Blogging for Profit
:: By Mike Phillips ::
Web professionals should be using blogs for one purpose — to make money.
Blogs pave the road to profit by building brand awareness, driving traffic to websites, promoting products and services, and attracting new readers. And throughout this article, when you see the term "readers," think "customers." Because really, they are one and the same.
Blogging for profit doesn't just mean selling to consumers from Web pages, although that is one way to earn revenue. Look at your blogs as crucial extensions of your brands and products. It involves using every possible method to reach out and turn readers into customers. It's about defining your role, finding an audience, and paying close attention to the needs and wants of your visitors, to ensure the sustainability of your business.
But before spending hours developing a theme to your blog and writing posts, you need to find where you will have the biggest impact with readers.
Finding Your Space in the [Blogoshpere]
All great blogs have one thing in common: They define a niche through its readers. Whether you're just starting a blog or have an existing blog as part of your business, it won't be truly effective unless it meets the needs and wants of those who visit. Unless you can pinpoint your audience and identify what matters to them most, and what drives them to convert, your blog will become a fractured experience. You want every post to address some topic relevant to the readers. Within that framework is where you can get creative and develop your style to separate your blog from your competitors.
A good place to start is by finding blogs that are similar to your own (or your idea) and doing a little research. Find popular blogs in your industry, competitors included, then see which of their blog posts have the most user comments. This is a good sign of the posts of the most interest to its readers. Look for common themes, wording and ways the blogger addresses the audience to determine your potential readers’ preferences and expectations.
Once you have a grasp of your target audience and what your competitors are doing, it's time to think about your blog's style and structure. Do you need a three-column blog or two? Should you choose a style with lots of pictures and graphics, or a more Spartan approach? Will your tone be conversational, or more professional?
Compete With Data
Compete.com lets you see website traffic numbers for up to five websites, even subdomains by signing up for a free account. Find 10 blogs in your industry and use Compete to find the 5 with the most traffic. These are the ones to target for your research.
These are important questions because the answers will affect the type of and availability of advertisers and, ultimately affect your profitability. If you write a business blog, a graphicheavy style with an edgy font and a casual tone might deter serious advertisers with deep pockets. On the other hand, if you cover lighter material, a sterile site with no real flair might be viewed as out-of-touch with the intended audience. You want to stand apart from the competition, but you also want potential readers and advertisers to feel comfortable that you know the industry and your audience.
Making Your [Blog Earn]
Keeping an effective blog takes serious work. There are posts to be written, keywords to be researched, and fires to be extinguished. All that work should be rewarded. And done right, you can reap the benefits.
It all starts and ends with good content. That’s what matters most to search engines and readers alike. And the money follows the readers — both in advertising dollars and consumer spending. Of course, there is no end to a discussion on writing quality content. For now, let's focus on dollars and cents.
The three most common areas to earn on a blog are on the page itself, within the blog posts and through supporting products and services. To get the most from your efforts, you’ll need to address all three.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
If you simply don't have the time or resources to maintain a profitable blog, consider seeking out other bloggers in your industry and proposing a joining of the forces. It's possible that some other bloggers will be open to the idea of pooling resources and visitors to form one super blog to serve a wider audience and lessen the burden on the individual bloggers. You will lose some control, but in the long run it could turn out to be a profitable venture. Sometimes alliances are needed to defeat the Goliath's of the world. And as duplicate content becomes less of an issue on the Web, you can still keep your own blog while driving traffic to the group effort.
Earning on the page
Your main blog page will be part of your template, where elements of the page will be carried over to every other page and post throughout the blog. And the most common way to earn revenue on your page is through advertising. This can come in the form of Google AdSense (pay-per-click) or display ads. ValueClick and Tribal Fusion both have an extensive network of advertisers who are matched with bloggers for the best chances of conversion. Alternatively, you can solicit ads directly from an advertiser.
Another option is run-of-site advertising. If you successfully carve out a niche for your blog and have the readers to back it up, you might find an advertiser interested in paying handsomely for every bit of ad space you can offer. This can be tricky, however, as it requires a commitment from an advertiser to the website, its content and the author. It also means that your advertising revenue could dry up at any given moment, should the advertiser decide to cancel. To consider run-ofsite, an advertiser will want to be sure they are reaching the appropriate audience. Therefore, have analytics and any and all reader demographic data readily available.
E-mail subscriptions offer an excellent way to send targeted offers. Consider an e-mail signup box in a prominent position on your page. Feedburner (now owned by Google) has a free e-mail collection service. Any e-mail service provider (ESP) will offer ways to collect and manage subscriber data. And if you’re willing to manage the data on your own, Best Contact Form and FormSpring both let you set up forms to collect names, e-mails and demographics which you can then import into your CRM. By default, when a user subscribes to your blog, you already know they are interested in your subject matter. The next logical step is to make offers strongly correlated with your regular content and the user’s demographic data.
If you feel your content is strong, consider exclusive content and paid subscriptions. One way to entice users to pay for content is to offer snippets of material found nowhere else on the Web, then request a payment to read the rest. The WP-Membership plugin allows WordPress publishers to require payment to see all or some content on the blog, while the RSS Post Editor plugin forces feed registration to view additional content. If your audience capitulates, it’s a nice way to build your e-mail list.
Earning in the Posts
There are many possibilities to earn revenue within your blog posts. One of the more effortless ways is by engaging in text link advertising. These advertisements are embedded in the text itself, popping up when a user hovers over a linked word or term within your post. When the user clicks on the ad, the advertiser is charged and you earn a portion of the advertising fee.
For advertisers, text link advertising offers a highly targeted opportunity. These systems are designed so that ads match the words and the context of the particular post. For publishers, this offers a way to get many opportunities for clicks while conserving screen real estate. To take full advantage of text link advertising, publishers need to use the most relevant keywords to the subject in the post.
Boast About Your Network's Reach
An extended online network is more important than ever, and advertisers are aware. Don't be afraid to tell advertisers how many Facebook friends you have, Twitter followers or Digg friends are in your network. The longer your reach, the more chances for your advertisers to benefit.
--> Microblogging Mania! Few trends have swept the Web like Twitter. Learn the best current uses for Twitter for your business.
A good way to find the right keywords is to use a keyword suggestion tool. Enter the terms associated with your post and you will see other, possibly more relevant terms users are searching to find your subject. By including these keywords, you have a better chance of being matched with a good text link advertiser, and therefore a better chance of a paid click.
The downside of text link advertising is a perceived burden on the reader. While supporters say it provides relevant, informative links and products to the readers, detractors claim that it’s distracting and gives a spammy appearance to a blog. The only way to know for sure is by knowing your audience and testing. In general, the higher your PageRank, and the more profitable your sector (traditionally credit cards and mortgages), the more success you will have with text link advertising. Two providers in the market are LinkWorth and Kontera.
Another possibility in line with text link ads is to earn through affiliate links. One of the easiest methods is by using Amazon’s Associates program. This is a way to suggest products to your readers within the context of your posts. For example, if you're writing a review of a book (that is relevant to your readers, of course) you can link the title of the book in your post to the book’s product page on Amazon. If a reader clicks the book title in your post and buys from Amazon, you earn a percentage of the profit. Even if they don’t buy — and don't clear their cookies — a later purchase will be credited to your account. Beyond Amazon are opportunities with other affiliates and vendors that, while requiring more time and effort, can offer higher revenue shares.
A third opportunity exists with the entire content of your posts, in the form of sponsored content. Sites like ReviewMe and PayPerPost have a network of advertisers that will pay bloggers to write about their products or services. If you decide to use these services, it is of the utmost importance that your readers are aware of the paid-forcontent arrangement. Otherwise, you risk a mutiny. Not only will you lose further paid content opportunities, but you will suffer a devastating loss of readership that will affect your revenue potential site-wide.
Essential Gear - Flip Mino
If your blog isn't incorporating online video in some regard, you're quickly falling behind. No matter your subject matter, there is room for video, be it an interview or a how-to. The Flip Mino is a small, lightweight and affordable solution. It takes one hour of video. The software is Web-hosted where you can edit video, take still shots and save it to your hard drive. Plug in the camera via USB and your video can be uploaded to YouTube in minutes with the click of a mouse, then quickly embedded in your blog. The Flip Mino can be purchased at TheFlip.com for $179 and an HD version sells for $229.
Earning wth Supporting Products and Services No blog is an island. It’s an extension of your idea, brand and overall business. There are opportunities for every blogger to earn revenue outside of their page and it starts with the heart of your blog — its content.
Creating quality content is hard work. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours writing a great blog post, only to see readers ignore it after a few days, weeks or months. The longer you blog, the more content you amass. Chances are, before long you will have enough content to fill a book — or several. Blurb.com gives publishers a free download to take content directly from your blog and lay it out into a book format for publishing, starting at $4.95. Lulu.com is another publishing option, and offers a wide range of services from editorial help and distribution services, to formatting for devices like the Kindle.
As you write your posts, take note of important topics, or those that are just scratching the surface of a greater issue. These are prime candidates for heavy research and eventual white papers. Depending on the breadth of your research and content, you can choose to charge a premium for these studies, or offer them to affiliates to sell through their websites and networks. If nothing else, they can be distributed through various channels, creating an extended branding reach and SEO benefits, or used as a way to force registration and create new leads.
You might even find that as you write, an opportunity arises for an entirely new blog. Platforms like WordPress, TypePad and Drupal allow you to open new channels almost immediately. A new blog is a way to expand your expertise, reach a new audience without alienating current readers, and even cross promote your products. Many big brands start entire websites to promote one particular brand or product. At under $10 for a domain name, it’s a cost-effective way to run a campaign, or test the waters with a new idea.
Finally, take the opportunity to sell supporting products to your readers. Amazon’s aStore offers a way to incorporate a fullblown retail aspect to your blog with no upfront fees. Sign up and select the products you want to include in your store. You can write your own descriptions, change the colors and presentation of the store then embed all of it in a separate page of your blog. You get the advantage of an endless supply of products that matches your blog’s look and feel, and a revenue stream without ever handling a product. The consumer gets custom product selections relevant to their interests and the security of shopping through a trusted retailer.
--> The Accidental Blogger: Shreve Stockton, author of DailyCoyote.net started out blogging for personal reasons but it sooned turned into a profitable business. The Daily Coyote is an excellent example of blogging for profit and passion. Read Website Magazine's interview with Stockton.
Expanding Your [Reach]
Basic SEO efforts will go a long way to extending you blog’s reach and maximizing potential profit. Creating sitemaps and submitting them to the search engines, keyword optimization, linking strategies and many other techniques will help. But you also need to reach out to readers where they connect to the Web.
Social networking has come to affect every user’s life in some way or another. There are specific blog networks like Technorati and MyBlogLog, but increasingly blogs are making their way to wider reaching social venues. Facebook recently acquired NetworkedBlogs, where users can search through hundreds of blogs and add the content as a widget to their profiles. NetworkedBlogs claims over 400,000 users on Facebook. It’s also a good idea to get involved with social sharing sites like Digg.com, and Mixx.com, and bookmarking sites like Delicious.com. While these sites can be beneficial, they can also consume a large portion of your time, so make sure to keep your focus on your blog’s content. You might also consider some paid advertising to promote your blog to readers. It might not fit every blogger’s budget, but if you have the resources, advertising can get your blog noticed. Google AdWords is a standard avenue, but there are other options like advertising through StumbleUpon, and Facebook can place your ads to a highly targeted audience.
Blogs have evolved from online diaries to essential business tools. Use you blog to inform readers, extend your brand and make new contacts. But at all times and through every step of the way, use your blog to profit.
-Mike Phillips is Senior Editor of Website Magazine.