This is Part 3 of 3 in my guide on how to build a profitable blog in competitive niches.
The final part is on monetization. It’s very important that you read Parts 1 and 2 first to fully grasp everything you’re going to read. If you haven’t done so, here are the links.
Every part is connected with the others, so it’s essential you understand everything from the beginning rather than jumping in at the end.
When your blog is brand new (under a year old), things are usually going to be pretty slow. You won’t have much content, you won’t be driving too much traffic, and your presence in the search engines will be minimal.
So then how do you make money? In this post, you’ll learn how to generate up to 5 figures in revenue in the first year with a new blog without having to have a ton of traffic.
Much like our traffic strategy that we learned in Part 2, there are two ways to view monetization: long-term and short-term.
Long-term, we have a lot of options… and they’re all profitable.
- CPC ads like Adsense
- direct advertising
- affiliate marketing
- selling your own services/products
Making money is easy when you have a lot of traffic – especially in crowded niches.
The tough part is building revenue to your blog when you’re brand new. And while there are a number of different options to choose from, there is one monetization strategy that far outperforms the others.
And that is: List building and selling products.
Our initial short-term monetization goal is to build our first 1000 email subscribers and use our list to make our first $1000+ in revenue in 6 months.
And in this post, we’re going to go through everything you need to know to execute this model for the first time.
Why do email subscribers matter?
You might be wondering, why do we even need to build a list in the first place?
When it comes to communication with your readers, email performs better than social media and display advertising combined.
Because we’re going to be selling products, having a reliable line of communication is crucial.
To illustrate this further, let’s consider two scenarios.
Let’s say you have a blog with 100,000 monthly visitors. You’ve built a new product, priced at $500, and now you want to sell it on your site.
WITHOUT EMAIL LIST:
With no email list, your only real option is to link to it from your blog. You could write a blog post about it, link to it from your sidebar, and add in links in relevant articles. Doing this, you might get a site-wide click through rate of around 5%.
That’s 5,000 visitors to your sales page, which isn’t bad at all if you’re consistently driving traffic to it every month.
However, without an email list, you’ve never really built a relationship with your readers through email. You never really had any direct communication with them. And as a result, they barely know you, and they never even knew about your product launch. It’s very difficult to send cold traffic to a landing page and try to sell a $500 product. Your conversion rate is terrible, at 0.1% to 0.3%. (That might sound low, but that’s not an exaggeration.)
Let’s do the math.
We’ll use 0.3% to be fair.
0.3% of 5000 = 15 sales.
15 sales x $500 = $7500.
Not bad if you’re making that every month, but at 100,000 visitors per month, you can do a LOT better. We were pretty generous with our estimates, and that still doesn’t give you a 6-figure/year business.
WITH EMAIL LIST:
With an email list, you’re actually maximizing the value of your traffic. A blog that gets 100,000 visitors per month is a valuable asset. But the email list you can build with that is even more valuable.
At 5% conversion rate, you grow your email list by 5,000 new subscribers per month. At the end of the year, that’s 60,000 subscribers. They’re interested. They trust you in their inbox. You send them high quality content, and they’re happy to be subscribers of your site.
Now, when you launch your product, you can actually email them beforehand to let them know what’s coming. You don’t need to plaster ads and links all over your site. All you need to do is send an email. Over the period of a launch week, the total number of people who open your email and click through to visit your sales page is at usually around 30% of your list.
That’s at least 18,000 people from the total 60,000 email subscribers you have.
Let’s do the math at a reasonable 2% conversion rate.
2% of 12,000 people = 360 sales.
360 sales x $500 = $180,000.
Definitely a lot better. If you launch the same product 4x throughout the year, that’s $720,000.
But that’s not even the best part.
For the sake of easy calculations, let’s say that your traffic DOES NOT grow at all over the next year. That means, the next year you continue to get 100,000 visitors per month, and you gain another 60,000 email subscribers.
That’s 120,000 email subscribers. Using the same figures, a launch week with the same price points and conversion rates will result in $360,000 in sales. A single week!
And so on, year after year this number reaches higher and higher numbers.
Of course, these are only rough estimates, and your results may vary. But I hope this illustrates the point of why an email list is important for your sales.
Whenever you have something to sell, you’ll have an instant flood of buyers to your sales page. If you write a new blog post, you’ll have an instant flood of readers who will comment, share, and link to your post.
It’s the same with RankXL
My email subscribers are different from regular visitors. They actively and knowingly subscribed to my blog to hear more from me. They know who I am, and what I’m all about. They’ve read my past content. We’ve connected over email. And over time, I’ve built a connection with them.
As a result, they’re the most engaged readers on my site. They leave insightful comments. They link to my articles on their own sites. They share my stuff on social media. They mention me on other discussion platforms.
Every time I publish something new, I email my list about it. That instantly brings a spike of visitors, comments, shares, and links.
The same goes for my paid products.
Random visitors who just visited my site for the first time are usually not going to buy anything that’s several hundred dollars. They have no idea who I am, or what this site is about. They don’t know if I’m a spammer, or if know what I’m talking about. They don’t know if the product will be any good.
When I release something new to sell, the majority of buyers are my email subscribers. That means, the bigger my list, the more sales I make.
They’ve seen my free content. They’ve gotten value out of it. They’re avid readers of the blog. And if they’ve purchased my other products before, they know it will be high quality.
And it’s how I grew this blog to $130,000 in sales in the first year.
Our game plan
By now, you should have a small idea of what we’re after here: Building an email list, and selling them products.
But before we dive into the step-by-step details, let’s briefly go over the overall game plan so we know what we’re dealing with here.
This is where everything you learned from Parts 1 and 2 come together.
As you learned in Part 1, we’re going to publish a lot of high quality content.
And as you learned in Part 2, since we’re in a competitive niche, we’re not going to worry about competing in the serps. SEO is going to come later. So instead, we’re going to build free targeted traffic in other ways using influencer networking.
And lastly, as you learn in this post, we’ll be capturing that traffic by collecting emails on our blog.
It should take you about 3-6 months to build your list up to 1000, depending on how hard you’re working, and how effective your marketing is. Realistically, you can get a lot more a lot sooner if you execute well.
When we have 1000 subscribers, we’re going to launch our first paid product.
Our minimum monetary goal is set very low at $1000.
That’s only a 1% conversion rate with a $100 product, and a 2% conversion rate with a $50 product, and a 0.2% conversion rate with a $500 product.
These are waaay below normal.
At those price points, conversion rates should be a lot higher. We’re giving ourselves a lot of leeway here. I do that solely because I don’t know your niche and there are a lot of factors that affect sales.
I launched RankXL on a similar model. But I only launched to 500 subscribers.
Yet, total sales in the first month were $9100. Sales for the year crossed 6-figures.
That was with a $150 product, which was later doubled to $300 as I made more updates and improvements to it.
That’s a lot more than the $1000 in sales we’re aiming for, and I’m sharing this to show you that the $1000 bar is set very low and there is potential for you to make a lot more if you do things correctly.
- how big your email list is
- how engaged your email list is with you.
- the demand/value of your product.
- the price of your product.
- how well your product is built.
- how good your sales copy is.
- how good your launch strategy is.
If this is your first time with email marketing and building products, don’t worry.
We’ll go through everything step-by-step below, and we’ll keep everything as basic as possible.
Step 1: Set your site up to collect emails
How do you really build an email list?
There is a lot of information on the web on how to build an email list. But really, there’s only one thing you actually need: A website with traffic.
There are no secret tactics. Build a blog that gets traffic, and you’ll build your email list quickly, consistently, and for free.
From there, all you need to do is optimize your opt-in forms on your site.
We already learned how we’re going to drive traffic in Part 2 of this guide. What we want to do is get them to subscribe to our email list using opt-in forms.
If you look around the RankXL blog, you’ll see I have various form placements for collecting emails. This took a lot of testing and custom design work to get right over the years.
If you’re new to list building, you don’t need to do all of these things. You can add more of them in over time.
For now, you can get away using just one: Popups.
Popups work. Very well. Some people argue they’re annoying, but the reason you still see them on nearly every website is because they’re so effective.
And honestly, popups aren’t annoying. Popups that pop up every 10 seconds is annoying! If I visit a blog and the same popup keeps showing up on every page, THAT’S SUPER ANNOYING!
If you just show it once, and actually have a good call to action that people want, then it’s totally fine!
For example, here’s my current popup on RankXL.
It doesn’t just scream, “JOIN MY EMAIL LIST! PLEASE! I WANT YOUR EMAIL”. It presents the browser with a clear, desirable lead magnet without sounding desperate. If you want it, subscribe. If not, close the window.
Use exit intent
Most popup software will give you control over WHEN and HOW OFTEN your popup shows up.
I’ve set this to only show once per day, and to not show it to people who’ve already opted in (although it doesn’t work perfectly). But most importantly, I use exit intent.
It tracks the mouse movement of the browser and shows up when you move it up to click the back button. Meaning, it only shows when the visitor is about to leave your site.
That prevents it from showing up mid page when they’re focused on your content, and produces much higher conversion rates.
Step 2: What to send your email list
They’ve opted into your list.
Now what? Do you send them a campaign of pre-written emails? Do you shove affiliate links down their throat?
Here’s what to do with a brand new email list on a brand new blog.
Create one awesome welcome email.
No email sequence is necessary at this point.
When your blog is brand new, you don’t need to create a huge email sequence or any advanced funnels for new subscribers. You have nothing to sell, and still have minimal content on your blog.
What you want to do is just create one well-written welcome email. This should send as soon as they sign up.
Basically, it should say hello, welcome them, and have a small introduction of what your blog is all about, and what they should expect after joining your list.
I’ve joined email lists in the past where I would opt-in, and… that was it! No email saying hello. Nothing saying thank you for opting in.
Silence, until weeks later, by which point I don’t remember who they are and unsubscribe.
That’s not what you want.
You want to build a relationship with each subscriber and let them know you’re grateful that they subscribed.
Further reading: 16 Examples of the Best Welcome Emails in the Industry
Is that the only email you send?
No. That’s the only email that’s automated, but it’s not the only one you ever send to them.
You should be sending your list updates about new posts. And that’s it. Just send out a broadcast email when you publish a new post.
Here’s an example of one I recently sent out to my list for RankXL.
I use the title of the post as the email subject.
And in the body, I just let them know about the post, give a short description about it, and insert links.
In the P.S. section, I encourage them to leave a comment to let me know what they thought about it.
These update emails bring a flood of readers to my new blog posts, and I get comments, shares, and links.
Update emails are the perfect way to build trust in a subscriber’s inbox.
It gives you a reason to consistently email them and show up in their inbox WITHOUT spamming them. You’re not blasting them with affiliate links. You’re not annoying them with sales promotions.
You’re sending them fresh updates on high quality content that they might be interested in. If it helps them, it goes a long way in building a good reputation for you and your brand.
Tools for building your email list
I’ve tried all of them, and currently use and suggest ConvertKit. Aweber and Mailchimp are too basic, Drip is a little more on the advanced side and more suitable for developers, and ConvertKit is right in the sweet spot.
Popups: You have various options to choose from. I use almost all of them across my different sites, and the best ones are Optinmonster, Sumome, and Thrive. On RankXL, I’m using Sumome. These all have their own monthly fees, which add up to a few hundred dollars per year, so if you’re on a budget, you can use ConvertKit’s built in popup feature.
Part 2: Building your product
Whether it be software, an ebook, an online course, or services, there are a lot of different products you can choose to sell your list.
There are no predefined answers here. Which one you choose will largely depend on your niche, what you’re most comfortable with, and your audience what you’ve been discovering their main pain points are over the first few months.
However, in most cases, for my very first product, my usual preference is an ebook.
But not just a regular $19 ebook – a very premium ebook that’s designed more as a starter kit – and priced between $49 and $100.
Further reading: How Samuel Hulick made over $37000 with his self-published book
How do you sell an ebook for $100
Answer: You don’t position it as just an ebook AND you use multiple packages. $100 for just a single book would be kind of ridiculous. But $100 for a book, along with multiple other bonuses is a pretty cool deal.
For example, my initial offering would be something like a $49 ebook, and a $99 upgraded package. I use this method a lot.
A perfect example is something like an old ebook which I used to sell on RankXL. I sold an ebook for $49, and had a $99 package that included things like downloadable swipe files, and other helpful guides around the topic.
It was only sold and promoted on the site for a few months, but resulted in some pretty good sales.
That was all with a $49 ebook, with a $99 upgraded package.
I could base my entire monetization strategy around ebook packages like this one, and turn it into a 6-figure revenue stream for this blog.
However, my plan is usually to increase the price significantly and turn them into online courses.
Online courses sell for much higher prices
Online courses sell for a much higher price point.
Ebooks on their own usually sell for anywhere between $9 to $79.
Online courses on the other hand, usually start at $99 on the low end and go all the way up to $2000+.
Then why wouldn’t we just start with an online course? Why build an ebook first?
If you’re comfortable building a video course (and won’t take a whole year to finish creating it), then go for it! But for me, building courses are huge projects.
Ebooks are much easier (and faster) to put together.
Ebooks can realistically be completed from start to finish in just a few days. Online courses, on the other hand, can take months of work.
As a first product, my preference is to start it off as an ebook. If it gets a lot of sales and proves itself to be a popular product, you can add onto it, raise the price, and eventually turn it into a full course format.
However, that’s just my preference. The product you build is fully up to you, and what you’re comfortable with. Some people are more comfortable (and more experienced) with creating videos. Some people (like me) prefer the written word. And some people like live interaction in the form of services or coaching.
It all depends on your niche, what your audience needs, and what you’re comfortable with.
Tools for creating your product
Building an ebook: I build my ebooks using iBooks Author. This is a free download. You’ll need a Mac computer, though. Alternatives are Google Docs, Microsoft Word. Simply put them together, and export as a PDF when you’re done. It’s that easy.
Creating ebook covers: For creating book covers, you can use the default cover in iBooks Author or hire someone. I like to use designers from Envato Studios.
Sales and product delivery software: I’ve tried pretty much every software out there, and my favorites are Gumroad and Easy Digital Downloads. Gumroad now charges a monthly fee. Easy Digital Downloads is free, but will require more work setting up.
However, these are for self-hosted courses. Meaning, you need to build every aspect of it yourself on a fresh WordPress installation. There are a ton of moving parts, and can cause a lot of headaches if you’re not a coder.
Lately, I’ve been playing around with Teachable and am loving their platform. It’s what I’ll be using for building my courses from now on.
Part 3: Launching your product
Okay, so you built an email list, built your product, and are ready to launch.
How do you launch it?
Do you just email your list?
There’s a right way and wrong way to launch your product to your list.
The difference between the two can be thousands of dollars in sales, so you’ll want to pay attention to this part.
There’s a lot more to launching a product than just announcing it to your list.
I’ve tested various different styles of product launches over the past few years, and here’s what I found works best.
Since this is likely to be your first launch, I’ll keep this as basic as possible. But it works, and is repeatable across different industries.
1. Set a launch date: While you’re building your product, set a launch date. Having a deadline will help you finish in time, rather than dragging the project on. Make the launch date reasonable, but tight.
2. Build a mini course: You don’t want to just throw your product at your list out of nowhere. You want to warm them up on the product first. The best way to do that is to create a 3 to 5 part mini course. A week before your launch date, schedule 3 to 5 emails based around the topic of your product. Each one should provide value, and get your subscribers wanting to learn more. The last email should let them know about your product and the launch date and time.
3. Send one more email before the launch date. A day before your launch, send out one more email reminding them about the open cart time the next day.
4. The ideal launch should only last 4 days, but for your first launch make it 3. You should email your list every day out of those 3 or 4 days.
– The first day lets them know the cart is open. Depending on the price of the product, you can introduce a 12 to 24 hour discount period (commonly called the Fast Mover Discount). The discount should be 15 to 25% off.
– The second day, you answer any frequently asked questions.
– The third day is usually when I like to send them to a review page from past buyers. But since it’s your first launch, and you won’t have testimonials, you can make this your last day. The last day, you send 2 emails. One in the morning to let them know it closes today, and one in the evening about 6 hours from cart close as a final reminder.
No need to get fancy and drag out your product launch for weeks. Just 3 to 4 days is plenty.
Why do we open and close the cart? Why not keep it open year-round?
With a product launch, the majority of your sales will be on the last day.
You’ll see a spike in sales on the first day, fairly modest in between, and the biggest spike will come on the last day. This is because of urgency. The cart is closing. They need to act now, or they can’t buy it until the next time it’s available.
If there’s nothing pushing them to buy, it’s likely to never happen. Most people will say, “I’ll just buy it next time” and that time will never come.
In the long-run, you can automate this process using more advanced email funnels through evergreen launches (where each subscriber goes through their own unique scheduled launch), but for now these live launch emails should convert best.
After the launch
Depending on your price, and other factors such as what you’re selling, engagement of your list, your sales copy etc… your value per subscriber can be anywhere between $1 and $20.
$20 might seem like it’s on the high end, but it’s totally doable. For example, if you sell a $1000 course to an engaged list with an effective launch strategy, a 2% conversion rate would make you 20 sales, making you $20,000.
Either way, your first launch should make you (at least) your first $1000 in revenue.
You’ve now built up some income that you can use to put back into your business 🙂
As you learned, it’s not that difficult to make your first few thousand in revenue with a new blog. All you need is the right monetization strategy, and the right execution across all three pillars of your content business: Content, Traffic, and Monetization.
And for a new blog with minimal traffic, list building and selling products is most effective.
What about in the future? Should you keep selling products and doing launches?
This largely depends on your niche, the type of site you’re building, and your audience.
Things change when you approach 1 million users a month. Selling digital products will probably not be the most profitable option. Sites with very targeted audiences can make a ton of money with native advertising – especially with sponsored or branded content.
These kinds of sites are also the most sellable. It’s more difficult to sell a site that’s heavily reliant on a few launches throughout the year to make the bulk of its revenue. Native advertising is more scalable, measurable, and is a more widely recognized monetization model that buyers can follow.
It all depends on your goals with the site, and your branding strategy.
But, this isn’t something that you need to worry about right now.
For now, the most profitable option is to build your list, sell products, and generate a profit.
You can always shift gears as you grow.
That wraps up this 3 part series.
Here are the links again to Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t checked them out already.
Thanks for reading!
If you could let me know in the comments what you thought about this series, I’d really appreciate it 🙂