Formula SchoolOver the past month or so I have decided to dabble in the world of online learning. At the moment I have a Microsoft Office tutorials site which gets some pretty hefty traffic… and whilst it does generate some advertising revenue via Google Adsense, it certainly isn’t anything to write home about. I have been wondering how can I better monetise “how to” content and the idea of a structured, interactive online course came to mind. Something substantial that an individual can invest their own money in, but without the 300 pages of writing that goes with a “how to” or “dummies” book.

Over my Christmas holidays I decided to give it a try. In hindsight writing this about a month later I made a ton of mistakes! See if you can pick them J

Is there are market? Keyword traffic forecast analysis in Google Adwords

Keeping within my Microsoft Office training niche, I looked at different types of keyword phrases to understand how much traffic could be generated. In the world of Office, the product most people struggle with and seek help for is Excel… by an order of magnitude! Sorry Outlook and Word, but I am not wasting time producing any of that content! Excel it is! I further refined my keyword and traffic forecast searches and noticed that Excel Formulas and Functions in particular had some significant traffic spikes. That topic space was something I was comfortable building a course around… and within 5 minutes I had picked “my niche” – Formula School

And… running those numbers – for only $50 per day I could generate over 5000 clicks to my site! Converting at 1%?? Man this thing is going to smash my bank account and I can retire in a matter of weeks! As it turns out, nothing is that easy.

Over the course of two days I built my first course for Formula School using the CoursePress Pro WordPress plugin. Originally I called it the very boring… Formulas 101. I slapped a price on it. $47. The science behind the pricing? None… I purchased the SSL Certificate, set up the payment gateway (Stripe) I put the finishing touches on my online Excel video course and hit publish! Now to turn on that PPC advertising money making machine!

Going broad vs going very very very laser focused specific

My first mistake – thinking I would pick every low competition keyword there is so I can pay 1c per click and keep a huge margin on the course I build. 1000 keywords all related to Excel and Excel Formulas. Well, the lesson I learned here is that low competition is low competition generally for a reason – because the traffic doesn’t convert. Sure… I got lots of traffic. But I ended up paying a hefty price. With my budget set at $50 per day, and my maximise click bid strategy in place, very quickly I saw $150 simply disappear. And not a single PPC conversion. All traffic is not created equal!

I managed to offset that cost with a few signups generated from my email list over at The New Paperclip. But based on those numbers this was not going to be very self-sufficient.

So I decided to get very specific and look for exact query / key matches (instead of the broad matches which AdWords will do by default). All of a sudden the traffic stopped. All except for one keyword phrase which to be honest was the least transaction orientated keyword in the entire list.

I settled on a partial match strategy, with a bid price set low (but not too low) and a refined list of about 50 keywords. This resulted in a nice steady stream of traffic – 20-30 clicks per day. I thought the tortoise might win this race!

As it turns out, I was still using low competition keywords, and they just were not attracting the people with buying intention. This is a really important point. Using PPC I am wanting to shorten my sales cycle. To do that the folk jumping in the top of the funnel (doing the search on Google) need to be as qualified as possible before they get to my site. I can control that to some extent based on the keywords I include in the scope of the campaign.

So now I am running a campaign with online course transaction oriented keywords – most of which are high competition with suggested bids in excess of $9 or $10. I am bidding a number of cents. I am not interested in all traffic as quickly as possible – I am happy to ride this out a bit and see how things go as the right traffic trickles in. It is early days yet, but based on early figures this seems to be the winning strategy!

Improving the copy and conversion on the course “sales page”

Back to the name of the course – Formulas 101. How lame is that. 30 days on I am kicking myself I threw all that money away on PPC with the most uninspiring course title on the planet. I needed to look at some landing page optimisation. My PPC ads were pointing to the home page of my site – Formula School – and not the course page where they could sign up and pay for the course. Looking at my Google Analytics data – 80% of the traffic was stopping at that homepage and not event getting to the course page where the sign up button is. Ugh – first things first before we change the title of the course, how about we cut that unnecessary step out of the sales process by pointing all the PPC ads to the course signup page.

Next challenge – the course name. I went old school headline copywriting on this one… “Who else wants to know the secret to Excel Formulas“. Yep. A marketing angel died when I wrote that – but I am sure it will convert 1000x better than Formulas 101. Knowing the old Ogilvy quote that “80% of readers will engage only with the headline” – I think this is the most important optimisation I can make at the moment. Sure there is plenty more to do but I want to focus on the high impact changes at the moment.

Has the experiment been a success?

The jury is still out. I am pretty much at break even point at the moment thanks to the email sign ups – however in the long term that isn’t sustainable and the organic or PPC traffic needs to kick in. When it comes to organic traffic to be honest I have not don’t much off site SEO as yet which will play a factor in the future. But for PPC I have started to look at the data and refine my strategy over time which will pay dividends quickly.

Archive 2005-10
Author: Paul Woods

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