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Naming Your Online Course: How To Pick A Great Name You Can Legally Use

"Learn the best tips for naming your online course and how to make sure you can legally use it. Avoid common mistakes and protect your course name today!"

You’ve come up with a dynamite idea for an online course, one that you are sure will be a hit. But one thing is stumping you… naming your online course! It seems so simple. How hard is it to pick a freaking course name?!?

Naming your online course is actually way harder than it seems. From a marketing perspective, you have to come up with a name that is catchy, will resonate with your audience, will help you rank in search engines, sets out the selling point for your course, and so much more. Oh yeah, and the name you pick needs to match your course content and be one you can legally use!

Sure, you could come up with a name quickly, but it takes some time and effort to name your online course the right way! In this post, we’ll cover how to pick a name that will serve you from a marketing perspective and how to make sure you can legally use the name you chose!

Table of Contents:

What Makes a Good Course Name?

Let’s start with an important realization… course names are important, but not nearly as important as the content of your course. So don’t stress about naming your online course until you’ve taken the time to craft content that will solve your customer’s problems. Assuming you’ve created a stellar course, let’s talk about how to choose an equally stellar name.

When Naming Your Online Course, Opt For Clarity Over Cleverness

The best course names are catchy, memorable, and relevant to the course topic. But here’s an important caveat, don’t let the quest for catchy make your title confusing. First and foremost, you want the name of your online course to clearly convey what your students will learn and the problems that your course solves. The last thing you want your marketing (including your course name) to do is to create friction.

When in doubt, go with a straightforward name over a cute one.

Choose A Course Name That Speaks To Customer Pain Points

Rather than going for cute or clever, think about the biggest pain points your customers have. What are they struggling with? What has stopped them from solving the problem your course addresses? Oftentimes, the best name is one that conveys that your course will address those pain points and obstacles.

As a simple example, if the biggest obstacle for your customers is that most of the advice is complicated and high-level, you might want to include a phrase like “step-by-step guide” in your course name. That will convey that your course is not like the rest; it delivers actionable, simple-to-follow instructions. Of course, only use something like that in your course title if it’s true!

The best way to create a catchy, memorable name that also hits on pain points is to opt for a course name plus a subtitle. In this structure, the course name is short and memorable, while the subtitle addresses the obsta

Think About Search Engine Optimization When Naming Your Course

No matter how you plan to sell your course, you should think about search engine optimization in naming your course. Most times, this SEO work is not about optimizing your course sales page itself for any SEO keywords (especially if you are selling your course through a webinar or other launch vehicle). But think more broadly about your marketing efforts. Chances are that you’ll use words and phrases from your course titles in your front-facing content (e.g., blog, podcast, etc.). Ideally, you want a name that includes SEO keywords that you can then use and optimize for in your content.

Here’s a concrete example… the term “online course” has considerably more search volume than the term “digital course.” Opting for a course name with “digital course” will make it much harder for me to optimize my content for search because I would naturally want to use the term that is in my course name in my content.

With these guidelines in mind, let’s turn to the process for picking a great name.

Key Takeaway: Key takeaway: When naming your online course, make sure it is catchy, memorable, and relevant to the topic. Opt for a clear name that includes SEO keywords and consider adding a subtitle that speaks to customer pain points.

The Process To Choose The Perfect Course Name

While there’s no single process for naming your online course, here’s a process you can follow to come up with a course name that’s clear, unique, and memorable.

Start by researching the names that other people have chosen for similar courses and for courses in the same general field (even if they address a different topic). The goal here is not to copy someone else. The goal is to get ideas of trends and how names tend to be structured in your niche. As you do this research make lists of words or phrases that appear frequently and the structure of titles.

Next, do some SEO research to see what your potential customers are searching for. If you use a tool like Ubersuggest to do your keyword research, you’ll also be able to see questions related to your phrase. This research will help you uncover the words your customers are using to describe their pain points… instead of keeping you stuck in your own head.

Once you’ve done your research, you can look for synonyms for some of the words (at least the ones that you aren’t worried about for SEO). Thesaurus.com is a great tool for this. This might help you find more powerful or memorable words or words that let you use alliteration in your title.

Armed with your research and list of terms, it’s time to start brainstorming combinations. You can do this yourself or with the help of name generators. The goal here is to find a combination of the SEO keywords and other terms that makes sense for your course and your overall branding.

Speaking of your overall branding… consider any future products related to your course that could potentially use the same branding down the line. As a branding geek, one of the biggest mistakes I see business owners make is to use completely different names for each product. The goal of your branding should be to help people immediately recognize that you are the source. You can do this with consistent naming conventions.

Your work isn’t over once you come up with what seems like an amazeballs name for your online course. Before you settle on a name, you have to make sure that you can legally use it.

Make Sure You Can Legally Use The Name

Believe it or not, when it comes to names for products and brands, we have a system where people can effectively call “dibs” on a name. Specifically, under trademark law, the first company (or person) to use a name commercially has the exclusive right to use that name. The last thing you want is to create your course only to discover later that you can’t use the name because someone else has already called “dibs” on the name.

That’s why, when naming your online course, one of the most important steps is to make sure that you can legally use the name. You do this by running a trademark search for the name you’ve chosen (and for similar names). In other words, you need to make sure no one else has trademark rights to the name!

You can certainly work with an attorney or a trademark service to have them run a trademark search for you, but you can also do a bootstrapped version, which should get you pretty good results. If you are going to run a trademark search yourself, you’ll want to search at least four places: (1) Google, (2) domain name registrars, (3) social media sites, and (4) the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Checking Google, domain names, and social media is rather self-explanatory, and we’ll discuss how to run a search at the USPTO below. With all the searches, make sure to search not only the exact name but also similar names. An exact match is the worst news, but even a similar name is a yellow flag that you’ll need to consider.

If you discover that someone else is already using the name or a close alternative, your best bet will be to choose a different name from your brainstormed list.

(You could always consult with a lawyer to see if there is a legal basis for you to use the name too, but that will cost you a pretty penny. Best case, the lawyer will give you a heavily caveated opinion that is not binding.)

Now, let’s dive into how to run your search at the USPTO.

Key Takeaway: When naming your online course, it is important to check for existing trademarks and web domains with the USPTO, search engines, social media sites, and domain registrars. This will help you avoid legal action from those who have already secured them.

Run A Trademark Search At The USPTO

Now that you know the importance of running a trademark search, let’s walk through the process of running a search at the USPTO. For the sake of this example, we’ll continue down the “online course” road and run a search for a hypothetical course called “Online Course University.”

The USPTO has a searchable database of all trademark filings and registered marks that is called TESS (which stands for Trademark Electronic Search System). You can access TESS here.

Once you access TESS, you’ll choose the “Basic Word Mark Search (New User)” as shown in this image:

Screenshot of a section of the TESS database showing where you "Select a Search Option." There is a red arrow pointing to the Basic Word Mark option.

Once you’ve selected that, it’s time to run your first search. By default, TESS will be set to search the right field (Combined Word Mark) and to search for any trademark filings for a trademark that includes ALL the search terms. This will identify trademark filings even if the words are in different order or not even together as a single phrase. This is your starting point. Enter your course name here like this and click “Submit Query”:

Screenshot of TESS search function with a red box around elements and the term "online course university" entered in the search box. There is a red arrow pointing to the "Submit Query" button.

When you click “Submit Query,” you’ll be taken to the results page. Your hope is that there are NO results that match the query… meaning that no one has sought to register or registered a mark that includes all the words in your name (that is the case for “Online Course University”). If there are no results, you’ll see a page that looks like this:

TESS results page showing that there are no records "to match the criteria of your query."

 But your work isn’t done just because you’ve searched for any filings that contain ALL the words. At this point, you need to search more broadly for related filings. This could include things like phrases that contain the key words from the name you chose or related phrases. In this case, I would run a search for the term “online course” to identify any filing that contains that exact phrase.

To do that, go back to the Basic Word Mark search and run a search for “online course” but select “The Exact Search Phrase” in the third drop down menu. The point of this change is to isolate your results to filings that include “online” directly followed by “course” rather than any filing that contains both words. Again, submit the query when done. Here’s what that would look like:

Screenshot of TESS search function for a Basic Word Mark. Certain boxes are in a red box and the term "online course" is selected. A red arrow points to the Submit Query button.

Again, TESS will take you to a results page. There’s a good chance that you’ll end up with some results from this search. Here are the results from the “online course” search:

Screenshot of the results page for the "online course" search. There is a table with multiple entries, including some with a number in a column designated "Reg. Number". The entries also contain either a Live or Dead designation. The most relevant results are described in the text below.

When you get results like this, you’ll want to identify the closest matches. Here, The Online Course Bootcamp and Online Course Academy jump out as the closest matches. With each, you’ll want to note whether there is a “Reg. Number” and whether the market is Live or Dead.

An entry with a Reg. Number is one where the mark has been issued. If there is no Reg. Number, the registration filing is still going through the process (or was abandoned before being registered in the past). The Live/Dead column is pretty self-explanatory… “Dead” means either that the filing was abandoned before a mark was registered or that the registered trademark was abandoned after it was issued. Either way, it is not an enforceable federal trademark!

While this blog post certainly can’t provide legal advice, results like this would be generally encouraging. No one has filed to register a mark that uses all the words, and there are not all that many filings that include the phrase “online course.” Chances are good that you can use the name Online Course University without worry.

Once you’ve run your search and decided on your name, it’s time to decide whether and how to protect that course name. Let’s turn to that now!

Key Takeaway: Use the TESS system at the United States Patent and Trademark Office to conduct a comprehensive search of existing trademark filings. Search your exact name and any name that includes the key terms.

Protecting Your Course Name

As soon as you land on your course name, you should start using the “TM” symbol next to it. Again, if you landed on Online Course University… you’d want to use Online Course University™ when you write the name out. The TM symbol is your way of declaring to the world that you are claiming the right to that name. This is the symbol you use for anything that is not yet officially registered as a trademark.

You’ll get what is called “common law” trademark rights by using the course name… but those rights are limited. So you’ll want to consider whether it makes sense to register a trademark for your course name.

I’ll be a bit of a contrarian here and say that most online course creators should NOT immediately file a trademark registration for their course. The reason is simple… registering a trademark for course names is expensive and time-consuming. Although the processing times change over time, expect that it will take 18 months or more after you file for a trademark to register.

In other words, it will only make sense to file to register a trademark if you are fairly confident that you’ll still be using the name for a couple of years. And be honest with yourself in making this decision! We online business owners are a confident bunch, but the reality is that most programs never get off the ground or have a very limited lifecycle.

Take it from someone who has spent a lot of money on trademark registrations for programs that are no longer around… prove your product in the market and be sure you will continue the brand before spending money on registration! With an online course, this generally means launching first to see if the thing will sell. Once your course is selling like hotcakes, register away!

The one case where it would make sense for a course creator to register a mark right away is where the course is bound to be a success and part of the course creator’s long-term plans. If you already have a uber-successful business and you are creating a course as an extension of the already popular brand, then it will likely make sense to register the name right away.

Key Takeaway: A trademark registration is the best way to protect your course name and prevent infringement. But it takes time and money to register a trademark, so make sure your course sells and is part of your long-term plans before filing to register a trademark for your course name.

Conclusion

Naming your online course will never be a simple process… but hopefully, this post has given you a step-by-step process for coming up with the right name. Start by coming up with one or more names that you think will help you marketing and sell your course. Then run those potential course names through a trademark search before deciding for sure.