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I received an email recently from one my newsletter subscribers named Zsolt, who is from Hungary.
He had a really great question regarding what business models still work online. Specifically he was referring to the more social web 2.0 world of blogging, podcasting and social media, versus traditional internet marketing formats.
This is the part of the message Zsolt sent me that covers his question (republished with permission) –
Over the past years I have played with blogging and even had some success with an astronomy video blog. But these experiences tought me one thing: blogging is not really my thing. I just could not keep posting on a regular basis. Blogging is a marathon, a long term commitment to putting out great content and build a loyal following over several months, maybe even years. It’s just not my cup of tea. I am not good at it.
I have been pulled more to the “traditional” IM route. You know, setting up optin pages, sales funnels, creating automated systems to sell online courses. I do like to teach, creating educational materials, and I do love setting up systems and automating the process. But the web is full of people saying how this day and age traditional internet marketing is dying and you need to be social, be everywhere, blog, build a following on FB, etc. In other words, you need to put yourself out every single day and create content day in and out on various social platforms. If you don’t do it, you won’t survive for long. At least, this is the impression I get.
So I guess my question is: what’s your take on this? Am I doomed if I try to build automated sales funnels around my courses (my niche is positive psychology and well-being) without building an authority blog and a following first? As I look around on the web, many marketers still follow this approach (like Eban Pagan, Jeff Walker, Rich Scheffren, etc). Their approach resonates with me more than the “social, web 2.0 or whatever” approach. But I constantly doubt myself. Driving paid traffic to a squeeze page then following-up with solid content, video series, webinars and yes, a pitch too at the end is still a viable approach these days?
This is such a good question I felt I had to reply using a blog article so more people can benefit from the discussion.
Having straddled the worlds of blogging and “traditional” internet marketing for years (it was part of my original positioning strategy online), I have a strong understanding of the two different models.
Just recently I reflected on what model I want to follow as I re-launch the premium training arm of my business. This is of particular interest because as I observe my peers from both blogging and internet marketing, I see one group earning a lot more money than the other, yet often working less.
This has been the case since the very beginning when I started blogging and studying internet marketing. The two worlds have certainly merged in recent years, however it does appear, as Zsolt talks about, that the social model requires a lot more work than the internet marketing model, yet most of the internet marketers I know are millionaires, where the pure social content people are not.
As I see it, the key differences between the social content authority model vs traditional internet marketing, are –
Social Authority Model
People who blog or podcast or use video, what David Siteman Garland calls a “mediapreneur”, focus on a content hub. That hub might be your blog, or your YouTube channel, or your Facebook page. Your hub is then extended using other kinds of social and new media to bring back traffic.
Your focus is on distributing content on various channels and then leveraging your audience for income streams that traditionally have been advertising or service-delivery focused. However in more recent years product creation has become part of the monetization strategy too.
Traditional Internet Marketing
Internet marketers on the other hand focus on landing pages with optin forms, where they invite people on to an email newsletter, then deliver content through that medium. Using the list as the relationship building tool, the internet marketer then sells products, usually information products they have created or affiliate products from other people.
Although nowadays it’s common for these two worlds to overlap, you can still sense there is a distinct difference between an “internet marketer” and an online media publisher.
When you listen to some of the more social-media focused entrepreneurs, especially those who started in the last five years or less, you can hear the disdain they feel for the “internet marketers”. They try very hard to avoid the label of internet marketer because of the baggage the term comes with.
The baggage, to put it simply, mostly comes from the copy – the words – used to sell. In fact you might say that it’s really copywriters who are to blame more than anyone else for the poor reputation.
Claims of instant riches, false limited offers, packages valued at tens of thousands of dollars available for a special price of only $7 – it all becomes a bit much very quickly.
Now without getting into a debate on the merits of copywriting spin and how much it impacts conversion (I’ve written about this before), it’s safe to say that we all have a tolerance level for what we consider too much hype.
As a result of what kind of impression we want to make and what we personally deem too hypey, we decide what kind of language to use and what kind of offers to make when we sell our products.
On several occasions over the years after launching products, I’ve received emails – even sometimes on the same day – that have presented polar opposite views of the language style I just used to sell with.
One person would accuse me of being too hypey, state they could never trust me because my sales page looks like it was written by a snake oil salesman.
Then another person would email me praising the lack of hype in my language. How refreshing it was to find such a down-to-earth marketer.
If I focused purely on profit then I should only worry about conversion when it comes to the language I use. However there’s more to it than just that.
Your personal brand matters. How you are perceived impacts the kind of reputation you have. Reputation and relationships matter for conversion too, even more so than the copy on your sales page in my opinion.
The best path forward is to stick to whatever your natural style is. You will attract people who like your style, and people who do not will leave. Assuming enough people like you, you will have a business.
I’ve never had a problem with being called an internet marketer. This is probably because I find internet marketing very effective. I’ve learned some very powerful ideas from other internet marketers.
That being said, I was a blogger first, before I began to implement internet marketing techniques.
When I published my “Conversion Blogging” video back in 2008 I felt it represented well the two worlds I had operated in as a person who grew up blogging, and later applied internet marketing to the mix.
Nowadays it’s nothing revolutionary, but when I started out it was rare to find someone who used a blog and then drove traffic to landing pages, used email marketing and sold products using sales pages.
Back then the blogging ethos was grow your traffic, increase your pageviews and use adsense to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that model and advertising of course still works well, but I did a lot better including internet marketing in the mix.
What I find particularly fascinating, and what the question presented by Zsolt at the start of this article alluded to, is the distinct differences still present today between the two groups.
One of the best ways I can illustrate the differences between a social content marketer and a direct response internet marketer is to take a look at two people I admire and respect online, who use different models but actually teach the same thing (or at least almost the same).
Adam Short is the man behind Niche Profit Classroom (NPC), a training membership site that teaches you how to build niche sites that can make anywhere from a few hundred dollars a month, to a few thousand. You follow the system and keep building sites until you make enough money to meet your goals.
I’ve promoted Adam on EJ several times over the past five years. His NPC program, in terms of income generated, is the most successful affiliate product I have ever recommended.
Pat Flynn needs no introduction. Although Pat is known for many things, it’s safe to say that his primary audience have the same goal as Adam’s – he teaches you how to build profitable niche websites. People follow Pat because they want to set up their own near-passive income website.
Chances are you have heard of Pat, but not necessarily of Adam. Pat, a proponent of the “be-everywhere” formula uses all top forms of social media marketing and content marketing, including a blog, podcast, youtube, facebook, twitter and various other sites.
Adam may have a presence using these tools, but he is hardly prolific on them. His main focus has been running webinars for affiliates, who send him traffic to an optin form. He then runs the webinar, which is 90% teaching content, followed by an offer to join his NPC program.
It’s impossible for me to know who works harder out of these two guys, but I’m fairly confident simply because of the breadth of tools that Pat makes use of that he puts in more hours. Adam is not not nearly as famous and spends his time working his niche sites, his one training program and delivering webinars for affiliates.
Adam doesn’t need to publish a super-fresh blog or do regular podcasts or maintain a social presence. He has several thousand paying members in his program and keeps new ones coming in thanks to affiliate marketing (and probably other methods I do not know about).
Pat works hard to establish a strong personal brand. He’s branched out to books and speaking gigs, turning into a true media personality.
Now you might say these two guys have different goals. I don’t think Pat does as much as he does just to make money. He does it because he loves it and is driven to build as big a profile as he can.
Adam might not want to be as well known publicly, or to produce so much content on so many different channels, so focuses on his core product funnel.
I can’t be certain who makes more money, but of course we do know that Pat publishes his monthly income reports, so assuming we rely on those we have a pretty good idea how much he is making. Generally he earns around $50K to $60K in profit a month, so probably around half a million dollars a year or more.
That’s some good coin for sure.
Adam doesn’t publish his numbers as openly as Pat, but I do know some details from back when I was promoting him. NPC had a consistent 3,000 to as many as 5,000 active paying members.
The NPC product was about $67 a month back then, so if we take the lower number of 3,000 active members, that’s about $200K a month. Up to half of that is going to go out to affiliates, leaving $100K. There are expenses to take out of that money, but also other income streams to add to it as Adam did affiliate marketing and I believe had upsell products too, not mention his own niche sites that at one stage he claimed were making $90K a month too (that was a long time ago though!).
My educated guess is that Adam’s company takes home over a million a year in profit, at least it was a few years ago. As I stated, these are all best guesses, and I have no idea how well Adam is doing today, so don’t take this as factual. I’m no doubt wrong about all the numbers I have quoted, but at least we have a ballpark area to play with.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say Adam takes home about double what Pat does. I suspect he works about half as hard too.
Does that make Adam, the “internet marketer”, the winner against Pat the “social content marketer”?
Maybe. There are way too many variables at play to really do a straight comparison. However, the fact they are effectively teaching people how to get the same outcome using the same vehicle (niche sites) makes this a compelling comparison.
What I find valuable about doing this kind of comparison is to look at the models other people are using, what kind of money they are making and what tasks they are performing to earn that money.
There really is no right or wrong way, only options.
Do you want to be more like Pat, or Adam, or Neil Patel, Darren Rowse, or Brian Clark, or Eben Pagan, Rich Schefren, or Chris Guillebeau, Marie Forleo or Katie Frieling, or Amy Porterfield, or any of the other countless internet marketers, bloggers and social media experts out there.
Of course you can’t “be” one of these people, but you can model them. You can take what you like about what they do, implement their systems, use the same tools as they do and fuse that with your own unique way of doing things.
I find this incredibly valuable because it helps me to figure out what model to use to make a certain amount of money (if you don’t have a model that can make the kind of money you want then you’re just silly). I also get excited about doing certain things and not others, so seeing how I could personally fit in is very helpful.
I hate keyword research and building niche sites that I don’t care about the subject matter, so I’m not going to follow Pat or Adam in terms of their core teaching system. However I will borrow from both guys when it comes to selling my own products or building my blog.
The smart thing you can do is cherry pick ideas from others and focus on the methods you like the most. Combine your personal strengths with a business model that can deliver good leverage, and get busy.
As I was putting together this article I reflected back over the last 12 years I spent making money using all kinds of different online methods.
One thing that stood out was how much of a difference strategy makes when it comes to choosing what you do online. Each technique can be used in different ways depending on the strategy you are following, and the outcomes can be dramatically different as a result.
A social content marketer thinks differently to an internet marketer. They enjoy doing different jobs, which is why they follow different models.
To help clarify what I mean, here are some examples of techniques and how you might choose to use them depending on what kind of online marketer you are.
Advertising is a very common method to earn money online with. The potential problem with it is you send people away from your site. It seems strange to spend all this time generating traffic only to send it somewhere else, but that’s actually a very common business model.
You might call it being the middleman for attention. You get paid to attract traffic and take a cut to send it somewhere else.
Potentially you can earn a lot more if you capture that attention and use it to sell your own products and services. The connection is smoother – come to my site, learn about me, then buy my products. It’s a walled garden.
If you follow a product funnel model this makes sense, however you might not want to create products and deal with everything that comes with it. Hence you prefer the ease of advertising income and focus on giving your content away for free on a blog or other social platforms.
Some industries are not great for products, so advertising is the best option in this case as well.
Conversion Vs Content
This is an interesting distinction. You might say that traditional internet marketers are much more focused on conversion than social content marketers.
A conversion person is very different from a content creator. They both might use the same tools, but they enjoy different aspects.
One might hate writing an article, but loves testing the headline on their landing page. Testing might be a pain for a blogger, but they love writing articles and seeing how much traffic and social shares they attract.
Both people can do well online, but its critical you know what you are good at or what you have the motivation to become good at, and how that connects with the strategy you are following.
I recently wrote about leverage and how absolutely vital it is if you want to make significant income online.
In my experience having a product funnel is a much higher form of leverage than having a large social following. A person with a list of 1,000 buyers on an email newsletter can make so much more money than a person with 10,000 followers on social media.
While it might not always be the case, based on my observations traditional internet marketers, because of their focus on conversion and finding buyers, can earn a lot more money from a much smaller audience.
The monetization method plays a part here too. You get a lot more leverage when you are selling people $1,000 products compared to getting paid ten cents when a person clicks an ad.
Of course as I mentioned before, not everyone wants to focus on a product funnel. Just because one path appears easier to gain leverage from, if you hate the work required to make it work, it’s not going to work for you.
Sometimes the leverage comes from your enthusiasm for what you are doing.
Email Newsletter Vs Blog
This last comparison is very, very interesting.
I feel confident saying that in almost all situations an email list will convert better than a blog if you want to sell something.
To be fair, a blog isn’t as direct a response mechanism because people do not open up blogs every day the way they do email. Email can’t be “found” on the internet by search engines the way a blog can. The content needs to appear on a website, like a blog, for it to be discoverable by new people.
You might say blogging is a front-end vehicle to attract prospects, where an email list is the next level up, the tool you use to convert those prospects into buyers.
I’ve been a proponent of the synergy between these two tools for years. However I do find it very interesting to see guys like Eben Pagan do very very well focusing on email without really having any blog component.
If you take Eben’s most successful company, his Double Your Dating business, you will find a fairly static content website, backed up by one massive long email autoresponder sequence.
His success comes from the list, which grows using various channels like affiliates and paid advertising. If he was using a blog instead of an email list to deliver his content, I doubt he would do as well as he does.
When I wrote back privately via email to respond to Zsolt from Hungary, I said he shouldn’t worry if he doesn’t like blogging or doesn’t want to be found everywhere online and have a massive social following.
If he wants to focus on traditional internet marketing using opt-in pages to build a list, then sell his training products via email, that can work very well still.
In fact it might actually be the highest leveraged path available for an internet marketing training business.
The lines have blurred between internet marketing and social content marketing for sure, but the fundamentals haven’t changed.
An email list still converts best. Products still make you the most money if you have a small audience. Conversion still matters most when it comes to profits.
If you want to factor in fame, influence, cult of personality and the power of the social sphere for viral distribution of ideas, then for sure, social content marketing is powerful.
At the end of the day however, a business is driven by profit, so if you don’t make sales it doesn’t matter how many people read your article or know your name.
There are plenty of marketers out there right now who no one has heard of, who may not even have a Facebook account or have made a youtube video or ever written a blog post, yet make huge amounts of money online.
All they do is find buyers, build relationships via email and then sell products that meet people’s needs and wants. It’s as simple as that.
Of course, if you happen to like blogging, or video, or podcasting, or spending time connecting on Facebook, or tweeting all day long, these can be amazing marketing tools as well. You always have options when it comes to how you build your audience.