Forget About Traffic Generation – Switch to the ‘Customer First’ Approach Instead

June 26, 2017 , 38 Comments

The most important thing you need to grow your online business is more traffic to your website, right?

Well, here at ActiveGrowth, we say...forget about traffic altogether! In our first full podcast episode – Forget Traffic! Part 1 – we're going to tell you why.

It turns out that web traffic is overrated when it comes to pulling success levers for your online business. In fact, traffic is such an over-emphasized performance indicator that it usually distracts you from much more important things that actually help to grow your business.

In Episode 1: Forget Traffic! – Part 1, Shane and Hanne introduce a business strategy they like to call the Customer First approach.

Download the podcast below to see why a customer first approach is so crucial to sidestepping the grind of audience building and moving you straight towards revenue generation instead.


Podcast Audio

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Bonus Content

Episode 1 Show Notes

Download this episode to discover:

  • Why More Traffic is such a seductive online business trap.
  • Why you can't set up a niche content site focused around a few researched keywords anymore.
  • Why traffic is not a key performance indicator for most online businesses.
  • Why investing your time building audiences on platforms like Instagram and YouTube are Customer Last strategies with limited upside compared to building value based businesses.
  • What a Customer First Approach looks like and why it provides laser focus to get the right people's attention from the very start of of your business.
  • Introduction to the most solo-preneur friendly and "bootstrapped" way to start your own customer first business – online coaching.

View episode transcript

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

  1. Eric Reis' Concierge MVP (Minimum Viable Product) examples from The Lean Startup: The Artificial Intelligence Analytics Business & Groupon's startup story.
  2. The story of how started small and with a customer first approach.
  3. We mentioned the method of starting a software company without software - by doing the work manually, to begin with. Here are more examples of how to start up along these lines.
  4. Shane's Value Based Business blog post mentioned in this episode.

We Need Your Feedback 

If you've already listened to this episode, did we succeed in changing your mind from using Traffic First strategies (a.k.a. Customer Last) to our Customer First approach

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you have any experience with either of these approaches starting your own business?

Have you gained any important insights from interacting with your own customers and leads?

Tell us your stories and ask us your questions in the comments section below so we can answer and address them here and in our future episodes!

You can leave a comment below or record an audio message for us, here:​

See you in the next episode,

The ActiveGrowth Team​

About ​Matt Totten

Matt's a geologist turned online marketer and digital nomad. He's a Modern Manimal on a mission to cultivate a high-tech, hunter-gatherer lifestyle within our exceedingly domesticated world. When away from his tech, you can find him studying complex human movement through random play or practices like Aikido, AcroYoga and Barefoot Running.

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  • Nice podcast. Love the simplicity of the web design here. Great content.
    Looking forward to hear more.

  • I totally get your point. It would have been valuable to me when I first began my site, but also useless because at that stage the internet was immature and I had no marketing experience.

    Now many years later I have traffic that makes many people gasp, and my ‘Product’ is actually my traffic, because Sponsors are supporting the site because of the big numbers that I can demonstrate in my media pack.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sheila. If you have gasp-worthy levels of traffic, you’re in a great position! :)

      Do you have a lot of repeat traffic and people coming to your site because of you or your brand? Or is it more just-passing-through traffic? Because if you have a passionate audience, there will probably be a lot of opportunities for making more money from your own products, compared to via sponsors.

  • The customer focused approach makes so much more sense than writing content with offers here and there. My question is…I get the impression it is wise to start with one product and build around it. So I assume making my store – of may products – live would dilute the effect and not be my best move. Do you agree?

    • I don’t think that really matters, Ali. What I got from the Podcast is that the traditional approach of building an audience and generating traffic, and only THEN think about things to sell is not the best strategy. This means investing a lot of time (and money) into something that you hope will generate income down the line.

      A value first idea where you focus on your customer first by getting a product out as soon as possible and build further from there, is a good alternative approach that will be more successful in a lot of cases. It won’t matter much whether that’s 1 product or an entire shop. I agree with the whole principle that it’s better to come up with a product to sell as soon as possible. You can start content marketing and building an audience straight after, but if you have something interesting to sell you make money quicker + you provide more value to your customers right from the get go.

      So if you intend to build a web shop, I’d say go for it! As long as you know there is an interest in the market for these products. There are some cool ideas in the second episode on how to test this and also connect with potential customers.

      • Thanks for your reply, Michiel! 100% agree with what you’re saying. :)

    • I agree with Michiel’s reply, here. We can take Thrive Themes as an example: we’re selling over a dozen products, there. However, we started out with one product that we saw a clear need for (Thrive Content Builder). And new products were added based on the feedback we got from the customer base we built around the first product.

      Also, we don’t add products for the sake of having more products. We are always paying attention to the needs and one of the things we’re looking at is consolidating some of our products or offering “bundles”.

      The point is: the number of products is basically irrelevant. Whether it’s dozens of different products, just a few products or a single product or service. What matters is that you get customers as quickly as possible and then work relentlessly to build what they need (and are willing to pay for).

  • Love the Podcast guys, you’re off to a great start! Hadn’t expected anything less really :).

    I did a strategy call with Gael from Authority Hacker and he also kept stressing the importance of having a product. Trying to generate traffic, build an audience, and only then creating a product, is an often used approach, but it it time consuming and needlessly postpones the point of starting to make money. And the nightmare scenario is that you build the whole platform, only to find out there is not sufficient interest in your product.

    Your vice versa approach is really good and I like the ideas you hand out for this in Episode 2 to make it work. I’ll listen to Episode 3 asap!

    • Thank you for your comment, Michiel!

      Interesting to hear that Gael recommends a similar approach. Not that it’s totally surprising, but Gael is really good at the audience building and the stuff that’s on the other end of the spectrum (tons of traffic, money through ad clicks).

      But he’s also a product creation machine. :)

      I agree about the nightmare scenario you describe: one that’s an all too common experience among entrepreneurs…

      • Thanks for your reply Shane :).

        Yes I really like the customer (and product) first scenario. It saves you some headaches in investing time and money in building the audience and generating traffic, only to find out later there is not enough interest in the product you decide to create down the line.

        Yes, Gael is a master in audience building and traffic generation :). But in our strategy call he kept stressing the importance of creating your product fast if you want to make an authority site profitable and sustainable.

        I was thinking of going mainly down the affiliate route. So the traditional approach of SEO, traffic generation, and promoting affiliate products. Whereas that can definitely work, selling your own product is obviously way more profitable. It’s also a harder route as you have to invest into creating a good product, setting up payment systems on your site etc., but in the end much more worthwhile.

        It’s also nice to take things more into your own hands. I started out selling Kindle e-books in the KDP Select program (exclusive contract to sell on Amazon only). That worked out really well for me, but in the end you’re at the mercy of a retailer giant. If Amazon decides to not promote you anymore from one day to the next…..poof, your income is gone just like that. Comparable to the case when you’re 100% dependent on organic Google traffic. It’s great when it works, but when your rankings drop for whatever reason, it could be the end of your business.

        I didn’t extend the KDP Select on 3 of my books, and plan to sell the e-books directly on my site (as well as on other retailer sites e.g. through Smashwords). Next plan is to create an online course to go along with the books. It’s a more difficult route that involves more time and money investment, but in the end a lot more worthwhile I think and you keep matters in your own hands, rather than relying on a third party like Amazon or Google, or promoting affiliate offers.

        Looking forward to some more nice episodes with you and Hanne! And having a guest on the Podcast from time to time might also be a cool idea. This could be a successful entrepreneur, or (maybe even better) someone starting out who has the same struggles that many listeners would likely have as well.

      • Hanne Vervaeck says:

        Hi Michiel,
        Thanks for sharing!
        About your suggestion, we will have other people on the podcast, just not in an typical interview matter :)

        About the book, I think Pat Flynn did something very smart, he used the big retailers to sell tons of his book, but he also had a strategy in place to get those people back to his site/on to his list with a free e-course readers could sign up for.

        Just food for thought here :) But you’re right, depending on another platform for your business is never a good thing

  • Hello,
    Thanks for the great content shared on the podcast.

    There is a question or a fear that jumps on my mind when i read about “Costumer First Aproach”.

    And is, if i don’t have an audience or an strong authority, is it not more hard to sell?

    • Thanks for your comment, Luis!

      I would say it the other way around: if you have an audience and authority, it’s definitely easier to sell. However, if you have expertise and skills, then you can hustle and sell even if no one knows you. Also keep in mind that even if you do have authority and an audience, it’s likely that many people will come to your site, who’ve never heard of you before and make a purchase before you’ve established yourself as an authority in their minds. Many purchases (especially in low to mid price ranges) are made because someone needs something and they see an offer that matches that need.

      Another point is something I wrote about here. In summary, for me, the fastest way to gain an audience and authority has always been to create and sell products.

  • Martin Messier says:

    Great kickstart, guys!

    You really got me thinking outside the box with this first episode.

    Perhaps we can take a lesson from brick and mortar. Low conversion rates are unheard of for most tangible businesses.

    Why is that? Why does it make sense for online businesses to accept such low rates?

    How do I get rid of my useless traffic?

    • That’s such an interesting point, Martin. I’ve never thought about that before, but yeah: how often does someone walk into a bakery and not buy some bread? Really makes you wonder about conversion rates online.

  • Great podcast and nice timing for me as I’m just about to embark on building a website (with Thrive of course) to promote my coaching services. However, as this is a new venture for me how do you view not having past customers or testimonials as this could indicate a lack of credibility to a lot of people?

    • Thanks for your comment, Maurice!

      That’s a good example of something not to worry about. Sure, it’s better to have testimonials and past customers, but every business starts out without those.

      So, just get started anyway. And the more you apply a customer first approach, the sooner you will have customers and testimonials. :)

  • I love the clarity you use to present your concepts. Also the down to earth perspective. I agree with doing the research first. I don’t want to waste time or energy launching 2 degrees off course without a way to tweak and correct. I’ve thought a lot about how I could sell my services as a coach and still am struggling with identifying exactly how I can do that but I’m looking forward to the next episodes…which I’m listening to coming up next. Thank you for coaching us in how to accomplish coaching. Sort of a snowball.

    • Thank you for your comment, Trish! I hope the following episodes help you in sorting out this puzzle. And if not, please feel free to let us know what your business idea is and we’ll provide our suggestions for how you could “customer first” it.

  • Started to catch up on the Podcast – after weeks of catching up/finishing others (wanted a clear run at these) – and so glad I’ve devoted time to concentrate on each one.

    I was going to write something gushing about this episode…but all I say is that it was an eye opener.

    Thanks for wanting to stand out and not follow “the experts!”

    I do have one question though, I’ve put a couple of posts on LinkedIn and Facebook groups “asking what people want” and I keep getting two recurring themes: (a) “I want to learn everything from you” and (b) “can I have it at zero cost”

    Do you think I should pursue these people as potential customers or just free-loaders?

    Interested to hear your thoughts.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thank you for your comment! Those are interesting questions.

      About people telling you they want to learn anything from you: that’s basically “I don’t know”, plus some good news. Because no one would be saying that if they didn’t already trust you and believe you could teach them something. If you’re getting a lot of this kind of feedback, then doing 1 on 1 customer development calls can be very useful. We have a guide on how to do that, here.

      Another thing that can help is surveys or polls with multiple choice options. So, you can basically say: here are several things I could help you with/teach you, which one is the most important one to you?

      About people saying “I want more free stuff”: this is another huge advantage of going customer first. If you build your audience first, you build it using free stuff. And if you ask people who get free stuff from you what they want and what they’re willing to pay, a common answer is “everything, for free, please”. Start getting paying customers and ask them and you’ll get different answers. To find out what’s best to sell, it’s best to ask people who’re already paying you.

      Of course, when you’re starting completely from scratch, this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. But don’t let that stop you from asking and doing calls. Just be aware that you can get a higher tier of valuable feedback from paying customers, once you have them.

  • John R. Aberle says:

    I’ve been enjoying your podcasts for weeks now, Shane. Personally, wanting to provide real value means I’m actually envious of the amount of research and bonus information you and your team provide with these podcasts. I would have benefited from this “customer first” approach years ago but will do a better job of implementing it in the near future. In the meantime, I want to mention that “customer first” means something a bit differently on my site. I teach relationship selling, which means to serve the customer first, gain their trust and “help customers buy.” A blog post that describes this version of “customer first” is “The War Between Heart-Centered and Power-Centered Salespeople,”

  • Hey Hanna, hey Shane,

    I found your active growth site via your bio and personal story on Thrivethemes. It’s really great to find such a high quality product as Thrive AND to get All the background stories, All the the principles and that you share All this experience you have gained in this field. It’s great to be a Thrive member with all the awesome tools, but what makes it really, really great is all the extra information, tutorials, courses and podcasts.

    This first podcast brought back an idea that was in the back of my mind. I am happy that this episode triggered that idea. The idea is putting up a call to action for my affiliate nice site, asking vistors to share what kind of product they are looking for and what problems they encounter choosing a product. The offer is to do research for them and help answer there questions. This will really focus the process on what real vistors are looking for online and how I can answer the question.

    I still have to work on the exact wording, but helping vistors for free will get me great inside what kind of information they are looking for.

    I have two small points of technical critic for this podcast.

    The laughing they both of you do during the podcast is distracting. It’s like: “Hey they have some fun and are laughing and I don’t know what they are laughing about” This somehow excludes me as the listener. This takes away some of the quality of the awesome concepts you both are presenting.

    Shane is sitting closer to mic than Hanna. Hanna’s voice is sounding spatial, which is cool and nice to listen to. Shane is sitting just a bit to close to his microphone. This gives the now and then characteristic plopping / windy noise as Shane’s breath comes into the mic. For the podcasts it would be better to just sit backlit 30 centimeters, to get the same cool spatial sound. (Note don’t do this in the instruction video’s they are really good the way they are)

    Thanks for sharing these great concepts!

    • Thank you for your comment and feedback, Bart!

      I think starting to communicate with your audience to find out exactly what they want and need is a great idea, regardless of whether you sell your own products or are an affiliate.

      Regarding the sound issues: we’ve got some things to improve there and we’re working on it. One issue is that we both travel a lot, so we don’t have a permanent setup. But we’ll definitely get better at this over time.

  • Stop building my digital product! After listening to this episode it’s vibrantly clear to me that I need only a relatively few people from my target audience who will educate me and follow me as I roll out sections of my product. It seems so easy and logical and true. I will build my simple survey and take matters where responses lead me.

  • For my next business, I’m following exactly your approach! I just found 4 paying coaching clients, and will structure my content marketing on that. Thank you so much for the invaluable advice, as always! Will keep you updated on how it goes!

  • Just found this, great commentary. I use Thrive and love it. Thought I needed memberfactory for my new site. Hated it, canceled, came back to my first option of Thrive plus S2member.

    Im an e-commerce consultant with over 19 years of experience. Clients bring me products already in the pipeline. I’ve built up a list of around 150 different ways of generating traffic and sources. Traffic is everything, but the quality of that traffic is more important. I have a client doing the same sales on he does on Amazon and he does very, very well.
    Jet with a fraction of Amazon’s traffic happens to appeal to his target audience. It is all relative.

    People always are puzzled (especially Amazon sellers) because they do not understand why we lean on that list as much as we do. The answer is simple. You have to know who your audience is and understand their frustrations, motivations for needing a product. Only then can you truly build a better product.

    Once you know your audience, somewhere on that list will be sources to target the market and get the product in front of as many people as possible. You have to follow them, speak their language and appeal to the final outcome of what the purchase will achieve. That approach has led us to getting clients on some pretty niche sites and areas but has produced incredible results. A giant brand vendor on Amazon that does very well is projecting out 10x his Amazon sales in 2020 based on a niche site we sourced for them. Not quite on topic to your podcast but along the same lines

  • Jim Markley says:

    Just getting started with your podcast. I was blown away with this out of the box thinking. I’m at a stage in my new business that this will really impact, thank you.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Jim! I’m happy to hear that this inspired you. :)

  • Now, I am confused! Hello, I am a water resources engineer and for some reason got sold in online marketing. I have spent thousands of dollars in trying to generate some traffic by writing what my readers say is “genius work”, not by one but a few. The thing is that I have been trying to get a hang for this since August, now I bought the Thrivethemes subscription, I wrote another “genius” article and have made “$0.00” in this “business”. Now you tell me that traffic is not important, but give me no alternative than continue writing for the fun of it. 500 engagements with my post and “$0.00” and this is supposed to be a conversion-optimized system. Now the only thing that I know how to do, which is water resources engineering and teach and you close the dam premium course on my face…I really don’t know what to do anymore, I really don’t. I guess I’ll return to the 8 to 5 and stop complicating my life and wasting more money than I have already.

    • I don’t know what course you are referring to, but we don’t close courses for customers. If you bought it, you have access to it. If you didn’t buy it, don’t worry about it. Our courses are not the only source of good information.

      I don’t know what you’re angry about in your second comment. But it looks like you won’t like what I have to tell you. I’ll tell it to you anyway, because it’s honest and hopefully it gets through to you.

      When you bought the Thrive Themes membership, you bought a set of tools. You didn’t buy an absolving of responsibility and you didn’t buy a passively cash generating asset. Note too that nowhere in our marketing do we make any claims about guaranteed income or anything like that.
      When you run an online business, you don’t get paid for the words you write, directly. You can be angry at the world for paying you $0 for your articles. You can be angry at Thrive Themes for it. You can be angry at me for it. The total additional income from your anger will be $0.

      I only have your two comments to go by, but it looks to me like your problem is with responsibility. You want to pass responsibility for your outcomes to someone else. You paid Thrive Themes money, so now it’s Thrive Themes’ responsibility to make sure you get paid, right? Or maybe it’s my responsibility. But it’s definitely not yours…

      I used to be a martial arts instructor and I saw this problem in some students. Some students want something like a guarantee that they’ll never be in danger or that they’ll win any fight, if one breaks out. They want the teacher or the style they’re learning to “fight for them”. When something goes wrong, they blame the technique, the teacher, the equipment, anyone but themselves. But the truth is, no one can fight your fights for you.

      The best advice I ca give you is to deal with this problem first. You cannot be a successful entrepreneur until you take responsibility for your actions. And you’re always going to be holding yourself back if you spend your time and energy being angry at the world or others when things don’t go your way.

      Now, let’s take a step back and look at the odd conundrum of me teaching people how to get more traffic and ALSO teaching this “customer first” approach.
      Notice how the customer first approach is completely free? Notice how there’s no upsell, no premium course, nothing to get here but free information? And notice how I explicitly say that this is how I recommend people should get started, to get paid first, before business expenses start piling up?

      That’s not a coincidence.

      And notice how the SEO course I recently sold was aimed specifically at people who already have a website with content and a working, running business?

      That’s also not a coincidence.

  • THAT IS EASY TO DEAL WITH IT! ONLY POSITIVE APPROVED! I am your costumer and my cry was of frustration. I really thought higher of you, I really did

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