2020 Digital Marketing Insights on How to Sell Online Courses

Digital technology has had a major impact on education, whether we’re talking about university-level courses, retraining courses, professional-developed courses, self-improvement courses, or something else completely. From practical skills like nursing to office management to health and wellness, the Internet has allowed online courses to flourish and enabled students the world over to improve their knowledge and build a brighter future.

It has also allowed course developers and providers to create thriving businesses. However, the same technology that has enabled distance learning to become so widespread has also ushered in challenges. How do you make potential learners aware of your offerings? How do you sell your online courses to new students?

Digital marketing offers a broad suite of tools and capabilities that can enable you to expand your reach, target your ideal audience, and build a more successful education-based business. However, doing so will require understanding which tools, techniques, and platforms are essential to your success. In this guide, we will explore some of the most important digital marketing insights for anyone selling online courses in 2020 and beyond.

  1. Identify Your Audience: Before you can do anything else, you need to ensure that you know whom you’re marketing to and that you have well-defined parameters for who falls into your audience and who does not. For instance, are your online courses geared for nurses, phlebotomists, and others who need to re-up their certifications during their careers? Are you marketing to stay-at-home mums, or to professionals who want to become better at their jobs?

    Drill down into this topic and identify who is the perfect customer. Who are your online courses tailored for? This should inform every other element of your digital marketing efforts, from your website name, URL, and design to your content marketing and beyond. Without a solid understanding of whom you’re trying to reach, you’re going to fail.
  2. Identify Your Key Message: Once you’ve identified your ideal customer, you need to go further. What’s your key message? What are you trying to communicate? This should be relatively simple, but it can be deceptive. For instance, you might sell courses that help professionals become better at their jobs, but is that your core message – become better at what you do? 
  3. Probably not. It might be something more along the lines of “creating a new you”, or “building the skills necessary to land your dream job”, or something along those lines. What is it that drives your customers to your courses? Identify that underlying reason and then bake it into all of your digital marketing efforts. In fact, it should become the foundation stone of your entire online presence. 
  4. Target Multiple Types of Customers: In an ideal world, you would only have to focus on customers who are already primed to buy what you’re offering. They’re aware of you, your courses, and their need for those courses. These are ready-to-buy customers. However, you also need to account for others – some customers are unaware of what you offer, or of your company entirely. Others need help recognising why you are the right course provider for their needs. 
    1. It’s essential that you be able to reach multiple types of customers through your digital marketing efforts, whether that’s your website, blog, social media content, ebooks, PPC ads, or something completely different.
  5. Student Avatars/Personas: In your drive to identify each type of customer, you’ll find that it becomes necessary to create avatars or personas. Basically, these are representations of different types of people who fit into your ideal audience. They reflect a combination of real-world characteristics, action drivers, and demographics that makes each segment of your audience different from the rest.
    1. By creating personas/avatars, you’re able to further refine your marketing and target individual segments of your audience with content that is ultra-relevant to them. This reduces spending, improves traction, and helps ensure that you’re delivering a message that resonates with each group of potential students
    2. Remember – there is no one-size-fits-all marketing message that will work for you. The day when you could do that with any hope of achieving success is long gone. Finding success in today’s world requires audience segmentation and message differentiation
  6. Know Why Your Customers Should Buy from You: Let’s be clear about something. Everyone has competitors today. The very technology that allows you to offer courses in the digital environment also allows your potential customers to buy from other providers all around the world. This makes it crucial that you know why your customers should buy from you.
  7. What makes you different? What sets your courses apart from the others available out there? This is what’s called your USP, or unique selling proposition, and it should be at the heart of everything you do within the digital environment. Without clear messaging about your USP, your customers may pass you by in favour of a competitor who has been able to differentiate themselves.
  8. Create a Modern Website: Even if your courses are not offered directly through your website, you cannot afford to have a site that’s a relic. It must be more than just a digital postcard. It should be thoroughly modern and adapted to ensure that your visitors have the best possible experience. What does this mean, though?
    1. It should have clear, simple, intuitive navigation.
    2. It should be responsive in design, so it resizes and reorders content based on device type and screen size.
    3. Colour choices and font styles that match your brand but also lend themselves to easy readability.
    4. A layout that helps your visitors move from area to area, and page to page easily.
  9. Make Sure Your Website Is Professional: In addition to ensuring that your website complies with modern design standards, it also needs to look professional. This is particularly important for anyone selling online courses, as your website will affect perceived authenticity and even course quality. If your site looks like it was designed by a primary school student, it’s time to invest in something better.
  10. Student Success Stories: Today’s consumers are savvier than ever before. They realise that just because a business claims to offer a particular benefit, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is true. For digital course providers, this means that you need to find a way to prove that your online courses really do what you claim they can. It’s possible to do this with student success stories.
    1. Think of them like case studies for other businesses – digital documents that describe why a student came to you, what they learned, and how they applied it within their lives. It’s all about showing social proof and communicating the fact that your offerings can actually help your students achieve their goals.
  11. Get Social: While many businesses may find only marginal value in the world of social media, that’s not the case with digital course providers. No matter what type of online education you’re offering, sites like Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn provide you with invaluable ways to expand your reach, brand your business, target your audience, and communicate your message. Use social media to tie into other digital marketing efforts, too, such as your blog, or lead generation tools like free ebooks or reports.
  12. Blog about It: The humble blog has been around for a very long time and it remains a vital tool for any business owner seeking to build success in the digital environment. Your blog is the place where you can be more personal and personable. It’s where you can discuss a broad range of things that might not work on your primary website pages, as well.
    1. Blog content helps you rank in the SERPs organically, but also gives you a way to provide additional value to your students. When blogging, remember to be authentic, though. Your posts should be genuine attempts to offer additional value to students, not thinly veiled marketing messages.
  13. Use Testimonials: Social proof is incredibly important when it comes to selling courses online. While we’ve discussed how to use student success stories, testimonials can also be powerful tools. Keep them brief and on topic, no more than a sentence or two usually.
    1. They should also be used throughout your website. Highlight several on your home page, but also make sure that they appear in other key areas on other pages, use them in your social media marketing efforts, and more.
    2. With that being said, it is absolutely critical that your testimonials are genuine. Any testimonial posted should come from a real student and should reflect their actual experience with and feelings about your course.
  14. Invest in Additional Content: You might think that your online courses are all the content you need for success, but that is far from the truth. Content marketing is an essential component of success in today’s digital environment, and you cannot stop with your website and blog.
    1. You need to invest in other content types to build interest in your potential leads, to educate them about the problem and why your online courses are the right answer to their challenge, and to invite them to take the next step.
    2. You can do this through additional content types, such as free ebooks, reports, and guides. These are often offered in exchange for someone signing up for an email list, and they can make good loss-leaders and lead generation tools.
  15. Video Content: In addition to ebooks and reports, blog posts, and social media content, you should also take advantage of the explosion in popularity with video content. It’s now the most frequently consumed type of content online, and as a digital course provider, you’re in a prime position to take advantage of this trend.
    1. Create brief video “snippets” from your course(s) that highlight the information you have to offer. Have previous students create video testimonials. If your online courses include video content, consider using some of that in your marketing efforts.
    2. Video content can be used on your website, on social media sites, in blog posts, on sites like YouTube and Vimeo, and in numerous other areas, helping you to expand your reach and target your ideal audience.
  16. Make Sure Your Content Is Remarkable: While we’re discussing content, it’s important to note that subpar quality content will knock you down in the SERPs, but it will also reduce your perceived quality and authority in the eyes of prospective students. In order to succeed, you need remarkable content that encourages visitors to like and share it far and wide.
  17. Commit to Lead Education: No matter how well-respected your courses might be, you cannot expect leads to convert without some encouragement. You must educate them about what your courses offer, why they’re suited for your students’ needs, and more. Commit to educating your audience and you’ll be able to build better traction, rank higher in the SERPs, and build success.
  18. PPC Campaigns: While organic SEO is essential, don’t neglect the power and traction that PPC ads can deliver. With the right targeting, a smart budgeting and bidding strategy, and a good understanding of your audience, you can use these ads to expand your reach dramatically, compete with other online course providers, and even generate results in the SERPs while you wait for organic SEO to build.
    1.  With that being said, PPC campaigns can be pretty complicated and difficult to run if you’re not experienced in this area. You’ll need to be very good at creating ad copy, have a very, very good understanding of your keyword strategy, understand the bidding landscape, and more if you want to see success here.
  19. Facebook Ads: Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world, which means that no matter what audience you’re targeting, they’re going to be active on the network. Facebook’s ad platform allows you to target your audience in unique ways. Think of these like AdWords ads, but for Facebook only.
    1. You’ll also find that there are powerful tools that allow you to refine your reach, so you can create ads that match specific audience segments, campaign types, and more. However, just like PPC ads, you’ll need to be well-versed in ad copy creation, keyword targeting, and other elements to be successful.
  20. Automate Your Ad Bidding: In the past, you had to be pretty hands-on when it came to ad bidding with Google and Facebook. However, things are changing today. In order to achieve success and not blow your marketing budget, you need to have a smart ad bidding strategy. This is where automated smart bidding tools can be invaluable. Google has already launched one, but expect Facebook to bring one to market too.
    1.  Make the most of these tools to ensure that you’re able to optimise towards your selected performance target in every single auction, and use different bidding strategies depending on your needs and competition. For instance, different strategies can include target CPA, target ROAS, maximised conversion, and enhanced CPC.
  21. Invest in Predictive Marketing Technology: The sales funnel has never been more fragmented. Today’s consumers interact with brands in an incredibly unstructured way. They invest time in research. They check out competitors. They check you out on social media.
    1. Predictive marketing helps you make better sense of these unstructured touchpoints and then makes predictions based on specific data patterns that allow you to reach your audience at the right time, with the right message, through the right medium.
    2. Predictive marketing technology can help you determine when to send an email, which series of emails to send, and even whether it would be better to reach out via SMS, email, through social, or in another way.
  22. Lead Segmentation: As we discussed earlier, you need to ensure that you create accurate student avatars. Combine these with predictive technology and lead segmentation results to create individualised marketing content specific to each prospective student. You can deliver that content through email, social media, and other methods.
  23. Focus on Featured Snippets: Organic search has changed a lot over the years, and it will continue to do so. One of the most important shifts, particularly for anyone invested in SEO and digital marketing, is the rise of no-click search results. More and more, organic searches are not resulting in a click through to a website because Google is answering search queries right there in the SERPs through featured snippets.
    1. In order to make the most of this trend, you need to create rich content that answers searchers’ queries so that you can be shown in the featured snippets segment of the SERPs. As an online course provider, you’re well-positioned to do that, but it requires intentionality, as well as a solid understanding of what your students are searching for in the first place.
  24. Optimise for Voice Search: Today, it seems like everyone is using Siri, Alexa, or another virtual assistant. These AIs are baked into our smartphones and tablets. They’re also accessible through home portals, like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
  25. Don’t Neglect SEO: Search engine optimisation is just as critical today as it was several years ago, more so, in reality. However, it has become imperative that you go beyond the basics when it comes to optimising your site. Not only do you need keyword-rich page content, but that content also needs to speak directly to your audience’s pain points and challenges. You also need to ensure that you’re optimising other areas beyond page text, such as image alt text, meta content, and the like. Take a deep dive into your website and ensure that you’re using the right keywords and phrases in the right places to drive traffic and help ensure visibility.
  26. Conduct In-Depth Keyword Research: What keywords are you targeting in your site and other content? Do you have separate keywords listed for each student persona/avatar? Do you know what keywords your competitors are using and finding success with? Keyword research is one of the most critical elements of digital marketing success, and if you’re skimping here, even unintentionally, the repercussions will echo throughout all of your efforts.
  27. Specific Landing Pages: Your digital marketing efforts must lead your potential students back to your website, but you cannot afford to have them land on your homepage or your contact page. You must create specific landing pages that describe your offer and also include a form that allows you to collect lead information.
  28. Track Website Traffic Patterns: What site pages do your visitors most frequently visit? Which ones do they spend the most time on? Where is the most common bounce point? Use analytics to track traffic patterns so that you can home in on problem areas, improve content, and deliver a better user experience overall.
  29. Know What Success Looks Like: Make sure that you have an idea of what success will look like, so you’ll know when you achieve it. What are your goals? Are you trying to build awareness of your courses? Are you trying to drive traffic to a course landing page? Are you focused on new student signup? Do you want to retain or re-up previous students? List your goals and make them the cornerstone of your digital marketing efforts.


Keep reading to explore three bonus digital insights to ensure success when selling online courses!

  1. Track and Adjust: When it comes to digital marketing, understand that things will remain in flux. You need to track your success, measure your progress towards your goals, and adjust as necessary.
  2. Invest in a CRM: Your students are not “just” customers. You’re building relationships that will span years and have an impact on peoples’ lives. A CRM can help you nurture those relationships while automating mundane processes to save time and money.
  3. Accurate Data Informs Actions: When it comes to digital marketing decisions, ensure that every choice you make is informed by accurate, up-to-date data. “Trusting your gut” is a short route to overspending and missing the mark. Hard data provides you with the guidance and proof necessary for confidence and a good ROI.

Struggling? we can help.

Digital marketing is essential for online course providers. However, it can be difficult to find the right balance of marketing activities and education, combined with lead outreach, and nurturing. If you’re struggling in this area, we can help. Contact Emarkable at 01 808 1301 to schedule a consultation on your needs.

Celia Deverell
Celia Deverell

A driven digital marketer who is passionate about education. Trained in Community Rural Development and skilled specifically in Project Management. A team player with a common-sense approach to coordinating team activities.