How We Grew a Blog from ZERO to $6 Million…
This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on building authority sites through blogging:
Here’s the thing…
Most of the advice you’re getting about blogging is DEAD WRONG.
We know because we’re operating blogs in dozens of niches and we test EVERYTHING.
One of our most successful blogs, SurvivalLife.com, has grown to one million in sales.
That’s not annual sales. We generate one million in sales every month — and growing.
Here’s my disclaimer: I obviously can’t promise that you will get these results. Your results will vary due to a multitude of factors.
Take a look at the traffic to Survival Life and see if you can put your finger on where we figured it out,
NOTE: This was a new site in a market where I’m far from a household name. In fact, my name wasn’t anywhere to be found on this site, so if you think I was able to leverage my “brand,” think again. I was starting off cold just like you.
We started off ok with a high-dollar launch and a ton of guest posting… but we leveled off fast.
So we started experimenting with other methods.
In this article I’m going to reveal the model we used to build Survival Life to a multi-million dollar blog.
We tried making money blogging the way the so-called gurus told us to… it didn’t work.
So… we started breaking their rules. We started testing.
In the end, we developed our own system.
Here are six ways we broke the rules and transformed our blog into a high-profit authority site,
1. We actually sold them stuff
To me, this is a business and I treat it like a business.
While advice like, “Just write about what you love and the universe will eventually reward you…” may sound good, it’s certainly not a business model and it probably won’t make you even one, thin dime.
And I’m not talking about getting rich selling advertising. We’ll bust that myth later in this article.
I’m talking about selling real products and services.
At Survival Life we sell a mix of in-house offers, affiliate offers and premium subscriptions to our content.
Here’s one of our products…it’s a video training that teaches you how to survive in the woods:
Do the math.
Even a small subscriber list, if you nurture and manage it effectively can produce an income most ordinary bloggers could only dream about. And, as you’ll see in just a second, if you follow our model you’ll also be doing less work than most.
Let’s see…less work…more money?
(By the way, I talk more about calculating Earnings Per Subscribers in this video post about “How To Make Your First $1000 Blogging… “)
First, let’s talk about the mistake we made with our design and how we fixed it…
2. We went “messy”
You’ve probably been told that a “clean” and “minimalistic” site design is the best way to go, right?
Well we heard the same thing, which is why this was the first design that we tested when we first launched SurvivalLife.com…
Pretty slick, right?
We all agreed that it made the survival gear we were talking about look WAY more engaging and professional-grade than any competing site in the survival niche…
Heck, we even based this design on a wildly popular gear site, Uncrate.com, that we knew was getting major traffic, in addition to accolades from the design community:
“How could it possibly fail?” we all said.
Famous last words…
For some reason, despite looking more professional than 99.9% of all other sites in the survival niche, this design just wasn’t cutting it.
And this wasn’t just opinion. We knew from some of our friends and partners in this space that we were well below average on the three big metrics that really matter:
- Unique visitors
- Total Pageviews
- Average Time on Page
…despite the fact that our content was fantastic.
So we tried something new…
When it comes to testing, I’m a big believer in testing BIG!
In other words, if something isn’t working, don’t make a minor tweak…go to the opposite end of the spectrum and work back to the “middle” or you’ll wind up doing test after test with little or no change in result.
So that’s just what we did…
We swung the pendulum all the way from clean and minimalist to cluttered (and as some have told us) downright UGLY!!
More specifically, our new site design included a lot more content on the home page. There are multiple columns, tips, popular posts, and even banner ads.
Crazy as it sounds, this cluttered design beat the crap out of the slicker, cleaner version…it wasn’t even close! Almost immediately, we began to see our key metrics tick upward.
- Time on page was up.
- Pageviews were up.
- Even our unique visitor numbers began to rise because the increase in pageviews led to an increase in social engagement, which actually brought us FREE TRAFFIC!!
After multiple tests across multiple sites in many different markets. our research suggests that a slick, minimalist site layout – like the ones virtually all major ad firms recommend – can drive engagement down and cause your readers to devalue your content and site as a whole.
I know this isn’t what people want to hear, and I know I’ll get a huge backlash from the design community. But data doesn’t lie, and neither do bank accounts.
So I have a question for you…
“Would you rather have a high-traffic, high profit site or would you rather be ‘cool’ and win design awards?”
Choose your answer carefully, because you may not be able to have both…
This one was a biggie, but believe it or not this next change had an even bigger impact on our blog…
3. We didn’t guest post… in fact we did the opposite
One day I walked into our office and proclaimed that “blogging” was now a fireable offense. That may sound a little extreme, but I’m not going to continue doing something if it obviously isn’t working.
I banned my writers from blogging because I realized it was having no measurable impact on our sites’ traffic or authority.
Don’t get me wrong, they were writing great content, but posting great content will only get you so far. Because the reality is…
The World Doesn’t Need More Information
I’ll say it again: The world does NOT need more information.
Instead, what the world needs (and values) is a trusted authority who will organize and aggregate all the GOOD information that’s actually worth reading into one place.
And this concept is nothing new. In fact, the largest, most successful authority sites on the web rarely feature content written by the person who has their name on it.
Think about it: The Huffington Post, The Drudge Report, Bloomberg, Forbes, Breitbart… these sites aren’t famous for the owner’s writing style. They’re famous for the content they present .
Do you see where I’m going here?
I sometimes like to jokingly call this “The Oprah Factor,” because Oprah built her ridiculously successful career by bringing the best
experts, content, and entertainers onto her talk show.
Oprah understood something that most people don’t…
Experts do NOT equal Authority… authorities are people who aggregate and associate with multiple experts.
That’s why Oprah has associated with (and in some cases created) expert brands such as Rachel Ray, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz.
This is the playbook that the most successful authority sites use. They host expert content, associate with the most reputable thought leaders in an industry, and they leverage those associations to build their authority…just like Oprah does (just on a slightly smaller level).
If you have a hard time imagining yourself as the “Oprah” of your industry, then here’s another way to look at it that’s slight more humble…
Don’t Talk About Yourself, Talk About Who You Admire
The trick is to talk about other people who are worth talking about. If you follow this rule, talking about exclusively worthwhile content experts… you’re almost assured of saying something worthwhile. Right?
The sooner you realize that, the sooner your blog will start leapfrogging the competition and building rapid authority because most other bloggers will continue to operate using the old self-promotion model.
So as crazy as it sounds, the first step to becoming a respected authority in your market isn’t to publish something new and amazing…
…the first step is to identify and associate with the most trusted, authoritative experts in your niche and then seek to aggregate and promote THEIR CONTENT in one place (i.e. your site).
This “Expert Aggregator Model” is also something we cover extensively in my The Content Marketing Mastery certification. So if you’re at all interested in launching a blog (or if you want to transform a boring, low-profit blog into a high-traffic, high-profit authority site) you should definitely check it out.
So that covers the first three steps, but the next one gets into how we transform traffic into revenue…
4. We focused on building an email list
Here’s another secret to building your site’s authority in a hurry: STOP sending your traffic to someone else’s site by selling banner ads!
Instead of letting another business siphon YOUR traffic via banner ads, use those banners to advertise your own products — and keep those users on your site.
My team has been testing and refining this strategy for a long time. And let me just say, the money you make by selling banner space is a small fraction of what you can make by building an email subscriber list and promoting internal assets.
Here’s an example of what we’ve been doing over at SurvivalLife.com…
At first glance, this looks like a typical banner ad, right? But it’s actually an advertisement for one of our own FREE reports…
And when you click on this banner, you’ll see that we’re using this free report to generate leads. Instead of monetizing clicks like most content sites, we leverage our banner space to build a list.
Once again, I’m telling you to do the exact opposite of what has become conventional wisdom in online marketing… but here’s why it works.
Selling clicks is incredibly shortsighted, especially if your goal is to build a booming authority site. You’re literally sending the traffic, which you worked so hard to get, away to someone else’s site.
And you’re giving up this valuable traffic for PENNIES.
Please don’t do that!
By using your banner space to build your own subscribers list, you’ll maximize the value of your traffic. Rather than just getting a few cents per-click once … we’re able to monetize our subscriber list time and time again via sponsored emails, affiliate promotions, and in-house product promotions.
When you think about it, it’s really a no-brainer. It’s basically a TINY amount of money right now… versus 10 or 20 times as much, every month.
Most high-traffic authority sites do this at some level. This strategy is even more important for smaller, growing sites with limited traffic…
Take a look at how Motley Fool uses banner ad space to make internal offers,
5. We did TONS of Facebook Advertising
It might shock you to hear this but…
There is NO SUCH THING as a traffic problem.
Bloggers that think they have a traffic problem actually have one of the following,
- An offer problem – They either don’t have an offer, don’t have the right offer or don’t have their offer optimized.
- A measurement problem – They don’t have the process in place to measure what traffic is worth .
Traffic is everywhere. You just need to understand the economics of your blog. You need to know how much you can pay to acquire traffic.
Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, just to name the obvious, have an unlimited supply of traffic.
Once you set up your blog properly, you simply turn on the traffic faucet.
At Survival Life, Facebook is our traffic channel of choice. We grew our Facebook presence from nothing to over 300,000 Likes in 1 year. We’re now tipping the scale at 500,000 Likes.
And that’s all fine and dandy, but we all know that Facebook Likes aren’t sales. Only sales are sales.
We use Facebook to engage with our community but we also use it to make offers.
We make offers to our audience on our Facebook Wall,
And we make offers using Facebook ads,
But none of it would matter if we hadn’t done our homework on the market…
6. We chose an insanely rabid market
Maybe you’ve been told that you can build a profitable blog around any topic you are passionate about.
If there is not a sustainable market for your authority topic, then all the time you invest in building your site is a complete waste of your time… you’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, so to speak.
To confidently build a blog around a market you must determine whether,
- The market is big enough
- The market is monetizable
To determine if the market is large enough look for,
- 30,000 Google searches per month
- Active blogs
- Active Facebook Pages
- Active Forums
- Active Email Newsletters
- Active associations
Survival Life is in the survival and preparedness niche. This is a big market.
We saw plenty of signs of life in this market,
To determine if the market is monetizable look for,
- Direct competition (They are doing exactly what you want to do. This is a good thing.)
- Indirect competition (They are selling to the same market, but don’t sell what you do)
- Affiliate offers (Check Clickbank, Share-A-Sale and Commission Junction for related affiliate offers)
- Advertisers (Where there are well-known advertisers, there is money)
- Gurus (Look for very influential people associated with your market)
- eCommerce Sites (Find sites that are selling products to this market)
- Survival Life is a community of people interested in survival and preparedness. And these folks are serious about it.
- When we dug in to research the survival and preparedness niche we found a very hungry market.
- We were happy to find plenty of affiliates in the prepper market,