Want a loyal audience for your website? Would you settle for 100 regular visitors? How about 1,000? If so, you're thinking too small. Even niche websites can generate an audience tens of thousands strong, says Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute.
For proof he points to Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, whose radio show teaches its 20,000 weekly listeners how to raise chickens in their backyards. He also cites Brian Clark, who took Copyblogger Media from a one-man operation in 2006 to a $10 million-plus business today, and Rand Fishkin, who took Moz from a simple blog in 2004 to a $30 million-plus search marketing juggernaut today.
Pulizzi says all three succeeded by following a six-step model for building an audience. He laid it out in detail at Copyblogger's most recent Authority Rainmaker conference in Denver. Here are the essentials:
Find your sweet spot. Everyone has one, Pulizzi says. "It's the intersection between something you're very passionate about and something you're super knowledgeable about or in which you have a skill." For Fishkin and Moz, it's measuring the impact of search traffic.
Find your content tilt. If your passion is a skill shared by millions, refine or "tilt" it to the point where you can be the go-to authority, Pulizzi says. Take Schneider as an example. The Chicken Whisperer isn't about raising chickens; it's about what to do if you want to raise chickens in your backyard.
Build the base. Once you know the type of content you'll offer, focus comes next. Do one thing and one thing only. "Pick a platform and stick with it over time," Pulizzi says. "I wish it were more difficult than that but it really isn't." Clark spent the early years of Copyblogger obsessively writing and publishing new blog posts.
Harvest the audience. Once the audience for your highly specialized brand of content knows how and when to find you, it's time to find out who they are. Set up a system to capture email addresses and build a list. "Don't focus on fans, followers, or likes," Pulizzi says. "It's all about subscribers!"
Diversify. Only when you've built what Copyblogger's Clark refers to as a Minimum Viable Audience should you consider diversifying the types of content you produce, Pulizzi says. And even then it should be related. Schneider has a radio show and a magazine. Copyblogger has blogs, podcasts and products for those who want to be distributing content. Pulizzi's own Content Marketing Institute -- now with over 124,000 email subscribers -- has a blog, podcasts, and hosts events, among other things.
Monetize. Selling is easier when you've taken the time to understand the needs and desires of a captive audience. Does that mean you shouldn't place ads or otherwise try to monetize your site until after you've achieved scale? Not necessarily, Pulizzi says. Rather, he advises website owners to put audience-building efforts first. "I know you've all got stuff to sell. I've got stuff to sell. But I want you to build the audience first," Pulizzi says.
Difficult Advice You Need to Hear
If Clark's and Fishkin's stories sound remarkable, Pulizzi says it's because so few are willing to do what is necessary to build an audience. He estimates as much as a year-and-a-half or more of putting out new content on a regular basis before making any kind of serious income. Pulizzi did exactly that when launching what became the Content Marketing Institute back in 2007.
"We just did the blog for three years. Then we launched the magazine. Then we launched the roadshows. Then we launched the event series. Then we launched the podcast. Now we're doing like 30 different things, but it all started with three years of the blog. Most people don't have the patience to get to that point," Pulizzi says.