A little weekend fun….

What do you think of the likeness?

You Don’t Need a Product of Your Own to Have a Successful Product Blog

As we wrap up this short series of posts on product blogging, let’s take a look at a strategy for those who may not have a product of their own to sell. We’ve looked at selling information and niche e-commerce, and you can obviously use those strategies with products that you sell on behalf of others.

Two Ways to Work on Commission

Selling for others online basically boils down to two options:

  1. Affiliate programs are a logical choice. They’re easy to find and join via various affiliate program directories, and tracking and payment systems are already in place. However, you have competition. The key to successful affiliate product blogs is to add independent value, as we’ll discuss below.
  2. Joint ventures or representation agreements are another option, and can be hugely profitable if structured and executed properly. In this case, you find a product that is not currently being marketed online, and strike a deal with the owner that allows you to sell the item on a negotiated commission basis. You’ll also need to be familiar with affiliate program software, as you’ll likely be advising the seller on how to set up a way to track your sales.

Add Value and Build Credibility

With the crack down on the “Google Cash” method of sending searchers directly to affiliate merchant sites via pay-per-click, plus the most recent AdWords landing page shake-up, the situation is clear — the pressure is on to actually add value, rather than simply drive traffic. Plus, as the Internet itself makes consumers more savvy then ever, some of the older affiliate marketing techniques have become less effective.

  1. Adding value means offering something to the potential buyer beyond a link to the merchant site. This could be free bonuses you deliver with a purchase, or even a rebate that comes from your commission. But it need not be anything like that. Creating content that caters to the lifestyle surrounding the product, or that shows how a product solves a problem, is a value-add strategy that is perfectly suited for blogs.
  2. Creating “review” sites monetized by affiliate links is a strategy that goes way back, but it may not work very well going forward. Savvy consumers can sniff out your profit motive, and discount your review and go looking elsewhere. Blogs like Engadget and Darren’s own digital camera review blog forego hard selling of the product and rely mostly on advertising instead. You’ll want to be transparent about wanting to sell the product if that’s your model, and by no means be ashamed of it.

Learn the Product, and Don’t be Afraid to SELL It!

It’s impossible to truly add value and maintain credibility without really understanding what you’re selling. In-house copywriters live and breathe the details of the company products, and the first thing freelance copywriters do when starting a new assignment is become exhaustively familiar with everything they can get their hands on about the item to be sold.

Once you really understand a product, and believe in it, selling becomes much easier. Your enthusiasm is genuine, and people can pick up on that in your writing. Combine your knowledge and that excitement with good copywriting, and you’re on your way.

If you’re interested in learning more about copywriting for product blogs, affiliate marketing and joint ventures, I’ll be digging in deeper over at my place.

Otherwise, thanks to Darren for letting me guest post during his paternity leave — his biggest adventure is only just beginning. :)

How to Sell Niche Products With Your Blog

Back when my wife and I lived in a hip loft on the east side of downtown Dallas (read: back before the kids came), I used to take the dog for walks in our funky little neighborhood just north of Deep Ellum. There resided an artist who worked and lived out of his studio, where he crafted eccentric sculptures out of recycled iron and steel scrap.

I’d often wonder as I walked by his place if it was worth his while to have a website to gain a wider audience for his work. Back at that time, just after a monumental Internet bust that resulted from outrageous amounts of money being spent to promote sock puppets, I wasn’t sure if the guy could attract enough traffic from a web presence to actually make sales, no matter how good his work was.

Fast forward to 2006.

The Rise of the “Catablog”

John Unger is an artist in rural Michigan who works and lives out of his studio along a lonely highway, or as he puts it, “dead center of the middle of nowhere”. John makes eccentric art and sculptures out of recycled scrap materials, such as propane tanks, old cars, rivets, and bottle caps.

Here’s the cool thing. John sells quite a bit of his work thanks to his blog.

Why? Well, when other little blogs like Boing Boing (and many others) take notice, amazing things start happening in terms of traffic and sales. That’s something that the e-commerce people of the late 90s just never got — it’s the little guy with the unique product that can gain the most benefit from worldwide exposure.

Basically, anything that can be sold by catalog is a perfect candidate for Internet sales. And when you create a “catablog,” you have no worries about printing, distribution, copy space, or often even advertising costs. You don’t even need a fancy $10,000 ecommerce site or a merchant account thanks to PayPal.

Why John Unger’s Product Blog Works

John Unger basically uses a “two blog” structure powered by TypePad. One blog is more of a general nature about what’s going on with his studio, and the other is his catablog of items for sale.

John not only makes unique products, but he knows how to present those products via photography and copy that sells. Let’s take a look at one of his items and how he presents it.

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Why This Blog Sells Tons of Ebooks (And How It Can Sell Even More)

For our first product blog review, let’s take a look at SEO Book, a blog by SEO expert Aaron Wall that ultimately revolves around the sale of a continually-updated book on search engine optimization techniques that bring more traffic to websites.

Like any successful product blog, it all starts with the product. Aaron’s book is excellent, and stands head and shoulders above a lot of the SEO dreck that gets peddled to unwary newbies.

The fact that Aaron uses a blog to sell his book is incredibly smart. Beyond the natural search engine benefits provided by publishing via blog and RSS, Aaron’s regular posting schedule and archives are critical tools for information product sales. They build his authority on the subject matter, help people take a liking to him, create relationships via a free subscription to the blog, and even put people in a position to feel indebted to him (via reciprocity) for all the great free information he provides.

When it comes down to the sales process for the book, Aaron actually promotes his consulting services a bit stronger first with a graphic on the right sidebar. At $500 for an hour of phone consultation, a comprehensive ebook for $79 starts looking really attractive to a lot of folks. Note that if Aaron had not first built up his authority and credibility with his blog, this strategy might backfire.

OK, on to the sales page for the book. Aaron starts off with a strong headline, which is the absolute most important element to anything you want people to actually read — whether a sales letter, article or blog post.

His states:

Webmasters: I Guarantee YOU Can Triple Your Traffic – in 90 Days – or You Don’t Pay A Single Penny!

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The Secret of Product Blogs That Sell

One of the most effective ways to make money with a blog — and a method that is gaining steam — is product blogging. Essentially, your blog is built around selling one or more products, either directly from you or via affiliate programs and joint ventures with others.

There’s many ways to go about this. You could have a blog designed to promote information products that you have created — such as ebooks or audio/video products — that go into much greater detail about the subject matter than your free posts provide. You could do the same with other people’s information products via affiliate programs.

Or, your blog posts themselves could be designed to promote your catalog of software or hard goods directly. Some people like to call this catablogging, and again, you could do a catablog with affiliate programs if you don’t have products of your own.

And of course, there are endless combinations and hybrids that you can come up with.

Whatever your product blogging model, one crucial skill will determine whether you make an optimal amount of cash for your efforts. You’ll need to be able to craft words that sell, which is a nice definition of the art and science of copywriting.

In my next couple of guest posts here at Problogger, I’m going to do case studies on two different approaches to product blogging. Then I’ll follow up with a look at product blogs powered by affiliate programs, which anyone can start up quickly and, if done correctly, very profitably.

If you’re not familiar with the basics of copywriting, feel free to check out this introductory copywriting tutorial I put together over at my place. Copywriting skills are an essential element to the new conversational style of blog marketing, and this free tutorial should get you up and running in no time.

Controlling the Googlebot

How to control what gets indexed by Google and when? That is the question. Most of the time, we want Google to snarf up as many pages as possible. In my own experience, I can think of a few times when indexing was not something I wanted and I had to go back to Google to actually have pages removed.

In the immortal words of Darren Rowse, there’s a tangent to follow:
In my case, a church website I run inadvertently had information about missionaries that were in sensitive areas of the world and information about them actually placed them in danger. While I typically wanted information about the church and functions of the church indexed for people to find, I did not want this information indexable. While I spun my wheels to correct the sensitivie information, I realized that anyone in the world could find enough information about these people via Google that I had to resort to Google’s url removal tool.

Matt Cutts provides a concise and link-filled guide to information to control the Googlebot’s indexing. Though details can be found at Matt’s site, here is a short rundown:

  1. At a site or directory level, use .htaccess to add password protection.
  2. At a site or directory level, make use of a robots.txt file.
  3. At a page level, use the noindex <meta> tag.
  4. At a link level, use a nofollow attribute.
  5. If the content has already been crawled, use the Google url removal tool as a last resort.

I would add just a point on common sense and intelligent web concepts. There is a saying that says that nothing you do on the internet is anonymous. There is something to be said about thinking before you act. It’s harder to cleanup from a boneheaded mistake such as the one I made for the church whose site I ran, than it is to think before posting anything online. If you don’t want the world to see it, then don’t rely on the mechanisms listed above. Simply don’t post it.

Flat Fee Advertising All That’s Left?

If you go by the story from SEOMoz, there’s too much fraud in the advertising arena and the only format that makes sense for advertisers is flat-rate models such as Text Link Ads (aff).

The post writer, Michael Martinez, cites a staggering fact that 14% of clicks in the click-through variety of advertising is fraudulent. I don’t know where he got his numbers, but I have no reason to doubt that they are accurate.

I’ve thought for some time that contextual advertising is dead, and I see the argument about impression based advertising. But could his prediction be true? I sure hope not.

A Day in the Life of a Blogger – Vidcast

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Yesterday I got a new toy – an iSight webcam.What follows is a little video I made with it describing ‘a day in the life of me’.

It’s nothing to serious and not the best quality video I’ve ever made (it was a little dark in the room) – but it was a fun way to spend a lazy Saturday evening.

This video was originally shared on by darrenrowse with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.

PS: The music is Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun from the albumn Dig Your Own Hole (aff)

ebay AdContext Product Manager Sheds Light on Program

One of the product managers from ebay’s new AdContext contextual ad program, Ken, has just left a comment on my previous post about AdContext. As the comment was pretty long and quite comprehensive I thought I’d promote it to be a post of it’s own. Hopefully it sheds some light on AdContext for those of you considering joining the program. Keep in mind the information is from someone working on it so there is an element of natural bias there – but I think Ken’s done a reasonably good job. Thanks for stopping by mate. Here’s his comment:

I’m one of the product managers for eBay AdContext. I just read Darren’s post and everyone’s comments and I wanted to give everyone some information so you can decide if AdContext is worth your time (or not :). I’ll try to keep it factual so you won’t think I’m trying to pull some marketing spin here.

Payout structure: The payout structure for eBay AdContext is based on eBay’s affiliate program. In the US this based on a revenue share for bids, BINs as well as each new confirmed registered user (CRU) you send to eBay. Details are here. For other countries where eBay operates the compensation structure is not revenue share but pays out on each bid, BIN and CRU (for example, see the UK payout structure here).
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