The Five Forces Killing Your Online Revenue Growth (And How to Overcome Them)

The Five Forces Killing Your Online Revenue Growth (And How to Overcome Them)

We all know we need to launch new digital products to diversify our online income sources in these challenging times. The problem is, the deck is stacked against us!

In fact, I’ve found five forces that hold publishers back from growing the digital side of their business. Some forces are external, and some come from within, but they all threaten your ability to survive and grow in the digital world.

Which of these five forces are holding you back?

1. Popular Pressure

You can’t be everything to everyone, but that doesn’t stop some publishers from trying. Firms affected by this force tend to be all over the place and are unclear about who it is they’re trying to serve. When asked to identify their best customers, these publishers say something like, “I don’t know,” or, “Everyone in our industry.”

2. Click Coercion

This force drives publishers to focus too heavily on traffic and engagement metrics. This is a vestige of the ad-supported media model. But even if you were never ad-supported, you can still fall into this trap.

Companies affected by this force care about eyeballs and clicks above all else (including quality content). If your website is cluttered with dozens of links, pop-ups, auto-play videos, an image carousel, and six different calls to action in the right rail, then it’s likely you’ve succumbed to this force.

3. Competitive Compression

The hallmark of this negative force is defining the competitive set too narrowly. What business are you really in?

When a company says, “We’re a magazine or newsletter,” or, “We’re publishers,” they’re affected by this force. These companies are so focused on defining themselves as publishers that they lose sight of the purpose they serve.

4. Perfection Oppression

How long does it take management to make a change? In the print world, we had to be perfectionists—once something was out there, it remained out there.

In the digital world, however, decisions can be made rapidly, and prototypes can be tested quickly. Unfortunately, many publishers find that old habits die hard, and they hesitate to make changes for fear of failure. If this sounds like you, you’re suffering from perfection oppression.

5. Initiative Inertia

This is the fallacy of thinking you can do more with existing resources while refusing to cut any existing initiatives. It’s expecting different results from doing the same thing. If management is frustrated because they’re stuck operating according to business-as-usual and can’t get anything new out there, then this force is affecting you.

If you identified with one or more of the above negative forces, don’t fret! The good news is that for each of these negative forces, there are five positive counterbalancing forces.

1. Focus On Your “Whales”

To get over popular pressure, forget about the casual visitors to your site or the people who don’t even know you exist. Instead, focus on your most engaged and excited users—your “whales.” Ask these whales what digital products would solve a real problem for them—be it ebooks, memberships, or content archives—and then work to deliver the highest-quality version of that product.

2. Be Conversion-Oriented

To counteract click coercion, make sure your site passes the “five-second rule.” Any reader should be able to identify your value proposition almost immediately.

A quick spin through your landing page should tell a visitor who you’re targeting, what problem you’re solving, and what you’re doing better than any of your competitors. Limit calls to action to one or two per page, and make signing up for your services a simple process.

3. Upsell

Push back against competitive compression by thinking outside the box about what other products and services you can sell to your best subscribers. Remember that you’re not just a magazine creator; you’re a solutions provider.

Going beyond the content you publish online is all part of creating a solid product pyramid. Asking yourself what business you’re really in allows you to hone in on solution-oriented responses.

If your answer is something like, “We educate our readers,” consider creating training programs or consulting options. If you help customers find new leads, think about hosting events or publishing research. Focus on whatever complements your content with the goal of solving a real problem.

4. Measure and Experiment

Fight perfection oppression by constantly measuring results and running experiments. Making an error in your digital strategy isn’t the end of the world if you are quick to identify and fix the problem.

Institute changes, and then track the five to nine most important metrics religiously to see how your new plan is working out. If you see a red flag in your metrics, run A/B tests to find the best solution, and be ready and willing to course correct.

5. Create Bandwidth

Finally, break initiative inertia by using dedicated resources to focus on new ideas. This may mean hiring new employees—or, if you don’t want to add overhead, finding external partners that can launch new initiatives while the core team keeps the traditional business running. Once the new idea proves successful, you can bring it in-house.

If any of these five negative forces sound familiar, I encourage you to discuss them with your management team. From there, you can brainstorm ways to counterbalance what’s holding you back in your quest to grow digital sales.

About the Author

Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.

Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.

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