10 Essential Lessons I Learned from My First Million Visitors (and What I Did with All That Traffic)
Every day, I get an email from an insurance agent who is struggling, begging me to explain how I generate life insurance leads online.
Wait a minute!
These guys want my advice?
The irony is laughable.
Eight years ago, I was over $40,000 in credit debt and couldn’t rub two pennies together (unless I borrowed them).
I have no formal business or marketing education. My degree is in Spanish, of all subjects! And I barely graduated college because I couldn’t pass the essay requirement.
But there was one time in my life when I swung for the fences … and didn’t miss!
This one swing is the only reason I’ve now paid off 100% of my credit debt, earn multiple six digits per year, and have people I’ve never met ask me for advice daily.
From No Website to 1 Million Visitors (and All the Leads I Need)
My home run was saying “yes” to Glenn’s email.
Glenn Cooke, founder of Life Insurance Canada, was the admin on a popular insurance broker forum in 2008, where he often shared about his success generating online life insurance leads.
In December 2008, Glenn sent all the forum members an email.
He was offering to build us a WordPress site like his, with a simple life insurance quoter, for $500.
At the time, I had been a life insurance agent for a few years, but after exhausting my friends and family list, I had begun to struggle terribly.
I tried conventional marketing efforts like networking groups, mailers, referral competitions, cold calls, and newspaper advertising. But regardless of what I did or how hard I tried, I couldn’t get a positive ROI.
Thank God for Glenn’s email!
I charged the $500, and with Glenn’s help, I founded InsuranceBlogByChris.com. Here’s a shot of my inaugural post:
And now, eight years later, we are celebrating a major milestone at Huntley Wealth … 1 million total visits to our site!
It started with that simple interactive website, but it didn’t stop there—because traffic isn’t worth anything if you don’t know what to do with it.
So, 1 million visits later, 8 years of learning from mistakes, and thousands spent on courses, conferences, and consulting, here are the 10 most essential lessons that I’ve learned.
1. I Learned to Swing for the Fences with Content & Promotion
I don’t really know what made me say “yes” to that email.
But I did, and for the first couple years after I started the site, I put my head down and worked day and night, writing and getting backlinks. I would stay up regularly until 1 or 2 a.m. writing and doing research.
And it worked.
By the end of 2009, I had over 3,000 people visit my site and had gotten over 150 leads. In 2010, we got over 10,000 visits and averaged over 40 leads per month.
I would have killed someone for 40 leads per month just 2 years earlier!
The site (and my income) have grown exponentially over the years. I now get about 300,000 visitors per year.
Sometimes I meet business owners who are uber smart and I get a touch of imposter syndrome. “Who the heck am I to be enjoying any amount of success?” I think. Is this level of success just a fluke? Was I just lucky?
But then I remember another email I got from Glenn a couple years ago.
I had asked him what ever happened with that email offer he made in December of 2008. Did other agents buy a website from him?
“Chris, I sent that offer out to thousands of agents, and only 10 took me up on it. But you were the only one who did anything with it.”
That last sentence rings in my ears almost daily.
And it tells me this: if you’re reading this post with an internet connection, you probably have all the tools you need for massive success on the internet. Even if you’re in a business that doesn’t seem to be synonymous with internet marketing.
So here’s my first lesson for you: start by doing one thing, sticking with it, and making sure other people see it.
If you don’t have a website, get one and make sure there’s at least one compelling opt-in point. For me, it was the insurance-quote widget. For you, it might be be a simple downloadable tip sheet or another kind of freebie you offer with a Leadbox opt-in form. Host it on a simple WordPress site or a Leadpages minisite page.
Or, if you’re blogging, blog consistently—and again, always make sure visitors have somewhere to opt in.
Then, reach out to bloggers, colleagues, and anyone else who might be interested in linking to what you’ve created. If you’ve put real work into your content, there’s no need to be embarrassed about doing a little self-promotion.
2. I Learned to Optimize My Headlines for Clickthrough Rate
Marketers get hung up on A/B testing the wrong things.
You could test the color of your buttons, H2 tags, fonts, sizes, and images, and you may see marginal increases. But I’ve always found I get the most bang for my buck optimizing headlines for a higher clickthrough rate (CTR) and more conversions.
In fact, I recently increased organic traffic to one of my top posts by 72.8% simply by upgrading the headline on a post about universal life insurance from:
Universal Life Insurance Quotes – Pros & Cons
Universal Life Insurance | Insider’s Guide to Benefits, Pros & Cons
Within just a couple weeks my organic traffic shot up by 36.92%!
I found this increase came 100% from improved CTR from search. My search ranking for my target keyword hadn’t changed.
But then something interesting happened …
When Google saw that people were clicking on my article in their search results, my rankings began improving too, bringing me even more traffic! Now I’m enjoying an eye-popping 72.8% increase in organic traffic.
To upgrade my headlines, I use a few tools.
First, I highly recommend you follow proven, successful formulas for your headlines. Here are the best resources I’ve found on this:
- 5 Easy Tricks to Help You Write Catchy Headlines by Jeff Goins
- 7 Proven Headline Formulas That Convert (and Why They Work) by Russ Henneberry at Crazy Egg
- Clay Collins’ interview with Pat Flynn on the Smart Passive Income Podcast is also awesome for list building, especially if you are using a lead magnet or content upgrade. Tune in around 46:20 for a killer headline-writing formula.
One thing to note here: if you’re an SEO guy like me, you’ll want to balance writing the catchiest headlines with your search engine results ranking. While pure intrigue may get you the most readers in some contexts, you’ll likely need to build your headline around a specific keyword to make the post perform well in search.
Another tool I use is a paid plugin called Yo Rocket, which I highly recommend. YoRocket analyzes and scores your headlines for optimal CTR. It scores your headlines based on:
- Proper length (60–70 characters seems to be ideal)
- Use of “power words” (I’ll describe this in Section 3)
- Use of proven clickthrough-boosters like numbers, brackets, or parentheses
- A positive or negative sentiment (since headlines where you take a stand for or against something perform better)
In the case of my headline, “Universal Life Insurance | Insider’s Guide to Benefits, Pros & Cons,” I increased my YoRocket CTR score from 30% to 95% by adding the power word “insider” and the word “benefits,” which showed my article would likely take a positive stance on universal life insurance.
YoRocket makes your job easier here, but if you don’t have it, you can probably still get 80% of the benefit by minding the bullet points above.
In another case, I upgraded the following headline:
Life Insurance for 70 to 75 Years Old | Tips and Sample Quotes
Life Insurance for 70 to 75 Years Old | Approval Tips & Free Quotes
When I made this change, I increased my YoRocket CTR score from 67% to 97%. All it took was adding the power word “free” and promising tips to help get approved for life insurance (a common problem for seniors).
In this case, the increase in traffic wasn’t so impressive as my overall opt-in rate: with this simple headline change, my opt-in rate increased 86.79% almost overnight!
That’s an 86.79% improvement in getting visitors to give us their name, phone number, and email in exchange for a free life insurance quote and become a lead.
Try these tips on your own headlines and see what happens.
3. I Learned to Stuff My Landing Pages (and Other Copy) with “Power Words”
Power words trigger an emotional response, evoke curiosity, and add serious value to your sales copy. My new favorite copywriting resource is a free “power words” worksheet I picked up from SumoMe.
Here are some examples:
I don’t publish an article or landing page now without double-checking my power words cheat sheet and making sure I’m using as many as possible.
And it’s made a big difference for me.
As you might suspect, opt-ins for life insurance ebooks or guides are a tough sale. I’ve published many landing pages that resulted in a 5% to 10% conversion rate or less.
Here’s a recent one I built with Leadpages, though, that’s seeing a 17.2% opt-in rate. As you can see, it’s littered with power words.
I also used the cheatsheet on the featured opt-in of my insurance agent marketing blog, eLifeTools.com, where I’m getting a 10.9% opt in rate. Again, notice the use of power words.
Where might you try adding power words?
- Email subject lines
- Calls to action
- And anywhere else you have sales copy
4. I Learned to Put ROR over ROI
Many business owners keep their eye on return on investment (ROI).
But you know what I’ve found to be exponentially more valuable in my business?
That’s Return on Relationship.
When I look back at the past 8 years, I can track a lot of my success to a handful of key relationships I built.
A good relationship can provide you:
- Guest post opportunities
- Affiliate or referral agreements
For example, I reached out to a new insurance blogger, Jeff Rose from Good Financial Cents, a few years ago.
Over the years, Jeff has linked to me, allow me to guest post on his site, and quoted me on big-name sites like AOL. He also introduced me to a guy by the name of Pat Flynn, which led to an awesome guest post opportunity.
Of course, I’ve reciprocated whenever possible.
In another case, I bought an online course from Matt Carter of Matt Carter’s Internet Marketing Blog (which has been ranked as one of the top 50 blogs about blogging). As I went through the course, I updated Matt on the results I was getting from his awesome course and we became friends. We later co-founded a life insurance site together, Term Life Insurance for Males, which generated over $100,000 for us.
There are two main ways I’ve developed my key relationships over the years:
- The “Jab Jab Jab Right Hook” Method: As Gary Vaynerchuk suggests in his book, I don’t ever ask for anything until I’ve built a rapport. This is easy to accomplish. Simply share an influencer’s posts on social media, comment on their posts, and send them emails thanking them or complimenting them without asking for anything.
- Pay Them: I’ve paid for consulting time with guys like Marcus Sheridan, Neil Patel, and Brian Dean. Honestly, you can’t talk to someone about your business for an hour and not build rapport. You might hit it off with some of these people as I did with Brian Dean, who featured me in a Backlinko post.
It doesn’t take long. Just be consistent. Add value. And when the time is right, you can ask for a favor.
5. I Learned to Narrow My Niche for Eye-Popping Conversions
One of my best marketing tips is to target a specific niche. Instead of casting your net wide trying to catch every type of fish, focus on casting a narrow net in the exact place where your ideal fish hangs out.
And when you do, use the particular bait your favorite fish loves, rather overloading your hook with 50 different types of bait, which will attract the wrong fish (and may prevent you from catching anything).
When I first started blogging, I made the mistake of writing articles that I thought would appeal to everyone. So I wrote about term life insurance, and saving money, and all the same articles every other insurance website already had.
Then I stumbled upon something.
I built a site exclusively for diabetics, DiabeticsLifeInsurance.org, which specifically targets diabetics. It looks nothing like any other life insurance site out there.
And guess what?
I found that an incredible 22.63% of all people who visit my homepage request a quote!
Compare that to the average opt-in rate of around 3% to 5% I get on all my other insurance sites, and that was quite a slap in the face (in a good way).
It helped me realize that longer-tail headlines, which help a narrower market, convert much better. I began focusing on specific ages and health conditions on my main website, where I’m now seeing opt-in rates at 8% to 10% on a lot of my top pages.
So, how far should you go when niching down?
Marcus Sheridan from The Sales Lion goes as far as saying you should even have a “Who We Aren’t Right For” page on your site. (You can see his own version of this page here.) Every business states who they are and who they work with, but Sheridan says if you want to stand out in the marketplace, be honest about the clients who aren’t a good fit for you. This will increase trust and conversions.
The bottom line: laser-target your marketing message and provide the #1 resource online to serve them, and watch your conversion and sales jump through the roof.
6. I Learned That Massive Collaborative Efforts = Traffic and Exposure
A few years ago, I saw my buddy Jeff Rose host what he called The Roth IRA Account Movement.
Jeff got hundreds of personal finance bloggers all to write about the importance of the Roth IRA on a single day. All these bloggers mentioned Jeff as the host of the movement, which led to a lot of free publicity and backlinks.
I had spent a lot of time and resources building “epic content” and “power pages” over the years without much success, so this year, I decided to take a similar approach to Jeff, and founded the Whole Life Insurance Rebellion.
Like Jeff, I collaborated with dozens of personal finance and insurance bloggers who all agreed to write a post on their sites about term vs. whole life insurance. All these bloggers mentioned me, and many of them linked to me as well.
My “rebellion” was a tremendous success!
It got picked up by Nasdaq, NerdWallet, and Forbes, and landed me a total of 24 backlinks. (Of course, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if I didn’t have a couple dozen bloggers I personally knew from my ROR efforts in Lesson #4.)
The lesson I learned here was that it’s a lot easier to promote and get backlinks to a major collaborative project than my own awesome resource that I developed internally.
7. I Learned That Deleting a Third of Your Posts Can Increase Traffic 27%
Are you constantly busting your butt to produce new content? What if you could significantly increase your traffic over the next month without posting at all?
That’s what Todd Tresidder from Financial Mentor explained how to do in his interview with Pat Flynn. It’s called a “site audit”, and it helped Todd triple his traffic!
So I took a page out of Todd’s playbook, and between September and October this year, I deleted roughly a third of the posts on my site.
A 27.03% increase in traffic!
The basic steps to an audit are:
- Identify Dead Weight Posts: Use Google Analytics to find the posts that have little to no traffic, a high bounce rate, or low engagement or conversion.
- Improve or Delete the Dead Weight: Upgrade the posts that you want to keep, but eliminate the dead weight on your site by deleting the garbage and using a 301 redirect to send traffic to a newer, more appropriate post. If the deleted posts do contain some useful content, add it to one of the posts you’re keeping instead.
- Fix Speed and On-Site SEO Issues: Last, I followed Brian Dean’s SEO Checklist to fix on-site issues.
Simply put, Google loves fresh content and will reward you for it. Your visitors also love to see when you’ve recently updated an article. They’ll see it as more trustworthy, which will lead to more engagement and higher conversions.
So next time you’re racking your brain for a new article idea, maybe you should go slap a few hundred words onto an old post instead.
8. I Learned to Increase My Marketing Productivity by Structuring My Day
In this world filled with distractions like email, social media, TV, and blog feeds, one of the biggest success strategies I’ve noticed separates the wealthy from the ultra-wealthy is learning how to say “no” to the noise.
How many of you sit down at your computer when you start your work day, and the first thing you do is open your email? (I’ll admit I’m still guilty of this often.)
You may not know it, but you just gave up control of your day.
You’re now going to be reacting to whatever is waiting in your inbox instead of grabbing your day by the neck and taking control of it.
As a busy entrepreneur with many commitments, the best advice I can give you to double (or even 10x) your productivity is the following, which I stole from my mentor, former SUCCESS Magazine editor Darren Hardy:
- Plan Your Week: On Sunday night, just take a few minutes to write out your top two or three priorities for your week. These should be things that will actually move the needle in your business. As my uncle used to say, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”
- Start Out Your Day with a Jam Session: Before you open your email in the morning, tackle one of your weekly priorities for 60 to 90 minutes of uninterrupted time. During this time, you should close Facebook and your email, set your cell phone to “Do Not Disturb”, and let anyone you work with know that you are not to be disturbed during this time.
Lastly, focus on one “big thing” at a time.
Your odds of success are low if you’re working on 5 different businesses right now. Give everything you’ve got to one big idea. I believe this was the key to my success building my website.
Darren Hardy has reported that when he asked billionaire Warren Buffett the key to his success, Buffett responded, “For every 100 opportunities brought to me, I say no 99 times.”
9. I Learned to Invest in Myself
Conferences, online courses, books, consulting … I’ve spent thousands of dollars here.
But the ROI always works in my favor.
I can track almost every surge in my business to a key strategy I learned in a course, or a relationship I made at a conference.
In fact, my third productivity tip above, to focus on one big thing at a time, came directly from Priceline cofounder Jeff Hoffman, whom I heard speak at a pricey, exclusive gathering called Secret Knock.
At the time, it was the most I’d ever spent on a conference (I believe it was $3,500), but you know what I found? The more you spend, the higher caliber of attendees you’ll meet, and the more exclusive access you’ll have to big names. For example, at that conference, I ate lunch next to Brian Smith, founder of UGG Boots, who told me what I was doing in marketing was “incredible.” Somebody pinch me.
(P.S. If you want to know the biggest “investment” I’ve ever made in myself, check out the High Performance Forum by Darren Hardy. This one was a steal at just $9,500—or as I like to think, a deposit of $500 and 3 easy payments of $3,000. Seriously, though, it was easily worth 10x that!)
In fact, I got two of the ten most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned at a conference. Jeff Hoffman from Priceline is also responsible for Lesson #10.
10. I Learned to Try to Be the Dumbest Guy in the Room (and Hire Accordingly)
I love Tim Ferriss as much as anyone.
But if I’m being honest, I think his book The 4-Hour Workweek set me way back in my business.
Tim opened up my eyes to the world of using overseas virtual assistants. You know you can find a full-time VA in the Philippines for about $400–$500 per month, right?
I went through several of them I’d sourced from Odesk (now Upwork). I couldn’t figure out why none of them worked out, but I had the same problems with all of them:
- They were flaky.
- They had internet problems.
- They’d chase a nickel down the street and quit on me.
In fairness to Tim Ferriss, this probably would have worked out fine if I’d looked for a VA to do simple tasks. But I mostly used Odesk to try to find marketing assistants. Not a good idea in hindsight.
It wasn’t until I heard Jeff Hoffman speak at Secret Knock about his hiring requirements, that I realized I was going about this all wrong.
Jeff said your goal in hiring a team should be to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. He said that if you pay your team more than you think you should have to pay them, and make sure you’re the dumbest guy/gal in the room, you’ll reduce turnover and find “A players” who will actually help you grow your business.
That’s when I hired my current marketing assistant, Kymberly. She’s been with me for about a year. She has a law degree (smarter than me—check!), tons of experience in marketing, and a higher salary than I’ve ever paid any consultant or employee.
But during that time, she’s helped me grow my traffic and leads by over 30%!
So … What Did We Do with All That Traffic?
Our first million visitors have produced over 40,000 leads to date. (Reminder: Huntley Wealth is an insurance agency, so a lead is someone we can call to sell them life insurance.)
Over the years, I’ve played with different ways to convert more visitors into leads, and here are the two main things I’ve found.
1. For this business, the best conversions come from offering free quotes in exchange for a name, email, and phone number. You can probably tell I’m an internet marketer stuck in an insurance agency owner’s body.
You have no idea how badly I want to grow a big email list like Pat Flynn, or create a course like Michael Hyatt.
And there’s no doubt that if I switched out my insurance quote form as my primary CTA for an email opt-in, I would grow my list very quickly.
But I’ve tested multiple email opt-ins, and I can’t make the email opt-in sales funnel work. The opt-in rate is terrible from my sidebar space and then I have to rely on email to persuade my visitors to call or email to get a quote. The numbers just don’t work for me.
Which leads me to Point #2.
2. Don’t mix calls to action on one page. Regardless of whether you are trying to get an email opt-in, or an insurance quote request, or an online chat, you need to figure out which call to action brings you the most revenue.
Once you do, your primary call to action needs to be plain as day.
It’s pretty clear what I want people to do on my site, right?
If you’re not sure, I have work to do. The answer is, I want people to get a quote from my sidebar. (Duh! It takes up a third of my page!)
It’s fine to have other calls to action on your site like a contact form, your phone number, a chat form, or email opt-in, but just make sure they aren’t distracting your visitors’ eyes from the primary CTA. To accomplish that, make sure they are smaller and don’t contain a bright color.
As I said from the beginning, I still have a lot to learn.
Here I am 8 years into this business, and I’ve just now started running retargeting ads on Facebook. I’m working on getting a positive ROI there. I haven’t even scratched the surface with social media or paid traffic.
But I hope you’ll take one idea from this post and begin implementing it today.
I hope you’ll take a cue from Thomas Jefferson, who said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it,” and that you’ll commit to growing your business like never before.
I hope you’ll swing for the fences.