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7 Tips for Profitable Niche Blogging

Guest post by Deb Ng from Freelance Writing Gigs.

While going over my stats last summer, I learned something important: If I stopped blogging each day, I would still earn enough each month from my content to draw a salary and pay the bloggers who write for my network. I’m no longer breaking even and I can tell you, after almost five years of trying to make this blog work out, the rewards go far beyond that of money. Success is a great motivator.

I would like to tell those who don’t feel niche bloggers can’t earn decent advertising revenue, they couldn’t be more wrong.

“Make money online” bloggers are always pimping affiliate links. Niche bloggers can’t necessarily do this. Our readers don’t want to receive pitches every day. Moreover, not all niche blog readers are buyers. For example, selling high end products via a frugal living blog probably isn’t the best idea. The same with my freelance writing blog; one thing I learned over the years is that writers don’t open their wallets for the next big thing. If they’re buying products through an affiliate link, it has to provide tremendous value. When I have sold it’s with conferences, books, ebooks, courses and other teaching products. The bulk of my income doesn’t come from affiliate links, however. They come from private ad sales and Adsense.

So, niche bloggers, here is my advice to you:

  1. Traffic and community come first: To truly earn money through advertising revenue on a niche blog, you have to build trust within your community. Sure, you can place ads on your blog from the very beginning, but they probably won’t earn. Don’t focus on monetization right off the bat. Take the time to build traffic and community. Establish trust among your readers. Once you have an active community and regular traffic with a pattern you can rely on, then you can deal with traffic.
  2. Know your readers: Before you sell anything, you have to know your market. Tech blogs and “make money online” blogs can enjoy a more diverse income stream because their readers will respond to a variety of products and services. Not so much with nichier topics. Knowing your community’s habits is essential to monetizing narrow niches. For example, my community is made up of clickers, not buyers. As mentioned above, when they do buy, they choose items that teach. They don’t invest in gadgets but they will invest in materials to help them further their careers.  I learned what they like by playing with the various revenue streams and also by conducting polls and reading every single one of their comments and emails.
  3. It won’t happen overnight: Don’t be frustrated if you don’t begin earning as soon as you place ads. It doesn’t happen overnight. Your community wants to trust you – and your advertisers.  Give each ad some time to earn, but if you don’t see any response at all after a month or two, explore other advertising possibilities.
  4. Good content continues to earn over time: Timeless or “evergreen” content has the ability to earn for a lifetime. Try posting advice that will be relevant five years from now. In addition to current news and events, discuss topics that will always appeal to web searchers.
  5. Find other forms of passive income: Advertising isn’t the only way you can earn through your blog. As Darren has proved here, you can also sell ebooks, courses, work books, webinars and even a membership forum.
  6. Don’t wait for advertisers to find you: For me, private ad sales are the most lucrative. Other than Adsense, my highest payers are advertisers who didn’t come from a particular advertising agency. I found many of them on my own. Advertisers won’t reach out to you if they don’t know about you. If you have enough traffic coming in, create a press kit. List stats such as bounce rate, pageviews, traffic and more. Market your blog much in the same way traditional media market to their advertisers. See if you can convince potential advertisers to come on board.
  7. Don’t rest on your laurels: OK, so you have a few ads. I can tell you now, it won’t last. You can’t expect every advertiser to stick with you for years. They come, advertise for a while, and go on their merry way after sales start to lag a bit. Always be on the lookout for new sponsors and advertising opportunities to ensure there are no dry periods.

Many niche blogs are difficult to monetize, but they don’t have to be. If you study your community and traffic patterns, you can find some profitable solutions. You might have to think outside the box or sell your own stuff, but once your blog hits, the sales will soar.

Are you monetizing your blog now? What methods are using and how is it working out for you?

Deb Ng is a freelance writer, professional blogger, social media consultant and founder of the Freelance Writing Jobs network of blogs. Follow Deb on Twitter @debng.

44% of Bloggers Sell a Product or Service Of Their Own From Their Blog

The last poll here on ProBlogger examined a growing trend among bloggers trying to monetize their sites – to sell their own products from their blogs rather than just relying upon advertising and affiliate revenue.

Whether it be by selling an E-Book, training program or some other kind of learning program or whether it is selling one self as a consultant or promoting a product from a business that the blogger owns – more and more bloggers do seem to be exploring this as a way to make money.

The poll results were as follows:

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I’ve not run this poll previously so have nothing to compare it to – however my gut feeling on this one is that if conducted even just a year ago the percentages would have been further apart. I suspect in the year ahead we’ll see them grow even closer.

Out of interest I thought I’d compile a list of the types of products and services that people said that they sell in the comments of the poll post. You can see that there’s a lot of variation (it’s actually a really inspiring list to me that illustrates a little of what can be done with a blog!

  • Design work
  • Web/Plugin Development
  • Membership Site
  • Coaching/Mentoring
  • E-Books
  • Reports
  • Legal Services
  • Book (hard cover)
  • Software
  • Speaking/Training Services
  • Music Lessons
  • Copy Writing Services
  • SEO services
  • Tutoring
  • Screencast/Video Content
  • Scrapbook Supplies
  • Sewing Patterns
  • Photographic Prints
  • Excel Templates
  • Music/CD
  • Craft
  • Flowers/Florist
  • Bag Patterns
  • Marketing Services
  • Skincare products
  • Handmade Soap
  • Makeup Artist Services
  • Craft Kits
  • Calendars
  • Vintage Clothing
  • Gourmet Food Items
  • Toys
  • Website Templates
  • Paintings/Art
  • Diet Products
  • Real Estate Brokerage
  • Fitness Program
  • Scuba Diving Education Business
  • Personalised Spoof Newspaper Front Pages
  • T-Shirts
  • Jewellery

There are sure to be many many other examples of what can be sold off the back of a blog – feel free to add more of your experience in this in comments below.

Two Limited Time Offers for Bloggers Wanting to Learn How to Make Money

In the last 24 hours two teaching resources have launched that will help you to learn some great lessons on making money online:

1. Blog Masters Club – presented by David Risley, this resource is in it’s second class and will be available until next Tuesday. David presents a comprehensive 16 module course for bloggers including 92 videos, loads of transcrips, MP3s, forum, action guides and some nice bonuses. He’s offering a discount for those who act to join in the first 24 hours so to get in at the discount you need to act today.

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To get a taste for whether this is the type of teaching for you David has released some free stuff worth checking out:

2. Shoemoney System – presented by Jeremy Schoemaker, the Shoemoney System launched today and Jeremy tells me that he’s already 75% sold out (he’s taking a maximum of 500 students). It looks like they’ll close their doors inside 24 hours if signups continue at the same rate that they have been.

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The Shoemoney system is a little broader in it’s approach than David’s course above (which focuses more upon blogging). Jeremy’s system again focuses heavily upon video presentations (over 100 hours) and is a 12 month training course. He also throws in some good bonuses including $2500 in free advertising from a variety of companies that will help you get yourself going.

Jeremy is a well connected buy and he pulls in some big names and knowledgeable people in his teaching with lots of interviews and tools.

To get a taste of what it’s all about here’s some stuff to check out:

If you’re wanting to focus your energy just on blogging – I’d go with David’s Blog Masters Club. If you’re wanting a broader introduction to online marketing that goes beyond blogging, go with the Shoemoney System.

Do Make Money Online Tips only Work on Blogs about Making Money Online?

One of the common critiques that I’ve seen about sites/books/information product/blogs/courses/e-book about making money online is that its only those teaching how to make money online who actually make money online.

‘He only has a six figure income because he charges people to learn how to make a six figure income!’

This was one comment that someone made about another blogger recently. It sparked a chorus of other similar comments – people like to use that argument.

I understand this critique on some levels – there are quite a few bloggers out there who do only make money from make money online blogs and have not really had success in any other niche. While there’s nothing wrong with this – it obviously raises the eyebrows of some and makes them wonder if it’s possible to do it any other way.

There are also a lot of make money online bloggers making big claims and hyping up their own success – trying to get credibility in what is a competitive niche. This can distort the prominence and success of this type of blog and make it seem like it’s the only type of blog that can make money.

Can you only make money online by starting a make money online site and charging for the information?

I think it’s pretty evident that this isn’t true. While there are a few prominent examples of success stories in the make money online niche there are more many more people making a great living from blogs in other niches.

However many times these stories go untold because:

  • the blogger behind the site doesn’t have an avenue to talk about their success
  • they don’t want to talk about it – for fear of competition
  • they simply don’t want to be seen to be boasting or ‘tooting their own horns’

I hear from many bloggers in a wide variety of niches who are making a good living from their blogs who for one reason or another have not talked publicly about their stories.

Side note: On the flip side I also hear from a lot of ‘make money online’ bloggers who struggle to make any money from their blogs (it is nowhere near as easy as it might seem).

My Own Experience

I first started making money from blogging on a blog that had nothing to do with blogging or making money from blogs. In fact the first blog I experimented with making money on was a personal blog that talked about a multitude of topics. In time that blog did start to talk about blogging but it was far from solely a ‘make money online’ blog.

I then started a photography blog that aggregated camera reviews from around the web (no longer active) on that original personal blog’s domain. That blog became the biggest source of my full time income in the next year or two (it was around this time I hit the ‘six figure income’ level).

Out of my experience with that blog (and others) I started ProBlogger.net to talk about what I was learning and share tips on how to make money blogging (in 2004). ProBlogger did end up growing to earn more than that original photography blog but it wasn’t for a year or so that it got established.

The original photography blog wasn’t a very satisfying blog to run and I ended up letting it die before starting my new Digital Photography School in 2006. DPS took a couple of years to really grow to a significant level – but today it is my main source of income. Traffic wise it does 5-6 times the traffic of ProBlogger on an average day and income wise it’s making significantly more than this site (I’d estimate that it’s 3-4 times as profitable as ProBlogger most months).

I share this story in an attempt to dispel the myth that to make money online you have to talk about making money online. Yes you can make money in this niche – but there are plenty of other niches where bloggers are making as much, if not more.

Do You Make a Secret Full Time Income from Your Blogs?

My story is not unique – there are many bloggers ‘out there’ who have built successful blogs that now sustain them full time financially. By no means are these bloggers in the majority (most bloggers make very little) but they are out there!

If you’re making a full time living from your blog I’d like to connect with you. In fact – I’d like to interview you.

I know for some full time bloggers the idea of sharing your story is something you’d rather not do (due to reasons I outlined above) – but if you are interested in sharing your story and have done so simply because you didn’t have an avenue to do it I’d really be interested to touch base with you to explore whether you’d be interested in being interviewed here on ProBlogger.

If you’re interested – please contact me through the ProBlogger contact form. Please include the word ‘interview’ in the first line of your email to help me make sure it gets my attention. It would also be helpful to have a link to your blog and a short description of it and your business model. I will keep these details private unless we mutually decide to do an interview.

I can’t guarantee to interview everyone who emails – but I hope to do as many as I can to highlight how blogs have become profitable in a variety of niches.

How to Make More Money From Your Blog in the New Year : Best of ProBlogger

Todays post in the Best of ProBlogger 2009 series looks at the topic of making money from blogs. By no means is it a comprehensive or complete guide to the topic but below are 12 of the more popular posts we’ve had on the topic this year.

  1. The Importance of Having Your Own Product to Sell
  2. How to Make $30,000 a Year Blogging
  3. The #1 Reason My Blogging Grew Into a Business
  4. 5 Ways to Make Money Blogging Once You Have Traffic
  5. $72,000 in E-books in a Week: 8 Lessons I Learned
  6. How to Find Direct Advertisers for Your Blog
  7. How I use Email Newsletters to Drive Traffic and Make Money
  8. What is Affiliate Marketing?
  9. How to Find Profitable Affiliate Products to Promote
  10. 11 Lessons I Learned EArning $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program
  11. 10 More Amazon Associate Program Lessons I Learned on My Way to Six Figure Earnings
  12. Should I Add a Donation Button to My Blog?

How to Make $30,000 a year Blogging

Last night I was chatting with a blogger who was feeling completely overwhelmed with their goal of making a living from blogging.

I asked them how much they wanted to make from blogging.

They responded that they wanted to be a full time blogger.

I pushed them for a figure – what does ‘full time’ mean for you?

They thought for a moment and said that they could live off $30,000 USD a year (note: they wouldn’t have minded earning more but would be able to quit their current job at this kind of rate).

$30,000 a year sounds like a lot to make from a blog – especially when you’re starting out and are yet to make a dollar. To this blogger it seemed so overwhelming that she had almost convinced herself that it was not possible.

Advice for Becoming a Full Time Blogger

My response was threefold:

1. Don’t Give Up Your Day Job…. Yet

It is possible to make $30,000 a year blogging, but it’s unlikely to happen over night. Keep your feet on the ground and your expectations reasonable. IF it happens (and there are no guarantees) it is almost certainly going to take some time.

2. Be Specific

Saying that you want to be full time as a blogger is a great goal – but it’s not really specific enough. This is why I wanted the blogger I was chatting with to name a figure. For her full time was $30,000 – for others it could be more or less – the amount is not the point, the point is that you need something more concrete to work towards so that you’re able to measure where you’re at.

For me when I decided I want to go full time as a blogger I decided that I wanted to aim for $50,000 (Aussie Dollars) in a year as the bench mark (at that time $50,000 was around 36,000 USD). That’s around what I would have been earning in my current main job if I had been doing that full time (I was actually working a number of part time jobs at the time as well as studying part time).

Knowing what I was aiming for helped me in a number of ways when it came to getting to that goal.

3. Break it down into something more Achievable

$30,000 USD still sounds big when you’re a new blogger – and in some ways it is. However there are different ways of thinking about that figure. Lets break it down in the way that I used to look at my target.

  • $30,000 a year = $576.92 per week
  • $30,000 a year = $82.19 a day
  • $30,000 a year = $3.42 an hour

We could break it down on a monthly or on a minute by minute basis if we wanted to (in fact I did do it by minute from time to time for fun) – but the exercise is really about helping you to see that perhaps your big goal is a little more achievable if you are to break it down. Making $82.19 somehow seems a little bit easier to me than making $30,000 (or is that just me?).

OK – the other way that I used to break down my goal that I found really helpful to me was to do it based upon what I need to achieve to meet that target. For me I would usually look at the daily figure – in this case $82.19.

What do I need to do to make $82.19 a day ($30,000 a year)?

Well there’s a number of ways that much. Lets look at a few:

  • CPC Ads – lets say we’re running mainly AdSense on our blog and that the average click is paying 5 cents. That equates to 1643 clicks on AdSense ads (note: AdSense also runs CPM ads so it’s not quite as simple as saying you need 1643 clicks… but to keep this simple lets just go with that).
  • CPM Ads – lets say that we’re running CPM ads on our blog and we’re being paid $2 CPM per ad unit and we had 3 ads on each page (which is effectively $6 CPM per page). This would mean we’d need 13,000 page impressions.
  • Monthly Sponsorships – one way to sell ads directly to advertisers is to sell ads on a month by month basis as a sponsorship. To make $30k in a year you need to sell $2500 a month in ads. You might have 6 ad spots on your blog so this is 6 advertisers at $416.66 per advertiser per month.
  • Low Commission Affiliate Products – Lets say we were promoting affiliate products from a site like Amazon and your commissions were on average about 40 cents per sale. To earn $82.19 you’d need to sell 205 products.
  • High Commission Affiliate Products – In this case you might be promoting ebooks and earning $8 a copy (that’s what you’d earn selling my 31DBBB ebook per commission). The math is simple on this one – you’d had to sell around 10 e-books a day.
  • Really Big Commission Affiliate Products – of course e-books are not the biggest product out there to promote – there are products like training courses where you can earn hundreds per sale. Lets take one that might pay out $300 for a yearly membership on a bigger product. In this case you need to sell 8 of these per month.
  • Selling Your Own E-book – got your own product, perhaps an e-book, to sell from your blog? At $19.95 a sale you need to sell just over 4 of these a day. You can do the sums on cheaper or more expensive products.

Of course there are many many other ways to make money from blogs. Subscriptions, donations, paid reviews, selling yourself as a consultant….. etc. You can do the sums for yourself on your own model.

I know that some of the above figures still sound out of reach for bloggers – 1643 clicks on your AdSense ads sounds massive to a new blogger…. and it is – but do keep in mind that you can combine some of the above (in fact I’d recommend you diversify your income).

You might run 2 ad networks on your site, promote Amazon affiliates, sell your own e-book and promote someone’s membership course.

Looking back on my own figures for around the time when I hit my $50,000 AUD (around $100 USD a day) goal and for me at that time my income mix looked a like this (going from memory here):

  • AdSense: $35
  • Chitika: $20
  • Private Ad Sales: $20
  • Amazon: $15
  • Other Affiliate Commissions: $10

Note: I didn’t achieve this milestone until I’d been blogging for over 2 years (I blogged for the first year without trying to make money).

This didn’t happen over night (let me emphasize this – blogging for money is neither quick nor is it easy money) but I really found that breaking things down into more bite sized pieces helped me to stay motivated but also helped me to identify what I needed to work on in order to reach my goals (and for me to quite my day job).

Again – don’t quit your day job yet (in fact you may not want to quit it even when you reach your goal – it can be good to have a back up plan) but do work hard at being specific about your blogging goals and attempt to break it down in a way that helps you move towards them.

Make Fast Money Blogging Products – My Reaction

make-money-blogging-fast.jpgToday a new ‘make money blogging fast‘ product is being launched into the blogosphere that promises those who buy it that they can make big money blogging – fast.

As this thing is launching and I’m already getting emails about it from readers asking if they should buy it – let me give you a few quick reactions to it and other products I’ve seen like it.

Do keep in mind, I’ve not bought the product so I’m making these calls based solely upon what I’ve seen in the sales material and what I’ve heard from charter members. Much of what I have written below applies to most of these kinds of products (and there are many).

Note: I’m not naming the product here (and I’m certainly not going to try to make a quick buck with an affiliate promotion), I just don’t feel good about promoting it in any way – for reasons that I guess will become clear below.

Make Fast Money Blogging?

Here’s the main thing – making money from blogging instantlyimmediatelyquicklyfast isn’t something I’ve seen too many people achieve (I’m actually yet to meet any). I have seen bloggers make A LOT of money blogging – millions of dollars in fact. It’s certainly possible to do – however in every case that I’ve seen the blogger has worked their butts off blogging for a long time, building their authority, credibility and by writing content that is original and useful – well before their blog started making money.

If you think you can flick a switch or change to a new system and instantly make a lot of money fast – you’re in for a fall. Don’t fall for that line – to make money in this game you’re going to have to work really hard and have a long term view of things.

Lots of Blogs Each Earning Little Bits of Money

OK – the methodology of this program is that you need to start a blog network – multiple blogs that each earn a relatively small amount of money, that mounts up to be a significant amount.

Sounds like a reasonable way to approach things and there is actually some truth to the methodology. I know a number of bloggers who have made some money this way, a few that even make a full time living from it.

I’m not going to knock people for taking on this model – it can work and I guess people do need to make a living. I even did it for a little while myself. However keep in mind that there is a cost of this method – something that I learned for myself the hard way.

The problem with maintaining lots of blogs is that while they each might make a little money that adds up to a reasonable amount – you end up with lots of blogs that don’t really amount to anything in and of themselves on any other level than that they earn a little money.

Perhaps that’s all your dream is (to make a little money from lots of blogs that no one has ever heard of) but what I love about blogs is the way that they open up other opportunities for a blogger. A blog can build your brand and profile to the point that it opens up doors for new jobs, partnerships, book deals, speaking engagements, friendships, business ideas…. etc. The problem is that most bloggers who have experienced these opportunities have worked hard to build a small number of blogs (usually a single one) which they’ve worked hard at – rather than spreading themselves thinly across multiple blogs.

My experience of a small network of blogs was that it while I was able to sustain 10-20 blogs (20-30 posts a day) that the quality of what I was producing was pretty low. I did get a little traffic to each from Google – but never really generated any regular readers, never had anyone comment, never had any opportunities open up as a result of those blogs.

It was only when I switched to having 1-2 blogs with quality, useful and original content that things opened up. As a result I slowly started to make real money blogging and more importantly started to see opportunities to leverage the profile of my blogs to bigger and better opportunities.

Using Other People’s Content

One of the main methods taught by many make money blogging products is to use other people’s content on your blog for the bulk of your posts. This one teaches that you should use other people’s content for the bulk of your posts and throw in some original stuff from time to time. They even give you tools to find and import other people’s content quickly (remember you need lots of blogs to make this work – so you need to do it quickly).

Again – this is something I dabbled in for a while. I did it all manually and tried to use the content in a way that added value rather than just copying and pasting in content (I also did it with the blessing of those whose content I aggregated and always acknowledge sources) – but in the end I dropped it as a method for a couple of reasons.

Firstly it was the most boring thing I had ever done (and I’ve worked on conveyor belts on production lines for 12 hour shifts – so I know boring). Blogging can be an amazingly uplifting experience – but copying and pasting in content is not fun.

Secondly it’s only marginally useful – there are ways of aggregating content from other sites that can be useful, but it always takes work and extra effort for this to happen. The method demonstrated in the product I’m referring to just mashes up a load of content from other sites in a way that doesn’t really help anyone. As a result a blog that does this as the bulk of its content isn’t really useful to anyone, except the blogger making a few dollars from it. The demonstrator describes the post as quality content – it’s not really. It’s on topic, it might do ok in Google, but it doesn’t really help anyone.

Thirdly – you end up a blog that isn’t really unique or original. This comes back to my points above about creating blogs that actually help build a brand or profile for you. If all you do with the bulk of your content is rehash and mashup other people’s content you’ll never get a name for being anything much more than someone who reads, quotes and links to other people’s content. Perhaps I’m crazy – but I’d rather be known for someone who has original, interesting and useful ideas than someone who whips up mashups of other people’s stuff all day every day. But maybe that’s just me?

Fourthly – while search engines unfortunately do rank this kind of content, I’m finding that they’re getting better and better at identifying truly useful content and junky content like this that is created purely to get search traffic. Sites like this can and do rank well but often they fall out of the rankings and in the long term don’t tend to rank well.

Note: at least the teaching offered in today’s course acknowledges sources of content with links and only uses short quotes from those sources – I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as some tools that scrape content, strip links and acknowledgements and automatically produce very spammy content.

Final Thoughts

In the end people will believe that they can make fast money blogging if they want to. Some people just want to believe the dream and nothing I can say will convince them. They’ll happily pay their $67 a month, create a few of these ‘blogs’ and a few months later realise that this isn’t a ‘fast’ or particularly ‘easy’ game.

If you’re tempted then please just pause for a moment and think about your objectives for blogging. If you’re looking to purely make money and you don’t want any real personal satisfaction or have any goals of building a brand or profile – then this type of model may actually work for you.

But if your dream is to build something that grows your profile as someone with authority in your niche, or to land a job or book deal, or to get invited to speak at an industry event, or to be quoted in mainstream media about your topic, or it’s just to build a blog that has loyal readers who keep coming back because you’re helping them…. then perhaps this isn’t the type of blogging model for you.

Your Thoughts?

PS: Interestingly the sales page of this new product highlights some successful blogs that make a lot of money blogging. They include Dooce and Mashable. I would argue that these blogs pretty much prove my point. They’re all about original and useful content. They are not about creating lots of blogs that each a little money – they’re about putting in a lot of work to produce useful and original content over a long period of time and don’t resemble anything I’ve seen about the actual product being promoted on the page.

How I Use Email Newsletters to Drive Traffic and Make Money

Yesterday I shared 6 reasons that I find email newsletters to be a more effective way of driving traffic to and making money from blogs than RSS.

Today I want to show you exactly how I do it.

Firstly a word about technology – I use Aweber to deliver my emails (I talk about why here). However you can use pretty much any email newsletter service (many also choose and highly recommend MailChimp) for the process I outline below as long as it allows you to set up an auto-responder or sequence of emails.

I should also say that the process I’m about to share has evolved over time. It started out very very simple and has slowly developed with time – in fact it continues to develop as I learn more and by no means is where I want to take it…. yet.

Lets start with a visual on how my process looks (click to enlarge) before I explain the elements:

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Reader Subscribes

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Because email newsletters are such an important part of my site I put a lot of emphasis upon getting this conversion moment with those who come to my site. There are a variety of places around the blog where I attempt to get readers to sign up – some are more subtle than others. Some are anything but subtle including a popup signup box that readers see 20-30 seconds after they arrive on the blog.

The pop-up is set to only show once per visitor (unless they’re blocking cookies) and while it is intrusive and I was very hesitant about adding it – it’s incredibly effective at getting readers to signup.

I switched to using this Pop-Up signup technique just on a year ago and at the time wrote up how it took me from getting 40 confirmed signups a day to 350 over night here. Since that time subscriber numbers have continued to climb – I now get around 500 new confirmed subscribers a day. This adds up to around 180,000 a year which is exciting growth. It does annoy a handful of readers (I get an email or two per month) but for the payoff it’s something I’ve decided to continue with.

Welcome Email

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When someone signs up and then confirms their subscription by clicking a link in an email they’re then sent (double opt in is required by law) the new subscriber is immediately sent a welcome email. This email is all about making them feel good about subscribing and giving them a quick introduction to the site.

I’m presuming that most people who sign up for the newsletter are new to the site so it’s a great opportunity to introduce myself, show them around and help get their expectations right about the site.

This welcome email has a site logo, my picture, some links to key parts of the site like the forum, some suggested reading for catching up on key posts in our archives (I send them to a few ‘sneeze pages‘ that send them deep within the archives and get them viewing multiple pages) and shares what the subscriber will receive in the coming weeks in terms of future emails.

The email also asks people to add the email address that emails are sent from to their white list/contact list to help ensure emails are delivered.

It’s written in a personal and friendly style and seems to connect as I get a lot of replies to this email from new subscribers thanking me for the personal welcome.

Weekly Updates

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As you’ll see from the chart above – weekly updates are what readers get the most. They’re largely updates on what has happened on the blog/forums in the past week.

You can see one of my more recent ones here (although it loses some of the formatting in the web version) where you can see that these emails have a bit of a structure. I usually have the following sections in these weekly updates:

  • Welcome: usually just a sentence that intros the week. If there’s something important I’ll often highlight it here. Sometimes I’ll also do a quick update on something cool that happened on the site during the week (record day of traffic, milestone in terms of subscribers, a mention in the press – this kind of update seems to build morale/momentum among readers)
  • Quick Links: here I share the weekly assignment, any discussion oriented posts/polls, any competition announcements and occasionally a ‘featured post’ that I want to especially push traffic to etc
  • Tips Tutorials and Techniques: new blog posts of a more general nature
  • Recommended Resource: in this case it’s an affiliate promotion (a great product) but occasionally I swap this section to be a ‘message from our sponsors’ and have it as a sold ad position.
  • Post Production Tips: updates from this section/category of the blog
  • New Gear, Tips and Reviews: again, updates from this section of the blog
  • Hot Forum Threads: a bit of a summary of key threads happening in the forum
  • Reader Images: Being a photography site visuals are important and the images get clicked on a lot. They also give readers some incentive to post images in the forums as they could get featured in this newsletter that goes out to over 200,000 people..

I do mix things up a bit. Some weeks I’ll run a little promotion of our Twitter of Facebook accounts, other weeks I might throw in some older posts form the archives that people may not have seen and sometimes I’ll run a promotion encouraging readers to forward the email onto a friend. Really anything can go in these emails as long as they’re on topic and useful

The main goals of these weekly updates are to:

  • Drive traffic to the site
  • Build Community, reinforce brand with readers
  • Make money through the promotions

Readers love these newsletters because while they’re largely links to the site the links are all content rich and useful resources. I title these emails ‘Photography Tips for Your Weekend’ and that’s how many of our readers use them – as a spring board into their weekend with their cameras.

Note: these emails are manually put together. They take me an hour or two a week to do. There are tools that will send out automated update emails (Aweber has one) but I prefer to do it manually to ensure that the emails are tailored for maximum impact and usefulness.

Themed Updates

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I’ve written about this concept once before here on ProBlogger in a post titled How 24 Hours of Work Will Send Millions of Readers to My Blog.

The idea really came about when I realised that the majority of my blogs thousands of pages of content was going largely unseen by new readers to my blog. While I would occasionally link back to key posts most of my archives don’t get a lot of traffic.

These ‘themed updates’ are all about sending readers back to old but useful content around a single theme. Here’s how they work.

I use the ‘auto responder‘ or ‘followup’ feature of Aweber to set up these emails (Mailchimp also has an auto responder service). This means that they go out at pre-determined intervals to readers a certain number of days after their last scheduled email.

The first email in the sequence is the ‘welcome email’ that I mentioned above. 8 Days after that email goes out the subscriber receives the first ‘themed’ email. The topic is ‘portraits’ and is a newsletter that contains a short intro to the topic and then some links back to some of our most useful portrait photography tips. It also has a few recommendations of good books on portraiture (with affiliate links).

30 days after this portraits email they get another themed email (remember they’re getting weekly updates in between). This email is about ‘exposure’ (pictured right – click to enlarge) and contains links to some of our best posts on subjects like Aperture, Shutter Speed etc. It also contains a couple of recommendations to good books on the topic (with affiliate links to Amazon).

30 days later they get an email on composition (same format as above with links to archive posts and books). 30 days later they get another themed email.

The main goals of these themed updates are to:

  • Drive traffic to the site – particularly older posts
  • Make money through the affiliate links – while they’re not big ticket items they do convert

These emails do take some time to set up but once they’re set up they become automated and go out every day without me ever having to think about them. With 500 people signing up for my newsletter every day I know that 500 people are getting each of these emails on a daily basis. I have 6 of these emails set up in a sequence at present and add more to the list every now and again so I know 3000 people in total get them each day of the week – forever.

Promotions

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Screen shot 2009-10-29 at 3.05.59 PM.pngThis is the most recent addition to my sequence of emails and I’m still perfecting their use but the signs are very promising already.

I use the auto-responder sequence mentioned above to deliver these (they’re going to go out every month or two) and the content of these emails is to highlight a resource or product that I recommend to readers.

The products are affiliate products that I take a commission from any sale of. We disclose that relationship in the email and get a lot of positive feedback on the disclosure from readers.

The key with these promotional emails is to choose products that you genuinely recommend. The reason for this is that at any point subscribers can leave your list – if you push too hard or recommend dodgy products they can leave (with a bade taste in their mouth).

It can be hard to find quality products – I’ve found there to be a lot of junky products in my niche for example – but when I recently found a product that I believed in (123 digital imaging) I knew I had my first product to add to the sequence.

I only sent this first promotion email 17 days ago so it’s yet to go out to everyone on the list but it’s generated 500 or so sales and will continue to sell as long as the product is on the market as it goes to another 500 people every day. In many ways it’s become a nice little passive income with a few sales every day being generated.

When we release our first ebook in the coming weeks it will also be added to the sequence of emails in a similar way.

The main goals of these promotional updates are to:

  • Make money through the affiliate links – the money these earn starts with a bang when you send it out to the bulk of your list on the first day but after that it becomes a steady trickle. The cool thing about it is that once you have a few of these set up in your sequence you can be having a number of affiliate promotions paying off each day.

Summing Up

All in all I find that the above mix of emails that we send out to our list gets very positive results. I work hard to keep them a ‘win/win’ for both our readers to get useful and relevant information but for me/the site to generate income. So far I think I’ve got the balance right – I regularly get emails from readers saying thanks for the newsletter and if I’m even an hour or two late sending it get people emailing to ask where it is. On a revenue front it’s increasingly profitable – between the sales of products and the ad revenue increases from the increased traffic it certainly has become a central part of my income stream to have this email list.

With the cycle as it is readers do occasionally get 2 emails in a week – however it’s never more than that and on most weeks it is just the one weekly email. I make it clear when they signup that it’s at least weekly to get this expectation right as I don’t want them feeling duped into signing up.

I also use Aweber’s scheduling feature for the auto responder emails which allows you to specify what days of the week they can go out. I schedule the sequenced emails (the themed and promotional ones) so that they never go out on a Thursday or Friday (the same day as the weekly ones).

Lastly I generally focus my efforts with this list on HTML emails. Aweber does give you the ability to send out a text email as well for those subscribers whose email system doesn’t allow HTML. For the text version I usually just send out a short email that links to a HTML version of the email. I did use to send out a full plain text email for these people but found that when I switched to a shorter email linking to the HTML version that most readers clicked through and appreciated seeing the images (this might be particular to my niche).

So that’s how I’ve set up my email newsletters on DPS. It takes a fair bit of work to get some of it set up but as I mentioned in yesterdays post – the pay off has been great and continues to grow as we recruit new subscribers to the list.

6 Reasons Why You Need to Consider Email as a Communication Strategy on Your Blog

Email is back!

Earlier in the week I mentioned that one of the emerging themes in the monetization sessions at Blog World Expo was the idea of membership sites as a way to make an income from a blog.

The other theme that emerged in a number of the sessions was that many bloggers were placing increased attention on the medium of email as a way to communicate with readers.

Email is back!

Actually email never really went away – but it’s back on the radar of many bloggers after a swing over the last few years away from it in favour of other mediums such as RSS.

RSS feeds are far from being dead as a way to communicate with readers but while some saw the advances in feeds and feed readers as an email killer many entrepreneurial bloggers are now realising that perhaps they should not have given up on email.

I shared on at least one of the panels that I was on at BWE how email on my photography blog is much more effective than RSS on a number of fronts:

1. The Numbers Speak for Themselves

On DPS I currently have a total of 340,784 subscribers. 223,081 of these subscribe via email – 117,703 of them subscribe via RSS. That’s a 2:1(ish) ratio. While this ratio will vary from site to site considerably (depending upon the niche) I’d guess that on most blogs it’d be similar – the exception possibly being sites with a more techy/social media focus.

2. Email Drives Great Traffic

The days I send out Newsletters are the biggest days of traffic on the site. I shared this graphic a few months ago but here’s the traffic to the blog area of my site on newsletter days (it’s pretty obvious which days the newsletters went out):

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RSS certainly does drive traffic – however it is less – probably because most people read the content in their feed reader.

3. Email subscribers are monetizing better than other subscribers with onsite advertising

One of the interesting things that also happens on newsletter days is that the rate that people seem to click on ads also seems to go up slightly. This was a surprise to me when I first saw it because I would have thought that subscribers who visit the blog each week would become blind to the ads but the CTR (click through rate) on my AdSense ads goes up on newsletter days. Here’s a quick screen grab of total AdSense revenue on the DPS blog – again you can see the rises for newsletter days.

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4. Email Also Monetizes Better with other Income Streams

Not only does AdSense income increase on newsletter days but I’m finding that other monetization strategies also work well in the newsletter. Three come to mind:

  • Affiliate promotions have worked really well in newsletter for me. I’ve tested this a number of times by posting a blog post about a product I’m promoting and sending an email about the product. In every instance that I’ve tested it the newsletter wins hands down. The best performing affiliate promotions actually work best where you do a blog post AND an email promotion – but without the email component I find I’m definitely leaving money on the table every time.
  • Product Launches - if you have your own product to launch I find that in a similar way to how affiliate promotions work best in emails – so too does selling your own stuff. Again – posting both on your blog and via email (and in other places like twitter) can help increase sales further but email is crucial in driving sales.
  • Direct Ad Sales – lastly the few times that I’ve sold ads in my newsletter to direct advertisers I’ve had very good feedback from the advertisers. We ran a big promotion both on our blog and in our newsletter earlier in the year for a big computer brand and the feedback we got was that the campaign was most effective on newsletter day from clicks from within the email.

5. Email is Personal and Builds Community

There is something about a regular email newsletter that just seems to make people feel more connected to you. I find it hard to put my finger why but there’s something about receiving a good email that just seems more powerful than reading a good blog post via an RSS feed. It just seems a little more personal, more special.

Perhaps it is because RSS is generally read in an RSS feed reader where there are hundreds of competing posts to be read or perhaps it is because an email is delivered into an inbox filled with more personal communications or perhaps it is because when someone signs up for an email they have to give you something personal – their address – whereas with RSS they don’t have to reveal anything about themselves.

I’m not sure WHY it is the case – but every week I get people emailing me to thank me for the emails I send them. I’ve never had anyone thank me for my RSS feed….

The newsletters I send do more than drive traffic and make money – they seem to make people feel as though they belong. To get an email someone has to sign up – they become a member of sorts and this is reflected in the emails that they send me that talk about ‘our site’.

6. Email is more Accessible

I only really started to experiment with email because someone in my family asked me how they could get updates from my photography blog. When I told them about RSS they stared back at me with a blank face. I added an email option and they immediately subscribed.

If you only offer RSS as a way to access your site’s information you’re excluding my family member and probably a lot of other people too.

For this reason I advise giving people a variety of ways to get updates whether it be RSS, daily emails, weekly emails, Twitter updates…. whatever is relevant for your audience.

Don’t Forget about RSS

I don’t want this post to be seen as writing off RSS. It’s an amazing technology and is still really important to my own sites. It too drives traffic, makes money, reinforces brand etc – all I guess I’m arguing is that bloggers take a 2nd look at email.

My personal approach is to have multiple points of connection with readers which reinforces what I’m doing on my sites and maximise the impression that I’m able to make upon them.

How I Use Email

Tomorrow I want to continue this focus upon email to talk about how I use email newsletters to achieve some of the above things. While you can set up tools to just automatically send out emails at predefined intervals to those that subscribe to your blog you can actually take it to the next level and set up a system that is much much more effective.

Tomorrow I’ll walk you through the emails that I send to my newsletter list and share with you some of the techniques that I’ve found that work to drive traffic and make money.

UPDATE: part 2 is now live at How I use email newsletters to Drive Traffic and Make Money.