How to Launch an Online Course

This is article #48 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.

An important ingredient to successful inbound marketing is variety. Some targets will prefer to read ebooks. Others will attend every webinar and re-watch the recording. In order to appeal to a wide range of targets, you need to build content in many different mediums. One of those is online courses.

While on the surface it may sound like a big undertaking, launching an online course is pretty simple. In most cases, it is just an automated campaign of emails that link to content (i.e. articles or “lessons”) that is dripped to the lead in chronological fashion, guiding them through the lessons. Here is a breakdown of how to get started:

1. Identify topics

Start by figuring out what topics the course should include. This should be based around your company’s core story and positioning. For example, for my business that sells mobile apps to health clubs, we might launch a course on “How to Grow your Club with Technology.” Throughout the course we’d outline best practices for launching new technology, including (but not limited to) mobile apps. This way, the lead is getting educated and nurtured.

2. Create blog-post style content

Courses should be broken into segments, delivered via email once per week. Each email should link to an extended-read piece of content, typically posted on the course blog. The blog article should be an educational lesson, recapping the previous week’s topic and alluding to the following week’s topic so it relates.

3. Create a separate subdomain for the blog

As you create course content, it should be hosted on a separate blog subdomain (e.g.

4. Assemble an email drip

Create a series of emails and set up a nurture workflow to release one per week based on the time the lead signed up for the course. This is all handled through the marketing automation system and is low touch: once a lead signs up, you don’t have to take any action. This makes online courses quite scalable; once you do the initial work to build the content, it can be enjoyed by many learners.

5. Include special content like video

Consider varying the types of content in the course. While the majority is expected to be written articles, it is helpful to mix in some video to better illustrate complicated points.

6. Add live Q&As with experts

The majority of an online course is self-learning, meaning the lead is consuming content, and you the marketer are not directly engaging with them. To enhance the course experience, consider hosting a webinar-style event where attendees can dial in and ask questions, live, where either you or an industry thought leader can provide insight on questions that have arisen during the course.

7. Give a reward at the end

At the end of the course, consider a certification that adds legitimacy and enhances the accomplishment. This is similar to Hubspot’s Inbound Certification.

8. Define conversion path down the funnel

Finally, you need to define how participants in the course can be further nurtured to move down the funnel and become opportunities and customers. What is the logical next step upon completing the course? Perhaps a personalized email from someone on your team or an invite to an exclusive in-person event.


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