It’s On – Three Hypothetical “Sales” for The 80/20 Drummer

Sales Screenshot

Monday morning, and good news. According to my stats page on Squarespace, I’ve had three clicks on the page called “pre order” in the last 3 days. That’s a page you only reach if you click “buy now for $29.99”. I’m beyond psyched, especially after wondering if the method of using paid advertising was even viable. I now need to figure out for-sure where the traffic is coming from (I have a pretty good idea), see if it scales (for instance if I spend 10x on advertising if I’ll get 10 clicks-per-day instead of 1), and do it.

To review, my hairbrained idea was to use the crowd-funding model to fund the production of the 80/20 Drummer – being completely transparent to the buyers, telling them that by “pre-ordering” they’re getting a sharp savings on the eventual price – to the tune of about $1500 (the estimated production costs), which would require 69 pre-orders at $29.99 and a bit extra to cover the advertising retrospectively. I plan to use a crowd-funding site like Indiegogo or FundAnything, to side-step any legal issues involved with accepting credit card payments personally. Again, the idea being that any musician can duplicate my “success” with zero investment up-front.

Here’s how the numbers look. 74 views in the last 3 days and 3 “buys” is a conversion rate of about 4.05%, which is actually excellent. I suspect that’s going to tick up, because my suspicion is most all of the traffic is coming from Google Adwords. (Facebook advertising, it turns out, is great for getting page “likes”, and traffic perusing your site, but not great for conversions. Who’s ready to buy a drum DVD? Somebody who’s googled “drum lessons”.) At any rate, my Adwords budget is currently $5-a-day, so that’s $24.99 hypothetical profit-per-customer. What will happen if I up my ad budget to $50? We’ll see.

Back soon, with more news.

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Update – Results of Conversion Test #1

Well, after some rumination, I checked my conversion stats for the 8020 drummer.

(For larger context, read this post.)

I’d been getting anecdotal evidence of a positive response from facebook – many new page “likes”, a ton of them from South Korea and Taiwan, which I included on a whim after traveling there and getting a gut feeling jazz was about to “blow up”. So I held my breath, and opened the stats page on Squarespace (which, as I’ve discovered, does most of the work Google analytics and Crazy Egg used to do in a single click, especially if you set up your site architecture strategically).

Here are the stats, as best I can interpret them-

1546 impressions on facebook.
92 clicks (4.479% click through)
71 apparent site visits from FB
8 button clicks to “about” page (11.2% conversion)
0 on “pre order”

There’s reason to be optimistic. 8 people watched the preview video on the front page and clicked a button that says “learn more and pre order”. It’s true that none of those clicked through to the sales page, once the price was disclosed. Still, for $2.50-a-day advertising in Facebook, 8 initial conversions in 2 days is a good starting point.
Obviously now I need to experiment with “closing”. Here are the steps I took this morning to “adjust” before I recheck on Wednesday-

-removed “browse free videos” button from the info page and moved it to text of 5th chapter (I’ll include screenshots when I get back on my Mac)

-included “money back” language in first “buy now” CTA
-made video link “real” with a video

There are two possibilities for low conversion. The first is simple bad page design. Maybe by giving people an “out” at the top of the page, they weren’t inspired to read through the content. Maybe because the money back guarantee wasn’t clear, they weren’t ready to commit.

The second possibility is they simply need to see more evidence. When I picture myself making a purchase, I might visit the site multiple times, and establish a baseline “trust” for the seller before deciding “I’ll help this guy out and purchase”. I want to instill that positive feeling, and I think the way to do it is to flesh out the site with more free videos, or maybe “previews” of the chapters in the series.

Here’s what’s chambered for the next revision-

-adding actual video preview segments (and video preview at the top)
-removing “buy now” button from the top of the page (maybe that’s putting price in people’s heads too soon?)

This will eventually be a professionally-produced video of the highest quality I can make it, with professionally-edited trailers of every facet. I could simply dump $3,000 into it now and write it off my taxes, but I’m doing this partly as an experiment for my musician buddies – to see if I can use the Ferriss model to create a low-initial-investment, low-risk sales vehicle, which means “bootstraping” sales pages (only offering features necessary for sales at first), and attempting to “crowd-fund” production, using the Dane Maxwell model. (google it.)
As before, I’m not posting links here to avoid upsetting my metrics. If I see a click on the “buy it now” page, I want to know it’s really a “sale”, not a Breaking Ferriss reader. Photos coming soon!
N

Long Overdue Update – Going Deep with SEO, the Long Game for Niche Sites, and Why the Muse May Yet Live

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I’ve posted in Breaking Ferriss. If I were the excuse-making type I’d say it was because I wanted to have something to actually report, instead of just ideas or feelings to share. Well, the wait is over. I’m happy to report I’ve been deep with the Perry Rosenbloom SEO model, that it works, and that I’m a mere technicality away from monetization.

Also, a “shortcut” I discovered for monetization may have far reaching implications for future business.

Let’s begin at-the-middle and discuss niche-sites-writ-large for a moment. I’ve devoted gallons of imaginary ink to the subject over the last several months, and continue to believe niche sites are a great “entry point” to e-entrepreneurship, requiring minimal investment (at least of money), and next-to-no-risk (especially if you consider the time spent akin to classroom learning, which I do – I truly believe I’m getting my “street MBA” for a song). They’re also about the lowest profit margin of any avenue of e-commerce.

Google Adsense pays a small percentage, but it’s peanuts compared to selling your own product. Ditto affiliate deals. When you “do the math” about dollars-of-profit-per-hour, it’s not great. In today’s search engine environment there are two ways to make a lot of money: scale up, or get lucky. Those success stories you hear on the podcasts about people making $4000 per month from home from niche sites are mostly anomalies: an average niche site with 3500 monthly visitors can expect to net $350-$500-a-month. That’s a great extra passive income stream, but you’re not going to be bumping Zuckerberg off the Forbes list any time soon.

Niche site guru Hayden Miyamoto knows how to scale up. He has a team of virtual assistants trained to trawl the search engines for low-competition keywords and thow up niche sites about them. There are thousands. If a site gets to top 20 in google on-its-own, Miyamoto monetizes, and turns on the SEO juice. Did I mention that Hayden owns several hundred expired domains with high page-ranks? He has a staff of people working on finding and reviving those, as well. Naturally, he runs a side business selling premium domain names.

Not everybody can be Hayden Miyamoto, and his model does something beyond simply scale up his earnings: it engineers luck out of the equation. By launching hundreds of sites in parallel and monetizing only those that pop up naturally in google rankings, he’s taking all the guesswork out of keyword searches. All the metrics – Moz Rank, Juice Links, etc – we use to try to estimate traffic and ease-of-ranking are still shots-in-the-dark. The only real way to find out how golden a keyword is is to launch the site and see.Those of us just starting out can learn a bit from that model – probably launching a few sites at once will give us a picture of which keywords we’ve searched well and which are too high-competition.

But there are a few reasons why we may not want to. There’s an advantage to doing sites one-by-one – the psychological literature is clear that mono-tasking improves productivity and quality – and it’s worth doing Ferriss’ (I guess Paretto’s) trademark 80/20 analysis on the whole venture. Point being – there are much higher leverage ways to make money.

None of this should discourage a reader from launching a niche site as a “gateway drug” to higher-return/more varsity avenues of business, however, and it doesn’t take into account passion. If you can find something you’re really passionate about that’s also monteizable, you can literally earn money while doing what you love. I love travel, and I wanted to do it more. Boom – travel site.

It used to be if you wanted to be a travel blogger you had to find somebody to hire you as a travel blogger. Now (assuming you can write well enough to attract an audience) you can literally just “be” a travel blogger.

Or mom-blogger, or business blogger. It just-so-happens I also love to write, so Smart Getaways for Couples (which I’m not linking to any more from this site for SEO reasons) is checking at least two boxes. If you think passion for your subject, doing it for the right reasons, and being realistic about the ROI of time/fun relative to money (it’s the first in far greater quantity) isn’t related to SEO, you’re wrong – or at least I think you’re wrong.

Ok – The Perry Rosenbloom SEO Model

Perry Rosenbloom of SEO Sherpas pioneered an SEO method for the “google of today” – i.e. a Google you can’t fool or cheat. What does google want us to do in order to build links? Simple – market our content to people who might find it interesting/useful, and it if really is, they’ll link to you. Perry describes using a toolbar to “scrape” google results, dumping it into a spreadsheet, paying a gaggle of freelancers cents-a-site to find contact info of site owners, then using a plugin to mail-merge a metric ton (literally) of emails to prospects. A cumbersome process.

Luckily, enter Buzz Stream, a site that does everything for you. Just type in what you’re searching for – I should back up and say that Perry’s key is to look for clubs or groups that might find your content interesting. For his binocular review site, he marketed to bird-watching and amateur astronomy clubs. No brainer, right? Well, try the same exercise with travel. Chambers-of-Commerce? Meetup groups? Travel Agents?

Nope – it was going to be other travel bloggers, which meant the process was going to be “sniper rifle” rather than “shotgun”. I used Buzz Stream to find about 450 sites, then started going through them”the old fashioned way,” looking at each site individually and assigning it a score that took into account relevancy, page rank, and contactability. (A sort of pre-engineered 80/20 to stop me going down a rabbit hole to get in touch with the owners of a low-page-ranked site, particularly if they had no interest in me.) Anyway, I did about 50 sites-a-day for two days, then used the mail merge feature to send personalized emails to each one. (By the time I filtered down to the highest ranked sites with published email addresses, it ended up being about 35 the first day and 20 the next.) The advantage to having spent all the time reviewing the sites was that I could include details from each in the introductory emails.

As you might expect, my conversion rate was lower than Perry’s. What incentive do other travel bloggers have to link to me, besides good karma? Perry’s birding clubs, by contrast, had an incentive to give good tips to their members. So it’s not surprising that not everyone got back to me. What DID surprise me was how many did!

All-told, I got around ten responses from just over 50 emails. Most were words-of-encouragement, and that’s fine. People shouldn’t link to me unless it’s a win for THEM. I’m not asking for any favors. But some people DID offer me links. And I’m happy to say my first two “juice” page links from high page-authority sites are inked – one is live already and the other hits virtual news stands August 30. And in the process I discovered a quid-pro-quo for link building I hadn’t realized existed – guest-posts-as-outsourced-content-creation. For some bloggers it’s better business sense to offer guest writers links than to pay them. A free link with my own anchor text from a high-PR site whose content I love, and all I have to so is write you a baller article that’s going to bring eyeballs back to my site, and that I would probably write anyway just for fun? Show me where to sign.

In the coming weeks I’m going to be doing some karmic-balancing of my own and finding ways to link to a few sites that impressed me especially (like this one from a fellow blogger going deep in Japan). As I mentioned above, the non-monetary and the subtlely-monetary benefits are what make niche-siteing worth it. If there’s not something you’re passionate about, you’re better off doing it Dane Maxwell style.¬†

Which brings us to Noah Kagan and the “velocity to one dollar”.

Noah Kagan and the Velocity to One Dollar

Tim Ferriss did an interview with Noah, and it’s about the most epic thing I’ve ever seen.(My anchor text is not doing anybody any good today. Sorry;) Noah, like Tim in Four Hour Work Week, likes to validate business ideas before he invests even a single dollar. “What could you do before you go to bed to see if anybody wants to buy your product?” he asks the audience. Post a facebook status? Open a google group? Tim and Noah welcome two guests as case-studies, and the amount of fat they are able to trim is appalling.

How do we make sure we’re not just playing business?” Kagan asks.

The interview reminded me of Tim’s original muse model in FHWW – dry test several products in parallel using Adwords, then launch once something is validated, using hacks like “net-30 terms” with drop shippers to avoid negative cash flow. The most difficult and off-putting part for me was the choreography of roll-out. I jumped in gamely with two product ideas, and spent around $500 in Adwords discovering one very marketable idea it turned out it was going to cost me a cool $70,000 to make. Not to mention that Adwords is far too expensive to be a viable test platform.

But something else isn’t, and, ironically it was designed by Noah: Facebook Ads.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with Facebook Ads to increase “likes” for my travel site’s facebook page. (Yes I did link to that intentionally! Like it, for Pete’s sake!) The experiment was a bust, but in the process I discovered something else. Click-through rates to the articles I was advertising to get “likes” were off-the-charts. I was getting decent traffic to my site without even ranking in Google, and it was only costing me $2.50-a-day.

Hold on – I could monetize right now.

Excited by the idea, but wary of SEO and branding consequences, I emailed Spencer Haws  of Niche Pursuits, and he was nice enough to get back to me.

“Go for it,” he said.

So there we are – I’m in the process of steam-cleaning my site to make sure any hint of copyrighted material is removed and that all the links work and all the pages and articles display cleanly. Monetization will be an experiment, to see what type of ads I’m getting, what types of cost-per-click they’re bidding, and how the conversion rates work. If I even break even on the ads, it’s worth it, considering the value of the exposure the ads are giving me. I did some back-of-the-napkin math, though, and if I have even modest conversion rates and cost-per-click I think this goose might fly.

Then I can get my tattoo.

Not that any of that is stopping me from going full-speed-ahead with SEO. The advantage to being on the first page of google with legitimate links earned “the hard way” is immeasurable.

Two Final Thoughts

This is running long, and hopefully it’s “epic long” and not “rambling long”. But I had a lot to share. The ethos of my travel site is running experiments and reporting back with hard data, and I intend for some of that to rub off on Breaking Ferriss, as I alluded to above, so that this space is not just a confessional, but more like a loose mastermind group for anyone who wants to read.

First, I’m exploring applying the facebook ads to dry-testing actual products. I’m going to be running some experiments in the ensuing weeks, and I’ll report back. A high conversion rate on adsense is still only pennies, but the same rate applied to a product, even one costing a modest $5, might be the ticket.

Second, I’m now actively looking for another day job. The skill set I’ve amassed in the last six months is immense, and includes web copy (obviously), user-level web design with some JV html 5 coding, and some pretty cutting-edge SEO. Not to mention a ton of ground-level, freshly-gleaned social-media-marketing chops from both Smart Getaways and Shed Science, my web show. Because most of the SEO science is being continually re-written, and search engines are nearing the endpoint of being able to discern genuine links from spam links, the Perry Rosenbloom method is the vanguard. If it succeeds for me I can now sit across from any interviewer and say I’ve successfully implemented post-Panda/Penguin SEO campaigns. So I’m searching for a web content creator/SEO guy position. The race – between whether I’ll make money first from my own business or from a new job – is on.

As always, thanks for reading.

Reality Check Part Deux – Baby Steps

As my website (hopefully) creeps closer to monetization, it’s useful to keep a few things in mind, and the person who put it more lucidly than anyone I’ve ever heard was Fraser Cain, in a 2012 interview with niche website expert Spencer Haws.

Before I drop the good and bad news of the reality check, it’s worth remembering the original purpose of this blog – to reality-test Tim Ferriss’ assertions in Four Hour Work Week that practically anyone can start a lucrative side business, automate and outsource most of it, and use the passive income to fund his/her ideal lifestyle.

Here’s what I’m now sure of-

1)The first website I’m hoping to monetize has a potential 3600 visitors a month with something like a $2.50 cost per click. That’s 9,000 potential dollars times whatever percentage of viewers click on the ad. Industry standard is 1%. That’s $90 a month. It could end up being more, it could end up being less, or it could end up being $90 for different reasons than I expect (if, for instance, I don’t achieve top ranking, but I get traffic from multiple smaller keywords).

2) As bleak as that looks, I believe I’ve seen far enough over the horizon to say with reasonable certainty that the model is a viable one.

Before I get into the “good news” let’s get the other “bad news” items out there:

-According to Fraser Cain, there’s “no such thing as passive income,” since market conditions change so quickly that you have to continue to innovate,

-Niche websites are actually one of the lowest-leverage ways to earn, since you’re depending on Adwords, which has a pretty low ROI compared to products, and you’re depending on search engines, which can alter their algorithms at the drop of a hat and cost you big.

I want to begin to describe why I don’t think those cold, hard facts (that business and art gurus alike agree everyone who’s going to succeed needs to face) are as damning as they seem by posing a Four Hour Work Week “acid test” in true Tim Ferriss spirit.

What’s the bare minimum Ferrissian “lifestyle design” needs to do in order to be considered a viable alternative to the 9-5, “deferred life” plan?

Well, first is – free your time so that you can use it the way you want.

How am I spending my days now? I’m certainly working more than when I was “punching the clock”. Some days I do indeed go into the office, and on those days I usually work from about 10pm – 1am on my business. Other days I work remotely, and will usually use the first 2-3 hours of the day to work on the business before turning to “work” and hammering out my daily “to do” list.

If passive income, or at least “force multiplied” income were possible, I could view every website I built-then-forgot as an income jump. Build ten sites at an average of $90/month and that’s $900/month. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but remember I’m *still* collecting a paycheck from my day job (and I sleep very well at night too – everything’s above board, and I demonstrate better-than-ever productivity at work). That’s $10,800 extra per year.

Remember, though, Fraser Cain’s assertion that there are no websites you can truly “set and forget.” Ok, so say I have to keep building new sites. But I can probably build new ones quicker than the old ones fall off the indexes, if they do at all. (By the way, is $90/month average overly optimistic? I suspect not, but I’ll explain why in a follow up article.) That means if the only thing I did to make money from now on was niche websites, I could still slow the pace of producing new ones to half or even a quarter of my current pace and keep ahead of the curve, especially considering all the time the efficiency tactics are saving me at work.

Finally, there’s an opportunity cost angle to consider. If I weren’t pursuing passive income, it’s not like I would just be pulling four-hour Arrested Development benders every night. I’d be trying to get into B-school, or taking a class to try to get a raise, or putting extra hours at the office in hope of securing (or after securing) a promotion.

What I’m trying to do is what Tim Ferriss calls “fear setting”, and what Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the great new book Decisive call “bracketing”. I’m trying to establish a realistic range of outcomes that if I’m better than average I’ll hopefully be able to improve upon.

So, have I freed time in this baseline scenario? If you calculate time both in terms of hourly earnings and raw extra hours-per-week, I’d say the answer is “yes.”

Then there’s the qualitative argument. The way I spend my time these days is: banging through office work as efficiently as possible and working on my online biz the way I described, but also:

-becoming great at the drums – putting in about two hours of focused practice every day,

-filming a web show about music, and, lastly,

-traveling around the world, because since two of my websites are dedicated to travel, travel to destinations I’m going to write about is now business travel. (Look for smartasiatravel.com – with info on multiple Asian destinations as well as hacks for airfare, fighting jet lag, getting a global gsm phone for dirt cheap, the fastest way to learn mandarin, getting an international drivers license, and more – early next year.)

When you factor all that in, the $90/month earning potential of a top-ranked website and the need to continue building new sites doesn’t negate the benefits of the lifestyle I’ve begun to embark on.

And here’s what I haven’t even talked about yet – I’m not planning to confine myself to websites, or to confine website work to myself alone. As cash flow increases, so does investment potential. Things like hiring a programmer to design an iPhone app or a software to sell, and even being able to absorb a couple of failures, come into reach. And so does another pivotal Ferrissian device – virtual assistants. The way to make niche websites work in a big way is to scale them up, and when other people can do things like research and article writing for you, your time is free to do more.

I write this all before having made dollar one, and anything could happen with this first site. Still, I’m confident that A site will succeed eventually, and that’s all that matters.

Thanks for reading!