Size Doesn’t Matter

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain

This isn’t an article about, um, dog fighting.

I’m talking about (what else?) building websites.

When it comes to building web-based businesses, the size of your audience doesn’t matter unless you know how to use it.

Which would you rather have:

  • a website that attracts millions of visitors a month but doesn’t earn enough revenue to pay the monthly server costs?
  • or, a website that attracts just hundreds or thousands of dedicated and passionate visitors and earns enough revenue to build a thriving small business around?

Your answer is important. It predicts a lot about your future.

You may actually need far fewer website visitors than you think to build a successful business.

The question is, do you have any idea how many visitors you’ll need?

Very few people have the slightest clue, so don’t feel bad if you don’t have an answer right off the tip of your tongue.

The problem is, when you don’t have an answer, it usually means you haven’t given much thought to your revenue plan. It also means you probably haven’t thought much about the specific types of visitors you’re trying to attract.

You should be after targeted traffic, not absoute traffic.

Targeted traffic are the visitors you attract who will support you, tell their friends about you, purchase what you have to offer and keep coming back.

Absolute traffic could be anyone online. Absolute traffic is something inexperienced bloggers and would-be entrepreneurs go after because they don’t know any better. They don’t understand market segmentation or conversion rates and they don’t have a real business plan.

Absolute traffic is a fool’s errand. Absolute traffic is absolutely worthless when it comes to building an audience online.

If you want to build a business around your website, you need to have an idea of how you’ll make money from the beginning. You need to know what types of people you can best serve, and which might want to buy something from you.

You shouldn’t try to attract just anyone online. You need to find your target audience wherever they already hang out online and bring them back to your site.

Serve your target audience better than anyone else and you’ll have a thriving business on your hands. Forget about that target audience on your quest to build big absolute traffic numbers and you’ll probably end up with one of those big websites with tiny revenue I mentioned earlier.

“But wait!” maybe you’re saying. “What about advertising?”

What about it? Here’s the problem with advertising. If you have no idea what you would sell your audience, you’ll earn little if anything from advertisers. Advertisers have products to sell. They want to make sales. That’s why they’re paying for advertising.

If you have little influence over your visitors because they’re a loose collection of people who “stumbled” by your site for 10 seconds to look at some pretty pictures, those visitors won’t buy much from your advertisers, just like they wouldn’t buy anything from you. Your advertising rates will be so low you’d need millions of monthly visitors to make significant revenue.

That’s a game a lot sites play, and only the biggest win.

I’ve known entrepreneurs who built sites to 100,000+ visits per month only to run into a dead end business-wise. I’ve been there myself before. The “we’ll figure out the business plan after we build the audience” approach is so 1998.

There’s a new breed of online entrepreneur who has learned the real secret to making money online.

We ask questions like “what’s the revenue per visitor?” Instead of “how many pageviews do they have?”

Who cares about pageviews? You can’t pay your rent with pageviews.

Yes, this is a site about attracting website traffic, but it’s about attracting the right visitors for your business, not just any visitors. I’ve been landing clients and making sales through this site since the month it launched, from just a couple of hundred visitors a day.

I want you to ask yourself who you’re trying to attract to your site.

Are you focused on people who you can have a major impact on? Are you building value or publishing “shiny object” content to catch the eye of anyone and everyone?

Do you have target visitors, or are you just after empty numbers?

What are your goals for your site? How many visitors do you think you need reach those goals?

Let’s discuss this in the comments.

I’d love to hear your answers, and sharing them publicly might help you commit.

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Published by

Corbett Barr

Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.

46 thoughts on “Size Doesn’t Matter”

  1. Incredible awesomely written article. You’ve dissected the problem of bloggers and also of internet marketer. For me, I’ll prefer converting traffic and then in large quantity. If I’m converting traffic to my blog, I’ll want them to stick around and then increase my blog traffic source.

    It’s for this reason that I created secret blogging alliance forum so that bloggers can collaborate and drive traffic to their site. After a consistent traffic is achieved, the next thing will be making them stick around and become paying customers.
    Enjoy your day!

    1. Hey Tim, interesting idea. I’ve seen blogging alliances work before, but you have to start with the right mindset. Always remember there are actual people behind the “traffic” and “conversions” you’re after.

  2. Corbett,

    I assume that this post is what you were talking about when you said that you and I were on the same page regarding quality vs. quantity. I’ve really noticed some intelligent, engaged readers on our site. And while our stats are way better than I expected, I’m far more pleased by the type of readers we have compared to how many hits we get. When we have people send an email talking about how we helped changed their lives (or an “I can’t wait for your ebook to come out in March), it means so much more than an Analytics chart.

    Take care,

    Joshua Millburn

  3. For some reason, it’s hard for me (and I think a lot of webmasters) to talk about having financial goals for our websites – like wanting to make money off of a website somehow diminishes whatever value the site offers in the first place. Which is unfair, really, because the two can easily go hand in hand.

    My goals for my current website are to help new affiliate marketers get their internet businesses up and running as quickly and as ethically as possible. At the same time, I’d like the site to be earning a minimum of $1,000/month via affiliate promotions, coaching, personal products, etc by the end of 2011. I don’t know yet how many visitors it’ll take to reach this goal, but it is something I’m keeping an eye on while my blog is in the early stages of its growth.

    If I recommend a product that I have personally used and believe in strongly, and then make a commission off of its sales, everyone wins – not just me for earning an affiliate commission, but also the site visitors who get valuable products that will help them grow their businesses faster.

    Obviously, there are ways for this process to get perverted (for example, if I stop promoting valuable offers and start spamming visitors with crap products), but as long as my goal of educating new marketers stays my #1 priority, I don’t anticipate running into problems.

    1. You just have to be honest with yourself. Are you running your site as a hobby or a business? There is no right answer. If you are planning to make money from your site then it does you no good to dance around the issue. I think a lot of people get stuck in the in-between place where they feel guilty for wanting to turn their blog or website into a business. There’s nothing to feel guilty about as long as you’re doing what you want to be doing an helping out your visitors.

      It sounds like you have it figured out pretty well, Sarah. Best of luck with the site. Keep us updated.

  4. Hi Corbett,

    Right on! It’s never the size, it still is a numbers game but it’s never the size. I totally agree with targeted traffic, I’d rather have a thousand visits per month that gets a 10% conversion any day than a million page views that doesn’t convert.

    The downside is, even if most businesses online have a plan on monetization right at the beginning, most have a little idea on how to “drive” targeted traffic to their site.

    1. Hi Jeedo why do you think that is? Do too many of the products out there teach blanket strategies? I’ve seen a lot of people that practice keyword research that results in keywords not used by their audience. That can cause a big fail right from the start.

    2. Hi Rob,

      Understanding your demographics (target audience) is a component of getting targeted traffic. Keyword research is another part of it (there’s a right way and wrong way of doing it). Tracking your traffic and watching your conversions is also important.

      Picture this scenario, if I had 2 major sources of traffic say Facebook and EzineArticles, I need to know which of those two traffic sources provide more subscribers. From those two sources who subscribed I also need to know who are likely to buy my products or recommendations.

      After I get my data, it would then be clear to me which traffic source I should provide more focus on. I wouldn’t totally abandon the other but my priority would be the traffic source that gets the most engagement and conversion.

      It would be a long reply if I include the technical aspect of it, but thanks for the questions. You just gave me a good idea for an epic article 😀

  5. I really appreciated the intentionality you brought by asking a question and then warning about how you answer it will tell a lot about your future. It’s the difference between those trying to create value, and those just trying to make money anyway they can with anyone they can.

    The internet needs a lot more people out to create value, like you do here and for those you work with!

    Good post, practical and intelligent as always.

  6. Another great post Corbett. I am clear about my market, and producing content and products that will be helpful to them. I intend to create a product each quarter this year. I’d love to know more about how to measure how much traffic I’ll need to reach my income goals.

    Thanks again…

  7. This is an awesome post and a great example of you doing what you preach (concise but informative posts).

    I love your point with attracting the right kind of audience and I can relate with it. I used to be looking for ways to get as much traffic but since realizing this I have focused my efforts on getting quality traffic alone, even if it is small, and it is already paying dividends.

    Thanks so much and keep up the great work!


  8. Everything I do on my site is meant to achieve a single goal – connect with the right people and help those people become long-term customers. This strategy extends to my blog commenting, advertising, and all other web projects I do (including the 8 niche sites I operate and the more I’m bringing online).

    I too am making money from my site, from the products I offer, and the affiliate products I recommend, all of which I use in my businesses.

    If I learned anything from my MBA, it’s that if you’re in business you always have a financial goal.

    If you’re blogging just for fun that’s another matter, of course those folks probably aren’t reading this blog…

  9. Wow, you really did hit on me Corbett. I was really go after pageviews, traffic, the absolute traffic which only provides me a number, that’s it.
    And I really think of building huge traffic first before building up my money making channel, and I think I was wrong.
    Instead of building people, I should had build the product and set targeted people first that would come and purchase my product, only then I go out and reach out them, telling them there’s a product suits them, and here it is.

    I should give it a deep thought, on what should and what can I provide to my visitors, targeted visitors.
    Thanks Corbett.

    1. Hey Jia, I’m not saying you need to create a product first, in fact I think that’s a mistake. A better approach is to attract an audience around a topic and then find out what they need help with (through blog posts and surveys). Create the product they want and you’ll be almost guaranteed to sell more than if you create the product before the audience.

  10. I’m just getting started with a new site, and do have the target market pretty nailed down. What my conversion rate will be is the big hole in the business plan at the moment, but I’m not sure how to get a good estimate before launching the site.

    I was planning to take the “wait and see” method to gage visitors vs. sales over the course of the first few months and then use that as an estimate moving forward in regards to other services and product launches and their potential affect on the business. (that and I’ll actually be able to SURVEY my audience once the site is live to hone in on just what products or services they feel will help them).

    I know that I need to sell 200 units of my product / month in order to hit my initial income target. ($2,000 / month gross profit = $10 gross profit per sale * 200 units). But as far as estimating how many of my target audience members I’ll need visiting my site each month to reach the 200 sales, I’m not sure of anything other than “wait and see,” unfortunately.

    Is there a better way?

    Also, what do you guys use to get your photos up with your comments? Gravatar?

    1. Hey Jesse, that’s a fantastic question. The approach you’ve planned for is a decent way to go. If you’re flexible on the exact product or services you will offer, but confident there is demand in the overall market, then you will be in good shape.

      Conversion rates depend on a lot of different factors (market, product, cost, marketing, etc., etc.). They aren’t easy to estimate even if you try. In some industries, you might be able to find out basic averages. Anything from .1% to 5% might be typical.

      And yes, Gravatar is what we all use to get photos in comments on various blogs. Cheers.

  11. This one really made me think Corbett, likely because I’ve got a crappy plan, at least in terms of how you describe it in this post.

    Help me for a second. My only goal for my blog is to create a tribe of like-minded people who think that my take on life/business/and marketing is valuable—ultimately putting me in a position to write books.

    A little over a year ago, I took a manuscript I’d written to a few different publishers and they laughed at me. Why? Because I was a nobody. I clearly had no tribe nor voice. I knew creating a blog with great content and even greater community would solve this (hopefully).

    So that’s really why I blog. For me, it’s not so much about making money on the blog itself, at least directly. Indirectly, I’ve gotten speaking gigs and consulting gigs from it, but as far as hard sales on the site, I just haven’t gone there yet.

    I guess my question is do you think my approach here is ridiculous, especially considering I really have no conversion goals whatsoever?

    Thanks for the great read, as always Corbett.


    1. It sounds like you do have a conversion goal.

      You want to convert “stumblers” to readers, readers to fans, and fans to evangelists. The evangelists will buy your books in droves.

      So it seems that your content needs to be written in a way to make those conversions and those stumblers need to be targeted in a way that only brings in those with evangelist potential.

      Im sure you can come up with metrics to track where people are (survey response #s, downloads of free content, purchases of a super cheap primer taken from your book) and where those above and below you are (if you are allowed to do guest posts, if others ask to do guest posts for you, how many and how often)

      good luck

    2. Awesome question, Marcus.

      First, you might want to check out Lissa Rankin ( Chris Guillebeau introduced me to her recently. She has a very similar story: she wrote a book (or proposal, I can’t remember which) and took it around to dozens of publishers who laughed at her for being a “nobody,” as you put it. She decided to start a blog and become “somebody.” The blog directly ended up landing her a book deal.

      So there’s definitely a precedence for your approach. I think it’s a smart one for most would be authors.

      But an empty / reader-less blog won’t help you land a book deal. A publisher would want to see that your ideas have appeal, otherwise why should they think they could sell any of your books? Also, the bigger your audience, the bigger chance you’ll have at landing that book deal because you’ll have a built-in audience to sell to. That’ll also help you get better terms for the deal.

      So yes, I think you should try to identify a target market and build raving fans, just as if you were planning to create a business around your site. Those raving fans will leave comments and share your stuff with their friends, which will prove to publishers that you’re an author worth publishing.

  12. Hey Corbett,
    I am intrigued by the subtle jab at “stumbles” in this post. I just started experimenting with a very small amount of stumble upon advertising after hearing Tim Ferris’s recommendation that it brought high quality visitors to his blog. Any further thoughts on that specific issue?

    1. I’m not familiar with that particular article from Tim Ferriss. I have used StumbleUpon advertising in the past and found that it wasn’t as cost effective as Facebook or AdWords. It absolutely depends on your target market and what you’re doing with the traffic though. For organic (non-paid) traffic, I’ve found that StumbleUpon traffic is very poorly qualified, although sometimes the sheer volume sent by SU can make up for the lack of quality.

  13. I’ve been noticing this, by far, on my business site that I created 2 weeks ago. I’m less focused on just numbers and have set a very, very specific goal for the type of people I want coming to the site. So far, with just less than 100 visitors I’ve made 3 sales.

    Compared to one of my other blogs it’s no where near the conversion rate.

    Having the idea of who you want: that’s where you really see results.

  14. Great post – I totally prefer having fewer quality visitors that I know I can convert into business. So many business owners and marketing managers obsess on visitor numbers when their real challenge is making the most of what they already have.

  15. To be honest I think that this is where I may have come unstuck. I suscribed to the theory of writing about something that you love and that inspires you, however I didn’t give much thought to how I could monetise it… I know that others in my niche are doing this (or at least trying), but I don’t know that I necessarily want to go down the same path.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Sorry Corbett,

      I’m struggling with finding an appropriate audience. I’m getting visitors, but my mailing list and subscriber conversion is low. I expect this is because I haven’t given much thought to a product I can offer and who would want it. When I say I don’t want to do what others are doing, I mean that I want to create value by giving people what they want, not throwing up ads or links to Amazon.

      I figured that if I started writing then I would find an audience based on my content, then I could ask them what they wanted. Really I guess my problem is similar to the question @Asia has described below. If I don’t have a product to start with, how do I find an audience that can tell me?

  16. Brilliant, Corbett! You have such a way of making the seemingly complicated stuff simple! However, do you think a person just starting out, still trying to get a handle on their perfect target audience would do better to take a general audience and use it to weed out the un-targets? How else do you get traffic to be targeted if you are still finding out what that target is exactly? :) It’s the ol’ chicken and the egg question!

    1. If you are running a business, the target market should be pretty easy to identify (I sell GMAT courses, so my target market is university seniors and professionals with 1-4 years of work experience with serious work ethics and desires to excel).

      The whole writing content to build trust thing usually comes after you know what you want them to trust you about. If you are writing as a hobby, like talking generally about marketing or about feelings or whatever, then stick to that. But writing a blog about whatever, without a product or service to sell (even if its an affiliate product), will not be focused enough to really get your stuff done

      good luck,

    2. Note: Im not saying that you need to have your product or service ready, but you should have an idea what you want to do. Corbett is interested, in this blog, on audience building. We all want more people on our site. He knows for a fact who his target is – people who want to build a bigger audience. He didnt have the affiliate course when he started, but he certainly had the topics he would write about and the target audience in mind.

      Work from that 😀

      good luck


    3. Hey Asia, good to hear from you again!

      Keep in mind that there are two reasons to choose a target audience. The first is so you know where to find your potential customers. The second is so you know what to publish to attract those people.

      If you don’t know what market to target, why not choose one based on what you’ve seen work for someone else? Try it on for size and you can always morph into something else as you go along. That’s one of the great things about being online, it’s easy to change your mind.

  17. Great post Corbett and follow up comments.

    I totally agree with what you say about finding your target audience is far more important than absolute numbers. Building a business that needs local clients, having viewers from the other side of the world isn’t going to be any use to me. However, your idea of having a an idea of visitor numbers required etc. is a “which comes first the chicken of the egg” type scenario when only experience over time will answer that question.

    Last year I allowed a company to manage my Google AdWords on their promise of being able to improve my click through rates and bring me clients wanting wedding photography. They didn’t improve improve my click through rate but they did bring traffic to my site – maxing out on my daily budget. Unfortunately it wasn’t quality traffic. The assignments I already had ended up mainly funding my marketing and advertising bills rather than coming into my household. I’m not talking big sums of money here but if I hadn’t pulled out after my six month contract it could have taken my business under.

    In the meantime, I changed my marketing strategy and started offering family portraiture on another website, which is just about turning my fortunes round. Traffic is building slowly. But the key thing is – I now know my conversion rate, which remains fairly consistent.

    Therefore my two priority goals are to increase quality traffic and improve my conversion rate. I haven’t set numbers but will judge success by measuring results.

    My point is, without gaining some website analytic history it’s not feasible to set goals with numbers attached to them. I’ve set goals in the past such as doing 20 weddings and earning £x,000 but without history those targets are potentially unachievable and out of my control.

    Does my approach seem reasonable or is it really possible to start putting concrete figures in my targets?

    1. Hey Pat, I think you’re dead on in your analysis here. My point wasn’t to say you should know exact numbers ahead of time, but simply that you should think about it. Obviously a little experience can go a long way, if you analyze and react to it, like you have.

      Congrats on figuring things out and not giving up after that failed AdWords experiment. Your new approach is completely reasonable. You can often make advertising feasible by improving the ads you’re running and your conversion rate at the same time.

  18. I’d prefer the first option: “website that attracts millions of visitors a month but doesn’t earn enough revenue to pay the monthly server costs? ”

    Why? Because with a million visitors a month I’d have sponsors paying me 5x times to cover my monthly server cost and at the same time be left with cash in the pocket… then sell the site to a big company for big bucks :)

    P.S. the notify me of follow-up comments via email plugin is still not working!

    1. Thanks for mentioning the comment follow-up feature, Codrut. I just updated the plugin, so it should start working now. Cheers.

  19. Definitely the 2nd option. My website is a business which I want to be able to work full-time and the service I provide doesn’t require a lot of eyes to my site. It’s niche and only targets very small businesses who want simle and affordable IT support. I just recently re-launched the site because one of the mistakes I made was not having a business plan or product. Now that I’ve narrowed out those details it’s easier to see how many clients I will actually need to achieve the success i’m looking for which is not a lot. I’d love to be able to work with a small number of clients that I can provide quality support to. But i’m also prepared to scale the business if I end up exceeding those expectations. Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at what you’re try to do and really want in order to figure out how to truly proceed.

  20. It is content like this that makes me happy that I am a suscriber of your blog. This post has made me rethink all the blogging tips I have heard in the past. Talk about enlightenment! I plan to use this to rethink my blogging position because I plan to use my blog as a marketing tool to promote my upcoming business.

  21. This post hits me hard Corbet and now I realize my error. Actually, I really don’t know who are my target audience are and up until now I cannot figure out. Perhaps I need to take a break to once and for all find the type of audience I want for my site.

    Thanks for the illumination here. :-)

  22. Absolute traffic is absolutely worthless. Like struggling to have large traffic but then can’t convert those traffic into sales because, the visitors were not really for it in the first place, or they are at the wrong place; The site was not targeted.

    This also was a lesson for me when starting out. I was on the “absolute traffic” bandwagon too. I learned some lessons on my journey and created another website that is more targeted.

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