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A Quick Note about the Next Week at ProBlogger

Over the next week (potentially the next week and a half) ProBlogger will be in ‘guest blogging mode’.

Tomorrow morning I’m heading into a local hospital for a small procedure on my wrist which will leave my left hand out of action for a week or two.

It’s not carpal tunnel or RSI (I’m told it’s nothing to do with typing all day every day) and it’s unlikely to be anything serious. I’ll attempt to write a fuller post at some point on my personal blog about the experience.

As a result I’ve invited a small group of bloggers to take over the reins here at ProBlogger over the coming week and a bit.

Their posts will be a mixture of normal guest posts on assorted topics as well as a few ‘interviews’ with successful bloggers who have unpacked one post on their blog that has had huge traffic (telling us how it happened and what they learned through the experience).

Apart from tomorrow and possibly Tuesday I’ll be hovering (one handed) in the background, particularly on Twitter and I might even pop in for a live video streaming post during the week.

Lara will also be here moderating comments and looking after any potential problems so if you need anything urgent shoot her a Tweet.

So if I don’t see you around in the mean time – I’ll hopefully see you again in 7-10 days! Have a great week!

Has the Economy Impacted Your Earnings?

The news continues to be full of economic gloom and doom (although here in Australia we seem to have avoided being in recession and there seems to be some confidence around) yet I continue to talk to bloggers whose income is actually on the rise.

But is this just a few bloggers who’ve avoided a downturn in their earnings (and seen them rise) or is this more common?

I’d be interested to hear your experience. Is blogging income up? Down? About the Same?

If there’s been a change what’s been behind it? Is it a decrease in advertising CPM, a change in traffic levels or more to do with your own change in focus?

My Situation:

Back in March I wrote a post on how the economy had been impacting my blogging. Things are similar now – I’d summarise my own earnings as:

  • Overall they’re up (around 15% on last year)
  • Ad Revenue has been a little down on the last few months when it comes to private Ad Sales
  • Ad network revenue has been up quite a bit (I’m filling in a few of the private ad spots with them but also seeing more advertisers targetting my photography blog via AdSense)
  • Affiliate revenue has continued to grow (partly because I’ve had an increase in traffic and partly because I’ve focused more upon affiliate marketing)
  • Diversifying by releasing the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook certainly was helpful in making up for some of the private advertising revenue lost

In short – things have risen. I think because I’d been expecting the worst I decided to do some diversification. This has led to an overall increase – mainly because the decreases were not as bad as I’d expected and the diversifications paid off. In a strange way the economic downturn has actually been beneficial to me as it forced me into this diversification and new income streams.

How’s it been for you?

PS: Check out this post I wrote late in 2008 called – 13 Tips to Recession Proof Your Blog.

I guess I took my own advice in many of the points (particularly with points #7 and #9) and it paid off. I still think point #1 is key – keep building your blog, keep increasing the quality of it’s content and you’ll position yourself well for when things do bounce back.

Outbound Links – An Endangered Species? [And Why I Still Link Up]

Yesterday on Twitter I made this remark:

“A change I’ve noticed from the ‘old days’ of blogging – people don’t link when they quote you as much as they used to.”

The replies to my tweet were quite varied – some agreed while some disagreed – some argued that a link was not necessary while others argued that it was essential. The replies highlighted just how much diversity of opinion there was on the topic so I thought I’d put together a few thoughts on the topic.

But before I share why I DO link to others from my blogs when quoting or borrowing ideas directly from others I thought it might be worthwhile sharing some of the reasons people gave yesterday for why they thought links were becoming LESS used in this way.

1. Competition

The most common remark to my tweet was that people thought it was mainly to do with a change in the way that bloggers viewed other blogs in their niche.

The theory is that in ‘the old days’ of blogging the blogosphere was more about sharing ideas, networking, communal learning etc – but that these days it’s more about ‘getting ahead’ or ‘empire building’ in some way. As a result other blogs are less seen as an opportunity to network or have mutually beneficial opportunities – but that they’re more seen as ‘the competition’.

Of course there are plenty of examples where this is not the case – but I suspect it’s one of the reasons that some bloggers don’t link out to others.

2. PageRank Sculpting

The other main theory that people shared (and a few admitted it was why they didn’t link out) was that they saw links on their blogs as valuable and wanted to use them in ways that benefited themselves by ‘sculpting’ the link juice on their sites.

This is an SEO (search engine optimisation) approach to linking – the theory is that the more links you have on a page the less weight each one of them carries in passing on page rank to the sites you’re linking to.

The idea is that you link to fewer sites so that the few that you do link to (your own internal links, links to your other sites, links to partners sites or those paying for links) have maximum benefit. The practice is to limit links and/or use nofollow tags on any link that you don’t want to pass page rank so that those that do pass it pass the maximum.

I know that most bloggers probably don’t page sculpting in mind when they’re linking to other blogs – but it was the 2nd most mentioned explanation that people mentioned to me on Twitter yesterday.

3. Laziness and/or Forgetfulness

The third theory shared on why people don’t link is that they either forget to or that they’re just too lazy to do it.

I suspect that most bloggers at one time or another have inadvertently forgotten to link to another page when quoting them or bouncing off something they’ve written. I know I’ve done this a number of times over the years (I fix them when they’re brought to my attention).

4. Ignorance

The last theory that some of my followers shared is that they thought that some people simply where not aware of the etiquette when it comes to quoting others (or that they simply didn’t believe in it).

This was highlighted to me in a couple of the DMs that I received after my tweet from people who admitted that they didn’t link to other sites that they quoted because they’d never heard of the practice. They did not do it maliciously, they had no ulterior motives – they’d just never thought to do it or been taught that that was what should happen.

5. Or Have Things Just Changed?

As I pondered the topic yesterday it struck me that perhaps things had simply changed and that I was ‘old fashioned’ in my approach.

Perhaps this ‘ignorance’ could also be explained by a change that is happening in the unspoken etiquette of the web? Perhaps there’s a transition in belief and behaviour happening here and I just need to get with the times?

After all times are changing – people of my parents generation are always telling me how things that they used to think were unacceptable are now common place…. social interactions change don’t they?

I really hope that this last theory is not the case – you see in my experience linking to other sites from your blog is actually something that is very powerful. In my experience it improves your blog to do it but also makes the web a better place.

Which leads me to an exploration of why I link out to other blogs and websites from my blog.

Why I DO Link to Other Sites

Let me start by saying that when I say I link to other blogs and websites that I’m talking about doing so as a way of giving credit to those sites. For example when I’m quoting someone or when I’m directly taking an idea that someone’s written about on their site and am extending it, reacting to it or bouncing off it some way on my own blog.

As I said above – I’m sure there are times when I’ve inadvertently not done this (you’re welcome to point them out to help me rectify this). Enough disclaimers – here’s some reasons that I do link:

1. Etiquette/Manners/Courtesy

At a base level I think it’s important to acknowledge the work of someone else when you use it.

When someone has written something that you’re quoting – that person has taken time to craft those words, they’ve gone to some effort to make the impression that they have on you. You in turn are using their words (and the effort that they went to to craft them) to improve your own blog in some way – as a result I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

You could of course do this without a link – but I think a link shows a little extra spirit of generosity and appreciation that is simply good courtesy in my mind.

2. Usefulness

Linking to your sources makes your content more useful to your readers.

Good content is useful content. I’m constantly talking about how to build a successful blog you need to be producing something that is useful in some way to those reading it. By linking to the page where you take a quote or idea you’re providing your readers with the opportunity to read more on the topic or see the quote in it’s original context.

Your reader may or may not click the link – but it does give them the opportunity to explore further or learn more.

I know that as a blog reader when I’m reading a quote that I find particularly interesting that I want to learn more about who said it. If there’s no easy way to do this I think have to go to the effort of researching myself. I actually find this annoying and it creates the impression to me that the author of the content is too lazy or stingy to go to the effort themselves.

Giving readers other things to read around the web adds depth to your blog. Yes it sends people away from your site to read someone else’s – but if it’s a link to something good they’re more likely to come back because you become a trusted source of information.

3. It Makes the Web Better

Links are what makes the internet what it is.

I still remember the first day I got online. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I connected on my brand new dialup modem but I do remember looking at my watch later that day and realising that 7 hours had passed and that I’d barely moved much more than the index finger on my mouse as I surfed from one page to another.

I was caught in the ‘web’. One site led to another which lead to another which led to another – the web inspired me.

I had a similar feeling the first day I visited the first blog that I had ever read – it linked out generously to other blogs in its niche which in turn linked to others. I was immediately hooked into this community of websites – but particularly to that first one which got me going.

Perhaps this is a little naive – but for me the internet has always been built on the ‘link’. It’s what makes it so great and as someone wanting to be a good citizen of the web I think it’s important to continue the tradition of what has made it great.

4. The Power of Links to Build Relationships

A simple link to another site can get you on their radar and be the beginning of a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship.

Here’s a quick illustration as to the power of a link:

Every month or two on my photography blog I run a post that is simply a list of interesting links from other photography sites around the web from the last month. I sometimes throw a few internal links into these posts but they’re largely just a list of links with short descriptions to other photography sites.

There are many benefits of these posts, for example:

  • they’ve been on the front page of Digg and can be spread virally around the web
  • they’re useful to readers and I get a lot of thank you comments and emails from readers as a result

But the biggest benefit to me from these types of posts is the impact that they have on the sites I’m linking to. Last time I did one of these posts I linked to 15 or so other photography sites.

  • The next day I had 5 emails from owners of these sites. All thanked me for the link.
  • 2 of those who wrote offered to write guest posts for my blog.
  • Over the coming week 6 of the sites I linked to linked back to my blog
  • Others tweeted about the post
  • 2 of the other bloggers and I have been exploring ways we can work more together

All of this started simply with some linking to other quality content in my niche.

While my blog has a fairly big readership and the traffic I sent out was substantial – the same principle is true for sites of all sizes – links have the potential to get you on the radar of other bloggers and web masters – where this can lead you is anyone’s guess.

5. Outbound Links and SEO

Outbound links can help your blog’s search engine optimisation (directly perhaps but indirectly definitely).

I’ve heard it argued that relevant outbound links can actually help your own site’s ranking in search engines (ie search engines look at the sites you’re linking to as part of their algorithm).

I have heard this debated and in my own limited testing have not seen it as a major factor (it may be a minor one but other factors like your title tags have a much bigger impact) – HOWEVER I do think that linking out can definitely indirectly help your SEO – based upon reasons we’ve already covered:

  • Linking can stimulate reciprocal links – as a result of building relationships with other websites you increase the chance of being linked to yourself. It doesn’t happen every time but sometimes when you link to another blog you’ll find that blogger starts to subscribe to yours and in time will link back. This helps your search ranking.
  • Useful content ranks high – Google’s main purpose with it’s algorithm is to find the best content it can and rank it highly. If links increase your site’s usefulness (point #2 above) in time you’ll see this reflected in your Google ranking as your site gets passed around by readers and Google does its thing in finding it.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll rank high in Google by linking to other sites – but indirectly I think it can certainly be helpful. I guess this really comes down to my main philosophy about SEO – set your blog up well and be aware of the principles of SEO but then concentrate on producing the kind of content that the search engines are looking for and build relationships/network. Search rankings tend to have a way of looking after themselves.

Quick Tips on Linking Out

Let me conclude with a few last thoughts:

Don’t link out for the sake of it – I’ve seen some bloggers link out to other blogs in large quantities with the belief that it’ll help them build relationships with loads of other bloggers. Link out when it’s relevant to do so, when you’re giving credit and when you think it makes your content more useful.

Don’t get caught up in linking schemes – one thing I do know is that Google is always on the look out for ‘link farms’ or schemes designed to manipulate their rankings. I won’t pretend to know where Google draws the line but simple reciprocal links seem to carry less weight than normal organic links and when search engines spot you involved in a bad neighbourhood of the web engaging in lots of interlinking you’re probably going to do yourself more harm than good.

I don’t get into it at all these days but IF you’re going to get into reciprocal links keep them relevant to your content, do it in moderation and make sure that the sites you’re linking to are of a high standard and quality.

PS: a quote from Google’s Matt Cutts:

Let me finish with a quote (and a link of course) from Google’s Matt Cutts:

“I would recommend the first-order things to pay attention to are 1) making great content that will attract links in the first place, and 2) choosing a site architecture that makes your site usable/crawlable for humans and search engines alike.”

I’m interested to hear your thoughts (and practices) when it comes to linking out from your blog. Do you do it? Why/Why Not?

Forums – How to Expand Your Blog #1

Yesterday I share with readers an exercise to brainstorm 10 ways that they might expand their blog in the coming years.

The reason I suggest the exercise is not that there’s anything wrong with being ‘just a blog’ but because as I look at a lot of top blogs going around today it strikes me that many of them have evolved in different directions and now also include other mediums, areas and features that wouldn’t normally appear on a blog.

By no means is it essential to grow your blog in this way – but it certainly is a trend among many successful blogs.

Over the next few days I want to explore some of the ways that I see blogs being expanded. Hopefully in doing so it’ll give those wanting to grow the potential of their blog a little inspiration in how they might do it.

Expand Your Blog with a Forum

Lets kick things off with a way of expanding a blog that many bloggers will be quite familiar with – adding a forum to your blog. This can be done either as a free area or a paid or premium area where members pay a subscription to join it.

Examples of Blogs and Forums Working Well Together

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 2.12.00 PM.png1. Ars Technica – Major Tech blog Ars Technica has had a forum area operating for some time now.

I’m not sure how many members it has but as I write this it has over 700 signed in members on the forum and over 3500 guests viewing it.

Discussion areas cover most of the topics that the blog covers and in many areas there’s a lot of action (literally millions of posts).

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 2.11.41 PM.png2. Digital Photography School – I quickly added a forum area to my own photography blog not long after I started the site as I began to hear from readers that they didn’t want to just respond to what I had to say – but they wanted to start conversations, ask questions and share what they were learning themselves.

This forum doesn’t get as many unique visitors as the blog area on DPS but it does drive a lot of page views. It also converts pretty well in terms of advertising and over time has been picking up speed as more and more members join and as the site begins to grow in it’s search engine ranking.

Other Examples include:

There are of course many others – feel free to suggest more in comments below.

Advantages of Forums

There are many advantages of starting a forum. Here are four that come to mind for me (and they just scratch the surface):

1. Increased reader engagement – one of the things that I noticed after starting the forum on DPS was that it seemed to hook people into the site for a longer period of time. Most blogs have a life cycle in terms of new readers where the average reader will eventually move on from the blog as their interests change, as their knowledge grows, as they master the topic being explored. However starting a membership or community focused area gives those who might move on from your blog a reason to stay connected – the relationships that they form. I know I have a few members of the DPS community who for one reason or another moved on from being blog readers but who are still central members of the forum.

The key thing is that forums require people to ‘sign up’ or become a member. This requires people to ‘buy in’ or invest a little something into your site which gives you a point of contact (you get email addresses etc) but also creates a point of connection and sense of ownership of your site in your reader. This extra engagement often leads to long term relationships and loyalty.

2. User Generated Content – one of the things I’ve been experimenting with in the DPS forum is to set up a ‘photography tutorials’ area. In this area we encourage readers to share what they’re learning about photography. It’s been a successful area of the forum for two reasons – firstly it creates useful content that other forum members enjoy but secondly it also has created content that I then can use on the blog.

Example: today I put together this post – 21 Great Reader Shots [And How They Took Them]

3. Increase Page Views – as mentioned above – my photography forum doesn’t get as many unique visitors to it as the blog area – but it does drive a lot of page views because each visitor who comes tends to view more pages per visit. This is fairly typical of forums as the way they’re set up tends to drive people to view multiple threads and view a thread multiple times as they interact with others. This can be a good way of making money via impression based advertising (although it can decrease the overall CPM rate if you’re using AdSense as someone viewing multiple pages is probably less likely to click ads).

What I find with having both a blog and forum is that there are some great cross promotional opportunities. In blog posts I’m constantly referring to threads in the forum that have examples of what I’m talking about or that I set up for people to share photos on the topic I’m talking about. Similarly in the forum we often point people with questions to tutorials in our forums. While some people tend to stay in one or the other of the areas – there’s a fair bit of cross over.

4. Appeal to a Different Type of Reader – I discovered a month or two into DPS forums that quite a few of those joining never read the blog area and that quite a few blog readers had little interest in using the forum. While some do use both areas it became evident to me that quite a few people preferred one medium over the other and that the two sections were appealing to two different types of people. I’m not sure if it’s to do with personality, demographic or learning style – but I guess we each find different mediums more appealing and starting a forum gives another option for people to connect with your site.

Challenges of Membership Areas

1. Moderation – most bloggers understand the challenge of moderating comments and protecting their blogs from spammers. On a blog comment moderation can be enough for some bloggers to give up and close comments – but on a forum there’s no such luxury because closing down comments kind of kills the whole purpose of a forum.

There are lots of tools and features of most forum platforms to help with this but in the end moderation takes a lot of time and effort. At DPS we have a growing team of volunteer moderators (lead by a paid community manager) to tackle this challenge. Much of their time is taken with dealing with spammers or trolls.

2. Community Building – our moderation team is not just there to police the negative stuff happening on the blog but also to grow/build the community. Building community doesn’t just happen – you can’t expect to just set up a forum area and automatically have community – it takes work, creativity and time.

3. Critical Mass – one of the biggest challenges with forums is having enough critical mass to be able to kick them off and attract other readers. This is why I didn’t start a forum on DPS immediately – I wanted to grow the blog’s readership first. I also started a Flickr group before the forum to grow a community there that I could then transition into a blog.

The other thing I did to get the forums active before going live was to invite a smaller group of my key commenters from the blog and long term newsletter subscribers to get early access to the forum so there was some activity there when the site went live.

Concluding Thoughts on Forums/Membership Areas

Forums are not easy. While they have many plusses they take a lot of work and time to build. They’re probably best suited to blogs with an established readership or list to help kick things off but also where the topics lend themselves to discussion, sharing of opinions or sharing of something else (eg. pictures).

Further Reading from the ProBlogger Archives on Forums

Brainstorm 10 Ways to Expand Your Blog [HOMEWORK]

In this post I’d like to share a simple exercise that helped me to grow ProBlogger beyond being just a simple blog {image by deserttrumpet}.

How are you planning on expanding your blog?

brainstormYesterday as I was going through some files on an old computer I stumbled upon a brainstorming document that I’d written 4 years ago about this very site – ProBlogger. I wrote it almost exactly 1 year after I started this blog.

In the document I’d set myself the task of brainstorming a variety of ways that I could expand ProBlogger beyond being just a blog. While I knew the idea of a blog helping bloggers to make money from and improve their blogs had potential – I also knew that there was potential to build something more successful and profitable by going beyond just having a blog.

For this task I gave myself permission to dream big and to come up with things that I may never implement.

Here’s some of the possibilities that I’d jotted down:

  • ProBlogger Forum/Community – where readers can interact with each other – possibly a forum
  • Job Boards – a place where bloggers looking for work can find jobs and where advertisers can find bloggers
  • ProBlogger Training/Speaking – develop training modules to do with groups of bloggers
  • ProBlogger TV – a video section of the site
  • ProBlogger Shop – selling merchandise but also tools for bloggers
  • ProBlogger Services – a consulting service for bloggers
  • ProBlogger Ad Network – an ad network for bloggers to join to make money from their blogs
  • ProBlogger Books – self publish a book about how to blog for profit – perhaps a downloadable book.
  • Start Related Blogs – starting blogs on topics related to blogging (SEO, different platforms etc)

There was a lot more in the list (in fact there were about 40 ideas) but these were the first on it. I wrote a paragraph or two on each idea – fleshing it out with extra details.

Of course there’s a variety of things that I’ve done and not done with these ideas:

  • Some became a reality (Job Boards, Writing the ProBlogger book and starting TwiTIp for example)
  • Some I’m still planning on doing (our Community Section will hopefully launch next week)
  • Some I tried and abandoned (for example I tried a shop where I sold T-shirts for a while but it never really worked)
  • Some I evolved into other things (the TV idea evolved into semi regular video posts)
  • Some I plan to do in future (those ones are in my secret file)
  • Some I’ve never done and probably never will try.

Whether I’ve done all of the things that I dreamt of back then doesn’t really matter….

What’s important (to me at least) is that I put some time aside in the very early days of my blog to dream, brainstorm and come up with ideas of how to take my site further than it was.

Your Homework

Today I’d like to invite you to do this type of exercise for yourself.

How might your blog look in 4-5 years time? Create a list of 10 ways that you might one day expand your blog.

OK – I know this seems like a pretty crazy task for some of you because I know for a fact that many ProBlogger readers are just starting out and are still in their launch (or even pre-launch) phase – however I do think that this type of exercise can be helpful even if you don’t do much with the ideas you come up with.

For me this type of brainstorming has not only led to concrete ideas and plans but even just the process of dreaming has inspired me to keep growing my blogs. I also think that having some bigger possibilities in mind can sometimes help you to shape your blog in the here and now.

So open up a document or grab a pen and paper or a whiteboard and start to dream and brainstorm about how you might one day expand your blog.

While I don’t want to limit your brainstorming by giving you too many ideas – you might like to think about some of these:

  • different mediums you might like to add (video, forums etc)
  • other related blogs you could start
  • services that you could offer
  • new categories that you could write about
  • new sections of your site that you could add
  • new features that you could offer readers

If you’d like to share some of what you come up with please feel free to share some of your thoughts in comments below.

In the coming weeks I’m going to share a variety of ways that I see blogs expanding that I hope might give you a little further inspiration on this topic – but in the mean time do the exercise for yourself and see where it might lead you!

The State of the Darren-Sphere

In this post I’d like to give an update of the different sites that I work on, how they’re going and what I’m working on with them.

Darren

3 questions that I get a lot are:

  1. You seem to do a lot of ‘stuff’ – can you give me a quick overview?
  2. I know you from (insert blog/social network name here) but today discovered you also are at (insert blog/network here) – what else do you do?
  3. How is your business going – you used to give us income updates – can you give us another update?

As a result today I want to create a post that attempts to summarize all of the activities that I’m actively involved with these days (ie it doesn’t include about 30 blogs that I have previously owned or blogged on which today are dormant).

I’m not going to give an income update as such except to say that revenue from my blogging related activities remains well into the Six Figure bracket (annually) and that each year since I’ve started blogging as an income source has seen it grow in healthy increases.

I hope that what follows is of use to those who’re interested:

My Blogs

These days I own three active blogs. They are visited collectively by around 2.8 million people per month, subscribed to via RSS and email by around 480,000 subscribers and have social media network between them of around 110,000 people. Let me break it down from largest to smallest:

Digital Photography School

dps-logoDPS has enjoyed continued growth over the last 12 months. While finding advertisers has been a little difficult in this climate (although we did run a very successful campaign with Lenovo earlier in the year) I’ve seen increases in income as a result of more effort in affiliate promotions but also AdSense and Chitika.

I have seen a bit of an increase in expenses though as we’ve hired a number of writers as well as a community manager for the forum area.

Redesigning the site, adding new areas for cameras and post production tips and getting onto Twitter have all helped to grow DPS. The future looks really bright for this community – I’m particularly looking forward to the release of the communities first products (two ebooks) later in the year.

  • Monthly Traffic – 1,960,612 Visitors viewing 6,571,151 pages (based upon the last 30 days – Data from Google Analytics)
  • Subscribers – 311,813 (made up of 200,000 newsletter subscribers and 111,000 RSS subscribers)
  • Forum Members – 60.644
  • Twitter Followers – 16,074 followers
  • DPS on Facebook – 2,277 fans

ProBlogger

screen-shot-2009-09-07-at-101252-am

Traffic wise ProBlogger’s growth has been less spectacular than DPS but steady.

The release of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook earlier in the year was an amazing learning experience and a profitable venture.

The Job boards have also continued to grow both in terms of ads being listed and also traffic/subscriber numbers. It’s certainly not my biggest earner but it’s a daily income that has risen and that is quite passive.

The main income streams from ProBlogger have been direct ad sales (we’ve been sold out for a long time although I’m told we have one slot open at the moment) and healthy affiliate promotions (I’m lucky that there are so many quality products related to this blog).

In the coming weeks ProBlogger will expand with the launch of ProBlogger.Community.

  • Monthly Traffic - 531,804 unique visitors viewing 866,093 pages
  • Subscribers – 123,000 RSS Subscribers
  • Newsletter Subscribers – 29,890 (across a number of different lists)
  • Twitter Followers – 76,273 followers
  • ProBlogger on Facebook – 15,242 fans
  • ProBlogger Job Boards – around 2000 RSS subscriber

TwiTip

screen-shot-2009-09-07-at-100736-am

My newest blog and seeing a steady growth. Written mainly by a group of guest posts TwiTip has done fairly well. I’m about to launch a redesign of the site which will give it a more professional look but also add some great new features.

Income has been a little tougher on this one – mainly due to my lack of time to actually go after advertisers. Having said that – I’ve run a couple of affiliate programs that have done pretty well (still room for improvement though on the ad front).

  • Traffic – 256,430 Visitors viewing 326,484 pages
  • Subscribers – 21,512 RSS subscribers

Other Interests

I try to be active on a number of social media sites, networks and maintain an interest in a variety of other projects including:

Looking Forward

In the next few months there are a number of new things that will add to this list (because I have so much spare time):

  • ProBlogger.com (a community site for bloggers)
  • Two new ebooks for Digital Photography School (I’m working on two which will hopefully be released before the end of the year)
  • Possibly another ebook for ProBlogger – working with another blogger on this
  • A New Site with ebook – I can’t say too much about this but I’m looking forward to collaborating with another blogger on a new site that will relate to both ProBlogger and TwiTip.
  • One more Bigger Secret Collaboration with a couple of other bloggers – Hopefully with an October launch

All in all I’m fairly busy. While there are opportunities arising every day or two that I could do more on if I had the time (or if I decided to hire a staff) I’m attempting to keep things relatively contained (you might not think so from the above list but it’s the tip of the iceberg of what I get asked to do).

All in all it’s a fun business to be in, a profitable way to make a living and it does still give me flexibility to spend time with my family, friends and community groups that I belong to – doing the things that are important to me.

Why Did You Start Blogging?

In the last post on ProBlogger Kevin talked about starting a blog based upon one of your hobbies as a great way to start blogging.

As I mentioned in the introduction to that post – Kevin had really described much of my own motivations for starting my photography blog (and that of many many other successful blogs). While I did see an opportunity for profit in that blog when I started it – my main motivation for kicking it off was to share what I was learning about photography and to see if I could draw others with a similar interest together to learn from one another.

For me I always wanted to see if I could make some money from that blog – but early on it wasn’t the biggest motivation. Over the years as the blog has grown and become more profitable I suspect my motivations have changed a little – I’m still interested in the topic – but it’s certainly more of a focus to make it profitable.

Of course starting a blog on a topic you’re interested in or passionate about is not the only way – many successful bloggers have started blogs with other motivations – including to make money, to grow their profile, to drive traffic to their business etc…. (or some combination of motivations).

Why Did You Start Blogging?

Yesterdays post has got me thinking – why DO people start blogs? Has the motivation changed from a few years back when blogs first began to get popular (when I started 7 years ago most people seemed to be doing it purely for fun and to make connections)?

I’d be interested to hear about your initial motivations to starting a blog? Did you start on a topic you were interested in? Did you start with the idea of making money? Was there some other motivation/s? Also – have your motivations changed since starting your blog?

Interested to hear your thoughts!

Hobby Blogs: Making Profits from your Hobby

In this post Kevin Sanders shares some introductory reasons to take a hobby and blog about it. In effect this is the way that I personally got into blogging – there was no intent of my blogs being anything more than hobbies in my early days – but out of writing about things I was passionate about emerged a business…. Now it’s over to Kevin….

I’ve been going to the gym for about twenty years. I’m not a professional bodybuilder or fitness instructor – lifting weights is just a hobby of mine. But I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’ve even trained some of my friends. I often give (free) advice about exercise, diet and supplements.

I asked myself this question about ten months ago: Why haven’t I created a fitness blog? I loved the topic, and I already knew the basics of blogging.

So I did it – I created StrongandFit.net. I started blogging, using tips I learned here at problogger.net. Slowly but surely, the traffic started coming. My fitness blog is now most visited (and most profitable) blog. My only regret is I didn’t start it sooner.

Here’s my point: I think there are millions of people who have untapped earning potential in their hobbies (a certain blogger’s digital photography hobby comes to mind). They’ve just never taken the time to share their valuable experiences and expertise online.

Here are some advantages to blogging about your hobby:

Ready-made niche

All the pros agree – you should choose a niche you are passionate about. Well, a hobby is something you already love enough to do with your free time. Seems like the perfect place to start!

Ready-made posts

You’ve probably already invested time, effort, and money into your hobby. Maybe you’ve even answered questions about it or shown others how to get involved. In other words, you probably already have dozens of posts swimming around in your head. All you have to do is take the time and write them down.

Ready-made affiliate opportunities

Most hobbies have books, magazines, equipment, or other products/services. You’ve probably already invested in some of these and formed an opinion regarding which are most valuable. In other words, you are already set to endorse certain products. Your reviews could earn money and help others make good choices.

Re-Energize your hobby

Blogging could get you more involved in something you’re already passionate about. It could even get you back into something you once enjoyed. The process of blogging (research, forums, etc) has an energy to it that ads to the fun.

No expertise necessary

What if you are a novice? No problem! Just be honest about it and invite others along your journey – share what you are doing. Here’s an example from the fitness niche: I’ve seen several blogs created by overweight individuals who want to document their weight loss journey. Some of these are quite inspirational.

If you never make money, it’s OK – its just a hobby

As Darren has pointed out, most of us probably won’t make big money from blogging. My blog is making a little money for me, but I’m nowhere near ready to quit my day job. But that’s the beauty of a hobby blog – you’ll have so much fun you’ll be willing to wait for the profits.

Final Thoughts:

You have a hobby, don’t you? What are you waiting for? Start a blog and monetize it! You have nothing to lose.

Want a Crash-Proof Site? A Paint-by-Numbers Guide to Using (and Surviving) Amazon S3

By Mary Jaksch from GoodlifeZen.

Do you dream of creating a post or Ebook that goes viral? If you do, you might run into a problem. People flock to your site. You’re ecstatic about the spike in your visitor numbers. And then your site crashes.

The problem is that your site can buckle or crash under the strain of using too much bandwidth. So in order to safeguard your site, it’s important to use as little bandwidth as possible. But how can you do that if you want to use images, audio, or even video on your site? Luckily, there is a nifty solution. And it’s dirt cheap!

The solution is Amazon S3.

What is Amazon S3? I’m not a geek, so I’ll give a simple explanation:

Imagine for a moment that you’ve got a storage problem in your home. One way to deal with this, is to rent space in a storage facility. This is exactly what Amazon S3 is: it’s an online storage facility.

You know Amazon.com, right? That’s the big online store that sells books and other stuff. I’m sure you can imagine that they have a huge server capacity because they’ve got so much stuff on their site. Amazon S3 is a system that rents out some of their spare capacity. For cents, not dollars.

Advantages

  • Amazon S3 is super cheap.
    There are no setup fees or minimum costs. You only pay for what you use, even if it’s just a couple of cents a month. We are literally talking cents, not dollars here!
  • It works.
    All your images look just like usual and you can control the size and placement just as before.
  • It’s easy to use – eventually.
    With the help of WordPress plugin Amazon S3, you can upload images through Amazon S3 automatically. If you’re not on WordPress, or if you’re uploading videos or audio, you can upload manually.

Disadvantages

  • The setup is complex and glitch-rich.
    Setting up on Amazon S3, the Firefox S3 Organizer, and the WP Amazon S3 takes time and can be frustrating.
  • Amazon S3 only works with Firefox.
    In order to upload manually, you need to use the (free) Firefox extension S3Fox Organizer
  • There are plenty of pitfalls.
    Uploading manually with Firefox S3 Organizer is fraught with possible errors. (People have been known to punch their computer in frustration!)

Set up Amazon S3 in three (reasonably easy) steps

Step #1: Set up your account on Amazon S3
Go to the home of Amazon S3 and set up your account. This video will help you. Just follow the steps.

Step #2: Install and set up the Firefox extension Amazon S3
Go to s3fox.net to install the Firefox Extension. Once you have installed it, you can access it by clicking on ‘Tools’ on the Firefox navigation bar. Once you’ve installed the extension, set up at least one ‘bucket’. (This is what storage folders are called.)

Take a look at the video I suggested above. In the second half it tells you how to upload files, using the Firefox S3 Organizer. Make sure you take note of how to set ACL permissions.These permissions say whether only you can read the file you’ve uploaded, or whether it will be available to the general public.

The way to change the ACL permissions is to highlight a file you’ve uploaded, then click on the pencil icon in the bar above it. Make sure the file has three green ticks, i.e., set it to ‘read’ for everyone.

Step #3: Set up WordPress plugin Amazon S3
There is a nifty WordPress plugin called Amazon S3. Download the plugin and unzip the file. To install it, use an FTP client (that’s software to get stuff onto your site), and upload the unzipped file into your Plugin folder. Then go to your WordPress Dashboard and click on Plugins.

Activate the plugin. It will ask you for the “AWS Access ID” and your Secret Key. If you’re not sure what they are, have another look at the video above. It’s explained how to find them. Once you’ve inserted your ID and Secret Key, the plugin is ready to roll.

Pitfalls nobody tells you about.

  • Pitfall #1 You haven’t set up a ‘bucket’
    If you have more than one website, chose one bucket per website. (A bucket is like a storage room for files). You could also have a bucket each for images, audio files, PDF’s and so on. Setting up a bucket is an essential part of the process if you want to use the WP Amazon S3 plugin. The plugin won’t work without at least one bucket!
  • Pitfall #2 You cant find the correct upload URL
    In order to put the stuff on your website, you need to know what the correct address is. Unfortunately, the S3 Organizer fails to point out this small but crucial detail! Here is an example from my GoodlifeZEN website: http://goodlifezen.s3.amazonaws.com/welcome-GLZ-5.flv -it’s the actual address of my ‘welcome’ video.
    The ‘bucket’ or S3 folder I’ve set up is called goodlifezen, and the file name is welcome-GLZ-5.flv. When formatting the file address, use your bucket name, then s3.amazonaws.com/ followed by the file name.
  • Pitfall #3 You just can’t get the darn thing to work.
    You’ve done everything right, but when you click on the link, you get error message or the plugin refuses to work. Frustrating! Take a deeeep breath and don’t throw your toys out of the cot just yet. Consult the following troubleshooting section first.

Troubleshooting

  • Problem: You’ve installed the S3 Plugin and it comes up with an error message – even though you’ve put in your ID and Secret Key correctly.
    Solution: Did you cut and past the keys? If so, try to type in the ID and key number.
  • Problem: You’ve managed to install everything correctly but when you try to access the file on the Net, you get the message ‘Access Denied’.
    Solution: Check the ‘read’ permissions and make sure you have three green ticks.
    (See above to read about ACL permissions).
  • Problem: You’ve set permissions correctly, but still get the ‘Access Denied’ message.
    Solution: Check whether the file you’re trying to upload is located in a folder. If so, change the address to include the folder. Here’s an example: Let’s pretend that the file I mentioned above was uploaded within a folder called video. The correct address for the file would then be: http://goodlifezen.s3.amazonaws.com/video/welcome-GLZ-5.flv. As you can see, the folder name is now included in the pathway to the file.
  • Problem: You try to access the uploaded file but get an error message, saying: ‘File not found’. This can mean that the the link address isn’t configured correctly.
    Solution: Check and correct the link address. The quickest way to check is to put the address in your browser window.
  • Problem: You’ve configured everything correctly, and you still get ‘Access denied’ message and are just about to throw your computer out of the window.
    Solution: Go back to the Firefox S3 Organizer and check that the filename you chose is in lower case. If not, rename the file and upload it again.
  • Problem: Your S3 plugin isn’t working. Solution: check whether your site running on PHP 5. (This is the scripting language your site is using). Ask your hosting company what PHP your site is running on and how to change it. It’s usually just a one-click change. This plugin will only run on PHP 5.
  • Problem: Your S3 plugin still isn’t working.
    Solution: Make sure you’ve created a bucket in your Firefox S3 Organizer. The plugin won’t work without creating a bucket first.
  • Problem: You’ve tried it all but it still doesn’t work.
    Solution: Shoot your computer, forget about Amazon S3, or leave a rude comment.

You’ve set up Amazon S3. Now what?

If you are not a WordPress user:
You can manually upload any file through the Firefox S3 Organizer. Then link to the uploaded file using the address formatted as explained above.

WordPress users:
Once you’ve installed the plugin, everything is automatic – at least where images are concerned. Upload your images as usual and the plugin will automatically upload the image to your Amazon S3 bucket and create a link to it. It’s easy! You can also upload PDF or other text files with ease.

Audio and video
Putting up audios is relatively easy. I use a WP plugin called Audio Player for the podcasts. I manually upload the audio files through the Firefox S3 Organizer and then link to them on site, using the correct plugin configuration.

Putting videos on your site is more complex. I use a JV FLV Player and upload with Amazon S3.

Conclusion

Setting up Amazon S3 is complex but not difficult. Allow about 20 minutes to get everything set up. Once you’ve got it set up, you will love it! You won’t have any more problems with bandwidth and you can store your files there for mere cents.

I’d like to acknowledge Dave Kaminski of the Video University Blog. Without his ever-patient support I would never have overcome all the obstacles to using Amazon S3.

You can read more by Mary Jaksch on her blog GoodlifeZen or on Write to Done where she is the Editor. Join Mary on Twitter.