Back in 2017, when I was trying to establish my expertise around SEO, I opened a free Facebook group. And it was awesome!

I did weekly Facebook lives every Wednesday. I got regular questions from ideal clients about how to make SEO work for them. I shared free resources weekly. Every quarter I ran challenges that converted well into my paid trainings.

The rise & fall of the Roman Empire Facebook group marketing strategy

But now things have changed. I’m not sure why, but here are 3 theories:

  1. the pandemic led to people feeling tapped out on social media
  2. an over saturation of self-promotional businesses Facebook groups without any value
  3. the algorithm changed (due to that over saturation?) and no longer shows the good stuff to top fans

Whatever the reason, my free Facebook group became less fun every year. It started with meaningful, valuable conversations. It evolved into strangers thinking that they could get free custom SEO advice.

I saw the click-through rate to my free resources drop. Only 1.5% of my website traffic has been coming from the group, resulting in zero sales. I would have been ok with these metrics, if there had been engagement on the posts … but there wasn’t.

Even my free challenges stopped converting. People signed up and didn’t follow through. They asked unrelated questions and scoffed when I told them the answers were in paid trainings.

And the spam. OMG the spam! I can’t believe how much time my team and I spent wading through crappy, unrelated posts! These were clearly “spray and pray” style across every free group that person could find.

The 5 stages of Facebook group grief

Once the Facebook group dynamic changed beyond recognition, I experienced the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial: Are we not posting enough engagement-focused posts. Should we be asking people to share pictures of their coffee? Adding more polls? Decreasing external links in posts?
  2. Anger: Facebook’s algorithm is ruining the experience! It’s sharing the group in “recommendations” to unqualified users. It’s letting in all sorts of spammers that are decreasing the value of the group!
  3. Bargaining: Maybe I could shut down the group when I’m not launching, and then re-open it for challenges and events!
  4. Depression: This group has lost its soul and its spark.
  5. Acceptance: It’s time to close down the group.

So I shut down the Facebook group. (The spammers had the audacity to post their link comments ON the announcement post.)

I’m disappointed. I’m inn an industry of giant software companies with huge content marketing arms.

What made me different was the personal touch. I gave quick pinpointed feedback, not generic internet advice.

And I lost that connection, because of a small percentage of people and an algorithm shift.

What does this mean for free challenges like SEOctober?

The first time I ran SEOctober, I couldn’t believe it when over 750 new people signed up. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot! And then the next year, about 30% of the participants returned and we were up to 1,200 participants. But in the second year, I made fewer sales.

I looked into the metrics: Most participants didn’t make it past the first week. My theory is that because the challenge was free, they thought it would be fluffy instead of valuable. Or it’s possible they didn’t prioritize the time that they were spending on it.

So from here on out, all my challenges will be paid. The shorter 5-day challenges will be about $20 and the bigger ones (like SEOctober) will be in the $50-100 range. I recognize that it won’t work as well for email list building, but it’s better for conversions.

I have plenty of free resources that people can study here in the blog and on my YouTube channel; I don’t have to also give my time away by coaching people for free.

And I’m changing the metrics I’m tracking. I’m focusing less on flashy numbers (like subscribers) and more on outcomes (like getting tangible results).

I don’t want to celebrate 1,000 inactive subscribers.

I’d rather give 100 people personalized touch in a Circle community and help them attain great results …

So what will marketing look like now?

You know how people pick a “word of the year” in December? In 2020, inspired by Tanya Geisler’s face in the Queen of Wands tarot card, I took a different approach. On a call with Tanya, we drew a tarot card for my year, and it was the Queen of Swords:

“She knows she appears aloof to some, but she is simply tuning out the low-vibe drama clamoring for her attention. She prefers to remain laser focused on the future of her kingdom.”

(I immediately pictured Aelin Galathynius from the Throne of Glass novels.)

Embracing Queen of Swords energy

I’m not giving up on sharing free value with my audience. I still 100% believe in the power of content marketing to attract new people and guide them towards a sale. I’ll continue creating fo my YouTube channel, blog, and free newsletter.

But I’m no longer giving any free access to my brain or heart.

I’m strengthening my boundaries with phrases like, “I’m sorry, that’s outside of the scope of this training.”

I’m sending people links to paid “Pick My Brain” sessions instead of answering open-ended email questions.

I’m focusing on creating deeper relationships and more meaningful connections with people who know my value, instead of trying to impress people who will never be my clients.

I’m prioritizing my mental health by decreasing the digital marketing buzz.

My Queen of Swords is slicing through the bullshit online marketing. She’s simplifying down to my two priorities: content and relationships.

And I couldn’t be happier with the decision.