Forget Traffic – Do This Instead

October 21, 2013 , 45 Comments

Traffic is overrated.

There, I said it. Everyone worries about traffic and tries to get more of it. I did the same, when I was starting out.

Over the past few years, I have learnt about a skill that is much more valuable than traffic generation and focusing on this skill will get your business off the ground much more quickly.

Watch the video below to see what I mean:


This is an older post on a very important topic. We have since covered this in much more detail in a series of podcast episodes. I recommend starting here to get a more in-depth view of why traffic is overrated and how to apply a "Customer First" approach to building your business.



Putting it Into Action

You can think of it as a back-to-front process. Instead of thinking “here’s all the stuff I need to build before I can think about making money”, you start with the sale and work backwards from there.

Using this approach also makes the steps to growing you business clearer. It can reduce the insurmountability of the tasks at hand.

Is it difficult to get 10K visitors a month to your blog? Hell yes!

But is it difficult to find one potential customer and make one sale? Not really.

Now I’d like to hear from you. How will you implement this idea in your business? What questions do you have about this approach? Let me know by leaving a comment!

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Thank you Shane.
    I like the angle you suggest and agree that once I have a product or service that people value and are prepared to pay for it makes sense to then focus on marketing.
    What have you found to be the best ways to make the 1st few sales?

    • A few things that I’ve personally done to get the first customer:

      • Create a freebie and buy a small amount of traffic to get some subscribers. Then talk to the subscribers. (this was the most round-about way I’ve ever done it, but it still worked)
      • Interact in forums/communities/social media and ask open-ended questions, follow up with personal messages to people who respond. This is done as a market research thing. I’m not trying to bait people to reply and then push a product on them. I’m trying to learn about the people in the market and if they’re interested, I can start pitching an existing or hypothetical product.
      • Offer free coaching sessions. For example, I offered a free skype call on a couple of productivity-themed forums, when I was working on focus & action.

      The last one is the lowest investment, highest yield method I’ve used. I simply offered to help people who have a problem with productivity and/or procrastination. I got to learn about specific details of what people struggle with and got a very good idea of what people would look for, in a product. I could have easily offered on-going coaching for a price, but that wasn’t what I was looking for, at the time.

      • Hi Shane, ok so I can skip the blog..that’s good because I don’t have one. But I do have a product, and am mulling over my release strategy. What are your thoughts on the following for getting my first cusotmers:

        1) put it up on clickbank
        2) put it on JVZoo or another JV strategy
        3) put out as a WSO (if IM related)
        4) buy solo ads
        5) release as a kindle book

        Thanks, Cooper.

      • Thanks for the comment, Cooper!

        Solo ads won’t get you good buyer traffic. That’s something I’ve tried and had sub-optimal results with, anyway.

        Apart from that, where you publish your product doesn’t really matter that much. Don’t expect the marketplace or network to deliver traffic and sales for you. In most cases, that will only happen if your marketing is already good and you can make your product popular within the marketplace or network. It won’t happen all by itself.

      • Ok, for the product testing/refining I can use the three options you mentioned (paid traffic, forums, coaching). I can also dabble in some of the other options I mentioned – and see if I get any sales.

        But I think I must also add to this list traffic from a small blog. Not a blog for the sake of “blogging to profits”, but a blog to get some minimal traffic, give away freebies, and get reactions/responses, like you did.

        I would love to hear your thoughts about what to do after the product testing/refining is complete. In other words, how to best launch a finished information product and thru what channels. Thanks, Cooper.

      • Yes, I agree. As mentioned in this post, I don’t advocate against blogging. Just against blogging, the way most people do it. Having a blog as an additional marketing channel for your business is great. Having just a blog and hoping it will turn into a business somehow – that’s where many go wrong.

        I will have to create some more content about how to launch. There’s already some material you can check out, though:

  • Nice one, Shane. This came at a opportune time for me, as I’m working on targeting a service (local SEO) to a specific niche/profession, and it’s becoming obvious that it’s all about fine tuning the traffic and message.

    Any thoughts on researching a specific industry/profession, finding key data like customer lifetime value, ways to reach them, etc.

    As always, thanks for doing what you do.

    • Thanks for the comment, Erim!

      In your research, the most important factors are: who your target market is, where you can reach them and the details of what they want and need.

      You can’t really do research on customer lifetime value, because that will depend heavily on your business model, quality and price of your product etc. Numbers from other companies can’t really tell you what numbers you will get.

      For me, a crucial factor for market research is always to get deeply immersed in a niche. I’ll read the books and the blogs, join the forums and communities, keep up with the news, buy and use the products etc.

      Basically, I learn about my prospects by becoming one of them.

  • Hi Shane, thanks for the video. I think out of all the email lists I’m on you are one of the most honest marketers out there! Many marketers say they are honest but then they don’t actually tell you what they are really doing themselves to succeed. So thanks for being one of the good guys!

    I have my info product idea, but I’m on a tight budget so what methods would you say I should use to attract customers in the start? Thanks

    • Thanks, Chet!

      If you’re going to be selling information, then coaching can be a good way to bootstrap. You can combine market research with generating some income by taking on clients to do one-on-one coaching with, where you’ll teach them the same kind of material that you’ll later cover in your info-product.

      It will make your product and your marketing better, if you can first sell and provide good coaching (whether online or live).

  • Thanks, Shane for that important reminder! I, myself have fallen victim to trying to get more traffic instead of focusing on just getting paying clients!

    • Thanks for the comment, Suzanne!

      I fall into that trap as well, if I stare at my analytics for too long. :)

  • Hi Shane – totally agree with you on this. I must say I also made the same mistake on building a website and then looked at how to monetise it. One of my latest sites is a lead generation site – which has people wanting a quote on a service and suppliers (eg those doing the work). It’s a bit of a constant battle keeping both of these customers happy, but traffic can always be bought like you said. The thing I like about this strategy of a website is you start to generate income straight away as soon as you get a little bit of traffic.

    • This does fit the model somewhat. Your customers are the service providers. The transaction isn’t direct, but as you say, it’s a model where you can earn early. And as long as it’s not something where you need to build all this traffic first, before monetization, you definitely have an advantage.

  • Thanks Shane. Love your work and really put to use your Hybrid Connect. I assume if I already have a product I really should be focusing on my current customers finding what they like, don’t like about the product and improving it. My product was not designed with the Minimum Viable Product process in mind and I bet I can harness a lot of useful insights from my current customers. I believe this is the best way and a new way of thinking for me. Instead of building a business and hoping customers come, build your business around your customers’ wants/needs.

    • Yes, absolutely!

      I didn’t have this whole process down either, when I released my first product. What I did do is listen very carefully to my customers and use what I learned to my advantage. The first year or two of my business (after releasing my first product) was basically nothing but improving, refining and adding, based on customer feedback. And it worked out quite well for me. :)

  • Shane – it is all about whether you want to be in the mass market or the prestige market.

    One on One contact is extremely valuable and expensive. It is all about having a unique solution for a specific client. This takes time and is not very scalable, but it can be very profitable if you can solve serious headaches for wealthy clients.

    Mass market is simple a product that suits the needs of many at a low cost. It is very scalable.

    So the question thus becomes – what is the product that you have. If it is consulting – go high end and work trying and find that small group of clients. If it is a simple low cost software or info product – go mass and figure out of to get the traffic so that you can tell your story.

    • Thanks for the comment, Russ!

      I don’t mean to suggest that all selling should be done one-on-one. You’re right that it’s expensive and it’s something you can’t scale up to large numbers.

      However, even for mass market products, some one-on-one contact can be invaluable for learning exactly how to make a product that the masses will want to buy. And what words to use, to sell it to them.

      I 100% agree that you should shoot for the higher end with consulting work, btw.

  • You are so totally spot on, Shane. Marketing is about psychology and mathematics. Lots of folks can crunch numbers and come up with models that work all day long…on paper. But until you get the psychology worked out, until you really know and understand your customer and can articulate and solve a real problem he’s having, the math doesn’t really matter. So step #1 is getting some customers, even a few, and then beginning the dialogue so you get even deeper into their psyche, so you can optimize your marketing messages to get more of them. Only then does the math really become important. Because only then have you proven you’ve got a viable solution that resonates with your market.

    You are the real deal. Thanks for all you do and share with us.

    • Yes, that’s very well put, Eric.

      It actually reminded me: on the one hand, I made this video because this is something I learnt in my own business. On the other hand, I have recently read about examples like this in several books. Even in very large, successful companies, there are stories about new products being stuck at some point, until someone takes the time to go one-on-one with the customers. That’s where you actually see how they use the product, what they think about, before they buy, etc.

  • Brilliant! I love it, thank you. I have no questions right now but it was very reassuring that I’m on the right track. Although I don’t have loads of traffic yet, I will shortly launch my first product and get a chance to add lots of value and better engage with my audience. Thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment, Angela! That’s awesome and it does look like you’re on the right track. :)

  • Anuj Narula says:

    The Rode Podcaster…is looking GOOD! Does it work well with a noisy recording background? Coz my flat is in the middle of a noisy city.

    • Haha, thanks Anuj!

      It is pretty good. The reason the mic is so prominent in my recent videos is because it works better, the closer you are to it. If there’s background noise or echo in the room, this is especially important. It won’t be perfect, but if you keep the mic very close to your mouth as you record, you’ll get a good result.

  • Not sure how I lost my path but your posts today brought me back to the basic idea of selling vs. blogging to make money. I have a service I can sell to ebook authors and I have been very distracted repairing my blogs from the latest Google updates and building a new site. Somehow the allure of increased free traffic = more sales distracted me from making actual sales. Off to check my lead list now and sell somebody something. Thanks for the refresher and reminding me that sales can be made even if you have hardly any traffic.

    • Good stuff, Seve! If you’ve already got something ready to sell, you’re in great position.

  • Hey Shane

    Your new theme is working well, very clean and I like the video with you a bit further away from the Camera.

    I think what you say here is OK for a service based business, it is a continual process of learning and also spotting oportunities.

    • Thanks! Glad you like the theme. :)

      I’ve used this process for my products as well. For a service based business, there’s no way around it, but even for a product business, this is the best way to start, IMO.

      I think in The Lean Startup, either the author or someone quoted goes as far as to say that every business should start as a service.

  • Thanks for the different angle. Couple of questions

    1. Would you go down the paid traffic route to get your 1st customer and then you can refine?
    2. I assume you would offer your services for free to get your 1st customers then you can find out what they really want and refine?
    3. I like the coaching idea (seems to be popular at the moment) but surely you need a track record and reputation to go that route?

    Keep the good content coming.



    • Hi Paul,

      1. Yes, that’s one of the things I’ve done. You can get small amounts of traffic very cheaply and often, that’s all you need to get the ball rolling.

      2. Offering for free is an easy way to get the first contacts more quickly. Of course, you shouldn’t have to rely on giving out freebies for too long, but it’s a good way to start.

      3. Not necessarily. That experience and track record has to come from somewhere, after all. You do need expertise, of course. If you have a targeted enough offer, you will find paying clients, even if you can’t show previous work or experience. Many won’t ever ask, either. Also, if you start with a free consulting/coaching call, you can prove the value of what you offer before asking for money.

  • Definitely, Traffic is overated. I’ve been telling this to myself for a very long time but I never believed in what I said till I created FPM. FPM is on the start, there is only 1000-2000 monthly traffic which is damn little, but I notice lot of actions. There are lot of comments,people want to be guest bloggers, they are ordering my web design services. And all of that from maybe 50-60 visitors every day.

    • Great example! I noticed the same thing in my business. Back when I had a couple of affiliate sites and AdSense sites, even when those were doing well, the value per visitor was massively smaller than on sites where I was selling a product.

  • SHane I think this message is awesome.

    To many wantrepreneurs spend to much time building, strategizing the perfect product or service before actually validating with the most important person….the customer. This is why I’m a huge fan of The Foundation and spent time interviewing each graduate to hear their lessons and belief changes.

    Loving the discussion in this thread and would love to use this video at a Lean presentation next week as its spot on.

    I know as much as I believe in this, I catch myself sometimes worrying to much about Aesthetics and have to give myself the smack to say pick up the phone or meet belly to belly with the one that matters the most.

    Cheers for this and enjoy the weekend

    • Hello Michael,

      Sorry for the late reply to this comment. I think we spoke about it by email, though. :)

      It’s great to see that you’ve had the same experience and are focusing on the right kind of thing.

  • Shane, I do have my info product and my freebie ready, but I do not
    have any squeeze page or web site of my own. What would you recommend
    to be my first step? Would you recomend Optimize2 as my first web
    site to begin selling?



    • If you don’t have a website yet, start with setting up a simple WordPress site.

      I don’t know if OP2 would be the right investment for you. It depends on your budget. You can get started with very simple landing pages without needing costly tools, to begin with.

      But if it’s in your budget, sure. I’d recommend you take a look at OP2 as well as LeadPages, to see what suits you better. There’s also a video I made about this, here.

  • Having a blog is a good thing and I won’t ignore it as we can use the blog to promote the product more often and getting more traffic and visitors to buy it.
    But my first approach would be to create a landing page, get some traffic, get some leads and create a blog to convince the readers to generate more sales.
    What do you say about it?

    • I agree! As you can see, I have a blog as well. :)

      In fact, I even have separate blogs on some of my product sites. A blog is can be a very valuable addition to any value based business. The problem is when someone has just a blog and no business behind it…

  • Absolutely GREAT advice. As they say, hindsight is indeed 20/20.. Wish I knew this when I first got started, would of saved me a lot of time and money. This is definitely a MUST watch for anyone getting started in the industry.

    Thanks for the awesome post Shane!

    • Same here… could have saved me a LOT of time, if I had realized this sooner. But hey, we all pay for our education, one way or another, right? :)

  • I definitely had a “build it and they will come” attitude. What a surprise I had.

    Running a website and promoting it has a steep learning curve which I was not prepared for. What I should have done is find a need and fill it instead of building a site with products I personally would buy. Although my e-commerce site is on one of the popular platforms, as a total beginner regarding e-commerce I feel it would have helped me to have an end to end model to follow, as opposed to patching things together bit by bit. I really feel I learned more on web marketing from one of Shane’s video’s than I have after lots of research because it brought cohesion to disparate concepts.

    Having an overarching structure in mind of how to proceed is important as is knowledge of what has yielded real world results. I am now refocusing from “traffic,” which lets face it, is a vague term, to making the first sale which may or may not be as a result of a torrent of traffic. I may even buy some traffic to seed some some sales and build my list, which is something I have not considered before, or rather considered it way beyond my budget. I will look into it. I have a £30 Bing Ad voucher which I have no idea how to get the best out of.

    We all suffer from stuck positions and preconceived notions. Thanks Shane for giving me a nudge. :-)

    • Thanks for your comment!

      I’m very happy to hear that this post inspired some thought and gave you a nudge. :)

  • Shane, that was my approach with My VIP Client Journey ( I built an optin page for a webinar, a sales page and the shell of membership site using optimize press; sold the idea to people to attend a webinar, got one sale and then built the content out and into working product.

    That proved a number of things, mainly that the theory of ‘sell before you build works.

    Then I had 2 sales – now onto bigger things!

    As regards the blog, yes I write the blog about a specific element of what I do and include a call to action that links to the free gift/webinar.

  • Shane,

    That is some very good information and I realize that I have been putting the cart way before the horse!

    What you said …

    “You can think of it as a back-to-front process. Instead of thinking “here’s all the stuff I need to build before I can think about making money”, you start with the sale and work backwards from there.”

    That is something I never heard before and that makes so much sense to this novice marketer!

    No more flying buy the seat of my pants!

    It’s time to take a much different approach.

    Thank you Shane for upfront and honest commentary it is much appreciated.

    It is an inspiration to not give up on a dream, but move forward with even more determination.


    • Thank you for your comment, Chuck! Glad to know that you found this useful. :)

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