One year ago we launched our very first free coding course on Scrimba.com, an online learning platform which Sindre Aarsæther and I have co-founded. The course was about CSS Grid and it was highly anticipated, as we had built a waiting list of 10K people in the weeks following up to the launch. To date, over 50K students have enrolled in the course.
There are many reasons why the course has been successful, but an important one is undoubtedly the email list we built up beforehand. In this article, I’ll detail how it all happened, as I think there might be a few lessons to be learned.
An accidental strategy
To be completely honest, our strategy was pretty accidental. We didn’t plan to create an email list at all. Our plan was to launch the course first and then write a couple of articles about it to gain traffic. But thanks to a communication mixup, an article got published long before the course launched, which again kickstarted a very fruitful process.
You see, while I was in the process of recording the screencasts of the course, I wrote a draft for a 5-minute article which taught people the very basics of CSS Grid. It was titled Learn CSS Grid in 5 minutes, and I figured that it would attract the kind of people we wanted to enroll in the full course.
I submitted the draft to the freeCodeCamp publication for review and asked if they were willing to launch it on the same day as the course, which they were.
At this point, it bears to mention that I was already a contributor to the freeCodeCamp publication. I’d written articles about coding on Medium for the last couple of years, so I had gained an audience. This certainly made it easier for me and amplified the success of the articles. However, it would have worked regardless, just not as well as it did.
Anyway, thanks to a communication mixup at freeCodeCamp, my article ended up being published several weeks before it was due. This felt like a bummer at the time, but looking back, it was a blessing in disguise, as it taught me an important lesson on content marketing.
Quincy’s words of wisdom
I emailed with Quincy Larson about the mixup. He offered to pull the article and republish along with the course later on. However, we decided to just leave the article in the open, and rather link to an email form from it so that people who were interested in the course could join the waiting list. And when the course was due to launch, Quincy said I could simply publish another article about CSS Grid.
Then he also shared some words of wisdom from his marketing philosophy:
When in doubt, put out more
Here’s the email he sent me:
Given that Quincy has grown his audience to several hundred thousand followers across a range of different social media sites, this seemed like something I’d better take to heart. I also think it’s counter to how most people react.
When people are in doubt, they tend to avoid clicking the publish button. The truth is, you need to do the opposite!
In other words, if you’re unsure of whether or not you should publish a piece of content, the answer is yes.
Choosing the right subject
The Learn CSS Grid in 5 minutes article turned out to do exceptionally well. Within a few days, over a thousand had signed up, which crushed our expectations.
One of the reasons for this was that the subject resonated with people. At this point, there simply wasn’t much content on CSS Grid out there, as it was an up-and-coming technology which few developers actually used. This was a conscious choice. We saw an opportunity to become the go-to course for CSS Grid.
So the lesson to be learned here is to look for opportunities in the market. If there’s a lack of content on a subject out there, and you put a lot of time and effort into creating it yourself, it’ll pay off.
Looking for content inside your content
The success of the article and Quincy’s words of wisdom kick-started a hunt for more ways to write about CSS Grid. So I dug into the course content (which I’d created myself) to see if I could find material which would work well as standalone Medium articles. It turned out that it was filled with ideas for posts. I just hadn’t been looking for them.
Over the next month, I published the following articles:
How to make your HTML responsive by adding a single line of CSS
In this article, I’ll teach you how to use CSS Grid to create a super cool image grid which varies the amount of columns…medium.freecodecamp.org
They all did really well, gaining between one and five thousand Medium fans each.
The lesson to be learned here is to be on the lookout for content inside your business. These were all concepts I touched upon in the course, but I simply hadn’t thought of turning them into articles. Not until I understood how fruitful it could be.
This is, of course, easier if you’re building a course, book or something content-based. However, I’m convinced that there are a lot of opportunities for content creation in most businesses.
For example, when I worked as a developer for Xeneta in 2016, we did a machine learning project for lead qualification. This turned out to be a great thing to write a post about:
You simply need to train your mind into thinking about which data, processes, technology etc inside your business that other people might be interested in learning about.
Publish far and wide
If you look at the articles above, you’ll notice that two of them are published in freeCodeCamp and the other two in Hacker Noon. This is, of course, in order to spread the message to a wider audience. A simple yet effective trick which probably decreased the number of cross-over readers between the articles.
Another thing I want to mention is that I at one point started getting nervous that we were giving away too much from the course beforehand and thereby limiting people’s motivation for enrolling. This was obviously completely wrong. It was probably more like the opposite: for every article, people looked more ahead to the course.
Since learning this lesson I’ve stopped being afraid of other people using our content. So we started letting freeCodeCamp put all Scrimba courses on their YouTube channel. It’s one of the best traffic channels we have in terms of the quality of the visitors.
Using the list to launch successfully
In just a few weeks, our email list grew from 0 to 10 000 people, and on December 23rd we launched the course. We did this via the freeCodeCamp publication and framed it as a Christmas gift, which also worked exceptionally well.
The email list was critical in order to create buzz around the launch article, as it helped us get a lot of attention on social media. And since then, the course has been performing day in and day out. It’s still an important traffic driver for Scrimba.
So I hope you learned something from reading this article. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach to me out via Twitter.