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A while back, Sean Platt and I wrote and published a book called How to Build A Blog, exclusively on Kindle, laying out an overview of my entire online audience-building framework.
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SEO? Facebook? PPC? Twitter?
If you have a website (and these days, that’s everyone), then you’ve wondered about at least some of these elements. The reason why you’ve thought them is that they’re all ways of getting one thing that everybody wants:
Traffic. Traffic = leads, and with more leads, you ultimately get to more sales.
Well, Corbett Barr is the expert on how to get more blog traffic to your site. Not only does he run a personal blog, he also runs Think Traffic, and a training program called Traffic School (in which I am enrolled).
Corbett was gracious enough to spend half an hour on the phone with me explaining the ins and outs of traffic, so that I could then share it with you.
Here it is, 26 minutes for you to enjoy:
Here’s the full transcript:
Danny: For the benefit of our listeners, Corbett Barr runs a really great blog called Think Traffic, and, full disclosure: I’m a student of Corbett’s in his Traffic School program. Corbett also runs a second blog called CorbettBarr.com, which I learned about after reading his free manifesto which we’ll link to in the transcript. It’s titled 18 Months, 2 Blogs 6 Figures. That’s a pretty provocative title, Corbett, can you tell us a bit about that.
Corbett: Yes, sure. Good way to start the interview. Thanks for having me on by the way, Danny, it’s nice to chat with you. So, the 18 Months 2 Blogs, 6 Figures Manifesto is something that I gave away for free at my personal site called CorbettBarr.com, and, essentially what I wanted to do with that was, I had learned a lot from people, from bloggers and online entrepreneurs who had been very generous with their time and information over the first 18 months or so that I was building my new online business. And I wanted to do sort of the same thing that they had done for me, and in a way, pay it forward, if you will, and so what I did was I just packaged up all of the information and you know, sort of, hints and tips and tricks that I had learned over the first 18 months of building that business, and packaged that up into a free manifesto and gave that away, basically knowing that, you know, if the information was useful that it would spread out and a lot of people would become aware of what I was doing and I would get some exposure from it but also, you know, just really help people out and try to get them you know, like I said the same help that I had gotten from other people who had gone before me.
Danny: Okay. In, in the manifesto you alluded to your life before blogging in some kind of consulting work that involved a lot of travel. I’ve also heard you refer to start-up experience. Can you tell our listeners about where you came from, professionally speaking?
Corbett: Yeah, sure, so, you know now I’m completely self employed, I run, as you said, Think Traffic and the other blog that you mentioned, and, you know basically, I work for myself and I have a what I would consider a lifestyle business. Basically, I have no employees and I get to work on projects that I find interesting and also I, I have a great work life balance. My wife and I spend every winter living in Mexico and we also spend the summers travelling, so I’ve very purposefully built a business for myself that lets me live the life that I want to now, without having to be rich or retired. But before this, I started out, just by jumping into the corporate life, like a lot of people do after college, without really knowing anything about what’s possible as far as building a small business. I just jumped into the corporate life because I figured it was a good way to, to earn a decent salary and learn a lot, and also, I think to follow the path that your parents and everybody else might expect from you in the beginning. So I started out as a software developer, and, eventually ended up working for a big consulting firm based out of Chicago, and that firm supported a lot of fortune 500 companies and helped them go through big technology transformation projects, and, it was pretty cool because I got to see the inside of a lot of big companies and I got to work with a lot of really interesting people. But the downside, eventually for me was the fact that I had to travel nearly every week, and I worked there for about five years. And they would send me across the country basically every Monday and then every Friday I would return home. And, you know, it’s kind of fun and interesting for the first year or two, it’s cool to think that these companies are paying to send you across the country and they’re putting you up in a nice hotel and you’re eating nice meals and, and the like. But eventually, I just started feeling like I wasn’t really building a life for myself necessarily, and also, I felt like, the giant companies that I was helping, these are organizations with ten or twenty or fifty or a hundred thousand employees. These organizations are very slow to change, and there are a whole lot of people within those organizations who are working there just really for a pay check and not necessarily because they care about the projects that they’re working on, and so I sort of grew to feel the same way, as though I wasn’t getting a whole lot of satisfaction out of helping some giant corporation become just a little bit more effective than they already were.
Danny: And so that led you to just take off and start your own thing. Did you do any kind of preparation before leaving the corporate world, or… how did that work?
Corbett: Yes, so, I was lucky enough to actually to have a situation where I could transition actually myself, so that I was still earning some salary through my corporate job while I was also starting to build up my personal business. And that was, that was nice. I tell people a lot of times that it’s a big decision to make whether or not you should jump in with both feet and try to build the business without a safety net, or if you should decide if there’s some way that you can actually make a slow transition and try to build up your small business a little bit while you still have a safety net of some sort of income coming in, because what I found was that when I finally did jump in with both feet and left the corporate world entirely, I hadn’t fully replaced my salary, so I was actually living off of savings for quite a bit. And I found that to be a pretty stressful time, actually, trying to build a small business without any significant income coming in and wondering if I would make it in time before I ran out of savings and, of course everything worked out to be just fine and, and I learned a lot from the journey, but, I like to tell people that, that there is a significant decision to make there.
Danny: And if you don’t mind my asking, how close did you come to that kind of finish line of, you know, that’s it, the savings are out? If you measure it in time?
Corbett: Well yeah, so when I, when I first left, I ended up working for about nine months without, without a significant income coming in. And you know, I suppose I could have lasted a couple of years going that way, but, I probably would have pulled the plug if I had gone another three or six months or so, just because I would feel like, I was getting too close, you know and I, and maybe what I was trying to do at the time wasn’t viable. It turns out that it worked out just fine, but, but you know after, after working at something for nine months or a year, In think you start to get a pretty good idea of whether or not you should continue. It’s a scary feeling, like I said, to wonder if you’re going to make it and I wanted to make sure I had enough gas left in the tank to try again if that first attempt didn’t work.
Danny: Okay. Corbett, since I’m your student in Traffic School, and you run a blog called Think Traffic, let’s talk about traffic. Our audience at Firepole Marketing, it’s small businesses in the zero to ten employee range and they aren’t necessarily online businesses. Where and how should traffic figure in to their marketing?
Corbett: Well, I mean I, I assume that even though those people aren’t online businesses that a lot of them actually have an online presence, I think it’s fairly common for nearly every business these days to have some sort of online presence. So whether or not they should worry about how much traffic they’re getting to their website sort of depends on whether or not that website is a significant driver of leads for their business. Or whether or not they want it to be. So, I know a lot of small businesses have a website up and that site actually acts as sort of a brochure. And what I mean by that is maybe these businesses rely on good old fashioned in-person networking, or attending events, or maybe even physical mailings or something to get the word out, and the website simply serves as a place where they can refer people to find out more information about them, but it’s not necessarily the place where they would expect new prospects or new customer leads to come from. On the other hand, if your website is the type of place where you’re capturing lead information like, perhaps someone can contact you to get a quote, or you can capture their email address and then follow up with them about opportunities. If that’s the situation then you should definitely be thinking about traffic and, and for this purpose, you know for the purposes of this call I guess, traffic is simply just visitors who are coming to your website, and really the amount and quality of those visitors who are coming to your website.
Danny: So is all traffic created equal? How much does, how much traffic does a website or a blog really need?
Corbett: Well it’s definitely not created equally by any means. And, I like to share an example that I went through a couple of years ago, or maybe about a year and a half ago. I had worked really hard to become a member of a community called StumbleUpon, and StumbleUpon is a website, sort of a social bookmarking site where people can make note of websites that they like and they can “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” different websites and as a website owner, you have the opportunity or the chance of potentially being promoted by StumbleUpon to all of their visitors who are looking for new things online. And, I wrote a piece of content that actually was very well received by StumbleUpon, and that single piece of content just form that one service StumbleUpon ended up sending me over 100,000 visitors to my website. In a very short period of time, within like a week’s time. And, that sounds pretty amazing, you know, 100,000 new leads, who wouldn’t want that. However, those leads really didn’t end up converting very well, they didn’t stick around, and it’s partly because of the nature of the service and partly it could also be because of the relationship between the type of content that I had written and what people were expecting to find within that site. And so 100,000 people came and, and less than about 3% of those people ended up sticking around to look at more of my site and then of that 3% an even smaller portion of those ended up subscribing and becoming, you know, regular visitors to my website. On the other hand, I had around the same time been promoted by a very small site, that sent me just a couple of thousand visitors, so literally fifty times fewer visitors, but from that small site, far more people ended up subscribing and sticking around and becoming regular visitors to my website. So all traffic is definitely not created equal. It really depends where the traffic’s coming from, what they’re expecting when they land at your website and, I like to say that you should really be looking for targeted or qualified traffic, not absolute traffic. Absolute traffic is just purely, you know, how many people came to my website. Qualified traffic is concerned with finding out who are the people that came to my website, how interested were they in what I had to offer and how, how much of, or how many of them stuck around and became subscribers.
Danny: And so what are some ways of getting traffic? I mean there’s all the usual ways you can find online about SEO, PPC and so forth, and I cannot be a big fan of that stuff, but, if a small business owner came to you and said that they need help with traffic, where would you recommend they start?
Corbett: So, this probably seems rather counter-intuitive, but, you know this well from being in the Traffic School course we mentioned. I tend to start, not on the surface level where most people would, a lot of people would say, well, you need to implement social media better, or you need to create a Facebook fan page, or you need to go after SEO or PPC or something. But, a lot of times if people are having a hard time driving traffic, they may have tried some of that stuff already. Maybe they already have a Twitter account or a Facebook page or something, and still are not getting much traffic. And usually the reason is much deeper than just promotional tactics. Usually the reasons get down to the foundation level, or the content level. The foundation level is, is, you know, that contains things like your, the market that you’ve chosen to appeal to, how well your site is differentiated from other sites. What sort of design you’ve chosen for your site, the brand that you’ve chosen, those sorts of things. And if, if your foundation isn’t solid then you’re going to have a hard time attracting and retaining traffic, because the people who come to your site may not be interested in what you have to offer and they’ll just leave right away, or if they do stick around, they won’t feel really connected with your site and so they won’t be likely to actually help you spread the word. Because one of the most powerful drivers of traffic is the readers that you attract to your site or the visitors, they can actually drive a lot of traffic by recommending your site to other people through social networks and other mechanisms. So if it’s not the foundation that is the problem, then oftentimes it’s the content that’s the problem meaning: what are you offering people who come visit your site? Why should they stick around and read your site when there are hundreds of other sites out there? What are they going to get from it, what problem are you helping them solve? So I really like to start with those, the foundation and the content before we start talking about promotional tactics.
Danny: This ties really nicely into the next thing I wanted to ask you. One of my favourite posts of yours is your post about Writing Epic Shit. Pardon my French, which I guess I shouldn’t say because living in Quebec, I actually speak French. Can you tell our audience what is meant by that and how does that apply if you aren’t a blogger and writing isn’t your strength? Is there a corollary in just being epic? Like, what… what might that look like?
Corbett: Right, absolutely. So, I, I called that post Write Epic Shit partly because I was talking specifically to bloggers, but you could just as easily say Create Epic Shit or Produce Epic Shit and basically, what I mean by that is that, good writing, or good content at this point is really just the cost of admission. Every website out there has at least good content, or at least the people that you’re competing with. There are hundreds and thousands or hundreds of thousands of sites out there that have good content. And so if you’re going to have a website and you expect to attract any visitors at all, you need to have more than just good content. You really need outstanding content to stand out, because, like I said, when someone comes to your site they’re asking themselves the question: “Okay, is this really for me? How does this stack up to the other sites that are out there, and why should I be paying attention to this site when I know of other sites that write on similar topics or that produce content on similar topics?” And there’s a lot of really great free content out there and you have to realize that you’re competing with it whether you admit it or not. And so to me epic content is content that goes beyond the normal. It doesn’t just educate you, it doesn’t just tell you how to do something, but it also inspires you. It makes you feel like, it makes you feel entertained or inspired or enlightened, it makes you feel like you can change the world. It helps show you how you can change the world. It helps you think much bigger than just, you know, here’s a how to article on how to do something, it’s much deeper and bolder and has a much stronger human connection than typical content would.
Danny: And so where does that come from? I mean, you know, it’s kind of like every write wants to write the great American novel, but most of them don’t. What does it take to create content that is that epic? I mean, if, if all content was like that, you know… by definition everyone can’t be above average…
Corbett: Right, right, absolutely. Well, you know, the thing is, I think there’s a, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First of all, it’s easier said than done, obviously, you know, everybody like you said, would love to write enlightening, inspiring content, and it, you know it takes a lot of dedication to make that happen. The next thing to keep in mind is that all content that you write doesn’t have to be epic. It’s just something to strive for, so that you do eventually or occasionally produce epic content. I don’t expect everyone to create epic content all the time, I definitely don’t, but it is something that I aim for and occasionally, you know, I come through, and that’s the sort of thing that leads to breakthroughs on your site. And, I guess, you know what it comes down to, creating epic content; you also have to keep in mind that it’s really a matter of priorities and where you’re spending your time. If you think that, that your website or the content that you’re producing, however you’re producing it, maybe its physical content you know maybe it’s something that you produce and send in the mail. If you believe that that is a potential major driver of new business for your company, or a major source of new leads, then it really depends on how much effort you want to put into it. A lot of times, creating epic content is simply about focusing on creating good content, because a lot of people I think just sort of go through the motions. They hear that they need a website, or they hear that they need a newsletter and so they create one, and then they think “Oh, what do I fill this website up with?” or “What do I fill this newsletter up with.” And so they, they just think any old content will do. They’ll you know, give it the old college try and just come up with something sort of mediocre , for the for the purposes of filling that placeholder, but their intention isn’t really to create great content that stands out and so they don’t create that great content. Whereas their competitors may realize that that newsletter or that website can really be the primary driver of new business for them. And so they decide to spend much more time and effort and to really focus on creating as much value within their content as possible, and so their content stands out as being epic, whereas yours doesn’t simply because you didn’t focus on it.
Danny: So how does that translate into a real day-to-day investment in terms of time. I mean, ultimately, and you’re really making this point kind of between the lines, but, traffic is marketing, it just happens to be online, right; it’s just bringing leads in the door.
Danny: And you have to make time for marketing. You know there’s that saying: If you don’t make time for marketing, pretty soon you’re gonna have lots of time for marketing.
Danny: But that being said, entrepreneurs and small business owners are very busy. How much time should they expect to spend on doing work that will bring in traffic? I mean is this something they should be doing themselves? Or should they outsource it? What can you tell us about that?
Corbett: Well, I think that if you don’t understand marketing then potentially you should consider… I think every entrepreneurs owes themselves an education within marketing. I think marketing’s not the kind of thing that you can effectively outsource. I think if you’re going to be creating products and services and, and a brand for yourself then you really have to infuse all of that with a good understanding of marketing. So every entrepreneur should be reading up about marketing and learning it and it’s not, it’s not the kind of thing that you have to learn by going through a four year, you know college course or program. I think you can learn an awful lot about marketing, just by, you know, committing to reading ten well known books about marketing, maybe over the course of, you know, six month or something. [Incidentally, the Firepole Marketing audio coaching program runs six months, and dollar for dollar, is probably the best training program you’ll ever find. ;)] But as far as, I’m sorry your question was: How much time they should be spending on marketing?
Danny: And I guess leading in, leading from your answer, how much of that… how much time should they spend actually doing stuff and how much time should they spend on self-education?
Corbett: Right. Great question. So I basically, break down everything I do for my business into three categories. The first is learning, the second is producing, and the third is telling the world about it. And the telling the world about what I’m doing, and that’s really the marketing piece, that’s getting that’s the promotional piece, getting the word out about what you’re doing. The producing part is the creating products and creating content, that sort of thing, and then the education part is just learning and growing, sort of in my knowledge of how to produce things and how to promote things. And, you know, in the early days, I think you’ll spend much more time learning. Maybe you’ll spend as much as 50% of your time learning, if you’re just starting a business, but, you know as you progress and as you start running a successful business then that time goes down and you spend a lot more time producing. Now that I have a business that supports me, I probably spend about 10% of my time learning, about 50% of my time producing and about 40% of my time promoting, or telling the world about what I’m doing. And that promotional time, to me, really breaks down into two distinct categories. The first is what you would typically think of as promotion, meaning, you know spending time on the social networks, and you know, putting out links about what I’m doing on Facebook and other, other places like that. The other part of the time, that I spend promoting is actually just building relationships with people that are in my space, and building relationships with people who I think I can help or who I think we could potentially have some sort of mutually beneficial relationship down the road. So I, just spend a lot of time networking with people, having lunch with people, meeting people who I think, you know, like I said, whether I could be of service to or we could help each other out at some point down the future. Not with the expectation of gaining something from the, you now the first time that we meet, necessarily, but with the intention of actually creating a genuine relationship with those people, because those genuine relationships often pay off when you’re not even expecting them to.
Danny: That’s really great. And that’s a really applicable, kind of breakdown for people to take and just divide up their time, and I’m sure most of our listeners are going to look around and say: “Oh, I’m not spending that much time on my marketing.” And so everybody: you’re hearing it not just from us, you’re hearing it from other people too. You really have to spend that time!
Corbett: Yes, I mean, it, it’s a common thing that I’ve heard from a lot of entrepreneurs that I know and work with and, and maybe it depends on how you define it or how you break it down, but if you’re not spending, you know at least a quarter of your time to a half of your time on marketing then I think you’re missing out.
Danny: Yeah, and it’s not sustainable, in the long run also, because pipelines do dry up.
Corbett: It’s true. Absolutely.
Danny: So Corbett, I want to respect your time constraints. Before we wrap up, I want to make sure that our listeners walk away from this interview with a clear action step that they can take to get more traffic to their website. If they block off a couple of hours this afternoon, you know they heard this interview they’re like “Wow, this is phenomenal. This Write Epic Shit idea, it’s just brilliant! I’ve got to do something with it.” They block off three hours, clear their afternoon. What should they do with those three hours?
Corbett: Well, I’m going to assume that these people have, have a mechanism for producing and releasing content on their website. What I mean by that is it could be a blog, or it could be just somewhere that you can create a white paper or some guide or something that you can give people through your website, and so if you don’t have some mechanism for producing and releasing content on your website, then you should spend this time coming up with a way to do that. Either by creating a blog, or creating a place within you website where you can post content, either videos or you know, guides, or, you know, e-books or something like that. Because producing and giving away content is one of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise, to help people out so that they feel connected to you and so then they get to understand how you might be able to help them further. So then if you already have a place to disseminate content, if you already have a blog or a place where you can publish videos, or, or e-books or something then I would sit down and do some content brainstorming and think from the prospective of your customer, and think to yourself: “What problems do my customers have right now? Or do my potential customers have, that I could help them out with.” And forget about any worry that you might have with regards to giving away too much information. Really just think from the prospective of your customer; if they came to your website with a problem that you are uniquely qualified to help them solve, how can you solve that through a piece of content. And how can you make a real impact on their life, today, and then with the remaining time that you have during those two or three hours, sit down and just, no holds barred, really reach deep down for the answers to that problem that those people have and share it with them openly and honestly with the intention simply of helping them and not necessarily to sell them anything and then release that content and tell all of your customers about it, email them about it, you know, call them about it whatever, and let them know that that content is up there and that you’d love to hear from them, their feedback and that if they like that content, you’d love it if you shared it with someone else who might also appreciate it.
Danny: Alright, that’s a pretty intense three hours!
Corbett: Yeah, it might be a little bit much for three hours, but once you, once you commit and start this process, I’m guessing, if it takes a little bit more than that, hopefully people will be able to find the time and, give it a shot at least once, and see how well it works and then you can decide if that’s an approach you should keep using.
Danny: And they really will reap the benefits, I agree with you.
Danny: Corbett, I want to thank you for taking the tie to do this interview. I’ve enjoyed it; I know it’s going to be very valuable to our listeners as well. I also want to thank you personally for everything I’m learning in traffic school which is great.
Corbett: Yeah, fantastic, I’m really glad to have you, there Danny, and you’ve been a huge help to all of the rest of the students in the course, so it’s awesome having you a part of it.
Danny: Thank you.