Example

An interesting article by David Risley titled, “Is Blogging Broken? Is The Future Of Blogging Paid Access?” stirred up some ideas I have had for a long time and generated some conversation sparked by DR and I on Twitter and Facebook. The reality is that this is not a new idea by any means. Several large bloggers including Gary Vaynerchuk have already said it is coming and there are premium, paid sections of many popular sites that produce exclusive content for a price.

The question becomes…can the blogger use this same model and apply it to blog content?

The Blurred Line: Magazines and Blogs

As we move forward with online publishing, the line between blog and online magazine is continuing to get blurred even more than in the past. Magazines are starting to look towards digital delivery and online publishing as their only way to expand business and bloggers are looking outside of traditional blogging to add more value for their readers. I wouldn’t consider Bike198 a blog in the truest definition of the word…it has really become a free online magazine.

Even my favorite magazine, Bike, is delivered to my iPad via Zinio…so where does the line cross between magazines and blogs these days anyway? One side is getting a fee for their content while the other is giving away everything for free.

Bloggers And The Free Concept

Bloggers learned a long time ago that by giving away the farm for free, you are able to grow your audience faster. With more traffic, pageviews and subscribers…you were able to command more money via direct advertising and generate more money with affiliate sales. It is the simple law of numbers…with more targeted eyes you get more money.

However, this has created one big problem within blogging…everything is free.

With the over saturation of bloggers all trying to compete for the same eyes and the readers looking for quality content but hit with an extreme amount of free content, eBooks and other free online hooks…readers have very little in the way of distinction between quality and quantity in their search for online content. In my opinion, bloggers take the “give away the farm” mentality a little bit too much to heart, so with more bloggers entering the market on a daily basis…there is a massive over saturation of content.

What does this do to the blogger?

You become a hamster in a wheel generating massive amount of content and products for free without seeing any real return. You are told it takes a lot of work and to be patient, but the competition out there is so much harder these days that you could literally spend years giving away everything for nothing. Eventually, you give up and look to other forms of income generation as that one obviously didn’t pan out.

So when do you draw the line and jump ship to a paid content model?

Reactions In and Outside of Blogging

Before we jump straight into what I think…lets take a look at a couple of reactions on the web yesterday when I posted the question to Facebook and David and I hit up Twitter.

My Facebook Comment to People Outside of Blogging:

“There have been some interesting rumblings around the blogging world about going to more “magazine style” formats. ie. subscription models. What do you think about monthly, paid subscription models to online content?”

Some of the better responses:

I’ve been wondering when blogs are going to take on a more magazine look/feel as well. I’d be more than happy to pay for content, if its good and does one of two things. Entertains me or makes me some money! Just my two cents.

Nothing personal, but I don’t think I’d pay for blog content. While many (including yours) are very informative for some things, a lot of the content may not apply to me. I think blogs are less viable as a subscription service, as now they are competing with magazines, books, etc, that have a lot more resources to provide content.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I’m not a huge blog reader (only 5-10 that I routinely read).

I’ve never been able to get into blogs- either reading or following. This is just a random thought, but I wonder if that applies to a great percentage of people who went through most of their formative years without internet/email. I was a senior in college before I had an email acct, and it was infrequently used at best. (Maybe we were behind the times, but we’re talking early 90’s.) I still prefer a hard copy, old-school magazine for lots of things. Okay, I’m definitely old. 🙂 More randomness: I subscribe to two photography websites that have everything from forums to mini-blogs. I use them mostly for the interaction with other photogs from all over the world. I doubt I’d continue to pay for them if they went to a strictly blog format with no forums and classifieds and stuff. Maybe future generations will pay for blogs without giving it a second thought…?

if they incorporated rich media and it was well organized and flashy like the magazines I would pay for specific ones

I think there’s already a ton of this out there that is similar. For example ESPN has the Insider and many newspapers have online content that is subscriber only. Almost all major magazines deliver substantial free content and many of them put their printed content online for free after awhile.

I think for it to work, the user would have to feel like they are getting some very exclusive, well developed content. It would have to go far beyond the “expert with an opinion” content that most blogs deliver. Even then, I am skeptical that it would work well. I know that I wouldn’t do it. There is too much free content to choose from and that’s not going to change any time soon.

The magazines don’t seem to be doing a terribly good job at it with falling subscriptions and struggles with finding an online model that works. I don’t see loan bloggers who typically put out less than a magazines worth of content a month can take a broken model and find success with it. Where there is a will there is a way I suppose.

Mine and David’s line on Twitter (inside the blogging world):

“Question: What would your reaction be to a high quality blog that switched from free to paid content? (2 to 3 bucks a month)”

@gracejudson: It completely depend on the *relevance* of the content – not just the quality. If I was consistently using the content – maybe.

@ericabiz: You’re way undervaluing it at $2-3/month. I wouldn’t subscribe because I would assume the info isn’t valuable…(when asked if 9-10 dollars would be enough) At least. I pay $30/mo for Doberman Dan’s. And he stopped blogging to do that, too 🙂

@Murlu: I think when people quite literally tell you they’d pay for what you just publish – you’re on to something 😀

@nhangen: they would be a goner.

@christiantjr: my initial question would be “can I get the same quality elsewhere for free?”

As you can see by the responses, they vary all over the map from basically a “hell no” to you are not even charging enough.

The Law of Numbers and Blogging Income

For a long time, the law of numbers has played a drastic affect on blog income. The more numbers you have, the more money you made. However, what if I were to tell you that you could cut your traffic and subscribers down to a 1/4 of what they are now and you will make 5 times the income? My bet…99% of you would not do it because you are conditioned to the free/high traffic model.

When you are looking at going to a paid subscription model, you are basically doing just that. As much as you would like to think that all of your readers are grasping onto your words like the gospel…that just isn’t the truth. If you were to hit the switch to a paid content model today, my guess is that 10 – 25% of your readership would participate and you would lose the rest, but if your income went up 5 fold…it would be worth it. That is when bloggers think like bloggers and not business owners. They would rather keep the large numbers at lower income than lower numbers at higher income.

The scary part…you have to hit the switch on the whole idea before you will know if it will work or not. It takes that leap of faith and testing.

Your Readers Are Already Paying For Content…Why Not Your Blog?

The reality of your situation when you are looking at moving to a paid subscription format is that you are going to have to compete with bloggers that are still giving away quality content for free. That is not going to change, so how do you battle this fierce competition?

It all comes down to the perceived value of the deliverable.

Readers are already paying for content on a daily basis. From eBooks to members only sections of websites, readers are not only paying for content…but they are paying more than you would charge as a subscription! Why is this? The perceived value of eBook content is higher than that of a blog. Every day, I sell eBooks that contain content not found on my blog that helps my readers achieve their goals. Whether it is becoming a better mountain biker or getting in free stuff to review on your blog, that content sells consistently and provides value to my customers.

Switching to a paid subscription model would be no different…except…you would have to change the delivery method. I do not think…at this time…just access to your blog can be a paid for commodity. You would have to change the deliverable of your content to something that is email driven or a PDF magazine that contains your content plus a better design that online publishing can not provide. This way you are giving more value to your customers outside of just hitting the publish button several times a week.

Just like with ESPN and other newspaper websites, you would still need to provide regular, free content on your blog to attract new readers, but the meat and potatoes would be delivered off site to your paid subscribers.

Blogging for free…even if you enjoy the hell out of it…can not live for forever. Eventually life gets in the way and you will have to cut down on your online time unless it is providing a specific value (in this case…money). As blogging continues to grow and adapt, it will have to find a way to generate income outside of the law of numbers game.

Paid subscription models might be the answer, but we will not know until the switch is hit. At that time, will the paid models be able to withstand the competition of free? My personal opinion is that question really comes down to the quality of branding, content and perceived value.

What do you think?

Example

The biggest, most extreme shopping day of the year is upon us…Black Friday. The day of long lines, early openings and crazy deals are all part of the deal as shoppers all over the world are looking to cash in on the busiest day for retails stores of the year. As an affiliate, this day marks the first of a 30 day hammer of trying to cash in on online shopping and pick up your percentage. If you are not preparing for this largest revenue time for bloggers while holiday shoppers look to decrease their stress by buying online, you are behind the 8 ball and are leaving a ton of money on the table.

There is an art to making sure your the one that gets credit for the sale on this ever illustrious day, so let’s take an in depth look at what I am doing and hopefully it will help you out with your blog.

The Black Art Of Black Friday

While this is the biggest shopping day of the year, it does require a bit of planning on the blogger’s end if you want to be the one watching your affiliate sales rise while you lay in bed sleeping when everyone else is shopping. During this week, you are going to need to take a serious look at how you are positioning yourself with the largest online retailers and their cookie recording. For example, Amazon has a 24 hour cookie, so when you send a shopper from your website to Amazon, anything they buy within the next 24 hour period gives you a commission, so after that all bets are off. Other online retailers have 30 day cookies or even as high as 60 days, so know who you are dealing with as you plan your content and affiliate promotions.

On Bike198, my largest black Friday participant is going to be Amazon.com, so I need to make sure that my referrals are recorded within that 24 hour period when purchases are at their highest. Since the cookie period is short, it requires more careful planning than if it was longer.

The Days Leading Up To Black Friday

In the days leading up to Black Friday, I make sure the content on my blog is heavily skewed towards product reviews and articles that lean themselves more towards product based links that I can point towards Amazon.com and other online retailers participating in Black Friday. This way, I can insure that my cookies are getting recorded for the longer duration affiliate programs and it gets me a head start for the push in the hours leading up to the largest shopping day of the year. If you are planning on just spamming links in the final hours without any real planning, do not expect great results.

Some great ideas for articles are:

  • Reviews of hot products for this holiday season.
  • Buying guides related to your niche highlighting different products.
  • Informational articles that are complimented with product links (ex: I do riding tips that include equipment suggestions).
  • Comparison articles.

All of these types of articles are very product based in nature and naturally lead themselves to linking to products, but they are also a source of high-quality content that attracts readers to your blog. By hitting both birds with one stone, you are able to build the confidence and trust in your content while also preparing to cash in on the affiliate revenue.

The Hours Leading Up To Black Friday

With the longer cookie affiliate programs, the work you did on articles leading up to this week will already be reaping benefits, but what do you do for the shorter 24 hour cookies that are going to require immediate action? There is a ace in the hole that you hold as the blogger that is going to exponentially increase your income during this shopping day and you don’t even know it…

Just like with any product launch or affiliate promotion, your newsletter subscriber list is your largest asset you have in blogging (mine is serviced by Aweber). About 12 hours before Black Friday, I send out an email to my list highlighting the best reviews, buying guides and other product related content to my readers. The 12 hour window gives them enough time to open the email, click on the links and get that cookie recorded for the next 12 hours when shopping is going to be the highest online for the entire year. By providing this value in a way that greatly benefits my success rate during this shopping experience, I am able to continue to gain trust, provide quality and do this without my readers thinking I am spamming them in an attempt to make more money online. The reality…I am not spamming them…I am just continuing to deliver what I promised but timing it in a way that increases the bottom line for my blog.

So on Black Friday, I am sleeping in and watching my blogs make money while other people are out shopping. Through the careful planning of content and the release of one email, I am able to cash in on the biggest shopping day of the year. What are you doing to prepare?

Example

Before blogging hit the mainstream and WordPress made it easier to publish articles than making macaroni and cheese, the few bloggers that took on the expensive hosting costs and DIY approach to website building had very little competition in the blogging world. With a small amount of competition, rising above the noise was an easy process because there wasn’t much of it!

Fast forward to today’s blogging world and everyone from top level news sites to stay at home mom’s have a website or blog to express their views and try to stand out to generate some sort of income online. For those bloggers looking to step into the realm of profitable blogging, the outlook could look bleak as you pine away at ways to bring a unique voice to the world of “me too” copycats looking to make a quick buck.

So how do we do it?

How do we stay unique to who we are in our writing but find a way to rise above the rest at the same time?! Luckily…if you watch successful blogs that have grown to power over recent years…the uniqueness is what drives growth, so here are some tips to being a bright light amongst burnt out bulbs.

Tips On How To Keep Your Uniqueness And Grow Your Online Presence

So here we are…with thousands of blogs started each day looking for our corner of the web to call home. How do we keep our uniqueness while growing our online presence at the same time?

  • Passion Breeds Unique Attraction – While you can be successful in blogging without passion on your subject matter. I have found that bloggers that are passionate have a larger chance for success because more of their uniqueness shines through in their content and they possess the willingness to push forward and write even when no one is listening. Blogging is not the easiest way to build a reputation and business online. Whether you are looking to a blog to generate free leads for your business or you want to become the next “problogger” in your niche, blogging is a long road of constant dedication that is made easier through a love of what you do and your readers will be drawn to that passion in your writing.
  • Practice Makes Perfect…Or At Least Close To It – When was the last time you read your blog posts from your first month of blogging…or year for that matter?! Sometimes I take a look back and think, “wow…I really wrote that and people listened?!” Unique writing that portrays your voice to readers who do not know you personally takes time and practice. Many times, you are not even sure what your unique voice is until you experiment with different styled posts or writing methods. You aren’t going to get it perfectly right away, but your willingness to step outside of the box and try new things is what will get you to the promised land when words just seem to flow that connect with your readers.
  • Look For Like Minded Bloggers and Readers – Just being unique and having quality content is not going to make your light the brightest. Blogging, social media and other online activities are made successful through the collaboration with others. This will require you to step outside of your comfort zone and actively seek out like minded individuals in your niche to collaborate with. By visiting online forums, guest posting, commenting on other blogs, responding on Twitter and cold emailing other people in your niche, you are able to pull new readers to your content and convert those new readers into regular subscribers. If you plan on the “if you build it they will come” technique, you are going to fail.
  • Do Not Be Afraid To Put Your Real Self Out There – The web does not want the next Brian Clark, John Chow or Darren Rowse. Those guys already exist. The web wants the next you! Forget about copying other successful bloggers in your niche as potential readers will see right through you. You can not be afraid to be yourself and put yourself out there for the masses to see. Your unique angles, attitude and personality is ultimately what is going to draw people to your content.

Quite possibly the best thing about blogging in my eyes is the ability to make money from an art form where you get to express yourself and your thoughts with other people around the world. When you try to be “the next big thing” by copying the views and voice of other successful bloggers in your niche, you are setting yourself up for failure. Get yourself out there and bring your unique voice and brand to the table. Blog readers genuinely want to connect with unique bloggers. That is going to be your strength and that is going to be what ultimately grows your online empire.

Example

I got an email in from a reader this week that is a common occurrence in the blogging world. You hit the ground running and start to see some success. With time, you start to shift your focus elsewhere, leaving behind your primary source of revenue only to find that traffic and profits decrease on the project that is the source of getting you online success. Or…all of your current methods have hit a plateau in traffic and earnings and you have no clue on how to get off it and back to sustainable growth! And what are you left with? A stale blog starring you in the face. You need to win back old readers and find ways to attract new readers to your corner of the web to bring back up profits and encourage growth. The big problem…where to start?

The Story of Tweaks For Geeks

I figured the best way to tackle this common occurrence in the blogging world was hit it head on with a real world example, so here is the email I received this week. I hope Kevin doesn’t mind!

Kevin’s Email To Me:

Hello Robb,

We’ve corresponded a few times in the past, perhaps you remember me. Anyway, my query is as follows:

This particular question may actually make for a good article for you; as I’m sure there are others out there like me that have started up their sites and have seen some success, but have either stalled in their progress or simply want to take their online business to a whole new level.

I’ve owned a site about computers/technology (primarily focusing on how to fix various computer issues) for a little over five years now. While I am one of the few that can say that he has made over $1,000 a month from his sites, I am simultaniously one of the many that has fallen prey to the “do nothing” bug and have let my main earner fall into stagnation (and sadly seen my revenue plummet as a result). It still brings in ad money, but needs a new updated look to it (which I almost have done), and fresh consistently updated content.

So – with that in mind:

  1. What steps would you take in order to give an established but a bit “dusty” site a jumpstart?
  2. In your professional opinion, how long do you think it would take in order to make a site like that a contender again that regains its old readers and acquires new ones?

Currently I am in an excellent position where I can dedicate most of my time to revamping and regrowing my online ventures; and with my technical background I am fortunate enough to be able to do all of the programming work myself in order to add new and innovative features to it.

Really I just want to know what the most effective course of action would be to take this from a publication that gets approximately 55,000 unique monthly viewers that are all one-time visits and turning it into a destination where people visit and then want to not only stay, but return regularly. Of course, I would also love some tips for explosive growth.

Again, I think that this would be an excellent article for your readers; so perhaps you’ll want to do a full writeup on it. If not, then some friendly pointers would be greatly appreciated. If you do decide to make an article of it you can feel free to post parts of this email, or all of it in its entirety as part of your content.

Also, thank you for providing such a concise and informative site about the blogging industry. RobbSutton.com is one of the best resources out there that I’ve come across.

Keep up the good work!

Thank you,

-Kevin Souter
Owner, TweaksForGeeks.com | Rent A Geek Computer Services

Breathing Life Back Into Your Stale Blog

Ok…before we even jump into this…my biggest recommendation to any blogger is “do not ignore your primary income generator“. Yes…blogging is exciting and new projects are always more of a rush than old, but by jumping around starting and stopping new projects, you are just crippling yourself for the future by not giving anything ample time to grow. I am not sure if that is what happened in this case, but that is the most common mistake I see in new bloggers. Try to fight the urge to start “the next great idea” every week and focus on projects that you can tackle without leaving what has brought you success behind.

When you look to breathe life into a stale blog or bring new growth to an existing blog, your efforts are going to fall into 3 basic categories.

  1. Content
  2. Blog Design
  3. Promotion

These are the three core elements to blogging that will bring you new growth and make existing readers happy every time. When you start to jump on each of these aspects of your blogging individually, you need to do so with a plan and ask yourself the right questions.

Content: Shaking Things Up

No…I am not going to sit here and give you the same, old, tired out line of “write pillar articles and content is king”. Hopefully, you have already been doing that or you wouldn’t have seen any success to begin with. When you are looking to attract new readers and bring life back to old readers, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions.

  • Who do I want to attract? – You need to specifically lay out exactly who you want to attract with your content. Who are you not reaching now that you want to? Are you generating content for that specific target audience? You need to start bringing in high quality, targeted content into your blog to pull in new readers that you are specifically targeting. However, this content needs to be relevant to current readers as well, so do not step too far outside the scope of your niche as you can start to alienate your die hards while trying to attract new.
  • Where can I expand? – When I start working with new bloggers, I tell them to find a niche that is manageable. Do not take on TechCrunch right off the bat…you will loose. When you find a sub-niche in your industry, you can really drive it home and start to see success because you are reaching a very targeted audience in a smaller competition market. When you take this theory, you can start to run out of content over time, so now is the time to look into your expansion opportunities in related subject matters.
  • How can I be more useful? – How you write your content and the types of articles you publish are incredibly important. Are there certain articles that seem to perform better than others on your blog and in search engines? In my experience, tutorials and other “helpful” articles tend to perform the best, so look into areas that you can continue to hit a home run and start to product more of those types of articles as you look for new growth.

Your content is the core of your blog. Without it…you are left with an empty design that doesn’t do too much of anything. When you are looking to expand or revive, it is where you need to start as the rest of this isn’t going to mean a thing without your content.

Blog Design: Time To Shift Focus To Action

How your readers interact with your content is completely based on your blog design. Where there eyes go…where they click…the actions they take (rss feed subscribing, newsletter opt-in, social media spreading) are all dependent upon how you present your words through the design. When you are looking to ramp things back up a bit, it is time to look at how your readers are interacting with your content.

Note: I would highly recommend paying close attention to your bounce rate and reader trends in Google Analytics as that gives you an insiders look at what is going on with your blog.

  • What do I want my readers to do when they finish reading? – You have to put yourself in the shoes of a reader in your niche (not a blogger looking at a blog article). In non-tech/blogging niches, your readers will have no clue about blogging and social media other than their own personal experience. It is your job to step inside of their head as they land on your pages. Do you want them to share it on Facebook? Do you want them to check out another article? These are important questions that you need to answer as they directly affect what you put at the end of each article.
  • What is my blog design not accomplishing? – Are you not increasing your opt-in rates? Are your pageviews low? You need to start looking at what your design is not doing for you currently. The outward appearance of your blog is not just a visual mechanism, it is how your readers interact and move through your site. When you are looking to get readers to dive deeper into old content, click on advertising or feel like they are on a quality site, you lean heavily on your design. To get things rolling, start to look at things like logo design, navigation and design elements while keeping in mind where you want your readers to go. As a general rule, bloggers tend to add too many elements to their blogs so only put it up if 70% of your readers are going to use it. Anything else will just be wasted space and clutter. You want to draw your readers eyes to your most important elements that promote growth and conversions.

What you should have created at this point is a site that is accomplishing your goals while also looking professional. One key thing to keep in mind is that you are building your site for your readers and what they will interact with…not what you are going to interact with. Keep your personal touch…but back it up with function.

Promotion: Time To Take It To The New Masses

The order of this process is intentional. With an end goal of attracting new readers, you have to create an atmosphere that they want to land on before you go out and find them. This does not meant that everything has to be perfect before you move forward (it never is…blogging is an evolving process), so don’t get locked down with “it has to be perfect” panic. When you feel like you have accomplished enough of the goals you have set out with content and design, you need to start pulling new readers into your revisions. Hopefully, you already know who you want to attract through the first content step…so let’s go get them.

  • Where do my new/potential readers hang out online? – It is your job as the blogger to pull in new readers. Where does your new “perfect target reader” hang out online? By visiting these places and building up a solid reputation (online forums, other blogs, meetup groups, Facebook fan pages, etc.), you can pull them back to your content and create another subscriber.
  • How do my new and existing readers spread content? – Not all niches spread content the same. While Twitter might be a great viral spreader for one niche, it could be horrible in another. It is your job to figure out which ones work the best in your subject matter and start building up a profile in these areas. The easiest (and hardest) way to get new reader’s eyes on your content is through viral spreading, but you want to make sure your time is not going wasted by doing some research before you jump in head first.
  • How do my new readers like to subscribe to content? – As part of your promotion techniques, you are trying to attract new, long term subscribers to your blog. How do these readers want to subscribe to online content? In the biking world, more than half (probably even less) know what an RSS reader is or even care. It is still a world of email, so I put a lot of emphasis on my RSS email subscription and newsletter subscription. When you promote your new content and pull new readers into your blog, you need to feature a method of subscription that is the most widely used in your niche. Do not force feed what some other blogger says you need to do. It is up to you and what your readers want.
  • Who can I collaborate with? – Guest posting is a fantastic way to pull in new readers to your blog, but it isn’t always an option in some niches. Try to think up of unique ways that you can work with both online and offline resources to bring more content/promotion to their medium while also promoting your corner of the web. In the past, I have worked with forum site owners, industry magazines and special interest groups to help them accomplish their goals while at the same time promoting my website. It brings you credibility and new readers at the same time.
  • What can I give away? – Contests and giveaways can grow a blog faster than just about anything else online. People love free stuff and they will promote you to no end to get it. Before you start sweating about the money you are going to have to spend…keep one thing in mind. Even the giveaways with inexpensive products…when targeted correctly…perform incredibly well. You can also have companies and other blogs donate prizes in exchange for promotion within the contest and you will not have to spend a dime. Just be sure you structure the giveaway or contest in a manner that you get some needed asset (newsletter subscriber, rss reader, etc) and that contest is virally promoted (stumbled, Tweeted, shared on Facebook, etc.).

Rinse, Repeat and Evolve

That is really the nuts and bolts of breathing life back into a stale blog (or starting up a new one for that matter). When you are looking to rejuvenate your blog, take a look at these three core areas of blogging to see what you are doing wrong and how to improve it. By taking a systematic and planned attack, you can not only bring a blog back to its former glory, but you can lift it above and to a success you never thought was possible.

When you create an atmosphere that is based around the premis of helping others, they will in turn want to help you. Ideally, you want to create a “cultish” following online where your readers want to tell other people that they hangout in your online space. When you focus on that idea of helping…you can make huge strides in creating an online community that breads repeat visitors.

So how long does it take if you are on the right path?

Honestly…success is often a byproduct of the effort put forth. While it can differ depending on competition and market saturation, I have found that the hardest working (when it is a planned, thought out attack) get ahead the fastest.

Image by R’eyes