Speak their language: How to attract & convert the right students for your online course

Speak their language: How to attract & convert the right students for your online course

Publish Date
Sep 8, 2023
Isn't it kinda crazy that a few words can make all the difference between your course selling out and barely anyone taking notice?
The words you use on your landing page, social media posts, and emails to talk about your course matter... A LOT.
Why? Because attention is your biggest bottleneck.
You need to capture people's attention first, so they listen to what you have to offer.
Then the next obvious question is: What makes us pay attention?
We pay attention when we recognize our own goals and struggles. And we can’t stop paying attention when we feel like someone is literally reading our minds.
When you get to this point with your audience, everything becomes easier.
Matt Lerner, co-founder and CEO of a company that helps startups grow faster, calls this language/market fit.
In this excellent essay, he argues that startups should find language/market fit before they do anything else (like building something nobody buys). The same applies to course creators.
Matt says,...
"If you could stop people in the middle of their day and snapshot-read their minds, what would you find? You would not find a list of product features or marketing platitudes. You would see anxieties, fears, doubts, hopes, dreams and struggles. Therefore the best way to get past the attention filter is to talk about the stuff that is in their heads — specific goals, struggles and doubts."
In other words: Use the exact language your audience uses to describe their goals and struggles.

A simple test to determine if you’re using the right language

If the headline of your course landing page completes the sentence “My course is…” then you’re likely not using your audience’s words.
If your headline completes a sentence such as the ones below, then your language might resonate.
  • Now you can ______”
  • I wish I could _____”
  • Someday I hope to _____”
Here are a few real-life examples:
❌ My course is...
✅ Now you can...
Building for the Creator Economy (Creator Economy Course by Li Jin)
Use videos to close more deals, land your dream job, and connect with industry experts...even if you'd rather do your taxes than be on camera (Minimum Viable Video by Cam Houser)
Fundamentals of Bitcoin & Crypto (cryptoacademy by Pomp)
Accelerate your career by writing online (Write of Passage by David Perell)
The Art & Science of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (by Cecilia Stanton Adams)
Go from idea to online business in 5 weeks (The No-Code Fundamentals Course by Makerpad)
International Student Handbook (by Sammy Hejazi and Alejandra Leon-Sarinana)
Show your work and build a super loyal audience (Build in Public Mastery by Kevon Cheung)
So, how do you find the right words? Matt developed four steps to finding language/market fit that I’ve adapted for course creators.

4 steps to unlocking language/market fit

1. Uncover your target audience's goals and struggles

The best way to do that is still to speak to them directly.
Talk to students who’ve taken your course or someone you've helped before (for example, through consulting or 1:1 coaching.)
Simply ask them for a 15-min Zoom call! Most people are happy to help and open to sharing their experiences.
If you haven't launched your course yet or worked with someone 1:1, you’ve got to find other ways to get in touch with your ideal student.
Matt recommends looking for "someone who has recently invested time and money to make progress on the thing you help people do."
Now, once you’ve got them on a Zoom call, what should you ask? And what are the best practices for getting the most out of these calls?
Check out this interview template (you can duplicate it to your own Notion workspace and customize it from there).
After talking to just a few people, you should start seeing patterns. Certain words and phrases will come up again and again.
This is the language you'll want to save for crafting your messages.

2. Draft your headlines

Now that you collected the language of your target audience, use their words to draft headlines for your course landing page.
There are two ways of creating headlines: You can focus on the goal or the struggle.
Goal headline:
The goal headline focuses on their dream state, on what they’ll be able to do when taking your course.
To craft your goal headline, complete the sentence “Now you can…
Struggle headline:
The struggle headline focuses on their status quo, on what’s currently bothering them.
To craft your struggle headline, complete the sentence "I hate..." or "I'm tired of..."
Matt recommends writing these headlines in the first person (using “I” instead of “you”) and avoiding rhetorical questions.
For example, "I’m wasting my time looking for notes on my computer” feels better than “Are you tired of wasting time looking for notes on your computer?"
You can follow it up with a subheadline that speaks to their goal (”Now you can...”)
In any case, avoid vague platitudes and marketing speak when crafting your headline.
Words like cutting-edge, passionate, innovative, or state-of-the-art have lost their meaning. They’re barely word-shaped air.
Write as if you were explaining it to someone at a bar. Be specific.
That often results in a much longer headline, and that’s ok!

3. Validate comprehension with the 5-second test

"Make sure your words mean what you think they mean when prospects read them."
Matt recommends the 5-second test to validate comprehension. Here’s how it works:
First, put each of your headline drafts on a slide or in a document in a large font.
Next, find a few people to test your headlines on. It can be anyone, really. For example, your partner, someone on a Zoom call, a friend you’re meeting for a coffee.
Tell them that you’re testing some new messages and that this only takes a minute of their time. There are no right or wrong answers here. You just want to know whatever the message means to them.
Now, show them the first headline for five seconds, then, without warning, take it away.
(You might wonder: Why only five seconds? Because people on the internet have no patience. They aren’t going to study your landing page intensely. They either get it, or they don’t. And if they don’t, they’ll quickly move on.)
Ask your volunteer...
  • Do you recall what that said?
  • And what do you think that is?
  • What would it do for you?
You want to check how they interpret the words. If they simply repeat the headline back to you word for word, they probably didn’t understand it.
Ask them to explain it in their own words, for example, with the prompt “What do you think that means?”
If they still aren’t sure, then your landing page visitor won’t be either!
Tweak your headline based on the outcome of the 5-second tests and repeat the process until people really understand your headline.
By the way, there are also services that run the 5-second tests for you, such as UserTesting.com or fivesecondtest.com (this website talks about design but applies to copy as well).

4. Implement and test some more

Time to implement your new headline on your landing page and test it some more.
Monitor metrics such as conversions and time spent on page. You can also run an A/B test if your software allows it.
But it can be hard to tell the difference if you aren’t getting much traffic yet.
Matt suggests using ads to validate your new headline. Run the same ad on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with different headlines, and check which one performs best with your audience.
That’s it! Investing in finding language/market fit is one of the high-leverage things you can do early on when building your course.
It will make everything else so much easier.