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Grow Your Blog Business: The Earn-Millions-in-Your-Flip-Flops Framework [Case Study]

This guest post is by Stephan Spencer of The Art of SEO.

Former mortgage broker and digital information business expert, Susan Lassiter-Lyons built her business online, and grew it to a six-figure income in only seven months.

She attributes her amazing success to a simple framework she developed and perfected over that time.

Recently, I met with Susan and she shared with me her “$1 Million digital business blueprint”. In this post, I’m going to show you these exact, replicable steps to apply to your business. If you’re serious about growing your business online, then you will want to read what she had to say.

Although Susan’s framework won’t make you a million dollars in fifteen minutes like common scams littering the internet, it can show you the simple, proven way to make millions if you put forth the necessary effort.

$1 Million digital business blueprint

Forced to close her real estate business in November 2008 because of the mortgage meltdown, Susan launched her digital information business in January 2009 with a mere $200 in startup capital.

Susan’s ebook, Mortgage Secrets for Real Estate Investors is where it all started. Published nearly four years ago, it still makes $600-$3,000 a month in online sales.

That ebook functioned as a launch point for her business that eventually reached six figures by July 2009. Living by her three-step framework, she is now able to work part-time, with no boss, in flip-flops. Some might call that a dream job.

The framework

Now, let’s break down that three-step framework for creating an online business around your passion.

Step 1. Create

  • Create a product of your own.
  • Acquire the rights to an already created info product to sell as your own.
  • Expand to a product suite.

Step 2. Campaign

  • Start a blog about your topic.
  • Start a Facebook page about your product.
  • Buy some cheap ads on Google to promote your product.
  • Ask others who have websites and subscribers in your niche to email their list about your product.

Step 3. Convert

  • Create a simple website that tells visitors all about the features and benefits of your product.
  • Offer a simple way for them to buy and download the product.

Let’s look at each step in detail.

Create

Before you jump right into creating a product, you should first take a moment to identify your expertise.

Take an inventory of your knowledge by asking yourself these questions:

  • What do people always ask you about?
  • What have you studied extensively?
  • What do you love to do?

The answers to these questions will give you a solid idea about what to cover with your product. Once you have your topic, search Yahoo! Answers for popular FAQs within your subject area. These can form chapters in your book, audio programa, or sections in any of the products you decide to create.

Creating a product of your own

The first obvious option for you to pursue with your info product is to create one of your own.

If you feel comfortable enough, you can create an ebook like Susan did, but there are plenty of other options to choose from to suit your specific skills and abilities: you could write a real book, record an audio program, record a video program, host a teleseminar, host a webinar, or host a seminar. The possibilities are endless.

Acquiring the rights to an already created info product to sell as your own

Most people don’t know this, but there are literally thousands of info products available through private label rights.

If you are having trouble creating a product of your own, this is a fast, relatively cheap way to start a digital business. Through websites like NicheEmpires.com you can browse through pages of private label rights products that you can edit and make your own.

These PLR products are available for around $67! Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

Expanding to a product suite

Once you have your expertise figured out and entry-level product created, its time to expand that into an entire sales funnel to maximize your potential revenue from customers.

There are five elements to a proper product suite. Susan likes to explain these through an example of a golf information product suite.

  • Front-end product: This is the first product you develop. It should be cheap and broad, yet enticing. For example, an ebook titled How to Add 120 Yards to Your Drive, priced at $37.
  • Mid-tier program: A moderately priced product that acts as the next step in expanding the customer’s knowledge about that topic. For example, a quick video course on pitching and putting priced at $200-$300.
  • High-ticket program: A high-priced product that would include all the knowledge you have to offer on the topic covered. For example, the “Ultimate Golf Package Extraordinaire” covering everything you want to know about golf, priced at $2,000.
  • Seminar: A live event with added bonuses, where you can sell your existing products and coaching program to qualified leads. This might take the form of a “Learn from the Pros” live event priced at $1,000 at the door.
  • Coaching program: An option for those that want even more than what your products offer. This can be priced as high as you value your time. Basically, we’re talking about one-on-one personalized training here.

The most important element of this product suite is the front-end product. Once you have the customer hooked, it becomes exponentially easier to sell them your follow up products.

Campaign

Start a blog about your topic

Susan started her blog, TheInvestorInsights.com. She identified her expertise (in this case, real estate investing) and created a forum where she could post and comment on current events and issues gripping the industry.

Through consistent posting she was able to foster a community of active discussions and engaged bloggers who were interested in what she had to say. These bloggers in essence became leads for her informational products, which she was able to effectively sell through this medium.

Start a Facebook page about your product

Word of mouth is by far the best form of promotion. When somebody likes your product, you want him or her to recommend it to his or her friends. A Facebook page can help you accomplish this.

If a person is particularly pleased with your product, they will like your page on Facebook, which will notify their friends. People view the opinions of their friends as much more credible than a traditional sales pitch.

Buy some cheap ads on Google to promote your product

Google offers the most targeted advertisements on the Internet. You can choose from various demographics, including location, and purchase keywords that you believe your target customer is searching for.

In addition, Google allows you to operate on a cost per click basis so that you can control your own budget and make sure you aren’t spending too much or too little.

Ask others in your niche to tell their list about your product

Identify third parties that deal with the same topics as your products. Then offer them a deal that if they will agree to email their subscriber list about your product, you will split the revenue generated with them. For example, you could split the revenue 50/50 with a website that mentions you in their weekly electronic newsletter.

How can a company not be excited about this? All they would have to do is mention your website, blog, or product, and they have the potential to generate income. They can’t lose.

This is definitely a tactic to try.

Convert

Create a simple website that explains the features and benefits of your product

Create a sales page. Make sure it has an intriguing video that explains the features and benefits of your product in a way that inspires the visitor to sign up for your newsletter or buy your product.

Offer a simple way for them to buy and download the product

Use Clickbank or PayPal to make it easy for the customer to purchase your product in one step.

Include an Add to cart button directly under your sales video so the customer can proceed to the checkout without jumping through any hoops.

Is it really that simple?

Susan Lassiter-Lyons has proven that these steps work. While the framework is simple, as you can see, there’s a lot of work in each step. But if you follow her example, while you may not make six figures in seven months, you will put yourself on a path to similar success.

Stephan Spencer is co-author of The Art of SEO (O’Reilly 2009), now in its second edition (March 2012), and author of Google Power Search (O’Reilly 2011). He is the inventor of GravityStream, the automated pay-for-performance natural search technology platform, and the founder of SEO agency Netconcepts. He is a Senior Contributor to Practical Ecommerce and MarketingProfs.com, and a columnist for Search Engine Land and Multichannel Merchant.

How Sponsored Posts Can Ruin Your Blog

This guest post is by Kalen Smith of OnlineRookies.com.

More bloggers accept guest posts for their sites.

Guest posts are an arrangement where a guest author will write content and submit it to the blog. In exchange, the blogger will allow the blogger at least one backlink to promote their own website. Guest blogging is a great opportunity for both the blogger and the guest author to receive exposure and share ideas.

Or is it? Some use guest blogging as a means to monetize their site: they charge a fee to guest authors for sponsored posts.

What is a sponsored post?

Most bloggers are more than happy to receive free content to their site and offer a backlink in return. A blogger will not generally pay nor receive money for a traditional guest post. However, some bloggers insist on taking sponsored posts instead.

A “sponsored post” differs from a traditional guest post in that the blogger will require the guest author to pay a fee to post the content. They see guest posts as a way to make money blogging.

I generally discourage bloggers from using these kinds of sponsored posts for several reasons. I think they are unfair to the guest author and can damage your site. I suggest you pursue other advertising strategies if you are looking for a way to monetize your site.

Let’s see why.

Why do bloggers take sponsored posts?

I don’t blame bloggers who are frustrated with guests who submit low quality content. Many SEO linkbuilders certainly fall into this demographic.

Some SEO companies do a very good job guest posting. One of the SEO companies I’ve worked with actually secured a guest post with one of the biggest social media managers in the world, because they were committed to quality.

However, there are other SEO companies that do a very shoddy job with their services. Although I want to encourage bloggers to be open to anyone offering a guest post, I certainly understand and respect their decision not to take a guest post from freelance writer or business they aren’t familiar with.

What concerns me is bloggers who insist on taking a payment from authors wanting to secure a spot in their blog’s schedule. These bloggers clearly aren’t discouraging what they consider “thin content” from being submitted as a guest post. They are simply using guest posts as a means to monetize their sites.

I am opposed to this as matter of principle, but it can also ruin your site in a couple of ways.

What harm can sponsored posts do?

I have a few qualms with sponsored posts. If you are offering sponsored guest posts, I ask that you at least hear me out here.

They’re unfair to the guest

Many bloggers charge a fee because they want to receive something from a guest blogger. They don’t realize they are already getting something: fresh content for their blog.

A guest poster has to spend time writing the content that they are going to submit. Warn any guest poster of your standards beforehand so they don’t waste your, or their, time. If they take their work seriously, they will submit a high-quality post to you.

As a blogger, you understand how long it takes to write great content. By accepting guest posts, you get several hundred words of great content and a fresh perspective for your readers. This can save you a considerable amount of time writing content yourself.

In return, they get a two-sentence biography and a link back to their own website. It is still a great arrangement for both parties, but you are already getting the better deal for the amount of work involved. Is it really fair to ask for a payment on top of that?

Most bloggers who charge a fee to place sponsored posts do so arguing that these posts are “advertising.” However, they stipulate that sponsored posts cannot be promotional in any way. I find this to be ironic and very unfair to the guest blogger. If a business is paying for promotion (sometimes to the tune of $250 for a post), shouldn’t they have a chance to promote their company somewhere in the post?

I can understand charging for a post that is specifically written to promote the company. However, guest blogging was intended to be more of a bartering system.

They can hurt your relationship with readers

I don’t have a problem with affiliate marketing or any other business model that makes money from great content. You can build affiliate links into your content naturally without compromising the value of your post. Affiliate marketers still focus on creating great content and share resources that benefit their readers. Sponsored posts are a bit more awkward.

Your readers could actually be offended to see you running guest posts. Why? If I see a blog taking sponsored posts, I assume that they are relaxing the standards of quality to make a buck. I am sure other readers feel the same way when they see that they are reading a “sponsored” or “paid” post. You may argue that you only take high-quality content on your site. However, I don’t believe most bloggers hold companies and SEO freelancers to the same standard when they are paying for the post.

The United States Federal Trade Commission requires you to disclose whether or not have received payment to post any promotional content or links. Other countries may have similar laws. If you are abiding by these laws, then your readers will know that you are getting paid for these posts.

Many bloggers argue that they need to generate advertising revenue. I understand that we need to make a living. But is the content itself the right way to advertise?

You are selling links

Many people who take sponsored posts claim they are against black-hat tactics such as selling links. Frankly, I don’t really care if someone wants to sell links or not. It’s not usually illegal and it’s not hurting anyone.

However, you should at least be honest with yourself. I roll my eyes when someone pretends they are superior to anyone who sells links but then turns around does the same thing themselves.

Of course, my personal opinion shouldn’t concern you. There are bigger implications, such as the fact that selling links can harm your blog’s ranking. No matter how many times you tell yourself you aren’t in the link trade business, Google will probably decide otherwise if they know you are taking dofollow, sponsored posts. In fact, Matt Cuts has written on this very topic in his article Paid Posts Should Not Pass Pagerank.

Anyone who knows you take money for guest post placement can report you to Google (including a guest blogger who was irritated that you asked for payment). Google itself can find out how much sites are charging for post placements. Matt Cutts said that Google did a small test and found a number of sites that were running sponsored post contests. Those sites are now on Google’s naughty list.

Of course, you can put the “nofollow” tag in a sponsored post, but what guest poster would agree to that? Commercial companies are usually interested in getting link juice.

Also, you better be honest with them if you are going to nofollow the link once they’ve paid good money for it. Withholding your intentions can get you into trouble later on—and with others besides the disgruntled author.

Is it worth it?

Taking sponsored posts can be risky. Is it really worth alienating yourself from your readers and damaging your position with the search engines in order to make a quick buck?

What are your thoughts on taking sponsored guest posts? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Kalen Smith writes about the importance of a social media marketing plan and Internet marketing experiments and case studies on his blog OnlineRookies.com.

The Hard Truth: Is My Blog Post Worthy of Becoming an Ebook?

This guest post is by Nicolas Gremion of Foboko.com.

Bloggers invest a lot of time in their craft. Whether they’re dissecting the latest episode of Dexter, offering business tips, or creating Twilight-inspired fan fiction, bloggers work to provide timely, relevant content for their readers.

Most bloggers eventually wonder if they should develop a book, but they struggle with deciding what’s “important enough” for a full-length work. Should writers repurpose existing posts from their blogs, or go with entirely new content?

Determining whether a blog post topic is worthy of an entire book can be hard, but it’s not impossible.

Is this post compelling enough?

One great thing about blogs is they allow you to measure the popularity of a post easily. By tracking the number of reads, comments, social media shares, trackbacks, reposts, and questions asked, you have data that highlights what your audience wants to hear.

If you’ve written 100 posts about quilting, you may have enough content to repurpose into a book. Rather than scrabbling to find a new topic, use your best content to establish the foundation of your ebook.

If you doubt whether a post’s topic is still relevant, take a look at the impact it made long after it was published. Lifehacker.com, for example, frequently has year-old posts receive airtime and commentary. Because the issues discussed are everyday problems, they maintain a timeless quality. That means, conversely, that topical issues are less likely to have a long shelf life – an eBook dissecting the Obama/Romney race won’t have nearly the relevance today it had two months ago, for example.

Pulling in more feedback

Yes, blogs’ features make it easy for you to determine how interesting people find your work (gulp!). But in order for these tools to be useful, you have to actually be receiving feedback. How can you get more of what you need?

  • Write for offline publications, whether that’s an occasional article or a regular column. Writing for print publications will help you refine and edit your pieces.
  • Participate in traditional media, such as T.V. or radio interviews, using sites like PRWeb.com to find opportunities. The chance to share your thoughts via other outlets allows you to garner feedback from their readers.
  • Provide an email address and encourage feedback.
  • Speak at industry events; if your blog focus doesn’t naturally lend itself to a specific industry, check out lifestyle shows. Live events collect the conversations occurring in your space.
  • Join a “virtual book tour” via teleconferences, webinars, or online T.V. or radio interviews. Callers’ questions and comments offer great, real-time feedback.

Once you have feedback, how can you gain a bigger perspective about implementing changes to your work?

  • Visit blogs in the same space or industry, especially those with conflicting opinions or viewpoints.
  • Check out blogs outside your arena in order to sample other styles of writing, presentation, and attitude. What works for them may make excellent tweaks for you.
  • Read books, from contemporary works to historical tomes, to gain a deeper understanding of different ways of thinking and being.
  • Invest in continuing education, whether that means conferences, trade shows, courses, or training. These keep you updated on the latest news in your field, preventing your ideas from feeling stale or recycled.

Because blog posts are short and sweet, you can easily test different topics or approaches. Take advantage of your blog’s flexibility to develop a voice—and perspective—that will lend itself well to a full-length ebook.

“Red flags of death”

While most of your posts are probably fascinating, there are some topics that raise the “red flag of death” over your ebook before it’s even started.

If you’re working on non-fiction pieces, the usual topics should be off-limits; this means sex, politics, and religion should be relegated to the back corner. However, if it’s controversy you want, these may be the very issues you touch on. The challenge then becomes controlling the conversation so it remains constructive—and doesn’t degenerate into the name-calling brawls these topics lend themselves to.

If your non-fiction is business-based, don’t create a book that reads like one long sales letter, or piece of overhyped marketing material, for your company. Not only will people not want to read your ebook, you’ll not add anything to the industry conversation—a deadly trait for a blogger.

The great thing about investing time and effort in these different kinds of research is that you’re giving your audience a chance to see you in action. They’re engaged with the content you’re working on, and that creates interest. These are exactly the people who will download your ebook—so you’re building not just a product, but promotion for it.

You’ve invested a lot of time in your blogging. Don’t shy away from a longer piece if you’re ready for it. To boost your success, assess the interest level of your topic, as well as the voice and insights you’re offering. By making sure your ebook speaks to your readers, you’ll develop an even more loyal following than you currently enjoy.

Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Paradise Publishers, Inc., and founder of Foboko.com, a social publishing network where members get support writing their books from peers and connect directly with readers.

5 Ways You Can Become A Blogging Philanthropist

This guest post is by Stephen Pepper of Youth Workin’ It

Why should Bill Gates have all the fun?—Al Andrews

There are all sorts of reasons you may own a blog—to enhance your business site, to share ideas, to earn an income, or perhaps you just enjoy writing.

Imagine the impact you could have, though, if you harnessed the power of your blog to make an even bigger difference to mankind by becoming a philanthropist.

This may sound far-fetched, but it’s not at all. Here are five ways you can become a blogging philanthropist.

1. Write a book

“How can I be a philanthropist if I have no money?”

This is the question Al Andrews asked himself. Instead of just giving up, he came up with a plan to make money. He’d write a book and donate the profits to projects around the world.

And thus, Improbable Philanthropy was born. His first book, The Boy, The Kite And The Wind, has already raised tens of thousands of dollars that he’s been able to donate to projects that benefit others.

What can you do?

You don’t have to write an illustrated children’s book. Many blogs sell ebooks, so why not write one whose profits you can donate to a charity that’s close to your heart? The readers of your blog will be more likely to buy the book if they know it’s going towards a good cause. And it means you’ll get your ideas out to more people, even if you’re not benefiting monetarily yourself.

2. Microfinance

Adam McLane and Rachel Rodgers are both bloggers who also own their own businesses. Adam owns McLane Creative, a web development and design company, while Rachel owns Rachel Rodgers Law, a virtual law office.

Both Adam and Rachel offer microfinance loans through Kiva. These loans are used to help alleviate poverty and to enable entrepreneurs around the world to start up their own businesses.

Adam also makes a new loan for every new client he receives—check out some of the beneficiarieshere.

What can you do?

Although Adam and Rachel offer these loans as an extension of their businesses rather than their blogs, that doesn’t have to be the case. How about making a loan every time you receive x number of new email subscribers, or when you hit a benchmark of y extra monthly visitors?

3. Invest in others

At the 2012 World Domination Summit, Chris Guillebeau gave $100 to every single paid conference attendee.

Why? He was investing the money in the attendees so that they could in turn invest the money themselves, whether that was through community, adventure, or service.

As Chris said, “Freely receive, freely give.”

What can you do?

Don’t worry, I’m not saying you have to give $100 to each of your readers! Instead, you could set aside some money and have your readers decide on how it should be used.

Similarly, you could allocate a certain percentage of each ebook you sell to be donated to different charities. When selling the book, offer the buyers different purchasing links depending on which project they’d like to support.

4. Leverage your readership

You may not have any money, but chances are some of your readers do. On his Stuff Christians Like blog, Jon Acuff set out to leverage his readership by raising $30,000 to build a kindergarten in Vietnam. The only thing is, he didn’t raise $30,000.

He raised $60,000. So his readers were able to build two kindergartens!

What can you do?

Set up a fundraiser, ideally for a project that has some kind of link to your blogging niche. This will encourage your readers to support the initiative.

Also, be ambitious! Jon’s readers raised the original $30,000 in just 18 hours, which is why he set a second target that doubled the original amount. Even if you don’t meet your fundraising target, you’ll hopefully raise far more than if you’d set the bar too low.

5. Advertising and affiliate schemes

In addition to Youth Workin’ It, we own a number of other (non-blog) websites. These earn a somewhat modest income of a few hundred dollars a month through AdSense, Amazon Associates and similar affiliate schemes.

As my wife and I both have full-time jobs, this income is a bonus. It therefore means we’re able to use some of this extra money to bless individuals and organizations that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

What can you do?

Do you earn any revenue through your blog via advertising or affiliate schemes? If so, why not use some or all of this income to make a difference in the lives of others?

How will you become a blogging philanthropist?

There are five ideas on this list. What others can you think of that can help other bloggers become philanthropists? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker & blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It which includes a youth work and youth ministry blog. They also produce their own youth work resources, the most recent of which is 52 Scavenger Hunt Ideas.

The Value of Comments to a Profit-making Blog

We’ve talked about the issues of blog comments before on Problogger.net, but never from a point of view of profit-making.

Coins

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

But as I was looking at the stats on dPS last week, I found that this short, helpful opinion post from 2010 was still attracting a steady stream of readers—and comments. I explained on Google+ why I think that post’s still so popular, but today I wanted to look a bit more closely at how comments can help a profit-making blogger.

So let’s step through some of the ways blog comments can—directly and indirectly—add to your bottom line.

Increased ad revenue

Posts that engage readers are more likely to be shared, which draws more traffic back to those posts. Commenting is a very strong kind of engagement. That lenses post really does stimulate discussion, and at the same time it’s very helpful to those trying to work out which lenses to buy.

So if someone comments on that post, they may also be more likely to share it, which would boost traffic and ad impressions. And if your blog has a “most commented” or “most popular” list in the sidebar, an ongoing comment stream could push the post into that as well, drawing more attention to it from users on other pages of your blog.

Ongoing affiliate revenue

Imagine if this post had included affiliate links to actual products. So long as I’d kept the links up to date, I could still be making affiliate revenue from a post we’d published nearly three years ago. Not bad!

Potential sponsorship

This post obviously draws strong attention from my readers. It’s been shared on Facebook nearly 1,000 times, and pinned to Pinterest more than 17,000 times.

This could give me good reason to approach brands that make the types of lenses covered in that post, or mentioned by users in the comments themselves. I could contact them to see if they’re interested in buying paid sponsorship either for that post, or an updated version of it.

Audience research for new products

The comments on the post are really insightful. Have a read and you’ll get a feel for the experience levels of the users, what brands they prefer, what they’re shooting, how they use their equipment, and so on. They’re also tagged by date, so they provide some insight into the way my audience has evolved over time.

By spending a little time going through these comments, I might easily come up with a couple of ideas for new products to try with my readers.

Encourage first-timers to engage

There’s nothing worse than clicking through from a search result to find the article you’ve chosen is old and outdated.

Comments really do keep your evergreen content fresh and alive. This is a short post, but the scroll bar indicates there’s a lot more on the page. Any new visitor who scrolled down would likely be surprised by the number of comments, and the fact that the discussion is ongoing.

They might be encouraged to comment themselves, or at least to look around the site a bit more. Best-case scenario? They subscribe to the RSS feed or mailing list, prompted by the strong evidence of a passionate readership, as indicated by these comments!

In short, comments:

  • attract attention
  • keep the discussion growing
  • are helpful to other users
  • can solicit on-site engagement in a range of ways
  • can excite users to share, driving more traffic to the post.

But there’s a catch: not all comments are good comments—especially for those with a profit focus. So let’s look at the characteristics of comments that will help you achieve the goals we’ve just talked about.

Good comment, bad comment

The kinds of comments I want to keep on my posts are those that:

  • add to the discussion, rather than just repeating the article’s main points
  • contribute insight or personal experience
  • are clearly written
  • have a username, email address, website or avatar attached.

These are the kinds of comments that potential post-sponsors will want to see, as will any advertisers or others who are considering investing marketing budget into your blog.

The kinds of comments I try to catch before they’re published are those which:

  • criticize without contribution: I love respectful disagreements in comments, because often they’re a great way to learn. But criticism that doesn’t add value is usually pretty unhelpful.
  • aren’t clear, or don’t take the post or author seriously: Again, this doesn’t really add value to the discussion. it certainly won’t inspire potential ad-space buyers about your readership.
  • simply promote their own products: Sometimes, this can be a fine line, but if a commenter simply suggests readers look at his or her own site, and doesn’t add to the discussion in any other way, I tend to send their post to the trash.

On that basis, I don’t necessarily delete comments that:

  • include offsite links
  • talk about other (or the commenter’s own) products
  • criticize or disagree with the author
  • are short or informal.

If I did that, the comments could end up feeling fairly stilted and contrived—and that’s not going to encourage further comments over time. But also, the presence of any of those things doesn’t mean the comment’s no good. Each comment really does need to be judged on its own merits, and in the context of the post and other comments that haven been made.

Taken with the post itself, the comments should ideally provide real value that encourages sharing, bookmarking, repeat visits, and more commenting—that’s where the greatest profit potential for comments lies.

Do you treat comments as adding to the overall monetization potential of your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts 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

Can You REALLY Make Money Blogging? [7 Things I Know About Making Money from Blogging]

Every now and again I am pulled aside at a conference or am emailed and/or tweeted by someone wanting to get the “real” scoop on whether it is possible to make money blogging.

  • Is it really possible to make a living from blogging?
  • Is it just a small number of people making money from blogging?
  • Is it only really possible to make money blogging if you write about the topic of making money blogging?

I completely understand the questions and would probably want to add one more:

  • If it is really possible to make money blogging, how likely is it that you’ll succeed?

I’ve written many times here on ProBlogger about this in the hope of giving a realistic picture of the topic, but I think it is worth touching on again because there is a lot of misinformation out there right now.

On one hand, we see hype on the topic. Periodically someone will claim to be able to make millions from blogging quickly. These claims are usually accompanied with the release of a product or service (i.e. they are marketing spin).

On the other hand, I periodically see people writing about how it is impossible to make money blogging (or that anyone claiming to be full time is either a scammer, a liar, or is selling something on the topic of making money online).

The reality is somewhere between these two extremes.

7 Things I know about making money from blogging

1. It is possible

I’ve been blogging for just under ten years and for nine of those I’ve been making money blogging. It started out as just a few dollars a day but in time it gradually grew to becoming the equivalent of a part-time job, then a full-time job, and more recently into a business that employs others.

I used to talk about the specific levels of my earnings when I started ProBlogger but felt increasingly uncomfortable about doing so (it felt a little voyeuristic and a little like a big-headed boasting exercise and I didn’t really see the point in continuing to do it)— but my income has continued to grow each year since I began.

On some levels I was at the right place at the right time—I got into blogging early (in 2002 … although I felt I was late to it at the time) and have been fortunate enough to have started blogs at opportune times on the topics I write about.

However I know of quite a few other bloggers who make a living from blogging, many of whom have not been blogging anywhere near as long as I have.

For some it is a hobby that keeps them in coffee; for others it is the equivalent of a part time job/supplementing other income from “real jobs” or helping their family out as they attend to other commitments (raising a family). For others it is a full-time thing.

I’ll give you some examples below.

2. There is no single way to monetize blogs

Recently at our Melbourne ProBlogger event I featured numerous Australian bloggers in our speaker lineup who fit somewhere in the part-time to full-time spectrum. They included:

The year before, we had others, including:

Most of these bloggers are full-time (or well on the way to being full-time bloggers). They come from a wide array of niches and all monetize quite differently—doing everything from selling advertising, to having membership areas, to selling ebooks, to running affiliate promotions, to promoting their offline businesses, to selling themselves as speakers, to having book deals, and so on. Many have a combination of different income streams.

They are all also Australian, and are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is happening here in Australia—the same thing is being replicated around the globe.

There are many ways to monetize a blog. To give you a quick sense of the many methods check out this “money map” I created a year or so back, which outlines just some that I brainstormed (click to enlarge).

Ways to Make Money Blogging.png

I also recorded this free hour-and-twenty-minute webinar giving an introduction to the topic.

3. There are no formulas

From time to time, people have released products that claim to be formulas for success when it comes to making money online. They outline steps to follow to “guarantee” you’ll make money.

In my experience there is no formula.

Each full-time blogger I’ve met in the last ten years has forged their own path and has a unique story to tell. They have often acted on hunches and made surprising discoveries along the way.

There are certainly similarities in many of the stories but each blogger has their own personality and style, each one is reaching a different audience, and each niche tends to monetize differently.

The key lesson is to be aware of what others are doing and to learn what you can from each other, but to also be willing to forge your own path as well!

4. Many niches monetize

One common critique of the topic of monetizing of blogs is that the only people making money from blogging are the ones writing about how to make money blogging.

This is simply not true.

In the above list of speakers from our Melbourne event you’ll notice I included topic/niche of each blogger. None sell products teaching others to make money blogging—all are on blogging on “normal,” every-day topics.

My own experience of having a blog about blogging (ProBlogger) and a blog about Photography is that it is my photography blog that is by far the most profitable blog (I’d estimate it’s ten times more profitable).

I’ve interviewed numerous full-time bloggers of late in a webinar series including:

Interestingly, none of them make money by teaching others to make money online. Sarah largely blogs about health and wellbeing, Tsh blogs about simple living, and Ana blogs about woodwork.

5. Most bloggers don’t make a full-time living from blogging

Every time I’ve surveyed readers of ProBlogger about their earnings, we’ve seen that those making money from blogging are in the minority.

In a recent survey of 1500 ProBlogger readers we asked about their monthly earnings. What you’re seeing below is the spread of earnings from readers who are attempting to make money blogging (note: not all ProBlogger readers attempt to make money, so not all are included in these results).

Keep in mind that ProBlogger readers are generally newish bloggers—about half of those who took this survey had been blogging for less than two years.

So of those trying to make money blogging, 10% don’t make anything and 28% are making less than 30 cents per day. A total of 63% make less than $3.50 per day.

Let’s be clear—most bloggers who are attempting to make money are not making a living from blogging.

Having said that, of the 1508 bloggers surveyed 65 (4%) are making over $10,000 per month (over six figures per year) and a further 9% were doing over $1000 per month (which is at least a part-time level of income).

My feeling, having been attending blogging conferences for six or so years now, is that the number of full-time bloggers is on the rise, and there are actually quite a few more people now at least making the equivalent of a couple of days’ work a week in income from their blogs.

However, most bloggers don’t make much.

6. It takes time to build

When I dig down into the stats from the survey on income levels above, and do some analysis of those who are in the top income bracket, it is fascinating to look at how long they’ve been blogging.

85% of those in that top income bracket have been blogging for four years or more. Almost all of the others had been blogging for three or four years.

This certainly was my own experience. I blogged for a year without making money and once I started monetizing it was around two years of gradual increases before I approached a full-time income level. It would have been four years before I joined that top bracket of income (over $10,000 per month).

Blogging for money is not a get-rich-quick thing. It takes time to build an audience, to build a brand, and to build trust and a good reputation.

And of course even with four or five years of blogging behind you, there’s no guarantee of a decent income.

7. It takes a lot of work

Longevity is not the only key to a profitable blog. The other common factor that I’ve noticed in most full-time bloggers is that they are people of action.

Passivity and blogging don’t tend to go hand in hand.

Blogging as “passive income stream” is another theme that we hear in many make-money-blogging products, however it is far from my own experience.

I’ve worked harder on my business over the last ten years than I’ve worked on anything in my life before this. It is often fun and gives me energy, but it takes considerable work to create content on a daily basis, to keep abreast of what’s going on in the community, to monitor the business side of things, to create products to sell, to build an audience, and so on.

The key is to build blogs that matter to people, that are original, interesting, and helpful. But this doesn’t just happen—it takes a lot of work.

Conclusions

Yes, it is possible to make money blogging. There is an ever-increasing number of people making money from blogging at a part-time to full-time level —however they are still in the minority.

Those who do make a living from blogging come from a wide range of niches, however one of the most common factors between them is that they’ve been at it for a long while.

How long have you been blogging? Are you looking to make money from it—and have you already? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Revealed: The Super Powers James Clear Used to Become a Full Time Blogger in 6-Months

This guest post is by TT Fong of SpikingStrengths.com.

James Clear runs the blog PassivePanda.com, which generates a full-time income. It took him only six-months to reach that point.

After studying his site, listening to several interviews he’s done, and talking with him live, I uncovered one of the secrets to his success.

This secret? He taps into his strengths or “super powers” while building and growing his blog. Here are three key lessons I learned from him about Super Powers, and how to use them for successful blogging.

First, what are his super powers and why should you care?

I gave James an assessment which identified his top five strengths (out of the known universe of thirty-four). I refer to these strengths as Super Powers, interchangeably.

In a nutshell, Super Powers are those latent gifts everyone has which allow them to be energized, learn quickly, and develop certain expertise in less time and effort than others.

Most focus on understanding the right tactics to building a blog. James certainly uses those that worked well for him.

But without leveraging your Super Powers, even the right tactics may not give you the desired results.

Why not?

Because it is your specific strengths that shape the tactics and strategies that work best for you.

In other words, an approach may work best for someone with strength A. But those same steps may not be right for someone with strength B.

If you have similar strengths to James, you could learn his specific tactics. And, if those tactics indeed played to your strengths, you’d likely see similar results.

But if your Super Powers were different from James’s, following in his exact footsteps may not lead you to where you want to go.

In other words, the foundation to your blogging success depends upon understanding and using your Super Powers.

Let’s use what I learned about James to illustrate this idea. Here are the top five Super Powers we came up with, based on the assessment:

  • futuristic
  • strategic
  • focused
  • a learner
  • significant.

I’ll explain in more detail how these can be applied to understand his business, and also how you can apply your own strengths to build up yours.

Here are three lessons you can learn from Passive Panda’s success.

1: Create energy and motivation

Building a blog or a venture that matters takes time. We’ve all heard this advice: “It doesn’t happen overnight.” “It takes longer than you think.” “You have to pay your dues.”

Even if it doesn’t take quite that long (and it doesn’t have to—James hit his stride in six months), what’s missing from this common advice is that it takes energy to sustain effort over time.

Willpower alone isn’t enough. Relying on brute force is a recipe for dissatisfaction at best and burn-out at worst. The answer? Doing the work that, itself, gives you energy.

And the best way to do that is to align your work with your strengths.

James’s Super Power of “Significance” gives him the energy to start, build, and sustain his blog and business. For him, this means always driving towards a way to impact as many people as possible.

When he hits the inevitable areas where the going gets tough, he can keep going by tapping into this strength.

So what can you do?

Understand which of your Super Powers motivates you. If it’s also Significance, then you want to have impact just like James. But if it’s something else, understand and link you blog and activities to that. While Significance, a desire to impact large numbers of people in a visible and tangible way, can be a powerful motivator, so can Belief, Achievement, and Harmony.

What’s important is that you find the thing that gives you energy. Then tap into it from the beginning of your blogging journey.

2: Stand out from the noise

Passive Panda is in what James calls the “make money” niche—perhaps one of the most crowded on the Internet. Yet, in a short period of time, he grew his audience and now stands out in his field, attracting the attention of entities like US News and World Report and American Express.

In fact, his “space” is actually a conflation of several competitive markets—personal finance, freelancing, entrepreneurship, and career development. On the surface, this could make it even more difficult, yet he still manages to stand out. How?

One way was through the unique application of his strength as a Learner. Because of this strength, he’s able to, for example, interview 70+ people for a single post. As a result, his posts have the kind of uniqueness that separates his blog from the pack.

Here’s an important note: while the tactic is successful and makes sense, it wouldn’t necessarily work for others, such as myself, with a different strength profile.

My reaction to learning the amount of research he did was, “No way could I do that. Just thinking about it exhausts me!” The many others who have a similar reaction would probably not take this approach (or if they did, wouldn’t do so for long). As a result, he clears the field and emerges as a unique voice.

So what can you do?

Figure out one—actually, I recommend two strengths that, when applied to the way you develop your content, give you “energy,” but also help you stand out in your space.

3: Deliver value to customers

In the end, for your blog to become a full-time gig, you’ll need paying customers—ideally, the same people who read your blog.

To do this, you’ll need to find a way to not only stand out but deliver value.

One of James’s other strengths is Focus. While he’s certainly able to apply this to the actual building of his business, what’s interesting to me is how his customers value this Super Power.

His popular course, “The Remora Method,” helps people to increase their own focus on the immediate next step to build their freelancing or “side gig.” The course structures behavior around getting clients to focus. His direct, 1:1 interactions over email all focus on helping someone take that specific next action.

Especially for someone who realizes that they need focus, or want the step-by-step progress that focus generates, this Super Power provides great value that people are willing to pay for.

So what can you do?

Think about how your strength can be the vehicle for delivering a product or service that your customers will want. This will help you to lay the groundwork so your blog can ultimately support you as it does James.

Let your blog leap tall buildings in a single bound

Your strengths (aka Super Powers) are a valuable source of the basic building blocks to building a blog. Upon them, you can then layer the great tips and tactics out there (such as those on ProBlogger!).

This foundation includes:

  • having the energy to pour into the blog, so you can
  • stand out in the way you develop content, so you can
  • deliver value to readers who become customers.

James shows how it can be done. And when you listen to the interview, you’ll get a peek into something even bigger he has in the works (as a result of the Super Power of Significance). I believe it is by understanding how his Super Powers enabled all the moving parts to work, that you can discover the deeper drivers of these tactics and, more importantly, better see your own, unique path to entrepreneurship.

TT Fong uses his strengths to help people discover and apply their “Super Powers” to do remarkable things with greater ease and less strain at SpikingStrengths.com. He uncovers how successful people build businesses, careers, and teams by spending time in their “spikes” — check out the cinematic trailer of the interview series.

Blog Design for ROI, Rule 1: Prioritize the Opt-in Form

This guest post is by Gab Goldenberg, author of The Advanced SEO Book.

Are you writing phenomenal posts only to have your poor design fail you? Here’s how to fix that, with rules that will guide you whether you create a custom theme or just pick a theme and adapt it.

Today’s post is the first in a series on blog design for ROI.

Lots of articles give blog design rules or guidelines, but no one I’ve seen explains how these rules achieve your goals.

So let’s look at a business blogger’s possible ROI goals and how the design can help one achieve those goals:

  1. earning ad revenue
  2. earning revenue from selling your own products and services
  3. growing your email list, RSS + Facebook, or Twitter list (listed in decreasing order of value)
  4. building a community or audience—especially as reflected by comments, forum activity, etc.
  5. developing connections and networking.

Every blogger’s first goal should be developing repeat traffic from a loyal audience. Everything else—sales, links, social sharing, networking opportunities—is attainable from this.

In practical terms, the most direct way to achieve this is to blog regularly and to build an email list. Blog design can’t motivate you to write regularly, but it can maximize the number of people who subscribe to your newsletter.

Blog design for ROI rule #1: Prioritize the opt-in form above all

Q: How does your blog design help you build your list?

A: It makes the newsletter subscription call to action the most prominent element on any page, be it the homepage, an individual post page etc.

Sandra Niehaus of Closed-Loop-Marketing wrote an excellent guide to the factors of visual prominence (or “pop”), and I encourage you to read it.

Notably, Sandra highlights the following factors, which are within reach for every blogger to use.

  • location on the page
  • whitespace around an element
  • colour (saturation, hue and contrast).

Have a look at Derek Halpern’s Social Triggers. The design is brilliant with regards to building an email list. Here’s what an individual post page looks like:

Derek Halpern Home

Notice how besides the logo, the next most noticeable things are the email optin area and Derek’s face, followed by the title? Derek is making excellent use of both location, whitespace and color to draw attention to his opt-in box.

Even top marketers like Derek can improve, though.

If you look at the above screenshot, the email opt-in stands out—but it’s trying to shout over the logo and the further branding in the image box embedded in the post.

It’s easy to understand that Derek wants to brand himself and his blog as an expert source, but the large logo and face staring out are very distracting. Derek would likely increase his conversion rate by making the logo smaller and removing his face from the promotional box within his post.

What about branding? Branding is the result of relationships and getting your message out—two things which email does significantly better than a one-time view of a large logo and face.

So what lessons can we draw from Derek, on prioritizing our opt-in form in the blog design?

1. The ideal location to place your optin box is after the logo, before the content

This is the most prominent position you can place anything on the page, and since this is the call to action we care about, it fits here best. This is also why Google suggests placing AdSense ads there.

Failing this, you should still get it above the fold, and you can see that Derek did so at the very top of his sidebar. (Personally I’d love to see it integrated in the post’s upper right corner where his Insider box is, but that’s not always possible.)

2. Give the box plenty of breathing room

Note how it’s not squished between anything else? There’s also whitespace on the right and left margins, so this stands out even more.

3. Give it some colourThis way, it can contrast with the remainder of the page.

4. Make the rest of the page’s above-the-fold elements less prominent

Keep your logo small: look at Amazon’s for a good example of smart use of space. Also, avoid using a headshot above the fold, unless it’s integrated into your opt-in box.

Even this second point is debatable, as making the box too loud can make it physically hard for people to draw their eyes away from the opt-in to read your content. Or you could use a grayscale headshot in association with the author credits, or else resize the face image to be quite small.

The point is to be warily careful in using faces because they’re such a visually dominant element.

5. The spot before your comments is also a big draw visually, so put another opt-in form here

I attribute this prominence to people skipping down to the conclusion of a post to learn quickly what matters, as well as to being curious what others said and/or to see replies to their own comments.

Again, Derek does a good job with his placement, whitespace, and color contrast.

Derek's opt-in

So that was rule number 1: give the top spot in your visual hierarchy to your email list’s opt-in form.

I’d love if you could comment with other examples of bloggers whose designs do a very good job of persuading people to join their lists.

At this time over the next few weeks, I’ll share the other steps involved in designing your blog for ROI. To follow along, add ProbBlogger’s RSS feed to your reader!

Gab Goldenberg wrote The Advanced SEO Book – and you can get a free chapter here. Gab and Internet Marketing Ninjas, the folks behind the Blog Design for ROI series here on Problogger, are offering to mail you a free print copy of the Blog Design for ROI guide as a small book. Get your free copy from seoroi.com/blog-design-for-roi/ .