Everyone judges books by their covers.
It’s not right...but we can’t help it. It’s just human nature.
That’s why you need your online course to have a cover that draws people in…and in the world of online courses, your book cover is your course name, or course title.
In this guide, I’ll teach you the exact 3 steps you need to follow to come up with an irresistible name for your online course.
To illustrate the process, I'll use the topic of a course I want to create as an example:
I have lived in 4 different cities in the last 3 years. Moving to a new city is always hard, but it gets easier once you've done it a several times. So, I want to teach people "how to move to a new city."
You can follow along with these steps by using this course-naming worksheet:
Note: These steps assume that you already know the topic of your online course and that you have validated demand (i.e., you know what content you want to cover). If you haven't decided on a topic yet, I recommend that you check out this post on how to find your niche.
Step 1: Identifying your target audience
The most common mistake people make when starting an online business is that they don't have a clear idea of who their potential customers are.
When you know exactly who your target audience is, you can do things like:
- Identify their pain points
- Figure out where to find them (in terms of marketing channels)
- Use the right language to attract them
All of these are critical to coming up with a good name for your course.
I'll teach how you can easily identify your target audience.
Start with a broad demographic segment
We'll begin by describing your audience using very general demographic information.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself (you don't really need to answer all of them or have highly accurate data about any of these, just answer based on your experience):
- Is your audience mostly located in a specific country?
- What language does your audience speak?
- Are they mostly male, female, or evenly represented?
- What's their level of education?
- What age-range are most of them in?
For my course on "how to move to a new city," I came up with the following demographic description:
- I'll target people in the United States, because I only have experience moving to cities inside the US.
- My audience will be a mostly foreigners (like myself) who are coming to the US for work or school, so I can assume that they speak English (in most cases as a second language.)
- I think my audience is pretty evenly distributed between male and female.
- I plan to target mostly people who at least have or are in pursuit of an undergraduate degree.
- My target audience is probably in the 18–35 age range.
Note that the points above describe my audience in very broad strokes—that's ok! Next, we'll start to narrow down.
Once you have a very general idea of who you want to target, you'll start to notice that there are several clearly defined groups of people with similar characteristics within what you just described.
Right now, you should make a list of who these people are and pick the one you think would benefit the most from your course.
For my course, I can identify these sub-segments:
- Undergraduate students who are coming to the US to finish their studies or to study abroad for a year.
- People with undergraduate degrees who want to pursue a graduate-level degree in the United States.
- People who are coming to the US for work or business.
There are probably more groups, but I think those are the ones I can serve with my online course.
I decided to go with the last group because it's the one I can relate to the most (and I also think they are more likely to pay for my course.) Also, I decided to choose NYC as the destination city because I think it's a location that attracts a lot of people who match this segment.
As you might imagine, my demographic targeting also becomes narrower now:
- I chose to focus only on people moving to NYC instead of anywhere in the US.
- The segment of people moving to the US for work or business is probably on the higher end of the age range I defined.
Finally, we'll get into the specifics of how this group of people behaves and why (that's what psychographics are).
Try to answer these questions about your target audience:
- What are their goals?
- What are they interested in?
- What do they fear?
- What are their challenges?
- What do they believe in?
- From which culture are they?
It's easy to make the mistake of answering these questions within the boundaries of the topic of your course. Instead, you should try to find deeper, more general answers that relate to them as individuals—we'll get to the course later.
The segment I chose is people who are moving to a US city for work or business. I was a part of this group only a couple of years ago, so I can relate to what they are going through.
It's ok to put a little bit of yourself into this description—it will help make this feel more real.
People who are moving to a new city/country:
- Want to be successful in this new environment.
- Are interested in and excited about the local culture but also want to find places that are similar to home somehow.
- Can feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done to move.
- Don't know many people in this new city.
- Probably come from a different culture and have different traditions.
Putting it all together
Now that you've gone 3 levels deep into identifying a target audience for your course, it's time to summarize your work.
You don't need to write every descriptor you came up with, just try to describe your target audience in a sentence or two.
Here's what I came up with:
Young adults who are moving to the United States—particularly New York City—from another country because of a new job. They are excited but also stressed out about changing their entire lives by moving to a new city.
Next, we'll work on the message that we need to deliver to this target audience.
Step 2: Crafting a transformation
The previous step is super important but I'll be honest: it is sort of boring.
This is where the fun begins.
At Teachable, we believe transformations are a great way to communicate the value of an online course.
Here, I'll show you:
Which one of these phrases do you find more inspiring/exciting/attractive?
- Learn woodwork
- Turn old wooden furniture into beautiful and functional pieces of art
The first might be great phrasing for a woodwork-tool operations manual, but I doubt it will get many customers as an online course.
The second one, on the other hand, takes the reader on a journey with a clearly defined beginning and end...a transformation.
Remember why people take courses in the first place—they want to change something about their lives. By the end of your course, your students will know something they didn’t before.
I've personally found that DigitalMarketer's "before and after" framework is a great way to come up with powerful transformations.
The reason I like this framework is that it covers transformations across a broad spectrum—from functional to emotional.
To fill this matrix, you should answer these questions:
- What does a prospective student have before taking your course? What will they have after they finish it?
- How does a prospective student feel before taking your course? How will they feel after they finish it?
- Who are they before taking your course? Who will they be after finishing it?
For my course on moving to NYC, this is what this matrix might look like (based on the target audience I defined in the previous step):
Basic or no knowledge of the neighborhoods, regulations, prices, public transportation, weather, or lifestyle in New York City.
In-depth knowledge of all of the above. Plus, a clear step-by-step plan for how to move to NYC.
Overwhelmed with all the information that's necessary to move. Nervous about missing something important or making the wrong choices. Nervous and scared about moving.
Confident that they have a plan in place to organize and analyze all the information to make the right decisions about moving to NYC. Excited about starting this new phase of their lives.
Someone who is moving to NYC from another country.
Almost a native New Yorker. Someone who is living life to the fullest in one of the most amazing cities in the world.
Most people only go as far as answering the "have" questions, but a truly powerful transformation will also communicate who your customers will "be" after taking the course.
This information is invaluable when it comes to writing truly compelling copy.
If you've gotten this far, you only have one more step to go.
Step 3: Writing an exciting, specific, and benefit-driven name
Now that we have all the ingredients for a great name, all we need to do is put everything together.
There are three rules to writing a great course name:
- It should be benefit-driven
- It should be specific
- It should be convey emotion
Writing a benefit-driven name
Let's start with with the most important one: your course name should be benefit-driven. This is where your transformations come into play.
You just need to summarize those transformations into a single, short sentence.
I recommend that you use a healthy combination of "have", "feel", and "is" transformations to write your name:
- If you rely too much on the "have" transformation, your name will lack the emotional elements that inspire people to act.
- If you go to the other side of the spectrum and write a name that is entirely about the "is" transformation, people might be confused about what your product actually is.
For my course, I have decided to go with:
Moving to New York City: A Guide to Becoming a Local in the Big Apple
The first half of the title clearly communicates what this course is about, while the second half introduces the emotional element of my transformation.
It's important that you keep your course name relatively short so it's easy to remember, but you can always add more detail with a subheading or course description—here's what mine looks like:
Get all the information you need to make smart decisions about your move—from navigating the subway like a true New Yorker to negotiating with landlords—and a detailed plan to get it all done.
Second, you should focus on being specific.
I recommend that you add specificity to your course name by adding a quantifiable element to your benefit. These are some things you might consider:
- Can you quantify the outcome of your transformation? How many times better is the outcome than the initial state?
- How long will it take the student to achieve the transformation? How much time are you saving them?
- How many steps will it take a student to complete the transformation?
Important: Notice how none of the bullet points above mention anything about the length of your course. Avoid including claims like "12 hours of content" or "45 lectures" which don't relate directly to the transformation or benefit of your course.
In my case, adding a layer of specificity is critical. People in my target audience will eventually learn everything that's included in the course about living in NYC...the actual value of my course (and probably your course too) is that it is a shortcut to an outcome.
People pay for convenience.
My course must teach its students everything they need in a very short period of time. This is what my course name looks like after quantifying the benefit:
Moving to New York City: A Guide to Becoming a Local in the Big Apple (in ONE Week)
Finally, to evoke an emotional response, I recommend that you include power words in your course name.
Power words can be used to trigger emotion, excitement, or curiosity.
Here are some examples of power words I like to use for different situations:
- Power words to elicit curiosity: secret, surprising, inspiring, unexpected, shocking.
- Power words to evoke speed: hack, tricks, tips, kickstart.
- Power words to communicate comprehensiveness: complete, ultimate, comprehensive, detailed, entire.
You can find an entire list of power words in this great post on the Sumo blog.
I've already used specificity to evoke speed, so I will use a power word to communicate comprehensiveness because my course is meant to be the only resource people looking to move to NYC will need.
This is the final result:
Moving to New York City: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Local in the Big Apple (in ONE Week)
You just need to follow these three simple steps to write your own irresistible course name:
- Identify your target audience
- Craft a transformation
- Write an exciting, specific, and benefit-driven course name