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Is Your Content ROI Really Untrackable?

This guest post is by Johnny.

We have all heard about the traditional advertising campaign that cost thousands and makes almost no impact on sales or turnover. But when was the last time you heard that about a content marketing strategy?

I’ll give you a clue: you haven’t. An effective content strategy can cost as little as the time it takes to create.

However, as more and more blue chip companies are beginning to catch on, questions are being asked about whether this strategy is the right one. Convincing people that it is will almost always require you to show the returns on your investment.

Here we take a look at some tips for content measurement and examine if tracking ROI is actually possible.

Always start from the end

Imagine I am a lost man trying to find my way to the first page of Google. I have no idea where I am and I don’t have any directions to get to the search engine, but I know I want to be there. What should I do first?

Knowing where you want to be should be the first step in your journey with content marketing.

Make the goal achievable and set some bench marks. Do you currently have 100 likes on Facebook, but would prefer 1000? What kind of content could achieve this?

Once you have your achievable goal in mind, set a time scale. Even if the goal is ongoing, having a monthly strategy and aiming to hit benchmarks along the way is essential.

One of the biggest indicators of return on investment relies on monitoring whether you’re hitting your monthly objectives or not.

Analyse and track

The majority of businesses undertaking content marketing will be focussing on one thing: sales. This is where a lot of people become confused and assume that you cannot measure sales from content marketing or social media.

This is completely untrue. It is simple to monitor key performance indicators in Google Analytics.

If you are providing content in order to boost brand awareness, monitor organic brand searches on Google. If this is increasing month on month, the work you are doing is obviously having an effect.

If you are trying to generate leads, monitor new visitors to your website. Use Google visitor path to see where your new visitors are coming from, and how long they are spending on the site. Systems like ResponseTap offer a call tracking solution which allows you to monitor how many people are picking up the phone after visiting your website.

Adding a monetary value to each of your goals is imperative to monitoring return on investment. For example, in your first month, you may be focussed on building a community. Monitor how many more visitors visit your website after the content is published.

If on average $100 is spent for every 500 visitors, and your content attracts an extra 100 visitors, then you can put a value on the content ($20). This is a basic arbitrary measure, but I think it’s important in showing how much top-level, real value you are adding, even ignoring the secondary benefits.

Nurture your leads

People who visit your website may be in different places in the buying cycle. Someone may find your content accidentally and become interested in the products you sell, but don’t know how they could use them. Do you have another piece of content or landing page equipped to show them how to get value from using your products? You should!

Another visitor may be looking to buy a product like yours at that very moment, so it’s essential to make your pricelist easily accessible. To attract more interested buyers, ensure you have white papers or videos showing why your products are the best on the market, and explaining your competitive edge.

Lead nurturing is the new lead generation. Your customers aren’t stupid. They want to come to their own logical buying decisions, so the more you offer them, the more value they will attach to your brand. The real value in content marketing is in building community, so attaching a value to your community is important.

So … is content marketing ROI trackable?

In a word, yes. Monitoring leads and sales value is possible using the various analytical programmes on the market. ResponseTap and similar companies are starting to bridge the gap between offline conversions and online activity, and I see this as the next step in linking content marketing with return on investment.

However at the minute, the secondary benefits of social marketing are not clear to monitor. Comparing new and repeat visitors to your website is a great metric for seeing how well your content is doing at bringing fresh customers to your site, but how advantageous is this in the long run? It is yet to be seen.

Do you have any of your own insights on content marketing and measuring returns? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Written by Jonny who is interested in how social media and content marketing are helping small and medium sized businesses increase brand awareness online.

Double Your Blog Profits in 2013?!

Recently, I asked a blogger what his goals were for 2013. He told me he wanted to double his blog’s income.

Piggy bank

Image courtesy 401(K)2013, licensed under Creative Commons

When I asked how he was going to do that he stared at me blankly and said, “That’s where I may need a little help. It seems such a big goal!”

We began to brainstorm some possibilities for creating that kind of increase in profit. We came up with quite a few ideas, but the main recurring themes seemed to be around three things:

  1. Increase traffic to his blog.
  2. Increase conversions of first-time visitors into subscribers of his email list.
  3. Increase sales conversions (he sells ebooks).

Now, these areas will vary from blog to blog. For example, those who monetize with advertising rather than with products might replace #3 in that list with increasing the performance of AdSense ads or landing extra sponsors.

But at the time, it struck me that to double his income, he could double any single one of the above areas—although 100% increases in any of these areas is a big ask.

However, smaller increases in each of them adds up—and it’s a lot more achievable. For example, a 30% increase in each of the above areas takes him well past a 100% income increase overall.

Of course even 30% increases in these areas can be daunting—but it’s a lot more achievable than 100% in any one!

As we talked this through, he became really energized and began to devise strategies for each of the three areas. In each, he came up with four or five small but important things he could do that would contribute to a 30% increase in that area.

Much of what he came up with was stuff he knew he should be doing but hadn’t gotten around to, or had put on the “one day” list. Most of it was low-hanging fruit that had potential to lead to significant rewards.

Let’s look at some examples.

Increase traffic

He decided to:

  • increase his posting rate from twice a week to three times a week
  • expand his use of social media—he had been focusing soley upon Twitter and decided to start engaging more on Facebook and to experiment with Pinterest
  • write and pitch two guest posts per month to other blogs in his niche
  • install an SEO plugin to help him optimize his blog for search engines.

Increase conversions in subscribers

In this case, the blogger came up with a series of tests that he wanted to run. These included split-testing his subscriber forms on his blog to see if he could increase the percentage of visitors who signed up.

He also wanted to test offering a free report for subscribers.

Increase sales conversions

In this case, the blogger:

  • realized that his sales pages could do with some updating and testing—some A/B testing to optimize them would almost certainly see an increase in the percentage of people buying his ebooks
  • recognized that he wasn’t doing any kind of upselling when a person bought an ebook—as a result he was probably missing out on some sales from people who would buy a second or third if they had opportunity to do so
  • admitted he hadn’t developed any kind of autoresponder sequence for his subscribers that offered them deals on his ebooks.

I’m pretty confident that if he did actually implement all of the above tactics, he’d see small but significant increases in profit over the year ahead—in fact there’s potential there for him to more than double his profit!

How could you double your profit in 2013?

All of us probably have items on our “one day” list. Could any of these help you move toward doubling your profit in 2013? Let us know your plans in the comments.

How to Get Paid to Double Your Blog Traffic: a Technique 99% of Bloggers Won’t Dare Try

This post is by Shane MeLaugh of imimpact.com.

Imagine if this traffic screenshot was yours:

Analytics

Of course, your traffic levels might be more or less depending on the size of your blog and how long you’ve been blogging, but the purpose of this post is to show you how to double your blog traffic—while getting paid to do it.

The above screenshot reflects traffic to my previous blog two years ago, at its infancy. Then I made a simple change and something significant happened.

Here’s exactly what happened:

  • I doubled my blog traffic almost overnight and it kept growing every month.
  • I was able to build a sizeable mailing list.
  • I made a total of over $100,000 in a two-year period because of this simple change.

Watch this short video to see what the change was, that caused this increase in traffic:

Yes, that’s it. One product resulted in big increase in traffic and a very healthy income, all at the same time.

You’ve probably read several articles on increasing blog traffic, but you’ll rarely hear people tell you to create a product to increase your blog traffic.

Creating a product is often seen as something that’s difficult to do, so many bloggers shy away from even trying.

By creating a product however, you’ll be able to:

  • grow your blog traffic
  • build your expertise
  • build a strong email list
  • make a lot of money.

I’ll be explaining more about how to do this later in this post.

I’m Shane Melaugh from imimpact.com and the result I’m sharing above was from two years ago. Does that mean it doesn’t work anymore? Absolutely not. Product creation continues to be my main method for increasing traffic to my websites and it works better than ever. The reason I’m sharing a case study from two years ago is because:

  • this was my first attempt, with no experience or leverage, so anybody can do it
  • I had a relatively new blog with no email list, few connections and little traffic
  • it works wonders, but it seems no one ever talks about this method.

Why creating a product is the best way to increase your blog traffic

Quote 1If you take a look at the screenshot above you’ll notice that my blog was receiving well below 200 visitors a day before my first product release.

Your blog is never too small to create a product. In fact, if I were to start again from scratch I’d create a product, even with no existing traffic at all.

Here’s why.

1. You give people an incentive to market your business

The best way to grow your blog is by getting support from other bloggers and marketers in your field and the best way to get this support is by creating a product.

No blogger will send an email promoting that awesome blog post you wrote to a list of 10,000 subscribers no matter how great your blog post is. However, many bloggers will happily send one or several emails to their list promoting your product if it’s a good enough product and they know they’ll get affiliate commissions.

Instead of just linking to you out of goodwill, they can promote you, knowing that it helps their audience, it helps you and it also helps them earn some money.

2. You establish your blog with the right readers

What’s better to have: a blog with 1,000 monthly visitors or a blog with 10,000 monthly visitors?

You bet it’s the blog with 10,000 visitors, right?

Wrong (sometimes, at least).

It’s not just about traffic quantity, but also about traffic quality. You can have thousands of visitors who don’t engage with your content, don’t share your content, don’t leave comments—they just eat up your bandwidth. Or you can have a small group of highly engaged fans who give you feedback and spread your message through social media.

The great thing about selling a product and getting affiliate promotions is that it adds customers to your mailing list and to your blog readership. Happy customers are some of the most engaged and helpful readers you’ll ever have.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take 1,000 happy customers over 10,000 anonymous browsers any day of the week.

3. You build a business, not a blog

These are two very different things that are easily confused.

There’s a huge difference between building a blog of 10,000 monthly visitors in two years before creating a product and building a blog with the same 10,000 visitors in the same two years’ time while making $100,000. The difference is that the first one is a blog while the latter is a business.

4. Most bloggers won’t dare to do this

This approach is unlike guest blogging, article marketing, or SEO. It isn’t something you can easily do. To succeed, you have to commit yourself and think long term and this is why most bloggers won’t even dare to create their own products.

Releasing a product was an effective way to grow your blog two years ago, it’s effective today and it will be, for a long time to come. You’re doing something that’s “difficult” and so you have less competition.

As Tim Ferriss said in his book The 4-Hour Work-Week:

“The fishing is best where the fewest go, and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone else is aiming for base hits. There is just less competition for bigger goals.”

A 4-step plan to creating your own traffic-boosting product

I recently released a free comprehensive one-hour video and case study report that explains the process behind my six-figure launch, but here’s a summary of the steps I took to create my first product.

Step #1: Market and product research

Quote 2Research will make or break your product.

Creating a successful product isn’t about thinking and creating a product based on the first idea that pops into your head; you need to research who your audience is, what kind of product they want, where they hang out, the exact terms they use, and how much they’re willing to pay.

Creating a generic product in a popular niche won’t work. It’ll be more effective to create a solution to a very specific problem rather than trying to cater to all the problems your readers experience.

In my own case, I observed during my research that a major problem my audience face is getting traffic; after further research, I observed that most of them have problems with SEO and that the most challenging problem for them when it comes to SEO was building backlinks.

There was the idea for the product I needed to create!

How to research

Researching what your audience wants can be very complicated if you’re a newbie without a strong audience, but this doesn’t always have to be a problem. Here are a few ways you can research to find out what your audience want:

  1. Try gathering feedback on industry related forums where you’re already active.
  2. Conduct a survey with your existing audience, no matter how small, or get support from fellow bloggers to send the survey to their audience.
  3. Offer free products, in the form of an ebook or multimedia, to gauge response and feedback to see how people will respond to a similar paid offer.
  4. Help people one-on-one, via Skype or email, to find out what their major challenges are; this will also reveal exact terms and key words they use and this can be very powerful marketing material.

Step #2: Create your product

Your product doesn’t have to be high-end or massive for you to get results.

You can create a product in an afternoon, then sell it for a few bucks and grow your audience at the same time. A perfect example of this approach was implemented by Becker and documented in a recent guest post here. One example he cited was creating a $5 product and selling 6,000 copies, gaining 6,000 new subscribers as a result.

While that kind of thing can work, the approach I took was to create a high-end product.

This took me a few weeks of effort and research, but it was well worth it. I focused on making the product of very high quality, and constant updates were added in its lifetime. The focus with this product was to make it so valuable that buyers would become lifetime fans.

Step #3: Create an affiliate program

Getting affiliates to promote your product will be a huge part of making it successful.

Once your product is unique and of great quality, you’ll experience success by getting affiliates to help you sell it; you’ll be able to make money and grow your network at the same time.

Luckily, it’s very easy to set up an affiliate program for your product these days. You can simply list your product on an existing affiliate platform/marketplace and everything else is taken care of.

Step #4: Market your product

Quote 3I can’t emphasize enough that no matter how great your product is, it is bound to fail without marketing.

Creating a product is not a substitute for marketing.

There are various ways to go about marketing your product. Here are some ideas.

1. Viral marketing

The best kind of traffic you can get is viral traffic. In this context, I’m not talking about “going viral” in terms of getting a huge windfall of traffic, but the kind of traffic that self-perpetuates.

You can’t make something go viral, but you can create systems where traffic always leads to more traffic, even if it’s on a very small scale.

For example, I offered a discount on the price of my product. But customers could only access this discount by tweeting a link to my sales page or sharing it on Facebook. This didn’t lead to a massive flood of traffic, but it kept traffic coming in and it lead to extra sales and extra exposure. I explain more about this and another “mini-viral” traffic method in my case study report.

2. Solo ads

I purchased a few solo ads, which are just paid emails to other people’s mailing lists. This helped get some initial momentum for my product launch and contributed to the total sales made, as well.

3. Affiliate traffic

This will be the most powerful aspect of your marketing. The idea is to get other bloggers and marketers with a huge list and audience to promote your product. An affiliate doesn’t need to have a product to promote your product.

There are three very important steps to benefiting from affiliate traffic and they are:

  1. Sell a great product.
  2. Ensure your product is highly specific; very few people will promote generic products since these products are everywhere and they’ll have gotten a lot of offers to promote them but no one can resist promoting a specific, “new” kind of product.
  3. Try to get as many affiliates as possible on board; the more the merrier. You should expect a lot of affiliates not to take you up on your offer but the more people you contact the higher your chances of success. This isn’t about the numbers, though; make sure your affiliates don’t lack in quality and quantity.

Questions?

In almost 2,000 words, I believe this post contains all you need to know about getting paid to double your blog traffic. But if you still have questions, let me know in the comments.

Shane Melaugh is an Irish guy from Switzerland. He owns imimpact.com, a blog about increasing the bottom line for online business owners by creating unique and compelling offers, growing web site traffic and maximising conversions.

3 No-nonsense Strategies for Profitable Part-time Blogging

This is a guest post by Matt Alden S. of DividendMonk.com.

If you’re blogging as a part-time income stream rather than a full-time profession, then your priorities can be substantially different from the fill-time blogger’s.

A full-time problogger will likely focus on maximizing overall revenue, whereas a part-time problogger will focus on maximizing revenue per hour.

One of the largest problems I see with some underperforming smaller blogs is that they’re not focused on that key difference. Part-time bloggers often do not have advice given to them that is specialized to their part-time situation, and instead they end up following what full-time bloggers are doing, with mixed results.

Darren wrote a great post on part-time blogging over three years ago, but that post missed these three strategies that I’ve found invaluable for achieving part-time blogging success.

1. Be selective with social media

Full-time bloggers have hours every day where they can try new things, and can afford to spend time in areas that don’t yet give them a great ROI. Part-time bloggers, however, need to have a higher ROI on most of their activities.

In other words, don’t be on every social network just because you feel you ought to be. Don’t worry about doing every thing that every blogger is doing.

For example, I’m on Twitter, but Twitter is not where I spend any real time and it’s not where any real traffic is going to come from for me. Why? Because I write about long-term value investing, which is like watching paint dry. Not exactly enthralling Twitter material.

And yet, I have received over 50,000 visitors and over 130,000 pageviews from a single social media platform: Seeking Alpha. It’s a large site that brings investors and readers together. Moreover, the traffic statistics show that in terms of pages per visit and time per visit, it’s my single highest quality source of traffic.

The point here is to follow the 80/20 rule: focus 80% of your time on the stuff that gives you an excellent ROI, and use the other 20% for experimentation.

2. Stand out with ridiculously high-quality posts

Large blogs and websites can afford to publish mediocre content. That’s not to say that all large sites do so (in fact they generally got to their size by being well above average in the first place); it’s just to say that they can do it if they want to, and some of them do.

Very large sites that have years of full-time focus or multiple writers have strong enough domain authority to get mediocre content to rank well in search engines. Plus, their intangible brand authority can make fair content appear to be superior content.

Part-time bloggers don’t have this luxury. You’re not going to be able to write mediocre content and get it to rank well, and your brand is not yet strong enough to carry its own weight.

The emphasis on the part-timer should be to maximize individual post value. Spending 12 hours a week writing two or three extraordinarily high-quality articles will usually get you further than spending the same amount of time publishing every single day with less unique and compelling content.

When you’re setting out to write an awesome post, there are small things you can do to give yourself a huge advantage. If you’re preparing to write about something, first stop and do a Google search for it. Check out the main articles on that subject that are on the first page of the search results. Read or skim through them, and gauge their quality.

Your goal now is to write a post that is far superior to any of the posts on the first page of Google for this subject. Your post will not be a “me too” post, but will instead be the new high-water mark of quality and authority for this subject. You’ll write it in a more personal, more complete, more concise, and more original way.

3. Having a product helps greatly

Successfully selling a product or service online revolves around content marketing these days. That is, you get an audience by providing excellent free content that solves their problems, and then you use this content platform to present products or services to your readers that further solve their problems or help them in some way.

Your revenue per visitor, and therefore usually your revenue per hour, generally goes up substantially if you offer a high-quality product that fits your audience, compared to relying strictly on advertising or affiliate sales. Consider spending some time to create an outstanding product that requires little maintenance when it’s finished, and then offer it up on your blog.

When I did this, and published a $16 ebook and spreadsheet tool that stood out in the niche, the revenue from the ebook outpaced my advertising revenue and brought in thousands of extra dollars in profit. Higher-priced offerings will generally do even better than this. A good product or service genuinely solves problems or creates opportunities, improves your authority in your niche, and can bring in some solid income for your invested time.

A key advantage of having your own product or service is that you can get access to other bloggers’ platforms. When you rely on advertising, you’re limited to the size of your own platform, which generally isn’t going to be huge if you’re working part time. Similarly, when you sell affiliate products on your platform, you’re still limited to the size of your own platform.

But when you produce your own, high-quality product, then you now have something that can be sold on other writers’ platforms as well as your own. You can tap into other peoples’ email lists, social media accounts, and blog articles, if you’re the source of the product and they’re the marketer.

Use these strategies if you’re focusing on part-time blogging. Maximize your revenue per hour by being selective about what digital real estate you spend time on, by focusing on quality over quantity, and by leveraging your expertise onto platforms that are larger than your own.

What other advice can you add from your own experience? I’d love to hear it in the comments below.

Matt Alden S. publishes the free Dividend Insights Newsletter, and helps readers build wealth through investing for the long term in dividend stocks and other assets.

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.

Grow Your Blog Business: The Earn-Millions-in-Your-Flip-Flops Framework [Case Study]

This guest post is by Stephan Spencer of The Art of SEO.

Former mortgage broker and digital information business expert, Susan Lassiter-Lyons built her business online, and grew it to a six-figure income in only seven months.

She attributes her amazing success to a simple framework she developed and perfected over that time.

Recently, I met with Susan and she shared with me her “$1 Million digital business blueprint”. In this post, I’m going to show you these exact, replicable steps to apply to your business. If you’re serious about growing your business online, then you will want to read what she had to say.

Although Susan’s framework won’t make you a million dollars in fifteen minutes like common scams littering the internet, it can show you the simple, proven way to make millions if you put forth the necessary effort.

$1 Million digital business blueprint

Forced to close her real estate business in November 2008 because of the mortgage meltdown, Susan launched her digital information business in January 2009 with a mere $200 in startup capital.

Susan’s ebook, Mortgage Secrets for Real Estate Investors is where it all started. Published nearly four years ago, it still makes $600-$3,000 a month in online sales.

That ebook functioned as a launch point for her business that eventually reached six figures by July 2009. Living by her three-step framework, she is now able to work part-time, with no boss, in flip-flops. Some might call that a dream job.

The framework

Now, let’s break down that three-step framework for creating an online business around your passion.

Step 1. Create

  • Create a product of your own.
  • Acquire the rights to an already created info product to sell as your own.
  • Expand to a product suite.

Step 2. Campaign

  • Start a blog about your topic.
  • Start a Facebook page about your product.
  • Buy some cheap ads on Google to promote your product.
  • Ask others who have websites and subscribers in your niche to email their list about your product.

Step 3. Convert

  • Create a simple website that tells visitors all about the features and benefits of your product.
  • Offer a simple way for them to buy and download the product.

Let’s look at each step in detail.

Create

Before you jump right into creating a product, you should first take a moment to identify your expertise.

Take an inventory of your knowledge by asking yourself these questions:

  • What do people always ask you about?
  • What have you studied extensively?
  • What do you love to do?

The answers to these questions will give you a solid idea about what to cover with your product. Once you have your topic, search Yahoo! Answers for popular FAQs within your subject area. These can form chapters in your book, audio programa, or sections in any of the products you decide to create.

Creating a product of your own

The first obvious option for you to pursue with your info product is to create one of your own.

If you feel comfortable enough, you can create an ebook like Susan did, but there are plenty of other options to choose from to suit your specific skills and abilities: you could write a real book, record an audio program, record a video program, host a teleseminar, host a webinar, or host a seminar. The possibilities are endless.

Acquiring the rights to an already created info product to sell as your own

Most people don’t know this, but there are literally thousands of info products available through private label rights.

If you are having trouble creating a product of your own, this is a fast, relatively cheap way to start a digital business. Through websites like NicheEmpires.com you can browse through pages of private label rights products that you can edit and make your own.

These PLR products are available for around $67! Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

Expanding to a product suite

Once you have your expertise figured out and entry-level product created, its time to expand that into an entire sales funnel to maximize your potential revenue from customers.

There are five elements to a proper product suite. Susan likes to explain these through an example of a golf information product suite.

  • Front-end product: This is the first product you develop. It should be cheap and broad, yet enticing. For example, an ebook titled How to Add 120 Yards to Your Drive, priced at $37.
  • Mid-tier program: A moderately priced product that acts as the next step in expanding the customer’s knowledge about that topic. For example, a quick video course on pitching and putting priced at $200-$300.
  • High-ticket program: A high-priced product that would include all the knowledge you have to offer on the topic covered. For example, the “Ultimate Golf Package Extraordinaire” covering everything you want to know about golf, priced at $2,000.
  • Seminar: A live event with added bonuses, where you can sell your existing products and coaching program to qualified leads. This might take the form of a “Learn from the Pros” live event priced at $1,000 at the door.
  • Coaching program: An option for those that want even more than what your products offer. This can be priced as high as you value your time. Basically, we’re talking about one-on-one personalized training here.

The most important element of this product suite is the front-end product. Once you have the customer hooked, it becomes exponentially easier to sell them your follow up products.

Campaign

Start a blog about your topic

Susan started her blog, TheInvestorInsights.com. She identified her expertise (in this case, real estate investing) and created a forum where she could post and comment on current events and issues gripping the industry.

Through consistent posting she was able to foster a community of active discussions and engaged bloggers who were interested in what she had to say. These bloggers in essence became leads for her informational products, which she was able to effectively sell through this medium.

Start a Facebook page about your product

Word of mouth is by far the best form of promotion. When somebody likes your product, you want him or her to recommend it to his or her friends. A Facebook page can help you accomplish this.

If a person is particularly pleased with your product, they will like your page on Facebook, which will notify their friends. People view the opinions of their friends as much more credible than a traditional sales pitch.

Buy some cheap ads on Google to promote your product

Google offers the most targeted advertisements on the Internet. You can choose from various demographics, including location, and purchase keywords that you believe your target customer is searching for.

In addition, Google allows you to operate on a cost per click basis so that you can control your own budget and make sure you aren’t spending too much or too little.

Ask others in your niche to tell their list about your product

Identify third parties that deal with the same topics as your products. Then offer them a deal that if they will agree to email their subscriber list about your product, you will split the revenue generated with them. For example, you could split the revenue 50/50 with a website that mentions you in their weekly electronic newsletter.

How can a company not be excited about this? All they would have to do is mention your website, blog, or product, and they have the potential to generate income. They can’t lose.

This is definitely a tactic to try.

Convert

Create a simple website that explains the features and benefits of your product

Create a sales page. Make sure it has an intriguing video that explains the features and benefits of your product in a way that inspires the visitor to sign up for your newsletter or buy your product.

Offer a simple way for them to buy and download the product

Use Clickbank or PayPal to make it easy for the customer to purchase your product in one step.

Include an Add to cart button directly under your sales video so the customer can proceed to the checkout without jumping through any hoops.

Is it really that simple?

Susan Lassiter-Lyons has proven that these steps work. While the framework is simple, as you can see, there’s a lot of work in each step. But if you follow her example, while you may not make six figures in seven months, you will put yourself on a path to similar success.

Stephan Spencer is co-author of The Art of SEO (O’Reilly 2009), now in its second edition (March 2012), and author of Google Power Search (O’Reilly 2011). He is the inventor of GravityStream, the automated pay-for-performance natural search technology platform, and the founder of SEO agency Netconcepts. He is a Senior Contributor to Practical Ecommerce and MarketingProfs.com, and a columnist for Search Engine Land and Multichannel Merchant.

How Sponsored Posts Can Ruin Your Blog

This guest post is by Kalen Smith of OnlineRookies.com.

More bloggers accept guest posts for their sites.

Guest posts are an arrangement where a guest author will write content and submit it to the blog. In exchange, the blogger will allow the blogger at least one backlink to promote their own website. Guest blogging is a great opportunity for both the blogger and the guest author to receive exposure and share ideas.

Or is it? Some use guest blogging as a means to monetize their site: they charge a fee to guest authors for sponsored posts.

What is a sponsored post?

Most bloggers are more than happy to receive free content to their site and offer a backlink in return. A blogger will not generally pay nor receive money for a traditional guest post. However, some bloggers insist on taking sponsored posts instead.

A “sponsored post” differs from a traditional guest post in that the blogger will require the guest author to pay a fee to post the content. They see guest posts as a way to make money blogging.

I generally discourage bloggers from using these kinds of sponsored posts for several reasons. I think they are unfair to the guest author and can damage your site. I suggest you pursue other advertising strategies if you are looking for a way to monetize your site.

Let’s see why.

Why do bloggers take sponsored posts?

I don’t blame bloggers who are frustrated with guests who submit low quality content. Many SEO linkbuilders certainly fall into this demographic.

Some SEO companies do a very good job guest posting. One of the SEO companies I’ve worked with actually secured a guest post with one of the biggest social media managers in the world, because they were committed to quality.

However, there are other SEO companies that do a very shoddy job with their services. Although I want to encourage bloggers to be open to anyone offering a guest post, I certainly understand and respect their decision not to take a guest post from freelance writer or business they aren’t familiar with.

What concerns me is bloggers who insist on taking a payment from authors wanting to secure a spot in their blog’s schedule. These bloggers clearly aren’t discouraging what they consider “thin content” from being submitted as a guest post. They are simply using guest posts as a means to monetize their sites.

I am opposed to this as matter of principle, but it can also ruin your site in a couple of ways.

What harm can sponsored posts do?

I have a few qualms with sponsored posts. If you are offering sponsored guest posts, I ask that you at least hear me out here.

They’re unfair to the guest

Many bloggers charge a fee because they want to receive something from a guest blogger. They don’t realize they are already getting something: fresh content for their blog.

A guest poster has to spend time writing the content that they are going to submit. Warn any guest poster of your standards beforehand so they don’t waste your, or their, time. If they take their work seriously, they will submit a high-quality post to you.

As a blogger, you understand how long it takes to write great content. By accepting guest posts, you get several hundred words of great content and a fresh perspective for your readers. This can save you a considerable amount of time writing content yourself.

In return, they get a two-sentence biography and a link back to their own website. It is still a great arrangement for both parties, but you are already getting the better deal for the amount of work involved. Is it really fair to ask for a payment on top of that?

Most bloggers who charge a fee to place sponsored posts do so arguing that these posts are “advertising.” However, they stipulate that sponsored posts cannot be promotional in any way. I find this to be ironic and very unfair to the guest blogger. If a business is paying for promotion (sometimes to the tune of $250 for a post), shouldn’t they have a chance to promote their company somewhere in the post?

I can understand charging for a post that is specifically written to promote the company. However, guest blogging was intended to be more of a bartering system.

They can hurt your relationship with readers

I don’t have a problem with affiliate marketing or any other business model that makes money from great content. You can build affiliate links into your content naturally without compromising the value of your post. Affiliate marketers still focus on creating great content and share resources that benefit their readers. Sponsored posts are a bit more awkward.

Your readers could actually be offended to see you running guest posts. Why? If I see a blog taking sponsored posts, I assume that they are relaxing the standards of quality to make a buck. I am sure other readers feel the same way when they see that they are reading a “sponsored” or “paid” post. You may argue that you only take high-quality content on your site. However, I don’t believe most bloggers hold companies and SEO freelancers to the same standard when they are paying for the post.

The United States Federal Trade Commission requires you to disclose whether or not have received payment to post any promotional content or links. Other countries may have similar laws. If you are abiding by these laws, then your readers will know that you are getting paid for these posts.

Many bloggers argue that they need to generate advertising revenue. I understand that we need to make a living. But is the content itself the right way to advertise?

You are selling links

Many people who take sponsored posts claim they are against black-hat tactics such as selling links. Frankly, I don’t really care if someone wants to sell links or not. It’s not usually illegal and it’s not hurting anyone.

However, you should at least be honest with yourself. I roll my eyes when someone pretends they are superior to anyone who sells links but then turns around does the same thing themselves.

Of course, my personal opinion shouldn’t concern you. There are bigger implications, such as the fact that selling links can harm your blog’s ranking. No matter how many times you tell yourself you aren’t in the link trade business, Google will probably decide otherwise if they know you are taking dofollow, sponsored posts. In fact, Matt Cuts has written on this very topic in his article Paid Posts Should Not Pass Pagerank.

Anyone who knows you take money for guest post placement can report you to Google (including a guest blogger who was irritated that you asked for payment). Google itself can find out how much sites are charging for post placements. Matt Cutts said that Google did a small test and found a number of sites that were running sponsored post contests. Those sites are now on Google’s naughty list.

Of course, you can put the “nofollow” tag in a sponsored post, but what guest poster would agree to that? Commercial companies are usually interested in getting link juice.

Also, you better be honest with them if you are going to nofollow the link once they’ve paid good money for it. Withholding your intentions can get you into trouble later on—and with others besides the disgruntled author.

Is it worth it?

Taking sponsored posts can be risky. Is it really worth alienating yourself from your readers and damaging your position with the search engines in order to make a quick buck?

What are your thoughts on taking sponsored guest posts? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Kalen Smith writes about the importance of a social media marketing plan and Internet marketing experiments and case studies on his blog OnlineRookies.com.

The Hard Truth: Is My Blog Post Worthy of Becoming an Ebook?

This guest post is by Nicolas Gremion of Foboko.com.

Bloggers invest a lot of time in their craft. Whether they’re dissecting the latest episode of Dexter, offering business tips, or creating Twilight-inspired fan fiction, bloggers work to provide timely, relevant content for their readers.

Most bloggers eventually wonder if they should develop a book, but they struggle with deciding what’s “important enough” for a full-length work. Should writers repurpose existing posts from their blogs, or go with entirely new content?

Determining whether a blog post topic is worthy of an entire book can be hard, but it’s not impossible.

Is this post compelling enough?

One great thing about blogs is they allow you to measure the popularity of a post easily. By tracking the number of reads, comments, social media shares, trackbacks, reposts, and questions asked, you have data that highlights what your audience wants to hear.

If you’ve written 100 posts about quilting, you may have enough content to repurpose into a book. Rather than scrabbling to find a new topic, use your best content to establish the foundation of your ebook.

If you doubt whether a post’s topic is still relevant, take a look at the impact it made long after it was published. Lifehacker.com, for example, frequently has year-old posts receive airtime and commentary. Because the issues discussed are everyday problems, they maintain a timeless quality. That means, conversely, that topical issues are less likely to have a long shelf life – an eBook dissecting the Obama/Romney race won’t have nearly the relevance today it had two months ago, for example.

Pulling in more feedback

Yes, blogs’ features make it easy for you to determine how interesting people find your work (gulp!). But in order for these tools to be useful, you have to actually be receiving feedback. How can you get more of what you need?

  • Write for offline publications, whether that’s an occasional article or a regular column. Writing for print publications will help you refine and edit your pieces.
  • Participate in traditional media, such as T.V. or radio interviews, using sites like PRWeb.com to find opportunities. The chance to share your thoughts via other outlets allows you to garner feedback from their readers.
  • Provide an email address and encourage feedback.
  • Speak at industry events; if your blog focus doesn’t naturally lend itself to a specific industry, check out lifestyle shows. Live events collect the conversations occurring in your space.
  • Join a “virtual book tour” via teleconferences, webinars, or online T.V. or radio interviews. Callers’ questions and comments offer great, real-time feedback.

Once you have feedback, how can you gain a bigger perspective about implementing changes to your work?

  • Visit blogs in the same space or industry, especially those with conflicting opinions or viewpoints.
  • Check out blogs outside your arena in order to sample other styles of writing, presentation, and attitude. What works for them may make excellent tweaks for you.
  • Read books, from contemporary works to historical tomes, to gain a deeper understanding of different ways of thinking and being.
  • Invest in continuing education, whether that means conferences, trade shows, courses, or training. These keep you updated on the latest news in your field, preventing your ideas from feeling stale or recycled.

Because blog posts are short and sweet, you can easily test different topics or approaches. Take advantage of your blog’s flexibility to develop a voice—and perspective—that will lend itself well to a full-length ebook.

“Red flags of death”

While most of your posts are probably fascinating, there are some topics that raise the “red flag of death” over your ebook before it’s even started.

If you’re working on non-fiction pieces, the usual topics should be off-limits; this means sex, politics, and religion should be relegated to the back corner. However, if it’s controversy you want, these may be the very issues you touch on. The challenge then becomes controlling the conversation so it remains constructive—and doesn’t degenerate into the name-calling brawls these topics lend themselves to.

If your non-fiction is business-based, don’t create a book that reads like one long sales letter, or piece of overhyped marketing material, for your company. Not only will people not want to read your ebook, you’ll not add anything to the industry conversation—a deadly trait for a blogger.

The great thing about investing time and effort in these different kinds of research is that you’re giving your audience a chance to see you in action. They’re engaged with the content you’re working on, and that creates interest. These are exactly the people who will download your ebook—so you’re building not just a product, but promotion for it.

You’ve invested a lot of time in your blogging. Don’t shy away from a longer piece if you’re ready for it. To boost your success, assess the interest level of your topic, as well as the voice and insights you’re offering. By making sure your ebook speaks to your readers, you’ll develop an even more loyal following than you currently enjoy.

Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Paradise Publishers, Inc., and founder of Foboko.com, a social publishing network where members get support writing their books from peers and connect directly with readers.

5 Ways You Can Become A Blogging Philanthropist

This guest post is by Stephen Pepper of Youth Workin’ It

Why should Bill Gates have all the fun?—Al Andrews

There are all sorts of reasons you may own a blog—to enhance your business site, to share ideas, to earn an income, or perhaps you just enjoy writing.

Imagine the impact you could have, though, if you harnessed the power of your blog to make an even bigger difference to mankind by becoming a philanthropist.

This may sound far-fetched, but it’s not at all. Here are five ways you can become a blogging philanthropist.

1. Write a book

“How can I be a philanthropist if I have no money?”

This is the question Al Andrews asked himself. Instead of just giving up, he came up with a plan to make money. He’d write a book and donate the profits to projects around the world.

And thus, Improbable Philanthropy was born. His first book, The Boy, The Kite And The Wind, has already raised tens of thousands of dollars that he’s been able to donate to projects that benefit others.

What can you do?

You don’t have to write an illustrated children’s book. Many blogs sell ebooks, so why not write one whose profits you can donate to a charity that’s close to your heart? The readers of your blog will be more likely to buy the book if they know it’s going towards a good cause. And it means you’ll get your ideas out to more people, even if you’re not benefiting monetarily yourself.

2. Microfinance

Adam McLane and Rachel Rodgers are both bloggers who also own their own businesses. Adam owns McLane Creative, a web development and design company, while Rachel owns Rachel Rodgers Law, a virtual law office.

Both Adam and Rachel offer microfinance loans through Kiva. These loans are used to help alleviate poverty and to enable entrepreneurs around the world to start up their own businesses.

Adam also makes a new loan for every new client he receives—check out some of the beneficiarieshere.

What can you do?

Although Adam and Rachel offer these loans as an extension of their businesses rather than their blogs, that doesn’t have to be the case. How about making a loan every time you receive x number of new email subscribers, or when you hit a benchmark of y extra monthly visitors?

3. Invest in others

At the 2012 World Domination Summit, Chris Guillebeau gave $100 to every single paid conference attendee.

Why? He was investing the money in the attendees so that they could in turn invest the money themselves, whether that was through community, adventure, or service.

As Chris said, “Freely receive, freely give.”

What can you do?

Don’t worry, I’m not saying you have to give $100 to each of your readers! Instead, you could set aside some money and have your readers decide on how it should be used.

Similarly, you could allocate a certain percentage of each ebook you sell to be donated to different charities. When selling the book, offer the buyers different purchasing links depending on which project they’d like to support.

4. Leverage your readership

You may not have any money, but chances are some of your readers do. On his Stuff Christians Like blog, Jon Acuff set out to leverage his readership by raising $30,000 to build a kindergarten in Vietnam. The only thing is, he didn’t raise $30,000.

He raised $60,000. So his readers were able to build two kindergartens!

What can you do?

Set up a fundraiser, ideally for a project that has some kind of link to your blogging niche. This will encourage your readers to support the initiative.

Also, be ambitious! Jon’s readers raised the original $30,000 in just 18 hours, which is why he set a second target that doubled the original amount. Even if you don’t meet your fundraising target, you’ll hopefully raise far more than if you’d set the bar too low.

5. Advertising and affiliate schemes

In addition to Youth Workin’ It, we own a number of other (non-blog) websites. These earn a somewhat modest income of a few hundred dollars a month through AdSense, Amazon Associates and similar affiliate schemes.

As my wife and I both have full-time jobs, this income is a bonus. It therefore means we’re able to use some of this extra money to bless individuals and organizations that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

What can you do?

Do you earn any revenue through your blog via advertising or affiliate schemes? If so, why not use some or all of this income to make a difference in the lives of others?

How will you become a blogging philanthropist?

There are five ideas on this list. What others can you think of that can help other bloggers become philanthropists? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker & blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It which includes a youth work and youth ministry blog. They also produce their own youth work resources, the most recent of which is 52 Scavenger Hunt Ideas.