marketing online courses

9 Step Complete Guide – Marketing Online Courses

A few months ago I published my first course on Udemy, and it’s been doing alright since considering I was relying purely on Udemy to sell it for me. I realized that it could perform better if I made the effort to market it myself though. If a sale is made through Udemy organic search you get 50% of the sale price, but you get 97% if the student uses your coupon code. And if you’re using a solution like Teachable or Thinkific you get the lion’s share of the revenue but the marketing is all on you. That’s a big carrot dangling in front of us to sell our courses for ourselves.

So where do you start if you don’t already have an audience and are new to marketing? That’s the situation I found myself in when I started out on this, so I took to Google to learn what to do. The main problem is there’s too much information. It seems like everybody and their dog is trying to tell you how to market online, so it’s easy to get bogged down in a sea of articles and not get anything done.

So here I’m going to give you the guide I wish I had on day one. I’m going to tell you the main steps you need to go through, and the one best resource for each step so you can laser focus on what you need to do. I could give you a long list of resources for each step, the same ones that I read, but that would be doing you a disservice. It’s a long road to get to your goal of having a successful marketing system in place, and I want you to get there as quickly as possible. I am a champion procrastinator and constantly fall prey to shiny object syndrome, I want to save you that wasted time.

It’s going to be obvious as you’re reading this that there’s a lot of overlap between tasks, but I want to make it as practical for you as possible so I’ve chosen a list of 9 steps to marketing online courses as the easiest format to do that. Here they are:

9 Steps to Marketing Online Courses

Rule 1: Take Action

Step 1: Laying the Groundwork

Step 2: Blog website

Step 3: Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Bing Webmaster Tools

Step 4: On-Page SEO

Step 5: Lead Magnet

Step 6: Email List

Step 7: Off-page SEO

Step 8: Social Media Automation

Step 9: Advertising


There are no affiliate links in this article and I have no incentive to make any recommendations. Everything I advise here is designed purely to help you as much as possible.


I’m going to assume that you’re in the same boat as me and your course hasn’t provided much of a budget you can reinvest into marketing yet. I’ve kept the costs down, preferring free options whenever possible.

A Word on Freelancers

You can save a lot of time on most of the tasks by hiring freelancers. If you think of how much your time is worth to you and compare that to the cost of outsourcing, I think you’ll come to the conclusion it’s worth it. The two best known sites to find freelancers are Fiverr and Upwork. Fiverr is a bit cheaper but I experienced nothing but time wasters there so I recommend Upwork for this.

Rule 1: Take Action

A great motivator is to keep a list of the tasks you need to complete and prioritize them from top to bottom. Include all research you have to do on the list too. So you might have an entry about reading the guide to Yoast (see Step 4), and another entry on the list to configure Yoast’s global settings.  Mark each entry off as you complete it and you’ll see that you’re making progress. This will ensure you’re actually taking action, not spending your time just reading or watching videos about what you should be doing.

If you use Evernote then you can keep the list in sync on your laptop and your phone, and update it when ideas come to you on the go.

The core of your marketing effort: Your email list

Something all the online marketers I researched agreed on was this: your email list is the core of your marketing efforts. To highlight how important it is, Rob Cornish of Gain Higher Ground went as far as saying “”The end goal in my business is to build a list, because that’s the main asset you’ll ever have. It’s the most valuable asset and the thing that generates you residual income month after month.”

The technical part of creating a list is pretty simple, the tricky part is getting people on it. When I first started creating my course, I thought ‘there’s no way I’m going to create a blog- that sounds like too much work’. The unfortunate truth is, if you want to market your course successfully, it is a lot of work. You’re going to need an email list to sell to, and to get people on that list you’re going to need a lead magnet to attract them to sign up, and you’re going to need a website to put it on. But first things first…

Step 1: Laying the Groundwork

Niche Site Project 3.0

The best free all-around resources I’ve found for online marketing are the Complete Guides at Quicksprout (more on those later) and the Niche Site Project 3.0 at Niche Pursuits.

The Niche Site Project 3.0 is a series of free videos where three different members of the Niche Pursuits team coach three students from conception of their online business ideas to completion of their marketing efforts. You can also download it as a podcast but it’s better to watch rather than just listen. The training isn’t specific to online courses but the principles taught all still apply. It gives you a solid grounding in picking a niche (useful for your next course idea), keyword research, producing content and on-page and off-page SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Because there’s three sets of coaches and students you get different perspectives on the different topics and having similar information repeated helps it sink in.

There’s several hours’ worth of videos but you can save some time by skipping videos 1-9 where the students are chosen. They speak quite slowly so you could download the videos with a tool like Internet Download Manager and watch them at 1.5x speed in the free VLC Player.

Niche Pursuits sell the keyword research tool Long Tail Pro so it features quite heavily in the videos, and they offer a free 10 day trial. As long as you don’t download it until you’re ready to actually use it then that will be long enough to do your own research. You can then cancel before the end of the 10 day period or continue to use it as a paid product.

Smart Passive Income and Marketing School Podcasts

You’re going to need to sit down in front of your laptop or tablet to watch the Niche Pursuit videos, but you’re also going to have a lot of time when you’re on the move. Instead of listening to Justin Beiber, you can spend this time learning about online marketing. This will make a huge difference to your overall understanding and give you loads of new ideas.

When I’m travelling I listen to Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast which clocks in at around an hour per episode, and I listen to the 12 minute Marketing School podcast from Eric Siu and Neil Patel when I’m in the gym. Pat Flynn and Neil Patel are giants in the world of passive income and online marketing for good reason- they produce stellar content.

Step 2: Blog website

Now that you’ve learned the core details of online marketing, it’s time to put your knowledge into action. The first thing you need to do is build your website. You’ll need to pick a platform, a hosting provider and a theme first.


I went with WordPress because it’s free, it’s by far the most popular platform, it’s easy to find support on forums, and there’s a huge amount of plug-ins available for anything you’d need to do, most of which are free.

Hosting Provider

I use BlueHost because they’re cost-effective, and they’re recommended by WordPress and all the online marketers I checked.


This was a lot harder to choose because I went at it the wrong way round. I googled for training themes and then tried to fit my website idea into one. This is very time consuming and probably won’t work out too well. A better idea is to look at the websites of successful instructors and then pick one which fits well with your own vision. Then you can use the WordPress Theme Detector to check what theme they’re using, or even just ask them – that’s exactly what I did. As long as you explain that you’re not going to copy their website verbatim, just use the framework, they should be happy to help.

Next you’re going to need to build the actual website. This requires the design and then the content.


Installing WordPress is easy and can be done in a few minutes. But the actual layout and configuration of your theme and plug-ins is not. I don’t have any experience with website development so I took some courses with the intention of configuring it myself. I soon found out that it’s a huge learning curve though- this would have added weeks or months to my marketing effort.

I decided to hire a developer from Upwork instead, at $300 my biggest financial outlay in this venture. Hiring a freelancer can be really hit and miss but I got lucky here, my developer did a great job of completing the site on time and exactly how I wanted. You can contact Ian at

You’re going to need your email marketing provider to be integrated with your lead magnet on your website, so also take care of that at this stage. I discuss lead magnets in Step 5, and email marketing provider in Step 6.


This will be the bulk of your work. If you’re wondering how you’re going to produce all those blog articles, I’ve got an easy solution for you – you already have them, it’s the contents of your course. I upload my course videos to Rev and get them transcribed, then I edit the text, add pictures and a link to the course video on YouTube and I’m done. Rev charge $1 per minute, so it’s $12 for a 12 minute video. I tried doing the transcription myself, but even though I can touch type it was a nightmare. It’s definitely worth getting Rev to do it for you.

Don’t worry that customers won’t buy your course if it’s available for free on your website. You’re not going to put the whole thing up there, or in the right order, and students will pay for the convenience of having it in an organised course format.

You want to get a bunch of content on your website as soon as possible. I posted every 2 days until I had 20 articles online. Once you’ve got a respectable amount of content on your blog it’s a good idea to slow down so you can focus time on your marketing. I’m posting every 5 days right now but will probably ease back to every 2 weeks once I’ve got 50 articles up.

It helps if you have a workflow when creating your blog posts so you don’t forget anything. Here’s mine:

Send video to Rev for transcription.

Edit transcription.

Prepare images for blog post. Use SEO friendly image filenames.

Upload video to YouTube.

Set title, description, tags, cards, annotations, playlist and thumbnail.

Schedule when to go live.

Copy URL to embed in blog post.

Set title in WordPress.

Paste edited transcript text into WordPress.

Insert images and set to correct size.

Set alt tag on images- SEO friendly.

Set headers.

Edit snippet.

Set featured video or image.

Set permalink to SEO keyword.

Configure 5-10 internal links.

Configure 3-5 outbound links.

All links open in new window.

Add tags.

Check Yoast.

Set image for Facebook and Twitter in Yoast.

Schedule to go live just after YouTube video.

Add to spreadsheet.

It’s possible to use freelancers for your blog writing as well, but I wouldn’t recommend you do this until you’ve got the bulk of your site built out. If you are going to go down the outsourcing route, Perrin Carrel at Authority Hacker wrote a good article about using content agencies. You could also use Upwork or the ProBlogger Job Board. You’re looking at upwards of $50 for each article.

For help with setting up your YouTube channel and optimizing your videos, check out The Complete Guide to Building a YouTube Channel from Neil Patel.


The last thing to do in this section is to check that your website is running as fast as it can. GTmetrix is a free tool which reports your website’s performance and tells you how to fix any issues. If you’re outsourcing your web development, make sure you check this before final sign off.

Step 3: Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Bing Webmaster Tools

This step is kind of a pain if you’re not a website developer, but it still shouldn’t take you any more than an hour to do- so bite the bullet. You don’t need to use these tools much until further down the track, but set them up now.

You’re not going to be looking at how visitors to your website are behaving until you actually have some visitors, but you want to set up the free Google Analytics now so you’re ready for when they do come. This will let you see how many visitors you’re getting and, importantly for optimizing your marketing efforts, what they’re doing when they’re there. See Google’s Get Started guide for setup instructions.

You’ll also want to monitor your website’s performance in search results and be alerted to any issues. Follow the instructions at Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to Google Search Console and the Getting Started Checklist for Bing Webmaster Tools.

Step 4: On-Page SEO

There’s two parts to Search Engine Optimization, which should be completed after doing keyword research to find relevant search strings you can rank for in Google. The first is on-page SEO, where you configure your website and posts in such a way that google will understand what they’re about. The second is off-page SEO, where you build links back to your posts which act as a vote of confidence for the search engines.

You already learned the basic concepts from watching the Niche Pursuits videos, but now you need to configure the nitty gritty details. The most popular tool for on-page SEO is the free Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress. Click ‘Plugins > Add New’ and search for ‘Yoast SEO’ in your WordPress Dashboard to install it.

Yoast makes configuring on-page SEO easy, but not quite as easy as some YouTube videos would have you believe. To make sure you get the settings right, read the Ultimate Yoast SEO Guide at Whiskey Neat.

Step 5: Lead Magnet

You’ve now reached the point where you have a great website, but no visitors. The fallacy of ‘build it and they will come’ is a running joke in the world of blogging, which the majority of us find out the hard way. So just how do you get people to notice your awesome site? We’re going to start fixing that now.

The first thing to do is to create a lead magnet. The ‘leads’ are your prospective customers, and the ‘magnet’ is the thing that’s going to get them to give you their email address so you can sell to them.

Ryan Deiss at Digital Marketer wrote a great post on creating your lead magnet.

Have a look at my NetApp simulator eBook signup page to see one in action.

At this point you can increase sign-ups with your lead magnet by optimizing the layout of your website. There are various landing page and squeeze page techniques which have been proven to increase sign-ups. I don’t recommend that at this stage however because many people find them irritating, and in Step 7 you’re going to be asking other websites to link out to you. The better the user experience you give them, the more likely they are to do this.

The landing page techniques are however something you definitely want to look at further down the line. Leadpages are very popular and have proven templates which can be integrated into your website easily without the need for a developer. They operate on a subscription basis and pricing starts at $25 per month.

Step 6: Email List

Next up we have your email list. As Ron Burgundy would say, it’s kind of a big deal. Think that social media is going to be the main driver of sales? Nope. Online marketers have consistently found that their email list is their main weapon of choice.

There’s several options for your email marketing software, the main ones of which are MailChimp, Aweber, Constant Contact and ConvertKit.

I went with MailChimp because they’re the only one of the main players who offer a free service, and it will probably meet your needs. It covers you for up to 2000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. The main limitation of the free option is that it doesn’t include automated email campaigns. That’s something you can probably live without though, at least to begin with, and you can upgrade to a paid account with full features later.

‘With Naturalvita’ has a Complete Beginners Tutorial for MailChimp on her YouTube channel.

That’ll take care of how to do the initial set up. For how to actually use your list once you’ve got it up and running, read Vero’s Ultimate Guide to Successful Email Marketing.

Step 7: Off-page SEO

White Hat SEO

Brian Dean is the biggest name in the world of off-page SEO. He doesn’t produce a large amount of blog posts, preferring instead to post a few very high quality guides. He keeps his most complete and up-to-date content right on the front page of his website Backlinko.

Brian’s got you covered for how to go about your outreach campaign. You also need to know who to reach out to. My favourite tool for competitor analysis is Ahrefs. With packages starting at $99 per month it isn’t cheap, but they have a free 14 day trial which should be enough for you to do your work.

Their head of marketing Tim Soulo has an awesome Over Simplified SEO playlist on YouTube. They’re very short and entertaining videos which teach you about off-page SEO as well as showing how to use the Ahrefs tools.

Black Hat SEO

When I started learning about link building, I spent all my time thinking ‘okay I get all this stuff about outreach, guest blogging, infographics and broken links etc. – but that’s way too much work! I want to know about what these guys are really doing but just not telling me about- I want to know the Black Hat SEO tactics like Private Blog Networks. Teach me the juicy stuff so I can get onto the first page of Google with no work!’

Well, it turns out the top SEO experts really aren’t doing Black Hat SEO. That stuff used to work but not anymore. Think about it. Google are hiring huge teams of the sharpest minds to make sure that their search results give end users what they’re really looking for. It’s what their business is built on. They’re constantly updating their algorithms to ensure this and to penalise those who are trying to game the system. So you may get a short term gain if you try out the latest black hat technique, but long-term you are torching your website. We’re looking to build a sustainable business here, not a fly-by-night pop-up site, so we need to do things the right way. Don’t succumb to the temptation of buying cheap links.

Sorry- I did mention that this was a lot of work, right? Look on the bright side, if it was easy then everybody would be doing it. You’re going to put the hard yards in and crush it.

Step 8: Social Media Automation

So now you’ve built your website and got some eyeballs on it, the next thing is to give it even more visibility through social media. It’s not going to be enough to just send out a single tweet or Facebook post when you update your blog, you want to maximise your reach so that as many people see your content as possible. This is going to need automation.

Social Media’ is Chapter 5 in Neil Patel (remember him?) and Aaron Agius’ free Quicksprout Complete Guide to Building your Blog Audience eBook. While you’re checking that out, you might just want to read the whole book. It’s excellent, and a great example of the kind of killer content which will draw loads of links and have you ranking high in Google.

I know I said I was going to give you just the one best resource for every topic, but if you do have more time to carry out research then you can’t go far wrong by reading the rest of the Quicksprout guides. There isn’t a single webpage where you can download all of them, but you can find the list of all the titles on their designer Behance’s website and then search for them from there.

Step 9: Advertising

This step is optional because it could quickly obliterate your budget. If your course is in a highly competitive domain like online marketing then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make a big dent without also spending big, but if you’re in a small enough niche then online advertising could be cost effective.

I didn’t find a single resource which covers all the channels in detail, so here instead are individual guides for the main platforms:

PPC Hero have an Ultimate Guide to Pay-Per-Click Marketing, covering PPC on Google and Bing

Neil Patel comes through as usual with Facebook Advertising Made Simple: A Step by Step Guide

Video Power posted the Ultimate Guide to YouTube Advertising

The Marketing Agents have the Twitter Ads Guide

Effin Amazing offer the Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn Advertising


So there you have it, that’s all I’ve got for you. my 9 Steps for Marketing online courses. Hopefully this will save you from going down all the deep dark internet alleys I did while finding this stuff. Everything I’ve linked to here is highly actionable and will have your course marketing machine up and running as quickly as possible.

Don’t forget to share this article if you found it useful.

Meet the Author

complete resource guide for marketing online courses


Neil Anderson has been a professional Cloud and Data Center technologies trainer since 2007, based on the Thai-Lao border and delivering classes throughout the Asia Pac region. He released his first online course covering NetApp storage in 2016. He’s been immersed in learning and implementing online marketing since then. You can find his online blog at

Feel free to connect with Neil on Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn or twitter



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