AskPat 23 Episode Transcript
Pat Flynn: Hey, what's up everybody? Pat Flynn here, and welcome to Episode 23 of AskPat. This is where I answer your online business questions five days a week. I'm here to help you, and at the top of the show, I want to mention really quick before we get into today's question from Meg, I want to mention a sponsor.
And this isn't a sponsor actually that has paid to be on this show. It's a sponsor that paid to be on my other show, but I want to mention them here because they're doing awesome things for the Smart Passive Income and the AskPat community. It's just they're treating me really well, and I want to give them a shout out. So this is a free plug for them. This is Audiobooks.com. If you go to Audiobooks.com/spi you get a 30 day free trial, a credit for one free download for any book, plus you get access to my book Let Go, the audio version of that, which has to do with today's answer which is why I mention it. So again, that's Audiobooks.com/spi. Check that out. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
And here's today's question from Meg which is all about how I started my most popular blog, Smart Passive Income.
Meg: Hi Pat. My name is Meg Cook with AudienceWatch.me, and I'm a huge fan of the Smart Passive Income podcast. I listen to it every time it comes out. You are such an inspiration. Anyway, my question is, how did you first get your audience? What did you do? Was it back when you could submit something on Reddit and get a lot of audience that way? Did you have some special connections? Did you spend a lot of money on marketing? How did you first get your audience? Thanks so much for your time, and I can't wait to hear the show.
Pat Flynn: Meg, thank you so much for your question and also all of your support. Just, thank you so much. And the answer to this question picks up where Let Go, my best selling book Let Go, where that left off. So the question was about how I built my audience at SmartPassiveIncome.com, which is my main site, which currently gets between 15,000 and 20,000 unique visits a day and is generating quite a bit of income for me. And it didn't start that way, obviously. It started from scratch, and so this is how it started.
Actually, the reason why it started was because I had my very, very first successful month in online business in another niche, which was the GreenExamAcademy.com website that I have which is for the LEED exam niche. I was teaching people in the architecture industry how to pass that test. And after my first month selling an ebook, it generated almost $8,000 that first month. It changed my life. I wanted to just share everything that happened because I went from one of the lowest points in my life after getting laid off from architecture to then creating this online business and having the best things happen to me afterwards. So the layoff was actually a blessing in disguise, and I just wanted to share everything that had happened because this whole journey . . . it's just, I never knew that any of this was possible until I got laid off, and I just wanted to throw it out there for you. And that's why you'll see on my blog at Smart Passive Income that I share everything as much as I can, including how much I earn every month and where that comes from, my wins, my failures, etc.
But again, going back to the beginning, this is October of 2008. I didn't spend any money on marketing. I still haven't spent any money on marketing, except for maybe one or two Facebook ads to share a couple webinars. That's it. But in the beginning, I didn't spend any money. Maybe for the first three, four years, I didn't spend any money on marketing with Smart Passive Income blog. I didn't focus hugely on SEO. I didn't do a lot of backlinking techniques and a lot of these things that some people do to try and game Google and rank higher in the search engines. I didn't focus on that. I just did the basics, making sure that any keywords that I wanted to target were in the title of my post and that my website was basically SEO optimized, meaning it targeted the word “passive income,” which is why the domain is SmartPassiveIncome.com, which helps a little bit because when people linked to the site, they're using the backlinks “smart passive income.” So that was the reason for the selection of that domain name, and I've never submitted any articles to Reddit or any social bookmarking sites or any of that. This is how it went down.
There's a number of different things that I did that I feel are important for you to understand. The first one is I just started writing. I just started writing a ton of content, and I started connecting with as many people as I could, and how I did that was, actually, I read a lot of other blogs at the time. And it's sad because a lot of those blogs that I used to read, there's still some that are still around. I mean the big guys like Darren Rowse from ProBlogger.net and Yaro Starak from Entrepreneurs-Journey.com, I mean they're still around. Those are some of the first ones I read. But there are a number of other blogs that I read who weren't quite as popular as those, but I still read them, and unfortunately a lot of them aren't around anymore or they have moved on to do other things. But I did read a lot of those blogs and I connected with them. I commented on all of their posts and just had them get to know me through providing value in their comment section, and a lot of people got interested in what I had to say and would often come over to my site and start to connect with me on my site.
And again, this didn't happen overnight. This was maybe the course of two or three months right at the beginning. And my traffic was very sparse right at the start. I mean, obviously in the very beginning, you have zero traffic unless you share your website with a bunch of friends and family. But typically, I was getting 20 to 50 visits a day within the first couple of months. That's how it's always going to be, unless you do a pre-launch strategy, which you can start to build buzz before the launch of your website, and then so when you launch your website, you already have an audience. I didn't do that until I started . . . Actually, I didn't even do that up until recently when I created my site for food truckers. You can read all about that at NicheSiteDuel.com and how I launched that site with an existing audience on day one.
But anyway, going back to Smart Passive Income, I read other blogs. I commented on them, and then I also reached out via email to a lot of those bloggers. And every once in awhile, one of those bloggers would link to an article that I had written on my site. This was because I had written something interesting, something different that they thought was useful for their audience and because we had made this connection. And I got to know who they were. They got to know who I was. A lot of them ending up linking to a number of my articles that they found useful, which I thought was pretty cool. Beyond that, I also followed and read and subscribed to email lists for everybody who was the head honcho/guru in the internet marketing online business space. And the reason I did that, the reason I subscribed to at least I think it was over 20 different newsletters, was so I could learn from them. Because these guys were making a lot of money, and I wanted to do exactly what they were doing to see if I could earn that much money and build that much traffic.
But I found that over time, once I started getting all these emails and just my general feeling from all of these people were just . . . this is disgusting. I don't feel like I'm loved being a part of your email list. I was being talked to like I was just a potential customer or credit card number, not somebody who was actually trying to help me. So that's when I really made the conscious decision to pretty much do everything opposite of what most people in this space are doing. And that's why you see me do a lot of things that a lot of those people don't. For instance, my income reports, and that's the third thing I want to mention. That's something that when I created, and I created it . . . Actually, my income reports I've been doing since October of 2008, and when I initially got the idea to do that, I was like, “I'm just going to do it one month just to show people I'm real and that I'm making money from GreenExamAcademy.com, and then I'll leave it at that. I probably won't do it again.”
But the response from the few people who were on my site was just incredibly overwhelming. I mean, they loved it. They'd never seen anything like that before, and so they started sharing it. And I got a little bit more traffic. Not too much, but a little bit more and it started to be talked about a little bit. Again, very, very small baby steps here, but my income reports are now the most popular posts that people read on my site, and it is still something that's very different, and I take great care in creating those income reports. Not to share how much money I'm making and where it's coming from, but to talk about the lessons and the things that I do to make those numbers happen, whether those numbers are growing or even falling. I talk about what I could have done better, for example. So a lot of people thought that was really cool. There were other people who were doing something similar in this space. There's a guy named John Chow who is sharing his income reports too, but just the feeling I was getting from him and his site, and no offense to him or anything, but it was just . . . you could tell that he was doing it to generate leads and create link bait and get people to come to his site so he could sell them stuff. And I didn't have anything to sell at this time, so I think people thought it was really cool. So that's one thing that stood out from the crowd.
So I think that's the important lesson there is I created something new that I knew was going to be helpful for my audience. Also was proof about me and who I was and what I was sharing on my site, and it was just again something that people talked about, something real. So another thing that I did was I did a lot of experiments and case studies, even right from the beginning. Even though I know that I recently changed my site to say that I'm the crash test dummy, I was always the crash test dummy. And one thing I did back in the day, this was 2009, I did an experiment on eHow.com. Back then, you can't do this anymore, but back then, anybody could write an article and because eHow was such a popular site back then, a lot of the articles that you write on that site get ranked really high in the search engines. So if you write the correct articles on the right topics, your articles were ranked really high in the search engines, and then you can get paid by connecting your Google AdSense account anytime someone clicks on an ad on that particular article that you wrote. And that was really cool, and I heard about this. I never did it before, and I said, “Hey, I'm going to run this experiment. I'm going to spend all month, 30 days in December.” Actually, it was December 2008. “I'm going to spend all month writing 150 articles, about five articles a day, and I'm just going to post them up and see what happens.”
And people started talking about that experiment and sharing that and becoming really interested in the progression of that. So I did that. I wrote 150 articles, published them on eHow.com in December of 2008. The first month I made, like, $3. The next month I made, like, $12. Google started picking up a lot of the articles and putting them at the top of the search engines, and over time, I think after six months, I was generating about $100, $150 a month for doing nothing. I hadn't done anything in the last six months and I was earning that kind of money, and then I went into the forums of eHow and started talking about the experiment, what I wish I'd done better, what I could have done to improve, what I did right, and I started interacting with people on the eHow forums, and then they got interested in what I was doing. They came to my site, and they started reading more of my content, not just the eHow stuff, but a lot of the other things that I was doing and they became fans. And I know a lot of those people who came from eHow are still reading my blog today which is really cool. This is four, five years later now.
Now at this point, I just kept writing. I kept producing content, kept making connections. I wasn't seeing that much traffic at all. I mean, I want to give you some perspective here. I was getting maybe 100 to 200 visitors a day. Maybe 300 to 400 if I came out with an interesting post, but again it wasn't very widespread, and this was within the first year to year and a half. A couple things happened that helped me really increase my traffic at this point. Again, this a year and a half. A few things happened. One, I was featured on Yaro Starak's site, actually through a blog, or through a podcast. It was actually the very first podcast interview I've ever done was on Yaro Starak's site, Entrepreneurs-Journey. He had me on his show, and he talked about me. He linked to my site, and I got a lot of traffic as a result of doing that interview. And so of course, on my analytics, I saw a huge spike and then it came back down. But it never came down as far as it was before that spike. And that's a pattern that you see when you're growing your online business or your blog. You see a huge spike for something awesome that you did or a feature that you had and you come back down, but you don't come down quite as far.
And so I've been trying to experiment, or at that point, I was like, “Okay, what else can I do to spike?” And then I connected with Darren Rowse from ProBlogger.net. And then I was featured on an interview on his site. It was actually an interview that was exclusive to his email subscribers, but he still had a huge email list. So again I saw that huge spike, people coming to my site, and then came back down, but it never went down as far as it was before that spike. Now a few others things I did to really increase my traffic was back in 2009, I started my YouTube channel, late 2009. That was huge because I had plateaued. I had seen the same amount of traffic besides a few of those spikes here and there, same people commenting on the site, but when I started my YouTube channel, it opened up a whole new avenue of traffic for me 'cause I was creating these videos that were answering questions from my existing audience, and when I posted them on YouTube, people found them. YouTube is a search engine. They enjoy that content and put it up high in the search engine rankings for those things that that question, what that video answered, and people found me. People that would have never found me if I didn't leave my blog or if I didn't expand out of my blog as far as generating content.
Then in July of 2010, I started my podcast. That has just been . . . I mean, I still can't believe the results I'm getting from my podcast. I mean we just passed for the Smart Passive Income podcast, 7 million downloads, and AskPat just started a couple weeks ago. We're already at 125,000 downloads. So many people come up to me at conferences now and they say, “Pat, I love your podcast. Podcast this, podcast, podcast, podcast.” Nobody talks about the blog, and hardly anyone talks about my YouTube channel, but everyone talks about the podcast, and the podcast has done so much for generating traffic, but beyond that, actually creating a real connection with people. Now a couple more things that I did was I'm always pushing the envelope. I call myself the crash test dummy. I try new things and I share what happens, and because of that, people get excited about that. They share those things, and so I encourage you, that if you want to grow your audience, try something different. If you just do what everyone else is doing, why would anybody follow you? Do something different. Push the envelope. Take risks. Take bold actions. Nothing's going to happen unless you do that.
And the last thing I do that I think I do really well is I lead by example. I'm not a good copywriter. I don't always know what to write blog posts about, but when I do a case study or I do an experiment, I let my results and the case studies do the talking for me. It becomes really easy. So what case studies or experiments can you do that would provide value to you and your audience? So going back to what you asked about spending money and Reddit and that social bookmarking, again, I didn't spend any money on marketing. My audience over time did the marketing for me. I didn't focus hugely on SEO. It just happened over time that I started ranking really high in the search engines for relevant keywords. The more I wrote, and the better the content I wrote, and the quality of the articles because people liked them, and they shared them and they linked them and that increased my search engine rankings. And finally, I didn't submit any articles myself to sites like Reddit or Digg or other social bookmarking sites. Other people did that for me because they found something interesting worth sharing.
So Meg, thank you so much for your question. An AskPat t-shirt is headed your way. I hope that answer helps you and everybody else out there who's listening. For the listeners, if you have a question that you'd like answered here on the show, head on over to AskPat.com. Again, if you'd like my full story, head on over to Audiobooks.com/spi. Sign up there. You'll get Let Go for free in addition to the other things that you get for free.
And I want to leave you with a quote, which is actually a Pat Flynn original. This is a Pat Flynn original: “Don't let today's opportunities become tomorrow's what-if's.”
Thanks so much, and I'll see you in the next episode.
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