The Email + Product Blogging Model: What I Learned Growing A New Blog To $50,000 In Revenue In 16 Months

By Chris Lee 40 comments

Most people don’t realize just how big of an impact the email + product based model can have on their revenue numbers, especially in the early stages, until they try it for themselves.

I had no idea either, until a few years ago when I built and launched my first product on RankXL.

Since then, and especially in the past year, it’s now the most profitable way that I monetize my blogs.

And in this post, I’m going to share some important things I learned about building blogs this way, including a recent venture of growing a brand new blog (not RankXL) to $50K in sales in just 16 months.

Surprisingly low traffic numbers

Last week, I wrote a case study of how I quintupled revenue to a blog in a very unprofitable niche. That site had a ton of traffic.

But I found it’s not always necessary to reach such high traffic numbers to hit big sales numbers.

The best part about a blogging strategy built around building an email list and launching products is that you can make a significant income with minimal traffic.

I used to think that you need 100,000 visitors minimum to make decent revenue on your blog.

And that’s true, in a sense. If you can build a blog to 100,000 visitors, it’s usually not very hard to grow it to a decent 4-figure income per month with ads.

The problem is, it takes a lot of time (and a lot of work) to grow a new blog to that level of traffic. And, not everyone can do it.

But with list building and launching products, I found I can build a site to the same (or even higher) revenue numbers with only a fraction of the traffic.

For example, this is the revenue for the first 16 months for one of the newer blogs that I’ve started around a year and a half ago.

That’s $55,000 in sales with a single product in just around a year and a half.

Is this blog getting hundreds of thousands of visitors per month?

Nope. Not even close.

The blog is only getting around 400 visits per day.

That’s around 10,000 to 12,000 visitors per month.

Tiny!

Targeting

Instead of aiming to build a broad site and build the biggest traffic numbers possible, I’m taking the opposite approach.

I’m laser-focused on one very small group of people within a niche. And they’re all I care about.

Here’s an example:

In the past, I might have targeted the personal finance niche and with the aim to build the biggest authority site around that topic.

Now, with an audience and product-based business model, I would target a small group like: Stay-at-home moms who want to learn about how to make extra money and smartly budget their family finances.

We’re still in the finance niche. We’re still writing about personal finance.

The difference is that we know exactly who our target audience is, and we can angle all of our content for them.

This might sound counterproductive. You might be wondering:

“Why go after tiny audiences? Wouldn’t that limit our potential traffic in the long run? Don’t we want as many people as possible reading our site?”

The problem with targeting everybody is that the larger the group of people you target, the more difficult it is to market to them. You’re essentially marketing to nobody.

In the case of our previous example with personal finance: If I didn’t laser focus on a tiny group of people, I would pretty much be classified as “just another general finance blog.” There’s nothing special about me. There’s nothing really different either. I’m speaking to everybody, but not really capturing anybody’s attention.

I become just another blog in the enormous sea of others.

However, let’s say I target my blog solely to one specific group of people. In our example, we targeted stay-at-home moms.

Anybody who isn’t a stay-at-home mom wouldn’t be interested in my blog or any content I put out. But it doesn’t matter. Our content isn’t for them. Our products aren’t for them.

However, for anybody who does fall under the category of my target audience, everything I do becomes that much more personalized. I become the one blog with a voice that resonates with them, and their current situation.

Your target audience is your differentiator. It’s what makes you “not just another blog for X”.

This is how you build an audience quickly, and it’s how you can build create and sell extremely targeted products.

It also makes it easier to market your blog because the smaller group you target, the more likely it is that they run in the same circles.

You can always expand later. But in the beginning, the narrower you can get your targeting, the higher your chance of success, and the easier it is to grow a profitable email list.

Build an email list, and focus only on growing your list.

The email list is how you’ll make 99% of your blog’s income. This is true for every blog I launch products on.

Without an email list, there is no product business.

Therefore, in the beginning it’s the only metric I really care about. I ignore everything else.

I don’t care about traffic numbers, rankings, backlinks, social shares, etc.

Things like SEO, rankings, search volumes of keywords, digging through backlink checkers, outreaching for backlinks… these are all things you can ignore in the beginning stages.

That makes life a whole lot easier, and the process of building out blogs a lot more enjoyable.

I don’t mean to say that we ignore SEO entirely. In the long run, SEO is going to be our biggest traffic source.

However, it’s not our focus in the beginning, because it won’t give us any results in the beginning. It usually takes about 6 to 12 months for a new blog to really get traction in the search engines.

We don’t want to wait around for months before we get traffic or start making money. We want to grow our audience quickly and start generating revenue right away.

And building an email list is the best way to do that.

Focus your initial marketing efforts on quick traffic wins.

Like I said: It’s no longer about waiting around for Google to index your site, or building links to rank for keywords.

You’re not doing keyword research or vigorously searching through competitor data.

SEO comes later. It’s the late game strategy.

So how do you drive traffic then?

You hustle. You work for quick traffic wins. This means finding where your target audience is already hanging out and building links that drive instant referral traffic.

Things like Reddit, forums, Quora, guest posting, social media, networking with influencers, and participating in communities like Facebook groups or Slack channels.

i.e. Any site that has a large group of your target audience hanging out already.

In the past, I used to think that traffic spurts that die off within a day were pointless.

Who cares if you get thousands of visitors one day from Reddit if it’s just going to disappear the next day? Who cares if you get on Hacker News today, if it’ll all dry out within a few days?

But when you’re focused on building your email list, these traffic spurts, even if they’re small, are what we’re really looking for.

Even if it dies the next day, it doesn’t matter. Our goal is to convert a percentage of that traffic into email subscribers. Therefore, the more traffic spurts that we can get, the faster we can grow our list.

And there’s another huge advantage to approaching our initial traffic this way: You can go after competitive niches without worrying about competition.

The best niches are competitive ones

Because we’re not having to rely on SEO for the first stage of our blog’s growth, the range of niches we can target gets a lot wider.

And this is seriously great news.

We don’t need to avoid competition because our entire model isn’t based on ranking for a few select keywords and relying on them to drive all of our traffic.

When we’re building an email list to grow an audience and launching products, we can start looking for big markets with hungry buyers.

If we’re driving traffic from referral links, it’s the same amount of work/difficulty whether you’re in a hugely competitive niche like finance or an uncrowded niche like sewing.

The most profitable niches are crowded niches with a lot of competition. Why? Because there’s a bigger market with more customers and more opportunities for profitable products.

I don’t mean to say that uncompetitive niches won’t be profitable. It just means you can start expanding into industries you might have avoided in the past.

The biggest challenge with entering competitive niches does still exist though. And that’s growing organic traffic – SEO – our long-term game.

In the long-run, SEO is (usually) going to be our biggest traffic driver. And when you’re growing your search traffic, your email list will organically grow alongside it.

But in the more competitive niches, it becomes more challenging to grow traffic in the serps.

I tell you this to clear up that I don’t mean competition doesn’t exist when you’re using this model. It still exists. You just don’t need to lose sleep over it because your business isn’t dependant on it.

Your email list becomes your security blanket

The email list you build up over time is extremely, extremely valuable. It becomes even more valuable than your biggest traffic source.

A traffic source is ultimately a means to an end.

And that end = growing your email list. You’re driving traffic for growing your email list. If that traffic doesn’t convert to email subscribers, it means nothing.

You might make some one-off sales, but you’ll have no actual database of people you can contact over and over again to promote your new content and sell them new things.

You can always go find another traffic source if it came down to it.

If Google somehow shut down over night and killed my traffic source, it wouldn’t be the end of my business BECAUSE I have my email list.

It would be challenging, but I would eventually find a traffic source to continue growing my email list.

The same goes for competition

When we have an email list, competitors aren’t really seen as competitors, but more as colleagues.

For example, if you have a food blog, and another popular food blog pops up, that doesn’t mean everyone on your list is going to unsubscribe from yours and go subscribe to theirs.

Another blog simply means there’s another blog that they can follow. Most people subscribed to RankXL are also subscribed to dozens of other marketing blogs, a lot of which are way better than mine.

That’s completely fine! We aren’t competitors in the traditional business world sense of the word.

Instead of losing sleep over each other, or strategizing on how to take each other down, we help each other and become internet buds 🙂

And this is true for every niche out there, not just in marketing.

In your first year, build one product, launch every 3-4 months

This isn’t the exact model that I follow every time, but it’s a rough idea of how and when I launch products for new blogs.

If you’re taking your blog seriously, it shouldn’t be too difficult to grow to at least your first 1000 email subscribers in 6 months.

In all honestly, depending on your targeting and your source of traffic, it can even be done in a matter of days. It all depends on your content, targeting, skill, and of course, a little bit of luck.

When I have my first 1000 subscribers is usually when I like to create and launch a first product.

Forget the notion that blogs can’t make any money for the first few years. Here’s how you start generating a lot of revenue quickly…

With a $100 product, with a 5% conversion rate, you should make $5000 in sales.

Not a life changing figure, but for a brand new blog that’s just a few months old, it’s fantastic.

4 months later, launch again. If your list is at 3000 people, at a 5% conversion rate, you can make $15,000.

4 months later, launch again. If your list is at 6000 people, at a 5% conversion rate, you can make $30,000.

That’s $50,000 in 15 months since starting your blog.

All with a tiny $100 product, and a less than reasonable list growth estimate.

*Your list should grow more quickly as time passes since you’ve likely had more content published, more exposure built up, and have an existing email list you can promote new articles to.

For example, my most recent blog’s total email subscriber count after 16 months is over double the 6000 estimates above.

But that’s because I’m doing a lot of content marketing and focusing a lot on SEO at this point to really grow my daily subscriber count.

Another thing to note is that pricing, and how engaged your audience is will really affect your conversion rates, and therefore your revenue.

For example, with RankXL, I had less subscribers than this blog. But it crossed 6-figures in the first year. Conversion rates were a lot higher even for a higher priced product because of the niche, and how engaged/interested my audience was in the topic.

Conclusion

Over the past year, I’m been really enjoying the process of building new sites again.

I’ve created 2 new blogs in the past 18 months, and currently planning to launch another one come December.

It’s fun to build out new blogs again, even the beginning stages.

But it wasn’t always this way. The initial stages of a new site was the part I dreaded most: Building links, creating tons of new content, waiting until you finally start ranking and driving traffic from Google, etc.

As a result, starting new blogs was something I found myself procrastinating the past few years.

Why build a new site and start all over from scratch again when I can just put the same work into an existing site and see more rapid growth?

This was my way of thinking, and I focused on growing and expanding existing sites rather than building new assets.

However, today, the entire process I have with growing new sites is a little bit different. It’s been a game changer, especially in how I approach the first year of a site’s life, and it’s made it fun to target new audiences in different niches.

And it all only works because I’m building it based around list building and launching products.

Everything moves a lot faster: You see results sooner, you start driving revenue faster, and there’s no waiting around for traffic.

Over to you:

Have you ever experimented with email and launching products? What was your experience with it?

I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Thanks!

P.S. It’s been a ton of work, but I’m finally putting the finishing touches on Blog Accelerator.

Apart from blog posts like this one, it’s the only thing I’m working on these days to make the product as perfect as possible before the launch.

Launch date is set: October 3rd, 2017.

If you haven’t hopped onto the waitlist, I recommend you do so, as I’ll be sending more details about the course as launch day approaches.

Click here for more details and to hop on the wait list.

Thanks!

Leave a Reply

40 Comments

  • Reply Ajay Verma September 19, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Another epic post. My best wishes to you for the success of Blog Accelerator. I found your Adsense course super genuine and useful. If RankXL is coming up with a new course, it must be awesome. 🙂

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks Ajay! Happy to hear from you 🙂

  • Reply Sam September 19, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Great post Lee. I am learning a lot. I already have men’s fashion Blog with 200k/month visitors making decent revenue (not enough though) I just started a new Blog in a new niche. I was again thinking of growing it big, but I think I’ll try this new approach.

    Thanks again for the great post.

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      Awesome. Thanks for checking it out, Sam!

  • Reply Sam Nathan September 19, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    I have never heard anyone discuss this approach to niche blogging… Novel and ingenious… I’m definitely going to give it a shot, a new blog doesn’t look so boring and painful any more… Thanks.

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      Happy to hear that! Thank you Sam.

  • Reply Paul Bass September 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you Chris. I like the “gem” of launch in the first year and set a schedule to launch every 3-4 months. I am setting up to do just that.

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks for reading, Paul. Yeah, it’s definitely a solid model to follow!

      BTW, really cool profile pic 🙂

  • Reply Daniel S. September 19, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks Chris for sharing these insights!

    I’m currently experimenting with a couple different sites, my main focus is to build an authority site, hopefully with long-term success.

    Can this product based model also work in an authority/niche site, or does it have to be more focused in a narrower niche to get adequate conversions to the product?

    Also I’m assuming that your launching chiefly info product(s) on your other blogs, are they ebooks or courses?

    Thanks again
    Daniel

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      It really depends on how broad your site is. If your audience for your niche/authority site can be categorized as one group interested in the same topic, then definitely.

      If you have a really wide range of different topics, then it would make more sense to target it by category, starting with your biggest one.

      Mainly ebooks, with the plan to go into courses for ones that do well.

  • Reply Ray September 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Hi Lee,

    I tried email marketing on a website that had over 50,000 per month. I failed miserably at collecting emails probably because I didn’t have enough of a convincing offer or reason for them to give me their email. This time around I intend to be more thoughtful and strategic . I think it’s all boils done what can I give them that have inherent value in exchange for their email address. I for pone do not believe email marketing is dead. I know it is extremely value, just like you mentions.

    BTW, I love your blog. Your content is always one of the first I read, sometimes multiple times. Thanks

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      Thank you Ray!

      Yes, definitely you want a strong opt-in incentive. And the more it relates to your core product topic, the better.

  • Reply Annie Lax September 19, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    Hi Chris,

    The reason that we’re so engaged in your RankXL content is that you are an outside-the-box thinker, and generously share insight in a clear and thoughtful manner.

    You’ve motivated me to launch a new site, but with an initial emphasis on list building as opposed to the more imposing (and fickle) search engine optimization.

    Another important reminder is to intricately target your demographic, and not worry about all others in the greater community. It certainly would be easier to build a more responsive list this way — and one where you can develop a closer relationship with subscribers.

    I’ll also try not to be too overwhelmed with the severe competition that I’m about to face, per your advice. In the long run, it will be better to position myself in the ‘bigger pond although I worry about some of the predatory fish that may be lurking there. 🙂

    Thanks again, Chris, for providing such useful information!

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      Thank you Annie! It’s great to hear from you 🙂

      You’re right, and I’ll be publishing another post in a few days which will go in even greater detail about the overall methodology behind this model. It should make it even more clearer.

      I’m sure your new site is going to be a hit, and if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email!

      • Reply Annie Lax September 19, 2017 at 4:45 pm

        Hi Chris,

        I look forward to your impending post, providing even more kernels of wisdom in how to penetrate a given niche with the ‘combo plan’ of list building and product launching. (SEO will be icing on the proverbial cake. :))

        Chris, thanks so much for your encouragement and support, AS ALWAYS!

        • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 6:09 pm

          No problem, Annie! Thank you for the kind words.

  • Reply Kaleb Stegall September 19, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Hey Chris!
    Haven’t read too many of your posts in awhile but this one caught my eye.

    While starting out posting and commenting on social sites getting one offs and what not here and their, how should your website be set up in the meantime? A website with one or two pieces of content and email opt ins or just a landing page for email opt ins?

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      As long as you have a few pieces of content. I’m usually linking to specific posts on my blog or a dedicated landing page – whichever one is relevant.

  • Reply Travis September 19, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Chris,

    What sort of products are you creating? Are they all “complete package” type products like you have for RankXL?

    I have a site with 150,000+ unique visitors per month (primarily Pinterest traffic) and 10,000+ email subscribers, which I scrub regularly for inactives. Right now my site revenue is all ad-based. The last couple months I was in the mid-$2,000 range. This month, ad revenue perked up a bit and I’m already around $2,400 through yesterday.

    I keep trying to think of some sort of product I can sell directly, but I’m not sure my niche lends itself too well to a product. Think along the lines of people clicking on pictures of houses on Pinterest, and while they will sign up for a newsletter to see other houses and come back regularly, they aren’t really looking to buy a house right now. They just want to see lots of pretty house pictures.

    • Reply Chris Lee September 19, 2017 at 6:09 pm

      Hey Travis. Yup, for the majority of them I’m looking to create simple ebooks and creating higher tiered packages for them.

      For a niche such as yours, you’ll need to find one small topic that a percentage of your visitors will be interested in. Examples might be 99 interior design ideas and inspiration. Or a guide on the steps to buy your first home at the best price possible.

      You’ll want to use an opt-in incentive around that topic – such as a mini course – this acts as a filter to only collect emails from those interested in that specific topic. Since you already have an email list, you can email them a link to sign up to that list and tag them separately. And you can sell them products around that topic.

      • Reply Travis September 19, 2017 at 10:23 pm

        Thanks for the tips, Chris. Do you have ballpark word count and price point that you target to test the market?

        • Reply Chris Lee September 20, 2017 at 1:49 am

          No problem! Highly depends on the product topic and your target audience. Usually a product of $50 to $100 is good for most niches though.

          I don’t measure by word count when building products.

  • Reply Tung September 19, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    Great article again Chris!

    On your other blogs, do you use a persona or your real name?

    • Reply Chris Lee September 20, 2017 at 1:51 am

      Thank you, Tung!

      Always use a persona.

  • Reply David September 20, 2017 at 1:45 am

    Hi Chris,

    A great article, and I really like your strategies and the thoughts behind them. Do you have any more information about how you go about your quick traffic wins you talked about in your article, and how you choose them at prioritize them?
    Thanks again for the great Article.

    Cheers,
    David

    • Reply Chris Lee September 20, 2017 at 1:52 am

      Thanks, David! Guest posting with networking is the most reliable across most niches. Others just depend on how popular those channels are for the audience I’m targeting.

  • Reply Dhanna September 20, 2017 at 1:48 am

    Really Great article, it helped me to regain the clout, I was thinking to close my blog due to lower traffic.

    • Reply Chris Lee September 20, 2017 at 1:53 am

      Glad it was helpful!

  • Reply Steve September 20, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Hey Chris. You are one of the few marketers who’s emails I bother to read and I’m always glad I did. Sorry to ask a question that I’m sure you have already answered but could you tell us which tools/plugins YOU use to build your list? Thanks.

    • Reply Chris Lee September 20, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      Thank you Steve! That means a lot.

      I’m using a wide range of tools across my sites, but my favorites are ConvertKit, LeadPages, and SumoMe.

  • Reply CJ September 22, 2017 at 1:58 am

    Great post Chris. Very good ideas inside to work with.

    There is only one thing that annoys me a little. It’s when you say:

    “With a $100 product, with a 5% conversion rate, you should make $5000 in sales.”

    Frequently i read this type of forecast. For sure, if you have 1000 people visiting the sales page, with great relation with your audience and a good copy, you can make 5%.

    But, when you have a mailing list of 1000 subscribers, only a part of theses 1000 will open your email, and only a part of these folks who have opened your email will click on your link to read your copy.

    So, in the end, even with multiple emails sent, only a part of these subscribers will really see the sales page.

    And I think it’s a bit of a shortcut to put it this way and it gives somewhat distorted expectations to people who would like to get started.

    • Reply Chris Lee September 22, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks CJ! And good point. What you say makes perfect sense, but I think I should clarify as I’m not trying to give distorted expectations.

      When I’m doing rough calculations and projections for product launches, I’m looking at what percentage from my total email subscribers will convert to customers – what percentage of people who see the sales page convert to customers is a different calculation.

      And around 3 – 5 percent (3 to 5 buyers out of 100 subscribers) is a pretty reasonable goal to have for a lower priced product $100 or less.

      The overall metric that matters is your value per subscriber. And that’s ultimately measured by what percentage of your email list ends up converting into a customer.

      I could go further and get the conversion rate of the sales page itself, but we’re not just driving cold traffic, and the launch sequence plays a big part in the process of getting people ready for a purchase.

      There are a few bloggers who dive deep into their launch numbers publicly, like Bryan Harris, who has shown he had 2% conversion rates for his 4-figure product. That’s not a calculation his sales page conversion rate, but the percentage of subscribers who converted into buyers.

      And here’s a good article I read recently from Brennan Dunn, who is also seeing good results, getting over 6% of his subscribers to convert with a $200-$300 product: https://growthlab.com/anatomy-of-a-six-figure-email-course/.

      The numbers are definitely possible 🙂

      • Reply CJ September 24, 2017 at 10:37 am

        Thanks a lot for all these informations Chris. Great results. Will follow what comes.

        • Reply Chris Lee September 24, 2017 at 4:50 pm

          No problem, CJ!

  • Reply Mohit Gangrade October 3, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Hey Chris,

    Awesome post. I have always liked the idea of going niche. It helps build trust with the audience. Anyone would prefer reading an article on Building Muscle from a site solely dedicated to bodybuilding like BodyBuilding.com instead of a more general site like EliteDaily.

    When you go wide, you spread yourself thin. When you go niche, you are who appear almost everywhere in that niche if your marketing is right. I just love this idea and have myself had a good amount of success with it.

    But how do you decide when to kill a website?

    Has it ever happened to you that you launched a website and whatever you tried it just didn’t work?

    And I completely agree with you on launching new products sooner. It gives you a chance to improve not only your product but also your whole funnel. Once you have a high-converting funnel and a great product, you get a ton more value out of all the visitors who subscribe.

    I just love the content you are putting out, man. You are targeting a lot of topics that most people won’t target in your industry.

    Thanks,
    Mohit

    • Reply Chris Lee October 5, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      Thanks a lot, Mohit!

      When to decide to kill a site is tough. For me, it’s when the niche just isn’t working and I can’t think of anything else I can do with it, or if any kind of pivoting to related niches/rebranding would be not worth the time and effort.

  • Reply Mark Ketzler October 4, 2017 at 12:06 am

    Great post. One thing I might add is like email lists, Facebook re-targeting pixels can be a good way to build a “list” to market too. Even if they don’t subscribe to the email list they are captured. I am still focused on list-building, so I send opt-in incentive ads to pixeled visitors and exclude current subscribers.

    • Reply Chris Lee October 5, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Great point Mark! That’s definitely something I need to learn more about.

      From what I’ve heard so far, it can be a game changer for scaling your business.

      Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Mark October 4, 2017 at 5:01 am

    Loads of insight into using an email list here Chris, great stuff.

    Couple of questions if your are working niche markets and selling physical products and don’t have an e-book to promote how do you suggest 1) getting subscribers? 2) selling products on a launch?

    Your advice would be most welcome to those in that market.

    • Reply Chris Lee October 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Hey Mark! Why wouldn’t you be able to create content for an ebook for an opt-in incentive? Even if you’re selling physical products, you can use content to attract leads.

      Selling products would be no different. Just, instead of launching digital products, you’re launching physical products.