No audience, no traffic, no money.
I’ve read a lot of articles about making money online.
I’d be willing to bet that I’ve read more on this topic than any other.
Many of these articles are fantastic. The good ones being those that aren’t too flashy and point people to legitimate ways to make a living online, such as: subscription newsletters, web applications, freelancing, affiliate sales, creating online classes, and writing digital books.
While money making posts are great motivational reading, I’ve grown a little frustrated.
Here’s the problem:
If you don’t have an audience, you aren’t going to make any money.
There is no way around that.
You can have the best offer in the world, but you aren’t going to make any money if no one knows about it.
Why don’t authors talk too much about the audience problem?
Because it brings you down from the high you just got from reading their article.
No one wants to hear the truth, which is:
If you don’t have an audience, your traffic numbers will be really low. This will lead to frustration, because without traffic you’ll eventually abandon your blogs and give up on your dreams.
Boom. That sucks.
But it doesn’t have to.
I’ve experienced this frustration first hand because my first few attempts to make money with a blog failed in a huge way.
At one point, I completely gave up on the idea of making money online and just started writing about my hobby, which was Daily Fantasy Sports. No motivation other than to share what I’ve learned about DFS with my friends.
As it turns out, this hobby website that I created as a diversion to get my mind off my failures ended up doing fairly well.
Two things stand out from that experience:
- You can’t force it. There’s either a market for a product, or there isn’t.
- Create value first. People can smell a trap, stop trying to sell them things when you first meet them.
These two ideas caused me to shift my thinking away from raw traffic to building an audience.
An audience is the key to earning a living online.
In spite of the fact that I’d read many awesome books about building online communities and the success that can bring, my sole focus used to be traffic acquisition.
I played SEO tricks, I bought traffic by running Google and Facebook ads, and I would pay to boost social media posts. All of this resulted in traffic to my sites, but my conversion rates sucked. The ads on my site were affiliate banners and sidebar ads that ran through a rotator as opposed to being targeted to my visitors interests. People would visit my blog once, and never return.
So many online marketers are competing for our eyeballs and dollars, that we’ve all grown weary of the pitch. In fact, about 25% of users are now using ad blockers.
So while it is good to think about what you want to sell online, it’s absolutely critical to create an audience of readers interested in what you have to say.
Interested might be too weak of a word, but is a good foundation. What you are hoping to ultimately achieve is trust. Your site visitors, those that will become your audience, must trust you as a reliable source of information.
Having an audience that trusts you will result in traffic that matters.
And by “audience” I mean someone that joins your Facebook group, subscribes to your private email list, or follows you on social media or some other platform, making it easy for you to reach them when you have something to share.
But how do you create an audience?
You have something to say, and are dying to get it out to the world. How on earth do you get your message in front of people?
There are two ways to create an audience: buy it (paid) or grow it (organic).
Paid Traffic (Google or Facebook Ads) will get visitors to your site, so you need to be ready for them to arrive as soon as your ads go live. Paying for someone to come to your site and having them click away without doing anything is a waste of your money.
You are spending money by going this route, so you need to have a plan for what users will do when they land on your site, such as get them to sign up for your private email list. Nothing worse than paying for a visitor then having them click away without them performing the action you’d planned.
I like Organic Traffic the best, because I’m cheap, but it often takes longer to build an audience this way.
You don’t pay (at least not directly) for organic traffic. A user searches keywords or phrases that Google has ranked your site for, they click on a link in the Google search results and land on that page.
Visitors that arrive on your site via search results, will typically be interested in what you have to say, so say something. This is your crew, give them something and they will stick around.
While purists consider traffic from social media sources (Twitter, Minds, Facebook) as Social Traffic, I just lump it in with organic because I don’t pay to place anything on these platforms.
Both Paid and Organic methods are effective ways to build an audience, it’s just a matter of how much time and money you want to spend on the effort. Paid can be much faster, organic typically takes more time. Either way, you want to get that visitor to do something while they are on your site (which in the case of audience building is to give you their email address).
So with both methods, provide a way for your visitors to easily subscribe to your email list. An email list is the best way to reach out to your audience, so building your list should be an obsession.
Oh, and here is the number one method I use to build my audience.
I used to exclusively publish to self hosted blogs, then promote heavily to drive traffic to the sites. I now write on established platforms like Medium, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Minds.
There are two primary reasons to spend time learning how to effectively use these platforms:
- Google loves them. So the content you create on these platforms will be indexed very quickly. This results in organic traffic to the platform, but it is your content.
- Exposure to an existing audience. These platforms have readers that are passionate about topics. Create informative, entertaining content for these readers and they might become part of your audience.
All of the platforms I mentioned above allow you to embed links, making it easy for you to send visitors to external sites.
Many people are out of work, at risk of losing their job, or are exploring alternative ways to earn a living. I think it is important for those that create content to share both sides of the coin with our audience.
Expectations need to be managed because making money online is insanely difficult for those that have never done it. Even those with experience face challenges because the game changes all the time.
Subscription newsletters, web applications, freelancing, affiliate sales, creating online classes, and writing digital books are all valid ways to make money online.
But as opposed to focusing on the product and the sale, let’s shift the focus to helping people learn how to create an audience, which will increase their odds of building a successful online business.