Is there anything worse than people telling you how they got to #1 on Google? And, if you pay them $33.99, they’ll send you an eBooks that tells all. Well, our sister site (www.klariti.com) is now at #1 in four different categories on Google. But rather than tell you how great we all are, I’d like to tell you the mistakes we made on the way. Hopefully, you’ll learn something and spare the pain we had to go through.
Mistake #1 – Build for scale
This may be the biggest mistake I made. We originally built the site in
Microsoft FrontPage and every page was hard-coded.
What that means is that if I wanted to update the footer, for example, I had to manually update every page. I had no idea about using ‘file includes’ or databases. If I had spend a month learning how to program, it would have saved me so much times over the years. So, build you site to scale and/or learn a little bit about code/databases.
To be honest, I still can’t code, so I moved everything to WordPress. This has made huge difference as regards productivity. I now get about 30 posts online in 2 hours. I could never have done that before.
Mistake #2 – avoid time-wasting activities
Don’t get hung up on looking at the stats, tweaking minor details or sweating over the small stuff.
Keep looking at the bigger picture.
Am I creating content that people are reading?
Are people reading the site? I know this is to do with stats, but the thing is look at the stats on a Friday night and then plan for the week. Don’t be checking it every day.
- How many products have I sold?
- Keep an eye on your goals. If you’re not selling your products, then ask yourself the hard questions?
- Do you need to improve the product?
- Is it the right price? This leads us to the next point.
Mistake #3 – avoid killer products
We sell over 50 products on the site. 10 products account for 75% of the sales. But here is the most important thing.
It’s the slow sellers that have done very well. They may only sell 1 or 2 copies a week but over the course of a year, this really adds up. I really want to emphasize this.
Develop ‘slow burn’ products. Each and every sale soon adds up. If you have 8 products selling 5 times a week, you’ll do very well in the long run.
Also, by developing a range of low cost products, you insure yourself in case a competitor develops a better product. No one pays attention to the long tail.
IMHO this is where the real money is.
And if you read one book, then please beg, steal or borrow this.
Or ask the library to get it for you. It explains (among other things) how low-cost, niche products generate revenues that are greater than the big hitters.
Mistake #4 – don’t fall in love with your web site design
Everyone makes this mistake. It’s not your baby. Change the site as/when it needs to grow. Don’t fawn over it because you lovingly built it by hand and designed the logo and everything.
I know it’s hard but try to keep some distance from your site. See it as a business (and I know you love it!) and update it when it needs to be refreshed or scaled up.
Tip: don’t update a few webpages and then tell everyone you’ve launched a new site.
All they want to know is: does this website solve my problem. Yes or No?
Some of the most successful websites are very plain with no bells and
whistles. But the writing is great. And that’s what makes the difference.
Mistake #5 – don’t look for advertising for 1 year
Your first year is all about learning the ropes. Finding out what works.
Developing products. Trial and error. Have no expectations for year 1 as regards revenue. If you make something, it’s a bonus. But don’t spend your hanging out on forums learning about ‘how to make 10k a month with Adsense.’
These are all time wasters. Move on.
- Write articles, develop products
- Promote them
- Write more articles, test your products
- Promote them
- And so on.
There is no shortcut. Just be patient and stick to the plan. Don’t panic. See the long picture. As long as your site is growing, you’re heading in the right direction.
Mistake #6 – learn to fail
We setup a newsletter a few years back. It took 3 hours a week to write, usually late at night after a full day. We got 200 subscribes over 3 months or so. But it wasn’t worth the effort, so I ditched it and focused on developing content. It was painful to throw away all the effort I’d put in, but there was a greater return in other areas.
Don’t be afraid to test new areas. No one will punish you if you’re RSS feed goes down or your website crashes.
Enjoy testing things out and don’t worry too much if/when things break. Because they will break. Your site will go down, probably when you’re on holidays. Customers will complain. But, it’s not you, this happens to all website owners.
Mistake #7 – remember you have friends, family that need attention
I know you love running your web business but remember that humans need attention! It’s very easy to get engrossed and forgot about others, so remember to surface for air occasionally and give them the attention they need.
If you don’t do this, things will get unbalanced and you’ll end up having squabbles with people. Try to develop a schedule and stick to it.
For example, I try not to blog on Saturday. Keep this as family time and it gives my head a rest. Keep some distance or you’re going to burn out.
Tip: some signs that you’re working too hard – bringing your laptop to bed/bathroom, talking about WordPress plug-ins to the 4 year old, dreaming about twittering.
Mistake #8 – learn a little about coding
Just buy 1 book about programming and learn the basics. This is very, very useful when/if you want more control of your website and blogs.
You don’t have to learn how to be a programmer, but knowing how to read a bit of code helps when you want to add a plug-in, widget, banners ads or whatever to your site.
It’s not that hard. You just have to decide to do it.
And if I were to choose one, I’d suggest PHP as this works very well with WordPress. There are many others but focus on one. That’s enough to get you started.
Mistake #9 – stop shopping around
This is another time waster. Instead of shopping around looking for the
cheapest web hosting company, newsletter software or whatever, just pick one of the best and get it. It might cost more in the short term (only a little for the web hosting) but will save many hours surfing for the best deal.
So, who do I recommend?
1. Web hosting – godaddy.com. never crashed. Ever!
2. FeedBuzz for newsletters
3. Snagit and Camtasia. Must haves for screenshots and videos.
4. FileZilla for ftp stuff.
5. CutePDF for creating PDFs. It’s free.
6. Audacity for creating podcasts. Again it’s free. This is for voice recording. Stupidly simple to use.
7. Twhirl for twitter stuff. A breeze to use and free.
8. Textpad and Notepad++ for text editing. Why two editors? I have 3 PCs and am too lazy to uninstall and reinstall all the apps.
9. Microsoft Office 2007. Had no choice here but it’s proving a good buy. Bit expensive but some of the new features are worth the investment.
10. FireFox for power browsing if there’s such a thing. Well, all the plugins that you can use on it as fantastic. That’s the real value, tbh.
11. Windows Live Writer for writing and posting blogs. I have tried the rest and this is the best by far.
But, I can’t for the life of me get it to work with Blogger.com. Microsoft own Windows Live Writer. Google own Blogger.com. You can guess the rest!
Mistake #10 – automate as much as you can
Tell customers how/where they can contact you.
Include your skype, mobile (cell) number, alternative email address and links to FAQs. Links of real value to the customer. Don’t waste their time with useless, ‘thanks for contacting us’ guff.
Setup autoresponders. Answer the type of questions they are likely to ask. Put yourself in their shoes.
- Why do they contact you?
- What problems do they usually have?
- What is the most likely answer?
Include a link to a FAQ page where, hopefully, they can solve the problem before you get back to them. Always include an alternative email address in case your main email is down.
Other areas you can automate are:
- Selling products: try Payloadz.com or ejunkie
- Newsletters: aweber (expensive) or feedbuzz (free)
- Forums: give trusted users admin rights so they can moderate the forum. Some people, for example, power users, will be glad to oblige, especially if you offer to share some of the Adsense revenue with them.
Mistake #11 – buy timesaving tools, even 1 of them
This is similar to the above but what I’d emphasize here is that if you buy just one product that saves you time, then you have more time to focus on running your business.
The biggest time saver I found was hiring a book-keeper to do my VAT and tax returns. It’s a weight off my mind and I can now focus on the site and leave this to someone else. Just do the maths. If it cost 50 USD per month for the bookkeeper, but you can make 250, then why do it yourself.
Mistake #12 – forget Amazon
Every week we send 100s of visitors to Amazon. The conversion rate is terrible. Less than 1%. Of all the affiliate programs we’ve used, this has been the biggest disappointment.
For example, we were #1 on Google with Information Architecture. Not any more as we’ve moved.
So, I assumed that people who were interested in this field, found us on Google, visited our site to read about this. Then, they click over to Amazon to read more about Information Architecture. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
Do they buy any books?
Others will have a different story but I’ve given up on using Amazon. They commission on only 4-8%, so I now put my energy into developing my own products.
Mistake #13 – don’t use free articles
You can get free articles from many places to beef up your website.
Don’t do it. Write your own material instead.
I know if may take a bit longer but it will give your site more identity and strengthen your brand.
Free articles dilute your site’s offering. Believe in your own abilities.
Write what you have to say. It’s always more interesting both to you and the reader.
Mistake #14 – don’t follow the crowd
If you’re new to blogging you probably read tons of stuff. Lots of it from marketing types showing you photos of their 100k per month checks from Google. I know, it sounds great, doesn’t it. Do they make it?
I don’t know and I don’t care. They have Photoshop and a printer – guess the rest! The point here is to focus on YOUR site. That’s all that matters. What others are making is irrelevant.
WARNING – don’t get distracted by every new fad. Last year is was RSS, not its Twitter.
Keep to the bread and butter.
Read about these things, of course, but don’t get side tracked. Look at your goals for the month and see where you are now. Will this new technology really help you get there?
Mistake #15 – read the best and only the best
There is so much on the web. So, where do you start? Read these three and if you follow half of what they suggest, you’ll do very well. We’re all in a race against time, so go here and follow what these guys say.
Darren Rowse – how to make money blogging (http://www.problogger.net/)
Amit – how to use new technologies to develop your blog. Absolute gold dust. (http://www.labnol.org/)
Jakob Nielsen – how to write content, design pages etc. (http://www.useit.com/)
All of these are A1. Do yourself a huge favor and read these guys once a week. The others can all wait. Honest, they’re that good.
Mistake #16 – there’s no hurry. The turtle beats the hare
Don’t expect to make money for the first 6 months.
How long would it take to make money if you took singing lessons in the morning? For the first few months, you’d be doing scales, then some easy songs, maybe a year later going public. Maybe?
As long as your traffic is going up, you’re on the right track. We started with 5 visitors a week over 10 years ago. Slowly it grew to 100 per week, then into the 1000s and now we’re in the 100k per month.
It took time. It’s like learning a new language. You learn the grammar,
words, and phrases but for months nothing makes sense. Then one day, it starts to click.
So, you’re not going to set the web on fire in the first few months. Be
realistic. You can make money but you need a plan, a product, a schedule and dedication. All of these take time. Which leads us to…
Mistake #17 – develop a schedule and stick to it
Ok, now this is where we get serious. If you want this to work, prepare a schedule. As I write this, I hear myself say “Yes, Ivan YOU should follow your schedule.” The point is this gives your week structure. If you don’t have a schedule you’re like a leaf blowing in the wind.
You do bits and pieces here and there but there is no real end product. Worse still, you feel crushed because you’ve worked so hard. It’s like pushing mud up a hill.
Create a schedule and stick to it.
- Monday – write one 500 word article. 30-45 min. Keep it focused. No guff. Don’t publish it yet.
- Tuesday – write one 100 word article, for example, a quick tip. Include a screen-shot. These add up over time and put some meat on the bones of the site.
- Wednesday – review the two articles. Edit where necessary. Then publish. Check for typos and grammar. No excuse for typos. Don’t worry about keywords or metatags. Just write useful, original material and people will start visiting your site – and recommending it to others.
- Thursday – marketing activities. Submit articles to blogs, websites; be active in forums/bbs; always include link back to your site; explore new affiliate programs that suit your site
- Friday – check the stats, do some graphic design work or videos.
- Sat – start drafting articles for next week. Just rough sketches. Nothing fancy. You can build on these in the weeks to come.
- Sun – respond to emails. Try to provide value-add where possible. Thank everyone. Remember, they’ve made the effort to write to you.
Tip: Under-estimate how much you can do. If you feel you can do 2 hours a night, put down 1 hour in your schedule. What you ‘feel’ you can do and what you can actually do are very different. The eyes are bigger than the belly syndrome.
Having a schedule will stand to you in time.
Adjust this to suit your own web business but try to stick to the principles where possible.
Run your web site like you run your business. Don’t do things in a reactive manner. Plan ahead.
Mistake #18 – lower your expectations
Don’t get ahead of yourself. If you can make 10 USD per month from Adsense, we’ll at least you’ve paid for the web hosting. You’re not making a loss.
Be realistic about your goals. Some of my friends started web businesses years ago. They thought they’d strike gold in no time.
Then left as it ‘became too much like a job’. Well, what did they expect?
I want it to be like a business. I hope you do too. You can grow a business – otherwise it’s just a hobby.
Start small. Define your:
- Audience – who you’re going to sell to? Where are they from? How much will they spend? How will you deliver it to them?
- Product – what you’re going to sell? Is it content, expertise, subscriptions, physical goods, services? Stick to one and focus relentlessly on this.
- Markets – where you’ll sell it, for example, through newsletters, affiliates?
- Price – how much will you sell it for? One of the mistakes we made was not up-selling other products after they bought the initial product.
FWIW: I avoided this as I thought it was too hard sell and would offend customers. I was wrong! 25% of all sales now come from up-selling. We offer discounts on volume purchases and offer 2 for 1 deals.
Mistake #19 – there are no shortcuts!
Because there are no shortcuts you can succeed. If it was the other way around, you’d have to learn all the tricks and others would get ahead of you.
So, in a way, it’s a blessing. Study what you need to know and then follow through on that.
Mistake #20 – focus, focus, focus
Don’t get distracted by new technologies, new fads, publishing tools, or
whatever. Unless you can really save time and/or boost productivity, stay away from it. You only have so much time. Use it well.
Print out your sales/traffic figures every month. Examine trends, such as keywords used to find your site. Fine tune your site or blog to compliment these keywords searches. This is what people are most interested in.
- Why continue to develop parts of your site that no-one has visited?
- Why continue to build products that no-one buys?
- Why continue to use affiliate programs that give low returns?
Your goal is to develop a web business that generates a profit. Stick to the 80/20 rule. Discontinue products that have no target market. These clog up your site. Worse, they distract visitors from finding the real gold on your site.
Don’t be sentimental. If it’s not working, remove it and decide what to put in its place.
So, that’s it for now.
Other mistakes related to using affiliate products that didn’t match our site (but at the time, I was taken in by the potential returns – of course, it didn’t work) and the usual trial and errors that’s involved in setting up readership and building a brand.
I’m sure I’ve made more mistakes. When I remember them, I’ll add them to this page.
In the meantime, best of luck.
PS: Of all the things I’ve learnt, this is the most important – write your
own material in clear, simple English and make it useful. Then, you’ll get
traffic. Everything else falls far behind this.