Business With Content: Getting the Customers

This is the tenth article of the series “Business with content”. To read the previous one, click here.

Acquiring customers is the most important thing in this business, period. If you know how to get the customers to your premium content site you will find out how to create the content. One or another way, you’ll do it.

Having even the best content in the world won’t guarantee you that someone will find it and pay for it. While content creation can often be the largest expense in this business, it’s never the most important starting point.

You absolutely must have an idea how to attract customers before you get your hands dirty.

So, let’s see how. This is not going to shatter your ground: you probably know all of these methods. So we’ll shortly review them in relation with premium content sites rather than talking about the methods in general.

The fish guys

Search engine traffic

With premium content sites SEO is problematic. We discussed this a couple of times already. The typical premium content site has its content hidden from non-logged in users and bots. This makes it exceptionally hard to rank in search engines. You can use some tricks to go around this, especially creating a partially public membership site.

But having the content indexable does not guarantee you search engine rankings. SEO is hard and getting harder even for entirely free to read sites. So by having even partly protected content you are already at a big disadvantage!

There are premium content sites who make it in the search engines. Most don’t. Unless you know what you are doing in SEO, don’t rely entirely on organic traffic in your business planning.

Pay Per Click Ads

Here go Adwords and similar networks. PPC is easy way to bring customers. The hard part is making it bring more profits than expenses. To make it work you must know your customer lifetime value and your sales page conversion rate (CTR). So if you pay $1 per click and your CTR is 5% you’ll be paying $20 to attract a customer. This customer should make you more than $20 to make this process work. There are tons of guides about mastering PPC. I won’t link to any because I don’t know which is best.

PPC is promising for premium content sites because the typical lifetime value of a visitor is at least $50. Since you don’t ship anything physical, every new customer is almost pure profit.

Other Ads

The typical banner ads rarely work any more but the idea is exactly the same as with PPC. Usually paying for time rather than per click, you’ll need to figure out how many visits a given ad brings you per month. Then calculate the cost per visitor and the rest is the same as with PPC.

But unlike PPC where you can experiment with different ads, bids and keywords, the options are a lot more limited with standard ads. This makes them simpler to work with. But also a lot less flexible.

There isn’t much to say about banner ads other than you should not rely much on them. If at all.

Advertising on Social Networks

This mostly means Facebook and sometimes niche social networks. Sometimes LinkedIn in case your content is business oriented. But I’ll focus most on Facebook ads because they are probably the most powerful ones.

There are two main ways to use Facebook ads and each of them has its pros and cons.

a) To advertise your premium content site directly. This is as simple as placing an ad pointing at your sales page. So it’s similar to Adwords. But very different too. Because Facebook lets you select demographics and interest. So you can target your ad at people who probably have long-term interest in your ad rather than someone who just happened to search a given keyword at the moment. And more: some advanced FB marketers create different sales pages for different demographics / interest groups and place different ads for them. All of this can work exceptionally well if done right.

There is also the advantage that people in Facebook are usually in mood to consume content. And what are you offering them? Content. Not some expensive product they are not searching for.

b) To advertise a FB “fan” page of your business. This is a more indirect approach and the initial conversion ratio is lower. You are paying to get your FB page in front of the user’s eyes and hoping they will hit the “Like” button.

But this can work, because once you have a fan you can expose them to your content multiple times. So long term an user of your FB page can be more likely to convert into paying customer than someone who was sent to your site directly.

And more: if you are sharing interesting stuff on your page you can get the viral effect and attract more fans for free because your current fans like and share your content.

A working strategy that we have tested here is to get a page rolling with several hundred fans using paid ads. Then we just started sharing interesting stuff and new likes come naturally in magnitudes higher than the paid ones.

Don’t base your entire business strategy on FB page however as you never know what the rule maker can change. It’s best to mix both approaches of advertising on Facebook and include other social networks if possible.

Affiliate marketing

There are not many specific that to make affiliate marketing different for premium content sites than for any other product. Of course selling content gives you the advantage that every sale is almost 100% profit, so you can go as high as giving 50% or more to your affiliates.

You can combine affiliate marketing with freebies given only to your affiliates to distribute and thus make it more efficient.

Freebies

Providing free reports, free e-book, free tools, or whatever for free can be a good first step in your sales funnel. When a freebie successfully go viral it can be your primary source of customers.

But doing this is not easy. And usually you’ll have to advertise your free stuff to get some traction. It’s important to do the maths: if you are paying for clicks to your freebie you’ll need to consider both visitor-to-download ratio and download-to-customer ratio.

If your freebie never goes viral, this equation usually is not going to work. So to maximise your chances ensure that:

  • You are giving away high quality stuff. Just “free” is not enough.
  • There is good call to action in your freebie so whoever downloads it is inclined to visit / join your premium content site.
  • Your free stuff is closely related to your premium content site. It makes no sense to give out a guide on fishing if you are selling language courses.

If the free stuff can be distributed through some free and efficient way – like a popular directory – it’s worth trying anyway.

Know Your Customer Lifetime Value

Imagine having an ad that brings you 10 new customers every day. Great! You can certainly spend $500 daily on such efficient ad, no?

Maybe yes, maybe no. It all depends on the lifetime value of your customer. If you are selling a $19 e-book without any upsell spending $500 to get 10 sales won’t get you too far. You’ll probably have to file bankruptcy faster than it took you to read this article.

Now, same ad with the same success rate looks very different if you are having a membership site charging $19 per month. Sure, you won’t recover your costs in the first month. But if your average customer remains subscribed for 18 month, this means you are making $342 from each customer. Now spending $50 on sale looks a lot more efficient!

The key is that you must know how much each customer will bring you for the whole time they remain a customer. Whether the value is formed from a single sale, multiple upsells, or monthly recurring fee, you must have at least a rough idea how much it is. Then, based on that, you can figure out how much you can spend to acquire a customer. Simple maths beat guessing.

Business With Content: The Costs of Running a Premium Content Site

This is the ninth article of the series “Business with content“. To read the previous one, click here.

You saw me talking about investments several times so far – this thing is large investment, that one is not so large, and so on. But what are all the costs of running a premium content site? Here. Let’s have a look:

Content creation

Creating the content is the most important and unavoidable cost in such business. Some sites may do fine without advertising  or any paid SEO service (or any SEO work at all), but no premium content site can happen without content.

Expense Sheet

And in many cases this will be the largest investment you’ll make. If you are creating the content yourself you should factor your time. If you hire someone to create it, directly count the dollars.

It’s impossible to give estimate without knowing your exact business model. But we can do a couple of very rough calculations just as example:

  • A subscription based membership site with a hundred high quality articles, 10 videos, and a couple of member only tools. Project about $5,000 for the articles (we are talking about quality stuff here), $2,000 for the videos and $1,000 – $2,000 for the tool, assuming it’s a simple one.
  • A set of 3 e-courses, about 20 lessons each, with assignments, exams and certificates. Provided you have someone with expertise this is going to be about $3,000  – $4,000 for writing the lessons, $2,000 or so for creating quizzes, assignments and certificates.
  • A site selling 3 approx. 200 pages long e-books and a master set of several videos and audios. You need roughly $500 for the creation of each e-book and $5,000 – $10,000 for the videos.

These are of course very rough estimates and are all made out of the blue. They should be sufficient to give you the idea that starting a small premium content site requires $5,000 – $15,000 for the content creation. This is not huge amount for starting a business, but is not like it’s free of expenses either. If you are planning to start a large info site with several thousand articles, multiple the costs accordingly.

Also note, I consider $50 per quality article is OK. Some would say that you can’t buy an expert for this amount and you may need to pay $100 or $200 per article. On the other hand, if you have the expertise and need just the writing, $20 per article will get you a decent enough writer.

Video creation and tools are different matter as a video can be done nearly free if you just speak in front of some charts, or can cost many thousands if it involves actors or effects. Tools / software are even more diverse.

Users acquisition / SEO / Advertising

Sometimes this is the second, sometimes it’s the first cost. Acquiring users can range from free to many thousands of dollars. It all depends on what numbers make sense for you and what is the value of each customer who joins your site.

There is no way to give estimates here as variables are too many. In some niches the cost per click can be pennies and placing a banner can be $50 per month. In other niches a single click in the search engine results may go to $20, $30, or even $100.

So you have to calculate this yourself based on your business model and niche. There are few things to consider:

  • Are you going to rely on search engine traffic? If yes, how are you going to get it? The best strategy might be building a partly public membership site so at least some of your content is exposed to search engines. Just don’t forget that having content alone does not always mean you’ll get traffic. You may (will) still need inbound links.
  • If you are paying for ads you absolutely must know your customer lifetime value. When starting, you may need to assume. For example if you are selling a single course at $199, this will be your customer value because there are no upsells. So you need to figure out how much you can spend per acquired customer. Anything up to $100 is probably OK. So if you are using Adwords and paying $2 per click, you must have at least 2% conversionя on your sales page to make things work.
  • If you rely on freebies to draw you customers you still must promote the freebies. Usually it’s easy to get users download a free report in exchange for email address and offers like this will convert at 20% or 30%. But you still have to pay for these visitors. And if then only 5% of the download convert to paid signup (customer), we are talking overall conversion rate of 1% – 1.5%. So this approach may be worse than paying to deliver the visitors directly to your sales page.

We are going to talk a lot more about acquiring users in the next article. Just make sure whatever method you decide to use you make some rough estimates at least.

The Software

The things are very diverse here as well. You can very well spend $0 on software. Just install Joomla or WordPress and get some plugins. There are plenty of membership site plugins and many of them are free (for example our Konnichiwa! or Paid Membership PRO)

The paid ones aren’t that expensive either. One of the most popular ones – s2Member is just $89.

Even if you plan to run an e-learning site you can start with $0 by using Moodle our free WordPress LMS like our Namaste! LMS and a free quiz plugin like our Watu or Slick Quiz. (This article is not meant to be a review of software solutions – I am merely giving examples).

The paid LMS plugins are also affordable especially in their WordPress versions. Just $87 for our Namaste! LMS plugin suite (which works on top of the free version) or $129 for Sensei.

So you can start with less than $1,000 for the technical side of things. Probably consider $500 – $800 or so for some decent site design (more if your site is going to be complicated and less if you’ll just buy a ready WP / Joomla! / Drupal theme).

If paid newsletter is your business model, mailing list / newsletter / autoresponder plugins or scripts are usually less than $100. Or you can go by subscription service like MailChimp. That’s going to be expensive once you go beyond 2,000 subscribers though.

If for some reason you need your site custom built you may need few thousands on this front too.

And that’s that. The technology is important but it’s not your biggest worry when starting such business. Figuring out the good content and acquiring users are.

Hosting & server fees

Hosting is no longer the big expense it used to be. In fact it can be pretty small one – often a shared host for $5 per month is good enough to handle a membership site with few hundred customers. And 500 x $39 per month for example makes almost $20,000 in income. You see, it’s not a big expense compared to the potential income.

If your site is heavy on DB queries like some complex LMS-es are, or you have built many tools, or you are hosting a lot of audio and video files you may need a VPS or dedicated server. Assume $50 – $100 or $200 monthly for this.

Another option is to go with good load-balanced cloud hosting service – they are too many to count so I can’t recommend a specific one. The cost can come about the same or less than bare metal servers for small sites. For larger sites it might be more cost efficient to get a bare metal dedicated server and hire a server administrator.

If you choose to build your site on WordPress you can choose to use some of the managed WP hosting providers. A good review of some is available here. As you see you’ll spend only $10 – $30 monthly on it.

In overall, hosting is not the thing to worry about. Think about your expenses for content creation and user acquisition most.

Speaking about attracting users, this is the next article in the series.

Business With Content: The Need of Expertise

This is the eight article of the series “Business with content“. To read the previous one, click here.

As discussed yet in the article about membership subscription sites you can’t make business with mediocre content. This was possible 5-10 years ago but that’s no more. Sure, you can get a few subscribers even of a site with cheap rehashed content but most of them will quickly unsubscribe, some will ask for refund, and none of them will recommend your site to others. The web is now full of all kind of content and a lot of it is free and high quality.

Expert Whiteout

So, what you need in order to be able to charge for your content:

  • It must be unique or at least hard to find elsewhere.
  • It must be expert content. If you are building a site giving career advice you can’t go with the stuff that you can find on every blog online. You need real expert advice and insights that work.
  • It must be rich. This means ideally not just text but also media like audios and videos, charts, info-graphics, tools.

For these purposes web scraping, rewriting existing articles, copying content from a book or (why am I even saying it) auto-generating content is out of the game. None of this will work. You need to invest human hours into creating very high quality content before you can even think about making business with it.

So, how? The options are mainly two:

Option One: Create Your Content Yourself

This is the most obvious one and it is the best. I know this does not sound like what a business owner does but with paid content sites it is the most viable path. You, or at least someone within your company (maybe several persons) should be knowledgeable in the subject you plan to build business around. The best content is created in-house and you as an owner of the site should be very well into the matters you charge for.

So how do you go about this if just starting? Focus on expertise you already have. Maybe it’s your job, maybe it’s a hobby or interest. But it should be something that you really know well, have experience with, or have inside information that can be shared. Gaining expertise along the way will not work: the quality of content required nowadays is too high for this. You can’t pretend to have expertise.

Now, if you are not good in writing for example, you can hire someone to rewrite or edit your articles. You definitely need to hire someone to create videos or audios unless you are expert in that. Don’t do cheap home made webcam videos unless you know what you are doing.

You will probably hire a website designer and someone to create charts, tools etc. This is OK. But the expertise must be coming from you, from your knowledge and experience. Not from stuff you just read online last few months.

Option Two: Get The Expertise From Someone Else

The second option to use someone else’s expertise. You can join forces with an expert in a given area and handle the marketing, sales and / or technical side of running a site. You can even take interviews and write the articles yourself. You can do this with multiple persons. Or you can just hire an expert to create the whole thing for you: videos, audios, texts, tools, etc. Either of these options are fine as long as you really have an expert.

And expertise comes from experience… so you get the idea.

What Not To Do

A sure way to fail your paid content site is to do any of the following:

  • Rewrite, copy, or rehash articles from other sites. This was already said but worth to repeat and remember.
  • Create lame content without having real expertise. This is just as bad as the above. It won’t get you anywhere.
  • Try to gain expertise along the way. No, you won’t become an expert in anything just by reading about it. Don’t try to create a premium content site on a subject you know nothing about.
  • Hire freelance writes to research and write articles. No matter cheap or expensive. Writing for a premium content site requires much less expertise in writing than in the subject of the site. So even a great writer won’t get you anywhere if they don’t know the matter. You are far better hiring someone who knows what they are talking about, even if they can’t write well.
  • Auto-generate content of any kind unless we talk about generating charts or reports in some unique useful way or based on private data that you have.

I wish I could tell you it was easy as in “hire writes for $5 per article and get 100 articles done” but it’s not. If you don’t have access to real top-notch expertise do not even try to start business with content of any kind.

So if you are just about to start, knowing where to find the expertise is going to be your main worry. And creating the content is your main expense. But not only. The next article in this series will discuss the costs of running a paid content site. Read it here.