How to Choose the Best Name for Your Online Course

“Name’s important. Keeps track of who you are.”

– Moses Whitecotten,

‘Wherethe Heart Is’ Naming your course can be as significant as naming your child. It’s worth paying that level of attention because a name carries significance and attributes. It’s a mini brand that tells the story of your course and should give your audience a reason to reach out and engage.

The name of your course is often the first chance to make an impression and spark a connection with a potential viewer.

But naming your course shouldn’t keep you up at night. Yes, it’s important but like many aspects of launching an online video course, InstructorHQ has learned the hard way and we’ve got some time-tested strategies for making the most of your chance to grab attention. So, it’s not hard for you.

Yes it’s important, but relax; you’re about to learn how to make the most of this.

Quotation Marks

There are so many roads you can take that will lead you the wrong way, that nobody will hear your name.

-- Maria Sharapova

Video version of this article here

Podcast version of this artilce here

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We’ve learned to create 3 complimentary names for all our courses for use in three difference places:

  1. A name for labelling all your files
  2. A name for-search engines to feed on
  3. a name for your human audience to connect with

We’re going to break all that down for you as we go, but the significance of all 3 should be pretty easy to grasp immediately. Organization, SEO (search engine optimization) and marketing to people. This is your chance to master all 3 and improve your chances of making it easier to create a discoverable (therefore profitable) course.

Before we get to the specifics, let’s begin with WHEN you should be working on the name of your course. We strongly suggest you do your topic and keyword searches first. If you’ve read InstructorHQ’s in-depth guide about choosing a topic for your course then you’ve started to understand what your audience is “searching’ for (SEO alert) and those search terms and keywords will inform your choice of ‘SEO name’ for your course. You’ll want to test a lot of keywords and phrases.

At this point, start working on your name strategies BEFORE you write your course (you can edit later) or shoot anything. A big part of this article is about keeping you organized, and knowing where you’re going before you start writing or shooting.

Your ‘marketing’ name that you come up for your human audience can be used as the map for designing your course. We’ll refer to a ‘working title’ in a minute, either use the ‘marketing title’ [See the last section] you come up with, or a simplified version or idea to focus your efforts.

When trying to turn 3 vast volumes of ‘Lord of The Rings’ into a workable screenplay, the writers put a rule in place: “it only gets included if it moves the ring closer to the mountain.” This one clear objective allowed them to sacrifice many characters and even whole chapters of the books. It was a simple mechanism to create focus. Putting it in place BEFORE they wrote the screenplay saved massive amounts of time and energy writing things that would never make the final cut.

Next course ideas list

Example of instructor Daniel Scott's 'big list'

If your online video course is about making ‘sheep’s milk cheese’ then you should write that on a post-it-note and stick it to your computer monitor, or whatever you’re creating your course outline and script on.

When you get to the discussion on goat’s milk cheese, and how it’s different, you can *refer to your working title *and *leave it out*. The course is about Sheep’s milk, not goats. Don’t confuse your audience or waste their time. Create a 2nd course later on about milking goats if you have the knowledge.

So, picking a working title at the beginning will enable you to keep on track and save you from creating content that’s a distraction to your audience. The more focused your course is, usually the easier it is for your students to follow.

It’s tempting to examine every little sidebar and rabbit trail (or Rat Hole as one famous podcast called them) but if that’s your thing, start a podcast* for people who like spending hours and hours on a topic – that’s not good course creation. (* A podcast could be a great low-cost way to market your courses, so we’re not just being flippant here)

The tighter you can get with your working title, the better your audience will be at judging if this is the right course for them, and the more streamlined your course will be.

Quotation Marks

Outstanding people have one thing in common: An absolute sense of mission.

--Zig Ziglar

“How to use a microphone” is a ridiculously vague title that’s completely open-ended and vague. “How to record a voice over for online video courses” is specific and has much better search and marketing potential. You know who your audience is, what they are trying to do and what you can and can’t talk about. That’s an example of a working title that can be tweaked bit before launch, and the SEO version will be a bit different – but it’s a great way to map out your course BEFORE you find yourself scrambling to cover too many ideas.

Just to repeat – if you’ve researched your topic properly, and you’ve narrowed the idea down to a specific topic and course, the working title should be obvious. Stick with it. If it’s not obvious, we encourage you to go back to the research process and narrow down the scope of your course.

If you want to teach Adobe Photoshop, you MUST choose a specific topic like removing and replacing backgrounds and objects in Photoshop.’ Trust us, that’s a long enough course in its own right. However, in the scale of Photoshop’s vast options, it’s a small pacific island you’ll be hard-pressed to find. But if that’s your chosen destination, that’s what you will search the map for.

Don’t be afraid to be specific. Dan’s comment in the video is that trying to be “too many things to too many people” was a failing in his early courses that wasted his time and was overlooked by the potential audience. Because he wasn’t clear in the title, it also wasn’t clear in the marketing materials. And it wasn’t successful, even garnering a few complaints!

If you want more stories of how we learned to do it right, by doing it the hard way first, subscribe to our email and keep up to date with the latest (hard-earned) tips and hacks.

As soon as Dan started writing his courses on specific subjects for a specific audience, it started coming together and the courses had much stronger sales. Creating a working title from the beginning (*after researching a profitable topic [add link]*) will be a very useful step and will inform your 3 specialized titles.

Short Name

For naming files, folders and projects

This first name is for you to use internally to organize all the elements used to create your course.

This is not a step to ignore

If you’re doing this for the first time, you might not realize the extent to which you will need to edit, test, re-cut and refine your course.

You’ll probably find yourself trying to locate that .PSD file you created the titles for your video with. “…where DID I put that…” is the phrase that precedes you losing a half an hour and a small patch of hair.

Dan likes to include the topic (e.g. ‘Photoshop Background Removal’) and the date (e.g. ‘Photoshop Background Removal Oct 2 18).

This simple addition of the date means if there are 2 or more versions of a .JPG files and he wants the most recent version, it’s there in the title.

Boom! You’re Organised! And if you’ve ever misplaced a file, you know you have, then you’ll see why we’re excited.

Quotation Marks

Back up my hard drive? How do I put it in reverse?

-- Author Unknown

It also means if you want to recycle files in a future project, for example using the same title graphics so your courses have a consistent feel for your audience, you’ll know exactly what to search for.

Dan recommends creating and using a master project folder to store all your elements in, with, of course, the same title, so you don’t have to wander your various hard drives and cloud storage accounts.

Most cloud storage allows you to create a link to a folder on your computer that automatically uploads anything in the folder to the cloud. Instant backup.

This is not always practical for video files (they can quickly gobble up all your storage allowance) so be sure to check your storage limit. Large files, like graphics, simply trickle up in the background, and text is so small it’s almost instant.

Again, use a common course name for all your online backups too.

If you do want to store larger amounts of files (video) then consider subscribing to a service like Dropbox https://www.dropbox.com/, or Carbonite https://www.carbonite.com. Or pay for additional storage if you already have Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.

If you consider the dire consequences of losing all your video files from a course, and what it would take to reshoot and or re-cut a project, the few dollars a month proper backups cost pales into insignificance.

A backup hard drive is great, unless it’s next to your computer when your house burns down.

Three things are certain: Death, taxes, and lost data. Guess which has occurred.

~David Dixon, 1998, winning entry of the Haiku Error Messages 21st Challenge

Just make a name that’s simple, specific and remember to ALWAYS use it for your project elements.

You can create sub-folders within a master folder for graphics, audio, video, research documents, and scripts…you name it. No, seriously, please name it properly. And remember to add the date.

Dates don’t always show up in file load boxes and it’s a simple way to manage different versions of files.

The InstructorHQ dashboard has a checklist tool for creating a course, and your naming conventions will be really helpful here for managing the project. If you’re an InstructorHQ subscriber, Just login and look for ‘Checklists’ in the menu at the bottom of the homepage, or it’s often on the left of the screen. If you haven’t subscribed yet, click here to see all the cool tools and resources!

Dan demonstrates this at the 4:46 mark in the video. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that he dates the course name too. If you’re in this for the long haul (like we are at InstructorHQ) you’ll realize you will be scavenging parts from older courses, or remaking courses as new versions of tools and software become popular. Save ‘future you’ the stress.

A name for search engines

Quotation Marks

Search engines find the information, not necessarily the truth.

-- Amit Kalantri

Implicit in the above statement is the cold hard fact that search engines respond only to the information YOU provide, not what you meant, or what you thought was implicit in your ideas.

You have to spell it out clearly, concisely and accurately for a search engine to return the right result to the right search.

If you create a course with ‘For the love of a delicate *brebis lait fromage,*’ no matter how savvy your audience might be (probably not) while searching a list of courses, your title will NOT appear if your audience is searching for ‘cheese making’ or ‘make sheep milk cheese.’

If you’re wondering why we’ve used this example, then go here https://www.gibbstonvalley.com/nz/eat/gibbstonvalleycheese. It really is wonderful cheese.

The first example ‘cheese making’ will return a stack of results in any marketplace (such as Udemy or Skillshare) that has a course on cheese. The second title includes the keywords ‘cheese’ and ‘make’ but also has the specific ‘sheep’ which will put you at the top of the list for a specific search, and in the list for a more generalized search by the would-be *queso aficionado*; Ergo, a much stronger search result. I promise that’s all the Latin, French and Spanish you’ll have to deal with for a few more paragraphs.

Because you’ve already read researching a profitable topic what? You haven’t? Go and do it now, write a place marker in sharpie on your screen so you know where you left off here…{legal disclaimer: don’t actually do that, it’s a poor attempt at humor, but we’re 2k words deep here}.

When you researched your topic, you should have come up with a number of keywords and phrases that rank very high not just in terms of search volume, but how close they represent what you want to make a course about.

The three most likely places your SEO name will be useful are in a standard Google search, a YouTube search (as Dan reminds us, it’s the world’s second-largest search engine and we are making videos) and of course in the various marketplaces where online video courses are sold.

If you’re planning on maximizing your share of your profits, then selling your course on your own website means you keep more of the money, and you can build your audience without them being tempted by other course offerings appearing on the same page.

InstructorHQ provides hosting and other great tools to make this easy to do – but it means you will be relying on your own marketing to draw in potential students for your courses, and Google will be a huge factor in that.

Quotation Marks

Bewildered by the sheer amount of information we have devised a way that has made us the most sorted culture we have ever been, categorized by apps and search engines we are no longer hiding from the other, we are blind to it.

―- Aysha Taryam

You have to know what people are searching for BEFORE you start making a course, then make every attempt to feed those searches with your search engine friendly name. Remember, it’s not the name you’ll use for real people – but you will find it much harder to reach real people without the help of a search engine in an online space.

If there is no, or very low, demand for a course/topic then choose a different topic or find a different approach to the topic that *is* search friendly. Patience and persistence will really pay off here if you’re serious about making profitable courses.

As Amit Kalantri famously said (though certainly not first) “A website can make money for you while you are asleep.” That only works if your chosen audience A. wants it and B. can find it.

One of the fastest ways to check a title is using Google’s predictive text; start typing your SEO name into the text box on the Google home page and see how many characters or words it takes to get a search result that matches your idea. Try rearranging the words and phrases and try different keywords. Remember to try the same with ‘course’ or ‘video’ added.

Google’s search results will often include a bolded word that serves to differentiate potentially similar results, make a note of those as they could be something to include as ‘extras’ in your SEO name. The more you can separate yourself from ‘generic’ search results to ‘specific’ results the better.

Many companies have invested heavily (Fortune 500 heavy) in becoming associated with generic results – you don’t want to get buried in that avalanche of results. But don’t go to the extreme in the other direction either. Remember to test for volume as discussed here.

Google also frequently inserts a ‘People Also Ask’ list in the search results with more commonly searched ideas related to your search. Make note of any that coincide with your course, or ideas that could be potentially included in your course. If people are searching for something in volume, a percentage of them would be willing to pay for a course that includes that information.

Watching Dan’s video example (7:00) you’ll hear him describe his SEO title as ‘*how to create, sell and market online courses*’ (the punctuation is only here out of habit, you don’t use it in the SEO title). Dan’s filled the title with the most important keywords for 4 specific searches, meaning he’s going to get hits from at least 4 different common searches.

‘How to,’ ‘create,’ ‘sell,’ ‘market,’ ‘online courses,’ and ‘courses’ are all keywords or phrases that Dan’s tested the search volume for.

Please note Dan’s research reiterates the idea that *‘tutorials’ is generally a search for free content and ‘course’ has the expectation that you will pay for it.* That’s why we consciously use the phrase ‘online video course’ in all of our training, because it’s great to drill into you 3 of the most powerful keywords you can use, and it’s actually great search engine fodder for us (SEO) so YOU and people like you will find our training resources. We’re nice like that. *Subscribe here to our mailing list so you don’t miss anything or have to go find it yourself.*

When dealing with software or specific tools, you can get more detailed – like Dan’s example of using ‘CC’ in the description of Adobe software. Many Adobe users only want results for current (cc) versions of the software.

If you were creating a Minecraft video (probably a free tutorial, but you get the idea) you wouldn’t say ‘make a pickaxe in a video game.’ You would use ‘Crafting a diamond Pickaxe in Minecraft Survival’

‘Crafting’ is a specific term for making something in Minecraft. A ‘diamond’ pickaxe is the best one and is different from a generic item. Minecraft is the specific game. And finally, in one version of Minecraft, you don’t have to make everything yourself, but in ‘survival’ mode you suddenly start searching for help online because the game gets harder.

12-year olds like mine suddenly challenged enough to want to know will use very specific nomenclature to whittle down their search results.

People in your microcosm/sub-culture will probably know enough to start searching for the ‘thing they want to learn’ specifically and they will want to know that those skills are included in your course BEFORE they will pay for it. And getting those specific search results mean there will be a much smaller number of ‘generic’ options to consider against your course.

If you chose a topic (like Photoshop) that already has a VERY large number of courses and you *didn’t get specific*, then your potential audience has a much larger list of very popular courses to choose from. BTW that’s not ideal.

An example of going potentially too detailed is including the make and model of your chainsaw in the title of your lumberjack video course. The course isn’t about the chainsaw itself, it’s about being a lumberjack. Even if it was a course on how to use a chainsaw correctly, the make and model of your chainsaw isn’t a common search term. ‘How to use a chainsaw as a lumberjack’ has more search ranking than ‘How to use a Stihl Long Bar Chainsaw.’ In fact, ‘long bar’ was at the bottom of the predictive text list on the Google home page – way less important than ‘chainsaw’ overall.

If you want to teach people how to restore old cars, you might work on a specific car or two in your video but putting ’67 Chevy c10 is not helping. Remember your course is about restoration techniques for classic cars. Can you pull the keywords out of the last sentence? Try modifying ‘restoration’ to ‘restore’ in your search tests and see which one is more ‘SEO friendly’ rather than grammatically correct. Remember we’re *not* writing for people here.

Test your SEO title and variations in YouTube, Moz.com (see 13:00 in the video), Facebook, Udemy, Skillshare and anywhere else your potential customers congregate. This will take time. Make notes and keep plugging away because the long-term benefits of getting this right are potentially huge. As Dan reminds us, ‘fail to do this at your peril.’

Logging into Udemy as an ‘instructor’ (it’s free and no obligation) will give you more tools to search out how topics and the keywords are ranking. *Go here for more detailed info if you haven’t already read/watched ‘how to choose a profitable course topic’*

Choosing a ‘Human’ name

Marketing your course to people, not search engines.

As any writer with experience in marketing will tell you (that’s me, BTW) sell the sizzle (benefit), not the steak (outcome). But first you must know what each one is, and how to present that to a potential customer.

Let’s begin this section with a simple fill in the blanks exercise that’s brilliant at getting you to cut the fluff and make the right statement. [You fill in the bits in the brackets. We suggest on paper or a word document. Our previous suggestions of Sharpie permanent markers on the screen should still be ignored].

  • * My Course on [*course topic*]*
  • * Helps [*target audience*]*
  • * Learn how to [*outcome*]*
  • * So they can [*benefit*]*

Dan’s example leads to:

*My training on* online course creation *helps* new instructors *learn how to* create and sell their first online course *so they can* get the maximum return from their effort.

The more precise, and potentially direct, you can be here, the better. The last statement could read ‘so they can make the most profit’ and still be functional. You’ll notice we actually use that word without reserve; we don’t guarantee it, but we know most people want to make a profit if only to fund their passion.

This is the phrase/verbiage you will base your sales and marketing on for creating a course description, a matching title, etc. It’s sometimes called ‘an elevator pitch.’

If you’ve done your research right, and you’ve narrowed down the scope of the course to something appropriate and achievable, *this statement will guide you as you design and execute your course.*

This is the complete version, as opposed to the super-simplified ‘working title’ we mentioned earlier.

The collective experience of InstructorHQ has taught that doing all of this *BEFORE* (note overuse of bold, italics and underline) you write and shoot your course will save you hours and days of your life. It will keep you on track in the right direction and stop you from following those pesky side trails that lead you nowhere.

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As we’ve mentioned in other articles, you can send this statement out to potential audience members, friends and industry contacts to gauge response and any suggestions on how to improve your idea.

Your three most challenging questions are ‘course topic’ (not so hard), ‘outcome’ (what they actually get/can do) and ‘benefit’ (what they really want/expect as a result of putting in the work).

Let’s try this with a fictional course about making an ax at home with a forge.

My course on forging an ax helps home bladesmiths learn how to create a mighty weapon so they can master the ancient art of forging tools.

That’s the PC version. If you feel a bit more bold with your marketing, consider changing the benefit to: prove your mastery over fire and steel! Or ‘become the noble warrior craftsperson’ if you, like me, are prone to a bit of excitement.

Quotation Marks

Selling is a transference of feeling

-- Zig Ziglar

There is room, even in the simple ‘fill in the blanks’ exercise to inject your passion and excitement. Why are you teaching this course? It better be because you love it and you get excited – because your competition does, and the audience is looking for that.

They want to be as excited as you, and when you write that ‘benefit’ bit at the end, *it better be worth THEIR effort.*

Quotation Marks

Become the person who would attract the results you seek.

-- Jim Cathcart

Tell them how good they’ll feel basking in the glow of their own forge clutching the battle-ax they created with fire, raw materials, sweat, and singed eyebrows! They want to be Sheena/Conan impressing their friends with their mighty deeds.

That might sound over the top – but we all yearn for human connection and the approval of our peers, and we will create art or make money to get it. Where you come in is enabling your audience to create that art or wealth…or both…through teaching them something valuable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6tZsmGYvaM >> This video is 100% government inspected cheese, but the psychology is still used today (you can search for a less cornball approach, but we thought you might need a giggle).

Selecting your target audience also needs thought.

Are they beginners, intermediate or advanced? Do they have none of the tools, some of the tools or all of the tools? Do they tend to be analytical, artistic, dramatic, dominant? How should you speak to them?

There are a lot of great books, online seminars and blog posts about creating an ‘ideal customer’ or ‘avatar’ (someone representative of your audience). We’d love to suggest Seth Godin’s “Tribes” [Amazon link?] as a great starting point. You’ll learn a heck of a lot about how and where to position yourself in a subculture as a course creator.

Here’s one of several great (free) videos on YouTube where Seth outlines the ideas (but you should read this book!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qESbS8jg9F4 >>

Having a clear idea of your target audience helps you choose what to include in your video course, and what should be part of a future course to sell to your now existent audience.

Dan recommends you after you’ve used this strategy to create and shoot your course, take a look a the ‘big picture’ and make the *INTRODUCTION VIDEO LAST*. You’ll have a better perspective and you’ll know *what’s actually in your course* (rather than planned but abandoned for whatever reason).

Dan reads out his mission statement ‘Hi I’m Dan and this is my course on [topic] which helps [target audience….and so on.

He starts with this (not useless keywords) to create the right expectation in his audience.

Knowing who you are talking to goes a long way to using the right tone, and the appropriate level of knowledge to reach the viewer. They’ll love you for it when you get it right.

After you’ve done your research on the level of demand for a course or topic, you’ll start to narrow down your ideas to a succinct course with a defined audience.

So – to recap all of this juicy knowledge:

Quotation Marks

The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.

-- Bruce Lee

Create a rough working title for your course and use it (or your marketing name/statement) as the filter to keep the right ideas in, and the other ideas for later. Put it somewhere you can see it while creating your course.

You will create three names for your course:

*The Filename and date version – so you can find all your materials (and back them up) when and where you need them.

*Your SEO (search engine optimization) name – that has the right keywords to reach your audience with Google and marketplace search tools that your audience is using to find the help they need.

*Your Human Market name – the name and ‘elevator pitch’ you use to simply and succinctly tell your audience what it is and what the benefit to them is.

At this point, if you’ve not already subscribed to InstructorHQ, you can do that here and get access to even more great training (check out the Bootcamp if you’re starting out). Also, consider signing up for our email list so you get the latest training resources (we release stuff very regularly) so you don’t miss anything and you don’t have to go and find it – we’re happy to serve it right to your inbox (spam free of course).

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