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That’s Not a Course Bonus, It’s a Cheap Rummage Sale

by | February 7th, 2022

If you’ve searched for marketing advice for online courses, you’ve likely stumbled across the assumption again and again that you must be offering bonuses. But a course bonus isn’t always a good thing.

In fact, offering the wrong bonuses can reduce your conversion rate. So it’s important to think and plan carefully before adding them to your offering.

Unfortunately, there’s very little guidance out there on:

  1. What to include as a bonus (there are 4 ideal types)
  2. When you absolutely shouldn’t offer a bonus at all
  3. How to know if your bonus is helping or hindering the sale

So, let’s cover all of that now.

Gift box with ribbon and bow as a metaphor for a course bonus

When is a Course Bonus Not a Bonus?

When it doesn’t either:

  • Increase confidence around buying your course
  • Or increase their chance of success once they’ve bought it

If a ‘bonus’ doesn’t clearly serve one of those purposes, it’s a distraction at best. And a conversion-killer at worst. Because nothing flattens conversions like a sudden lack of resonance on a sales page. Like when your reader gets to the bonus section only to think…

“Why would I want that? Maybe this isn’t for me after all.”

The worst offender is usually what I call the ‘format bonus’. I’ve also seen it called a ‘consolidation bonus’. Or simply a bonus that isn’t a bonus at all, because it’s basically a core part of the main product, just offered later on the page.

Examples of format / consolidation bonuses include:

  • Bonus audio downloads of the video lessons
  • Cheat-sheets and checklists that summarise the content
  • Bonus homework or assignments to be completed by students

These assets can be valuable like woah. But they’re not bonuses. They’re the core content presented in a different format to help consolidate your lessons. Resources, not bonuses.

Presenting resources like this as if they’re bonuses causes what I call a ‘well duh’ moment on your sales page. (Well, actually I call them ‘well I’d f***ing hope so’ moments… but I try to keep things PG.)

So what does count as a bonus?

Hand holding up four fingers

The 4 Ideal Types of Course Bonus

Your core offer should be able to stand on its own and have a high probability of delivering the promised outcome without any bonuses. The job of your bonuses is then to increase confidence, maximise perceived value, and/or make their probability of success even higher.

If you don’t have valuable bonuses, don’t turn your sales page into a rummage sale. It’s better to have NO bonuses than a hodge-podge mix of old, low-value content that you dug out of your Dropbox archive.

The following types of bonus are the ones I recommend (in order) to clients.

#1 – Deep Dive Bonuses

The purpose of a deep dive bonus is to reassure your reader about a specific anxiety. In most cases, your audience will have one big objection or anxiety that holds them back from buying, because they doubt their ability in that core area. Find out what that area is… and offer them a deep dive on it as reassurance.

The objection you’re handling is:
“But I’m really worried about [specific topic].”

Let’s say your course teaches mountain bike skills—including climbing, jumping, technical descents, drops, cornering and more. But you know your audience struggles with bunny hops, a core skill that will make these advanced skills much more difficult if they don’t know how to do it.

MTB Example:

Bunny Hop Mastery –Always struggled with bunny hops? Worried you won’t be able to keep up with the more advanced skills if you don’t have this core movement nailed? Bunny Hop Mastery is a bonus course with 12 specialised lessons that walk you through every step of the bunny hop, including 10 drills we’ve used to get even the most flat-footed riders bunny hopping in as little as one week (even if you struggle to get your front wheel an inch of the ground right now!).

This bonus tackles a major objection and increases confidence in the purchase, so it’s worth offering even if your course handles this lesson adequately already (which it should). Conversions go up when anxieties are addressed directly.

#2 – Individualisation Bonuses

These are the most common bonuses for online courses. They offer students a way to get personal feedback and customisation as they work through your content. Examples include 1:1 coaching sessions, group coaching, Q&A sessions, live chat support, email support, and assignment feedback.

The objection you’re handling is:
“But what if I need advice specific to me?”

MTB Example:

Expert Troubleshooting via Video –It can be hard to know where you’re going wrong when a skill doesn’t quite work out, so our experts are on hand to watch your videos and offer personalised feedback on your approach. Sometimes a back foot needs adjusting or your weight is too far forward—we’ll watch your recordings and let you know where to adjust.

This bonus increases confidence in the purchase and their likelihood of success inside your course. They’ll feel happy knowing they have personal support if they need it, plus you can help them ‘course correct’ once they’re in.

#3 – Complementary Bonuses

Only offer these if the bonus itself is worth buying individually! This is usually the worst offender for ‘I guess I could offer this old piece of content from my archive of things I don’t sell any more’. Make sure bonuses are valuable.

Complementary bonuses should offer guidance on a topic that is parallel to your core topic. Ask yourself what other related areas might hold your audience back on their journey, then handle those issues with a bonus. 

A helpful prompt might be: 
‘There’s no point learning about [core topic], if they don’t also know how to ____________.’

MTB Example:

Be Your Own Bike Mechanic –Advanced skills like the one in this course require a proper bike set-up, and they also put extra strain on your steed. So it’s essential to know how to look after your bike between sessions. This bonus module covers cockpit set-up, maintenance best practises, and sag and suspension guides for all types of terrain and riding style—all so you can hit the more advanced stuff with total confidence in your tech.

Students would still be able to achieve success without this bonus. But it solves a parallel issue, so their journey to success in the core topic will be smoother.

Most importantly, this is a bonus that would actually sell (with the same audience) as a standalone product. It’s not just an old bit of content being repurposed and claimed as a bonus despite having no real sale value(!).

#4 – Next Step Bonuses

These bonuses offer guidance on what happens after your student achieves the main outcome of your course. So if your course is a beginner intro, this bonus helps them with some aspect of life as an ‘intermediate’. And if your course teaches at an advanced level, this bonus helps with some aspect of life as an expert in this topic.

A helpful prompt might be: 
‘Now you’ve achieved [main outcome], you’ll want to know how to ____________.’

MTB Example:

King of the Hill: Race Mastery –Now you can hop, rail corners, hit drops and manage technical descents… It’s time to put your new skills to the test against other riders. This bonus module will teach you the fundamentals of race strategy and technique so you can hold your own in competition when the pressure’s on. Paired with your newly-acquired advanced skills, this module will get you on the podium with the best of them.

There’s a real confidence that shines through when you offer a bonus that assumes your students’ success. And these bonuses do just that. Kind of like you’re saying ‘here’s a whole module on how to handle your inevitable success’. Power move.

And just like the previous types, it’s super important to make sure your bonus has standalone value. 
Would your reader pay money for this item as an individual product? 

If the answer is ‘no’, it’s not a bonus. 
It’s a rummage sale item. 
A page filler.

And it weakens your sales message significantly.

Offer genuine additional value with your bonuses… or your conversion rate will thank you for not offering them at all. And while you’re rethinking your bonuses, check out this post on course descriptions for a template that can also be used to pitch bonuses.

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