How We Grew Our Online Course Search Platform To 600K Monthly Impressions

Janosch Herrmann
Founder, bestcourses
$100
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
bestcourses
from Berlin
started November 2021
$100
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
1.06M
alexa rank
48
followers
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How We Grew Our Online Course Search Platform To 600K Monthly Impressions

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey, I’m Janosch and together with Thomas, I co-founded bestcourses. Bestcourses is an online course comparison platform that allows you to find your next online course easily. We aggregate only courses from all major online learning platforms like Udemy, Coursera, Pluralsight, Skillshare, etc., and make them discoverable through our course search engine. We’re also developing a tool to find the right online learning platform based on your needs, as well as an easy way to find online learning deals. The platform is monetized through the affiliate commissions we receive from online course platforms.

We grew our impressions to 500k+ /month, and we’re currently making about USD 100/month from the platform.

bestcourses

What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?

I came up with the idea for bestcourses when I was looking to learn new skills through online courses myself. Since computer science is my major, I wanted to learn more about web development and I started to explore various online learning platforms that offered courses on topics such as JavaScript, React, TypeScript, etc.

I had experience creating and selling online courses on Udemy and Skillshare, so that was what I started with, but I discovered lots of other awesome platforms along the way as well. My thought was: “Why isn’t there an easier way to find online courses?”. I knew similar platforms in other niches, like ideals and Check24 (both of which are particularly well-known in Germany where I live), or more internationally known platforms like Skyscanner.

To me, the idea of making online education more accessible and transparent sounded great, and I felt it was the first product to build. The idea came at a good time since I wanted to work on a more complex project (before bestcourses I had only worked on small portfolio projects). I didn’t have a lot of experience, but since I had created and sold online courses myself, I knew what made a good online course (something that turned out to be helpful).

In the beginning, I didn’t have the time to do all the work myself, so I started refining the idea while looking for a co-founder. Last October, I met Thomas and knew immediately that he would be the right person.

We met a couple of times to discuss the idea, how we wanted to approach it, etc. After 2-3 meetings, we got right to work.

One thing that has served us well is building relationships with online learning platforms early on. We’re reliant on having good partnerships with our platform partners, so we focused on building those out right from the start, and it has helped us to get access to a lot of affiliate programs and lots of course data that we can now use to grow our platform.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

For the early MVP of the product, I used some of our competitors as well as similar products that I liked for inspiration. Here’s what one of the early prototypes looked like:

bestcourses

But the design itself wasn’t the complicated part. What we had to think about a lot harder was how we were going to get the data from the learning platforms, how we were going to rank the courses, and what the infrastructure for this was going to look like.

Fortunately for us, some learning platforms had APIs that we could use to get the data, but for others, it wasn’t as easy.

That’s why we started building out the platform with these initial platforms, and then continually started adding more as we built relationships with them and convinced platforms to allow us to index their courses.

With that in place, we just kept on iterating on the design and the data model to accommodate what we were trying to achieve. It was really helpful to set some boundaries about what we wanted bestcourses to be and what we didn’t want them to be, because online learning is a huge space and you can’t do everything at once.

Describe the process of launching the business

Once we felt that the project was ready to be published, we did a tiny “launch”. I don’t even know if you can consider it a launch because we just posted about the site on our Twitter accounts and told our friends and family about it.

Still, it did attract a couple of people to our site, which was enough to get some initial feedback. Our plan wasn’t to launch with a big bang, but to instead just put our work out there and then continually add to the platform, making it more valuable every day.

The awesome thing about bestcourses is that it’s a low-cost business model. Our only expense was purchasing the domain, and now we pay a couple of dollars for our hosting, but everything else is either open source, free or we built it ourselves.

That means that we can keep the lights on basically for infinity, and we don’t need to stress too much about making the business profitable. It’s profitable right from the start.

One thing I’d do differently though would be to launch the project even sooner. The earlier it’s out there, the easier it gets to build up an SEO reputation, the earlier you get feedback, etc. We kept things behind closed doors for too long.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

A key metric for us is the number of website visitors we get. The most powerful tool to facilitate higher traffic has been searching engine optimization. More than 90% of our traffic comes from search engines, so we focus heavily on creating great content and useful resources that can sustainably drive traffic to our website.

We do this through a mixture of automatically generated pages (like our topic pages), written content like our platform reviews, and other helpful resources like our course overview pages (like this one about a popular JavaScript course).

This has helped us to rank for a lot of long-tail SEO keywords rather quickly, while we’re building up authority to rank for more popular keywords.

Another thing that worked quite well was to talk to potentially interested people on Twitter. We built automation using Make.com, which filtered out tweets where people talked about online learning platforms. We’d collect these tweets, save them in Airtable and then go through them from time to time to answer questions. This helped raise awareness of our platform with people that we knew were interested in online learning.

Here’s an image of the automation in Make:

bestcourses

I’d say it’s not the best for our type of business (which is why we’re not doing it as much anymore), but it’s awesome if you have a SaaS or similar business with fewer, higher-value customers.

Consider programmatic SEO for your business. It’s something that has helped us rank for lots of queries quicker and continues to drive meaningful traffic to our website.

Overall, we’ll continue to focus mostly on SEO, but we’re also considering platforms like TikTok and YouTube to grow our user base through other channels and to lower our dependence on search engines.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today, we’re starting to establish the platform with a broader audience, and we’re seeing the early successes of that. Our organic traffic continues to grow pretty steadily, while we’re improving the search experience, adding new tools, and onboarding new platforms. We’ve started to earn a bit of commission from the affiliate programs we’re part of, but we want to grow this further.

Here’s a recent screenshot of our Google Search Console stats:

bestcourses

And here’s a look at our website stats from the past months:

bestcourses

These results come mostly from our SEO efforts, as we try to help online learners make better decisions. Most of the traffic comes through long-tail keywords that we’re able to rank for through programmatic SEO.

In the short term future, we want to launch our platform finder, as an additional tool for online learners. We’re hard at work building it and plan to launch it in the coming weeks.

In the long run, we’re working on improving our data, and we’re thinking about onboarding individual course creators as well.

We also want to improve the quality of our search results. They're already pretty decent for common queries, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Very long term, we’d love for this to be a viable & profitable business that supports us (Thomas & I), while allowing us to work on problems that spark our interest and allowing us to branch out into other ventures as well.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One thing that has served us well is building relationships with online learning platforms early on. We’re reliant on having good partnerships with our platform partners, so we focused on building those out right from the start, and it has helped us to get access to a lot of affiliate programs and lots of course data that we can now use to grow our platform.

Also, as a team of two, having clear roles and responsibilities is key in my opinion. For us, it made sense to have a clear split between the frontend and the backend. Thomas handles the backend, while I do the frontend, and this split makes us more efficient in our work, sets clear expectations, and is just overall good practice.

Especially for small teams, having these responsibilities is super important.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use two kinds of tools for our business. First up, we use a suite of tools as our tech stack, since we developed and built the platform ourselves. These tools can again be divided into the backend, frontend, and general purpose tools.

For our Frontend, we use React together with TypeScript, NextJS and TailwindCSS. Our Frontend is hosted on Vercel, which makes it super easy to make changes quickly.

Our Backend is built in Node/Typescript, with our database in Supabase and Elasticsearch for our search experience.

Other than that, there are some other software development tools that we use to support our work, which are:

  • GitLab: For Git workflows, CI/CD, and issue tracking
  • Sentry: For monitoring our application hosted on Vercel
  • Uptimerobot: For downtime alerts and to monitor our infrastructure

Lastly, we use a couple of other tools that aren’t related to software development, but instead, help us with other aspects of our work:

  • Notion: For longer-term planning, project management, and internal documents
  • Todoist: For managing daily to-dos
  • Zapier: For building automations (like the Twitter one I talked about)
  • Buffer: For scheduling social media posts
  • Ubersuggest: For SEO

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The two things that inspired me to launch an indie business are:

Indie Hackers: A community for people that want to build independent small businesses. A great resource to get inspired by other solo founders and small teams building awesome products

Twitter: There are lots of awesome people on Twitter that tweet about indie hacking, software development, SEO, etc. Here’s a selection of accounts that I follow:

  • @GergelyOrosz: Great write-ups about the tech industry
  • @PierreDeWulf: Posts about bootstrapping a software business
  • @yongfook: Again, posts about bootstrapping a software business

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The general piece of advice: Just get started and get your ideas out there. We took 3-4 months to work on the prototype, which wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do. Get your idea out there, get feedback and iterate quickly.

Something more niche: Consider programmatic SEO for your business. It’s something that has helped us rank for lots of queries quicker and continues to drive meaningful traffic to our website.

Where can we go to learn more?

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Janosch Herrmann, Founder of bestcourses
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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