When Ryan was 19 years old, he dropped out of college to apprentice under Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power. He then went on to become the director of marketing for American Apparel.
His creative agency, Brass Check, has advised clients like Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as many prominent bestselling authors, including Neil Strauss, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss.
Today, he’s the author of Growth Hacker Marketing, Perennial Seller, Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Daily Stoic, Ego is the Enemy, The Obstacle is the Way and Conspiracy.
Most notably from his growth hacking days, he has been responsible for a number of media stunts and written extensively on the topic of media manipulation. He’s quoted saying,
“As for publicity stunts, my strategy is this: If you want to be in the news, make news. Reporters sit around all day hoping to find good stuff, anxious to beat their (many) competitors in getting to it. In this way, the modern media is really a seller’s market. Reporters want stuff, but you have to catch their attention.”
With controversy, best-selling books, and topics from growth hacking to stoicism, Ryan Holiday makes the perfect candidate for a profile piece.
In this post, we’re doing a deep dive into his brand, sales funnel, and content marketing strategy to see what makes him tick:
1. Design a Website for Capturing Emails
When first diving into Ryan Holiday’s personal website, we notice he gets on average 266,000 visitors/month. That’s a huge amount of traffic for a personal blog. One might criticize saying the average page view is relatively low along with the bounce rate. However, when considering you can read all his blog posts on the homepage without jumping to another page to do so, then the low page view number makes a lot more sense.
Ryan uses four primary ways to capture emails on his blog. He uses a “ribbon” with a simple call to action to get his latest news articles. I’d imagine this converts 2 – 3% of visitors into new subscribers, especially because it’s prevalent on mobile as well.
The real magic is in the slide-in otpin. These slide-ins can often convert up to 3% of new visitors to an email list. Ryan doesn’t promise anything incredible to join – just an update on when he publishes a new article. As a writer, that’s what people know you for – and that’s what they want.
The third place that Ryan captures new email subscribers is at the bottom of all his posts. He links directly to an optin. These links take people to an entirely new page.
That’s a problem because there’s a huge drop-off whenever you force someone to load a new page.
Rather than taking someone to a new page, the links should lead to a popup optin that grey out the background of the current page. That way when people submit their email, they can easily go back to reading. Also, the optins Ryan uses are a bit broad in their value propositions. That means one thing: you’ll need a bigger list to make money.
Do you want 100,000 people who want “15 Secret Books to Live a Better Life” or 5,000 c-level executives? With that said, Ryan is moving books so clearly something is working. It might be the sheer number of people on his list. A few reports have said he has over 500,000 people on it.
His welcome email doesn’t require a double optin, so it’s odd that the page doesn’t redirect to his homepage to encourage the reader to read more content. This is an easy fix to help increase the average duration on site and page view per a visitor.
2. How to Get Traffic to Your Blog
When we take a look at the sources of traffic, most of it’s from publications and contributor sites.
The first and second source is actually the same per Thrive Global being a publication on Medium.
Even though many have claimed Medium is dying, after profiling many of the top bloggers from James Altucher to Nicholas Cole, we find that it’s a huge source of their traffic.
Ryan is also a regular publisher on Thought Catalog with over a hundred pieces.
He often links directly to his optin on his personal website.
He scales this process by repurposing content across Medium, The Observer, Quora, and Thought Catalog. As a result, he turns one piece of content into four – just like that.
That often means 4X the subscribers.
He’ll even link directly to his books on Amazon.
He does this Quora, too. You’ll always know when Ryan gets active on Quora – it’s right after he publishes a book. He’ll then dive into every relevant question and answer it with a backlink.
Ryan also uses publications to get coverage with relevant stories. So when Ryan wrote his book Conspiracy about Peter Thiel, TechCrunch made a perfect fit.
He links directly to his Amazon page to drive sales. With a big name like Peter Theil on board, it’s much easier for Ryan to get a placement like this one on Bloomberg. This piece includes another direct link to the Amazon page.
Works like a charm.
It’s interesting to see that Ryan does a lot of marketing after he releases the book – not before. Whether backlinking in publications or reaching out for podcast and other PR opportunities, he leverages the quality of his book for more placements rather than hype.
3. What People Miss
Ryan used SlideShare well in its early days to drive traffic. If you take a look, then you’ll notice many of his presentations reach over a couple hundred thousand people. Each having a call to action at the end or in the description of the slide.
He’s driven over two million views.
That’s great marketing.
On the flip side, Ryan doesn’t bid on his own brand name. As a result, Creative Live does so and sends a wave of traffic directly to their site.
The funny part?
The traffic goes straight to a landing page where they’re promoting a course on PR hacking that Ryan created for them. It’s not a coincidence as Ryan also promotes this course on his blog as well.
If Ryan is receiving a revenue share, then it might be working out in his favor. Still, I’d recommend to keep all traffic onsite, create his own course, then bid on his own branded keywords.
4. How to Drive Traffic to Your Publication
Ryan runs a site called the Daily Stoic. It’s a publication about stoicism. A teaching that sets out to remind us of how unpredictable life can be. How we’re not alive for very long. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. In other words, have a strong internal local of control. Lastly, “that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.”
The publication receives close to 600,000 visitors/month. Impressive.
Ryan built this site because 1) He doesn’t want stoicism to take over his personal brand 2) It provides the perception of third-party credibility to his own brand.
When we analyze where the traffic comes from, we notice that a lot of it is derived from Thought Catalog and Medium. This means he’s doubling down on what’s working for his own blog to get traffic to his publication. It’s working.
Notice that the primary outgoing destination is Amazon. That’s because Ryan is using his publication to sell two of his books: Ego is the Enemy and The Daily Stoic.
To drive publication subscribers, he has three optins: one at the bottom of his posts, another on the right-hand side of the page, and a right-hand slide-in.
The CTA of his popups are simple – to learn more about stoicism.
A lot of the copy on his optins can be improved. It’s actually confusing what you’re receiving – is it a guide or a course as it says on a different site optin? And the benefits are broad – “stronger, more resilient, and happier.” To increase his optins and quality of his list, he should include a copy with a more specific and tangible benefit.
5. Dominate With Social Channels
Ryan set up both an Instagram and Twitter channel to drive traffic back to the publication posts and store.
The best part?
Both social channels are set up in a way Ryan doesn’t even need to take care of them. As you can see, Ryan’s Instagram channel for the Daily Stoic is built on pictures with stoicism quotes while every so often promoting one of his products.
The product he pushes the most is The Memento Mori medallion. These coins are designed with the intention of carrying them in your pocket, a literal and inescapable reminder that “you could leave life right now.”
The growth of his Instagram account looks very organic as well.
After a bit of research, most of his followers come from influencer shout-outs and publication backlinks.
He has the same content strategy as Instagram for his Twitter account.
He posts many stoicism quotes while every so often retweeting his own content and promoting his products.
The landing page for the coin is simple. After all, that’s what the audience expects because people attracted to stoicism don’t want any flashy sales techniques thrown at them. The audience prefers a more minimalist style of marketing.
He also sells pictures of quotes.
Doesn’t get any more meta than that.
Ryan chooses to sell simple things because that’s what people who enjoy stoicism want to buy. Per stoics tending to have minimalist characteristics of not wanting to buy things, Ryan had to sell them something small, non-distracting – almost like the person wouldn’t feel like they bought something. That means simple enough to lose in your pocket or hang up on your wall without drawing attention to it. Here’s the catch: Ryan Holiday is not just selling coins and pictures. He’s selling books – hundreds of thousands of them.
Not in any way. He’s doing it by creating a publication as a workaround to provide what looks like 3rd party credibility and traffic to his products and social profiles. That’s badass.
“If You Want to Be in the News, Make News”
Few know better than Ryan Holiday on how to get press, build sales funnels, and scale content marketing efforts. As Ryan admits, he’s a marketer first, then a writer who expresses different branches of his life from stoicism to investigation with his new book, Conspiracy, involving Peter Thiel.
The one commonality among all of Ryan’s projects is that he has a good product.
A product that scales with a low cost and high margin whether coins, pictures, or books.
He’s a genius at not only marketing and writing, but sales.
It’s building an empire.
So don’t expect Ryan to fade out of the limelight anytime soon.
This marketer will be a badass for years to come.