Six Figure Challenge Results – The Benefits of Applying a System
Of all the six figure challenge members the one who has dug into this project the most has been Adam. His last post on the process he is using was the most commented on post and he follows up again with an EPIC post on exactly what he is doing to generate solid traffic and lay the foundation for a successful authority site.
Adam lays out exactly what has been working for him and the results he has achieved.
He has a ton to share and based on encouragement from the group he is considering sharing more of his strategies – if you like hist first two posts and want more useful information you can sign up to get more of his wildly in depth and useful information here (all free)
In my last post, I spoke at length about the systems I’ve created and implemented to help create content and manage link building and outreach for my authority site.
So here’s a quick update on the progress of my systems.
Traffic results have been mixed from month-to-month. Here’s the traffic data from 1/10/15 (day 1) to 4/30/15:
Those big spikes are days when a particular article really took off on Stumbleupon or Reddit. The behavior is heavily skewed by social traffic (more on that later), but the behavioral stats are better for organic traffic:
Speaking of organic traffic, it’s an upward trend, but not yet hockey-sticking:
I do have some pages starting to hit page one in Google, and I’ve started to post more content recently deliberately targeting some longer tail keywords, so I’m really hoping to see bigger spikes in organic visits in the not too distant future.
My link outreach system continues to build high quality, white hat, organic backlinks with zero effort on my part outside of setting up the initial system. At last check I had a few thousand links from 94 different referring domains. My blog outreach system has yielded multiple guest posting opportunities, as well as permanent guest author positions on a few different lager industry publications. We also continue to pump out high quality content for the blog.
Again, I can’t emphasize how hands-off these processes are- it took a fair amount of time/energy/money to get it all set up, but nowthese backend systems run pretty much completely on autopilot. I do weekly a call with my PM to check in and make tweaks, and then trust him to manage the day-to-day operations.
What about revenue?
Kindle Ebooks: $183.74
That is, of course, a drop in the bucket compared to my YTD expenses (approx. $1600/monthNOT including ebook production) BUT those revenue numbers are heavily weighted towards March and April, so it’s a more a case that the site is just starting to make some money, and it’s trending upwards, though break-even is still likely months away.
So that was all basically a lengthy intro into what’sgoing to be the actual bulk of this article, but I wanted to get you guys up to date on progress, and give some context for the rest of this discussion.
Having all of those back-end systems on autopilot has allowed me to have the time to focus on higher-level strategies and business development.
Inspired by the likes of Spencer Hawes and Steve Scott, I decided to venture into the wild world of Kindle publishing. I’ve published two books on Amazon now, and the third should be launching by the time this article is published.
I can’t stress the following point enough: while listening to podcasts and reading blogs like this are great, most of your learning is going to happen through experience. Just get out there and try stuff; make a ton of mistakes, and learn from them. Get your hands dirty!
What follows is a complete brain dump of everything I’ve learned about publishing and marketingebooks on Amazon through practical experience.
The argument for ebooks
- Authoring a book or collection of books further establishes you as an expert in your field, and builds brand/name recognition.
- They are great for building your list.
- Source of revenue.
Step 1- Come Up With a Topic
Ebooks are very analogous to niche sites. Like a good niche site, the foundation is research.
Presumably your authority site is within a particular niche. Your ebook needs to be laser focused on one particular facet of your niche.
The first thing you need to do is research to help establish a unique take on whatever the topic is.
To start, I use the merchant words tool, which is basically just a keyword research tool for Amazon.Noah Kagan from okdork.com has an excellent article about how to combine the power of a tool like merchant words with amazon best-seller rankings to sniff out a good topic, but I’ll give a synopsis here.
Basically, to start you can use merchant words to find keywords to narrow a broader category into a niche. Then, you search for that niche’s keyword within Amazon, and click on the book that is currently ranking #1 for that keyword.
Scroll down to the product details, and you’ll see something like this:
(not my book, unfortunately, those are killer best seller rankings!)
Essentially you want to make sure that top ranking book in this category has an overall Amazon Best Seller Rank of approximately 30,000 or less, which means the author is selling about 5 copies a day and there’s money to be made in this niche.
For reference, there are about 300 million books in the kindle store, so a ranking of 30,000 or less means the top 1% of all books.
So once you’ve established that your top-level category has a bestseller in the top 30,000, it’s time to narrow your angle. Here’s where you can use a combination of keyword research tools likeLongtail Pro, Google trends, and even Amazon’s auto-fill feature to get a list of different longer-tail keyword ideas for your niche.
Plug these keywords into merchant words again to check search volume.
Now we go back to Amazon and check best-seller ranks, but this time to make sure that the top hit for our longer tail keyword is not too competitive. There’s no hard and fast rule here, but just realize that a best seller rank of 500,000 is going to be a much easier book to beat than a best seller rank of 50,000.
Once you’ve found a marriage of decent search volume and a book that looks beatable, you’re good to go. Now craft a compelling title, making sure to include your long tail keywords or phrase into either the main title or subtitle.
Traditional article writing/copywriting rules apply here: numbers work well, you should have a clear value proposition, etc. There is a ton of material out there on effective copywriting.
Just remember the bottom line- this book will be read (hopefully) by people, so think of people when writing your title. I like to regularly search for random topics to see which books I click on. Then I look at their titles and see what made me choose them. It’s usually because the title offers the book as a really clear solution to the problem I’m looking to solve.
That’s why I’d recommend coming up with a book title before doing anything else, because it helps you to understand exactly what specific problem this book is trying to solve. It’s going to make for a better end product.
Step 2- Writing the Book
You need to have a good product. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you’re not going to write the book yourself, then spend the money to get a good, native English speaker on Odesk (which apparently has just rebranded and is now called Upwork).
I have outsourced all of my books, and paid $1/100 words.
Whether you’ll be writing it yourself or outsourcing, I recommend sketching out an outline for your book. Think about all the facets that need to be addressed to thoroughly answer the problem that the book promises to solve. List these out as chapter headings, and place them into a sequential order. Add any specific points that you want to be addressed for each chapter.
Then either write, or hire a writer to write the book for you- again, quality is paramount- spend the money. Whether your write or outsource your book, I’d strongly recommend getting a professional copyeditor to go through the drafts. I’ve had good luck with hiring grad students on Odesk for short money ($5/hr for native English speakers). You can also go the extra mile and hire a development editor, who would look at each draft and give feedback on content development as opposed to just style and grammar.
Once you have a workable manuscript, either outsource or add images throughout the book where appropriate. Now it’s time for the cover and other extras.
Step 3- Covers, Lead Magnets, and Other Fun Stuff
Every single reader is going to judge your book by its cover. DO NOT get a cheap Fiverr cover. Hire a professional. I get mine for about $80.
In addition to the basic text, each of my books includes a hyperlinked table of contents, lead magnets, and a few CTA’s.
I’ve had mixed results with ebook lead magnets, but I’m starting to figure it out. You can’t put squeeze pages directly in an ebook, but you can put a link to a squeeze page. So create some sort of offer or giveaway that is related to the problem you’re solving, but wasn’t included in the book. I’ve heard that free audio versions of the book work well…I’ll be experimenting with that soon. So far I’ve used other ebooks and a sort of quick reference companion, with mixed results.
I think it’s really important that the lead magnet in question somehow supplement the book, without being something that you really should have just included in the book. For this reason, I think other multimedia formats like audio or video would work really well here.
I’ve also found that having an upcoming book works as a great lead magnet…just run a Facebook ad inviting people to sign up to get on your exclusive launch list to receive a free copy of your upcoming book. If you get the targeting right, it can convert really well.More on this later.
It’s important to put multiple lead magnet pages in your book- beginning, middle and end. Put the first lead magnet in the first few pages, so that when someone utilizes the presale “Look Inside” feature, they can click on your offer without even having bought your book. Then stick one in the middle for the buyers that don’t make it to the end, and at then end because anyone that’s made it that far is probably interested in hearing what else you have to say.
I would also include some pages at the beginning and end of the book with clear CTA’s to check out your authority site and social media channels, and then a page at the end asking readers to leave a review if they found the information provided helpful. Make sure to give them a link directly to the review page for the book- you want to make it as easy for the reader as possible.
Once you have everything together, hyperlink your table of contents, and then make sure the book is formatted for Kindle.
Step 4- Publishing Your Book
Once you have a book, and it’s formatted for Kindle, the process of getting it up on Amazon is fairly straightforward.
You simply log into the KDP platform, go to your bookshelf, and add a new title. There you can upload your cover and the files for your book.
A couple of things here…
- Don’t rush the book description- you’ve invested all of this time, money and energy creating this product, give this crucial sales copy the time and thought that it deserves.
- Choose your categories carefully- dig around into the other bestsellers in the niche you’re trying to enter, see which sub-categories they’re ranking for. You want to find a good mix of profitability vs. low competition.
- Choose your keywords carefully- use a tool like com and/or Amazon’s auto-fill feature to find high volume search words that you think you can rank for.
Once your book is uploaded, you can download a preview file, which you can share. Send the preview to a few people you trust for feedback on the design, content, any glaring errors, etc. I hope that I’m making clear here that this isn’t some fly-by-night, slap a cover on some old blog posts quick and dirty thing here. The marketplace is so crowded that you really need to put out outstanding content to succeed.
Set your price. Amazon really wants you to price your book competitively, so anything outside of their target range of $2.99-$9.99 only gets you 35% royalties, while a price in that range gets 70% royalties. It’s a good idea to price your book at $0.99 for the first week or so to encourage downloads, and then price it up to at least $2.99.
Ok- so you’ve published a book, congratulations.
Unfortunately Kindle publishing is not a passive game. (Unless you’ve built up some great systems, that is! J)
For me, the marketing process actually starts before anything else. Most of my book ideas have either
- Come out of an already popular post
- Been verified by gauging the response to a blog post on the topic.
So in either case I’ve either accidently or intentionally already created a piece of native advertising.
How do I know a piece of content is popular? Simple- I run small paid campaigns on Facebook promoting the post to see what the engagement look like.
A quick digression on paid traffic- I think that most IMers look at paid traffic the wrong way. I see paid traffic as a time machine. It’s been about 4 months, and my authority site is JUST starting to see regular days of double-digit traffic from Google.
Using paid traffic to gauge the effectiveness of my content, lead magnets, ad placement, sales funnels, etc. has allowed me to get data and make informed strategic decisions MONTHS sooner than I would have been able to otherwise.
So instead of taking shots in the dark and hoping for the best, by the time that the Google faucet opens and I start getting significant numbers of organic search visitors, those visitors will be visiting a finely tuned, split-tested machine. In fact, it’s only the success that I’ve had with paid traffic that makes me think the SEO game of waiting for Google traffic is even worthwhile. Paid traffic has validated my concept and let me know that this project is worth my time months sooner than I would have known otherwise.
Another quick tip- before you read any further, if you don’t have a FB tracking pixel on your site, follow these steps immediately:
Log into Facebook , go to your ads manager, and go to audiences.
On the top right, choose “Create Audience” and select “Custom Audience.”
You’ll see this menu:
Choose the middle one, “Website Traffic.”
You’ll be prompted to create a tracking pixel. Create the pixel, and place the code on your site. Do it even if you’re not sure about FB advertising right now. Having this pixel on your site will allow you to create custom audiences based on your site’s traffic, and you can do pretty cool stuff with that traffic:
Even if you think you’ll never end up using FB ads, it’s worth having the pixel on your site, because then you’re collecting user data on the off chance that you’ll want it in the future. It’s a no-brainer.
But I digress…
I was talking about promoting articles. When I decide to promote an article, I log into Facebook’s Power editor, which is found under the “Ads Manager” tab, but only works in Chrome.
Within Power Editor you can create an ad from scratch. You decide the purpose of the Campaign: clicks to website, post engagement, etc., the Ad Set, which is where you define your audience, and the ad itself, where you control the images, ad copy and links. I know that those are super broad strokes, but to be honest it would take a whole post to break all of that down. Maybe next time. For now, just get in there and get your hands dirty. That’s what I did. Make mistakes and learn.
Once I’ve got an ad for my article, I go about really refining my audience. I continue to run that promoted post campaign for short money, usually $3/day. In most cases I can get average engagements for $0.04-$0.10 per, lower as I get better at refining my audience.
To start, I’ll target my ad based on Facebook‘s “interests” (though occasionally I’ll create a custom audience based on site visitors if I’ve already published a similar article.)Interests are probably the least accurate form of targeting, and rely heavily on whatever metrics Facebook uses to allocate people to different interest groups.
Once I’ve had a couple week’s worth of traffic to that article, I’ll log into Power Editor, go to that audiences tab and again select “custom audience.”
Since I have that tracking pixel on my site, I’ll create and audience of all of the people that have visited the article I’m promoting. The cool thing about this audience is that will continuously update, so new visitors will be captured in this group too.
Then I’ll go back to create another audience, but this time I’ll choose the middle option, or “Lookalike Audience.”
Which brings me here:
For the source, I’ll choose the custom audience that I’ve just created based on visitors to the target article. (Sometimes you have to wait a little while for this list to populate, and you need a minimum of 100 people to make a Lookalike audience.)
Once you’ve chosen your source and country (unfortunately you can only do one country at a time,) you get to choose how similar to make the Lookalike to your original audience. Similarity is inversely related to the size of the Lookalike population, but even the smallest audience, which is the top 1% of similar users, is 2.4 million strong.
So now I’ve got a massive audience that is very similar to the much smaller group that already liked my article, so now I market my article to them.
The next thing I’ll do is to create a squeeze page offering an opportunity to sign up for my exclusive launch list to get a free copy of my upcoming ebook. I’ll use this squeeze page as a popup optin on my site, AND create a separate ad marketing this squeeze page to the audiences that I’ve created on Facebook.
What’s more, is if you go into ads manager and click on “Conversion Tracking”
You can create another tracking pixel, and this one will measure conversions of whatever action you set it for. So you actually track the conversion rate of any give Facebook ad for a particular action on your site.
Even better, you can then create custom and lookalike audiences based on people who took specific actions on your site.
Anyway, these ads running my squeeze page convert really well, because these people have either already seen myname and brand through the initial article, so I’ve built up trust, and/or they’re very targeted users who have been identified as having a clear interest in the problem that my content offers to solve.
Those that opt in go into my gradually evolving affiliate sales funnel, AND give me a list of eager subscribers to drive downloads and reviews when I launch my new book.
Launching a New Book
Once the book is published, I schedule a launch week, with specific promotions. I time my launch based on traffic to ebook promotion sites. Digital Book Today put the following chart together:
So either a Mon-Fri or Sun-Thurs launch makes the most sense. I’ve chosen 5 day windows because when I publish my books, I check the box enrolling them in the KDP select program- this is an agreement with Amazon that for as long as I’m in that program, I will not publish that material outside of the Amazon platform, and in exchange, Amazon lets you promote your book for free for 5 days out of every 90 days that you’re in the program.
I’ve been playing around with the launch process, and my first free book launch got 1,799 downloads. I cracked the #1 spot in my category for a day, and stayed in the top 10 for most of the launch week.
The second book got 3,932 free downloads, and was the #1 bestseller in multiple categories for the entire launch week. I have even higher expectations for the next book.
So far I’ve followed this basic process:
- VA schedules promotions across a list of free ebook promotion sites in our niche.
- VA posts across a variety of promotional Facebook groups.
- VA drops link for the book into relevant sub-Reddit’s; other VA’s and team-members up-vote it.
- Add copy to the native ad article encouraging readers to check out the new ebook. Swap out squeeze page with same lead magnet that’s being used in the ebook.
- Place graphic in my site’s sidebar promoting the free book.
- E-mail my list 2-3 times during the week.
- VA promotesfree ebook across social media channels.
- After the free launch, keep the book at $0.99 for 3-7 days, then up the price to at least $2.99.
To be implemented for the next launch:
- Mid launch week, drop a piece of native advertising content designed to promote book into Reddit and have team upvote it.
- My blog commenting and outreach system has started to forge relationships with other bloggers, and I will be reaching out to these connections asking them to promote the free book to their lists as well.
Sales and downloads seem to factor into Amazon’s algorithm more than any other single factor. That being said, reviews matter, even if they’re only indirectly affecting your ranking because social proof will drive sales. I’ve tried a combo of white and black hat methods.
- Asking family and friends for reviews.
- Asking my readers.
- Giving your book to reviewers/authors and asking for an honest review.
- Asking my team to leave reviews, and offering a bonus if we hit certain sales targets.
- Hiring freelancers from Odesk to leave reviews.
- Exchanging reviews with other authors.
It seems to me that all of these methods have worked more or less equally well. That being said, if you buy reviews and get caught, those reviews will be taken down. However, since only the reviews get removed, and not the book itself, it seems relatively low risk.
I’ve yet to have a home run in terms of post-launch sales- to be honest I think that my first two books were not high enough quality. The first was basically repurposed blog content to test the process, and the second book, while good quality, was still pretty short (under 50 pages). That being said, I do consistently sell 2-4 book/day at $2.99.
In terms of length, general consensus seems to be that the sweet spot is somewhere between 12,000-25,000 words (big range, I know), with 12,000 being the minimum, and longer not necessarily being better.
My upcoming book is about 23,00 words long, and I think it’s by far our best product to date, so I’m eager to see how it performs.
Once the launch is over, I swap out the graphic on my sidebar, and start working on the next project.
I also have my PM add contextual links to our ebooks in new articles whenever it’s appropriate, and add promotional spots to the regular social media rotations.
The theory is, that as you start to build up a catalogue of books, the books start to help sell each other, as readers who like one of your books will likely check out the others.
It also creates a great feedback loop with your authority site, where the books help to build your list and drive readers to your blog, and your list and blog help to sell more books.
There’s a lot more I could go into here about fun stuff you can do with Facebook advertising, and we didn’t even get into e-mail marketing and sales funnels, so we’ll have to save that for a future post. J
Happy to answer any questions in the comments below, I know that was a lot of info.
I hope you’re able to put some of this into action to grow your own business. Do you have any experience or insights on publishing on Kindle or advertising on Facebook? Please share in the comments, I’m always eager to learn more!
PS- I know that the last thing the Interwebs need is another MMOL blog. However, I do really enjoy experimenting and writing about this stuff, so starting some kind of blog, whatever form it may take, is an idea I’m toying with.
Would you be interested in reading more content like this?
If so, just hop on over to this squeeze page, and if you give me your e-mail, I’ll share the exact list of free and paid ebook marketing sites and Facebook groups that I use to market my books.
Oh, and I’ll let you know stuff about the new blog too.
Adam – Once again, what an inspiring post and in depth epic guide to creating some quality eBooks. When do you project that will you break even and what factors would greatly affect that estimate by either shortening or lengthening it?
Hi David- thanks for the kind words, and great question. Since I’ve monetized with a variety of strategies, my break-even point is dependent on a few factors.
Right now, I make about $4/day per ebook. So even assuming that my future books don’t perform any better, once I get my catalog up to about a dozen books, my operational expenses will be covered day-to-day. I have already have 4 more books in the pipeline right now at various stages of production. If one of these books is a big success/failure, obviously that will change the timeline.
My adsense RPM is about $25, and that’s based mostly off notoriously low converting social traffic. So, as my organic traffic continues to increase, I will hopefully see a correlating increase in RMP. Either way, it’s a numbers game, so continuing with my link building, outreach and other SEO strategies to drive as much traffic as quickly as possible to the site.
A lot of my efforts have been geared towards building my e-mail list- I’m up to about 1,000 subscribers so far. I’ve had some small successes with selling affiliate products through e-mail, and I plan on making this area, and sales funnels in general my next main focus. I think that once I get this really dialed in, it has the potential to be a significant and consistent revenue generator. Based on my current products’ payouts, I would only need to sell 4/day to hit my breakeven, so this is a nut I really want to crack.
Finally, I have Amazon affiliate links scattered throughout my site, but at this point they’re more of an afterthought- at some point I will focus on optimizing more Amazon focused articles.
It’s tough to put a timeline on all that, because a lot of it depends on me and my evolving internet marketing skills. The ebook method is probably the most reliable and therefore easiest to gauge. My plan is to keep pumping out 2 books/month, so within the next 5 months for that one at the latest, assuming that none of my future books outperforms my existing selection.
Thank you guys! Was waiting for the update on this project.
Looks like revenue is going up slowly, but expenses are too big so far.
Maybe you should cut some couple employees?
And I think bigger results will be after 6 months from lunch.
Thanks for the feedback, Yaro.
You’re right, I may want to scale back on my staff- though I’ve also begun to see costs drop- a lot of those initial expenses were in various start up costs- maintenance is turning out to be much cheaper. My biggest expense now is content, which I don’t plan on turning off anytime soon. Hope you’re right about that 6 month mark!
Very interesting post.. When I’m about to go into publishing of book business hope you will help me out in that time.
Thanks for the feedback Olayinka! You bet- make sure you join my e-mail list, one of the things my new site is going to provide will definitely be resources to help new Kindle publishers.
thanks for sharing all those great details in the process. I’ve been thinking of publishing a Kindle for some time now, but never got around to do it.
I wondered if it’s worth the time spent, but I guess it is.
Good luck for your site!
I would say the time is definitely well spent, and efficiencies gained from the first couple times through definitely make it easier to develop systems to save time in the future.
And I think it’s important to bear in mind that the key is developing repeatable processes, because Kindle books seem to have about a 60 day shelf life unless you publish something new.
Great post, and I’m glad to see things are working out for you with the challenge. However, I’m a little concerned about the ethics of the black-hat marketing strategies you talked about for your Kindle eBooks. Hiring people to leave fake reviews is not just unethical, but it’s downright dishonest. Sure, it might be low-risk and it might get results, but I think that there are some things — like morals — that are more important than simply making a fast buck.