The one thing you never want to see as a course creator is a negative review, especially if it’s one of the first few reviews of your course.

It can be disheartening! But before you give up and think that your course is not “good enough”, there are several things you can do to make sure that a negative review doesn't affect your future sales.

If you apply systematically these principles that I will talk about here, you too can have awesome reviews for your courses.

For example, check out here some of the reviews on my courses, on my Udemy public profile:

As you can see, most reviews are between 4.5 and even 4.8! Awesome, right?

If you follow the methods that I will share with you in this guide,  you can have similar results too.

In this article, I will go through the main steps you need to take when you receive that dreaded 1-star review, and how you can use it to improve your course.

Receiving a negative review is never nice, but it can serve you as an opportunity.

In this post, I'm going to cover exactly:

  • how to handle negative reviews
  • how to avoid them
  • how to respond to them
  • how to use them to improve your courses

So, how to handle negative reviews in your online courses?

The best way to handle a negative course review is to go through the following steps:

  1. Understand the root cause of the negative review
  2. Determine if the negative review is valid, or is just a result of misaligned expectations
  3. Avoid future similar negative reviews by making it more clear what is the content of your course, and who is it meant to
  4. Answer the review and defuse the situation, to avoid other students from feeling discouraged from purchasing your courses
  5. Act upon the feedback of the review and improve your course, if you think the feedback is valid
  6. Accept that a small percentage of negative reviews is unavoidable and move on, but remain vigilant
  7. Consider setting up your own website for selling your online courses. This way you will have full control over the content of the website, and you will have much more influence over your brand image.

So without further ado, let's get started learning about how to handle negative reviews in your online courses, and most of all how to avoid them in the first place.

Table of contents

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What is the best way to avoid negative reviews in an online course?

First of all, I just want to point out that the absolute best way to have more control over your online courses is to host them on your own website, including your reviews and testimonials.

If you host your course only in marketplaces, you can always receive unfair reviews that are caused by things like an accidental misalignment between the student and the course, and there is little to nothing that you can do about it.

But if you host your courses on your own website, you will have full control over the content of the website, giving you much more flexibility.

Your students know this of course, so they will always value a bit more a review from a third-party website like Trustpilot than a testimonial on your own website.

But self-hosted testimonials can also be very convincing, giving you a chance to highlight the most informative reviews that you receive in a prominent way on your course page.

This is one of the many reasons why I always recommend course creators to host their courses also on their own website, in complement to online marketplaces.

So if you want to depend less on customer reviews on third-party platforms, just self-host your courses and take more active control of your own brand and image, it's that simple!

To do this, you can use for example the affordable and very easy-to-use online course platform  OnlineCourseHost.com for that, and get a course page up and running in no time.

But imagine that for some reason you don't self-host your courses, or you do so but you also host your courses in marketplaces where you occasionally get bad reviews.

So what do you do then?

Step 1 - Realize that the Negative Review is a Blessing in Disguise

Once you receive a negative review, the first thing to do is to realize that this negative review is actually a blessing in disguise, because it's just so rare and valuable to you as a course creator.

Feedback is precious, and many companies even pay for it in the form of giving away products for free, but there is nothing more valuable than feedback from a paying customer.

Think about it, how many times in your life have you left a review somewhere, positive or negative? You might go years without writing a single review, right?

Look at the review as a huge positive opportunity that you are being given, because it's so rare and useful.

The reality is that most people don't even bother to give you any feedback online at all.

In most cases, students don't even bother to leave negative reviews. What most unhappy students will actually do instead is:

  • stop taking your course immediately, and never watch it again
  • leave your website, unsubscribe from your newsletter and never buy anything from you again
  • ask for a refund, without telling you the truth about what they really think about your course. They might be afraid that you won't refund them if they tell you the real reason after all, right?

This is what most of your unhappy students are doing all the time, and you never even hear about it! They just leave, never come back, and that's it. 😉

Few people leave any reviews at all, and it's also why reviews are so precious, especially negative ones because they contain feedback that you can act on, unlike positive reviews.

Step 2 - Understand the Root  Cause Of The Negative Review (and Act On It)

After realizing that a negative review is actually an opportunity that you are being given to improve your online course sales, what should you do with it then?

The first thing you should do is try to determine what is the exact root cause of the negative review.

Not the superficial cause, but the actual deep root cause that might not be immediately obvious the first time you read the review.

The cause for a negative review usually falls into one of the following 5 categories:

  • Reason 1 - misaligned expectations regarding the course content
  • Reason 2 - mismatch between the student and the course
  • Reason 3 - difficulty in using or even finding the course material
  • Reason 4 - a genuine and valid criticism of your course content
  • Reason 5 - the person was just having a bad day

Let's then go through each of these negative review causes one by one, and talk about how to avoid them, and how to act upon each type of negative review.

Reason 1 - Misaligned expectations regarding the course content

This type of bad review is not necessarily a criticism of the existing content of your course.

It just means that the student was expecting to find a certain type of content in the course. They bought the course and didn't find what they were looking for, so they felt disappointed and left you a bad review.

The course material might even be good, and it might even cover the topic adequately, but it's just not what the student was looking for.

They were looking for something else, slightly different or even very different than what they found.

Maybe they were disappointed with the depth with which the topic was covered, or maybe they expected several other sub-topics to be covered as well, that are not part of the course.

What you need to do with this type of bad review, is to really understand why the student is disappointed.  

For example, did you forget to cover some subtopics that almost anyone would expect to be covered in this type of course?

Or did you promise in the course landing page something that was not delivered in the course? Is the course too basic and not comprehensive enough?

Remember that the decision for the student to buy or not your course was made based only on the following things:

  • the course thumbnail
  • the course title, subtitle, and description
  • the course price
  • the table of contents of the course
  • the course free sample lessons, if any
  • the student preconceived expectations of what the course should include

And that's it! The student does not have access to anything else before buying the course, right?

So their disappointment must come from a misalignment between some of these elements and their own expectations.

Here are some examples of wrong student expectations that might have triggered a bad review:

  • Maybe the title promises a master class and the course is just not comprehensive enough
  • Maybe you mention something in the description as a major feature of the course, but then you only cover it briefly in a few minutes, and not in enough depth
  • Maybe you include some learning materials in the course, but the student is disappointed with those extra materials, because they are not comprehensive enough, and not what they expected

How to handle this type of bad course review?

The best way to handle this type of misaligned expectations review is to act directly on the root cause of the student's disappointment.

It might be as simple as reviewing your course title, subtitle, and landing page description in order to make sure that you don't over-promise on certain aspects of the course, to avoid disappointment.

It might be also as simple as making it more clear on the course landing page exactly what the course covers, but also make it more clear what it does not cover.

Sometimes it might just be that the price of the course is too high for what it actually delivers.

It might also be that you forgot to cover some critical aspects of your topic, that just about everyone expects to be covered in your course, so you broke some of the pre-defined expectations that your audience has about your course.

Chances are that your course is actually comprehensive enough and detailed enough, so it's just a matter of communicating the right expectations to students before they buy the course.

To stop getting this type of bad review over time, simply continue tweaking the title, subtitle, feature list, description, FAQs and other elements of your course landing page to make it clearer what material the course contains and what it doesn't contain, and what is the exact level of coverage of every subtopic.

If you do this, over time this type of disappointment / misaligned expectation negative review should almost disappear completely from your reviews page. 😉

Reason 2 - Mismatch between the student and the course

Sometimes though, the mismatch is directly between the student themselves and the course!

Somehow, they are just not the right person for the course at all.

How is that even possible?

Well, sometimes students land on your course landing page and somehow they get convinced that yours is the right course for them, without even knowing that much about the topic yet.

So then they buy the course, and they start taking it  only to realize that they don't understand much of what is being taught at all!

This does not mean that your course is bad, by any means.

It's just that it's not the right course for them.  

For example, they might have been looking for an advanced Excel course on Charts, and the course only teaches Formulas at an intermediate level, and does not cover charts.

Maybe the student is just either too beginner for the course, too advanced, or they just don't have the necessary prerequisite knowledge of certain topics needed to be able to take the course in the first place.

Let me give you an example: soon I will be publishing a new course that I'm working on that covers a very specific programming language in detail.

But although the course covers that language from A to Z, it's not an introductory programming course at all. meaning that if you don't know how to code yet you shouldn't take the course.

How to handle this type of bad course review?

The good news is that most of this type of negative reviews can be avoided easily.

Remember, a lot of your students buy or not your course based only on the title subtitle, thumbnail, price, and that's it. 😉

Try to add in those copy elements hints that suggest to whom the course is meant for. Here are some examples:

  • Javascript for Complete Beginners
  • Yoga From Beginner To Advanced
  • Advanced Excel Formulas For Accounting Professionals

Try to give a name to your target audience, and add it directly in the title or subtitle if possible, so that they know that the course is meant for them (or not).

Also, add a prerequisites section to your course landing page and an FAQ section, and answer some of the most common questions there regarding who is the target audience of the course.

List the prerequisite knowledge needed to take the course, but also what is not needed. Here is an example: "You should have some previous introductory knowledge about the Javascript language, but you don't have to have any previous Angular knowledge, as we will cover it from scratch".

Listing the prerequisites this way on the course landing page will reduce a bit the number of negative reviews caused by purchases by the wrong target audience, but don't rely on the course description too much for it.

Ideally, finding a way to target your audience in the title or the subtitle tends to work much better to avoid this type of bad reviews, simply because most people don't read the course description before buying it.

Reason 3 - Difficulty in using or even finding the course material

Another common cause for getting bad reviews is because your students run into some early difficulties while taking the course.

For example, maybe your course material uses other resources besides video. Your student might have to install an application that you are teaching, or they might have to subscribe to some online service.

For example, in the case of all my courses, because they are programming courses the student is encouraged to install some code in their desktop.

If they run into installation issues, they might just quit the course and leave a bad review just because of it.

How to handle this type of bad course review?

First of all, if you have a way of teaching your course content only via video, then you should go for it.

The least dependencies  your course has on other software and services, the better. This way, there are fewer ways things can go wrong for the student right at the beginning of the course.

But sometimes, this is just not possible. For example, in my programming courses it's just not possible to do them without installing some sample code on the student desktop.

In these situations, you should make your extra course material as user-friendly and easy to use as possible.

You should provide explicit instructions on how to use the course material step by step, without skipping any details. You can do this both in writing and in video, as some students tend to skip written lessons without reading.

So to summarize, the best way to avoid this type of negative reviews is to add as little extra course material to the course as possible, and the one that you do need to add you need to make it as simple and easy to use as possible.

Reason 4 - A genuine and valid criticism of your course content

Now comes the most dreaded reason for getting a bad course review.

We all tend to think that what we do is awesome, and that our courses are super complete. But it isn't always the case.

Sometimes your course is just not good enough yet, it happens.

You should see my first course, it was absolutely awful. 😉

A short 20 lessons train wreck.

I filmed myself on camera all the time without any need, I used my headphones all the time I looked like a jet pilot, the tempo was bad, the explanations too brief, the course was incomplete at best: my very first course sucked!

But the good news is, if you keep working on your course and incorporating the feedback you receive,  the course will quickly improve over time.

How to handle this type of bad course review?

You need to take a good honest look at your course, and see if what the bad review says holds any water or not.

The review might be complete nonsense, but more often than not there will be at least some hint of truth in it.

If the feedback is valid, and it's not completely out of touch with the course, if it's not a mismatch between the person and the course or some misaligned expectation that you created on your course page, then look into it and try to improve the course accordingly.

Maybe the instructions at the beginning of the course are not clear, maybe you can add different lessons, and maybe you can organize the material differently. Maybe you can add a text lesson before some lesson that needs more context or clarify something that is missing.

Maybe you can add some missing material that students expect it to contain, or reshoot the initial part of the course, or you can completely update the course to make it more relevant.

But sometimes, the review just does not make sense at all.

Reason 5 - The person was just having a bad day

One thing you should avoid is acting on every single bad review you get. Instead, you need to carefully filter which ones make the most sense.

Some bad reviews are just bad!

The person was having a bad day, they were not at all the target audience and bought the wrong course on an impulse, etc. Not every review is worth acting upon, although these reviews should be few and far between.

For example, you might have a beginner's course, and get a bad review saying that it's just not advanced enough. But it's a beginner's course, it can't be advanced! 😉

Some students just randomly land on your page, and buy the course for all the wrong reasons without hardly reading the course landing page and the prerequisites.

They try to download the course material, something goes wrong and they quit on the spot, they ask for a refund and leave a bad review.

Is there anything that you can do in these cases?

How to handle this type of bad course review?

For this type of bad review, it's important to make it clear to anyone else reading it that the review just doesn't make sense.

This is essential, because that might not be immediately obvious just by reading the review.

You just answer the review by saying something like: "I'm sorry this course was not the one for you. Please notice that this course is a beginner's course, if you need more advanced material then check out my other courses. This course in particular is only meant to cover the fundamentals and nothing more, and is meant for complete beginners only."

So without antagonizing your student, just remain civil and make it clear in your answer that the review is unfair and just does not make sense.

This will save you a lot of lost sales, because very often people filter for the lowest reviews and read only those, and form an opinion based on your answer. They just want confirmation that the bad review does not apply to them.

Notice that if the review uses profanity, personal attacks, or is rude or out of bounds in any way and it happens in a third-party platform like some sort of marketplace, you might be able to message support and get the review removed completely from the system.

Step 3 - Answer the Review and Defuse the Situation

So now you understand exactly what is the root cause of the review, and how to act on it.

So should you answer it? Absolutely, not only for the student that left it but also for the other students that are reading the reviews.

If there is some sort of misinformation in the review, you want to reply to it and clear that up for other students that might be reading it in the future.

If the review does not make sense or is unfair, you should be able to point that out easily to your other potential students without being confrontational.

If the bad review seems genuine but you don't fully understand what the issue was, you should reach the student in private just to try to better understand what the problem was.

In some cases, you might be able to clear up some misunderstandings, and the student might even remove the negative review.

But this is in general unlikely. The main reason why you should make the effort to reach out to the student is to try to better understand what the problem was, so that you can fix it and so that you can avoid it for future students.

Conclusion

You can do a lot as a course creator to minimize bad reviews and give yourself the best possible chance to create a successful online course business.

Getting fewer bad reviews is a lot about managing better the expectations of the students and targeting the right audience.

Most of the time, the reason for the negative review won't be super clear. You might have a particular reason in mind, but it might be something else entirely.

The idea is just to say you are sorry the course wasn't what they expected, and ask for them to give you more information. The feedback you will get here is invaluable, and it will help you improve your course a lot over time.

Try to tweak and improve your course landing page to avoid any misunderstandings, avoid over-promising and make sure you make it clear who the course is meant for.

If you do this systematically with every review, you will quickly get fewer bad reviews because you are addressing the main causes that trigger them, so your rating should go up over time.

I’m sure there isn’t a single course creator out there who hasn’t received a negative review from time to time, it's just part of the profession.

If you create online courses and start selling them to a larger audience, at least some small percentage of negative reviews is simply inevitable.

Remember, it’s impossible to please everyone! Your first negative review is almost like a rite of passage, it means you're in business. 😉

I hope this guide helps you find the best way to handle the reviews on your online course.

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Thanks for reading… and enjoy the course creation process! 😉


Vasco Cavalheiro

OnlineCourseHost.com Founder & Online Course Creator

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