this maybe once a week. With social media scheduling platforms such as Buffer or HootSuite, you can schedule these out far in advance.
After you have some of your own content going up, you can start sharing some of the content from sites of other authorities in your niche and tag them on your social media outlets with their handles.
They’re going to be flattered that you thought their content was awesome enough to share with your audience that they’ll share it with theirs. And that’s the magic of step five!
Having a following is certainly nice when you launch a new online course, but it isn’t necessary. By getting creative, you can start building a tribe even if you don’t have a course yet.
The most important lesson we want you to take away from this post on how to market online courses, though…
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