Where to publish online courses? A Complete Guide

When you’re about to teach online, the first question you should ask yourself is whether I go for the hosted route/marketplace approach versus the self-hosted route/your own platform

The Hosted route is known as the marketplace because it is something like Amazon.com where multiple people are selling their products in a giant place and you have access to all students or the customers. In contrast to this, self-hosting is where you’re selling your product on your own website and you are driving the students or the customers to buy that product.

We’ll see each route in a brief first, then we explore the pros and cons of both the approach. And finally, we’ll look for certain criteria in selecting a hosted route and self-host route.

Hosted route/ Marketplace approach

A marketplace where you are going to upload your course and other content and then the platform or marketplace takes care of the rest. For instance, Udemy an online learning platform where you can also create and sell your courses. The platform provides a lot of services such as hosting, customer supports, marketing, refunds, and other transactions.

There are more than thousands of instructors registered on the platform and when you go to their site they’re going to show you all the instructors and you’re kind of fighting for the competition to rank your courses above other people’s courses to be sold on that platform.

However, they also have a huge student base and when you publish your course you have access to all those students. And once they see that your course is doing great, they’ll do other things like Facebook advertising, Google search marketing, and YouTube advertising for you.

So, the marketplace is really a good option if you’re just starting out. It is designed to help you get your product up onto a place with others and make sales through their platform.

Pros of the Hosted route/Marketplace approach

1. Existing Audience

It is one of the biggest benefits, why you should publish your courses on the marketplace. This type of platform already has a large audience or people who are willing to pay for online courses. For instance, Udemy is an online course hosting platform that has over 35 million students. So, you have access to those 35 million students who are searching for online courses they are interested in. If you are a course creator and a Blogger or a YouTuber who doesn’t have a large audience base or social-media following, the marketplace option is best for you. Your work becomes so easier, you just have to publish courses on the platform and make sales almost immediately.

2. Easy to use/No technical expertise needed

In a hosted platform, all the tech issues and problems are handled by a dedicated team. You don’t have to worry about how to design your course, landing pages, how to do custom web development or design embedding videos or anything like that, it’s all set by them.

A lot of this type of platform is also free to use. You don’t have to pay anything to get started and to start using it. You can start creating your online course without any sort of upfront cost so that’s another benefit.

3. Tool Sets/Features

This type of platform also has some cool features like closed captioning that is automatically generated for anyone who needs it. If you’re self-hosting, you would have to create all those by yourself and then upload them all together. But platforms like Udemy that provide multi-language closed captioning. They will also transcribe your course into other languages and provide those closed captions.

4. Advertisement

These platforms also have a marketing team with a budget of thousands of dollars for advertisement. They advertise pretty much any course that’s on the platform. They’ll also retarget people who visit your course landing page. In addition to this, they’ll also do YouTube ads, Google, or Facebook ads because they want to make money too.

Cons of Hosted route/Marketplace approach

1. Less control

For the most part, you do have control over things like your course image, the content you put on, and your copy but whenever you enter a platform, there is a certain rule set that you need to abide by. The rule set can be on different things like pricing strategy or limitation on course promotions. Thus for example on Udemy you can’t put a course under ten dollars under their pricing scheme and they’re going to divide a percentage of how much you can earn on each course. And all these policies keep on changing so you need to follow their guidelines and rules periodically.

2. Other Restrictions

They also don’t want certain things on their platform. So imagine that you are a gun owner and you want to teach people how to properly handle and shoot a gun. That might be a great course for a lot of people but platforms like Udemy specifically will not allow publishing those types of courses onto their platform. Hence, these are the restrictions that are going to restrict you from doing the things that you might want to.

3. Static landing page

You can write the copy and put a course image up but their landing page is static and it looks like every other course landing page on their platform. They’re all the same. When you self-host, you have the freedom to create your own landing page. You can include the number of videos, images, and text you want but in a marketplace, these are the things that you can’t control. You just have to follow and go by what they want you to do so.

4. Competition

When you are on a marketplace like Udemy you’re like competing with thousands of instructors. So, if you’re teaching Data Science and a student searching for a data science course might see five to ten data science courses available on Udemy. Consequently, you need to differentiate your course from other instructors.

They’re also going to be advertising or promoting other courses from other course creators on your landing page. Because Udemy knows that people buy multiple courses.

5. Lack of communication and access to students

The communication tools that we have on each of these platforms are very limited in terms of what we can do and how we can use it. For example, none of these platforms give access to student email addresses. There are also limits to do promotions. They let you do some promotions but you only get like two promotional announcements per month per course. Hence, the communication limits and access to students is one of the downsides of the marketplace approach.

6. Uncertainties and other unexpected situations

You’re at the mercy of the platform and the fact that they can ban you and kick you off from the platform anytime. This type of situation is unlikely to happen but one should consider it. Udemy is not going anywhere but if you’ve built your whole business around marketplaces and then one day they come in and say sorry guys we’re going bankrupt we’re closing down that’s gonna leave you high and dry.

Moreover, you don’t have access to any student emails and you’ve spent all your time and effort into one platform building trust around people, and then it is difficult to again start from scratch. For this reason, it is advisable to diversify your courses into different platforms and don’t just stick them in one place.

Self-Hosting route/ Your own Platform

In this route, you’re taking your course content and hosting it on your platform or your website or a blog. Typically this is done through online teaching software like Kajabi or Thinkific. They help you upload your content and keep everything nice and neat. This is something like creating a mini Coursera or Udemy of your own.

So, self-hosting is a good choice when you already have a large student base and you are just hosting all your courses in one specific place. But, when you self-host you have to drive the traffic all by yourself and have to take care of things like customer service and refunds.

Pros of Self-Hosting route/Your Platform

1. Full Control

First and foremost, with self-hosting, you have entire control over what type of content you can publish. There might be some limitations in certain marketplaces like Udemy where the rule is like 70% of your content should be video content. And on platforms like SkillShare, where they strictly limiting how long a course should be. But with self-hosting, you can do whatever you want. You can publish all audio lectures, it could be all videos, all slides, or all text. You also have the freedom to charge more or less per course

2. Access to students

In the self-hosting route, you have more access to your students and you can message them anytime by building an email list. There is multiple online self-hosting software like Teachable, Thinkific, and Kajabi. If that platform disappears or shutdown, you still have access to your audience. You can have one-on-one conversations with students for all eternity.

3. Higher Revenue Percentage

The primary objective of any online course creator should be to help educate people by providing access to learning anytime anywhere. At the same time, every course creator has an intent to earn more and become profitable. And the major advantage of self-hosting is that you’re going to keep a higher percentage of the revenue per course. You can use that money to grow your email list or do marketing or promotion.

4. Instant Payout

You can set up your own custom payment gateway by using tools like Stripe or PayPal in self-hosting. It means you’ll get paid instantly when someone buys a course on your platform. With a hosted route like Udemy, you have to wait for one-two months before you can get paid because they provide a 30-day money-back guarantee on any course purchase.

5. Other benefits

Furthermore, when you self-host your course using software like Teachable and Thinkific, you can integrate with all kinds of tools like convertkit for email Marketing, feedback forms, and surveys, Zapier, Calendly, Zendesk, etc. You have autonomy for setting up your own payment mechanism like one-shot payment or monthly subscription charges. You can charge $10 for a course or $50 or $100 depends on you as a lot of courses published on hosted sites like Udemy are worth more than that.

Cons For Self-Hosting

1. Lack of Audience/Students

If you’re just getting started and don’t have any large following on social media or don’t have any existing student base, then self-hosting is not the right route for you. Go for hosted places like Udemy. Because when you upload your course to say on Teachable and then basically what you do is to sit there and hear crickets as no one’s coming to buy your course. You have to go out and get those people onto your course. There is huge money involved in things like content marketing and advertisement.

You have to go through the whole process of trial and error and finding out what works what doesn’t work, what went wrong, why people aren’t finding my course. You will actually be spending a lot of money because you’re trying things like Google Ads, Facebook campaigning, and other social media marketing. On this account, the marketplace route is best because they already have an advertising team and they know what works what doesn’t.

2. Search Ranking

In search engines, only those course rank that has a high student enrollment and positive reviews, and when you self-host your course, you probably don’t have such a massive audience that can help you rank your course in the top search results page for your topic.

How to select the best Hosted Route: Criteria to look for

There are many parameters on choosing a specific platform for host online courses on marketplaces. The major criteria to look for are:

  1. Pricing Strategy (how much you can earn)
  2. Platform Specialty (the type, of course, you’re about to publish)
  3. Earning Percentage (how much you can make) 

1. Pricing Strategy

This is basically how is the platform charging and how will you make money. Udemy and Skillshare are the two platforms that people are using mostly for course creation because of their decent pricing policy. They give you the most success. Udemy has a pretty general pricing strategy. You get half of whatever your course makes and Udemy gets the other half. It’s pretty cut-and-dry and then they do some discounting. They’ll discount the courses to $10 or $15 and have sales all throughout the year.

Skillshare is different because it’s a membership site where people pay a monthly fee and they have access to all the courses on the platform. Your earning is based on how many minutes are watched from your individual course. All the money that Skillshare makes goes into a bucket and they divide out the percentage and then you get a percentage based on how many minutes people watched your course.

2. Platform Specialty

This is you might want to do a little research and see what sells or does well on that particular platform or marketplace. Again using the Udemy and skillshare examples, here you can do about anything and can sell courses on design, programming, business, photography, personal development, etc but each platform has its own niche or specialty.

Udemy is popular for students searching for courses on business, development, courses for certification training, and graphic designing. For instance, programming courses do well on Udemy and people are making tons of money doing such courses.

On Skillshare they host more of a Craft DIY type of courses. You see a lot of courses on water coloring, sewing, and knitting, and other creative courses.

So, both platforms have their kind of specialty that they cater to a little better than the other platforms. Again, you can do a programming course on SkillShare but it might not have the same kind of traction as doing a water coloring course. You can do a water coloring course on Udemy but it’s not going to have the same traction as doing a JavaScript course. So, when you’re doing your research on the different platforms, you should look at what are the kind of specialty each platform has and what are they aiming at.

3. Earning Percentage

Look for how much are the top instructors on a particular platform currently making because that shows the kind of upper limit of how much you could hope to make from this platform. If you’re making a programming course and you see people are making thousands of dollars with programming on Udemy, that’s a good sign and it’ll give you an expected earning.

Also, look for how much your course is being sold on a platform after taxation and other charges and you’re getting after taxes and other charges because you don’t want your courses to be sold for two to three dollars.

You have to decide, where you spend your time and efforts putting your course onto a platform and it’s good to publish on multiple platforms but at the end of the day, Udemy is really the place to get started then SkillShare.

Which platform is the best for self-hosting?

For self-hosting the two that are most popular are Teachable and Thinkific. The pricing and the plans of both platforms are very similar. Both platforms have plans where you can get started for free and can start uploading your course content. You basically just start building out your course site and once you start making sales you can consider upgrading to one of their more advanced plans. Because they do give you extra content or extra options when you upgrade. By upgrading, you can have your custom domain, you can use coupon codes, you can integrate with email marketing tools and these are the features which you don’t get with the free plans.

Their basic plans start around 40 to 50 dollars and then they go up from there to more professional plans that are around a hundred dollars and even some more advanced plans that are around 300 Dollars that would allow you to have multiple authors where you can actually build your own sort of marketplace with a lot of different authors on your platform which is kind of cool too.

Both platforms have really good customer service and their stuff works very well and they do have a lot of success stories. It’s not like Teachable is the best platform for self-host in the world. Teachable has something that Thinkific hasn’t and vice versa. The two platforms are kind of neck and neck with coming out with new features. so if one comes out with a new feature the other one might come out with that feature later.

Can I publish my courses on hosted platforms as well as self-host it?

This is the question that people get asked a lot when they try to publish their courses for example on Udemy and at the same time self host it on their website. The problem arises when people see your course on Udemy for $10 and you have it $100 on your own platform. This is a big contention for people because they say, “Oh well, why I going to spend a hundred bucks when I can get it for $10 on Udemy”. But then you also take into the fact that Udemy does advertising and discounting on various courses throughout the year.

The best way to get rid of this type of situation is to try to differentiate the two. When you self hosts your courses, offer the customer to buy a membership plan for your platform. You can bundle your course offering into single or multiple membership plans. This you can do with any online self-hosting platforms like Teachable or Thikific where people are paying a monthly fee for accessing online courses. And if people want to buy any single or individual course, you can send them on Udemy or other marketplaces where you host your courses.

Final Thoughts

Well, I hope you get some idea now on choosing the Hosted or Self-hosting route for publishing online courses. Also, I want to say that for an online course creator it is a matter of hard work and a great deal of endurance while publishing a course online. Your success depends upon how much time, effort, and energy you spend while creating a course. Your motive shouldn’t be to earn more but to serve more people. Sooner or later your course will get on top position if it is good and solving people’s problems.