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Make Money From a Low-traffic Blog [Case Study]

This guest post is by Nathan Barry of Designing Web Applications.

It seems like every day you read a story about a blogger who released a product to their audience and made a ton of money overnight. But then after you read more details about their story, you learn that they already had a popular blog with a huge audience.

That’s the point in the process where I always used to feel disappointed. While I wanted to replicate their success, I didn’t have an audience.

My story is different. Yes, I managed to pull off a massively successful product launch, but I did it with a tiny audience. I hope this is a story you can relate to and learn from.

The beginnings

In June 2012, I had 100 RSS subscribers for my blog. Not 10,000, just 100. And I’d been working steadily on my blog, pushing everyone to subscribe by RSS, for over a year. Not great results.

But a few months later, on September 4th, I released my first product, an ebook called The App Design Handbook, which went on to make $12,000 on launch day and has passed $35,000 in total sales.

Now are you interested?

Focus on a big goal

What happened in those three months between June and the September launch? The biggest change I made was focus. Since I was working on the book I decided that my blog was going to be almost entirely focused on the topic of designing iPhone and iPad applications. So I started writing posts and tutorials that would be valuable to that audience.

I was hardly the first person to write tutorials about designing apps. In fact, there were many much more popular blogs out there. But I was one of the first to write an ebook on the subject. So when people came to my site and saw that I was working on The App Design Handbook, it gave me instant credibility.

Focusing on a big goal, in my case writing a book, will give you credibility and a reason for visitors to follow your progress.

Give people a way to follow along

At the bottom of each post I wrote from then on, I placed an email signup form for the book. It didn’t provide much information (it would have been better had I provided more), but I did give people a chance to hear about the book when it launched.

This list gradually grew to 795 subscribers by the time I released the book.

Watching this list grow gave me the confidence that my methods were working and encouraged me to keep writing posts on designing iOS apps.

It is really important that you give your readers a way to opt in and let you know they are interested in your work. I’ve found email to be the best way to do this.

Share valuable content

The posts I wrote were all tutorials about designing and coding better products. Nothing super-elaborate, just what I thought would be helpful to someone learning about design. My most popular post was titled “User Experience Lessons from the New Facebook iOS App.”

Facebook’s iOS application had been notorious for its mediocre user experience and slow speeds. So when Facebook released a new version, I took the opportunity to dissect all the design changes they made to see what I could learn. The designers at Facebook didn’t change anything major, but they made a lot of minor improvements that designers everywhere could learn from.

I hoped this post would do well on sites like Reddit and Hacker News, but it didn’t really get any traction. To my surprise, though, it started getting shared on Twitter. After three days, it had been tweeted and retweeted over 100 times, driving a lot of traffic.

More importantly, that drove a lot of email signups to my book list.

Create a good product

It would be a waste to spend months building up to a brilliant product launch, only to have a poor product. So, I spent most of my time in those three months actually working on the book itself.

It’s important to do the marketing and promotion posts (that’s the part most people ignore), but you still need to write the book or meet your larger goal.

Yet, like all things, it’s a balance. If you focus 100% of your attention on the product, you won’t sell any copies. So find the right balance between creating the product and marketing the product. I find my time is split 50/50.

The launch event

Some people say you should let people pre-order the product to test demand. While I really like this idea, I didn’t do it. I decided that the email list was enough validation that there was a demand from the market, and I wanted to create a lot of buzz by focusing everything to the launch day.

While this strategy turned out fine for me, I don’t know enough to make a recommendation one way or the other.

I do know that if you can make a big splash, a single-day launch can help sales.

Guest posts

Speaking of a big splash, I did some guest posting as well. My original goal was to have between 15 and 20 guest posts all go live on launch day. I didn’t even make it close! But five really solid posts went live on some great sites on September 4th, with one more the next day.

It just goes to show that if you set high goals, even your failures are still a small success.

None of these posts drove a lot of traffic, but I think they helped remind people about the book. That’s why I love a single-day launch event. The first time someone mentions a book on Twitter you may not pay any attention. But then if you see an article by the same author on one of your favorite blogs, the two impressions together may be enough to get you to check it out.

So, do guest posts related to your product launches, but don’t expect thousands of visitors from guest posts. Guest posts are more about building relationships and name recognition than they are about driving traffic.

Using the email list

A week before launch I sent out a sample chapter and the table of contents to my pre-launch list. A few people unsubscribed, but they wouldn’t have purchased the book anyway.

It’s important to stay in contact with your email list, rather than trying to sell to them out of the blue months after they signed up. If you’ve been completely silent until asking for the sale, the common response will be, “Who are you, and how did you get my email address?” rather than them remembering who you are, that they opted in to your list, and are interested in your product.

It would have been better if I had delivered valuable content to them for a couple weeks leading up to the launch, but at least I did something. Then on launch day, everyone was expecting the sales email. I sent it out at 6:00 AM Mountain Time and had $1,000 in sales within ten minutes. For me, that was absolutely crazy! I never expected success so quickly.

That’s the power of a good email list.

The total was $12,000 in sales by the end of the first 24 hours, and $35,000 after two months, all from a blog that was visited fewer than 100 times a day a few months prior.

Wrapping it up

I hope it’s helped to you to follow my process and see how your own blog could make money, even if you aren’t popular. You need to focus on a big project, give people a way to opt in and follow along, focus on delivering value, and make a big splash on launch day.

Got it? I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments!

Nathan Barry is the author of Designing Web Applications, a complete guide to designing beautiful, easy-to-use web software. He also writes about design and business at NathanBarry.com.

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Comments

  1. Paul Profitt says:

    Hi Nathan, I found your article a very interesting read. Would I be right in saying that a big part of your success was getting more people to sign up to your list via an auto-responder service, rather than your RSS feed ?

  2. Rhys says:

    Hi Nathan,

    Interesting article, thank you.

    This resonates with me as I have never built a huge list or a huge traffic blog. I prefer the focused product, and a focused list. But you must keep it warm!

  3. Tyas says:

    Can do business online, only with new web and potluck, really right for me. Thanks for your guide.

  4. Dustin Small says:

    Hi Nathan, glad to hear about you success. One question – you only had 100 visits per day a few months prior, but how many visits per day were you able to increase to by launch time?

    • Nathan Barry says:

      For the month of August (just before launch) I averaged 600-700 visits per day, but that included some large spikes for popular articles.

  5. Nathan, you’ve made some excellent points that establish the importance of leveraging the audience you already have. It’s not always about quantity, because if you over-deliver, sometimes your audience will do the leg work for you. And this is another post that highlights how powerful guest posting really is. Thanks again for the article, and showing that with a little bit of passion and experimentation, you can make a powerful impact!

  6. Natalie says:

    Really useful article! Thanks for sharing !

  7. Awesome story Nathan thanks for sharing.

    Why not duplicate your efforts again in 2013 this time with an Android product?

  8. Trevor says:

    That’s an inspiring tale! At this point in my blogging career (6 weeks in, or so) I would kill for 100 visits a day and 100 RSS subscribers. Still, your blog was small by most standards and yet you managed an incredibly successful product launch. Respect.

    Thanks for the valuable insight!

    Cheers!

  9. David Wang says:

    What a great story. You hear stories of bloggers who are successful because they have been doing everything right. These are the people who work on their blog full time. So to hear a story of someone whose blog is not their full time ‘job’ and the success that you achieve, it’s inspiring. It shows that non-full time bloggers can also achieve big success. Time for me to begin planning my 2013 resolutions :)

  10. Smart post Nathan!

    I like the emphasis on creating value and marketing. The fundamentals do remain the same, and the fact that you generated so many sales in such a short period is a testament to the responsiveness of your list.

    This is something you build over time. You can make a good deal of money online if you are willing to put in the time, creating value over the long haul. Getting rich quick is a silly idea, because money that flows in fast flows out quickly too.

    But, if you are willing to patiently create value through your blog, and release a top shelf product, you can do quite nicely, even if you do not receive a high volume of traffic, as you have proven.

    Thanks!

  11. Well Great article man! I just love earning from a low traffic blog.

    Regards

  12. Janet says:

    Words are powerful or else we wouldn’t even have bloggers or books or magazines.
    I would like to see the phrase “make money” replaced with “earn money”. To me it conveys a strong psychological point, that one works for their income, it doesn’t just magically appear.

  13. Rick says:

    Outstanding. I love the idea of writing and selling a book. Have you put the book on Amazon / Kindle yet?

    Rick

  14. Ivan Widjaya says:

    Nathan,

    You have proven that, once again, product should be THE focus of every single blog (which reminds me- I should create one for my blog)

    Many argue that a blog’s product is its blog post. But many others have proven from time to time again that it’s not the end product. Quality blog posts drive traffic, and the blogs’ primary role is to funnel those traffic into product sales, signups or whatever.

    Cheers for the great post!

  15. What I love about this post is knowing people who are hungry for your information despite you being the small guy. Guest post really works well especially if you have done it the right way.

  16. Very nice to see other people making money from low-traffic blogs. Thank you for sharing details of your strategy. I’m in a similar boat, since I’m in a very small niche market, with a list of less than 400. Good on ya’ for not giving up!

  17. PopDom says:

    Yeah Nathan, your spot on! The point you made here is “targeted” – it is so much better to have a targeted list that have become your friends and colleagues, so when you go to sell something the leads are already hot.

    And so many folks overlook FeedBurner – it still works great and has great purpose for opening the door to the autoresponder types lists.

  18. This is awesome! Great perspective. Everyone focuses on those big launches but most of us are still building an audience and the great thing about your approach is that by choosing to monetizing you actually grew your audience like 800% really quickly – then you made $ – that’s awesome.

    Congrats man and thanks for the post.
    Chris

  19. Kevin says:

    2013 is the year of product creation for me. It’s good to know that your low traffic blog was able to generate that amount of sales for you. I’m starting even lower than you, so hopefully I can emulate your success.

  20. This really inspires me to not give up and keep fighting for my dreams

    Believe that taketh very intoaccount the advice given us but mostly I will implement from now.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to share all this information so valuable for people like me who do not know much about marketing

    Thank you very much indeed a big hello and hug!

  21. Sounds like a really good idea to promote your product a long time before you release it. Also the list is always a good idea especially when you hear sales like $12,000 on launch day. That is always nice to see :)

  22. DJ says:

    Nice post. Product creation+Email marketing is a great equation for successful blogging. Glad to hear you succeeded.

  23. Taran says:

    I am also getting low traffic to my site.This post is really helpful for me.Thanks a lot for sharing this post.

  24. Aman Verma says:

    Exactly we can earn some bucks with low traffic blog as well.
    I have 2 blogs…1 is on tech and other one is on lifestyle…lifestyle blog get 70% less traffic less than tech blog…but mine adsense earning are much higher than tech adsense earnings..
    This is because…lifestyle blog readers doesnt have much idea about ads..in compare to tech readers..

  25. we3rd says:

    i started blogging few months ago and am not having enough traffic, i have shared my blog with people on Facebook, twitter and some notable social networking site. the problem is adding ads to my blog i tried adding Google ad-sense to my blog but they said i didn’t meet their requirement can you please give me some ads which i can place on my blog to start making money as soon as possible. my email is [email protected]. thanks

  26. Nathan,
    I think it’s a helpful and important message that business blogs do not need to have a huge volume of readership in order to have value as a business tool. It was also nice to see this post being shared with the BizSugar community. Thanks for a detailed case study!

  27. Slow and steady wins the race, right? I currently have 20 blog subscribers, but 100 seems doable, and within seconds of reading this post, I FINALLY got an idea for a book. Because my blog deals with social issues, history, you know the whole humanities vibe, I’d been having trouble coming up with product/book ideas that might sell. Though your post wasn’t meant to give me ideas, reading it somehow helped my bridge the gap!

    Inspiring story. So glad you shared.

  28. Thuy Yau says:

    Hi Nathan,

    I absolutely loved this post!

    I loved how you were honest about not doing everything ‘right’ all the time, and just making the decisions that felt right for you.

    I think, esssentially, that’s what blogging is. Putting in the time and effort into something, taking the risks, and being able to get back up even when things don’t work out as suspected.

    I’m glad everything worked out for you & that you were able to share this great post with us!

  29. I have a low-traffic blog that I’m trying to build up, so I’m glad to hear there’s hope for bloggers like me. Thanks for the article.