BEHIND THE SCENES: Course Cats Demo
There are sooo-o many choices out there when it comes to where to host your online course. And some are good and some are not so good. And then there’s that grey area where you really need to pick what’s “right for you and your business”.
But it’s super tough when you’re just starting out to figure out what that is. So let me help by explaining why I chose Course Cats & what I love about it so you can see if it’s a fit for you.
This is a hybrid solution – it’s not 100% self-hosted like Lifter LMS since Course Cats is a Plugin. This is very similar to ZippyCourses which I looked at as well.
What makes Course Cats a Hybrid
- Monthly Fee to use the plugin
- Technical Support so you’re not left on your own like self-hosting
- WordPress Theme
- Hosted on your own domain – in other words, it’s not prettyfabulous.coursecats.com
Here’s the landing page for another site I built in Course Cats
Indie Marketing Same Theme, totally different look & feel
Why I LOVE Course Cats
1 Technical Support
You have the entire Course Cats support team available via email to help you with any issues. They’re always responded within 24 hours and been courteous and provided solutions. Or simply fixed the problem for me!
PRO I send them my domain login/password and they’ll actually go in and fix the issue I’m having. If that’s not Technical Support, I’m not sure what is.
CON There is no phone support.
2 Beautiful Design & Layout
Ironically, this is almost identical to the original layout of my pre-Course Cats site: a large hero image above the fold with 3 call-to-actions underneath it.
PRO The theme comes with 4 page layouts already pre-designed for you that look great right out of the box.
CON There is little in the way of customization beyond that without hiring a developer or learning some CSS on your own.
NOTE I did hire a developer to change the CSS for the menu. The Course Cats logo is pretty tiny so the theme assumes you too will have a teeny tiny logo but mine is pretty wide and a lot taller than theirs and I like it that way. I hired a CSS developer to update my CSS to accommodate my larger logo.
3 Membership Plugin Integrations
This integrates with 5 of the major membership plugins:
- Member Press
- Paid Membership Pro*
*Despite the name of this plugin, it actually has a free version that integrates just fine with Course Cats.
PRO The Course Cats Guide walks you through how to set up each of these plugins but how to make it “pretty”. Out of the box, many of these membership plugins come with either 1) a masculine [**gasp**] looking login & registration screen or 2) redirects users to the standard WordPress login & registration screen [even more unattractive!]. But Course Cats has figured out a way to mask these screens with the colors, fonts and branding you’ve designated in your theme so it looks more cohesive and obviously: PRETTIER!
CON There is little in the way of technical assistance beyond that. Membership Plugins are where I spent 80% of my time in setting up this site and it’s still not perfect.
NOTE Course Cats themselves admit that this is the toughest part of the entire setup and it is! Get some help.
You can change the theme to your own fonts so that’s a big plus. However, I really liked the default fonts it came with and quite honestly, I love looking at fonts so much. If I had thought about customizing this part of the site, I’m not sure it ever would’ve launched.
- Main Font Gotham
- Script Font Selima
PRO Out of the box, it looks great but to customize it is pretty easy by finding the font folders on the back end and swapping them out with new web fonts of your choice.
CON You should know FTP in order to make this change and since I haven’t actually tested it out, it might require some developer assistance since the spacing of the letters for this theme assume you’ll stick with their default choices.
This is actually an older version of my site when I exclusively did 1-1 Custom Design Work
NOTE If there are only a couple areas here and there you want to use an alternate font, then just create a JPEG image and upload it that way. Then you won’t need to bother with the technical side of installing web fonts.
5 Intuitive Backend Design
Setting up an online course site isn’t easy. It seems easy when you look at other sites and wonder, why did they put that there. That doesn’t make any sense…in fact, this whole membership site is a mess. Well, Course Cats has it all figured out for you by taking your posts, in other words, your blog posts, and reconfiguring that part of WordPress so it’s a course page. Basically, you create course pages and then bucket them under an umbrella Course Name and you’re done.
PRO Your Course Pages are separated on the backend from your regular pages so you don’t end up with a huge list of Pages & Courses all mixed together.
CON The All Courses Page has no way of showing only enrolled vs not enrolled courses on a per member login basis. You can achieve this with the membership plugin shortcodes but the default All Courses button in the theme won’t go to that page. The only way for members to determine what courses they’re enrolled in is by going to My Account>Subscriptions.
6 Video Series
Have a mini-course you want to drip out over a few days? Then use their built-in Video Series to deliver it.
PRO You don’t need to purchase a separate solution like Thrive Themes or LeadPages or worse, program it yourself. It comes built-into the theme. These can be stand-alone pages that are not associated with any course, at all!
CON The rest of the page isn’t customizable like LeadPages’ Drag & Drop builder.
7 Landing Pages
It’s another opportunity to create a stand-alone page to help you list-build or sell a single course or product. Remember landing pages do not have menus in the header row. Which means that these pages do not have to be associated with any course or even your site.
PRO Just like the Video series…You don’t need to purchase a separate solution like Thrive Themes or LeadPages or worse, program it yourself. It comes built-into the theme. These can be stand-alone pages that are not associated with any course, at all!
CON The rest of the page isn’t customizable like LeadPages’ Drag & Drop builder so creating a super long, tall Leadpage is not something you’ll be able to do out of the box with Course Cats. It’ll require some programming on your end to make that happen.
Definitely go with Course Cats if
- You value beautiful design & layouts
- You like the overall look & feel of the Hero + 3 boxes below layout
- You do not want to share a % of your revenue with a course hosting platform
- You want an easy to use solution
- You like having a built-in Video Series & Landing Page options
- You like having Sales Page templates
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Hi everyone. I’m Lisa. If you’re watching this, you’re probably, like me, you’ve been looking at a ton of different tools. It’s August 2017 when I’m recording this, and I have been looking. When I say looking, I’m actually trying out, paying for trial memberships, and maybe even paying for a non-refundable services, of trying out Zippy Courses. I’ve tried out Teachable. I’ve tried out Thinkific. You name it and I have tried it, because I’ve heard good and bad things about different platforms and different membership plugins and different checkout tools. So I have really spent probably the majority of 27 just tooling around with different things.
This is not a tutorial. It’s just an overview, because I really wish someone had given me one of those when I was looking for Course Cats, because there really wasn’t a lot out there, so I couldn’t really see what I could do with it until I got in and started using it.
This is what I think a beautiful site for my course for indie marketing for authors. I even used Course Cats to create some regular pages, like my about page. This was created in Course Cats. I think it looks great. I didn’t have to hire a developer. I was able to do all of this on my own.
Another course I created, a totally different site over here, is Pretty Fabulous Designs, which has a completely different look and feel from the other one. It does have the standard three boxes at the bottom that is kind of standard for Course Cats, but I actually really like it. It converts very well. It’s a great list builder. I don’t know that I would’ve changed it on my own site anyway. To put it in perspective, my regular website, before I even got Course Cats, looks like this. So it was very similar to what you see in Course Cats anyway.
Over here, you’ll notice that there is a login button. Oh, wait, before I go there, you have a call to action. This, I was using before. I was using Hello Bar at the top. This is branded with Hello Bar. Over here, I don’t have to brand it, because it was a part of Course Cats, and this is a feature that you can have inside there. So that was really nice.
The second thing is, when you go to the login screen, it’s super simple. Just email, password. I honestly, I think this is determined more so based on your membership plugin, but Course Cats had a way to mask that, and you can use short codes in the back, so you can make your login screen pretty instead of, otherwise, I think it defaults to a WordPress login, which is not very pretty at all.
Over here in Courses, you’ll see that I have all my courses, and let’s say someone wants to sign up for my InDesign 101 course. They can go over here. This course right now is free, but I was able to make a really simple informational page. I didn’t put a lot of effort into it, because it is free, so I didn’t really need to do a hard sell, but when they click Enroll Now, this is probably more my membership plugin more than Course Cats, but they can put in exactly … It’s super easy. It’s whatever information I add. I even added some custom fields, like I ask people what their Etsy store name is, and what their Etsy URL was. Then they can sign up.
Now, once they log in, the screen does look a little different. Over here, you’ll notice you can change your menu. I changed mine so it just says All Courses, My Account, and Logout, and that’s it. It has these little shortcut icons. This is obviously a search. This goes to support, and this just logs them out. So the locked just signifies that they’re logged in.
You’ll notice it does create a second menu down here at the bottom, which I actually really like. I created all of these. You can specify whatever you want here on the bottom. You, obviously, can customize the hero image here at the top, and the words.
If we go into, let’s say we go into InDesign 101 as the course. I could’ve added a sidebar over here, but I didn’t, just to make it simple. Let’s just go into any of these, so let’s go into Lesson One. I added my video up here at the top. Inside here, remember I said that the menu changed? So you can see I can jump right back out into InDesign 101, or I can jump back into any of the lessons from here.
I also created a sidebar, which I feel looks really great. You can customize these as well, over here on the right, to show anything you want. You can jump around to different lessons inside over here without having to use this menu over here at the top.
Another thing too is if they are in more than one course, they can just go right back out here and then jump into a second course. This is my Planner 101 course. Inside here, same thing, you have lessons, you have extras. I put resources. These are just things that I made up. You can put anything you want down here. In this different sections, you can make these boxes as tall or as short as you want. You can change the colors on these boxes. All of the colors and branding on my site is mine.
The only thing you can’t change … I shouldn’t say you can’t change it, you could change it. If you are able to do a little bit of programming, it’s actually not that difficult, you can change these fonts. These fonts, I believe this is Gotham, but don’t quote me on that. These fonts can be changed, but the way the theme works is it does take these fonts and, when you specify Header One, Header Two, it’s going to default to use these. Same thing as if you had regular theme, and you had defined your different headers and your paragraph and all those things like that.
Let’s talk about how you create this page. It’s so easy to create any page you want. It’s just like a regular WordPress site. You’re going to click Add New for add a page. Over here you can name it anything you want, so let’s call this a demo page. Over here they have some templates for you, a landing page, plans and pricing, sales pages. If we go, let’s go to sales page.
Once you change this to sales page, you’re going to see all these different options here on the left that are kind of guide you on how you want to design your page. We’re just going to do a regular page.
Something else cool too I should notice is a landing page. Landing page is basically what lead pages does. It takes away the menu. So the user’s not distracted with wondering what they’re looking at. It simply is just a hero image or you can have a hero plus content, and that’s it.
If you don’t know what a hero image is, let me just show you over here. Let’s just do a hero image only. You’re going to click here over to hero, and you’re going to add an image. We’ll just pick any image that I have over here in my media library. We’ll say okay, and then we’ll go ahead and preview that.
This is the landing page. There’s no menu at the top. There’s not that Hello Bar function, that call to action. It’s just my hero image. Let’s say I wanted to, my message on here would be, “Buy my course.” That’s all I want to say to you is, “Buy my course.” Let’s say I want to format. I can center it. There’s different headers. Remember I said they’re predefined? Let’s say I want it cursive text, so I could come over here and I could say cursive, and it’s going to change that into more of a script font. Let’s go back here again and preview that. There we go. It says, “Buy my course.” It’s obviously pretty small. Maybe you can’t see it, so we might make it something bigger. But you get the idea. That’s kind of how it works.
The other cool thing is, if you notice on my page, I had a lot of buttons. It’s so easy. If I want to make this a button, all I have to do is go over here and say button, and this is now a button. It has all of the formatting already built in, so I don’t even have to worry about this.
Let’s just move this to trash. We don’t need that page.
Courses. Courses are really easy. When you go over here to Courses, you are going to have a separate section. This is really like blog posts. This isn’t a blog, just first of all. Instead, what they’ve done is they’ve taken the section that normally would be blog posts, and they’ve called it Courses. Over here, you can see my InDesign course and all the child pages underneath it; the planner course and all the child pages underneath that.
Let’s say we want to go into any of these, or create a new page … Let’s create a new page. Over here, it makes it so easy for you. Over here it’s going to ask you where the sales page is. The reason it asks you for the sales page is, if someone doesn’t have access to it, it’s automatically going to default to send the user to that sales page, so you don’t even have to worry about it. It just programs it in for you.
That preview image, it’s going to show you a little box you can put your title in here. Over here for the hero image, like we saw before, I could put any hero image I want. This is automatically going to build the course for you. What’s kind of cool is, and I know this is hard to grasp as a concept is, I’m going to create pages within my courses, and as long as I make those child pages underneath this big header, see how they have the little dash? It’s automatically going to put it underneath that course, and then when I go out to my website … You can see InDesign 101, and I go to All Courses. Inside here, it just intuitively knows what to put underneath here, because I’ve specified those as pages underneath, inside there.
It’s so, so easy. I can’t even tell you how easy this is. I’ve tried a ton of different things. I know Teachable was not that difficult, honestly, but it also wasn’t that pretty. When people say, “Oh, things kind of look like … You can tell it’s a Course Cats site.” Yeah, maybe, but I can definitely tell when something’s a Teachable site or a Thinkific site or a Teachery. Those definitely are not pretty at all, and you cannot do as much customization. Again, for me, this was obviously the better solution. Obviously, you could see I use MemberPress. All these different pages, you can see the different accesses that you can specify with MemberPress. It was really, really easy to set everything up, including my shopping cart, which I can show you more of that.
If you have questions about Course Cats, let me know. I do have an affiliate link. If you do use the affiliate link, please, please sign up for a consultation session with me, so I can give you an orientation on Course Cats.
I also have a course to help you just think through how to organize your content, because the hardest part for me was … Course Cats did have a pretty good manual on how to use it and lay out the pages, but the person teaching it was a developer, and he very much just assumed that you had your course all laid out. When you think about laying out your course, when you teach it in a college class, which … I have been a college professor. It’s much easier, right? I have a syllabus. I talk about things. I put things on paper. I just tell people when they come to class, and I gave them assignments.
When you put stuff online, you have to think about it very differently. I have tried to walk you through that entire process, and the questions that you should ask yourself before you even start trying to design anything in Course Cats. I promise it will make it a thousand times easier if you have it laid out ahead of time, exactly what the top course is over here, what the lessons are underneath, what order they go in, what sort of bonuses you’re going to give out, and what goes into those sections, whether or not you’re going to drip feed the course.
Then just talking about the membership plugin in general, that alone I think I recorded 12 different modules of two or three minutes each, just really quick lessons of things that you need to think of, how you’re going to organize that membership, how the rules are set up, and how people are going to pay, is that going to be a subscription based, right? There’s all these questions you need to think about before you start trying to put stuff in online, to make it look pretty.
Once you get that workbook done, it is going to be, I can’t even tell you, it’s going to be two seconds to get it done, or two seconds for you to give that to somebody else. It’s not even Course Cats. It’s really any … Teachable, Teachery … Anything out there, as long as you have your content organized like that, it’s going to take you two seconds to put that online.