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If you aren’t a marketing major or a web guru you might be wondering what the differences between successful websites that sell, and websites that can’t seem to even generate traffic are. In 20 years of work on the web, I’ve watched hundreds of websites from the front and back. In some cases, I’ve had some great influence on how advertising and marketing are done, and in others, I’ve just been a silent watcher.

From what I have seen the biggest difference I would give is the audience. To explain, I use the term “audience” to reflect the collections of people who are engaged with you on some communication medium. This may be via email, via a YouTube channel, or even via one of your social media channels – such as Facebook or Twitter.

Having access to an audience means one thing to me, nearly limitless free advertising opportunities. Now, when I say free there are qualifications of course. Some time will be needed to write and post advertisements, and if these aren’t done directly by you they will have to be paid for. Also, depending on how you want to continue to engage your audience (give aways for example) there may be other expenses.

The important takeaway though is that you won’t need to pay for advertising over and over again. You may still pay for advertising, but it should be directed in a way that grows your audience as opposed to pitching your product directly to the recipients of your advertisement. This may sound crazy to some, but in my experience, it works. The reason behind it is simple. An engaged audience member has started to trust you. They’ve shared information with you, and as time goes on you can form a picture of who they are, and present better and more focused pitches to them.

This can be done at very low cost. When you advertise directly, the more specific you get with demographics the smaller your group becomes and the more expensive the ad becomes. There is danger there. You can create an audience so small that any money you spend will just be thrown into a hole that never produces anything.

There also exists the problem of repetition. How many times how you seen the same advertisement placed in front of you, over and over again. The advertiser paid for that. They hope that you will break down and click after recognition builds. It’s an artificial way to create trust, and though it works, it can get expensive. It can get really expensive if the goal is to get you to buy, instead of just trying to engage you. A better approach? Make them a part of your audience, then give them the pitch, once you have qualified them, and once you have built a little rapport.

Creating a simple transaction, like trading an email for a PDF can start the chain of trust. Once the user sees that you won’t spam them you can create a relationship that leads to purchases by slowly increasing the offers and prices of the transactions. This can help you build long-term high-value customers that buy more and more products from you because you have created continuous value.

To grow your business, it is always better to grow a customer, than it is to try and pluck one out of the web. If you pull up the rose bush, you won’t get any more roses. That being said, I understand the need to get sales now. The truth is that nurturing customers can take time. Advertising to get purchases is a necessary step to generate revenue if you don’t already have it. My suggestion there is simple, always do both. Always focus on growing and engaging your audience, and focus on acquiring new customers. New customers can become a part of your audience and can be nurtured in the same way.  If you focus on developing the audience and selling, you will grow your garden much faster, and have a harvest for the future!

Good Luck, and good selling!

Brian M. Kennedy, CEO