You’ve spent countless hours crafting article after article. Your articles have generated thousands of page views. You feel pretty successful in terms of exposure, but large media companies are not knocking down your door to hire you. That paying gig you have been dreaming of still seems just as far away as it always has. Your writing hasn’t earned you a dime, and your exposure hasn’t done anything but bring you momentary comfort. Sound familiar?
There has been a long-raging debating about the merits of writing for free. Some have spoken out heavily in opposition of doing so, saying it devalues the writer’s work. Others have supported it on the condition that the writer is either getting somewhere or is comfortable writing as nothing more than a hobby. In reality, a writer must make the decision that best fits her circumstances. Does she have time to write for free in addition to her paying job? Does she have a clear goal in mind and a path toward a full-time, or part-time employment in the writing field? These are all tough questions, but the decision to write is often one made from passion as opposed to logic. Passion is funny like that, driving us to do things that often don’t make sense.
There’s a way to have the best of both worlds, though. While there is no shortage of sites that will give a blogger the potential for exposure, not many offer pay. Even if some do offer pay, the money is insignificant. The allure of being read is strong, but writers can get the same (or similar) exposure while generating far more income. All they have to do is launch their own site.
Simple, right? Set up an account with Blogger or WordPress, throw up some ads, and start making some money. Not quite. Launching a blog, whether it be in sports, fashion, technology, or any field is difficult. You have to have a clear understanding of the market, of the steps necessary for success, and of the resources at your disposal. In my guide to launching a profitable sports blog, the focus is clearly on sports, but the steps to go from unpaid writer to founder of a site generating a profit can be applied for just about any other topic.
To see the traffic and the success necessary to justify launching your own site, you’ll need to focus on a few key areas:
- Content Quality
Each area, if handled properly will ultimately lead to a blog that generates enough traffic to make a good amount of money. The sites I launched using these strategies have generated thousands of dollars. So, let’s get into it.
The most common pitfall in blogging is poor quality. For some reason, this is overlooked by those just starting out. It may be the rush to get thoughts out in the form of a blog, or it could be a lack of education in proper grammar and style, or it could be any number of things driving the quality of the content down the drain. If that’s happening with your blog, you’ll never build up a traffic base that will sustain any sort of revenue stream. Focus on quality first.
You can do so by taking your time. Read your articles out loud. Have others read them. Read them again yourself. Only after multiple reviews should you hit the publish button. But what if you don’t feel like you have the writing background or skills to ensure top-notch quality. Don’t worry, there are plenty of resources at your disposal. Some will cost you a bit of money (like Coursera’s class on Crafting Effective Writers), but others are completely free (a Google search will yield plenty of free results). If you struggle with your writing quality but want to run an effective blog, you should seriously consider classes. The improvement in your writing will pay dividends in the long run.
When you are launching your blog, trying to attract readers, and trying to get people to share your content, the quality of your blog will set you apart. Invest in that quality, and you won’t be disappointed. Ignore quality, and you’ll be just like the vast majority of blogs out there – ignored.
Blogging can be very inexpensive, but the costs can rack up fast depending on what you’re looking for. The most likely cost you will incur is hosting. If you use Blogger, you will not have to worry about hosting. All you’ll pay is your domain registration costs. Those are generally inconsequential. However, if you decide to use a content management system (CMS) that requires you to pay for third party hosting – WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are good examples – you’ll want to make sure you monitor your costs closely.
Hosting providers will generally offer three types of hosting; Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Servers, and Dedicated Servers. Each comes with an increasing monthly cost. Let’s start with Shared Hosting.
Shared Hosting simply means you will be sharing a server with numerous other websites. If your blog is not attracting a ton of traffic this should be a perfectly acceptable option. In fact, if you are just launching, I highly recommend starting with a Shared Hosting plan. If you end up needing to upgrade, that should be easy. However, if you spend more money up front, you can never get back those wasted expenses.
A Virtual Private Server is similar to Shared Hosting in the fact that you will still be using the same server that other websites are using. However, unlike Shared Hosting, your site will be given a partitioned section of that server which helps improve performance. That improved performance means your blog can handle more traffic and will likely be more secure. This service will come with a steeper cost than Shared Hosting, so upgrade wisely.
A Dedicated Server should only be considered once your blog has reached the big time. If you are doing millions of unique visitors per month, you may need to look into a Dedicated Server. This set-up is exactly as it sounds. Your site will have its own server to itself. No sharing, no partitioning just to get a little privacy. A Dedicated Server will also offer the most security since you won’t be as vulnerable to attacks on other websites that may share a server with the other plans. The cost for a Dedicated Server is hefty, so make sure you truly need it before going this route.
Managing the costs of hosting is just one part of managing your blog’s overall costs. Running your site should be inexpensive, but you can gradually scale spending up as you’re generating more and more revenue. I would not recommend immediately going out and paying for advertising on social media or any other channel. Keep costs down to improve profits early. Reinvests those profits for future expenditures.
Speaking of future expenditures, you may want to spend a little money on promoting your site once you’ve laid the early groundwork. While Google AdWords is the go-to method for advertising other types of websites, your site will be generating revenue from ads. Spending money on normal pay per click advertising just to generate traffic that may or may not stick doesn’t make much sense. If you decide to spend money on promotion, social media advertising may be your best option.
With the sites I launched, Twitter was my best friend. Twitter referral traffic often ranked in the top-three of all traffic sources. It can be difficult to build a following, but it’s possible to do so without spending money. First though, I’ll explain the paid route. By paying for promotion on Twitter (or Facebook for that matter), your site’s account will show up in the feeds of those who do not follow you. This can generate some quick follows, and those follows are likely to stick. However, beware of non-Twitter services. There are sites out there offering to get you thousands of followers for just a few dollars. Those followers will be robots and they will do nothing to help drive traffic to your site.
If you decide not to spend money on social media advertising, that’s perfectly fine. You can do so pretty easily with Twitter. In order to build a following without spending money, you’ll have to give up the notion of “being cool” on Twitter. If you look at most brands and plenty of individuals, they will have thousands of followers but will be following very few. Don’t worry about being cool. Connect with your potential readers. Follow back anyone who follows you. Seek out those who might be interested in your content, and follow them. Most people are willing to follow back, but be careful how often you do it. Twitter has a policy against “aggressive” following. They don’t explicitly define this, but if you are not following hundreds of people per day, you should be fine. This process takes commitment, and it takes time, but it pays off. The Twitter accounts for the sites I launched now have over 70,000 followers combined. That was the result of almost exclusively non-paid promotion.
You want real, engaged followers. You want those followers to click on links to your articles. Use a service like TwitterFeed or Dlvr.it or something similar to automatically post your content to Twitter as soon as you publish. If you build up a solid following and automate the delivery of your article links to your social media profiles, you’ll see social media suddenly become one of your top traffic referral sources.
While social media traffic is a great source of readers for your site, it’s not the only option. Perhaps the topic you’re covering has a network you can join. For example, in the sports blogging world there are networks like Bloguin and Yardbarker. By joining, you carry some of their approved ads and split revenue with them, but you more than make up for the revenue split with increased traffic viewing your non-network ads (think Google AdSense ads). If your topic of interest does not have a network like this, fear not. You can network on your own. Reach out to similar sites. Share links, offer to share their links, build a connection. While it all seems minute initially, these types of connections build up over time.
Finally, running contests and forging partnerships is a great way to promote your site and see an increase in traffic. With the sports sites I launched, I reached out to other sites who were not direct competitors that I knew I could drive traffic to. We arranged simple link deals where I would put a call to action at the end of each article sending traffic their way, and they would either do the same or promote my site on social media. Contests worked even better, though. If you can afford the cost of a giveaway prize, you’ll be amazed at how much interaction you’ll get with a giveaway. Make those who want to participate share your site’s link, follow you on Twitter or Facebook or do something else that helps build a long-term following. Then, you can randomly select a winner. As long as it’s fair, people will love it, and you’ll see a spike in traffic.
We already discussed the importance of quality, but another driving force for your blog’s traffic will be quantity. Quality is far more important that quantity, but the amount of content you produce can usually be directly correlated to the volume of traffic your site sees on a daily basis. The articles all still need to be of a high quality, but you should strive to produce as much content as you possibly can.
Think of it this way, if each article maxes out at 500 views and you produce one article per day. That equates to 182,500 page views in a year. If you double that production to two articles per day, you might see a leap to 365,000 page views in a year. What happens if you produce 10 articles per day or more?
10 per day = 1,825,000 page views in a year
15 per day = 2,737,500 page views in a year
20 per day = 3,650,000 page views in a year
Obviously, there is no guaranteeing you’ll hit 500 views or more for each article, but it seems like a reasonable goal, doesn’t it? When you break it down by views per article, you can focus at a granular level that should help keep you motivated. But wait, you can’t possibly write that much, can you? It depends on the topic you are covering. If each of your articles is a 2,000 word in-depth analysis of something, you’re probably not going to hit 20 articles per day no matter how much help you have. However, if your articles are more quick-hit, you can certainly recruit a staff of writers to help you and easily hit 20 articles per day.
With my sites, we routinely hit 20 to 30 articles per day. It wasn’t always like that, of course. My co-founder and I were originally the only ones writing. We didn’t want to recruit a staff until we could pay them something. We were able to pump out quite a few articles per day, but it wasn’t until we brought on additional writers that we started really producing a lot.
If you choose to bring on a staff, just keep in mind the reason you started this blog in the first place. You were tired of writing for free. Don’t make your writers writer for free. Even if you can’t pay them much, pay them. It will help you build long-lasting relationships, and you’ll be able to bring on quality writers that will help you maintain the quality you worked so hard to enforce early on.
Launching a blog is easy. Launching a profitable blog is hard. If you follow the guidelines above, you won’t be guaranteed success, but you’ll certainly have a leg up on most other people launching new blogs in the area in which you’ll be focusing. The key to making sure your site is profitable is making sure you dedicate yourself. This is not going to be passive income. You’ll have to write, promote, recruit, promote, write some more, and hustle all around. If you do, you’ll love the results.
Justin Hunter co-founded Sports Injury Alert and Sports Rumor Alert. He is also co-authoring The Guide to Launching a Profitable Sports Blog. If you enjoyed this article, the guide will provide far more information and go into far more detail.