4 Tips for Writing Better Sales Copy for Your Online Course
It’s not enough to just build a great course—you have to sell it, too.
Many online educators create courses because they have a passion and want to share it. And, of course, that’s a fantastic and inspirational thing to see. But many educators, after creating their courses, run into a wall: their excitement carried them through the creation stage of their journey, and now they need to move into sales mode. The only problem is, they don’t know how.
This phenomenon shouldn’t be surprising. After all, we should all be able to recognize that creating a course and selling a course are different skills, and switching hats isn’t easy.
What is easy is tricking yourself into thinking that a great course will sell itself. We would all like to think that our greatness is instantly recognizable, but the truth is that competition is tough, and learners are looking for something that speaks directly to their needs.
Good sales copy can do that. And since copy is going to be the primary way you sell your course online, taking time to do it right is worth the effort. Here’s some tips to get you started.
1. Don’t write copy you don’t want to read.
All of us have seen bad sales copy. It’s the kind that includes overblown promises (“opportunity of a lifetime!”) or vacuous statements (“everything you want and more!”) and generally just feels pushy and irritating to read (“don’t miss this amazing opportunity buy now!!!!!!!”). And yet, for some reason, many excellent online business owners, when they go to write their sales copy, fall into these same writing traps. Why?
I suspect it’s because these business owners believe on some level that they have to use this kind of writing to attract learners. They want to sell courses, and they believe that “sales-heavy” copy is the way to do it.
The problem is that most professional sales people don’t write that way, because irritating a customer isn’t a good sales strategy—especially when all they need to do to get away from you is to close a browser tab. If you’re writing copy you hate because you think that’s what you need to do to sell a course, it’s time to step back and re-evaluate.
A few sales copywriting mistakes to avoid:
- Too many vague or fluffy words. You’ll hear many people say you shouldn’t use too many adjectives or adverbs—or just too many words in general—but I don’t find this helpful. The problem isn’t the quantity of words, but the quality. Avoid puffy words (“amazing,” “incredible,” “super”), and instead chose more specific words related to your content.
- Too many exclamation points. Start by using none. Then, if you come back to your copy after a day and still feel like you need to add one or two, go ahead. Never use all caps in your body copy.
- Too many jargon words. If you’re creating an advanced course for industry professionals, technical terms are fine (and even desirable!). But if you’re writing for a new audience, using a lot of jargon words to sound impressive will be off-putting.
- Avoid hyperbole and clichés. Don’t make claims you can’t back up, and don’t learn on the clichés you’ve heard everyone else use. If your copy could be cut and pasted onto your competitor’s website without anyone noticing the difference, it’s not doing enough to stand out.
- Don’t make it all about yourself. Your learners want to know why your course is going to help them. If you aren’t speaking to their concerns, they won’t stick around to find out why you’re so special.
2. Choose your audience.
One common mistake course creators fall into when they begin working on their course sales copy is the belief that their course is “for everyone.” The reality is that it’s not even for all the people who may be interested in learning about your subject matter.
This can be counterintuitive for some educators, because as teachers they want to share their knowledge with a broad audience, and as business owners they want to sell as many courses as possible. But being more selective about the kind of learner who will be a good fit for your course will actually lead to higher quality sales down the way—which in turn will mean happier learners and less stress for you.
Some factors that may make a learner a good or bad fit for your course include:
- Budget. Can they afford to take your course? Conversely, is your course not expensive enough, because they want more features and content?
- Involvement. Does the learner expect a lot of personal engagement with you? Some educators want to be hands off (and sell their courses to more people at a lower cost) while others want to be more like mentors (and sell fewer courses at a higher cost).
- Subject level. Are you teaching a beginner course, or a course for advanced students?
- Demographics. Are you teaching to learners of a specific age? Are race, gender, or sexual orientation relevant factors?
Being more specific about your course actually improves your ability to sell to that audience, even if it means you lose out on people who don’t fall into your niche. Take these two examples for a business leadership course:
- A $50 online course for recent college graduates who want to improve their hiring prospects. (Low budget, low involvement, beginning subject level, young learners.)
- A $500 private online seminar for women who are preparing for a C-suite promotion. (High budget, high involvement, advanced subject level, women with 15–20 years of job experience.)
Either of these options will naturally lead to more compelling sales copy for your online course, just by defining an audience.
3. Describe your benefits first, your features second.
Once you’ve defined who your audience is, start listing how your course benefits them. A lot of sales copy focuses too much on features—and features are good. But features aren’t benefits, if they don’t bring value to the learner.
For instance, a “feature” might be something like “daily quizzes,” “community forum,” or “one-on-one consultation.” Being specific about what your course offers is important, but only to students who are already in the market for what your course teaches. Or in other words, features are the means to an end, but unless the learner cares about the end, the means won’t matter.
Benefits are what your learners want to be able to achieve after they take your course. Using the example of the business leadership from before, that benefit might be something like “negotiate a higher salary” or “earn a promotion.”
Another way to think of this is the “why” and “how.” Benefits are the “why.” They’re the reason your learners are signing up for your course in the first place. Features are how they get there.
Put yet another way, benefits are the motivation, and features are the method. Learners will have varying motivations that push them to take your course, so you should think about the range of motivations, and then tie your features in to how your course will help them achieve their goals.
Examples of benefits vs. features:
- Benefits (motivation): Learn to speak French!
Features (method): Daily vocabulary quizzes.
- Benefit (why): Sleep more soundly and feel more refreshed during the day.
Feature (how): Guided meditation practices.
- Benefit (ends): Gain support from a network of fellow professionals.
Feature (means): Community forum.
4. Address hesitations and offer proof.
Finally, a learner may be very interested in your course, but have specific concerns that are holding them back. Maybe they’re not sure your method will work, and want to have some examples of your course in action to feel more confident. Maybe they aren’t sure they’ll be able to fit the course into their schedule, and want to know if they can get a refund if they can’t find the time to do the work. Or maybe they’re not sure the course is a good fit for them, and want a chance to talk about their needs with you before they get started.
There can be any number of reasons a learner might hesitate, and any number of proofs you can offer to set their mind at ease. You don’t need to offer everything, especially as some options are more expensive and may not be economical for you to provide. But you should consider what you can offer, and be proactive in advertising it.
Ways to address hesitations and offer proof:
- Money back guarantee during trial period.
- 15-minute scheduled consultation call.
- Free mini course.
- Learner reviews and case studies.
You’re going to be selling your course through your sales copy, so give it the love it deserves.
Selling online education courses is a different business from many others, because your sales copy will be doing a lot more heavy lifting. Your learners are more likely to be finding you through Google or social media, and they won’t have any other frame of reference to know who you are or what you do.
Taking extra time to go over your copy and make sure the messaging aligns with what your learners need from your course is well worth the effort. If you put them first in your copy, you’re already well on your way to demonstrating that you’ll be putting their needs first in your course as well.