How To Blog? Think Like An Apple Tree

While walking my son to school this morning he stopped to pick a “pine cone” from a spruce tree. He likes collecting stuff like that, which I think is cool since I have a background in biology and happen to be interested in trees myself.

Picture of a Spruce ConeOnce we got to the stairwell of his school he tossed the cone on the floor, saying he didn’t want it anymore. On my way back out the door I picked up the cone to take it outside. Being the ever over-responsible citizen that I am, my first thought was that I should put it back where it was near the tree.

But then I realized that the tree wants us to take its cones away. This is how it disperses its seeds. And it worked perfectly because my son loves to pick pine cones and carry them around. I wonder if this is just his habit or if there is some deeper evolutionary wisdom at work.

Between 50 and 150 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, there was a simultaneous explosion in the the variety of plants and animals (including insects) in the fossil record. This is no co-incidence. Animals and flowering plants co-evolved.

You see, since plants are fixed in one location they have a real problem when it comes to reproduction. If they just drop their seeds where they stand, then the new seedlings would either choke out the parent or fail to survive because the parent plant is already taking all the sun and root space in that location. And there’s the problem of how to get pollen from one plant to another in order for the plants to reproduce in the first place.

Flowers Are The Original Content Marketers

Before flowers and fruit evolved, plants relied on the wind and water to disperse their seeds. Coconuts float to new islands across the ocean. Dandelion seeds hitch a ride on the breeze.

But then some plants discovered that if they seep a small bit of sugary water (nectar) out of their flowers then animals would come along to lick up the nectar. In the process, the animal would get some pollen stuck to it which would get spread around at the next flower. The flower offers something that is perfectly suited to its visitor’s needs, and in so doing, gets its own needs met in the process.

This is how you must think when developing content for your website or blog. People don’t care how great you are. They just don’t. They want something useful, entertaining, interesting, or helpful for themselves. Offer this and they will come to your website. Offer only self-promotional messages and you’ll be ignored.

Plants Are The Original Viral Bloggers

How can you convince one of your website visitors, Facebook fans or Twitter followers to tell others about your company?

You need to think like an apple tree.

Photo of ApplesAn apple tree doesn’t need to surround its seeds in delicious juicy fruit. The seeds are tiny but the fruit is a huge investment in energy, water and nutrients. You would think that the tree is better off without the fruit.

But growing edible fruit ensures that apple trees thrive far and wide because of the animals that come to take the fruit, and then deposit the seeds elsewhere. The animals are not spreading apple seeds because of some moral obligation or because apple trees are just so nice. The animals are dispersing the apple’s message because the apple tree has invested the time and energy required to invent something perfectly suited to the animal’s needs.

The most successful content on your website will be the content that informs, excites, entertains, educates, inspires or helps people. This content is the stuff that will get shared, emailed, blogged about, tagged, shared, bookmarked, tweeted and liked. This is the content that will gain links over time, rather than fading into obscurity, as new people discover it and share it to their networks. They have found something nourishing, and will share it for their own purposes. And in this process your name, brand, link, logo, reputation or message will be passed along, too.

The economy of social media (and increasingly the internet in general) is largely an economy of symbiotic mutual self-interest. This is more efficient in the long run than self-promotion, even if the time and effort required to develop quality content seems daunting and prohibitive.

So, what’s growing on your website?

You don’t actually want more website traffic

Today I spoke with someone who is planning to launch a web-based business in a few months and challenged me to come up with a plan to get them 400,000 website visitors within a month of launching their website.

As with many “stealth startups”, they asked that I present a plan before telling me anything about their business. My response: it’s impossible. It’s not impossible for a website to get that much traffic in its first month–it’s impossible to present a web marketing plan without first understanding the business.

Of course, getting more website traffic is undoubtedly a good thing, but it’s not really the visitors that you want, it’s the business results that those website visitors would hopefully bring. Concerning yourself with the number of visitors your website gets can be misleading. It can make you do things that don’t get real results or it can make you feel successful when you, in fact, haven’t been. The number of visitors your website gets tells you nothing of the success of the website. We need to talk about key performance indicators (KPIs).

People often talk about website visitor statistics because it’s an easy metric to measure and remember. All sites have a traffic stat, regardless of the industry, market, or type of website, so it’s a kind of lowest common denominator. Services like Compete and Alexa try to help us estimate the traffic that other sites get, so we have a basis of comparison to gauge our performance against our competition when we don’t have access to other information about their business.

Every website exists for a purpose, but it’s not to get more traffic. The more specific you can be about the purpose of your website, the better. A website with a narrow focus makes it easier for visitors to understand what they can or should do on the site, and makes it easier for the owner of the site to judge it’s success, i.e. to measure the KPIs.

The KPI for your website depends on your market and your niche. It might be the number of leads generated, the number of newsletter sign-ups or the number of sales made. These metrics may likely correlate with the number of visitors, but the number of visitors your website gets is not a key metric.

Web traffic might be a key metric if you are running a news site, but even then I would bet that the real key metric is number of subscribers, number of shares/visit, number of ad clicks, or something similar. If your key metric is more than one mathematical step away from your profit, you haven’t found your key metric yet.

For example, suppose there are two websites: and Their traffic stats look like this:
Visitors/Month 5,000 500,000

Looking at the website visitor stats alone, you’d be right to want to be the owner of over given the choice.
Visitors/Month 5,000 500,000
Conversion Rate 2.0% 0.5%
Conversions 100 2,500

Even considering the conversion rate, still looks like the winner. A conversion is when a visitor ‘converts’ to a lead, a sale, a sign-up, a share, or whatever your key metric is. has a much better conversion rate than, but due to the fact that gets 100 times more web traffic, it has 2,500 conversions where only has 100.
Visitors/Month 5,000 500,000
Conversion Rate 2.0% 0.5%
Conversions 100 2,500
Profit per Conversion $125.00 $0.50
Profit $12,500.00 $1,250.00

But once you look at the real bottom-line results of the two websites, the actual profit generated, you can see that is the winner. The owner of is making a nice tidy living, while the owner of still has a day job elsewhere.

It’s also worth noting that getting more web traffic might not be the easiest way to improve the performance of a website. It might be easier for to increase its conversion rate to 0.6% rather than increasing traffic to 600,000 visitors per month, and get the same increase in profit. Or maybe there’s a way for to make $1.50 per conversion instead of $0.50, which would triple its profit without increasing web traffic at all.

Don’t get hung up on the number of visitors your website gets. There are tons of scammers who will sell you junk traffic when what you need are customers. What good would 400,000 website visitors be if your conversion rate was 0%?

Like I said, if the metric you are setting as a goal is more than one step away from profit, you haven’t found your key metric yet. And you can’t create an online marketing plan before you understand your key metric. But there’s more.

Once you can clearly state your key metric, we need to understand who your audience is. Who is the website designed to convert? This stuff will be abundantly clear if you’ve planned your business properly.

A good business plan starts with a real problem that is suffered by real people who will pay to solve that problem with real money. But too often discussions of SEO and social media revolve around getting more traffic to your website when the real issue at hand is generating more business. Do you tweet? Do you use Facebook pages? Have you used LinkedIn ads before? Well… yes, but what are we trying to achieve? We can’t decide what the right tools are for the job before we know who the target market is, where they are, how they are best engaged, and why they should care about you.

Then we can figure out how to get 400,000 visitors a month, but whether or not that’s possible depends on the size of the market and how amazing your solution is… but that’s another story.

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