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.” [pagebreak]
When he decided to monetize his blog, his first stop was Google AdSense. Google AdSense is an advertising brokerage that any website can assign space on their site to. The site is paid a percentage of the ad sales by AdSense. Wendy Rozeluk, an account planner with Google Inc.’s Canada office, has this recommendation about AdSense for bloggers (regardless of their traffic volume): “Try it because you are not committed and there is help available. Just register, copy and paste the code, and, if you don’t like it, you can turn it off at any time.” For a small niche blogger, AdSense offers access to a sales team working with the large advertisers who wouldn’t otherwise look at a small blog. Rozeluk feels she can’t estimate an average income from AdSense because every blog is unique and will have its own ad rate based on traffic, click-through ratios and conversions. As an example, Rozeluk discloses that a popular daters’ revenge site, dontdatehimgirl.com, has received cheques from Google AdSense topping $15,000 a month. Numbers like that combined with a passive, risk-free system make Google AdSense an attractive option. Other similar advertising networks exist, such as AdVolcano LLC and Kontera Technologies Inc., but Google is the largest in Canada, with about 70 per cent of the market. Many bloggers will hang on to their prime real estate (often the most visible top banner ad space) for private ad sales, dedicating side and lower banners to ad brokers. Finding a sponsor for that big spot can be as simple as placing an ad in the space available – “advertise here” – and waiting. Banner ads are generally sold in the same way as traditional advertising, based on size and placement and a specified a period of time. Many advertisers prefer this because they can control the design and negotiate the rate. It’s one of Chow’s biggest money-makers, and all of his private advertisers approached him first. Some revenue can also be made on a pay-per-click basis. Companies such as Text Link Ads Inc. and Vibrant Media Inc. will work with the blog content and insert visible links within the body of the post. These will appear to the reader as a double-underlined word or a word in a different colour. Once clicked, the link is registered, and a tally of clicks is kept on the source site’s account. Monthly or quarterly cheques are sent to the blogger based on the number of clicks. To optimize this revenue stream, a blogger can choose from a list of high-demand words that they think they can surreptitiously work into their content. If bloggers are willing to brand their content further, they can register as a reviewer on reviewme.com. Bloggers set their own price as reviewers and, for a fee, critique a website on their blogs. This works best when the site requesting the review is in line with the content of the blog. (It can be a bit of a slippery slope when a blog about kittens starts doing paid reviews for a website about sumo wrestling. Sure, there might be a few kitty-loving readers who also love the Japanese sport, but it’s more likely to appear irrelevant to most readers.) Reviewme.com does require reviewers to disclose that they are paid for content, and an excessive number of reviews in a blog may drive readers away. Chow has recently taken some heat from readers who feel that his sponsored content is now outweighing the content they want to read. He’s lucky his readers are willing to complain; in the ever-changing world of blogging, most readers will simply look elsewhere for the content they want without having to wade through advertorials. Some readers prefer their advertisements to be easily identifiable. Affiliate marketing placements may look like regular ads, but they are different in the way they pay out. These ads require a click-through and a purchase before any money is paid to the website. It is essentially a commission-based program, paying anywhere between 10 and 40 per cent of any sale or a set fee, such as $4 per item sold. The companies will mark the click-through so that even if a purchase is not made on an initial visit, the affiliate gets the commission. Affiliate marketing is on the rise, and deals can be pretty lucrative if a product is well placed. A blog about technology does well with retailers of software, for example, while a gossip site might have more success with witty T- shirts. Blogs to riches Because his blog is a test site for all forms of revenue, Chow has used all of the above strategies. His top earners are reviewme.com (38 per cent), affiliate sales (18 per cent), text line ads (12 per cent), private ads (10 per cent), and Google AdSense (nine per cent). His monthly income from the website has grown steadily since his launch. In his sixth month, he made $300; six months later, he was up to $3,440; and in 2007, after 18 months, he cleared $11,700. While total revenue is a good measure of success, income should be measured against page views. An average website will earn $1 to $10 per 1,000 page views. Chow reports that, because of his constant focus on maximizing his revenue, he is making $43.95 per page view. It’s the stuff of Web dreams, and Chow has inspired many a blogger to chase them. Greg Godden, 23, is a PR coordinator for Riptown.com Media (a marketing and technology company based in Vancouver) by day, a reality-TV blogger by night. He started his blog in May 2006. Dingorue.com began as a hobby, a place where Godden could share his musing about one of his favourite things: television. It didn’t take long before he started to see a decent level of traffic. “When I hit the 1,000-hits-per-day mark, I decided I should start making some money,” he recalls. There was no shortage of competition in the blogworld of TV musings, but Godden decided to use them to his advantage. He used the forums on other sites to become a part of a community. He established a network, focused on optimizing his search-engine rankings by carefully choosing his key words and committing two hours a day to the blog (not including his “research” time watching TV shows). [pagebreak] Godden uses Google AdSense, has signed up for reviewme.com and Ad Write and is an affiliate marketer with Amazon.com Associates. He’s also looking for a buyer for a banner ad he has just created. A year after monetizing his blog, Godden’s pulling close to $600 a month. It’s enough to spur him on as he talks about a promising future: “I hope to get more visitors and involve my wife, since she watches [TV] anyway and we are both net junkies. And I’m considering another blog.” First-time blogger Aaron De Simone, a 25-year-old graphic designer in Nanaimo, took a different route in establishing a blog about fashion. He hired two writers in Victoria, one in New York and a network of trend spotters around the world to kick off his daily fashion site. He plays the role of designer and editor-in-chief of iheartluxe.com, a blog hybrid of sorts. De Simone created the site in October 2006 using the money in his savings to pay the writers and cover monthly Web-hosting costs (about $2,500 to date). He had been inspired by the success of dailycandy.com, a website and e-newsletter that was sold in 2003 by former AOL official Bob Puttman for a rumoured $4 million. Like iheartluxe.com, dailycandy.com uses a singular voide to identify what’s cool and hip in the world of style. Unlike iheartluxe.com, dailycandy.com includes sponsored content in “dedicated emails” that are hard to discern from its regular emails. De Simone hopes his ability to pinpoint “it” products ahead of the curve will create a loyal readership, one he can eventually sell as a whole, along with his blog. While he will have to start making some money from the blog soon, he’s in no rush. From his home studio in Nanaimo he optimistically says, “The focus now is on gaining good readership, earning their trust. As it becomes self-supporting, I’ll shift into business mode. Maybe.” Blogging for a living does require a mind for commerce. To make a good return on readership, a blogger has to constantly watch the site’s ranking, ensure high-quality content and find ways to optimize various streams of income, whether it’s selecting the right retailer to affiliate with or where to place ads. Those who treat it like a business are the ones blogging all the way to the bank. [pagebreak] Blossary Essential vocabulary for the business-minded blogger blog: Truncation of web log. A blog is a chronological online diary in which the author writes about a specific topic. blogosphere, blogiverse: The collective world of all blogs. blogroll: A list of links to other websites or blogs that is a permanent fixture on a website or blog (usually on the sidebar). click-through ratio: The number of people clicking on a link or ad. conversion: When a visitor to a site takes a desired action such as buying a product, registering for a membership, downloading a file or subscribing to an RSS feed. CPM (cost per thousand, where “M” is the Roman numeral for 1,000): The price to advertise on a website based on the number of page views, measured in thousands. Also called eCPM, where “e” stands for electronic. CMS (content management system): A software template that enables users to post content to a web page without coding. WordPress is a popular CMS with beginners because it is free and offers multiple templates. deep link: A hyperlink that goes directly to a specific web page (often referenced within the content containing it), bypassing the home page of the source site. Google bomb: To intentionally insert words or phrases into as many postings as possible to increase the ranking of that website on the Google search engine. hit tail: Optimizing language in a blog posting by incorporating phrases identified by various search engines as most-searched. Bloggers will use this to attract search traffic. hyperlink (link): A portion of text or an icon that appears highlighted and, when selected, provides access to another electronic document or website. linkbait: Content posted for the sole purpose of having other blogs or websites write about it and link to it. pay per click (PPC): A compensation method where a blogger receives payment from an advertising broker every time a reader clicks on a link placed on their blog or site. PageRank: Google’s ranking software that ranks web pages based on the number of visitors to that site, the number of links to that page from other websites and the quality of the referring web page to generate a rating that determines the relevance to the searched term. Sometimes shortened to “PR rating,” it assists in setting the value for ads placed on that site. ping: A message sent from a blog back to a site where that blog has quoted or copied an article. This is an automatic message created by software. The function of a ping is generally to trigger a reciprocal link from the site of origin – sites like to link to others who are quoting them. post meta data: Author-identified information that summarizes key topics or words used in a post that is hidden in the data of the site and used to assist search engines to understand the content of a site. It can include author and date as well as the post categories. reciprocal link: Two blogs agree to blogroll one another. Sometimes called “linky love.” RSS (really simple syndication, rich site summary and RDF [resource descriptive framework] site summary): This is an acronym for three different things that do the same thing – provide subscribers with frequently updated summaries of content from a specified website, news source or blog. splogs, spam blog: A blog created solely as an avenue for spam, which can be presented as trackbacks or comment spams. Technically, the splog is where you end up if you follow spam blog links. sping: Truncation of spam ping. These are bogus messages automatically sent by software to create links to a site. text link ads: Advertisements that use hyperlinks embedded into the text of a blog. thread: A string of comments made in a forum or comment section of a website that follows a specified topic or conversation. trackback: A link granted to a site that has referenced or quoted their blog or site. Often this is an acknowledgement of a ping. vlog: Truncation of video blog. An online video diary. wilf (what was I looking for): Refers to being distracted while searching one thing and aimlessly surfing the Internet. As in, “I found this great blog while wilfing.”