Blogging has been around a while now. And I have to say I’ve always been slightly sceptical about it as a biz. opp. After all, how can keeping a diary on the Internet ever be a decent money-maker?
But there are some very successful blogs out there. The top ones, like Techcrunch, Mashable and Perez Hilton are said to make around £130,000 a month in advertising revenue alone. So this month I’ve been investigating blogging in-depth. I’ve been looking at what exactly blogging is, how you could set up your own successful blog or blogs and, above all, whether it really can be a decent money-maker for us.
Not only that… I’ve actually been beta testing blogging by setting up my very own blog… more about that shortly… so I can find out exactly if it is worth your while considering as an opportunity.
So what exactly is blogging?
On the face of it, blogging (short for web log by the way) is simple. It’s basically writing a diary on the Internet. It’s a place you can post all your thoughts, ideas, views and news onto the Internet very easily, for everyone and anyone to read.
But what you might not necessarily have realised is that there’s much more to blogging than just a diary. Because blogging is a way of getting a presence on the Internet. Which you can then use to attract lots and lots of quality traffic and, if you know how, make money from it.
You see, by and large, Internet users together with the search engines that serve them hate marketing material… despite the masses of advertising and marketing material that is out there on the Web nowadays. But they LOVE quality, original content like you might find in a good blog and flock to it like bees around a honeypot.
So blogging, when done correctly, can be a very effective way of under-the-radar Internet marketing that’s cheap and easier to do than setting up an online shop too.
Why should you get into blogging right now?
Like I said, blogging has been around for a few years now. But the recent surge in social media has given it a whole new lease of life. Today, everybody wants to connect with everyone else and share thoughts, ideas and news online, either by computer or a mobile device. So after a fairly slow start in which blogging was considered, perhaps, only for techies, it’s now got mass-market potential… potential that is growing month by month.
And, I think, blogging is an easy, cheap and very do-able way to cash in on the growing trend towards social media too. So OK, blogging isn’t quite as glamorous as its newer, sexier social media sisters like Twitter and Facebook. But, unlike them, which are still pretty unproven as a way of making money on the Internet, blogging is already well established and proven to work.
Choosing the best subjects for your blog
Before you get started you are going to need a really good idea (or ideas) for your blog.
You can blog about anything and everything you like. But here are a couple of pointers to guide you:
• Try and blog about something you’re passionate about. Warm, enthusiastic, original writing will really pull readers in and attract quality traffic for your blog.
Within that your blog can be serious or humorous, informative or fun, newsy or gossipy. It’s entirely up to you.
• Make it commercially-orientated. If you want to make money from it that is. While some hobby bloggers write about what they’re planning to have for dinner – or what colour they’re planning on painting the downstairs loo – that’s only got limited value in a blog that you want to make money from.
Ideally, you’re going to need a subject which offers lots of scope to promote relevant products and services to your visitors – more about how to do that later.
Your job, your hobbies and interests are great subjects for a blog. Here are a few ideas: Do you know how to fix cars? Are you a serious gamer? Or a music or film buff? Are you a great cook? A good photographer? Or a financial expert? Do you have a new baby? Do you play or know a sport really well? Are you interested in politics? All these would be great for a blog offering visitors great information and ideas, then links to relevant products they could buy.
Good tip. You can test as many different ideas for blogs as you like, for nothing, and see how they go. Maybe even have a whole range of different blogs on different subjects if you want to. Drop the ones that don’t make the grade, then capitalise on the ones that turn out to be popular.
Learn what you can from successful bloggers…
Once you’ve got a few ideas together, look for some other blogs on that subject. Look at what you think is good about them, and what’s not-so-good, and how you could make yours better. Look at whether they’re popular or not in terms of the traffic they attract. (If you find other blogs on your chosen subject that are not that popular it’s maybe an area to avoid.)
Here’s how to do this: Technorati is a blog search engine and directory that indexes and rates more than a million blogs. It’s good for checking out ideas and seeing what other people in the blogging world are doing. Website: technorati.com
At the moment Technorati tells us that popular areas for blogs are:
• Entertainment: Celeb. Film. Music. TV. Comics. Anime. Gaming. Books.
• Business: Finance. Property. Small Business.
• Sports*: Baseball. Football. Basketball. Hockey. Tennis. Golf. Motorsport.
• Politics*: US Politics. World Politics.
• Technology: Info. Tech. Gadgets.
• Living: Health. Religion. Arts. Pets. Fashion. Food. Family. Home. Travel.
(*Bear in mind, Technorati is US-centric. But there’s nothing to stop you setting up a blog that caters for a worldwide audience.)
You don’t have to blog on just these subjects… but I think it would give your blog a much better chance of success.
Why you should make your blog a review site (if you can)
If your blog idea lends itself to doing product reviews then I would strongly recommend you include reviews in your blog – or even make your blog exclusively a review site.
There are a few good reasons for this: Reviews are very good news on the Internet. In today’s consumer society where we’re all bombarded with so many products to buy and so much advertising Internet users are hungry for reviews of products they are thinking about buying – especially impartial ones from people who really know their subject. The search engines tend to love review-based blogs too.
But also, people who hunt for reviews usually have more than a passing curiosity about a product – they usually want to BUY it as soon as possible. So you can post reviews and then provide visitors with a link to buy the product which you can make a commission from (more about how to do this later).
Finally, reviews are fairly easy to create, especially if you’re interested in and knowledgeable about the product in question. They don’t need to be long or complicated or call for much writing skill. Adding a handful of, say, 200-300 word reviews to your site every week needn’t take much time at all.
Here are a few ideas: If you’re a photography buff how about doing camera reviews? If you’re a gamer how about doing games reviews. An avid reader… do book reviews. Into music or film… do entertainment reviews. If you love fashion, do a fashion blog and link people to where they can buy the latest look.
Important. Good review sites should be balanced and include both positive and negative reviews. Don’t recommend products that aren’t genuinely good just to sell them.
Setting up your blog
So let’s get started actually building your blog.
To set up your blog you will need a platform to build it on. There are basically two ways of doing this – easy and not so easy – and they both have pros and cons.
The not-so-easy way is to create your own platform. Host your site yourself (using one of the many website hosting companies) and use some blogging software to build your own blog site. The pros of this are that you have full control over your blog and you can build it exactly how you want it. The cons? It takes a bit of technical knowledge.
Now to the easy way! Use a blogging service. These provide site hosting, a platform and readymade design templates. All you have to do is sign up, tweak the template and you can start posting your blogs to the Internet in minutes.
The pros of these blogging services are that they’re really very, very easy. You need no technical knowledge at all. The cons? There’s a limit to how you can customise your blog. And the blogging service provider has control over your blog. (If at some point they decide they don’t like it they can pull it very easily.)
So which method to use? It’s tricky to offer advice here, but I’d suggest that when you first start out you give a blogging service a try because it’s so easy to get started. Then, when you get some experience think about hosting and designing your own platform.
There are various different blogging services and blogging software available to help you build your own platform. Here are a couple I need to mention:
• Blogger. This is a blogging service owned by Google. It’s free, very easy to use and you can set up on it in minutes. Take a look: www.blogger.com. All you need to do is choose a name, choose a template and tweak it, and then you can start posting immediately.
Expert bloggers tend to be a bit sniffy about Blogger, saying it is outdated and very inflexible. But it’s hard to beat as an easy way in for beginners and non-techies.
• WordPress. WordPress is both a blogging service AND a type of blogging software. If you want to use the ready-made WordPress blogging service go to WordPress.com. If you want to use the WordPress blogging software to build your own blogging platform go to WordPress.org. Both are free.
The WordPress software is highly customisable and very state-of-the-art. It’s highly regarded as the best there is for professional blogging. Although it takes a bit of technical knowledge to get the best from it.
Other blogging services available include: Tumblr, Posterous, Typepad and Movable Type. Have a look round and see which you think you’ll be more comfortable with.
Choosing a name for your blog
Next you need to think of a good name for your blog. Your blog name will become your brand, and will help to get it known around the Internet. Also, once you’ve chosen one it will be pretty much set in stone and may be impossible to change.
To help promote your blog it’s best to include something in the name that says what your blog is about, and/or sounds catchy. You can include your own name if you like but try not to make your blog name only your own name. A lot of the top blogs have short, trendy, cool-sounding names that not only attract curiosity but are easy to remember and to recommend.
Tip. Scan the lists of existing blogs using Technorati, etc., to get some ideas for good names (and see what’s already taken).
Domain names. If you use a blogging package, like Blogger, you’ll also get a free domain name. This will be a sub-domain of Blogspot.com, ie. yourblog.blogspot.com. While that will do for now it’s better (and relatively easy) to choose and register your own domain name (using one of the many domain name registration services) and set it up to redirect to your blog.
Choose a domain name that describes what your blog is about so that it will help to attract traffic in its own right. For example: www.help-fixing-fords.com, www.greekfoodexpert.com, www.sherrydrinker.com, www.fly-fish-better.com or www.grow-better-tomatoes.com. (These are just example domain names by the way, I’m not suggesting they would be the right niche for you.)
Getting the best content for your blog
This is probably the most important aspect of successful blogging. Content is the lifeblood of every blog. It’s what will attract traffic and keep visitors coming back again and again. So OK, you might be selling things from your blog, but what people REALLY come for is the information, ideas, opinions, news, reviews and so on that you post there.
It’s very important your content should be relevant to your blog subject and genuinely interesting and useful.
New content needs to be posted on a regular basis to keep your blog fresh.
As a general principle content that is original to you rather than shared with others is much better. (Search engines love original content and dislike content that appears in many places on the Internet.)
Here are some ways you can get content for your blog:
• Write it yourself. This is the VERY BEST way of sourcing content. Your own writing will be original… and heartfelt; personal writing tends to go down very well with readers.
• Hire a writer. If you’re not great at writing yourself, think about hiring either a professional or amateur writer to write some posts for you. It needn’t cost a lot.
• Use press releases. Look for companies selling products and services related to your blog and sign up for their press releases. They’re usually happy for you to post their releases (or extracts from them) as long as you mention their company.
• Harvest material from article directories. Article directories offer millions of articles on every subject under the sun directly posted there by knowledgeable authors. You can freely post article directory material to your blog as long as you credit source. Here’s one to look at: Ezine Articles at ezinearticles.com
• Public domain material. That is, non-copyright material or out-of-copyright material. You can find this in a public domain library like Project Gutenberg at www.gutenberg.org
• Encourage visitors to post comments and reviews. That’s basically free, automated content!
Autoblogging software… what is it and should you use it?
Once you get started in blogging you can’t fail to come across what is known as autoblogging software. Autoblogging software is pretty clever stuff. It crawls the Internet looking for free-to-use material then automatically posts it to your blog! So you get content for your site without having to do anything at all.
But if you use autoblogging software you need to be aware of the downsides: The material posted won’t be original since other people will most likely be using it too. Possibly hundreds of them. So it might not generate you great traffic and, worst still, it might mean your blog doesn’t rank highly with the search engines. So, if you consider using autoblogging I’d strongly recommend you don’t rely on it entirely.
One autoblogging system I’ve heard good reports about is Autoblog Samurai. Details here if you’re interested: www.autoblogsamurai.com. This is a charged-for product, by the way, so you need to weigh up the cost of using autoblogging software rather than creating it from cheap or free sources.
How to promote your blog… and build traffic fast
Once your blog is up on the Internet then you shouldn’t just wait and hope that visitors will just find it by chance. They might, but by leaving your blog to its own devices the results might be slow. Instead, you should do what you can to promote your blog and build traffic fast. Here are a few techniques you can use:
• Blog swaps. Search for similar and complimentary blogs. Ask their owners to post a post recommending your blog… and you’ll post a post recommending theirs.
• Google AdWords. You probably know about this system. It’s a way you can buy ads on Google, bidding against other users to determine the price. If your blog is on a niche subject, where you can buy ads cheaply, it could be quite effective.
• Forums and chat rooms. Join any that are relevant to your subject. Mention your blog in your signature and discreetly in your posts.
• Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Mention your blog in your profile and posts. You can also use the same material on your blog and social media sites and link to it.
• The media. Send a short press release about your blog to the editors of relevant online and offline publications. Present your blog as a free news- and-reviews service to their readers.
• Article directories. Post material from your blog as articles on article directories like Ezine Articles. Be sure to include a link to your blog.
• Technorati. Register your blog with this blog search engine – or “claiming” as it is called. Users who are looking for new and interesting blogs on your subject will be able to find it. (Some of the top blogs listed on Technorati attract over 10 million users a month!)
• Post your reviews on review sites, such as Kelkoo, Ciao and also Squidoo. Include a discreet link to your blog. This can be particularly effective if your blog is a review blog.
Important. Don’t rely on any one of these methods. Use a combination of as many as possible which, together, should generate dozens, hundreds and eventually even thousands of visitors for your blog.
Maintaining your blog
If you’re going to make a success of blogging it’s very important that you commit to maintaining it on a regular basis. Blogs need to be regularly added to if they’re going to make a name for themselves on the Internet, attract readers and generate lots of traffic.
Try and post to your blog a few times a week at least. (If you already keep a diary you’re probably doing much the same thing already.) Moderate any visitor comments or autoblogging content.
If you’re well organised running a blog need take only minutes a day, making it an ideal sideline opp. You can even blog from your mobile phone if you want to.
Making money from your blog
Now to the really exciting part. Some people blog for fun of course. But what we’re really interested in is making money from our blogs. So what are the best ways to turn all that lovely Internet traffic you’re generating into money… or monetising it as it’s called in Internet-speak?
Without a doubt the best way is to sell relevant products (and even services) to your visitors.
I can imagine you’re thinking that’s going to be difficult. But it needn’t be. You won’t need to set up an online shop, stock products, ship stock or anything like that. How? You can automate it all by linking up with Amazon’s very clever and comprehensive affiliate program… which is known as Amazon Associates.
Using Amazon Associates you can sell any product in Amazon’s massive product range to your visitors and earn commissions from them.
When you sign up for Amazon’s Associates program you do not need any products of your own. Instead, you introduce or refer potential buyers to Amazon’s range of products. If they then buy something, Amazon pays you a commission on the sale. Put in very simple terms, what is essentially happening is that Amazon are paying you for finding and sending them potential customers. It’s basically a pay per action or PPA arrangement.
You can get more information and sign up for the Amazon Associates program at affiliate- program.amazon.co.uk
Amazon Associates offers you a variety of tools to help promote products through your blog. You can place banners on your blog. You can put an Amazon search box there. You can recommend products in your posts or reviews. You can also add sound and video clips… ideal if you are reviewing music or films. You can choose the products you want to promote, or let Amazon choose ones which it thinks will sell well to visitors to your blog, based on your content.
Amazon’s aStore is perhaps the most exciting Associates tool. aStore allows you to build your own online shop. You get a ready-made store which can be linked to and from your blog and/or any pages within it. You can customise the colours and designs so it will integrate seamlessly with your blog. Then you can pick products from Amazon’s range to sell there. (So, for example, if your website is about tennis, you can create an aStore which is stocked with a range of books on tennis, plus tennis equipment and clothing.) aStore is available to all Associates.
Tip. Going back to what I said earlier about making your blog commercial. When you’re choosing a subject for your blog, remember to think about what relevant products you’re going to be able to promote to prospective customers as a result. Amazon’s strongest product categories tend to be: Books. CDs. DVDs. Gaming. Electronics and electricals. Computing. (They also do household, clothing, sports and leisure, home and garden, toys and games, and jewellery.) It’s not so good coming up with a fantastic blog idea if there are no or few Amazon products to promote to it.
What can you make from Amazon Associates? Associates pays from 5% on sales up to 10% on very high volume sales, dependant on product and monthly sales volume. The actual commission structure is quite complicated – check with Amazon for precise details.
Another tip. It’s always worth signing up for Google’s AdSense program. AdSense lets Google place relevant Google AdWords ads on your blog and pays you a cut of the revenue they make from them. Because it’s only a few pence a time you shouldn’t expect to make a lot of money from this but it can certainly help cover your running costs. Details here: www.google.com/adsense
So how did I get on with my blogging “test drive”?
At the beginning of this blueprint I told you that I was not only going to investigate blogging as a business but actually test it myself too.
And that’s exactly what I’ve done!
My particular passion is writing. And in particular showing would-be writers how they can make money from writing too. So I set up my own blog… Mark Hempshell’s Make Money Writing. (It’s here if you’d like to take a look at it: www.markhempshell.blogspot.com)
I used Blogger to set it up. I’ve very little technical knowledge and no previous experience with blogging. Yet I was up and running with my blog in less than an hour!
I’ve been spending about 20 minutes every morning posting original content to my blog, and promoting it using the methods I’ve talked about.
I’ve also monetised it, using Google AdSense and Amazon Associates.
So what’s happened?
I have to admit my blog is still a bit rough-and-ready. And there’s lots of room for development, which I hope to do over the coming year. But I’m more than happy with how it’s gone so far: Within the first couple of weeks my blog received 250 visitors in just one day. One day recently, it even received 434 visitors. It’s a good example of how easily you can get started blogging, and what sort of traffic even a basic blog can attract.
Has it made any money? Yes… a little. The princely sum of £18.55 (don’t laugh, it’s still early days) in my best week so far.
And, apart from anything else, I’m hooked on blogging! As well as being a way of getting a presence on the Internet, generating traffic and making money, posting and watching your traffic build is a lot of fun… hardly like work.
So at the end of the day what’s my verdict on blogging? Is it something you should look at getting involved with?
First off, let’s be honest, and although I stand to be corrected, it’s probably NOT going to make you a millionaire.
But as a small business or sideline project – yes – I think it has excellent potential.
Take that £18.55 I made from my blog in a week. What if I did some more marketing and monetising work on my blog (which I’m planning to do) and over the course of a year or two built that up into £100 a week? I think that’s perfectly realistic. That would make me £5,200 or thereabouts a year.
And what if I added some more blogs? Once you’ve got one up and running you can more or less just duplicate the same techniques and create as many different blogs as you have time for. I could take my writing blog, for example, and slice it up into 10 blogs on different types of writing – articles, travel, cookery, motoring, and so on – without too much difficultly. So, in a couple of years I could be turning over £52,000 or so from those blogs. From which my running costs and overheads would be pretty negligible.
In summary: If you’re looking for something that could make you the MD of your own giant corporation and super-rich, blogging probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a sideline project., or a small business where you could, say, spend every morning on your blogs then take the rest of the day off – and make something in the region of £20,000 to £50,000 a year then – yes – I think blogging has a lot going for it.
On that basis, blogging certainly gets my thumbs up.
These top blogs are good to look at for inspiration. (Your blog doesn’t need to be as sophisticated as these in the early days!)