Marketing and selling your online course is one of the most important aspects of a successful online course business.
Without a clear marketing strategy there's a high chance you could end up creating a great online course, but then struggling to find customers for it.
So, how exactly should you market and sell your online course?
There are a number of different approaches, but the fundamentals can be broken down to:
- create a great course that people want
- generate traffic and build an audience of engaged followers
- convert some of this audience to join your course
In this article we're going to dig deep into each of these stages and show you a number of ways to market and sell your online course.
You'll learn why marketing is such an important part of selling your online course, how to send traffic to your website and build an audience, and how to convert that traffic into sales.
Table of Contents
Why Is Online Course Marketing Necessary?
Sometimes the online marketing gurus can make it sound like all you need to make a six figure income is to upload your course to your website, and it will start selling like hotcakes....
The truth isn't that simple, and making money by selling online courses isn't as fast and easy as people sometimes make it out to be.
You can create a course that's ten times better than the next one on the market. You can do all your research and make sure it's something people would actually buy. But without marketing, nobody is going to even know that your course is available.
Even if you've got an existing audience or following from social media, sales of your online course won't just magically occur.
You might get a huge spike in initial sales when you first launch your course. But if you want it to keep selling consistently for months and years to come, then having a proper marketing plan and sales funnel in place is a must-have.
You need a system for:
- generating relavent leads
- nurturing those leads and building a relationship with them
- pitching your course and communicating its value so that people feel compelled to join
If you have these elements in place, then you have a sales funnel, and you'll create an ongoing stream of course sales.
Many people are scared or intimidated by having to market and actively sell their course, but there's no need to be afraid of it.
You don't have to sell your soul - you can market yourself in a way that feels authentic and ultimately just helps to connect you with those people who want to learn what you teach.
So in this article we're going to look at ways to get a steady flow of students buying your courses without selling your soul or breaking the bank with huge marketing budgets.
Step 1: Making A Great Product
I'm not here to make you into a snake oil salesman. There are plenty of get rich quick schemes online, but in my opinion it's much more profitable long-term to create a great product that actually delivers a huge amount of value to people.
Learn how to start, create and scale your online course with Parker Walbeck (a regular guy earning $250k per month teaching online courses)
It's better for your brand long-term. It's better for customer satisfaction and you'll have less complaints and requests for refunds.
An awesome course that over-delivers on value will speak for itself. You'll benefit from:
- word of mouth generating new leads
- positive testimonials & success stories that can be used in your marketing materials
- happy customers who may want to take more courses with you on related subjects
Before I teach you how to market your online course, I need you to have created an online course that you're truly proud of and willing to put your name and face behind.
Luckily I've already got plenty of articles on the site that can help you do just that. Check out the following articles (+ sign up to my email list for a load of useful tips and guides):
- How To Create An Online Course [Ultimate Beginners Guide]
- How To Choose An Online Course Topic That Sells
- How To Validate Your Online Course Idea
- How To Structure & Outline Your Online Course
- How To Record Your Online Course
- Which Is The Best Online Course Platform?
- How To Price Your Online Course
- 17 Ways To Engage Students & Increase Completion Rates In Your Online Course
Once you have got an awesome online course created, then the marketing and selling can begin!
Step 2: Getting Traffic And Building An Audience
One half of the online course marketing equation is just making people aware of your course. You want to attract a stream of relevant traffic; full of people who are likely to have an interest in your course.
When it comes to getting traffic for your online course, there are two main approaches.
You can spend money to advertise by paying to get yourself in front of relavent people. This takes advantage of other people's existing audiences and saves you a lot of time and effort. Common forms of paid advertising include Google Ads, Facebook Ads & YouTube Ads.
You can generate traffic for free in many different ways. Common forms of free traffic include organic search traffic (SEO), YouTube, Pinterest, Facebook Groups or Forums.
You'll need to do a lot more hands-on work to benefit from free traffic sources, whereas paid advertising is more of a "set it and forget it" approach.
There's no right or wrong approach. Free traffic is free(!) and often better quality, but it takes time. Paid traffic is quick and targeted, but it can cost quite a lot of money.
Personally, I'd recommend doing a bit bit of both.
Let's take a more in-depth look at some of the ways that you can build traffic and gain an audience that will want to join your online course:
1) Social Media
Social media can be an excellent way to gain traffic, but it can also eat up a huge amount of your time if you aren't careful.
It can feel like you're accomplishing real work when you're spending hours on social media posting content and answering questions, but often times it can develop into a distraction with no real benefit.
Making Facebook groups and pages used to be an amazing way to build an audience and get traffic. It can still be great, although I definitely think its value has decreased compared to a few years ago.
Nowadays it's hard to reach your entire audience when you make a post, and Facebook will charge you to money to ensure a post reaches your entire following. Especially when you're linking externally off their site.
If you've already got a pre-existing Twitter following, it can be a great way to get a sudden burst of students when you first release a new course. But I wouldn't recommend spending time making a huge Twitter following before you launch your course for the purposes of marketing.
Messages on Twitter are obsolete within a matter of hours as soon as they're out of your follower's news feeds. Plus today Twitter is focused on a lot of drama and politics that you probably don't want to get involved in.
If your course is about a topic that's very visual, Instagram can be a great platform to get traffic from.
If you've got an online course that teaches woodworking, you can post photos of your latest woodworking projects as inspiration. People will see your work and wish they could do it themselves, so they're likely to sign up for your course!
Creating videos is great for all kinds of courses. If your course has a lot of visual components, video is great for showing that off. It's also great for audio, such as if your online course is teaching people how to sing or play a musical instrument.
It can also be used for more abstract topics that you can't really demonstrate using sight or sound, like a course in creative writing or meditation.
One huge bonus of Youtube is that if your channel gets big enough, you can actually make ad revenue from your videos in addition to driving people to your courses.
-> Read my article about Using YouTube To Sell More Online Courses
If you remember the website Yahoo Answers that was quite popular a few years ago, Quora is kind of like that. It's currently the most popular "question and answer" website on the internet.
You can spend a couple hours each week answering questions related to your niche for people, and then provide them with a call to action to visit your website and check out your online course to learn even more.
If your topic has to do with professionals, LinkedIn can be a great place to get traffic. You can create blog posts and other types of content directly on LinkedIn for people to see.
It can be great if your course is about a topic like writing resumes, excelling at job interviews, how to ask for a raise, how to be an effective manager, or anything business related.
This is another social media platform that excels at visuals like Instagram. The difference is that Instagram focuses more on lifestyles associated with traveling the world, weight loss, and inspiration topics.
Pinterest can cover some of those topics too, but tends to be more associated with topics like parenting, crafting, home decorating, and more down-to-earth topics.
So if your course relates more to mommies than millennials, you might want to focus on Pinterest more than Instagram.
-> Read my in-depth guide on How To Sell Your Online Course On Pinterest here
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Reddit, because it can be very hard to predict how their users will react. Sometimes you'll get a great reaction to your posts, and other times Reddit users will metaphorically burn you alive.
Every section of the site, called a subreddit, is like an entirely different forum of people with very different interests, ideals, and sets of rules.
I've had some subreddits praise and thank me for sharing a link to my online course, generating hundreds of views per day for me. While others have instantly banned me for self-promotion.
For that reason, I think it's important to find a subreddit related to your course and then observe it and become a part of it for a few days or weeks to figure out how they think. That way you can figure out a way to share your course that they'll actually be receptive of.
Search engine optimization is a way of attracting people to your website that are interested in the same topics covered by your online course. In most cases, that involves creating a blog.
A good SEO strategy can require a lot of time to create all of the content that you need to attract visitors to your site.
But personally I'd much rather devote my time to SEO strategies that will bring in traffic for months or years, rather than posting on social media where content will disappear after a few days at most.
You should write blog posts that relate directly to the course that you're offering. Focus on answering common, easy to answer questions for your niche.
Your posts will rank highly in Google when people type in those questions, bringing a lot of very relavent traffic to your site in the process.
I've got an entire article devoted to SEO so I won't go into too much detail here. But the basics of SEO involve optimizing for keywords, using title and header tags, meta descriptions, and most importantly great content.
You should avoid using scammy backlinking and similar grey-hat or black-hat SEO tactics that might hurt your website's organic search ranking in the long term.
3) Guest Blogging
Offering to write articles on other websites is one way to drive traffic back to your own site.
If you're able to post on a very well-known blog with thousands of readers daily, you can generate some great views.
The downside of guest blogging is that it takes a lot of work. Normally you won't be paid for a guest blog, you're just writing it to get a byline at the bottom of the article that says a little bit about you and links back to your website.
I can be a risk to write great content for other peoples websites in the hopes that a few readers will click a link back to your website when they're done reading.
For some people guest blogging works great, but personally I'd rather focus on my own SEO strategy and creating great posts for my own website instead of someone else's!
Podcasting is a unique traffic source because it allows you to advertise to your audience even when they aren't at their computers. People can listen to your podcast while they're working out at the gym or in their car driving to work.
Creating a podcast creates a loyal fanbase and gives them a reason to come back to your website each week for a new episode.
There are a number of different formats your podcast could take. You could answer questions and answers from listeners if you're an expert in your course subject. You could have guests on related to your niche. You can keep listeners up to date on all the latest developments in your niche. Or you can do all of the above!
The big downside of podcasting is that it can be time-consuming. You'll need to regularly record episodes that are likely an hour or two long each. After recording, you'll probably need to do a bit of editing before your recording is ready to release as well.
Podcasting can also be expensive since you'll need to invest in some basic sound equipment to get started.
However, much like Youtube, your podcast might turn into a revenue source of its own.
In addition to including advertisements for your own online course during the podcast, you can also get sponsors who will pay to get their own advertisement featured on your show, or to get you to discuss their product.
Podcasts can also reach a lot of people. In addition to hosting them on your own website, you can make your podcast available on other platforms like iTunes quite easily to potentially reach millions of listeners.
5) Paid Advertising
There are a number of ways to pay for advertising to attract potential customers to your website.
Personally I really like Facebook ads because they are EXTREMELY customizable. You can set a bunch of different requirements to pick out your ideal customer.
Facebook will let you target users based on age, gender, geographic location, hobbies and interests, what kind of Facebook groups they belong to, and many other factors.
So if you're selling an online course about woodworking, you might target only Facebook users that belong to groups about woodworking.
Google AdWords is another great place to advertise.
For certain niches, advertising on specific websites like Reddit or Instagram can also be a great choice.
Finally there is something called solo ads.
Solo ads are basically paying somebody who already has a large email list to give your online course or website a shoutout to drive traffic to your website. It can be an option to consider if you don't want to build a large email list of your own.
An important part of paid advertising is retargeting, whether you're using Facebook, Google, or another ad platform. Most ad networks allow you to put a piece of coding on your website called a pixel which tracks how and when people interact with your website and ads.
An effective way to use retargeting is to make specific ads to direct at people who have already visited your website in the past. Instead of a generic ad to initially attract people, you might use a different kind of ad to say something else more like:
Hey, why haven't you bought my course yet? What are you waiting for?
6) Affiliate Programs
One of the best ways to send traffic to your website is to get somebody else to get it there for you!
An affiliate program is basically like hiring your own team of salespeople to go out on the internet and pitch your online course to people however they can.
In return they get a percentage of each sale that they direct to your website. Some affiliate programs might be as low as 1% while others can pay 50% or more.
It's in an affiliate's best interest to try and get as many people as possible to buy your course to get paid more, and it doesn't require any extra work or effort on your part. So it's a win-win situation for everybody!
A social media influencer is somebody who has already built up a big following for themselves on a platform like Instagram or Youtube.
You can pay those people to advertise your online course for you.
An upside to using influencers is that it can often cost less than other forms of paid advertising, especially if you work with up-and-coming influencers who aren't sure exactly how much they can charge yet, and will be excited to be making any money to recommend products.
Step 3: Conversion
At the beginning of step one, I mentioned that getting traffic to your website and building an audience was only one half of the equation.
The other half is maximizing your conversion rate. A conversion is whenever someone completes an action that you want them to. Buying your course or signing up for your email list, for example.
You can get millions of people who are exposed to your marketing or visit your website each day. But if none of them convert into people who buy your course, then it doesn't mean anything.
1) Why Do People Need Converting?
I've heard people say before that you need to see an ad for something 7 times on average before you finally decide to buy it.
I don't know if that exact number is true, but the premise behind it is.
People will rarely buy from you the very first time they hear about your course. You need to make contact with your potential buyers several times to allow them to gradually warm up to you, building rapport and trust along the way.
Think about it. You're probably way more likely to buy something from that guy you keep seeing all over the internet as opposed to a random guy you've never seen before.
2) How Do You Increase Conversions?
Here are some different strategies you can use to get people to finally finish the deed and actually buy your course.
In internet marketing, there's a common saying:
The money is in the list.
What people are referring to when they use this phrase is email lists.
The main premise behind email marketing is to give away something of value for free (usually called a "lead magnet") in exchange for people providing their email address and signing up for your email list.
Once someone is on your email list you can build a closer relationship, show them you can deliver value, that you're an expert in your topic and that they can get to know and trust you.
It then becomes much more likely that they'll be interested in joining your online course.
You can put people through an automated email sequence once they've signed up. During the first week or so, you might send them an email each day with valuable and helpful information to build trust and get them used to receiving emails from you.
I can highly recommend Convertkit to do this. I've used it a lot to build a number of email welcome series' and it's incredibly intuiative and enables you to segment and tag peole based on their preferences and behaviours (see my Convertkit review here for more info).
You'll also want to have an ongoing email newsletter that provides people with some kind of value to keep yourself fresh in their minds. Avoid boring newsletters like just recapping your top blog posts of the week, or people will get bored and unsubscribe.
You can use your email list to announce a new course you're launching or other products that your followers can purchase, including affiliate products for other online marketers. But again, don't make your newsletters seem like spam or people will unsubscribe.
Building up a strong email list can be one of your best long-term sources of traffic, but it also takes time and a lot of work to get there.
A webinar is an online presentation or meeting that's hosted in real-time using the internet.
I would normally consider a webinar more as part of your sales funnel as opposed to a source of traffic itself. You'll likely need to advertise in other ways to get people to sign up to your webinar first.
A webinar tells your potential customers what you're all about and builds trust with them. Normally people hold webinars on the premise of giving out valuable free information.
You'll teach people who tune in part of the material covered in your course, or related content, but then pitch them on buying your full course at the end of the webinar.
Since a webinar is held live, it requires a bit of commitment from viewers. They'll need to set time aside to attend, as it's not something pre-recorded that they can watch at their own convenience.
For that reason, the people attending your webinar are already likely invested in your message and respect you, and are quite likely to buy your course when presented with a clear call to action.
You can create a sense of scarcity by requiring people to sign up for your webinar by a certain time, or setting a limit such as only the first 100 people to sign up being able to attend.
One of the main benefits of webinars is that viewers can interact with you and get their questions answered. This gives you a great opportunity to clear up any worries or questions they have about your course.
Webinars required special software and technology in the past, but now with services like Youtube Live it's very easy to host them. You can even hold impromptu webinars whenever you want.
I already mentioned retargeting briefly when we talked about paid advertising, but it's important enough that we should talk about it again.
You've probably had the following experience:
- You look up one thing about snakes in Google on a whim. Suddenly every website you go to has advertisements about snakes. Ads for aquariums, heat lamps, and other stuff. What's going on?
- You've been retargeted!
- Advertisers are using retargeting pixels and cookies to determine that you've already looked up snakes, so there's a good chance you're thinking about buying a snake or would be interested in some kind of snake-related purpose.
- You can do the same thing for your online course, just without the snakes.
- You can retarget people who have visited your website, watched your Youtube videos, signed up for your email list, or any other numbers of indicators that you want to set. Each time someone gets another targeted ad, they become a little more familiar with you and get a bit more likely to buy.
Using A/B testing is especially important when you're using paid advertising, and platforms like Facebook ads make it really easy to do.
A/B testing is basically running at least two different ads (or as many as you want) to determine which one has the best conversion rate. Ie. Which one gets more people to buy your course?
You want to test a whole bunch of different things in your advertisements. Different images, different sales text, different fonts, etc.
Personally I'd try at least five different ads. You can set a $10 or $20 ad budget for each, and then see which performs best. Then you just cancel the ads that were underperforming and put all of your money into your best ad.
You don't just want to A/B test your ads either. You should also perform some A/B testing on your sales page once you've narrowed down which ad is most successful.
You can use plugins to present different site visitors with different versions of a page. Including different colors, text, and other features. That way you can further optimize to find out exactly which version of a web page will lead to the most people buying.
3) What Kind Of Conversion Rate Should I Expect?
A typical conversion rate of email leads to course customers is around 2-3%.
So for every 100 email leads you receive, you should expect 2 or 3 people to join your course.
This helps you to realize that once you have a sales funnel set up, your focus can be on building your email list, knowing that a proportion of those leads will become course customers.
If your conversion rate is below 1.5% then the chances are you have an inefficient sales funnel for one of a number of reasons. It could be:
- low relevancy/interest level of your leads
- mismatch between your lead magnet and course offer
- poor email sequence not building trust, offering value or adressing objections
- poor sales sequence not communicating the value and benefits of your course
- price point too high for your target customer
If you're in this situation take a look at your sales funnel with a critical eye and/or get other people you trust to do the same and analyse which of these elements might be causing the problem.
If you decide to use paid advertising then knowing your conversion rate becomes really important in working out your ROI (return on investment)
Anything over a 1:2 return on ad spend is good.
That means for every $1 you spend on advertising, you generate $2 in profit.
That basically gives you a license to print money! You can scale your advertising budget up to thousands of dollars, and theoretically you should keep getting back twice as much in profit as you spend on advertising, as long as your ad continues doing well.
Of course eventually you'll hit a wall where you've reached everyone interested in your niche, or people are just sick of seeing your ads. So it's important to keep a close eye on how your ad is performing and stop it once it becomes less profitable.
In fact, you don't even need to be making your money back on an advertisement for it to be successful. Even just getting people to sign up to your email list is valuable.
You've got to think about the lifetime value of your customer, not just making an individual sale. Sometimes adding someone to your email list can be more valuable than selling a single course, because they might buy multiple products from you down the road.
4) What Is A Sales Page?
Your sales page is the last place that people stop before they actually buy your online course. It's the place that people can visit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to go buy your course.
For that reason, you want it to be as captivating and enticing as possible.
Your sales page should tell a potential buyer everything they could possibly want to know about your course, as well as addressing any hesitation or concerns they might have.
Give lots of testimonials from past students, break down everything that's included as part of your course, and show them how much value your course would provide for them.
Your sales page is a complex piece of salesmanship and human psychology, and there are full courses devoted just to optimizing your sales page to sell as many copies of your product as possible.
5) What Is A Sales Funnel?
Many of the things I've discussed so far like advertising, email lists, webinars, and retargeting are all potentially parts of your online course sales funnel.
Like I mentioned, it's important to warm people up to you before you try to sell to them. If they hear from you several times, they'll be more likely to buy your course than if you had just pitched the course to them the very first time.
We want to use a sales funnel to build a relationship with potential customers.
We need to collect leads and build an audience, and then gradually nurture that relationship.
We want to build trust, find out what people want, and educate them and provide value along the way.
-> Read my detailed guide on Creating An Online Course Sales Funnel
6) Stages Of A Sales Funnel
The first time you make contact with someone who might eventually buy your course, you just want to engage with them.
You don't mention sales or try to directly sell to them. You just offer value in the form of a blog post, youtube video, or something else that helps them solve a problem.
Maybe you subtly start to introduce that you've got a product to sell, but that's it.
Ideally you'll get them to sign up for your email list, which creates its own separate sales funnel.
The next time your potential customer hears from you, you want to move them closer to the sale. You still don't want to directly mention your product, because seeming too much like a salesman can put people's guard up and turn them away.
Each time your prospect hears from you, whether that's the next email in your email sequence, the next Youtube video you post, or your next blog entry, you gradually start to introduce your product more and more. Just start mentioning your course.
Eventually you can move on to sales. Maybe on day 4 or 5 of your email sequence. Just remind them know you have a product available at first, and over the course of a few emails or videos, present them with a clear offer.
Don't forget to continue providing lots of free value in this step, and all previous steps.
Toward the end of your email sequence or sales funnel you might offer a limited-time discount, like 20% off if they sign up in the next 48 hours.
Marketing your online course requires two things.
The first is generating traffic, and the second is converting that traffic into email leads and course sales.
You can generate traffic to your website SEO, social media, paid advertising, and plenty of other methods.
I recommend picking one or two traffic methods to focus on first and building out your email list or sales funnel. Then you can always add other traffic methods in the future.
Once you have a steady stream of traffic coming through your sales funnel you can start to see how people interact with it and you can tweak and optimize it further.
Don't forgot that marketing is a long game. Not everyone will join your course straight away after being presented with your offer.
Some people will need multiple touch points over along period of time.
You can retarget these people in your sales funnel with more free content, continuing to offer them value and getting them more comfortable with you.
If you focus on building a relationship with your audience, delivering valuable content for free, and then communicating the value and benefits of your course you will make more course sales!
- If you already have a Shopify store and want to sell your digital products, check out my guide of How To Sell Online Courses On Shopify.
Best of luck with it! If you have any questions about marketing or selling your online course, drop a comment below and I'll be sure to help: