Internet Cash: The Business of Blogging – Part II
How do people make money blogging? Believe it or not, there are more ways to hit it big with your blog than just banner ads, or having Hollywood turn your blog into a quirky romantic comedy. In Internet Cash: The Business of Blogs – Part I, I discussed using ad programs like Google Adsense to generate revenue for your blog. But there are quite a few other ways to make money with a blog. I’m going to touch on a couple of those briefly, and then examine what factors you need to consider if you’re just starting off and are hoping to generate income from your blog.
Let’s get started, shall we?
In addition to putting up ads on your blog, your blog posts can become ads. What do I mean? I’m talking about two popular blogging practices: Affiliate programs and paid reviews.
1) Affiliate Programs
Affiliate programs, also called “Associate programs,” are talked about a lot in the blogosphere. It sounds like it might be a bit complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. Think commission. An affiliate in the blogging world is a website or online store that you, as a professional blogger, work out an agreement with. If you send your readers to the affiliate’s website, and your readers purchase something, you get a cut.
It could be anything from an online beauty salon to an Internet-Cash-Guru who wants your readers to buy his foolproof 90-day plan for “becoming your own boss.” You convince your readers they need a product–which, of course, is easier said than done–they buy it, and you and the affiliate both benefit. And, as Google Adsense has done with content-appropriate advertisements, gone are the days of having to seek out advertisers and affiliates to strike up such deals on your own.
Enter Affiliate Programs. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of networks and directories ready to connect your blog with an appropriate affiliate. Amazon has its own “Amazon Associates” plan. Once you’re a member, you can go to any Amazon product or listing and get a special link to include in your blog. People following that link will be tracked by Amazon as your customers, even if they close their browser and come back later in the day. If and when they buy something from Amazon, you get a cut. The nice thing about this is that, due to Amazon’s enormous inventory, you can always promote products and deals that you actually like, or that have something to do with the topics you cover on your blog. This way, your readers won’t feel like you’re spamming them to make a buck anyway you can.
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2) Paid Reviews
Yep. You can get paid to write reviews. Like Affiliates Programs, there are plenty of networks out there designed to put bloggers in touch with people who want their products reviewed. At first glance, this may seem like a good way to rapidly diminish your blog’s integrity. But it’s not necessarily so. Now, in almost all of these cases- you’re being paid to write a review of a product or service. You’re not getting paid to write a good review, necessarily. You’re not selling it. You’re reviewing it. That being said, if you sign up to review a new web service, and the review you write is a negative, scathing rant, it probably won’t get approved by the advertiser. Different programs have different rules and guidelines their reviewers have to meet before being compensated, or before their reviews are approved. Also, many Review Programs specialize in SEO-friendly reviews, so a good handle on keyword-writing can be important. Programs like this also require bloggers to disclose that their post is a paid review.
Review assignments run the gamut. From local businesses to blogs and podcasts, you might end up reviewing anything. People paying for reviews are usually trying to generate buzz, build incoming links to their site, and build brand recognition. What you review is up to you. And what you charge is up to you too, with many Blog Review Networks. A paid review can net you anywhere from $5 to $1000. But don’t expect to make much money doing paid reviews on your two-week old blog. Advertisers who buy paid reviews are trying to reach as many people as possible. The more people your blog reaches (and the higher the quality of your articles), the more valuable you are to them.
So we’re starting to see a common thread. Whether you’re making money through reviews, affiliate programs, or in-site advertising, there’s one thing that all bloggers need if they want to make money: Traffic.
As our Internet Cash Series continues, any keen reader will notice the continuation of this one theme: While there are a billion ways to make money on the internet, there’s really only one thing standing between you and an internet-based income: Clout.
I call it clout. Some call it reach, influence, or rank. Some call it “quality,” which may seem misleading at first. Internet Cash is a numbers game after all- How many people can you reach? How many people visit your blog? How many people subscribe to you? But anyone who has taken a crack at Social Media will tell you- numbers alone won’t get you everywhere. What you want is loyalty. It’s the difference between having 500 people read a blog post you wrote called How to Buy Legal Fireworks, then leaving your blog, never to return, and having 200 people who regularly check your blog, then share it with their friends on Twitter and Facebook, and email it to their Aunt Jenny.
What do you think caused the Social Media craze? As of several years ago, every other company was scrambling to hire a hot young Social Media expert to help get their business plugged in to social networks. And you can’t blame them- it’s a beautiful thing, when your customers start doing your advertising for you, promoting your page, telling their friends about it, sharing it with their extended networks. The blogosphere works the same way. But, much like Social Media, it won’t work just because you want it to. You need to put in the time to build relationships. It’s a long process, and there are no guarantees.
Some of you may be thinking, “I want to make money on the internet so I never have to deal with another person again.” Well, then you may want to rethink your plans. If you want to make money online, especially blogging, you need this elusive mix of quality/quanitity called clout- loyal friends and followers who read your blog, then spread the word. Gaining clout and building online relationships is something we’ll look at much closer in future installments of our Internet Cash series. But if you’re the kind of person who has only 55 friends on Facebook, none of whom ever comment on or like your witty self-serving status updates, you might end up having quite a tough time with this whole “blogging thing.”
It’s true that there’s no substitution for the kind of “community interaction” that happens between bloggers reading, commenting on, and promoting each other’s writing. But long before you begin your tireless quest to build relationships and gain clout, you need to do a little strategic thinking. Even if you have “this great idea” for a blog, you need to make sure you’re looking at it with the eyes of a business person. Tear your idea down, and then build it from the ground up. First be practical. Then be smart. And then, get creative.
an idea and a WordPress account can start a blog for free. If you haven’t yet started a blog, you need to ask yourself, what is it going to be about? Some people want a blog where they can post anything they’d like. That is certainly their prerogative. But if you’re looking to make money blogging, you’ll want to blog about something that will get you an audience. And bigger isn’t always better here. It’s wise to think niche. Is there something you can offer unique perspective on?
If you want a place to air your private, rambling thoughts, a blog where the buffer between what you think and what you publish can be stretched as thin as you’d like, start a separate blog. But for your professional blog, you’ll want to stick to a certain topic or area of expertise, and make it self-evident enough so that readers visiting your blog will immediately know what it’s about, and what they can expect to find, should they visit your blog again. If you’re just blogging about anything and everything that comes to your head, you could build up a readership, if your voice is strong, unique, and entertaining enough. Everyone loves a good writer. But even more so, people love to know what they’re getting.
This is where the idea of the pitch comes in. From entrepreneurs to movie producers, everybody always seems to be running around pitching things at each other. And it’s not just because they love their own voices. If people are going to buy a product, watch a movie, or visit a new website, they want to know what it’s about. Fast. You’ve probably heard of “the elevator pitch,” or, as I like to call it, “the Twitter pitch.” If you have a good idea, you need to be able to distill it into as little as one sentence. Make it longer than that, you’ll start losing people’s interest. Make it really long, and your product will start to sound overly complicated or confusing. A novelist may have trouble squeezing his 1,000 page masterwork into one sentence, but a blogger should have zero trouble.
Here are some imagined pitches:
“A blog that presents the latest, most gripping news headlines, in an easy to navigate interface.” -Matt Drudge, The Drudge Report
“A Hollywood insider, digging up dirt and breaking the latest scoops in the world of showbiz.” -Nikki Finke, Deadline Hollywood Daily
“A daily deal site, finding the best tech discounts on the web.” -Rick Broida, The Cheapskate
Okay, so mine was the longest. But you could still fit it into a single tweet. If you can’t describe your blog in one sentence, it’s not a blog. It’s a headache. And no one wants a headache.
As a blogger, you’ll find that there will always be those blog entries which, for one reason or another, become search-engine darlings (my fictional example being How to Buy Legal Fireworks, a real example being “The Story of Pandora,” a piece I wrote well over a year ago that is still getting consistent traffic). You can spend days studying search engine algorithms and using cutting edge SEO tools on your latest articles, and it might still pale in comparison to that weird, ancient blog post you wrote about exotic frogs while you were half asleep. Whether it’s intentional or not, some blog posts just won’t die; they keep getting fresh traffic from search engines and new comments years after they’re written. Likewise, there are some blog posts–especially relating to current affairs–that will explode in popularity and quickly fizzle out. By watching your analytics closely, you’ll be able to determine what sort of stories are giving you the best results, both in the short term and the long term. Your own blog will become something you study and analyze. You may find that what worked in one scenario won’t work in another. It’s trial and error, plain and simple.
Do what comes naturally to you. Go with your strengths. If you can’t help but stay informed on the latest events in the tech or entertainment worlds, then go with a niche news blog. If you love reviewing TV movies from the 1980’s, and you’ve got readers who keep coming back for more, by all means, do that! But WATCH YOUR ANALYTICS. Pay attention to how people are finding your posts. Use that information to make an educated guess on what phrases people will use to search for a certain topic, then optimize your posts for those search queries.
In other words, you’ve got to go with what works. If your blog idea isn’t working, or isn’t getting traffic, try to make it work. Optimize it for search engines. Interact with like-minded bloggers.
And if nothing works? That’s easy. Start over. Or, if you find that you really enjoy blogging, even without any discernible readership, then keep it up! Just don’t quit your day job.
I spoke with blogger William Raleigh recently. Raleigh helps run a number of sites, including a blog called The Heated Forest, which I occasionally contribute film, tech and business news to. The blog currently doesn’t feature any advertising. “We wanted to figure out how to get a broad readership before trying to monetize the site,” Raleigh told me. “And, I guess, we’re still trying to figure that out. Or we’ve given up. I can’t really tell anymore.”
“The site has only been going since earlier this year, and we’ve tried to do a lot of different things with it, from weekly columns to original serialized fiction. When I would talk to my friends and readers, a lot of the feedback I was getting was, ‘Oh, I really like those articles about random interesting topics, like Disney World and Ghost Towns.’ Now these are articles that are thoroughly researched, but written in a citizen-journalist sort of way, like extended bits of trivia. They’re incredibly time-consuming to write. And we still get hits on some of those articles. But nothing like the more asinine posts. Like, ‘The Best/Worst Analogies of High School Students,’ or any video with a talking dog in it, those have been like gold for us, and they take the smallest amount of effort to write. They’re not really original content. They’re something that’s already gone viral. We just re-package it with a short, original write-up.
“So the question became, do we go with this silly, kind of low-brow stuff that’s easy to do and brings in traffic, or do we go with the more interesting, time consuming essays that our loyal readers seem to appreciate the most? In the end, I’ve re-adopted my original MO, but with much less enthusiasm.When I was just starting the site it was, Hey, this is great! I’ll publish whatever I want! Now it’s more like, Aw to hell with it. I’ll publish whatever I want, whenever I want. We’ve pretty much given up [on monetizing the site]. I’ve stopped trying to force new content up everyday, because I just don’t have time for it. I’ve got all these other projects that actually are bringing in money. And I’ve shied away from the talking animal videos because I don’t like to pander to the lowest common denominator. That’s never what we were going for. But, I guess our problem was that we never were sure exactly what we were going for. We wanted to do this and this and this and… that’s exciting at first. But in the end, it only hurt us.”
Despite all that, Raleigh says he has no intention of re-defining the blog anytime soon. “As far as I’m concerned, the site has become, basically, a personal blog. Not the kind where we write about our feelings or what we had for dinner. It’s the kind where we get to publish our works, and the work of writers we know and respect. It’s an outlet. But I don’t think it will ever be a business anymore. That’s okay. It is what it is. There’s freedom to be found in obscurity.”
Wise words, Mr. Raleigh. There is freedom to be found in obscurity. Just not financial freedom.
Join us in the near future for the final installment of Internet Cash: The Business of Blogs, in which we ask The Big Question:
So you’ve got a blog, now how do you make it successful?
Now back to your regularly scheduled WDITOT Blog.