Friends had pointed out to me the dearth of good information on continuing education classes for massage therapists and other bodyworkers. I spent a few months researching the market and talking with providers, students, and others in the domain.
A number of other entrepreneurs had locked up the lucrative business of selling student leads to massage schools. But no one had created a one-stop-shopping source of information for continuing education classes. More research revealed a good business opportunity.
Most of the 250,000 massage therapists in the United States are required to take at least one or two continuing education classes each year. Interviews with dozens of massage therapists revealed many frustrations with their ability to discover and choose classes. I conducted more interviews to discover how they shopped for CEU (continuing education unit) classes.
I also interviewed about a dozen CEU providers. Most of them were using old-fashioned paper direct-marketing campaigns to promote their courses. They were very interested in reaching more students. They all reported that their students were increasingly discovering new classes online.
So I set out to create an online directory to serve both the students and CEU providers.
This sketch shows the initial domain model that I created for meetings with potential developers.
Students were looking primarily for classes. Their main selection criteria were dates and provider names. Many were also looking for a particular instructor. Both these criteria and the nature of the content drove the design of this foundation of the information architecture.
I recruited a full-stack developer. Together we created the entity relationship diagram for the database of structured content that would let us build the directory.
CEU classes span a wide range of topics. Many classes cover more than one topic. Different providers often use different terms to describe the same treatment or concept. Students sometimes talk about classes differently than providers. Still, it seemed possible to account for all of the course topics and student interests.
We researched and sorted:
- the terms that providers use to describe their courses
- the terms that students use to discover classes
- academic research on massage and related taxonomies
The resulting massage-CEU taxonomy wasn’t perfect (too many “miscellaneous” and “other” categories), but it helped us organize our content and give our users relevant class listings.
With a well-structured data model in place, we set out to populate the database with current, high-quality content. We hired an editor and collaborated with her on building a workflow. We needed a system that would both accommodate her working style and give us tidy, normalized data. We settled on a simple spreadsheet-based editorial system that we then imported into the database.
We quickly built the database to include nearly 9,000 classes (as well as 1,600 massage school programs).
I was the lead UI designer on this project. Working closely with the developer, we built simple, just-the-facts class page templates. Priorities discovered in the user interviews drove the layout and other visual emphases on the page templates.
Our extensive listings resulted in good search engine positioning. By the summer of 2008, we were getting more than 10,000 site visitors per month. We did this in a very niche market with very little promotion effort. We were getting good feedback from both providers and students. With good traffic in hand and our back-end development almost complete, we were poised to launch our paid listings. Unfortunately, the economy took a historically nasty turn that September. We lacked the financial reserves to launch in such an uncertain environment. So we put Bodywork U on hold and returned to our day jobs.