It’s not that bad an offer if you can convince enough people to pay you for what’s on your mind. Convince 1,000 people a day and you’ve got $10; convince a million people every month and you’ve got a six-figure annual salary. It’s that kind of math that attracts the ambitious to the world of blogging. And with minimal entry barriers (domain-name registration and some free content-management software), it’s no surprise that the blogiverse is growing at a rate of about 120,000 new entrants a day globally.
Weblog chaser technorati.com is currently tracking 70 million blogs; its April 2007 State of the Blogosphere quarterly report declares that, on average, more than 5,000 blogs are popping up each hour. That means that since you started reading this article, about 300 new blogs have joined the Web. While blogging has clearly taken off, cashing in on the trend has proven more elusive. One Vancouverite seems to have cracked the code. John Chow, 41, was already making a living from his computer hardware website, thetechzone.com, but he wanted to start a personal blog about his interests in dining, fast cars and the Internet. In particular, he wanted to test the revenue opportunities available to bloggers to determine which ones were most profitable. His blog, johnchow.com, became his lab rat. At first glance, the image on his website of two duelling, electric-blue sports cars and the slogan, “the miscellaneous ramblings of a dot com mogul,” may appear to be the markings of a pretentious teenager, but it doesn’t take long to see why Chow feels confident in calling himself a mogul. Chow is forthcoming with the results of his experiments, unlike many other bloggers. He openly talks about how much he’s pocketed, which revenue stream is pulling in the most and how he attracts the traffic that brings in the money. You’ll also read about what he had for dinner and where he went on vacation. According to Chow, it’s a simple equation: eyeballs = revenue opportunities. Every visitor to a site is a potential penny, so the first step in making big bucks is attracting those eyeballs, or “hits.” Build it and they will come Chow believes that the most important part of being a successful blogger is selecting a niche topic you actually care about – as opposed to choosing a subject simply because you think it might make money or be popular. Readers pick up on a blogger’s passion for their subject, and, once they’re hooked, they’ll return regularly to check it out. Bloggers who truly care about their topic also find it easier to blog consistently. Frequent postings to a blog help ensure a higher ranking on search engines, which make it easier to find. Search-engine optimization is an obsession with bloggers, and regular updates are just one of the methods they use. Other tools include post meta data, hit tails and high-volume RSS subscribers (see “Blossary”). Search engines aren’t the only way Web surfers discover blogs. Bloggers love to promote other bloggers – especially when there is a reciprocal agreement. It’s a classic case of “you pat my back and I’ll pat yours,” except that in blogging, back-pats are called “trackbacks.” If a blogger quotes another blog, his blog includes a link back to the quoted source and both bloggers register the hit. Certain sites such as digg.com, del.icio.us and stumbleupon.com contain user-submitted posts and articles. Those same users also rank these submissions and create a “most popular” list. Being nominated to one of these sites and earning a favourable ranking will drive traffic to a site.
Social networks such as facebook.com and myspace.com are another effective way to introduce blogs. Many people who become friends online are more than happy to check out each other’s blogs and even link to them from their websites. And there are plenty of other creative ways to get mentioned or to have your blog added to a “blogroll.” For example, Chow has a standing offer to his readers who want to introduce their own websites to his large volume of visitors. All a blogger has to do is post a review of john chow.com on their site, and Chow will put a one-time-only link to that review on his website. So far, he’s had more than 600 people sign up. Chow immodestly believes the scheme “will go down in Internet history as the best linkbait ever created.” Some bloggers will go so far as to insert links to their site wherever they can. Youtube.com, a popular video-share site, is often subjected to this kind of opportunistic advertising. A blogger will post a comment on the most popular videos that only includes a link to their own blog. Such blatant self-promotion and misuse of a forum has raised a few concerns at popular sites and is often likened to spam. And, like spam, it does increase traffic. But if people visit a site and nobody counts them, the traffic may as well not exist. A site has to make sure that it is being ranked highly by search engines as well as other website ranking systems such as alexa.com and technorati.com. Once a site is registered, its traffic volume is quantifiable. Surfers for sale Proven traffic is essential, but it won’t generate revenue on its own. The next step is selling those surfers. “Make money online” is the search term that delivers John Chow the majority of new visitors. While many bloggers start out just wanting a forum in which to express themselves, they eventually realize they could be making a little bit of money at it too. For Chow, that was certainly the case. He started his personal blog in December 2005, he recalls, as “an outlet to write about life and opinions and interests.”