This is a part of our teardown series, where we look closely at the strategies that successful membership sites use to acquire new members. The main takeaways are always included at the end of the post.
Laracasts.com is screencast training that specializes in teaching subscribers PHP and the PHP framework, Laravel (which Laracasts’ creator, Jeffrey Way, is a regular contributor to).
As you can see at the top of their home page, Laracasts touts itself as being “like Netflix for your career”.
Smart language used here. Who doesn’t know what Netflix is?
And more important is what everyone already understands about Netflix – tons of entertaining video content and an interface so simple that a five year old can find what they’re looking for. Jeffrey is teaching you a little something about the site’s UX right off the bat without you even knowing it.
He’s also addressing a pretty major frustration that people have with technical training sites. They’re boring. Like, really boring. Even for someone who is hell-bent on becoming a better developer, it’s hard to power through.
“Netflix”. “Get ready to binge”. “Concise”. These all culminate into a giant breath of fresh air for anyone who has suffered through free screencasts before.
Also, given the niche audience that Laracasts is meant for (see: working developers who don’t have a lot of free time), prioritizing conciseness and entertainment as major selling points is right on the money. It’s pretty clear that Jeffrey knows exactly who he’s helping here.
Some easy fixes to improve the home page
It’s not until you scroll further down the page and dig into the different teaching series that you start to get a sense of what type of development Laracasts teaches. There’s certainly room to make it more clear from the top of the home page that this is for anyone specializing in PHP and specifically Laravel. That will help the target audience feel like they’re in the right place much quicker.
Also, the graphic is a tad off. It does a decent job at communicating career development, but most of the iconography leans more toward design and generic concepts than it does development. It might be worth swapping a quick intro screencast in its place that delivers the 60-second pitch and showcases what sets them apart (the production quality and teaching style) right off the bat.
There’s a lot to love when you look through this site, but there were specifically two things that stood out to me about the way Laracasts acquires new members.
1. It’s one of the go-to resources in the PHP developer community
Like most online training sites, people first become aware of it when searching for an answer to a question. So let’s start at a simple search.
Not too shabby. But it’s actually when you get into these other results that you see the biggest strength of Laracasts.
I looked through several of these threads on Quora and StackOverflow, and on just about any question that dealt with learning Laravel, a referral to Laracasts was present.
This kind of organic word of mouth does not happen overnight. It comes from years of building trust among the community that you help serve. Jeffrey has no doubt invested hours into creating content for the PHP developer community, and the result is a reputation that brings him and Laracasts to the forefront of people’s minds when they think about the best option to learn PHP or Laravel.
Look at the ways he has contributed to that community (this is a part of Laracasts’ sales copy):
The takeaway we can learn from Laracasts here is you don’t just become a go-to authority on your area of expertise because you have a great site with incredible content. Yes, that is important. But you also have to spend time creating content that everyone can use, get value from, and share with their peers. You have to help improve the community in some way, and most of the time those efforts won’t make you a dime. It has to be seen as a long term strategy.
2. The paywall
The other thing that stood out to me was the ratio of training content that’s free to anyone and content that requires a subscription. This is always a tricky line to draw for membership sites, so let’s look at how Laracasts handles it.
Jeffrey and his team use an approach that I like to call the “101 pass”, where you make most (if not all) of the beginner-level content free to everyone. Then, as the concepts that are being taught become more advanced and inherently more valuable to serious learners (your best buyers), you apply the paywall.
As an example, let’s say you’re one of those people who is looking to learn the basics of using Laravel, and you followed one of the links from a Quora thread. Here is the training series you would land on.
Rather than just getting to sample the first few videos of the series for free, you get access to all 18 lessons (3 hours worth) of training. If you are at all serious about wanting to learn Laravel, you go through most of this content, coming back to the site several times over the next week, and really get used to Jeffrey’s style of teaching
You’ll notice that at the bottom of any of the free “101” series, there is suggested content (a classic strategy for giving people direction on how to continue learning).
There are still a few free series that he links to here, but a lot of those suggestions are subscriber-only content. This is a good natural flow that won’t feel jarring at all for the people who are really taking advantage of the free training series.
The “101 Pass” approach does several things for Laracasts:
- It keeps the most common entry points of their site open and free of any friction to referral traffic, so visitors are more likely to return to the site more than once and will have no problem with sharing that resource with others
- It delivers a lot of value while still protecting the subscription product
- It actually transforms people who are not yet ready for membership into someone who is a better candidate to buy
That last bullet is a big one. By providing enough free training to get them to the point where they are more confident and less likely to get discouraged in the early stages of learning, they are more likely to want to continue the training and see this as a worthwhile investment for their career.
If I was Jeffrey Way, this would be the next thing I would do to improve Laracasts’ sales funnel
- Create a free thing (lead magnet) to offer as an incentive for joining the newsletter
- Use the newsletter to segment people into two groups: beginners and professional developers
- From there, refine the messaging used for those two audiences, because both need very different sales pitches on the subscription and different timelines for nurturing them to sign up
[Wrap up] What to take away from what Laracasts does well
- Invest in building your own community as well as contributing to the larger community you serve. It takes time and some work that you don’t get paid for, but it pays off in the long run with organic referrals and a respected reputation.
- Know your audience and what sets you apart (your hook). Laracasts is not just for any developer, but instead for career developers looking for efficient and straightforward training.
- If your ideal customer is the person that is truly ready to invest in their professional training, rethink the “first one is free” approach and consider if the “101 pass” makes sense for your site.