Let’s start with a test: Type “how to sell a product online” in your search engine. My SERP shows 166 million results in 0.68 seconds. This was an easy one, right? In no time your product will be live and become viral. Well.., actually, NO! When you start reading, only about 0.003% of all these articles or less are sort of useful. But, which one is a blueprint you can apply and succeed?
Nobody tells you this about building a business on WordPress
For more than five years, we’ve been creating and selling Premium WordPress Themes. At the end of spring 2016, an idea hit us. ‘What if we start a new project from scratch, outside the market we work on?’ And the answer came blazing fast: ‘Let’s do it!’ I will explain the steps we took, the strategies we tested, and, the results we got with our brand new project.
1.Warming Up – Content is king.
Done: Our project was designed as a content website for WordPress users. The objectives were: providing high-quality content, gaining online traffic and building a supportive community around it. So, we bought a handful of popular premium WordPress themes and tested them locally. For each template, we published an article that included the results of our in-depth analysis.
After five months of preparations and tests, on 29th June 2016, we launched WPion.com with 33 theme reviews. Also, we enhanced the site with a useful tool that allows users to compare up to three templates at once.
Results: For the next two months, we added more reviews and just let Google index our website naturally. This strategy led us to 10 daily user sessions.
Takeaway: Write useful and engaging content, and the visitors will come back for more. Remember! It’s never too soon to start promoting your website.
2. Improve visibility with Directory Submissions. Over 120 Attempts
Done: WPion was a new project, so it was unknown on the web. To be visible everywhere and build our credibility we spent hours and hours making sure you can find the project on both free and premium directories. We focused on relevant keywords for us like ‘WordPress theme reviews,’ ‘WordPress themes,’ or ‘Premium WordPress theme reviews.’
Result: Our efforts to submit WPion to different websites were rewarded with 200 daily sessions.
Takeaway: No matter how amazing is your content, the readers must first find out that you exist. This is the cornerstone of growing healthy web traffic. Make sure the users can find your content by being everywhere and being relevant for those who are searching for you.
3. Building authority on Social Media Networks and Dedicated Communities
Done: We had to build online authority. Any beginner knows that this is a rough process. Do you know that moment when you stare into your new Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Product Hunt, or Reddit page? Well, we’ve been there and done that. We worked hard to produce more relevant content even when all we got was a series of rejections. For example, on Reddit, even if we didn’t have any ads and we didn’t sell anything, our website was promptly removed for ‘self-promotion.’ Despite this, we got the desired results by posting links to our content on Twitter and Instagram.
Result: We were expecting high engagement rates, but the results were far less exciting. Actually, in the first days of the WPion release, we got almost zero new sessions. After a short while, we started to grow bit by bit. The hashtags helped us get the attention on our reviews.
Takeaway: In the dawn of any project is best to have patience, nothing is built overnight. Be consistent, building communities on social networks takes time and attention to details. Give your audience reasons to start a conversation. For example this blog post. ☺
4. The D-Day! Launching the Free ionMag WordPress theme
Done: Our main goal was to reach the first position on the search engine result page (SERP) on the relevant keywords. But, we were late on our schedule as the development team was almost ready to release our product, ionMag, a free WordPress theme specially designed for blogs, news and magazine websites. We needed a critical mass of traffic that allows us to give the right “velocity” to the ionMag release.
WPion became the ionMag landing site, and we changed the plan although the website didn’t yet reach the targeted 500 sessions by day. After thousands of coding hours, we released the free ionMag WordPress theme on 26th October 2016. We changed the keywords and worked on convincing the WordPress bloggers to write a review on ionMag and list it in their theme collections, to generate more traffic. Steady as it goes!
Result: When we launched the ionMag theme, we had 440 sessions per day, and after a few days the website stabilized at 300 daily sessions.
Takeaway: On the internet, the ultimate challenge is to adapt, as fast as you can! Analyze your industry and context, plan in multiple layers, know the alternatives by heart.
5. Product Hunt Story
Done: You know that feeling when you are all excited for something, but no one seem to notice? We were thrilled to gain access to Product Hunt for ionMag, but we didn’t know how to reach the hunters and get listed in this community. After several attempts, we aimed the top 20 most active users and contacted them, on Twitter. We were now hunting the hunters, LOL!
Result: One of them read our message and decided to post ionMag on the Product Hunt community. We were happy! Yeeey! Until we found a very tiny detail that slipped our minds: we forgot to set up the product page to be publicly visible. We’ve missed some sessions for a few hours ☹.
Takeaway: For both free or premium digital goods, every product pitch counts. Be determined and give your product the best pitch. You’ll thank yourself later! And double, triple check everything, as we do now ☺.
6. Mainstream Media? Hope is not a marketing strategy
Done: We needed to spread the word about our free product as fast as possible. So, what would you do? Go to mainstream media, right? We used that wild card, too, hoping to get through the background noise. We have sent over 30 press release emails to the most popular online magazines across the entire world like the Bloomberg, Entrepreneur, The Verge, The Guardian, BBC, NY Times, Al Jazeera and more.
Result: The morning after the ionMag’ release we checked out the results. No one replied to our emails, or accept to write an article about the theme.
Takeaway: If you’re not a big player on the market, reaching to the mainstream media is like throwing snowballs in a storm. The right way to apply this strategy is to interact with the editors in mainstream media constantly.
7. SEO: Relevant keywords
Done: First of all, SEO means credibility. Optimize for people, not for search engines, as high engagement makes your content relevant. When your website is new, without any authority, nowhere to be found in SERP, the only chance is to compel others to link back to you. Think about it! It’s perfectly logic for a super intelligent search engine.
How did we do it? First, we chose some very specific keywords because the competition is tight. They all contained the word ‘free.’ Then, we inserted them naturally in the website content: in texts, articles, image descriptions, etc. You can use the Google Keyword Planner or Google Trends to find the statistics, traffic estimates, bid values and other relevant details.
Result: If you search a ‘free news theme’ on Google, you’ll find ionMag on the 5th position on the first results page. We did it in less than six months.
Takeaway: SEO is a great tool to increase your web traffic, but there is no fast way to do it. A 2017 study by Ahrefs brings some light on how long does it take to rank in Google. For this stage make sure you take the time to build a keyword strategy, a big plan for your keywords and how to use them across the website.
8. SEO: Growing your audience.
Done: Now, how about ‘borrowing’ authority? We have found the right websites to link back to us – the industry related sites with consistent traffic and authority – like blogs and review portals. We’ve rolled up the sleeves, wrote emails to all of them, asking each one to take the time and try our product.
Result: Some of them loved the ionMag theme and helped us promote it. You can find independent reviews about our theme on dozens of websites. Don’t take my word for it! Ask Google! This brought us more authority for the search engines, and the referral traffic grew, helping our product reach for more people every day. ionMag free theme got mentioned on online communities, forums and it’s still spreading. Google indexed about 67,5K results for our product and counting.
Takeaway: Blogs, communities, and forums can give your marketing efforts the push they need if you win the heart of real people behind the user names. A great product and some negotiating skills are good assets when using this tactic.
9. The PPC campaigns.
Done: I know most of you are familiar with the meaning of ‘unicorn’ as a piece of content that becomes viral. For me, a unicorn is a keyword in a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign with a very low bid, high clickthrough rate (CTR) and a decent conversion rate. To boost the downloads of our free theme, the next step we took was to set up a PPC campaign. We tested a funny theory through AdWords, Facebook, and other PPC advertising channels: if it’s free, it should be cheap :D. The Cost Per Click (CPC), of course!
Result: We paid from 0.20$ (low-income countries) to 0.70$ (average and high-income countries) for any qualified click on both our ‘free’ longtail keywords. This is below our industry benchmark, but still, a 70 dollar cent per click is not cheap. We got ourself, 1000 downloads the ionMag free news theme in 30 days on Adwords.
The most reasonable click we’ve got was using Facebook ads, at an average 0.14$ CPC.
Takeaway: There is no such thing as a cheap keyword. So, even if your final goal is related to ‘free,’ your PPC campaigns are not! The best practice we uncovered in this experiment is to keep your mind open and combine advertising channels until you find the right proportions for your business. Remember, start with small budgets and scale up as you master it!
10. The ionMag Premium theme. From Free to the first sale
Done: I’ve promised to tell you how we got to the #1 sale. We had the critical quantity of traffic and a serious mass of downloads. The next move, users told us, should be the premium version of the ionMag theme. We built a new component in the members’ section of the website that gives users the option to upgrade from free to premium.
On the 1st day of March, the ionMag theme premium package became available for $59/year. As a long term relation with our community is essential, we didn’t want to be perceived as pushy, so we didn’t send any email, no red alert, no annoying notification, just the opportunity to upgrade for more options. I’m sure you want to try that too, and your users will appreciate it!
Result: The first sale came after three long waiting hours. When the click came, the system worked like a charm: invoice, payment, license code, thank you screen. Yeyyy! By the end of the day, the conversion rate from free to premium was 0,1%.
Takeaway: Very few designers, developers, and marketers can hit the jackpot on the first try. Make sure the calls to action are clear, and your whole site is easy to navigate. If something’s not right, change it and then test it with real users for 5 to 10 days, then make a decision.
Let’s wrap this up
First, it was just an idea, then it was live on the web, and now we are happy to count over 11,500 downloads. Even with a free product, it’s difficult to gain visibility online while being an outsider, without a strong online market to support your efforts. WPion is a project under development, with many strategies and tactics still to be tested and implemented. But if you follow these steps, your website will cross the border between a new project to a potentially successful one. Don’t forget to invest money, analyze every step you take and scale the results. As John C. Maxwell said, “You have to give up something to get something.”
If you have already been through a similar situation, please let us and our readers learn from your experience.