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13 Ways to Validate Your Online Course Idea

Online Courses are the future. In fact, they are the present – the present idea that all educators, experts, businessmen, coaches should invest in.

Impart some knowledge and let the world take benefit from it, of course along with awesome gains for yourself too.

But I see you already have a great course idea in place – but there’s uncertainty to it right? Will it sell, will it be something my audience needs?

Your concerns are valid.

But the good news is that due to advances in technology, checking the likes/dislikes of your target audience has become easier and cheaper.

In this article, I’ll discuss 13 ways by which you can gauge and validate whether your course idea is ready for the market or not.

By ‘validating’ your market you’ll be ensuring that your potential consumer is likely to pay for the course you’re about to launch.

By means of four broad categories of validation activities, we’ll put the course idea to test and lift it from the ground up to something that brings high-quality results.

Whether you want to use all of the tools in each activity area is up to you but I’d strongly recommend using at least one tool from each.

Searching

A good approach to start off with is searching and search engines are your friend. They hold a record of what people click on the most and what they are mostly looking for.

In order to use these search engines effectively you must have a clear idea of what value your course will bring to the audience and then put that value in words/phrases you decipher that your audience will put in the search engine.

This will most probably be in the form of a question finding a solution to a problem, an unanswered question or a goal they want to accomplish.

Now you need to make a list of a few phrases (around 5 to 7) of about 3 to 5 words each that you think your audience might search for in finding the answer to a question that you are offering through your course.

The following platforms will help you out:

1. Google

Yes it’s the most obvious one.

Type out the list that you’ve made of possible search phrases and analyze the results that show up.

Also look out for the following:
What results are popping up in the first page?

Are these results relevant or close to your online course idea? Also pay attention to ‘related searches’ at the bottom of the page for ideas for titling and describing your course to attract your audience.

Did videos come on the first page too?
If yes, then that’s good because the presence of already popular videos means your idea has potential.

What about ads?
If relevant ads are also being displayed then congratulations – it means people care enough to pump money to reach your audience.

What about availability of similar courses?
When you add terms like ‘course’, ‘lesson’, ‘workshop’ to your list of phrases, are courses similar to your course idea showing up? Don’t worry if the answer is yes – it’s actually a good sign more so if ads are also coming up.

This means businesses feel the idea is worth earning money from.

So we’ve deduced that having competition is not a bad thing at all.

For what it’s worth it actually ensures that the topic you want to offer is of interest to people out there and good enough to spend money on.

On the flip side, if you don’t find any similar search results, you need to dig in deeper. Ask yourself why – is it because your idea is one of its kind or because it’s something there’s no demand for?

Keep in mind that even the best of ideas are ones that face some sort of competition.

2. BuzzSumo

This is a search engine and a great tool to have because it shows you which content is popular on a website or in terms of topics.

Use this tool to figure out how well-received your content is on social media or how popular the course topic you are considering is. Also, it is a good way to find out about your competitor’s topic’s popularity.

You need to type in a few keywords or topics and this search engine will display a list of sites that have the most shares, likes, comments and links for that topic.

This will help in determining the popularity of a particular topic and the sites where it has most been used like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest.

This is a good way to establish whether your course idea is feasible enough to go ahead with.

BuzzSumo is not a free tool though (after a free 14-day trial) but there are some pretty cool subscriptions, packages and discounts that you can avail. If you’re serious about your idea, I’d recommend going for it!

3. Amazon

Now you must be wondering Amazon is a place to buy anything under the Sun so how will it help me in my course idea? The important point to remember is that all sorts of buying has all sorts of research in the background i.e. use of powerful search engines and quite a few searches on Amazon are knowledge related.

A specific area to look out for is the ‘Kindle eBooks’ section where not only the digital versions of published books are available but also has a huge variety of Ebooks on niche topics written by entrepreneurs.

You can find out if there any books about your topic and more importantly if they’re selling well on this platform. When you hit search on Amazon and select “Kindle Store”, finding several offerings related to your topic is a good sign.

4. Udemy

Udemy is basically where buying and selling of courses occurs, not to mention an increasingly popular website. I wouldn’t really recommend selling your course there because the essence is lost but it’s a great source for your search results.

The audience after all on this website is people interested in online courses.
Type your keywords and online course idea in the Udemy home page search engine and see what opens up.

Look for the number of courses and ratings that turn up as well as the nature of the content like the topics covered, best rated courses etc.

Searching on Udemy will help you in describing, organizing and positioning your own course.

Listening

To tell you the truth, ‘searching’ will probably take you an hour or so i.e. logging on to the above mentioned websites and figuring out the vastness of your market.

However, for the next validation activity, ‘listening’ you will have to dedicate a few weeks in order for this step to be effective.

Let me clarify that listening actually means keenly observing the language and behavior related to your course on the Internet where people are discussing topics around your course idea.

You can ‘listen’ on the following places:

5. Quora

This is a famous Q&A website and one that can fall in the ‘searching’ category too. But what’s interesting would be to analyze what happens to a topic over a certain time frame.

Firstly observe the kind of questions people are asking and how much response are they getting accordingly. Keep following these question answers and take note of what additions are made in them over time.

And yes, it won’t be a bad idea to ask questions about your topic here yourself!
An interesting feature about Quora is that the Q&As here rank well on search engines like Google so maybe if you answer a question (around your topic of course) you could lead traffic to your own website.

6. Feedly

This tool helps in collecting feeds from different blogs.

You need to subscribe to blogs of people (especially the popular ones) who are working around your topic and observe what they are talking about. Also make note of their most popular posts.

The topic may be the same but try to figure out how your approach is different than theirs.

Features of Feedly involve tagging, organizing and searching the content you’ve been tracking which helps in bringing forth worthwhile insights.

Give special attention to those aspects of your topic that are getting talked about the most.

Over some time, these observations will aid in focusing your course idea and identifying what will bring most value to your potential customers. Also notice the patterns of the content you’re observing to see if they are more or less pointing towards the same problem or opportunity you will be offering.

7. Blogging

Yes this is the age of videos and social media communication yet blogging is still very much helpful in connecting with your audience.

The key is to have a well-managed blog. The way you can ‘listen’ on your blog is by posting content related to your course topic over a few months and then note which post was most liked, most shared, the one with most comments and the kind of comments they are making.

This is of course a long-term strategy but over time it’ll help you gain a lot of insights – if your audience is responding well to the posts, they’re most likely to buy what you’ll offer.

Your blog posts can also be a part of your course content later on.

8. Analytics

Having Google Analytics installed goes hand in hand with your blogging.

While you’re tracking what’s happening on your blog, this will help in informing about the areas or posts that attract the most traffic.

The way to go about is to click on the Behavior option and select Overview which will point out the areas attracting most traffic.

It will also tell you the time people are spending on a particular page which is of course your cue for a course idea!

Asking

Now coming to the third category of validation activity – asking.

We already touched upon this when we discussed the Q&A website Quora but here you can directly ask your audience whether or not they like what you’re about to offer.

But obviously you can’t be that direct with them – so you’ll need to ask them indirect questions that bring out answers from them leading to a conclusion we want to hear.

9. Surveys

Gone are the days of annoying lengthy paper surveys. With tools like Survey Monkey, it is easy to design an effective questionnaire, reach your target audience and evaluate the results.

The key is to keep it short and ask the audience about their actual behavior and the challenges or opportunities they are facing.

You can further ask them how they’re addressing the issues and which efforts have been successful or unsuccessful so far hence keep your questions open-ended for maximum input.

However use MCQs for demographic information like income, age etc.

10. Interviews

If you have an audience built up through your website or social media that you can reach out to, you can contact them for validating your product.

If you don’t, you can find some candidates to be interviewed through niche forums. You can also ask your survey audience to opt for giving follow-up interviews.

You can use Skype, email, Zoom or a normal phone call to get directly in touch with your audience and ask them the challenges they face, the opportunities they are looking for and what kind of solution are they looking for.

Ask them for any changes or upgrade you can bring about in your course topic.
You can also ask if they have prior experience of taking up an online course and how it has been for them. Take feedback about the format too.

These answers will help you formulate a course that carries immense value for your customer.

Be sure to record these interviews (with the interviewee’s permission) instead of taking notes at that time so your full concentration can be on the conversation.

11. Focus Groups

In focus groups you are also interviewing people but you’re talking to groups of people at the same time.

This allows you to record different reactions and ideas of participants when something is shared with them. It is a good way of revealing insights that you hadn’t discovered before.

You may have a reservation that focus groups require money and a fancy set up but in reality you just need 5 to 7 relevant people present at a pre-decided time. They of course have to be your target audience and people you think have the buying power.

Offering a small good-will gesture in exchange of interviews and focus groups is not a bad idea too.

About the venue, you can just conduct it online on Skype or Zoom where you’re able to look at their expressions and gestures on video. Oh and don’t forget to record these sessions too for reviewing later.

Testing

And finally the last validation activity – testing!

The techniques and tools we’ve discussed so far are a mild form of testing your course idea – you put forth some ideas and see how well it’s accepted by your prospects. In this phase we’ll be talking about some direct ways of putting your course idea to the test.

12. Lead Magnets

The content you offer to a prospect in exchange for their email address is a lead magnet. It can be a checklist, a Webinar, an e-book or a video.

Lead magnets not only help in generating an email list, they also serve as a tool for idea validation.

How?

Simply put anyone who doesn’t want to give you their email address over a certain topic will most likely not buy the course you’ll offer on the same topic.

Keep in mind the content you’re offering in the form of a lead magnet has to be closely related to your course idea and has to be valuable enough for your prospect to respond to.

Make the process simple and attractive.

LeadPages and Thrive Leads are some platforms that can help you in creating lead magnet sign-up pages and buttons.

You can promote your lead magnet through email and your social media.

13. Pre-Selling

You know how pre booking of a product before it is launched creates a certain buzz in the air – that feeling of getting your hands on something first and that too at a lesser rate! The same strategy can be a way of putting your course idea to test.

If you can find people who can commit to buying your course even before it is launched, wouldn’t that be validation enough?

On the flip side if no one agrees to pre-purchase your course, you can explore the hows and whys behind it.

In combination with pre-selling you can also try the ‘live plot’ approach whereby you present your course’s core content in the form of a webinar over a period of weeks or days.

You will conduct a live session and be able to gauge the reaction it’s getting and of course some valuable feedback.

You may not use all 13 of these tools and approaches – pick and choose that resonate with you and your course idea well.

Over time when you’ll put these strategies to use, you will soon see your course idea develop into a full fledged online course business.

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