By Carol Tice
Are you struggling to make money with your blog?
Maybe you’ve put up ads or affiliate links, or you’ve got a page of Amazon deals on your site. But nothing’s happening.
Welcome to the world of small-audience blogging.
While the big guys can pop up an ad and make thousands a month, that’s usually not going to happen for those of us without 100,000 subscribers or 1 million monthly views. (I had just 2,000 subscribers when I started earning real money from my blog, and I tried that Amazon-cart strategy when I launched, so I speak from experience here.)
Small bloggers have to sell in a different way. We need to build close relationships with our readers — and then be very careful about what and how we sell them. Our blogs need to be welcoming places, where it’s easy to understand what goes on, and how the reader will benefit from signing up.
I’ve reviewed hundreds of startup blogs, and I’ve found there are some basic problems that keep most from even having a shot at earning. Fix these to make your blog into a money-earner:
Is the Web address of your blog the same as its name? Do you have a short, punchy tagline that adds more information about who the target reader is, and what help they’ll get?
If not, many potential loyal readers are probably wandering off. Get these key elements of your website in sync so that a quick initial glance gets readers oriented — and interested to learn more.
No obvious, easy way to subscribe
As a blog owner trying to earn, you don’t want people to “follow” you on WordPress, or get your blog in an RSS feed. You want them to give you their email.
That way, you’ll be able to shoot them an email when you want to sell them something, later on. But on many blogs, it’s a hunt to figure out how you can sign up. Sometimes, it’s a little vague what you’d get if you signed up, too. On an amazing number of blogs, there simply is no way to sign up!
Full disclosure is good here — will they get a free weekly newsletter? Regular email updates, as new posts come out, plus bonus offers? Spell it out.
Make it easy to sign up by not asking for a lot of info. Their first name and email is plenty.
If you’re using a pop-up box to try to capture subscribers, be warned: I’ve seen many pop-ups that disappear after a visitor checks the ‘close’ box, and never appear again. Or the pop-up isn’t visible on mobile devices, or on Macs, or on some Internet browsers. Every time software updates happen on your chosen blogging platform, it’s a chance for that pop-up to break. Then, your way to sign up is invisible to many visitors, and they leave without connecting with you.
Also, many people simply hate pop-ups and won’t ever interact with them.
The solution? Have at least one static signup opportunity, in your sidebar or on a ‘free stuff’ page. Different people are drawn in by different signup pitches, so give your readers options.
No free product
It’s hard to capture subscribers these days without an enticing free item that readers get instantly, when they sign up.
Your free product doesn’t have to be super-elaborate — my first one was a 5-page PDF handout from a Webinar I’d co-presented. You could even take a series of blog posts on a single topic and create a quick e-book or special report. It could be a list of useful tools or resources that your audience would love.
Whatever you choose, get a free product together and get it up. Then, start working on a better one. I’m on my fourth free product, and with each improved offer, subscription rates shoot up.
Freebies also help you bond with readers. They love you and think you’re awesome for giving them free stuff!
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Do you have five different colors in your website design? Are things rotating or flashing? Do you have more than one sidebar?
If so, you may be sending readers away simply because visually, your blog is a turnoff.
The answer is to simplify, simplify, simplify. Here’s a list of things I commonly find on blogs that are extraneous and should be deleted:
- Logos of certificates you’ve earned, professional associations you belong to, blog carnivals you participate in, conferences you attend, and so on.
- “Most recent posts” widgets.
- “Most recent comments” widgets.
- Blogrolls (lists of blogs you read or like).
- Social widgets that show all your Facebook comments or tweets.
- Date calendars—These are included in many blog themes, but serve no real purpose.
- Archives—Especially, ones searchable by month. No one remembers what month you wrote an old post in!
- Sidebars—Don’t have more than one; ideally, in the mobile age, there are none.
- A search bar—Guide visitors with your page tabs and sidebar links, and keep older posts less accessible (so you can spin them into paid products later).
- Meta data—This shouldn’t be visible, yet is showing in the sidebar of many blogs!
- Ads—especially automated ones or ones that appear above or in the middle of blog posts.
- Drop-down submenus hidden under tabs.
- Multiple rows of tabs—Boil it down to one.
- Garish, flashing, or rotating elements.
To sum up, ask yourself, on each page of your blog, what you want the reader to do. What is the one, most important action they should take? Then, remove all distractions from that one goal.
But if the first thing I offered them was a $300 class, it probably wouldn’t sell very well.
Not listening to readers
The secret of low-traffic earning success is talking to your readers, finding out what their problems are, and then presenting them with solutions. But many bloggers operate in a vacuum, throwing up automated ads that present products that may be irrelevant to your readers.
Instead, design your paid offers around reader needs. Don’t guess at what they are, either — find out. Do you chat with readers on your comments? Email them questions, or ask questions in your blog posts for readers to respond to in comments? Invite them to reach out to you on Facebook?
You should, because you need to get to know your readers well if you want to sell big. Listen to their complaints. Read and respond to their emails. This is how you’ll figure out what you could sell them that they would write you thank-you notes for providing, even as they open their wallets.
That’s the sweet spot low-traffic bloggers need to get into to make a lot of sales. So start chatting!
No low-cost initial product
If you’ve collected a few hundred subscriber emails and given them useful free info with your free product, you’re in a position to start selling them something. The best thing to do to get this rolling is to find a product or service you could sell for under about $5. The lower the price, the better.
Why? You want as many buyers for this first product as possible. The point of this cheap offer — which marketers call a ‘tripwire’ — isn’t to make money. It’s to get a list of people who’ve bought from you. Once you have a list like this that you can email about pricier products, selling is easier.
I have one 99-cent e-book that helps me get buyers in the door. In the months after they buy, I’ll often see them come back and buy a $10 e-book, then a $20 self-study e-course, and then perhaps join my $25-a-month community or buy a $300-$500 class.
If I started with a $300 class, I’m sure I wouldn’t get many takers. Realize that buyers build trust as they go. The lower your price is, the less trust they need to pull the trigger and purchase. Make it easy for them, especially at first.
Selling too early
Once you’ve gotten to know your readers and gathered several hundred of them on your email list, talked to them and figured out what they need that you could offer, you’re ready to sell them.
Before that, selling with a small list will be extremely difficult. You’ll need to do tons of marketing — marketing that may well make your people unsubscribe.
If you have ads up or are affiliate selling and you haven’t built an email subscriber list yet, stop. These disconnected sales offers are alienating readers and making them unsubscribe.
Start by selling nothing
Your first priority is to build close relationships with your readers. Just focus on that.
You’ll know when it’s time to sell because you’ll ask your readers if they’d be interested in a particular type of offer, and they’ll express interest. You’ll do a survey and learn exactly how they’d like that delivered. You’ll beta-test it with them and take their feedback to improve your offer. Now, it’s really a perfect fit for your readers.
During all this, you’ll be pre-selling and talking up your upcoming paid offer.
When you’re ready, all you’ll have to do is email your list and say, “That thing you told me you wanted — it’s ready now.”
Selling will be easy and successful, because you’ve involved your readers in every step of the process.
Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog. Her new e-book is Small Blog, Big Income: One Niche Blogger’s 7-Step Success Formula.