Udemy vs. Self-Hosting – What’s Best For Your Online Course?

You’ve put a lot of time into creating your online course. You’ve wrote the scripts, shot the video, handled the editing, and you’re ready to publish.

But wait – what are all of these different marketplaces? Should you sell your course on Udemy? What about Skillshare? ULearning, Lynda, Teachable?

Should you go wide and get your course on all of these websites? Or should you keep it close and sell your course through your own website instead?

The truth is that there are a lot of options, and the option that’s best for you is going to depend on your own goals as an instructor, marketer, and entrepreneur. Let us explore several different strategies that the top instructors are currently using to maximize their revenue, so you can identify and choose whichever strategy fits your goals the best. 

Selling Your Courses On Udemy

udemy logo

Before we can make any decision at all, it’s important to know what Udemy has to offer, what drawbacks you’ll have to accept, and what makes Udemy unique vs. other options available.

The main benefit of selling your course on Udemy is exposure. Udemy does a fantastic job at driving traffic to your sales pages and then converting them into sales. They also run extensive retargeting campaigns through Facebook and email that encourages potential buyers to make the purchase.

This is obviously a huge perk, especially for those that do not already have an existing audience and need some help making sales. Think of Udemy as the Kindle for online courses – create a course on an in demand topic, optimize your sales page correctly, and you can be pretty certain you’ll make a steady stream of sales without having to do any additional marketing work yourself.

Steep Discounts

However, there’s a catch. A huge catch. Udemy will only go out of their way to market your course if you opt-in to their promotional programs. By doing so, you grant Udemy the ability to offer deep discounts for your courses, all the way down to $10 during various sales.

Considering Udemy takes 50% of the sale for traffic they bring, and 75% for traffic their advertising or affiliate programs bring, this can mean you’re making as little as $2.50 a sale during certain periods. Of course, that’s still an extra few bucks you never would have had before, but for those looking to maintain a certain price on their work, you won’t be able to do it if you’re opted-in to Udemy’s course promotion program.

This made even worse by the way Udemy’s search algorithm works, prioritizing courses with lots of recent enrollments and reviews. This leads to a ‘rich getting richer’ and a ‘poor getting poorer’ scenario – those who are receiving lots of opt-ins are going to continue to get additional exposure while those who are only making occasional sales likely will not be seen at all unless the course is on a niche topic.

Combine this with the fact that most people have come to expect heavily discounted prices, and you’re very unlikely to make many sales on Udemy’s platform unless you opt-in to their promotions.

A Good Choice For Beginners?

Despite the fact that pricing is a huge issue, if you are looking for exposure and are certain you’re going to host your content on another site, Udemy is still the #1 choice.

Udemy allows you to upload content easily in both video and text formats, while also having nice engagement features available like tests or discussions. This makes interacting with students a breeze and despite the fact that you aren’t allowed to do a lot with them (no emailing!) it’s still easy to give a great learning experience.

You’re also able to make your own custom coupons and keep 97% of the sales price for sales made through those coupons, so this can work as a viable option if you have an existing audience that you want to sell to. In fact, this is exactly what I started out doing for all of my courses that I promote here on Help Start My Site.

 

Going Wide – Skillshare, ULearning, Lynda?

skillshare

There has got to be at least 25 different course websites out there willing to host and sell your course – each granting their own little bit of exposure and the occasional sale.

But is it worth uploading to your course to platforms like Skillshare?

In all honesty, it depends on what you want to do. If your goal is volume and exposure, then going wide with your courses makes the most sense.

However, this can be even worse than just selling on Udemy if maintaining a minimum price is important to you. Skillshare, perhaps the most common second choice for course creators, operates on a subscription model similar to Netflix – customers pay a flat monthly fee and have unlimited access to the courses available.

This does mean more students and more passive income – about $1-2 per student on average according to Skillshare, but think about it from the buyer’s perspective. If you’re selling your courses on your website for $100 and your audience knows they’re also available on Skillshare, it would make the most sense for them to just sign up to Skillshare to take your course. You end up making $2 instead of $100 off of them as a result.

Is it immoral to price differently on other platforms? Not really. If the course you’re offering is still of greater value than whatever your highest price is, I see nothing wrong with it. Sure, it would suck to find out you could’ve gotten the same course for half the price somewhere else, but if you still found the product more valuable than what you paid, no harm done, right?

Self-Hosted Courses

Sometimes it makes the most sense to simply host the course on your own website.

The main benefits involve control. On platforms like Udemy and Skillshare, you have no control over your students’ data. You can’t get them on your email list, you’re limited with what you CAN share with them (affiliate links, promotional content etc.) and you have to follow a set of rules.

Not to mention, these companies can make changes at any times that you have no control over, or even any input on.

For example, Udemy recently made updates to their review system, and began asking students for reviews after watching as little as 2 videos in the course. This has led to either negative or nonsense reviews for many instructors from frustrated students who have not really had a chance to get into the course yet. Despite not seeing a single instructor support this system, Udemy is standing by it and there’s nothing us instructors can do about it.

The obvious downside to self-hosting your courses is that you have to drive all the traffic to them yourself. This is easy if you have an existing audience, an email list that’s growing each day, or you’re willing to invest money into pay-per-click advertising.

How To Self-Host Your Course On WordPress

If you have a WordPress website, self-hosting your course is really simple. All you need is a service to host your videos, and a payment processor and content protector to put your courses behind.

In terms of video hosts, Amazon S3 or Vimeo Pro both work really well. Vimeo Pro is much easier to set up in my opinion, but comes out to $199 a year. Wistia is another solid choice if you’d prefer to pay monthly, but it’s a bit more expensive annually.

In terms of a payment processor and contact protector, I personally use and recommend MemberPress. You can check out my full review of MemberPress by clicking here. If you’re serious about self-hosting your course, you’ll want to take the time to do so.

Zippy Courses is another solid choice, but I personally prefer MemberPress because it’s bundled with a built-in affiliate program called Affiliate Royale. This highly customizable plugin makes it easy for affiliates to promote your courses, and earn commissions for doing so. This is a great way to drive additional traffic to your courses while building your perception as an authority figure in your space at the same time.

Volume Vs. Margin

Which of these two are more important to you? Would you rather have 10 students who have paid $10 for your course, or 1 student who has paid $100 for your course?

If volume and exposure is your primary goal, it makes the most sense to get your course on as many different websites as possible. The more people taking your courses and seeing your name, your brand, and what you have to offer, the more who will eventually go on to become long-term loyal customers. I have gone on to sell hundreds and even thousands of dollars worth of services to students who originally discovered me on Udemy.

This strategy also leads to more people sharing your message and exposing their circle to your work.

However, if you’re good at marketing and you have a sizeable audience already, self-hosting may be the route to go. If you can sell the value of your course, you’ll likely make much more per customer selling it on your own website. Not to mention, you have far more control over your students, making it easier to promote later down the line.

Conclusion

It can certainly be overwhelming to decide where you should distribute your course.

The great thing about all of these options is they can be pursued at any time. If you don’t like how things turn out now, you can always try something else later.

I’d love to hear where you’ve decided to distribute your course, and what helped you make that decision. And as always, if you ever have any questions, please let me know!

 

– James McAllister

 

LEARN HOW TO TRIPLE YOUR WEBSITE TRAFFIC IN 7 DAYS!

About James McAllister

James is the owner of Help Start My Site. He started his first blog at the age of 11, and has since gone on to start several successful businesses. Here on HelpStartMySite.com, he shares his knowledge that brought him to where he is today. If you want to connect with James, like him on Facebook .

Comments

  1. Hi James,

    Another really helpful post.

    Although I’ve never used these platforms for my courses (I promoted them to my list, nothing more) I see big benefits – the back end. It’s always the back end. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if my net take was only a buck a sale, if the platform delivered lots of buyers I’d be a happy camper.

    Your review has expanded my vision, James. Come Easter I think I will use the holiday time to revamp one of my courses in preparation for listing on Udemy.

    Thanks so much

    Kim

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    Kim Willis recently posted…How to Use Effective Messaging to Attract Your Best CustomersMy Profile

  2. Hi James,

    What helpful information you have shared. I never tried Udemy because of the “rules” that made my head spin. I’m finding that putting up some low end WSO’s on Warrior has been building my list like crazy these days. Then, through my sales funnel they can be up-sold. I do find, to my surprise, that some will skip all the up-sell products and go straight to the most expensive one. Whoopie!

    I do it all on self hosted sites. I have a membership site that has been doing well. At first it was difficult to figure it all out, but just like anything else in life, once done, it becomes easier. That is one of the ways I have been doing it and so far so good 🙂

    -Donna

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    • Hi Donna!

      Funny you say that, because they just introduced yet another rule – you can no longer price your course above $50. Such BS that is. Screw ‘free market,’ right?

      Your approach is more what I’m going to be doing heading into the future. Never tried a WSO but this has made me appreciate control even more – and considering I am looking to develop a high ticket package this year, the upselling opportunities selling the courses myself brings will be nice.

      I was on the fence if I wanted to move everything to my site anyway, turns out Udemy made the decision easy for me. 🙂

        (Quote)
      James McAllister recently posted…Massive Action In Blogging Leads To Massive ResultsMy Profile

  3. Hi James,

    So far as selling courses on these platforms is concerned, I’m a complete newbie…my only experience with selling courses came when I started selling courses directly on my blog when I served the Nigerian audience exclusively.

    However, my dear James, I have learnt a ton from reading this awesome and thought inspiring entry of yours…when I am ready to start selling course again professionally (which should be just before the end of the year), I’ll keep all you have said here close to my brain and decide accordingly, especially the pricing ‘challenges’.

    Be certain to make the day great.

    Always,
    Akaahan Terungwa

    P.S.

    Your entries are always laden with deep insight, logic and experience…I always love stopping over!

      (Quote)
    Akaahan Terungwa recently posted…How To (Brilliantly) Tackle A False Scam Accusation OnlineMy Profile

    • Hi Akaahan!

      It’s funny, a few days after I published this post Udemy announced that they’re forcing instructors to now price their courses between $20-50. If this isn’t an issue to you, I’d definitely recommend considering them – my experience with Udemy prior to their string of unnecessary changes was fantastic.

      Of course, they seem to be going through a period of transition so I highly recommend investigating further when the time comes.

      Always enjoy seeing you here Akaahan, thank you so much for commenting!

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      James McAllister recently posted…How To Quickly Create A Minimum Viable Product For Your BlogMy Profile

  4. Hi James,

    Super breakdown here. Noted the deep discounts when I saw guys like Matthew Capala and Rob Cubbon sell their courses. They give you monster exposure though. Like Amazon, they take a heavy cut at times but expose you to a huge local audience potentially. To cross pollinate, I have a bunch of eBooks on Amazon but sell my blogging audio course on Selz. Selz takes a tiny 5% cut then the rest goes to me. Pretty well known site, and they don’t promote you a ton but when you grow your list and network the promoting takes care of itself.

    Thanks for sharing James!

    Ryan

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    • Hey Ryan!

      Yeah, the discounts have been pretty ridiculous although it looks like they’re going to start phasing those out.

      I do have a bit of experience with Selz, I used to use them to sell my eBooks. It’s a good solution for people wanting a quick and easy way to sell products to their own audience. Teachable and Thinkific are good solutions too for course creators specifically. I have considered all of them, but really I’m so paranoid about giving up control now that I’ve chosen to just host everything myself. The migration has been a lot of work, but it’s just about done and I’m looking forward to this new system!

        (Quote)
      James McAllister recently posted…An Open Letter To UdemyMy Profile

  5. Hey James,

    great article!

    I’ve actually done a ton of research on course hosting platforms since the end of 2015, which has led me to publish a guide about them last week. I’ll PM you the link in case you’re interested.

    Personally, I’m going to stick to self-hosting for bigger courses. Udemy’s behaviour is too corporate for my liking. On the other hand, I think marketplaces should be considered as a way to draw customers to your own site (even if they do try to make that difficult). Marketplace instructors definitely need to be aware that they’re building the platform’s brand, not their own.

    Gerfried

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    Gerfried Reis recently posted…Course Hosting In The Cloud – The Solopreneur’s WayMy Profile

    • Hey Gerfried! Thank you so much for stopping by and adding to this post.

      I’ve had to learn that lesson the hard way unfortunately. I was drawn to Udemy for the exposure and the passive aspects of selling but the truth is we have no control whatsoever and this has been made very clear by the recent pricing changes.

      “Marketplace instructors definitely need to be aware that they’re building the platform’s brand, not their own.”

      Absolutely true. They are not our students, they are Udemy’s students. I have gotten a bit of business from students that originally found me on Udemy, but that is the exception and not the rule.

      Fortunately I’m already bouncing back and revenue on my own site is about on-par with Udemy, with a lot more potential to grow as well. I’m very excited for what’s in store and I’m glad I made this decision!

      Thank you for sending me the guide, I look forward to looking through it!

        (Quote)
      James McAllister recently posted…The 7 Rules Of Selling All Bloggers Must FollowMy Profile

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