A few months ago Michael left a comment on one of my posts and I knew instantly that this was a guy with some real wisdom when it comes to this career that many of us are in. I asked him a few questions about his experience and an email came back that got me really excited. In it Michael outlined his history of creating profitable websites over the past 10 years. Since then I’ve been an avid reader of his blog Figby.com and quite often go to him for advice and to bounce ideas around. He’s not only wise but he’s also willing to help out a newbie like myself and I’m really grateful for the time he’s put aside to be interviewed here. I hope you enjoy what he has to say.
ProBlogger – Michael thanks so much for your time – can you briefly tell us a little about yourself – give us a quick sketch of your life.
Meanwhile, I started a web site in 1994, and ten years later my web sites have started to take more of my time, and make more money, than books. Recently I’ve been happily converging these two careers by doing most of my writing online.
I’m an old-timer by Internet standards, which means over 30. I’ve watched the Web grow from a wacky, obscure geek thing (I told everyone it would never work) to the world-crushing phenomenon it is today, and it blows my mind to think about that.
I live in Salt Lake City, Utah with my wife, a dog, and two cats.
ProBlogger – You’ve been writing your website ‘The Quotations Page‘ since 1994 – can you tell us a little about how you started it? How has it evolved? When did you start monetizing the site? What are the main methods of generating an income from it that you use?
Michael – I have been an avid collector of quotations since I was a teenager, and I started The Quotations Page in 1994 because there wasn’t a good general-purpose quotation search engine online yet. (Hard to imagine, I know, but Google wasn’t online yet either.) I’ve gradually added features and quotations since then, and now it’s the web’s most popular quotation site. It also requires two dedicated servers and a good portion of my time to maintain.
I started running banner ads on the site in 1996, mostly to offset server costs. We used one of the smaller ad networks that is still around. As the site grew, I was able to work with larger networks and make better money. Right now we work with four or five different ad networks, Amazon links, and sell our own text ads using a system I built.
I’ve also been experimenting with AdSense on that site, but it’s not a high-paying topic area. I still make more money from conventional banner ads, mostly due to the huge amount of traffic.
ProBlogger – What other non bloggingwebsites do you run?
ProBlogger – How and when did you first discover and enter into blogging? Tell us a little about your blogs. What are the main methods of monetising them?
Michael – I started my weblog, Figby.com in 2001. At the time I didn’t post much more than one-paragraph links to news items, but it’s evolved into a proper weblog, and now I try to write something decent every day or two. I focus on technology and web development, so you won’t hear anything about my cats. I run AdSense ads on Figby, but they don’t make any money to speak of. The site exists mainly to give me a voice when I have something to say.
My wife and I started Starling Fitness at the beginning of the year, and it’s already making more than my own weblog. It’s a good topic area and Laura’s a good writer so I have high hopes for that one.
ProBlogger – What has it been like working with Weblogs Inc? What are the benefits of joining a network like this as distinct from your own personal blogging? Do you see it as the future of blogging?
Michael – I’ve been very happy with Weblogs Inc. They’re good people, and I’ve had a great experience working with them. The main benefit of working with a network like this is that you get an instant start–you are linked from the other weblogs, and they actively promote your weblog, so you don’t have to work as hard to get readers. They also handle all of the issues with weblog software, server management, and so on, so if you just want to write rather than becoming an expert on running a website, it’s a great choice.
I’m not sure it’s the future of blogging, but it will certainly be a big part of it. Just like with writing books, it’s much easier for a writer to let a publisher handle the details so they can focus on the writing.
ProBlogger – What do you see as the potential for blogging? Why do you personally do it? What advantages and disadvantages do you see in it in comparison to other formats of websites.
Michael – I think the whole reason weblogs are such a big deal is that there’s almost no barrier to post. You can have a thought, type a paragraph, and hit “Publish”, and you’ve created new content. I’ve set up similar content-management systems for my other sites so adding content is as easy as blogging.
I personally see my weblogs as a way to reach an audience with my writing, to educate others, and occasionally to vent my frustrations.
The disadvantage of weblogs as opposed to other content sites is that reverse-chronological order isn’t always the best way to present things. For example, if you write longer articles or tutorials, they tend to get lost in the stream of posts if you’re not careful, and multi-part posts don’t work very well–they end up in the wrong order in the archives, for starters. I think weblogs are a great tool, just not always the right tool for the job.
ProBlogger – Do you choose subjects/topics for your blogs more out of interest or out of potential for earning?
Michael – Out of interest. I think that’s essential. I’ll look at the earning capacity of a topic and that might affect how much time I’m willing to dedicate to it, but if the interest isn’t there you’ll never create a good site. If I did start a weblog on a topic I wasn’t personally interested in, I’d find someone with a passion for the subject to do the writing.
ProBlogger – Do you do your own blog design?
Michael – So far, yes. I use pretty minimal designs for most of my sites, since I’m not really a designer. The best design I’ve done myself was for Starling Fitness.
ProBlogger – What has been the best thing about your blogging experience? What has been the hardest or worst thing?
Michael – The best thing is helping people–I love to get an email or comment from someone who solved a problem or accomplished something due to one of my posts. That’s also one of the reasons I love to write books, but you can’t beat the instant gratification of blogging. The second-best thing is participating in a friendly and growing community, and even meeting some amazing people in person.
The worst thing is comment spam.
ProBlogger – You’ve been involved in the writing of a number of books – would you recommend this as a means of earning an income for bloggers? What are the benefits and costs of writing a book for a blogger?
Michael – I wrote some books during the Internet bubble and they did great, but in the current market you have to have a real bestseller to make enough money for it to be worthwhile. There are other benefits to writing books, though–they look great on a resume, give a real sense of authority to clients if you’re consulting, and can promote your weblog or web site.
As with blogging, you shouldn’t write a book unless you have an interest in the topic. The money is secondary, and sometimes it’s nonexistent.
ProBlogger – What advice would you give a problogger just starting out?
Michael – First, Learn to write. This generally involves writing day in and day out until you’re good at it. Reading and studying writers you admire helps too.
Second, I think you should have a mission statement for your weblog. Whether it’s personal or professional, one topic or many, you should have a plan: What topics will you write about? How often? What, if anything, is offlimits?
Third, realize that making money is hard work, and you’ll have to devote a significant part of your time to the money side: marketing your site, finding and dealing with advertisers or networks, handling public relations, and accounting. If you’re not willing to commit to these tasks, you’re not a “pro” blogger.
Finally, stick to it–sometimes it takes months or even longer to get a site noticed, but it’s always worth the wait in my experience.
ProBlogger – What is your favourite problogging tool or service?
Michael – WordPress. I used to use some frightening homebrewed blog software, and after switching to WP I’ve been able to write longer, better, and more often. The tools shouldn’t matter that much, but if your weblog platform makes writing difficult, it’s easy to decide not to bother.
ProBlogger – What are your hopes and dreams for your blogging? Where would you like to see it take you?
Michael – I would like to see it take me and my wife to a tropical island of our choice for a long vacation. Until that happens, I’d like to write more often and get better at it, and I’d like to have time to work on some new ideas I have.