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Why Isn't My Website Making Money?

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!

A 'Walt's Websites That Sell' Case Study #1:

A few weeks ago I took on a client and offered to help boost her sales by redesigning her website. With her previous design, which had been up for several months, she had garnered no sales. We began our experiment, and within a short period of time started receiving positive feedback from visitors, an increase in mailing list subscriptions, and ultimately, her first sales!

Barbara Sher is a Saipan, CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) resident and author who creates games to help children have fun learning. She has written eight books and recorded one CD/tape on activities for children. Her books have been translated into eight languages; Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Estonian, Arabic, Russian and Swedish. She has written numerous articles for publications such as Mothering Magazine, Advance magazine, U.K's Kindred Spirit and on-line zine Writers Grrls. She is also a recipient of the World Rehabilitation Fund's “International Exchange of Experts” fellowship.

Barbara's previous books were published by Jossey-Bass, a subsidiary of Wiley Books, whose brands include For Dummies, Frommer's, CliffsNotes, Betty Crocker and J.K. Lasser. She's now exploring the self-publishing route I always advocate (see “The Case for Self-Publishing Walt's Way, Tribune Dec 24, 2008)

Today's article is a case study of Barbara's website. I'll interview Barbara herself in a future “Saipanpreneur Profile.”

A few secrets

Here are a few of the things we did to help make a website that sells. Of course, I can't reveal ALL my secrets, but these are a few of the obvious ones you can glean from actually visiting the site, and which I've used over the years to generate online sales for myself and my clients.

1. Lead with Testimonials

People follow people. The first thing you'll notice at is that we lead in with what others have said about Barbara's books and workshops. The power of testimonials cannot be overemphasized. Great testimonials, reviews and customer feedback are enough to sell just about anything. If you have limited time and space to make a pitch, focus on what respected authorities, as well as average people say about your product or service.

2. Simple long-form design

Rather than create a multi-layered website, I used a long-form style where all the information is presented on a single page. Boring? Perhaps. But quite effective. This keeps people from getting lost within the site. Everything they need to know is right there, and all they have to do is scroll down to see. At the end of a long form site, you want people to do one or both of two things: 1. Place an order, 2. Sign up to the mailing list.

3. Video of Barbara

People connect with people. In this case, as a woman selling games for children, I felt it was important to have people see and connect with Barbara, as a living, breathing person. So, I had Barbara film a short video right here on Saipan (no need for big production budgets, she used a regular digital camera), upload it to Youtube, and from there, I embedded it into the site. (Some of the first positive feedback she received, in fact, mentioned her “persuasive video presentation.”)

4. Follow Webwatch Guidelines

There are other, more subtle things that have been incorporated that, in essence, build trust, establish credibility, encourage people to see the value in what is being offered, and most importantly feel safe in entering their credit card information to make a purchase.

Trusted consumer advocacy group, Consumer Reports, publishes what they call their “Webwatch Guidelines,” a set of policies (for identity, advertising, customer service, and privacy issues) that they encourage all websites to incorporate to promote overall web credibility. Some of the Webwatch policies include:

* Web sites should clearly disclose the physical location where they are produced, including an address, a telephone number or e-mail address.

* Sites should clearly disclose their purpose and mission.

* Sites should clearly disclose all fees charged, including service, transaction and handling fees, and shipping costs. This information should be disclosed before the ordering process begins.

* Sites should clearly state and enforce policies for returning unwanted items or canceling transactions or reservations.

* Sites should clearly disclose how personal data from site visitors and customers will be used. Personal data includes name, address, phone number and credit card number.

These and other design elements are critical to online success.

A few important points

It's always difficult to pinpoint exactly why a specific customer orders from a site. Is it the new design? Is it mainly the video? Were they referred by a trusted source? You'll likely have those questions, too.

During our experiment, Barbara had many suggestions and questions about how we were proceeding. So in response to Barbara's (and your) questions about the specifics of online success, here are a few bits of advice, and observations from actual emails I sent to her.

1. Sometimes less is more

“More is not necessarily better. There is an art to leaving enough UNSAID so as to encourage people to use their imaginations to make the sale (i.e. convince themselves to purchase) for themselves. If you've ever purchased from catalogs/mail order in the past-especially when you were a child-you might recall the thrill of having your mind work overtime imagining all sorts of things about your doll/book/dress/sea monkeys/pet rock based on just a few choice words and pictures in an ad. It's that sense of anticipation of “what's in store” that good sales copy evokes.”

2. Everything is a process

“Yes, those sales might have happened even if the site had not been redesigned. We'll never know, but what we do know is that you didn't make any sales for the months the site was as it was before. Now the site is different, and you made sales. Coincidence perhaps? Correlation doesn't equal causation, but even if the only purpose the new design served was to make you more proud of it, and thus more motivated to send your e-mail announcement of your new book to your mailing list, the fact remains, it was part of the process that got us here-a process that has now begun.”

3. Be realistic about and recognizeyour progress

“I remember reading an article many years ago that stated that something like 97 percent of websites on the Internet never make any money. Millions of people pay for/and/or build sites, create products, advertise, and wait, and never make a single sale, ever. Your new site has been up about 60 days, and you've already generated a growing mailing list and are making sales, putting you, whether you realize it or not, in the top 3 percent of sites worldwide. And, most significantly, those sales came right after you DID something to generate them, which brings us to...”

4. You need to be doing more

“I read another article many years ago, as well, that likened people's expectations of Internet profits to “building a store in a vast desert and wondering why no one is showing up to make them rich!”

Your previous publisher makes sales because they are doing things to make those sales. They have an established reputation, good will, sales agents, advertising campaigns, relationships with sales outlets, an existing distribution channel, satisfied customers, and much more which make the sale of a thousand books a month quite an easy feat. You have a single store in the middle of a desert, with an average of 10 people a day visiting.

All we've done up to this point, is simply change the design, and wait for people to find us. As a “newbie” self-published author, you should be

* sending out a weekly, or monthly email to your fan base/mailing list;

* arranging interviews on radio;

* registering your site with other directories;

* visiting and posting on bulletin boards, blogs and chat rooms;

* writing and promoting articles based on your expertise;

* creating more YouTube videos and promoting them;

* sending review copies to magazines, etc.”

Yes, it's a bit more than simply “build it and they will come!”


The list of what it takes to make a website truly sell goes on and on. It is part art and part science. It involves intuition. It involves following rules. It differs from site to site. It changes based on the season, the product being offered and a hundred other factors. However, we were able to accomplish this for Barbara Sher's I hope some of what we learned in her case study will be useful to make your own website one of the few, one of the proud, and one of the profitable..websites that sell!

Check out my “Websites That Sell” ebook which comes as part of the 48-Hour Quickstart Manual available at


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