I see a lot of people asking, "Why didn’t my course succeed on Udemy?"
Honestly, though, this question often comes too late for us to help them because they have already filmed and published a course. They have spent countless hours and effort to build this course, and they are discouraged because it didn't get a bunch of students buying it up in the first week.
So, with that in mind, here are my four tips for increasing your chances of success onUdemy based on my experience. It is a long read, but worth your time and consideration before you start filming.
(Following all of these tips will NOT guarantee success, but they will certainly put you in a much higher chance of finding success here on Udemy. Remember, Udemy is a crowded place these days with 100k courses from 50k instructors...how will you stand out and succeed?)
Please please please, follow these tips in order. After all, if you don’t get Tip 1 right, the rest of this post doesn’t even matter...
(1) Proper category selection.
This is probably the number one mistake of new instructors on Udemy. People think, “Hey, I know Java and the top Java course makes like $90k a month. I want some of that sweet sweet Java $$, so let me throw together a 3 hour course on it, publish it, and I am going to be instantly rich!”
What they don’t realize is topics like Java, Web Development, iOS Developer and Python are highly competitive topics with 500-1000 courses already released and in the marketplace on each of them. This means you are likely to get buried in the noise (sheer volume of available courses) and no one will be able to find your course. This equates to low or no sales.
Instead, you really need to find a topic that isn’t overcrowded and make a name for yourself there. The topics I have had the most success with (translation: the one with courses making large amounts of money if we measure success by revenue) is categories with less than 10-20 courses in them. Once you find a category like this that you are knowledgeable and can teach, we can then move on to step 2...
(2) Make a better course than what is out there.
Once I find a category, I actually watch the top 1-5 courses for that category (at least their free preview videos). I analyze their course and ask myself, “Self, if I were to make a course on this particular topic, could I do it better than this instructor?”
My first breakout hit for a course was in a topic with only 10-15 courses in it. The #1 course made around $3000/month, and when I watched the previews for that course I was bored. The videography was ok, the audio was ok, but the presentation was outright BORING. I knew I could create a better course than that instructor, so I built one. Within 3 months, my course became #1 for that category and has been my top selling course ever since. (Oddly enough, the top course revenue went up significantly as a result to, moving to 2x the previous top revenue because now there was a better option for students to buy, which in turned increased conversations for this topic area across the Udemy platform.
Now, the hard part here is that there are some categories I found that “looked” like a good opportunity (high demand from students and low number of courses), but the leading course was already very good. For some of these topics, I opted to ignore these categories because I didn’t think I could take the top spots from the existing courses. Could I make a great course? Sure. Could I make one significantly better than the existing leader? Probably not.
When you look at these existing courses, you have to be truly realistic in your approach. I have considered making a Python course before. Python is one of the most searched terms on Udemy and may be the single best selling topic on the platform, BUT the top courses are already REALLY REALLY good. I mean, Jose's Python course is top notch. Could I make a really good course, too? Sure, but there are already so many good courses (and literally hundreds of Python courses on Udemy already), I would likely get buried in the noise, so I don't make Python courses.
Let's take for example, a topic like ITIL 4 Foundation (my #1 course). If you look at the Insights tool for you would think this is clearly a topic you should make a course for. Low number of courses and high demand. But, you would be wrong...
Why? Because the top course is my course. It has great visuals, an energetic and well liked instructor, and exceptional video quality. The course is a complete study solution, where I give the student all the videos needed to pass the exam, quizzes, 2 practice exams, and a downloadable study guide. I give students so much value for their money, it would be hard to displace me from this top spot, because there isn't much you can do to give more value than I already have.
Now, if you are a brand new course creator, it is going to be hard for you to steal students from me. In fact, 9 out of 10 people who search the word ITIL on Udemy end up buying one of my courses. When I have spoken with Udemy has told me, “You clearly dominate this topic.”
But even beyond me thinking my course is the best, (and students agreeing), you have another challenge in entering this particular topic. This topic is regulated by Axelos, owners of the ITIL brand. If you publish a course there without their authorization and approval, they will have Udemy remove your course under copyright infringement. So again, not a topic you want to join unless you jump through the very time consuming and expensive process of becoming “authorized” by Axelos to teach ITIL. (The same holds true for the CEH certificatoin for those in the IT space who want to teach hacking.)
(3) Make courses people actually want/need.
This may sound stupid, but do people want/need your course? If you are making a course on Underwater Basket Weaving, will anyone want or need it? Is there a big enough audience to support it?
I personally make most of my courses on IT certifications because it gives me a natural audience who is searching for courses to pass these exams. People go to Udemy everyday to search for “CompTIA Project+” or “AWS Associate”.
When you are starting out, people will find your course because of your topic. This is why finding a topic with less than 20 courses is so crucial, because it virtually guarantees you will be one page 1 of the search for that term. Over time, as you become more known and liked by student, then they start searching for you and you can break my 10-20 courses in a topic recommendation.
For example, many of my student search “jason dion python” or “Jason dion Java” because they want to learn those topics AND they want to learn them from me. (They won't find one, because I don't have those courses, but they keep searching.)
Going back to our Java discussion at the beginning of this thread, I now have a big enough following that I could launch a Java course and do pretty well. I won’t knock out the top guy, but I could probably make a few thousand $ a month with one because enough students know me and would buy a course in that topic from me at this point. But if I was where I was 2-3 years ago, forget it. That same course (regardless of how good I made it) would earn me maybe $100/month if I was lucky, and I would be on page 5, 10, or 15 of the search results. It would be very hard for students to find it and discover me.
(4) Happy students.
The last strategy I use is that I put my students first. I give them a complete course, a full study solution, in their Udemy course. I answer their questions. I support them in our FB group, etc.
These students are my biggest marketing effort. Just go into any CompTIA Facebook group and ask what you should study if you are going to take the CompTIA Security+ exam. I bet within the first 5 comments you get at least 3 of them saying “Jason Dion’s course on Udemy”.
This is marketing for me. Now, I don't get 97% because they didn’t use one of my coupon links (I am not the one marketing in these groups), but these recommendations are all over Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and LinkedIn, an they are all driving warm traffic back to my website and Udemy’s looking for my courses.
You have to be patience with this strategy though. It doesn’t happen overnight. These students took my course, passed their exam, and now they share the good news of "Jason's courses" with others because my courses worked for them. For that to happen, it takes 3-6 months from their first purchase, so you have to be patience. But, once the flow of recommendations starts to flow (you’ve primed the pump), it becomes a snowball effect.
I am not saying to go create courses in areas you are not an expert in. Please don't read it that way. I am not trying to make you a mercenary for hire. But, I do want you to consider all the things you COULD teach before deciding on a particular category. Your BEST thing, the thing you are the biggest expert in, may not be your best choice on Udemy because the market is too crowded in that topic.
This particular person is skilled in many things. He has been an online instructor probably longer than anyone else I know. He knows how to do some amazing things in Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, and Audition. He knows how to program computers. He knows how to run a profitable business. He knows management and human resources from running his companies. He knows educational design and learning management systems. You get the idea...this guy knows a lot of things. I just listed 6-10 different topics he could teach, teach well, and with expertise.
Most of us are like this. I look at my own background, and I have 20+ IT Certifications across cyber security, IT service management, and project management. I also can play guitar, run a business, manage people, do videography, and numerous other things that I could teach.
So, when I started making courses on Udemy, I looked at various topics. My third course (which became my best seller) was on ITIL. It is something I had done at my job for over 10 years. It wasn't the thing I was most passionate or excited about, but it was a high demand area with a low number of courses. Yes, I have expertise in it, and I am certified in it, so I decided to make a course on it....and it paid off (big time).
That is my point here, because I could have created another Web Development course, or Java course, or Python courses, but I didn't. Even though I am knowledgeable about those things, I knew I would be fighting an uphill battle teaching them. For example, I used to own my own web development company. I have been a web programmer since the late 90s. I definitely could create a "Complete Guide to Web Development" course if I wanted to. The same with Java or Python, I program in both of those languages, but it doesn't mean they will provide me the best return on my time investment by creating courses on them. Some things may be good topics, but they may not be good FOR YOU.
Now, when I say things like this, I often get the objection, "But Jason, the only thing I know is Python", or Java, or Web Development. To that I say, "Well, nothing says you have to be on Udemy." Yes, I know this is a Udemy platform I am writing this on, but remember, no one is forcing you to use Udemy. Udemy is awesome, but if you are going to spend 50-200 hours building a course and get ZERO traction because you are hidden in a sea of other courses, then maybe you need to find your own path...or be prepared to market the heck out of the course yourself on Udemy.
Either is fine, but remember, if you are making the next Web Dev, Java, or Python course, you better have a plan for how you are going to be found and how you will stick out among 500+ other courses on that topic. If you think you will just click "Publish" and students will flock to your courses in these highly competitive topics, you are going to be sadly disappointed, I promise you.
I hope this helps some of you out there as you embark on your Udemy journey,
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I don’t. Some topics are just realy hard to break into.
I am a fairly well established instructor and recently made a Java course. It made maybe $300/month. That field is just so crammed, it’s hard to breakout.
Read your article and its really helpful and meaningful. As you said, we should be different from others and make tutorials which students really need.
Thanks for a wonderful article.
Founder, iTech Analytic Solutions