Udemy recently published some incredibly valuable guidance on course topics that are poised to perform well in today's marketplace. I'm already jumping on a couple of them myself. But what if you're not qualified to teach these topics, nor interested in them? You'll have to do your own homework first to determine if the topic you want to teach is a great opportunity, or destined to fail from too much competition.
Awhile ago I wrote up a lot of stuff on the topic of course creation, and I'm sharing parts of it here. Why should you listen to me? Well, here are some reasons:
Earlier, I posted about the importance of topic selection, and this is a followup with more details.
The specific examples below have changed, but the principles have not. So without further ado, here's my thoughts on using the Marketplace Insights tool to guide your decision on what topic to teach:
Under your instructor dashboard, you’ll find a link to “Marketplace Insights,” and this contains a treasure trove of data that can help you decide which topic you want to teach is most likely to succeed. It not only gives you a picture of the current student demand for your topic, but it also gives you comprehensive information about the existing courses in that topic that you need to compete with. Unless your goal is only to share information and not to reach a large audience, it would be silly not to do some research here before you start producing a course for a given topic.
You may find that a slightly different topic, or more specific one, would be a much better choice – while still being able to teach something you love, and something you’re an authority in.
The screen you start with contains a search bar so you can look for your topic, along with some suggestions for topics that are both in high demand and don’t have many existing courses in them yet. You can see that the best topics tend to be technical in nature, with Oracle, web services, and data cleaning making the list today. But there’s also a financial topic: derivatives trading. Again, these hot topics are ones that promise concrete value to the student if they can learn the information being offered – whether it’s a lucrative technical career or making money on the financial markets. Then we have “League of Legends” – apparently a lot of people are searching for that on Udemy, but no courses currently exist for it. That one’s a puzzler – why would people be looking for courses on a video game? Well, it turns out that it’s a game that’s popular in “e-sports,” so there are a lot of people dreaming about winning real money by playing this game in tournaments, and want an edge in their technique. If you’ve won a League of Legends tournament, you could probably make some extra money by making a course about it on Udemy!
Let’s see if making a course about course creation was a good idea or not. I’ll enter “Online Course Creation” for the topic, and select it.
You can see you can also select a language for your course, to narrow your analysis down to specific language markets. Often, a topic that is saturated in English still has a lot of opportunity in other languages. But English is the only language I speak fluently, so I’ll stick with that.
According to Marketplace Insights, I should “Bring my A-game to succeed in this topic.” That means that although there’s a fairly high demand for courses in this topic, there’s also a lot of great courses already in it. Meaning, it would take a truly exceptional course to become a best-seller in this topic area. It also gives us an idea of what success in this topic looks like – apparently the bestselling course in this area is bringing in a bit over $1,000 per month. Frankly, that’s not that great – but I’d certainly welcome that sort of extra income. The median revenue however is only $16 per month!
A course on online course creation that is just average in quality will almost certainly end up as a waste of time. That’s why you need to “bring your A-game to succeed.” But don’t stop here – if you scroll down, there’s even more data to look at!
The “search volume percentile across topics” is a very quick way to see how much demand there really is for this topic. The truly huge opportunities that are bringing in six figures per month for top instructors are in the 99th percentile. The value of topics drops off very quickly once you get below 99%, so if you’re truly aiming to live like a millionaire, you need to be teaching topics in that 99th percentile and somehow crushing the competition in that category.
Online course creation ends up in the 93rd percentile, which may sound good, but it really isn’t that great because the truly awesome opportunities are up at 99%. Okay, this tells me that even if I end up crushing it in this topic, it’s not going to generate the sort of money that will allow me to go live on an island for the rest of my life and never work again. But realistically, it could help to maintain my existing revenue stream from Udemy and maybe pay for a few more nights out with my family. Given the amount of work I expect the creation of this course to involve, it seems like a pretty good bet to me so far. You can also see the trends in search volume for this topic over the past several months. It’s basically holding steady, from the looks of things. I’d rather pick a topic that’s increasing in popularity, but at least it’s not really decreasing in any significant way either.
You can also see the top search keywords for your topic here. Write these down for your topic! These are the keywords you want to focus on for SEO purposes later on. When someone types “Udemy” in the search bar, I want to make sure my course comes up in the list. And that means I need to use the word “Udemy” a lot on my course landing page, as well as the phrase “online course.” And if you’ve gotten to this point and concluded that there probably isn’t a big enough opportunity to warrant the time you’d put into making your course, there’s a list of similar topics that you might want to explore instead. This is really helpful in guiding you toward the best topic to teach, given your broader area of expertise that you started your search with. Really, the people at Udemy who designed this did an awesome job.
But wait, there’s more! If we scroll down further, we’ll actually see what the top existing courses on this topic are, so we can see how hard it will be to compete with them.
So here you can see what it is you’re up against. Keep in mind that many students buy more than one course on the same topic, so it’s not really a winner-takes-all sort of situation. But it’s good to know what exactly is meant by “bringing your A-game”. Specifically, you need to at least be as good as the top courses that exist in this category, and here they are for you to explore.
Unsurprisingly, Phil Ebiner’s course is at the top. He’s a great guy, makes great courses, and has achieved similar success to my own, and I highly recommend that you take his course too. But if I were out to take over this category, I’d have to offer something substantially better than what he’s offering – so much better that students would enroll in my new course instead of his well-established, highly rated one. That’s kind of a tall order. But as I look at the top courses in this category, a couple of things stick out to me. First, none of them are longer than 8 hours, and the top-selling course is only 5 ½ hours long. That’s an achievable length to meet or exceed. Since students are usually buying courses on fixed price promotions, they will tend to go for courses that have more content in them given the choice, since for them they all cost the same price regardless of length. Students want to get the most value for their money, even when it’s only $10; if I really wanted to dominate this category, I’d produce a 10-hour or longer course to do so. That’s not really my goal, so this course is only going to be as long as it needs to be. But it seems that the “table stakes” for this category is a course that’s around 5 hours in length. Good to know.
Also, as I dig into these courses, none of them have been updated recently. So that’s another opportunity for my course to stand out – I’m offering the latest information, taking all of the changes that have happened on Udemy in the past year into account. And it has in fact changed quite a bit during that time. However, the top courses in this category are very highly rated, so students are going to have very high-quality expectations from any new course in this category. If I were seeing lower ratings on the existing courses, then I might feel more optimistic because I’d know I could beat them on review scores, which would give my new course a big advantage. Phil’s score, however, is really hard to beat – so I’m not going to win just on quality alone.
Alright, what’s our final conclusion about choosing online course creation for our topic? I should set my expectations at a few hundred dollars of revenue per month it seems, but “bringing my A-game” to compete among the existing courses in this category does, in fact, seem achievable. I guess I’ll keep recording it, then!
As a different example, let’s say I were thinking about creating a course in web development. This also comes up as an area of high demand, but with high competition. Sometimes that can be OK if you think you can do a much better job than the existing top-sellers in the topic. But web development is so competitive, that the leading instructors have built up an almost impenetrable barrier to entry by offering courses that are ridiculous in their length and scope. Every course on the entire first page of results here has over 30 hours of content. I don’t know about you, but it would take me close to a year to produce a course that large – and even then, it might not even land on the first page of search results even once the course is established.
Web development is a category I’d avoid at all costs; the barriers to entry are just too great now. I would seek a more narrow, specific topic that might have less competition or, at least, a competition that can be realistically matched with a reasonable amount of effort.
Exercise: choose your topic
➢List the topics you’re qualified to teach
➢Which topics have the most demand?
➢Which topics have the least competition?
➢What’s needed to build a better course than the competition?
➢Which topic presents the best opportunity?
It would really, really suck to spend a year creating a course only to not even make the first page of search results – and with web development, that could totally happen. Even though the topic is in very high demand, it would be a poor choice of topic for a new instructor. It’s very important to do your homework on the demand and competitive landscape for your topic before you start investing resources into it. Topic selection is perhaps the most important key to success; take some time now to evaluate the topics you’re thinking of teaching. Start by listing them out – and you might need to refer to Marketplace Insights in order to match your topics with the topics Udemy uses to categorize courses.
Research each topic with Marketplace Insights. Identify which ones have the highest demand in terms of search traffic, and how much competition you’re up against in each one. Take note of the median and maximum revenue being achieved in each topic, so you have some concrete numbers to wrap your head around. Study the competition in the topics that seem the most promising. What’s really needed to produce a course that’s substantially better than what currently exists on the market? A longer, more comprehensive course? A course with better production values?
Also take note of what you need to do in order to take the top spot in that category. After weighing the demand and competition for each topic you’re considering, which one do you think presents the best opportunity? That should be the topic you produce a course on next.
First, I do not believe that you need to be an expert only have a passion that students can see.
As for hot topics: It is important to look at more than marketplace insights alone. I will use my example. I decided to choose a fire topic last year that was listed on the main insights page like these (Apple Keynote) and put the course out quickly but better than the competition. A year later, I am in the highlighted box as Featured, #2 search position, 5 stars, and positive written reviews. I average $3 per month even with some YouTube tutorial promotion. $63 in 11 months.
The top end of sales for the high end is $110 today (much lower than when researching) and probably with tons of hours of self-promotion. Lesson learned to do lots of other research to find topics that thousands of students will need to purchase a course to learn or get certified... and beat out a flood of instructors that may also decide to create a course on that Insights suggested topic. There is more to it, but that is a summary of my personal test example.
However, I will say that it does look good having created that course for my resume on my tech day job.
Out of curiosity, what was marketplace insights telling you originally about the median and top earnings for that topic? If it changed that dramatically that quickly, that points to some sort of problem in the tool, or maybe Udemy's taxonomy, I think.