Close
Close

Blogging the Festive Season

It’s that time of year: the silly season is upon us!

Festive spirit

Photo by Axel Bührmann on Flickr.

The bricks-and-mortar stores have had the Christmas trees and fake Santas up for months … but what’s the blogosphere doing to prepare?

The answer depends on who you talk to. Every blog and every audience is different, after all. Still, we can learn from each other’s ideas and get inspiration from niches outside our own.

Today and tomorrow, we’ll look at a few different blogs, and see how their owners are preparing for the festive season:

Some of the blogs have been around for years, while others are barely 12 months old. Some of the bloggers work full-time on their blogs, but others are part-timers fitting in blogging around their day jobs. We’ll find out:

  • how they’re planning to optimize festive season sales and promotions
  • how they’re fitting blogging in around all the other stuff that happens in the lead-up to the end of the year
  • how they’re planning to keep in touch with clients, followers, and fans over the New Year break
  • how much they’re expecting to work over this period, how much time they’re hoping to spend with family and friends—and what they’ve done to make that possible
  • what they’re doing to make sure they hit the ground running in 2013—and what they’ll focus on then.

I hope you’ll find this series inspiring. To kick off, let me give you a bit of a behind-the-scenes peek into what I’m doing on dPS, a product blog, for the festive season.

The product blog

It’s a busy time for dPS in the lead-up to the festive season. As well as maintaining our publishing schedule, we’re starting to prepare for our annual 12 days of christmas celebration. It’s always a lot of fun … and a lot of work.

Festive promotions, content, and visitors

For each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas, we offer a special price on either one of our own products, or that of a hand-picked partner. So there’s a lot of work getting those deals in place, and getting the pages and promotions ready to go ahead of time.

This sale is something that the dPS audience really loves, so we keep trying to improve, and we’re ramping things up again this year. Past experience has shown that the sale should create a lot of additional traffic to the blog, but not just to the sales pages themselves—we’ll start to see increases in the visitors coming to certain tutorials, too. Posts on portraits and family shots are always popular at this time of year, as are more specific topics like photographing fireworks.

And while we do promote the 12 days of Christmas deals as great gift ideas, we also encourage our regular readers to buy a special gift for themselves, too.

Time off

I always like to take some time off at Christmas to spend with family and friends, and preparation is the key. I’m fortunate that I can share some of the preparation with my team, but we also plan and schedule content well in advance so that everyone who works on the blog can enjoy the time off.

With all the activity happening in the lead-up to Christmas, I’m pretty busy. In the period between Christmas and New Year, I’ll do check-in from time to time but I do limit that to as little as I can.

Looking forward

Taking time off means I need to prepare for the time when I get back to work in 2013. That preparation’s been going on for a while now—we already have our first new product ready to launch in January, so that will take some of our focus early in the year.

I’ll also start plotting our roadmap for the rest of year in January, with my team, and of course the publishing schedule is an ongoing task.

A festive plan

Understanding seasonality is an important part of maximising the sales of products for those with a product or affiliate-product blog.

The products on dPS are well suited to festive events, so we ensure our campaigns are timed to maximise that potential. But even if you’re products aren’t really relevant to Christmastime, there will be other times during the year when demand will be at its highest.

For those of us who rely on product sales income, it’s important to have a plan in place so you can meet that demand.

At the end of the series, I’ll provide you with a five-point checklist to help you prepared your product—or other—blog for the festive season. But for now, I’m interested to hear your stories. What do you have planned on your blog for the coming weeks? Let me know in the comments.

How to Pitch Your Dream Company for a Win/Win/Win Blogging Collaboration [Case Study]

Recently at a parenting blogger conference here Melbourne, I was listening to a panel discussion on business models when Aussie blogger—Laney from Crash Test Mummy—made a statement that connected strongly with my own recent experience.

I’m paraphrasing here, but Laney talked about how as bloggers we’re often on the receiving end of bad PR pitches from companies, and that we should learn from those bad pitches to make good ones ourselves.

This struck a chord with me because over the last year, I’ve decided to do just that.

It struck me that I was on the receiving end of a lot of bad pitches from companies and agencies. The pitches were often bad for a number of reasons:

  • The company was pitching a product that was irrelevant to the topic of my blog.
  • The company was pitching for the wrong geographic location (I get a lot of pitches from Aussie companies who don’t realize most of my audience is international).
  • The pitch was impersonal and non-relational.
  • The pitch wasn’t a win/win/win pitch. By this I mean that many times the pitch is only really of benefit to the company—there’s no win for me as a blogger or for my readers.

The list could go on. Not a day goes by when I don’t get at least two or three bad pitches (sometimes it’s closer to ten).

It is a frustrating process. I’ve worked hard to build my audience and I know there are companies out there that I could serve well as partners, but they never seemed to come knocking.

I decided to take matters into my own hands

As I wrote earlier in the week, a couple of years back I wrote a list of companies, organisations, and products that it was my dream to work with. They were things I not only used and loved—they were companies that I believed I could serve well, based upon my knowledge of my own audience.

Some examples:

  • Apple: I use Apple products 24/7. My audience (of bloggers and photographers) also are computer users. It’s a match made in heaven (in my humble opinion).
  • Qantas/Virgin Australia: I’ve flown with both companies regularly and appreciate the services of both. Both are looking to expand their reach and the audience on my blogs is very international.
  • Canon/Nikon etc.: My biggest audience is around photography. I’ve used Canon gear for many years and have a real admiration for Nikon (as well as other companies like Leica, Sony, etc.). As a result, all of these manufacturers made my dream list.
  • Aussie Tourism Organisations: This one has been on my mind a lot. I obviously live in Australia, I love living here (and travelling around the country), and my audience always asks me questions about Australia—many have expressed a desire to visit. It seems to me like a no-brainer of a partnership and I added numerous Aussie tourism operators to my list.

The list was longer, but you get the picture. I identified 20 or so companies that I thought were a match in terms of my genuine love or admiration for them, but also in terms of my audience needs and what I saw as each company’s needs.

With that list in hand, I began to pitch

At this point, I’ve pitched most of the companies listed above—and numerous others. The experience has been fascinating and so far there have been a few expressions of interest (nibbles), a couple of “no” responses, a few more silences, and one bite.

The bite was from Tourism Queensland, and the result is the current competition we’re running with them to fly 10 bloggers in from around the world to experience the Great Barrier Reef first hand.

The idea gathered steam as a tweet I sent out in an airport last year, but I had Aussie tourism organizations on my list long before that tweet. So when I got responses from such organisations inviting me to talk to them, I was ready to move with an idea that I’d been pondering.

WIth the invitation to pitch them I put together a short PDF document titled, ProBlogger: Tour Down Under. Here’s the front cover.

Screen Shot 2012-04-03 at 12.56.03 PM.png

The following page briefly outlined the idea.Screen Shot 2012-04-03 at 1.18.23 PM.png

I followed it up with some details of my own audience at the time (although this information is now quite dated):

Screen Shot 2012-04-03 at 1.19.23 PM.png

The last page was an invitation to continue the discussion, along with my contact details. I sent the PDF out with a cover email that had a little more information, including a few variations on the idea.

The PDF was just three pages long: short, sharp and to the point. It outlined how the I thought the organizations I was pitching would benefit from the project, and made it clear I was open to evolving the idea to further meet their needs.

I actually ended up sending a variation of this PDF to a few organizations that had expressed interest. In the end, two of them came back to me to continue the conversation. The conversation with Tourism Queensland continued (they’ve been amazing to deal with) and the idea gathered steam until it became a reality last week.

Become a pitching blogger

This whole experience has been an eye-opening one for me. Rather than waiting for the perfect company to come along to work with, I decided to put myself in a position to identify and pursue that relationship myself. In doing so I was able to devise a pitch that was a win for that organization, a win for me as a blogger, and a win for my readers.

I was able to pitch something relevant to all parties, and that idea has a much better chance of working for my audience than most of what companies come to me with. While my hit rate is low from the companies I’ve pitched (so far), this experience has given me enough hope that I will no doubt be continuing the approach.

Take-home lessons

  • Identify who you’d love to work with. Make a list of companies that you use and recommend, and that are relevant to your readers and topic.
  • Identify those companies’ needs and how you can help them in those areas.
  • Reach out—you might not start with a “pitch” at first. Be relational, and learn from all those bad pitches you receive yourself.
  • Don’t be timid. You know your audience best. Be creative and bold.

I’d love to hear your own stories about reaching out for dream collaborations. Please let us know your stories and ideas in the comments below.

P.S.: Don’t forget to enter our Great Barrier Reef Competition—there’s not long now till the cutoff for submissions!

How I Beat my Best Month Ever by Doing Something Good, Better [Case Study]

Mid-December 2010: on my photography site, we launched a new campaign—our first ever 12 Days of Christmas promotion.

The result was my biggest month of earnings ever up to that point.

The idea was simple: offer discounts on 12 products over the 12 days leading up to Christmas. I used a mix of my own ebooks and products from other photography sites with affiliate commissions.

landing-pages.png

The result was massive. Not only did we see some great revenue generated, it created some lovely buzz on the site.

Due to the success of the 2010 campaign, in mid-December 2011 we launched our second 12 Days of Christmas promotion. This time around we made some changes and evolved things a little. The result? It was big. I’ll tell you more about just how big below.

A number of my Twitter followers have been asking how it went and how we changed things this time, so here’s a quick snapshot of the changes and lessons we learned.

The Web Marketing Ninja helps out

Last year, I ran the promotion completely alone. I’d seen similar promotions on other sites and thought it’d work well on dPS. But never having done such a promotion, I made numerous mistakes and spotted many ways I knew it could be improved. So I brought the Web Marketing Ninja (regular guest poster here on dPS who recently revealed his identify) on to manage it for me.

The Ninja worked hard on adding some of the new strategic elements mentioned below into this year’s promotion. Plus, his work took a massive load off my shoulders in terms of the day-to-day running of the campaign. 12 Deals in 12 days is a big task—that’s 12 sales emails, numerous blog posts, loads of tweets, liaising with partners, and more.

Using MailChimp

I decided this year to take the opportunity of sending out 12 emails to our list in 12 days to test out a new email newsletter provider: MailChimp. I’ve wanted to test out this service for a long time based upon the amazing feedback it constantly gets from other bloggers.

I’m very glad that I have tested it, because so far, using MailChimp has been a real pleasure. Their interface is really intuitive and their technology is innovative. Deliverability rates were high, support staff were really helpful, and there are loads and loads of add-ons and extras that you can plug in to make the service even more powerful.

If you’re in the market for an email newsletter provider, I can certainly recommend you check MailChimp out (yes, that’s an affiliate link).

A new landing page

Probably the biggest change we’ve made this year is to create a central landing page for the promotion. You can see it in full here (although all the deals are now over, so it’s not active). This is the work of the Ninja at his finest.

landing-pages.png

Last time, the promotion largely happened around a series of sales pages, but there was no central place to tie it all together and build buzz. This year, having the central landing page worked really nicely.

Offering better deals

Having run this promotion once before, we were in a better position to make smart decisions about what deals to run this year on a number of levels.

  • Firstly, we know what types of products converted last year, and could focus on those. For example, last year we ran a couple of days on Photoshop actions which didn’t perform as well as teaching resource, so we swapped out the actions in favor of some new courses and ebooks.
  • We learned last year that the bigger discounts converted better than the smaller ones—we were able to offer bigger discounts on our own products easily, but also feed that back to the product owners we promote with the affiliate deals, and in most cases they came to the party to give bigger discounts.
  • We saw last year that bundles of products converted particularly well, so this year’s deals were more centred on bundles (around half of the the days’ deals) rather than single products.
  • We were also in a better position this year to negotiate better commissions with some of our partners, having shown them what we could do last year. Interestingly, word had gotten out about 2010 and this time around I had potential partners pitching us to be involved months out from December.

Other lessons learned

  • Use clear calls to unsubscribe: One thing that I’ve done in both campaigns is to give our newsletter subscribers a very clear way to unsubscribe right up front. Our first email explained the next 12 days’ program (and the fact that we were about to send 12 emails), and acknowledged it wouldn’t be for everyone, with a clear call to unsubscribe if it wasn’t of interest. Of course in each email we sent there was a similar call to unsubscribe. Note: we set up a separate email list for this campaign so that subscription cancellations wouldn’t stop people from getting our weekly newsletter. Feedback on this from readers was excellent.
  • Super deals: We suspected that some of our deals would perform better than others, based largely upon last years results. As a result, we placed these on mid-week days (Tuesdays) to give them the most exposure possible. I also gave them extra promotion with blog posts on those days (I didn’t post on the blog for every deal).
  • Diversity of deals: One thing that we were very aware of and tried to balance was mixing deals up so that readers didn’t get 12 invitations for fairly similar products. We did deals on physical products, software, ebooks, courses, and other teaching formats.
  • Give some “space” in the lead-up to your campaign: We purposely didn’t promote anything to our readers for a good month before this campaign. While we could easily have launched a product or promoted an affiliate campaign late November or early December, I didn’t want to push our readership too hard. In fact, I sent an extra email or two in that period that was simply free good content. The same goes for afterward—we had a great new ebook on post-processing ready to launch mid-January, but pushed it back a week to give a little more space for our readers to “recover” from December.
  • Be organized: The biggest tip I can give is to be organized. Work on partnerships for a month or two ahead of time, start working on sales emails as early as possible, and so on. The more you do ahead of time, the better, as there are always last-minute things to take care of.

The results

In 2010, this campaign contributed to December being our biggest month ever, up to that point. This last 2011 campaign saw us almost triple revenue from 2010. We have a new record-breaking month!

Revenue Comparison between 2010 and 2011 Campaigns

I did invest more into the 2011 campaign—paying the Ninja, investing some money into the design of landing page development and design, and beefing up our web hosting—so profit wasn’t tripled, but it wasn’t far off.

While this was a highly profitable way to end 2011, I can’t emphasize enough just how much work goes into a campaign like this. The 12 days itself were intense, with a lot of late nights and quite a bit of juggling.

For example, on one of our last nights we were preparing to go live when we realized the coupon code a partner had given us didn’t work. We had to quickly switch deals over, as it was a weekend and we couldn’t contact the partner.

Of course, along with the work comes a lot of fun. I’m coming to realize that there is a real rush that comes with launching products. Devising strategy, implementing it, and then waiting to see how things convert is a lot of fun (for me and the Ninja, at least). Doing 12 launches in 12 days just multiplies that!

Another big benefit—beyond profit and fun—of this type of campaign is that you learn a lot about your readership. In running 12 deals in 12 days, you get to test out a lot of different things. For example, this year our products included physical products, single ebooks, ebook bundles, courses, and software. Price points were also interesting to watch—products ranged from $17 right up to $180! While dPS has traditionally just published ebooks at a pretty similar price point, we now have some great information on what other types of products and price points our readers are interested in.

Onward to 2012

So with the 2011 12 Deals of Christmas behind us, we’re already thinking about how we can make the 2012 campaign even bigger!

2 Different Tales of Blog Growth

“What was ‘the tipping point’ for your blog?”

This question is one that I’m regularly asked in interviews, and it is one that is challenging to answer. The assumption behind the question is that there is often some kind of event that pushes a blog into the limelight. The reality is that it’s not always this way.

Let me illustrate this by telling the stories of my two main blogs—ProBlogger and Digital Photography School.

ProBlogger’s tipping point: dramatic growth

Here on ProBlogger, the only real tipping point-type event that I can identify is when I mentioned in an interview I did on another blog that I was earning six figures a year from my blogging. Back then (it was 2005), nobody was making money from blogs (or if they were, they weren’t talking about it) so it was news that quickly got passed around.

It was picked up by quite a few other bloggers but also went viral on Slashdot, which was the closest thing that there was to social bookmarking back then.

While I didn’t really consider that there would be much effect from saying I was a six figure blogger in that interview, the impact was pretty significant (in terms of traffic but, more importantly, in terms of profile/brand) for a few reasons:

  • The statement was somewhat controversial (the idea of monetizing the “pure” medium of blogging was something that some were dead against) and that caused some buzz. But being the first to announce I was a full-time blogger also created a desire for others to do likewise.
  • The idea of blogging for money was sown in the minds of many. As I was not only making a living from blogging, but also writing about that journey here on ProBlogger, I guess there was some credibility built from that statement.
  • Coining of the term “ProBlogger”—again being first and having a site called ProBlogger meant that people started to talk about making money from blogs as being a pro blogger, which just grew the site even more.

While all this was fantastic for the growth of ProBlogger and for building my profile, it was all fairly lucky. I didn’t make the statement with any intentions of leveraging it, but once the groundswell of reactions started, I did act fast to make the most of it.

Digital Photography School tipping points: slow but steady growth

Digital Photography School (dPS) on the other hand was a different story. I can’t really think of a single tipping point moment that really stands out as being one that boosted the site to becoming popular (and today is is six or seven times the size of ProBlogger despite being a couple of years younger).

Instead, dPS had a much more steady growth, mainly through a variety of smaller events:

  • I did have ProBlogger and a previous camera review site linked to dPS, but after the initial launch, traffic from these sources wasn’t significant.
  • We were featured in some mainstream media publications in the early days (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, etc.) but none of these caused any significant jump in traffic.
  • We had days of significant traffic from sites like Lifehacker and social bookmarking sites like Digg, but in general this type of traffic didn’t hang around.

These events certainly didn’t hurt us, but none of them stands out as a tipping point that we never looked back from. Rather, traffic and the brand slowly grew over those first few years from launch.

More significant for dPS than any of the above in mind mind is that I put real emphasis upon a few activities for the first couple of years (warning: none of these are rocket science or spectacular … but they worked):

  • Regular useful content: Daily “how to” posts that solved problems, showed people how to achieve their goals and improve their photography was 90% of the content that I produced.
  • Shareable content: Content that I knew was more likely to be shared (inspirational posts, breaking news, humor, controversy (I didn’t really focus on this), grand list posts, and so on. This type of content was around 5% of what I produced.
  • Community: The other 5% of posts was more focused upon community activities like reader discussions, giving readers a chance to show off their photos, debates, polls, etc. We started a forum in time, too, to build this community further.
  • Email newsletter: If there’s one thing that grew the site more than any other, it was that we started collecting people’s email addresses early and began sending them weekly updates/newsletters.
  • Promotion: I defined who I wanted to read my blog and did the exercise of asking where they gathered. This lead me to sites like Flickr, other blogs, and some social networking sites where I developed presence, was useful and in time shared our content.

These tasks took almost 100% of my focus in the early days. I didn’t spend a heap of time on social media, did limited networking with other sites (although did develop friendships with a few in time), and focused little upon SEO. The promotion I did was focused to those sites where I knew potential readers were gathering, but the main effort was upon content creation and looking after the readers I already had.

Note: I share quite a bit of the story of how I grew dPS in the 2nd edition of the ProBlogger Book (and have updated and expanded it a little in the soon to be released 3rd edition).

The resulting growth on dPS was far from dramatic or explosive, but in the long term, it was on a far greater scale than here on ProBlogger.

Did your blog have a tipping point for growth?

There is no one way to grow a blog. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their growth cycles vary considerably. I’d love to hear your own story. Did your blog have a tipping point, or was it a slow and steady process? Or do you have another experience all together?

Interview: Benny Lewis of FluentIn3Months

This guest post is by Kevin Muldoon of KevinMuldoon.com.

Recently, I interviewed Benny Lewis, the man behind the successful blog Fluent In 3 Months.

Over the last month or so I have been organising everything for my move to South America. Since reading The Motorcycle Diaries at University in my late teens I had thought about travelling South America and learning Spanish. I was all set to go four years ago when I was living in New Zealand, but decided to head back to the UK to save more money so that I didn’t have any financial difficulties. Weeks turned into months and months turned into years—until I finally took the plunge this year and made the decision to go.

While looking for help and advice about the quickest way to learn Spanish I came across the fantastic blog, Fluent In 3 Months. It’s run by self-titled “Irish Polyglot” Benny Lewis, who has managed to become fluent in around ten languages (and several dialects too) in just eight years. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.

Fluent In 3 Months is a fantastic example of how sharing a passion for a subject through your blog can be profitable. By regularly adding great content and taking the time to connect with readers every day he has managed to create a blog with over 100,000 monthly visitors in just two years.

The main source of his income comes from sales of his Language Hacking Guide. This multi-format guide is available in dozens of languages and includes a 32,000-word ebook, worksheets, and three hours of audio interviews with well-known language specialists.

Benny kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for ProBlogger readers.

You travelled for a number of years before launching your own blog. What was the motivation behind launching Fluent In 3 Months?

How I finally learned how to get along with ParisiansFor the first six years of non-stop travel, I had been moving to new countries and challenged myself to learn their languages quickly. It was fun, but I noticed that I got a lot further when I was more public in announcing my project to as many people as possible, for some accountability.

So when I decided to speak fluent Czech in three months, I registered the domain and started blogging about the journey! I had no intention to monetize on the site; it was just to document my mission and share my tips.

This is not, however, one of those ‚Äúonly my mother read it first‚Äù stories. I had definite intentions for the blog’s readership to grow as I knew that I was giving unique advice and stories that people would appreciate.

The blog grew quicker than I could have imagined so I went on to document other missions, changing every few months and constantly giving all the advice I could for others who wanted to learn languages quickly and travel easier.

Your blog launched with a consistent flow of high quality articles right from the start. Did you find it difficult to update your blog with such regularity when travelling?

Although I have technically been “on the road” for over eight years, it’s actually been a string of two- to three-month stays where I rent an apartment with Internet. So travel only slows me down for the couple of days that I transition between places.

Ever since the blog started I’ve remained pretty consistent in updating very regularly, with the exception of two separate months when my financial situation was in tatters (credit card debt) and I had to focus on my previous job as a freelance translator, accepting overtime work to compensate.

Since I started earning full-time from the blog a year ago, there have always been about two in-depth posts (two to five thousand words) per week without fail.

Is it better to travel to villages for language/cultural immersion?

How much research and planning did you do before launching Fluent In 3 Months?

None. Came up with the summer project idea and the blog name one morning, registered the domain name, bought the ticket and started blogging all just one week before moving to Prague.

Even though it was my first time ever blogging, I had been reading other (travel) blogs for many years and already had a popular multilingual Youtube channel, so I had a vague idea of what would work for promotion and keeping readers’ interest.

Had you always envisioned using the blog as a platform to sell a digital product or had you considered monetizing the blog in other ways?

I had no experience in online monetization—my previous understanding was that it involved covering your website with irrelevant and noisy advertising, which as a long-term online reader I always find irritating. So I never ran a single advertisement on my site, in order to maintain the kind of user experience I myself appreciate.

With this in mind, I simply accepted that I’d never make money from the site. I had a donation button, but in the first year of its use I managed to get 50 Euros, total, and most of that was from just one enthusiastic reader. Not enough to do anything more than cover hosting costs!

Then when I was in Thailand I met some interesting people like Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Sean Ogle, Cody McKibben, and more. They gave me some encouragement that with my traffic I could market a product specifically outlining how I learn languages, and advice about how to approach doing it.

First impressions of Thailand

With no time to waste, as soon as I got to Germany I took six weeks off my work as a translator and focused on writing the Language Hacking Guide. One of my greatest talents in language learning, traveling, and many other things has been to ditch perfectionism and (as Seth Gothin always says) ship. No excuses, no time-wasting, no waiting until everything is “just right.” I applies this to creating the product too. Six weeks after I started writing I put the product on the site, and interest in it was tremendous!

I managed to cancel the debt that had been haunting me for years, and even build up a nest-egg. From this I could add more to the product, improve the look, add more content etc. (always a free update for those who already had it). Enthusiastic readers offered to translate it and the full version download now includes 23 native written translations.

I created another product about Why German is Easy, but only got a burst of sales from it initially. Basically in the entire last year I have been funding my travels and entire lifestyle from one product! Sales have been consistent for over 14 months now!

This has meant that I haven’t had to force myself to create new stuff just for the sake of making money, or spam my readers. I continue to focus on the content, and the site’s traffic grows naturally enough to ensure every day I make the sales I need!

In a recent complete redesign of the site, I even went as far as to take all visual banners to my product off! The whole site looks so much better now. It’s kind of hard at a glance to even see that I have anything to sell on the site, and despite that I’m still earning what I need!

I also offer Skype based consultation, but earnings don’t compare to sales of my product. Soon I’ll finally start developing my second product, which will be entirely video based.

Getting rid of your English accent when speaking a foreign language

You promote your newsletter “The Language Hacking League” using Aweber. How important has email marketing been in promoting your blog and promoting your hacking guide?

It’s been quite important—when I had a major update to the product I would increase the price, and give people a few days to get it at the old price. The vast majority of those sales were from the email list, and these have given me incredible boost to help me cover travel and other expenses, especially to allow me to go to conferences to spread my message more.

But I would only make those pitches once every few months. To make it worth their while I send very regular pure content (no pitches) to email subscribers. It’s almost as much work as the blog! I want to make sure people enjoy and open them. Even though I have a decent sized list, my open rates are still hovering around 65% so I must be doing something right!

I could get more people onboard with plugins that black out the screen and force an email signup form on you, but I think too many bloggers get greedy about the numbers and come across as too pushy—this is especially true for international readers who find American sales/closing tactics frustrating.

My email list has been important also in that I focus on it way more than RSS subscriber numbers. I realised very quickly that monitoring my Feedburner count was stressful because a) it jumps around too much and thus isn’t even accurate and b) it’s irrelevant for non-techie blogs.

The Many Benefits of Engaging People‚Äôs Curiosity in Your EmailsSo many of my readers have told me that I’m one of five or so blogs that they have bookmarked in Internet Explorer, so expecting them to subscribe by RSS is silly. So I decided a year ago to never log back into feedburner and don’t care what it says my subscriber numbers are. The RSS subscription logo is on my site for whoever wants it, but I focus on getting people subscribed by email—this is something all of my readers can understand.

In each email I link to recent blog posts, so they get updates and move back to the site from that!

I get a surge of sign-ups as I build up suspense about what my next language and destination will be, announcing it first in the email list, and my suggestions for that were so unique that Aweber themselves invited me to guest post on their blog about it.

Free Hug For All ProBlogger Readers!

What lessons have you learned from blogging over the last two years?

That focusing on the numbers rather than content is a terrible idea. Since I ditched checking my RSS subscriber numbers and only logging into Google Analytics every few weeks max (mostly only to follow up on incoming links), it’s been way more enjoyable! As long as you get positive comments directly on the site, by email or via social networking, then you know you are on the right track!

What I focus on is to make it more personal. For example, I’m one of the only bloggers who has a photo of himself in every post (apart from occasional guest posts on my site), and I share both tips and personal stories. I also answer almost every single comment directly.

This level of personalisation means that people really see who I am and that I’m not in this for the money, so they share my site passionately, knowing that I’ll treat new readers well.

Describe a typical day in the life of a travelling blogger.

I wrote a blog post about one such day in Colombia, with video to document it. It involved getting up early, working very efficiently and dancing salsa with cute girls.

Here in Istanbul I’m getting up late and being quite lazy. In Rio I worked most of the day from a penthouse apartment with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and in India I had a hut with no hot water or kitchen where the power would go out several times a day. There is no typical for a travelling blogger!!

What’s would be your advice to someone who is learning another language for the first time?

Many people will have learned a language in school and failed and believe it proves that they don’t have the right genes or whatever. The problem was that it was a totally unnatural way to learn something that is actually a means of communication. You can’t teach that in the same style as you would mathematics!

My advice is to speak from day one. Learn a few phrases, flick through a cheap book course and then just find a native and speak to them. Yes, what you have won’t be award winning stuff, but you will certainly be able to get by if you try hard enough. Through lots and lots of practice and exposure you will improve quickly.

Real use and not over-studying dusty books (or even pointlessly expensive new software or audio courses) is how people genuinely end up speaking a language. Use it or lose it!

As well as this, being public about your “mission” is important. Either blog about it, or start a thread on my site’s very active language learning forum for encouragement and to set solid end-goals.

Why I love Brazilians

What plans do you have for yourself and your blog over the next 12 months?

I really enjoyed my experience speaking at TBEX (both as a main speaker about language learning and as a panelist about branding and growing website traffic). I’ve applied to speak at larger events and hope that they will accept me, as I feel this is the next step to getting my message out to more people. I’d like to use my blog as a stepping stone to other media; my goal is to convince the entire world that language talent is irrelevant, and that anyone can become fluent in a second language.

Otherwise, every few months I will go to a new destination and learn a new language, and write about it in detail as always. The completely new story in the blog so frequently always brings in a fresh wave of new readers and new opportunities!

While I know where I’m going for the next few months, I don’t know where I’ll be next year at all. If you’d like to find out, just come on over and subscribe!
___________
A huge thank you to Benny for taking part in this interview. You can find out more about Benny, his views on language and his latest travels through his website at Fluent In 3 Months or via RSS, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+.

Kevin Muldoon is a webmaster and blogger who lives in Central Scotland. His current project is WordPress Mods; a blog which focuses on WordPress Themes, Plugins, Tutorials, News and Modifications.

How to Build Community for Niche Site Success

This is a guest post by Jim Nelson of Tripawds.com.

Talk about a niche market!

When I first started blogging about my three legged dog Jerry back in 2006, never in my wildest dreams did I think helping those facing amputation for their dogs would be my full time job five years later. But then again, I never expected the little website I created to keep friends and family informed about Jerry’s progress to become the largest online community for canine amputees and their people either.

Jerry was the Chief Fun Officer of the design firm my wife Rene and I grew for nearly ten years. After his amputation we sold the business—and our home, along with most of our belongings—and bought an RV to travel the country making the most of our remaining time with Jerry, and searching for the next big thing. We considered a number of different ventures during our three years on the road, but that thing turned out to be right under our noses, and the Tripawds Blogs community was born.

We had been building Jerry’s dog blog all along, with lots of helpful canine cancer resources and loads of information about amputation for dogs. And we were doing our best to monetize the site with your typical affiliate programs, text link ads and PPC campaigns. For details about the fledgling Tripawds site, don’t miss my submission for the 2008 ProBlogger Video Mashup. My movie is the only one featuring a talking dog.

Canine Amputees Sprite, Wyatt, and Calpurnia, By Jim Nelson of Tripawds.com

Tripawds has come a long way since then. Jerry is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on at tripawds.com which now hosts 650+ three legged dog blogs with more than 2,600 registerred members and more joining every day. It’s the club nobody ever wants to join; but a fun one nonetheless, where members commisserate, share their treatment plans and help each other cope with difficult decisions. And its success would not be possible without a few things that make the community what it has become: WordPress Multisite, discussion forums, and social networking.

Forums create discussion

In the early days of the Tripawds blog, we started to receive frequent requests from people for advice about their dogs. As much as we wanted to help, replying individually to all these emails got old, fast. We decided to create discussion forums so members could answer each other’s questions directly. This allowed people seeking advice to get more than just one opinion, increased traffic and user registrations, and added valuable content to the site.

Shortly after installing the Simple:Press Forums plugin for WordPress, our membership quickly grew from a handful of followers to hundreds of devoted individuals actively participating by welcoming new members, sharing advice and directing others to informative content. Now with more than 4,400 topics and 59,500 posts the Tripawds forums not only provide a helpful resource—and valuable search bot fodder—but they keep visitors on the site longer; as long as ten minutes per visit on average.

Tripawds provides dedicated forums for canine cancer care, nutritional advice, coping with loss and much more. And when the community demanded an “Anything Goes” forum we obliged, creating a place for members to discuss whatever they wanted. To boost sales through certain affiliate partners, and help our members save on pet supplies or supplements for their dogs, we started specific Anything Goes forum topics where we frequently post coupon codes, sale notices and other promotions we find through our affiliate advertisers.

The network creates community

In late 2009, with a discussion forum and live chat room, the next logical step for growing the Tripawds community was to offer members their own blogs. That’s when I discovered WordPress MU; now an optional core function of WordPress known as Multisite. Migrating from our plain vanilla WordPress installation to the multi-user blog network was no easy task, but now it is as easy as clicking Create a Network. Well almost, there are a few extra steps but not many. With a basic understanding WordPress, you too can make your own blog network.

We chose to use our Multisite network to offer free blogs to members, following the freemium model. We give users 25MB of upload space for their free blogs which display banner ads. For a nominal fee—payable by monthly, quarterly or annual PayPal subscriptions—these ads are automatically removed. Upgrading to a Tripawds Supporter Blog also automatically increases the user’s upload quota to 1GB and gives them access to additional premium themes and plugins.

With network-wide user avatars, searchable blog/user directories, and widgets throughout the main Tripawds site that display most recent blog posts and comments, a true sense of community has developed among our members. It is heartwarming to watch friendships develop, and recurring payments from auto-renewing Supporter subscriptions are nice too. We use various WordPress Multisite plugins from WPMU Dev to make this all possible.

You don’t have to host user’s blogs, however, to take advantage of the power WordPress Multisite offers, especially if you don’t want to deal with the demands a growing network will put on your server. Hint: shared hosting won’t cut it! You can use Multisite to host a number of your own sites from one WordPress installation. Using a Domain Mapping plugin, each site can even have its own URL. The first thing we did after creating our network was set up a number of Tripawds Featured Blogs. These are dedicated sites where we review various products ranging from the best gear for three legged dogs and recommended nutritional supplements, to books, downloads and Tripawds t-shirts.

Everyone is on Facebook

Jerry’s fan base first started to grow on the Tripawds YouTube channel, where one of his movies is quickly approaching 1.5 million views. We use Twitter to announce all new featured blogs posts, as well as for celebrating the triumphs of some amputee dogs and mourning the loss of others. As for Facebook, I was a holdout. I refused to be assimilated. Then I finally realized how many people were sharing news about their three0legged dogs, or asking for advice, and the Tripawds Facebook page was born. Jerry now has more than 2000 fans.

Facebook adds a whole new sense of community, with friends, photo sharing, and instant gratification. That’s why we use it primarily to drive traffic to Tripawds where people usually register right away to see if anyone is in the chat room, where we are usually waiting to welcome them to the community.

Realizing that most visitors on Facebook are seeking fast answers, we created a custom landing page to help them out. The tab anyone sees before “liking” the Tripawds page includes links to our most helpful resources and RSS feeds from the blogs and forums.

Ebooks, podcasts, and more

Social networking for three-legged dogs doesn’t end on Facebook. I frequently participate in various dog-centric group discussions on LinkedIn. And our latest endeavor is Tripawd Talk Radio using the free BlogTalkRadio broadcast tools. Rene and I co-host this program periodically to profile amazing survival stories or interview veterinary oncologists and rehab specialists. We use the Tripawds discussion forums to announce shows and solicit questions for guests. Then we make the podcasts available in our Downloads blog after each show.

Another download we now offer was more than three years in the making. For those who don’t care to spend time searching the vast amount of content in our blogs and forums, we published Three Legs and a Spare, the first in a series of canine amputation handbooks. This 108 page PDF includes hundreds of direct links to the most helpful blog posts, videos and forum topics Tripawds has to offer. While the majority of content in this ebook is available for free on our site, the primary value is in its consolidation and organization of information.

The last suggestion I have for anyone creating a community is t-shirts. Members like to feel like they belong, and they love to show their pride. Cafe Press makes that simple. We had a basic CP Shop for years, with limited product availability, and even fewer purchases. Not until we upgraded Jerry’s store to a Premium Shop did we start to see regular revenue from the vast selection of three legged dog t-shirts and gifts we now offer.

Building a community of support

Finally, if you have a cause website don’t be afraid to ask for money. We held a community support ChipIn campaign to compensate for our additional hosting costs the first year after outgrowing the capacity of our old shared account—a clear case of too much traffic and bandwidth usage being a good thing.

Running our own server isn’t cheap, but active community members understand that. Others wanted to know how they could help after the campaign so we created different PayPal subscription levels for ongoing contributions. We also created a Support page that lists the various ways members can help, from naming their own price for a dog bandanna to clicking numerous different affiliate banners for shopping online.

With an audience that is often distraught over caring for their dog, however, we do our best to steer clear of any blatant promotion. Instead, we only provide links to products we believe in and always provide full disclosure about affiliate partnerships.

So if you’re interested in building a community for something you’re passionate about, consider using WordPress Multisite, discussion forums, and social networking to build a following. And if you think your cause isn’t grand enough to make it worthwhile, think again. Did you ever think there was such a site for three legged dogs?

Do you have a niche blog? How has community-building helped your blog succeed?

Jim Nelson is co-founder and chief administrator of the Tripawds Blogs community and discussion forums. Together with his wife Rene, Jim published Three Legs and a Spare - A Canine Amputation Handbook, the first in a series of helpful ebooks from Tripawds.com.

Behind the Scenes of Our New Ebook Launch at FeelGooder

It’s been six months since I launched my latest blog—FeelGooder—and today it’s entering a new phase, so I thought it might be time for a bit of an update.

You might remember back in November we launched FeelGooder and I outlined some of the backstory here on ProBlogger. The blog was a slightly new approach to me for a number of reasons—partly because of the wide niche (it covers everything from health, to relationships, to finance, to social good), but also because I decided to launch without any kind of advertising, and with the intent of monetization without ads.

It was an ambitious task and something of an experiment, but I was excited by the prospect.

Over the last six months, the focus on FeelGooder has really been to build up an archive of content (and a team of authors), and to build up a core readership. We’ve done both, although the going has been a little slower than I’d hoped, mainly because of the juggling I and my team are now doing across multiple websites.

However today we’re moving into a new phase and are launching an ebook: 7 Ways to FeelBetter.7 ways feelbetter.jpg

You can read more about it on its sales page, but in short, it’s a week-long challenge for readers to work through. We think it will lift their spirits, help them to feel better about their lives, and hopefully help them to develop some life-changing habits.

I’m very excited about the reaction we’ve been receiving from those who have already reviewed it, and love the way it looks (we’re getting a lot of positive feedback on its design).

A new approach (for me) to launching products

One of the things I’m excited about in this particular ebook launch is that we’re experimenting with a slightly different launch process. Here’s how it looks:

  1. We’re giving the first 500 copies away for free.
  2. We’re then offering the next 500 copies at 50% off ($4.99).
  3. Then we’ll be selling it at its normal price of $9.99.

UPDATE: due to limitations with e-junkie allowing only 100 free copies to be given away per day I’ve had to put the price up to 1 cent for the first 500 buyers.

This is a bit of a departure from my normal launch process, and is one I’m excited to see the results of. You can check out how it’s going over at FeelGooder today, because as this post goes live, we’re starting the giveaway part of the launch.

One of the main reasons I’m taking this approach is that, with a smaller audience on FeelGooder than here on ProBlogger or dPS, I suspect it’ll be a little harder to get momentum going with a new product.

The aim with this giveaway is to get what we think is a great product in front of as many people as possible. My hope then is that with it “out there,” we’ll have some opportunities to grow the momentum as people begin to use it.

One of the ways that we’ll do this is through a push via social media—particularly Twitter. We’re encouraging those who participate in the challenge to use a common hashtag to document what they’re doing with the challenge.

Time will tell how it goes, but I wanted to keep ProBlogger readers up to date as to what we’re experimenting with on FeelGooder.

P.S. Want to give some copies away on your blog?

If your niche relates to that of FeelGooder (life tips, health, relationships, fitness, finance, social good, etc.), any tweets, blog posts or linkups to this great little ebook would be greatly appreciated.

We’re also open to doing a handful of giveaways on related blogs—feel free to contact me via the contact form here on ProBlogger if you think your readership might be interested. Do include a link to your blog and any details of your audience (size, demographics, etc.) with your email.

FeelGooder: the Backstory Behind My Newest Blog

Earlier this week I launched a new blog: FeelGooder. This post will give some of the backstory behind it (expect another one next week with more).

feelgooder.png

What? Another blog? Are you crazy?

One of the most common reactions I get when I mention that I’m starting a new blog is something along the lines of, “How are you going to fit that in?”

Two months ago I wrote about the process I’d gone through to hire Georgina Laidlaw to work on content development and strategy for me. One of the reasons I expanded my team in this way was to create for myself some head space to dream and develop new projects.

You’ve already seen some of these rolled out (the Free Getting Started Blogging course (with over 5000 participants already) and the soon-to-be-released ProBlogger Academy).

I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed having a little extra head space over the last month to dream. It’s led to all kinds of ideas, collaborations, and opportunities (as well as a little more life balance). It’s been one of the best things I’ve done in the last few years of blogging.

Another long-term goal that I’ve had is to run a blog on a much wider niche than my previous blogging endeavors. FeelGooder is that blog.

What is FeelGooder?

Let me start by saying that what you see of FeelGooder today is very much a stage one of where I’m hoping it’ll go. I’ve described what we’ve done so far as a “soft launch” but perhaps a better description would be that it’s FeelGooder v0.1 (beta), and that my hope is for it to expand well beyond what you see on it today.

As I describe in the Welcome to FeelGooder post a couple of days ago, the blog’s focus is pretty wide. In some ways it’s niche is Life (how much broader could you get?). It’s a bit of a departure from my previous blogs, which were quite focused (on topics like Blog Tips, Photography, and Twitter).

I’m under no allusions that such a broad niche will be easy, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do—partly because it connects with where I’m at personally, partly because of my own values and passions, and partly … just to see if I can pull it off.

The goal is to produce daily posts that are a mix of information (tips, guides, help), inspiration (stories, uplifting, and hope-filled articles), and interaction that will help people better experience the richness of their lives.

The blog will initially focus upon five topics:

  1. Health: fitness, diet, emotional well being, and more
  2. Relationships: family, friendship, romance, etc.
  3. Work: careers, entrepreneurship, and developing skills for the workplace
  4. Finance: tips and stories to help look after the hip pocket
  5. Social Good: sustainable living, generosity, and making the world a better place.

In time, these topics will expand (and I would like to see some of them splinter off into more targeted topics, too).

What’s the business model?

Another departure for me with FeelGooder is that I’m launching it without any type of advertising. That’s not the model I want to use here (at least, not initially).

Long-term ProBlogger readers will know that my focus of late has moved a little to incorporate monetizing my blogs by developing my own products. I’m not giving the ad game away, but I see growing opportunities in the development of products (so far this has been around ebooks, courses, and membership sites).

FeelGooder is a bit of an experiment for me on this front, and I intend to develop a series of FeelGooder products to monetize the site. I’m not completely closed off to the idea of other forms of monetization (including advertising) down the track, but at least initially I’d like to experiment elsewhere.

Having said that, monetization is not my main focus at this point. My initial focus is more around:

  1. developing quality content
  2. building an audience
  3. building community.

In my experience, monetization comes more easily once you’ve got those other three elements in place. So while I’m certainly thinking about monetization and the possibilities that might emerge there, I’m not currently putting a great deal of energy into that.

What do you want to know?

I hope that sharing some of the backstory behind this project has been of interest to you. Next week I’d like to continue looking at this case study by talking a little about some of the logistical elements of the site, including the design process, some of the thinking behind the editorial strategy, and some of the lessons I’ve learned.

I’d also be happy to answer as many other questions as I can about my strategy and the processes I’m going through with FeelGooder. So if you’ve got anything you’d like me to cover, please leave a comment below and I’ll attempt to get through as many of them as I possibly can.

4 Foundations of a Successful Blog

SXSW-book-reading.pngAt a recent book reading at SXSW I spoke briefly about a new chapter in the new ProBlogger book (due out next month) that is a case study of my main blog (4-5 bigger than ProBlogger) – Digital Photography School.

dPS is now just a few days away from being 4 years old and so with the new edition of the book Chris and I thought it might be a good idea to include a new chapter that examined how I’ve developed the blog so far.

The case study looks at 4 main aspects:

  1. how I launched the blog – the four foundations that I build in years 1-2
  2. how I built upon the foundations – what I focused upon in years 3-4
  3. how I monetize the blog
  4. the way I use email to drive traffic to and monetize the blog

In this post I want to talk briefly about the four foundations that I focused upon in years 1-2 of building my photography site.

I won’t go into great detail about each one here (if you want more the book is your best bet) but as my reading was interrupted by a fire alarm at SXSW I wanted to cover some of it here for those who missed the 2nd half.

Foundation 1 – Content

  • My #1 task in years 1-2 of dPS was building content.
  • The focus was content for beginners (this was expanded later).
  • My aim was for every post to solve a problem that a new camera owner had.
  • The content was all ‘how to’ related – practical stuff that helped readers do or achieve something
  • Quality of content was paramount – but so too was the idea of increasing the ‘quantity’ of content – I started with 3-4 posts a week but aimed to get it daily after 1 year.

Foundation 2 – Promotion

  • ‘Build it and they Will Come’ is an idea with some truth to it – but in the early days of your blog you also need to actively promote your blog – readers won’t just find it.
  • Define your potential reader – who are they? What are their needs?
  • Identify where that type of reader is already gathering online (and offline).
  • Participate in those sites where your potential reader is gathering – guest posts, building a forum presence, leaving useful comments, networking etc.

Foundation 3 – Community

  • People don’t just come online for information – they increasingly are coming online to find ‘belonging’
  • Readers want to participate, interact, join and relate – give them opportunity to do so
  • On dPS starting a forum was one way I did this however community was something I went out of my way to build on the blog itself.
  • Use polls, start discussions, run debates, ask questions, highlight readers work, invite people to promote themselves on your blog, link to your readers
  • When you build community you build an army of evangelists for your blog, create social proof and open many doors for growth and strengthening of your site

Foundation 4 – Capture Contacts

  • Most people who visit your site will never return naturally – even if they like your site
  • On dPS I prominently invite people to subscribe in numerous places
  • RSS is not always King – on dPS email subscription makes up over 75% of all subscribers
  • Email newsletters drive as much traffic as Google does on dPS
  • Email newsletters drive significant earnings (advertising, affiliate promotions and product sales)
  • Email newsletters build community and make the site more sticky and personal

NOTE: Monetization was not one of the Main Tasks/Foundations in Years 1-2

I did monetize the site from day 1 and dPS was profitable from the first month or two – but it was not my main focus. Rather I focused upon the above 4 foundations and let the monetization grow naturally as traffic and reader engagement grew.

In years 1-2 monetization was largely through 2 ad networks – AdSense and Chitika (aff). I did some low level affiliate marketing (Amazon mainly) but over 90% of the income in years 1-2 was from ad networks. Years 3-4 were when I increased my focus upon monetization.

Image by beley.