14 Tips to Build an Audience for Your Online Course

leads Apr 08, 2020

Want to build an audience for your online course? Growing an audience before you launch is a smart move. In this guide, we'll share 14 tips to build an audience for your online course.

So, you've created the most awesome online course ever. You've spent weeks, or even months, creating the content and getting it ready to sell.

But no one is buying.

"Shoot," you're just now realizing, "I probably should've built an audience first!"

If you're kicking yourself for following the "build it and they will come" mentality, don't worry. You're not the only one. Many of us have made the same mistake.

But the important thing is that you now understand the importance of building an audience.

It's never too late– you can still build that audience now! And if you decide to create another course in the future, then you'll already have an audience in place to buy it.

Why You Need an Audience

As you've figured out by now, even the most appealing course will be of no good if you don’t have a fair amount of people already lined up to buy it.

We don't mean that you need a large number of people following you on social media. Although that can help, it's possible to have tons of people following you who don't actually want to buy your course.

What you really want is a highly specific audience of people who have already expressed an interest in what you have to offer. Ideally, you'll want these people to be subscribed to your email list, so you can stay in touch with them, deepen your relationship with them, and ultimately sell them your course.

But how do you find and attract those people?

Here are 14 tips to build and grow an audience of people desperately waiting to buy your online course...

1. Understand Your Target Audience 

Here’s a piece of marketing advice you’ll receive on every single similar post you’ll seek.

Why does everyone advise you to select an audience and focus it? Because that’s the only way you’re going to be profitable in any online business, especially if you’re selling educational content.

Think about it.

Why would anyone who’s interested in real estate (for example) buy an online course that teaches the basics of Excel? Or…why would you, as an individual, purchase something you don’t need?

That’s what this is about. Defining your target audience is like finding a demand for your offerings. In case you haven’t started creating your course yet, you should define and understand your target market before investing time and money into your product. If you have already created it, it’s never too late to optimize your audience selection and marketing. Here are some good tips to do that:

Start with a brainstorming process. Ask yourself questions that will bring relevant answers. For example:

  • What's their age?
  • Gender?
  • Income?
  • Location?
  • Where do they "hang out" online? (Facebook? LinkedIn? Pinterest? YouTube?)
  • What are their goals?
  • What are they struggling with?
  • What are their interests and values?

You should not stop with the questions until you have a complete characterization of your ideal target audience member. You can call this person your “target persona”. Basically, if your course targets a broader audience, you can create more “target personas” and focus your marketing campaigns on specific audiences.

Brainstorming is the first step. The second would be the research. Once you’ve identified one or more target personas, you should constantly observe their behavior and comments online. For example, read more Amazon book reviews of books that are very similar to your course.

Niche forums are also a great source of feedback. You can also scout social media channels – that’s the place where people are used to sharing opinions. Collect all the relevant feedback and optimize the image of your target personas.

The last thing you’ll want to do is seek direct feedback. This can be done through surveys and/or simple questions that are addressed to individuals who are already following your social profile and website, or to people who have already joined your e-mail list.

2. Define Your Value Proposition

Each online course has a value proposition. For example, if there were 10 competitors who would sell 10 courses that teach students how to market education courses (on the same eLearning platform), the customer will often pick the course with the most relevant and promising value proposition.

Your value proposition is simply the promise you make to your prospects. You’re promising them benefits in exchange for money. Therefore, in a super agglomerate marketplace, you’ll need to differentiate your value proposition from the rest of the competition by thinking out-of-the-box.

How do you do that?

Ideally, you should always study the marketplace and the potential competition before developing the course. Nevertheless, if you’ve already created it, you can at least work on your copywriting and marketing to attract more attention (without lying or exaggerating on the benefits).

The key is to identify what other courses are offering and to define what they are not offering. Each course promises to teach something.

So, if your competitors are missing a lot of important details about a specific topic that you can complete, simply complete it yourself and shut out loud that your course is unique because it is the only one that offers this or that specific information (along the rest). Offer uniqueness, and you’ll inevitably attract the attention of relevant potential customers.

3. Search Engine Optimize Your Website (Start a Blog)

As a course seller, search engine marketing (SEO) is something you cannot avoid or neglect. Since your business offers information and education as the main value proposition, search engine traffic will provide extremely targeted traffic.

When people search in Google “best e-mail marketing courses”, they’re very close to purchasing because their search intent will immediately lead to purchase. Also, because search engines are the first places that people use in order to seek information, SEO should become one of your top priorities.

If you’re not familiar with SEO or how to get found on Page 1 of Google, here are the top 4 ranking factors that are important to know:

  • Blog content (how relevant your website information is to the public, etc.)
  • Backlinks (the more quality sources that offer a link to your course the better)
  • Technical SEO or on page SEO (meta title, meta tags, meta description, etc.)
  • Website performance (page speed, UX, the average time people spend on your pages, etc.)

Obviously, SEO cannot be learned by reading a subheading. My best suggestion is to start getting accustomed to Google’s algorithms and study SEO thoroughly. Then, you’ll be able to start developing and implementing an SEO strategy that’ll constantly improve your course page’s ranking, and therefore its reach.

Nevertheless, I can throw in a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned after dealing with SEO for over 4 years now:

  • Longer content performs better.
  • Google tends to appreciate natural content way more than “SEO optimized content”. That means you shouldn’t worry about aspects like keyword density or keyword semantics while writing blog content or guest posts. Focus on the reader and provide as much value as possible!
  • One quality backlink is the equivalent of many poor-quality ones. You should try to acquire natural backlinks from highly reputable websites with high domain authority. Quality over quantity is key.
  • Improving your users’ experience by keeping your website and course page simple is key to making them spend more time on your site. If they do, your search ratings will automatically grow because Google perceives your pages and site as being relevant to the readers.

SEO is a long-term journey rather than a quick result. Treat it with patience and consistency, and in time, you will start reaping the huge benefits of the organic and targeted traffic that is ready to buy your product!

4. Leverage Micro Influencers

You probably know what influencers are, but have you ever considered “micro” influencers? These are the individuals or businesses that will charge a very decent amount of money for their services. That makes influencer marketing affordable even to newbie course owners who are just getting into the online marketing game!

Social media “micro” influencers can publish news feed updates, stories, articles, and even video testimonials on their frequently visited social pages, thus making your product attractive and wanted.

You don’t need a psychology degree to realize that people are being influenced by personalities who present a “high social status”. A micro-influencer, even though he or she is not yet “famous”, has the ability to reach a lot of eyes and ears. If the influencer wants to, he can determine (and often persuade) his audience to buy the same products that he has bought.

A micro-influencer is simply a popular person or business who has around 1,000 to 30,000 social media followers. How do you find them? You can leverage tools like Buzzsumo to identify influencers in your own niche across more social media platforms, or you can manually search for them.

Before you decide to collaborate with a micro-influencer, you should carefully study his social media profile’s engagement. If their fans are constantly liking, sharing, and commenting on the influencer’s post, that is a very good sign. If the page is almost inactive (but has a lot of followers), you should immediately skip it and look for better engagement!

Once you find an influencer that is followed by a target audience that is very likely to be interested in your value proposition, get in touch and ask for his advertising rates. You should ALWAYS negotiate when dealing with micro-influencers, as they are always in need of revenues, so they’ll be likely to agree to promote your online course for smaller fees.

5. Offer Real Value on Niche Forums

If you’re wondering how to market an online course for free, niche forums and Q&A platforms are probably your best options. The tactic you’ll want to employ is quite simple, though it requires a lot of consistency and commitment.

Simply put, you will be sharing relevant comments and answers on Quora, Yahoo Answers, but also on “niche forums”. A niche forum is a place where individuals seek advice and product recommendations that concern a specific niche.

Therefore, if you’re selling a health course, you’ll want to seek health-related forums. Even better, if you’re selling a very niched course (how to lose belly fat), you can seek “lose weight” forums. Whenever you do forum marketing, seek the most specific forums out there by using forum search engines like Boardreader or Omgili.

Log in every day and seek relevant questions that are related to your course’s content. Provide good answers and lead everyone towards your offers by providing a link to your website (less promotional) or by directly sharing your course page (if the forum allows). Also, don’t forget about forum signatures – if the forums allow it, write a very attractive sentence and add your promotional link. Follow the same strategy with Quora, Yahoo Answers, and other popular Q&A platforms.

6. Build (& Nurture!) Your Email List

In case you’re not familiar with the “foot-in-the-door” psychological principle, I’ll summarize it in a sentence: when a person agrees to make a small commitment to someone, he is likely to accept a bigger request later on. 

How and why is this principle relevant to your online course sales? The answer is email marketing. The first time you ask a person to make a small commitment is when you ask him to sign-up to your email list or to your daily/weekly newsletter.

E-mail marketing is the most effective communication channel when it comes to selling online products, mainly because the interaction between the seller and the buyer is personalized and private. As a course seller, you’ll want to offer your email subscribers a lot of relevant information that can influence their life in a positive way.

Also, your email list should be used whenever you have updates or discounts to share. You can also use it to collect useful feedback from the people who have already purchased, and you can use it to promote upsells (higher-priced products) to your “buyers’ list”.

Therefore – by using the foot-in-the-door psychological strategy while also developing a genuine relationship with your prospects, your chances of selling that course of yours will significantly improve.

Another popular and heavily used persuasion principle is the “Reciprocity technique”. This psychological tactic involves offering relevant value to a prospect without asking anything in return, so that that the same prospect will feel obliged to answer or commit to your requests later. This tactic works on all levels, especially when it comes to selling products online.

The most common way to leverage this psychological principle is to offer a free e-book or a course introduction (a.k.a. lead magnets or content upgrades) to people who accept to become your email subscribers. You can continue with the same tactic by constantly offering free value without promoting anything.

When the time comes, throw in your course’s value proposition. If you did good at offering a lot of good value, your prospects’ barriers to purchase will instantly drop and they will immediately buy by the time you start to feature your course in your emails.

Here are a few more email marketing tips:

  • Understand and leverage email marketing segmentation. Split your email audience into different sections and personalize your email communication according to people’s needs and interests.
  • Keep it educational rather than promotional. Use email marketing to improve your brand’s reputation and trust, focus on sales once the first step is achieved.

Find out what types of emails your audience prefers and discover the hours when your emails get the most open rates.

7. Promote Your Course on Social Media

You probably already know that social media is important, but which channel should you use?

For starters, we highly recommend starting with one, single platform. If you try to master many different social media platforms all at once, you'll be spreading yourself too thin, and you'll have trouble gaining traction.

To choose a platform to focus on, ask yourself, "Where does my target audience hang out online?" (Remember, you answered this question in Tip #1 above.)

For example, if your online course is on "networking skills", LinkedIn might be a really good platform to use. However, if your course is about “how to design a fashion line”, Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr would probably be much better options.

You get the idea.

Here are a few tips and tricks to improve your social media presence (whichever platform you choose):

  • Share a few tips from your course in your social media posts, but save the best for paid members.
  • Ask your followers to sign-up to your email list to receive free value, special discounts, or to be added to your course waitlist.
  • Seek other relevant course creators (not direct competitors) and offer a joint venture opportunity. After studying their courses and making sure they’re relevant to your audience, simply reach out to them and see if they would be willing to share your course with their audience (and you would do the same).

You might also try leveraging social media advertising. (Tip: start with a small budget until you get the hang of it.)

7. Start a Podcast

Podcasts can serve as another great marketing tool for your online course. Teach potential students about your topic, and don't forget to ask them to join your email list!

32% of Americans now listen to podcasts monthly (up from 26% last year). That means podcasts are growing at an incredible rate, so if you want to start now is the time.

8. Create a YouTube Channel

YouTube is the most visited search engine in the world after Google. Particularly if your topic is highly visual, you can create helpful videos to attract an audience for your online course.

To get started on YouTube, we recommend following the steps laid out in YouTube Creator Academy. It's a completely free course created by YouTube to help you get off on the right foot.

9. Create a Video Ad

Did you know that you can run video advertisements for your online course on different platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest? If you're strapped for time, video ads are a quick and simple way to start building an audience for your course.

In your video, ask viewers to sign up for your email list. Offering a free download often works best.

To get started with YouTube video ads, check out YouTube's step-by-step guide.

For Pinterest video ads, check out Pinterest Video: The Ultimate Guide.

For Facebook and Instagram video guides, check out Facebook's guide here.

10. Build Testimonials

Social proof plays a key role in the promotion of any product, and online courses are no exception.

Consider offering your course for free to a select group of "beta testers". This will allow them to try your course out risk-free, and you will collect valuable testimonials for use on your sales and checkout pages, emails, and all other marketing materials.

Remember: no one will blindly trust that your course works. You need to prove it by showing that it has worked for others!

11. Create a Free Mini Course

One of the absolute best ways to attract a following for your online course is by creating a "mini course".

A mini course is a smaller course that gives potential students a taste of what they'll get when they join your program. Simply take a little bit of information from your main course, and offer it for free, in exchange for their email address.

Some people will take what you taught in the mini course and run with it. Others will need more hand-holding, so they'll purchase your paid program. Either way, you are helping people– and that's a good thing! People who get results from your mini course are far more likely to talk about you and spread the word.

12. Participate in a Bundle Deal

Some businesses create bundles of courses that are related to each other, and offer them at a discounted price. To get the word out about you and attract a following, you may want to contribute to one of these bundles.

The best way to leverage this strategy is by contributing a smaller course related to the one you ultimately want to sell. That way, you'll attract an audience of people who are good candidates for your bigger program.

13. Write Guest Posts

Write blog posts answering questions surrounding the main topic of your course... but don't only publish them on your own blog!

One of the best ways to build an audience in the beginning is by publishing posts on OTHER people's blogs.

This way, your post will be read by an already existing audience– and if your post is really helpful, many of those readers will join your email list.

Make sure to include a link to a free offer or download in your author bio– that way, readers will be enticed to join your email list.

14. Study Your Competitors

Don't forget to study your competitors– this can be the most valuable source of information to guide you in your marketing efforts.

For example, check and see what blog posts other people are writing in your niche. Those are all topics that you could write about as well!

Also, what free offers do your competitors have? How do they get someone to subscribe to their email list, and ultimately become a customer? Studying your competitor's sales funnels can teach you a lot about what makes your ideal audience "tick".

Final Thoughts

Online course development is just one side of the coin, while the promotion is the other one. They go hand in hand, and both need to be treated with delicate attention. The more value you add in your content the more word-of-mouth recommendations your product will get. Nevertheless, if your product doesn’t get to be consumed by an interested audience, it’ll never generate word-of-mouth sales.

Taking your time to plan and properly execute your marketing strategies is critical. By taking the time, I’m talking about constantly testing, analyzing, and optimizing your online marketing campaigns until they generate positive results. Take today’s strategies into close consideration and leverage them wisely to attract your target audience and skyrocket sales!

Robert Everett is a dedicated entrepreneur and a full-time freelance writer at Edubirdie. As he got his Ph.D. in psychology, Robert is constantly implementing mental techniques throughout his marketing strategies to better sell his products and services. Personally, he loves studying contemporary literature while traveling across the world.

Stella Lincoln is working as an SEO Analyst at Academist Help and a Digital Marketing tutor at Crowd Writer. She conducts seminars at the University of California and has been motivating a large number of students to start their career as an Entrepreneur. She has a keen interest in educating the world about the issues around town and wishes to create a world where education and knowledge are available on a click.

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