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Hur vi använde en videokurs för att marknadsföra Ahrefs (och fick 500 000+ visningar)

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How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)

Creating and selling educational courses can be a lucrative business. But if you already have a product to sell, you can actually use courses as a marketing tool.

Back in 2017, about two years after joining Ahrefs, I decided to create a course on content marketing.

I had a very clear understanding of how an educational course would help me promote Ahrefs.

  • People like courses – Folks like Brian Dean och Glen Allsopp were selling theirs for $500 to $2,000 a pop (and rather successfully). So a free course of comparable quality was sure to get attention.
  • Courses allow for a deeper connection – You would basically be spending a few hours one on one with your students. And if you managed to win their trust, you’d get an opportunity to promote your product to them.

That was my raw thought process going into this venture.

And I absolutely didn’t expect that the lifespan of my course would be as interesting and nuanced as it turned out to be.

The lessons of my course have generated over 500K+ in total views, brought in mid-five-figures in revenue (without even trying), and turned out to be a very helpful resource for our various marketing purposes.

So here goes the story of my “Blogging for Business” course.

1. The creation

I won’t give you any tips on how to create a successful course (well, maybe just one). There are plenty of resources (courses?) on that topic already.

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All I want to say is that my own experience was quite grueling.

The 10 lessons of my course span some 40K words. I have never attempted the feat of writing a book, but I imagine creating such a lengthy course is as close as it gets.

Scripts of the course in Google Docs.

I spent a tremendous amount of time polishing each lesson. The course was going to be free, so it was critical that my content was riveting. If not, people would just bounce from it.

Paid courses are quite different in that sense. You pay money to watch them. So even if the content is boring at times, you’ll persevere anyway to ensure a return on your investment.

When I showed the draft version of the course to my friend, Ali Mese, he gave me a simple yet invaluable tip: “Break your lessons into smaller ones. Make each just three to four minutes long.”

How did I not think of this myself? 

Short, “snackable” lessons provide a better sense of completion and progress. You’re also more likely to finish a short lesson without getting distracted by something. 

I’m pretty sure that it is because of this simple tip that my course landed this Netflix comparison (i.e., best compliment ever):

2. The strategy

With the prices of similar courses ranging from $500 to $2,000, it was really tempting to make some profit with ours.

I think we had around 15,000 paying customers at Ahrefs at that time (and many more on the free plan). So if just 1% of them bought that course for $1K, that would be an easy $150K to pocket. And then we could keep upselling it to our future customers.

Alternatively, we thought about giving access to the course to our paying customers only. 

This might have boosted our sales, since the course was a cool addition to the Ahrefs subscription. 

And it could also improve user retention. The course was a great training resource for new employees, which our customers would lose access to if they canceled their Ahrefs subscription.

And yet, releasing it for free as a lead acquisition and lead nurturing play seemed to make a lot more sense than the other two options. So we stuck to that.

3. The waitlist

Teasing something to people before you let them get it seems like one of the fundamental rules of marketing.

  • Apple announces new products way before they’re available in stores. 
  • Movie studios publish trailers of upcoming movies months (sometimes years) before they hit the theaters. 
  • When you have a surprise for your significant other (or your kids), you can’t help but give them some hints before the reveal.

There’s something about “the wait” and the anticipation that we humans just love to experience.

So while I was toiling away and putting lessons of my course together, we launched a landing page to announce it and collect people’s emails.

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The landing page of the course.

In case someone hesitated to leave their email, we had two cool bonuses to nudge them:

  1. Access to the private Slack community
  2. Free two-week trial of Ahrefs

The latter appealed to freebie lovers so much that it soon “leaked” to Reddit och BlackHatWorld. In hindsight, this leak was actually a nice (unplanned) promo for the course.

4. The promotion

I don’t remember our exact promotion strategy. But I’m pretty sure it went something like this:

I also added a little “sharing loop” to the welcome email. I asked people to tell their friends about the course, justifying it with the fact that taking the course with others was more fun than doing it alone.

Welcome email with a "sharing loop."

I have no idea how effective that “growth hack” was, but there was no reason not to encourage sharing.

In total, we managed to get some 16,000 people on our waitlist by the day of the course launch.

5. The launch

On a set date, the following email went out to our waitlist:

Course launch email.

Did you notice the “note” saying that the videos were only available for free for 30 days? We did that to nudge people to watch them as soon as possible and not save them to the “Watch later” folder.

In retrospect, I wish we had used this angle from the very beginning: “FREE for 30 days. Then $799.”

This would’ve killed two birds with one stone: 

  1. Added an urgency to complete the course as soon as possible
  2. Made the course more desirable by assigning a specific (and rather high) monetary value to it

(If only we could be as smart about predicting the future as we are about reflecting on the past.) 

Once it was live, the course started to promote itself. I was seeing many super flattering tweets:

We then took the most prominent of those tweets and featured them on the course landing page for some social proof. (They’re still there, by the way.)

6. The paywall

Once the 30 days of free access ran out, we added a $799 paywall. And it didn’t take long for the first sale to arrive:

This early luck didn’t push us to focus on selling this course, though. We didn’t invest any effort into promoting it. It was just sitting passively in our Academy with a $799 price tag, and that was it.

And yet, despite the lack of promotion, that course was generating 8-10 sales every month—which were mostly coming from word of mouth.

A comment in TrafficThinkTank.
Eric Siu giving a shout-out about my course in TTT Slack.

Thanks to its hefty price, my course soon appeared on some popular websites with pirated courses. And we were actually glad that it did. Because that meant more people would learn about our content and product.

Then some people who were “late to the party” started asking me if I was ever going to reopen the course for free again. This actually seemed like a perfectly reasonable strategy at the time:

7. The giveaways

That $799 price tag also turned my free course into a pretty useful marketing tool. It was a perfect gift for all sorts of giveaways på Twitter, on podcasts, during live talks, and so on.

Giving away the course during a live talk.
Me giving away the course during a live talk.

And whenever we partnered with someone, they were super happy to get a few licenses of the course, which they could give out to their audience.

8. The relaunch

Despite my original plan to update and relaunch this course once a year, I got buried under other work and didn’t manage to find time for it.

And then the pandemic hit. 

That’s when we noticed a cool trend. Many companies were providing free access to their premium educational materials. This was done to support the “stay at home” narrative and help people learn new skills.

I think it was SQ who suggested that we should jump on that train with my “Blogging for Business” course. And so we did:

We couldn’t have hoped for a better timing for that relaunch. The buzz was absolutely insane. The announcement tweet alone has generated a staggering 278K+ impressions (not without some paid boosts, of course).

The statistics of the course announcement tweet.

We also went ahead and reposted that course on ProductHunt once again (because why not?).

All in all, that relaunch turned out to be even more successful than the original launch itself. 

In the course of their lifespan on Wistia, the 40 video lessons of my course generated a total of 372K plays.

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Play count from Wistia.

And this isn’t even the end of it.

9. The launch on YouTube

Because the course was now free, it no longer made sense to host it at Wistia. So we uploaded all lessons to YouTube and made them public.

To date, the 41 videos of my course have generated about 187K views on YouTube.

"Blogging for Business" course playlist.

Det är rättvist att nämna att vi hade cirka 200 000 prenumeranter på vår kanal när jag publicerade min kurs där. En helt ny kanal utan befintliga prenumeranter kommer sannolikt att generera färre visningar.

10. Återlanseringen på YouTube [kommer snart]

Här är en intressant observation att båda Sam och jag gjorde ungefär samtidigt. 

Många människor publicerade sina kurser på YouTube som en enda video som sträckte sig över några timmar istället för att skära upp dem i individuella lektioner som vi gjorde. Och de långa videorna genererade miljontals visningar!

Som dessa två, rankad i toppen för "lär dig Python-kurs", som har 33 miljoner respektive 27 miljoner visningar:

"Learn python course" search on YouTube.

Så vi bestämde oss för att göra ett test med Sam's "SEO för nybörjare" kurs. Den publicerades ursprungligen på YouTube som 14 fristående videolektioner och genererade totalt 140 000 visningar.

Väl, "single video"-versionen av samma kurs har blåst upp den ur vattnet med över 1 miljon vyer idag.

Jag är säker på att du redan kan säga vart jag är på väg med det här.

Vi kommer snart att återpublicera min "Blogging for Business"-kurs på YouTube som en enda video. Och förhoppningsvis kommer den att prestera lika bra.

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Slutet

Så det är min historia “Blogging for Business” course. Redan från början var det planerat som ett marknadsföringsverktyg för Ahrefs. Och att döma av dess prestanda antar jag att den uppfyllde sitt syfte ganska framgångsrikt.

A screenshot of a Slack message.

Missförstå mig dock inte. 

Det faktum att min kurs var tänkt som ett marknadsföringsverktyg betyder inte att jag inte har lagt mitt hjärta och själ i den. Det var ett helt genuint och ärligt försök att skapa en superanvändbar pedagogisk resurs för nybörjare inom innehållsmarknadsföring.

Och jag hoppas fortfarande på att kunna arbeta med 2.0-versionen av den någon dag. Under de senaste fyra åren har jag samlat på mig en hel del mer kunskap om innehållsmarknadsföring som jag gärna vill dela med alla. Så följ mig på Twitter, och håll ögonen öppna.



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WordPress Considers Historic Development Change

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WordPress Considers Historic Development Change

Matt Mullenweg, developer of WordPress and CEO of Autommatic, proposed no longer adding new features to the WordPress, pivoting instead to a plugin-first policy.

This new approach to the future of WordPress has already resulted in a new feature intended for the next version of WordPress to be dropped entirely.

Canonical plugins are said to offer a way to keep improving WordPress on a faster schedule.

But some WordPress core contributors expressed the opinion that publisher user experience may suffer.

Canonical Plugins

First discussed in 2009, canonical plugins is a way to develop new features in the form of plugins.

The goal of this approach is to keep the WordPress core fast and lean while also encouraging development of experimental features in the form of plugins.

The original 2009 proposal described it like this:

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“Canonical plugins would be plugins that are community developed (multiple developers, not just one person) and address the most popular functionality requests with superlative execution.

…There would be a very strong relationship between core and these plugins that ensured that a) the plugin code would be secure and the best possible example of coding standards, and b) that new versions of WordPress would be tested against these plugins prior to release to ensure compatibility.”

This approach to features and options is also referred to as Plugin First, to emphasize how features will first appear in the form of plugins.

These plugins are called canonical because they are developed by the WordPress core development team as opposed to non-canonical plugins that are created by third parties that might limit features in order to encourage purchase of a pro-version.

Integration of canonical plugins into the WordPress core itself would be considered once the plugin technology has proven itself to be popular and essential to the majority of users.

The benefit of this new approach to WordPress would be to avoid adding new features that might not be needed by the majority of users.

Plugin-first could be seen to be in keeping with the WordPress philosophy called Decisions, Not Options, which seeks to avoid burdening users with layers of technical options.

By offloading different features and functionalities to plugins, a user won’t have to wade through enabling or disabling functionalities they need, don’t need or don’t understand.

The WordPress design philosophy states:

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“It’s our duty as developers to make smart design decisions and avoid putting the weight of technical choices on our end users.”

Canonical Plugins the Future?

Matt Mullenweg published a post titled, Canonical Plugins Revisited, in which he made the case that this is the way that WordPress should be developed moving forward.

He wrote:

“We are reaching a point where core needs to be more editorial and say “no” to features coming in as ad hoc as they sometimes do, and my hope is that more Make teams use this as an opportunity to influence the future of WordPress through a plugin-first approach that gives them the luxury of faster development and release cycles (instead of three times per year), less review overhead, and and path to come into core if the plugin becomes a runaway success.”

The first casualty of this new approach is the cancellation of integrating WebP image conversion into the next version of WordPress, WordPress 6.1, currently scheduled for November 2022.

Plugin-First is Controversial

The shift to a plugin-first development process was subjected to debate in the comments section.

Some developers, such as core contributor Jon Brown, expressed reservations about the proposal to switch to developing with canonical plugins.

They kommenterade:

“The problem remains that there are too many complicated plugins standing in for what would be a simple optional feature.

Plugins are _not_ a user-friendly option to core settings. First users have to discover there is a plugin, then they have negotiated yet another settings screen and updates and maintenance of that plugin.”

The commenter used the example of a commenting functionality that is currently served by mutliple bloated plugins as a less than ideal user experience.

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They noted that having one canonical plugin to solve a problem is preferable to the current state where desirable options can only be found on bloated third party plugins.

But they also said that having a settings option within core, without the need for a plugin, could present a better user experience.

They continued:

“Now, I do think Canonical plugins are a better situation than 6+ bloated plugins like exist here, but so would a single checkbox added to the settings page in core to do this. Which would further improve the UX and discovery issues inherent in plugins.”

Ultimately, the commenter expressed the idea that the concept of canonical plugins seemed like a way to shut down discussions about features that should be considered, so that the conversation never happens.

“Canonical plugins” seems like a weaponized tool to derail discussions the same way “decisions not options” has become for years.”

That last statement is a reference to frustrations felt by some core contributors with the inability to add options for features because of the “decisions, not options” philosophy.

Others also disagreed with the plugin-first approach:

“Canonical plugin sounds grand but it will further increase maintenance burden on maintainers.

In my opinion, it’s no go.

It will be much more better to include some basic features in core itself instead of further saying – It’s a good place for plugin.”

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Someone else pointed out a flaw in plugin-first in that collecting user feedback might not be easy. If that’s the case then there might not be a good way to improve plugins in a way that meets user needs if those needs are unknown.

They skrev:

“How can we better capture feedback from users?

Unless site owners are knowledgeable enough to report issues on GitHub or Trac (let’s be honest, no one reports plugin issues on Trac), there’s really no way to gather feedback from users to improve these recommended/official plugins. “

Canonical Plugins

WordPress development is evolving to make improvements faster. Core contributor comments indicate that there are many unresolved questions on how well this system will work for users.

An early indicator will be in what happens with the cancelled WebP feature that was previously intended to be integrated into the core and will now become a plugin.


Featured image by Shutterstock/Studio Romantic

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