Episode 194

Using Elementor to Build Well Designed Online Course and Membership Websites with Ben Pines

Learn about using elementor to build well designed online course and membership websites with Ben Pines in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Ben and Chris dive into the advantages Elementor opens up for your site, and the unique functionality and opportunities it brings to the table.

Elementor is a page building software for WordPress that allows users to be able to edit content on their website in a very simple manner. The Elementor visual editor is built so you can interact with it on the front end of the site, which makes it easy to tweak and adjust the way your site works.

using elementor to build well designed online course and membership websites with Ben PinesElementor launched two years ago, and it really took the WordPress community by storm. Elementor currently has over 900,000 active installations. You are no longer confined to just what is inside the frame of your website. You can control all of the static content on your site, but you can also control the dynamic content with Elementor. You can use Elementor to edit the header, footer, archive, single posts, and more.

One awesome feature of Elementor is the templates. You can create layouts then save and export them so you can add them to other parts of your sites or another site. Elementor also has what are known as blocks, which are a new, flexible way to build WordPress sites. Blocks are simpler, and you can customize them more than you can with templates.

The companies that create software products often are not the people who make the best training for how to use them. Chris and Ben speak to the importance of education for your product and the opportunities available to course creators.

A strong community around your products and services is important for growth. Chris and Ben share some experiences they’ve had dealing with their communities online, and how they go about creating a manageable environment for their products.

It can sometimes be tough for course creators and membership site owners to figure out what to focus their marketing campaigns on. Ben shares some insights about marketing he has learned as the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of Elementor.

To learn more about what Ben Pines and the Elementor team are up to, head to Elementor.com, and you can find the Elementor Theme Builder at Elementor.com/Theme-Builder/.

Head to LifterLMS.com to find out more about how you can use LifterLMS to build your own online courses and membership sites. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Badgett: Hello and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name’s Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest, Ben Pines, from Elementor. How you doing, Ben?

Ben Pines: I’m great! Thanks for having me.

Chris Badgett: Absolutely, we’re recording this in the Spring of 2018. I just checked, Elementor had over at this point seven hundred thousand downloads, so you’re moving right along.

Ben Pines: Yeah, fingers crossed to 800.

Chris Badgett: You just recently came out with a theme builder. I just wanted to start with that. The LifterLMS community and just the course building membership site community in general is really interested in what’s going on with page builders and where Elementor is going and their free plugin does so much, and then you’ve got the Pro. But what is this theme builder all about?

Ben Pines: Two years ago we launched Elementor, and we really kind of swiped the WordPress community. Because we offered a really fast and visual way to edit content of your website, but there was still something missing and we spent almost a year developing the next stage, so

you’re not just confound to what’s inside the frame of your website. All the static content of your website. You can design every dynamic part of your website. If you told me that five years ago, I’d say it’s really a dream. Dealing with the header page screen, footer page screen, archive, single posts, these are things that what usually designers do. Either stop what they’re doing and start dealing with code or just give it to the developer and wait and wait and wait. And now they don’t have to. It’s all inside Elementor in a really smart way that we kind of figure out.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I totally get what you mean. It’s great to have a page builder in the content, but there’s all these other parts of the website. What’s possible with the header and the menu area as an example?
Ben Pines: Actually everything. Yesterday I had a webinar where we show the basic usage of anything you’re using. You just create a template. It automatically clicks into the right area of the header or footer and you can put anything you want. If you want to put a search bar, you want to put the menu widget, your site logo, even if you want to put you know, slides or social icons, you have no restrictions. WordPress users got used to site logo, menu, search bar.
Chris Badgett: Right.
Ben Pines: I think in other platforms it became the thing to create more imaginative designs, where, let’s say you’re building your personal site, and you want the header to be as big as the screen and amazing with your image and your social icons not in the default layout. So now you have that freedom and it really brings a new announcement to the entire WordPress community.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that is awesome. And if we take a step back and even go more philosophical or theoretical what is happening right now in terms of themes and Gutenberg and page builders? From what you’re describing the theme has less and less to do. Which I’ve seen happen over time, and that’s what makes tools like Elementor so awesome because it brings the design chops not necessarily the theme. Where are we going, what transition are we moving through here?
Ben Pines: A lot of people are confused and we get a lot of questions, “okay how do you stand in terms of Gutenberg?” We are continually building Elementor as an advanced platform for design. So you can design anything and Gutenberg I think is a necessary thing, I think it’s a great thing to empower WordPress users so they have the best content creation experience. If you’re writing a blog you just want something that you can see the result in front of your eyes, you put the image whatever you need.
I think Elementor is already beyond that. As we progress, it will even evolve further. Two things I can give, we talked about the header and footer which is still kind of static because you might have the same header across your site. But if you’re talking about your blog design, like the main blog page or a single blog post, designing it is something that you couldn’t do in a static way like you create a landing page. Why, because you want to create it and every new post you create or your four hundred thousand posts that you previously made you want it to attribute the new design template to those pages. Or attribute different designs to different categories, just as an example.
This is possible with our theme builder, there’s no indication that’s the direction of Gutenberg. I think it’s a clear divide, I think we get most of these questions from less involved users. People just hearing about Elementor because we get a few thousand new users every week. The people inside the community, inside our Facebook group we don’t hear those questions because it’s obvious.
Chris Badgett: Well that’s really good, I appreciate that. What does it look like when you combine Elementor and WooCommerce? If I have an eCommerce site what does Elementor open up for me?
Ben Pines: I think two huge advantages. One we’re already brought and WooCommerce is the second one that will come shortly. And one is knowing better you can start using, which is the ACF integration. With ACF if you have the plugin you can create a course website you have the info that is input by the user, by the contributor it could be someone non technical. Then when they publish it the design behind that used to involve the same grading template and the developer had to implement what you created in the plugin in ACF and transform it into code. Now you can actually do it in Elementor, in the theme builder. That’s one thing, and WooCommerce is the same, and you have your main shop page, your product pages, your category pages, checkout. Every one of those pages that gets products equals dynamic content. Now that we have that ability it’s only natural that we progress for it.
Plus I think the new way of designing product pages, once someone goes through that process, it’s very hard to go back to hand coding. I showed in the webinar yesterday, how you, if you search Google, how to create the header page pic you get a long list of code. That’s the huge thing we work on for so long, and I’m really happy for the result.
Chris Badgett: I was just listening to your podcast episode with Troy Dean, which is great. You guys were talking about how, and I remember this because I used to do a lot of this. Websites used to come from Photoshop, and you would slice it up and do all this and it would take a long time, but now you can just crank it out on the front end fast with Elementor which is super cool, super innovative.
Ben Pines: Yeah I remember the tutorials that showed okay your header let’s cut, and that’s something that is still a problem in some of the CMSs, not so much in WordPress but in some of the CMSs it’s still a problem because the thing is when you created it in Photoshop, you didn’t work with a layout grid, so you had to measure everything. It gave you [inaudible 00:09:04] abilities you want the button here a tad to the left you just drag it to the right place.
But there’s a huge disadvantage here because it makes you a measurer because the grid layout is really an amazing concept. I have to check who first came out with it, but when you have the grid then you can snap everything in place really quickly. If you want to make any changes to the layout you just add in some padding and margin. That’s I think another thing that needs to click for a lot of people.
For me I wasn’t aware of it until, I was creating websites but I wasn’t really into it until I really understood it more deeply.
Chris Badgett: One of the other strengths I see with you guys is the template library. You just have a huge massive set of templates that people can use for starting points for all different types of landing pages and niches. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with that and how you choose which templates and how that evolved?
Ben Pines: We launched the library a few months after we launched Elementor. Templates are quite common, the great thing about our library, is the easy way you can save it and export it and use it wherever you want. You can create your own templates and then reuse them. The first instance was the templates, full page templates. So if you want a landing page you browse though and you create it.
It’s great, it has some advantages, and some disadvantages. And the disadvantage is that, you get a complete set. So whichever template you’re using its kind of hard to go out, add your images and have it work perfectly. It’s a challenge you need to understand how to do that. And that’s why we came up with a progression of the library, which is the blocks.
So with the blocks, you get small templates of sections. You craft the page according to your need. You need a block for testimonial you can choose from a block for a call to action and this way you gradually built your site, and you can mix and match them and switch them around and you build your own theme. They’re pretty easily built, unlike templates that need to look gorgeous once you click insert. Blocks are more thought of in simple ways, so you can customize them and then add your own touch.
Chris Badgett: That’s super cool. I was talking to somebody in my community a couple weeks ago who was working on figuring out how to create Elementor templates for courses and lessons that they could then resell. They were doing some kind of just template library for course builders and they were building it out with Elementor. It’s really amazing how many course builders are really getting into Elementor. I see them talking about it a lot.
We have a weekly office hour mastermind call that we do, and people are often sharing what they figured out how to do in Elementor. I just find that really cool how the community’s evolved. Let me ask you about, I’m in a similar boat, I have a very powerful free plugin, and we have paid add-ons that go on top of that. That model’s worked out really well for you. You’re slightly different, I think you’re not an add-on model, because you have a pro version. Well its kind of the same. What are some lessons learned along the way for you as somebody who has such a strong freemium offer?
Ben Pines: I think one of the great challenges is actually what you do. Like courses. When you have great product, what is left to do actually? What I’ve learned is that, I’m the CMO, I’m in charge of marketing, but in some respects like doing education and of course getting assistance from other affiliates to do the education for you in some way. It’s a must because people need that guidance, that step by step. I think that’s a huge part. We keep trying to evolve in that department. I used to make the tutorials, and now we’ve hired someone with a better voice, and better teaching skills than me. It’s something that definitely should be at the top priority of every plugin and developer.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I’ve notice that just in general in WordPress outside of WordPress. A lot of software companies do not have great training. It’s often like another company or an entrepreneur that makes training courses, but when you invest in training people, how to use the tool, and onboarding everything like that, it’s very helpful but its easy to have that go to the backlog.
Ben Pines: I think that touches upon another thing that when you have a plugin there’s so many challenges in terms of marketing or growth that sometimes you get overwhelmed and you end up not doing anything. That’s the number one challenge that I had along the years even before joining Elementor, like understanding how to pick and choose and follow a path that will lead you to the success, because there are a million ways to succeed. I think one of the ways you can do that is you need to make sure that your audience is with you. So you need to communicate with them and our strategy is that you get certain opportunities to market. For example if you release the new feature, so you’re already into that feature and spreading the news and you’re into it, you have the energy it’s a great time to spread it out. Write the best blog post you can about it. The best video.
We actually focused almost our entire marketing efforts on releases. So releases for us are a big deal. That’s one thing that we’ve focused on. And the other thing is celebration. People love to celebrate events. I think if you have a course and you align it to certain dates it can really boost your sales. With the header builder and you can create a top bar for Christmas, Earth Day, I think Google are great at doing it. You go to the search results you see those doodles. It’s not by chance, because people have a certain respect. If you know how to celebrate. It’s like being a host and having guests over. You’re celebrating, you’re happy and that’s cool.
Chris Badgett: Yeah there’s like that little snow effect that comes across the screen sometimes, and stuff like that. That’s cool, I’ve never thought about celebration. That’s a neat angle for marketing.
Ben Pines: We actually have a tutorial showing how to do that snow effect in Elementor.
Chris Badgett: Oh do you? I actually just thought, I bet they can’t do that in Elementor, but I guess you can.
Ben Pines: It’s a bit of JavaScript, but it works.
Chris Badgett: That is awesome. Cool, well I wanted to ask you a unique challenge that you have, that I have, that WordPress has, is you’re trying to build a tool that works for newbies and advanced users. How do you solve that problem?
Ben Pines: We always think about usability and UI, I think that correlates to all audiences, but our target audiences are designers and web professionals. So you don’t have to be a designer on Dribbble and have a reputation to be the best designer, you can just be a web professional that earns money from creating websites. Or creating content online. This is our target audience and this is what guides us what to focus on, and of course, I’m not claiming that seven hundred thousand plus of our users are web professionals, but they’re enjoying the benefit of what we aim for which is that professional audience that need the fastest workflow. They don’t need any interruptions of code and of stalling and loading. They need to work in the most optimized way that is also fun of course for them.
Chris Badgett: That’s super cool. One of the other great things I’ve noticed about Elementor and one of the things we talk about a lot on this show, often with course creators, but we’re software people and this matters too which is community building. How do you approach the Elementor community? I know you have a Facebook group. I’ve heard people say great things about your support. I think you guys do a lot of WordCamp stuff maybe, but what’s your community approach?
Ben Pines: We put a lot of focus on a great support and developing. I personally am also involved in developing a great and supportive community and as we develop I talk about the Facebook community. I kind of picked and chose the key figures that would lead the community. I’m talking both about admins and mods but also people who are involved on a daily basis and we try to encourage them and help them whatever way we can.
We found some really amazing people, to tell you the truth I don’t understand how really they can invest so much time, energy and thought into the way they do things. They taught me also the proper way too. Because when you create a Facebook group, it’s not going to be clear waters. Think of it, it’s 15,000 people from all over the sectors join together and talking. There will be a few frictions, and this developing understanding and flexibility developing your guidelines that will determine how you will lead that group is very important
Otherwise you just make mistakes and get people angry. It’s really a huge achievement what we’ve done in the Facebook group. [crosstalk 00:21:13]
Chris Badgett: I was just gonna say, I think that’s awesome. There’s a certain amount of conflict that happens. I’ve noticed this in our Facebook group. Between different people have different opinions or perhaps somebody will say something that they probably wouldn’t say in person about the software, or like a strong opinion or something, that might be negative or whatever. That’s just community that’s how it works, you see people step up and if it’s something where there’s a misunderstanding somebody else will correct that person and be like no actually it works like this. Or maybe you should submit a support ticket, whatever it evolves. But you had something else to say. Go ahead.
Ben Pines: On that matter, I remember one poster saying “why choose Elementor?”, then a whole string of people saying I think it’s great. It’s a great way to know for us to improve our product. But we do have zero tolerance for if someone behaves badly to another community member. So for that we had from the start zero tolerance, you’re out. So it’s sometimes difficult because you get people that are involved and when they go off track you have to do some tough decisions. It’s important.
Chris Badgett: That makes sense. Just a few more questions. You made it to the bonus round where I’m just going to ask you some things I’m curious about. What advice do you have for scaling? Like you guys have had fast growth and you’ve had to deal with all kinds of scaling issues, from team, traffic, the volume of inquiries and support and everything. What have you learned along the way as a fast growing company?
Ben Pines: This diverges into different things because you have employees that we’ve grown from five people to 30 if I’m not mistaken. There’s the technology part, which I’m less familiar, you know upgrade your servers and stuff. From my perspective of marketing the only thing that you need to learn is how to delegate tasks and do the follow-up and choose the right people. With something that is still a challenge because hiring and firing is not nice. Yeah, I think that’s the challenge that you need to understand how to do. It’s something that runs even after your company has thousands of people.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well one more for the people. One of the things about design is Elementor is a very powerful tool. And sometimes in the wrong hands or somebody who’s not a skilled designer it’s easy with any kind of website tool or theme or whatever it’s kind of easy to mess it up or not make a great design or take a great design and make it not a great design. What advice do you have for people, just some best practices when working with Elementor to keep the design standards high, and even potentially become a better designer themselves or develop a stronger design eye. What advice do you have there?
Ben Pines: There are a few things that I would suggest. First of all inspiration is important. Start going to pages, websites and have those inspiration like Dribbble, One Page Love, where you have different landing pages or home pages and that kind of can give you the inspiration you need. Working with templates, starting off with a template, or using a block that’s also a great way for newbies.
Most mistakes I see, is when someone is a marketer and doesn’t have any idea about design, they just stack up things they say okay how hard can this be lets just put this header and this, the knowledge about learning about typography and spacing and layout, it’s difficult. It takes months people don’t understand. It’s actually a profession, it takes months maybe years to crank it down, it’s also different from different languages. I would learn about it.
For us we mostly focus on teaching how to use our tools. But there are tons of resources, check out Adam Price’s course and you should spend the proper time learning all those things so you don’t make those mistakes. Maybe the most crucial thing. Ask a friend, what it’s like because sometimes you’re blind. You created, your sure that it’s the best thing you show it to someone. Preferably someone who knows about spacing and you see that no margins, wrong colors, wrong typography that’s something that you have to learn.
Chris Badgett: Don’t be afraid of the template. Ben Pines ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.
Ben Pines: Thank you Chris.
Chris Badgett: For you listening out there go check out elementor.com try it out. Check out WPCrafter. Adam’s video, he has a five hour video on how to build a online course membership site with LifterLMS and Elementor. Go check that out. Ben, thanks so much I really appreciate it.
Ben Pines: Thank you Chris, it was fun!

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