In this interview on RobbSutton.com, I am talking to David Risley of PCMECH and DavidRisley.com. David has been making six figures from his blogging for years, so throughout this interview, we talk about what it takes to have a successful blog. We also touch on various blogging subjects like making money blogging outside of the MMO, blogging niche and how that is actually where most money is made online. David has a very business, planned approach to blogging and this has brought him a lot of success over the years, so take a read (or listen) through the interview and soak up some blogging and monetization content that you can apply to your blogging and start seeing positive results today.
How you doing today, David?
David: Pretty good, how about you?
Robb: Good! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
I guess we’ll just go ahead and jump straight into it. What got you started off in blogging?
David: It’s kind of a funny story. It was indirectly, because back when I started doing this, the word ‘blog’ didn’t even exist yet, but what really got me started in this whole website thing was actually an article in Yahoo Internet Life, which is now out of circulation. It was a magazine back then about how to build a website in 20 minutes or less.
I was like, “This sounds kind of cool,” so I just gave it a whirl, and obviously my first site looked like hell. But probably within a year or two of that I was already treating it kind of like a blog, even though it was a completely manual process, and then it developed from there.
Robb: Awesome. Your big money maker as far as off-blogging topics is PCMech.com. How long was it between your first post with PC Mech and when you were actually making a full-time income online?
David: I would say probably in the neighborhood of about three years. In fact, I just went through this when I was going through the Blog Masters Club launch. I actually went back in time in Quick Books and looked at income.
It looks like even back in 2002 I think I made just shy of about $60,000 in the business, so it was a full-time income at that point. Obviously I didn’t have much going on – no family or anything like that – so it was all good. So it was probably about three years, or a maximum of four.
Robb: I talk a lot about diversifying income streams to make a full-time income online and not relying on just one income stream as your full income. What would you say is your largest money earner on PC Mech, and what percentage of your total income does that equate to?
David: The biggest income earner on PC Mech is the membership site, PC Mech Premium. It’s probably pretty close to about 70% of the revenue now.
It used to be that the banner ads were the biggest revenue generator for me, but that’s just really changed lately. I think part of it’s the way the economy is shifting around, with a lot more competition so to speak in the tech blogosphere. It’s a very saturated market now online. There’s a lot of people doing it. You’ve got the Tech Crunches and stuff out there now, where when I started that didn’t exist.
So the banner ad revenue has dropped, and I’m also just not really pursuing banner ads that much. Most of the stuff I run advertising-wise on PC Mech is network stuff like Adsense and IDG and stuff like that, quite frankly because I’m pretty lazy about it and I just really don’t want to take the time to go out there and get direct sponsors. If they come to me, that’s great, but I just don’t feel like going out and getting them.
The good thing about the membership site is I’ve got full control over that. I don’t have to worry about somebody else’s budget. If I want to get more members, I just run a promotion.
Robb: A lot of people look for membership sites and that kind of stuff as a way to bring in 100% of their revenue stream. You put in all the work, but you get all the benefit of it.
When you were looking at setting up a membership site on PC Mech, how did you make the decision on how to structure it? Did you get input from your readers, or is it really just kind of an equation that you set up?
David: Not really. I was actually figuring out membership sites as I went. If I recall, back at the time I think I was actually going through some of the different parts of the Teaching Sells program that Brian Clark puts on with Copy Blogger. I think that’s where I started learning some of the basics of at least how they structured their membership site.
Now of course I started doing it the way that they did it, in that I was using a piece of software called Moodle for the actual content, and then using I think aMember. I’ve been using aMember from the beginning as far as the actual account management.
Now days I don’t use Moodle anymore. I just use WordPress, but I more or less just figured it out as I went.
Robb: What do you offer on your membership site that these guys are actually paying for?
David: It’s more or less premium-level content, stuff that does not show up on the blog itself. We’ve got a bunch more videos in there and we’ve got some full article series in there rather than the more or less daily hodgepodge that we have out on PC Mech. The stuff’s got more of a structure inside the membership system.
They also have a few perks on the forums, enhanced access on the forums, and things like that.
Robb: With over 250,000 people visiting PC Mech on a monthly basis, what would you say is your biggest contributing factor to generating that much traffic to your blog?
David: Probably being consistent with the content, and then of course that leads over into getting ranked with Google, which obviously is a big traffic magnet for us.
Now days I don’t do a heck of a lot of the writing for the site anymore. I actually have other people doing it for me, but one of the big criteria for me has always been to keep a consistent flow.
It’s also helped that I’ve got the forum. A lot of blogs don’t have a forum attached to it. I started the PC Mech forums way back in the early days, even before vBulletin existed. That brings back a repeat community.
Last time I looked it’s got over 40,000 members. Obviously they’re not all active, but they all have an account and it’s a good thing. There’s a big community around the domain.
Robb: I recently started a forum on Bike198.com and it’s a lot easier to start a forum once you have that core readership that will support the forum for you.
David: Oh, absolutely. That was a help for me. Starting a forum has a reputation for being extremely tough, because for the first people who get in there it’s just like crickets. There’s nothing going on, and then they take off. It’s just a vicious circle.
Some people have to resort to having fake conversations with themselves and stuff that just makes me feel like a douche to even try. The lucky thing is I didn’t have to do any of that.
Robb: I think there’s a misconception online that the only way to make money online is to blog about blogging, or blog about making money online, which really couldn’t be farther from the truth.
What are your thoughts on that misconception and advice that you have for a blogger looking to make money outside of that topic?
David: I agree with you, it is a misconception. One of the funniest things is that I would say that a majority of the people that are making money as bloggers are not in the ‘make money online’ market.
A lot of the people that are talking about this stuff are not making full-time incomes at it, but they’re still in the process of doing that, or trying to fake it, which is the worst thing.
I was blogging in the tech market for years before I ever lifted a finger and started talking about blogging itself. You even have people like Darren Rowse, who invented the word ‘pro blogger,’ and he’s doing most of his stuff with his digital photography site. So I think the idea that you have to blog about blogging or blog about making money online is actually not correct at all.
I think one of the reasons why people think that is because the people that are interested in doing that find themselves reading those kinds of blogs. I think it lends itself to a kind of tunnel vision, where that just happens to be what they’re paying attention to.
The thing that they forget is that most of the people out there who might be making money as bloggers, who are not talking about making money, they just don’t talk about making money, so therefore it doesn’t really dawn on you that they’re probably doing fairly okay at it.
Robb: I also found too that a lot of the really successful online sites have terrible Alexa rankings, and all those things that bloggers who read blogs all the time are ranking other sites off of. They look at other sites that might not have a cool design or have a terrible Alexa ranking and think, “Well, they’re not making anything.”
What they don’t know is behind the scenes they have a lot of traffic and they’re making a killing.
David: Oh, absolutely. The Alexa ratings have been notoriously inaccurate. I think they’re maybe a little better now, and page rank I think is pretty much meaningless these days.
It’s all a matter of having a business built around a site. Every audience wants different things in the way the site looks. If you read news and you ever look at the Drudge Report or something like this, it looks like hell, yet the guy’s making a killing with it.
Robb: Yeah. Switching gears just a little bit, what made you want to start www.DavidRisley.com, “Confessions of a Six-Figure Professional Blogger”?
David: For me it was more out of interest, because I was blogging in the tech market and it remains a hobby of mine, but I was finding that my passions were starting to adjust more to really kicking it up a notch in terms of building a business.
What I would find is that I was sitting there interested in the business side of things and marketing and things like that. That’s where my true passions lie at this time, and it was hard for me to get back into gear with writing about the tech stuff.
Also the audience with PC Mech are primarily much more hard-core geeks than I am these days. They like to build computers and stuff like this, stuff that I used to enjoy quite a bit. These days I’m more of a computer user. I really don’t want to take the lid off anymore. It’s just not a good use of my time.
So I decided to start DavidRisley.com because I wanted to be able to start writing again about what really motivated me. Of course it doesn’t hurt the fact that I’ve been doing it for awhile. I was like, “Hmm, I probably have something I could offer to this market.”
I was reading a lot of the other sites out there that we all know about, and I felt like they were offering a little bit of an incomplete picture of the way that I would spell it out.
So it was just like, “Well, I have something to offer. Let’s go ahead and do it.”
David: Yeah, I’ll be brief about it. 3 Day Money is essentially a three-day course that’s designed for newbies really. It’s designed to take somebody who really doesn’t have much of an idea of how to go about generating any money on the internet, and will give them a primer on how to go about doing that.
It talks about market selection, and it does get into blogging a little bit, but it’s not essentially a course about blogging as much as it is just a general outlook of how to make money.
A lot of bloggers have a hard time getting out of the mindset of putting banner ads all over the place and hoping that it just takes off, and it just doesn’t work anymore. I think you even just put out a report to that effect. It doesn’t work that well anymore.
Robb: Yeah, the days of just ‘click and pay’ are kind of gone. It takes more of a strong business model, which is actually a good thing in the long run I believe. It’s more sustainable.
David: Oh, definitely. What I’m finding is there’s a lot of hold-overs that are still thinking that the old days of the digital gold rush are still there, and it’s just not. Now it comes to reality that you have to build a back-end to the blog. Otherwise you’re not going to make very much.
So Blog Masters Club in short goes into all that – how to build up your list, how to sell things, how to market to them, how to put together a membership site around the blog, how to build traffic to the blog, etc etc.
Robb: Actually, on that subject of making money online, you had a recent article that I commented on on your site about how you need to attract a buying audience.
I think a lot of bloggers get into this thought that they want a lot of traffic, they want a lot of comments, and then they’re wondering why they have all this traffic and they’re not making anything.
You had a really good article on that. If you wanted to go into a little detail on that, it would be great.
David: Yeah. It’s just that the numbers don’t mean that much. I’m not going to say they’re meaningless, because obviously you need to have people looking at your stuff to sell anything to them.
But you can have a small following of even just a few hundred people who are really into what you’re saying, and you can still make money off of those people. You don’t necessarily need to have 100,000 people looking at your blog.
Then another point of that article was that you need to pay attention to how the type of content that you put out there affects the type of people that end up gravitating to your blog, because not everybody makes a good customer.
Let’s just be honest, some people are more of a pain in the butt to deal with than other people, and they’re just not willing to take out their wallet for much of anything.
You aren’t rude to them or anything like that, but you just need to pay more attention to the type of people who are ultimately going to help you achieve the goals that you want. If money from your blog is one of those goals, then you need to pay more attention to them than everybody else.
Robb: I’ve heard in several of your videos about the freedom blogging gives you. I think a lot of bloggers think that once you get to a certain point, you’re only working an hour or two a day and you’re bringing in all this income and everything is just grand.
How much do you actually work a day on growing your business, and what do you do with the freedom of being your own boss?
David: The idea of working an hour or two a day is definitely a misconception. It is a full-time job for me. There are some days where I might only work six hours, but that’s only because I’m doing other stuff during the day.
Other days I’m working 8 to 10 to 12 hours a day. It just depends on the day. But overall this is a full-time job and I work as much, if not more than people with a 9 to 5.
In terms of what I do with the freedom, essentially it’s more of how you define freedom. The freedom that I have is that I can choose when I do and don’t work. It doesn’t mean that I can say, “I’m just not going to work at all,” because obviously if I just stop doing anything, the business would more or less dry up. I have some things on autopilot, but after awhile it would start to drift off.
So the freedom is that if we want to go on vacation I don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. If I wanted to go out to eat with my wife during the week, not only can I afford to buy that meal, but I can do it during the week without having to worry about my schedule the next day, and that type of thing.
The idea of having to sit in a cubicle all day, I’d probably just shoot myself.
Robb: Yeah, it just makes you want to pull your hair out. Do you think six-figure blogging is still attainable for new bloggers?
David: Sure, yeah. It’s all a matter of building the business back-end through the blog. Unfortunately we’re at a point at this point that most bloggers just don’t think about that, or you’ll have people who are coming in with an employee mindset, thinking that a blog is going to be a magic payday for them.
Maybe back in the 90’s and early 2000’s you could almost turn anything into a money stream. These days it’s more based on the old school rules of business, just in a new medium.
I think if bloggers brings that to the table, then sure, they can get to a six-figure point and probably do it a hell of a lot quicker than I did.
Robb: Yeah, I hear a lot of bloggers say, “I put it out there. Why aren’t people visiting it?” It’s a little bit more complicated than that. It’s not just that you throw out content and all the sudden there’s a rush of “if you build it, they will come.” That’s not how it works.
David: The “you build it, they come” thing is just not true anymore. You’ve got to go out there and get them. It’s just like in normal life.
I’ve used the metaphor before that if you build a house out in the middle of a forest, nobody’s going to know that it’s there. You’ve got to build a road to it, and ideally a whole bunch of roads to that house, before anybody’s ever going to drive by.
Robb: Absolutely. If you had one piece of advice about successful blogging, what would it be?
David: Probably what I was alluding to before, and that is to treat it like a business if you want it to be one. Along that line would be also to actually evaluate the niche that you want to enter before you spend the time to really go into it as a blogger, because most bloggers start a blog just because they have an interest in it. Then they turn around and reactively try to figure out how to monetize it.
That’s the wrong way to go about it, and it usually leads to frustration. Just decide on your goals from the outset. If making money is one of those goals, then that needs to be part of your criteria for evaluating what market you’re about to go into to. That’s probably the #1 mistake I see a lot of people make who are trying to make money at it.
Robb: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything?
David: I’d probably do it faster. [laughing] Being that I started doing this so early, not only was a lot of what I do now not even an option back then, but nobody else was doing it. Nobody had any idea.
So if I had to start over again I think I could probably build up a lot quicker now, because I feel as if I know what I’m doing. I’ve got something that works.
I think part of the proof of that pudding – and I pat myself on the back for this – is that when I decided to start DavidRisley.com, I built it up much quicker.
Now obviously DavidRisley.com is still not nearly to the size of PC Mech, but that’s fine. It makes a hell of a lot more money per visitor than PC Mech does.
When I started that blog, I was sitting there telling myself, “I wonder if I still have the chops to start a brand new blog and get it off the ground,” or if I was just relying on luck beforehand.
So it was cool that I could actually build it up from nothing to what it is now, and the fact that I actually have people looking at it every day.
Robb: You bring up a good point too, in that you learn a lot through mistakes on that first blog. When people start expanding and making other blogs, and when you look at a lot of successful bloggers, they have multiple sites.
They may not have a dozen, but they have two or three that are really successful, and starting that second and third is typically a lot easier than starting that first.
David: Oh yeah. I think I’m actually one of the rare people that even with all the mistakes that I made, I just kept on working with the same site. That’s why PC Mech is what it is now. I didn’t give up on the market.
Quite frankly, when I started that site I wasn’t even thinking of it as a market. I was just completely off into never-never land, so that’s quite frankly what I tell a lot of bloggers now is that’s where it comes from, the fact that I know that I did it wrong and I realize the errors of my ways, and that’s why I try to teach other people not to do it that way.
Robb: Do you have a favorite drink?
David: Well, I drink a lot of water, but to get more fun than that, my wife is Russian. We went to Russia and I happened to have a birthday there. This was probably at least three years ago now.
Obviously, vodka is the big thing over there, so my birthday gift from her family was to basically get me hammered on cheap vodka. You can buy a bottle of vodka there for like….
Robb: A couple bucks?
David: Well, cheaper. If you equate rubles over to dollars, we’re talking like 50 cents. It’s just cheap. So now I actually like vodka. Sometimes I’ll just drink it straight, sometimes mix it with club soda or something.
Robb: Do you have a favorite food?
David: Well, some of my Twitter followers know this, and that is that I like to roll sushi. I actually really enjoy sushi. In fact, a month or two ago I actually got all dorky and recorded a video of me doing it. Sometime in the next week or two I might actually post a video of me rolling some sushi. [laughing]
Robb: That’ll be a good one! What are you driving?
David: I drive an Acura TL. I really like Honda as a company. My last car was a Honda Accord, and then I was like, “Well, I could drive something a little nicer than that,” so I went and got the Acura TL and it’s a nice car. It gets up and goes too.
Robb: I actually used to have one of the Legend coupes back in the day. That was a fun one.
Mac or PC?
David: These days it’s all Mac. I used a PC for the longest time. That’s obvious where PC Mech came from. It used to be called PC Mechanic, and then I just renamed it to PC Mech so I could be a little bit more general about it.
Back when Vista came out, it scared the living crap out of me. Then when OS10 Leopard came out I switched over to the Mac and I haven’t really looked back since.
Robb: It’s just too easy to use, isn’t it?
David: It’s awesome. It’s funny, too, as a blogger there’s some tools out there – with the exception of Windows Live Writer, which is an awesome client and unfortunately only comes under Windows – but there’s a lot of stuff for the Mac that’s not available for Windows. It’s just really cool for bloggers.
Robb: Is there anyone who inspires you?
David: In different ways. I read a lot of the people in my particular market. I read Darren Rowse and I think he’s basically the standard bearer for the whole world of professional blogger, but I also read Yaro and I do read some bloggers who I guess would be considered smaller than me, even though I don’t look at them that way.
There’s one guy named James over at TheInfopreneur.net, and he and I have butted heads a few times because our approaches are pretty different, but he is also inspiring because he’s got one hell of a work ethic. He’s got a military background and he brings that work ethic into his blogging.
I think he’s just got a very Gary Vaynerchuk style Crush It attitude with the way that he does his blogging, which I think is going to take him places.
Robb: Do you have anything else you want to add before we wrap this up?
David: I think blogging is just a lot of fun. Anybody who’s looking to do this, I think there’s still a lot of opportunity in this. One piece of advice, and this is something I’ve been thinking about lately, is that people these days need to think beyond the blog, not just the blog itself.
Definitely pay attention to what you’re doing with videos and out there on social media and things like that. Even though those things have been there for several years now, I think it’s going to be even more important than ever as we move forward, especially video. I think it’s just going to be huge. When I did the launch for Blog Masters Club, I put out several videos and I got a lot of great feedback from that.
I also just happen to know because I watch the market quite a bit that really there’s not very many people in this market doing that much video, and it’s really not that hard to do. I think that’s a real potential competitive advantage for anybody that wants to do it.
Robb: I think a lot of people think that they have to have this elaborate set-up to do video, and it’s really not true. Simple cuts make your typical reader happy. You don’t have to have fancy graphics and stuff all over the place. Just make it simple and people will watch it.
David: Oh yeah. A Flip video camera works just fine. I have a camcorder, but it’s nothing fancy. I just bought the thing at Best Buy, and I do all my editing with iMovie, which just comes with the Mac. There’s nothing fancy on this side. My microphone that I attach to the camera is literally about $16. I bought it from Amazon.com.
Robb: [laughing] An eBay special? There’s a ton of those out there too.
David: There’s tons of them out there. The only thing I would recommend if you want to have decent audio is to make sure you get a camera with a mic input. That’s a big thing.
Robb: Yeah, it separates out all the noise from the background.
For the people listening to this, by the time they hear it you’re probably going to have a new addition to the family. You have a daughter now, right?
David: Yeah, I’ve got a two-year-old daughter now. Today is Wednesday as we’re recording this and our son is officially due on Saturday, so obviously there’s a give and take. I’m betting it’s going to be next week before he actually comes out, but either way it’s happening very soon.
Robb: Congratulations on the new baby. That’s awesome!
David: Thank you!
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