What I Learned Not Being Reliant On Google For Traffic
I used to be 100% focused on Affiliate Marketing and did damn well doing it. However, in the last year or two I have focused the majority of my effort on software and print on demand. Launching a software has been one of the hardest and most exciting few years of my life, and I have learned a LOT since I last posted.
Today, I want to go over a few of the key lessons I learned, as well as little stories throughout.
No matter if you run a service, software, or affiliate website, I think there are some lessons you can learn here for your own business. There is a LOT more out there than just Google Traffic!
Determine where your target market hangs out (this is your new home for the foreseeable future)
When you first start a website/service/entrepreneur endeavor, your sole goal is to find and understand your target audience. What do they like, what do they do, and most important of all, where do they hang out? Do most of your target audience hang out in forums? Do they REALLY love to use social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, …MySpace?). It doesn’t really matter where they hang out, you just need to find out exactly where that is, and then get familiar with it. Do not just get familiar, get intimate.
You have to learn everything you can about your particular platform. Learn the normal actions, but take the time to learn who the influencers are, and then get involved. You want to know the insides and out of the platform and what pieces are the most used.
It does NOT matter if you like this platform or not, this is your new home. When we first started our software company Merch Informer, I hated Facebook. In fact, I still do not like the platform, but guess what? That is where my target audience hangs out, so that is where I spent 99% of my time. My business partner had actually deactivated his Facebook before we launched. As soon as we launched though, it was reactivated and guess what? We each spend the majority of our time interacting with the community and generally being helpful.
I am not a huge fan of spending most of my time on Facebook, and this is certainly a step outside of my comfort zone (I became sort of a public figure inside a few FB groups instead of anonymous like I was used to), but if that is what it takes to move forward, that is what I was going to do.
If you are not willing to actually spend time on the platform that your target audience is spending the majority of their time, you will most likely fail. When it comes to affiliate websites, it is incredibly easy to just throw content at the wall and see what happens after chasing links. What I learned over the last 2 years though is that if I actually participate in the community and become someone who knows what they are talking about, links come naturally. Spending time on a platform you may not like leads to a LOT of opportunities, interviews, links, and can help your website move forward. Simply being helpful on platform you may not like, but being consistent, will pay dividends FAR into the future.
YouTube traffic performs incredibly well (ability to educate before connecting)
This really kind of works with the first point above, but I want to go into a bit more detail. You need to determine where your target market hangs out, and then spend the time. What I realized soon after launching Merch Informer was that the majority of our target market was hanging out on Facebook. What I learned soon after that though was that there was a significant audience on YouTube. These were people that were NOT reading our extensive blog, because they preferred to listen, or were visual learners. These were people who were trying to figure out how the Merch by Amazon platform worked, and were looking for any kind of angle on how they could get past everyone else.
Honestly, at first I was REALLY against doing YouTube. I am used to running affiliate websites, and being completely anonymous without anyone knowing who I am. I actually liked this, because no one could say anything about who I was, or the content I was producing. This was a security blanket.
This all changed when we launched a company that was incredibly niche, and I had to become public in order to promote the content for the company we had created. I remember my business partner asking me to do a video explaining one of our new features that we could use to promote. I sat there for about 5 minutes a little bit scared about sharing my voice with the world. I had convinced my business partner to build the MVP because I knew we could sell it, so I wasn’t about to let down my end of the deal. I made the decision right then and there to do whatever it takes to share the platform with everyone I could because I believed in it.
So, I ended up creating my first YouTube video. Then I ended up doing another one… and another one. Soon, I was doing YouTube videos whenever I had something interesting to share.
After a while, I started to look at the stats of our site and noticed that the majority of our BEST PERFORMING traffic was actually coming from YouTube.
This traffic spent more time on the site, had a lower bounce rate (20% lower than our average of about 70%). This bounce rate has a lot to do with some of the free tools we provide, but more about that later.
You can either provide a service/good, provide entertainment, or you can provide education. I think these are probably the 3 different categories of traffic. When it comes to YouTube, it focuses on the last two (providing entertainment, and education). What I learned was that one: education, does not get nearly the views and subscribers that entertainment does, but two: education leads to more money and long term engagement and more money if done right.
See, you have the ability to actually EDUCATE the viewer before you connect with them. If they hate your message, hate your lesson, or just hate you in general, they will simply move on. However, if you actually give them useful information, educate them in a way that will help them in their business, they are much more likely to engage and connect with you and your business. This was key in almost everything we did at the beginning. Educate and DELIVER on your promises to build long term trust in your customer.
Deliver nothing but value (anything sub par will lower your reputation. If it is not the best thing out there, don’t bother writing it).
This one is almost ironic because delivering nothing but value is ALWAYS preached when it comes to websites (and especially affiliate marketing) but almost NEVER practiced. Not only that, but focusing on this one metric alone is what is going to end up ranking you long term in every search engine out there.
After we launched, there weren’t really any Google searches for our target audience. This is what I was used to do, so I knew I had to do something different. I determined that my target audience was on Facebook. Great … now what?
Deliver value, nothing less.
If you launch a website or a company, and you start delivering anything less than sub par, you are going to lose. This became super evident to me when we really got going. Facebook was really the only outlet that we could use to promote our software. The admins in most of the groups had NO IDEA who I was, and when I reached out, ignored me.
You know how I got past that? I delivered quality that could not be ignored.
I wrote the most extensive guides, with every single question that might pop into your head answered. I covered EVERYTHING I could think of that related to the topic. If the influencers wanted to ignore me, I was going to get people actually in the trenches and working on their businesses to pay attention. People who pay attention and actually find helpful information that helps them love to share. This was our “in”. You can learn a lot from your customers. If they hate the content, don’t engage with it, don’t share it… figure out WHY and rework it. This is a constant process and will change over time.
Learn your target customer. What are they like, why do they do what they do? LISTEN to the target customer when it makes sense
When we first started, if someone asked me who my target customer was I would say something along the line of: “everyone should be using this software!”. What I soon learned was this was so far from the truth and I was really far off.
Truth be told, no matter what your service, software, or website, it is NOT for everyone. Some people just refuse to spend any money, some people refuse to educate themselves, and others just refuse to even TRY. That’s fine, these are not your target customer and if you are spending time on them, you are wasting your time.
If you can actually nail down your target audience and then focus all your effort on those people, you will grow a lot faster and have much less headache in the long run.
Once you figure out WHO your target audience is, you need to listen to them, which is actually easier said than done.
In fact, I found this really hard. I am very data and number oriented. I like data, and use it to make decisions. My target audience was NOT data oriented. They are artistic creators who either do not understand data, or simply just do not care. Once I ACCEPTED this fact, we pivoted in order to accommodate more of the needs and wants of our target audience. This was HUGE for growth.
Sometimes you have to sit back and try your best to look at it from your customer’s point of view.
If you can’t, then ask a friend or family member that might align with your target audience for a simple, no BS answer. Sometimes you get so ingrained in your business and pushing things forward that you lose sight of what your core customers really want.
Listening to your customers and then acting on their feedback is actually the best way to one: build trust, and two: continually be in front of your target audience. If you keep listening to your users, or visitors, people start to notice that you listen. This is entrepreneurship currency and what trust is built on.
There are ZERO magic bullets, just start (and follow through). You cannot count on anyone to rank/drive traffic/sell for you. While some will, it is up to you to get it done. It takes time, it’s difficult, but will pay back dividends far into the future
A few years ago when Humblesalesman and I both created the Just Start subreddit, we were both kind of fed up with the entrepreneur subreddit and how many people were asking questions but not moving forward. They were simply asking question upon question and never actually DOING anything. This was the fundamental start of the affiliate marketing sub /r/juststart, but after we launched MI, I soon learned the same lesson for the second time.
There are zero magic bullets, just start!
You really cannot count on anyone to do anything for you in the beginning. You cant count on that one influencer to drive a bunch of traffic for you, no one is going to sell for you (even if you have the best affiliate program around (and you certainly are not going to find anyone to promote you for no reason. You aren’t known yet!)
I admit, my entire “plan” at the very beginning was to get 1 or 2 influencers on our side and promote the software HARD. We had an excellent affiliate program, we offered an incredible value, and we also knew what we were doing in this niche.
This failed. This failed incredible hard. The influencers were not interested at all. We had multiple skype conversations with these people, and they had zero interest in promoting us because they were already selling something subpar to their community.
It was at this point that I learned that if I was going to promote something, I had to have a plan myself. I could not rely on someone else to magically create my company, or drive customers to us. I had to do it myself, and this is the case for almost every startup. This drives back to the point above, about delivering nothing but value. This was our ticket into getting visibility. Find some way to differentiate yourself so that people HAVE to talk about you and you cannot be ignored.
These influencers actually deleted comment after comment of people mentioning our software. However, since we kept providing deep in depth tutorials, it eventually could not be ignored. This content has not been touched in YEARS and still drives traffic because it is shareable, but because it is so shareable, it has attracted links and thus ranks in Google. Doing this over and over again has ranked us for almost every phrase in this industry.
Networking is not optional (this is a MUST no matter if you are social or not). You must meet people who know other people.
I am NOT a social person, but the more we grew the business, the more I realized how crucial networking is. I know everyone hears this over and over again, how networking is the most important part of their business, but I never really understood this until I realized I had to be in the good graces of some influencers in order to sell our software.
If you refuse to network, no matter if you are a website or a service, you will not grow as fast as someone who is willing to suck it up and reach across the table and network with everyone else in the industry.
A lot of my time these days is actually spent building relationships over Facebook messenger. This may seem pretty stupid and to many people, a waste of time, but it is this activity that has opened so many different opportunities. Some of the people that you interact with will be able to introduce you to some HEAVY HITTERS in your industry. Some of my greatest friends in life I met this way. Crazy how things work out.
I was spending hours and hours interacting with influencers. That act opened the relationships that led to having dinner with the people in charge of the program that our software was created for. I am forever grateful for this experience as I got to meet some awesome people but also got some very actionable content that I was able to pass on to my audience. All of this would not have been possible if I was not willing to put myself out there and network with people in the industry.
Side note, but if you ever get invited to a conference, just go. You probably will not want to if you are anything like me, but this is a prime opportunity to interact with people in your industry, but more importantly, your customers! By the time you are invited to anything, you probably have enough visitors or customers where you are considered someone of an authority on your topic. This gave me an opportunity to talk to face to face and understand a lot of the smaller issues that I would have never thought of if I did not talk to someone face to face.
Going to these get togethers can also foster a lot of business relationships which will catapult your business ahead of any competitors. People remember you face to face, and makes it that much easier to reach out with an ask in the future.
Side Note: prepare for haters
Every time that you put yourself out there to network, or interact with your audience, there are going to be people that DO NOT LIKE YOU!
I created a sub reddit for people interested in the industry that we created software for FAR before the industry became popular. The entire point was to help people make more money, and understand exactly how I had found success.
What ended up happening was a community of people began growing that were FAR different than the community we had built of affiliate marketers in Just Start.
The main community was a bunch of creative artists that were not used to making money online like affiliate marketers, and did not like someone who had been there before them. If someone else was seeing success, they were upset.
This lead to a LOT of fighting (which I did my best to ignore), but I still have recently received some PMs such as these:
One more for good measure…
There were a few more people that actually fought with me at every turn as well. At some point, you have to realize that these people are NOT your target audience, and simply not spend any time or energy on them. Any time you spend on these people is simply wasted.
Email is worth a hell of a lot more than you think. Learn to email in order to build your brand (NOT SPAM)
You have heard it time and time again “the money is in the list”. Most of you probably wrote this off… I did. I always collected emails, but I never really put too much effort into it.
When you are no longer relying on Google for traffic in the beginning, email becomes incredibly important. This allows to interact with your customers, build a relationships, and teach them a LOT of useful stuff about your industry. Which funny enough, builds your email list even more.
The typical number that is tossed around is $1 per month per person on your email listen. I can tell you from experience this is pretty spot on for any kind of affiliate website or person who is pushing affiliate offers. However, if you are selling your own goods or your own software, this number is MUCH too low. Each email pays off, BIG TIME.. time and time again.
The one thing that I had to take to heart was that you have an email list for a reason… to sell things! You either email them until they buy something, or they leave your list.
That does not mean spam though. What I found was that if I emailed less often, but with more quality and content (delivering actual value in each email), they performed better. They bought more, churned less, and actually increased revenue.
However, each time I would email, I would notice that we would lose a couple hundred emails from unsubscribes. This really bothered me at first. I was not spamming. In fact, I was emailing every few weeks, so why the hell were so many people leaving my list?
Many of these people were not interested in the industry anymore. This was understandable but what I really needed to get was that the people leaving my list were NEVER GOING TO BUY in the first place. Since they were never going to buy or interact with my content, this was a waste of time and effort on my part. Spend time focusing on your die hard fans and customers. These are the people who are going to share your site/service/software with other people. Their opinion matters.
Push notifications are gold (seriously, so easy to drive customers back over and over again)
Push notifications as a user are annoying, and you probably hate them. Me too!
That being said, there is no ignoring how damn effective these things are.
I am not talking about just mobile, I am talking about push notifications on desktops. These are amazing for any kind of website. If you have a web presence and are not using push notifications, you are simply leaving money on the table.
If you are not familiar, what these do is add a little popup in the corner of your browser each time you publish a post.
Each time you publish new content, people that are interested in your content will get a notification that you just published something new.
Our stats look like this:
Each time you publish something new and the push notification comes out, you can rely on about 2-5 percent CTR or click through rate:
I use onesignal.com which is currently free and so far have only set up web users. Here are all the options:
What this boils down to is each time I publish something, ANYTHING, I have over 1000 people hitting the website and reading the content. None of this was ever promoted. All it does is add a single notification bell in the right hand corner of your website. All of this growth was 100% organic, yet brings back customers and possible customers over and over again, for free.
Seriously, this is a free way to bring back interested parties in your site/service over and over again. If you are not installing them, you are missing out. This is a FREE way to drive traffic.
Use lead magnets to get people to keep coming back (over and over again). Free tools/resources
Do not be afraid of giving your visitors something for free. If you are not going to rely on Google for traffic, you are going to need to provide value. One of the ways to provide value is to give something to your target audience to make their life easier.
Back when I used to run a fitness website, I would create different calculators for nutrient macros.
When we launched Merch Informer, we quickly identified that a lot of people did not want to spend money on their business right away, but might possibly spend money to further their success in the future, and after they have proven to themselves they can do it. Because of this, we set out to provide a free tool.
It just so happened one of the influencers in the space had a free tool that was not being monetized, so we reached out, offered to monetize it for them, and took over the asset. Offering free tools to our audience was one of the best things we did to keep customers coming back over and over again.
The more times you can get your offer in front of a customer, the more likely they are to try it out. Since we offer a 3 day trial, eventually curiously would get the best of them, and since we end up delivering value, they end up staying.
Tip: Do NOT spam your free tools with advertisements for your affiliate links/services. This does not build trust with your customer and will actually lower the usage of your tool. We found that moderate advertisement without being intrusive actually worked best.
If you do not have anyone available to build or buy different assets that are available in your industry, look around at what is available. Half the time there are options out there that are actually pretty damn bad and can be improved on. If you are not a coder, be willing to spend a bit of money (couple hundred dollars) getting something developed on Upwork to add to your website. These value ads are going to drive a LOT more traffic than your few hundred dollars could get you in ads.
Also, spend the time to promote your free lead magnets all over the net (social media, guest posts, forums). These free value ads are going to end up giving you a LOT of links which will eventually rank you in Google, giving you even more traffic.
Go far above and beyond with guest posts. This will not only pay off in traffic and earnings, but will earn you much more than that (extra links, people reaching out to you)
When it comes to ranking in Google, you need links. Everyone knows this, but most people look for shortcuts and end up messing up the entire process. You want links on authority websites that actually have some sort of following. This is what is going to rank you. Links from random blogs that get 10 views a month are not going to help you rank in Google.
When it comes to not actually being reliant on Google, when you guest post, you have a single goal. Guest post on sites that have traffic. This traffic is all that matters. If you guest post on a site with traffic, you can use that site as a funnel for your site, and thus direct them to where you can give them more information/value.
If a site does not have much traffic, there is literally no reason to go after a guest post if you are trying to not rely on Google.
What this actually means is that it gets rid of about 80% of the “link targets” you might have. Most websites in your niche might not get any traffic at all or very little. Spend your time and effort on what is going to help you the most, and this is high traffic authority websites.
Getting these guest posts is going to be two faceted.
First, DELIVER VALUE. I seriously cannot understate this fact. If you are a “me to” brand, you are not delivering value. If you have no way to differentiate yourself from the competitor website/service, you are a “me to” brand, and no one will take you seriously.
When you deliver excellent value on your own site, this makes it a LOT easier to reach out to influencers in the space.
Hint: When you reach out to other websites for a guest post (for traffic remember, not just links), show them how your site/article actually gets traffic. Link them screenshots from Google Analytics. When it comes to websites owners, their life blood is in their visitors. If you can demonstrate that YOU pull visitors, then they are a hell of a lot more likely to let you guest post.
One of the experiments we ran was to see if people in the affiliate marketing niche were potential customers for our software. It overlapped into the “make money online” niche, so I decided to give it a shot. I wanted to guest post on a site in that niche and landed on https://www.nichepursuits.com/ as a target as I knew they had traffic and plenty of readers.
The reason I reached out to this website is because I monitor my links. When an authority website links to you, REACH OUT. This is literally the easiest way to get links and traffic. If they linked to you once, they clearly think you are an authority in the space.
I have noticed that after someone has linked to you, your chances of getting a reply to your email increase about 10X, and I am not kidding. I reached out with an email that essentially went like this:
Hello (website owner),
Thanks again for the links to (my website) and (my business) in your latest post, really appreciate it.
If you would be interested, I would love to do a more in depth post on Merch by Amazon, or really just the merch space in general. I know the program is technically closed right now, but there are 2 things that are actionable right now that I think would fit with your audience. The first is that teespring is about to change to allow all their designs to be put and sold on Amazon in early Feb and since they are an open program, everyone will have access right away. The second is a lot more interesting from a marketers point of view and that is that Shopify is integrating with Amazon. With a few plugins, you can actually set all that up without holding any inventory which is what I am working on now.
In case you did not know, we run MerchInformer.com as well and it fits in perfectly with the above. We could set you up as an affiliate and integrate that into a post if that sounds good to you?
Let me know what you think,
This is actually the real email I sent after I saw that they had linked to our site. This got an almost immediate response and we went from there. Not only is this an easy way to get influencer links (by reaching out after they notice you), but is also builds a relationship with the owner of the website you are writing for.
Since this section is about going above and beyond, lets actually get to it.
Once I knew I had a guest post on their site, I knew one thing… I had to OVER DELIVER and under promise.
I proposed a 2,500 word article on how to start in this industry (Merch by Amazon). He got back to me with a target keyword, and this is what I delivered: https://www.nichepursuits.com/how-to-start-a-t-shirt-business/ which is 5.6k words and delivered over 120 comments to their site.
This might have been a bit overboard for this site, but what it does is build my credibility for the future.
Because of this post, multiple websites have reached out asking if we could also deliver guest posts to their site. If they do not reach out to you, YOU can reach out to them with the value that you delivered to someone else, and how you’re willing to deliver this same value.
THIS technique of just going so far and above for every guest post, and actually taking the time to promote your brand and content, is not only going to drive traffic to you, but it is going to drive a LOT of future links ranking you in Google. It is almost ironic that when you focus on quality, you end up with organic traffic, who would have thought?
This also leads to a much higher average session duration per viewer for the same reason as YouTube. This gives you time to education the customer or potential customer before you actually engage them. This single guest post lead to THOUSANDS of visitors which ended up viewing multiple pages and many ended up purchasing after clicking through. I wrote that post in January of 2017 and it is STILL driving traffic almost 2 years later consistently, each and every month.
If you follow the technique above consistently, this will deliver not only organic results, but make sure you never have to RELY on organic search results again.
Wrapping It Up
Every single point I made above is not easy. However, over the last few years, I have realized that this is what we have built our business on, and we do not rely strictly on Google Traffic. Ironically, everything above actually helps you rank in Google, which has lead to 100s of thousands of visitors over the time we have been in business (even though we never once tried to rank for anything).
The real lesson I hope you can take from this long post of 5,000 words of rambling is to stop making excuses, and get started now. Just start something, because you have a long road ahead of you. Build up your own audience, and that way, you have an actual business and not something that Google can take away from you tomorrow.
That about wraps it up! Any questions, please ask them below.