WARNING: This is a very long post which covers my ideas about trust on the internet, business, blog audiences, and selling physical products without physical presence (i.e. over the internet).
Part 1 -
In a world with instant and cheap communication, blogging software, and inexpensive web hosting; there are business opportunities that know no bounds. Add in inexpensive shipping, fulfillment companies, access to high quality artists, a plethora of web tools, high-speed internet access, and we are looking at a near perfect storm for opportunity.
To digress slightly, I believe the near record low inflation rates enjoyed by most of the world for the past 10-20 years is not due to the wizardry of central banks, but rather the enormous ingenuity which has lowered the cost of doing business.
Despite all of these advantages, providing value and getting people to pay for that value is still a difficult task. Every transaction occurs thanks to trust. Transactions that occur without a face-to-face immediate social contract require a higher level of trust.
When people place pre-orders for Tasty Minstrel Games products, they trust that I will deliver them a game that they will like. I am also trusting the purchaser to treat us fairly. Unfortunately, a manufacturer that I used put some strain on the needed trust by having a number of manufacturing issues.
In addition, I also strained that trust by making the mistake of taking pre-orders too soon, a mistake which I have repeated since then. People had to wait too long for their games. Desiring success, I ask myself “How do I rebuild a strained trust? How do I expand the number of people who trust me? How do I show people that their trust is well placed?”
Leveraging Trust To Make Sales
As a financial advisor, whenever I make a recommendation I am leveraging years of trust that has been built over time. Sell this bond, buy that mutual fund… In the end, it is still sales. Sometimes you NEED years of trust built up before a client will even share their financial information. Thankfully, when it comes to selling board games, you do not need years of trust built up.
In the financial advice arena, you build trust with face-to-face meetings, phone calls, letters, emails, followups, and so forth. Also, with financial advice HUGE quantities of trust are required. Comparably, selling board games is easy. Blogging is a great medium for steadily building trust. I post something once, and it builds trust going forward. Thanks to search engines and recommendations, it also helps customers find me.
I have done all of the following to various degree of success
- Buying Traffic.
- Giving away Free Board Games as a contest to email subscribers… AKA Bribery.
- Dropping emails to subscribers twice a month with blog topics.
- Leasing the trust of others. I did this with a Board Game Geek contest.
- Buying Banner Ads.
- Following up blog posts with blogs announcements on Board Game Geek’s blog forum.
- Automating Twitter postings to go with blog posts.
- Automating Facebook positings to go with blog posts.
Every little drip helps move things toward the end goal of building trust and attracting an audience.
Attracting An Audience Through Bribery
I am a big fan of good old fashioned tit-for-tat bribery. Most people love to get a good deal, or possibly get free stuff. As a result, they will give you permission to regularly invade their privacy in exchange, err I mean to send them emails. An important aspect of this relationship is that if I start to annoy a subscriber it is easy to unsubscribe.
As I started to do more active marketing on the internet, I found people pushing products for an affiliate commission too often. How much do you trust somebody that continually pushes products at you?
Attracting An Audience Through Unique and Interesting Writing
I am not the best writer, possibly not even a good writer. I do however communicate better than most through writing… THANK YOU PHILOSOPHY DEGREE! Would you like fries with that? As a board game publisher, I have a unique viewpoint and thoughts to share. Also, I have no reservations about sharing my numbers, sharing my theories, sharing my results, and sharing my advice.
You might think, “There are too many people writing blogs.” Don’t let that idea stop you!
The Importance Of Email Subscribers
Here is where I beg you to start an email list, try it, it is free. Previously, I had approximately 1,800 subscribers, and I sent out blog headlines and excerpts twice a month. The last 6 “blog broadcast” emails I sent have the following stats:
- Between 38.7%-47.6% of subscribers open the emails.
- Between 9.3-23.5% of subcribers click on links.
- 1,832 links clicked from 10/02/2009 to 01/01/2010
- Over that time period it represents 10.9% of pageviews, and 20.8% of visits to this blog.
Without getting the email addresses of incoming visitors, all of that would be lost, so you should start now!
Conclusion of Part 1
In today’s environment creating an audience is difficult, because there is fierce competition for their time. Give them every opportunity to remember who you are. Offer people something in exchange for subscribing to an email list, and give them a reason to stay subscribed and excited to open your emails.
End Part 1…
Part 2 – Building Trust Is As Easy As 1-2-3
Building trust is truly as easy as 1-2-3. The problem is following the 3 steps consistently.
Step 1 – Tell People What You Are Going To Do
To build trust, requires a frame of reference for judgment. People do this on a basic and intuitive level, creating their own frame of reference for everybody they meet and interact with.
For example, a potential manufacturer approach me at a trade show. This manufacturer specialized in the production of plastic pieces in China. All I wanted to know about at the time was the cost for 1cm plastic cubes. I wanted to compare Chinese costs against my home city of Tucson, Arizona. This manufacturer kept pushing and asking for what I was expecting to pay for cubes. To save time, I told him the cost $0.03 per cube initially (including mould costs). I created my own frame of reference.
I expected the quote to come back just under 3 cents a cube. I also expected him to emphasize the cool factor of having the Tasty Minstrel Games dragon embossed on the cubes, which should not increase costs. My expectations were correct, and I found one of my reasons not to use a particular manufacturer.
Now, what does this have to do with telling people what you are going to do? When you tell somebody what you are going to do, you are setting the frame of reference on which your trustworthiness will be judged. You are overriding their created frame of reference with your preferred frame of reference.
When people sign up for my email subscriptions, they are told very specifically what to expect so as to create the frame of reference on which they will judge my trustworthiness.
Step 2 – Do What You Said You Were Going To Do
Now that your desired frame of reference is in place, it should be easy to follow through… Right? Not necessarily, life happens and as a result things fall through the cracks. For example, I became negligent in announcing a “Free Games Friday” winner every week (when this was still available). I was so negligent that when New Year’s Day came, I needed to catch up for 7 weeks of slacking off. Most people probably forgave me of the oversight, but each week I could have been building trust gradually.
Ultimately, automation of the simple tasks is the answer. Every week sending out an email to a winner, creating a blog post, and doing all of this on a timely manner is tricky. Life and forgetfulness happens. For tasks without easy automation answers, create a temporary assembly line. For example, rather than dealing with “Free Games Friday” every week, I dealt with months worth of winners in advance.
After sending out the winner notifications, schedule the blog posts and notifications to post automatically.
Step 3 – Tell People What You Did
It pains me to say this, but people have exceptionally short memories for positive results. Often complaints arise without as much energy spent on what went right. Just remind people that you did what you said you would do. The trick is to do this without being blatant or condescending about it.
This 3 step process will build and develop the trust necessary for a sizable audience. On a supremely important note, it only takes one or two mishaps to destroy ALL of the trust that has been so painstakingly built.
Conclusion of Part 2
Anybody who wants to succeed over the long-term will need to develop and nurture trusting relationships. It takes time, so start now. Below is an example of this entire process:
- I told people about the manufacturing issues with Homesteaders and Terra Prime. After which I told people I would be going to Atlanta to personally inspect the games and fix as much as possible. Thankfully I had Seth Jaffee help me with this.
- Seth and I travelled to Atlanta and worked approximately 50 hours each over the course of 4 days fixing issues
- I told people about the week we spent at PSI’s warehouse.
Without this behavior, people could be discovering the issues themselves and just getting pissed. Instead, there is an awareness and an increase of trust. This process helped Tasty Minstrel Games gain greater success.
End Part 2
Part 3 – Email & Search Engine Optimization
On the topic of capturing visitors, my goal is to have every visitor take a very specific action. I want them to sign up for my email list, so that they will go through my loyalty building auto responder and so that I can contact them later.
One month, long ago, I had 1,022 visitors incoming from Google searches. 14 (1.37%) of the people who came from Google signed up for the email list. That is 14 audience members.
Search Engine Optimization. The infamous SEO… The VooDoo Magic of the internet. Many people say it is bogus, other swear by it and profit greatly. All of this is built upon the foundation of tracking results and email subscriptions early. The earlier you can gather this data, the better.
SPAM… SPAM… SPAM… The eternal worry of email users. Getting emails that they don’t want, even if they asked for them. It is critical to build a relationship with the user early and provide lots of value. This will increase the chance of your subscribers continuing to care about you and reading your emails.
Remember, most subscribers don’t know you personally. The email signup must be obvious and trustworthiness must be apparent. improve subscriber rates with:
- A free offer or free report in exchange for an email address.
- An ongoing contest in which they might win something nice helps.
- Quality web design to build trust.
In the end, every email address captured represents a person that will possibly move through the various stages of devotion and loyalty. Every snowball begins with just one snowflake. Make sure you add as many snowflakes as possible and as quickly as possible, or you run the risk of burning out on effort before there are people to encourage you.
Search Engine Optimization
Much of the SEO advice I read consists of doing keyword research, and targeting high search engine ranking for keywords that would bring good potential traffic. As for me and my house, I do not like keyword targeting. This is probably because Tasty Minstrel Games is in such a concentrated and targeted niche that search engine traffic will not be as productive as Board Game Geek traffic.
While I have previously talked about not targeting long-tail search phrases while blogging, that does not mean I am not in favor of optimizing long-tail search phrases that are yielding positive results.
To discover what is working in Google Analytics:
- Click on CONTENT
- Click on TOP CONTENT
- Check the $ INDEX (when setting up goals to track conversions, estimate a value for the goal even if you do not know one. This is idea works if you only have one goal)
- Find the best converting high traffic page. (this will have the highest $ INDEX… Make sure you have many views for STATISTICAL ACCURACY)
- Click on that PAGE’S INFO in Google Analytics
- Change the “CONTENT DETAIL” dropdown menu to “ENTRANCE KEYWORDS”
- Optimize for the keywords/search phrases that currently bring the best traffic and conversions.
- Check Google for Search Engine Ranking on those keywords/search phrases.
Optimize to improve those search engine rankings. I know that my article “How I Started Publishing Board Games – Learn How To Make Your Own Board Game” gets good search traffic. When looking through the search phrases that bring good traffic, I notice “steps to starting a game publishing business” brought 44 visitors from search engines. I also know that I am second in the search results on Google for this particular phrase. I also know that 2 out of 44 people took the desired action of subscribing to email updates.
Nobody in their right mind would be targeting this particular phrase, and it might take only a little optimization to move up to number one. Here is an older article about the difference between being #1 and #2 in Google search results. This graphic comes from that article and shows the distribution of attention shown by a Cornell University study.
This means being #1 for a particular search result should be 4.2 times better. That means 185 visitors per month instead of 44 as a result of that search phrase. It also means 8-9 additional subscribers per month instead of 2. Not a huge total numbers improvement, but when you multiply the effect across an entire website… A couple of links (internal or external) with that anchor text might bump it up to #1.
Conclusion of Part 3
- Continue to build out your blog or website with additional content all the time. The more content, the more total views, capability to share, long-tail search visitors, etc.
- Set up an email list early and build your following.
- Optimize for improved conversion and optimize to increase traffic to existing pages that convert well.
Part 4 – Accessibility and Sharability
The Internet brings greater access to information and communication capabilities. On the other hand, if I find something of value, I am lazy in sharing it. There is too much to choose to share and too many ways to share!
As a content provider you MUST make it easy to share your accessible content.
Accessibility and Full Text RSS Feeds
I only read blogs in Google Reader, and I know others that do the same. If you do not publish a full-text RSS feed, then I will not read your blog.
Google Reader makes it easy to share stories and blog posts. I just click a button and it goes into it’s own RSS feed, here are my shared items. I go as far as to auto publish those shared posts to my Facebook and Twitter profiles.
A full text RSS feed has some potential downsides. Some people will not visit your site, which is a problem if you sell button or banner advertisements. However, the benefits far outweigh the downsides. Since, building trust and getting permission to contact them is the primary goal, here is a reminder of the potential sales benefit:
In a very kind review of my blog, Todd says “Both of his company’s just-released games, Terra Prime and Homesteaders, are getting good reviews and commentary, and are on my to-try-soon list. I’m actively reading the buzz on them, and definitely am intrigued. Would I have gotten around to them without Mindes’ blog? Maybe, and maybe not”
Another concern of the full-text RSS feed is that people will steal and republish posts on an automated basis. While this is not cool, it is flattering. Besides that, if your posts have internal links, then those “scrapers” are building links for you. If somebody is reading a “scraper” site, and they click on a link, then they will be on your site.
Sharability And Easy Access Buttons
Anybody interested in running a business and marketing on the Internet needs to understand the power of social sharing. The easier that this process is made, the more likely something will spread rapidly. This is why you will notice that I have a toolbar at the bottom of my site to facilitate this.
Remember, any place you can get shares from and more subscribers from is a good thing. Especially as search results start to take into account more of the social sharing.
Make things as easy as possible, and you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.