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A massive 80% of small businesses rely on email marketing for customer acquisition and retention. And with an ROI of $36 for every $1 spent, it’s clear that email marketing for online courses can play a critical role in driving course sales and growing your online course business in 2023.  

In this article, we’ll share the 3 easy-to-follow steps for building an email marketing strategy so you can sell your online courses through email. Let’s get started!

Skip ahead:

  1. Build and Segment Your Email Database
  2. Perfect Your Email Content and Sequence
  3. Optimize Your Online Course Landing Page
  1. Build and Segment Your Email Database

Building your List

Before you can use email marketing for online courses, you need to build an email list and create ways that keep the list growing. There are multiple ways to do this, but some of our favorite methods include the following. 

Opt-In Forms and landing Pages

Opt-In forms are forms that let your visitors sign up for your email list. They can be strategically placed almost anywhere within your site, from sidebars and footers to pop-ups and hyperlinks. 

While many opt-in forms are confined to one space on your page, pop-ups are much more versatile. Pop-ups can vary in when, where, and how they appear. For example, you can set a pop-up to take over the entire screen or just the lower left-hand corner. 

Use your analytics to determine the optimal time to fire a pop-up to increase your chances of earning that email. Pop-up triggers might include:

  • Time on page (pop-ups appear after a certain number of seconds)
  • Page scrolling (determine the amount of scrolling that fires the pop-up)
  • Exit intent (the user moving the cursor towards the tab close)
  • Different audience types (first-time visitors, existing customers)

Email marketing tools like MailChimp and MailerLite will often include a native pop-up feature so you can build custom pop-ups for your site without having to use plug-ins, add-ons, or a new tool. 

Create valuable content

Your content, particularly your blog, is a powerful lead generation tool. But in addition to driving organic traffic to your website, blog posts can also feature embedded sign-up forms as a call to action. 

You can also use your blog to offer lead magnets, which may include how-to guides, templates, ebooks, webinars, and even free courses. These are sometimes called ethical bribes because they give your audience something valuable in exchange for their email address. 

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Social media

Social media marketing is an effective way to make direct contact with your target audience. You can directly encourage your followers to sign up for your email list or entice them with your lead magnets and blog content.

Your profiles are also free real estate, so use them by placing links that lead to your sign-up form in your bio or page description. 

Your existing email marketing

If you have an existing email list, don’t forget you can use your current subscribers as an avenue for outreach too. Share high-value content in your emails and encourage recipients to forward the email with a “Forward to Friend” or social sharing buttons. 

Segment your email list

Segmenting your email list sounds fancy, but all it means is that you track and divide your email subscribers based on their individual interests. Depending on your email marketing tool, you can segment in various ways. 

For example, a subscriber who downloads your ebook on “Social Media Marketing” might be automatically added to your social media marketing segment.  

You can segment based on interests, geographic area, job title, purchase history, or almost anything else. Your goal in segmenting is to offer an experience that is as tailored as it can be. Highly-tailored emails are emails that sell. 

Say you downloaded our online course planning templates. Would you be more interested in an email about how to market your online course or an email about creating a business plan? 

Without segmenting your audience, you’re stuck sending emails to everyone without regard for their unique interests, and you risk losing valuable subscribers and clicks. 

  1. Perfect Your Email Content and Sequence

Regardless of the size of your list, sending out emails to thousands, hundreds, and even dozens of people can be intimidating.  But now that you have a list of email subscribers, you have to engage them. To make things easy, we like to start with the 5 Ts of email marketing. 

The 5 Ts of Email Marketing for Online Courses

  1. Tease – Tease your email’s value in the subject line. You only have a few words to entice your reader to open the email and dive into the content, so experiment with what works best and look at other email campaigns in your niche for inspiration.
  2. TargetResearch by MailChimp found that, on average, segmenting your email groups by interest can increase open rates by 9% and clicks by 74%. So like we mentioned earlier, tailor (target) all of your emails to the specific interests, needs, and desires of your subscribers.
  3. Teach – Sure, email marketing can drive sales for your business, but if you’re not giving your readers value, they’re more likely to unsubscribe. Informative and educational content aren’t exclusive to your blog. So don’t be afraid to share things like something you’ve learned recently, valuable tools and resources, or new developments in your field in an email.
  4. Test – Perfecting your email content and sequence takes time. Most email marketing tools will allow you to split-test your emails. This means 50% of your readers receive version A, while the other 50% receive version B. Keep it simple and only change one thing at a time, like button color, image placement, or font.
  5. Track – Track your testing results and optimize your emails over time. If you’re testing a blue “read here” button against an orange button and the blue button receives more clicks, then keep the blue button. Next time, test blue vs. purple or move on to a new feature to optimize for. 

The 5 Ts of email marketing make getting started a little easier. But perfecting your email marketing strategy doesn’t stop there. 

We’ve divided your email list audience into three groups you’ll likely encounter in your email marketing. 

  1. Potential customers – These are email subscribers in your list who haven’t purchased your online course yet. 
  2. Existing customers –  These email subscribers have purchased your course and are currently part of a cohort, actively engaged with your community, or paying for an ongoing service/product. 
  3. Win back customers – These are former customers who aren’t currently engaged with your non-email offerings, but they’re still subscribed to your email list. 

Let’s look more closely at how you can market your online course(s) with each of these groups. 

  1. Potential Customers

Potential customers will be your hardest sell. They’ve yet to make a purchase, so they’re somewhere in the awareness or consideration stage of the marketing funnel, but they’re not quite ready to hit “checkout.” 

The 5 Ts of email marketing will come in handy when you market to this audience because they’ll be most interested in what value you have to offer. Informational and educational content will build trust and keep them interested in what you have to say, ultimately making them more receptive to the conversion content you send their way. 

  1. Existing Customers

Your current customers are relatively easy to stay in touch with. Don’t bombard them with emails. That will lower your open rates and increase unsubscribe rates. Instead, keep sending high-value content while you also keep them informed on any new courses or course updates. 

This segment of your email audience will be more receptive to other offerings like other courses you offer, paid content, paid communities, or even pre-sales for upcoming courses.

  1. Win backs

Have you ever opened up your inbox only to find an email with “We miss you!” in the subject line? That was a win back email. 

Win back emails are when businesses try to “win back” former customers, and they’re fundamental to your campaign. The cost of acquiring a new customer is 5 times higher than the cost of retaining an existing one, so doing what you can to bring in repeat customers will lower your marketing costs and increase revenue. 

Win back email tips for marketing your online course

  • Use personalized subject lines
  • Send an enticing offer that demonstrates their value to you and encourages them to return
  • Offer an incentive for signing up for your online course
  • Use available data to determine the best times to send your emails
  1. Automating Your Workflows

Integrating your email software with your website is the first step. You then need to consider an automated email sequence for each email segmentation.

Think in terms of a 5-stage email sequence for an upcoming course:

  1. Introduce and engage – lay out the problem your course will help solve
  2. Share key insights – give them free information about your niche to build trust
  3. Offer your solution – how your course will solve their problem
  4. Answer any questions they may have
  5. Present your final pitch
  1. Optimize Your Online Course Landing Page

Your online course landing page plays a crucial role in turning your hard-earned leads into valuable customers. But because there are a lot of critical elements at play here, we’ve broken down 5 things you should make sure to include in your course landing page.

  1. Enticing Headline

Your headline is key to grabbing attention, but there’s a fine line between catching someone’s attention and creating clickbait. 

Make sure your headline is true to what your course offers but catchy enough to entice readers to click for more info. It may not seem like much but the headline is a high-stakes component of your landing page and it’s where you first start building trust with your audience. 

  1. 2-3 Clear Benefits

Your landing page should communicate exactly what your students will learn. We call these your learning outcomes

New Marketing Mastery, a course hosted on Thinkific, does this really well.

In a few short bullets, David Meerman shows potential customers exactly what they’ll learn in his course. 

You don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty details of the course, so bullet points work great.

  1. Social Proof

Social proof is proof that other people have purchased your course and benefited from it. And it’s a non-negotiable in today’s buying experience. 

In many cases, social proof includes star ratings and reviews, but it can also include things like customer testimonials, Facebook comments raving about your course, or client success stories. 

This is also an excellent opportunity to address customer concerns. For example, if your course is a big investment for people, provide customer testimonials that demonstrate a positive return on investment.

For example, take a look at these testimonials for JobPrepped, a $1,000 digital marketing course. 

Statements like, “…helped me get 3 job offers…,” “This program is a GREAT investment!,” “Worth every penny!,” and “I’m so glad I decided to invest…,” shows potential students that the the course will pay for itself.

  1. Pricing

Pricing your online course can be hard. While you don’t want to set your price too low, because it will lead viewers to believe your course is less valuable than it really is, you also don’t want to price it too high. 

Finding the right price for your course can take some experimentation, but whatever price you land on, make sure it’s transparent and easy for readers to understand. This is especially true if you’re offering payment plans, coupons, or discounts.

  1. Clear CTA

For the best results, place your call to action (CTA) at center stage and above the fold. This means your viewers shouldn’t have to search for a place to sign up and they shouldn’t have to scroll to find it. 

For an online course, your CTA will likely be a call to “Buy Now,” “Start Learning Today,” or something to that effect.

Take the Corporate Finance Fundamentals landing page for example. 

There are three CTAs on this landing page: the attention-grabbing orange “Get Started” button, the “Enroll for free” button right next to it, and the outlined “Get Started” button in the top right corner of the page. 

You can certainly have too much, but this landing page strikes a nice balance and gives visitors a few opportunities to make a purchasing decision and sign up for the course. 

Final Thoughts

Using email to increase sales to your online course takes a strategic approach. From building your email list, to targeting your emails and optimizing your course page, it involves much more than just firing off a few emails and hoping for the best. But by using the tactics discussed above, you’ll start to see your email subscriber list grow and, in turn, generate more interest from prospects and more online course sales.

Ready to grow your email list?

Explore Thinkific’s Free Download Funnel. This AI-powered funnel enables you to quickly build and publish your own landing page and offer a free digital download to your prospects in return for their email addresses. Click here to learn more about Thinkific Funnels and get started.

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This post was originally published in August 2018, it was updated in March 2023 with the most recent information.