A Whackadoodle lesson in which we answer a Dear Navigator question: Do I need a website? Do I concentrate on selling stuff, or on building a list of followers?
“We have another one,” she informed me, busting passed my door.
“Another what?” I asked, following her.
“Another question from a blog follower,” she said, throwing her backpack onto my dining room table. “Actually, it’s a question from the same guy who asked about changing radical minds, but I figure we need to take every question seriously. You keep telling me that relationships are everything.”
“Yes I do, don’t I,” I admitted, taking my usual seat across from her. “So what was the question?”
“It’s kind of a three parter,” she said, taking our her phone to pull up the question. “Let me see,” she mumbled. “Here it is:”
I understand the potential of an internet business. Do I need a website? Do I concentrate on selling stuff, or on building a list of followers?
“Actually, that sounds more like four parts,” I said. “Potential of an Internet business. Do I need a website? Concentrate on selling stuff? Concentrate on building a list of followers? Seems like four questions to me.”
“Fine,” she glanced up. “So how do you want to answer it?”
“I suppose we should take one question at a time, but not necessarily in the order he’s asked them.”
“Well, let’s consider the second question, ‘Do I need a website?’ It seems obvious that you either need a website, or access to someone else’s website, if you want to do business on the Internet.”
“What do you mean, access to someone else’s website?”
“YouTube, for example. I can set up a channel on their website, post videos, allow advertisements on my videos, share any money I make from the advertisements with YouTube, and possibly make some money. If my content is good, I might even get some followers and make enough money to pay for my time and effort. But that does not always happen.”
“How do you mean?”
“Sometimes you spend hours making content that gets lost in the chaos. You sort of need followers to be found, but you also need to be found in order to gain followers.”
“So it’s like one of those Catch-22’s.”
“Sort of, yeah.” I agreed. “Actually, there are a lot of websites out there that work the same way. They pay others to provide content, but only if their content is good enough to gain followers. For example Medium is a website for writers. If you have over 100 hundred followers, they will pay you for every clap.”
“Think Facebook’s like button. They pay you if any of their members take the time to ‘clap’ at your work. When I opened my account, writers didn’t need to have any followers, Medium would just pay authors for any clap. Not too long ago, they changed their policy so they only pay authors with more than 100 followers. Guess they were tired of sending people five cents a month,” I laughed.
“Wow,” she sighed. “Any other ones?”
“Oh, there are a bunch of online academies. They ask people to place courses on their website and then when people pay for their courses, the instructor gets a royalty. And then there is Amazon, Ebay, Corsera, Udemy, and Etzy; really too many to mention. They all pay people for bringing content and advertising to their website. Some of the contracts are great, some not so great. Kindleunlimited pays its authors for every page people read.”
“So why do people do it if the contracts aren’t great?”
“Because working through someone else’s website is often free, and the people don’t have to do their own marketing. The store is already there. The customers are already dropping by, so they can just focus how their products look in the store, and perhaps how much they want to advertise in the store.”
“So then people don’t need a website to have an Internet business,” she concluded.
“Need a website, no.” I agreed. “Might want a website, yes. Having your own website gives you more control. Control over your brand, your mailing list, your content, your look.”
“But you’d have to do your own marketing, so that people know that your website is there,” she added.
“Pretty much,” I laughed again. “Unless you like talking to yourself. Let’s face it. The world is so full of opinions, memes, podcasts, and articles. Both informational and disinformational in the extreme. Rising above the chaos has become increasingly challenging. And there other concerns when you have your own website.”
“Well, if you want it to be a business, you have to find a way to monetize it. Are you gonna ask for paying subscribers like the Wall Street Journal? Are you gonna ask for donations and volunteers like Wikipedia? Are you gonna sell specific products, and get a commission for your recommendations like Amazon? Are you gonna fill your website with advertisements that people only accidently open, mixed with content that people actually searched for like Onlinereadfreenovel.com? Or will somebody else pay for everything, so you can focus on actual content like the Mayo Clinic provides?”
“So what is our website doing?”
I thought for a moment before answering. “I believe that were are attempting to provide both entertaining and informative content that will help people navigate their lives, thereby turning them into fans who will be inspired to buy our books; so that all five of our books can hit the bestsellers list and I can retire comfortably.”
“Is that all?”
“And we are offering a specific product,” she narrowed here eyes. “Our books.”
“Yes, and we are letting the Amazon website help us to market, and distribute our product. They also take care of the payments and accounting. All we have to do is pay taxes on our royalties once a year.”
“And our website is just trying to create fans, followers, or whatever you want to call them.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “With links to our Amazon author’s page, so that Amazon can do the rest of the work.”
“Hum,” she shrugged. “Weird.”
“I thought we just finding a way for you to vent your thoughts.”
“No,” I assured her. “We are looking for fans and followers. People who will take a moment to comment on our website, instead of on our Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. Perhaps even take a moment to review our books on Amazon.”
“Why does that matter?”
“Because of the algorithms. Search engines rank websites depending on how many links they have, how many shares they have, how many comments they have, how often they update. Oh, and of course, their SEO,” I added with complete distaste.
“Search engine optimization.”
“It’s a formula everyone uses to get their websites to the top of the search engines. It basically asks you to write with key phrases that people are likely to search for. Not too many key phrases, because you don’t want to sound like a computer, but you must use at least one in the title, and then again, written exactly the same way in your first paragraph. Oh, and the title can’t be too long, or too short. Plus your key words should come first in the title. And for some reason, you are supposed to use short paragraphs and lots of heading. I think it’s because the algorithms are set to look for headings in order to gage what your article is about, and decide who might find it interesting.”
“I’m guessing that the algorithm wouldn’t approve of that last paragraph.”
“It would absolutely hate it,” I smirked. “I would suggest that I break it up into nice clear subheadings.”
“So do you just ignore the SEO?”
“No,” I shook my head. “I use what I can, and I ignore the rest. I usually manage to get a SEO basic rating in the low nineties’, which I guess is good. I just don’t let it influence everything I write.”
“Sounds like a giant pain,” she sighed. “I can see why people decide to not have websites.”
“And yet some people have become rich off of them, which I believe brings us back to our blog reader’s first question: the financial potential of an Internet business. Yes, there is a lot of potential, but as with all new businesses, nearly nighty percent of all Internet businesses fail in the first year, while only ten percent succeed. All new business require planning, financing, marketing, sales, and a product worth selling. So yeah, it’s a giant pain. However, if you succeed, the income potential can be unlimited.”
“So what about the second part of the question. Does he concentrate on selling stuff, or building a list of followers?”
“I don’t think it’s an either/or question. You need followers in order sell to them, and you need products of value to sell them, or they will no longer follow you. In the end, it’s isn’t really about either selling stuff, or building a list of followers. It’s about adding value to people’s lives. If you have something of value to offer, you let your followers know. If they value what you have to offer, they will open your emails. On the other hand, if you’re just offering more of the same, they’re likely to delete your emails on site.” I though about my answer for a moment, and couldn’t help but add, “Let’s be clear that followers are different from a gigantic email list.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” I considered how to begin. “The people who follow you will actually open your emails, not just delete them on sight. You have a relationship with them, so they look forward to hearing from you. I’m on a lot of email lists, and I waste a lot of my time simply deleting them without opening them. Consider the RNSC and the DCCC, also known as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I get over twenty emails from them both each day, and they all follow the same theme: Urgent, the world is ending, please send money now. They don’t ever offer me anything that I don’t already know, so I rarely open them. They both have huge email lists, but not all of those people are followers.”
“Okay.” she said, stretching out the word.
“On the other hand,” I continued. “There are few local politicians whose emails I open every time because they give me valuable information every time. They tell me about when the bus fares are due to increase, or if there is a government deadline to subsidize my property taxes. They let me know what government bills are passing, or not passing, along with a link to provide testimony. They actually send surveys that don’t end with a donation request. They tell me about local business opening and closing, where I can get a free Corvid test, and where next road closures are. I follow them because they offer me information of value. Make sense?”
“Makes sense,” she nodded.
“So do you think we answered his question?” I finally asked.
“I guess we will find out once we post our answer.”
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