Are Free Udemy Students a Waste of Time?



I have frequently given out free coupons for my Udemy courses in the belief that the lucky recipients of these courses would come to know like and trust me and subsequently be happy to purchase new courses from me (albeit at discounted prices) in the future. But, is this true?

Using the Visokio Omniscope Viewer, I have collated the sales data for all my courses since I started on Udemy; 40,578 sales. Of these 5,251 were paid purchases of my courses, the remainder were free coupons.

Was this a good strategy? I honestly don’t know but I am going to try to find out!


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Firstly how many students in my community have never paid for a course?

By aggregating on the Student names and summing the instructor share (of income from course sales) I can see how many students have one or more courses and have not paid for any of them.

The data shows me 16,749 student names (which does not tie into my Udemy number of 25,000+ by the way; does this suggest that multiple accounts on Udemy are commonplace?) of whom 12,482 have never paid me for any courses. In addition, I do not have data for 266 students which suggests they are refunders, in any event not revenue generating for me!

This leaves 4,001 paying students, approximately 25% of the original total. When I dis-aggregate I can see that I have 8,402 sales of which 3,054 are for nil value, and when I move out more nil values (79) I am left with 5,269.

This data is shown in the diagram below.

Students Screen shot

What do I conclude from this?

Firstly I cannot see whether a paying student paid first and picked up a free course afterwards or vice versa. If one assumes a 50:50 split (for sake of argument) then another 1,500 free courses don’t count in the analysis.

This means that somewhere around 83.5% of my free students have never bought a course and probably never will.

So are Free Students worthwhile?

The only case I can make is that when you are starting out, free courses add a veneer of social proof to your student numbers and help other paying students to consider buying your “popular” course. This is of course somewhat disingenuous.

I can see the benefit of sharing your new course for free with existing “friends” and other instructors, particularly if you are encouraging (but not requiring) some of them to add ratings and reviews.

Other than that, No. Emphatically, No!

I would argue now that it is better to establish a clear policy of not issuing free coupons while being liberal with your discount coupons, even occasionally at $1 if that helps a new student to come in and join your community

We know that Udemy gives a disproportionate ranking to paid students over free students but we don’t know how much. In a funny sort of way, Udemy are playing the same social proof game with free students at a platform level as we are at an instructor level.

Focus instead on the following:

  • Optimising your course SEO to help your courses to rank and be found for your chosen keywords (and yes, you should be targeting specific keywords, even within Udemy).
  • Focus on Social Media promotion for short term accumulation of new paying students by running campaigns on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and, where appropriate, Linkedin
  • Build longer term backlink based connections in Social Media with content and coupon offers which will additionally strengthen your ranking back in Udemy. These also have the benefit of being long term links rather than short term campaigns.

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