The market for online courses continues to grow, driven by a desire for career flexibility and an employment world that continues to struggle due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It takes time and effort to create compelling materials, of course, but the payoff is worth it. You get to choose the terms: what you charge, how frequently you provide updates, and what platform you use.
In this post, we’re going to look at how you can sell online courses using Squarespace, one of the most popular ecommerce platforms on the market (with exceptional aesthetics as this Squarespace review notes).
Why should you choose it? And if you do, what do you need to know about taking advantage of this particular CMS? Let’s answer these questions (and more).
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While Squarespace clearly wasn’t developed for the purpose of selling course materials, it can be used to that end, and there are two viable routes. The first involves adding those materials as digital products.
Ordering a digital product yields a download link that expires within 24 hours (this cannot be changed), with a limit of one file per product and 300mb per file (though it can be an archive, such as a ZIP file).
The best way to use this approach is to bundle the materials for each course into a ZIP file and provide that as the product. It certainly isn’t ideal (with the link expiration, in particular, being awkward), but it’s entirely workable if you clearly communicate the terms to shoppers.
The second viable route isn’t quite intended, but offers rather more flexibility. In addition to supporting physical and digital products, Squarespace supports service products that can then be packaged as ongoing subscriptions (launched back in 2018).
While it won’t allow you to sell a digital product as a subscription, you can create a custom subscription for a particular course and arrange the distribution manually.
In other words, you can set a price tier for a course ($4.99 per month or whatever seems suitable), then provide access to the materials through contacting the buyers directly.
You won’t actually be storing the materials through Squarespace, so you’ll need to find an alternative option, but you’ll then be able to provide a more variable form of tuition.
Relative to other retail-capable platforms, Squarespace has a very limited array of extensions and integrations, and there isn’t much that’s relevant to selling online courses.
Outfy offers some convenient social marketing options that can help you promote your courses, and Delighted can help you gather some valuable feedback, but that’s about it — and there’s nothing to help you sell other product types.
If you decide to use Squarespace to sell your online courses, you’ll be relying almost entirely on native features and options. This will make things simpler, certainly, but heavily restrict what you can realistically achieve.
Let’s consider how significant this is…
Having covered the extent to which Squarespace supports online-course selling, we have enough information to run through the pros and cons of using it for that purpose:
Given that Squarespace isn’t a perfect fit for selling online courses, it’s reasonable to wonder if it would be better to use a dedicated course platform like Kajabi (there are various others, too). Taking that route would mean gaining myriad customization options.
You wouldn’t need to deal with the limitations of Squarespace’s support for digital products, which would be useful.
In the end, though, it depends on two factors in particular: how you intend to sell your digital courses, and whether you also want to sell physical products.
If you’re perfectly happy to run with the single-file single-link model used by Squarespace, then there’s no big reason why you shouldn’t use this platform — and if you want to sell online courses to supplement a standard ecommerce income, doing it all through Squarespace is a fine way to proceed.
On the other hand, if you can’t deal with the limitations of this platform and want to focus entirely on making money through selling online courses, you’re far better served running with a platform that was actually developed for that purpose.
If you decide that you want to use Squarespace for his purpose, how should you go about it? I suggest using it as the front-end for one of the aforementioned dedicated course platforms.
In other words, your Squarespace site won’t technically handle the transactions: instead, you’ll build an attractive site and use it to push people towards some suitable e-commerce pages.
There are two options for this:
Not all course-selling platforms allow checkout processes to be embedded. When that isn’t an option, the best thing to do is create CTAs on your Squarespace site that lead to the course product pages on your chosen platform. If you set them to open in new tabs, you can keep those people on your main site once they’re finished checking out.
If you do this, though, be sure to match as many branding elements across the sites. You won’t be able to make everything match (navigation elements, for instance, will surely be distinct), but you can line up the color schemes, use your logo, and even use the same font.
Consistency is vital: if someone clicks on a CTA and arrives on a page that feels radically different, they’ll be unsure if they’re in the right place.
Some learning platforms allow their purchasing processes to be embedded on third-party websites. This can be defined differently depending on the developer: Podia, for instance, explains how to embed its checkout, while Thinkific allows you to create sales widgets that do the same thing.
Some styling elements will automatically match the styling already present on your Squarespace site, while others may not.
Leaving the e-commerce functionality to a dedicated platform allows you to take advantage of the best part of Squarespace: the ease with which you can create a finely-honed user experience.
You can flesh out your site with rich content, delving into the benefits conferred by your course materials, recounting glowing customer testimonials, and adding promotional content in the forms of excerpts, embedded explainer videos, or even audio extracts.
You won’t get the tight-knit integrations that other platforms allow, but that might not be an issue. Provided you’re happy to accept the payment-processing terms of a solution like Thinkific, you can silo the ecommerce elements and focus solely on promotional power.
And since a full course is a big financial and time investment, that’s a smart way to go.
Jacob has a background in finance and engineering. Outside of his day job, he is a lifelong learner, who enjoys reading, taking online courses, and writing about what he's learned.