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How to Use Free Online Courses to Quickly Grow Your Email List…

This is a guest post from Kevin Payne.

Before any business can make a sale, it first has to get leads.

Lead generation remains one of the most important processes you should be investing in, but, when it seems like everything’s been said and done, how do you differentiate from the crowd and score highly engaged and qualified leads?

In this blog post, we want to show why a free online course might be your next big lead generation tactic. Keep reading because we’ll show you why an online course is an effective way to grow an engaged email list quickly.

Read on to get the steps you need to create and promote your very own high-converting free online course.

Why use free online courses in your marketing funnel?

Curious about why a free online course should be part of your list building campaigns? Here are 4 compelling reasons.

You can provide instant high value.

While lead magnets like PDFs or workbooks also provide information or takeaways, an online course is able to deliver more value, as you take subscribers through different actionable lessons geared towards a specific learning outcome.

A course may also have higher perceived value than other types of opt-ins because of the scale of this type of opt-in. By giving a free opt-in with immense value right off the bat, you’re then positioning your paid offers as extremely valuable.

Subscribers are taken through the Know-Like-Trust journey faster.

Another reason a free online course is an effective addition to your online funnel is because it accelerates your sales cycle with your leads. An online course is a way to take subscribers through the Know-Like-Trust journey faster and in a single touchpoint.

Here’s exactly how a free online course takes subscribers through this journey:

Know. Through your course, subscribers already know your business and are beginning to know just what it is you can offer.

Like. By giving them multiple free lessons meant to help them attain a specific outcome, subscribers can appreciate the effort and scale your brand is giving them.

Trust. An online course establishes your credibility and authority in the field. If you do the work and pack your course with great content, subscribers are more likely to trust your expertise faster than your competitor.

You give your subscribers multiple quick wins.

In the age of digital, people now more than ever are exposed to instant gratification and quick wins. As marketers, we know that delivering a quick win is one way to delight our subscribers and associate our brand with positive outcomes and results.

Because you can design a free online course with multiple lessons and each with a specific actionable next step for subscribers, you’re essentially giving them a quick win after each lesson. Unlike, say, a PDF that contains all the same information, in an online course, one lesson can give its own feeling of a win.

A free course is an extra touchpoint.

A study by McKinsey showed that people are more likely to buy from a brand after they’ve engaged with them via multiple digital touchpoints. This study only emphasizes the importance of omni-channel marketing and including as many touchpoints your market may interact with.

A free online course is an additional touchpoint for your brand. Combined with an effective lead nurturing strategy, existing social media campaigns, and other brand assets you might have, you’ll be more likely to convert these new leads into sales.

How to use free online courses to quickly grow your email list

Are you ready to design and publish your first online course to grow your email list? Just take a look at these steps.

Decide where and how to host your course.

Because online courses are only increasing in popularity, so too have your options on how to host and deliver your course. Here are some common options for online course hosting:

Third-party Learning Management Systems (LMS)

With a third-party learning management system (LMS), your course is hosted on a separate platform. Popular options of LMS include Teachable or Thinkific.

The pros of using a third-party LMS is that your free online course content is delivered in a streamlined manner that’s easy for subscribers to navigate, as well as having multiple integration options to connect to your email marketing provider.

But cons include added monthly cost, not being able to completely customize the look and feel of your course to match your website completely, and subscribers having to go to a completely different domain to access course content.

Source: Course Method

Self-hosted courses on website

One great alternative to an LMS is self-hosting your course on your website. This is one of the more cost-effective options, especially because you can combine low-cost website hosting and online course plugins like LearnDash to create and deliver your course.

Some course building plugins that allow you to self-host your courses on your website only charge a one-time fee instead of a subscription, and your subscribers don’t have to leave your website to access your course content.

Source: Blog Marketing Academy

Self-hosted online courses mean your subscribers don’t have to visit different domains to access course content.

Email drip courses

And yet another option to host your course is to use your existing email marketing provider to deliver your course content. Set up a drip campaign to deliver course content over a number of days to keep subscribers excited.

Make sure each lesson is in a well-designed email template to make it easy for subscribers to go through.

Zoom in on a specific problem your course will address.

Next, you’ll want to highlight exactly what problem your free online course can solve. For this step, it’s helpful to refer back to your buyer persona, so you can determine which problems of your customers are addressable with an online course.

Because your online course is meant to be bite-sized and actionable, commit to helping your customer with just one specific problem, instead of too many at once.

Source: L&T

Your buyer persona can help you identify one specific problem to solve for your target customer in your free online course.

Let’s illustrate this with an example.

Say a marketing agency identifies that one of their target customers’ pain points is improving their business’s SEO strategy, among others.

After evaluating their target customers’ typical path to purchase, they found that their buyers will often resort to trying to solve their problem by themselves before hiring a consultant or agency to help them instead.

Decide on main learning outcomes.

Once you’ve identified the problem you want to solve for your buyer, you can determine your main learning outcomes, which then inform the main content of your course.

Calling back the marketing agency example from the previous section: knowing what it knows about their customers’ needs, this same agency can create a free online course that shows their consumer exactly how to optimize their website for SEO with a few step-by-step guides.

Here are a few guide questions to help you set learning outcomes for a free online course:

  • By the end of the course, what should course takers know?
  • What terms, processes, systems, or tools should course takers be acquainted with by the end of the course?
  • What should course takers know how to do upon course completion?

Brainstorm other value-adding freebies to go with the course.

Another way to make sure visitors convert into course takers is to increase the perceived value of the free course.

While the main benefits or transformations your free online course offers may be enough in themselves, you might want to add extra incentives to both increase conversions and improve the course-taking experience.

Before you decide to create any new PDFs from scratch, do a content audit to check if there are existing marketing materials you can throw in together with your free course.

For example, a company like GetWeave was able to create a library of eBooks. If they were to create a free online course, they can repurpose some eBooks as bonus content to increase the value of the course.

Source: Weave

You can repurpose other free lead magnets to accompany your course.

Always end lessons with actionable next steps.

Tying in with our mention of quick wins in previous sections, design your course to give subscribers actionable next steps to implement your free course lessons.

These next steps can be one simple task that they can accomplish in a short amount of time.

For example, a free social media course about growing your Instagram following might have one lesson about optimizing your Instagram business profile.

The next steps for the course taker may be to implement what they learned about how to create a benefit-driven Instagram bio to get more followers and bio link clicks.

Design a high-converting signup page for the course.

Just like any lead magnet, a beautifully-designed landing page can greatly increase conversions and signups. For your online course, be sure to follow the best practices for landing page conversion optimization.

Specifically, you should:

  • Create a benefit-driven headline that shows visitors what the course is all about
  • Write effective copy that highlights the exact benefits and learning outcomes one can expect from your free course
  • Show mockups of lessons, PDFs, and bonus items to add tangibility to your offer
  • Use action words in your CTAs: “enroll now,” “take the course,” “get free access,” “start learning,” etc.
  • Over time, include any testimonials from course takers about the contents of the course
  • Practice landing page design best practices, including spacing, paragraph lengths, trust indicators, and the like

And, because over half of the total population is estimated to access the internet only from a smartphone, don’t forget to optimize your course signup page for mobile. Keep all signup elements, like buttons, above the fold to ensure the best conversions.

Source: Lead Injection

Create a drip email campaign to help pace course-takers.

To improve course experience for subscribers, add them to an email drip campaign that sends them reminders of when to check out new lessons.

If your course has 5 lessons, you can space each email reminder one day apart, so subscribers are prompted to check in every day.

Needless to say, this is the process you’ll already follow if you’re delivering your course content via your email service provider. But, if you host your free online course elsewhere, sending reminders will be a good practice to keep subscribers engaged.

Promote your course across different marketing platforms.

Maximize the power of your omnichannel marketing campaign by promoting your course across your existing channels. Here are a few ways you can start promoting your new free course to capture fresh leads:

  • Add links and CTAs in key areas of your website, including your header menu or pop-up forms
  • Talk about your free course on social media posts
  • Partner with influencers or key thought leaders in your niche to promote your course
  • Send cold emails to potential leads who may benefit from your course

Bonus tip: take subscribers through your sales funnel upon course completion.

After a subscriber signs up for a course, you can immediately take them through to the next step in your sales funnel: making a sale.

Leads who finish your free course are more likely to be warm. You’ve shown them your value, and they’re probably ready to buy from you straight away.

Freshbooks makes a good example of following up a high-value offer with making a sale. They offer users a free 30-day trial of their software and supply them with the option to learn the ropes using online self-paced courses.

So, after a subscriber has finished their free trial, together with the free learning resources, they’ll be more likely to purchase a subscription.

Source: Freshbooks

Wrap up

As marketers, it’s important to constantly look for ways to grow your email list quickly with highly targeted and qualified leads. An online course can be a great lead generation tool to have in your repertoire, best for its ability to instantly nurture and engage your target customers in ways like never before. Refer to this post to help you create a high-converting free online course and start seeing those leads flock to your email list.

Kevin Payne is a content marketing consultant that helps software companies build marketing funnels and implement content marketing campaigns to increase their inbound leads.


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