Below you’ll find an unedited chapter from my upcoming book 40 Rules for Internet Business Success. To receive updates about the book and get a free digital copy of my book in its current form, enter your email address in the sidebar to the right.
Many entrepreneurs that are building online businesses don’t do nearly enough marketing when they’re first getting started. The vast majority of their time is spent building out their product or service and they don’t spend nearly enough time talking to customers or identifying ways to reach their target market. New entrepreneurs tend to believe a variety of myths about marketing and don’t realize how large of a task customer acquisition can be. They might believe the myth that they only need to get their website featured on TechCrunch in order to acquire a large number customers. They might believe the myth that their product will go viral on Facebook or Twitter and that they won’t need to do much marketing. They might even believe that they’ll do some basic search engine optimization work and Google will send them all of the customers that they need. Don’t fall for these myths. Marketing your product or service is a large and challenging task that will take as much time and effort as building the product itself.
For quite a while, entrepreneurs believed en masse that their ticket to getting a large number of new users was to have their business featured on the front page of Hacker News, TechCrunch or Mashable. If any major members of the technology press were to cover your business, there’s a strong likelihood that you would get a large wave of web traffic for a few days, but that’s about it. Getting featured on popular technology blogs rarely leads to a large influx of new users or customers. Most people that read the major tech sites are just browsing and aren’t actually that interested in your company. Don’t expect that having your website featured on another popular website will drive a meaningful number of customers to your business.
There are also entrepreneurs that believe that they just need to do some search engine optimization (SEO) work to drive web traffic and new customers to your business. While SEO can be one of the traffic strategies you employ, I don’t think it should be your primary customer acquisition strategy because you have very little control over how much web traffic Google sends you. Google has a complex algorithm it uses to decide which websites will rank in top position for any given keyword and the algorithm is changing on a regular basis. If you rely too heavily on getting traffic from Google, your business is at significant risk. Consider how many publishers got hammered in the search rankings in 2011 and 2012 when Google announced the various iterations of the “Panda” and “Penguin” updates. Many publishers saw the volume of traffic that Google sent them decline by 70% overnight. I was one of those publishers. I had been successfully marketing Audible(R)’s audiobook subscription service through search engine optimization and lost $7,000 in monthly revenue overnight. After the first few “Panda” updates, my SEO-driven affiliate marketing efforts were simply no longer effective. I’ve since moved on to other businesses that have much more diversified web traffic source.
Yet other entrepreneurs think that they just need to get their website to go viral on social media and they won’t need to do much marketing. This rarely ever works out. The vast majority of content designed to go viral never gets any traction. You should certainly be active on platforms that have the capability to go viral, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but your marketing strategy cannot be dependent on having your content going viral. Even if you were to have one piece of content hit, there would be no guarantee that the next viral piece of content you create will get the same amount of traction.
Don’t believe these myths. Your website probably isn’t going to get featured on TechCrunch, and if it does, you won’t get any customers out of it. You’re probably not going to get a large amount of traffic from Google unless you have a very large, established website or are paying for clicks through the AdWords program. You can’t depend on your content going viral or your users telling their friends and family about your business via word of mouth.
While marketing your business won’t happen by itself, you can develop a process of regularly trying out different marketing strategies and customer acquisition methods to ensure you have a diversified set of web traffic sources. Ideally, you’ll have somewhere between five and ten sources of traffic that regularly send your business web traffic and new customers. Search engines and social media sites can be sources of new potential customers, but they shouldn’t be your primary methods of customer acquisition. Ideally, you won’t have one traffic source that’s responsible for more than 25% of your new customers. For example, my investment newsletter business, Analyst Ratings Network (www.analystratings.net), receives sign-ups from Bing Finance, StockTwits, our Android/iPhone App, Yahoo Finance, StockTwits, Twitter, Google Adwords, co-registration advertising, Google Finance and email lists swaps. It’s taken three years to develop these traffic streams. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll continue to send my business new customers, my business would continue to attract customers if one of these traffic sources were to go away.
I recommend that you regularly test out new customer acquisition methods and advertising strategies. The vast majority of the marketing strategies that you try won’t won’t be effective, but every now and then you’ll find a profitable way to acquire new customers. You can know that a marketing strategy is effective if your cost of acquiring a customer from that particular source is less than the life-time value of your typical customer. Once you’ve found something that works, do everything you can to maximize the flow of new customers from that traffic stream, whether that be increasing your advertising spend or publishing more content to that particular platform. When you’re first getting started, I recommend trying as many as a dozen different strategies for a couple of months, then honing down on the strategies that are working well. After your company is up and running, I recommend testing out a new marketing strategy every month.
If you’re not sure what marketing strategies to test for your business, there are any number of things you could do. You could purchase or rent an email list of executives in your target market. You could start a pay-per-click advertising campaign through Google Adwords. You could start having conversations with people in your market on social media sites. You could do a direct mail campaign to individuals in your target market. You could ask owners of websites in your target market whether you can guest post on their website. You could create an app relevant to your target market and put it on the AppStore and the Google Play Store. You could target category-specific search engines like Google Images, Google News or Google Finance. You could start creating videos about your topic on YouTube. You could buy advertisements on websites and in magazines relevant to your target market. Of course, these are just a few of the many ways that entrepreneurs can attract customers to their online businesses. The key is to try a lot of different things and see what works for your particular business.