Why Validate Your Online Course Idea

With all the people and platforms making it possible to become an online course entrepreneur, the space is getting crowded. There are numerous examples of people making a living selling courses about all manner of topics – crafts, yoga, book binding, dog training and more.  You can literally create an online course about anything – but would you want to?

Just because you may have a long list of online course ideas it doesn’t mean that courses covering these topics will sell.  So, the questions to ask every time you have an online course ideas is: Is this a course that will people will buy?  And if so, how many people will buy it?

To answer this, you need to conduct various types of research on your course ideas so that you will feel more confident devoting time, money and effort into their creation. After all, it may take you up to six months to develop your first course. You want to gather as much evidence as you can that people will not only be interested in learning what you want to teach, but that they will also want to pay for it.

The good news is that there is a host of free or low-cost ways – some quick, some not so quick – to choose an idea for your online course and validate its relative worth.  We have put together a list of these validation techniques in this article which you can use as a kind of checklist for course idea validation.

Generating Ideas and Narrowing it Down

Generally, there are two ways you could generate ideas for your online course:

  1. You pick a topic based on your personal experience such as knowledge you already have, a passion, an interest or hobby. This could also be a course based on a transformation you have undergone, such as if you have lost 100 pounds. Or a technical skill that you have learned.
  2. Look externally for topic ideas. Look at trending, newer topics that are not yet highly competitive and get in early. Or, pick a highly popular topic that has such a huge market you can carve out a place in it.

After you generate a few topic ideas, you need to determine what kind of demand for your potential course topic exists. This is called in the industry “course validation”.  It involves several steps How extensively you cover these steps is a personal choice.  It is worth the time upfront to validate your course idea in order to avoid wasting a lot of time and money on the back end.

Course Idea Validation Tools

Udemy Tools

Market Place Insights

It’s logical to start here (Note: You must create a Udemy instructor account in order to use this tool). Udemy’s Marketplace Insights will give you some topic suggestions, related keywords and categories. It will show you what topics are most promising in the current market – courses with high demand relative to the number of courses being offered.

You can also get some information on search volume trends and see what the quality, or ratings, of the current courses on offer are.  If the ratings are low, that could mean opportunity. It is useful for getting a gut feel for your topic ideas.  But you should really do more validation to be sure.

Udemy Search

Next, search for your broader topic idea on Udemy and examine and record the results.  Look at students enrolled, number of related courses, and read reviews for what students like and don’t like. Note what they say is missing in courses. Such comments might generate topic ideas.

Be sure to look at paid courses since you want to make sure your topic is one that people will pay for.  Doing a Udemy search will also help you assess your potential competition.

Google Tools

Google Adwords logo

Google Adwords Keyword Planner

This is the next easy way to gauge demand.  First, create a Google Adwords account.  Then go into Keyword Ideas and put in your course topic. Look at how close to your online course idea are the first page results.  What do the search volumes look like?

100 searches per month may not indicate a great demand, however 10,000 per month indicates the topic area might be attractive. If your broad course topic brings just a few hundred search results per month, try finding a more related topic that generates thousands of searches a month.

Also look at what other related topics people are searching. Don’t forget to add “course”, “lessons” or “workshop” to your course search terms to see if there are people who want to actually learn about the topic.  Finally look at searches over a 1-year timeframe so that you can rule out any seasonal demand.

Another indicator of demand in Google Adwords is the competition metric.  It helps indicate how many advertisers are vying for paid ad placements on the results page for a keyword search. “High” or even “medium” competition means the topic has a large enough audience that advertisers are willing to spend money to drive traffic using the topic.

Google Trends

Google trends chartThis tool shows a search trend view on any topic over time. If you have a few course ideas, you can compare search trends for them at the same time. Start with a broad view of trends related to your topic.  Then you can start drilling down into more specific search phrases related to your topic to gain some insights and compare.  Be careful to choose the appropriate geographic region if that applies.

If the Google trend search returns a message that there is not enough data on your topic idea, you will really want to dig deeper into your course validation.

Google Search

Search for courses related to your topic. Do ads come up? If so, that means that your potential audience is large enough for people to want to pay for ads.  Are there online schools offering courses? This could indicate demand, but also competition. You will want to investigate this competition further. Finally if videos come up for your topic, that too indicates possible demand and competition.


Amazon Kindle logoLook at the books on your topic.  How many are there? What are the reviews like and how many are there?  Make sure to search Kindle Store books especially. “Information” entrepreneurs often publish ebooks on very specific topics.

You can find out whether these types of books exist in your market, what people are willing to pay for that information, and whether they are selling well.  If the Kindle search results show several books closely related to your topic and if any of them has an Amazon Best Seller rank, then you really know your topic is popular.


Youtube logoSearch your topic on Youtube and gather the stats on the number of videos in your topic category, what kind of following they have, what comments are made and more.

Other Online Course Platforms

Skillshare logoLook on other platforms besides Udemy and do the same exercise.  Skillshare and Lynda.com are good examples. Be aware that some platforms such as Udacity are focused on more specific topic areas – in this case technology.  Search your course topic and find what the best courses are in your area are, what is the demand, what are people paying for these courses, etc.


BuzzSumo is a search engine that can show you what content is currently popular by topic or on a specific website.  You can see how popular a course topic you are considering is by typing your topic or keywords into the search field.

Buzzsumo will give you the articles and websites that are getting the most likes, shares, and links on that topic.  The top articles listed can potentially generate new ideas for your topic area.  These results will give you good insight into how popular a topic is and also where it has gotten traction—i.e., on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest.

BuzzSumo is not a free tool. But you can do a few searches for free each day and there is a free 14-day trial, which is plenty of time to research your course topic ideas.

Customers and Target Audience

Survey Monkey survey screenIf you are in business or working in a field that has customers, figure out what their biggest needs and problems are.  What questions do they always ask? What challenges do they face?  What do they want to know about your field?  What are they always asking for?

You can contact your existing customers  to find out by sending such questions or a small survey to your contact list. You can even ask if they would like to learn more about your topic of choice.

If you don’t already have customers, you can do something similar using surveys, such as Survey Monkey or Facebook polls. Use these to ask questions and find out what people in your target audience want to learn or know in your field.  If you don’t already have a lead list, you can offer a reward for filling out the survey or pay survey monkey to find an audience for you.

Forums and Groups

Quora logoLook for and join forums and groups related to your topic, such as Facebook or Yahoo groups to find out what interest level and how many people might be interested in your topic.  If there are several thousand people in a Facebook group, or regular and numerous conversation threads, you might be onto something.

In these forums and groups become part of the conversation and ask questions to gauge interest about your topic. Quora is a good place to see what is happening with your topic and what specific areas people are asking about. You can look at what related questions people ask and follow related topics.  You can post your own questions aimed at gauging interest.

Popular Quora topics tend to be ranked high in Google searches for that topic so if your Google search turns up a Quora result for your topic, then that is a good sign.


Download buttonWhether you are using an email list, sending out a survey, posting to a Facebook group or posting to your own website or blog, you can gather input and feedback about your potential course topic by giving people freebies.

Some freebies include:  checklists, a short webinar or tutorial, a blog post how to series, infographics.  Offer your freebies and then follow and analyze your traffic, downloads, and shares to help gauge interest in the topic.

Your Own Blog or Website

Blogger imageIf you have your own blog or website, then you are in great shape to gauge demand.  Look at which posts related to your potential topic attracts the most visitors, get shared and attract comments. If you have the time, write very pointed blogs about your topic in order to get feedback and understand what resonates with your audience. Go into the analytics and find out which blog posts are the most popular.  If you have a Facebook page, do the same and see what comments, likes and shares you get.

Other People’s Blogs

Blog wordsSubscribe to the blogs of other people who are already creating content related to your target topic area.  Particularly those with a significant following.  See what they are writing about, what the most popular posts are. Look at which posts get comments and draw the most interest.  Look at how many likes and followers the blog has.


With all these techniques available, there is really no excuse for not validating your online course idea.  All these techniques can be useful in some combination. The exact combination is up to you. As a rule of thumb, you should keep researching until you feel confident that enough people will want to buy a course on your chosen topic to make it worthwhile, or, you are convinced otherwise.

The important thing is to really keep track of the data that these tools provide and take the time to analyze it and draw conclusions – all before making your online course decision.

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