The journey to creating an online course involves a multitude of decisions and steps. It can be a daunting prospect to get started, especially for those new to online course creation.
Even if you have created an online course before, you may be looking to improve your course creation process. You might be having less success than you would like and are wondering where you might be going wrong. Regardless of your situation, some questions you might have included:
“How should I go about deciding on my course topic?”
“How can I design my online course so that it makes sense?”
“Who will want to buy my course?”
“How can I make sure my students like my course?”
And so on.
There are endless guides out there providing instructions for how to create courses online. Many are bogged down with so much detail that they overwhelm would-be instructors as much as the idea of creating an online course in the first place!
We put together our list of 10 basic “must do” steps to course creation. These ten steps cover the bulk of what you need to do to get going on your journey to creating an excellent online course.
While this list is not exhaustive, after reading through these you will have a clear idea on how to start creating your next course. You can do further research on how to tackle each of the individual steps later on if needed.
Step 1: Choose Your Course Topic
This step sounds obvious, right? Pick a topic and you’re off to the races. Wrong. This is often where people get stuck, procrastinate or simply get off to a poor start. You may have a dozen, a few dozens, or more ideas, so how do you narrow them down or choose your first idea?
As a general rule your course topic should fall into one of these two categories:
- An area of knowledge that you have or want to deepen
- A keen interest, hobby or passion.
If you are already an expert or a teacher, think about what aspects of what you teach or do that are the most interesting and popular. What questions do clients or students ask you about the most? If you currently create content, ask yourself what topics drive the most traffic and engagement?
Pick the one or two topics that are easiest, fastest and the least expensive for you to create. Make sure it is a topic that you will enjoy!
Tip #1: Try to find a profitable niche
Whatever your knowledge or interests, the topic(s) you choose should ideally fall into a profitable niche. This is the tough part of choosing your course idea, but it is worth spending some time on.
Choose a broad topic category, such as “eBay selling” and you might find dozens of competing courses, making it hard to stand out and get enrollments. However, choose an interesting sub-topic, say “selling your car on eBay” and you will likely have less competition and potentially attract a more specific set of students who are willing to pay more for exactly that course topic.
Do a search on Udemy for your topic to spark some thinking. See what is selling the most in areas related to yours and think about a niche. Browse top-selling courses and see which of those are more specific topics, it might help you think about your own. Try to identify subject matter “gaps” and benefits that are missing in other courses.
(We should mention that the Teachinguide tools help you search for and identify niche topics.)
Tip #2: Think of a portfolio of course topics
Creating a portfolio of courses on Udemy greatly increases your chances for success. Why? Well, cross-selling for one. Once you have gathered a group of students for your first course, you can then market your following courses to them. You can sell “lifetime access” for example.
Think about 5-10 courses in your general topic area that will tie in with each other over time. Your courses should relate to one another and be aligned with topics listed in Udemy. The content should not overlap but could be sequential or adjacent. The idea is to create a body of students who are interested in your course topic and trust you, thereby increasing your future chances of sales.
Step 2: Validate Your Course Topic
So now you have 2-3 course ideas, that’s great. But before you spend money and dedicate weeks or months of your life creating your online course, find out if anyone will buy it!
There are many ways to validate your online course idea. Here are a few popular ones, we suggest trying 3-5 of them:
Search existing courses: In our previous article, we wrote about the need to do competitor research. Looking at competitors is one of the best ways to validate your course idea. Go onto Udemy and other platforms such as Skillshare and Teachable and look at the current level of demand for your topic.
Many courses on your topic with lots of enrollments may indicate high or even growing demand, but also much competition. Is it too much though? Can you stand out with your niche topic? On the other hand, just a few courses with growing enrollments may signify an opportunity.
Udemy and Google keyword trends
Google trends are the ultimate guide to what people are interested in knowing. So go there and see how your topic or sub-topics are trending. Do the same on Udemy. Look at trending topics. You can also go to Google’s keyword planner to try out different topics and keywords.
Type in your topic and look at trending topics and those that are most shared.
Search for ebooks on your topic. See what demand and reviews are there.
See what videos tutorial related to your topic are there, how many views and likes they get. What comments and questions are posted?
Look at what questions people are asking related to your topic? Look at subject matter experts’ replies. Does the topic spark debate? Are there any inconclusive answers? You can also use Quora to ask questions yourself that gauged interest.
Go to industry or subject discipline forums. See what topics are of interest.
Use services like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to find out what people want and what their pain points are.
Test the waters by creating a short ebook, mini course, or PDF file that you can give to people. See if people are willing to give you an email or information in exchange for information on your topic.
Step 3: Define Your Target Audience/Students
When your input your course goals on Udemy, you will have to answer the question: “Who is your target audience?” Your online course is a business. As with any business, you need to understand your target customers to sell them products or services that they need or want. In the case of your online course, your target customer is your student audience. It is not enough to say, “my course is for beginners” or “lots of people can benefit from my course”. If your course is targeted for no one in particular, then no one in particular will be interested in it!
Tip #1: Think of a customer “persona”
Use the popular concept of creating a “customer persona” to define your ideal course student. There are endless marketing blogs that can teach you how to do this. When defining your customer and their needs ask, What industry do they work in? What part of that industry might they be focused on? What role are they likely to have in their career/job? What level of skill with respect to your topic will they have? What tools do they need to do their job?
Hopefully, in the previous course validation step, you will have started to get a feel for the kinds of people that are interested in your topic and can begin to envision the answers to these questions.
If you are having trouble thinking of a customer who really needs or wants your course for specific reasons ask yourself, “am I solving a real enough problem or solving a true need? Is it worth creating a course?” Be willing to tweak your topic to address a real audience with a real problem.
Tip # 2: Define who the course is NOT for
Another strategy would be to ask yourself “who is this course NOT for?”. For instance, what types of knowledge do students need before taking your course? Anyone without that knowledge or skill is NOT in your target audience. If you are creating a course for iphone photography, clearly any Android phone owners would not be in your target audience. Nor would most people who are interested in other types of photography be.
Knowing who what online course audience you want to target is, what their needs and wants are serves several purposes:
- Course objective: You need to know what audience you are targeting when creating your course objective. Learners read the stated course objective to ascertain if it provides benefits or solutions that they are looking for. The more personalized and targeted to these learners your objective is, the higher the chance that the person reading it will buy your course.
- Content outline and creation: Knowing what your target audience needs and doesn’t need or what interests them specifically will provide key guidance when you get to the actual course design and content creation steps. It helps you to decide what topics to include or not include, saving you time. If your course is not designed for a specific audience, then you might include a lot of material that is not relevant to some individual students who take the course. This will result in more non-completions of your course, or worse, poor reviews.
- Marketing and promotion: Your email campaigns, landing page and other marketing efforts will be much more successful if your messaging and content are tailored to a specific audience. For your landing page to be persuasive enough, you need to show that you are offering what a learner is looking for. Therefore, you need to know what they are looking for. If a learner feels confident that your course has what they need, they are much more likely to enroll.
- Student satisfaction: Students who take a course that is truly beneficial to their personal learning needs feel like they receive value. They are more likely to complete the course, recommend it to friends and give positive reviews.
In the end, you need to be able to imagine who are talking to while you teach. It will make your class more “real” to both you and your students. This will ultimately result in higher enrollments than trying to appeal to a wider audience.
Step 4: Plan Your Course Content
In this step, you are not yet creating content, but just outlining the learning goals, benefits and flow of your course. Here are some high level steps to course design:
Create your course objective and goals: Start here before diving into your course content outline. As we mentioned, defining and understanding your target audience in the previous step will make this task easier. Based on your understanding of your target student, decide what your target student will want to get out of the course. Put yourself in their shoes. Determine what their motivations and aspirations for taking the course will be.
Your course goals should be realistic, focus on action and be measurable and observable by your students. It should read something like “By the end of this course you will be able to (strong verb and measurable goal). Include how your students will feel when they finish and actions they will be able to take.
Course goals should be the right size to break down into smaller skills goals which will help you define your lessons. You should also have no more than 5 course goals. Udemy courses with more than 5 goals convert 20% less than courses with 3-5 goals.
1. Write your course description
Your course description must sell your course. It should include the reasons why students should take your course. For example, it solves their problem, you understand their needs, your course is better or some other unique selling point.
Your description should also establish your authority with facts and brand you as a trusted expert. Need guidance? Look at course descriptions for top selling courses (but don’t copy!)
Finally, keep your description short and sweet and end it with a call to action such as “become a better writer now!”
2. Write out learning milestones
Now comes the fun part, creating the skeleton of your course where you get to really envision how it will play out. Start with your overall course goals and break them down into smaller goals that will lead the student to achieving them by the end of the course.
Then map out topics and lessons that will help the student reach each of these smaller goals. Take those topics and break them down into 5-10 minute lessons or “chunks” of learning. DO NOT make your lessons longer. Include learning checkpoints.
Along the way, add notes to the lessons about things to include or do to make it engaging, professional and effective. Think about lectures – what you will say and how. And activities – what students will do?
Note that in Udemy, you can create your course curriculum by grouping it into sections and activities. Each section should teach one topic and have one goal. You may have to tweak your original outline to achieve this.
3. Reality Check
When you have completed your course outline, do a check: Do all of your milestones relate back to your course objective? Have you named your sections clearly so that they can be used to navigate?
Tip #1: Where to get course outline ideas
Google sheets or excel spreadsheets are popular tools for outlining courses. But you can use Word, Evernote or even pen and paper. It may help to view sample outlines. Here is one.
Tip #2: How long your course should be
As you create your outline and think of scripts and activities, one key question to keep in mind is, how long should your course be. On Udemy, the general rule is that longer is better. The bestselling courses are detailed courses that for example have more than 10 hours of lectures and hundreds of lessons. It’s not that more content necessarily means better content. But students perceive more value from receiving information in a more clear and detailed way.
Step 5: Start Building Your Online Course Audience
This step is one that is often overlooked, even in Udemy courses on how to create courses in Udemy. Building an audience is what scares online course creators when it comes to launch. You will be less scared if you start early.
Creating an audience requires a proactive strategy that starts before you launch your course. Doing this can dramatically increase your chances of sales and success because by the time you launch your course, you will have a group of potential students (that you have identified through in Step 3) who already know your topic and are interested.
The most common way to grow an audience is by gathering emails and embarking on a pre-sale email campaign. Ways to gather emails include:
- Lead magnets: i.e. offer an ebook or valuable download
- Mini courses: a subtopic of your larger course with valuable information
- Giveaways: i.e. discounts, competitions
- Social Media: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest
- Creating your own website and embedding a course link
- Guest blogging and referring back to your own course or website
Step 6: Create Engaging Course Content
In an ideal case, you are a subject matter expert who already has course content to at least start with. Even if you are a hobbyist, you may have access to content that you learned from that you can re-package and use such as digital manuals and training videos.
If you have no content, you’ll need to gather the required information, visuals, reference documents. Speak to subject matter experts and read a lot to figure out what information should be included in the course. Give content research the time it deserves.
Look at your goals and work backwards from there. Break content into the sections in your course outline.
There are several types of course content that you can choose. Hopefully, at this point, you have an idea from Step 4 of what kinds of content you will create and what topics will be covered. Typical content includes:
Video: The primary benefit of video is that you can connect with your audience in person. However when there is a lot of detailed information to convey this may not be the best choice. Note: make sure that for Udemy or whatever platform you are using that you meet their technical requirements!
Screen recording: You can demonstrate your topic onscreen and then record your voice narration later.
Documents: PDFs, spreadsheets, templates, quizzes, workbooks, cheat sheets are some. Offering documents for download can make students feel like they are getting value.
Text and photos/visuals: This format resembles a blog and can include text lectures and downloads. These are the easiest kinds of lessons to create. But be careful about boring your students with a lecture format.
Tip #1: Content Best Practices
Typically a combination of video and some kind of text/visuals is best. Just make sure to get the video aspects such as audio and lighting done well.
Interactive elements are important and tend to generate student loyalty and good reviews. Interactive elements include games, discussions, surveys, quizzes, assignments, personal stories from your experience, and more.
Step 7: Price Your Course
This is perhaps one of the most difficult steps. You’ve put so much work into your course and future income relies heavily on getting the price right. While there are differing and evolving opinions on pricing strategy for Udemy, the following are some guidelines:
Do competitor research: Look at your competitors and what they are charging for course. Compare your content to theirs. Is your online course more or less valuable from a student perspective?
Premium pricing: Higher prices are usually perceived by students to be higher quality and valuable courses. Just make sure you can back up the price with your content. Most student will sign up for higher priced courses via a promotional price. But you still get to keep perceived value.
Revenue goal: Decide what yours is. Is this a hobby or a side job? Or are you aiming to go big and make a career out of online course creation? Is this course meant to just “break in”?
Level of expertise: Generally, courses that are career boosting, such as in Finance, command the highest prices. Those that are hobby oriented, much less.
Not sure?: Around $50-$100 is a safe bet. Any less and your course might be perceived as low quality or attract too many people who are not your target audience and will thus leave poor reviews. Any higher, you might have competitors who underprice you or you may be unable to persuade students to take a risk on a new course instructor. You can experiment with pricing, so don’t worry!
Free is not always the best idea: It used to “pay” to give courses away for free because enrollment counted towards the course rankings for Udemy. This is not so much the case anymore. While free courses can help you get established and gain an audience, keep in mind that the audience may not be optimal. Students who take free courses seldom finish or rate the course because they are not invested financially or emotionally in course. For that reason, they are also less likely to buy your future courses. All of this can in fact hurt your chance with the Udemy ranking algorithm. Remember, Udemy wants to sell courses!
Give free coupons strategically: It is better to give out promotional coupons selectively, to targeted influencers and personal connections. Again, those who take a course for free are not always your most valuable future students.
Step 8: Create Your Course Title and Landing Page
Just as with a website, the landing page can make or break conversions, as it is the first thing potential students will see. Put some time into its content and do some SEO keyword research. The goal or theme of your course title and landing page is of course persuasion. Use them to educate your audience and convey why your course will help solve their pain points or benefit them.
Naming your online course
Knowing how to name or give a title to your course is critical to success on Udemy. When thinking of a course title, keep in mind two things:
- Udemy’s search engine
- Creating a “hook” for students
It is important to keep in mind that about 75% of Udemy sales are organic, so it is important to rank high in Udemy’s search engine. Look at your high-ranking competitors’ titles. What keywords are they using? Use those.
Be very clear on your primary keyword. This is what students use to search. Your title should be strong enough to help ease student navigation. Your topic = primary keyword. This is very search sensitive. Your other sub-topics are secondary keywords that you might include in your sub-header.
To be search engine friendly, put the main keyword/topic at beginning of your course title. If your keyword is “dog training”, then your title should look something like, “Dog Training – how to stop barking”.
Notice that the rest of the title communicates clearly what will be learned. This is a benefit, or “hook” where students say, “I want that”.
Your subtitle should also include your keyword and convey 2-3 more benefits. In the dog training example, it might include something like “get more sleep” or “your neighbors will thank you”.
Landing page components
Offer: Be sure to clearly define what your course offers. Use benefits driven descriptions.
Storytelling: Tell a personal story that demonstrates your authority, use testimonials, evidence to convey and support course benefits.
Call to Action (CTA): “Learn more about..” or “Get your x, y, z.” Anything to entice a student to purchase.
Step 9: Create a Course Launch Roadmap
A general framework for launching your course successfully is based on email marketing. You can use the same tactics for other marketing tools such as your website or other websites, social media/facebook page, forums, etc.
If you have been collecting emails, craft a campaign to get potential students excited about the course launch. This involves sending out engaging content beforehand to get them excited about your topic and serves to build your trust and authority on the subject.
Then you can engage in “pre-sale” emailing. Send out course teasers, such as “coming soon” announcements and sharing a little about what the course covers or what is in it. At some point, you will tell them when it will become available.
Finally, you will announce the course is available. This is where you might send out promotional coupons or guarantees, testimonials and feedback from your pilot users, FAQ to squash any concerns. You will also include a call to action of course.
After launch plan to change and update based on feedback.
Step 10: Test Your Online Course
Once you have created the first draft of your course, test it by offering it to some users for free. These can be friends, people on your email list, colleagues, etc. Request feedback and refine the course before launching.
One great way to gather feedback on Udemy is by joining Studio U (it’s free). There are great instructors on there who love to provide feedback. Also, gather your first reviews and testimonials in this process.
The Bottom Line
Believe it or not, we tried to distill a multitude of steps to online course creation into these 10 high level steps. And we bet you are still thinking that it’s a lot to do and learn! Well, it is, but the good news is that if you follow these 10 steps you will have picked thought out and planned the majority of what you need to do to be successful at Udemy course creation. The rest you can fill in with your own further research.
And while you are creating your course, don’t forget to check out Teachinguide’s tools that will help you gain a competitive edge on Udemy!