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Link Building For Course Content Creators

An Interview with Tom Libelt

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this episode, Dawood is in conversation with Tom Libelt, founder of We Market Online Courses and host of Smart Brand Marketing podcast
Tom talks about his journey into marketing for a specific domain- online courses and what are the unique challenges he faces. He also shares inputs about his best SEO practices, what makes a great sales landing page.

Tom is the host of Smart Brand Marketing podcast and he also gave us insights on what makes a good podcast and how its the future in marketing.

If you have traffic coming through and hitting your sales pace, and it’s not converting, change the buy button to a call me button.

Tom Libelt
Founder – We Market Online Courses and host of Smart Brand Marketing podcast
Hello Everyone, hope you're doing well. Today we have with us Tom Libelt, founder of We Market Online Courses and host of Smart Brand Marketing podcast. It's great to have you. Before we dive into stuff, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and what you do at your company?

The company that I’m working for now is very simple. We market online courses. So, if you have a course and it’s not selling, you call us. It’s a very quick way to sell the company. It’s not simple doing it, but it’s very simple explaining it. It hits the target audience right away.

Before this, we had an SEO agency. We had a marketing company and even a book publishing company. I owned a coffee shop and also filmed a documentary. There’s some stuff in music, tons of sales jobs. I had a pretty deep background, but it all revolved around sales and marketing.

How did the move to marketing online courses happen?

So when we had the SEO agency, I was in Atlanta at that time. We were working on a gym to get them ranking. It was a kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai gym. We did a good job for them. They were getting more leads than ever before. When that happens, you kind of become friends with the people because you’re delivering, right? One of their managers was a Muay Thai champion. He was fighting professionally and doing some classes. We were just sitting around chatting in his office once, and he’s like, “Tom, what if we put my training online?” It was like seven or eight years ago. The tools were not there. Online courses were not common at all, other than just a couple of the big guys.

I looked at it and was like, “I know nothing about this.” But again, that’s how the idea has happened, and I’m like, “Fine, let’s do it.”

It took us a long time to get this going. We didn’t know anything about filming, putting stuff on memberships, anything of that. He looked at me and was like, “I would like you to market this thing.”

I was like, “we do marketing, but not for online courses.” We had e commerce sites, affiliates, and all types of things. But again, fine. The overnight success took two years before we made money with it. Then referrals came in.

One day, I was just sitting around with my team and I thought, we do fine with the marketing agency. What if someone comes up and says, “Why should I work with you over Jay Abraham or Dan Kennedy?” Well, if you have the budget, you definitely shouldn’t work with me. You should work with those guys. I don’t like that answer.

We’re having a lot of success. Back then this was maybe 20% of our business, the online course marketing. What if we dial in on that piece? It’s a smaller pond. It’ll be a big fish in a small pond.

But no one can ask me, why should I work with someone else other than you. I’m like, “Well, these people will come to me with their courses.” We doubled down and it was a really good decision for us. We started getting booked up almost immediately. So we’ve been booked up like constantly ever since then.

Then COVID happened and the industry exploded. So, four or five bucks easily in a month, like last April or March. This is luck. When we started and I did research on our entire market. We had maybe 80,000 possible course creators. Maybe another of those 2 to 3% could be ideal customers at the most they could afford us. Then overnight, it quadrupled.

So the thing that happened for us, which was very helpful. All of a sudden people with money, i.e., coaches, speakers, authors, they know what to do to get into the business. It was being at the right place at the right time. That piece was lucky. We were doing really well before but it became insane after.

Now it’s getting back to normal again. There’s a bit more competition. I’m also much more picky with who I work with. There’s like zero complaints on our side. it was that decision of going really deep into one niche that made everything easier for us.

Right and it totally makes sense. Earlier you had pure SEO agencies, working across diverse niches. But now SEO is just not SEO. You have to handle the entire piece of marketing because at the end of the day you have to drive traffic and convergence. When you're focusing on a niche, you are actually focusing on the entire spectrum of marketing.

With our SEO business, we’ve had a very easy time, around 12 to 13 years ago. Stuck anything on Google, and we could rent things. Then, we started seeing a division of local and main. I would say countrywide businesses. You would rank them differently. So we started seeing that and kind of have to pick which way we’re going to go with that. And, the problem with Google is that you have zero control.

We started thinking, do we keep messing around with the backlinks, which is the piece that we have zero control. I know what works and it’s easy to do in some ways but it’s expensive to do. If you want to actually own and control the properties that you’re going to send links from, it’s not cheap. It was kind of hard to see the PRS on some of them.

We started looking at the on page stuff. If this website comes to us, and they’re already getting traffic, fairly linked out, they’re popular. If we fix all these on-page issues, starting from speeds, silo, schema, it is much easier to control. It always helps. We kind of moved from country wide to local, and then from local to more on-page.

People don’t see results immediately. We thought any SEO client has to give us a bit of a budget for paid ads so that we can quickly show them the changes. Google might take 3,4 or 6 weeks to rank and change your stuff. If we throw the right traffic through you’re going to see an increase in conversions. At least during that time, when you’re waiting for this to happen, you’re not whining to me about why there’s no changes.

It's also a proof of concept. If you have convergence on, let's say 10 keywords, it's easier to explain to the client. If you're also organically ranking on these 10, it might take time, but it's worth the money.

We’ve made a lot of changes. We don’t do almost any SEO. It comes just from referrals. We don’t even advertise the SEO stuff anymore. The reason for that is most of the course creators, they’re on platforms. Thinkific, Teachable, Kajabi all these different platforms.

These platforms are horrible to rank. If I can get them off to WordPress and actually build up their stuff. it’s fine. I recommend a lot of on-page SEO stuff and here’s how to get backlinks. But if you’re a regular creator on Teachable with a teachable sales page, and homepage and blog, which is not even a blog, you’re not gonna write this thing. Google will completely ignore you. So our market doesn’t fit the regular SEO market. If we do have someone coming with an e-commerce store it’s good.

We have a couple clients that we’ve worked with for years. They do run e-commerce stores. They see the value of that. They see what happens, even in a small niche with low hanging fruit keywords. If we can get some of these moving it transfers directly into money. It’s not like, “Hey, I’m going to read this piece of content and then go to this and get a lead magnet.” No, I’m going to look at this. If I liked the product, and I click Buy, they all see it immediately.

We’re sort of only touching the SEO stuff, or we can bring instant gratification for them. Even then, I’ll say, “look, we’re ranking you for these keywords.” Like I told you before, we’ll tell them, we’re going to run some paid traffic and show you why.

We’re also going to do it through Google. So you’re going to see exactly what type of traffic you’re going to get, and how this traffic is going to convert what it’s going to do for you. So then people get excited. And often, what they stick with the paid, as well. We actually have monthly retainers that have been running for eight to nine years.

Once we show them both and now they’re getting SEO and the paid they’re like the first four positions in Google. It’s hard to stop.

What are the areas where you feel that online course creators struggle the most in marketing?

This is the problem here. When you get someone with knowledge to create a course, packaging that knowledge is very frustrating for them. You have to actually package it into something that’s consumable, and repeatable. This is a very big piece. Then you got to figure out the tech, also very frustrating. But, those are easy pieces, when you really think about that. When you stack the sales process and the marketing on top of it, it becomes complex. Imagine when you’re juggling the 3 or 4 balls and I just throw six more at you. Everything drops. They don’t realize that with the marketing. You got to get people’s attention. You got to have the right flow, which is their sales conversation. You have to get the copyright because you can’t sell them in person. The website’s got to do the talking for you.

You got to warm them all properly. There’s just so many different pieces and a lot of them intermix. If you have a site that’s not selling at all, and you come to me about marketing, I can’t market that website. I’m going to get you 100 times more sales than you’re getting now, which is zero. There’s still going to be zero sales.

A big part of the job that we do is we make sure that the sales conversation is dialed in first before we actually start marketing. This sometimes takes a lot explaining to the customer because they don’t understand the difference. If you cannot sell it once, why do you think you can sell it 100 times.

The course creators have such a big problem with marketing for the most part that this is like starting from scratch completely.

Some of them do get lucky. They’ll post the 100 videos on YouTube and they’ll get some conversions and sales. But even they quickly hit a limit. They’ll come to me like a time making five figures, which is not hard.

I used to post 10 videos a week and every month we made 30 more percent more sales. Now I can put 100 more videos and nothing happens. You hit that plateau thing. They try doing anything else and it doesn’t work. I tried doing Facebook ads, or I put out different content work so they don’t understand why it happened. So you do have a very small piece of the market that’s lucky and they come to me to reverse engineer and then help them actually market it properly. I would say over 60 to 70% have no clue what they’re doing.

What are the best practices for increasing convergence on the course sales page?

We actually created a worksheet that we share with our list about things to do on the sales pages like 17 or 18 things. I’ll tell you the easiest way to do it, and it worked every single time. If you have traffic coming through and hitting your sales pace, and it’s not converting, change the buy button to a call me button. Book a call button and get them on the phone. If you can figure out how to sell them in person, not just one person do that maybe three, four times. Use that, put it on the sales page and I guarantee you it’s going to work. You change it back to the buy button.

So when something’s not working, it’s often the copy. That’s the biggest problem. There are probably a lot of assumptions. Maybe there are some red flags, maybe you’re not moving them through the page properly, get them on the phone. I often actually help people get the right scripts to go over on the phone, and then they hit the right parts, and then sell them. If you hopefully recorded this, we can now use it and create a real sales page out of that. That’s the first thing I would do.

A lot of your clients are online course creators or on platforms. So SEO is not always the best strategy for most of them. But still, there would be cases where you would be doing SEO for them as well. How does your SEO process look like?

At the moment, we usually only do on page stuff. We’re going to fix up all the on-page issues on the website. It only works for a very small percentage of clients. If they have a strong website, fairly old like age with some traffic and they’ve placed the course on the website with some kind of a WordPress plugin or other different options for this, I’ll consider it. Anyone with a platform, I’ll completely ignore it and this is not the way. The first thing I’ll tell him, if you got to move that sales page over to your own website, how do you control that? You need to control the sales process.

We’ve done over 180 different clients in the last few years and even 90% not the right fit for SEO services. It doesn’t mix as well as you’d like. Some have a lot of content but it’s often on YouTube and these other platforms. You would do SEO for YouTube and some of these. Since we all specialize in that, I can lead them to someone but I don’t want to touch it.

We did a test a few months back there was a website, which kind of had dropped down in rankings. And we compared it with a site that had gained rankings, the only difference we could find were the pages that had dropped rankings. The only difference we actually saw in those pages was the speed. That is something which is very difficult to control on these platforms.

We did a test about this, and I published it on one of my friends’ websites. Thinkific, Teachable, and Clickfunnels were the worst. They were about 60 to 70% slower than your own WordPress site without even touching any of the fixes on it. So the speed is horrendous, even without looking at SEO. I always tell the clients Look, if your website’s going to be 60% to 70% slower than what people are used to, you will be losing conversions. From a logical common sense point of view, if someone has to wait three extra seconds when they just clicked on 15 tabs and it doesn’t open, you’re gonna miss it.

Speed is very important. We found that with a lot of the websites you have to fix all these unpaid issues and if the contents are good, backlink profiles are fairly decent, you can outrank some pretty powerful sites that don’t do these things.

I don’t have to worry about the bad backlink or anything. We didn’t touch your backlink profile, we just did this, you can’t get hurt.

I remember earlier you used to set up the title tags and the H1 tags and you were all set. Now, you also look at the actual body of the content. At least we have control on it and it doesn't hurt.

We try to get as much control as we can. We found all of our problems, like the walls we hit in business, were the times where we completely did not have control. If I look back 9 or 10 years ago, we still use this service. I think it was called Build My Rank Buddies. It was very popular back then. You would pay them monthly and you were able to submit short articles, paragraphs with links in them. They would post it all over these blog networks. It was like these big things and it was so popular everywhere. I remember, we submitted like 6000 to one of them, because we had a lot of clients. One day Google indexes all of these services. Obviously when people are solo backlinks for like, they have no control. You have zero control over Google. We still have the business going

Coming back to your point, when anything used to rank, we own like 1000s of websites, ourselves. We own a network and we push links, and they would get live. Then one day, you wake up and everything is down. We kind of thought, "Okay, fine, what do we do?" Since we still do SEO, we kind of are in a process. When I tell my partners or clients that I have, one of the biggest outreach teams, they're like, "why?" I said, because everything is manual. That's the only thing that's working right now. You manually outreach legit sites, publish good articles. I will not give you a guarantee that this is the site we'll get, but, I can give you a guarantee that this is our success rate. To make sure we get so many articles published on legit, let's say, x sites, we would need y number of hours and stuff. A lot of them do not understand, but I think that's the only way now to actually build a solid link profile. Otherwise, you might get a bump in rankings now. But any day, It might just all go away.

So one of the easiest ways I found of doing this is if you just go to conferences and build up your network. You ask them questions, tell them like, “Hey, do you mind if I do a blog post on your website?” Some of these are pretty big fish. When you look at their websites, It’s a very strong website, normally they will completely ignore you. If you’re sort of a friend, you’re able to get these pages.

My friend has a guest article with the speed. He has a WordPress speed service and I’m like, “Look, I’ll do it in the course space.” I’ll give it to you. This is really the way you can do it manually. You can speed it up by networking

I think it's very important for you to make sure that whoever you're using for the service, actually look at the sites. If somebody is not sharing the sites with you, and charging you a price for X number of links, don't do that. I won't take names, but a lot of big fish out there are doing that. I did a test where I wanted to write a blog article on comparisons and I didn't hear back from them for a month. After that you just get a report. The article is live, the link is live. What do I do now?

Well, what you do then is you take a little excerpt from the article, put it into Google and you see what comes up. See if you’re happy with those pages, because I’ve done that before. It’s a hit or miss.

The worst one for that It’s like, fiber and all those things. They will tell you, we’ll put you on an educational website. They will but it’s gonna be a wiki site. They’ll stick your keyword in an article that’s completely irrelevant. I mean what you’re doing? This makes zero sense.

How do you suggest course creators to create the perfect editorial calendar? How should they plan it out?

This is really difficult. We’ve been focusing on the copywriting aspect of it. I don’t need to do very much outreach to get clients. I put out one or two really good pieces of content. Then people will come because 80% of the time should be spent marketing content.

So I often explain to them through examples and templates like what you’re going for and create something that’s really going to grab your audience. Instead of trying to put a ton of articles and be like all these other people posting on social media every day, do two or three really good pieces, and market them well. You’re going to cut through that noise.

For SEO, it’s a different story. My current audience doesn’t work that much. I usually tell people, if you want to have a strong website ranking very quickly, write 100 relevant articles with 4000 words plus. We found through some of our testing, and some of my friends used this strategy, it still worked. Between 100 and 150 articles, 4000 words is that magic number where Google just all of a sudden opens the water for you. It starts getting holes opened up and the traffic starts going in.

Some of these we’ve had zero backlinks built to. It’s just a magic number. Everyone that tried it, went from like zero to 1000s of people coming on their website. I said that’s one way you got to kind of calculate investment. If that’s the way you want to go.

I just had a friend that built up a productized service. I think it cost him like $17,000 to go on Upwork and get these articles written. But he came back and said at a time it worked. So that’s one piece of advice with the content.

For course creators it’s not really the right way. I would much rather tell him why don’t you film 113 quick YouTube videos, you’ll get traction much faster. But for something like a product or a service, that could be worth it. It depends how long you want to be running this business and then what’s your investment. That could really be worth it in the right niche. Then if you get everything else right the unpaid and then you actually get some backlinks, you’re gonna do well.

We did have one course creator in the photography niche that was able to do what I told him. He makes videos with the content and gives templates and stuff. It came out to about 100 something articles, and he went to about 200,000 visitors per month very quickly. That transferred to sales in his niche very quickly.

He had the one thing which Google loves is content. That’s very mixed. A lot of good images, videos, long on-page, time, low bouncers because it’s photography. It’s nice to look at. In his instance, it was just a perfect way to do it. Everything he did was on his own website. It’s a no brainer. That was the one that I remember that used that strategy.

Podcasts are doing well. You also have your own podcast. How do you see podcasts as a marketing strategy?

In the beginning, it was just the way to meet people. Then what we tested is there are a lot of things we didn’t know how to do in our business. I thought instead of paying people, let’s get them on the podcast. It worked really well. We wanted to know about Kickstarter and all the stuff. We brought all these experts. I would go to my friends and I would say Cousteau culture, you will pay $2000 to $3,000 for this topic, and they will tell you. Let’s get them on the podcast.

As we were transitioning into the course niche, I said, “let’s get our perfect clients on the podcast.” After that, it just became like, I do what I want. I just have fun with it. So just different iterations. The one thing podcasts will do for you, atleast, it really worked for us. You can answer bigger questions that your prospects or clients ask. If you have pretty famous people on that, that people know, It gives you a lot of social proof. So when you sell them, you just get right into the meat of it like, how can I help?

Where if you don’t have any of this, you have to kind of prove to the person are you even the right one for the job. A podcast, good case studies and some decent content, we’ll fix all of that. If you come to us, you’re not choosing us, we’re gonna look at we want to work with you because we have enough clients. The podcast makes that possible. I would say it’s a big piece of letting us be so picky. People will come and take, I listened to 10 of your episodes, I watched this and they’re like, I want to work with you. It’s right off the bat.

Before you go, what are the top three trends you think would be there for online course marketing this year.

I’m seeing a couple things. I’m seeing cohorts a lot. So instead of throwing someone into an online course and providing weekly coaching, I’m seeing a lot more organized community building within the courses. So we kind of come off of this as if you went to a digital conference and spent time with people for like a couple weeks. You might have an accountability, you might have a little team that you’re doing team projects on like, I’m seeing these little cohort things and they’re working really well.

Another thing that I’m seeing is people sort of moving away from these flagship courses and selling a lot of smaller things like Gumroad and stuff right. You’re not really using Udemy you’re not going on these, but you’re keeping all the true making and going bite sized very small. I’m going to solve a big problem that you have, and nothing else and people love this. I’m seeing a lot more of that. If you went like this in 10 minutes, I’m gonna help you all to speed up your WordPress sales page and within 10 minutes, you taught them this. I’m seeing this work really well and people are making very big money with it.

Another one I’m seeing which I don’t like, because it’s not an easy thing to do when people fail a lot. For some reason so many creators are trying to build schools. So instead of trying to build out just one course, or sell someone on a couple of programs, or a bundle, they’re going to create an entire educational field. There are going to be courses and I’m going to push people through like it’s a school and they’re comparing it to universities. I’m seeing them fail left and right. It’s a big trend.

I don’t know where it came from. I see a lot of people coming and be like, “I need your help with marketing. I have a school I’m trying to build.” I don’t know if I want to get into that. A lot of them will come back later saying like, okay, I picked the one course I’m gonna go after and then we’re gonna build a school. It’s like a very weird trend. I don’t know why but people are trying to build something that’s a little bigger that they can manage. I’ll give you an extra one to anything with homeschooling right now.

Tom, thank you so much for your time. It was fun having you.

If you’re in Chiang Mai, and I’m in Chiang Mai again, when this is over, definitely. I only hung around the time where the conferences are. We have one in Bangkok usually. If you’re around that, it’d be fun. Thank you so much.

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