If there’s one thing the Great Recession has done, it’s forced a lot of people to reassess their careers and how they make money (if they’re fortunate enough to still have a career, and still be making money).
The result? Well, one of the results has been a shift in people looking to start their own business – including an online business.
Check out this graph from Google Trends showing the gradual (but noticeable) increase in searches for the term “make money online”.
As you can see, that term took a jump in the second half of 2007 – which is around the time the economy in Western countries started to go into the toilet.
This completely makes sense. I’m not sure who said it, but I can remember reading once that “the ultimate security is the security that you create YOURSELF”.
Which is one of the (many) reasons I get tremendous satisfaction in running an online business. Not only can the SKILLS you develop provide you with more security than a job, an online business is an amazing creative outlet.
And here’s the kicker: if you learn about search engine optimization and have some patience, you can rank higher than every other site on that topic! It truly is the best time in history to be an entrepreneur.
People might think their job with a big company (or the government) is iron-clad – until the day “cost-cutting measures” are introduced by the CEO, and they’re out the door.
Now, I’m not bashing jobs. There are enough make-money-online shysters who already do that! But I sincerely think that the only security one creates is in the SKILLS that they cultivate, and the ATTITUDE that they choose to bring to their life.
Which is why the online survey I’ve been running on this blog for the past two months has been so interesting.
Results of the KeywordsBlogger Survey
If you’ve downloaded my free report, you’ve probably seen the brief questionnaire. I have a link to it on the download page for the free report, and it contains two simple questions:
- What’s your most important question about finding a niche?
- How long have you been trying to make money online?
Over the past two months 1,432 people have opted-in to get my free report, and (as of yesterday) 682 people have answered the survey.
And over the past couple of days I’ve analyzed the data – reading through answers, grouping them into themes, and examining the patterns.
To say that it was fascinating is a massive understatement!
Here’s some of the information I’ve pulled out of the survey data that I describe below:
- Which countries the survey-takers are from (this is more interesting than you might think)
- How long people have been trying to make money online
- The top challenges they’re facing in starting an online business
Which Countries the Survey-Takers are From
People from 68 countries around the world have completed the survey! Amazing…
Check out this cool map from my Survey Gizmo dashboard that shows where survey respondents come from (each dot represents at least one respondent):
My favourite is the dot off the southern coast of Alaska (top-left corner of the map). I didn’t even know there were islands there!
Here are the top ten countries, in terms of the number of people who completed the survey:
Country/# of Respondents
Not many surprises there – I would have expected the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia to come in the top ten.
What did surprise me was the number of responses I had in Spanish. As I mentioned, people from 68 countries have completed my survey. But regardless of the country they come from, most participants gave their answer in English –with the exception of those from Spanish-speaking countries. While less than 5% of respondents live in Spanish-speaking countries, most of their answers were given in Spanish.
Now, please don’t think I’m “slagging off” the Spanish-speakers for not competing the survey in English. On the contrary, actually. I see this as a huge opportunity!
Anyone who follows Clickbank knows that some merchants have massively scaled their sales by simply translating their English-language product into another language (notably: German, French, and Spanish).
I think you can see where I’m going here: the future of information products is in non-English-speaking parts of the world. Not coincidentally, those are also the parts of the world where there is a redistribution of hope going on.
As Richard and I have corresponded about, there are huge, emerging pockets of opportunity in places where none existed before. As internet marketers, the key is to keep our eyes open for these opportunities, and learn how to exploit them.
Amount of IM Experience
As I mentioned, one of the two questions asked in the survey was “How long have you been trying to make money online?”
Interestingly, almost half (48%) of the people who completed the survey are complete newbies to internet marketing (i.e. they’ve been trying to make money online for less than six months). The second-biggest group was on the opposite end of the spectrum – they’ve been trying to make money online for more than 2 years.
Here’s how the numbers break down:
Less than 6 months: 324
6 months to 1 year: 110
1 to 2 years: 85
More than 2 years: 148
And if you like graphs (like me!):
What does this tell me? It reinforces that Google Trends graph that I showed you at the beginning of this post: for numerous reasons (especially the recession), a lot of people have jumped online lately, and are trying to make a go of the make-money-online dream.
Alright, now to the meat of this post: what are the things that internet marketers are struggling with?
Top 8 Challenges of Internet Marketing Newbies
One of the things I noticed in analyzing the data is how often some responses came up. While I did read some vastly different challenges that some people are facing, there seems to be a handful of persistent problems that many newcomers to IM are facing.
What’s the lesson there? If you feel daunted by the obstacles in starting an online business, you’re not alone! There are probably many (many) people out there who share your feelings.
Here’s the list:
Challenge #1: Finding a Profitable Niche
Surprise! Most IMers want to find a niche that will make them money straight out of the gate.
Here’s a typical comment, from one survey respondent:
- “How can I identify a profitable niche with 99% certainty that it is profitable?”
Did you see that? They used the word “profitable” twice in that short sentence!
Here’s another response:
- “How and what can I test to decide whether it will be a profitable niche?”
In essence, newbies want to know how to determine the profitability of a niche before they set up a website and all of that other stuff.
I think this reflects a fundamental aspect of our human nature: the desire to avoid risk. This is especially the case if you have previous experience of working hard on a site that goes nowhere, or sunk money into a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaign that bombed. Most of us would like to avoid the “trial-and-error” approach that many internet marketers go through in their early days.
Challenge #2: Finding an Uncompetitive Niche
At first, I was surprised by the number of people who claimed this as their #1 challenge. But then the more I thought about it, it made complete sense.
In most IM courses put out by the gurus, the advice is to choose a popular market where affiliates are already making sales. The logic is this: if affiliates are already making sales, there’s proven demand, so it’s a “safe” market to get into.
The “proven demand” part of that logic is correct, but there’s one small problem: proven markets are often cut-throat in their competitiveness. I’ve lost track of the number of newbie affiliates who have told me they lost their shirt in three days promoting X product using pay-per-click advertising.
So, it makes sense that people are looking for a safe way to ease into this business. But – I would add – instead of blindly following other affiliates to see if a market exists, there are niche research techniques one can use to find a market of their own to dominate. (I know this from experience, and currently operate in two markets where I have no direct competition.)
A couple of comments from the survey:
- “How do I narrow down a broad niche so it is profitable yet not overloaded with competition?”
- “How competitive is the niche that I have selected? That is, is the market already saturated with IMs or can I successfully find an audience who will benefit from my articles and will be happy to purchase recommended products?”
Challenge #3: Finding a “Profit AND Passion” Niche
We’ve all heard the saying “follow your heart and the money will come” (or words to that effect). That’s the dream many of us follow: working on our own terms, at something we love, while earning a good income.
So it wasn’t surprising to learn that many IM newbies are trying to find a way to integrate their interests/passions into their online business.
Here’s what two survey respondents had to say:
- “Can I find a PROFITABLE niche in a field I’m passionate about?”
- “I’m looking into IM again after several failed efforts a few years ago. Things have changed, of course, and since I didn’t succeed before I still consider myself a newbie. I guess my biggest question is, if you pick the niche first, should you (or shouldn’t you) pick something that you’re familiar with? I’m not sure how I would promote something to a niche I can’t identify with. I hope that makes sense.”
Challenge #4: Niche Selection: Step-by-Step
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of information there is to learn about starting an online business?
You’re not alone. I still marvel at the number of “moving parts” that an online business has: niche research, keyword research, website development, content development, product development, traffic generation (which itself has dozens of tactics), conversion optimization, customer service…and on and on.
It’s no wonder that IM newbies (in particular) are looking for some hand-holding in getting their online venture off the ground. In fact, two common threads that wove their way through the survey results were the question “Where do I start?”, and the comment “I need a step-by-step plan”.
Here’s a representative comment from the survey:
- “I’m new to e-commerce and all its facets. I’m overwhelmed with so many different levels or steps in the process of becoming a merchant/reseller/affiliate. My question would be, “I need to know it all. Where is it?”
Challenge #5: How to Get Traffic
Traffic is the lifeblood of internet marketing. Unfortunately, the saying “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply to IM!
You can have the best product in the world, but if you’re not getting it in front of people, you simply won’t make money. That’s why “traffic generation” courses are so popular in the internet marketing world.
Respondents to my survey had a range of questions about getting traffic, but they all boiled down to this one question from a Brazilian respondent: “How to reach them?”
Challenge #6: How to Develop Products
So you’ve done good niche research to figure out the range of needs of your target audience, and you’ve chosen a topic that is potentially lucrative AND one that you’re interested in. What next?
One of your next steps should be to either develop your own product (preferably an information product), or find existing products that you can promote as an affiliate.
But how do you know what type of product to develop (or choose)? That was the sixth-most mentioned challenge by survey-takers.
Choosing or developing products is MUCH easier if you thoroughly understand the needs of your audience – but there are still some steps that you need to go through to choose products that have a higher chance of being bought by your audience.
Challenge #7: How to do Keyword Research
Keyword research is one of the most important skills an internet marketer can have – because even though sites like Facebook are becoming a major source of traffic, most people still start their internet browsing with a search engine. So, for the foreseeable future, driving traffic to your sites means understanding what keywords people are typing into the search engines.
Many newbies to internet marketing seem to understand this, as the seventh-biggest challenge mentioned in the survey was how to do effective keyword research.
Here are some of the specific challenges mentioned by people who completed the survey:
- “When I find a niche, how do I find the right keywords to promote the niche and make sales”
- “What keyword global monthly search number is too small?”
- “How do I find the right balance of high volume and low competition keywords”
Challenge #8: How “Micro” to Go in Targeting a Niche Audience
I talk a lot on this blog about FOCUS – about choosing an audience and researching the specific unmet needs of that audience (because if you take a “guessing” approach and manage to be successful, you can only chalk it up to luck, not skill).
Related to this, one of the questions I often get is how “micro” to go when targeting an audience. This issue also came out loud and clear in the survey.
Here’s a comment (a hilarious one) from one respondent that is representative of this challenge:
- “How small or large should the niche be? Where do I stop? White single males, under 30, college educated, with incomes greater than 45K, who play basketball more than twice a week, participate on Facebook and drive Nissans, and eat out more than 4 times a week, prefer blonde girlfriends and want to start their own business within six months and live in Washington DC?”
As I mentioned in the intro to this post, if you’re facing a bunch of challenges in getting your online business off the ground, please don’t feel alone – because you’re not.
The survey I’ve been running over the past couple of months shows that there are a handful of key challenges facing many people who are new to the make-money-online industry (and, of course, those of us who are a little more seasoned aren’t free of problems either!)
Do you see yourself in any of the challenges I described above? If so (or not), please leave a comment below.