I know, I know – another one of those “year-end round-up” posts!
Before you roll your eyes, let me ask you a question: do you periodically take a step back and critically examine what’s going well in your online business, and what could be working better? If not, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to build on your strengths and fix problems that might be holding your business back.
Over the past few days I’ve been reflecting on what’s happened in my own online business in 2011. It’s been a rollercoaster year. The year started out with traffic (and revenue) building steadily, then in mid-year my sites were hit with a severe Google slap. Due to the drop in rankings my traffic was cut in half, and my revenue also took a big hit. Now I’m in re-building mode.
In retrospect, getting slapped by Google has been a good thing (everything is better in retrospect, isn’t it?), because it’s made me explore ways to broaden my sources of traffic, and focus more on the converting the traffic I’m already getting.
I strongly believe that one skill human beings don’t use enough of is INTROSPECTION – in other words, we don’t take the time to examine why we behave the way we do, and why we do the things we do.
In an IM context, this means looking back at the decisions we made and identifying the good decisions and the bad decisions. What actions did we take that increased traffic and conversions? What things had a NEGATIVE impact on our business?
As I mentioned, around October of this year my portfolio of health websites got slapped by Google – hard! Traffic for some of my sites went down 50% overnight.
Now, some people might say that getting slapped by Google wasn’t a result of anything I did directly. But that’s not true. In trying to figure out the reasons my sites were slapped, I concluded two things hurt them in Google’s eyes:
• Some of the content on my sites isn’t the greatest (the content is poorly written and not very informative)
• Most of my sites aren’t updated regularly with fresh content
(For an excellent article on what Google is looking for, check out this Entrepreneur’s Journey article.)
In this post I’m going to tell you 4 lessons I learned while building my business in 2011, and explain how you can use them to build your online business in 2012.
The Importance of Focus
One of the curses of internet marketing is the sheer number of moving parts that a newbie has to deal with just to make their first dollar online.
Think about it. To get a site up an earning you need to know about:• Market research (aka niche research) • Keyword research • Competition research • Product research • Website development • Traffic generation • Web analytics • Conversion optimization
And on and on!
This is why a lot of newbies bounce from one make-money-online course to another, sometimes for months or years, without making a single dime online. It’s a sad game that I call “affiliate pinball”. (And it’s the main reason I created my Niche Sherpa Video Coaching Course. Subtle plug there, eh
Amidst all of this chaos, it’s really hard to focus. Even seasoned internet marketers struggle with this problem! 2011 was my most productive year in IM to date, and I attribute much of that productivity to following a few simple rules of FOCUS:
1. Before going to bed (or first thing in the morning), I make a list of things that I want to get done during the day. I make sure that the list is not too ambitious, and focus on just ONE important task that will push my business forward.
That one important task has to satisfy a single criterion: will it result in more revenue, either today or in the near future?
2. Get the one important task done BEFORE checking email (or Facebook, or whatever). I think it was Tim Ferriss who turned me on to the importance of NOT checking email first thing in the morning. And it makes complete sense. How many times have you got sucked into the email vortex, getting consumed with trivia issues that pop up from your inbox, only to emerge later in the afternoon with nothing to show for it?
These days, I usually check my email mid-morning, AFTER I’ve accomplished at least one thing that was on my to-do list.
3. Focus on getting ONE thing done at a time – then take a break. Whenever I hear someone bragging that they’re a “great multi-tasker”, it makes me shudder. Because multi-tasking is the enemy of quality work. Maybe there are some people who can work on a new information product while optimization their paid search traffic and folding the laundry at the same time, but it’s certainly not me! And I suspect that those people are also doing a half-ass job of everything. I’d rather use my whole ass in completing one task at a time well.
(Side note: check out this interesting article on productivity. It mentions research on world-class violinists, and says they almost never practice for more than 4.5 hours per day, get more than 8 hours sleep each night, and often take a nap once during the day!)
Focus has allowed me to create more products this year than any other and to accomplish much more than I would had I been trying to do a thousand things at once.
The Importance of Trying Out New Things (While Still Maintaining Focus)
Here’s another thing that’s crucial to success in internet marketing, but something that also requires a fine balance: trying out new things (ways of making money, traffic sources, etc.) while not spreading yourself too thin.
I’ve consulted with IM newbies who fall into one of two camps: people who chase every “shiny new object” (and end up getting traction in nothing) and people who keep banging their head against the wall with the same website, business model, or traffic source – even though it’s not working and probably never will work.
Here’s an example of something new I tried this year that’s turned out really well. About midway through 2011 I had a coaching call with an internet marketer who I’ve admired for quite a while, but hadn’t had a chance to speak with before. I took a LOT of important points from that call, but one of the key recommendations was that I offer a physical version of all my Clickbank products.
I had thought about selling a physical version of my health ebooks before, but always assumed that nobody would pay enough to cover my shipping and handling fee, and still leave room for profit. Well, after the call with my mentor, I launched those physical products. And was my assumption correct?
NO WAY! In fact, even though I’m charging $77 for the physical product (which includes a printed guide and a CD or DVD), my conversion rate has INCREASED from 2% to 3%.
Now, an increase from 2% to 3% might not sound like much – until you consider that it’s a jump of 50% in sales!
I’ve also started using a really cool tool called CPV Lab. CPV Lab is tracking software that tells me exactly which keywords are leading to sales in my pay-per-click advertising campaigns. I haven’t mastered the software yet (it’s a little technical, and I’m a tech dunce), but I can see the huge impact it will have as I try out new sources of paid traffic.
What have I tried this year that hasn’t worked out? Chasing competitive keywords that just aren’t worth the effort. I’ve had my SEO staff working on a handful of very competitive keywords for the better part of a year – and after making a little bit of headway in the rankings, I was slapped way down in the most recent Google algorithm update (aka the “Panda” update).
At the same time, I’ve had much more luck sticking to the top of the rankings for less competitive keywords (albeit keywords that also get much less traffic). Lesson learned? It’s much better to go after a whole lot of low-volume (but also low-competition) keywords than a handful of high-competition ones.
The Power of Outsourcing
If you follow the blogs of any IM gurus, you’ve probably seen them repeat a familiar line: “The one thing I’d do differently if I was starting over is I’d outsource sooner”.
I wholeheartedly agree! The number of hours I’ve struggled with SEO and PHP and many other aspects of website development is mind-boggling…and dumb. I now have a small team who handle all of my SEO, and an assistant who I’m setting up to work directly with my programmer – so I can work more on the areas of my business that interest me (market research and product development).
It’s still not a perfect process, but when I see the team communicating with one another on Basecamp (and I don’t have to participate) I can see the potential – and it’s really exciting!
Leveraging the time, experience, and enthusiasm of inexpensive labour in countries like India and the Philippines is absolutely essential if you want to free yourself from tedious tasks and grow your business.
The Money Really IS in the List
I hate to use a time-worn cliche, but email is so important in generating online income that if you’re not building a list you’re really missing out.
This point was driven home to me once again during the Christmas season that we’re currently in. In the past week I’ve had a “sale” on my information products, and was able to advertise that sale to thousands of people AT NO COST to me with the push of a few buttons.
Here are the results of sending out a couple of emails for one of my products:
If I hadn’t been building opt-in email lists on my sites over the past year, the only way I would have been able to advertise this sale would be through paid advertising – which would have greatly reduced my profit margin.
I won’t say more about building lists now, because I’m working on a post for January. Keep your eyes open for a post in the next month on how YOU can make money with an email autoresponder.
Things I’ll Be Doing Differently in 2012 (How About You?)
So how will my “lessons learned” from 2011 translate into action in 2012? In at least three ways:
1. Working ON My Business More, and IN My Business Less
In 2011 I’ve concentrated on doing two things that are essential to scaling a business: (1) building a good team; and (2) systematizing processes.
The first point is obvious: we’ve all heard successful entrepreneurs say “surround yourself with smart people”. In the IM world, I think that also means “build a team of good workers”. The second point (systematizing processes) is extremely important in scaling a business, but most people struggle to grasp it. And the reason is simple: I think many business owners would love to break their business into chunks, and then outsource the chunks they’re not interested in (or good at). But most people don’t know where to start.
Over the past few months in particular I’ve been working hard on “chunking down” the processes that comprise my business, and developing guides and video tutorials that I can hand off to outsource workers to keep my business running – and expanding.
Here’s what’s so important about DOCUMENTING the processes (i.e. writing them down, or recording them on video): even if you lose one of your outsource staff, you can quickly and easily train a replacement by simply pointing them to the documentation.
This is a crucial point to grasp and act on.
(If you’re interested in breaking your business down into chunks, start with my blog post on the 8 components of an online business. It’ll get you thinking about the “big picture” of your business).
2. Focusing on RESULTS, Not Activities
This is a mindset issue that I think a lot of people have trouble wrapping their heads around. Instead of focusing on WHAT or HOW MUCH you (or your outsourcers) are doing, look at the impact those actions are having.
An example: when many IMers hire a person to do backlinking to their sites, they often specify the number of links per day they want that backlinker to build. But as anyone with SEO experience knows, the QUALITY of backlinks is far more important than the quantity. One high-quality link can be worth more than hundreds of crappy directory links.
I’m as guilty as anyone of falling into this trap, so I’ve already outlined my goals for 2012 and shared those with my team. Here are some of my goals:
- Increase organic traffic to 50,000 visits per month across portfolio
- Achieve #1 to #3 ranking for target keywords for all existing sites
- 30% email opt-in rate on target pages
- 4% sales rate on target sales pages
- 50% improvement in ad CTR on target pages
In 2012 I’m going to be keeping my eye on these goals like s hawk – and paying less attention to day-to-day minutiae of what my staff are doing.
3. Exploring Different Models for Making Money Online
Like everything else in life, the best ways to make money online evolve and change from year-to-year. In the mid-2000s (apparently), it was possible to buy 5 cent clicks on Google Adwords, send it to a 1990s-style landing page with lots of animated GIFs, and rake in the profits.
Oh, how times have changed!
I strongly believe that there are still lots of opportunities to make money online in 2012 – but sending Adwords traffic to crappy landing pages isn’t one of them!
One new business line that I’m really excited about for 2012 is having my team build websites, get them ranked and earning Adsense revenue, and then flipping them. Not exactly rocket science, but with a team working for me, I think it’s a good model to try out. Will it be a killer addition to my business, sending fountains of cash flying into my pockets? Time (and testing) will tell. But it’s important to try out new things.
2011 was a tumultuous year for many IMers. In this post I’ve described some of the things I learned, and how I’ll be applying that learning to 2012.
Now my question for you: what will you be doing differently in 2012 to grow your online business?