By Gabriel Kramer
It’s been seven years since I started selling online courses for the construction inspection industry. My online education site has been fortunate enough to see 60% growth every year. Like any other online business, though, we’ve made mistakes. The mistakes didn’t cripple us; we learned from them and used them to improve our business.
As I look back at our company’s short history, I see a couple things that have been critical to our success. If you currently sell online courses (or any products online), or are thinking of doing so, here are the top five things I’ve learned from our experience.
1. Don’t skimp on visual elements
Your site’s design is the very first impression your visitors will get of your company. As the famous saying goes, you only get one chance to make this impression.
I believe one of our biggest competitive advantages is having a modern site design that looks great. My co-founder, Chris, is our web designer. He is a whiz with Photoshop and he keeps up with design trends for the web.
By not skimping on web design, you gain an advantage because many business owners neglect this aspect of running a commercial site. For example, some owners use a template instead of hiring someone to create a custom design. Others don’t pay attention to their site’s design so they end up with a site that looks outdated after a couple of years. Chris has actually redesigned our site three times because we wanted to avoid an outdated look.
Furthermore, our visual sense is by far the most important sense, according to the book Brain Rules. We are much better at remembering images than text because of our evolutionary biology. Also, images are much more engaging and compelling to our brains than text. On our site, we include lots of photos in our courses to help our students learn the material, and we’ve created custom icons in different colors to make our content “pop” from the screen.
If you don’t know a good web designer, I urge you to spend time searching for one. Don’t be afraid to pay extra because a web designer is one of the most important hires for any online business.
2. Use multimedia liberally
It takes more effort to produce multimedia like audio and video, but it’s worth it. In the early days of our business, one of our best marketing ideas was creating videos on YouTube to teach important concepts to new construction inspectors.
It turns out people love to watch videos about the industry they work in. Did you know YouTube is the second most popular site in the world? Our YouTube channel continues to give us steady traffic, and some of our videos have even reached 40,000 views.
For online courses, adding multimedia helps your students learn more effectively. It also allows you to charge a higher price because multimedia has a higher perceived value than text. We believe you gain an advantage with multimedia because many online business are stuck in “text-only” or “text-mostly” mode when it comes to their websites and courses.
3. Invest in SEO
Over the years SEO has become boring as a marketing strategy. These days internet marketers prefer to talk about social media—it’s more sexy. However, we’ve found SEO to be the most powerful marketing strategy for our business.
Google is still the most popular website in the world. The upside of getting a top ranking for many different keywords is massive. We invested in SEO from the very beginning of our business and we’ve seen traffic growth every year as a result. In fact, based on our customer surveys, the vast majority of our early revenue came from SEO traffic until word-of-mouth gained momentum.
There’s a lot you can learn about SEO, but we like keeping it simple. We focus on link building and keyword research because those tasks seem to have the best ROI.
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4. Offer deals periodically
Deals or discounts are a great way to generate demand. Many of your visitors may be on the fence about buying your product. They’re interested, but for some reason, they are hesitant to pull the trigger and make the purchase. A deal is often the perfect sales tactic to get these visitors to convert. Whenever we run deals, we usually get a big increase in sales.
However, you don’t want to overdo this tactic because then your visitors will just wait for a deal before buying. Four deals per year, or once every four months, has worked well for our company. Also, you don’t want the discount period to last very long. For us, three to four days has been the sweet spot for running a sale for our online courses.
5. Create new products
Sometimes the best strategy is the simplest one. We’ve really focused on creating new courses in the last three years, and we’ve seen a big increase in profits because of our efforts.
Having new products gives your customers a reason to come back to your site, and it gives your biggest fans another way to support your business. Once we started releasing new courses, we immediately saw sales from customers who had bought our very first course.
With multiple products, you gain new pricing options for price sensitive visitors. For example, we offer discounts to customers that buy three or more courses at the same time. Also, your SEO efforts receive a boost because you can target more keywords.
We believe these tips will help any company that’s in the business of online education or sells a product online. Instead of trying to figure out what to do next, learn from our experience and focus on the execution. Get started today by taking one of these tips and applying it to your company.
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