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12 Blogging Income Streams [And the Story of My 10 Year 'Overnight' Success]

Today I was speaking with a blogger (I’ll call her Alice for the sake of this post) who was feeling a little overwhelmed with the idea of monetizing her blog. She expressed that as she looked at other blogs in her niche, everyone seemed to be doing such amazing things. She said she felt she’d never be able to compete.

Other blogs in Alice’s niche were running online courses, selling out hundred people live events around the country, selling ads to fortune 500 companies, authoring best selling eBook and more. The thought of even beginning to monetize her blog in these ways was completely paralysing Alice!

It is so easy to be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis when you look at what other bloggers are doing. I know this from personal experience!

My advice to Alice was to keep in mind that all those other amazing blogs started in the same place that she was – without any income streams at all.

Often it is easy to forget this and see a successful blog as always being what it is today.

By way of illustration, I shared my own story

When I started blogging, I did it as a hobby. I had no intention of it ever being more than that and there were no examples of people directly monetizing blogs.

Over the coming year and a half, my blog grew in popularity and the hobby became something of a passion and obsession. It also began to cost me money to run for hosting, domain, design etc.

Phase 1

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I began to dabble in monetizing with the hope of simply covering my costs. My first experiments were with Google AdSense and the Amazon Affiliate Program. The results weren’t spectacular but they were encouraging enough for me to keep trying. A few dollars began to trickily in but more importantly – I was learning a lot!

Phase 2

Over the coming months I continued to experiment with AdSense and Amazon. I vastly improved how I was implementing the programs (better ad positioning, writing reviews for affiliate products). I also began to think about how to drive more traffic to my blog. I even started a second blog (and then more followed)!

The results were that my income began to grow. I began to see my blogging as a part-time job and even began to wonder if it could one day be full-time.

Over the coming year I also began to also look at other forms of monetization.

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During this time I started promoting affiliate programs with other online stores. I also did something that terrified me but which became a great income stream, I picked up the phone and began to sign up advertisers directly. This was a period where I had to bite the bullet and start to treat blogging not just as a hobby – but as a business.

Again – these new income streams started small and were experiments. My first ad sale was for $20 for a month long ad. It didn’t bring me overnight riches but securing the ad taught me a lot and contributed to my overall income.

It was around this time I realised that while none of my income streams were enough to sustain me alone, a blog could actually sustain multiple sources of small income that could add up to something significant.

My goal was to go full time as a blogger. To do that I knew I needed to grow multiple streams of income and my blog’s traffic.

Phase 3

It was around this time that other Advertising Networks began to appear. I experimented with quite a few but the one I had most success with was Chitika. At the time, AdSense was my #1 source of income but putting Chitika on my site almost doubled that income overnight and allowed me to go full time as a blogger!

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Of course it wasn’t just that Chitika worked well. I’d also been growing my traffic, building reader engagement/community etc – but the extra income stream helped a lot.

Phase 4

It was around this time that I’d started ProBlogger as a blog along with a whole new range of income streams. I did monetize ProBlogger in the early days, using all of the above income streams but I found that ProBlogger was actually better to monetize indirectly.

By ‘indirect monetization’ I mean that ProBlogger began to grow my own personal profile and authority on the topic of blogging and I began to be approached to provide products and services that I could sell. The blog itself didn’t necessarily make money – but it enabled ME to make money as a result of the blog.

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For example, it was through ProBlogger that I landed my first paid speaking opportunity. I was asked to fly to Washington DC to speak at a conference – (all expenses covered plus a small fee paid).

Around the same time, I was approached to write the ProBlogger Book (the hard cover one that is now in it’s 3rd edition). This only came off the back of the ProBlogger blog.

Similarly, around this time I began to offer my services as a consultant to help people with their blogging strategy (a service I don’t offer any more).

Once again, these income streams started small (in fact writing a Book isn’t generally a big income stream for most authors) but they each contributed to the overall revenue from my blogging, which was now adding up to be a lot more than I’d ever earned from any other job (keeping in mind that I’d been blogging now for 4-5 years).

Phase 5

Most of the above income streams have continued to grow but other opportunities have presented themselves as new technologies emerge. While I’d previously been approached to create a hard copy book, we began to see the emergence of eBooks. While people previously had asked me to speak at their live events we began to see people delivering content via virtual/online courses and conferences.

Blogging Income 6

I began to experiment with creating eBooks and membership areas to my sites. eBooks have gone on to become my main income stream (both with ProBlogger eBooks and Photography eBooks). The main income from eBooks tends to come in fits and starts, when we either launch a new eBook or run a sale/promotion on one but even when we don’t have these events happening they still steadily sell each day in small numbers. Again, contributing to the overall revenue.

I also added the Job board here at ProBlogger.

The job board is an interesting example of what I’m talking about today. It has never been a spectacularly huge income stream but it has actually been a pretty steady source of income over the years. We generally see 1-2 new blogger jobs advertised every day and that $50-$100 per day in income adds up over time. I’ve not got the exact figures but I’d estimate that over the last 5 years it has brought in over $100,000! I’m glad I started it!

By this stage my income was growing to the point where I was able to bring on others into my team. This started with some very part time outsourcing of small jobs but in more recent times has enabled me to hire a number of team members to help run different components of my business.

Phase 6

The final income stream has become a growing focus of my team and I (although I have to say it’s not a massive income stream at this point) has been running events and conferences.

Our annual ProBlogger Training Event here in Australia has grown in number each year and this year we think it’ll probably turn a small profit. Having said that, my intent with these events is not to make a lot of money. Rather, it is about giving something back to the Aussie Blogosphere (it is also great for branding and gives me a lot of personal satisfaction and fun).

We’ve also started to run some smaller more focused workshops (our Email Marketing workshop in Melbourne still has a handful of spots left).

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My suspicion is that events will be something we’ll see expand a little in the coming years.

Final Thoughts

Let me sum up with a few thoughts, disclaimers and words of encouragement:

Keep in mind that all of the above has happened over 10 years. While today there are obviously 12 or so income streams (although I’m sure I’m forgetting something) they all started quite small and as experiments.

There have been moments where it did seem like I had rushes of income, those rushes were usually the result of several years work and investment of time and money.

I also would say that in each case, I started each experiment not really knowing what I was doing (on at least some level) but really seeing the experiments as a chance to learn. For example, my first eBooks were taking previously published blog posts and updating, completing and adding to them to offer readers a more convenient way to access my content.

At the time I had no idea if that would work and the design and delivery of the eBooks was fairly basic. In time I learned what did and didn’t work and was able to grow the sophistication of my delivery systems, design, authoring and marketing to the point that it’s become a fairly well-oiled machine.

The key is to pick something to try and to see whether it connects with your readership and to learn as much as you can while you’re doing it. Often you end up evolving what you do to the point that it is a better fit for you and your blog – but you’ll never get to that point without starting.

Update: I’ve since published a followup to this post that gives a split of the different income streams.

The Ultimate Guide to Making Money with the Amazon Affiliate Program

Today, I was looking back over some of my earliest attempts at making money from blogging. I realised that this month marks 10 years of me using Amazons Associates Program.

My Start with Using Amazons Affiliate Program

I first heard about Amazon’s Affiliate program in April 2003. I had been blogging for 6 months and was beginning to realise that this new hobby of mine was going to cost me a little money (for hosting, design etc).

I was newly married at the time and on a very tight budget. I realised that if I wanted to keep blogging, I needed to find a way for my blogs to pay for themselves. So began my hunt for ways to do just that.

I began to experiment with two methods of making money from my blogs – Google’s AdSense program and Amazon’s Affiliate program.

Of the two, AdSense has certainly earned significantly more money – however, Amazon’s Affiliate program has also been an important income stream.

10 Years and $420,000 later…

I’d love to be able to calculate exactly how much I’ve earned from Amazon in that time but their current reporting system only goes back as far as 2008.

However – after doing some reconstructing of my earnings I’ve put together the following chart of (the years 2003-2007 are based upon earnings numbers mentioned in previous posts here on ProBlogger but are not exact).

Amazon Earnings 2003 2012

This years earnings look to be tracking along at around the same rate as the last two, for the same point in the year.

Overall I estimate my Amazon earnings, since 2003, are around the $420,000 mark (USD) – although, as you can see, the bulk of it has been in the last 5-6 years.

So while it’s nowhere near my #1 income stream Amazon’s Affiliate program has certainly been important to me.

I share these results not because I’m the biggest Amazon Affiliate going around. I have no doubt I’m in the middle of the pack and that there are a lot bigger than me*. I share these results because, over the years, I’ve heard many many bloggers write off the Amazon Affiliate program as not being worth the time.

*I make this assumption based upon the fact that I’ve never ever been contacted by Amazon directly and I know a few other affiliates who have regular contact with Amazon and who’ve been assigned account managers over the years because they do so well from the program.

Why Many People Don’t Use the Amazon Affiliate Program (and Why I DO)

The usual reasons I hear people giving for not being an Amazon affiliate include:

  • The commissions are too small. They start at 4% and for most products can go as high as 8% depending upon how many products you see sold.
  • Because most people on Amazon buy low priced products like books, so 4% of a $10 product doesn’t add up to a worthwhile commission.
  • Because people have to make a purchase from you within 24 hours otherwise your affiliate cookie stops working.

The above reasons are all valid. There are other options that pay higher commissions (although not so many for the type of products Amazon sells), you can promote higher value products and there are programs that have longer cookies… but there are also some things I like about Amazon.

In 2007 I wrote a post titled 9 Reasons Why I AM an Amazon Affiliate and while the post is old, most of the points still are relevant today.

The main reasons I still am an Amazon Affiliate (apart from the obvious fact that it converts for me) are:

  • Amazon is a trusted brand – everyone knows Amazon. If someone were going to buy online, Amazon would have to be one of the safest options.
  • Commissions on higher value products – while 4% on a book isn’t a high commission, if you promote a high value product (like a camera) the commission can be decent.
  • People buy more than one item at a time – when you send someone to Amazon you earn a commission on whatever they buy, whether they end up buying what you sent them to or not. Many people load up their cart with numerous items so commissions can add up.
  • Easy integration – Amazon provides some good tools and widgets to help you integrate the sales channel into your website.
  • Holidays are boom times – Amazon runs some good seasonal sales. Thanksgiving to Christmas can be a particularly profitable time to promote.
  • Amazon has a wide array of products – Amazon is so much more than books these days. There are so many promotional options that most niches would probably find something relevant to their audience.

Obviously I’ll never argue that Amazon’s Affiliate program (or any other income stream for that matter) is perfect for every blog – but I do think it is worth considering.

20 Practical Tips to Make Money with the Amazon Affiliate Program

Over the years, I’ve written numerous Problogger posts on making money with the Amazon’s Affiliate Program.

Below is a compilation of some of these most powerful tips – based upon my experience  of working with Amazon’s program over last 10 years. I’ve updated them to make them as relevant as I can for 2013.

I’d LOVE to hear your tips and experience of using Amazon’s Affiliate Program in comments below, as I’m certain there is a lot more that I could learn!

1. Traffic Traffic Traffic

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Let’s start with the most obvious point – one of the biggest factors in the upward swing in my Amazon Affiliate earnings (in the chart above) has been the corresponding upward swing in traffic.

As with most methods of making money from blogging, the more eyeballs that see your affiliate promotions – the better chance you have of them converting.  Of course, this is a generalisation as not all kinds of traffic converts – but more of that in the next point.

Does that mean it’s not worth experimenting with Amazon’s Affiliate program if you don’t get much traffic?

I think it’s definitely worth using early on. While you won’t earn a heap, you will learn a lot and earning a few dollars (or cents) is better than none.

In the first 3 months of using Amazon I earned a whopping $31.80 (around 30 cents a day). Sure, it wasn’t much but I often wonder what would have happened if I’d let that minuscule amount discourage me and stop my from trying!?

So yes, experiment early but if you’re just starting out your main focus needs to be on creating great content and building traffic to your blog. In the long run, that is what will help you earn more from Amazon (and other income streams).

2. Loyalty and Trust Convert

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Another major factor in the increase in earnings has been the type of readership I’ve gathered on my blogs.

While I do get a fair bit of search engine traffic, I’ve found that in most cases (and there is an exception below) search visitors don’t sign up to the affiliate programs on my blogs. Loyal and repeat readers do.

The main reason for this is that readers who connect with you on a daily basis, over the long haul, begin to trust you (and your blog). When you make a recommendation, or do a review, they’re more likely to take that advice that someone who has give arrived from a search engine link.

3. The Intent of Readers Matters

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Another big factor in the equation of Amazon Affiliate conversions is the intent your readers have when they visit your blog.

Why are they there and where are they in the ‘buying cycle’?

I began to understand this in the early days of Digital Photography School. I looked at the growing traffic to the site but realised that my Amazon affiliate earnings weren’t keeping up with the traffic growth I was experiencing.

I realised that DPS was a blog that largely shared ‘tips on how to use a camera’. As a result, it wasn’t really attracting readers who were in a ‘buying mood’. In fact, I ran a survey and found that many of my readers had recently purchased a camera and were on my site because they wanted to learn how to use it.

So I began to add to the mix of content on the site with more articles relevant to people buying a digital camera. I wrote tips with advice on buying cameras, reviews of digital cameras and equipment etc. This culminated in a whole new section devoted to ‘cameras and gear‘.

Slowly this has attracted a new type of reader to the blog: readers who are researching their next camera purchase, readers who are more likely to click a link to Amazon and who, once there, are more likely to make a purchase.

If you want to attract search traffic that is more likely to convert, consider creating content that attracts people in a ‘buying mood’.

4. Relevancy Matters

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This is another common sense tip that many of us mess up. The more relevant your products are to your audience, the better chance you’ll have of converting.

  • Promoting iPods on a blog that largely talks about spirituality and you’re unlikely to make a lot of sales (believe me, I tried). Try promoting relevant books, CDs and DVDs instead.
  • Rather than promoting perfume on your travel blog try travel books, luggage and other travel products.

Amazon doesn’t work with every topic and sometimes it is hard to find a product that matches your topic. Try different products related to your topic and track which products convert best for your audience.

open-door1.jpg5. Get People in the Door then Let Amazon Do What They’re Good At

One of the great things about Amazon is that it is a site people are familiar with and trust and they’re very good at converting visitors into buyers. Amazon has honed their site to present people with products relevant to them (based upon previous surfing and buying habits) and over many years they have tweaked their site so converts really well.

As a result, I find that if you can people to visit the Amazon site (pretty much for any reason) a percentage of them will naturally end up buying something. The cool thing is that whether they buy the thing you linked to or not – you still earn a commission!

I have found that one size doesn’t fit all. Rather, specific types promotions of particular products work well with Amazon. I have also had some success by getting people in the Amazon door for other reasons. For example I’ve experimented a couple of times on dPS with running a posts that gave readers a hypothetical $1000 to spend on photography gear and asked them to surf around Amazon and choose what they wanted to buy. The result was 350 comments (a fun community building exercise) and quite a few sales and commissions!

While a ‘get people in the door’ strategy might seem to grate a little with my ‘Relevancy’ tip above – the key is to get people in the door in a relevant way.  In my case, I was getting my photography readers to go window-shopping on Amazon, for cameras.

Once they are there, the purchases they make might not be ‘relevant’ to your blog but their motivation to visit should be.

NYT-extended-list-715372.jpg6. Social Proof Marketing 1 – Best Seller Lists

People are more willing to make a purchase if they feel, they’re not alone – that others have and are buying with them. I’m sure there is an insightful psychological reason for this but from where I sit, buying seems to have become a communal activity.

One of the most powerful social proof marketing strategies I’ve used, when promoting Amazon affiliate links, is creating ‘Best Seller’ type lists for readers. These lists show readers what is currently popular, in terms of purchases in our community.

A good example of this technique in action is my Popular Digital Cameras and Gear page on DPS. I update this page every few months and prominently link to it on the blog. Those two actions together, convert readers to buyers really well.

To construct the list, I simply go through the Amazon affiliate reports/stats and find which products are selling the best from within my community. I then categorise those results by product and ‘Waahlaaa’ – we have a best seller list that shows what readers of my site are buying in the last few months.

Bestseller lists convert well because readers know that others in their community are buying these products too. I guess it’s Wisdom of the Crowd mentality but it works!

Another quick example of this was a post, 23 Photography Book Reviews [Ranked], where I ranked the top selling photography books in order of sales. I additionally linked each book to reviews we’d done on the blog.

Note: the key with these ‘best seller’ lists is to drive traffic to them. Two ways to do this is to prominently link to these pages from within your blog plus linking to them from within other posts. This second method means your post doesn’t just convert for a day or two.

Also be sure to promote them through social media channels because these lists of what is hot are often shared well.

Another Note: Another way to create a bestseller list is to look at the ones that Amazon creates. For every category on Amazon, you can rank products based on how they are selling (popularity).

For example – here’s the Camera and Photo best selling page (affiliate link) that ranks the best selling cameras and gear. You can even drill down further to look at best selling DSLRs, Flashes and Lenses.

These lists give you hints as to what products are hot to promote but you could easily pull them together into a list of products to feature on your own site.

7. Social Proof Marketing 2 – Reader Reviews

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I used to review all the photography books featured on DPS. It was mainly because I couldn’t find anyone else to do it and partly because I’m a control freak.

However, one day I had a reader offer to write a book review for me. I knew the reader so I was confident the review would be OK to publish. As with all my reviews, it had an affiliate link to Amazon in it. I was a little skeptical about whether the review would convert. I thought my readers might not respond as well to a stranger’s review of the book. I was wrong.

The review not only converted as well as my normal reviews – it did even better than normal!

This could have been for many reasons but one reason I suspect came into play was the way I introduced the reviewer. I didn’t build them up to be an “expert”. I introduced them as a ‘DPS reader’, a regular reader who wanted to share some thoughts on a book that had helped them.

I suspect the social proof concept came into play a little here. Readers saw another reader recommending something in a genuine way and wanted to get a copy for themselves.

Note: interestingly Amazon themselves uses reader reviews as a fairly major feature of their site. Why? They work!

8. Genuine Recommendations and Reviews

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Apart from my ‘best seller lists’ mentioned above, there are two main ways that I promote Amazon affiliate links.

The first is in ‘Reviews’ for products (the second I’ll cover below in the next point). These links are where I, or one of my writers, will genuinely test a product and give it the once over.

I insist my writers actually read the books, test the cameras and use the software products they are reviewing. I encourage them to be as genuine and unbiased as possible, to point out both the pros and cons of the product. While there’s some temptation to hype up a product and only talk about its positive points, a real review will help your reader relationship over the long haul and I find actually helps promote sales.

Review links work well because it’s usually people who are considering buying a product who really read reviews. It comes back to capturing readers with the buying mood/intent mentioned in point #3.

9. Informational Links

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The other type of Amazon affiliate link I use is when I’m mentioning a product in passing and/or a new product is announced. For example, when Nikon announced the Nikon D300s we immediately posted about the news because it was a notable and anticipated camera announcement. The camera was not yet available in stores and we were not able to get a review sample yet – but it was available for Pre-Order on Amazon so we linked to it.

There was no recommendation or review attached to the link but it was a relevant link for readers who wanted to know more (price, specs, pictures etc). Some readers even pre-ordered the cameras from that link.

Similarly, if we’re writing about Photoshop or another photography post-production software we’ll usually include a link to the software. Again it’s not a review link but rather an informational/contextual type link.

These don’t tend to convert as well in terms of sales but they do get people ‘in the door’ at Amazon that can help with sales from time to time.

10. Contextual Promoting is King

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One of the biggest reasons my initial attempts with Amazon simply didn’t convert was that I thought it’d be enough to slap a button on my sidebar, featuring a product or Amazon.

Amazon gives publishers a lot of these type banners or widgets but despite trying almost all of them, I had little or no success with using them. Instead – 99% of my conversions have come from links to Amazon from within blog posts about the products themselves.

By all means experiment with the widgets and buttons Amazon gives you. If they do convert, then more power to you but every blogger I’ve talked to that has had success with Amazon tells me that contextual links, from within blog posts, work best.

11. Promote Specials, Promotions and Discounts

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Amazon has hardly any products that don’t have a listed discount. Most books are as much as 30% off the recommended retail price and at different times during the year, Amazon runs other special discounts and promotions on different products or product categories.

Keep an eye out for these kinds of promotions because they can be well worth promoting (if relevant to your readership). In fact, last time Amazon had cameras on special, I promoted the sale to my newsletter readers and had readers emailing me to thank me for letting them know about it.

Another related tip is that when you’re writing a product review and Amazon has a listed discount – include a note about the discount. For example, in this recent photography book review I link at the bottom to Amazon and note that it is currently 36% off.

11. Multiple Links Per Post

When I used to write product reviews, I used to include just one affiliate link. For some reason, I thought that a single link would be enough and I didn’t want to run the risk of annoying readers with more links. However, one day it struck me that the reviews I was writing were quite long and by the time people got to the end of them, the link to Amazon was no longer visible.

At this point I started to experiment with a link at the top and tail of the review. I did some heat map tracking to see which links were the most clickable and also used Amazon’s tracking codes to see which one would ‘convert’ to a sale more often.

The results were interesting:

  • Both affiliate links were clicked quite a bit but the link under the article was clicked slightly more than the link at the top (despite being under the fold)
  • The link at the end of the review resulted in more conversions than the link at the top
  • The people who clicked on the top link still purchased (although not as many) but interestingly it wasn’t always the product I reviewed.  It was often related products

I concluded that having read a product review, people felt more informed to make a purchasing decision. As a result, if they did click a link after reading the review they were more likely to buy the product. Those clicking on the top link seemed to be more in a ‘surfing’ mode. They clicked on the link less because they wanted to buy it but more out of interest to learn more. Some bought the product and some bought other products once they were ‘in the door’ at Amazon.

These days I generally (but not always) use two links per review post.

  • The first link is usually on the first time I use the product name
  • The second link usually has a stronger call to action e.g. ‘check it out on Amazon’ or ‘get a price on XXXX’ or ‘buy your own copy of XXXX here’.

Live Example: Let me illustrate it with a quick video (from a few years ago) that also picks up my next point.

12. Link Images to Amazon

While doing some heat map tracking of where people were clicking on my reviews I learned that there was quite a bit of ‘click activity’ on images of the products, even when those images were not linked to anything.

Note: I use CrazyEgg for creating heatmaps – it has the option to track clicks on all areas of your page, even where there’s no link to click.

There’s something about an image that people are drawn to and that makes them click. I began to experiment with linking images to Amazon with my affiliate links, setting up a tracking code to test whether they converted. While they didn’t convert as well as text links, they did convert in some instances and to this day I still use this technique most of the time.

13. Buy Now Buttons

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This is a technique I’ve heard others having real success with but one I need to experiment with more.

It basically involves using a ‘buy now’ button in your post. I suggest placing it below a review as a starting point. I’ve written more about the technique here but the first time I heard this being applied, the blogger actually used the yellow Amazon Buy Now button in his posts. The familiarity of the button seemed to help increase conversions.

Again – it’s not something I’ve done much of but it could be worth a try!

14. Multiple Promotions Per Campaign

I’ve talked about using multiple links in a post but another way to increase conversions on a particularly hot product is to promote it more than once, over time. I only do this on very popular or highly anticipated products but it certainly works well.

The key is to find a number of different ways to talk about the product over a few weeks (or longer). I wouldn’t do all of the following for a single product but here’s a few ways I’ve done it on occasion in the past.

  • If a highly anticipated camera is announced by one of the manufacturers, I immediately publish a post announcing it. Amazon often has advance notice of these announcements and will usually have a page up for it where it can be pre-ordered on the same day it’s announced. I link to it immediately in my announcement post.
  • A few days later I might post a post asking readers what they think about the camera or one of its features. For example, I recently wrote a post asking readers what they think about the idea of a camera with an inbuilt projector after the release of the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj.
  • When the camera hits stores, I might post a short post announcing that it’s available.
  • When we get a review product, we’ll post a review of it with our recommendations.
  • We might, at some point, post some other reader reviews of the product if enough of our readers have it.
  • We might also compile a list of quotes from other sites that have also reviewed the product.
  • We might pull in and embed some videos from YouTube that show the products features.

Again – I would NEVER do all of these things with a single product but if it’s a significant product release and newsworthy over a month or so around its release we might cover it in 2-3 posts.

You know your readership best so tune in to where they’re at and whether you’ve posted too much on the same product. You don’t want to over do it but if it’s a product your readers are discussing and are interested in there’s plenty of ways to bring it up (and promote it on Amazon) more than once.

15. Focus Upon the Holidays

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If you check out this I shared here on ProBlogger back in 2009 you’ll notice that the yearly 4th quarters were usually bigger than those proceeding them. The reason is simple – Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The only December that I saw a downswing was when Google temporarily de-indexed my first site for a few weeks. Every other year there has been healthy rises for the later half of November and all of December (the last few Decembers have been massive).

The upswing in sales around Christmas is partly natural as people are more in a ‘buying mood’ at that time of year. I like to take advantage of this by creating content that is specific to the holiday season.

Content such as buying guides, reader questions getting people talking about what they’re looking to buy or would like to receive for Christmas, lists of popular/recommended products etc.

16. Promote Related Products

One of the challenges I came up against when writing about cameras regularly was that while a certain percentage of my readers were actively shopping for a new camera, many readers already owned one. In fact, writing a ‘photography tips’ blog means you attract more people wanting to learn how to use a camera that they already own, rather than buying a new one.

As a result, I often do more promotions on ‘related products’ than cameras themselves. That means promoting lenses, flashes, memory cards and other photographic accessories as well as photography books (which is strongly related to my core ‘tips’ focus).

One great way to get ideas for related products to promote is to look at the stats/reports that Amazon gives you to see which products readers are buying. After a while you’ll start to notice that they’re not only buying the products you directly promote but other products as well. Some will be completely irrelevant to your niche – but many times trends will emerge that could signal other products that it might be worth promoting.

Let’s look at an example of this. Following is a screen capture of a small part of the orders on my Amazon account a while back. I have arranged them in order of how many were sold.

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What you can see in this screen grab is that the #1 electronic item sold in the period was a Canon 50mm lens. You can see that in the ‘product Link Clicks column’ that people came to Amazon directly through a link from my site to this item – it’s something I promoted on DPS.

However look at the next most popular item (the Tiffen 52mm UV filter). You can see in the ‘Product Link Clicks’ column that there is a ‘0’ figure. I never promoted this product directly on DPS – yet 44 people bought it.

The next two items were things I promoted but the next 8 were things that people bought in number by themselves without me promoting them at all. To me, knowing which items people buy without my prompting is GOLD!

It’s possible that Amazon is promoting them heavily or that one person is buying a lot of the one product, or they just could be great products that almost sell themselves for one reason or another.

Whatever the reason, I’ll look into them further and see if they could be products I should be promoting somehow.

You can bet there will be a post on dPS soon that highlights some of these ‘hot/best selling accessories’ among our readers!

17. Promote Pre-Orders

I’ve already mentioned this one above but one of the things that I do is promote the ability to Pre-Order products on Amazon.

It doesn’t happen for every product but I find that Amazon will sometimes create pages for new products before they’re even available for purchase.

pre-order.png

When I post an article announcing a new camera I always check Amazon first to see if they’ve already created a page for that product. If they have, I make sure to mention that the product is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.

For example a couple of years ago when Canon Released the Canon EOS 50D DSLR I used this technique. This post generated 10 sales of the camera before it was even available in stores. While two of them cancelled their orders later 8 sales of a $1000+ product certainly add up!

18. Track Your Campaigns

Until a bit over a year ago, I just promoted every single Amazon affiliate link with the one tracking code. I was lazy and while I saw which products were selling, I never really knew what links on my blog were converting and what ones were not.

Eventually I decided that I needed to know more about what was working for me so I started tracking campaigns. Amazon allows you to create 100 tracking ids (once logged into Amazon Associates you manage them at this link).

I didn’t realize there was a limit until a few years back when I hit the maximum. I wish Amazon would increase it! To be honest, I find their tracking system pretty messy and think it needs an overhaul however, it is great for testing what works and what doesn’t. Most of what I’ve written about in other tips in these articles was learned through tracking.

Because there’s a 100 tracking code limit, I suggest creating a few general tracking codes, one for each blog and perhaps one for each category on your blog. Then use other codes for major promotions that you’re doing. This way not every Amazon link will be tracked but important ones will.

Note: I’m told that Amazon do give more tracking codes if you email them but it’s a bit of a drawn out process. If you need more it’s worth a try (I know I’ll be trying).

19. Small Ticket Items Add Up

One of the most common criticisms I hear about the Amazon’s Affiliate program is that there are just too many small commissions. Getting a commission of a small percentage on a $15 book just doesn’t cut it for many people.  Some people use this to justify not using Amazon at all while others just promote big-ticket items.

While I agree that these small commissions are not much on their own – they do add up.

Yesterday I earned $506.03 from Amazon. It was actually a pretty good day, higher than average. One might think the higher than normal figure came from selling some big ticket items but that wasn’t the case. The highest commission for the day was a $21.34 commission. The vast majority of the sales were books sold from my list of photography books, which we promoted on social media recently.

The other beauty of getting lots of smaller ticket sales is that they go towards increasing the commission tier you’re on. The more items you sell (not the more $’s you refer – but item numbers) the higher % commission you make from Amazon.

amazon-tiers.png

In the screen capture above you can see that when you go past 6 items referred, you move from a 4% commission to a 6% commission. If you keep referring more, the commission increases. The only category of product not included in this is consumer electronics (frustrating for a camera guy!).

This means that if you refer enough small ticket items you can double your commissions.

Note: Amazon lets you choose two types of payment structures – ‘Classic’ and ‘Performance’. The classic one has a 4% flat commission – while the ‘performance’ one has the tiers. I’m not sure why anyone would select ‘classic’ so make sure you choose ‘Performance’!

20. Big Ticket Items are the Cream on Top

While I strongly advise promoting small ticket items to help boost your sale numbers and commission figures, it’s also worth targeting some bigger ticket promotions too.

In my experience, they don’t convert anywhere near as well as cheaper items but when they do, they can give your revenue a real boost. As someone promoting cameras that can sell for several thousand dollars, I’ve had single commissions in the hundreds of dollars range (even when the commission is limited to 4% on consumer electronics).

For example, last month I saw the sale of the Nikon D800 36.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) (yes that IS an affiliate link). It sells for over $2700 and generated me a $111 commission.

Here are a few more smaller but still significant ones from the last week:

amazon-affiliate-earnings

While these bigger ticket items are certainly not selling in as great a number as books – they contribute a significant amount to the total earnings of the month.

10 More Tips on Using the Amazon Affiliate Program

To finish off this ultimate guide I want to share 10 more general, overarching tips and principles I’ve found helpful when making money with Amazon’s Affiliate program.

1. Time is a Major Factor

As I mentioned at the start of this guide, the $420,000+ that I’ve earned from Amazon has come over 10 years.

While the last 5 years seen me earn over $50,000 per year from Amazon, it took 5 years of building to get it to that level – with the first 3 years really not earning much at all.

That was partly due to increasing traffic. It was partly due to my regular inclusion of affiliate links in my posts. I don’t promote Amazon in every post but in an average week I’d say I link to Amazon in at least 4-5 posts. That adds up to 200-250 posts per year and around over 2000 posts in the last 10 years.

These posts act as a doorway to the Amazon site. As the number of posts has increased, my blogs have begun to rank higher in Google and my loyal reader numbers have grown, the number of people going through these ‘doorways’ has increase– hence the escalation in earnings.

2. Start Early

I recommend that bloggers start to use Amazon’s Affiliate Program early. In doing so, you’ll be populating your blog with links into the store that may not convert brilliantly early on but which can potentially convert for years to come as your blog grows in popularity.

The other good thing about starting early is that you’ll learn a lot about affiliate marketing. Most of the lessons and tips that I’ve shared in this series of posts have come directly from my own experimenting with Amazon’s Affiliate program.

I knew so little in the early days and I made a lot of mistakes but each time I messed up I learned another lesson that has helped me to grow my Amazon earnings into a more significant part of my own business.

3. Experiment with Widgets and aStore

I’ve already mentioned that I largely rely upon contextual links to promote Amazon products. I find these offer the best conversion however, I do know of a few bloggers who’ve successfully incorporated a variety of the widgets that Amazon gives their affiliates to use.

amazon-widgets.png

Similarly – I know some readers who do pretty well with aStore, which is a tool whereby you create your own little online store using Amazon’s technology.

I’ve tried to use this a couple of times and have had a little success with my photography and ProBlogger bookstores but know I need to do more with it to take it to the next level.

I guess it comes down to experimenting with the tools and seeing what works best with your audience. If you’ve used some of these widgets I’d love to see examples of where you’ve had them work for you – please share links in comments below so we can all learn!

4. Transparency with Readers

There is always debate about the topic of transparency when affiliate marketing comes up. Should you disclose that your links are affiliate links or should you not?

 

The answer to this will partly depend upon your location. If you’re in the US, the FCC requires a disclosure – but in other parts of the world you are not required to do so.

Each blogger will ultimately have their own stance on this and it’s important to work out what sits well with your own ethics, the flow of your site and the law.

Being in Australia, I’m not required to do anything by the law (although I hear talk that there may be changes around this). I don’t disclose every single Amazon link on my photography blog in a direct way but do I have a disclaimer/disclosure page on the blog. When I’m doing a ‘best seller list’ always include a disclaimer on those posts as the whole page is filled with affiliate links. I have also written numerous times on DPS about how the links to Amazon earn us money and help the site to keep growing and be free.

I was nervous the first time I mentioned this to readers and expected a backlash however, what I found was that most readers not only accepted it, they encouraged us.

In fact, a few of our readers tell me that if they’re going to make some kind of purchase at Amazon that they always come to DPS to click on one of our links to do so! Transparency isn’t as scary as you might think (although this might depend upon your audience a little).

Here on ProBlogger I disclose Amazon affiliate links. That’s mainly because there are fewer of them and because my readers here are more savvy with the idea of affiliate programs (I don’t have to explain what an affiliate link is every time I mention one).

5. Don’t Hype – Put Your Readers First

When you engage in any affiliate marketing, always keep your readers’ best interests at heart.

I’ve been critiqued for taking this view over the years by groups of bloggers who seem to put the priority on ‘making money at all costs’. While you certainly can make money without a focus on quality content or building community and by hyping up the things that you promote – my approach has always been to put the reader first.

I do this because I want to build a solid reputation and a loyal readership of people who trust me. I’d rather make less money and still have a reader than make lots of money and never see the reader again. For me, this comes not only from my ethics but my belief that in the long term building a good profile and reputation leads to other opportunities for profit.

The problem with hype is that you set readers up with expectations that are beyond what the product you’re recommending can deliver. This might lead to a sale but it also leads to disappointment and anger – the loss of readers – damaged reputation etc.

6. Pick High Quality Products

This follows on from the last point but is worth stating on its own. The success (or failure) of your Amazon Affiliate Program hinges upon the products you choose.

When you promote quality, it is much easier to be both genuine in your reviews and recommendations which leads to conversions and commissions.

Wherever you can, test the products you recommend to ensure their quality (or find someone who can do it for you).

7. Be Bold

One of the recurring themes I hear from readers is that they worry about using Amazon links too much, asking “Won’t readers push back?”

I have always shared this concern but as you’ve probably picked up by now, the reader push back has been almost non-existent.

Perhaps this is because I carefully choose the products I promote or because I often promote these links in posts based upon reader feedback. I can think of less than 10 occasions when I’ve had people on my photography site question the links. In fact, as I said above, I’ve had more people give positive feedback about them than anything.

I guess there would come a point where too much promotion would get a negative reaction so you want to be a little subtle about your promotion but in general, I think readers can handle more than we might think they can.

Note: I think the line where readers will push back probably will vary from blog to blog depending upon their readership. For example here on ProBlogger I get a little more negative feedback from readers on affiliate promotions. I suspect ProBlogger readers are a little more tuned into the issue and suspicious of some of the affiliate marketing that goes on around the web.

8. Localized Audiences? Try Local Amazons

Another comment that sometimes comes is that Amazon.com doesn’t work brilliantly for blogs and sites with traffic from countries outside the USA.

A couple of reflections on this:

Firstly – it’s not completely true. I previously had a blog with almost completely Australian traffic and it converted reasonably well with Amazon. Amazon does ship some products to Australia and other countries (books, CDs etc) so if you’re promoting those products it can work.

Of course I always missed out on the bigger ticket electronic items that didn’t ship outside the USA. This was part of the reason I moved my efforts to starting Digital Photography School, which has a more global audience.

Secondly – if your traffic is localized to a country with its own Amazon store, join the affiliate program for that store and promote it. I know one of the UK photography sites does very well from promoting the UK version of Amazon. I also know one blog that adds two links to every post he does – one with the US and one with the UK store.

I’ve also heard that some people use geo-targeting tools to look at where a reader is from and serving them a localized link for them.

9. Topics Convert Differently

One forum I came across was discussing my previous articles and a number of people reported that Amazon didn’t work on their sites (doubting whether I was telling the truth about my earnings). When I delved a little deeper, and looked at their sites, the reason for their lack of success with Amazon became apparent – their topics.

Some topics will naturally fit with Amazon better than others. In the end, it comes down to the fact that Amazon is a product related affiliate program so it only works when people buy stuff. If your blog is on a topic that doesn’t have any natural connection to people buying stuff it is going to be an uphill battle.

In my experience, it’s product-related blogs that tend to do best with Amazon. Most blogs probably have at least some possibilities (for example here on ProBlogger I occasionally link to a book that relates or a computer or electronic tool that I think might be useful to bloggers) but the reality is that this blog will never convert as well on Amazon as my photography site.

10. Keep an Eye on Amazon

My last tip is to keep an eye on what Amazon is doing. I mean this in two ways:

1. Learn from Them – be a regular user of Amazon. You don’t have to be an active buyer but surf the site regularly and pay particular attention to the way that THEY are promoting products on their site.

Amazon has spent years perfecting the art of online selling and you’ll learn a lot about online marketing by observing how they do it. They constantly test different ways of promoting products and have evolved their site quite a lot over the years. See what widgets they use to promote related products, watch how they use reader reviews, and see the way that they describe products.

You’ll also be in a better position to pre-sell the products you recommend if you look at the page you’re sending people to before you do it.

2. Watch for Opportunities – earlier in this guide I mentioned that you could tap into a number of promotions Amazon on their site. Some of these are promote directly to their affiliates. For example, they send out emails to affiliates semi-regularly, promoting their latest promotions. They also have a blog where they do likewise.

If you read the blog and get the emails you’ll see promotions where they are offering discounts to readers but also where they’re giving bonus commissions for some items or categories of products. Not all of them will relate to your niche but over time some will.

However, there are other opportunities they don’t promote to us as affiliates but which you can still tap into. For example, today I was surfing on Amazon and came across their Camera Deals page.

The page is a sales page promoting any deals that they’re running on digital cameras. On the page are some pretty decent deals that are worth promoting on my photography blog.

This is just one of many promotions that Amazon is always running on their site. Keep an eye out on the site for what they’re doing that relates to your niche and you’ll find some good stuff to promote.

The more you keep an eye on how Amazon are promoting products to their readers the better informed you’ll be about how YOU can do the same thing.

Share Your Amazon Affiliate Program Tips

This brings to an end my ultimate guide to making money with the Amazon Affilate Program. I’ve shared everything that I’ve tried  but what about you? Got any tips to add?

7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog

This week on ProBlogger we’ve been looking at the topic of building community on a blog. We started by identifying 9 benefits and 3 costs of community on a blog and then looked at 5 stages of building community on a blog. Today I want to dig deeper into some specific things to DO to build community on your blog.

Across a Crowd

1. Write in a Conversational Voice

This tip fits into the ‘it’s not rocket science’ category of blogging tips (as do many blog tips) – however as simple as it sounds I regularly see bloggers falling into the trap of talking ‘AT’ readers rather than blogging in a conversational voice.

The art of good conversation is as much as being ‘interested’ as it is about being ‘interesting’. Good conversationalists ask questions, pause to allow others to speak and listen to others when they are speaking.

ships, night, passing and all that...

Good bloggers similarly often write in a more conversational way and in doing so invite readers to respond.

Every bloggers needs to find their own style and voice but I’ve found a number of things have been helpful in writing more ‘conversationally’:

I write like I speak

y best blog posts often start out as me writing an email to a reader answering a question. Alternatively I will often imagine I’m talking to someone as I’m writing – which leads to a post written in a more personal way.

I tell stories

I don’t do this in every post but I find that when I weave some kind of personal angle into a post that it seems to draw readers into recounting their own stories. The story need not be long or highly personal story – it could simply be sharing how you did something in your business (you’ll see me do this below when I talk about how on dPS we added a Flickr Group to dPS as an intermediate step on the way to starting a forum).

I use personal language

When you talk to another person it is common to use words like ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’. Conversely when you write in a theoretical language these words often disappear. Check out the top 20 posts on ProBlogger in 2012 and notice that over 50% of the most read posts this year had personal words in their titles.

Share Opinions

One of the most powerful ways to get some kind of a reaction from readers is to share you opinion. Doing so will automatically trigger your readers to think about their own opinions and whether they agree with you – and more often than not you’ll find at least a few of them will let you know if they do! Tread a little carefully here – opinion pieces can cause debate and depending on the tone of your writing and the topic can lead to heated conversation!

2. Invite Interaction

Part of writing in a conversational tone is to invite others to participate in the conversation. While some of your readers will comment without any kind of interaction you’ll be surprised how many more will interact with you with a simple call to do so!

Individual Protection

Inviting your readers to interact with you can include numerous things such as:

  • asking readers to comment (and not just at the end of posts… you can signal right at the beginning that you’re interested in other people’s thoughts on a topic (as I did several paragraphs above).
  • asking specific questions – I find the more specific your questions are the better better responses you get (i.e. instead of ending a post with a general ‘what do you think?’ guide your readers with a more specific question about your topic or give them some alternatives or examples to help them make that first comment.
  • write posts that are purely questions – one of the best ways to get responses is simply to write a post that is little more than the question itself. These ‘discussion’ posts can be gold (for example recently to wrap up a week of content on the topic of Pinterest we finished the series with a discussion post on the topic.
  • Setting a Challenge – on dPS we do a weekly themed challenge for readers to go away and take a photo on a theme and then to come back and share what they did (here’s an example of one we did on the theme of ‘Nature’). This not only gets a good number of comments – it gets readers DOING something quite involved which is a sign of real reader engagement. Another recent example would be our recent Group Writing Project here on ProBlogger.
  • Polls – perhaps the simplest method of getting a first time reader out of passivity and doing a little something is to run a poll on your blog. Having them simply choose from a couple of multiple choice options and clicking ‘vote’ may not seem like much but it signals to your readers that you’re interested in their opinion or experience and takes them a tiny step down the road to engagement and community. The other thing you can do with polls is once they’ve voted ask them to tell you why they voted as they did. For example on dPS we asked readers if they’d ever taken a photography class and then at the end of the post invited them to tell us what class it was and how they found it. 161 people added a comment. While this was a small % of those who’ve voted in the poll it was a higher number of comments than an average post on the site.
  • Tell Readers about the Community - while we’re talking about polls, the other thing I’ve found useful is to not only run a poll but to post the final results of a poll too. For example in this post we shared how many of our dPS readers are looking to buy a new camera. In doing this readers see where they fit in to the diverse membership of your community and you remind them that they participated. The other good thing about showing results is that you signal to your whole readership that others are engaging with you. In that example above we mentioned that 28,000 people responded to the poll – great social proof!
  • Invite Interactions OFF your blog – community does not just need to happen ON your blog for it to be worthwhile. In fact some of the best community discussions I’ve seen among my readers have happened on our dPS Facebook page or on my personal Google+ page. People are trained by these social networks to interact – so it can be a great place to begin conversations and relationships that may lead to ongoing community.

Regular invitations to your readership to interact will gradually draw more and more of your readers out of passivity and into an interaction with you. Even a small first step towards community could lead to a passive reader becoming super engaged which as we’ve seen previously can have many positive benefits.

Further Reading:

3. Consider a Dedicated Community Area

Blogs have community built into them to some degree by allowing comments to be made on any post. Many blogging tools now not only allow comments but allow threaded comments which enhance the experience and allow mini-conversations to happen in an easy to follow way.

However if there may come a time on your blog where you want to give readers the ability to not only respond to what you or your writers have to say – but also to start threads of new conversation.

To do this you’ll want to consider some kind of dedicated community area.

There are a number of ways to do this. On dPS I first did this by starting a ‘Flickr Group‘ where I invited readers to share photos and start conversations. dPS being a photography site and Flickr being full of photographers this not only gave our readers a place to interact but also helped us to find new readers.

For dPS the Flickr group also gave our readers a taste of community and whet their appetite for it to the point that they began to ask if I would consider starting an actual forum area – something I did (see the dPS Photography Forum here) after I saw that there was enough demand to kick it off with enough active members.

Blog to foum

A forum comes with its own advantages and challenges.

In short forums benefits are:

  • Increasing Reader Engagement
  • Builds User Generated Content
  • Increases Page Views per Visit
  • Appeals to different types of readers

However the challenges of forums include:

  • The challenge of moderation (they can take a lot of work and are often targets of spammers)
  • The challenge of having enough critical mass to make the forum active enough to be attractive
  • The technical challenges – as with most self hosted blogging platforms forum platforms need maintenance and upgrades and can be a challenge to manage.

Further Reading on Forums: check out 10 Mistakes that Will KILL a Forum (or blog) and 6 Tips on Adding a Forum to your Blog.

Other options for community areas on a blog include setting up off site community areas such as:

Of course with all of these options you’re really at the mercy of other companies who have control over the hosting and upkeep of your community. You also lose some control over features etc.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve had experience with other types of community areas on your blog (or other people’s) I’d love to hear about them in comments below.

4. Use Interactive and Accessible Mediums

While we’re talking about using different types of social media lets touch on a range of other tools that you can use to help build community on and around your blog.

A number of years ago I experimented over with using Ustream to connect with my readers. I set up a ProBlogger channel and on a fairly regular but impulsive basis used to jump onto it to do Q&A sessions with readers.

It has been a year since I ran a Ustream chat but the times I did it I got a lot of positive feedback from readers as it allowed them to not only interact with me by asking questions but allowed them to see and hear my responses live.

Today there are a number of other such options available to you – perhaps the most popular of which is what Google+ offers with their hangouts.

I’ve not run a hangout myself yet (there are only so many hours in the day) but have attended many as a viewer and think that they’d be a great way to give readers a more engaging experience of you – particularly now that they can be live streamed and synced with your Youtube channel.

One of the best people I’ve seen doing hangouts is Trey Ratcliff who is brilliant at it!

The other option on this front is to experiment with running webinars – something I’ve done more and more over the last year.

Webinars

I use GoToWebinar (to which I am an affiliate) to run ProBlogger webinars and while mine have only been me talking to slides or me interviewing guests (audio only) I’ve had more positive feedback about our webinars than I have about most other things I’ve done in the past couple of years here on ProBlogger.

GotoWebinar have also just introduced Video conferencing also for 100-attendee webinars (soon to be adding it for larger plans too) so that those attending can see you live.

5. Run Projects and Challenges

I’m often asked what the ‘tipping point’ for ProBlogger was – the moment that the blog really took off. There were a number of these but one was the first time I ran the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (31DBBB) challenge.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog is today our best selling eBook but it didn’t start out that way. It actually began as a series of blog posts that I put together over a month in 2005.

The idea started as a joke with a fried but was one that wouldn’t go away and so on the spur of the moment in the early hours of a night when I couldn’t sleep I posted that we were going to run this challenge where I’d give readers a little teaching/theory on an aspect of blogging every day for 31 days and would also give them a challenge to complete that related to the challenge.

I didn’t really expect it to take off too much but the next morning I awoke to a lot of comments on that post and people emailing to say that they were excited. The following 31 days not only saw increased traffic on the blog but readers engaging in a deeper way than they had before.

I ran 31DBBB over the next two years again and each time we saw readers becoming more and more engaged with the site.

What I realised through these projects is that giving people a common task to work on over a period of time gives them a shared experience that draws them closer together.

Since 2005 there have been many such projects run around the blogosphere. In fact inspired by 31DBBB Nester from Nesting place runs an annual ’31 Days of Change’ project on her blog in which bloggers are invited to run a ’31 Days’ series on their blogs.

Last year Nester saw over 1200 bloggers run 31 Days Challenges over the month of October (just a few pictured below)! That project is growing every year and I suspect it is because bloggers who join are discovering the power of running such a project on their blog.

There are many other challenges you can run. Check out FatMumSlim’s Photo a Day Instagram challenge for example which is participated in by many thousands of people. Similarly Fox in Flats runs a Style Dare a Day challenge that is always popular.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve run a challenge like this – please tell us about it in the comments below so we can learn about it!

6. Real Life Events

One of the most powerful ways of building community with your readers is to actually meet them – face to face.

I know this is full of all kinds of logistical challenges but IF you can meet your readers – take the opportunity because face to face interactions and a real life shared experience certainly seems to speed up the building of community.

I first experimented with this in the early days of my first blog when I didn’t have a heap of readers but when I posted that I would be in London on a holiday and asked readers if they wanted to meet up for a drink. I had 3 people show up for a beer – not a large crowd but the first time I’d met readers face to face.

Now almost any time I’m in a new city I’ll try to tweet/post out a time and place to have a meet up. Sometimes we get a good turnout and other times it is small – but every time it gives me an amazing opportunity to meet readers and build relationships with them (and for them to meet one another).

The other way I put myself out there to meet readers was to attend events that I thought my readers might be attending. In the early days for me this was about buying a ticket for popular events just like everyone else but in time it meant accepting speaking invitations when they came for the events I knew my readers were attending.

Over the last 4 years I’ve of course had opportunity to not only attend other people’s events but to run my own ProBlogger Training Events here in Australia. This started relatively small with a hastily arranged 100 person event but each year it has grown – to the point that our September Gold Coast event sold 200 Early bird tickets in a couple of hours.

The added bonus of our real life event is that a virtual event runs alongside it both in the selling of virtual tickets but also through the hashtag for the event. While not all ProBlogger readers are able to get to Australia in person the event hashtag last year saw a lot of readers engaging with one another and the ProBlogger brand and created a real buzz.

What I notice after running an event or meeting people face to face is that in the days and weeks after we meet in person I’m much more likely to see that person engaging with me on social media and on the blog. It’s one of the fastest ways to build deeper engagement.

The perfect example of someone who has run hundreds of real life events around the world is Chris Guillebeau who when launching his books has done meetups in every state in the US and for his recent book every continent around the globe. I was fortunate to go with him to one of these events in Melbourne and was amazed at the enthusiasm his readers turned out to the event with – it’s no wonder Chris has had such a massive impact upon so many.

7. Put Your Readers in the Spotlight

Newsign

Way back in 2006 I wrote a very short post encouraging bloggers to ‘Make Your Readers Famous‘.

At the time it was a bit of a throw away idea and not something I’d pondered too much but in the last 7 years it has been something that I’ve seen the power of many times.

The idea is simple – put your readers in the limelight on your blog. Most blogs keep the blogger on the stage with the microphone and the readers inn the audience – but what would happen if you allowed your readers onto the stage?

The answer to that question is that readers will take real ownership over your blog and become a lot more loyal to it if you allow them opportunity to share the limelight.

Most bloggers use their blogs to build their own profile – but when you use your blog to help your readers to build their profile and achieve their own goals something special can happen.

Here are a few ways that you can make your reader famous that I’ve previous published (updated for 2013):

  • Promote a comment to a Post – sometimes readers make incredibly insightful and wise observations and tips in the comments of your blog. While they will be read by a handful of people in the comment thread – why not pull it out and use it as the basis for one of your post – highlighting the wisdom in it and the person who made the comment.
  • Write a Post about a Reader’s Blog – visit the blogs of those leaving comments on your blog and pick one that you resonate and that is relevant to your readers. Write a link post linking to that blog highlighting the best posts and what you like about it.
  • Send Your Readers to Comment on Someone Else’s Blog – write a post that links to someone else’s great blog post and instead of asking your readers what they think about it on your own blog ask them to head over and comment on it on the other person’s blog. Shutting down the comments in your own post and saying that you’ve left a comment on their blog already can help make this more effective.
  • Give Readers an Opportunity to Promote Themselves – run a project or write a post that gives readers an opportunity to promote themselves in some way. For example on dPS I wrote a post asking readers – do you have a photoblog?‘ As I wrote the post I thought I’d add a line inviting readers to share a link to their photoblogs. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I woke up to 250 comments on the post and a whole heap of emails thanking me for giving readers the opportunity to highlight their work.
  • Run a Reader Poll and Highlight Answers in a followup post – have a post one weekend where you pose a question to your readers. Then in the week that follows do a followup post where you add some of your own thoughts on the question and pull out some of the best comments left by readers. Alternatively you could survey your twitter followers on a topic relevant to your blog and then highlight their responses as a blog post (example of this).
  • Invite Guest Posts – often ‘guest posting’ is talked about solely as a way to get free content for your blog. While this is nice – one of the things I love about it most is that it puts the microphone in the hand of someone else and lets someone who would normally be constrained by the comments section have a little more power and influence on the direction of your community for a moment in time. This can have a real impact upon the person doing the post – but also upon your readership as they see someone like themselves featured on your blog.
  • Invite your Readers to Promote their Social Networks – a fun project I ran here on ProBlogger a number of years ago was to have a ‘social media love in‘ where I invited readers to share their social media accounts with us here on the blog. Readers left comments sharing their Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, StumbleUpon (and more) accounts and we compiled all the submissions (over 700) into lists so readers could all follow one another. It was a massive amount of work but helped our readers grow their profiles.

There are many more ways to put your readers into the spotlight and help them out with their own online projects and goals. Please let us know below how you’ve done this type of thing on your own blog!

Heavyweight Help: The Complete Guide to Getting Started on Pinterest

Do you lie in bed at night dreaming of getting a link from some high-profile blog like ProBlogger that would send you thousands of visitors and give your blog the exposure you need to take it to the next level?

I’d rather have Pinterest.

Pins

Image by hydropeek, licensed under Creative Commons

Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to have Darren share a link with his audience to one of my photography marketing posts. However, the reality is that you’ll get far more traffic, exposure, and income from Pinterest, regardless of your niche.

I believe that blogs in any niche, not just DIY crafty blogs, are missing out on huge amounts of traffic and exposure if they are ignoring Pinterest. If you want to see your blog grow in leaps and bounds in 2013, you’ve got to pay attention to Pinterest.

Pinterest has been a huge part of the reason that my 22-month old blog that shares business and marketing tips for photographers has grown large enough and profitable enough to have replaced our entire household income.

One post alone, which was intentionally optimized for Pinterest, has been shared over 11,500 times and made over five figures of income in the last 6 months alone. I’ll tell you more about it and why it was so successful in a moment, so keep reading.

Because I want to make sure that you fully understand the power of Pinterest, I’m going to start with the very basics before digging into the good stuff that will get you the blog success you’re looking for.

Honestly, if you’re short on time and don’t want to join another social network, you don’t have to have a profile and can simply read about how to make your blog more likely to be pinned. However, at least read through the basics and info about using Pinterest accounts so that you have a better understanding of what’s going on and how to apply that to your blog.

Here’s what I’m going to cover:

  • What is Pinterest?
  • Why care about Pinterest?
  • Basics of using Pinterest
  • Strategies for using your Pinterest account
  • Get your pins maximum exposure
  • Get more traffic to your blog using Pinterest
  • Pinterest tools for bloggers

So let’s dive right in.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a visual bookmarking site with a strong sharing structure.

Anatomy of a Pin

People “pin” photos or videos with links back to their original sources onto “boards” and a “description” that shows under neat the photo or video. These pins are then shown on the main Pinterest page, from newest to oldest, to all of the followers of that person.

Pinterest's Hover options

If someone sees a pin that they think is interesting, they can hover over the image and choose to “repin” it directly to one of their boards, or they can “like” it or “comment” on it.

Embedded video on Pinterest

When videos are pinned, they can be viewed from right within Pinterest. It’s a great way to grow your YouTube presence and get more viewers.

Who uses Pinterest and what do they use it for?

Pinterest users are mostly women, who trust it more than Facebook or Twitter, although there are a growing number of men on the site.

Pinterest is a place where people dwell on the life they’ve always longed for and where they collect inspiring or useful morsels of information that make their life better. They plan their weddings, imagine their dream homes, long for their ideal wardrobe and collect snippets of inspiration that encourage them to be a better person. A person’s Pinterest boards are a collection of what they they wish they were, so it can be a very powerful place to market your business.

Why care about Pinterest?

Traffic

Pinterest can bring a lot of traffic to your blog, which you can then convert into subscribers and buyers. It drives more traffic than Google+, Linkedin, and YouTube combined, more traffic than Twitter, and Pinterest drives more sales than Facebook.

The thing that seems to set Pinterest apart from Facebook or Twitter is that there’s less conversation going on to get in the way of sharing links. Yes, you can leave comments and tag people on pins, but the focus is much greater on sharing, making this the perfect platform for your posts to go viral.

Grow your business

Pinterest is a great place to strengthen your brand, and can be used for an “about me” board or if you have several staff or bloggers, you can pin a photo of each person with a description and a link to learn more about them on an About us page on your blog. Create boards that would appeal to your ideal readers and they’ll feel a stronger affinity towards your blog.

It’s easy to promote your products, do market research, and provide resources to your current community. It’s even a great place to find ideas of things to blog about, particularly if you’re in the craft, DIY, food, or fashion niches (although any niche could find ideas on Pinterest).

Basics of using Pinterest

Now that you’ve heard about all the benefits of Pinterest, let’s dive into the mechanics of how to use it.

Getting started

Business profile or personal profile?

Pinterest allows you to create either a personal account or a business account. While they work the same way, you’ll have to decide which one fits your situation best.

Pinterest Boards and Profile

Number 1 imageYou’ll start by setting up your profile. Add an image and description of yourself or your blog and link to your various sites. You can put a URL in the description, but it will display as text and not as an actual link unless you verify your website through Pinterest.

You’ll also be selecting a username that will be part of your Pinterest URL, so you may choose to use specific keywords here for better SEO if you’re setting it up for your business instead of as your name.

Number 2 imageRight under your visible profile, you’ll see a menu with your stats and where you can choose to view your boards, pins, or likes or view the information behind the stats. By clicking on “Followers” you can see the people who are following you and decide if you’d like to follow them back or not. You can also edit your profile or change the order of your boards using the middle button.

Number 3 imageThis displays your various boards. This is the default view that people see when they visit your profile, so it’s important that you put the boards you most want them to see first. As most of my readers are photographers, I put some of the boards I’ve created as resources for them first and foremost. You can also hover over the board cover and edit it to be a different pin as the large image, otherwise it defaults to the most recently pinned image for that board. You can also reposition the image if you so desire.

There’s also the option to create collaborative boards, where you can invite other people to pin on that board as well. You’ll see this option when you’re setting up individual boards.

In addition, you can create three private boards that you share with people. These boards will not show up for other people when they view your profile, and the pins will not show up in your feed. You can share this with other people who will be able to add to the board. You can change a private board to a public board, but once a board has become public it can no longer be made private. Public boards cannot be made private.

Number 4 imageThis menu is where you can manually add pins and learn more about Pinterest and the tools they offer. If you select the menu with your name, you have links to your boards, pins, and likes and you also can find and invite friends to join Pinterest. There’s also a link to goodies here that lets you install a Pin it button on your browser’s bookmark bar that lets you pin any image and YouTube videos that you see online while browsing.

The Pinterest homepage

By clicking on the Pinterest logo, you’ll be taken to the main page, which is much like the newsfeed on Facebook.

Pinterest Main Page

This is where you’ll see pins from the people you are following. Pins are shown from newest (top) to oldest (bottom), and there’s no algorithm for how pins are ranked. They simply appear based on time.

From here, you can repin the pins you see onto your boards, or you can like the pins or comment on them.

You can also use the links at the top under the Pinterest logo to show everything being pinned at the moment (or everything in a certain category), only videos, popular pins, and gifts by price.

Other useful things to know

To add a price tag to your pins, simply put the price in the description.

A gift price tag

You can tag people in your posts by adding the “@” before their name. You must be following at least one of their boards to tag them, however.

Finally, there’s much discussion online about how using the hashtag before words will help you show up better in the search rankings when people search on Pinterest. However, this is not true in most of the searches I have done.

Using the # before a word only creates a link to a search for that word or for other pins also tagged with that specific hashtag. So if you use “#food” in your description, it takes you to the search results for “food” or “#food” and doesn’t rank you better in general.

16 Strategies for using your Pinterest account

The best way to use your Pinterest account is to share lots of content that complements your own content. Yes, you can share your own stuff, but make sure there’s lots of helpful things from other people there as well. It’s one of the best ways to get loyal followers who love your pins.

So, what kinds of things should you pin? How do you make the most of your Pinterest account?

1. Pin resources for your commmunity

My audience is mainly photographers, so I have several posing boards and boards with business advice (both from my blog and from others’ blogs).

For my wedding photography clients, I pin lots of wedding inspiration ideas: decorations, venue ideas, DIY wedding projects, cakes, rings, you name it. The possibilities are endless.

A great way to find good content for your boards is to use the search from within Pinterest to find popular pins of a certain topic and simply repin them to your own boards. Super simple and fast.

2. Customize boards for individual clients

If you’re a graphic designer, create a collaborative board where both you and your client can pin inspiration. If you sell real estate, create boards with home listings for specific clients that fit what they’re looking for in a home.

3. Sell stuff

Post images of things you sell and link back to your sales page. Add the price to the description using currency symbols to have it show up in the corner.

4. Offer coupons and promotions using Pinterest

Create a coupon or sales board where you list current promotions for your audience to see.

5. Create round-up boards on a certain topic

Go through your blog archives and create pins of your favorite content within a certain category. Then promote this board on your blog. Not only will you get extra traffic, you’ll get people digging into your archives and reading some of your best content.

6. Do a Pinterest contest or scavenger hunt

Have people search your blog for specific posts and images and pin them to a board. Then, leave a link to that board somewhere in order for the pinners to be entered into a contest. Or, have them search through your own boards and repin your own pins.

7. Network with other pinners in your niche or field

Since I’m a photographer, Pinterest is a great way for me to showcase other wedding vendors and tag them in the pins so that they can see the images of the products they provide.

Promoting other vendors or bloggers in your field is a great way to get their attention and start building relationships.

8. Create a community or collaborative board

Ask your readers to volunteer to create a board on a specific topic with pins from around the web. It will build loyalty to your brand and help readers identify more strongly with your business.

9. Find inspiration for your business

Have writer’s block? Search Pinterest to see what popular things in your niche are being pinned. If you’re a designer, check out popular designs in your field. Note what other pinners in your field are doing, and see what kinds of boards get them the most followers.

10. Create a review board

Have a board of reviews of various products that your audience would find helpful. If you sell your own product, collect reviews about it on a board as well.

11. Testimonial board

Much like the review board, except that you can put an image of the product up with the testimonial in the description. Bonus points for tagging the testimonial writer in your description. This is also a great place to put client success stories.

12. Grow your email list by pinning your free resource

If you offer a free resource in exchange for signing up to your list, Pinterest can be a great way to get more exposure. People love free things and tend to repin them like crazy if they’re really great resources.

13. Behind the scenes

Create a board showing the behind-the-scenes workings of your business and give people the feeling that they’re an insider if they follow your board.

14. Cover an event “Live” via Pinterest

Pin images from a live event to encourage people to follow you and bring more exposure to your event.

15. Create supplemental material boards

If you teach workshops or do online webinars, create a board with supplemental content and resources on it for your attendees to explore.

16. Learn more about your community

Follow several of your readers to learn more about their interests and what appeals to them. It’s a great way to see what they really dream of and long for in life and business.

Get your pins maximum exposure

Now that you’ve got all these awesome ideas to implement, here’s a few extra tips to make sure that your pins get maximum exposure.

The best time to post on Pinterest

According to Pinerly, the best times to post on Pinterest are between 2pm-4pm EST and again from 8pm-1am EST.

Optimize your pins and boards

Always write good descriptions. Use words that people might search for in the search bar to make your pin or board more likely to be found.

Use calls to action in descriptions to help encourage people to do what you want them to do. Want them to repin or comment? Want them to click through to the post? Ask them to. One call to action per pin is best.

To encourage engagement on your pins and increase the chance of them becoming popular, ask questions and tag people using the @ symbol to help get more comments.

You can put links inside the descriptions, but remember that these links are no-follow links.

Unlike Facebook, people are more likely to repin than to comment on a pin. Leaving comments on pins is a great way to stick out, gain exposure, and gain followers. Thoughtful comments on other peoples’ pins can go a long way, especially if you also tag someone else in it and get them engaged as well.

Getting lots of comments, repins, and likes quickly is the best way to get a pin to show up on the Popular tab of the main page and show up higher in the Pinterest search results, so you want to do everything you can to encourage interaction with your pins.

Make sure that all your pins go back to the original source of the image and not to a Google images page or to a blog homepage that will be updated and no longer relevant once the image falls below the most recent content.

When you create your boards, give them good descriptions and categorize them for the highest chance of getting extra exposure to them.

Share your pins on Facebook and Twitter

Pinterest automatically integrates with Facebook and Twitter, so get more exposure for your pins by also sharing them on Facebook and Twitter.

Getting more traffic to your blog using Pinterest

So how do you get people to start pinning your content so that you can get a piece of this traffic that you’ve heard so much about? Here are several things you can do to encourage people to pin your stuff.

Put an image in every single post you write

Pinterest is all about images. No image = no one pins your stuff. I know that it’s annoying to have to take the extra time to add images, but if you want Pinterest traffic, you have to do it.

I have found that Dreamstime has a decent selection of free commercial-use stock images that you can use, and you can always scour Flickr and other sites for images that have a Creative Commons usage license attached to them. I’ve found that these sites take a lot longer to sort through and often throw up low-quality images.

So what kind of images work best?

Beautiful, eye-catching images that are bright and appeal to emotions tend to do better than other images. Many of the popular pins are simply cute animals, particularly puppies.

Adding text to your images can increase engagement several times over. I personally like to add the name of my blog title to my image to encourage people to click through and see what it’s about. This both increases engagement and helps you to attract people who will click through to read the content. I suggest using Adobe Photoshop Elements or Gimp (which is a free download) to put text on your images.

Simple text-only quotes also work extremely well. Short words with few syllables and simple and understandable quotes do best.

This mini-tutorial image that summarizes a longer more-detailed post about how to shoot Christmas tree lights has been pinned over 35,000 times in less than two months and incorporates images, text, and valuable content that gets shared like crazy on Pinterest. This is an example of why I believe Pinterest is more valuable than a single link share from a big blog.

How to shoot christmas tree lights

Image used with permission

Still want more ideas about how to make sharable images for Pinterest? See this three-step guide to creating Pinterest-friendly graphics for your blog.

Put Pin it links in your captions

If you’ve updated to WordPress 3.4 or higher, you can now put links in your captions. Use the Pin it button creator to get the link you need to insert a Pin it button into your captions.

There are also Pinterest plugins that will do this for you automatically. I’ll list some of them in the tools section below.

Pin your landing pages

By sending people to your landing pages, you’ll help retain some of the traffic you get from Pinterest—and you can guide them through your sales or content funnel. This tends to help retain readers more effectively than through traffic to random pages that may not convert readers to followers as easily.

Use infographics

If you’ve got statistics to share, infographics are very popular on Pinterest. Infogr.am is a great free tool for making your own infographics that look amazing.

Protect your copyrighted images and graphics

If you are a photographer or graphic designer, add a watermark to any images you post on your site. This way, people will know the source of the image even if a pinner doesn’t link directly to the place you’ve posted it on your website.

If you do not want people to pin content from your website at all, you can add the following code to the header section of your site. It prevents people from pinning images from your site:

<meta name="pinterest" content="nopin">

You can put this on specific pages or posts or apply it to your entire site. While this will protect your images, you’ll lose out on huge potential for traffic and exposure if you do, so I do not recommend it.

Add Pin it buttons to your posts

Adding Pin it buttons to your posts makes it easy for readers to pin your content. You can use the free Pin it button creator to make each button individually, or use one of the plugins listed below to add it automatically—and make things easier on yourself.

Make it easy for people to follow you on Pinterest

Get your own “Follow me on Pinterest” button in the Goodies section of Pinterest. Put this in your sidebar, on your about page, and anywhere else you’d like to invite people to follow you. Here’s what one of them looks like:

Follow me button

You can also grab the URLs from your boards and link to them directly so that people can follow the boards that are most relevant to them.

Pinterest tools

Here’s a list of various Pinterest tools that you may find helpful.

  • Pin Count: See the pin count for a specific page or post on your blog. Just enter your URL.
  • See recent pins from your site: Want to see what people are pinning from your site in general? Go to www.Pinterest.com/source/yourdomain.com/ to see. For example, to see what people are pinning on ProBlogger you’d type in http://pinterest.com/source/problogger.net It doesn’t show you everything, but it will show you several recent pins if they exist.
  • Pinerly: Track your pins to see which perform the best and which of your boards and pins are most popular. The Pinerly Blog is also one of my favorite places to get information about what works best on Pinterest.
  • PinReach: This service gives you a Pinterest influence score similar to an Alexa ranking for your blog, as well as showing you most popular pins, your most influential followers, and other interesting information such as currently trending pins and users.
  • DIY Pinterest Analytics: If you’re super-geeky (like me) or want a very detailed way of tracking the ROI of your Pinterest campaigns, this three-part series will give you a great method for tracking the effectiveness of your pins. It’s not for the faint of heart when it comes to statistics! Most useful to people in corporate social media managing roles where you have to justify the usefulness of Pinterest to your business.
  • Pinterest “Pin It” Button Plugin: This is a free WordPress plugin that lets you select the default image and description to be displayed or let people select their own image. Lots of options that make this a great choice for bloggers. This is the plugin that I found works best on my marketing blog for photographers.
  • Pinterest WordPress Plugin by Tofurious: This Premium WordPress plugin automatically adds a Pin it button under every image in your posts and gives you the option to exclude specific images. It allows you to create a custom Pin it button (good for matching your current branding and creating direct calls to action) and allows you to insert a button at the top or bottom of posts as desired. It’s recommended for photographers, designers, food bloggers, DIY bloggers, and anyone with image-heavy content. Current price: $25.
  • Pretty Pinterest Pins Plugin: This one’s a free WordPress plugin that allows you to display your most recent pins in your sidebar as large pins. Can be filtered to only show pins from a certain category, and gives you the option to add a Follow Me button as well.
  • Pinterest RSS Widget Plugin: This free WordPress plugin allows you to display your most recent pins in your sidebar as small icons arranged in a grid. They can be filtered to show only pins from a certain category.
  • Wisestamp: Add a Follow me on Pinterest link, and links to other social media accounts at the end of your emails with this free tool.
  • Infogr.am: This service lets you create really great-looking infographics with ease, and is free.
  • Share as Image: Pin any quote as an image using this tool. There’s a simple free version, or a premium version for $6.99. It’s not necessary if you have photoshop or any other program that lets you create an image from text, but it’s handy and easy to use if you don’t have that capability.
  • Pinterest RSS Feed Direct Links: You can follow any Pinterest user using the following link: http://pinterest.com/jamiemswanson/feed.rss where you’d substitute jamiemswanson for the username you’d want to follow. You can also follow specific boards using the following URL (where you’d replace jamiemswanson with the username and blogging-resources for the board name you want to follow): http://pinterest.com/jamiemswanson/blogging-resources.rss

If you’re nerdy enough (and I say that in a loving way!) you could get creative with how you display pins on your site using the RSS feeds, but it’s easier to use one of the plugins above to do that for you if you’re not too picky.

So … does it work?

Yes. Yes it does.

Remember the post I mentioned earlier that has been pinned over 11,500 times and has made me over five figures of income alone on my young blog? Here’s exactly what happened.

The pinned post explains why I switched from delivering images to clients on DVDs to Flash Drives. That’s not super exciting, but it’s a solid post that explains my decision and addresses several hesitations that I know people have about switching over. It also contains an affiliate link to the company where I purchase my flash drives.

One of the hesitations I knew photographers would have was how to package them before sending them to their clients. So I took a few photos of my packaging to use as images in the post.

I used a few images in the post, but created a separate image that was tall, contained them all, and had the name of my post at the bottom of it. Tall images get more space in the Pinterest page, and the text told people that this was more than just images of packaging for flash drives.

I used the Pinterest “Pin It” Button plugin setting that let me select a custom default image (the tall Pinterest-optimized image I’d created) that people would pin when they clicked the Pin it button, instead of using the single images that were found in the post. While not everyone used those buttons to pin, many people did.

The image spread like wildfire on Pinterest. I got my highest day of traffic ever the day that post went live, and it came primarily from Pinterest.

Not only that, but the network continues to get me an average of over 300 pageviews per day—months later without any extra promotion from me. It’s almost entirely because of Pinterest pins. This results in constant income month after month simply from the extended exposure.

A link from a high-profile blog might get you a huge spike in traffic for a week or so, but I’ve never seen a link bring the long-term traffic that Pinterest can bring.

Have you tried Pinterest?

I want to hear your stories. Have you tried Pinterest, or are you still hesitating? If you’ve taken the plunge, which posts on your blog have received the most exposure from Pinterest? Why do you think they’ve been so successful? What hasn’t worked for you at all? Tell me about it below in the comments and let’s really dig in and share with each other.

But first, take a few seconds to pin this post and give ProBlogger a bit of a Pinterest boost. Let’s make 2013 the year of Pinterest for bloggers!

Contributing author Jamie M Swanson writes meaty posts about online marketing for photographers with easy-to-understand steps for totally rocking your business over at The Modern Tog. She is a Wisconsin Wedding Photographer who dreams of owning lots of land where her family can run and play and she can garden to her heart’s content.

ProBlogger Challenge: Put a Value on Your Blog

This week we’ve heard from blog sellers, and blog buyers. Whether or not you’ve been inspired by what they’ve had to say, I’ll bet that the conversation has raised one key question in your mind:

What is my blog worth?

Price tag

Image courtesy stock.xchng user ba1969

These days, we’re seeing blogs being recognised as valuable business tools, both for business-to-business as well as business-to-consumer connections. So if you own and run a blog, it makes sense to understand its value.

Today’s challenge is to do just that.

The basics

If you’ve been following along this week, you’ll already have a few of the key metrics for a blog valuation in mind:

  • the age of your blog
  • uniqueness and quality of blog design
  • traffic levels, sources, and quality
  • visitor stats: bounce rates, time on site, conversions, and so on
  • current monetization approaches and levels
  • associated social media footprint.

Andrew Knibbe of Flippa recommended that we use the marketplace as a yardstick by which to value a blog, but what other factors should we take into account before we start doing research there? Let’s step through the process of getting a rough idea of your blog’s value.

Vital stats

First, make note of these vital stats for your blog. You could do this on paper, but I recommend a spreadsheet, because that’ll make it a bit easier when it comes to comparing your site to others down the track.

  • Blog age: Andrew from Flippa mentioned earlier in the week that older blogs tend to be given higher valuations.
  • Domain: If you’re selling the domain with your blog, a shorter or more memorable domain is probably likely to be looked on more favourably than a longer domain, or one that contains hyphens, for example.
  • Platform: The platform on which your blog is hosted might not in itself raise or lower your blog’s value, but it might impact the types of buyers who’d be interested in it.
  • Theme: If you’re on a WordPress blog, paid or unique themes are more likely to attract more serious buyers.
  • Alexa rank: We saw earlier in the week that Alexa rank also contributes to a blog’s value, so if you don’t know where yours sits at the moment, find out.

By this point, you should be off to a good start.

Traffic stats

Next, it’s time to open up your Analytics tool and take a critical look at your blog stats not just for the last month, but over the last few months.

  • Monthly traffic: Note down the total traffic levels first.
  • Traffic sources: Next, allocate portions of traffic to the relevant sources of those visits.
  • Landing pages: Look at your key landing pages. Shahzad mentioned yesterday that some of the most popular landing pages on the blog he was buying were off-topic posts. How relevant are your main landing pages to your blog’s brand and niche?
  • Bounce rates: It’s important to look at this data over time, and to work out which traffic sources have lower or higher bounce rates. This can help you get an idea of the overall value of your blog’s traffic.
  • Time on site: This is a good measure of engagement and, again, it’s worth looking at the average time on site for each different traffic source, to see which visitors are more engaged.

This information should help you get a feel for the value of the traffic your blog attracts, and the content you’ve developed. It might also help you identify places where there’s room for improvement, but for now, let’s keep going with our valuation.

Monetization

If you’ve monetized your blog somehow, you can be sure that potential buyers will be interested to know how you’ve done it, and how successful you’ve been. Let’s pull together the data—if you don’t already have it at your fingertips.

  • Monthly revenue: Add up your revenues for the last three months and divide by three to get a monthly average.
  • Monetization sources: Make a note of the ways you monetize your blog. Have you created unique products from scratch? Do you use certain advertising or affiliate networks?
  • Conversion rates: Look at your conversion figures for the last three months, and compare them with your last three months’ traffic to calculate your average conversion rate.
  • Value per visitor: Take your average revenue figure for the last three months and divide it by your average traffic figure for that time period. This will give you an average visitor value, which will be really helpful in assessing your site against others for sale in your niche.
  • Profit: You might not be able to calculate this figure until you complete the next section, but do be sure to subtract your costs from your revenue figure to get a profit figure. Again, this will make for easy comparison between your blog and others. If it’s good, it could also go a long way to tempt potential buyers.

Note that at this point, you can calculate a valuation based on a multiple of your revenue—either 12 or 24 months, say. This will give you a good reference point for the research we’ll do on Flippa in a moment.

Costs

Whether or not you’ve monetized your blog, potential buyers will want to know how much it costs to run, so they can compare it with other blogs they might be considering buying. Make note of the costs you pay for:

  • Hosting: Note monthly or annual figures.
  • Design and development: Unless you have regular maintenance charges, you might want to add up what you spent on your blog’s design and development in the last year as a more objective figure than your expenditure for the last three months.
  • Content: Do you pay writers? Buy content? Add up those costs—along with your own time cost for writing and editing your blog’s content.
  • Marketing and customer acquisition: If you spend money on advertising—or time on guest-posting and content marketing—again, add up those costs for the last three months.
  • Time: Don’t forget to tally your time for other blogging tasks, like social media, affiliate and ad management, and so on. Try to get a clear and honest picture of how much time it takes you to run your blog on a monthly basis.

Comparing blogs in your niche

This basic information shouldn’t take you too long to collate. And once you have, the real challenge begins! Try to find at least two other blogs for sale in your niche to compare yours with.

  1. Go to Flippa.com. You can, of course, search for sites for sale in your niche on Google too. That can be a good way to find out what’s for sale, but as those sites may not give you an indication of how much they’re hoping to sell for, a visit to Flippa for research is a good idea.
  2. Find sites for sale and auction in your niche or a similar niche. I’d recommend you look at finished sales, since that’ll give you the figure the sites sold for, rather than just their current bid price, or Buy It Now price. Recent sales will give you the best indication of what the market is actually willing to pay for a blog like yours.
  3. Assess the sites. Go through the checklist above again for each of the sites you’re looking at. Make a note of the prices they sold for. See if you can spot any trends that can indicate what the market values in blogs within your niche, and think about how your blog stacks up on these points.
  4. Settle on a price range in which you think your blog might sit. Rather than picking a single figure that you think you’d accept for your blog, I think it’s probably a better idea to use your research to work out a range in which that price might reasonably fall. You’ll have a figure you wouldn’t sell below, and a range in which you can set your expectations.
  5. Compare the range with your multiple-of-revenue price. If you calculated a multiple-of-revenue price above, compare it with the price range you’ve arrived at to see if the figures are in the same ball park.

By the end of this challenge, you should have a rough valuation on your blog. If you’re game, share it with us in the comments below. Or, if you’d rather, you can just let me know if you were surprised—or disappointed, or inspired!—by the price range you arrived at.

Behind the Scenes of a Successful Blog Acquisition [Case Study]

I really love the idea of buying and selling websites. Recently I listed one of my blogs on Flippa, a marketplace for buying and selling websites, and sold it successfully.

Then, I bought another blog outside of Flippa. Since we’ve already talked about selling blogs this week, I wanted to walk you through my buying experience today…

Fortune cookie

Image by Flickr user quinn.anya, licensed under Creative Commons

A couple of months ago while browsing the web I landed on a blog called WPBlogTips.com. Eventually, my eye got stuck on a banner that said, “This site is for sale”.

At that time I was thinking of starting a blog in the internet marketing niche, which is the niche that WPBlogTips.com covers.

To be honest, I personally hate to start a blog from the ground up. It’s a lot of work! Choosing the domain, crafting content, building traffic, waiting till the Google sandbox effects end before you can start link building, growing an active community … obviously there’s a lot to do, and in many cases the job is tedious. I would prefer to buy an established blog in a niche that has decent traffic, an engaged community, and quality content.

Long story short, I decided to buy that blog.

Doing due diligence

Before jumping in to buy that blog, I undertook some due diligence research on both the owner and the blog itself. Doing your homework before you purchase may help you to avoid disappointment down the track.

So before I made an offer on the blog, I researched a few things:

  • the owner of the blog
  • the site’s traffic stats
  • the blog’s monetization history.

Knowing more about the seller

Knowing more about the seller is really important task before you make an offer, or can even calculate how much the blog is worth. It’s especially important if you are not willing to use a third-party transaction site like Escrow.com to manage the transfer of payments and assets in the acquisition.

Here are the simple steps I took to research the seller of the blog.

  • Search the domain’s WhoIs information: Check if the domain is handled by the same person who runs the blog. In my case, the domain was not WhoIs guarded, so I was able to find the owner’s details and their address. If that information was protected, I would have ask him to remove the guard so I could see the data. This is an important first step in verifying site ownership.
  • Do a seller profile web search: A simple Google search should show you the profile of the seller. I also found some other blogs that this person owned, and I found that reassuring—it’s nice to deal with a person who has some kind of reputation online. That’s not something most people would achieve if they weren’t honest and trustworthy, nor is it something they’d throw away by behaving badly in a site sale.
  • Search on social media: A simple search on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ also told me a lot about the seller, and how he deals with others. Today everyone is social, especially bloggers. So this is a good way to research a site owner.

Analyzing blog traffic

Once I’d got the details of the blog’s owner, I contacted him and asked him to send me some stats for the site’s traffic and its monetization history.

If you’ve ever looked to buy a site on Flippa, you might have seen a section called Claim Traffic where sellers need to claim their traffic by uploading Google Analytics verified stats. The problem is that straight traffic stats say nothing about the site’s traffic sources, or what the most popular content is. These are important factors in the site’s current success and its potential, so it’s important to ask for more detailed stats before you buy.

Importantly, traffic screenshots can be faked easily. So always ask for verified Google Analytics reports when you’re asking for Analytics data. Then, start analyzing…

1. Determine what the Analytics stats really mean

You will get a bunch of details from Google Analytics, but those details are as good as junk if you can’t analyze what they really mean.

  • Unique visitors per month: This is one of the key factors that helps determine the blog’s value.
  • Bounce rate: I think the normal bounce rate of a blog should be around 60-70%, but in this case, the bounce rate was very high. By looking more closely at the blog, I found that the main reason for the high bounce rate was poor site navigation and a lack of user engagement. I felt that with a little effort, I could bring the bounce rate back to a normal level.
  • Average visit duration: Again, I wasn’t satisfied with this data, since it was lower than my other blogs’, so I had to look a little deeper to find out the reasons for it. The reason for the low visit duration was, again, a lack of reader engagement.

The key lesson here is to check the blog’s stats, not only to get some idea of what the blog is worth, but also to determine where you can improve the blog, and how. This will help you get an idea of how much time you’ll need to put in to improve things, which will help you to come to a decision about whether to buy or not.

2. Looking more closely at traffic sources

Believe me, getting traffic is not a big deal today. Just Google “buy traffic” and you’ll see tons of services that offer you 10,000 visitors to your site for just $20.

The only way to make sure that the traffic to the blog is original and of high quality is to look at the traffic source stats of the site’s Analytics reports.

My case

Before I bought it, WPBlogTips.com’s traffic was highly dependent upon Google and other organic sources. This is both good and bad.

The good thing is that we can say this blog has high targeted traffic.

The bad thing is that whenever Google updates it search algorithm, chances are high that the traffic will drop—if not almost disappear.

One of the things I discovered as I looked at this data was that Facebook and Twitter aren’t in the top ten traffic sources. The main reason was that the blog had almost no social presence. It did have a Facebook page and Twitter account, but there was no reader activity in these forums.

Another thing I found was that when I excluding Google from the mix, there was no strong referral traffic source. Likely reasons were a lack of networking and link building. So obviously I would need to focus on building these elements after the acquisition.

3. Uncovering the audience’s interests

The interests of a blogger may vary time to time. It is quite common for a blog to have many transitional stages before it reaches to its “present” state. For example, WPBlogTips.com was obviously in the “blogging tips/internet marketing” niche, but the previous owner had also published many articles that had to do nothing with that niche.

So before buying a blog, it’s important to find out what all of the popular pages of that blog are. Sometimes the blog you are about to buy may have high Google ranking on topics other than its main focus. Let me explain.

Imagine that you are buying a blog in the internet marketing niche. Your main goal in buying that site is to sell SEO services without paying a penny for advertisements or making any extra marketing effort.

Now, what if that site has a low rank for the specific keyword you are targeting—the traffic’s coming through comparatively off-topic posts? Or, what if most of the blog’s audience is actually interested in a topic that’s off the main topic of that blog? If you don’t intend to maintain that off-topic focus in your content, you may well lose a large chunk of the blog’s loyal readers.

So it’s important to understand the exact nature of the audience for the blog you’re researching.  Find out which are the popular pages on the blog, and ask for content keywords  lists from Webmaster tools. This information gives you a very precise idea about the interests of the blog’s audience, and on which keywords Google ranks the site well.

My case

Most of the readers of the blog I was researching came to the site through search engines. Because people were getting the exact thing they were looking for, they weren’t returning to the blog.

I could see that if I added related articles lists to every post, that may catch the eyes of readers without harming the user experience, and increase the blog’s time on site metric and repeat visit potential.

I also noticed that a few of the off-topic posts on the blog had received some Google juice, but I was planning to remove those, so that didn’t factor into my buying decision.

Another problem I found was that the blog wasn’t ranked well on Google for any relevant long-tail keywords. This was especially a problem on the Services page, so I couldn’t expect many client requests to buy those services. I thought this may because of a lack of effective link building, but it meant that, to begin with at least, I’d need to buy traffic from Adwords.

Reviewing monetization

A couple of months ago Flippa introduced a new feature called the Verified AdSense Report, which is similar to the Verified Analytics Report. This feature is hugely helpful for buyers, since it means they don’t need to rely more on screenshots of AdSense income provided by the seller.

However, there’s still no way to verify PayPal earnings like there is with AdSense. So while deciding how much a blog is worth, as the buyer, you still have to rely on screenshots provided by the seller, no matter whether you’re buying the site through Flippa or independently.

That said, I would always prefer to buy a blog that is under-monetized and has massive traffic rather than a blog that has decent traffic and makes a lot of money. There are two reasons for this.

1. You need to rely on the seller’s data

When you’re calculating how much a site is worth, it is common to give preference to earnings over traffic.

This means that the higher the earnings of a website, the more you will pay to acquire it. The problem is that as a buyer, I can’t be 100% sure that the data provided by the seller is true, unless he gives full access to verify the payments, which is almost impossible.

So the risk here is that the seller’s not being truthful about the earnings, and if you base your valuation of the blog on a false earnings figure, you’re going to lose out.

2. What if the traffic declines?

Recently I came across an article by Daniel Scocco entitled, Where there’s traffic, there is hope. In it, he explains his experience of buying two different blogs: Blog A, which had high traffic but was under-monetized, and Blog B, which had decent traffic and earned a lot of money. Due to fluctuations in search ranking, the second blog’s traffic dried out, and so did its earnings. Blog A, on the other hand, continues to make a profit.

So I repeat: where there’s traffic, there is hope!

My case

The blog’s owner had not tested any monetization methods on WPBlogTips.com. He tried to sell blog migration services from the site, but didn’t have a nice portfolio to support the work.

I felt that his offer was not unique. Hundreds of different blogs provide Blogger-to-WordPress migration services, and there was nothing to make his service stand out from the crowd.

Soon after the acquisition I started an AdWords campaign to promote those services. To make this offer unique I offered free Blogger to WordPress migration. The only catch is that the client must buy Hostgator hosting through my link, so I still gain income, in the form of affiliate commissions.

Currently, I’m also testing AdSense units on that blog. I will be testing how those units work and, if they’re a success, I’ll continue to use them on the blog. I am not a believer of quick money making schemes. Making money from a blog definitely takes time.

I also started an email newsletter subscription on the blog. Email lists will definitely help me monetize this site in the long run. In coming months I’ll also try selling direct ads. However, I’m not hurry. I’m currently focused on attracting more traffic and making readers more engaged with the blog.

Pricing the blog

Most first-time sellers won’t have any idea when it comes to deciding how to set the price for their blog. In fact, sellers frequently overestimate the value of their blog, since they have an emotional engagement with it and have spent so much time and energy building it up.

Many people suggest that setting a price using the monthly income of your blog is the way to go. But for a buyer, to be honest, this kind of equation doesn’t make much sense.

For example, imagine that Darren decided to sell Problogger.net. Do you think that he would be willing to sell it for 24 times the monthly income? No way. He’d want more than that, for sure. On the other hand, imagine you own a blog with no reputation, and you wanted to sell it for 24 times the monthly income. As a buyer I probably wouldn’t be interested in paying such a big price for a blog with no reputation.

In simple terms, buyers value the reputation of a blog—as that impacts reader loyalty—sometimes more than the history of earnings or traffic stats.

My case

As I mentioned, WPBlogTips.com hadn’t been monetized. Yet the seller wanted a very high price. After some negotiation, I bought it for 37% of the initial price he’d set.

All of the negotiation was done over email. However, after we agreed on the price, I made a phone call to the owner. Why? Because it is nice to establish a good relationship with the guy who you are dealing with—especially when you’re about to transfer large sums of money in exchange for an asset like this.

Managing the purchase transaction

The safest payment method for buying or selling digital assets online is to use a third-party service like Escrow.com—especially if both the buyer and seller don’t share a high level of trust.

The buyer can create an account on Escrow.com and transfer the money to this account. Escrow.com will hold the payment until the transaction of property is complete and both parties flag that they’re happy with the outcome.

My case

The seller of WPBlogTips.com is Indian, like me. This helped to make me confident about the transaction.

Even if a problem did arise, the law we would be dealing with would be our national law, not other international treaties that may not be consistent across nations. I felt pretty confident that no problem would arise because I knew the seller has good reputation as blogger, and he would continue to run other blogs after the sale, so he wouldn’t want to tarnish his reputation online. My due diligence had paid off here.

I told the seller that, as a first step, I’d pay half the price we’d agreed. After he received the money, he’d transfer the ownership of the blog to me, and after that I’d pay the balance. We didn’t use Escrow or similar services, and for us, everything went smoothly.

Content strategy

Even if you are buying a blog that has a lot of good content, nicely targeted traffic, and a massive community you might need to spend your time building content.

Sometimes the previous owner may have a personal approach to the content. In such cases, the challenge for you will be to write more content without boring the community, or losing them altogether.

How can you enhance your readership by helping readers, and thereby growing the community on your blog? To get clear idea, answer these questions.

  1. Will you have time to spend on your blog writing content?
  2. If not, is it profitable to hire a freelancer? Will accepting guest posts enhance your community?

My case

The old owner had accepted and published many guest posts on WP Blog Tips. But my strategy is different. I wanted to bring more visitor engagement to the blog, so I stopped accepting guest posts and started writing every post myself. This really helped. The comment counts increased and an interactive community started to grow up around the blog.

As I mentioned earlier, there were many off-topic posts on the blog. I won’t be deleting those posts, because I hate to be landed on 404 pages and expect the same goes for my readers. But I will be developing a more focused content approach going forward.

Blog acquisition success

Buying a blog is not a tedious task—at least, it is not as tedious as building a blog from scratch! If you do it correctly, buying is breeze.

WPBlogTips.com was not properly monetized before I acquired it. I am not looking to sell it in future, so this will be my main online project as of now. My goal is that within a year I can make the money I spent to buy it.

Here are a few other tips I learned in buying a blog that I believe will help you.

  • Respect the seller’s work: Yes, you’ll need to ask the seller for different stats, but make sure that you always respect the seller and their work. Understand that this has benefits for you both. The rule of thumb is to give respect first; only then can you expect to get it back.
  • Beware of “potential”: Don’t get obsessed with the supposed “potential” of the blog that the seller might be keen to show you. Most of the sellers have habit of claiming that their blog has huge potential, in an effort to make huge money. But the fact is that they would be unlikely to sell the blog if it had massive potential. So rely on the stats, and your assessment of how well the blog fits your skills—not on the “potential” the seller describes.
  • Analyze the performance: When I bought my blog, I found that its bounce rate was very high. I was sure I could improve it a lot with little effort. So it’s important to carefully analyze the blog. Learn how you can improve the overall performance of the blog and what strategy you can implement to monetize it further. This will help you to gauge the potential of the blog for you, specifically.
  • Start networking: A couple of months before I acquired the blog, I started networking with other bloggers in the same niche by commenting on their blogs. The result was that those bloggers who I interacted with have helped me out by spreading the word about the blog, and commenting on my blog. This not only increases my traffic but it also helps me to build an interactive tribe on the blog.
  • Remember, you can buying outside Flippa: Flippa is one of the best places to buy a site. But if you are serious about buying I’d suggest you look beyond Flippa. You can find tons of sites for sale—try searching on Google with keywords like “<your niche> website for sale”, “<your niche> site for sale” and “<your niche> blog for sale” using double quotes.

One final tip is to ask a blogger directly if they are ready to sell their blog. They may not consider selling until you ask! If you can’t find any recent posts or activity on a blog, chances are high that the blogger might be busy with some other work and would consider selling it. Believe me, this strategy works, and asking costs you nothing.

Have you ever bought a blog? I’d love to hear your story in the comments.

Contributing author Shahzad has recently bought a blog WPBlogTips.com where he writes about unconventional blogging tips. Find his free guide on buying and selling websites here.

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

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

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

Andrew Knibbe of Flippa

Andrew Knibbe of Flippa

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

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

For full details, read on.

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

No problem.

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

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

Blogs as a % of total sales

Blogs make up the main site type sold at Flippa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How blog management affects demand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key blog value drivers

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

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

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

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

That would drive blog value?

Yeah, particularly for the older blogs.

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

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

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

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

Buying assets: content, lists, social media and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brands and audience engagement: a balancing act

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you tell us about those?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there particular niches where that is more common?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capital and revenue yield for popular affiliate networks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool. Thanks very much for your time, Andrew.

No problem.

Heavyweight Help: The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Blog

Did you know there’s a massive marketplace out there filled with people who want to buy your blog?

Yep, your blog!

Sale sign

Image courtesy stock.xchng user JMGRIFFIN

It’s really big business and you can make serious money if you know what you’re doing.

In fact, some clever people make a pretty decent living just from building up blogs and then flipping them for $10k, $50k or even $100k+. And while I haven’t been quite that successful I have sold several blogs for around $20,000—the first time all the way back when I was at Uni.

In this post I’m going to try and cover everything you’ll need to know to sell your blog for the best possible price with the fewest possible regrets. I’ll cover things like:

  • why you should think carefully about whether you sell or not
  • how to calculate your blog’s value and why that measure is controversial
  • how you should set up your blog so it’s easy (and possible) to sell
  • where you can sell your blog safely
  • how to write a good and trustworthy listing
  • steps to take to ensure you have a stress-free transaction
  • clever things to do with the sale money (and an embarrassing story).

This is going to be a long post so set your eyes to strained and get your scroll finger warmed up. Let’s do it!

Why you should think carefully about selling

How good does it sound?

You build up a blog, make a bit of consistent revenue, and then sell it for a handsome sum of money.

Great, right?

Well, actually, there are a few considerations that you need to take into account before you get selling. Broadly speaking, there are two categories of pre-sale issues to think about:

  1. Emotional factors: You might be keen to sell your blog now but are you sure you’re not going to miss it once it is all said and done? Remember, once that blog is sold you lose all rights to your logos, articles, design—it will all belong to the new owner.
  2. Financial factors: Having a big chunk of money in your bank account is really exciting but you need to figure out how long it’s going to last you, what you’re going to invest it in and whether the short-term payout amount is more valuable to you than keeping the blog for five or ten years.

If you are thinking about putting your blog up for sale I urge you to take a few weeks to carefully think things through.

Most importantly, if you rely on your blog for a good portion of your income you need to make sure that you have some other projects on the go that are already earning you some money. One of the key mistakes people make (myself included) is selling their blog before they really have another solid income to rely on.

What is your blog worth and what are buyers looking for?

The title of this section covers both what your blog is worth and what buyers are looking for because often those things are totally separate from each other.

What do I mean?

Well, as I wrote about in this post on valuing a blog, you’ll often find that what your blog is worth to you is totally different than what it is actually worth in monetary terms, or to an independent buyer. The cold calculation of a blog’s value is often not inclusive of all the things that it means for you and your career.

How to calculate a blog’s sale value

Some people are going to disagree with this but in my experience the safest way to calculate what your blog is worth is like this:

Monthly revenue x 12 to 24 months = sale price

This is by no means a hard and fast rule; some people get 36 months, 48 months, etc. But for the most part you’ll find that people who buy blogs usually only offer around one to two years’ revenue.

So, at the most basic level, if your blog makes $1000 a month you will probably be able to sell it for between $12,000 and $24,000.

You’ll often see people trying to sell a blog or website for a higher price because it it is under-monetized, inefficiently set up, or not fulfilling its “potential”.

These words and scenarios mean very little to buyers who are essentially trying to purchase a successful and stable business. It is rare (though not impossible) to find someone who is investing in developing blogs because they want to build them up.

How to calculate a blog’s real value

Something that I learned the hard way was the fact that your blog is worth a lot more than just the money that it brings in. It sounds crazy at first but you’ll often hear guys like Darren say that even though Problogger.net doesn’t make him huge amount of money it elevates his profile and gives him a hugely valuble marketing tool.

When thinking about selling you need to consider whether your blog:

  • Promotes other stuff: Do you use your blog to promote and expose other products or websites? Can it send traffic to other sites and give solid SEO links to new projects?
  • Helps you: Some people use blogging as a method of dealing with stress or anxiety, which is obviously hard to put a dollar value on.
  • Connects you: Does your blog help to connect you wither big players in the online world and therefore bring in new opportunities?
  • Utilizes its list: If you have a big mailing list but have never done any successful promotions you might be sitting on an asset worth a lot more than it would appear on paper. Remember, a good mailing list promotion can bring in large amounts of money in a single day.
  • Has a replaceable social media brand: The last point is that almost all of us have social media accounts that are connected with our blogs. For example, if Darren sold Problogger.net, would he also have to give up the hundreds of thousands of followers @problogger has on Twitter?

As I mentioned, a lot of these last items are things that are totally irrelevant to an independent buyer. They are, in some ways, unquantifiable considerations that will often hold great importance to you but very little to someone else.

What are buyers looking for?

Now that we’ve got the basic valuation types out of the way it’s a good idea to discuss exactly what buyers are looking for. I’m not going to go into too much detail here as there is a post coming up later in this series about buying a blog which will get you sorted.

However, having a basic understanding of what buyers are looking for will help you plan future sales:

  • Consistent earnings: Google updates and other internet changes often mean that blog earnings fluctuate in a way that is totally unacceptable to regular businesses. You need to make sure your earnings are stable if you want a good sale price.
  • Consistent statistics: Again, if buyers can see big fluctuations in your search engine rankings they will consider it a warning sign that you might be selling for a reason that you’re not disclosing.
  • An easy-to-adopt website: If your blog is totally wound up in your personality and has readers and content that apply to your life and experience it will probably be very difficult for someone else to take over and profit from.
  • Historical reports: I almost lost out on one big sale because I hadn’t installed Google Analytics on the blog in the early stages and thus the buyers was worried that the current trends and traffic levels weren’t truly representative of what was going on. Make sure you have stats installed early on and clear histories of traffic and earnings.

So, if you want to sell your blog, make sure you know how much it is worth to you (in the short and long term) and how much is worth to a buyer. These are different numbers.

How to set up your blog for an easy and comfortable sale

What a lot of people don’t realize is that selling a blog means that buyers are going to need access to a lot of stuff that you might never have intended to hand over to anyone else.

If you think you might want to sell somewhere down the line or you’re building a blog specifically for the purpose of a future sale, you want to make sure you have a few things covered.

1. Make sure you are on a separate, self-hosted set up

Although it does happen sometimes, you’ll find that most of the time people will want to buy sites that are fully owned and operated by the individual they are dealing with. With free blogs like Blogger and Tumblr the lines are less clear—who own the domain, the content, the theme, etc.?

The ideal situation is one where you have the domain name and WordPress blog host all in separate, individual places that aren’t mixed in with your other sites and domain names.

Of course, it isn’t all that hard to transfer a domain name or migrate a site to someone else. But it is much easier if you can just do one change of ownership transaction, which means the site doesn’t experience any downtime.

2. Try to have social networking accounts that you can sign over

As mentioned before, it can be a little bit tricky if your personal social networking accounts are also tied up in the brand name that you are selling. For example, my Twitter handle is @blogtyrant which means that if I ever sold www.BlogTyrant.com I would probably have to hand over that Twitter account as well.

I once spoke to Kristi Hines about this issue and she told me that it is much wiser to have a personal account that you use for yourself and a brand-name account that is just for the website and its followers. This is a lot harder than it used to be, however, with Google+ profiles and pages, YouTube, Facebook and accounts all over the place being linked together and muddled up.

If you can manage, find a way to separate your personal accounts from your brand-name accounts so you don’t lose it all or have headaches transferring them.

3. Be careful with linked email services

When you own a blog you often sign up for things like Google Analytics and other online services with your personal email. Much like the social networks, this can cause a huge pain in the future if you sell the site and need to give someone else access to this stuff.

Some services don’t let you remove the original email address that you signed up with but instead only allow you add new accounts. What this means is that you might always be linked to that old site in some way if you want to hold on to that email.

As far as I can tell, the best way to avoid these traps is to sign up for a separate Gmail account or create a Google account/other accounts with an [email protected] email address that you can hand over at the sale.

4. Make sure you know what you own

I’ve heard of blog sales getting into hot water when the seller doesn’t realize that some of the assets for sale actually belong to someone else.

It’s extremely important that you know whether you have the copyright all sorted for photos and images as well as whether your theme is original or something used by thousands of other people.

Where to sell your blog safely and simply

When it comes to selling your blog, the options are actually a lot more expansive than people usually think. That being said, I really only recommend going about it either of two ways, in order to keep your stress levels low and your chances of success high.

  1. Sell your blog on Flippa.com.
  2. Sell your blog in a private sale.

I’m going to go over each option in a little bit of detail so you get a good idea about how they work, and which one is best for your situation.

1. Sell your blog on Flippa

Flippa.com is the absolute go-to website for selling your blog. It is the largest marketplace of its kind and, even better, it is owned by Australians—a trustworthy and handsome lot.

A Flippa listing

All jokes aside, Flippa is the kind of site you rely on because their entire business model is wrapped up in the convenient and safe sale of blogs and websites. That’s all they do. What that means for us is that we get a good service because Flippa knows that their reputation is important for their continued success. In 2012 alone over 29,000 websites were sold there.

Flippa seller ratings

The great thing about this site is that you find a rare mix of highrollers and budget buyers here. This means that you can sell blogs that might only be worth a small amount as well as those $100k+ monsters.

How does Flippa work?

Selling a blog on Flippa is a lot like listing a product on eBay or any other selling site, except that Flippa only deals with websites and blogs.

The basic process goes like this:

  1. Create an account: You’ll need an account to list a site for sale as well as manage any messages that bidders send to you.
  2. Create your listing: This is a seven-step process where you list all your blog details, provide screenshots of traffic proof, explain your reasons for selling, etc. You’ll also be able to set a Reserve Price so that you don’t sell for less than you hoped for. More on this process below.
  3. Add upgrades: One of the ways Flippa makes money is by offering you certain upgrades to enhance the visibility of your sale. Some of these are a really good idea and you can see them all at Step 6 of the listing process.
  4. Manage your listing: Once your listing is up and live you can’t just leave it alone; you need to stick around and answer any questions that people have. Most serious bidders will ask questions and won’t be willing to move ahead until you’ve answered them properly.
  5. Proceed with the sale: Once someone has placed a winning bid or purchased your blog for the Buy It Now price, you proceed with the sale process. This is extremely safe and involves using Escrow.com which means that nobody gets any money or domain name access until both parties are happy.

Of course, the whole shebang is a lot more involved than that, but those steps should give you the basic idea of how Flippa works. I’ve gone into some more detailed Flippa listing tips below, but this video gives a quick overview of the auction listing process.

What are the advantages of using Flippa?

Some of the main reasons I think Flippa has gained so much popularity include:

  • Safety: The Escrow process and the increased transparency that comes from requiring buyers to be verified, etc. makes the whole process a lot safer for everyone.
  • Reach: To put it simply, there are a lot of buyers on Flippa looking to acquire your blog. I’m yet to find another marketplace that has such an active community.
  • Support: The support staff at Flippa are happy to jump on board and give you help when you need it with a transaction or a listing problem. I’ve found them to be quite responsive.
  • Simplicity: The listing process is extremely easy to follow. It’s no harder than composing an email and attaching a few images to prove your revenue, etc.
  • Feedback ratings: Although not always relevant, Flippa has buyer feedback ratings which means you can see how buyers have performed in previous transactions.

What are the disadvantages of using Flippa?

As always, not every web service is perfect. There are a few drawbacks that people often talk about when it comes to using Flippa as a blog seller.

  • It’s somewhat expensive: Flippa has listing fees and upgrade fees but, frustratingly, a fairly high success fee. What this means is that an established website will pay $29 to list the site (without upgrades) and then 5% of the final sale price. This is capped at $2,000 but for some people it is still too high considering other costs that go along with making a big sale, like local taxes.
  • There are still risks involved: Although a lot less risky than the alternatives, there still are risks involved in selling a site on Flippa. Admittedly the risks are higher for buyers than sellers but you still need to exercise a lot of care.
  • Publicity: I have heard some people express concerns that listing a site for sale on Flippa can have a negative impact on that site’s readers and even SEO rankings. Flippa does offer an option to hide your listing from Google, but you still need to consider any impact that can occur if people find out you’re selling, and then you don’t actually make the sale after all.

Overall Flippa is, without a doubt, the best place to sell an established blog that you really care about. The second optionis something that’s perhaps better suited to more experienced sellers with some trustworthy connections.

2. Sell your blog to a private buyer

The only other option that I really wanted to share as a method of selling your blog is to do so yourself, through a private buyer. This has a lot of advantages but also some pretty tummy-upsetting disadvantages.

How do you sell to a private buyer?

Unlike using Flippa, this process has many different variations depending on who you are selling to an how paranoid each party is. Generally, however, it will go something like this:

  1. You decide to sell: First of all you need to make the decision to sell your blog and package it up ready for the transaction. This means getting your accounts in order and having another project ready in the works.
  2. You find buyers: Perhaps the hardest part of all is finding buyers without actually listing your site anywhere. Of course, many people do list their site for sale in various places and then move the transaction to private method but this is both risky and against many of those flipping sites’ terms of service.
  3. You bang your head against the wall (or “negotiate”): The next step in a private sale is the process whereby both parties go back and forth for days, weeks, or even months until a price is agreed upon. This involves giving them access to revenue proof, stats, etc. as well as not caving in at the 12th offer simply because you are so exhausted.
  4. Arrange the terms: Because there is no site guiding you on the transaction, you need to come up with the terms of the trade yourselves. How is payment made? Which shadowy carpark will they meet you in with the contract? So on and so forth. This is the stage where a lot of inexperienced sellers get into trouble. You really want contracts and other protections in place.
  5. Make the trade: Selling your blog like this is better described as a trade. They give you money and you release the site files and, last of all the domain name. Once the buyer has that domain name, there is no going back, so you have to make sure you have the money and are totally happy before that happens. Again, it’s very wise to use a site like Escrow.com for this process, and not a site like Paypal where there is less protection.
  6. Assist with the transition: If you’ve made a good sale to a genuine buyer, they will probably want you to help with the transition period. It’s always a good sign when the buyer asks you to stay on board for six months so as to train them up and keep the site running well.

Again, each blog sale is a different process that can be done in different ways. It’s important to know how the basic process works and to make sure you know as much about the buyer as possible. This is a big asset that you are giving up so you want to make sure to take your time and get it right.

What are the advantages of a private sale?

Let’s have a quick look at some of the advantages of selling your blog to a private buyer:

  • No fees: Unless you use a payment site that charges a fee there are no fees involved in the process.
  • No restrictions: You aren’t restrained by any website terms or service and as such can often negotiate a better position for yourself or take more time to select the right buyer. It’s not a matter of “highest bidder wins”.
  • Better prices: It might seem strange, but I’ve heard people say that they’ve achieved slightly better prices with private sales because the buyers didn’t feel guided by “standard pricing” that often becomes commonplace in set markets. Of course this is a very case-by-case phenomenon and might be totally incorrect for your sale.

I have sold one five-figure blog in a private sale and it went extremely smoothly. The clinching factor, however, was that the guy lived in my town and I was able to meet him face-to-face to sign papers, have a chat, etc. That gave me a lot more confidence.

What are the disadvantages of a private sale?

By now you probably have a pretty clear idea about why you might not want to sell your blog privately:

  • It’s really risky: You have no idea who this person is or what their motivations are. Are they trying to scam you? Are the competitors trying to see your stats and methods? You need to exercise a lot of care during a private sale.
  • It’s not monitored: When you use a site like Flippa, you can often contact support if something fishy is going on. When you are doing things privately there are very few methods you can resort to if something weird happens.
  • It’s stressful: To be honest, I get a lot more stressed out than most people by this stuff so you might not find it as horribly nauseating as I do. All the negotiating, risk-taking—it just stresses me out too much and makes the Flippa fees seem worthwhile.

All in all Flippa is a really good place to start out and learn the ropes. The process is simple and extremely guided which means you’ll have less chance of running into trouble. Of course, you still need to use your brain and be careful when you are dealing with such an important asset, but by and large you should be happy with the process.

How to create a listing for trust and success

I couldn’t really talk about how to sell a blog without sharing a few tips for creating a listing that will help you promote your blog well while creating trust and increasing your chances of a successful sale.

Most of these tips will apply to Flippa sales but you can implement a lot of them in private sales emails and negotiations too.

1. Study successful listings

I’m really surprised at how badly some listings are put together. There’s a lack of clear information, unbelievable reasons for selling, etc.

Before you sell your blog it’s a good idea to check out some other Flippa listings that are doing well. Of course this has a large part to do with the quality of the site for sale, but you’ll also pick up some tips on how to write your listing so as to improve your trust.

2. Don’t skimp on the proof

As I pointed out before, most blog buyers are looking for established businesses that they can purchase and maintain. This means they need proof. They want to know that your traffic isn’t periodic or paid and that your SEO rankings aren’t going downhill.

Make sure you give good and transparent proof while still keeping in mind the various Terms of Service agreements that you have. For example, there are parts of your Adsense statistics that you aren’t allowed to reveal publicly.

3. Be personal

Some people might disagree with this but I’ve found that a lot of people want to buy not only a good site but a good site that comes from a good person. If someone is going to part with $10k+ they are probably going to want to know that the seller is trustworthy and cares about the site.

Of course, you don’t want to go on about your weekend in the sales pitch, and you don’t want to give away any information that puts you in an unsafe position, but you do want to create a sense of transparency and honesty that buyers feel comfortable with. Be open about how the site developed, why you like it, why you’re selling, any concerns you have, etc.

4. Stand your ground but don’t be rude

Especially in any private negotiations, it’s really important to know what you want out of the sale and to not back down because someone is a better negotiator than you. Quite often you’ll face savvy buyers finding very good reasons to get your price down even though they fully intend to pay what you’re asking for. Know what price you want to achieve (realistically) and be prepared to back yourself.

5. Never, ever be dishonest

Honest people don’t need to be told this, but it’s critically important that you leave any sleazy sales tactics at the door and forget about lying or exaggerating to get some money. Not only does this make for a bad listing, it can really ruin someone’s financial situation if you sell them a site that has “skeletons in the closet”.

Comments on a Flippa listing

One of the most common things you’ll see in this regard is people trying to sell a site that has just been penalized by Google for one reason or another and claiming that they are just bored with the niche or need the money for family reasons. Forget it! It’s dishonest and will come back to bite you. As you can see from the few honest users featured in the screenshot above, there are both buyer and seller ratings, so all of your dealings go on record.

6. Use headings and organized formatting

Wait a sec! Writing a sales listing is like writing a blog post? You got it!

It’s not uncommon to see listings that are pages of clumpy text with no real order. Try and keep it in a structured format that is easy to digest. Break it down into headings like Background to the Sale, Why I’m Selling, Traffic Details, Revenue Details, Expenses and Costs, Problems and Issues, and so on.

This is the largest ever sale completed on Flippa ($750,000) and while I don’t support gambling sites I think it is an interesting study in setting up a listing.

7. Emphasize your blog’s strong points and what buyers want

If you are asking for a decent amount of money for your site you’ll want to know its strong points and be able to communicate them convincingly. Now, I’m not talking about tricking anyone or being really pushy. I’m just saying that it’s wise to clearly communicate why your blog is a good buy.

For example, if you rank for a particularly competitive set of keywords you might want to share that. If your site has survived Panda updates that other sites in your niche haven’t, that is also a good thing to get across. If you have a high converting opt-in form or a great email open rate you should absolutely tell them about it!

Don’t assume that revenue details are all they care about (although it is a big deal). Some other factor might be the difference between them buying your blog or another one on the same page.

How to ensure you have a good transaction (and post-transaction!)

As soon as you sell a blog you’ll have one of those “wish I had thought of that…” moments which can leave you with a few regrets. With that in mind I thought I’d go over a few little things you can do that can make a big difference to your happiness before and after the sale.

  • Know the process: A lot of bad mistakes happen when people haven’t done their research. Find out about how the process works and what is expected of you before, during and after.
  • Know the financial details: Find out how much the transaction is going to cost you from every angle. You need to know the fees Flippa charges, if you’re using that site, as well as any other fees/costs like bank fees or taxes.
  • Know your limits: If you have a strange feeling in your gut about something or someone then just stop right there and wait for another buyer. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s a good idea to set up some limits that you won’t go past to keep you focused during the sale.
  • Control the post-sale climate: In some situations it is possible to specify what can and can’t be done with your site once you sell it. You might need the help of a lawyer in order to draft a contract but if you don’t want your site getting used for unethical purposes down the track, for example, try and make it a condition of the sale.
  • Stay on board: Again, if you care about the site it is sometimes wise to stay on board for a few weeks or months to help the new owner get used to the day-to-day activities involved in running it.
  • Protect yourself: Don’t give out personal information that you don’t need to and try to use every protection that is available in the selling situation.

A lot of this stuff comes with experience but if you are selling your “pride and joy” blog it’s a good idea to take your time to do the preparation.

Some clever things to do with the sale money

I thought I’d share a pretty embarrassing story at this point.

When I sold my first blog I was quite young and was living like a broke college kid. So when the money hit my account I was pretty excited. It felt like a million dollars to me!

A smart person would have stored that money away or re-invested it into new businesses or blogs.

Not me. I ate the money.

Not literally, but I spent most of the profits sitting around playing video games and eating footlong Subs. It was a great holiday but a huge waste of money.

So what should you do with the money?

Well, it seems to me that if you’ve just sold a blog for a good profit, then maybe you have a skillset that you can develop and grow. Making money online isn’t easy so it might be a good idea to see how far you can take the blog development/sale process and whether you can scale it up.

For example, if you sold one blog for $50,000 with two years’ work, I wonder whether you could repeat the process on a larger scale and aim for three or four sales a year by hiring writers, coders, assistants, etc. A post later this week will look at buying blogs so that might be a good place for you to begin.

Reinvesting the money is smart. Eating sandwiches isn’t.

Would you sell your blog?

Sometimes we bloggers spend a lot of time reading and not a lot of time doing (myself included) and so I thought I’d encourage you to develop your own guide to selling a blog by trying it for yourself.

Remember, selling your blog is forever, so make sure you really want to go ahead with it before jumping in.

I’d love to hear from the Problogger.net readers on this one. Would you sell your blog? How much would you hope to get? Are you worried about the risks associated with the transaction? Drop a comment and let me know.

Update: check out our followup posts on selling blogs at:

Contributing author The Blog Tyrant is a 26 year old Australian guy who plays video games at lunch time and sells blogs for $20,000 a pop.

20+ More Bloggers to Watch: The Readers’ Choice

It’s been nearly a month since Bloggers to Watch in 2013 was published. We had a fantastic response, including some compelling recommendations via the comments section and around the web.

Telescope

Image courtesy stock.xchng user saavem

This post presents all the bloggers that people have highlighted over the past few weeks.

Mark Richards

If you want to read a genuinely very funny Dad blogger then you can’t beat Mark Richards.  The blog has only been live for about three months but it is fast getting a strong following in the UK. It’s a mix of current posts (Mark’s kids are all teenagers now) and flashbacks to when they were younger and the only thing he had to worry about was whether they’d eat their carrots. Highly recommended to all parents.

via Charlie Plunkett

Matthew Woodward

Jacob King loved Matthew Woodward.  He said:

Guy is a beast. Teaching so much about link building some of his stuff I don’t even want to share.

What do you guys think? Have you ever come across a blog so good that you wanted to keep it a secret?

Tsh Oxenrider

I’d also include Tsh Oxenrider of Simple Mom. She’s been around a while, but I’m always eager to see where she goes next.

from Tara Ziegmont

Wellness Mama

One blogger I really enjoy is Katie from Wellness Mama. She’s a health and nutrition blogger, but does a great job of getting readers involved with her posts.

via Shea

Christopher Foster

“An older blogger who is an accomplished and wise writer. He blogs regularly at The Happy Seeker. I highly recommend checking him out!”

via Dave Rowley

Bianca Jade

She’s a fitness fashion trend expert and women’s active lifestyle blogger. Bianca is the creator of MizzFIT.com where people can find fitness fashion and health & wellness news. She’s truly inspirational and empowers women to work out, feel sexy and how to live an active, and strong life.

via Emily

More suggestions

Alison Elissa Horner had some great suggestions:

I really like Brooke Castillo’s blog. She doesn’t post super regularly, but her simple, direct posts remind me of this quote.

“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.” -Czeslaw Milosz

I’m also a fan of Jenny Shih’s blog.  She has thoughtful posts and tips for being an entrepreneur. She’s an excellent teacher because she walks you through new ideas step by step.

Mara made the following recommendation:

Three women, including myself, were asked to speak as we’ve each had great success in less than two years. We’d love for you to check us out:

Therese from the Unlost had a couple of interesting ideas:

She highlighted her move-lah concept has an idea to encourage people to take action: “All my products are payable– in full or in part– with “Move-lah,” the world’s newest form of currency, which is designed to help people move and take action on the concepts they’re learning.”

She also recommended Nicole Antoinette as a “smart, witty, and, well, funny” blogger.

Eden Riley, one of this year’s bloggers to watch, recommended we keep an eye on Karen. She said that the blog was:

one of the best and beautiful blogs ever, written by buddhist monk and mother Karen Maezen Miller. Run to her words—I did.

R Siemienowicz recommended that we check out…

…the visual diary of photographer, illustrator and author Garance Doré. He said she has “the best and most genuinely arresting voice among #fashion bloggers.”

I recommend you read her recent article where she explains the philosphy behind her blog.

More lists

There were also three useful blog posts curating interesting bloggers:

Over to you

No list post can ever cover all niches and communities. Bloggers vary widely in age, race, and gender. Having said that, there were two types of bloggers that people sought recommendations of:

  • examples of Asian bloggers
  • bloggers aged over 60.

Do you know of any interesting bloggers in the above demographics? Or do you know of a niche/community that you feel isn’t represented enough in the wider blogging community?

Let me know in the comments. It will help shape the type of bloggers that I feature here throughout this year.