In this post I want to take you inside a secret blogging alliance. A small group of bloggers who’ve committed to work together in secret for the mutual benefit of all members of the alliance.
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Last week I was talking with a successful blogger about factors that had helped us improve our blogs the most and in a comment that I think he regretted making shortly after he mentioned that he was in a ‘blogging alliance’ with a group of other bloggers.
I immediately honed in on the term blogging alliance and began to push him a little on it. What was it? What did it do? What impact did it have?
At first he was hesitant to share but once I promised not to reveal who he was or indicate what niche he was blogging in he began to loosen up and shared some details on the understanding that I’d be writing it up as a post here on ProBlogger (he actually checked with other members of the alliance before he told me any details). Here’s what I learned:
What is the Blogging Alliance?
From what I can piece together the alliance started, as many good ideas do, over a beer between two bloggers. They had both been building their blogs for a couple of years in the same niche and had been meeting up occasionally to share stories and swap ideas on how each other could improve their blogs.
The meetings had been informal, irregular and usually disintegrated into more of a social catchup than much else – but they were reflecting on this one occasion that despite this they’d both really benefited from the relationship. As they drank their draughts they began to wonder out loud what more they could do together to benefit them both.
They tossed around a number of ideas including a formal partnership (a blog network of sorts) but shied away from that as they began to realize the legal ramifications of starting a partnership and company together. Instead they began to wonder what would happen if they pulled together a small group of bloggers on related topics to work together rather than competing with one another.
One of them suggested that they form an ‘alliance’ – the idea caught on.
Each of the bloggers sounded out 3 other bloggers to see if they were interested. 5 of those that they sounded out responded positively – the 6th didn’t (and interestingly is the only one of the original group not blogging today).
The 7 bloggers who founded the alliance all came from the same niche. The niche was a very wide one though and each had different approaches, skills, strengths and focuses. None really were competing with each other directly but all were on related topics.
They decided to ‘meet’ at the same time each week on a conference call (they were scattered geographically so a face to face meeting wasn’t possible). On their first meeting they didn’t really know what they were going to DO together but they committed to keep meeting, keep sharing what they were doing, keep talking about their niche and keep looking for opportunities to help each other.
They committed to keep the group secret and to keep all activities of the group to be for the mutual benefit of one another.
This all took place two years ago.
Since that time each of the 7 bloggers have seen drastic improvements in their blogs. None are what one might consider to be ‘A-lister’ blogs but of the initial group 5 are now full time bloggers and the other 2 could be if they wished to be but have decided to keep working other jobs.
They have talked about inviting other bloggers into the alliance numerous times but have decided to keep things small.
What Does the Blogging Alliance DO?
OK – so at this point I was intrigued by the idea of a blogging alliance. I didn’t know who was involved (and still don’t) but I did know the blogger telling me the story and he’s a credible guy with a great blog who makes a good living from his blog.
So my next question was to ask what the blogging alliance actually looked like? What did they do? How had it worked?
We talked for a good 45 minutes about this but here’s a summary of the notes I took (with a few of my own thoughts) on the different activities that they engaged in to help one another grow their blogs:
1. Commenting on each others blogs
I’ll admit, when he shared this one first I was a little disappointed. I was envisaging a secret group gathering in robes practicing dynamic new tactics to grow one another’s blogs…. and he tells me that they comment on each others blogs!
However this was where they started and he tells me that it actually had a big impact. They decided as a group that rather than starting with anything too big that they’d simple each subscribe and read one another’s blogs and leave at least one comment on each others blogs once every weekday.
The idea came out of the fact that each reported on their first meeting that one of their biggest frustrations was that while they spent hours each week writing their blogs that they always struggled to get comments – it was depressing. So they started commenting on each other’s posts.
So instead of each post they wrote getting 0 comments – they each started getting 7. The impact was interesting because not only did the comments stimulate great conversations between them – but they started to notice others leaving comments too. The idea of ‘social proof’ came into effect – people coming to a blog with comments are just more likely to leave comments.
Interestingly the blogger I spoke with told me of another impact on his own blogging – he started writing better posts. He reflected to me that knowing that these other 7 bloggers from his niche were going to be reading his posts spurred him on to write better and better articles. Not only that – the comments being left were not just ‘great post’ comments but each had committed to adding useful comments – so quite often he got great ideas for new posts as well – his blog improved almost overnight simply by having other bloggers leave comments on his blog.
2. Linking to One Another
The next thing they did was again simple but effective (in fact everything they did was simple) – they began to link to one another. Actually this didn’t really start as a formal strategy as such – they did it naturally as a result of each subscribing to one another because they began to see posts on one another’s blogs that related to their audience.
However they did end up getting a little more formal with it and devised a bit of a system (they ended up using Basecamp to keep track of a lot of this type of thing) where they could each suggest a single post that they’d written each week that they’d like one another to consider linking to.
They decided not to force one another to link in this way because they wanted posts to be relevant to the blog linking to them but over time what started happening was that each of the blogs in the alliance started getting linked to by at least 2-3 of the other blogs each week.
They also committed to add blogrolls to their sidebars which linked to one another (as well as a few other blogs in their niche).
The result of this simple strategy over time was that they started sharing readers with one another and that their search engine rankings started to grow.
3. Social Bookmarking and Tweeting
An extension of the linking to one another’s posts was that the bloggers also started to help one another out in social media by promoting each others links on Twitter as well as bookmarking each other’s posts on sites like Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon.
While this didn’t have a massive impact as they were such a small group of bloggers it did drive some traffic (it drove more over time as each of their social media presences grew) and also generated links for posts.
They didn’t do this for every post each of them wrote – but again were selective and did it with a single post a week each (I think this grew to a minimum of 2-3 posts a week later on).
Some of the bloggers now not only automatically tweet when they post a new post on their own blog but have got things set up to automatically tweet when other blogs in the alliance tweet.
4. Guest Posts
Another thing that they regularly do is write for one another.
This started out simply as a way to help each other out when one of them was going on vacation (the other bloggers would fill in) but they found that it ended up benefiting everyone because it helped each of them to grow their profile with each other’s readers.
Now they each commit to write at least one guest post per month on at least one of the other blogs in the alliance. In reality most of them do guest posts as much as once a week. They mix it up so everyone gets and writes guest posts and so that the one person isn’t doing the guest posts on just one blog.
5. Joint Promotions/Competitions
A couple of times now they’ve run promotions together. I won’t go into too much detail of what they did for fear of revealing who they are but they have centered around competitions with bigger prizes open to readers from each of their blogs. The results were great as they were able to attract sponsors to donate great prizes with the guarantee that the sponsor wouldn’t just get exposure on a single blog but 7.
6. Monetization Leads
This is a more recent development but has had some real success. They realized after a while that each of them were spending time each month trying to find advertisers as well as testing affiliate programs on their blogs. They were duplicating a lot of their efforts and actually competing with one another on occasions to sign up advertisers.
They talked about pooling their efforts completely and setting up an ad network to run across all 7 blogs but pulled away from that idea for the time being as it was a little complicated and they didn’t want to formalize partnerships or have to write up contracts.
Instead what they’ve done is commit to share with one another when they sign up new advertisers, to share how much they’re getting, to introduce one another to advertisers etc. The result has been great so far – a number of the advertisers have signed up for multiple blogs where they’d previously have signed up for just one.
They each still handle their negotiations with advertisers but the introductions alone have helped all improve their revenue.
They also share information with each other on what affiliate programs are working for them and what techniques they’re using to increase sales.
7. Spot Promotions
Another technique that they’ve used a few times is to run what they call ‘spot promotions’ of each others blogs. I’m not sure how they came up with that name for what they do but in effect it involves them doing a promotion for another blog in the alliance by giving a strong call to action to readers of one blog to become subscribers to the newsletter list or RSS feed of another.
This is usually done in a blog post (ie Blog A writes a post talking about how much they love Blog B and highlighting it’s newsletter and/or feed).
The results of these promotions have apparently been fantastic.
8. Thank You Page Promotions
Another similar thing that they’ve recently been trying is to add promotions to each others newsletters and feeds to the thank you pages of their own newsletter signups (ie when you sign up for the newsletter for Blog A you’re taken to a thank you page that suggests 6 other blogs that you should subscribe to with links to each of their newsletters/feeds).
This is a technique that many internet marketers use to ‘up sell’ people to products – but this group have committed to ‘up sell’ each other’s lists on their thank you pages (a great idea).
9. Remnant Ad Promotions
Another technique that they’ve done a little with is to serve ads for each other’s blogs when they have spare ad spots on their blogs. So if Blog A has a spare 125 x 125 ad slot on their blog they rotate buttons for each of the other blogs in that position – driving traffic from one blog to another.
10. Product Promotion
More recently a couple of the bloggers in the alliance have released products (ebooks/membership sites). The group have committed to promote one another’s products heavily.
They have also committed to give each other ‘super-affiliate’ status of each other’s products where the affiliate commissions that they pay to affiliates are significantly higher on each other’s products (so it’s not just those who release products who benefit more from the alliance but those promoting them).
11. Joint Products
They’ve also recently just started about talking about joint collaborations on products. The ‘alliance’ itself will release a product next year which they’ll all contribute content to as well as receive a share of the profits from.
Another thing that this group of bloggers has done really well is to help one another to expand and deepen one another’s networks. Of course a great deal of networking has gone on amongst the bloggers themselves but there have been many occasions where bloggers have made introductions for one another to other bloggers, journalists, developers, designers etc etc etc.
Collectively these 7 bloggers know a lot of people and they’re more than willing to help one another expand their networks.
13. In Person Meet Up
In the last few months the group met up for the first time in person. They all booked rooms in the one hotel and got themselves a meeting room and spent a weekend together.
The weekend involved a lot of socializing but also some intentional times together where they did
- some training (each had to present for 30 minutes on something that they’d learned and had success with)
- brainstorming (they spent time brainstorming what they could do together – this is where the idea for a joint product came from)
- blog reviews (they spent an hour workshopping each of the 7 blogs – each blogger came away with a long list of things that they could do to improve their blogs, topics that they could write on, ideas on how to better monetize etc)
A few Concluding Insights on Blog Alliances
I found this conversation to be a fascinating one. Much of what this blogger told me is similar to things I’ve been suggesting bloggers do together for years in posts that I’ve written about finding ‘blogging buddies’ (in fact this group took on some of the ideas in my posts and implemented them in their alliance) however this group has taken things to a whole new level and formalized many of them (in an informal way as there’s no contracts or legal agreements).
In chatting to the blogger I got the sense that the group has worked well because each of the bloggers had (and still have) similar sized blogs, that each of the bloggers has an attitude of being humble and committed to the idea of mutual benefit and because they have never forced anyone to promote anything that they didn’t feel was a natural or organic fit with their blog.
There have been times where a blogger (or more than one) have opted out of things that others were doing because of their own commitments or because it didn’t ‘fit’ with their blogs – but each of the bloggers has invested time and energy into the greater good of the alliance.
Lastly by all reports this alliance has helped a great deal. As I mentioned above – 5 of the 7 bloggers are now full time bloggers and the other 2 are doing pretty well with blogging as their 2nd job.
One of the side benefits that the blogger I talked with talked about was that the he didn’t think that he’d still be blogging if it wasn’t for the alliance. He’d been through a couple of times in the last two years where he’d wanted to give up blogging – but the alliance pulled him through. Other bloggers covered for him through tough circumstances and on other occasions other bloggers gave him a kick up the pants and told him to get his act together when he was slacking off. The combination of accountability and encouragement really helped him a lot.
Thanks to this alliance for allowing us to see some of what they’ve done – I’m fascinated by this glimpse into this alliance – I think it could (and should) spark ideas for other bloggers who I think could benefit a lot from similar approaches.