You know the feeling when you’re standing in line at the coffee shop and you overhear someone say how much they want to learn how to do something? Then, you go home and create an instantly popular course?
Yeah, me neither.
I mean, you could technically eavesdrop on people to identify their pain points, but it’s not recommended unless you want to be that person with a restraining order. Jokes aside, the most successful course creators have done a ton of research to validate their ideas before coming up with a great online course.
Luck has little to do with it, especially when you have so much data available if you only knew where to look. So if you’re not sure where to start or need a few tips before proceeding, you’re in the right place.
Before we begin, here are some general guidelines to make your life easier:
- Be where your (potential) customers are. Don’t waste your time researching on absolutely all channels. For example, if your learners are twenty-something gamers who love to code, they’re probably not hanging out on Facebook that much;
- Look at trends, but also pay attention to pain points. Some terms such as “time management” will always be in because it scratches an itch that a lot of people have;
- Keep an open mind. It’s easy to fall in love with a specific idea and want to share it with everyone, but your learners might beg to differ. In the real world, you need to pay attention to product-market fit and put your learners’ needs first;
- Look for specific topics instead of general ones. You can start with more general keywords, but try to narrow down your search to particular subjects. “Mystery novel plot structure” is better than “Writing a mystery novel.”
9 Websites to validate your online course ideas
Research can be fun if you learn how to do it right. It also saves you time since you can eliminate lackluster course ideas from the beginning. Plus, you can also use these websites to find potential learners and make them part of your marketing strategy later on. It’s a win-win situation in my book, so let’s see where the most valuable resources for researching course ideas are:
Since Google is where most people go these days to search for solutions to their problems, ask questions, etc., you absolutely cannot do without Google Trends! Search for the most important keywords related to your idea and see how popular a subject is in a given timeframe.
It has the added benefit of showing you regions and subregions of interest plus subjects related to your topic, and you can also compare keywords against each other to see which one is more popular.
Buzzsumo helps you find popular topics on any website. You can set up keyword alerts and keep track of particular topics of interest. You’ll typically get content insights, find potential competitors (and thus see what they blog about or talk about), find influencers in your area of interest.
The most significant part is that you also see how many times a piece of content has been shared on social media and the overall engagement.
Product Hunt is geared towards entrepreneurs and tech. Still, seeing how these subjects are in high demand now makes it worth looking at newly launched products that people are enthusiastic about.
They also have a discussion area that is great for gathering ideas. For example, I’m now looking at a conversation about team productivity tools. A course on how to use productivity apps to make the best use of your time could prove useful for many. Make sure also to browse the Topics area to see what people are most interested in.
Reddit is a goldmine if you have the time to dig around and read longer threads. The main focus should be your areas of interest and searching for the most popular topics. My personal favorite is the r/IWantToLearn thread, where people ask for recommendations on how to approach learning a new skill.
The questions and comments can give you an idea of what people are looking for, how they are trying to solve it, and the main challenges to overcome if they need to reach their goals.
With this type of research, you need to keep an open mind and explore a bit. Otherwise, you’ll have a blind spot: selecting only the pieces of information that can validate your ideas about learner needs instead of discovering what they actually need from an online course. All of this information comes in handy when you’re building a buyer persona.
Quora is similar to Reddit in a way but organized differently. It’s a platform for asking questions related to all imaginable topics — people search for answers to their problems all the time here.
What’s cool about Quora is that you can add a list of interests and curate a feed of questions related to your potential course subject by following spaces. Quora spaces are subthreads dedicated to something — you can find spaces related to mermaids, A.I., neuroscience, arts and crafts, finance, you name it.
A big plus is that you can ask questions yourself and test out your ideas. You’ll find people who are willing to help.
Depending on your subject (and how much of a niche topic it is), you can browse all sorts of book lists and look for bestsellers or popular books that your target audience might like. For example, if you want to teach a writing course, find a list of popular books about writing in general. However, you need to refine your search if you’re going to teach academic writing.
Amazon can be a great source of inspiration. The Amazon Kindle Store can give you lots of new ideas. To narrow down your search, go for specifics such as “Best Sellers in Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement” or “Best Sellers in Business & Money.” You can also read some reviews to figure out which goals people want to accomplish when choosing a specific book.
YouTube is undeniably the place for advertising courses and promoting your brand. You only need to look at videos and popular channels to see which content people seek when they want to learn something.
YouTube hashtags are a great way to search for relevant videos quickly. Hashtags are optimized for search engines so that creators will use the most relevant ones for their content. In the video search bar, type in keywords directly and then use filters to look at recent videos and, most importantly, the number of views and likes they get. You can also start with a channel that approaches your topics of interest and use their hashtags for research.
Twitter & Instagram
One question: are you following your competition or possible competitors on Twitter and Instagram? If not, you really should since people use these social channels to increase visibility and interact with potential learners.
The tactic to use is similar to YouTube, just follow relevant keywords and see what is trending. To make your job easier, use a tool such as RiteTag, which helps you find hashtags easier. It’s also a great idea to look at posts that engage followers, such as Q&As, because people ask many questions about problems they’re trying to solve in these kinds of posts.
Subject-specific Facebook groups
Facebook groups can be real gems if you can find the ones where people have formed online communities. Many audiences have migrated to other sites such as Reddit, but some people still like the convenience of a good old fashioned Facebook group.
Look for people who do live sessions, online events, sharing tips and tricks, and ask questions about your subject of interest. Hashtags can also be helpful here (if people use them), but the main way of figuring out the popularity of a post is still through likes and reactions.
These websites are great if you want to validate your online course ideas, refine them, find pain points and get raw, unedited opinions from potential learners. After this, you’ll want to take the leap, create a survey or do buyer persona interviews. Better yet, a surefire way to validate your ideas is by creating an email course.