How to Sell to Your Email List Without Spamming Them

How to Sell to Your Email List Without Spamming Them

Take a quick look at your spam folder. How many messages lurk out in there? How happy are you that these messages aren’t cluttering up your inbox? Spam is the bane of our online existence, and yet sales via email still haven’t slowed down. In fact, the use of email marketing is increasing at a faster rate than ever before.

What’s the difference between legitimate, useful email marketing and spam? The challenge marketers face is creating a campaign that won’t get them labeled as spam. It’s difficult and a lot of work, but it is possible — and the benefits are huge.

Know the Rules

If you’re going to sell in the online market, you need to know the rules. And like regular laws, different regions of the world have different ways of handling—or even defining—spam.

The challenge to website owners is that a successful online business often has global reach. If your customer is in a region with strong anti-spam laws, then you might be subject to them. Ignorance isn’t an excuse for breaking the law (and it’s certainly no protection when your email address gets blacklisted!), so the best thing you can do for your business is to read up on anti-spam laws before you start your email marketing campaign in earnest.

United States: CAN-SPAM ACT

Enacted in 2003, the CAN-SPAM act attempts to protect users in the United States from unsolicited emails, specifically those whose primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.

While the law doesn’t actually prohibit marketers from sending unsolicited commercial email, it does require emails to have three key elements:

  • Unsubscribe – Visible and functional unsubscribe procedures must be laid out in all emails, and must be acted upon within 10 days.
  • Clear content – Commercial emails must be clearly marked as such. Vague, misleading subject lines and “From” labels are not allowed, and the email must contain the actual physical address of the sender.
  • Responsible sending – Messages can’t be sent via an open relay, nor can they be sent to harvested email addresses.

If you want to read more, the full text of the CAN-SPAM Act is available online.

European Union: Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive

Known shorthand as the “E-Privacy Directive”, this European Union law focuses on data protection as well as privacy. It has a wider scope than the CAN-SPAM act, but the main difference can be boiled down to:

  • Opt-in – Unlike the CAN-SPAM law, the EU law only allows messages to be sent with the recipient’s prior approval. Any business collecting email addresses for marketing purposes needs to get the customer’s permission before anything can be sent.
  • Cookies – Websites need to ask permission before installing cookies on their visitor’s computers, and need to explicitly mention the purpose of those cookies, and whether they’re going to be used to create a mailing list for commercial emails. You might have noticed european websites explicitly stating their cookies policy on their websites in the last year: this is why.

Although this EU law sets a blanket standard for anti-spam laws in the region, the actual implementation is left to each individual country, and has to be taken on a case to case basis.

Canada: Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL)

Also known as Bill C-28, CASL is one of the strictest anti-spam laws in the world. Canadians: tougher than you expected!

It takes the basic elements of the CAN-SPAM law and expands the coverage, restrictions, and penalties to much higher and stricter levels. Notable provisions include:

  • Prior relationship – Any sender must have a prior business or non-business relationship with a recipient before sending over a commercial message. If there is no relationship, the sender needs to send a consent request clearly expressing the purpose of the message, and the recipient needs to actively reply.
  • Expanded coverage – The law covers any and all forms of electronic communication that are used to convey a commercial message, which may include instant messaging, mobile text messaging, and social media.
  • Location specific – Any message sent from or accessed in Canada is subject to CASL, even if it’s a foreign citizen who sent a spam message from within Canadian borders. Senders are expected to check for Canadian accounts in their contact lists and obtain consent prior to sending any messages.

These are a lot of practices to adopt at once, but don’t panic! This doesn’t mean the end of email marketing—in fact, many of these laws have already been out for years, and commercial emails are still a key marketing strategy for many businesses. In general, if your list is only made up of people who have specifically opted in to receive your emails, you’re good to go.

Familiarity with the rules is going to protect your business from litigation and, more importantly, guide you to creating emails that will sell, and not annoy.

Due Diligence

Even if your list is home-grown (and it should be) you have to do your due diligence and scan the list for anything that might get you in trouble:

  • Duplicate email addresses – You definitely need to watch out for this, because let’s face it: who wants to receive the same email twice or thrice in a row? If you’re sending via an email service like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, you’re covered: they automatically suppress duplicates.
  • Sensitive locations – You might want to remove emails from certain locations (e.g. Canada) or from a particular group (if you’re only selling to certain types of companies, for example) if you have any doubt about their opt-in status.
  • Blocked addresses – Don’t forget to remove blocked or old addresses from previous campaigns. It’ll clean up your list and make sending faster.
  • Opt-outs – Compare your mailing lists to your list of customers who’ve opted out. You need to make sure nobody’s slipped through the cracks.

Let Customers Say No

Email marketing is not a one-way conversation. You want customers to respond, even if the response is to say “thanks, but no thanks.”

Why? Well, compliance aside, you can get some valuable information from them. By tracking the amount of negative feedback, you might be able to learn what works for your market and what doesn’t. With “unresponsive” responses, you’re not even sure if the customer ever saw the email or not. Here’s a secret: at Flippa, every reply to our newsletter goes straight into my inbox — and I make sure to reply to every email.

Make it easy for your customers to opt out by making the instructions simple and prominent. If you want to go above and beyond, you can even add an optional suggestion box: “What about this email didn’t you like?”

Target Your Email Blasts

The most obvious and annoying spam emails are those that have totally nothing to do with the customer. I myself have received emails touting, ah, enhancement creams, even though I’m a woman. Shotgun email blasts are wasteful, expensive (because you probably paid to send those emails!), and bad for your business’ reputation.

If you want to avoid being summarily deleted as spam, you need to make sure you’re sending your emails to the right people. Not only is this responsible email marketing, it’s also the strategy that will get you the most customers.

Think about it: the only people who will buy your lawn mowers are people who have actual lawns. So don’t waste your time selling to people who live in apartments.

Class, Not Crass

All this talk about spam really boils down to one thing: bringing your customers value.

Spam is a symptom of lazy and apathetic marketing. Spammers don’t really care about the individual customer; they just want to make as much money as they can for the least amount of effort.

You, on the other hand, do care. Right? So you make sure your email benefits the customer in some way. An exclusive sale. An innovative new product. An informative newsletter. Stuff that a specific customer will actually see and find interesting, presented in a way that shows you really had them in mind when you put it together—even if it was created from a template.

If everyone sent messages like these, then we wouldn’t have a spam problem at all.

How important is email marketing to your web business? Did any of the above laws surprise you? Which kind of spam irritates you the most? Let’s chat about it in the comments!

Thanks to Gary for the photo!

Language Localization: 3 Powerful Benefits of Optimizing Your Site for Non-English Speakers

Language Localization: 3 Powerful Benefits of Optimizing Your Site for Non-English Speakers

The internet has brought the world closer together.

Many years ago, a small company in the United States would not have had much opportunity to do business with somebody in Australia. Now, through the power of the internet, everything has changed for the better.

As a web business owner, you understand the importance of search engine optimization. You want potential customers to find your website when searching for keywords related to your business.

Easy enough, right? Maybe in the past, but today there is more competition than ever before.

While you primary goal may be to optimize your website for those who speak English, you don’t want to miss out on another opportunity: optimizing your web property for those who speak a different language.

How to Decide If Language Localization Is Right for You

Whether or not you should spend the time and money to optimize for non-English speakers is based on a variety of factors.

Above all else, answer this question: could you increase sales and profits by attracting consumers who speak another language? If you answer yes to this question, you should at least consider what goes into optimizing your site for other languages.

There is nothing wrong with avoiding this either. For instance, if you run a small business in an English speaking country with no plans of expansion, you may want to continue to spend your resources on the same optimization strategies you have been employing.

Getting Started

There are two basic steps you can take to get started:

  1. Add localized versions of your site based on the languages you feel will generate the most new opportunities.
  2. Create country and language-specific content as a means of attracting clicks from non-English speaking countries.

First things first: you need to decide which languages you are going to optimize your site for. This is an important decision, so don’t guess and hope for the best. Instead, take these tips into consideration:

  • Take a closer look at where your customers come from, and then use that data to make an educated guess as to which language they speak.
  • Dive into the finer details of your traffic stats. For example, if you use Google Analytics, you will be able to see where your traffic is coming from along with many other geo-specific details.

How to Solve the Language Problem

“But I don’t speak the language!” I hear you say. This is a problem. Nobody can tell you it isn’t. But as with any problem, there are several solutions.

Could you hire a freelance writer who is fluent in both English and another language? Could you use a website translation tool for the simpler parts of your website? Nobody is saying you have to learn every language in order to provide this content on your website. What you do need is a solution to this potential problem.

It may take some time to provide visitors of every language with a targeted website, but in the long run it will pay off.

3 Powerful Benefits of Optimizing Your Site for Non-English Speakers

At this point, you are probably thinking one of two things:

  • There is no point in optimizing my website for non-English speaking visitors.
  • This is something I should have considered a long time ago.

If you fit into the second group, you don’t want to stop reading now. As you learn more about the benefits of making this change to your web business, your excitement will continue to grow.

Here are three of the biggest benefits:

1. Less competition. Let’s face it: most companies only optimize their website for English speaking visitors. This is the natural starting point, but it doesn’t have to be where you stop.

Did you know there is much less competition for visitors who speak another language? By optimizing your site for these people, you may find your traffic going through the roof sooner than you ever thought possible.

A buyer is a buyer no matter what language they speak. Keep that in mind.

2. A leg up on your competitors. If you translate your site to other languages, would your company stand out in your industry? Imagine what this could do for your business. Imagine what people would think when they see this functionality within your website.

This will slot you above the competition in the eyes of the consumers, while also giving your website and company the appearance of being “global,” even if this is not the case.

3. More traffic, plain and simple. If you only target English speaking consumers, you are probably leaving a lot of money on the table. Is that something you want to continue to do?

Take a closer look at these stats:

  • There are 365 million people in the world who speak English
  • There are 387 million people in the world who speak Spanish
  • There are 935 million people in the world who speak Mandarin
  • There are 204 million people in the world who speak Portuguese
  • There are 160 million people in the world who speak Russian

While these numbers are only estimates, you are probably getting the point. If you move beyond English speaking visitors and begin to consider other languages, you could open up your business and website to millions upon millions of fresh buyers.

Conclusion

Yes, it’s going to take time to optimize your website for non-English speakers. Yes, it is going to take money to make this change. And yes, you are going to run into challenges along the way.

This may not be the right move for your business, but if you like the idea of opening the door to additional prospects it is something you have to at least consider. Even if it takes you several months (or longer) to complete this project, when everything is said and done, you will be in a position to receive clicks from consumers who speak a variety of languages.

Are you looking to localize your website for non-English speakers? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: Miroslav Petrasko

4 Steps to Start Your Email Newsletter The Right Way

4 Steps to Start Your Email Newsletter The Right Way

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading blogs about blogging and content marketing, chances are you’ve heard the advice that you need to build an email list. Even so, many new bloggers ignore this or put it off as something they can do later. You may think email newsletters are only for established bloggers, but it’s actually the other way around: many established bloggers become and remain established because of their email newsletters.

Any savvy blogger will tell you that an email newsletter is hands down the best way to drive loyal traffic to your website, especially when you have an engaged audience. And it’s really logical when you think about it: anyone who trusts you and likes your content enough to give you access to their inbox is going to be a pretty loyal reader. This is the kind of person who will keep going back to your website, share it with others, and help build a community around your brand. And this is the kind of person who’s going to be most likely to spend their money on you.

I hope you’re at least intrigued by the idea of building a list, but perhaps you’re not quite sure how to go about doing it. Or maybe you already have a list, but want to learn how to use it more effectively. Our recent poll of Flippa Blog readers indicated that many of you  fall into one of those categories: over half of respondents have an email newsletter, and another 25% have been thinking about starting one. In this post, we’ll explain both how to start an email list and how to optimize it for maximum effectiveness from the very beginning.

1. Choose a Newsletter Service

The Flippa Blog uses Campaign Monitor, but the two most used services by Flippa users are MailChimp and AWeber. Both are good choices for new email marketers, but there are both pros and cons to each.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of MailChimp is that it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers. It also has a very easy to use interface with templates that make setup a no-brainer. This makes it the logical choice for many first-time bloggers who are just starting to build a list and aren’t yet making any money from blogging. However, MailChimp’s delivery rates aren’t quite as good as AWeber’s. MailChimp also becomes a little more expensive than AWeber once you get past 2,000 subscribers.

If you’re really serious about blogging and know you’re going to put in the time to keep building your list, AWeber is the more widely recommended choice. There is no free option with this service, although you can try it out for a month for just $1. After that, pricing starts at $19 per month for up to 500 subscribers. If you use your email newsletter well though, the service should more than pay for itself. Many find AWeber’s interface less intuitive than MailChimp’s, but AWeber also offers more dedicated customer support, better delivery rates, and more in-depth tracking options. These are features that will ultimately allow you to get more out of your list.

2. Segment Your List

We haven’t even talked about collecting email addresses yet, and here I go writing about how to segment them? Yes, it’s that important. You might think there’s no need to worry about segmenting your list until you have a lot of subscribers, but the thing is that there’s no reliable way go back and collect more information from people who have already subscribed. Depending on your niche, it could be very valuable for you to be able to divide your subscribers based on location, age, job title, gender, and so on. Customising your email campaigns to each of these various groups can significantly increase open and click rates, as shown in this data from MailChimp. It’s a good idea to get this extra data from your subscribers from day one, even if you aren’t using it right away.

However, you also have to consider that your visitors may be more reluctant to sign up if they have to fill in a lot of information right away. It may be wise to just ask for email addresses first, then ask for more information on a follow up page as a compromise between high conversions and lots of data. Visitors who have already entered their email addresses may be more willing to enter more information if you let them know it will allow you to send them more personalised emails.

3. Collect Email Addresses

You can’t start reaping the benefits of your newsletter until you get people to sign up for it. One of the most common and most effective strategies is to offer something valuable to people who opt in to your list. You could give away a free ebook, an exclusive video series, or other premium content related to your niche.

It’s also important to make sure you’re providing your subscribers with value within your emails themselves. One great way to do this is to give your subscribers access to new information or privileges before anyone else. For example, Ramsay of Blog Tyrant sends new blog posts to his list before promoting them anywhere else. This gives his subscribers the opportunity to leave the first comments, which can be a great way for them to get more traffic to their own websites. He also gives away a free ebook, and he shares exclusive tips in his newsletter that he doesn’t share anywhere else. Such a sheer amount of value makes Ramsay’s newsletter very enticing — so enticing, in fact, that I signed up for his newsletter even though I already follow him on social media.

Of course, no matter how much value you give away in your newsletter, people can’t sign up for it if they don’t know about it. You need to start promoting your newsletter just as much as you promote your blog itself. You could link to your sign up form not only in your own blog posts, but in guest posts as well. Or you could talk about your newsletter in an already-established channel, like YouTube videos or your Twitter account. Ultimately, you’ll want to gain a new audience with your newsletter, so your goal should be to create content that’s good enough that other people will promote your newsletter for you.

4. What to Send

It’s a good idea to give your email subscribers some sort of exclusive content you don’t share on your website. Perhaps you could share special tips or how-tos. Or you could get more personal and share thoughts or stories from your everyday life to help build a closer relationship with your subscribers. You could also provide links to interesting posts or other content around the web that might appeal to your readers, content you haven’t shared on Twitter or on your blog.

But if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure what to include in your newsletter, you can simply email your blog posts. This can be done automatically with a feature called RSS to Email, available as part of all major email newsletter services. Once you’ve set it up, your subscribers will receive all your blog posts in their inboxes without you having to do anything at all. You can have your posts sent individually as they’re published, or collectively as a regular digest. Once again, there’s a tradeoff here: sending frequent emails may drive more traffic to your site in the short term, but it can also affect your deliverability rates and increase the number of people who report your content as spam.

Of course, you can also send sales information. You may have heard the saying that “the money is in the list,” and most financially successful bloggers will tell you it’s true. As a matter of fact, email marketing is so effective that it accounts for 37% of Quick Sprout‘s total revenue. Many email marketers say their lists are like personal ATM machines, because they can generate revenue on a whim just by sending a simple email.

You have to understand, though, that these email marketers are able to sell through their lists because they have already provided a lot of free value and built up trust with their subscribers. If you get too salesy and start making a full-on pitch in every newsletter, don’t think your readers will hesitate to toss your emails into their Spam folders. According to this recent blog post from Jay Baer, 21% of email recipients report email as spam even if they know it isn’t. This is all the more reason to make your relationship with your subscribers your top priority.

Over To You

Regardless of where you are in your web business career, there is really no good excuse not to start an email newsletter. You can start it at little to no cost, it’s very easy to set up, and you can even have it run on autopilot. There’s a reason every popular blog (including this one!) prompts you to sign up for its email list. You’re selling yourself short if you’re not taking advantage of this extremely simple yet powerful marketing tool.

Do you have an email list? Do you have any more tips about choosing a service, getting subscribers, or coming up with great content for your list? We’d love to hear them!

Thanks to Dawgbyte77 for the image!

The Best Plugins to Monetize a WordPress Site

If we break it down, there are typically four main ways people to make money directly with a website:

  1. Selling your  own products
  2. Affiliate marketing
  3. Selling a service
  4. Advertising

Of course there may be other ways people make money with websites, but even if you have to stretch the idea a little, you could probably fit it into one of these four categories.

Today we’ll look at how you might help a WordPress site make money in each of these four areas.

1. Selling Your Own Products

Selling your own products can mean selling either physical or digital products. It can also mean selling access to content.

Physical Products: Of course selling a physical product can mean selling anything from baby strollers to sports equipment to heavy duty machinery. In order to do this with WordPress, the main piece of the puzzle you’ll need will be some type of shopping cart, and so you’ll need to look for a WordPress e-commerce plugin like MarketPress from WPMU DEV (this plugin also lets you sell digital products).

Marketpress Plugin

Digital Products: Selling digital products would include selling ebooks, audios, videos, images, etc. If you are not going through some third-party service that will handle your downloads for you, then you’ll want to pick up a digital download plugin like Easy Digital Downloads  to help you do that right through your site.

Access to Content: Selling access could encompasses membership sites, training seminars, webinars, plain news or information, etc. The easiest way to do this with WordPress is to pick up a membership plugin.

2. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing (i.e. getting a commission when selling another’s products or services) is one of the most popular ways to make money online. While some sites do run their own private affiliate programs, most people end up selling through the larger players such as Amazon, Commission Junction, LinkShare,  ShareASale, Clickbank, etc.

While there are different types of plugins out there to help with affiliate marketing, many of the top affiliate marketers often say that what works best is good, solid content and a good ol’ simple link.

But no matter what you’re linking, the one tool that should be in any affiliate marketer’s toolbox is a redirection plugin such as Pretty Link Lite or Simple URLs.

What these plugins do is turn long, ugly URLs into clean, short URLs that look like they are going to another section of your site. They also track those links for you.

So, for example, if you link to Amazon with a URL that looks like this:

amazon.com/xyz-water-bottle/ /dp/PWWOUE329/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367729447392&sr=8-1

You can turn it into a link that looks like this:

mysite.com/xyz-water-bottle/

The prettier link will likely be less of a turnoff to those who look at where the link is going by mousing over it first. But even more importantly, it will track those clicks for you. That means you can do things like set up mysite.com/xyz-water-bottle-1/ for one link and mysite.com/xyz-water-bottle-2/ for a different link (both going to same Amazon page), and then compare which link is getting more clicks. Once you have some stats, you can start analyzing and tweaking. No more guessing involved.

3. Selling a Service

Selling a service could involve all sorts of things, from selling SEO services to selling cleaning services. Different niches may require different approaches, but no matter your market, when you’re selling a service, you have to make getting in to contact with you easy.

Believe it or not, WordPress does not come with a built-in contact form. Not to worry, however, there are plenty of plugins that will do the job for you, and do it well. One of the more popular (but also simple) contact forms is the Contact Form 7 plugin.

If you want to take getting in touch even further, you could include a chat plugin like Quick Chat. Or you could even add a Skype widget to your site like Skype Online Status. This plugin will let your visitors click a button and call you on Skype right from your website.

Selling a service can also get into many other areas, such as using the Multisite function available in WordPress in order to run a site like WordPress.com, where you let users sign up for free and then place ads on their sites, or let them upgrade to premium services and then charge for them. Or you could do both, of course.

Other options that fall under the “services” banner include running a classified ads site or running a directory. In either of these cases, you can get both plugins or themes (with functionality built in) to help you do that. Also in either case, you could open up free to the public and then run advertising, or you could run a premium service and charge users per listing. Or, once again, you could do both.

4. Advertising

And finally we come to advertising. Advertising comes in many forms. Some of the more common are …

  • CPC – Cost Per Click (like Google’s Adsense)
  • CPM – Cost Per Thousand Impressions (M in this case is for the Roman numeral for 1,000)
  • Time Based Ads – Ads that stay up for an agreed upon time
  • Sponsor Ads – Things such as paid reviews or just general sponsorship of content
  • Text Link – Selling links in content

Advertising is like real estate in that location is one of the most important aspects. If your running Google Adsense, for example, then you want those ads to be in front of people so they’ll click on them. If you’re selling banner ads directly, then the advertiser is going to want the ads to be in front of people, or they aren’t going to buy from you.

All that makes sense, but it’s not quite as simple as it seems. If you rely on search engine traffic from places like Google, then you can’t just cram the top half of your site with ads so people will see them and click on them.

Well, you can, but you’ll likely lose your search traffic if you do that. You see, places like Google have page layout algorithms.  And so what that means in the real world is that search engines don’t want to send visitors to sites that are nothing but ads. They want to send visitors to sites where the content is up front and easy to find.

Because of that, advertising plugins can be especially handy. They can help you do things such as inject ads into the middle of content, show ads to some visitors but not others, automatically randomize ads, and more.

Here are a few you may want to check out:

  • AdRotate – Show random banners, use Google Adsense, get stats, get email notifications, and much more.
  • WP-Insert – Lets you insert ads in all sorts of way: before you content, after your content, in the middle of your content, to the side of your content.
  • Google Adsense Plugin – Control parameters of your Google Adsense ads right from your blog – size, color, type, positioning, etc.

While there are obviously lots other types of plugins that may help your site, it’s always important to keep in mind how your site makes money. With the loads of plugins available for WordPress, you should be able to optimize that approach, no matter which it is.

Joe Foley is a writer and editor for WPMU.org (http://wpmu.org) and WPMU DEV (http://premium.wpmudev.org). He specializes in helping WordPress users learn how to better manage their sites, as well as keep up with the latest in themes, plugins, and WordPress related services.

Photo Credit: Images_Of_Money

The Break Up: End Your Love Affair With Organic Traffic!

The Break Up: End Your Love Affair With Organic Traffic!

Organic traffic isn’t necessarily worth more than paid traffic

After several years in the industry of buying and selling websites, and in my current position running a website due diligence agency, I tend to speak to website owners with various levels of knowledge and experience.

This article aims to break a widespread myth that sites getting organic traffic from search engines are more valuable than those getting traffic from Pay per Click or Display Ads. A large number of webmasters and buyers alike, even experienced ones, tend to severely over-estimate the value of organic traffic, as opposed to that of paid traffic.

To a degree, it’s understandable. I’ve even seen several self-proclaimed ‘experts’ go as far as suggesting first time website buyers to stay away from any sites that rely on paid traffic and only deal with those that receive “natural” organic traffic from search engines.

From the last 50 or so website acquisitions that I’ve overseen either as a broker or as a due diligence consultant, the sites that had over 70% of their traffic originating from Google sold, on average, for a multiple 37% higher than those that relied mostly on paid traffic. In other words, buyers are still willing to pay a premium for sites that get organic traffic.

We’ll look at some of the main reasons why in reality organic traffic is far less valuable and more risky than its paid counterpart.

1. Overall Instability and Risk

Not many site owners realise that there’s an extremely high degree of risk and instability associated with search traffic.

Even sites that have had stable rankings for years can have their traffic disappear overnight as a result of a small change in the search engine’s algorithms (and if that engine happens to be Google, those changes can happen often!). Contrary to popular belief, this is a risk not just for sites that utilise unorthodox or blackhat SEO tactics but also for the perfectly legitimate ones.

Having a quick look around webmaster forums at the time of a major Google update will give you a good idea of the seriousness of the situation. Every update leaves hundreds of thousands of website owners puzzled as to why the rankings of their once-so-popular websites have diminished overnight.

With paid traffic however, none of these risks are present.

2. Due Diligence Burden

Needless to say, websites that have been aggressively “SEO-ed”, and especially those that have used “black hat” SEO tactics, are at an even greater risk of having their search rankings disappear overnight.

Changes in search rankings often take time to come into play, so when you’re buying a site it’s important to not only be careful with the SEO that you will perform on your newly acquired website yourself, but also take a close look at the SEO activities that the previous owner has performed. Often enough, illegitimate SEO strategies only backfire months (or sometimes years) later.

Because of this, the buyer’s due diligence burden is usually much higher when dealing with search traffic than it is when dealing with paid traffic. This is both because traffic characteristics need to be looked at more carefully and because it can often take extreme effort and great investigative skills to spot potential issues and illegitimate SEO tactics that have been used in the past but are likely to backfire in loss of traffic after the purchase.

As a buyer, this results in quite a lot of work, and as a seller, it’s in your interest to make your buyer’s life as easy as possible.

Naturally, this problem doesn’t really exist with paid traffic. Provided you can verify the source of the traffic, how much it costs and how well it converts, you can usually assume things will continue to go in the right direction.

3. Fighting Competition

Another important aspect to bear in mind when acquiring a site that depends overly on search traffic, is that you’re often limited when it comes to competing with other sites ranking for the same search keywords.

With paid traffic, who gets the top spot is mostly decided on which of the competing advertisers is willing to pay the higher price.

The size of your ad budget of course depends on how good you are at converting your leads into business, which ultimately depends on how good you are at running your business!

And that’s exactly how it should work. The website that is better at what they do gets more business. With search however, it’s a whole different story. If your site relies on search traffic then it’s effectively the search engine that decides whether the buyers should go to your site or your competitor’s site, and there is very little you can do about it other than more SEO (but this comes with a completely new set of risks).

4. Scaling Up

Something that many webmasters only realise once they’ve been running a site for a while is the lack of possibilities for scaling up organic traffic. Quite obviously, the only way to increase the traffic that your site gets from search  is moving up in rankings. However, this is more often than not an extremely difficult task that can result in the exact opposite if done incorrectly.

At the same time, most paid advertising campaigns can be scaled up quite easily. If you’re running Pay Per Click then you can simply increase your budget or widen your selection of keywords, and you’ll see an instant increase in traffic. With direct ad buys, you can sign more ad deals or increase the impression caps that you have in place for the existing ones and the result is similar.

Whilst it is also possible to scale up organic traffic sites by simply adding paid traffic to the equation, you need to bear in mind that when buying a site that is already getting paid traffic, you’re also buying all of the preparation and testing that has already been done. More importantly, you will then have proof that paid traffic does indeed work for this particular site.

Often times, starting to drive paid traffic later on only results in hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars spent, simply because many websites out there could never survive if they had to pay for their leads, effectively demonstrating a flawed business model where the business is only profitable if leads are provided free of charge!

5. Optimising the Conversion Process

Last but not least, search traffic provides a poor playground for split testing and experimenting to see what works or converts at a better rate.

As a split testing junkie, I find search traffic extremely difficult to work with. Not only do search engines provide no control over which part of my site clients first see, in many cases changes done as a result of a split test can have disastrous effects on the site’s search rankings in general.

What works for your leads and best turns them into clients isn’t necessarily what a search engine deems best content.

This can create a situation where you end up optimising your site’s main landing page for conversions, only to find out a couple of months down the line that the changes that you’ve made have lowered your search rankings and as a result, the number of leads that the page is meant to convert has decreased considerably.

With paid traffic, especially Pay Per Click, split testing is extremely simple and you can run several tests at the same time to keep increasing your conversion rate.

Conclusion

If you’re a buyer then it’s important to see whether the site you’re about to buy depends overly on search traffic and take it into your consideration when valuing the asset and performing due diligence.

Not only can you better analyse the risks associated with the site, but an educated buyer can also use the market’s overall ignorance to pick up high quality properties that depend mostly on paid traffic at lower multiples.

If you’re someone thinking of selling your site in the future and the site currently relies on search traffic then it’s in your best interest to start diversifying before it’s too late and add in some paid traffic components. Starting a Pay Per Click campaign is a simple and straightforward process, and the nature of PPC allows you to start experimenting even on a very tight budget.

Currently, many buyers are willing to pay a premium for sites like this but buyers are getting smarter daily and because of the reasons laid out above, this situation is likely going to change in the near future.

What about you? Do you place a higher value on organic traffic, or have you learned to love paid traffic sources?

Thanks to liquidnight for the photo!

You Should Remove All Ads From Your Site

You Should Remove All Ads From Your Site

Several weeks ago, we wrote about the problem with AdSense. Then, we looked at the possibility of alternative ad platforms. Today, Megan Dougherty of Firepole Marketing shares a controversial opinion: you should do away with advertising on your website altogether. 

Getting a website is easy.

Really easy.

So easy that anyone can do it.

Maybe you build it yourself on a platform like WordPress or Joomla, or maybe you buy one ready made from a service like Flippa.

Easy!

You know what isn’t easy?

Making money from a website.

Not only is it not easy – but there’s a ton of options, and for every option oodles of competing advice on how best to do it.

Most of it sucks.

It sucks in a staggering variety of ways – sometimes the advice is old, sometimes it’s ineffective, sometimes it’s unethical – really, the ways in which advice about monetization can suck never ceases to amaze me.

(Don’t get me wrong! There’s plenty of GOOD advice out there too! Like here, and here, and here, just for starters!)

My least favourite piece of advice is to dump a bunch of ads on your site and watch the money roll in from advertising fees.

That’s just stupid.

Let me tell you why.

But first…

Why Do So Many People Think It’s a Good Idea?

Because it worked for a long time.

In the earlier days of the internet making a keyword dense, article website with a healthy dose of Pay-Per Click ads on it was a reliable way to set up an income producing blog.

You’ve heard the advice – some folks are still giving it: Exact match domains, long tail keywords, article spinning + Google Ads = profit.

Because it was so effective for so long – and because there was even MORE money in teaching people these systems – it’s still often considered the go-to way to build an income producing site.

There’s also another reason it’s still so popular as an idea. And it’s not a nice one, so brace yourself:

It’s easy.

It’s easy to set up a site, populate it with some content and run a bunch of ads – and let’s face it – the dream of a big fat passive income is one that’s hard to give up.

A few people still make money this way – and, I suppose,  maybe you could too – but it’s really not the best method any more, and it’s definitely not the most sustainable.

It’s time. The internet has grown up and moved on and so must we.

What’s Wrong With This Method?

There’s a couple of reasons:

1) You can’t beat Google

Google employs thousands of the smartest people in the world whose job is to stop businesses like this from working. You can’t beat them. Don’t try.

The reason for this is that it’s in Google’s best interest to make sure that people get the kind of results they WANT when they search. And for the most part searchers don’t want to have to click through many sites to find what they want. They want an answer to a question, or information about a topic, or something to buy, and they want to find it on their first click away from Google’s result pages. Google needs to give it to them, so the searchers will continue to use Google’s system, and they have a hugely complicated algorithm personalized on a person to person basis designed to give people what they want.

And it goes even further – there are some arbitrage issues. Google views websites like this – that exist only to funnel traffic to other sources as a form of, essentially, theft.

Let’s break that down from your perspective and from Google’s.

How you see it:

You have a site that is listed in Google’s search results, and you want lots of traffic so that when people find you in search results, or otherwise, then enter your site they can click on one of the ads you are hosting. You get paid for the click with money Google collects from advertisers. If this happens many times, you can make some money and everyone is happy.

How Google sees it:

They have a directory of websites that have the solutions to the problems of searchers, and when someone clicks on a link they find on Google’s results pages, Google wants them to find the information they are looking for, so that Google doesn’t have to deliver any pay-per-click commissions, and the user is happy with the speed and effectiveness of Google as a Search Engine.

When a site is designed to make its money off of advertising – it will never be the end of a searcher’s quest for information – they must click more times to find the information they are looking for. Google must process the commission, incur expenses related to doing so, and deal with a less satisfied customer – as well as an advertiser who is paying for something THEY could have gotten for free from search results as well.

Basically, Google sees ad-heavy sites as getting in between their users, and what their users want – and that’s not a good thing for anyone.

As bloggers, we cannot hope to cheat, shortcut or find loopholes through Google, and really – it’s not even in our best interest to do so.

2) You’re wasting precious attention

Even if this wasn’t the case – monetizing a site smaller than the Huffington Post with advertising is possibly the biggest waste of attention you can accomplish. When someone clicks an ad on your site – they are leaving your site. This means they’re not joining your list, commenting on a blog post, reading a product review or doing any of the myriad other things that could lead to money in your pocket. Follow this through to the next step and it means they’re gone – that customer lifetime value to you is, what, 4 cents? They’re gone forever and you have very little to show for it.

Let’s do the math on this so you can really see what I’m saying.

Let’s say that you have a website populated with ads, and you earn 20 cents (if you’re lucky!) every time someone clicks on one.

Maybe 1 in 100 people will click on and ad. (Again, this is a generous estimate!)

That means to make a dollar, you need 500 visitors to your site.

To make, say, $1000 a month, you need about half a million people to visit your site.

If you’ve got half a million visitors to your site every month, and all you can earn from them is $1000 – that’s a pretty poor use of traffic!

In fact, if you manage to hit those levels at all, it would be a crying shame of a waste.

What You Should Do Instead

What I’m about to tell you is very simple – but please do not make the mistake of thinking that it is easy.

Build an audience, and give them what they want.

Let’s define these terms:

Audience: An audience is a group of people who you have a relationship with and who are interested in what you have to say. They all generally have certain things in common – if nothing more than a shared interest in your subject matter. They read, comment on and share your blog posts, they respond to your emails, and they, occasionally, buy your products.

What they Want: When you have an audience as described above – they talk to you. It’s amazing, really, how much people will tell you about who they are, what they’ve done and what they need in their life. They will come right out and say things like: “I wish I knew what the best e-reader was.” Or “Why can’t I find out the best kind of professional to get financial advice from?”

These are things people say to people they like – so be someone they like.

Now, knowing you need an audience and building one are two VERY different things – building an audience isn’t easy – but it’s terribly worth while.

So how does it work?

Let me give you the quick and dirty version. (The long version would take ages – but if you’re interested, let me know in the comments and we’ll see if we can’t arrange something!)

  1. Define your ideal person. This is the person to whom you could provide the best service, would most enjoy working with, and importantly, has the ability to pay you for things.
  2. Attract their attention – you can do this through blogging, through social media, through networking – the only limit is your imagination.
  3. Get them on an email list and start showering them with value.  Try to solve a problem they have, or provide them some delight, for free! Then continue to give them useful, valuable information about your area of mutual interest – always asking for feedback and inviting questions and replies from them.
  4. Based on what you know about them, who they are, what they need and what they’ve told you – sell them something. Maybe your own product or service, maybe something through an affiliate – but the point is that it will be something you have pre-verified that they want to spend money on.

That’s all there is to it. 😉

But Wait – That Sounds Like a LOT of Work

It is. These things are.

The thing is that a passive income isn’t really passive. You absolutely, 100% can design and build a business that doesn’t involve a lot of hands-on work on your part – but doing so is the work of months or years.

And if you’re not involved – if you’re not more than the unseen creator of a website – then it’s not likely to last past the next Google update.

The real problem with monetization by advertising isn’t that it doesn’t work – it’s that it isn’t effective. For the amount of traffic you would need to see any money from an ad-monetized website, for all of the work it takes to get that traffic – you could make many, many times the money genuinely engaging with people, and directing them to resources they need.

If you want things to be easy – you get a job.

If you want something long term and sustainable – you get an audience.

Advertising, if it comes into this at all – is an afterthought. A tactic. A small component to a bigger strategy.

It should never be the whole story.

Megan Dougherty is the Education Lead over at Firepole Marketing. That means she works on training programs, blog content and closely with students tackling tricky business problems. Firepole Marketing is all about giving small business owners and entrepreneurs the tools and training  they need to grow their businesses and be successful.

Edited to add: There’s a great conversation about ads, CTR and strategy happening over in our brand-new Google+ community.

This photo is by Drew Stefani