The Ultimate 6-Step Content Marketing Checklist for Online Courses

I want to begin this post with a question…

What if I told you that with no more than time and creative effort you could generate a marketing asset for your online course which would could generate traffic traffic to your course from all over the world 24 hours a day…and it’s absolutely free?

Does that sound like a pitch for snake oil?

Well, it isn’t. It’s absolutely 100% possible to generate traffic to your online course website which includes visitors who are interested in topics related to your course’s niche without investing a single dollar and it’s called, wait for it…

Content marketing!

Great! But What Is It?

In theory, content marketing is simple. In practice, I’m not going to sugar coat things…it takes some planning and execution time if you want to be successful and make it worth your time.

Content marketing is simply the practice of creating a diverse offering of free resources online related to a specific set of topics. And what does this “offering” include? When it comes to online education, this might include blog posts, video content posted to major video hosting sites like YouTube, or even podcasts which are distributed through iTunes, Stitcher, etc.

Of these three types of free content offerings, the medium which is the easiest to produce and which will gather traffic from the widest range of potential enrollees for your online course, well, it’s hands down blogging.

Creating blog posts is also a task which sounds simple. After all, you just pick a topic, pop open a new document, write a few hundred words, and post it on the blog page of your website, right?

Well, not quite

To use blogging effectively as a tool to generate traffic that actually might be interested in giving you money for that course you worked long and hard to create, taking a scattered, shotgun approach and producing content focused on any topic at any time won’t produce results.

In this post, we’re going to outline six steps that you can begin using today which will help you create blog content that eventually sells your online course for you.

Why It Matters and How It Works

Before we begin, if you happen to be new to digital marketing or haven’t launch a product online in the past, it may not be obvious how blogging becomes a marketing tactic which can lead to sales of your online course.

But content marketing works on behalf of your course in two ways…

Think about the last time you had a new hobby, interest, project, job, wanted to prove a point, or just wanted to learn something new. I’m guessing you didn’t end up sitting at a desk at your local public library perusing a stack of books, correct?

You, just like billions of other wonderfully curious humans, likely sat down to your computer and opened up a search engine to begin your quest to satiate this knowledge-hungry appetite. Let me guess…it started with the letter “G”, didn’t it? If so, you’re in good company there as well. At the time I’m writing this blog post, Google conducts 92% of all searches around the world.

According to Statistic Brain’s Annual Google Search Statistics report, there are approximately 2.8 trillion Google searches conducted during the course of a year. That comes to around 368 searches per year for every single one of the 7.7 billion humans on this planet. And considering that only 47% of the planet uses the internet, those 3.6 billion internet users each conduct around 783 Google searches per year.

So you can assume with an extremely high degree of probability that out of those 2.8 trillion searches per year, topics related to your online course make up at minimum of a few hundred search phrases that people are using to find the information they want.

By discovering what these phrases are and producing useful, high-quality, authoritative, and informative blog posts which answer the unanswered questions about these topics, your site eventually becomes one which Google believes is a go-to resource when anyone wants to find those answers. Someone types in a search phrase, your blog post shows up in the search results for that phrase, that “someone” decides to read your blog post, and what do you know…

They’ve happened to land on a site which also sells a course in the same niche!

And that leads to the other benefit of blogging regularly in your niche. Over time, as you begin to produce more content and show up in search results for more and more key phrases, you begin to establish authority in your niche. You become a trusted and informed resource with information that not only regularly appears in search results, but which people with a continued interest in your topics return to regularly.

Ready? Let’s dig into the 6 steps that you can use to begin creating blog content to drive traffic to your online course’s website.

Step 1: Commit to a publishing schedule.

Before we get into ay of the nuts and bolts of content production, we need to set some goals.

This is important.

Anyone who has used blogging as a marketing strategy to gather traffic to their site has very likely, at one time or another, gone weeks or even months without adding a single word to their blogroll…myself included.

For a lot of people, writing is a tedious chore that they dread sitting down to work on. Personally, I love to write, so I have no excuses when I let blogging slide. But when you’re perhaps working a full-time job with only a few hours a week to work on your course offering(s), this can be one of the first tasks which gets moved far down the to-do list.

So the first step is to determine a reasonable goal for how often you’re going to produce and publish your posts. Once you determine how often you’re going to post, you’re going to set hard deadlines for the dates you will actually have those articles live on your site.

Writing a blog post takes time. You’ll likely be brainstorming the topic you want to write about, researching that topic to gather supporting details for your writing, producing the blog post itself, and gathering images to add to your post. On average, I’ve found that this takes a minimum of two hours for each post and often more. With all of the responsibilities I have in my online businesses, I’ve found that I can hold myself accountable for one full-length post per week and make no excuses for not doing so.

As you regularly produce blog content, you’ll begin to get it done in less time. You’ll know your go-to resources for research, you’ll have some images such as post header images that you reuse from post to post, and writing on one blog topic will stimulate ideas for future posts, saving you time brainstorming what to write about.

But for now, set a goal and get that on your calendar no matter what frequency you choose…you’re now accountable.

Step 2: Determine the characteristics of your audience.

The second step we need to tackle before we write anything is to get a clear idea of whose eyeballs are going to be scanning our content once it’s out in the wild for consumption. 

Think about magazines for a moment. Many magazines contain current news and events. But put an issue of The Economist on an airport newsstand right next to an issue of People and two different people reach for them…the sophisticated, curious business traveler might fill her flight time reading about Chinese trade tariffs with The Economist while the flip-flop wearing, “soon to be sitting in a beach chair” traveler might zone out to pages of the latest celebrity gossip.

If your online course teaches baby boomers how to confidently search for and land a job in a resume pool filled with energetic, young millennials, you’re probably not going to produce a blog post on how to leverage your Snapchat followers to sniff out employers who might be hiring. We want our content to appeal to as many of our potential readers as possible, but we need to understand who those readers would be, the topics which would be beneficial for them, and the tone with which you’d use if you were speaking to them in a conversation.

The best part is that you likely already know what someone in your blog’s audience would look like.

After all, you’re an ideal example of who is in that demographic, right? What would you like to learn in your niche? What have you already learned? What knowledge or techniques have helped you master subjects in your niche?

Step 3: Find out what people are searching for.

Before we begin creating blog posts, we want to be certain that we’re writing pieces that line up with what our intended audience is looking for within search engines. After all, if we don’t publish information related to the terms the search engines are used for we won’t be picked up in those search results and we’ll miss out on valuable traffic.

Fortunately, using your primary course topic as a search phrase, there are a number of free resources which will allow you to enter that as a “seed keyword” and then see a list of some of the most popular phrases which are actually being queried by search engines. 

All we need to do is enter our course topic into one of these tools to receive a list of phrases which we can write our articles around. You’ll want to save these lists and while you may not write an entire piece specifically around this phrase, you’re going to use it as a foundation or cornerstone keyword in your blog post title and content.

Let’s look at an example…

Let’s say my online course is about dog training. If I use one of these free tools and enter the keyword “dog training”, I come up with a list that might look like this:

  • crate training a puppy 27,100
  • potty training puppy 27,100
  • how to train a puppy 18,100
  • puppy training classes 12,100
  • how to train a dog 12,100
  • dog supplies 12,100
  • dog bark collar 12,100
  • dog tricks 12,100
  • german shepherd dog 12,100
  • stop dog barking 12,100
  • dog training classes 12,100
  • therapy dog training 12,100
  • puppy training near me 9,900
  • potty training dogs 9,900
  • electric dog collar 8,100
  • german shepherd training 8,100
  • dog agility training 8,100
  • house training a puppy 8,100
  • clicker training dogs 8,100
  • how to house train a puppy 8,100
  • dog obedience school 8,100

This list tells us exactly what people are searching for within the search engines as well as how many searches there are per month for each of these phrases. Keep in mind that the free versions of any of the tools we’ll link to below generally only give you a limited number of recommendations with paid versions available for extensive lists.

However, this list already gives us some ideas for topics we might want to write about. For example, I really like the phrase “crate training a puppy”. That term receives 27,100 searches per month. Now, keep in mind that the higher that search volume is, the more competitive the search rankings become.

But with a phrase having so many monthly searches, we can safely assume that people are also typing all sorts of variations, or what we call “long tail keywords” into search engines. This might include searches for “crate training labrador puppies”, “how to crate train puppies quickly”, or “what are the benefits of crate training a puppy”.

In this case, what we might choose to do is craft an article titled “The Ultimate Guide to Crate Training a Puppy in Two Weeks”. We’ve worked the main keyword into our title so the search engines know the primary topic, so we can then begin to sprinkle other keywords throughout this “ultimate guide”. We only need a few mentions of the primary phrase here and there throughout the article surrounded by other words that might extend to a wider range of searches, like this…

”You may be asking yourself, ‘Just what are the benefits of crate training a puppy?’”  

Here are three free tools to use to generate lists of long tail keywords to produce your content around:

WordTracker is a simple tool which allows you to enter your seed keyword and quickly generate a list of search phrases along with their monthly search volume.

Answer the Public is a free resource which will generate a visual map of long tail keywords which relate to searches that include interrogative words such as who, what, when, where, or why.

Google’s own autocomplete functionality allows you to simply begin typing a phrase such as “crate training a puppy” into the search box to display a list of commonly searched terms.

Step 4: Hold their hand all the way across the bridge.

Ok, I’m not going to be asking you to literally hold hands with your audience members. However, now that we have some seed ideas for our content, we can begin crafting pieces around those search phrases.

But this isn’t a “one size fits all” exercise.

Think of your course as a bridge. A bridge is designed to take someone from an existing location to a desired destination quickly, efficiently, and safely. Your course is designed to take a student from their existing level of knowledge around your topic to a desired and fulfilled learning outcome, be it knowledge just for knowledge’s sake or to gain a specific, proven skill.

That being said, when you’re producing content for your blog you want to write articles which cater to readers who may be at different points along that bridge. We want our content to address questions which a complete beginner may have, questions which someone in the middle of the bridge might ask, and even offer some advanced advice for readers who need it.

By producing content which meets readers at different points on the learning bridge, we have more reasons for a reader to stay on our site and consume more content than if we only targeted a specific knowledge category.

Step 5: Be concise or be complete.

The question of how long a blog post should be has been debated as long as blogging has been a household word in the parlance of our times. And there really is no right or wrong answer!

However, attention spans online are short these days. With news, blogs, videos, podcasts, and social media to keep up with, we want information as quickly as we can consume it. This is why the most successful viral YouTube videos are less than two minutes. That wouldn’t happen with a 45-minute video no matter how hard it makes you laugh.

On the other side of the same coin, we’re writing these blog posts to educate someone and it’s hard to learn much of anything in a two-minute video or a 350 word article.

When it comes to blog post length, I’ve found that it’s best to stick to stick to a posting schedule which addresses the ends of the “word count spectrum”.  

What does that mean?

For the majority of the content we consume online we want to be able to get information quickly. This is why most of you would know precisely what I mean when I say that this particular post may be a TLDR post (“too long, didn’t read” if you are still reading!). Therefore, I recommend filling the majority of your content calendar with high-quality, short articles which clearly and concisely offer up a small, actionable amount of information. These posts can be written quickly, more frequently, and they keep our reader’s attention just long enough to give them something of value then move on. For my “crate training a puppy” example, I might write a quick 300 word post titled “The Secret to a Bark-Free Crate Training Experience (Your Neighbors Will Thank You)”.

However, if someone has genuinely come to your site with an interest in gaining knowledge and they’re already in a “learning mindset”, they’re also very likely to set aside a larger chunk of time for your content if it’s worth that time. This is why every fourth post or so, we include authoritative, full-length cornerstone content which is a staple resource that can draw in traffic from a wide range of keywords for months (and maybe even years).

This post is an example of cornerstone content. This —>word<— is word number 2,796 of this article…and we still have ground to cover!

When I sat down to craft this post, I wanted to provide a free, comprehensive resource which would include a thorough list of actionable steps that someone without an online following could use to begin getting their online course in front of prospective customers even if they didn’t have a marketing budget.

Sure, it took an entire day from start to finish, but hopefully this article will be useful for anyone who reads it. And for those who do find it useful, I hope they’ll continue to visit this site regularly to see what other advice we might be able to offer.

Step 6: Keep your content fresh and up-to-date.

Now that you’ve started to create content regularly in the form of short posts and cornerstone articles, they’re going to be on your website and available for the interwebs to see for as long as your site is live.

That being the case, those darn interwebs contain a lot of cobwebs, too. In certain niches, content can become outdated almost as soon as it’s posted. SEO, or search engine optimization, is a great example. This practice of trying to do everything possible to get your site ranked for specific search terms relies on being able to guess what factors search engines use to produce search results. And those factors, well, they get updated in some way or another almost daily. This makes for a difficult space to keep up-to-date in and I know because I’ve tried it. 

While blogging for traffic isn’t a “one size fits all strategy”, it’s also not a “set it and forget it” strategy. You will undoubtedly write content that goes out of date. 

I promise.

The best way to address this is to plan an occasional content review session into your content calendar. This might be once a month, once a quarter, or twice a year. That’s going to depend on your niche and how often things in that landscape change. But this periodic review will give you a chance to freshen up any dated information before a reader finds out that they’ve wasted time on your site consuming old content that’s no longer useful.

This can include a number of areas which commonly require an occasional checkup. That might include posts such as “the best _____ conferences in 2019”, “a complete guide to _____ software version 3.0”, “_____ lessons learned in my _____ years as a _____”.  

The best way to ensure accuracy and save time when you’re scheduling out these periodic reviews of your content is simple…keep track of content that might need updating. No matter how or where you keep your content calendar structured (paper planner, software, a poster, etc.), you can also keep a log there to remind you what you may need to check. That might include highlighting post titles on your paper calendar or placing a star next to posts in a planning or task software package.

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Nate
Nate

Nate Johnson is one of the co-founders of CourseCast, and is one of the creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.

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