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About Georgina Laidlaw

Georgina Laidlaw is a freelance content developer, and Content manager for problogger.net. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Do You Need a Pinterest Consultant? Interview with Jade Craven of dPS

Back when Pinterest was brand-spankin’-new, we heard the same cry from a lot of Problogger.net readers: “Not another social network! Who has time for all this?!”

Who indeed? Each social network is different, and they all require slightly different approaches and skills.

One potential solution for more than a few bloggers is to hire someone to help develop and implement a Pinterest strategy. But where do Pinterest experts even come from? What do they know that we don’t? Can they really deliver a return on the investment you’re making into Pinterest?

We thought we’d go behind the scenes with Darren’s own Pinterest specialist, Jade Craven, to find out what Pinterest consultants do, and how they can help bloggers.

Jade, we know you’ve been instrumental in helping Darren build a Pinterest following for dPS (check out the dPS Pinterest account here). But Pinterest’s pretty new. What were you doing before Pinterest hit the scene?

Jade Craven

Jade Craven, Pinterest Pro

I was just a normal person trying to make it in the blogosphere. I could only work part-time due to illness, so I was scraping by on whatever client work I could get. I’d spend the rest of my time learning as much as I could and doing little experiments.

I used to be a professional blogger. In operating in the marketing space and became disillusioned with some of the activities I saw. Now I tend to focus my research on the lifestyle- and women-orientated niches.

I also wrote the Bloggers to Watch list for Darren for four years and occasionally consulted with people on product launches. Basically, I was obsessed with word-of-mouth and curation, and was learning as much as I could about it.

And how did that work prepare you to work on Pinterest? What skills do you need to make the most of this network?

Well, I’ve been doing this for four years. It meant that I had developed very good research skills and intuition, especially around the subject of content curation.

Curating content is one of the most important things you can do as a blogger. There is just so much information out there and it is very easy to get overwhelmed.

This skill is vital when it comes to Pinterest. The only difference is that you are curating content over the long term via multiple boards, instead of curating content for a single blog post or page.

I also find that it can take a lot of research and experimenting to know what works for different demographics. Most of my research previously had focused on how ecommerce sites could use Pinterest. My overall strategy was based on a hunch, but the day-to-day decisions are based on specific research and case studies.

Right. So how did you land a job as a Pinterest consultant, when the network’s so new?

It was one of those cases of being in the right place in the right time. I was working for The Village Agency as a paid intern. My employer, Justine Bloome, asked me to focus on Pinterest. She is pretty savvy and had a hunch that it would take off.

She was speaking and writing about Pinterest at the time, so I had a couple of boards dedicated to Pinterest. I learned a lot while building those boards, to the point where I was spending around ten extra unpaid hours on Pinterest experimenting and learning about the platform. It was amazing to be trusted so much.

Then, late last year, Darren made the decision to put more effort into Pinterest for DPS. He put out a tweet asking for suggestions on what to do and Justine, who is a good friend of his, put my name forward. I sent over a quote, we quickly set up 20 boards as an experiment, and it exploded from there.

Basically, it was a case of and being willing to work unpaid in order to build up a desirable skillset and being in the right place at the right time. Only one of those elements was something I could control, which is why I believe that some bloggers should strategically work for free.

Great point! So can you tell us what it is that you spend your time doing as dPS’s Pinterest maven?

I have a very simple workflow. My goal is to curate all the relevant articles that may be useful to photographers. I spent my first four months pinning the archives from the top ten photography blogs. I’d do a lot of extra work on top of what I was getting paid to do, because I wanted us to have an account that was industry-leading.

Now this workflow has simplified to scheduling one pin for every hour from Monday to Friday. I follow the blogs in Google reader, and skim through the list of updates. I ignore those that are only relevant for a short period of time. If I see a number of articles on the same subject, I consider making a separate board on that topic.

The rest of my time is spent monitoring competitors’ boards and seeing if there is anything I can do to improve our strategy. I research new board ideas, especially ones that may be related to product launches. I created several new boards based on dPS’s latest portraits ebook.

Wow, there’s so much to it. Can we step back for a moment and ask you what you feel Pinterest has to offer bloggers? It’s easy to say, well, Pinterest uses images, and that’s what makes it different from other networks, but other social networks let you post images. What’s different about Pinterest?

It shows how skilled you are at visual curation. Most forms of curation involve information being spread all over the place. You may have a weekly round-up post, or an awesome Recommendations page.

People will have to look in many places for that information, but Pinterest allows you to collect it all in one place. It allows you to show how up to date with trends you are. The descriptions you add to pins allow you to add context—to talk about why you think the image you pinned is relevant.

Look at the account for Interiors Addict. I will go to the Pinterest account over the blog because it’s a lot easier for me to discover, curate and organize the images that she has pinned here than to wade through her blog archives.

At its core, Pinterest is all about social discovery. It’s about leveraging your social networks to discover new things. There is no conversation or networking—it’s pure entertainment. It’s like Youtube, only you have more inclination to create and buy stuff later.

So in that case, we’d expect that the basic focuses of a Pinterest strategy would be different from other social networks.

Yes, I’ve found that the focus is completely different. On most platforms, the focus is community building and engagement. On Pinterest it is all about curation and social discovery.

So are there particular niches or audiences that the network’s suited to?

It’s obviously suited to images that show the end result of a project. This is skewed towards activities that are traditionally associated with women—cooking, crafts, and so on. But it can equally apply to men if you focus on the right niches.

I’ve found that the DPS audience is 50/50 male/female in terms of who’s repining and engaging with the content.

If a user finds your blog through Pinterest, will they expect your blog to look gorgeous? These users are obviously visual people, so does a blogger need to finesse their blog design before launching a Pinterest strategy?

It isn’t expected that your blog needs to look gorgeous. However, if you are using Pinterest graphics then it is helpful if the blog design is consistent with the image style.

Look at the design of Alex Beadon’s blog. She has the same design elements in her header and sidebar. That kind of attention to detail and consistency is is one of the reasons I chose her as one of this year’s bloggers to watch.

Having said that, people expect to find what they want in the description of a pinned image. If it is link to a blog post, they want a quality blog post. They will expect the other images in that post to be of the same calibre, but primarily they are there for the content. With fashion, for example, they either want to be taken to the store or to a site that describes how to put the outfit together.

Design is, and will always be, an important part of the user experience. But it is more important that people find exactly what they expect when they click a link on Pinterest.

Well, what you’ve said here makes me wonder if Pinterest is a doable addition for the solo blogger who’s managing everything themselves. Can they get traction on the site? What tasks should they prioritize in building a Pinterest presence?

It is doable for the solo blogger. You don’t need to invest as much time into relationship marketing. It’s just basic curation.

The main thing these bloggers should prioritize is creating a persona that reflects the Pinterest users they want to attract. Create a rough document outlining who the target user is as a person, and what you want them to think and do when they visit your Pinterest page.

This can help you decide whether it’s worth investing in another social platform and how much time you should dedicate to it. Editor’s note: Jade will be telling us more about how to do this later in the week.

The second thing they should prioritize is making their brand page look pretty. Organize your boards and focus on choosing beautiful images as the cover. That is what is going to encourage people to stick around.

And in terms of everyday activity and interactivity, what are your favorite tools for working on Pinterest?

I have two favourite tools. I am struggling to find one affordable solution that does everything—Problogger readers may have an idea. At the moment I am using two tools: Pingraphy and PinLeague.

Pingraphy is the tool I use for scheduling. It’s not very intuitive but it is free and simple to use once you get the hang of it. I usually schedule the pins for the week in one or two sessions, so it doesn’t interfere with my other work.

Pinleague is an analytics solution. It is free up to a certain point, but is pretty comprehensive. It tells you about what boards are popular, what pins are popular, and who your brand advocates are. You can even see how much income Pinterest is generating for you after you integrate this tool with Google Analytics. It’s really useful to help you tweak your strategy.

I used to make decisions by manually observing changes over time but Pinleague makes it so much easier. It means I get to spend more time experimenting and researching instead of trying to figure everything out myself.

Wow, great advice. Thanks so much for your time, Jade. We really appreciate your insights.

Thanks for having me.

Keep an eye out for some inside advice from Jade on ProBlogger later in the week.

The State of the Blog Sales Market: Interview with Andrew Knibbe of Flippa

As blogs are increasingly recognized as business assets—or businesses in their own right—more entrepreneurs and publishers are looking to enter the blogosphere by buying a blog. And as we’ve already seen this week, in many cases, bloggers are happy to sell.

While blogs are often bought and sold privately, to get a reliable overview of the blog sales market, we spoke with Andrew Knibbe, Operations Manager of Flippa.

Andrew Knibbe of Flippa

Andrew Knibbe of Flippa

Among the little-known facts we discovered in this interview were:

  • blogs make up more sales than any other site type on Flippa
  • the platforms used to run and monetize a site can affect its value
  • building your authority in your niche can be a big help if you want to acquire a blog down the track
  • yes, Blogger blogs do sell!

For full details, read on.

PB: Today I’m speaking with Andrew Knibbe from Flippa. Andrew, thanks for talking with us.

No problem.

First up I was wondering if you can tell us a bit about the market for blogs on Flippa. Not much is known about the blog sales market and you guys obviously have a good overview of what websites and being bought and sold at the moment. So can you tell us a bit about that in relation to blogs?

Sure. Blogs are probably the biggest part of Flippa. About half of our websites sold tend to be blogs. It’s probably a fraction up on previous years—it’s probably grown at two percent in 2012 based on 2011. So they’re pretty popular, they sell well, and it’s probably our bread and butter.

Blogs as a % of total sales

Blogs make up the main site type sold at Flippa

The next [site type] is ecommerce, and that’s at about ten percent of what blogs sell for. So blogs are a big part of what we do.

Are there particular types of blogs that sell better than others or key niches that are more popular?

Yep. The ones that tend to sell most in terms of volume are health, entertainment and internet-related niches. Entertainment and health are up on the previous year but internet’s dropping in terms of demand.

The demand tends to reflect in terms of the multiples as well. So the prices people pay for those sites is up for health and entertainment. The prices for internet sites tends to be dropping a little bit compared to the previous year.

Also I guess the resourcing of these sites kind of varies a lot, so we see different quality blogs in some of those niches come through which tend to drop the price down was well.

So overall are you seeing more developed or more advanced blogs more frequently? Or is the spread staying reasonably consistent?

Currently the spread is relatively consistent. I think about two or three years ago when Google’s SEO algorithm was a bit more lax we saw a lot more autoblog content come through. That seems to have trailed off primarily because the buyer demand is less—because they don’t perform so well in terms of search engines—so that’s trailed away.

But in terms of the sophistication of sites and blogs that come through, it’s stayed relatively constant. There’s some really awesome ones, there’s some blogs that have obviously been neglected for a while, and people are selling them off, and everything in between. It’s pretty stable.

So there’s opportunities if you’ve got a reasonably developed blog—from that point on there is an opportunity to sell it?

Yeah, absolutely—depending on a few factors. But for the most part, if it’s got something going for it—and even age is something that goes for a blog, buyers value that—that gets reflected in the price.

How blog management affects demand

So with the blogs that are sold on the site, do they tend to be more single-person operations (like just me and my blog and I want to sell it), or do you also see sales of larger blogs with multiple authors or multiple owners?

Yeah we’ve seen, as of late, more sophisticated blog operations come through. My understanding when I see some of the sellers is that they’ve become a bit more sophisticated as well. They tend to operate as “publishers” rather than pure solo bloggers. So they won’t set up a staff, but they’ll have contacts that they use to write some of the content—either in full or to supplement their own effort.

We still see a few solo ones, but we’re seeing a growth in people who outsource part of what their blog does.

Firstly, when you say “publishers”, would they have a portfolio of sites?

Often, yes, they’ll have more than one. If they’ve got a special-interest blog, it tends to be the solo person who’s got an interest in that particular niche, and that’s what they focus on. But also we’re seeing a larger segment of people who’ve got multiple interests and have multiple blogs, and kind of run it as a bit more of a commercial operation.

And so that outsourcing—does that make the blog more saleable because it’s more of a business than a personal labour of love, or because there’s automated aspects?

Yeah, I think a lot of the buyers tend to favor sites where it doesn’t take up a lot of their time necessarily, and also that means that the revenue and cost base is reflected a bit more clearly as well, because the costs are [shown] for the people who do the work rather than the owner who doesn’t necessarily cost out their time.

But yeah, we’re seeing a few more of those come through, which is interesting, and probably positive.

From the buyer’s perspective, would most of your buyers be people who are looking to add to an existing portfolio of sites? Or they have a site and they need to tack a blog on? What are most of your buyers like?

There’s probably two segments. One of them is people who are just starting out, and they tend to buy newer blogs that aren’t necessarily SEO-ranked, for example.

For the guys that are buying existing sites, they tend to own one already—it might be in a complimentary niche or it might be something totally new—but they’ve got some background behind them where they’re trying to expand out to what they’re buying. So they’re not necessarily buying a blog for the sake of having a full-time job as a result of that purchase.

Are people selling blogs in languages other than English or from countries other than the western hemisphere? Are people using them as a means to enter a new market in any cases?

Possibly. For the most part, given the internet’s global, most of it tends to be English-based. That doesn’t mean they’re from English[-speaking] countries, but they’re English-language sites.

We’ve seen a few French, Spanish, Italian sites come through. Not a whole lot, but there’s a few that are on there, and they tend to attract those sorts of buyers. Whether people are looking to enter a Spanish market and they want to buy a Spanish blog, the volumes probably aren’t enough for them to do it that way, but they might stumble onto it, and as a result get into a particular country.

The key blog value drivers

You mentioned age before. How much does that matter? Are there particular characteristics at particular ages with the blogs that are for sale that are influencing price or interest from buyers?

Age is a good one. I think at some point, age matters a lot. So if you’ve got a blog that’s been around for a few months, and it has nothing else going for it, it’s worth a lot less than a blog that’s been around for like three years and has a good lot of traffic. So that age component counts for a lot.

Having said that, once you go past maybe three, four, five years, the age component tends to drop off, so you’re not getting a whole lot more bang for your buck once you go past a certain age point. But age definitely counts, because you can’t really replace age buy building [a blog] yourself. That’s probably the biggest thing there.

If you had missed that window where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck on an age basis, obviously there would be other factors that would come into play that would affect the value of your blog thereafter. Could you tell us a bit about what those key factors would be.

That would drive blog value?

Yeah, particularly for the older blogs.

For an established blog, the biggest thing that’s going to drive value is revenue. So if your site is earning two thousand dollars a month, you’re going to get more money for your site than someone who doesn’t.

I think after that, there’s traffic. So you might not be earning revenue, or revenue might not be so strong, but if you’ve got good traffic, both in terms of the quantity of traffic—visits, for example—and also what they do on the site (so if the bounce rate’s low, pages per view are high), that tends to keep the value pretty high as well.

Outside of that, I think some of the SEO components tend to be valued very highly. If you’ve got a whole lot of backlinks without a lot of traffic, that’s something that new buyers can fix up and do something with, and then either keep or sell on.

Another one is niche. We touched on a few niches beforehand, but there’s definitely some niches that are worth more than other niches. Finance, business—those niches tend to be more lucrative because they tend to generate more revenue. So if you’ve got a thousand users on a finance blog, you’re going to get a lot more money out of those guys than a thousand users on a pets blog, for example.

Buying assets: content, lists, social media and more

The word that I was waiting for in your list of value items was content! Obviously that plays into a lot of things—your traffic and your revenue and that kind of stuff. But I know that a lot of our readers focus very heavily on content.

So how’s blog content handled in the sale? A lot of bloggers might want to retain rights to the content they’ve written. Are rights normally included in the sale? Would they retain some rights? And what about guest posts, where it can be a grey area for a lot of bloggers?

The content baseline: we run Copyscape on Flippa, so if there’s no Copyscape matches, that tends to be attractive to buyers. Unique content is good, and the quality of that content tends to be reflected in things like SEO ranking and the like.

But when you’ve got that content and you go to sell your site, for the most part that’s included. My view is that if you’ve got a blog that you want to sell, but you don’t want to sell the content, you’re really just selling the domain, and that’s a different transaction.

So usually the content’s all included. Usually they’ll try and flag that it’s unique, and that they’re allowed to publish that content, and you can take the content with the site. Guest posts I’ve usually seen go across—I haven’t seen excluded necessarily. I don’t know if the guest poster comes back later on and asks for it to be withdrawn.

But on the whole the content comes across because it’s such a big driver of site value. So you’ve got an audience that’s been built around specific content, so without that, that audience is likely to disappear and search engine rankings and possibly revenue and the like mightn’t be there either, so in most cases that content component comes across—as does the source.

If they’re using existing writers to create the content, that’s an important part of the sale as well, to make sure those contacts don’t get lost as part of the transition.

One other question I have about content is to do with off-topic or outdated content. I know that one of the other articles that we’re running this week is a case study about a blogger who bought a blog and when he was doing his due diligence on the blog he could see that there was some off-topic content and outdated content on the site.

Do blog sellers on Flippa tend to shape their blogs for sale, and remove that kind of content first? Or is it up to the buyer to know what they’re buying, and that they’re not paying money for content that they later realise is not appropriate.

It’s probably more on the buyer’s side. To be honest, I think most blogs that sell on Flippa are being sold because the owner’s lost interest or they’ve run out of time, and so it’s probably started to wind down a bit, and it’s not as good as it could be. And so they’re not really going to invest too much in the blog necessarily before they sell it, apart from making sure that it’s running and doesn’t have broken links and the like.

But very often we’ll go and visit a blog that’s been bought later on, and it usually has a whole new design, has new navigation, they’ve probably improved their tagging of some of the content and I’m guessing they’ve fleshed out some content as part of that as well.

So it’s definitely more on the buyer end where they try to fix some of those things up and ultimately improve the ranking of the site as a result of that.

So that sounds like potentially good opportunities for buyers, in that if they’re buying a site that has room for improvement rather than necessarily looking for a site that’s at its peak.

Actually there’s probably two things there. I think some buyers are looking for the sites with awesome content that are broken in some other way, and they’ll tweak whatever it is, and suddenly make the content more available, and the site picks up from there.

And there are others that are looking to fix up broken content on a site that’s otherwise doing well and take it to the next level as a result of that.

As well as content, I know there’s some other assets that bloggers see themselves as having: one would be social media accounts, and the other would be lists—email lists. And you’ve also mentioned contacts in terms of content generation, but there may be other contacts that a site owner has made. Are those kinds of things often included in the sale?

Again, it depends. I think that the email list is the interesting one. Some site owners will buy and email list and attach that to the sale, even though they can’t really sell it. So I guess the smarter buyers will check out that it’s a double opt-in arrangement with email, and it’s for the site being sold.

We’ve got in our terms that you can’t include items that come from sources outside of the site being sold, but it’s almost impossible for us to police that. If we know about it, we’ll shut it down, but otherwise the buyer’s in the best position to check that stuff out.

The social media footprint is an interesting one, too. If the blogger or the person selling has done it right, the social media’s all attached and quite clean. But if they’ve got their personal Twitter account, for example, that’s driving traffic to the blog, that’s likely to not be included as part of the sale, and that’ll probably reduce the value of the blog if that’s a big source of traffic for that blog, or the audience. So that’s an important point.

I think the social networks themselves are a bit of a grey area in terms of transferring some of those accounts over, but in most cases it goes through. I’ve not heard of someone who’s bought a site with a Twitter account and had problems with it once it’s been moved across.

What about Pinterest? Are people selling Pinterest [accounts] as part of their blog sales?

We saw a whole bunch of Pinterest-type clones come through when Pinterest was big—eight or nine months ago.

Since then we haven’t seen much of a focus on that. I’ve seen a few ecommerce sites where Pinterest is driving a lot of their traffic—they’ve got an account with a lot of Pinterest followers, and they drive traffic to their ecommerce store from that. There’s probably a smattering of bloggers that do the same. I think it might depend on the individual nature of the blog as to how big a role that plays.

Brands and audience engagement: a balancing act

The next thing I wanted to talk about is the personal blog or the personally branded blog, versus a business branded blog, or one that’s not got your name attached to it. And then also grey-area blogs, like ProBlogger in a way. ProBlogger’s got its own brand, but then everyone associates Darren Rowse with it.

Do you see more personal blogs or more business? I’m assuming you’d see more business blogs?

Yeah, more non-one-person-associated blogs. I think that grey area is probably a relevant one, when the persona of the person who runs the blog even though it’s generic—I think even TechCrunch had that happen when they sold, as well—they tend to be taken into account, but it doesn’t necessarily drive the value.

I think, my name (AndrewKnibbe.com), if I tried selling that it’d be almost impossible—not because it’s just rubbish, but even if it was awesome, I think I’d be reluctant to sell it, because someone else has got my name, and they’re publishing things under my name, which I’d have no control over. But at the same time, the person that buys it has to try to stay authentic with an audience that knows I’m no longer there.

As a result of that—and they’re my two assumptions—we don’t see a lot of personal-brand blogs being sold on Flippa, because I think they’re kind of impossible to sell.

We definitely see a lot of blogs being sold where the person who’s founded the blog is very much front and center on the blog, and I’ve seen different ways people have managed that.

Can you tell us about those?

The ones I’ve seen that’ve worked most successfully is when someone who’s kind of in the same niche or industry, and who comes from a position of authority, takes over the blog, and takes it to the next level, which is a good thing.

Blogs that tend to get sold aren’t necessarily at their peak—they need a bit of attention—and so when someone [like that] takes it on, they’re likely to reinvigorate the audience, the content, and everything else, and then those people appreciate that. They don’t want to be getting low-quality content on a blog they used to love.

So I think the personality thing is a good question, but I think it’s manageable, depending on who takes it over.

A seller of a blog like that—would they be a bit selective about the person that they’re selling to?

It varies. It’s not always a price thing. My assumption would be that the one who’s willing to pay the most money is the one that the seller’s most likely to sell the blog to.

In a lot of cases we’re seeing people who’ve probably got an interest beyond pure money—in terms of making sure that their baby continues off into the sunset in a way that they like. And so they’ll ask a lot of qualifying questions of bidders to say, “Why are you interested in my blog? What would you do with it?”—that sort of thing to qualify them before they accept bids. It’s interesting.

So from the buyer’s point of view, if you wanted to buy a blog in your niche, then it’s probably a good idea to be building your authority for that purpose as well.

Absolutely. Especially if you come from a nicely related niche that’s complementary rather than competitive, that tends to work quite well. I’ve seen people do that—they’re in sport for example, and they’ve got a few sport blogs and they’ll go onto parallel [niches]. They’ll be into tennis and they’ll go into hockey or something.

They have some authority in one space and they kind of transfer that and people see they’re serious in what they think about it, and that comes through when they try to buy.

When those transactions happen, is it common that people would stage that so that the new personality is introduced to the audience rather than an immediate cutoff of the seller]?

I think it varies. I’ve seen in forums, where people who are active in forums who aren’t necessarily the owners of the forums, feel a sense of ownership over the forum so if the forum sells, they’re not so happy about it.

I think blogs with a lot of activity from the audience, they might feel the same way—they feel like it’s their platform to a certain degree. And when it sells they want to make sure that’s being done properly.

I’ve definitely seen some buyers take over a blog and they’ll contact the subscribers and let them know what they’re doing, what their plans are, and why it’s so awesome to stick around. Others I’ve seen not really do a whole lot in that regard, and I think it depends on how sticky the audience is to a certain degree.

Are there particular niches where that is more common?

Yeah, possibly the softer niches, pet or entertainment niches, or home style niches. That’s usually where that kind of approach is taken.

The value of a blog business, and the platforms it’s built on

We’ve talked a bit about key factors influencing a blog’s value, but one aspect that I wanted to look at were blogs that have a business attached to them, or where the blogger’s taken their blog and now they run a course, for example, so they’re selling a course through their blog. Or other products, like ebooks, or maybe they have an online store attached to the blog which is selling curated affiliate products.

Does that approach tend to be valued more highly than the traditional publisher monetization strategies like ads?

If when they go to sell that’s all included as part of the sale, in terms of those affiliate pages, definitely—don’t know if you want to hear it—but advertising models are the lowest performing. So if you’ve got a blog that relies on AdSense or BuySellAds or something, our stats show that these guys are earning typically less than two cents per visit off those blogs.

As soon as you include things like affiliate sales—again it depends on the niche—but monetization methods that are a bit more effective, like affiliate sales or drop-ship or some kind of ecommerce arrangement, suddenly you see the yield per visit just shoot through the roof.

Sometimes you’ll see people buy a blog that’s been monetized with AdSense, and within a few months it’ll be an affiliate network blog, and these guys are making a lot more money off the same audience simply because they’ve got a better monetization method plugged into it.

If you’re able to show that when you go to sell, if you’ve been able to monetize your audience better than through straight ads, that contributes to the sell price, most definitely.

In the stats that you gave us, one of the things that stood out to me was that in those different monetization strategies—and also within the different blogging platforms—those factors, the different ad network you choose, the different affiliate network, the particular blog platform you use, can affect the value of the blog.

Capital and revenue yield for popular affiliate networks

Flippa’s assessment of revenue and sales price for sites using popular affiliate networks

Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes the match between the niche they’re in and the affiliate network they use tends to be hand-in-hand. There’s the Apple app review blogs, and those guys tend to use LinkShare as the affiliate network, and as a result they tend to get quite good conversions because people buy apps all the time from those blogs.

There are others that are more built for forums, and so they convert as well, apparently, because of that.

So with those things, like LinkShare, is the blog worth more because that network has affiliates that suit the niche better? Or is it also because potential buyers are used to using that provider?

I think it’s the former. If people pick a niche that’s got a good affiliate provider, that’s always going to work in their favor. Having said that, you can have certain niches with multiple providers, and at the same time, you can pick providers who don’t provide a good return in terms of views or conversions.

For the buyers, it depends. If they know that the network being used is low-value, and they can switch it out for a higher value site, they’ll probably pay a higher multiple for that site, just to get it and switch it across.

There’ll be other buyers who don’t necessarily have that savvy, but they want a sure thing, so they know if they’re on a network that earns well, they’ll just want to buy it and they’ll pay market rate for it and then they’ll know that they’ve got a good income from that going forward.

And in terms of platform selection, I’m just wondering if for many blogs that are sold on Flippa, the buyer would change the platform that it’s built on.

You definitely see that. It tends to trend in terms of if you’ve got a really old, archaic platform, someone might move it onto WordPress because that’s what they’re working in, or move it onto Drupal or Joomla because that’s what they’re familiar with.

We see a whole bunch of Blogger sites being sold on Flippa, which surprised me. But you can see that trend going down over time, whereas things like WordPress is always right up there and Drupal seems to be coming back as well, which surprised me.

I don’t think people necessarily stick with the platform that the blog comes in on. Having said that, it could be hard-coded and it might be a nightmare to move it—I don’t know if they’d bother.

Great. The only other question that I had was can you tell us some ways that bloggers can work out the value of their blog or get an approximation?

I think valuations are inherently pretty hard, because no two websites are the same. A lot of people use Flippa to do valuations, so they’ll do a search on Flippa to try to find sites or blogs that are very similar to their own, and then they’ll watch those auctions and see them play out, and get a bit of a feel for what kind of demand there is, and what kind of values these sites go for.

Outside of that the rule of thumb is that the blog tends to go for between, say, 12 and 36 months’ worth of revenue, and that’s influenced by what we talked about before in terms of niches and traffic quality and the like.

Otherwise, you’re probably looking, by our rough guesses, at about 50 cents per monthly visit when you go to sell. So if you’ve got 1,000 visits, that’s $500 that you’re likely to sell for. It’s highly variable, based on a whole bunch of things, but that seems to be the middle ground, which might be helpful if you’ve got no idea at all.

It’s worth checking out what the current market’s doing, cause that gives you the best feel for what real buyers are paying for these sites.

Cool. Thanks very much for your time, Andrew.

No problem.

Redefining “Quality Content” … And Writing It

Sometimes, I think that if I hear the cliche “content is king” one more time, I’ll scream.

…Okay, maybe I already have. Everyone’s talking about content marketing now that Google’s put (more) emphasis on “quality content”, but no one really seems to be talking about what “quality content” actually means.

Is it content that converts? Content that’s shared? Content that ranks well in the search engines? Content that “resonates” with readers? All of the above? Something else entirely?

And: where can we start creating this “quality content”—if, that is, we’re not doing it already…?

Enough with the cliches! What we need are some answers.

Quality content: a new definition

I think quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Something that has value for me may have no value to you at all. So quality is closely linked to audience, to the idea being communicated, and to the way it’s communicated. But ultimately, I think it’s a pretty subjective description.

As a freelancer, I’m sometimes asked to write content that I’m not exactly excited about. Obviously as bloggers, we would never publish something we’re not proud to put our names to on our own blogs. But if you’re paid to write, sometimes client desires can see you writing copy or content that bores you to tears, or worse: makes you cringe.

Well, if “quality” is subjective, then I think our most basic definition of the term should entail a level of interest that captivates us as human beings. If your writing doesn’t intrigue you, how will it ever intrigue someone else?

So my new year’s resolution for writing is: don’t write what you don’t want to read. (Easier said than done with some clients!) To me, that’s the basis for quality content.

The elements of interest

There’s a lot that goes toward making a post interesting. Topic, writing style, angle, and presentation are just some of the keys to keeping readers reading, and minds cranking over.

Of those, topic and presentation are probably no-brainers for most bloggers and blog posts, most of the time. But if you see blogging like that, you’re probably headed for writer’s block and a blogging rut. If you decide you’ll only ever use text and images, and you won’t look at certain topics in your field because they’re not really “you,” you’re already cutting of your options for creating real, genuine interest among your readers. And, most likely, for yourself.

As for angle and writing style, these are two areas that I think can interact really well—two aspects that can help each other to develop if you let them. How? With the help of the Golden Rule for Better Blogging.

The Golden Rule for Better Blogging

That Golden Rule is: try something you’ve never tried before.

It sounds deceptively simple, but in practice, it can be daunting. Here’s how it might play out for your blog writing:

  • Never written a sales page before? Write one. If you don’t have a product, imagine one of your competitors’ products is yours, or dream up a product you’d like to offer and write a sales page for that.
  • Wish your writing was more sensitive/dynamic/powerful? Study an author or blogger you feel has this talent, work out what they do, then try to apply those techniques in your own writing.
  • Scared to pen an opinion post? All the more reason to draft one. Now.
  • Been putting off making approaches to other bloggers about teaming up on a project? Open up your email and start writing … from the heart.

Better blogging is about pushing the boundaries of what you know you can do. Better blog writing is a variation on that theme. Pushing the boundaries of your blog writing capabilities can be hard when you feel you’re not sure where those boundaries are, or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of advice that’s available to help you overcome that particular challenge.

The answer is to take it one step at a time.

An example: my writing style sandbox

Toward the end of last year, I realized there were certain bloggers and writers whose styles I really admired. At first I wished I wrote more like them, but I soon realised that what I actually wanted was to develop a more engaging writing style of my own.

I studied their techniques, but instead of emulating them, I wanted to use the feeling it gave me as grist to my own creative mill.

So I developed an idea for a blog, wrote a couple of posts, and launched it. The idea is to experiment with personal narrative as a vehicle for deeper connection with readers.

For someone who’s more used to writing other people’s product sales pages and email autoresponders, this is a bit of a shift. It’s outside my comfort zone. It’s beyond the boundaries of what I usually do. And the whole point of it is to experiment with writing techniques—to have a sandbox in which to play.

Your writing style sandbox doesn’t need to be a blog—it doesn’t need to be available to the world, and regularly updated. You could have your sandbox take up an hour every Thursday night, and a new folder on your desktop. Your sandbox could comprise a mutual writing critique session with a trusted friend once a month. It could be whatever you want.

No aim, no gain

The objective of this post is, first, to get you thinking about how you define “quality content” and second, to encourage you to set a goal to reach for better quality content every time you put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper).

The important step is for you to look at writing that you believe reflects the qualities your own content lacks, and from there, to set a goal to work on those elements in whatever way suits you.

Without an objective, you’ll find it hard to improve. While we could look to our traffic analytics, shares, and so on for “proof” that our writing “quality” is improving, since the measure of quality is to write something you want to read, the best measure of your “success” will probably be a feeling rather than a figure.

What does “quality content” mean to you? And what are you doing to move toward it? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

15 Social Media Mistakes that are Strangling Your Success

While it’s not new, I’m often surprised by the way bloggers use—and mis-use—social media.

Each of us has our own blogging journey, and we use different tools in our own unique ways. Yet there are still quite a few very common errors that I continue to see bloggers making as they work with social media.

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Image by stock.xchng user

These mistakes have the potential to make your social media experience a struggle—if not put you off it completely. But if you persist with them over time, they have the potential to do significant harm to your brand and your blog.

Think about it: social media is a very public space, perhaps even more public than your blog. Although we might not be conscious of it, every time we make a status update on a social network, we have the potential to reach a huge audience of people we don’t know through others sharing our messages.

That can happen whether the messages are good or bad, for better or for worse.

Take a look at these 15 mistakes, which definitely send the wrong message. Then, let me know in the comments if you’re making any of these errors.

1. Using social media as broadcast media

We all know that social media is an engagement tool, but how many of us treat it that way?

What’s your ratio of “broadcast” updates to direct, personal updates that address other users individually? And who are those direct updates to—friends and family and people you feel “safe” with, or are you reaching out to new contacts, readers, and others in your niche?

2. Not responding to contacts

While you may not want to connect with everyone on every social network, the blogger looking to build an online presence should focus on responding to contacts from others on social media.

Avoiding one-word responses is ideal—look for ways to connect naturally and easily with every person who approaches you, and you’ll see real benefits from social media.

3. Not joining your readers on the networks they use

Where are your users congregating online? Which networks do they use? Are you on those networks, or are you holding off because you think you don’t have enough time or energy to tackle a new network?

Not long ago, I started developing the dPS presence on Pinterest, and I’ve never looked back. While there’s no perfect time for anything, leaving yourself out of a social network where your audience is active could mean you’re leaving money on the tqble—or readers out of the loop!

4. Not offering follow and share buttons on your content

On your post pages, do you offer readers the option to share the post on social networks and the opportunity to follow you on those networks?

Offering one or the other is better than nothing, but it’s important to offer both. Of course, your follow buttons might appear in a location that’s globally available throughout your blog—like in the header or sidebar. But do make sure users have both options.

5. Not following or friending your readers

If a reader contacts you on social media, do you follow them?

While following massive numbers of people can be overwhelming, if you’re just starting out on a new network, connecting with those who contact you is a great way to make the most of the medium and get a feel for what your readers are doing on that network.

6. Not following or friending industry contacts

Connecting with people from your broader niche is an excellent way to stay abreast of news and get on the radars of others you haven’t met, but whose work you admire.

Who knows? They might follow you back—and share your updates with their followers. But even if they don’t, you have the potential to get a sound perspective of the players in your niche, and their work, on social media.

7. Not presenting your brand consistently on a network

Every blogger and blog brand has a range of facets, but these need to be carefully managed—even curated—if you want to give your followers a clear idea of who you are and what you’re about.

Chop and change in the way you approach a given network or your followers, or present your brand, and you might do more harm than good.

8. Not presenting your brand consistently across different networks

Following on from the previous point, you will have readers who follow you on multiple networks, so it’s important to present yourself and behave consistently in all your dealings, whatever the network.

Your blog’s Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts should share brand characteristics, even if you target the information you share with each network individually.

9. Only doing the basics on each network

Social networks have come a long way since they were first launched. Even the more recent arrivals to this industry are evolving new features all the time. Yet many of us ignore these developments, and just keep posting the same stuff, day in, day out.

Are you aware of the features of each of the networks you’re using? Are you up-to-date with what each network offers your blog? If you’re not, you could be missing valuable opportunities to promote your blog, to meet potential readers, and eventually, to make sales.

10. Not tracking social media traffic

At the most basic level, it’s worth knowing what portion of your blog’s traffic comes from social media, and from which networks.

This knowledge can help you focus your efforts, prioritize your work, and manage your time to best effect. It can also help you to respond to one-off traffic events arising from particular networks.

11. Not tracking how much your content is shared

On the other side of the coin, it’s also important to keep an eye on how much your content is shared. I’ve found this particularly useful when I’ve joined a new network, as it helps me to understand what works in that space and what doesn’t.

Looking at what’s shared—in terms of blog content and my own social media updates—is an essential step in making the most of a social network.

12. Not listening to discussions about your brand and niche

Similarly, it’s important to track not just what people on a given social network are saying about your blog and brand, but also about your niche itself. Social listening is the answer.

This can give you post ideas, opportunities to connect with readers on topical issues that they care about—even ideas for updating your blog’s layout or post categorisation. Social media listening is a great way to get to know what your audience is thinking and feeling.

13. Not listening to your main competitors

The listening doesn’t stop there, though. you can also set up searches for social media discussions of your main competitors, or key players in your niche, and find out what the audience has to say about them.

This can help you find gaps in your market for information and commentary, give you prodict ideas, and a lot more.

14. Not posting at high-sharing, high-visibility times of day

This is a big one. Even if your social media followers are in your timezone, there are going to be better and worse times to share on social media.

If you’re listening to find out the way your niche works on social media, you should have an idea of when its players—organizations and audience members—are most active. By tying that information to the traffic and sharing tracking mentioned above, you should be able to piece together a picture of the best times to get traction from social media among your target readership.

15. Not realising that promotion doesn’t stop with social media

Social media has its place, but it’s only one way to reach the people you want to read your blog. It’s one piece in a big promotional puzzle, and it’s one that’s actually independent of a digital presence that you own.

That presence is on your blog itself. But if you only ever use social media to try to get people to your site, you’ll soon kill off any goodwill you’d established. This is why social media really should be used as part of a broader promotional toolkit that lets you attract some of the other kinds of readers we mentioned late last week.

Are you making any of these 15 mistakes? They could be slowly strangling your blog’s authority, brand, and ability to attract new readers! Share your thoughts—and tips for social media success—with us in the comments.

Blogging the Festive Season: The Not-for-Profit Blog [Case Study]

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker and blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It, a not-for-profit site that provides consultancy and services for youth workers and organizations worldwide. This includes blogging 6 days a week about youth work.

As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked Stephen how he and his wife are preparing the blog for the festive season.

What does preparing the Youth Workin’ It blog for the festive season mean?

Over the last year or so, we’ve realized that we need to be well-prepared when it comes to writing posts about particular times of the year. We posted an idea for a Valentine’s Day fundraiser on February 13th, but this meant youth workers didn’t have any time to use the idea this year.

So we started publishing our Christmas posts a couple of months early, like a youth work session to include young people when planning Christmas activities and ideas for organizing a Christmas card fundraiser.

This will be your second festive season on the blog. What did you learn last year? What will you do differently this time?

Last year, we stole an idea from Jon Acuff. He wanted to take time off over the Christmas period but didn’t want to neglect his blog, so he re-posted his his most trafficked posts from the prior 12 months. This meant new visitors read material they might not have come across otherwise, while loyal readers were reminded of some of his best writing.

On our blog, we did something similar. This was based on the 12 Days Of Christmas, where we re-posted our most highly trafficked 12 posts since we started the blog on 1 September 2011. It probably wasn’t wise from an SEO standpoint, as we were effectively re-posting duplicate material. However, we’d moved into a new apartment at the beginning of December, so not having to write new posts for two weeks meant we were able to get settled in far more quickly.

Last year, we also found that our Christmas scavenger hunt ideas proved to be popular. We therefore started posting similar ideas throughout the year, which in turn also received a lot of traffic. Having identified the popularity of these activities, we published our second book, 52 Scavenger Hunt Ideas.

Youth Workin’ It has a global audience. What usually happens to readership and traffic on your site over the festive season?

As our blog was only a couple of months old in late 2011, we had very low levels of traffic in comparison to today, making it hard to identify any kind of trend. Our average number of daily visitors has grown approximately 3,000% since December 2011, so it’s hard to estimate what our traffic levels will be like this festive season in comparison, as we started from such a low base point last year.

Having said that, I’m anticipating that in the run up to the festive season we’ll see a bump in Christmas-themed search traffic. In the first two weeks of November 2012 we had close to 300 people find our site through Christmas-themed search terms, suggesting this trend will continue.

We’ve been seeing good growth all year, but I think that overall traffic will drop off over the Christmas period. Visits to Youth Workin’ It continued increasing throughout November, until two days before Thanksgiving when it dropped off for a few days while Americans celebrated this holiday, so I’m assuming the same will happen at Christmas too.

In January, though, I think we’ll receive a lot more traffic as youth workers will be looking for new youth work and youth ministry ideas for the coming year.

Do you think that having a “cause” blog provides you with different opportunities or challenges around this time of year than bloggers with more commercial blogs face?

For commercial blogs, I’d imagine Christmas is one of the best opportunities for generating revenue, particularly by driving sales through affiliate schemes.

Although we have the odd affiliate link on our site (mainly using Amazon Associates) and produce our own youth work resources, we’re not a commercial blog.

This means we can focus on writing material that we think youth workers will find helpful, rather than feeling like we have to focus on writing about topics or products that will earn us an income. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with commercial blogs—I’m simply not a salesman, so am glad I don’t have that pressure when I write.

This also helps ensure that most of our content is evergreen, rather than becoming dated quickly. If you’re trying to drive sales of the latest phone, or camera, in six months those products will be old news, and your blog post could equally become old news.

We therefore try as best as we can to take the opportunity to provide youth work ideas and principles that will be equally as valid in five years as they are today.

How else does the festive season affect your blog and blogging schedule?

I have a full-time day job and will only be taking a couple of days off over Christmas—I contract for an insurance company so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid! My blogging schedule therefore won’t change much, as I’ll be maintaining the same daily routine.

Our engagement with subscribers and social media followers won’t change much either, but that’s because we don’t have a large focus on those channels at the moment. Both my wife and I have full-time jobs, do volunteer youth work in our spare time, and blog six days a week. Unfortunately, we’ve therefore been unable to focus any time and energy on engaging with readers and followers on a consistent basis.

What’s the start of the New Year got in store for Youth Workin’ It?

Although we’re not taking any time off around New Year, the start of 2013 is going to be very busy. My wife Shae is going to be a speaker at Open Boston—a new youth ministry event—so she’ll be planning her talk for that. She also runs three girl scout troops in low-income housing areas that rely on fundraising in order to organize activities, which means she’ll also be focused on selling Girl Scout cookies.

The result of this is that I’ll be taking over more of the blogging responsibilities. I’ll therefore try to get ahead on my blogging schedule, particularly at weekends.

And what will you be most heavily focused on?

In addition to our regular blogging, we’re aiming to publish at least two new youth work resources again this coming year. That’s an area I’ll be focusing on, along with writing guest posts for other blogs. I’ve also been approached about another blogging project which looks set to be an amazing and fun opportunity.

On top of all this, I’ve recently set up a separate scavenger hunt blog. As mentioned earlier, these activities were popular on Youth Workin’ It, but we didn’t want them to be our primary focus. I’ve therefore set up this separate niche site so that I can keep publishing these ideas, which will also hopefully drive a few more sales of our scavenger hunt book.

Shae’s focus will be on getting more speaking and consulting opportunities. We’re also planning on setting up a non-profit that will work with young people in our local low-income communities, so we’re definitely going to be busy!

We’re not planning on making any changes to the general design or layout of our site, but are seriously considering signing up with AWeber instead of relying on Feedburner to deliver our daily emails.

One of the reasons for this is that we’re considering experimenting with popovers to gain even more email subscribers, especially having seen how much success Darren had with this technique.

As we’re not a commercial blog, we’d be paying for the service out of our own pocket without expecting to earn any revenue from email subscribers, which is why we’ve held off on doing this so far. The increase in subscribers should be a good longer term investment though, as it’ll help get the Youth Workin’ It name out more widely and will hopefully result in further speaking and consultancy opportunities for Shae.

What’s your advice to other not-for-profit bloggers to make the most of the festive season—both on their blogs, and in their personal lives?

Depending on the nature of your blog, prepare for the festive season well in advance. As I mentioned earlier, we’re already receiving hundreds of visitors to our posts relating to the festive season. As always, Google’s keyword tool is an invaluable resource for finding out what people in your niche are searching for when it comes to Christmas, the New Year, and other religious holidays.

In the New Year, people will be looking for a new start and fresh ideas. What can you offer them to make their lives better?

As for your personal lives, make sure that you have some balance. Answering these questions has made me realize how much I want to achieve for 2013, but this could easily result in working too hard and getting burned out. I therefore need to make sure that I intentionally carve out time—even if it’s just for one weekend in December—where I don’t touch blogging at all.

I’ve found this leaves me feeling incredibly refreshed, so this will set me up well to launch into 2013.

Huge thanks to Stephen for taking the time for this interview. If you run a not-for-profit or cause blog, what are you doing to prepare for the festive season? Share your plans in the comments!

Blogging the Festive Season: The Digital Publisher [Case Study]

Kimberly Gauthier has been running online pet magazine Keep the Tail Wagging for just on a year. As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked a few questions about how she’s squaring up for her first festive season on the blog.

You started Keep the Tail Wagging on January 1, 2012, so this will be your first festive season on the blog. Can you tell us what your goals are over the coming month to six weeks?

Keep the Tail Wagging is scheduled out almost through December 31st and I will be sprinkling extra holiday wish-list posts through that period as well.  I went back and forth a little on how I would handle the Holiday Season and decided to keep my blog on track (sharing tips on dog care) while adding extra posts for fun.

I’m working with several brands to promote Holiday Wish Lists that dog lovers will be interested in.  The brands are sending me their holiday look books and I’m choosing the times I want to promote—items that I would buy for our home and dogs.  I think these posts will come across with a genuine feel for my readers.

What does preparing Keep the Tail Wagging for the festive season mean?

This season, I’m working on building relationships with brands and small pet businesses, while helping my readers save time and money.

One thing that I promote on Keep the Tail Wagging is the ability to save money on quality dog food and products. Preparing for the season for me means networking with my favorite pet brands (for quality images and Black Friday sneak peeks) and making lists of items that I would purchase.

My goal is to be realistic about what my readers will buy and what’s safe for dogs.  I now have a rule that I won’t promote a product that I won’t buy for our dogs.  One vendor approached me about rope toys, which I find hazardous, because our dogs shred them and I worry about them swallowing the string (big vet bill).  I explained my thoughts and policy, and the vendor was able to share a different (very cool) product to promote instead.

I notice that you’ve already published a seasonal post from Petsmart. Is this a sponsored post, or a guest post? Does the festive season give you different opportunities to generate revenue than the other months of the year?

This is a press release that I agreed to publish on my site, because I’m a Petsmart customer.  I usually pass on press releases, preferring to post guest post (or my own post) instead.  In the upcoming weeks, you’ll see posts that I’ve written for Target and Petco.

These posts are generating revenue, but I am building a solid relationship with these brands.  A fellow blogger suggested that I hold out for money, because they’re taking advantage of me, but I disagree.  My logic is that I’ll be shopping at these stores and talking about it anyway. So why not work with the brands, get quality images and access to the stores (I spent the morning taking pictures at Petco with their permission), and build those relationships?

I’m excited about a recent job that I landed after working for free with a brand.  The PR group who represents the brand appreciated my work and is now paying me for a job this season.

That post’s archived in a category called “Happy Holidays”. Why create a separate category for festive season posts?

I wanted my readers to be able to quickly call up the holiday posts for when they’re ready to do their shopping.  I also want to be able to quickly call them up for repeated promotion over the next six weeks.

I’ll also be creating a button for my site that links to the Happy Holidays posts.  I’m all about making it easy for my readers to find things; plus, I want them to stick around on my site longer, which they’ll do if they’re not frustrated with my organization.

I’ll also be putting these posts in a “Gifts for Dog Lovers” category for the rest of the year.

How’s your blogging schedule looking for the festive season?

One of the bonuses of scheduling out my posts so far in advance is that it allows me to place more focus on other tasks.  Right now, I can focus on writing, promoting my Holiday Wish Lists, blog commenting, and sharing.

What I am going to start doing is spending more time on promoting images.  I’ve been uploading images to Flickr, Pinterest, and creating photo albums on Facebook and Google Plus.  I created a Fur-Holidays board on Pinterest where I’m storing all of my Wish List items.

Are you taking time off around New Year? How are you preparing Keep the Tail Wagging for that time?

I will be taking a break for New Year.  I will be writing a Year in Review post and a One Year Anniversary post to schedule around the New Year.

We stick close to home on New Year’s Eve so I can do some social networking, but I made a commitment that I will take a break during that time.  It’ll make it easier if I can schedule posts and only respond to emails and messages for a brief period (an hour) each day.  I receive over 100 emails a day (I know a blogger who receives nearly 1000) and taking the time to respond to, file, and delete emails each day will make my return to the blogging world much less stressful.

When you do return to the blogging world in 2013, what will you be most heavily focused on?

Content, building traffic, and affiliate marketing.

In 2012, I identified what I want to write about (dog training, behavior, nutrition, health, safety, pet products) and that I wanted to write in my voice, sharing my experience with my readers.

In 2013, I want to continue with this trend and connect with guest bloggers who have a similar writing style.

Building traffic is something we’re all working on and I will continue to do this through networking and PR, both locally and online.

I want to do a better job promoting affiliates through my writing.  I don’t want my site to come across as an online catalog, but it’s important that I remember to place those links and banners effectively throughout my blog posts and pages.

Sounds good! What’s your advice to other digital publishers who want to make the most of the festive season?

My advice is…

  • Be genuine. Don’t accept a check to promote something you don’t believe in, because your followers will notice and call you on it.  My goal is to build Keep the Tail Wagging into an authority that people will respect; they won’t respect me if I make choices that paint me as a hypocrite.
  • Set office hours.  The longer I work, the more work that comes my way.  I’ve accepted that I will never get to the bottom of my To Do List, so I created a working schedule and try my hardest to adhere to it.  This allows me a much-needed break and gives me time to spend with my family and friends.
  • Have fun.  If it’s not fun, then it’ll show through in my writing.  If I’m not into doing something, then I won’t do it.   I apply this to brands, guest contributions, and my own writing.  What’s the point in putting in the work to write, edit, and promote a post that no one will like, because you didn’t like it?  I’d rather spend that time walking the dogs; which is what I do when I find myself grappling with my blog.  Take a break, come back with a better approach later.

Special thanks to Kimberly for sharing her plans with us. Are you a digital publisher? How do your festive season blogging plans compare? What ideas can you share? Tell us in the comments!

Coming up next, Blogging the Festive Season: The Not-for-Profit Blog

Blogging the Festive Season: The Blogger-Consultant-Speaker [Case Study]

Tara Gentile is a blogger and business strategist whose online presence underpins her thriving consulting business at taragentile.com.

As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked her how the festive season affects her business and blog.

What does preparing for the festive season mean for your business?

For me, preparing my blog and business for the holidays means preparing for time off. I try to produce extra content to fill blog posts and email updates for sporadic publication but I go easy on myself. If I don’t get the content created, I still rest.

My goal for this season is to clear the way for momentum and inspiration in the New Year. This year, I’ll be taking stock of a few new ventures, including my microbusiness accelerator Kick Start Labs, and setting the stage to hit the ground running with a few new projects which include beta testing a mastermind program and beginning serious work on my book.

I also launched a complete redesign (and refocusing) of the site. Since the holidays are a slow time for me, that gives me leeway in discovering any flaws or missed opportunities.

What usually happens to readership and traffic on your blog over the festive season, and what happens to your consulting and speaking schedules?

Readership and traffic tend to be low during the festive season. That said, sales are often brisk at the end of the year with people making last-minute business expenses before the US accounting year closes. However, the real work doesn’t need to be done till January or February, so I make a point to take about four weeks off between December and January. Why work for work’s sake?

I’ll write, think, and read. But I don’t answer much email, execute programs, or do calls during that time. It’s a chance to recharge my personal and business batteries.

I’ve found that it doesn’t pay to try to change sales trends. Instead, I try to amplify sales trends. If it’s normally dead, then I take time off, regroup, and enjoy the downtime. If it’s a busy time of year, I ramp up my activities and do the work that allows me to take advantage of buying seasons. For this year, that will mean taking lots of time off, but providing a few key offers right at the end of the year.

Plenty of solo operators would be worried about being away from their businesses for so long. Are you worried about missing opportunities in that time?

My customers are doing exactly the same—or at least, I hope they are. I’m not going to send out a lot of content they can’t use at this time of year so what work I do is focused on the future—both mine and theirs.

Future-focused work includes doing research or reading that inspires me to create the kind of work that will serve my customers well in the next year. I’ve noticed that when I take time off at the same time my customers are taking time off, no one really notices my absence!

Sure—consulting and speaking aren’t exactly seasonal purchases. You mentioned key end-of-year offers. Is that how you keep revenue coming in the door during the festive season?

Aside from providing a compelling offer or two at the end of the year for those who are looking for add-on business expenses at the end of the year, I don’t worry about keeping revenue coming in the door.

Just as a family plans big purchases or budgets for daily expenses, it’s important for entrepreneurs to plan their revenue. When you plan for the natural ups and downs, you can feel good about letting your revenue flow naturally instead of trying to force sales when they are difficult to come by.

So, even now, I have a good idea of what my revenue plan for 2013 is. I know what’s launching when and about how much I can expect. Of course, that plan will change and evolve as the year goes. But this way, I know I can feel comfortable about taking the summer off or taking family time in December.

Your site at taragentile.com has been has been going for a while now. How has your approach to preparing for the festive season changed in that time?

I’d say I used to approach each month of the year as if it were the same as any other month. Now, I try to be keenly aware of how each month is different, bringing with it its own challenges and opportunities.

As the years went by and I started noting trends, I could predict what would be important each month: more content vs. less content, more offers vs. less offers, more events vs. less events, and so on. Now I can use that information to effortlessly create a plan for the season months in advance.

Are there any special preparations you’re making for the time you take off?

December 16-January 10 are marked off for family and fun time on my calendar. During that time, I’ll work if inspiration strikes me and I’ll certainly be making reflections on the year past and journalling on the year to come, but I don’t worry too much about making sure my blog keeps going.

There’s little reward in expending energy just for the sake of continuity, especially if no one is paying attention.

My readers have their own work to do and their own families to attend to. I don’t worry that they’ll forget about my site or that the dip in traffic will last forever. We’ll all find our way back into the groove in mid-January.

My only goal is to have great content, new ideas, and a compelling offer waiting for them when they return.

And when you do return in the New Year, what will you be focusing on?

For early 2013, my attention will be split three ways.

First, I’ll be continuing to up the value at Kick Start Labs, a microbusiness accelerator community for entrepreneurs making difference through commerce. We’ll be releasing a new series of practical business learning resources.

Second, I’ll be beginning the next serious stage of work on my book. That means lots of research, interviews, and writing. My favorite things! Finding the time and energy for this project has been difficult to say the least, but it’s work that I enjoy immensely and I’m very excited about who the book will reach and how it will encourage them to take action in the You Economy.

Third, I’ll be beta testing a mastermind program. I’ve spent the last two years really getting clear on my process and how I work with clients. It’s time to put it to the test. The goal of the program is to free business owners from the day-to-day execution of their businesses and create the space that’s necessary to see their businesses from 10,000 feet up.

I’ll first be rolling it out to those who have worked closely with me already and then later in the year, I’ll roll it out publicly.

Sounds interesting! So what’s your advice to other bloggers who sell consulting services alongside their blogs to make the most of the festive season?

Take time off! Recharge! Unless you are coaching or consulting in the wellness industry (the classic New Year’s products), this is an off time of year. Make the most of it. Don’t make appointments with others, only yourself. Mark your calendar with appointments to address difficulties in your business, plans for the new year, or loose ends that need tied. Set aside time for writing, thinking, and research.

But set aside the most time for family fun, quiet evenings, and personal introspection.

Sound advice! Thanks so much to Tara for giving us her insights. If you run a consulting or contracting business that’s supported by your blog, let us know what your festive season plans are in the comment!

Next in the series, we hear the festive season plans of a digital publisher.

5 Fatal Mistakes Your Paid Content Marketers *Are* Making (and How Much it’s Costing You)

Businesses wanting to reach users in more subtle ways are jumping on the blogging bandwagon. Well and truly.

In a recent Australian study, 62% of respondents said “blogs are the most appealing medium for business to promote a brand.”

If you’re in a business that’s paying an agency to create content on your behalf and place it on niche- and audience-appropriate sites around the web, you might be surprised to learn how far short your chosen agency is falling.

As Content manager at Problogger.net, I see agency pitches all the time, from marketing shops large and small. Just this week, I turned down content submitted by a global digital marketing agency. Why? Because it managed to achieve four of these five fatal mistakes.

How much do I think this probably cost their client? Between pitching, concepting and writing the posts (let’s say a total of four hours), keyword research (an hour?), and client and legal approvals (two hours), at $300 an hour (global agency rates!) we’re looking at $2,100, at a minimum. That’s without any back-and-forth revisions. I really hope that client had these guys on retainer…

If you pay an agency to create and post content to promote your business, now’s the time to ask yourself: how many of these mistakes are they making?

1. They hit sites with spam pitches

ProBlogger has a pretty unambiguous name, and if you’ve ever visited the blog, you’ll see immediately that it has a clear mandate.

Yet every day I receive pitches for “relevant”, “unique” posts on topics like:

  • insurance
  • furniture
  • mattresses and bedding
  • home decorating
  • mortgages
  • and so on.

Sure, this is a complete waste of my time, and bad news for your brand in the relationship-focused blogosphere.

But if you’re paying your agency to make these pitches, automated or not, you’re throwing money out the window.

2. They don’t read the submission guidelines

If your well-paid content marketing “expert” is pitching a post on bedding to ProBlogger, they obviously haven’t read the guidelines. But that’s not the only way their wasting their time and your money, nor the only way they’re swiftly undermining blog-industry respect for your brand.

Many agencies pitch us topics that appear relevant to our readership, then send us vaguely relevant articles containing backlinks to businesses that are completely unrelated to either the topic or our readers.

Our guidelines clearly state that we only include relevant links in posts. So if you’ve paid an agency to carefully research your keywords, and craft the posts, and maybe even had your lawyer approve the posts themselves (which many businesses do), and the host blog has rejected those posts, you’ve wasted some serious money.

If only your agency took a more thorough approach to targeting content. Oh wait, that’s what you’re paying them for, isn’t it?

3. They target host sites on the basis of PageRank, not audience or topic

Of course, most of these mistargeting issues arise because content agencies assess potential host sites primarily on the basis of PageRank, traffic levels, and similar factors.

What should they assess host sites on? Their appropriateness to your product, and relevance to your audience.

If your content marketing strategy is positioned as an SEO tool, you’re doing it wrong.

4. They’re unwilling, or unable, to make editorial changes

Let’s be honest. There are plenty of people in the world who can string a few sentences together and call it a guest blog post. Only a small (or, looking at the agency submission we receive, I’d say miniscule) percentage of them have ever written to a brief, or know how to work with an editor.

Writing to a brief—even one you’ve set yourself—is an art.

So is taking in feedback on that draft to make it better suit the readers of the site you’ve pitched it to.

To say that not all people who present themselves as pro writers can do this is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. This stuff is hard. It takes practice.

And if your paid content marketer can’t do it, you’ve blown your dough.

5. They’re unable to write for the medium

I know: blogging looks so easy. Most people in this industry haven’t had professional training in either writing or marketing. The people in your shiny marketing agency have been to grad school, for crying out loud! They know how to put a pen to paper! And really, how hard can it be anyway, right?

Well, pretty darn hard, judging by the paid-agency drafts I receive every day of the live-long week. An ability to write a media release, radio script, print ad, ebook, whitepaper, or essay does not naturally translate to skill in writing for blogs.

For example, your agency might be submitting “blog posts” that look like this:

"Blog post"

What’s wrong here? Ask your content marketing agency. If they can’t tell you, find one that can.

Finding good help

How can you find a good agency? First up, I’d say: stop looking for an agency.

You know who wouldn’t make any of these fatal mistakes? Any actual blogger worth his or her salt. If you want to make an impact using blogs as a medium, it seems that right now, you should hire a blogger.

It’ll be interesting to see how this situation evolves as the industry matures—I have a feeling agencies are eventually going to have to hire actual bloggers before too long, but from what I’m seeing, that’s not happening yet.

That’s the whole problem.

Whoever you’re considering, ask to see these things:

  1. Their blog. If they don’t have a current, engaging one, run.
  2. Five guest posts they’ve had published on other relevant blogs, as well as:
    • the comments and sharing stats for those posts on the host sites
    • evidence of the impact of the guest post publications on the blogger’s own traffic levels
    • the search positioning of those posts for the relevant topic keywords.
  3. The details of, say, three independent bloggers or blog editors they’ve worked with, so you can contact these people and find out how well the blogger’s writing is received by “peers.” Blogging is a relationship-based industry. The better your blogger’s relationship-building skills, the more successful your content marketing efforts are likely to be.

Your chosen blogger doesn’t need to be a big name with a massive following. Far from it. All they need to be able to do is write blog posts that have an impact on the target readers, and work effectively within this rather unique industry.

Too few agencies can manage that.

How to Make Sure Your Content Marketing Does the Job

Earlier today Darren talked about content marketing as a traffic generation strategy, and he mentioned the content marketing we did for the launch of Blog Wise.

The table he showed in that post, which breaks down the different sites we guest posted at, and the key messages we presented, points to an important fact about content marketing: planning really counts.

Where you’re used to writing for your own blog and readership, when it comes to writing for someone else’s (as in guest posting), planning is critical if you’re to make the most of that opportunity.

But even if you’re simply trying to use an email series or whitepaper to convert more of your site’s current, lurking readers into subscribers, you’ll want to plan the content to meet your needs, and those of the audience you’re targeting with it.

So I wanted to follow up Darren’s post with an explanation of how you can create a content outline that does both those things.

What is an outline?

An outline is not a headline. It’s not a rough explanation of what your post will cover (although this is what I’m usually sent as pitches for guest posts at ProBlogger).

An outline is a clear roadmap for the content that shows how that content will meet the needs of your blog business, and those of the target readers or users of that content.

Why write an outline? Because once you have that, you won’t have to worry about these strategic issues when it comes to creating the content. Instead of writing, freeform, until you’re done and then hoping that the content does what you want it to, this process lets you sit down and think strategically about what you’re doing, then sit down again, separately and in a different headspace, to write productively to meet that strategy.

Also, if you’re offering the content through some offsite location—say, as a guest post on someone else’s blog—once you have a good outline, it’ll be easy to chip off the relevant bits to send to the host blogger so that they can see that your content will meet the needs of their readers.

Creating your outline

Ready? Let’s get to it. First, we’re thinking strategically. So stop thinking like a writer, and start thinking like a marketer.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to look at the guest post I wrote for Goinswriter to promote Blog Wise, and show you how that developed.

Look at your needs

What do you need the content you’re using as a marketing tool to do?

With Blog Wise, we wanted our guest posts to:

  • promote the ebook
  • encourage clickthroughs to the sales page.

Pretty basic, right? Right.

Look at your audience’s needs

What does your audience need the content to do?

To answer this, you need to get to know your audience. In our case, that was pretty easy—we could look at Jeff’s blog and comments, and his social media interactions on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and get a feel for what his readers felt, needed, and wanted.

If you’re creating content—say a whitepaper—that you’ll distribute through someone else’s site, you’ll need to do similar research. Don’t hesitate to ask the site owner for information on their audience, though, as this can be a great help to you.

What did I feel Jeff’s audience needed the content to do? Here were my thoughts:

  • inspire their passion
  • help them write, whether they were bloggers, fiction writers, copywriters, or whatever
  • provide them with something candid and new.

Meet those needs with a concept

By “concept” I mean an idea that you want to communicate. I wanted to talk about Blog Wise in a way that:

  • inspired Jeff’s readers’ passion: so I decided to use Jeff himself (and the interview he did with us for Blog Wise) as the hook
  • helped them write: so I thought about a technique that helped me as a writer, regardless of what I’m writing
  • provided them with something new: the technique I thought about—having a “writer’s mindset”—wasn’t something I’d heard talked about before. I gave it a catchy name, “constant writing,” to give the article more obvious value, a title hook, and some serious punch.

Using this information, I decided I’d write a guest post that showed readers how to become constant writers. This met my needs and those of my readers—easily checked against the bullet points I made above.

Aspects of “concept” you might want to consider here include:

  • catchwords or phrases
  • content format
  • hooks and angles
  • titles.

Extend that concept into a content plan

Obviously your content plan will depend entirely on your concept and the format you’re using. A guest post outline is not an ebook outline, nor is it an email series outline, a video plan, or an infographic storyboard.

But whatever your format, your outline needs to be based around the key messages that communicates your concept to your audience. So you need to develop it with your target readers in mind.

By now, the needs you’re trying to meet should be ingrained and inherent in your thinking, so you can focus entirely on the readers and creating content that meets their needs.

Write down the key points you want to communicate to them, as sentences, subheadings, questions—whatever feels right. For my guest post, those key points were:

  • Jeff’s philosophy: just get started
  • Problem: how do you “just get started”?
  • Identify technique: pro writers are constant writers
  • What is constant writing? (explain the concept)
  • How does it work? (explain how it works in practice)
  • Conclusion.

That’s a good start, but it’s not really detailed enough for me to write the article yet, particularly in those latter sections. So I built it out.

  1. Intro
    • Explain Jeff’s philosophy: just get started.
    • Mention interview, and expand on what Jeff said.
    • Detail the problem: how do you “just get started”?.
    • Identify technique: pro writers are constant writers.
  2. What is constant writing? (explain the concept)
    • Mention writing “addiction” and the importance of loving expression.
    • Explain what constant writing isn’t: writing, completion, skills, becoming a “serious” writer or taking writing “seriously”.
    • Explain the point of constant writing: playing with words.
  3. How does it work? (explain how it works in practice)
    • Pay attention to your expression (with examples: email, text, etc.).
    • Read (examples: signs, t-shirts, books and magazines).
    • Listen (conversations, announcements, songs).
  4. Conclusion: Show readers how they’ll change if they put this philosophy into practice, to become constant, addicted, writers.

Houston, we have an outline

Yes! We have an outline! As you can see, some of those bullet points from my concept have become section subheads. Where I’ve needed to clarify my own thinking, I’ve expanded on those points.

Now I can objectively sit back, read this outline, and make sure that I honestly feel it will meet Jeff’s readers’ needs, as I listed them at the outset.

Next? The pitch.

Pitching your content

I could have sent Jeff this outline, but I expected he probably didn’t need to see the inner machinations of my mind. Instead, I summed it up in an email…

“I wanted to ask if we’d be able to write a guest post for your blog to help promote your inclusion in the ebook. The post I had in mind would take your “just get started” philosophy of productivity and present one idea for making that happen. The idea is creative practice, rather than creative production. So, rather than sitting down to write an article, this post argues, sit down to play with words and ideas.

“Write without a goal; write to experiment; write to get practice working with words—this would be the thrust of this article, which provides practical tips for getting started, and argues that an experimental approach takes the pressure off, allowing the writer the freedom to sit down and write a five-line lyric if they want, or 500 words of prose. The post would advocate this as a good way not just to build the creative muscle, but also, to give yourself the potential to discover new aspects of your writing which could be useful, or easily translate, into better, more resonant professional writing/blogging.

“I expect this piece would come in at around 1000 words, and it would of course include a link back to the productivity ebook on ProBlogger. Let me know if you’d be interested in this post for your blog, because I’m really keen to write it and see how your audience feels about the idea :) Of course, if you don’t feel it’s appropriate, that’s no problem at all.”

As you can see, this summation is a digestible, sensitive version of the nuts-and-bolts outline. I’m trying to tell Jeff what I’ll communicate and why it’s of benefit to his readers, rather than give him a laundry list of subheadings. That said, sometimes, a laundy list of subheadings is a great thing to send through, especially with posts that seem nebulous or unusual. I guess the most important thing to note here is that I didn’t write to Jeff and say something like this:

“I have an idea for a guest post on your site about writing productivity. The article is “Constant Writing: the productivity secret of pro writers”. Do you think it would be of interest?”

This is no way to either build rapport with the person who’s hosting your marketing effort, or inform them of the value of your piece. The outline I sent Jeff explains specifically:

  • what his readers will get out of the content,
  • through what discussions, and
  • how the content will benefit the host blogger himself.

If your content marketing pitch does this, you’re on a winner. From here, it’s likely you’ll be able to navigate any hurdles the host blogger throws up and, when it comes to write your piece, you’ll basically know on a subconscious level what you’re doing and why—which will show clearly in your writing.

Do you plan your content marketing efforts?

if you think having an outline like this would be handy in giving your guest posts the greatest impact, imagine what it can do for your email subscription series, your free ebook, or your whitepaper.

Outlines make content marketing easier. Do you use them? Will you try? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.