Online Marketing for E-learning Part I: Content
If you want to sell your expertise, you need to prove it first.
We’ve been asked more than once to give marketing advice for online educators, and while we’ve touched on the issue before, I thought I would take the next few posts to answer some of the biggest questions in-depth.
First of all, let’s understand the scope of marketing for online education: it will almost always be digital. While there may be a compelling argument for using traditional advertising in some hyper-targeted situations, most online educators get the biggest bang for their buck through online marketing. It makes sense: you should be where your audience is.
And when it comes to online marketing, the numbers are clear: content is king. You have to be producing content in the form of blogs, videos, infographics, and even podcasts, if you want to draw attention and stand out from the crowd. So I’m going to start by covering the nuts and bolts of content marketing so that (hopefully!) you can walk away with a clear action plan for how to implement it with your own course.
1. Commit to a regular schedule (at least once a week).
To start, you should choose a medium that makes you feel comfortable and be ready to produce content regularly. Content can basically be split into three main groups: audio, visual, and text. Or, in online terms: podcasts, videos, and blogs.
Of all of these, blogs are the lowest-cost to produce, but they also require strong writing skills. But, if you don’t like the idea of writing long posts every week, you can work with a video series or a podcast. Just get ready to transcribe them into blog posts when you’re done so that you can gain the SEO benefits. (There are programs that can do this for you, including YouTube.)
2. Research your audience and learn about their interests.
Next up, do a deep dive on your audience, because it may not align with your expectations. For instance, maybe you thought you were creating a course for learners in their early twenties who are just starting a career, but instead you find you’ve attracted a large group of learners in their forties and fifties who are transitioning from an old career into a new one. Their skill set and interests will be very different from each other.
For instance, your younger audience may need practical advice on how to write a résumé or engage at a networking event, while older audiences may be less familiar with the intricacies of social media use. Or maybe not! It’s important to find out before you base a lot of your content on a false assumption.
3. Create content for all levels, from first-time visitors to long-time learners.
At the beginning, your learners will mostly be new, so you’ll be writing about more entry-level topics. But as you go on and develop your community further, you will (hopefully!) grow the knowledge level of your learners as well as gain attention from industry peers.
If you want to establish your expertise, you need to demonstrate that you have deep knowledge of your subject. This will also help you retain interest from learners as they progress so that they don’t drop off once they’ve learned the early lessons.
4. Go deep: produce long, informative content.
Some educators sorry that if they share all their expertise on their blog, no one will sign up for their course. In fact, the opposite is true: by demonstrating expertise on their blog, they build trust with learners who are then more confident that their course material will be useful to them. Furthermore, courses are a value-added experience: they don’t just gain access to your content, but to your community and your instruction as well—among other things.
Long content actually performs significantly better for most audiences than short posts, because it has a chance to offer deeper insights and more valuable information. So don’t hold back; cut loose.
5. Use keyword research to target your content and improve SEO.
Once you’ve written a long, detailed post about your subject, you should use keyword research to optimize it for search engines. Keyword research and SEO are themselves complicate subjects, but the gist is this: find the terms that your audience might search for if they’re trying to find the sort of course you’re offering, and then incorporate those terms into your content in a natural way so that Google can recognize what your content is about and direct searchers toward it.
The catch is that SEO is text-based. Remember what we said earlier about podcasts and videos? They don’t have text. But you can post these alongside a transcription, which will help Google as well as anyone who isn’t able to listen to your content.
6. Bring focus to your marketing using categories and tags.
As you produce content regularly, you’ll soon come to realize the importance of keeping it organized. This is for your own sake, but it’s also to help future readers find old posts. One of the beauties of content marketing is that a lot of what you write will grow in value over time. But in order to keep gaining benefits from it, your users need to be able to find it.
Categories and blog tags can help by directing users toward other, relevant posts. Use categories for the overarching themes of your blog (like the chapter headings), and tags for more granular subjects (like an index).
7. Review your content regularly. Link posts and update as necessary.
Finally, make it a practice to return to curate your old content. You want to keep as much of it as possible, but you also want to make sure it all stays current. That doesn’t necessarily mean re-writing old posts, but it does mean you may want to write an addendum if that old content falls out of date. If you have content that is no longer accurate or useful, you may want to delete it so as to avoid confusing learners.
You should also keep an eye out for opportunities to link posts to each other wherever relevant. This helps direct visitors toward more content and shows visitors the depth of material you’ve produced over the years.
Content is just the first step. Get ready for distribution!
Once you’ve written your content and optimized it for SEO, you’re a good way toward drawing in more search traffic. But there’s more you can do to draw attention to your content—and your course. So, that’s what we’re going to cover in our next post: content distribution!