Marketing an online course

The audience, landing page, and communication plan
Posted in Course, the 06/12/2021.

In the previous article of this series, I presented how I came up with the project of creating an online course. It’s the first time I’m building such a thing, and as such, it involved doing a lot of preparation.


One aspect of my preliminary work was to study how you can market a course. I have a developer background, and I’m now a technical manager, I was never taught marketing at school, and it’s not directly part of my professional life. Therefore I knew I’d have many things to discover about this subject.

I realized soon enough that this part of my project would be the most difficult for me. I’m not familiar with it, not at ease, and to be honest also far from liking it, but I do understand its importance. I also foresee the benefits it can have on my online presence, and by extension my credibility as a course author. Also, as explained in my previous article, regarding learning new things and stepping out of the comfort zone, making efforts to get better at this is fully part of my project as a whole too.

Initially, my plan was fairly basic, and articulated like so:

  1. Build the course.
  2. Launch it
  3. Then talk about it.

TL;DR: I’ve learned meanwhile that working like this is rarely being recognized as an effective marketing strategy.

With that early plan in mind, I was happily writing the first course chapters, when I had an enlightening discussion with Mathieu Napoli regarding his own course: Serverless Visually Explained. He explained to me the importance of having an audience of people interested in your work, and the value you provide. This vision was comforted by Christoph Rumple, who said like Mathieu that the launch phase is critical because that’s when you should experience a peak of sales. He provides more context and information in his video course review article if you’d like to get more details.

That means that if I had carried on with my original marketing plan, the launch would have reached such a limited audience that it would have surely been ineffective.

Building an audience.

To avoid this pessimistic scenario, I’ve decided to work on my audience, and let’s face it, I start nearly from scratch here. The truth is I’ve got a very limited audience. I use Twitter daily, but mostly as a reader, I’ve got less than 500 followers there. I also have a LinkedIn profile followed by about 150 persons. I’m not a famous developer, I don’t stream nor talk at big conferences. Building an audience will be hard, and long, and that means it will require lots of efforts, and changes in the way I use those tools.

Here’s what I’ve decided to do about this situation :

  • I’ve put the course chapters writing on hold to make sure the marketing work catches up.
  • I’ve decided to create a course landing page to present and explain the project much much earlier than I originally planned, which means before the course is finished, not after, in order to allow interested persons to join the project mailing list.
  • I’m going to use Twitter slightly differently. I was mostly a Twitter reader. I’ve decided to write more, interact more, reply more, like more, follow more.
  • I’ll also try to expand my network with new people on different mediums (Twitter still, LinkedIn still, but also new technical slacks)
  • I’ll work on a proper communication plan.
  • I would also like to write more on my blog to create value.

Every point on this list is an effort I’ll have to make, but in return, I might gain quality relationships and win the interest of an audience bit by bit.

Building a landing page.

Building a product landing page is critical to its success as it provides crucial information which should convince a potential client to perform the actual sale. For my plan, it should also be a place where I can point my writings and publications to, even if the course has not launched yet, in order to convert passers-by into followers.

The landing content

I’ve finished creating the landing page recently. I’ll share it with you soon.

Building the landing was hard. I followed a renowned marketing scheme about the Ws method (What the course is, Who is it for, What does it bring or solve ? Why should I be interested ? Who writes it…) But even though the wireframe of the landing is indicated by this method, the content is very hard to get right.

Here’s the method I followed. I wrote a first version with the different W sections, then worked on arguments. I then looked for feedback, and iterated based on the remarks I got. You might say it’s pretty classic, it is indeed, but still, the feedback I got has been very important in many aspects. I’d like to highlight one of them in particular: it pointed that my first version was full of bias. I was working so deep on the course, its content, the marketing arguments, that I built a page that was clear only to me. People didn’t really understand the course subject, I was being too verbose, I was missing key reassurance points that I took for granted in the first place.

It has required many revisions to put together a version that collected enough positive feedback to be judged satisfying. It took me more time to get this page right than to write five course chapters. This has been mentally challenging. My motivation dropped. With a step back, even if it’s been hard, I’m glad I got this feedback, it was thoughtful and benevolent, and it had a very positive outcome on the landing quality. I’d like to thank every person who took the time to read the early versions and write a reply to me.

The mailing list entry point

As explained, I’ve decided to build the landing page very early to use it as a lever to grow my audience. As a consequence, until the course is properly launched, in the purchase section of the landing page, instead of a buy button, I’ll show a subscribe form.

That’s a common pattern on product announcement pages, and there are plenty of tools that help you do that, so the technical aspect is not really the challenge. The challenge is more about the question: why would people want to leave their email address?

Here’s what I’ve decided to answer to that. I’ve removed the table of content from the landing page, and I replaced it with a content overview instead. I’ve then turned the table of content into a lead magnet, more precisely into a downloadable roadmap that can already be useful to someone who finds my course intention interesting. I wrote on the landing that as a thank you to subscribe, I’ll send over the roadmap by mail. I’ll also send course updates and links to related articles I’ll write along the way.

As you might have read in my previous article, I’ve chosen a mix of my personal site + gumroad to host the course. But unfortunately, I couldn’t use gumroad to set the lead magnet automation up the way I wanted to, so I turned to convertkit instead.

With converkit, I’ve chosen a free plan for up to 1000 subscribers, which allows me to create and customize a signup form, embed it into my landing page, and automate the sending of the roadmap as a thank you in return. Exactly what I wanted.

The communication plan

For this part, I took inspiration from Carl Alexander’s work on its Ymir product, which I’ve been following closely lately. I like his approach. He does equal cycles of marketing and development on Ymir, then sends a newsletter at each cycle’s end. By reading his newsletter, I can follow what he’s been coding on Ymir, and the content he’s creating around it, be it blog posts, tweets, sometimes guest podcasts, and so on. And I like this idea of giving subscribers a full vision of what’s going on, progress, but also to give them added value revolving around the subject. To me, that sounds like good marketing, and I would like to get inspiration from it for my own communication plan

What I’ve decided is to balance marketing and production effort as Carl does.

  • For each chapter written, or couple of them if more appropriate, I’d like to write a blog post supporting the subject.
  • I’ll write a shorter LinkedIn announcement post about it, but in french this time, to address this audience I have there.
  • I will write a presentational tweet or thread for Twitter.
  • All of this will then be either compiled or summarized to be sent via email to the course subscribers.

That’s going to represent a lot of writing, wish me luck!