Ready to put some ad dollars behind your course? Here’s where to start.
There are many successful online educators who have built their courses without spending a cent on advertising. Instead, they’ve taken the long, hard path of content marketing: blogging almost daily, engaging on social media, and cultivating networking connections to grow word-of-mouth.
This strategy is effective, but it takes a lot of work. Any good economist will tell you that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and with content marketing, that’s definitely true. There’s no such thing as free advertising, and while you can gain a lot of SEO strength through content marketing in a way that is ultimately cost effective, it takes a lot of blood sweat and tears to get there.
To be clear: advertising is no shortcut. However, it can lift some of the burden, help businesses achieve their goals more readily, and complement broader marketing strategies. If you’re ready to try your hand yourself, here are six approaches you can take toward advertising your online course.
1. Google Ads.
If you’ve ever run a search on Google, you’ve seen the advertisements that pop up at the top of your search results that are formatted the same way as results, but have a little marking in front of them that says “ad.” These, are, as their label says, advertisements. They’re also one of the easiest ways to begin advertising on the Internet.
Google Ads appear based on key terms. You decide which key terms you want to appear for, place a bid for how much you’ll pay to show up on results, and then Google will place your ad based on how the bidding falls out. You can also set a cap on how much you’ll pay in a month, and chose how Google will calculate the cost of your ad. So, if you only want to pay per click, Google will charge you based on the people who click through your site. If you only want to pay per impression, Google will charge you per thousand people who view your ad.
2. Placement ads.
Placement ads mostly appear on websites or in certain apps. They’re what fill up banners and sidebars, fueling the war with ad blockers. The easiest way to run a placement ad is through Google’s Display Network, where you can specify the types of locations where you want your ad to appear, and then bid on the space.
The best part about placement ads is that you can get very targeted with them. You can narrow your bid to a specific page on a specific site, and even vary how much you spend accordingly. If you know your audience well and have a niche you really want to target, this can be an excellent way to get your course in front of them.
3. Remarketing ads.
You know those ads that follow you around the Internet after you visit a website? Those are remarketing ads, and despite their bad rap, I think they’re actually better for consumers than the alternative. Most people dislike them because they have the impression that the website they were on earlier is somehow tracking their movements.
This isn’t really true. Instead, that website has left a cookie with your browser, and that cookie tells Google where you’ve been, and if that website has set up a remarketing campaign with Google’s Display Network, then Google will insert that ad in place of other, unrelated ads.
Why is this good for consumers? Well, consumers are going to see ads one way or another. The question is: do you want the ad to come from a strange site you may want nothing to do with? Or a site you’ve expressed interest in by visiting? The mechanisms behind remarketing ads are far less intrusive than other ad schemes, because they rely on only one easily blocked piece of information, and they’re far more likely to be relevant to a consumer’s interests. That sounds like a bonus to me.
4. Social media ads.
The greatest benefit to social media ads is that they often appear to be entirely native placements. The ads blend in with other social content, making them appear to be part of a viewer’s normal feed. It takes a sharp-eyed user to spot the flag labeling it as paid advertising.
Social ads are controlled within the social platform itself, and can be refined based on a range of criteria. Basic demographic information is a good place to start, but you can also target ads based on a user’s stated likes and preferences, their job title, the place they went to school, their address, and many other pieces of information that the social platform collects.
Unlike remarketing ads, which are easy to identify, highly targeted social campaigns rely on more personal information, but are harder to identify as such. They can be highly effective, but they’re only as good as your ability to predict your audience’s interest.
Sponsorships take a lot of work and are expensive, but they come with a lot of good will. If you’re wondering what a sponsorship is, think about a podcast you may enjoy listening to, or a newsletter you’re subscribed to. You’ve probably heard someone mention the sponsor that’s keeping their program running. That could be you.
To be effective, you have to go where your audience is. If you know a lot of your audience are avid listeners of a certain podcast, supporting it ears a lot of good will—and can increase your subscriptions while you’re at it.
6. Traditional advertising.
Finally, a few words should be said in support of traditional advertising—billboards, print mailers, and advertisements in community publications. This is unlikely to be your most promising way of drawing attention to your course, but if you have a very defined niche with a tight target audience, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give it a try.
Like almost any ad scheme, the biggest dangers are following trends because they’re what everyone else is doing, and not following your gut because no one else is doing it. Traditional ads may be underpriced in some areas, because so many people have abandoned them. That may offer you an opportunity to get your message across with less competition crowding you out.
Ads are great, so long as your course is in order.
Advertising is an excellent way to draw attention to your course—but don’t jump the gun. If your course isn’t ready for an increase in visitors, your ad money may backfire. Before you put ad dollars behind your course, it’s smart to run some beta tests to iron out the kinks. Then you can open it up to a broader audience.
The exception is if you’re trying to find beta testers. While most businesses don’t advertise for beta testers, that’s no reason why you shouldn’t. The key is to set expectations. If visitors know they’re coming to test out a new course, they’ll be less frustrated if they find it still has some kinks to work out.
However, if you’ve already beta tested your course and are confident it’s ready to handle a full student load, then perhaps it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. If you believe your course can help learners achieve their educational goals, don’t be shy about spreading the word.