So you want to earn income through online marketing. You’ve read everything you can on how to set up a WordPress blog, how to write headlines, etc, and all that other good stuff.
Now you need a product or a service. What are you actually going to promote or offer on that shiny new web site of yours?
The process to determine what product you want to sell online is not difficult. There can be some “branching” depending on your initial choices, but overall the concepts are very simple.
Do you already have a product or service?
First and foremost – do you already have a product or service? If so, and the product or service isn’t brand new, then you should have been in the online marketing game a long time ago. Don’t worry, it’s not too late!
Blogging is a fantastic way to promote a service that you can offer. Personally, I promote my web site development and management services, as well as my photography services. I’m pretty lucky, because I can focus on building and managing web sites for hotels, resorts and restaurants, and I can marry my two primary (and favorite) skills – web development and photography. I take photos of all the hotel rooms, restaurants, beaches, pools, and so on, and include them in the sites I build and manage.
The websites that I build get a lot of traffic from people in the same industries. When I sign a new contract, I always ask if I can put a link and a photo credit on the site. That way, other hotel, resort and restaurant owners, in the process of doing competitor research, will see my links and photo credits. I’ve developed a lot of business that way. I love it, because 1) I don’t have to spend a minute or a dime looking for new work, and 2) both markets cross over. My photos sell the website services, and the websites well the photography services. That’s pretty cool.
Maybe you have a service that you could be offering, and really haven’t thought it out enough. Here’s a simple exercise you can do over the course of a few days. Get a standard, pocket-size notebook and a pen. Carry it with you all the time. As you are out and about, doing whatever it is you normally do, look around, see what people need, and see if you can fill that need. Each time you get an idea about a service you could potentially perform, write it down. Just write down the basic idea in the form of a mission statement. Here’s a quick example:
Provide city tours of Amsterdam for the business professional.
You want to be sure you have two important elements in every idea you write down. The service itself, “city tours”, and the potential market(s) you can provide those services to, “business professionals”. If you have a business background, then doing city tours for business people might be right up your alley. Here is another potential service mission statement:
Provide an orientation service for people moving to Bangkok.
Try to keep your markets somewhat granular. You might think you could provide such a service for people moving to Thailand. You would be able to market to a lot more people that way. But can you really handle that? If you live in Bangkok, can you really provide services to someone moving to Chang Mai? But, for now, the most important thing to do is get those ideas written down.
By the way, I always use a notebook and a pen. I have a great smart phone, and could always use the memo app or the task app to jot down notes. However, I’ve found that the physical act of writing actually stimulates the mind, and allows it to focus more cleanly. Each time I write down an idea, it usually results in a furious four or five minute session of scribbling new and better ideas. When I use my smartphone, I find I’m concerned more with using the application or typing correctly. It impedes the important thought flow that generates new ideas.
What about selling products? The same first question applies here as well. Do you already have a product you can sell? If so, you need to research your market, find your customers, build your site, and start making money.
If not, how do you decide what product to sell? This is where things get fun.
There are generally two types of products you can sell online. Those you own, and those that other people created. If you promote products that other people developed, you are doing what the industry calls “affiliate marketing”. Most of the advertisements you see on web sites about WordPress, for example, are making some money doing affiliate advertising for WordPress Themes, Plugins or other related products. Many internet forums that expats visit are promoting insurance for expats, travel services such as Agoda, Expedia or Booking.com.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you build a web site with the specific intention of marketing travel services or WordPress themes. These markets are so saturated it will be very hard to get any kind of traffic to your site, and the click-through rates are dismal. The conversion rates are even worse.
You’ve probably seen hundreds of websites with Google Ads in the sidebars, or rudely pushed into your face above the main content of the site. People build web sites for the sole purpose of loading up some Google Ads, and hoping to make a bunch of money. 99% of these don’t work. To get any traffic to these sites you still need to do all the hard work, including writing fresh, new content that provides value to your readers, working on getting quality backlinks to you website, and promoting your site on social networks. Most of the people that build Google Ads sites don’t want to work that hard, so they value quantity over quality. They’ll build out hundreds of two or three page sites, using software that rewrites their articles using synonyms to create text that supposedly fools Google into thinking it’s a new, fresh site. That used to work, but it doesn’t any more. Google (and Bing, etc) are getting way too smart for that. The only thing that works is writing fresh content that provides value to your readers.
So, what product are you going to sell?
The easiest things to sell online are informational products that people in your market need. For instance, BlogsForExpats.com will be selling guides on blogging, marketing your web site, keyword research, and so on. It makes sense. You can read the posts I’m writing, then get into much more detail with some of the guides we’ll have here, if and when you decide you need more
information. Some people will read the articles here and jump right in. Some people need much more detail before their brains really wrap around a concept. It’s a win-win either way.
There are two mistakes I do NOT want you to make. 1) Don’t sell what you love, unless there is a clearly defined market for that thing. 2) Don’t try to sell something that is already over saturated. Doing your market research will tell you if you have any chance of getting your web site to rise above the noise and attract customers.
One type of product that a lot of new online marketers jump on are the get rich quick schemes offered by experienced marketers. Hop over to warriorforums.com and check out the Warrior Special Offer forum. There are hundreds of products on how to make money doing x, and when you read the offers, they are basically marketing to the newbie bloggers. There can be value in some of these products, but by and large, they are simply compilations of methods and processes that have been around for years. They simply repackage them and introduce them as something new. Don’t buy into the hype – there are thousands of people trying to promote those products. Some do very well – the experienced marketers who know how to sell to newbies. The newbies that buy the product packages really have no chance.
Niche Marketing is the business of selling info guides to a very small segment of a customer base. Say you want to market to dog owners. You don’t want to try and sell the big lover’s bible, because the competition would be too strong for a new website to overcome. There are two ways around this. 1) narrow the niche. Sell a guide to canine hygiene or teaching your dog to heel. 2) you can narrow your market by using location. Sell a guide to veterinary services in London, or even build an online directory. These smaller services and products can sell very well, and they are much easier to market.
There are an unlimited number of niche markets you can come up with. Do the same thing as before – carry your notebook around and write down every idea you have. Remember the two important things – the product and the market. Try to keep the idea that you are looking for products to sell as you go about your normal daily routine. Keep it in the back of your mind as you talk to friends, read the newspaper, or just walk around. Pretty soon you’ll be overflowing with ideas.
Research your market and competition
Once you have your ideas, you need to review them and prioritize them. Pick the top 10 products (or services) on your list, and start doing some research.
First, you need to determine if there is a market for your idea. Go to Google and do a quick search on your main product terms. We’ll use my earlier example of “City tours of Amsterdam for business professionals”. Note: I have not done this yet, so I have no idea if this service is even viable. Let’s find out!
I did a Google search for ‘city tours of amsterdam’, without quotes, and got back 28,800,000 results. There is definitely a market. Now, is the market saturated for your specific offer?
I did a new search for ‘city tours of amsterdam for business professionals’, again, without quotes, and got back 4,270,000 results. At first glance you might think you could never compete with all those web sites! What you need to know about Google, in this context, is that Goggle is returning results for a very broad match on your keywords. It’s returning sites that contain any of those words, and not necessarily in that order. When I inspect the top sites in this listing, none of them actually market to business professionals looking for city tours.
Let’s do a much tighter search and see what we get. I’ll search on “city tours of amsterdam for business professionals”, this time using full quotes. This tells Google to give us an exact match. Ok, this is very encouraging! Here’s what Google told me:
No results found for “city tours of amsterdam for business professionals”.
This immediately tells me that a web site could easily hit the top of Google for that specific phrase. That’s great! But we’re not quite done just yet. Now we need to determine if anyone ever actually searches for that phrase.
There are two sides to every story. In the story of search engine marketing the sides are A) supply (how many people offer this already) and B) demand (how many people are searching for this item or service). Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?
The easiest way to check for the number of searches for a given phrase is to use the Google Keyword Tool at Google Adwords. To use this tool, you will need a Google account, but you won’t need to pay anything or even enter a credit card. Go ahead and log into Google Adwords. Click Tools and Analysis, then Keyword Tool.
To use this keyword tool effectively, you must check “[exact]” under Keyword Match in the left column. Otherwise the results will be just like our Google searches above. Exact means only show me search information for the exact phrase I enter.
Well, I did that. No one (according to Google) has searched for ‘city tours of amsterdam for business professionals’, or any reasonable combination of those terms, including ‘tours amsterdam professionals’, ‘business tours of amsterdam’ or ‘amsterdam business tours’.
Looks like we just saved a bunch or time and effort. Had we stopped doing research too early, based on the results of the Google searches above, we would have spent a lot of time building our web site, populating it with content, and trying to market the site. This is one of the two main reasons that researching your product idea is so vital. 1. You need a market. People have to want what you want to sell or offer, and 2. The competition can not be too strong to overcome.
Let’s say that our service was being searched for quite often. I consider around 300 monthly searches for an exact phrase enough to continue my research. Now we need to asses the competition of the existing websites for that term. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to install a Firefox plugin called SEO Quake.
Simply put, SEO Quake gives you a huge amount of information about web sites. When you turn it on in your browser, then do a Google search, the listings come back as usual, but this time there is a line of information under each listing, added by SEO Quake, that gives you the number of pages indexed in Google, backlink informatino, Alexa rank, and more.
I usually look at the top four or five sites returned. If I see a low number of indexed pages, and a low number of backlinks, anywhere in the top 5 listings, I know I have a winner. Other things to consider are the age of the domain (if it’s been around for 15 years, be careful!), and the number of backlinks reported by Google.
To easily check the number of backlinks reported by Google, simply do a search like this, using the “link” prefix:
This shows that Google recognizes 123 backlinks to that site. That’s a fairly low number, and for that one criteria, it’s not terribly hard to beat.
The next step in the research would be to visit that site, again using SEO Quake. When you visit a site, you’ll see the SEO Quake tool bar at the top of Firefox. This toolbar offers a ton of valuable information. It shows everything we already talked about plus Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus activity, internal links, and external links. All of these are important indicators about the strength of your competition.
Wrapping it up
We’ve talked about a lot of things in this article. From determining if you already have a product or service you can offer, to finding a niche you can fill, to researching your market. Every step is necessary; if you decide to just jump into the game without doing your research, you will probably not get the results you want. As you can see, finding a niche is pretty simple. It just takes a little time and creativity.
Next steps – in the next article, we’ll talk about specific types of online marketing, including affiliate marketing, Pay Per Click, Cost Per Action, membership web sites and more.