In this post, I’m going to teach you the exact business model blueprint behind RankXL. If you’ve ever wondered how blogs can be grown to 6-7 figure businesses, this will show you the exact way it’s done.
While there are many ways to monetize and grow a blog, this blueprint is undoubtedly one of the most profitable.
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The inspiration for this blog post came to me after a dinner party a few weeks ago.
I was talking with some friends I haven’t seen in years, and the topic of what I do for a living inevitably came up.
I never really know what to say in these situations.
To be honest, my answer varies from day to day.
Usually, the conversation goes something like this.
ME: I work from home. I make websites and I make money from them.
THEM: Oh, so you’re a web designer. Cool. Must be nice to freelance.
ME: No, I don’t freelance. And wait, no I’m not a web designer. I don’t design websites for clients. I make my own websites. Then I make money from them.
THEM: Oh, I see…
And that’s usually the end of the conversation.
But this time was different.
My friends knew a bit about internet marketing and began asking a lot of questions.
Although they each had different jobs, they all had one thing in common: They hated their jobs.
They wanted to quit their 9 to 5 jobs and do something else.
So when I told them I work from home and set my own hours, they were intrigued.
And when I told them how much money can be made from online marketing, they couldn’t have looked more focused on what I was telling them.
I began explaining…
To people who don’t know about internet marketing, the concept of niche sites is easy enough to grasp.
“Oh, I build a lot of traffic, and then make money with advertising.”
Most people know what ads are. They know what traffic is. And SEO is fairly easy to explain… “I make things rank #1 on Google.”
But when it came to this blog, it was a little more complicating.
“What?? What’s an email list?”
“What?? You sell a course? To who?”
Nevertheless, they were seriously interested. They wanted to give it a try themselves.
I began to slowly explain the business model and growth metrics of blogging.
There was a lot to explain…
I’m going to share everything I told my friends in that conversation in this blog post.
Mainly, I’m going to share with you the exact blogging business model that I’ve used to grow RankXL to 6-figures.
Let’s dive in!
How do blogs make money?
There are a lot of different ways.
Check out this post by AuthorityHacker, which shows how some of the biggest blogs make money.
The 2 most common are:
1. Affiliate marketing
2. Sell your own services/products
Affiliate marketing seems to be the more popular method.
It’s easier. All you need to do is recommend someone else’s product.
If someone clicks your affiliate link and makes a purchase, you get paid.
And your work is done.
Everything related to customer support is handled by the product owner.
Affiliate marketing vs selling your own products
I’ve tried both affiliate marketing and selling my own products on RankXL.
And the biggest driver of revenue was (and still is) from selling my own products.
In fact, there’s no comparison.
With just affiliate marketing, this blog wouldn’t even make $100/day.
Of course, I don’t promote many products as an affiliate, but even if I did it would still be in a distant second.
Through selling my own products, the blog hit 6-figures in revenue in the first year.
That doesn’t mean affiliate marketing isn’t profitable. A lot of people make a killing with it.
But for a new blog, I personally believe that creating and selling your own product is going to get you to a lucrative income much faster than trying to make a bunch of affiliate commissions every month.
For one, you don’t need as much traffic as you do with affiliate marketing.
Second, you have opportunities to grow a passionate audience around YOUR OWN BRAND that affiliate marketing doesn’t give you.
But whichever way you decide to monetize your blog, the growth strategy is constant.
To sell anything, you need to build an audience.
What’s the core function of a blog?
Ever wonder why most businesses have blogs? Have you ever thought about why people spend so much time and energy on creating blog posts?
The answer is common in 99% of cases: content marketing.
A blog is essentially a content marketing machine. It’s main purpose is to generate leads through content.
What are leads?
Collecting emails is the most effective way for a blog to grow, build fans, and generate sales.
It’s the reason people like Ramit Sethi produces these huge ultimate guides that are not only helpful, but look amazing as well.
Look through the guide and you’ll see that, apart from sharing great advice, collecting emails is the primary goal.
Email opt in forms are spread all throughout the guide.
And the same applies for any other blog.
You’ll see that I have an optin form on the homepage, the sidebar, and at the bottom of blog posts.
I also have a exit pop ups, and content upgrades within some blog posts.
Everything is about capturing visitors’ emails.
Email subscribers are the core of the blog business model.
How does a blog succeed? How does it grow into a business?
To answer that, let’s look at the business model behind RankXL.
RankXL’s entire business model looks like this:
1. Produce content people love.
2. Promote that content and get traffic.
3. Convert traffic to leads by getting them to subscribe to my email list.
4. Use email list to turn leads into fans.
5. Turn fans into customers by pitching them a paid product.
(There’s also a bonus #6 in that model: Make your paid product AMAZING to turn customers into super fans and life-time customers.)
The core of that entire business model is the email list.
The more emails you collect, the more money you make.
It’s that simple.
With an email list, you have a catalyst of growth that you can control with the click of a button.
And that growth can be for whatever you like.
For example, RankXL right now has an email list of about 7,000 people. I get around a 10-12% click through rate for my broadcast emails.
Check out this post by Neville that shows the real-world open rates of some of the biggest bloggers in the world.
That means… with a 10% click through rate, I can send ~700 people to any page I like.
So if I create a new blog post… boom.
~700 readers instantly.
If I decide to create a new product… boom.
~700 people viewing the sales page instantly.
That’s the power of an email list, and it’s why blogs are so focused on collecting email subscribers.
It’s like a traffic and sales weapon, and it will only grow larger as my list size grows.
7,000 emails isn’t considered very high.
There are blogs with 100,000+ people on their email lists!
Check out Nathan’s podcast episode about email marketing with some blogging giants with huge email lists.
Let’s go through some examples, and see how this converts to sales.
We’ll start off with something simple, like consulting work.
Let’s say that I decided to offer SEO consulting work at $1,000/month. I decide that I’m only going to take on 10 people in order to best allocate my time.
Now without my email list, it would be a challenge to try and get 10 people to sign up.
I would have nobody to pitch it to!
I would most likely just have to put up banners and links on my blog and hope that people click through.
Or I would have to pay for traffic.
But with an email list, I could just send out one broadcast email with a link to the sign up page.
$1,000/month isn’t cheap.
But remember I’m only taking on 10 students.
If I send an email to 7,000 people and get ~700 people to view the page, 10 out of 700 people is only 1.4%, which isn’t very hard to get.
And 10 people who sign up… would mean $10,000/month in income.
This is how huge bloggers can have best selling book launches, win contests, and have million dollar product launches.
It’s all done by EMAIL.
Now let’s say that I’m selling a product
If I create a new product at $100, and I didn’t have an email list…
Same as above.
I would have to put up banners and links on my blog leading to the sales page, or buy paid traffic.
With an email list, I can send 700 people to the sales page instantly.
If only 5% of them ends up buying, that’s still $3500 in revenue… instantly.
Let’s say I had 50,000 people on my email list and ran the same numbers.
That number jumps to $25,000.
And that’s only for that one single launch!
With a product, you can continue to sell it in the future, and even set up funnels so that you pitch it to every single new subscriber.
What are funnels?
In the examples of above, we were mainly talking about sending broadcast emails.
Now let’s talk about funnels.
With an email list, you’re able to do 2 things: You can send a broadcast email to your whole list, or you can create funnels that takes them through series of automated emails.
A broadcast email is a one-time email in real-time. You write up the email, click send, and it goes out to your entire list (or specific segments of it that you can choose).
A funnel is pre-built. It’s a sequence of emails that you set up ahead of time, and you can determine how many days apart each one gets sent out.
You can choose to use funnels for a variety of different things. But the main thing that it’s used for is for steps #4 and #5 in the blogging business model.
4. Email list turns leads into fans.
5. Turn fans into customers by pitching them a paid product.
Why set up a funnel? What’s the purpose?
Funnels are designed to convert sales.
Think of someone who just found your blog, and entered in their email.
If you hit them with a series of emails consisting of sales pitches, they’re going to be turned off.
Instead, with a funnel, we’re sending a series of emails that provide value and help the subscriber with what they’re looking for.
And at the end of the series, a sales pitch is made.
“Hope you enjoyed the free content. If you want to learn more, grab the full training course here.”
The free content is almost like a sneak preview of the value inside the training course.
For instance, this is one of the funnels I’ve set up for RankXL.
You can view the landing page for it here.
I’m using ConvertKit for my email service provider, and they make setting all this up really, really easy.
It’s one of the main reasons I switched over from Aweber.
This particular funnel is for my SEO mini course.
This is the education funnel, which then leads to a sales funnel.
In this funnel, everything is centred around step #4: Email list turns leads into fans.
The whole sequence is all about providing value, and I share some really great strategies and tips to grow your traffic.
After the final email, they’re then sent over to the sales funnel, where I pitch my paid training course.
In this funnel, it’s all about the sales pitch.
Now that I’ve (hopefully) turned leads into fans, it’s now time for step #5 – turning fans into customers.
This funnel sequence sends 4 emails, pitching them on the product.
The nice thing I can do with ConvertKit that I haven’t been able to do with other email service providers I’ve tried is that I can automatically take people who’ve purchased it off the funnel sequence.
It’s annoying to get pitched a product you’ve already purchased, and quite a few people have told me this in the past *sorry*.
Why do I separate the whole thing into 2 separate funnels?
This is getting a little more advanced, but it’s so that I can manage the tags of subscribers who go through it.
So that people who already purchased the paid training course aren’t taken into the sales funnel and pitched the product again, but can still go through the entire education funnel sequence.
Putting together a funnel
If you’re going to put together a funnel sequence, make sure you do it right.
I didn’t just throw up these emails together in a weekend. They took over a week to put together and organize.
Why spend so much time on them?
Remember the goal of step #4: Turn leads into fans.
That’s the funnel’s first, and primary job, and to do that, you want to create remarkable content, sharing actionable tips and ideas that make readers fall in love with you.
For a blog, even more than the sale you want the emphasis and focus of your funnel to be on step #4 – turning leads into fans.
A blog is about long-term growth.
And if your funnel is focused so heavily on making a sale, then you’re just going to turn people off.
You won’t get any fans and people will never visit your blog again or care to open your emails in the future.
But if your funnel is focused on bombarding people with VALUE, then you’ll get a true fan and ambassador of your blog… and you can sell to them later even if they don’t convert during your sales sequence.
A funnel is all automated
The best part about a funnel is that everything runs on its own.
I don’t manually send any of these emails.
Once people sign up for them on my landing page, they’re automatically placed inside the funnel.
It’s like a sales machine that never stops running as long as you continue to add subscribers to it.
And with a blog, you’ll be adding on new subscribers everyday, and will only continue to grow as your blog gets bigger.
That’s the beauty of a blog as a content marketing machine.
It generates free subscribers for you.
You don’t need to pay to add on new subscribers.
And with a smart sales funnel in place, you can automate sales to run on autopilot.
Once the funnel ends…
Even if they don’t buy the paid training course at the end, they’ve gone through the 5 value-packed emails that I’ve sent them.
Leads turn into fans.
They’re now engaged subscribers on your list. They know and trust you when they see your name in their inbox.
When you publish a new blog post, you can send an email broadcast to your entire list, and your fans will be the majority of the people commenting, sharing, and linking to it.
When you decide to create a paid training product or offer consulting, you can send an email broadcast and get hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of fans to your sales page instantly.
The email list is the core of the blogging business model.
So let’s break this down. How can you make $100K with your blog in the first year?
Want to make $100,000 your first year?
Now right now you might be saying… $100,000?! Seriously? That’s crazy talk…
But let’s break this down into hard numbers.
You’ll see it’s not unrealistic at all.
Let’s say in your first year of blogging, you get 10,000 subscribers.
Sounds like a lot?
Not at all.
I barely paid attention to list building with RankXL and got ~6,000 my first year.
10,000 is very doable.
At the end of the year, you launch your first paid training product.
(You can monetize a lot sooner like I did, but let’s say that for your first year, you just focused on list growth and building an audience with your blog. As I’ll explain later, not monetizing right away doesn’t mean you’re losing out on revenue.)
You price your course at $1000, which is normal for premium high-value training courses.
Do the math…
To make $100,000 you only need to sell 100 copies.
Without an email list, finding 100 people to shell out $1000 for your course might be impossible.
But you have 10,000 people on your list.
You only need a conversion rate of 1%.
If you’ve been providing a lot of value and engaging with your list throughout the year, 1% is a fair number for your price point.
All you need to do is have a good product launch.
If 1% converts, that’s $100,000 in revenue.
If you get a 2% conversion rate, that’s $200,000.
In just a matter of days.
Now imagine 5 years down the line…
5 years later, you have a list of 100,000 people.
Again, you release a new product.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ll make this one $1000 too, and use a 1% conversion rate.
What’s 1% of 100,000?
What’s 1000 customers x $1000?
Yup, a cool million dollars.
This is how people have million dollar launches, and it’s why this strategy so profitable.
It’s not just a one-time play.
It’s a long-term game that only gets stronger as time passes.
And as anyone who’s been following my blog might know, these are my favorite kinds of web businesses.
How to start your first blog (and NOT fail)
So now that you’ve seen the numbers that are possible with this model, you might be inspired to start your first blog and give this thing a shot.
Here are some tips to take with you so that you don’t give up halfway.
These are the 5 most important lessons I learned from my first year of running RankXL.
1. Approach it as a side project
You probably don’t hear this one pretty often.
But this is especially true if you’re currently working a full-time job.
Don’t go all in with a blog. Treat it as a side project.
Unless you’re going to spend a ton of money on paid traffic, work on it at a comfortable pace and don’t get impatient.
New sites take time to gain traction.
If you’re all in, and feel rushed to make money from it, you’re going to make bad decisions and your content quality will suffer for it.
You’re also more likely to get demotivated and give up halfway.
2. Focus on building relationships
Once you start blogging, it becomes easier to build relationships with other bloggers in your industry.
Reach out to fellow bloggers. Ask them questions. Offer to help them out.
Even things like commenting on their blogs regularly can help kickstart a relationship.
Later on, you can ask for guest post opportunities or even partner with them for product launches.
This is how I was able to get A-list bloggers to promote my SEO training course.
Of course, the purpose of building relationships isn’t to receive something.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, building relationships with other bloggers is very rewarding.
Blogging is a pretty lonesome job. You work alone, and not many people in the real-world know what it really consists of.
By having colleagues who share the same passion as you, and have the same goals as you do, you can form really close relationships quickly.
It will make the experience of blogging and working for yourself a lot more enjoyable.
3. Forget about monetizing in the beginning. Focus on long-term goals
Remember this scene from The Social Network?
The same principles apply with a new blog.
A few hundred bucks per month isn’t cool.
You know what’s cool?
Turning it into a lucrative 6 or 7 figure business.
Focus on the long-term.
Focus solely on publishing awesome content, teaching, and building an audience for at least the first 6 months.
Why is it that so many bloggers fail and give up within their first year?
The most common mistake is trying to monetize too quickly.
Instead of focusing on the big picture, most people just seem to want to make a quick buck.
If there’s anything I learned in my first year of running RankXL, it’s that you need to build an audience first.
Most people have it backwards. They focus on monetizing right away.
Nobody knows who they are. They don’t have any sort of readership.
Yet their blog is full of product reviews stuffed with affiliate links. And their email funnels bombard people’s inboxes with affiliate offers.
Without an audience, you don’t have anybody to sell to.
If nobody knows who you are, nobody cares if you release a product. And nobody cares if you recommend a product.
You might get an occasional sale or affiliate commission here and there, but that’s not a solid business model that you can depend on, let alone scale.
4. Teach what you know. HAVE A VOICE.
There are only a handful of people who’s emails I open EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Want to know what they all have in common?
They write about their experiences and teach what they know.
I’m interested in what they’ve learned, and what they have to say about certain topics.
Most of the times, I’ve already heard of the strategy they’re teaching in their blog posts.
But I still read every line.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again.
It’s almost impossible to write about something completely new that nobody has ever heard about.
BUT… by writing about your own experiences, you can offer unique opinions about them.
People follow a blog because of the person behind it. They’re interested in what they have to say about the matter.
If I notice a blogger is just publishing generalized content with no opinion or actual experience in the topic, I’ll lose interest quickly.
Here’s a good post on how to avoid doing that with your own blog.
5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Remember the earlier example we went through on how to make your first $100K with your blog?
That was from one product launch at the end of the year.
The entire first year was spent building an audience.
Now what would have happened if you felt rushed and did the same product launch in month 2 or 3?
You would have had no audience, no email list, and people would have been turned off by some person they barely know shoving a paid training product down their throats.
You don’t need to monetize right away. You don’t need to make money with your blog right away.
And just because you’re not monetizing right away, it doesn’t mean you’re losing out on money.
Building an engaged audience is going to multiply whatever income you would have made with just cold selling to random readers.
Over the past year, I’ve learned a ton about blog growth and monetization.
It took a LOT of research, and ton of hours in trial and error.
But I’m having a lot of fun implementing everything I’ve learnt, while also sharing them with you.
If you’re wanting to start a new blog like RankXL, or already have a blog but haven’t seen much traction yet, hopefully this post has opened your eyes to the bigger picture.
Yes, it’s tough to get a new blog started. But there’s a huge difference in trying to grow it blindly, and having a game plan.
Follow this game plan.
It’s worked for me, and I know it can work for you.
Just know, it will take hard work, persistence, and passion to succeed.
If you’re up for the challenge, then don’t give up and keep trying to get better at what you do.
THAT LAST LINE IS VERY IMPORTANT.
Although I stated earlier that you should treat a blog as a side project, that doesn’t mean you should half-ass it.
If you’re going to start a blog, aim to be a world-class blogger.
RankXL is still somewhat of a side-project for me, but I have an automated text message sent to me every morning at 10AM telling me I’m a world-class blogger.
I don’t consider myself a world-class blogger. But it’s my aim to be.
The text message simply…
- … reminds me to get my butt to work.
- … reminds me NOT to publish half-assed blog posts with no depth.
- … reminds me to grow RankXL into a world-class blog.
Basically, it reminds me that if I’m going to be spending a lot of time on something, why not strive to be one of the best at it?
Not just another one in the crowd of others.
If you’re going to start a blog, do so with the same mentality.
It might sound stupid, but a simple shift in thinking can make a huge difference in your long-term results.
Hope you enjoyed this post, and if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them 🙂
P.S. What did you think of this blog post? Do you want to see more content like this on RankXL?
Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.
Download this entire blog post as a PDF.