Giving Away Content vs Charging For It

A very common question for people new to the world of blogging and marketing is why an author would "give away" the results of their research and effort, when they would much rather charge money for it and get paid. This is certainly a valid topic to ponder. The answer is multi-faceted and comes down to the long term challenging effort to draw in an audience and build up that audience's trust in you.

Let's take the example of a writer who is writing about orchids. Certainly this author could spend a year off-the-grid compiling her efforts and notes about orchids research. When they year was complete she could either find a publisher or set up a self publishing account for the orchids book she has created. She could then begin her efforts to market her finished book on orchids.

The long, uphill, almost Sisyphus like effort required to market a book and build a following is monumental. Because I run hundreds of pages on my website about self-publishing I get email messages daily from new authors desperate to get their book selling. Some have spent thousands of dollars on ad campaigns and marketing efforts and still have only a few sales to show for it. Many authors have told me that while they thought writing the book was challenging, getting anybody to know about it and buy it is even more tricky.

The large hurdle is that there are millions and millions of books actively for sale right now. An author is not just a tiny fish in a big pond. An author is more like a speck of an amoeba in an ocean. I'm not saying this to be depressing, but to set realistic expectations. It is a substantial challenge to become seen in this kaleidoscope world of content everywhere.

Getting known - marketing yourself so that you become known as the person to go to for content in your topic area - is absolutely critical to your long term success. Having an active blog is by far the most efficient, productive way I have seen to have this happen. The efficacy of running an active blog has been proven to me week after week both with my own sites and with my visitors' stories.

How Free Content Works
Whether you post your content in a blog (web content structured by date) or on a website (web content structured by topic) you are building up your marketing effort with every post. Every new post is like plastering a new billboard in the "town" populated by your potential buyers. The web works this way because of how people search, and how search engines show results. People tend to search for topics they are interested in. So if you show up as a top result, you are showing your information right to the group of people you are most interested in building a relationship with. In order to get those top results, you have to have a library of content. Google rarely gives a top result to a one-hit wonder. They provide that top spot to someone who has proven a background in that field so that the article is likely to have reputable information. The more content you have posted on a topic, the higher your results, and the more people in your topic area that you reach.

Drawing all those millions of eyeballs into your blog gets them familiar with your name, your background, your skills, and most importantly, the items you are selling. Most ad surveys show that for every 1,000 people who look at your product with some amount of interest, 2 of them will buy it. So selling books and products is absolutely a volume game. You need a high volume of initial lookers in order to then convert a portion to sales. The higher volume of initial lookers, the higher the volume of sales. I'll note that this number skyrockets if you offer free content along with your for-pay content. For example I offer free microwave cookbooks on my low carb site - the conversion rate for those is nearly 20% which is phenomenal. This then boosts the sales of my other books, because once people download a free cookbook, see how it works, see that it's worthwhile, and build that basis of trust with me, they are far more likely to then pay for and download my other offerings.

Don't I Dilute My Value by Offering Free Content?
Every company offers free product. Restaurants offer free appetizers to get you in the door. Salesmen at a car dealership offer their free advice on which cars have which features. This is part of the relationship building process, to help prove to the customer that the quality of product is high and that it is indeed worth their time and money to make the purchase. The more solid that relationship is - the more the buyer feels that they will get a good quality product for their money - the more they tip into a sales decision.

In essence you are not giving away your time or effort. You are investing in a marketing effort which will create a monetary return of higher value than what you put in.

What Percentage of my Knowledge Should I Give Away For Free?
There are a number of ways you can tackle this issue.

First, if you are just getting started, your absolute biggest hurdle is that lack of marketing and publicity you have. You are unknown. You are a tiny speck in a giant ocean of data. There are billions of websites out there - people already can get the data for free. Your stance is that your data is better somehow - but you have to prove that to your visitors, and your visitors have to even know you exist before you can try to make that argument to them! You absolutely need to get that snowball rolling.

By far the most efficient and effective way to do that is to start loading free content onto your site. This will get you a high rank in Google in your target area, and it will draw in thousands of targeted viewers to your website. This site creation can be done with a blog or a website - for most newcomers the blog is the easier route technically. The content needs to be in your target area. If you are planning to sell a book on orchids but you make a blog all about seaweed, it doesn't matter if you get a high ranking on seaweed and get thousands of seaweed loving visitors every day. They aren't the group you are best matched to sell to. Make sure your blog is drawing in people who love your sales topic.

Again, remember that most people do NOT buy. Most people look and decide to pass. You need a high number of people interested in your topic in order to get a portion of them to buy. The more visitors, the more buyers you'll have.

The question then becomes, what is it that you're giving away, if your intention is to draw people in to buy something?

Give Away What you Sell
One approach is to in essence sell the same material that you're giving away. This might sound confusing - why would people pay for something they can read online for free? The answer is two part. First, many people love ebooks and would rather have everything nicely organized in one ebook on their reader vs having to page through a variety of different webpages online to get to the data. You have done the compilation work for them. The second part is that people feel an emotional connection with the author after reading a few pages and are happy to thank them for the data. It's like a person picking up a book in a bookstore. They get to read as many pages as they want to "make the sale" and then they're happy to buy.

Does this type of sales happen in real life? Absolutely. All of my low carb ebooks I sell are compilations of on-site content. Because I get hundreds of thousands of visitors a month to my low carb site, that means hundreds of thousands of low-carb-loving eyeballs reading my online content and seeing my promotions for my matching low carb ebooks at the bottom of the pages. They are a perfectly targeted audience for my sales promotions. A portion of them buy the ebooks. They for example read a few of my online carb chart pages, realize they're useful, and click to buy the entire carb charts ebook. I have made thousands of dollars by doing this. If instead I had simply posted my carb chart ebooks online with no traffic and no flood of matching-interest visitors, there is no way I could have convinced so many people to buy them.

Give Away Something New
There is a second type of approach you can take, which is more applicable to custom work. Let's say you are a tattoo designer and you come up with twenty gorgeous star designs for tattoos. Now let's say you post each of your twenty designs on your website. If someone wants one of those designs, they'll just download it. Even if you offer an ebook right there, since they've already gotten the one thing they need, it's probably not likely that they'll also choose to buy the ebook. So in this type of a situation you need to take a modified approach to building your traffic.

To make it clear again - you absolutely need to build that high traffic and do that marketing effort in order to bring in a volume of readers to make a purchase. If you're an author with no fans, with nobody who knows about you, the chance of making book sales that are meaningful are slim to none. You need that marketing push to draw in an interested group of visitors. The targeted-topic free content is how you do that. But if you're not giving away your for-sale content, what is it you're giving away?

Think again about what the purpose of this marketing is. You want to sell your product. Therefore you want to make sure the people you are bringing in to look at your product are the most perfectly matched to your product as you can get it. If you are selling a book on how to do woodworking, you want to bring in people who are interested in woodworking. If you are selling a DVD on hypnosis for smokers, you want to bring in smokers or people who care about smokers.

So now do a brainstorming session with a group of people - hopefully some who fall into your target area. Fill pages of a notebook with all the various things these types of people would be looking for on the web in relationship to this main interest. Remember the key here is not to be esoteric. People rarely search for vague things like "why I like the color green." Instead, they tend to search for answers to questions they ran into that they need help with. "How do I fix yellow teeth caused by smoking." "Fixing a smoker's bad breath." "Dangers of clove cigarettes." The more content you post, the larger volume of traffic you get into your site, and the more targeted eyeballs that see your matching content to buy it.

In this situation you're not giving away your "core content." You're not selling a DVD on how to fix yellow teeth. However, all those people who are on your site will be interested in the item you're selling. This is your target audience. You've got their eyeballs engaged. Now you have to close the deal.

Closing the deal is the topic for the related articles on making a perfect sales page!

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