How To Sell Online Courses From Your Own Website

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Throughout my career online, the one thing that has always been consistent - platforms come, and go, and they drag businesses down with them overnight.

Consider the Facebook algorithm change in 2018. Many businesses that relied heavily on organic reach to connect with their audience on Facebook, and suddenly saw a dramatic decrease in their visibility and engagement. That closed down a lot of businesses.

Even more recently, there was a big shift in Google's algorithm, and this absolutely killed some blogs that relied too heavily on organic traffic from Google. Even though their site was self-hosted, a simple tweak by another company destroyed their business.

Both of these stories share common pitfall - they employed strategies that depended too much on one thing. This created a single point of failure, and that point of failure was utterly out of their control.

And if you're using a course platform like Udemy, or LinkedIn Learning to sell your courses online, you're falling for the exact same thing. If these platforms make a change to their platform that benefits them, it might not benefit you. For example, Udemy infamously set a cap for courses to $50. In doing so, many course creators who had built their strategy on more-expensive, high-touch courses on the platform suddenly had to pivot. I'm sure many of them couldn't.

So the goal of this post is simple. I'm going to give you the tools you need to set up an online course on your website.

PS: I did a podcast episode on this topic, over on PartnerShip. If podcasts are your thing, this might be right up your alley!

The Pros and Cons of Using an Online Course Marketplace

There's a few things that make these platforms seem attractive on the surface:

  1. They're easy to set up - As a course creator, you can focus on developing your content while the platform takes care of technical details like payment processing, content protection, and handling refunds.
  2. They drive traffic to you organically - Hosted platforms provide you with immediate access to a built-in audience and marketing resources.
  3. They are generally reliable - These platforms offer a secure and stable environment for hosting your courses, ensuring your content is protected and always accessible to your students.

Which, heck, after reading that I'm like "whoa, I think I've changed my mind". That is, until I think about the cons:

  1. Revenue Sharing and Fees: Hosted platforms take a percentage of your course sales or charge fees, which can significantly reduce your overall earnings. (Udemy takes HALF, Y'ALL)
  2. Limited Control Over Branding and Customization: These platforms often come with constraints on how you can brand and customize your course pages.
  3. Dependence on Platform Policies and Changes: When using a hosted course platform, you are subject to their rules and policies, which can change at any time. (ya know, the entire opening part of this post)

This may surprise you (lol), but I strongly believe in owning your platform, because I think the cons far outweigh the pros. If you're using the right tools, you can sell online courses from your own website, and get all of the benefits of using a hosted course, without those nasty pitfalls. (Seriously, FIFTY PERCENT!)

Let's work through each benefit, and talk about how to replace them.

WordPress + A Good Host

To tackle the issue of having a secure and stable environment for hosting your courses, WordPress is a good choice.

WordPress gets a bad reputation for being non-secure, but as long as you keep it up-to-date (and the right host can do that for you!) you're good to go. There are several good hosts out there, just do a search for "managed WordPress" online. I've been using for a while now, and have had great success with them.

But honestly, if you're just getting started, any of them will probably be fine. Just go with what feels good to you. I used WPEngine for a long time (although I have to admit, they seem to be a bit slower these days)

WordPress supports plugins. These plugins extend what WordPress can do, and the next two sections are how you'll cover the other two major advantages of a hosted platform. In both cases, they're plugins that extend what WordPress can do in drastic ways. It's probably my favorite thing about WordPress (and honestly, I've kinda made my career on them).

A Learning Management System Plugin

Okay, so the thing that makes courses easy to build on hosted course platforms are called "learning management systems", or 'LMS' for short. And wouldn't you know it - there's a few different plugins that you can install on WordPress that will add an entire LMS, including the purchasing workflow, course builder, content restriction, and everything. It's wicked.

The two big players in the WordPress space are LifterLMS and LearnDash. They're both solid choices, however, I tend to reach for LifterLMS, even though it's seen as the less-popular choice. I go with it mostly because of how awesome the community around that plugin is. The team there really seem to care about your success, and genuinely love to help people build courses online. I've gotten so many great ideas just from talking with that team.

But, just like with hosting - take a look at both of them, and make your choice. You really can't go wrong either way.

A WordPress Affiliate Management Plugin

This last one is intended to help you get the amplification that you get from course platforms without needing to spend a fortune on ad spend in the process. You can create a partnership similar to what you would get with hosted platforms, where you pay a percentage of your sales to someone, and in-return they drive traffic to your website. What's nice about this is that you're only spending money when you're making money. In other words, you're paying for performance.

This is where Siren comes in.

We talk about this particular topic in a lot greater detail on Siren's blog, but the gist is you can create an affiliate program on WordPress. This plugin makes it possible for you to give people a special account on your website. Through their account, they're given access to a special link to your website that tracks the visitors who they direct to your site. When those visitors purchase your course, the affiliate plugin credits the affiliate who referred that visitor.

The cool thing? You don't have to pay a 50% commission - you can choose how much you pay, plus there's plenty of different program types you can run. You've got plenty of options, but for now, the key takeaway is that these partnership programs can not only replace the organic audience you'd get from a hosted platform, but it can diversify it, which is a pretty big win.


By leveraging WordPress, LifterLMS, and Siren, you can create a robust, independent course platform that maximizes your control and profitability while avoiding the pitfalls of centralized platforms.