World of blogging

Set Up a Business Entity

As with any new business, there are government requirements you must fulfill in order to operate legally. These differ in different countries, so be sure to consult your local government. Moreover, it is a good idea to ask both your lawyer and accountant for advice on how to set up your business. It can be time-consuming and costly to change these types of decisions further down the track. Here are some basic things you will probably have to do:

1. Choosing a Business Structure

In most countries there are a variety of business structures that you can use for your new business. They usually range from a simpler sole trader or partnership structure, to a corporation or company structure. A sole trader or partnership usually involves less paperwork, but leaves you personally liable when things go wrong – think lawsuits and disputes. Corporation or company structures are more complex to set up and involve higher registration and annual fees, but provide a degree of personal legal protection.

It’s important to spend time deciding how to set up your business as it may have implications for things like filing accounts with the tax department, liability when things go wrong, and what business paperwork you need to complete. Ask your lawyer and accountant what they recommend. Professional consultants aren’t cheap so this will be an investment, but the wrong choice of business could potentially cost you a great deal of money and stress in the long run. A qualified professional will help you understand your options and make an informed choice.

2. Consider How Ownership is Structured

You should also consider how the ownership of your business works.
In some countries additional entities can reduce your tax exposure.
For example, sharing ownership between yourself and a partner, or
setting up a family trust, can distribute the income from your business
and thereby reduce the tax liability you incur. Ask your lawyer and
accountant for tax advice, particularly if you have partners or investors
in the business.

3. Registering or Incorporating Your Business

You will need to register or incorporate your business with the
government for it to become a legal entity. In the U.S. this also means
selecting what state you wish to register in, since different states
have different laws. Wherever you are, you will need to ensure that
your business name is unique in its industry area. This can usually be
done by consulting a database of local businesses. Contact your local
government for more information and resources. We will discuss naming
and branding more in our blog.

4. Registering for Tax

Once your business is registered, you may also need to register it for
tax purposes. Many countries give out an identification number to
businesses to be used when lodging accounts with the tax department.
You can ask your accountant for more information on what sorts of
registration are needed. Ask about payroll taxes if you plan on hiring
employees as well as withholding tax on their behalf. If you are planning
on selling something via your blog, you may also want to ask about
sales taxes and whether you need to charge them.
It’s important to accept that taxes are an unavoidable reality of doing
business. Planning for them means you’ve factored them into the
equation and won’t have any nasty surprises. Trying to avoid them
through ignorance is never a good plan. So even though it may not be the most exciting thing to think about in the early stages of setting up
your business, take the time to research this thoroughly.

5. Insuring Your Business

Ask your accountant what their view is on taking out business insurance
for your new enterprise. Depending on where you are, there may be
some mandatory insurance requirements such as worker’s protection
or compensation insurance that will be relevant if you plan on hiring

Set Up a Credit Card, Bank, and PayPal Account

Spend some time investigating different business banking options and find
a suitable bank and account type for your new business. Opening a bank
account in your business name will ensure that your business transactions
and personal transactions remain separate. While at first it might be
tempting to use this business account for your personal use from time
to time, avoid this at all costs. It only makes your accounting much more
complex come tax time. And even worse, if you have set up a corporate
structure for your business to avoid personal liability, mixing accounts can
void your protection. So always keep work and personal finances separate.
If possible, you’ll also want to get a business credit card to pay for things
like web hosting and domain names.

Many banks won’t issue a card to a business until a sufficient amount of time has passed and money has gone through the system, if this is the case, you may want to set up a new personal card that you only use for business expenses. Ask your accountant for advice on managing your credit card if this is the case. PayPal is the de facto way of moving money online, particularly with freelance writers, designers, and developers. It is also useful for taking payments from advertisers, affiliate networks, and other companies associated with making your site money! Since it costs nothing to set up, you may as well register a PayPal account immediately and link it up to your new business bank account.

Capital and investment

No matter how much “sweat capital” you plan to put into your new venture,
to get it off the ground you are going to need some sort of capital, even if it’s
just to pay for costs like business registration and your accountant’s fees.
Typically your starting capital will come from one or more of the following
four sources:

1. Your Own Cash and Time
Because blogging is quite a low cost business, you may very well be
able to fund your blog off your own savings. If you can manage this
then I personally recommend you do so. Building a business off your
own cash means you don’t go into debt, you don’t have the weight of
someone else’s investment or debt, and most importantly you really
count every penny you are spending because you had to work to get it
in the first place!

If you don’t have a lot of savings, you can start a business while
working part-time to pay bills and cover costs. This can be painful
and distracting, but effective – provided you have a high tolerance for
working all hours of the day and night while you get your business
up and running. If you choose this path, make sure you don’t let the
business set up drag on because you don’t have enough time to make a
real go of it.

2. Taking a Loan

There are many types of debt that you can take on to fund a small
business. Virtually all will involve putting down some sort of security and
paying interest back over time. You should consult your accountant and
banker to discuss options that suit your particular financial needs.

3. Taking an Investment

Typical investors for a blog business will be friends and family, a
business partner, or an angel investor. Businesses this size are below
the scope of most venture capitalists and private equity firms who are
usually looking for bigger investments with bigger returns.

If you are taking on an investment, make sure you have a rock solid
business plan, have invested a lot of your own money as well, and
consult your lawyer and accountant to draw up concrete agreements to
keep all parties happy and satisfied. If your investor offers up terms and
agreements for investing, then read them carefully and get your lawyer
to do so as well.

Whenever money is involved, it’s important that everything is very clear
between you and your investors. If your business should go splendidly
well and be worth a lot in the future, these agreements will be even more
important and you’ll want to know that you made them fair and clear
from the beginning.

4. Having a Co-founder (with Capital)

A variant of taking investment is to have a co-founder or business
partner starting the business with you. In this instance you both
contribute capital and both work in the business spreading the load
on both fronts. You can even both work part-time jobs as described
above to help keep the business afloat. Co-founders can bring other
advantages as well, which we’ll discuss in the next section.


Like many things in life, starting a business is a lot harder to do by yourself.
In fact, not only is it harder, frankly it’s a lot less fun. That’s why we have cofounders! But how do you choose who to work with? What should you look
for in a co-founder? And what should you avoid?

What Co-founders Bring to the Table

Before we discuss the traits that make for a good partner, let’s first look at
some of the benefits of having a co-founder, because there is, of course,
one big drawback. Namely, having co-founders means giving up a share of
the ownership pie. Your fundamental aim is to find co-founders who bring
enough to the table that this is worth doing. In essence, you are looking for people who through their contribution will make the overall pie larger, so
that a lesser share of this bigger pie is actually worth more than the whole of
the original.
I must say that I am also of the belief that if you’re going to be successful,
there will be more than enough pie to share around. And if you’re going to
flop, then it doesn’t really matter whether you have 100%, 50%, or 25% of
nothing, because it’s all nothing anyway!

Co-founders can contribute a number of things to the business:

1. They Can Keep You On Track

Starting a business can be a very difficult experience, particularly if you
are doing it with normal life going on at the same time. I’ve known many
people who started businesses and then simply never finished because
there were too many distractions. Having co-founders means that even
if you get temporarily distracted, there are other people who have a
vested interest in keeping things going and getting you back on track.

2. You Can Bounce Ideas Off Each Other and Get a Second Opinion
Wondering if something is a good idea? Well, a co-founder is there
to wonder with you. Having a team means you can throw ideas
around, discuss the merits of pursuing certain options, and share in
collective wisdom.

3. They Spread the Workload
Starting a business is hard work. There is a lot to do on a practical level
as well, like registering trademarks, opening bank accounts, finding an
accountant, hiring a lawyer, choose web hosting, writing a business
plan, and all the other nitty-gritty of getting things started. Co-founders
mean you don’t have to do everything all by yourself.

4. They Spread the Investment Load
As described in the previous section, a co-founder can and should
contribute to the total starting capital put into the business. This can
be a significant benefit if it means you avoid having to take on debt and
interest repayments.

5. You Can Share the Startup Experience
Startups are exciting, and unless you have a team, you’re going to bore
the pants off your friends talking about your new blog business. Having
co-founders means you can share the experience, both the highs and
the lows.

6. You Begin with a Bigger Team
Two people are a team that is double the size of one. If you have one
or more co-founders, it means you’re already ahead of the game. You
already have way more resources, and often they are cheap resources
as opposed to employees who you have to pay in cash from Day One.

7. You Have More Connections to Draw On
Knowing people is a big leg up in business. Whether it’s knowing a good
accountant, knowing someone who can give you business advice, or
knowing people in the industry who can help, connections can pay off
big-time. Every co-founder in your team brings their own set of unique
connections and people to draw on.

8. New Skill-Sets
Perhaps the most important benefit is that co-founders bring their own
set of skills to the team. The question is: what skills do you need?
Partnerships work best when your skill sets complement each other. For
example, if you are great at marketing but terrible with accounts and
money, then find someone who is the reverse. If you are a brilliant editor
and know a lot about blogging but don’t know how to get the word out
about a site and generate PR, then find someone with that skill set.
What you need from co-founders are people who think and act
differently to the way you do. People who have strengths where you
have weaknesses, and weaknesses where you’re strong. People who
bring balance to your team.

Trustworthiness and Commitment

Of course it isn’t just a balance of skills that makes for a good co-founder.
Getting into a serious business together is up there with getting married in
terms of commitment, so you need to be sure about the people you choose. This is incredibly important because if you do well, there is going to be money involved, and if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that money
can cause a lot of weird behavior in people. If you work with people you
trust, then it means you’ll spend your time working on the business and not
working against each other.
It’s essential that you seal any co-founding deal in paper and ink with your
lawyer making sure that everyone’s rights and shares are sorted out in black
and white. Having said that, you should choose people you trust, such that
even without the written agreement you’d be okay with them. No matter how
much legal documentation you have, the wrong people can create problems
and it could get pretty nasty.
So don’t skip out on having a legal agreement with your co-founders under
any circumstances, but when you choose those co-founders, choose them
as if there wasn’t going to be a piece of paper holding you together.

Unity of Purpose

In medieval Europe, a not-uncommon method of execution was to tie a
man’s limbs to four horses and then spur the horses to run in different
directions. This morbid analogy sums up what will happen to your business
if you and your co-founders all have different aims.
When you get into business with someone, it’s important that you figure out
what their plan is. Are they looking to just invest some money and then not
do anything? Are they looking for a quick exit? Do they see the business as
being all about them? Are they passionate about growing a business or just
after a cash cow to fund their lifestyle?
Sometimes you will have to turn away from someone who complements
your skill set perfectly and whom you trust implicitly, simply because they
want different things from the business.
Having unity of purpose means you avoid friction caused by your team each
trying to fulfill different objectives. So instead of working against each other,
you’re working with each other.

Finding co-founders means making a lot of big decisions. In Chapter 4
we’ll discuss how important it is to take the time to pick the right staff, but
picking co-founders requires ten times more care and thought. Go with
your instincts about people, take the time to ask them what they are after,
and ask yourself if you complement each other in skills and personality.
Remember, you’re going to be stuck with these people for a long time to
come, so also choose nice people who make you happy!

Your Mission and Vision

Business just for the sake of making money is neither inspiring nor fulfilling.
While that shouldn’t mean you ignore finances, it does mean you should set
a higher priority and let that inform the business of making money – not the
other way around.
Having a mission for your business can be as simple as deciding that you
want to create the most informative blog on a particular topic, or to be a site
that is known for breaking news first, or to create a blog that creates value
for its readers.
Take some time to imagine what you’d like to create. Remove money from
the equation and instead, consider what sort of product you could make,
how it could impact people, and what sort of success would inspire you.
Look at sites and businesses you admire and ask yourself what values do
they have? What are they aspiring to?
When you write out your mission statement in your business plan, in your
notebook or wherever you decide to commit it, don’t feel you need to make
it sound grandiose or wordy. It’s just as valid, and probably a lot more
inspiring, to have a simple plain mission that you really relate to!

Business Planning

When investing any significant amount of money into a business, it is worth
creating a business plan to document your predictions, goals, and position. While you might think that a business plan is only necessary for startups and
businesses looking for loans and funding, in reality, it pays for any business
to plan ahead. There’s an oft-quoted adage that says that “failing to plan is
planning to fail.” The benefits of writing a business plan are:

1. It forces You to Think Through Your Plans in Detail
The great dangers in starting a business are all the unknowns. A
business plan is structured so that you need to think through all the
different aspects of your business from financials to organization to
marketing, questioning assumptions and hopefully eliminating any
unknowns caused by simply forgetting to plan.

2. You Have a Plan You Can Refer Back to for Guidance
In the planning stages of your new business, you have the luxury of time
to draw up plans that you can refer back to later, when you may have
a lot more work to do or a lot more pressure on you. A business plan
is something you can not only refer back to, but also keep updating. A
good business plan should be a living, evolving document that changes
as the business changes.

3. They Are Useful When Looking for Loans and Investment
On a very practical level, if you are looking for loans or investment, you
will often need a business plan complete with detailed financials to
explain what you’re going to be doing with the money.

What Goes Into a Business Plan?

A business plan should always have clear, measurable objectives. You want
to define what you plan to do, the results you expect to achieve, and the
assumptions you are making. In setting this all out, you will not only have a
yard stick to measure by, you will also think through whether your finances
really meet up with your plans, whether it’s realistic to imagine that your
marketing plan will yield the traffic you hope to gain, and so on.
A typical business plan is a document that contains information about the
organization you are building, the product you are developing, how you plan to get traffic and market, and projections on how your cash flow will look for
the first year of the business.
There are many good reference guides on writing a business plan that
include examples, headings, and summaries of what to put in the different
sections. A good handbook for business planning and other small business
information is the “Small Business Guide” by Nicholas Humphrey.
It’s important to understand that it’s okay not to know exactly what is going
to happen. Just think through and estimate everything to the best of your
abilities. You’ll be surprised at how useful it is to think through your plans.
It’s also good to keep in mind that you shouldn’t fill a business plan up with
information just for the sake of it. Celebrity venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki
in his book “Reality Check” writes that “The ideal length of a business
plan is twenty pages or less, and this includes the appendix. When it comes
to business plans, less is more. For every ten pages over twenty pages,
you decrease the likelihood that the plan will be read, much less funded, by
25 percent.”

When you’ve written your business plan, show it to your accountant for
feedback. You may find that some assumptions you’ve made are less
realistic than you’d like. Accountants pore over the records of many
businesses, qualifying them to give solid advice and feedback to ensure
your plans stack up.


As important as planning is, it’s not as important as doing. While you should
take the time to write up a business plan, you also don’t want to get stuck
there and never make it to launch day.
Keep your business plan relatively brief, don’t obsess about details that you
can’t possibly know at this early stage, and if you notice that the planning
stage is dragging on too long, then just force yourself to sit down and write
out the remainder, and then move on.
It’s a good idea to make planning less of an up-front activity and more of
an along-the-way one. Planning on the fly means that you are constantly updating your plans with new information and details. It requires some sort
of initial plan, and then as you run the business, you periodically check back
and update your ideas and reevaluate your assumptions. You may also
develop the plan in new directions you wouldn’t have been able to foresee in
the early stages of your new business.

Planning and researching

Perhaps the most critical decision in starting a new blog is to select
your topic area or niche. Needless to say, it’s worth investing the
time to research and plan it thoroughly because while choosing the
right niche doesn’t guarantee success, choosing poorly can make
succeeding much more difficult.
In this chapter we’ll consider tools and techniques you can use to
research a blog niche, to analyze competitors, and to gauge how
much traffic and advertising potential it has.


Although personal blogs often wander through a variety of themes and
topics, for a serious blog project you will want to focus on a limited range
of topics. Defining a single main area or niche for your blog topic has three
main benefits:

1. It’s Easier to Build a Memorable Brand
The strongest, most memorable brands are the ones most quickly
and easily understood by consumers. Building a brand for a blog that
changes topics regularly is much harder as the blog becomes harder to
mentally categorize. By contrast, a focused blog is easily simplified into a
memorable idea. So for example it’s much easier to think “Stock Market
Tips” than “Covers topics like the Stock Market, Television, and Cars.”
You can in fact still build a great brand around a bizarre set of topics;
it’s just a lot harder! A good example of a blog that isn’t easily defined
is BoingBoing (, which covers many things,
including technology, sci-fi, gadgets, politics, and Disney.

2. Your Readers Know What to Expect
A focused topic attracts and retains a strong audience because readers
quickly learn what the blog is about, and if they like it, then they stick
around. They are also more likely to recommend the blog to other
people interested in the same topics. If you move between a variety of
unrelated topics, you are likely to lose readers who aren’t interested in
some parts of the blog, or who simply can’t be bothered to wait for the
next post on the topic they are interested in.

3. It’s Easier to Attract Advertising
It’s much easier to attract advertisers to a focused blog because the
topic of your site defines your audience. For example, businesses selling
financial advice are likely to see a blog about stock market tips as an
attractive place to advertise given the clear overlap in audience, whereas
they may be more hesitant if the audience match wasn’t so clear
because the stock market tips were mixed with posts about other topics.


For any topic, you will always have the option of either taking a broad view
of the topic or focusing on specific parts, or sub-niches. Here are some
examples of niches and more focused sub-niches:

  • Broad Niche
  • Blogging
  • Investment
  • Weight Loss
  • Travel
  • Focused Sub-niche
  • Professional Blogging
  • Tech Stocks
  • Low-Carb Dieting
  • Travel in Asia

It is possible to break topics down further and further. For example,
“Travel in China” would be a sub-niche of “Travel in Asia,” and even more
specifically “Travel in Hong Kong.” Both broad and focused blogs have their
advantages and disadvantages. These are summed up in the tables below.

In essence, the choice to focus is really about whether you aim to be a little
fish in a big pond, or a big fish in a little pond. If you have limited blogging
experience, it’s usually better to go for the smaller niche and dominate there
before trying to shoot for the broader niche. Not only will you then have a
foothold to use to broaden your site, but you’ll also have a much easier time
doing well on a topic with fewer competitors.

Should You Cover Multiple Topics?

As a general rule, the smaller your topic area is, the smaller your potential
audience will be. To broaden your subject matter you could choose to
add multiple topics to a blog. If you do this, it’s always best to make them
related subjects.
For example, an Investment blog about stocks might benefit from articles
about other types of stock market investments like derivatives, options, and
so on. On a broader scale still, it would also work to have articles about
real estate investment since investors often move between stocks and real
estate depending on how the markets are faring. Another broad option
would be to have posts on luxury goods such as cars and accessories, the
sorts of things that high income investors might like to buy.
On the other hand, mixing in articles about blogging would be a much tougher
sell as there are no natural overlaps between the two subjects. As stated
previously, diluting your topic area presents more drawbacks than gains.

Your Interest Level

It can be very difficult to blog on a topic in which you have little or no
personal interest. There is no simpler way to make blogging a chore than
to force yourself to write, read, and learn about a subject you don’t actually
care about.
As an entrepreneur approaching blogging, you will most likely be hiring
writers to write on the subject so you have a bit more leniency in this than a
hobby blogger. Nonetheless, a personal interest in the subject matter of your
blog has numerous benefits:

If you do end up writing yourself, blogging is more enjoyable and feels
a lot less like work.

You are likely to already know a good deal about the subject matter.

You are likely to be reading/learning about the subject anyway.

Your passion will show through in how you interact with the community,
your staff, and in your writing.

You know how to solve the problems your readers face, or at least you
know what those problems are.

You are probably already involved in some networking groups,
forums, communities in this area. If you aren’t, it won’t be a problem
to get involved.

Given the profusion of available topics, unless you have seen an incredible
opportunity that’s too good to pass up, it’s probably best to stick to
something you are interested in. If you’re worried that the topic is too
narrow, then try opening that topic up to a broader view of the same area.

Can You Create Value?

A key question in selecting a niche to blog in is to ask yourself whether
you can create value for your readers. At all costs you want to avoid simply
launching a ”me too” blog that solely imitates (whether consciously or
coincidentally) other blogs in the niche.
For a blog to be successful it must create real value for its readers. It must
be a worthwhile addition to their reading schedule. Creating value doesn’t
mean you necessarily need to create a blog that is totally unique. It might
simply mean that your blog explains a hard topic in a really simple way, or
it might mean your blog has a much more frequent posting schedule giving
more up-to-the-minute updates, or it might mean your blog provides great
entertainment (you can never have too much entertainment!).
Creating value is the difference between offering something that is already
available and providing something new, different, or better. Without a solid point of differentiation it’s very hard to catch up to competing blogs. After
all, why should readers bother switching to your new blog if it doesn’t
provide anything new or better?

If you are unsure whether your blog can create value in a certain niche, try
asking yourself these questions:

1. Can you generate a lot of content in this niche?
2. Do you know or are you able to find out things that others
want to know?
3. Can you create content that isn’t currently available elsewhere?
4. Do you have a different take or angle on existing subject matter?
5. If someone else came out with the blog you are planning, would you
read it?

When deciding on a blog topic, it’s important to take some time to do your
research to find out how big the potential audience is likely to be, how
hard it will be to make money, who else is out there, and whether there’s
a demand for content in that particular niche. There are lots of tools freely
available to help you do your homework and it doesn’t need to take
long at all.

How Big is this Niche?

While intuition and common sense will tell you a popular topic is popular, it
may not always be obvious for smaller niches. For example, it’s pretty clear
that photography is a popular subject, but you may not be so sure about
purely black and white photography.
The simplest way to get a feel for how big a niche is would be to check how
large the search market is. If there are a large number of people searching
for keywords in your niche, you’ll know it’s probably a big area of interest.
Two great tools for assessing search volume are Google Trends and
SEOBook’s Keyword Research Tool.

SEOBook’s Keyword Research Tool

Simply type in a keyword and the tool returns a set of associated search
terms along with an estimated daily search volume. For example, at the time
of writing this, “photography” was searched for approximately 20,051 times
a day on Google, while “black and white photography” was searched for
approximately 1,603 times, or about 8 percent of the first term. That doesn’t
necessarily mean that the black and white photography market is exactly
8 percent the size of the photography market, but it does give you a rough
idea of comparative sizes.

Google Trends

Google Trends will plot out a graph of search volumes for different
keywords. It’s useful for comparing trends over time and trends against
other keywords. Searching for “photography” and “black and white
photography” reveals that the latter term’s volume appears to be declining.
This might indicate waning popularity for that subject.

The comparison also shows that according to Google Trends the plain
“photography” term is a hundred times more popular than “black and white
photography.” Again, this doesn’t mean that photography is a hundred times
more popular than black and white photography, but it does provide some
food for thought.

Another interesting example is to graph the terms “Mac Apps,” “iPhone
Apps,” and “iPad Apps.” You can see that “iPhone Apps” quickly eclipsed
“Mac Apps,” while the much newer “iPad Apps” is starting strong and looks
to have much potential. A trend like this concurs with our common sense
assumption that iPhone apps are a big market and that iPad apps are likely
to follow suit.

How Monetizable is this Niche?

It is important to determine how easy it will be to generate revenue in a
particular niche. To do this, we look at what potential advertising exists for
that topic. While there are a lot of other ways to monetize a blog, all of which
we discuss in detail in Chapter 7, advertising is the best way to test a niche
because it’s so universal. Thanks to Google’s Adsense and similar networks,
any site can earn at least some money, even with very little traffic.
As a general rule, if you can amass a large audience and high levels
of traffic, it will be possible to generate revenue by selling advertising.
However, the sums advertisers are willing to pay to reach a particular
audience varies wildly. Consequently, in some niches only the very biggest
sites can get the volume to turn a profit, while in others, much smaller
players can still do well.

Of course, knowing that eventually the very best blogs in a niche will makemoney is small comfort when you’re just starting out, investing a lot into the new business, and aren’t sure whether your blog will ever get to that top tier. It’s much better to be in a niche where you know that even some success will surely reap benefits. Here are three quick tests you can do to give you an idea of how profitable a niche will be. You may wish to go through this process with a few different topics to see how different ones compare.

1. Check Adsense

Google Adwords Traffic Estimator – Adsense is Google’s ubiquitous text advertising service. It’s generally not a very high-yield source of ad revenue and it can cheapen your image,
however it is very useful for figuring out whether a niche attracts advertising
dollars because it is so popular in virtually every niche.
The Adwords traffic estimator is actually for ad buyers, however we can use
it to assess how much advertisers are willing to pay for certain keywords.
In the example below, I’ve entered a few different niche keywords:
photography, gardening, iPhone, and mortgage.

As you can see, there is a tremendous range. A keyword like “mortgage”
can bring in a lot of money per click (between $11 and $16), while
“gardening” is down around the $1 mark. You can also see the estimated
clicks per day to see that a blog about mortgages that had a lot of traffic
could potentially be a license to print money.
Of course it’s also probably very difficult to make a popular site about
mortgages and there are likely to be a lot of make-money sharks out there
trying to capture those keywords too, so it’s important to understand
that this is only one half of the equation. Try looking at a variety of other
keywords and niches to get a feel for what the ranges are and what
advertisers are interested in paying for.

2. Look for Affiliate Programs

Affiliate programs are referral schemes offered by companies selling
products and services. A typical affiliate program will pay every time you
send them a lead who then buys a product or service. This is usually done
through an affiliate link that you can embed in a blog post or use on
a banner.

Affiliate programs are a simple, self-service way of generating revenue, and
we’ll cover them in detail in Chapter 7. For testing purposes, the presence
of a lot of affiliate programs is a good sign for a niche, because when used
effectively, they can be quite lucrative.
A good place to find affiliate programs is an affiliate marketplace like
CommissionJunction ( Browse through the
site to see what companies related to your niche are offering programs. Ask
yourself if readers of a blog in that niche would be likely to buy products and
services from the various vendors. For example, readers of a photography
blog would be fairly likely to buy photographic equipment, so companies
selling those types of goods who offer generous affiliate programs would be
a great sign for such a blog.

3. Research Competitors

In the next section we’ll discuss how to find potential competitors in a niche.
When you are researching these other blogs, pay attention to how they are  making money. If it’s through advertising, try to find out what their rates are and how full their inventory is. If it’s through some other means, ask yourself whether it’s a form of monetization you can see yourself applying on your new blog.
Competitors are probably the best way of assessing how much money is in a
niche, as they are there ahead of you doing the hard yards. For example, you
might think there is going to be a lot of advertising dollars in a niche, but find
that the biggest site in that niche has half its ad inventory empty. This would
be a very strong signal that advertising revenue is not easy to come by.
Of course, once your blog is established it may very well end up being
larger, better, or more successful than these competitors, but until then, it’s a
good idea to use them as a yard stick.

Who Else is Out There?

No matter what niche or topic you choose, it is unlikely yours will be the
first blog on that subject, so it is important to know what other blogs are out
there. But the web is a big place; so where do you start?
First you need to keep in mind that you are searching not only for blogs
focused entirely on the same topic area, but also for blogs in a broader
niche that sometimes publish articles on your topic.
The best ways to search, are to use blog search engines and blog
directories as launch pads to find likely suspects. Once you find a blog that
fits the bill, you will often be able to simply follow links off that blog, either in
the text of posts or in a blogroll, to locate more blogs.
For now, begin by making a list of blogs in your niche. Later in this chapter
we’ll discuss how to analyze the competition, and understand the lay of the
land for your niche.

Blog Search Engines

There are two major blog search engines:

1. Google Blog Search – Google’s blog search, like its regular search engine, does an excellent
job of returning relevant and current results. It’s a good place to start your hunting. Search for keywords relating to your niche and see
what pops up.

2. Technorati –
Technorati offers a simple way to gauge how successful a blog might
be with its “Authority” rating for different blogs. A blog’s authority is the
number of individual links to it that have appeared in the last 6 months.
It’s not a perfect measurement, but it will give you an idea of where a
blog sits in a particular niche hierarchy.

Blog Directories

Blog directories catalogue sites by tags and categories to help readers
discover new blogs to read. They work usually on submission so they won’t
house every blog in a niche, but they can still be a good way to search around.
The best known blog directory is BlogCatalog (http://blogcatalogcom);
however, other directories like BlogFlux ( and
BlogTopList ( are also worth visiting. Explore the tags
and categories most related to your niche to hunt down sites relevant to
your niche.

Is there Audience Demand?

A good way to assess how much demand there is for a particular subject, is
to look at the popularity of blog posts on that topic. If posts are consistently
popular, then you’ll know that there’s a solid market for the subject.
Measuring Popularity by Audience Reaction
While you are browsing blogs to find potential competitors, search for posts
on the specific topics that you think would work particularly well. Look to
see how many comments appear on these posts versus posts on other
topics on the same blog. Also, read the comments themselves to see what
people are saying.
You should quickly get a feel for how ambivalent readers are to the types
of topics you want to blog about. Try to look at a wide range of blogs from
small to large so you get a good sample of readers. On some blogs, readers
just don’t comment much, and on others the community may simply be a bit negative or nasty, so if you take just a couple of blogs as your sample
size then you may get distorted results. Look through enough, however, and
you’ll get a good idea of how your blog and subject matter is likely to be

Measuring Popularity through Social Media

Searching through sites like Digg, Reddit, Tweetmeme, and Delicious is a
good way to gauge interest in a particular topic. If you find lots of posts that
have appeared on the Digg and Reddit homepages that have accumulated
a lot of Delicious bookmarks, or that have been tweeted a lot on Twitter,
chances are good that the subject matter is in demand.
If you don’t find much social media popularity, this could be simply to do
with the audience group and how they use, or more precisely don’t use,
social media. So don’t be disheartened and read too much in an absence of
social media engagement.

Conversely, searching social media sites, can be a good way to find popular
content and learn what types of topics people love hearing about.
Aside from the big social media sites there are plenty of smaller niche sites
like Sphinn for search engine news, Tipd for stock market posts, Showhype
for entertainment, DesignMoo for web design, DZone for development, and
Hacker News for entrepreneurship. If a niche social media site exists for the
topic you are going to be blogging in, then you’ll find an invaluable amount
of information on what your market is interested in.

Measuring Popularity through Volume

An obvious way to figure out if a subject is popular, is to simply look at how
many blogs and posts there are on that topic. The more popular it is and
the broader the niche is, the more likely it becomes that you’ll find lots and
lots of content, implying that there is a market there. The best way to do
this is to look through blog directories to see what tags and categories are
the fullest. Keep in mind, however, that niches with a lot of volume are also
going to be much harder to crack since audiences already have a wealth of
places to get popular posts.

Unmet Demand

Demand comes in different forms. The best type of demand is unmet
demand. That is, to find that there aren’t many blogs or posts on a topic, but
that when they do appear they are really popular. This is a sign that you have
found a relatively untapped niche.
Look for topics with high concentrations of popular posts but few, if any,
dedicated sites. Although this gets harder with every passing year, there
are still many areas of unmet demand. In the case studies at the end of this
book we’ll look at three examples of sites where there was some sort of
unmet demand and how we found it.

Competitive analysis

As you begin to amass a list of blogs in your niche, you will want to see how
they fit together. Who are the serious competitors and who are the regulars?
Which sites are you going to need to strategize around, and which might
you model your blog on?
Fortunately, there are many free tools online that you can use to perform
your competitive analysis to get an idea of how large, how popular, and how
successful different sites are.

Traffic Analysis

Given how vital traffic is to web business, it’s no surprise that traffic
estimation tools are probably the most useful of all the tools we’ll use for
competitive analysis. They can be notoriously inaccurate for trying to work
out exact traffic data, but they are useful for assessing relative size. There
are four main tools that you should look at using:

Alexa’s Traffic Rankings

Alexa’s Traffic Rankings have been getting better over the years and thanks
to a browser add-on, they are very handy. Installing the add-on means you  can see at a glance the Alexa ranking for any site you visit. This makes it
very easy to spot larger sites as you navigate your competitors. Alexa also
offers a graphing comparison tool that you can use to plot a few different
competitors against each other to look at their relative size over time.
Alexa works by offering a ranking system ranging from #1 (the largest
trafficked site on the web) into the millions for low-traffic sites. Alexa also
provides a variety of other statistics like Pageviews and Reach that can be
useful as well.
Alexa has a propensity for showing a lot of random fluctuation that hides most
small traffic trends, however it does have two big strengths. First, it estimates
traffic for even tiny sites, meaning it’s useful when looking on the lower end of the market, which often happens when analyzing other blogs. And secondly, unlike its competitors, Alexa looks at global traffic not just US traffic.

Compete Traffic Estimator

While Compete only estimates US traffic and offers little information for
smaller sites, it does feel more accurate on traffic trends than Alexa. Another
benefit of the service is that it actually gives you a traffic count whereas
Alexa provides less tangible numbers like ranking and reach. Earlier when examining niche topics, we touched on Google Trends as a
way to measure search volume for various keywords. In its other mode,
Google Trends for Websites functions more like Alexa, providing comparison
and trend data for larger trafficked domains. It doesn’t provide data for small
sites, but for larger sites it appears to provide relatively accurate graphs.

Google AdPlanner

This tool is offered by Google to help ad buyers decide what sites to
purchase their advertising on. Simply enter a URL in the “View a Site Listing” text field and you’ll get a great site analysis tool offering solid traffic
estimates for most websites including visits, pageviews, and unique visitors.

Feed Analysis

RSS feeds are a good source of information about a blog, not only for
analyzing the content of the feeds, but because many blogs make their
subscription numbers public as a way to provide social proof to encourage
other subscribers. Here are two tools to analyze a blog’s feed:


PostRank is a tool that sifts through an RSS feed to return the most popular
feed items. You can check these items on social media sites, check how
many comments they are receiving, and look for frequency to determine
how successful a blog is in generating popular content.


This is a simple tool for tracking how a feed has grown over time. The
tool only works if the feed has been pushed through Google’s Feedburner
service and have made their count public. Happily, this is true of the majority
of blogs. FeedCompare lets you graph multiple feeds to see how their
growth compares, providing much more information than a single
snapshot figure.

Site Analysis

Beyond traffic and feed numbers, there are other ways you can analyze
a competitor. Information on how a site has looked in the past, its
optimization for search, and the domain details can be useful in
understanding a competitor. Here are two sites which can help:

Web Archive – Competitor’s Site History

The Way-Back-Machine is a non-profit site that has recorded over 85 billion
pages in an archive of the web. It’s pretty amazing and can be entertaining
to see how sites you love used to look. When it comes to established
competitors, it’s great to look back and see how their sites have evolved,
often with revealing information about how they’ve grown, readership
numbers at different times in history, and so on.

Website Grader – General Site Information

Hubspot’s Website Grader is a neat little tool that runs a whole lot of
different services and queries over a site to return a score out of 100. It
returns statistics from the different services and recommendations for
improvement, and has a feature to compare multiple sites, which is useful
for seeing how different competitors line up against each other.

Human Analysis

Up until now, we have just gone through tools and services that
automatically produce information about a competitor. The major utility
these tools provide is to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, allowing
you to quickly discard smaller or less successful sites, and focus on the
dominant competitors that you are most interested in learning about, as you
choose your niche.
Once you have a master list of those dominant competitors, it’s time to do
some old-fashioned investigation. If the site has an “About” page, use it to
learn who is behind the site, sift through comments, and look for site news
posts to get a feel for the personality of the blog, and above all read some of
the site’s content!
You may also wish to Google the brand name and search for news
stories, or other sites’ reviews or links to the blog in question. The internet
is awash with information, and you should very quickly be able to put together an accurate portrait of the blog, the people behind it, and the
audience it targets.

understanding the niche

At this point you have gathered a fair amount of information about your
competitors and the topic area you are planning to build a blog in. With this
knowledge, you are ready to map out the lay of the land and to plot a course
for your new blog that accounts for challenges particular to your new niche.

The Niche Pyramid

As you’ve been analyzing, you will have been slowly putting together a
picture of where different sites stand in relation to each other. Let’s formalize
that a little.
In every niche you can organize the blogs into a pyramid structure according
to size and importance. Take this pyramid to have four levels, marked A to
D, with the top level of “A” blogs being the biggest, most trafficked, most
authoritative blogs, and then proceeding down. You should categorize these
principally according to size in traffic and subscribers.
As the pyramid shape suggests, there are usually only one or two blogs in
the A category, a handful in the B category, a fair few in the C category, and
lots and lots in the D category. Here is a diagram categorizing blogs
about blogging:

What you will usually find is that A-level blogs generally cover the broadest
angle on the niche you are investigating. For example, the top-level blogs
in the gadgets niche are likely to be about gadgets in general. One level
down, B-level blogs usually have a bit more of an angle. So a blog at this
level might be about a particular genre of gadgets, or focus only on gadget
reviews, or perhaps only focus on mobile devices. C-level blogs often
have a much narrower angle on the main topic, might be newer and less
established, or simply may not be as good in terms of writing, coverage, and
content generally.

In our blogging example above, Problogger is about blogging in general
and is also one of the oldest, most authoritative names in blogging.
DailyBlogTips is close behind Problogger with its daily tips slant, while
CopyBlogger takes the angle of being all about copy and writing. Still on the
B-level, JohnChow focuses much more on the money-making and affiliateearning aspects of blogging and mixes in a lot of personality. Down at the next level, we have sites that tend to be younger (e.g., BloggingTips), less
popular (e.g., Performancing), less frequently updated (e.g., Skelliewag), or
with yet other angles (e.g., BlogHerald with its news focus).

Why Niche Pyramids Exist

There is generally only space in a consumer’s mind for a few brands. This
is why you tend to see two or three main competitors at the top of most
product lines: Coke and Pepsi, Intel and Athlon, Apple and Microsoft,
Google and Bing, and so on. Once a consumer’s needs have been met,
there is little incentive to seek out a new product to fill the same need. A
second and sometimes third competitor, can still get their foot in the door,
but beyond them, the market shares tend to drop off significantly. For
example, Google is top for search tools, and since the deal with Yahoo,
Microsoft’s Bing is running second, but ask yourself who comes in third,
fourth, and fifth? Companies like Ask are a long way off.
So for a new company to break in, the only option is to create a new market
by adding an angle. To use the search example again, there are sites that
dominate in job search such as SimplyHired and Indeed, or in travel search
such as Kayak. These search engines have realized they can’t compete on
the broadest top level, but are dominating their own sub-niches.
If we put together a pyramid diagram for search, we’d have Google and Bing
at the top. On the B-level we’d have smaller competitors like Ask, along with
the niche search engines like Indeed and Kayak and significant but smaller
non-English search engines like Baidu and Taobao from China. Then on the
C-level we might have country-specific search engines, newer “Googlekiller” search engines like Wolphram Alpha, old has-beens like Altavista, and
so on.

It’s important to realize that if you were to then put a pyramid diagram
together for say, job search, then all of a sudden SimplyHired would be on
the A-level of this niche, and there would be a new set of Bs and Cs and Ds.
The same reasoning and rules apply for blogs and topic areas. In every
niche there is only space for a few top-level sites. They tend to be blogs
that have been around for a while, that have done an exceedingly good job,
and that have been really consistent. In larger blog niches, the top blogs
have often gone commercial either by becoming stand-alone companies like
TechCrunch, or being acquired by media companies the way Engadget has
been by AOL.

It is extremely difficult to displace an A-level blog, but it is possible. To do
this you would need to bring something really new to the table, such as a
new format, a new standard for breaking news, build on different audience
demographics, a magnetic key personality, new partnerships somewhere in
the industry, or all of the above and more. You would also want to bank on
the A-level blog stumbling somehow and possibly eroding some of their
own mindshare.
It is much easier to create a new sub-niche to dominate, or to build a
serious competitor in an existing niche and aim for the B-level and then from
there to slowly edge your way into the A league. To do this, you simply need
to find, and then thoroughly mine gaps in the market.

What Gaps Are There?

Finding a gap in the market is a fundamental strategy for any startup. A gap
is an untapped demand that you can fill to create a viable business.
You want to ask yourself what is the competition not doing? What reader
needs aren’t being met? What angles haven’t been explored? What features
are missing? What type of content do readers want? The more populated
the niche is, the harder this is to do because many bloggers have gone
before you looking for the same gaps.
With that said, there are always gaps somewhere that you can exploit to get
a foothold. Here are some strategies for finding gaps:

1. Start Blogging in the Niche
Working in a niche is the best way to see gaps because you naturally
get a very strong feel for what is happening there. If you are really
committing to a particular niche, you can start a small test blog for a
month or two to evaluate post strategies and ideas. Alternately, you can
get work writing for established blogs in the niche to find out how they
work and what they are doing.

2. What is the Competition Not Doing
Focus on what isn’t there rather than what is. Maybe the site focuses
on one particular country or language, maybe it’s only covering some aspects of the niche, maybe its format is a particular style, maybe
the volume of posts isn’t there, or maybe the depth of coverage is
missing. Look for missing elements and evaluate them as potential key

3. Ask!
Ask other readers what they would like to see. You can do this on
forums, in comments, in a blog post if you have a small test blog, or
informally by contacting people you know are interested in the niche.

4. Be the Other Guy
A common strategy for differentiating is to position yourself as the
antithesis of the top competitor. You can do this by posting opposing
opinions, focusing on different aspects of the niche, or simply beating
the top competitor to stories. For every dominant business, there is a
certain segment of the niche that simply doesn’t like the top guy and is
looking for a replacement.

Popular Niches

There are three big benefits to starting a blog in an already popular niche:

1. Defined Audience
When there are lots of popular blogs on a topic, you can be assured that
there is a market for the subject. That means if you can produce quality
content and market it well, chances are you’ll build a readership.

2. Sites to Get Linked From
One of the big challenges in starting a blog is to find readers and
visitors. When blogs in your niche link to you, they naturally send over
readers right from your core audience.

3. Lots of Experience to Draw On
If a niche is already popular, then you’re going to find that there is a lot
of information out there about what works, what doesn’t, how big the
audience potential is, what companies spend ad dollars, what to charge,
what posts are popular, and so on.

1. Sub-niches

Creating a new sub-niche means taking a different angle to create your
own niche-within-a-niche. A great example of a successful sub-niche
is the blogging site Copyblogger, that principally focuses on the written
aspects of blogging. Sure it’s still about blogging, and from time to time
there are posts on other blogging topics, but primarily the site is all
about writing. This focus has grown it to be one of the biggest and best
known blogs on blogging.
There are all sorts of angles you can take for virtually any niche. Look at
what the established blogs are doing and do something different.

2. Improving Quality or Quantity (or both)
If blogs in a particular niche tend to produce medium quality posts, or
a medium quantity of posts, an obvious strategy is to improve one or
both. Your aim is to stand out, so if everyone else is producing high
quantities of average posts, then you might try producing fewer very
high quality posts. If other bloggers are inconsistent, you might decide
to consistently produce a set number of posts each day.

3. A Different Style
Another tactic is to find a different style of writing. This might mean
highly personable posts, or only list-style posts, comic posts, or
opinionated posts. Find a style that suits you and that you think will
resonate with your audience. In the next section we’ll look at content
plans and evaluate different types of posting and content.
In popular niches your strategy is always to differentiate. How you do that
is up to you. If you don’t differentiate somehow, you stand no chance of
finding an audience. If you can differentiate, and that differentiation fills a
gap, then you will find success. In other words, your defining difference
must meet an unmet demand.

Under-served Niches

The huge benefit of going into an under-served niche is the potential to hit a
home-run and create a new market. The drawback on the other hand is that
there may simply be no market for this particular topic, or in other words it
may be under-served for a reason. If you’ve done your research,you should
know whether a topic has at least some interest, so assuming you’ve found
what might be a gold mine, the question is how do you exploit it?
Some strategies for entering an under-served niche are:

1. Hook into Neighboring (Popular) Niches
When you are entering virgin territory it’s difficult to get links because
there are no other blogs in the niche. A strategy to combat this is to
use related topics to bring the links and then feed those readers into
your regular topic. Look for natural crossovers with blog topics on
popular blogs and work on developing relationships with those blogs by
submitting links, networking with the operators, and writing guest posts.

2. Social Media
If your niche is genuinely under-served, then social media will often work
well. Audiences on sites like Digg and Reddit are broad, and submitting
links there should find their way to the right people. Links submitted
to social media for an unmet demand also have a higher chance of
becoming popular since (you hope) the demand is there but the content
is not.

3. Search Optimization
If a niche has limited content but high potential, then search traffic
should be a good source of early readers. Develop a site with content
that is optimized for search engines and do your best to develop linkbacks using neighboring niches as described above.
In an under-served niche your strategy is centered around building and
consolidating a readership that doesn’t yet exist anywhere else. This can be
challenging if the niche has only moderate potential, but if you stumble on a
hit niche that hasn’t been tapped, then growth can be explosive.

Planning Your Content

There are many types of content that you can put into a blog, ranging from
news posts to how-to tutorials. An important part of how you approach a
niche is to determine what you are going to be publishing.
In Chapter 5 we’ll discuss preparing, editing, and styles of content in detail.
For now let’s look broadly at some different content groups and formats to
make the big picture decisions on what your blog will look like.

Content Types

1. News
News is the staple of the publishing world. It’s constantly updating and
changing, there is always new source material, and readers always
return for more. The difficulty with news blogs is getting content before
anyone else. Getting the scoop on a big story is essential to get readers,
particularly if you are competing against popular sites and outlets. If
you are angling for a news blog, then you should consider how you can
break stories rather than just reporting via other news outlets.

2. How-to
Teaching readers how to do something – whether it’s to lose weight,
manage money, or learn a new skill – is another staple of publishing.
The great thing about how-to content is that as long as you can
teach something of value, you’ll always get readers, even if there are
lots of other sites teaching in the same area. People have a thirst
for knowledge and will obsessively read all about their favorite topic
searching for nuggets of information. As always, it helps to have a
differentiating angle, however in education, even just creating a large
resource is often a differentiator.

3. Opinion
Opinion content ranges from reviews of products like gadgets and
games, to opinions on the news, to opinions on life. Opinion-based
blogs work best with a strong editorial voice and are often driven by individual personalities. Virtually all blogs will have at least a dose of
opinion blended in; the choice is really more about what quantity.

4. Entertainment
Entertainment content is tricky to do well, but if you can manage it, then
it is by its very nature differentiated. That is to say if you are entertaining
people, then you’ve already managed to produce value. Audiences can
never seem to get enough entertainment, so the throttle here really is
that it’s difficult to produce content that is genuinely engaging.

5. Content Aggregation
Aggregation is when a blog exists to filter out quality links, news, and
content around the web. They will often rely on short posts with links or
large lists of “the best” this and that. Aggregation is surprisingly popular,
quite easy to do, and therefore somewhat overdone.
Each of these content types can be applied to virtually any niche. For
example, a site about gardening could have news about new garden
products, how-to posts about gardening techniques, opinions on gardening
tools, entertaining posts about gardening stories or a comic strip about
gardeners, and a weekly list of the best gardening links from around the web.
Moreover you can also blend content types. A news post could be
packaged in the form of news plus opinion. If the post was about a new
gadget being released, the blogger could then add their opinion about what
the gadget might mean, their take on its utility, or how they personally would
use it. Similarly, a how-to piece could be packaged in a humorous voice to
be entertaining, an aggregate post could include short opinions on the links,
news could have snarky entertaining comments, and so on.

Content Formats

Although blogs are primarily written, there are in fact four different media
that are often used on blogs:
1. Written
Virtually all blogs have a written element to them, whether they are long
articles or short link posts. The big advantage written content has over the other three content formats, is that it has far bigger search
traffic potential.

2. Photographic
For some blogs, photographs are simply accompanying imagery
to written posts. For others such as the popular PostSecret
(, the photos are the content.

3. Video
Recently video blogs such as that of Gary Vaynerchuk
( have been getting more and
more popular.

4. Audio
Podcasts were very popular for a while, but today video has taken that
mantle. Nonetheless there are some very popular podcast blogs around.
Sites like Odeo ( aggregate the more popular audio
(and video) content and are a good place to see what is out there.
As with content types, it’s quite possible to have a mix of content formats.
Certainly written and photographic content are almost always mixed. More
recently video has been making its way onto sites, particularly as the costs
of producing video and audio content slowly drop.

Your overall strategy

As you research and plan you should be coming up with an overall strategy.
This should include a niche that you want to blog in, an angle on that niche
to differentiate your site, a plan for what types and formats of content you
will publish, and ideas for how you will grow within your niche.
The most important thing is to research well before you commit to a
particular niche. Make sure you have a great plan with a solid differentiator.
Don’t just try to do the same thing as others are already doing but expect to
surpass them.

As you read through the following chapters to learn about branding, content,
traffic generation and monetization, keep thinking about your strategy, as all
of these elements should form part of an overall plan of attack.
It’s vital to make all elements of your blog work in concert, particularly if
you are taking on a popular niche where it will be a struggle to get noticed.
This might mean creating a particular type of content roster married with
a particular tone of voice, a novel way of making money to support the
content, and a brand package that immediately gets readers to notice who
you are.

Remember that even though a niche may feel like it’s all sewn up, there
are still always angles you can take, sub-niches to create, new markets to
explore, and new takes on familiar topics.

Creating a Brand

People keep going back to Starbucks, using Apple, buying Sony,
and drinking Coke partly because they have good products, but
also because customers recognize the names, know what to
expect, have a strong idea of what those brands represent, and
have consistent experiences with them.
If you’re building a business out of blogging, you need to apply the
same principles to build a name for your site. Creating a memorable
brand for a blog helps it grow, differentiate, and gain mindshare
with audiences.

what is a Brand?

A brand is a collection of elements that help define what your product is. For
a blog, a brand will include the blog’s name, its logo, the tone of voice and
style of writing, the types of articles, the look of the website, the imagery it
uses, the way it markets itself, and even the style of headlines!
When you create a brand for a blog it helps readers remember who you are,
what you stand for, and how to find you. If the brand is representing a great
product – like a blog readers enjoy – then the brand provides the handle
to recommend the blog to friends, to link to from other sites, and provides
leverage that you can then use to create other products and services.
People naturally categorize their experiences of the world, and a brand is
a label that they can attach to something when doing so. Strong brands
representing good experiences are very powerful, particularly as they can
be applied to new products and still carry all the connotations of the brand.
That’s why Apple can release a new product and have everyone excited
about it, even if they’ve never used or experienced the product first-hand.
Take for example the prominent tech blog brand TechCrunch. After
starting out in 2005, founder Michael Arrington has slowly built a company
and leveraged the brand to create other blogs such as CrunchGear and
MobileCrunch, events like the TechCrunch 50 and the Crunchies, services
like startup wiki CrunchBase and job site CrunchBoard. They’ve even
started venturing into products with a short-lived tablet PC called the
CrunchPad, and research papers from TechCrunch Research.
Why would anyone use all these products and services, or go to those
events or read those blogs? Because they’ve already connected with
the TechCrunch brand and come to trust and know it. Make no mistake,
branding can be very powerful, and it’s important to take it seriously early on
so you can build on your business later.

naming Considerations

There are many considerations that should go into your choice of name. It is
good practice to begin examining other brands in the commercial world to
consider why they work (or don’t). Here are some issues you should look at
when devising a brand name:

1. Is the Name Short?
Brand names work best when they are not too long. You can use a
few words, but often they wind up being abbreviated by users. An
example of this evolution is the fast food brand Kentucky Fried Chicken,
which everyone abbreviated to KFC, which subsequently became the
official name.

2. Is the Name Pronounceable?
If your readers aren’t sure how to say your brand name, then it’s going
to hold them back from recommending you verbally to their friends. It’s
also going to be harder for them to say the name in their head, which in
turn makes it less memorable.

3. Is it Memorable?
Whether your blog is memorable, or not, is related to both the previous
points, but even with a short, pronounceable name you can still run into
problems. A great example is the bookmarking service Delicious. Initially
the domain name it used was so that while the name was
pronounceable and short and the word itself was memorable, it was
hard to remember where to put the dots when writing it. Unsurprisingly,
the service soon acquired the domain name.

4. Is the Name Unique?
Uniqueness is so important that there is a whole set of laws about
it called trademark law. For readers it’s important in making your name
distinct and memorable, and avoiding confusion with competing
brand names.
To avoid businesses trading off each other’s brand reputation, trademark
laws state that your name must be unique enough that it won’t confuse readers. So you couldn’t start a tech blog called “TechyCrunch”!
Not only would this land you in a pile of legal troubles from
TechCrunch’s founder, who is in fact a lawyer, it would also have your
readers confused. Worse still, your readers could wind up forgetting
your name and just remembering the original and presumably much
more famous TechCrunch.

5. What Does the Name Say About You?
A well-chosen name can communicate what a site is going to be about.
A great example of this is Gawker (; it’s not only
short, memorable, and catchy, but it also instantly communicates that
the site is going to be about observation and gossip.
Conversely if you choose badly, a name can work against you. So give
careful consideration to what the name communicates. You might want
to ask others what they get from the name to make sure you have a
range of views and don’t miss something obvious purely because you
personally don’t hear the connotations.

6. Generic, Personalized or Descriptive?
Brand names come in many shapes and varieties. On the one hand
you have completely generic words, often even completely made-up
ones, that could be about anything. Take for example Google. Today
you might look at the word and think “search,” but in fact it has no
inherent meaning. If you could jump back into the past before Google
rose to prominence, the name could have been used on pretty much
any business. Some examples of blogs with such generic names are
Gizmodo, Kotaku, and BoingBoing.

Some brands are based on the founders’ names, for example John
Chow and, Om Malik and GigaOm, Arianna Huffington
and the Huffington Post, or Steve Pavlina and These
can be almost as generic as made-up words.
If like John Chow and Steve Pavlina you are using only your name, you
should keep in mind that readers are likely to expect John and Steve to
at least be the main writer for their respective blogs, if not the only writer. If you are assembling a team of writers and approaching blogging
as a publication business, you may wish to steer away from this route.
Descriptive brand names are perhaps the most common variety. These
are brands where the name is simply a combination of real words,
for example LifeHacker, CuteOverload, PopSugar, ZenHabits, or the
Business Insider. The benefits of names like these are that they tend to
communicate a lot about what the site is going to be about, and in some
cases, have keywords that can help with search ranking. The drawback
is names with common words can be harder to protect and keep unique.
For example although LifeHacker ( is the original
blog on the subject, there is a reasonably large blog confusingly called (
Finally, there are plenty of combinations and variants. The best variants
are made-up words that sound like they mean something: Engadget,
Mashable, or Consumerist. You could also try misspellings, for example
Joystiq, but keep in mind that you may inadvertently get readers typing
the correct spelling and ending up somewhere else!

7. Can it be Sub-branded?
It’s always good to plan ahead in business and consider what future
products, services, and blogs you might want to launch as related or
sub-brands. Earlier we saw how TechCrunch has used the “Crunch”
part of their brand to extend the family while keeping a clear naming
link. Another example of sub-branding is with the AppStorm blogs;
the original Mac apps blog being Mac.AppStorm, followed by iPhone.
AppStorm and Web.AppStorm. Using subdomains, the brand name
extends out so that new sites are easy to add to the family.

domain names

Perhaps the biggest consideration when choosing a brand name is
unfortunately the least fun. It’s finding a name where you can actually still
secure the domain name! Domain names have been hard to come by for some time now thanks in
part to the dramatic increases in website volume, and partly because their
scarcity has encouraged domain squatting.
Ideally you should be aiming to get a .com domain name as anything else
will cause some confusion. Second best are .net domain names, but even
here you will always wind up with a percentage of users accidentally going
to the .com. Another common approach is to find domains ending in country
level endings that look like they are part of the word. The site that made
this practice mainstream was which tellingly eventually also
Some tools and resources to find domain names are:

1. Domain Search and Registrars
Domain registrars usually have a search tool to check if a domain is
available. There are tons of registrars and most of them offer very similar
rates. The best known is GoDaddy (, but it’s not a
particularly pleasant experience using their service thanks to the large
amounts of advertising and cross-sells they run.
Better services are through NameCheap (
and MyDomain ( These sites also offer Bulk
Searching so you can get a lot of domain name ideas and process them
altogether to see what is available, and more often what is not!

2. Domain Auctions and Brokerage
Chances are you’re going to often find yourself wanting a domain
name that is already taken. If after finding a domain name is already
registered, you visit the site and there doesn’t seem to be much, or
sometimes anything going on there, then you can try acquiring the name
from the owner. The best known company for domain brokerage is
Sedo ( who also have auctions and a variety of other
domain services.

Alternately you can try contacting the owner yourself. Use a service like
DomainTools ( to run a “WhoIs” check and if
the owner has listed their details, you can often just send them an email. If you work at a large company or have your details available through the
domain on your email address (e.g.,, then
you might want to register a Gmail or other anonymous account for the
purposes of not giving away that you can afford to spend tons of money
on the domain. And remember to negotiate when purchasing domain
names, as you can almost always do better than the asking price.

3. Domain Suggestions
Can’t find a domain you like that is available and/or affordable? You can
try services like Bustaname (, Suggestly (http://, and ( to search for some ideas
you might not have thought of. These sites sometimes help stimulate
your creativity, but aren’t always wildly helpful.
A more mundane suggestion system comes from checking a thesaurus
( to look for variants on words you might be
attempting to use.

4. Brands for Sale
Finally, if you are really having trouble finding a brand name, you can try
services like BrandBucket ( and BrandStack
( where you can purchase not only a domain
name but a logo to go with it, which you may or may not wish to use.

Registering Domain Names

Your domain name is the most important asset your online business will
possess. Everything flows downwards from your domain name: hosting,
email, search ranking, traffic, reputation, and of course your brand.
If you lose control of the domain name you will have an extremely difficult
time of things, so it’s best to be careful about how you register and manage
your domain name. Here are some important considerations to make:

1. Do It Yourself
The most important advice is to register and manage the domain name
yourself. Domain management isn’t too hard and it really is the key to
your business. Here are some tips on registering:

a. Set up an account with a domain registrar yourself and buy the
domain name(s) you want. Sometimes this job is given to a web
designer or developer who has been contracted. This is not a good
idea as they may move on and you may not think about it until
months or years down the track when you’ll wish you’d done
it yourself.

b. Make sure to set the account in your own name/your
business name.

c. Make sure that if there are multiple levels of user accounts, and you
need to give access to someone else, that you keep yourself as the
primary contact. If you don’t have multi-level access, and you let
someone else in, be sure to update your login details afterwards.

d. Consider not giving domain access to anyone, instead doing any
domain work yourself – under direction if necessary.

e. Register your primary domain name for at least 2 years. Search
engines give domain registration periods weight in determining how
they rank your site. A lengthier registration period shows you aren’t
conducting a spam operation.

f. Make sure you set your domain to “auto-renew” for when the
registration expires, or at least make sure you will get plenty of
notification emails so you don’t inadvertently forget to renew.
There have been a couple of high profile stuff-ups with companies
forgetting to renew and either losing their domain names, or having
to pay big sums to get them back. Moreover, there is a cottage
industry around watching domains as they expire to see if a bargain
can be nabbed.

g. Although you can register a domain name with a domain registrar
like NameCheap or MyDomain, often you can also have your web
hosting company register it, and sometimes they will bundle this
together in a package. Although you can always move a domain
name, it’s generally better practice to use a specialized domain
registrar and then just point the domain to whatever hosting provider
you are currently using as you may change providers periodically.

h. If companies other than the one you registered your domain
with write to you in email or regular mail, ignore them! Predatory
companies will sometimes send letters close to a domain expiration
to try to get a renewal to go through them.

2. How to Transfer a Domain Name
Transferring domain names is relatively easy. You first need to check that
the domain is unlocked. If you are buying a domain name, make sure
the seller has unlocked it. If you are selling, look through your domain
registrar’s control panel.

Most registrars will then allow the domain recipient to make a transfer
request and they’ll do the work. There will be an email sent to the
domain owner to make sure they have consented to the transfer and
then the process is generally quite smooth. Sometimes you will need
an Authorization (AUTH) code from the original registrar to give to
the recipient registrar. If you run into any problems, just contact your
registrar’s support.

3. DNS and other Domain Terminology
Although DNS can be a bit of a tech subject, there are a few key bits of
terminology that will get you by even if you don’t know (or want to know)
too much technical detail:

a. DNS
DNS stands for Domain Name System. It’s the system that allows
a human-readable URL such as “” to be translated to
an IP address such as Because IP addresses change
sometimes, it’s important to make sure your domain’s DNS set-up is
pointed to the right place, or else typing the address into a browser
won’t take you anywhere.
In most instances you personally won’t actually point the domain
name to a specific IP address. Instead your hosting provider will
give you a pair of name servers (see below) that you set with your
domain registrar. Once you have these set, the hosting company
can then set the actual IP address, and make any necessary
changes when their internal set-up changes.

It can take a bit of time for records about your domain name location
to spread around the world. This process is called delegation and
can be the cause of some lag in setting up.

b. Name Servers
Most hosting companies will give you a pair of name server
addresses such as and ns2.dreamhost.
com, which you then add to your domain’s details at the domain
registrar. This lets the registrar point the domain name to the
hosting company’s name servers. These servers then provide the
correct routing information to make sure your server is called when
someone types in your domain name.

c. Records
Please note in most instances you won’t need to know anything
about records. If you do, you can usually find very specific
instructions about what record to set, or get a developer to help you
with anything complex.

Every domain name has a set of records kept by the domain
registrar. When you set the name servers for the domain, you are
in fact setting the NS Records. Other types of records include MX
Records for mail exchange, CNAME Records for aliases such as
subdomains, and A Records for direct IP address mapping.

4. Related Domain Names
When you register a new domain name most registrars will encourage
you to register related domain names. This is generally a good practice
to make sure you keep the name as unique as possible. It’s best to at
least get the .com, .net, and .org (in that order of importance).
You can also consider registering various types of misspellings. For
example a common misspelling is to leave out the “.” between “www”
and the domain name. So you could register
Generally speaking this can get a bit expensive if you try to register
every possibility, so you probably would not bother until your site gets
off the ground and you’re sure it’s going to be a big success!

5. Ownership Records and Privacy
When you register a domain name the registration details are available
publicly. You can find out a domain name’s registration details by
running a WhoIs request through a site like DomainTools (http:// This is how you can try contacting a domain owner
privately if you want to negotiate a sale without using a broker.
When you are registering your own domain name, you should therefore
use registration details that include a PO Box number or a business
address of some sort, as well as a non-home phone number. When
starting out you might be inclined just to put your home address,
however you need to keep in mind that this information will be public
and if your site is successful, you may receive unwanted interest in your
address and phone number.

Many domain registrars offer privacy packages where they will
substitute their own special registrant details so your details don’t
show up publicly. They then forward any mail to you. This is not a bad
option except that spam services almost always use these settings.
Consequently, it can look bad if your customers decide to look you up
and instead find sites saying things like “Any domain name with these
details is fraudulent and spammy!” Overall it’s probably better just to use
your own business address and phone so long as it’s unrelated to any
private details.

Visual Branding

As the saying goes, first impressions last. Online, those first impressions come in the form of a visual look and feel, and having a strong visual identity will immediately set your site apart as a publication worth (or not worth) reading.
The basic elements of a visual identity online are a logo and consistent
website design. It’s best to get these done by a professional graphic and
web designer with a solid reputation. If this is beyond your means, there are
ways to get started on the cheap that we’ll cover later.

Strong visual branding usually makes a statement about the site’s
personality. It might set the tone as modern, friendly, hi-tech, classic,
personal, or any number of other traits. This look and feel begins with the
logo, so it’s a good idea to get that designed first.
In the next chapter we’ll discuss finding and working with a designer. But
first, here are some considerations for getting a logo and brand designed:

1. Simplicity
There shouldn’t be too much going on in a logo. As a general rule, you
should only have one main concept in the logo. For example, if you have
an interesting icon, you should have relatively straightforward text set in
a classic font, and vice versa.
If you’re unsure of how simple is good, have a look around at logos of
magazines, famous blogs, and even common retail brands. If a logo is
too busy, it tends to look really amateurish. Simple generally is better.

2. Versatility
You want to get a logo that works well on both a light background and
inverted onto a dark background. The logo should work at small sizes
and big sizes and still be legible. The aim being to ensure your logo will
work in a variety of places and situations.

3. Online Use
It’s important to think about how your logo will look on a website. For
example, a very tall and thin, vertical logo, might run into problems on
many website designs, as they tend to favor horizontal dimensions.
Similarly if you had a logo that had a big icon and some small text
underneath, this might cause problems online because in small sizes the
text underneath could be difficult to read.

4. Don’t be Afraid of a Plain Text Logo
When you are spending money on a logo, it’s tempting to feel like a plain
text logo doesn’t deliver value. After all, plain text logos don’t look like
there is much to them. Nonetheless, these types of simple logos often
work really well provided there has been a lot of care put into typeface
selection, spacing, color, and small touches to make them unique.
Examples of text only logos include TechCrunch, Google, Borders, Sony, and most magazines. Look around and you’ll realize that many logos are
actually very, very simple. One place that a plain text logo doesn’t work so well is with longer brand names. With short names the words often become the shape of the logo. Whereas with a longer name you can’t escape the feeling that you are reading words. That said, if you have more than three words in a name, you should probably consider changing the name, not the logo!

web design

Your website design should carry through the branding tone set by the logo,
and package it in a way that presents the information to your readers in an
accessible and easy to navigate way. A good rule of thumb is that there are
two major components to good web design: looks and usability. But if you
must only have one, choose usability. It’s a much better experience using a
really well thought out, ugly site than a beautiful site that makes no sense.
Here are some tips for getting a website designed:

1. Pages
Before you can get a site designed, you need to think about what is
going to be on each page. Consider what pages will be on the site, and
what elements you want on what pages. For example, do you want to
have buttons for adding content to social media? Do you want an RSS
icon to highlight subscriptions? Do you have a lot of extra pages in the
menu, or just the blog home, an about page, and a contact page?

2. Identify Good Designs
Spend a few hours looking at other websites with an emphasis on what
is working visually and what is not. Go through the Technorati Top 100
blogs, major competitors in your niche, and any other websites you
are familiar with to decide which you like and which you don’t. When
briefing your web designer be sure to include examples of things you
think work well and things you’d like to avoid. They may not be able to
actually mesh different concepts together, but it will give them a feel for what is important to you. Likewise it will help you to start thinking
about what constitutes a good site design.

3. Visual Precedence
Good designs will guide the user’s eye through the page. When you are
looking at concept designs or even final designs, think about where your
eye is moving. Test it out on friends and ask them which parts of the
design they find themselves looking at first.
Ideally you should look at the site’s logo/brand first and then down to
the first bits of content in the form of headlines or content rotators. Then
from there, things like the sidebar and menu. This is so that the reader
first recognizes what site they are looking at, then engages with the
content, and finally gets a feeling of what else is on the page.
In a bad design your eye will be pulled to the wrong part of the page. A
little bit of distraction is okay, but be careful that it’s not overpowering.

4. Consider Advertising
If you plan to sell advertising on your site, it’s really important that you
have considered where and how it will be placed early on. This includes
getting your designer to show you layouts with real ads placed in the
ad spots. If you look at a design with empty ad spots you won’t see just
how distracting they might look in real life and how this is being dealt
with visually. Remember you want your ads in a prominent spot, but at
the same time they should feel like they are part of the design, not an

Off the Shelf Themes

When you are developing a business out of your blog, it’s generally going
to be worth paying for a custom web design, however there are times when
you just want something quick and cheap. For example, if you are setting
something up to test out blogging, or you are really bootstrapping your
operation and need to save every penny you can, or you want to get a site
up as soon as possible to capitalize on an opportunity.

If this is the case, then you can usually get away with getting an off–theshelf theme. WordPress in particular has a huge array of themes available
for free, or for a small fee of $20 – $100 from sites like ThemeForest (http:// Other platforms including Blogger and MovableType also
offer themes, though not with the same sort of selection. You can read more
about choosing platforms in the following chapter.

You might also consider hiring a web designer to help you customize a
ready-made theme by adding your logo and altering some colors and
settings so it feels unique without costing the big bucks. Keep in mind
however that if you ask for tons of alterations you may end up paying about
as much as you would for a brand new theme. Ask your web designer what
makes sense for a particular theme.

The critical drawback with using an off-the-shelf theme is that sooner or
later you will run into another site that looks similar to your own. Uniqueness
is important in creating an identifiable brand, and if you use a theme that
users are particularly familiar with it, will make your site far more forgettable
than were you to have used a custom design.

other elements of Branding

Branding certainly doesn’t end with a logo and website design. In fact your
brand should be developed using every avenue open to you. From the
style of writing to supplementary materials, it’s important to tie everything
together into a single brand package.

1. Style and Tone of Voice
Blogs are written media so the style of writing you employ is going to
give your brand a voice. Consider how you want to be perceived, look
at sites and publications you admire and how they write, and determine
how you’d like your blog to come across.

2. Editorial Roster
Just as Sony’s products create the brand experience, so does a blog’s
content. What types of content you produce, what frequency you publish, and the variety of writers, will all impact how your site is
experienced by the reader.

3. Consistent Look and Feel
Your visual brand begins with the logo and finds its main articulation
in the website design, but you should also be thinking about choice of
photography, screencast intros, sub-brands, products such as book
covers, advertising brochures, and anything else that has a visual aspect
to it. You want everything coming out of your site to feel like it’s a visual
family. It doesn’t all need to look the same necessarily, but it should
look related.

For most small businesses, the early days involve a lot of work from
you, the business owner. The cost savings from doing the work
yourself can bootstrap the new business to get it off the ground.
This practice also has the great benefit of providing you with a first
rate education on the ins and outs of your business.
But as the saying goes: if you take a holiday and everything stops,
then you don’t have a business, you have a job. If your aim is to
create a business out of blogging, then sooner or later you will need
to bring on other people to share or even completely take
the workload.

If you have a lot of capital, you may find you can skip right into
hiring staff. However, if you’ve never seriously run a blog before,
then you should probably either run a test blog first, or begin the
new venture by doing much of the work for yourself. Once you’ve
really come to understand the business well, then you can always
go about hiring staff then.

This chapter will focus on finding and assembling a team. Whether
it happens right away or later in your business, it’s important to
know what kind of positions you’ll need to hire for, where to hire,
and how to manage them. We’ll look at how to go about finding
writers, editors, and other members of your team, how to brief
them, and how to manage them.

Freelance and salaried staff

To get a blog staffed, particularly when you are small, you will need to make
use of freelancers. Although salaried staff bring more stability as they are
there week in, week out, they also bring a significant cost and investment.
Freelancers are particularly good for small or infrequent jobs that don’t
require the cost of a full or even part-time staff member.

Finding and hiring freelancers is relatively easy as it is quite a common way
to work in the writing and publishing world. There is also very little you need
to do in the way of preparing your business for working with freelancers.
Your staff, on the other hand, requires a lot more administrative work.
Depending on where you are in the world, you will need to look after
employee benefits like health insurance and pension plans, other types of
work insurance, as well as payroll and withholding tax. You should consult
your accountant and lawyer to find out what preparations are relevant in
your country of operation.

Freelance work arrangements are also great for working with people in
other countries. Trying to hire employees overseas creates numerous issues
around complying with local government business and tax regulations.
Working with contractors generally avoids these issues.

Ultimately, you will probably want a mix of freelance and salaried staff,
with the salaried roles particularly suitable for editors and more permanent
and regular writing positions. It’s not a bad idea to get the blog going with
freelance staff, and then once you have established revenue, have enough
hours of work for them, and a solid company footing, to begin expanding
the more long-term positions to accommodate the needs of your staff.

It’s important to keep in mind however, that if you have freelancers who
are earning the majority of their income from just one business and are in
the same country as your business, many governments will view them as
employees, even if you are paying them as freelancers. This is to ensure that
companies give their employees the appropriate benefits of working for a
single employer.


So although using freelancers is good for casual or even part-time work,
it is not simply a way of hiring full-time staff and avoiding the hassles that
come with them. If you have a freelancer who is working a good majority of
their hours with you, you should take the time and investment to make them
at least a part-time if not full-time employee. Not only will that ensure you
are complying with the law, but it’s also better for your staff if they get the
benefits of working as an employee.

Freelancer Basics

If you’ve never worked with freelancers before, there are a few basics you
should be aware of:

1. Invoicing
Freelancers charge clients by sending them an invoice for the work
done. Invoices should be kept for your accounting purposes, even after
they are paid so make sure you are storing them away appropriately.
Also make sure that invoices comply with any local accounting laws. For
example, in Australia, invoices from other Australian businesses must
contain an Australian Business Number. Generally invoices must contain
an invoice number, an amount payable, and details of the freelancer’s
business name and address.
If you are working with a lot of freelancers, you may wish to create
a document specifying any details of how to invoice, how payment
works, and so on. This can then form part of the briefing process for
new freelancers.

2. Contracts
For larger jobs, particularly design and development work, it’s a good
idea to have a contract. The aim of the contract is to make sure the
job is delivered as specified. However, for day-to-day work like articles
or editing a site, the contract will exist more to specify terms that you
both agree to. For example, a contract should cover how much notice
you need to provide to a long-term contractor if the work is finishing
up, and vice versa if they are moving on. It might also state who owns the content that is created and what formats it is licensed for. If the
freelancer is privy to information about your business such as financials
or plans, you may wish to include confidentiality clauses. Finally, noncompete clauses particularly for permanent freelancers such as editors
can be useful too.
Generally speaking you should have a fairly straight-forward agreement
with your freelancers and then pick people you can trust. Contracts
can get as complex as you want to make them, and if you’re not careful
can do more harm than good, giving a feeling of mistrust. Still they are
important to have and it’s worth talking to your lawyer about what is
appropriate for the different types of people you are working with.

3. Freelancer Rates
Rates for a freelancer are generally higher per hour than an employee.
This is because a freelancer needs to take care of all their own benefits
from sick pay to time between contracts, health insurance to longterm savings plans for retirement, their own office space to computer
equipment. Don’t expect to pay a freelancer as you would a regular
employee; there has to be a flip side to all the benefits of working
with freelancers!

4. Taking Care of Your Freelancers
It’s important to take care of the people who work for you regardless of
whether they are freelancers or employees. Make sure you are always
clear about what is expected of them, make sure you pay on time, try
to provide regular work, give a lot of notice when arrangements are
changing and generally look after their welfare. As an employer of any
sort you have, an important responsibility to the people who help you
build the business. In the long run, you will receive benefits back from
loyal and hard working staff who love working at your company.

employee Basics

If you’ve never employed staff before, there are a few basics you should
be aware of:

1. Office Space
Your staff is going to need somewhere to work so your first
responsibilities will be to have some sort of office space for them. Some
employees may be happy to work from home, but generally speaking
the more staff you have, the more you are going to need an office. Home
offices can be an option for small businesses, but keep in mind that
many residential areas prohibit the operation of business past a certain
size, or require some sort of local council approval.
Along with office space you will need to think about desks, chairs,
internet connections, computers, software, and everything else that
goes along with creating an office environment. This can be a lot of
administration, but for a new business it’s also one of the more fun parts
of creating a company!

2. Payroll, Tax, Benefits and Accounting
As mentioned previously, you are going to need to organize a range of
accounting and financial aspects of employment. You will need to think
about payroll and ensure you have enough cash-flow to pay everyone
on time. Along with holding tax for your staff, you may also need to pay
additional payroll tax to the government. And of course you will need
to take care of employee benefits that include sick leave, holiday leave,
health insurance, and retirement benefits. Consult your accountant
about the logistics of employing staff and if you are planning on hiring a
large number of people, consider hiring an HR consultant to help you set
up policies for managing them.

3. Management
The more staff you have, the more you will need to manage them. In
many ways these are problems that will crop up as you grow and you
probably don’t need to worry too much about them early on, particularly
if you aren’t planning on having many employees. Nonetheless keep in
mind that your staff needs management, and if you wish to be hands-off
in your business, that means employing a manager or giving managerial
duties to an employee such as your editor.

4. Looking After Your Employees
It’s imperative that you take care of your staff. For example, paying them
on time even when cash-flow is bad, helping them develop their careers,
paying staff well, ensuring they have appropriate time off and benefits,
and are generally happy. As an employer you are directly responsible for
a large part of your staff’s livelihood and this is not to be treated lightly.

Finding and identifying good People

Perhaps the most critical task when it comes to staffing your blog business
is finding the right people. The quality of a team can make or break a
business, so it’s important to hire well.

1. Advertising for Positions
The most obvious way to find people is to advertise! For employees you
can usually advertise on local job sites online. Ask around to find out
what sites are the most popular in your area.
For freelancers you have a wealth of options. A good job board that is
free for advertisers is at FreelanceSwitch (http://jobs.freelanceswitch.
com). You can also advertise for bloggers at the Problogger job
board ( Otherwise there are sites like Elance
( and oDesk ( where you can find
freelancers of all varieties.
When writing job ads, always write in a clear, straight-forward manner.
Explain what you require, what the site is for, what criteria would be
helpful, and how they can apply. Job ads can be very formal and stuffy
at times, and a clear job ad will help attract the right type of people.
If you are receiving a lot of applicants you can put in a “bozo filter”
which is a simple test to check applicants have read the job ad. A good
bozo filter is to ask that applicants use a specific subject line in their
email application. You can then automatically disregard any application
that doesn’t pass the bozo filter.

2. Asking Current Staff
It’s always great to hire on personal recommendation as it helps eliminate
some of the pain of hiring. Asking your current staff if they know anyone
who’d be good for a role often yields good results as most people will
only recommend someone who isn’t going to soil their own reputation!
Moreover people often know other people in the same field of work, so
your current staff is likely to know other writers, editors, and bloggers.

3. Asking on Your Blog
Depending on what type of blog you run, it may be appropriate to simply
ask on the blog itself for applications. Hiring fans and regular readers
of a blog is a good way to ensure that the tone and style of a site are
carried through.

4. Having an Open Contributions System
It’s not a bad idea to have an open contribution form for writers who’d
like to write for the site. This can just be a link somewhere on the blog
that is effectively a “We’re Hiring” sign. The form can either be an email
application to write for the site, or you can actually take contributions
and then pay for those that get published.
If you take the latter approach, you need to publish a good steady
stream of submissions or otherwise it’s not very fair to ask people to do
work with little chance of actually getting paid.
Open contribution systems can work quite well as a staging ground for
finding regular writers. When someone submits an article and it’s good,
you can simply write back and ask them to write more for the site.

5. Checking References
For more permanent jobs, always check references. The only real
exception to this is if you are hiring a writer, you can simply get them to
write a few articles and pay regardless of whether you use them. The
downside is fairly limited and you’ll quickly know if there is a problem.
But for other positions such as an editorial role, you’ll want to know
they are up to the job before you commit too much time and energy into
hiring and training.

6. Start Small
It’s always good to get new staff started in small ways to get a feel
for how they work. For freelancers this means a small project, for
employees it means a trial period. If you are hiring a new permanent
editor, you might get them to do a few weeks of work, or start them as
a writer first before announcing them on the site to make sure it’s going
smoothly. There’s nothing worse than announcing a new team member
only to let them go shortly after!

7. Take the Time to Hire Well
It’s really worth investing the time to hire well. It takes extra effort
to search for the right candidate, to analyze everyone, to respond to all
the applicants who don’t get hired, and to give them the appropriate
trials and test runs. But given how important your team is, it’s a
worthwhile investment.

what to Pay

Money is always a tricky subject and when you are starting out it’s hard to
know what to offer. At the end of the day choosing the right compensation
is a question of finding an amount someone is willing to do the work for,
that the business can afford to pay, and that is fair. Don’t be afraid to be
up-front and honest with potential hires and let them help with choosing the
right amount. If you can find a figure that suits both parties, then it’ll be the
bedrock of a happy working relationship.

1. Specify the Job Well
Particularly important for freelance work is to agree on what work needs
to be completed. Make sure you agree on approximate length, subject
matter, any revisions or editing that needs to be done, and what rights
you have to the work.

2. Ask the Candidate
There’s nothing wrong with asking a freelancer or prospective employee
what they think is an appropriate amount to be paid. Sometimes you
may get the ball back in your court, and sometimes people will give a number higher than what they might in some circumstances be actually
willing to work for. But on the whole this is a good way, particularly
with freelancers, to work out what a going rate is. As you get more
experience with fair numbers, you can then just let people know what
you pay, and they can choose to take the job or not.

3. You Get What You Pay For
It is important to pay fairly as underpaying tends to under-deliver.
Freelancers and employees who aren’t paid fairly will naturally cut
corners, treat the job with less care, and be less loyal.

4. Salary Ranges Online
When hiring for new positions, it’s good to research salary guides online
to find what is normal for a particular job description in a particular
country and city. Salary guides are available for many countries; simply
Google your particular requirements or check a site like
You can find more guidelines on freelance pay in the relevant sections later
in this chapter.

working with remote staff

Working with staff who aren’t necessarily even in the same country let alone
the same office is one of the most interesting parts of running a blog. It’s
a method of work that is unique to this generation of business and there is
little written on the subject.

The Importance of Email

The bedrock of working with remote staff is email communication. While
everyone knows how to use email, not everyone uses it well. To run a blog
team via email requires some extra email skills:

1. Clarity
Expressing what you require from someone clearly is critical if you want
to avoid pointless extra emails. Emails to staff should express succinctly what you want, set deliverables or a call to action of what they
need to do next, preferably in point form, and include dates or times
for completion.
There is no room in written communication for hinting, being vague
about what you need, or being wishy-washy. Get to the point.

2. Informative
If you are using email to brief staff, you must provide all the information
they will require to complete a task. Think through the job as if you
were going to do it, and set parameters, provide background
information, make sure they have the right resources, and set it all out in
clear point form.

3. Friendliness
The great danger with email is that written communication is
missing a lot of the context of speech. In other words, email can be
misinterpreted. As a general rule, it’s good to lean towards being overly
friendly instead of formal. If you are delivering criticism in particular, you
should deliver it in such a way as to make sure the person doesn’t feel
they need to be on the defensive, that rather it’s simply feedback on
how they can deliver better.
Don’t be afraid to use smiley faces and exclamation marks. Make sure
to praise work well done. Make sure to be clear and straight about
delivering criticism and then move past it. And be sure to give staff the
opportunity to send back any questions, reservations, or feedback they
might have.

4. Actionable/FYI
In general there are two types of emails a person receives. The first is
the actionable email. These emails have a specific task or outcome
expected. There is something the recipient needs to do based on the
information in the email. Often the action is as simple as responding to
the email to confirm something.
The other type of email is the FYI (“for your information”) email. In this
case an email is purely to relay some information you think might be
useful or pertinent to the recipient. If you are sending an FYI email, it’s not a bad idea to put “FYI:” in your subject line. Get into the habit of
differentiating these emails so recipients know how they are meant to
respond (or not) and quickly deal with them appropriately.

5. Rereading Emails
Rereading emails can reveal flaws or missing information. It’s very good
practice to reread all emails of any significance to make sure they really
do say what you meant to say.
Needless to say, always reread critical emails. Preferably get someone
else to read them as well to make sure the information you want to
convey is delivered appropriately. Once you send an email, you can
never get it back, so be particularly wary of negatively toned or
angry emails.

6. Write Readable Emails
It’s difficult to read emails that have no paragraph breaks, aren’t written
in proper sentences, use CAPS, use too many ellipses, or break any
number of other standard writing rules. Be careful that you write as you
like to read.

7. Ask for Feedback
It takes practice to work well over email. Don’t assume that you are
doing it well as there are a surprising number of bad emailers around.
Ask your staff for feedback on how you can improve and communicate
better, and be sure to implement the feedback they give you!

8. Brief but Not Curt
Generally it’s best to keep emails brief. That said, you don’t want to
stray into being curt. Try to avoid responding in one- or two-word
emails, or even single-sentence emails unless it’s just the last of a string
of mail and there is little to be said except a quick acknowledgement.

9. Always Reply – Preferably Within 24 hours
If you are going to work remotely over email day in, day out, it’s
important to get confirmation on all actionable emails. There is nothing
worse than asking a question, sending instruction or emailing any other
type of actionable email and hearing nothing back. Moreover, taking a
long time to reply is tantamount to not replying. Often it means slowing  down someone else’s work while they wait for a reply, thereby making
your staff less efficient.
If you aren’t used to clearing your inbox daily, now is the time to get into
the habit! If you receive a lot of rubbish in your email, set rules to send
them to a secondary, less important inbox that you check irregularly.
Keeping a clean inbox is an excellent way to stay on top of your email.
If you are very far behind, you can declare email bankruptcy, archive
everything and start afresh. After all, if you haven’t gotten around to
reading and acting on old emails to date, you probably never will.

Other Communications

While email is easily the most important communication method for dealing
with your remote staff, it is not the only tool you should use:

1. Instant Messaging
Textual instant messaging is a useful way for quickly conversing about
questions or small issues. Skype, AIM, Messenger, and the rest all make
for appropriate tools. They can be distracting but the efficiency created
for staff in being able to quickly ask a question when it’s urgent is often
worth it.

2. Phone Calls and Teleconferences
Sometimes it’s good to chat with people over the phone. Not only is this
good for keeping a personal connection, it’s also often the most efficient
way to get a few people communicating all together. Skype and many
other services offer free or extremely cheap solutions for phone calls

3. Wikis and Manuals
There is a large amount of information that you will need to repeat as
you have more staff. Examples include style guides, information on
using the blog platform, and even manuals for running a blog (if you
have multiple blogs). This sort of information works well in an internal
wiki that you can simply direct new staff to.

Once you have an internal wiki set up and working, you can add other
information such as staff contacts, what to do if the site goes down, and
so on. Your internal wiki will become a key component of a remote team
strategy. A great solution for internal wikis is PBWorks (http://pbworks.
com) though it can get pricey with a lot of users. Google Docs also
provides solutions though sometimes sharing with non-Google accounts
can be troublesome.

4. Social Updates
For large remote teams, having a social tool is a really effective way of
capturing some of the office environment feel. Services like Yammer
( – which is a “Twitter for Business” – or IRC will help
generate camaraderie and encourage staff to get to know each other
without adding email noise.

setting Parameters and Focusing on results

With both remote and in-house staff, it’s really important to decide early
on what is important to you. As the business owner, it can be easy to fall
into the trap of wanting your staff to look like they are working hard. There
are common ideas about what hard work looks like: overtime, silent typing,
punctuality, and so on.

If you think about it though you will realize that it’s not working hard that you
are after; it’s results. And those perceptions of what a hard working person
does don’t necessarily have anything to do with results.
Moreover with remote staff, you don’t actually know what they are doing
most of the time. For all you know they are chatting all day long, sitting in
their underwear (don’t ask me who they are chatting to), arriving at their desk
late, and finishing early. Not only don’t you know, but you can never know!
This is actually a very good thing. It will force you to realize that all that’s
actually important is that your staff produce results. If you can find someone  who can do in an hour what other people do in eight hours and then charge
you as if it took four, that’s still a great result!
The reality with remote staff is that there are no controls on how they work,
and trying to add them is probably not a very effective pursuit. Instead you
should concentrate on two things:

1. Set Clear Parameters
First you must always give your staff clear and defined parameters
about what you need them to do. If it’s important to have someone
checking comments daily so that discussion can flow, then that’s a
parameter you need to communicate. If it’s important that articles are
published on schedule so that readers know what to expect, then that’s
a parameter you must tell your writers and editor.
Importantly you must provide context when setting parameters: Why is
it important that comments are approved daily? Why is it important that
articles hit the schedule? Adding context helps your staff to understand
why your requests matter and encourages them to think holistically
about their role on the site.
The most important parameters to set for jobs are the results you are
expecting. For example, if you are looking to encourage discussion, then
make sure your writers know that they are being judged on their ability
to create articles that get discussed!
Providing parameters with context lets your staff know what is expected
of them and why it’s expected. This then gives them the freedom to deliver
you the results you are looking for in whatever way is most suitable.

2. Judge Staff on Results
When looking at the performance of your staff you should be focused on
just results. Did they fulfill the requirements of the job set at the beginning?
Did they exceed them? Did they produce outstanding results?
Importantly, you can forget about whether they clocked exactly the right
number of hours, or completed all the work at the last minute, or did the
work while sitting on a cruise liner bound for Jamaica. The only thing
you care about is the result! This will not only liberate you from worrying about rubbish, but it will provide much greater freedom for your staff to
do the work the way they are most comfortable, productive, and happy.
Judging staff this way is only possible, however, if you have set clear
and context-laden parameters to begin with. If your staff doesn’t know
what is expected of them or why, it’s going to be very difficult for them
to deliver.

other staff issues

There are lots of other issues to think about for your remote staff including:

1. Security and Password Management
It’s a good idea to have a firm plan for password and security
management right from the very beginning. The key is to have systems
in place to store and keep passwords and to make sure different jobs
have different access privileges to things like blogging software, hosting
providers, domain registrars, and so on.
In general you should always create separate accounts for each
individual writer, editor, and staffer. Passwords should always be
strong, no matter how trivial the account seems to be. Whenever
possible, restrict the highest admin privileges to just yourself, and where
appropriate the site editor. This is particularly important on blogs where
you have many writers contributing, and therefore with access to the
blog management system.
It’s a good idea to set yourself up with a password manager like
LastPass ( or 1Password (
so that you can manage the many, many passwords you are going to
end up with as a blog business owner. LastPass in particular is good
because it allows you to share passwords for use to staff without
actually revealing the password itself.
Between email, blog software, social media, and web services such as
analytics accounts, you will find yourself swimming in passwords. Without a good password manager, it’s all too tempting to use weak or
repetitive passwords, which is an invitation for problems.

2. Email Addresses
For positions such as the site editor, you may wish to create a single
gmail (or similar) account that gets passed over with complete archives.
This means that when one editor finishes and another starts, the new
editor still has access to the archive of emails between the editor and
writers, sponsors, and so on. Because you can map a domain email
address such as back to a gmail account, the
email address the editor uses can still change, but the archives will stay
the same. This practice can help with transitioning when the two people
won’t ever be in the same place to discuss handovers and potentially
emails could be lost in the process.

3. Time Off
For more permanent staff, you will need to consider what to do when
they take time off. For example, if your editor is ill, you or another editor
should be able to step in quickly and take over. In these cases, having a
shared email address as detailed above can be very handy.
For planned time off, you can organize with your site editor to prepare
a couple of weeks of content ahead of time with timestamps so that
they go up over a period of time when the editor is not present. These
situations are always best thought of beforehand, so that interruptions
to the site are kept to a minimum.

4. Performance Reviews
It’s important for staff to know how they are doing, where they stand,
and what the future holds. For these reasons, whether it’s remote or
local, freelance or employee, you should always conduct periodic
performance reviews.
These don’t need to be particularly formal; they can take the form of a
simple email giving general feedback, praise and well-formed criticism,
and in return asking for feedback and comments.
Make sure you find out from your team what their own aspirations are,
what they’d like to achieve, how they think they can contribute, and

what ideas they have for their work. Not only are staff often a gold mine
of great ideas, but working to develop your team is amongst the most
rewarding things you can do as a manager and entrepreneur.
5. Rights to Published Work
If you’ve never worked with writers before, you may be surprised
to know that commissioning content doesn’t necessarily mean you
own the work. Usually writers are granting a perpetual license to use
the content on your blog. However, unless you specifically agree
beforehand, you cannot for example then create a book out of their
articles and start selling that.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to think about what you want to do
with articles published on your site and make sure you’ve arranged (and
compensated) any unusual plans with the writers beforehand.

Motivating Staff

Your team is going to produce their best work if they are motivated and
happy. There are many factors that go into keeping people feeling good
about their work, here are a few:

1. Your Business Mission and Values
What your business is all about has a great impact on how your staff
behaves. If a person feels they are working for an organization that is
genuinely set on being the best, doing great work, or creating value for
readers, then they are more likely to produce great work themselves. If
your organization is about making you money at any cost, this will most
likely not inspire anyone to achieve much more than the minimum.
While what you say has some bearing in this respect, what is more
important is what you do. It’s not enough simply to have a nice mission
or value statement in your business plan; it has to be part of the
organization and its operations.

2. Helping Your Staff Achieve What They Want to Achieve
Having staff is a relationship and like any relationship, it works best
when both parties contribute. While you will be expecting your staff to deliver the goods in their work, you should make sure your business is
giving staff value by building their skill sets and experience, providing
opportunities to grow and try new things, and generally helping them get
where they are going. Take some time to find out what is important to
your staff and support them on that path.

3. Setting an Example
As the business owner you will set an extremely important example to
people working with you. Companies generally often end up reflecting
their founders and managers so if you work hard, you can expect to
draw people who work hard. If you set the right priorities, you can
expect your staff to do so too. If you want to lead a happy, motivated
team – you need to be happy and motivated.

4. Keeping Everyone Informed and Involved
It’s a lot easier to be invested in an enterprise when you really feel a part
of it. This happens when you know what is going on and have a chance
to affect the course of those goings-on.
Providing context to the activities of your business helps everyone
feel they are genuinely part of the business. Taking input from your staff
is not only a clever thing to do – chances are they have some pretty
good ideas – but it also ensures that the creation is partly theirs. This
feeling of ownership in turn keeps them feeling vested in the success of
your enterprise.


role: site editor/Manager

Your site editor is the most important role on the site. This is the job that
effectively manages the daily operations of the site. Typical tasks for a site
editor include:

1. Finding and Managing Writers
Your editor will typically be responsible for finding new writers,
managing existing writers, reviewing guest and casual contributions,
and ensuring everyone is writing the right things.

2. Managing the Publishing Schedule
Planning a publishing roster, determining what day different posts will
appear, dealing with last minute emergencies, planning in new content
types or contributors and generally managing what gets published is the
pivotal part of the site editor’s job.

3. Preparing Content
Depending on the site, preparation of content can include just textual
editing all the way through to adding HTML markup, finding images, and
liaising with the writer to develop the content to its full potential.

4. Planning Site Initiatives
Site editors should be capable of planning and executing site initiatives
like competitions, giveaways, new features, and content directions. As
the front line of your operation, the site editor is the most in tune with
what your audience wants, so pay attention!

5. Dealing with Site Contacts
Most sites have some sort of “Contact Us” page, and it’s not a
bad idea to have this route to the site editor. They can then handle
potential writers, businesses looking for exposure, story tips, and
general inquirers.

6. The Voice of the Blog
A site editor is a key component of the voice of the blog. In site news
posts and general editorial, the editor helps humanize the site and give a
face to the blog. This is why in many magazines there’s a note from the
editor at the opening of the magazine.

7. Representing the Blog Externally
For successful blogs the editor will often come to represent the site. A
great example is Gina Trapani from LifeHacker (,
who for some years was the site’s editor, wrote the official book, and
has been interviewed and profiled numerous times about LifeHacker. For
many people Gina was, and still is, Lifehacker.

8. Dealing with the Community
One of the most important jobs an editor has is to deal with the blog’s
community. This happens chiefly through comments, but can also
happen when an editor asks for community feedback through some
other means, for example through surveys, a competition, or a request
for email feedback.

9. Running the Site’s Twitter and Social Media Accounts
Site editors are usually the best candidates for operating a blog’s social
media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook feeds. They are usually
involved in the subject matter of the blog, can publish interesting links,
and are acutely aware of what is happening on the site.

10. Watching and Analyzing Statistics
Keeping an eye on Analytics is important for a blog editor so that
they can check which types of content are working well, which are
attracting search traffic, which are doing well on social media, and other
interesting trends and data that can be teased out.

11. Setting the Direction of the Blog
It’s a good idea to get your site editor involved in developing the blog’s
direction, voice, and personality. They will have experience in running
blogs, know what types of things audiences are interested in, and in the
end will be the person most responsible for running the blog!

Skills to Look for in a Site Editor

Because it’s such an important job, you should look for an editor who has
had blog experience before, and ensure you’ve gone through the blog they
ran, read comments they left in response to readers, read their articles, and
look at the general quality of the blog during their tenure.
The main skills you are looking for in an editor are:
1. Writing Skills
Being a good writer and editor are obviously essential skills for an editor.
They don’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, but they should be
able communicators.
2. Attention to Detail
Editing is very detailed work, as is managing a blog. This is not a job for
someone who wants to focus on the big picture creative work only. You need
to find someone who is happy to do the nitty-gritty tasks day in, day out.
3. Time Management
Running a blog is something of a juggling act, so you need to find
someone who is good at not only managing their own time, but also at
making sure their writers do so as well!
4. Strong Email Communicator
Given the importance of dealing with remote staff your site editor needs
to have fantastic email skills. They should be not only able to get their
point across, but also to do so in a friendly manner that keeps everyone
happy and onside.
5. Interest in the Subject Matter
It’s hard to run a site about a subject you have no personal interest in.
Therefore you should always pick a site editor who loves the subject
your blog is about. In the case where you have to choose between a
person who is a great editor but has no interest in the subject and a
person who is an average editor but who loves the subject, choose the
latter. Enthusiasm comes across in a blog and will help your site connect
with the audience. It will also keep your editor interested and working for
passion rather than just paychecks.

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What to Pay Freelance Editors
As we’ve just seen a typical site editor’s duties are quite diverse and will
include commissioning, editing, posting, and sometimes writing content,
managing comments, organizing competitions or other on-site events, and a
range of other tasks.
For freelancers it’s a good idea to choose an hourly rate with the freelancer
and then calculate approximately how many hours of work there is a week
and set the rate from there. Because this type of work is steady reliable
work, hourly rates need not be as high as for a web designer who works
project to project. Additionally, steady work that can be done at home is
often highly prized, which is an important consideration.
For regular part-time work on the order of 10–30 hours a week, a rate
of US$20 to US$40 an hour is reasonable for a young editor with some
experience. Keep in mind this figure must cover everything from their time
off work to their health and benefits.
It’s important to keep in mind that these numbers are purely based on
my own experience. They are not intended as absolute figures in any
sense of the word. You should take into consideration the local rates,
a person’s experience, the job details, and a host of other factors. The
numbers quoted here are purely intended as a guide to help new businesses
have a starting point for what might be an acceptable amount to offer. You
may be able to get cheaper rates or may need to pay more for someone
with more experience.
You should always discuss in detail with the person you are hiring, as well as
conduct appropriate research of potential candidates.

role: writer
The most straight forward position to hire for is that of the writer. For most
blog businesses you will work with a set of freelance contributors who
submit work on an either casual or regular basis.

Download from Wow! eBook <>

Tips for managing and working with writers:
1. Train Writers to Use the Blog Management System and Formatting
Taking content from a writer and preparing it for your particular blog
management system can be time-consuming work. Having writers do
this themselves is a good way to distribute that work and significantly
lessen the site editor’s load. To do this may require a bit of training and
set-up to get your writers familiar with your particular system, but it’s
time well spent!
2. Provide a House Style Guide
Having a consistent tone of voice and style of writing is essential to
creating a solid blog brand. Ask your editor to spend some time putting
together a guide to writing for your blog, including any formatting
instructions, tips, and guides on spelling and grammar variants.
3. Pay Regulars and Contributors Differently
It’s important to reward regular writers and to make it worth their while
to contribute consistently. Paying for regular gigs at a slightly higher rate
ensures that it’s a position that is worth earning and keeping.
4. Working with Writers
How much time and effort you put into working with writers is up to
you and your editor. In some cases, working with a writer to develop an
article can reap big rewards, particularly if it’s a regular contributor who
can put those lessons back into play. On the other hand, if a writer or
contributor isn’t quite up to scratch, spending time can be more costly
than finding a better writer. Discuss with your editor what their feel is
about working with writers and what is an appropriate amount of backand-forth to develop a post.

Writer’s Fees
Writer fees will vary according to how specialized the subject matter is,
how experienced or well known the writer is, and how much research is
involved. For example, a writer for a Photoshop tutorial is going to need
to also be highly specialized with Photoshop and spend a lot of time

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researching and developing the content, so that sort of blog post will likely
be quite expensive. On the other hand, a quick news piece that is mostly
summarizing a press release would be much cheaper.
For general writing, a reasonable rate to offer is about 10 cents a word. So a
thousand-word article would pay US$100. There are cases where you might
get by with less, and certainly times where you will need more. However, in
my experience this has been a reasonable rate for many freelance writers.
In addition to writer fees, there are also supplemental reasons that can
be added incentives. In particular as your blogs become well known, it’s
not bad to have their names in a writer’s portfolio. That said, writers will
also expect more from an established blog that is clearly making money, as
is fair!
Again, it’s important to keep in mind that any numbers shown above are
purely based on my own experience. They are not intended as absolute
figures in any sense of the word. You should take into consideration the local
rates, a person’s experience, the job details, and a host of other factors. The
numbers quoted here are purely intended as a guide to help new businesses
have a starting point for what might be an acceptable amount to offer.
You should always discuss in detail with the person you are hiring, as well as
conduct appropriate research of potential candidates.

role: web designer
In the previous chapter we covered the importance of strong visual
branding. Creating your blog’s look is the job of your designer. Aside from
the initial push of work, most professional blog outfits will need the services
of a web designer from time to time for updates and small jobs. Unless you
have a large family of sites, it is unlikely this will be more than occasional
work, nonetheless, it’s good to have a long-term relationship with a
designer, as you will want to maintain a professional standard even for little
bits and pieces.

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The Difference Between Web Designers
and Developers
It’s important to understand that web design is the visual layout of a site,
while development is the actual coding work. Some web designers will also
do some amount of limited development, while in other cases you might hire
a specialist designer to design your brand, web look and feel, and then hire
a developer to build it.

Agency or Freelancer?
An important question to decide on is whether you plan to hire an agency to
design and develop your site, or a freelancer. The answer is usually a factor
of how much you want to spend.
If you can shell out for an agency, you will take a lot of the risk and trouble
out of the equation, as they tend to provide more holistic services in a more
reliable, easy-to-handle manner. However, you are also going to be paying a
lot more, as agencies need to have sales people, as well as multiple levels
of staff involved.
If you are going to use an agency you may wish to look for a smaller one
that is somewhere in between a freelancer and full-blown interactive shop.
This will usually yield the benefits of working with an agency without the
rather large markups that can come with the bigger companies.
In this book I will assume you are working with freelancers as they are
the more economic option. In the long run, if you expand into a bigger
business, you will also likely end up with in-house staff fulfilling design and
development jobs, and much of the advice for dealing with freelancers will
apply in that circumstance as well.

What a Web Designer Does
Web designers can have varying skill sets depending on whether they
specialize more in the design part of their job or in the development part.
Typically a designer handles:

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1. Branding
Designing a logo, brand, and overall visual identity is something many
web designers can do. Although you can actually hire specialized
branding designers, often a web designer can produce a decent visual
identity at potentially a much lower cost.
2. Website Design
The bread-and-butter of a web designer’s job is to design the visual
layout of your site. They should put together a design of a homepage
and typically any other key pages on the site, so for a blog this would
include a post/comments page.
3. Auxiliary Graphics
If you need graphics that match your website and branding, then a
web designer can usually create them. These might include banners
for special promotions or articles, info-graphics such as diagrams,
advertisements, and so on.
4. Web Development?
Many web designers can also provide some or all of your web
development work. This varies wildly between freelancers, meaning
that a web designer will offer one of the following levels of
development capability:
a. No Development at All
Most web designers can do some building, however you will still
find people who will only produce the visual part of the job and then
either sub-contract or leave it to you to get the design built. Typically
,designers who do no development, are stronger at the branding
aspect of the job.
b. Build the Design into HTML
The most basic web development is to turn a design into an HTML
site and this is the most common level of development proficiency
for web designers. Note that an HTML site is a static site. It then
needs to have additional functionality added to it to turn it into
a blog theme or to plug it into some other content management
system. Nonetheless, web designers who can build a site into HTML

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will have delivered a lot of value because it means they can make
sure the visual design is carried through to the final site just as
they’d intended.
c. Build the Design into a Working Blog Theme
If for example you are using WordPress, then your design needs to
be first built into HTML and then turned into a WordPress theme.
Web designers who can handle both steps will be able to help you
get a very polished finished product. However, because the skill set
is quite broad, it is possible that you will either have a very good
visual look but average code, or vice versa. Having said that, there
are some very talented people out there who can do the whole job
really well!
d. Build the Design into … Anything!
It’s very unlikely that you will find someone who can do both a web
designer and web developer’s job well. Usually only agencies who
have multiple staff will be able to deliver this level of service, and if
you can find a single person who can do the whole thing, expect to
pay a premium for such talent!

Finding and Working with a Web Designer
If you’ve never hired a designer you may be wondering where to begin. In
fact, it’s not unlike hiring any other type of contractor, so start by asking
around. While the best way to find someone is through a personal or
professional recommendation, you can also try searching a web design
gallery such as Creattica ( to find designs you like and
then contacting the designers. Alternately you can try putting up a freelance
job ad on a site like FreelanceSwitch ( to have
applicants contact you about the job. Finally, a site like Sortfolio (http:// will help you sort through freelancers and agencies according
to budget and location to pick out an appropriate candidate.
Some useful tips for hiring a web designer are:
1. Make Sure You View the Designer’s Previous Work
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you are looking for. Without this proof it’s hard to know whether they are
capable of delivering the right level of quality.
2. Ask for a Reference from a Previous Job
Contacting other clients of the designer is the best way to find out if
they deliver in a timely fashion, what they are like to work with, and
about any major pitfalls of working with them. Like all references, you
will often need to read between the lines of what they are saying and
listen to what is not said as much as what is said. Prepare a few openended questions and then just listen to what the reference has to say.
3. Get a Written Agreement
It’s important to discuss and agree on terms about what the work
includes and doesn’t include. Ask about revisions and changes and how
they work. Also ask about how many design concepts will be delivered.
If you like choice, you can ask for multiple concepts, but keep in mind
you will be paying for it.
4. Choose the Right Person; Don’t Try to get the Wrong Person to do
the Right Work
It’s always wise to make sure you have the right person for the job in the
beginning, and then get out of the way so they can produce something
brilliant, rather than making hasty early decisions and then trying to
copilot the project yourself.
5. You (usually) Get What You Pay For
Prices for design can vary wildly. Freelancers are almost always cheaper
than agencies and less experienced freelancers are cheaper than the
more experienced variety, at least in hourly rates. Freelance designers
tend to be more variable and risky than agencies, particularly if you find
someone freelancing in their spare time or with a short track record.
Even amongst agencies and amongst freelancers, however, you will find
pricing varying. This is often to do with quality, service levels, experience,
the type of client they usually cater to, and where they are situated.
Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules, so it’s best to get a range
of quotes and speak to at least a couple of different service providers
before making a decision.

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6. Hourly Rates, Quotes and Estimates
Most web designers will have an hourly rate they can quote.
Unfortunately this rate is mostly meaningless as a job can be quoted for
very different lengths of time! Still it’s a good way to get a first gauge for
how expensive a designer will be.
After briefing the designer you should ask for a quote or estimate for
the job. The difference is that a quote is usually fixed (though you might
want to double check this!). That means if the designer quotes a price of
$2100 for the job based on their hourly rate of say $70 and their internal
estimate that it’s going to be 30 hours of work, but that in the end the
job takes 20 hours or 40 hours, you still pay the same amount. This is
called a fixed quote.
An estimate, on the other hand, will just provide a best guess at how
many hours of work will be involved. If you are getting an estimate,
make sure you know what the hourly rate is for extra work. Moreover,
you should check in at regular intervals to find out where the job is up to
and how the bill is faring so you avoid getting an unpleasant surprise at
the end.
Whether the work is done on an estimate or quote basis is often down
simply to the individual preference of the contractor.
Hourly rates for web designers vary wildly depending on experience. It’s
best to simply ask a few designers who are interested in the job to get a
handle on what to expect in relation to what level of quality.
7. Expect to Pay a (non-refundable) Deposit
Most freelancers and agencies will charge a non-refundable deposit
of 20 – 50%. While it sounds obvious, you should know that you will
always have to pay for the work done at the end of the job. You cannot
choose to pay only if you like the design work, as the hours are put in by
the designer regardless of your satisfaction with the result. This is why
it’s so important to pick the right person to work with.
8. How to Brief a Designer
Like all staff and contractors, if you don’t brief a designer well, you
cannot expect them to deliver what you want. So it’s important to

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compile the following information for them at the very beginning
(preferably before they even quote for the job):
a. Site name and logo OR
b. Site name and what you want out of the logo and brand (if they are
designing it)
c. What pages are going to be on the site
d. What information is going to be on those pages
e. Examples of work you like such as other blogs, brands, sites, and so
on. Explain what you do and don’t like about each
f. Any photos or imagery you’d like to use
g. Any other information or assets you think would be useful to them
9. Specify the Files You Will Receive.
It’s important that you get copies of all Photoshop design files and work
done on your job. Make sure you double-check at the beginning of the
job that this will happen. Additionally, find out the names of any fonts
used so you can get copies for your own use.
If you are having a logo designed make sure you get a vector copy
of the logo. This is usually in EPS or Illustrator AI format and is really
important if you need to hand the job to another designer in the future.

role: web developer
A web or software developer is someone who writes the code for your
website. There are many types of developers out there, and in some cases
your web designer may actually be a developer themselves. It’s a good idea
to ask around when hiring web designers and developers to assess what
their capabilities are. You may also find you can hire one and have them
subcontract the other parts of the project out for you.
The most basic type of web developer is someone who can take a design
and turn it into a theme for a blog platform such as WordPress. More
experienced and high-end developers will also be capable of building
anything from advanced customizations for a blog through to custom
systems and applications; although, the larger the product is, the more likely
it becomes that you will need multiple developers.

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Unless you have some specific plans for something more than a blog,
you will probably not need more than just blog theming work done. In the
long run however, you may need a more specialist developer should you
decide to add new features to the site, or simply to help with performance
optimization if your server is having trouble handling traffic.

Choosing Hosting
An important choice that you will make in setting up a blog enterprise is that
of where to host your sites. Your developer will be able to assist in selecting
a company that has a good track record, provides good value, and will give
you the space to grow should you need it.
Here are some things to consider when setting up your hosting:
1. Do You Need to be Able to Manage the Server?
Many hosting packages will come with an admin control panel of one
variety or another. These can help you set up email addresses, reboot
the server, and do a variety of different tasks (depending on the server)
that can even include installing WordPress and other packages with just
a click or two.
However, not all companies provide control panel software. In particular,
companies like SliceHost ( provide hosting aimed
at developers and are often much more light-weight (control panels can
use up a good dose of system resources) and cost-effective. The flip
side of this is that they can also be harder to manage yourself if you
aren’t familiar with Linux.
2. Are You Just Hosting a Blog?
If you are planning on hosting more than say, just a WordPress
installation, then you should definitely consult with your developer to
find out what requirements your project has. Some applications will
require specific features and functionality from your web host.
3. What Language/Platform are You Using?
In the next section we’ll cover different languages and platforms in
detail. Suffice to say you should double-check that a hosting company

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supports your blog software or development platform before signing up
with them.
4. Where Does Your Plan Fit in the Company’s Range?
Check that you have somewhere to upgrade to if you end up needing
more juice in the tank. There’s nothing worse than realizing you have to
move hosting companies because you’ve outgrown your current plan
and there is nowhere else to go with the current host.
5. What Do Other People Say About the Web Host?
There are literally thousands of web hosts out there, making it quite
difficult to figure out if you are choosing a decent company. Generally
it’s best to pick someone reputable and do some research on sites like
WebHostingTalk ( to find out what other
customers think of their service and support.

Language and Platform Choices
An important decision to make early on is to determine what platform you
will be working on. For most bloggers this simply means deciding on a blog
software package, however if you are doing any additional development
work, you may need to also consult with your developer to work out what
language and environment they work in.
Blog Platform
There are a number of software packages you can use to build a blog. These
packages are often called blogging platforms, or more generally Content
Management Systems (CMS). For professional bloggers, you should be
looking for a package that you host yourself on your own web server. This is
opposed to hosted options, which are usually much easier to set up but may
provide far less flexibility.
The overwhelming favorite blog CMS in recent years has been WordPress,
and many books and articles for bloggers will simply assume that’s what
you are using. Nonetheless, there are other options and in some cases they
may provide features that can be useful in developing beyond just a blog.

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1. WordPress – Most Popular
WordPress ( is the world’s most popular open
source (and hence free) blogging platform and with good reason.
It’s exceedingly easy to use, is regularly updated, and has an enormous
community of developers and designers making themes and plugins
for it. If you are unsure of what platform to use, this is probably your
safest choice.
One thing to know about WordPress if you are planning large scale
development is that while quite a stable platform, many developers
feel it’s not very well built internally. So you may have trouble deeply
integrating it into a big project. Ask your developer if you are planning
something major.
There is also a hosted version of WordPress available at
that is free to set up, which means you don’t need your own web host.
As with all hosted solutions, you should probably stay away from this
option as it comes with a lot of limitations.
2. Google’s Blogger and TypePad (Avoid!)
Blogger ( is a hosted platform and while it is a decent
product, the fact that it’s hosted imposes many limitations on what you
can do. A great many bloggers who start out on Blogger find themselves
moving to another platform because they need more flexibility.
TypePad (, like Blogger, is also a hosted solution.
However, unlike Blogger and, it’s a for-pay system.
Nonetheless, like all hosted solutions, it’s limited in its long-term potential.
3. MovableType (A worthy WordPress alternative)
MovableType ( is a powerful, feature-rich
blogging platform from SixApart (the people who also make TypePad).
It’s written in Perl and isn’t nearly as popular as WordPress, however it is
a worthy alternative and often vies with WordPress with respect to new
features and releases.
4. Joomla and Drupal (Open source CMSs)
Joomla ( and Drupal ( are
respectively the second and third most popular open source CMS

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products after WordPress. They are actually more general CMS products
than WordPress, which focuses almost exclusively on blogging. Joomla
and Drupal offer a range of features that can make adding membership
and community features to your site a lot easier.
Neither is as easy to use as WordPress or as well-supported in themes
and developers. However, both are very well known and you should be
able to find help on either relatively easily. You can learn more about
specific features they each offer at their respective websites.
5. Expression Engine (Paid CMS)
Expression Engine ( is a very popular
non-open source product which, like Joomla and Drupal, can be used
for a blog, but can also do a lot more. Because it’s a paid product there
is lots of support from the company behind the product and because it’s
quite popular, it’s moderately easy to find developers who specialize in
the product.
6. Tumblr and Posterous (Microblogging)
Microblogging is generally for shorter, less involved blogs. However,
recently the two most popular platforms – Tumblr (
and Posterous ( – have been gaining traction
and popularity, and in some cases being used even for full-scale blogs.
Nonetheless, both are hosted systems and are much more limited in
features when compared to WordPress or MovableType.
7. The Rest
There are literally hundreds of places you can start a blog and dozens
of self-hosted platforms you can purchase or simply download for free.
Hosted platforms range from the very professional SquareSpace (http:// to more amateur fare like (
As always, unless you have good reason, you should avoid
hosted platforms.
Self-hosted options can include blog platforms created in different
languages and environments such as Mephisto (,
which is built in Ruby on Rails, or which are simply more niche in use such
as TextPattern (, which is a very minimalist solution.

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Development Environment and Language
If your product is purely a blog, then the development environment is likely
to be dictated by the software you are using. For example, WordPress is a
PHP/MySQL solution and will require a hosting package that supports PHP/
MySQL set-ups.
If you are building something more than a blog, then an important
consideration is the environment and language your developer works in.
For example, if you are hiring a .NET developer then you will probably need
Microsoft hosting for them to work in that environment. This might then
affect what blog platform you use as well.
Speak to your web developer to assess what is appropriate for your
requirements and their services.

Typical Jobs a Web Developer Might Do
A web developer’s role can include a variety of jobs. Depending on your
developer’s experience and skill set you may need a specialist for some or
all of the jobs listed below.
1. Configure Your Server and Hosting
Your web developer can generally help you set up your server, install
any appropriate software packages, and help get everything set up. It’s
important however that you be the one to initially set up the web hosting
account, then set up your developer as the development contact.
This way, if you change developers later down the track, you’ll have
everything you need.
Some developers operate their own hosting (usually on-selling a hosting
company’s white labeled services). You should always avoid these in
favor of setting up your own account directly with a hosting provider.
Locking yourself in with a developer in this manner can make changing
developers difficult.
2. Build a Blog Design/Theme
Your web developer’s main job is, of course, to actually build, install,
and customize your blog’s theme.

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3. Create or Customize Plugins
If you need specific functionality on your blog, your developer may
create or customize plugins or small applications to help you achieve
that. They will usually need to tweak your site’s theme and install them
for you as well.
4. Search Optimization
Optimizing a site for search engines is generally a very specialized job
with an entire industry catering to it. However, one aspect that your web
developer can help with is ensuring that your site is well-structured and
uses markup that search engines like.
For help with search engine marketing, link building, and general
optimization you will probably need to find a specialist provider. You can
find a list of companies to consider at SEOMoz’s Marketplace (http://
5. Maintenance Work such as Upgrading and Bug-fixing
There is often ongoing work maintaining a blog that comes in the form
of upgrading to new installations, patching plugins to ensure they are
compatible, and fixing bugs that may crop up.
6. Server Issues
You may also require help with your server from time to time should you
have problems with spam, freeing up resources, moving web hosts,
and so on.
7. Setting up Caching
An important step when setting up a blog, particularly a WordPress
one, is to have appropriate caching. This helps your blog perform under
traffic pressure by reducing the number of times it hits the server. Basic
caching plugins are relatively easy to install, however more advanced
plugins like W3 Total Cache ( provide much better caching but are quite difficult to set up
for someone without much web experience.
8. Setting up Backup Systems
It’s incredibly important to have solid backup systems in place for your
blog. If you don’t and your site is lost somehow, you have pretty much
forfeited your entire business.

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It’s best to have at least two levels of backup in place. Optimally, you
should have a backup service with your web host, and a second that
backs up your site from your web host to another location (in case your
web host somehow vanishes off the face of the earth). On top of these
two levels, it’s not a bad idea to periodically download the contents of
your blog to your own hard drive using the export function that most
blogs provide.
Your developer can help you set up backup systems and then to
regularly test them out. A backup system that has never been tested is
not much better than no backup system at all.
9. Advanced Development
Setting up a blog is actually a pretty simple development task, which
is why sometimes web designers will do it for you. If you need custom
development, which can range from setting up a membership site to
building a web app to installing other software products, then you
should speak to your developer to find out what is involved.
Generally the bigger the project is, the harder it is to cost and estimate.
If you decide to develop a large application, expect to pay a lot and for
it to take a long time. There’s a saying that whatever a developer says a
project will cost and however much time it will take, you should double
it, and double it again, just to be safe!
10. Advanced Server Management and Performance Tuning
If you have the good fortune to build a very successful and popular
blog, you will at some point need help managing your server. Generally,
you have to get pretty big before caching plugins and hosting upgrades
cease to do the trick, so this probably isn’t a problem to worry about
until you are large enough that it starts manifesting. You will usually see
the issues coming from a long way away as downtime begins to mount
and you start noticing that your server is getting less responsive during
peak periods.
One other advanced task that may unfortunately crop up if your blog
becomes popular, is that of security. Generally speaking, simply keeping
your blog software up to date will guard against most attacks. However,

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now and again sites will be attacked using either vulnerabilities in the
CMS software or through a Denial of Service (DoS) attack, which means
your server gets so many requests it can’t handle them all and falls over.
There’s not a lot you can do to guard against some types of attacks,
particularly distributed DoS attacks (which are virtually impossible to
guard against as they are almost indistinguishable from regular traffic)
and they are only likely to happen if your site is popular and targeted
for some reason. Still, in the event that something happens, it’s good to
have a developer to work with, to help either stop the attack, or at least
bring the site back up afterwards.

Finding and Working with Developers
1. General Tips on Finding and Contracting
Finding and working with web developers is mostly the same as dealing
with web designers. Just as discussed in detail above, you can find
developers by asking around and by posting job ads on freelance sites.
You should also always ask for references from previous jobs, view
previous work, and always get a written agreement.
Again, it’s critical to spend the time to find the right person, and you
will usually get what you pay for with experienced, skilled developers
charging more on an hourly basis, but ultimately doing better work more
efficiently with fewer problems. Developers compared to designers, are
more likely to use estimates as development can be very open-ended,
and expect to pay a non-refundable deposit. You can read more about
all these issues in the previous section on web designers.
2. Briefing a Web Developer
Briefing a developer first involves letting them know basic information
like what sort of site or app you are building, what platform you would
like to use for your blog, what hosting you might have, and so on.
The most critical aspect of briefing a developer is to make sure you’ve
thought through everything you want the site to do and included it in the
brief. For a straight blog or theme build, this might not be too difficult as
most of the details will be shown in the design they are building.

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For larger projects, try to imagine using the app you are getting built and
think about what you would do and what you would expect to see and
happen. By mentally walking through the site, you are effectively thinking
of user scenarios, which are descriptions of how the system behaves.
Giving a whole sequence of user scenarios is in fact one way of
briefing a developer. So for a membership site you might have one
scenario for sign-up, one for adjusting a membership, and another for
an administrative user logging in and editing a member’s details. User
scenarios work well as they force you to actually think through what a
person needs to do things. This will help tease out details you might
otherwise forget if just trying to think out all the details.
A good developer will be able to guide you through the briefing process,
gathering the information they need and piecing together a plan for the
build. Different developers like to be briefed in different ways, so ask
your developer what they expect to receive to get started.
3. What Files to Get at the End
At the end of any development you should make sure that you have a
copy of any theme or plugin files, and access to the full codebase for
any other development work. Generally, getting files is not a big deal as
they are usually all on your server anyway.
4. Rates
Freelance rates for development range from as low as US$30 per hour
up to US$200 per hour. Moreover, a good developer will be much better
than a bad one for big jobs, not necessarily in terms of speed, but in
terms of building a bug-free, working product that is easy to develop
further in the future. With development, it’s really key to find someone
you trust by checking with past clients, speaking to the developer, and if
at all possible, working on small jobs first before moving to larger ones.
If you know a good developer who isn’t available for freelance work,
it’s not a bad idea to ask them to help you select a developer for your
project. Code quality is naturally best understood by other coders and
they may be able to help differentiate between an average programmer
and an excellent one.

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5. Testing
Whether small or large, you should always conduct thorough testing on
anything you get built. This should involve two types of testing. The first
is testing functionality: going over the entire site from top to bottom,
clicking on everything, typing into text boxes, filling out forms, acting
like a user, and generally seeing if you can find any holes in the system.
The second type of testing is compatibility testing: trying the site on
different computers, browsers, and operating systems.
It’s also a good idea to ask other people to test out the site or app to get
different perspectives. Sometimes people who don’t know much about
the project give the best feedback as they aren’t constrained by plans
and background thinking, instead just giving their fresh thoughts.
Make sure that your final payments are made after testing and bug
fixing is completed to ensure you have a working product at the end
of the job.

Large Development Projects
Building a blog theme or plugin is a pretty small development project. As
your plans get more ambitious, at some point you will probably want to build
something bigger. These can be much more risky as development can get
quite complicated.
For larger projects, it’s a good idea to break the project down into
working release stages. For example, if you wanted to build a membership
site with a whole heap of bells and whistles, you might make the first
stage just having the membership system, then the second stage adding
in one set of features, then maybe a third stage adding in the least
important features.
This will ensure you see the project as it comes together and that you are
involved in the process of development as it happens rather than trying to
think of everything ahead of time. This style of agile development breaks
with the past where projects spent a long time in the initial “requirements
gathering” stage and then were locked down for the build.

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Often before you’ve used and seen a working system, you may not know
quite exactly what you want. When it’s there in front of you all of a sudden
you see features you forgot, or functions that are missing. Trying to add
these late into a big project that was locked down already is called “scope
creep” and it tends to make projects late, over budget, and badly prioritized.
On the flip side it’s very difficult for a developer to accurately gauge how
long a big job is going to take right at the beginning. Development jobs
often have hidden complexities making it almost impossible to accurately
quote. Therefore you are far more likely to get developers giving you pricing
estimates that end up climbing as the job wears on.
Agile development works because it combats uncertainty on both the part
of the developer and the business. For the developer, they are committing to
estimates based on smaller chunks of work, which are of course much more
accurate to estimate. Once a given part of the job is complete, they will be
deeper into the project and able to more accurately estimate the next stage
too. For the business, agile development ensures that you get as much
value as fast as possible with a working system at all times. You can then
add features or make changes, re-prioritizing as you go without undoing all
the earlier specification work.
So for our membership system example, you might find after building the
first stage, you’d forgotten some important features, or maybe after building
that first working system, you see a potential new feature that could provide
a lot more value. You can then change the second phase of the project to
incorporate some of the new features and bump some of the things you
initially thought were important into phase three. Finally, after the second
phase, you might find that you are running out of budget and all together
dump the third phase, knowing that you have a working system and you can
always come back and build those later.
If you are contemplating a large development project with someone you’ve
never worked with before, it’s also a good idea to first work on a small
project together. This will give you a feel for the working style, pitfalls, and
hurdles of working on development. You can then use these lessons on the
larger project where problems will be much bigger and more expensive.

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other roles
A variety of other roles can exist in a blog staff. Oftentimes until they are big
enough, roles such as marketing will fall under your responsibility. However,
some specialist jobs such as cartoon illustration simply require a different
type of freelancer.

Social Media Marketing
Sites like Digg ( and Twitter ( can
send a lot of traffic. As such, specialist consultants exist who can
help devise strategies for increasing social media presence to boost
incoming traffic.
This is a role you would probably only consider if you had money to
spare and really wanted to boost traffic. There is usually much you can
do without the aid of a specialist simply by taking advice online. You can
also read more about traffic generation later in this book.

Screencasters, Video Production and Podcasters
For blogs publishing video or audio, you’ll need to hire screencasters
and podcasters as you would otherwise hire writers. Usually these
roles need to be much more long-term, as there is considerably more
investment from viewers in listening or seeing the same person. While
many podcasters can also take care of the production of the audio
content, video content may require video production staff, and if you’re
serious about it, equipment and a studio.

Comic Artists
Looking to include a regular cartoon on your blog? You’ll need a comic
artist. They can be found on freelance job boards by posting a job ad for
illustrators and artists. You’ll need to find someone with the right measure
of artistic and comic talent. Look at previous examples of their work to
make sure you feel the humor and style would work for your blog.

Ad Sales
One direction you can take for advertising is to directly sell advertising
yourself without using ad networks like Google’s Adsense. While you

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can just rely on incoming requests, for a large site you may decide to
pursue advertising through a sales team. It’s best to build a sales team
using incentivized packages to tie them to their sales success and to
minimize the costs until sales are coming through.

Business Management
Finally, the bigger your blog business gets, the more likely you will
have management and business development positions open up. Like
many problems with bigger businesses you will see these coming
from a long way off and will have time to plan appropriately. If you are
inexperienced in business, it’s not a bad idea to find a mentor to help
guide you through these important decisions, and to help grow the
business as it gains traction.

Like any business, the particular roles you will require for your blog depend
largely on what direction you choose to take the business. When you are
planning out your enterprise, take some time to think about what work
needs to be accomplished and who is going to do what. You may find you
need jobs such as community management, moderation, copy editing, and
all sorts of other roles.
Often to begin with, you can take a lot of roles on personally. Then as
they grow, your budget increases and your time gets thinner, you can
systematically replace yourself in one context after another. This has the
added benefit of ensuring that you know all about each role and can have
more context in choosing a replacement for yourself.

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While a solid brand and great staff are essential to the success of
your blogging business, it’s the content you publish that brings
visitors back for more, and determines whether or not people
recommend you to their friends and colleagues.
There’s a fine line between content that works and content
that flops, and that means there’s a fine line between success
and failure at any given time in the business of publishing and
blogging. In this chapter, we’ll look at the factors that make web
content succeed.

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Planning Content

writing for the web
People don’t always consciously realize it, but they read on screens
differently from the way they read on paper. When you pick up a printed
book, you read linearly from start to end, word-by-word. On the other hand,
content on the screen is read in bits and pieces and almost never in order.
The typical reader starts by scanning the page to find the content that’s
relevant to their needs. Large paragraphs aren’t easily scanned, so the
focus is on elements that stick out from the rest of the text. These things will
become a big part of your blogging toolkit:

Block quotes
Pull quotes
Links in the text

Once they’ve determined whether the content is interesting enough to
warrant spending their time on, they might start from the top and read
straight through, but often they’ll find the section that answers their
immediate questions and only hang around as long as it takes to get what
they came for.
Your aim is to get the reader to stick around longer, come back more often,
and become a loyal reader of your blog. To help the reader enjoy your site
and give them more of a reason to keep coming back, you need to change
the way you write and format content.
When a reader scans the page, they are trying to obtain context and locate
information. However, elements that are easily scanned aren’t always
elements that give plenty of context!
For instance, thanks to the bad practices employed by traditional press
such as tabloids, there’s often a focus on making headlines clever or

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scandalizing, as opposed to descriptive. This sort of practice seems intuitive
to many beginning bloggers, but it won’t help your readers at all.

Use headlines that describe the content for the reader and for
search engines. If you can make it clever at the same time, by all
means go ahead!

Images should represent the content as accurately as possible,
especially if you’re using several images in a piece; as great as images
are for creating visual interest, they should also indicate a change of
focus in the content.

Pull quotes done properly are very useful. Find the strongest tip or piece
of information in a section and turn it into a large, feature quote so that
it draws the reader in to read the rest of it. Boring or meaningless pull
quotes will lead the reader to the conclusion that there’s nothing useful
in the article as a whole.

Link sparingly. I recommend no more than three links in a paragraph. It’s
hard to get readers to scan a paragraph, and the more links you include,
the less they’ll draw the reader’s eye to a particular sentence.

Italics and bolding can draw attention to key points. Only use them when
there’s a really important principle to be conveyed, as they can make a
paragraph look quite messy when overused.
We’ll come back to headlines themselves later in this chapter, as they’re
almost as important as the article they represent. In the meantime, keep
scannable content in mind and apply these principles to new content. Also
bear in mind that there’s nothing stopping you from going through older
posts and making them easier to read!

Making Content Valuable
It may seem obvious to you that content needs to be useful and
deliver value in order to become popular, but if you take a look at many
less successful blogs on the Internet, you’ll find they don’t focus on
providing value.

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Planning Content
Obscure sites that are useful are usually up-and-comers, while the majority
of less well known blogs simply ignore the fact that the reader needs to gain
some benefit from reading a blog. As a reader, this gives the impression that
the blog doesn’t have a lot to offer and isn’t worth revisiting.
If your blog publishes news-style posts, then the value in content will come
from timeliness and exclusivity. A scoop is an exclusive story delivered at
the right time and is the ultimate in value for this style of blog.
For entertainment sites, the value you deliver must be in the form of
entertainment value whether that is humor, interest, or captivation. Delivering
this type of value can be difficult, but extremely prized when done well.
For educational style blogs, you need to deliver knowledge in a specific
area. You should be drawing on that knowledge to create good, informative
posts to deliver value to your readership.
For opinion-based posts, the value is in the opinions themselves. If you have
an editorial voice that holds interest, a novel angle, a well-articulated view
point or an entertaining voice, then you’re likely to deliver the value that has
readers returning to hear what your take is on a given subject.
Delivering value is possible in all varieties of blogs. It does however take
some practice and structure. A trap that new writers sometimes fall into,
is to end up waffling because they have no plan of attack, but this can be
avoided with the simple use of an outline.

Start by writing your introduction and coming up with a headline. This is a
very useful technique used by professional writers and journalists all over
the world. You’d only need to leave the start to last if you don’t know where
you’re going in the first place, and that approach doesn’t work well in the
blogging world. Having a headline and introduction means you have a clear
purpose for the post and are less likely to fall into the trap of waffling.
Continue by outlining the major points you’d like to cover as sections, and
even paragraphs, if you want to break it right down. If it’s an opinion-based
piece, you might outline your thought process to lead the reader down a

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particular train of thinking. If it’s a news piece, you’ll want to focus on lead
facts followed by supporting information.
For educational or opinion-based content, each point you’re making (or each
step, in the case of tutorials) will usually have two components. You make
your point in clear language, and then you demonstrate it. Use anecdotal
examples, case studies, links to someone else’s work, or images and
diagrams to show how the concepts you’re discussing are used in real life.
Publishing articles and tutorials is mostly one-way communication, so the
reader can’t ask questions and get clarification from you the way they would
in a conversation or class. The examples should demonstrate the point with
the goal of making it totally clear.
Outlines can help you determine the overall structure of a post before
committing to the more time consuming task of fleshing it all out.

As a blogging business entrepreneur, there’s a good chance you’ll be editing
the work of other writers, at least until you have the capital to hire an editor
to take care of the writers and their output. Hopefully you’ve been careful
about who you hire and your writers are top-notch, but some degree of
editing is always necessary, even if the content is great and you just need
to make some changes so it works with the goals of your site or is more
Editing is a complicated profession, but there are two principles of editing
that I find help professionals and beginners alike.

1. Writers may be precious about their
words, but you shouldn’t be.
Don’t be afraid to make changes, cut chunks of text, or add content you
feel is missing (or better still, have the writer go back and add it for you).
Content, generally speaking, should be as sharp as possible and make for

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Planning Content
easy, non-repetitive reading. On the web, there’s not a whole lot of room
for waffle.
But let’s be clear: anecdotes, interesting points, and anything that augments
the main point the author is trying to make is not necessarily waffle that
needs to be cut. It adds depth and dimension to the piece, and makes for
more interesting reading than totally spartan content. Try to make what’s
already there as readable as possible, and don’t cut things out until you can
identify why it should go.

2. Read the article before you edit it.
If you don’t, you could end up changing a sentence or cutting a piece of
content that really should be there, but which you won’t realize until you’ve
finished reading the piece and have that “big picture” perspective. Leave a
mark where you wanted to make an edit so you can re-assess it after your
read-through. Leaving a mark and coming back to something you might
want to edit after the first reading is a simple thing to do, but it makes a
difference in the quality of the final product.
As an editor you need to listen to your mind and the subtle feelings that
occur to you as you read (sounds a bit New-Agey, I know). Some editors
spend their time looking for technical flaws that need to be fixed, which is
important, but a good editor approaches the content as a reader as well,
which helps you find places where the flow is broken, even if the language
may be technically correct. If you find a sentence that is jarring or at any
point you need to double back and re-read a sentence, then this could mean
that the content isn’t flowing properly, and you need to edit the phrasing,
tone, and pace of the sentence until it does.
Short of learning all the rules and minutiae of correct language, the thing
that’ll make you a great editor is the ability to identify and rectify even the
most subtly awkward phrasing. Flow is king in retaining reader attention.
Think of content flow like music: listeners get physically and mentally
caught up in a good rhythm, but just one out-of-time beat can lose their
attention altogether.

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the editing Process
Now that you know what to look out for,
here’s a process that will help you get
the best results:
1. Read the Article from Start to
Don’t scan! Don’t edit anything
at this stage; leave a mark on
anything you might want to come
back to later.
2. Look at the “Big Picture” First
Are the sections of the article
structured in the right way?
Would this paragraph be more
appropriate in that section? Get the
structure of the content right before
you move on.
3. Then Look at the “Small Picture”
The grammar and spelling, the
phrasing of each sentence, the style,
and tone of the author’s writing
voice, are all important components
of the overall piece.
4. Format for Scannability
At this stage you’ll be familiar
enough with the content to know
where the best places for headings,
images, and pull quotes are.
5. Read-in-place
If you’ve been using the WordPress
editor or something similar, preview

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Quick editing
Although the purpose
of this book is not to
teach you to become
an editor, here are some
simple changes that
editors will usually make to
content (though not always
– there are a few hard and
fast rules):
• Active voice! Change
passively voiced
phrases to active voice.
“The car hit the cat,” not
“The cat was hit by a
• Avoid repeating a word
too much in a sentence
or paragraph. Use a
thesaurus if necessary.
• Vary pace and rhythm.
Change sentence length
and complexity so the
piece doesn’t take on a
monotonous voice.
• A good editor will
rectify the overuse of
pronouns. Using too
many pronouns makes
it hard to keep track of
what the writer
is saying.
• Remove as many
adverbs as you can get
away with.

Planning Content
the article as part of your site and read it through. The change of
medium may help you pick up some things you didn’t see before, and
you can ensure your formatting works well with your blog design at the
same time.
6. Schedule for Publication!

Know what You’re talking
For content to succeed in attracting and retaining the interest of readers, it
needs to be written by someone who truly knows what they’re talking about.
A worrying number of blogs are written by people who want to make a fast
buck by tracking down a search engine keyword that seems popular and
starting a blog on it, whether they know anything about the topic or not.
When writers depend on Google to find out about the topic they’ve been
asked to write on, they don’t have the context of experience to provide good
advice and filter out the misinformation. It also means they won’t have any
genuinely new advice or realistic perspective on the topic. It’s all too easy
to detect this sort of content, and it’s generally not helpful to the reader. If
your article isn’t helpful to those reading it, then you can forget about them
coming back to your blog!
If you’ve started a blog on a topic you don’t know much about, it’s really
essential that you hire writers who do, and leave the content generation to
them. If you’re planning to be the blog’s sole writer until it earns enough
cash to fund a writing team, then as mentioned before, you need to pick a
topic for the blog that you know really well.
There is one exception to this rule and that’s for blogs where you chronicle
the learning process as you explore a new area of interest. For instance, you
might start a blog where you post about your adventures in learning to ski or
fish, so that visitors who are also interested in learning can find out how to
get started and avoid the beginner mistakes you might have made.

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lists and Popular Content
Blogs need traffic to survive. If nobody’s coming to your website, you’re
not making any money! There are a few types of content that are known for
their ability to get a serious number of people to your site in a short period
of time. The content isn’t the only factor: how well they are promoted using
social media is a big one, and as with all things, some luck is required.
You could have a great piece written for the purpose of traffic generation
(often referred to as “linkbait”) and execute the marketing properly and still
fail. Don’t let that get you down; it will happen and the only thing you can do
is move on and try again.
Because linkbait is published with the hope of being picked up on social
media sites and blogs with large readerships, the headline is incredibly
important. A good headline is essential for getting your content noticed by
the often fickle users of services such as Digg and StumbleUpon.

The List
The list article is pretty much the exemplar of linkbait in the blogging
industry. When people think of linkbait, they think of the list article, and
it’s one of the most commonly published types of content. This is partly
because it’s incredibly effective when done properly, and partly because the
new blogger thinks it’s the easiest type of linkbait to benefit from.
The truth is that many list articles on the Internet don’t succeed very well.
That’s not because the list post isn’t effective – it truly is – but because it’s
approached as the “easy way” to get traffic and executed without much
effort or consideration.
First you need a topic that’s going to work well with the format. The list is
often used as a format for humor content to great effect, but it really shines
with practical information, such as “50 Ways to…” pieces.
Second, every point on the list needs to be there for a reason. Because
the longer lists often attract more traffic than the short ones, people end
up including filler points to beef up the count. Don’t do it! You’re better off

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Planning Content
writing a short list with great points than a really long list with a bunch
of filler.
An example of the list in action is FreelanceSwitch’s The Monster List of
Freelance Job Sites ( Freelancers are always looking for
new places to find work and will gladly spend an hour each day checking
a massive number of sites if it helps them make money, so this resource
worked really well and every item refers the reader to a real, working job
board they might not have known about beforehand. The post brought in
massive amounts of traffic and was so popular that a 2009 update was
commissioned two years after the original’s publication. The update was as
popular as the first post.
As I mentioned, humor list posts work well too. On the otherwise fairly
serious site AudioTuts+, we ran a weekly humor list for several months that
consistently brought in traffic from Digg and StumbleUpon. Check out
7 Ridiculously Upbeat Songs About Death (
articles/web-roundups/7-ridiculously-upbeat-songs-about-death/) for
an example.

The Tutorial
Tutorials and how-to articles are always very popular. Web surfers love to
find out how to do new things, even if they never end up doing them!
Some tutorials work better than others. If nobody wants to know how
to do something, nobody will want to read about how it’s done! That
said, sometimes the most popular pieces teach obscure (but awesome)
techniques that nobody reads about simply because nobody knows they
existed in the first place. Don’t be afraid to publish things nobody else is
publishing. Unique content is the best content you can ever publish.
We discussed demonstrating your points earlier in the chapter. It’s essential
that you include images, audio, or some other sort of example with each
step of your tutorial. This can add visual interest for scannability, but it’s also
to reassure the reader that they’re following along correctly!

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The Interview
Interviews can do really well, but they’re more of a challenge to get right
than the list or tutorial.
People love celebrities (even if the person is only a celebrity to the niche of
people reading your site) and those doing exceptional and unusual things.
However, if you interview run-of-the-mill professionals, the reaction is
generally pretty dull. It might sound a little elitist, but people generally don’t
care to read about someone else unless there’s something that significantly
separates them from the average individual.
Journalists are trained to interview subjects in a way that produces good
stories, not transcribed conversations. They have an advantage in that
they’re trained to bypass their fear of being rude to or provoking the subject,
and are willing to ask the tough questions that create entertaining pieces. If
you’re going to use interviews on your blog, read a few books on interview
technique and practice regularly. Interviews can be really dull if done badly,
and entertaining if they’re done with the right subject and the right interview
techniques. Take the time to get it right.
If you want to do an interview, ask lots of questions, chase every avenue of
questioning, and if you find you want to ask something tough, just do it. If
you can’t do that, your interviews will lack the substance that makes those
published by the traditional press interesting. While the traditional press may
be failing due to its business model, they still know what makes compelling
content. Don’t make the common blogger’s mistake of discounting the
techniques used by the media.
If you can, avoid email interviews. They can be fine in some situations, but
they give the respondent too much time to craft a press release instead
of giving an honest, insightful answer. Email interviews are by far the
most common on the web, and they are rarely as good as phone or live
Always get a picture of your interview subject to go at the top of the post.
It’s a small touch, but it gives the reader a stronger sense that the interview
was conducted with a real person, whereas a wall of text doesn’t have any
personable qualities about it.

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Planning Content

Breaking News
News is not an easy niche to get into because competition can be fierce.
However, if you’ve got some breaking news in your niche and can get it
published before anyone else, you’ve got a great opportunity to generate
traffic and build your credibility. All you need to do then is drum up some
interest on a variety of social media sites and hope that nobody with bigger
marketing muscle steals your thunder!

Controversy works because it gets people coming to your site to defend
their position on a topic. For the blog owner, it can be a fine line to walk: on
one hand, it could bring a whole bunch of new readers to your site, but if
you go too far, it could alienate even more readers than you end up gaining.
Controversial posts take many forms: opinion pieces, exposés, and humor,
are just three of the most common controversy starters.
The strength of controversial posts is that they generate comments and
links. You want your readers to defend their point of view or expand on your
argument. Other post types may bring in heavy traffic without adding to your
comment count or inbound links at all. Getting your comment count beefed
up may seem like a waste of time, and most blogging experts put too
much of an emphasis on it, but it’s important to show new visitors that they
haven’t stumbled upon a ghost town.

Polls are not something I’d classify as linkbait in themselves, but they do
generate a lot more activity than I would have thought before I started publishing
them. Readers love to be included and give their two cents, especially if
they can do so without taking the time to think up their own answer.
Polls often have huge amounts of comments on them, which I believe simply
indicates that answering the question gets people thinking about their
opinions on the topic more than regular content does.

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Polls tell the reader that you assign importance to their opinions and the
interaction solidifies their relationship with your brand. While they don’t
generate much more traffic from outside the site, they’re still a type of
popular content that makes your existing readers happy.
A great tool for adding polls to your site is PollDaddy (
which is free to use and can be customized to match your site’s branding.

New bloggers often ask how frequently they should publish new content.
The right answer is highly variable. Large blogs like Boing Boing (http://, Lifehacker (, and Mashable (http:// publish new pieces dozens of times a day. Others, such as
Steve Pavlina’s personal development blog (, often
won’t see new content for weeks.
There are several factors involved:

What kind of content do you publish?
How long do readers take to digest your content?
Who is your audience?
What sort of resources can you commit to the publishing machine?

Type of Content
Boing Boing and Lifehacker are characterized by short, interesting posts.
They often contain an introductory paragraph, a quote, an image, and a link.
Mashable publishes the Internet and social media news of the day, many
times a day.
If you’re publishing news or light and interesting posts that can be
consumed en masse, then you should be publishing multiple times a
day. There are some exceptions when it comes to news. If you’re covering
a slow niche, don’t try to contort something into news just to boost
your frequency.

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Planning Content
Meaty content such as tutorials and how-to information or lengthy opinion
pieces can be published less regularly, usually no more than once a day.
This content takes a while to digest and readers won’t be ready for another
piece immediately afterwards.

Type of Audience
How much time does your audience have to read posts? How long is their
attention span? Busy professionals may have a longer attention span but
don’t have a lot of time; pack information-rich content into small portions
but don’t water it down, and don’t publish so often that it is overwhelming.
On the other hand, teenagers interested in gaming may not have the
greatest attention spans but they do have plenty of time. There’s no harm in
publishing lots of short, image-filled posts over the course of the day!
Another thing to consider is how your audience will keep up to date with
your site.
Before RSS came along, post frequency was a really important issue. If you
didn’t update your site frequently enough, people would eventually give up
on checking back for new content and you’d lose traffic like crazy. Now,
RSS will let your readers know when new content is available without them
having to take any action, which makes it easier to retain readers while
publishing less.
Unfortunately, RSS is not a universally well-known technology and is mostly
used by the tech-savvy crowd of people who work in IT or are publishing via
social media themselves. If the people who are going to read your blog are
not computer and social media literate people, you need to publish more
frequently just so they don’t give up on checking back.
That said, make an effort to educate your readers on RSS and give them the
option of subscribing via email, a service that can be provided by Google’s
Feedburner ( Make it clear that they can
keep up with the site without any effort.
More important than getting people to check back is getting people
involved. If you don’t publish frequently, people don’t get enough of an

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opportunity to participate in comments and forge relationships with authors
or fellow readers, or even just the subconscious attachment that occurs
from repeated exposure to the site.
Those who form an attachment to the community on the site are the most
likely to purchase your products, subscription services, and generally
contribute to making your site a successful enterprise so this audience is
worth spending time on to develop.

Available Resources
You may want to publish twenty times a day, but if you can only afford to
publish three times a week there’s nothing you can do about it but publish
three times a week.
The key – and this really applies whether you post frequently or rarely – is to
make those three pieces of content worth the wait. They shouldn’t be “good
enough” pieces; you want your readers to feel anticipation for the next one.
That’s also the hidden blessing in publishing less often. Your readers
have time to breathe and anticipate the next post. If there’s always a new
one sitting there in the morning, they’ll never feel like they miss your site
because they haven’t had a chance to miss it, and creating that feeling in
your customers does amazing things for your brand.
Maybe you have resources, but do you want to waste them? Experiment
and find out whether or not your readership is ignoring content published
at certain times. Some blogs are popular during the week and yet totally
ignored on weekends. Why waste money by continuing to publish content
that might be ignored?

Frequency Matters, But There are Bigger
The bottom line is that you should determine the frequency that suits your
blog and the type of content you’ll be publishing. Try to stick to it, but
remember that the quality of your posts is the more important factor. If you

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Planning Content
can manage either ten mediocre posts a week or one great post a week, the
latter is the best option.

Quality evergreen Content
“Evergreen content” is content that will stay relevant for the life of your blog.
It’s also content that is valuable for which people will continue to look for in
the years to come.
Let’s look at books for a parallel. A book on criminal law published in 1850
is no longer relevant, other than as a piece of historical curiosity, and will
usually no longer be in print. On the other hand, the writings of Plato are still
published thousands of years later because they discuss concepts that will
only cease to be relevant to us if humanity itself ceases to exist.
The problem with the Internet is that search engines are slow. It can take
days, weeks, months, and even years on occasion, to get a good piece of
content listed. If the content you’re publishing has a short shelf-life, then the
effort put into getting content indexed goes to waste. This sort of content
needs to be promoted via social media to generate traffic before it gets too
old. Content that is useful forever continues to turn one-off search engine
visitors into regulars for years to come.
I believe a piece of quality evergreen content, sometimes referred to as pillar
content, has the following characteristics:

It is relevant forever (or at least for a really long time!)
It never, or at least rarely, needs to be updated.
It is written to do well in the search engines, without compromising on
human readability.
It attracts inbound links from other websites.
It serves as a platform for bringing new visitors deeper into the site.

You’ll notice that I am not focusing on social media appeal or fast trafficgenerating ability here. Linkbait is about getting a huge injection of traffic to
the site quickly. It doesn’t last long and not many of the visitors are going to
stick around, but it gets the site’s name out there and known.

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On the other hand, evergreen content is about the slow and steady race.
You start off with no traffic, and over time, the article’s position in the search
engines improves because it’s useful enough to receive links from other
blogs. Eventually, you get large amounts of traffic from search engines on a
daily basis, but it’s a slow process.

Publishing Evergreen Content
There are a good many people out there who believe that you should only
ever publish evergreen content. It’s not the best strategy. We’ve established
that linkbait and evergreen content are very different, and each serves a
different purpose. A good strategy is to publish a mixture of the two along
with more general content in between.
It’s important to launch with quality evergreen content and it’s the sort of
content you want to publish most frequently in the very beginning. Of course
you’ll want to continue publishing evergreen content over the course of the
blog’s life, but it’s especially important to get it out there right at the start
because you want to secure good search engine rankings and a number of
inbound links from the get-go.

Identify Problems and Solve Them
It’s easy to get stuck for ideas with evergreen content, when posting another
top ten list just seems so easy to throw together. The easiest way to come
up with new evergreen content is to identify the problems people interested
in your niche are having, and then solve them with an article. The reader
you’re after is the person typing, “How do I…” into Google.
Since you’re (hopefully) no longer a beginner in the area you’re writing
about, some of the problems neophytes encounter won’t come to mind
right away – they seem too obvious to you now! Observe and interact with
these people and find out what they’re struggling with. Keep a running list of
content ideas on your computer so you don’t forget them.
Evergreen content is often how-to content. Keep in mind that it can also
come in the form of less hands-on but equally useful educational posts, like

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Planning Content
a series of articles on the principles and theory of graphic design – in this
case you’d be writing about the theory behind selecting color schemes as
opposed to going through a step-by-step process in Photoshop.

Bringing Users Deeper Into the Site
Evergreen content serves as an entry point for new visitors to your site
from search engines and inbound links, and it is high-quality stuff that gets
people to stick around. Make sure they do stick around by linking to other
content from your blog in relevant places. If there’s a side note about a topic
that’s been covered in more detail elsewhere on the blog, link it up so that
people who are interested in that topic go deeper into the site.
The more of your content visitors read, and the more time they spend on the
site, the more likely it is you’ll earn their loyalty.

Making Money from Evergreen Content
It’s hard to make an affiliate sale or entice a reader to click on a contextual
ad from a top ten list; the reader is a regular at the site, or came from a
social media promotion, or is just reading for entertainment.
Evergreen content fulfills a need. It’s a stable resource that educates the
reader, who has probably discovered your article after seeking answers from
Google. As we discussed in the previous section, your reader has a problem
that needs solving, and the person with a problem is the best customer if
you have a product that can solve it.

news Content
Many of the biggest blogs are built around delivering large quantities of
short news posts a day. This style of content is kept very simple, and the
focus is mostly on finding the news and reporting it in a timely manner.
Although it is possible to use the Internet as your news gathering tool, avoid
simply rehashing everything. It’s much more fulfilling and will deliver much
more value, if you can actually break news yourself!

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This will mean sending reporters to launch events, developing industry
contacts, and growing your blog to become a place where press releases
and news items are sent.
The advantage of news posts is that it’s possible to churn out a relatively
large amount of content for a relatively low budget.
In order to balance this sort of short post, it’s a good idea to run periodic
opinion-based content, heavy investigative pieces, and other long-form
posts. These feature articles are essentially the evergreen content of the
news blog model.

Filler Posts
Budgets don’t usually support dozens of feature articles a week, especially
not in the beginning. Even if you’re happy with two feature articles a week,
it can also help to post posts, in order some filler to keep the momentum
going between one feature and another. If your content is very meaty, filler
posts are a great way to break them up with something a little lighter.
The key is to make sure that your filler posts, while not as in-depth as a
feature article, still serve some purpose and satisfy one of the reader’s
needs, whether it be education, entertainment, discussion, or just passing
on links they may enjoy from elsewhere on the web.
Here are a few types of filler posts to consider:

Link round-ups
Ask the readers
Quick tips

These all serve some sort of purpose for the reader. Filler posts that are
useless and obviously exist just to increase the blog’s post count don’t just
fill in the time between feature posts; they cause readers to unsubscribe and
damage your reputation.

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Planning Content

Link Round-ups
A link round-up is a list of links to great content you’ve discovered around
the web. The list usually contains a quote from the page you’re referencing
or a short summary. If you fire up Google Reader to read your favorite sites
every morning, this won’t create much extra work for you. Those of you who
are not avid blog readers will have to forage for links (or hire someone to find
them for you).

Polls were discussed in our section on popular content. They’re also
listed here because they’re quick and easy to come up with and publish,
particularly with the help of a service like PollDaddy. The great thing about
polls is that they provide you with information about your readers that you
can use to come up with content that is more likely to appeal to them.

Ask the Readers
Ask the Readers are open-mic-style posts where you simply pose a
question for your readers to answer in the comments. These posts are
similar to polls, but you’re giving away the ability to turn the responses into
tabulated data in order to obtain more thorough and creative responses.
Initially these posts provide readers with a way to get involved with the
site and leave their opinions. As more comments are left, the post becomes
a resource in its own right – people who search Google for the question
you’ve posed, looking for answers, will find the experiences in your
comments valuable.

If your blog is about teaching people how to do something, you can run
workshops that provide readers with a chance to submit their works-inprogress for feedback from other community members.

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We’ve done this on AudioTuts+ by giving readers the chance to get
feedback on their song mixes, but you could do it just as easily on a
site about woodworking, for example. In that hypothetical scenario,
readers might send in photographs of their projects, and then other, more
experienced readers, would give them feedback on what they’re doing well
and what they’re doing wrong.

Quick Tips
Quick tips, or a Tip of the Day post, provide simple advice in 250 words
or less. This type of content is so short and easy to come up with, but
can give readers plenty to think about, that it might just work in lieu of a
longer article. This content is also versatile in that it can augment your daily
planned content, or fill in for it entirely once in a while.

Articles with a focus on humor are often full-length posts, but they can also
make for filler content, particularly in the form of jokes, which are short, easy
to read, and entertaining.
If you consider yourself to be pretty funny and want to write your own jokes,
these pieces are more labor and resource-intensive and require a certain
type of writer to get it right, but they’re still great filler because they serve to
lighten the mood between meatier posts.
A valid alternative, though not as good as having your own original humor
content, is to find and quote jokes with proper attribution.

images and diagrams
As a rule of thumb, you should never publish a post without at least one
image. You should always have an image right at the top; between the
headline and introductory paragraph is one good spot for a picture, or you
could have it lined up on the left or right of that first paragraph.

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Planning Content
Wherever you put it, to be clear, you should avoid publishing a post without
at least one image in it. Images really freshen up a page, and work best if
they are above the fold where they are easily seen.
Above the fold simply means the image is visible when the page loads
without having to scroll down. What constitutes “above the fold” is different
with every screen size and resolution, so you want the first image to be as
high up on the page as possible to attract the attention of those readers with
smaller monitors.
Newspapers have dedicated a massive chunk of front-page real estate to
images for decades now. You’ll notice that the headlines are biggest on the
front page too – that’s because well-chosen images and headlines are the
most important factors in grabbing attention and getting people to purchase
that day’s paper (or in your case, stick around and read your blog).

Using Images to Break Up the Page
Blogs have an advantage over newspapers in that they have the ability to
use a lot of images without concern for page count, or extra print costs. You
don’t want to smother your article with images, but a great tactic is to make
sure an image is always on the screen so that long tracts of paragraphs are
frequently broken up by some color. Most people recoil in fear at the sight of
unbroken text; it’s just too hard to keep the eyes focused on it for long.
That doesn’t mean you should insert a new image in your post every
two paragraphs, but set up your post so that once you’ve scrolled down
far enough that the first image is no longer visible, a second one is coming
into view.
Of course, it’s impossible to format the piece so this works on every
resolution, but that’s okay, this is just a rule of thumb. If you can line up your
images like this on the most common consumer resolution at the time of
publication, you’ll have a good balance of images and text at just about
any resolution.
In a post where the focus is on written content, this rule of thumb is a
maximum. You wouldn’t want to break it up more than that, otherwise it

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becomes too distracting, takes too long to load, and the scrollbar extends
forever. Of course if your post is a showcase of great portfolio designs or
trendy business cards, you can have a post that consists of nothing but
images (in this case you may even like to use text to break up the page!).
That maximum is accompanied by a minimum. You’d do well to ensure that
for posts under 2,000 words there’s at least one image, and for anything
over that, you need one image for the first 2,000, words and another for
each 1,000 over that. You will do better with more, but we’re talking about
the least you can get away with after all!

How Relevant Should Images Be?
Try to ensure that every image is at least somewhat relevant to the content it
represents, but you’ll often need to make the most of limited options when it
comes to images. Do the best you can with what you have.
Ideally, if you’re using five images in an article, each image will be
specifically relevant to the section it’s in or the closest paragraph.

One tool at your disposal is the use of diagrams to explain content visually.
Sometimes words just don’t do a topic justice and the reader needs to see a
representation of it in order to understand it.
There are a range of tools you could use to create diagrams of varying
quality, from Microsoft Word to Apple Pages for the average consumer with
an office suite, or Photoshop or Illustrator at the other end of the spectrum
with the creative professional. But even if you don’t know Photoshop, you’re
still a professional, and if you think you’ll need to create diagrams regularly,
there’s middle of the road software specifically for creating diagrams that’s
more professional than Word or Pages, but not as much of an overkill
as using Photoshop or Illustrator. Look into OmniGraffle for the Mac and
Microsoft Visio for Windows. Dia is an open source solution for Windows
and Linux users.

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Planning Content
For those of you who don’t have a designer mentality, remember to use the
color palette of your site when designing diagrams. If you don’t do this, they
might look a little out of place!
For feature pieces, creating diagrams could even be something you’d
offload to your freelance designer to get consistent visual branding in your
articles. The bigger your budget and audience is, the more this is worth

Where to Find Images
You need to make a choice upfront: Do you want lower quality but free
images, or higher quality but inexpensive images?
High-resolution stock photography at large sizes can be expensive, but
the smaller sizes that you need for use on the web are quite affordable.
Personally, I’d rather spend $1 for a cool photo to go with each post (that’s
only $7 a week if you’re publishing each day) than have a terrible image
turning potential readers off.
Images you can use for free can be found at stock.xchng (,
though be careful to check the terms, as some images will require attribution
and some will not. Despite the macabre name, morgueFile (http:// is another popular choice for free files, and even Flickr
( can deliver, but you’ll need to search for images licensed
under the appropriate Creative Commons license using Advanced Search.
If you’re willing to pay a little cash for better images, there are a plethora
of options. The most well known microstock site is iStockPhoto (http://, but Fotolia ( is fast gaining.
For celebrity and news photography you can try Getty Images’ Editorial
Content division ( or PixMac’s
celebrity category (
Alternatively, if you’d rather have illustrations instead of photography,
GraphicRiver ( has a great range of images, from
people to monsters to fruit.

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At the end of the day you can certainly find some free images that are great
quality, particularly under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Paying
for a stock photo just means you’ll spend less time looking for something
that’s visually appealing and high quality.

The headline is just as important as the piece
that follows it.
For some writers, it can be hard to accept that
five to ten words that are generally written in
the space of a minute are equal in importance
to the hours of work you, or one of your writers,
put into writing an article, but the truth is that
your work doesn’t matter unless someone
reads it, and that’s what the headline’s job is: to
get people to read your work.

A really great resource
to help sharpen your
headline writing skills, is
Chris Garrett’s FREE PDF:
102 Proven Social Media
Headline Formulas (http://
com/102-headlineformulas/), which contains
102 fill-in-the-blanks,
tried and tested headline

Over the years I’ve observed that one of the
most important factors determining whether a
piece is well-read or not, is the quality of the
headline. A headline needs to not only describe
accurately what the reader will find when they read the piece, but make it
enticing and compelling to do so. It’s a tricky balance to achieve at times.

There’s also another kind of reader to consider: the search engine. While
you should never fall into the trap of writing for the search engines,
you should certainly take them into consideration while writing for the
human reader.

Actively Seek Inspiration
To find out what sort of headlines have been working for decades, you
need only consult the mainstream media who’ve got snagging an impulse
purchase from you at the checkout line down to an art.

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Planning Content
If you really want to study headlines that grab for attention, browse through
the women’s magazines at the news agency. You’ll see things that might
look a bit trashy (“How Normal is Your Sex Life?”), but which are hard to
resist. What we’re interested in here is finding formulas that work.
In our women’s magazine example, the formula would seem to be “How
__ is Your __” on the surface. But headlines aren’t about words, they’re
about emotions and what sort of questions they evoke from the reader. The
headline first has the reader wanting to find out how they measure up – it’s
a self-esteem thing and the odd human desire to be judged – and offers
readers the possibility of reassurance and validation if they do.
You need to look beyond the words in the formula and ask what those few
words are doing to the reader on an emotional level.

Where’s the Benefit?
One important question to ask when writing headlines is, “What benefit
will the reader see in this title?” That question can turn a generic title into a
focused, effective one. Make it clear.
A FreelanceSwitch article, “The Business Name Checklist for Freelancers”,
promises the reader a way to ensure they choose a business name that’s
going to work in the marketplace. The benefit of clicking on the headline and
reading the whole article is immediately clear.
It doesn’t need to be that obvious. We discussed what the reader will get
out of the article “How Normal is Your Sex Life?” but the benefits aren’t
explicitly stated; they’re very much there, but in a subtle way that plays on
the subconscious mind, and is the mark of an expert headline writer.

Understanding the Target Audience is Key
Headlines make a promise that excites the reader’s interest. At the most
basic level, that’s what makes them work. But they have to make a promise
to a specific kind of reader.
Ultimately, even the most effective headline is going to fail to interest a
large majority of readers. One of the most important things you can do is

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to understand the target audience and cater to them. Be as specific as
possible, and don’t fall into the trap of trying to please everyone.
For a controversial example, you’ve got an article on the history of abortion
and whether your audience is liberal or conservative is going to influence
the angle, in both the story and the headline, considerably. Come up with
a few headlines based on this example as an exercise in how considerably
different they’ll be when catered to different readers.

For many years the Internet was rife with implausible headlines promising
to teach you how to become rich or lose weight overnight. In fact, it still is,
we’ve just (for the most part) become blind to them.
Though for a while those ridiculous headlines did work on a large portion of
the Internet-surfing population, plausible but exciting headlines have always
done better than ridiculous ones. Compare:
“How to Lose Your Fat in 48 Hours with This Amazing Detox” (based on a
real Foxtel ad)
“How to Lose 10% of Your Body Fat in 8 Weeks” (something that people
can actually do, but often aren’t very good at)
Which would you be more likely to click on if you were looking for a way to
lose weight?

Keep a Black Book of Headline Formulas
As you learn which types of headlines work, through trial and error and
research, keep a record of those that worked for you, and even those that
didn’t. Until creating headlines becomes an instinct, this will help you when
you’re stuck. It’ll help you find a formula that worked for you in the past and
avoid those that failed.
Eventually, formulating headlines really does become an instinct. You don’t
need to think so much about how to word it so that the article content is
described and how to hook the reader – it just happens, and as with all
things, you just need to keep at it!

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Planning Content

Write the Headline First
Most kids are taught that you should always write titles, introductions, and
conclusions last. Unfortunately, this tactic promotes sloppy thinking and
sloppy articles. It’s important to know where you’re going from the start, and
writing the headline first helps you define your angle and the content you’ll
cover. It keeps the article on target.
While as a blog owner or editor you may not be writing the content, giving
your authors a title to work with can yield good results. If you don’t want
to come up with the article idea, have them pitch one to you and then give
them a title.

Popular Content and Headlines
Earlier in this chapter we examined popular content, and part of the reason
those types of content work so well is because the naturally evident
headlines lend themselves to success.
Words like “How to…” instantly create interest, as humans are inherently
driven to learn how to do new things. List posts catch our attention because
“7 Ways to…” must be better than learning just one method.
A list post featuring food that McDonald’s used to make and has since
discontinued with a headline like “Past McDonald’s Products” won’t work
as well as “12 McDonald’s Products that Failed” will. Don’t cripple the
effectiveness of popular content by hiding what makes them work in
the headline.

Practice and Analyze
It’s your job to practice the art of headline writing and analyzing the results
from a business perspective. I haven’t given you a list of formulas to use
like many resources on headlines do because I believe that unless you
understand how your headlines work you won’t become adept at this skill.

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You need to deduce those formulas yourself, to understand why they work
in order and in which situations they will work.

style and tone
Style and tone are hard to measure, but they are factors that will be
important to the success of your blog.
Your content needs to be informative and your headlines need to be
compelling, but it’s still all for nothing if readers feel like the content is
boring, dull, passive, negative, condescending, or any other number of
rather negative adjectives.
Most publications have a fairly unique style and tone. It feels strange when
one of their articles, every so often, fails to capture it. Even when that
publication is staffed by many writers, it still needs to be cohesive.
This is achieved in a few ways:

Most publications create a style guide or employ an existing one.

They educate writers on the tone and attitude that the content
should convey.

They educate writers on the angles and positions that should be
taken on any particular issues important to the publication and its
target audience.

They ensure that editors do whatever it takes to bring content in line
with the publication’s style and tone.

They ensure that editors provide writers with feedback on all aspects of
their work, including issues of style and tone.

What is Style?
Style pertains to the style of writing employed – active versus passive
voice, American versus British English, and sometimes includes formatting

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Planning Content
instructions. Style is about the technical matters of language that must be
attended to in order to ensure the publication’s consistency.

Style Guides
Style guides can be gargantuan works that provide the author with
instructions on everything from which style of measurement to use to
whether the publication in question uses a period after abbreviated
salutations such as Mr and Mrs.
They can also be one-pagers that convey the basics, such as which style
of English to use (American, British or any of those between), how to format
content for the web and/or print, and so on.
If you want a short style guide but you don’t want to go to the trouble of
getting a complete one done, find an existing style guide from another
publication and have your writers and editors learn it.

What is Tone?
Where the style of a publication dictates the technical requirements of
language for publication, tone is about its emotional content.
Does the content focus on remaining objective, informative, and emotionally
neutral as an encyclopedia would? Or does it have a sense of fun and
encourage writers to make jokes and use a conversational tone as if
speaking to a friend? Perhaps a drier, more British sense of humor is
encouraged and the content is ironic and satiric (I’m thinking of political
blogs in particular here).
Tone is about how writers should emotionally engage with readers.

Tone Guides?
I’ve never seen any such thing as a tone guide. You can’t exactly tell a writer
how to be funny, or how to stroke the heartstrings in a sad story.
Tone is something you discuss with a writer during the hiring phase. You
have them read the site, and you tell them what kind of writing you’re after.

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Ask to see portfolio examples that reflect the tone you’re after when you’re
hiring. Developing emotion in content is something that not all writers are
good at, and most tend to excel in some of these areas and not in others.
Many are good at sarcasm, but few do well with satire.
Of course, in order to explain the tone of writing you need, you yourself need
to know it in the first place. It’s important that you can define it succinctly
and without hesitation if asked – not because you might be asked, but
because you can’t run the blog if you don’t know these sort of things.

Staying Positive
I believe it’s important to stay positive. Nobody likes to read content filled
with endless negativity and doom and gloom! This doesn’t mean you can’t
tackle tough content; you just have to know how to go about it.
Even if your blog is on the devastating effects of climate change, write your
articles from a hopeful perspective. Be honest about the negatives, but let
the reader know what they can do to help the situation.
If your climate change blog is trying to raise awareness, then you need to
provide readers with hope in order to motivate them to take action.
Similarly, if you’re trying to sell something through your blogging business,
stay upbeat. Don’t be emotionally void, as many sales sites are. The sales
sites that work best engage the reader emotionally, and in a positive way.

Respecting the Reader
Don’t let anyone posting on your blogs insult the reader’s intelligence. Don’t
let them be condescending. Have your editors on the lookout for the kind of
language that creates this unpleasant feeling in the reader’s mind.
It might not be explicit. One tutorial writer used to include the words “don’t
we?” at the end of every sentence, as if he were speaking to a child. It
doesn’t explicitly state: “You’re an idiot who knows nothing about this topic
and you should nod and agree with everything I say,” but it sure is the
feeling you get after seeing this a few dozen times.

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While the writer probably didn’t mean to be condescending, a quick chat
about this kind of language put an end to it.
The moral of the story: respect your reader. They’re paying your bills.

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Before you can make money from your blogs, you need to get
people visiting them. You could be selling products directly to the
visitor, or selling the audience you’ve developed to advertisers,
but at the end of the day every source of income you’ll derive from
your blogs depends to some degree on traffic.
Something that goes hand-in-hand with generating traffic is
measuring and analyzing it. After all, how will you know if you’re
actually generating any traffic if you don’t have a way of finding
out how many people, and to a degree what kind of people, are
coming to your site.
That’s why it’s important that, before you go and read and
implement the traffic-generating methods outlined in the rest of
this chapter, you implement a traffic statistics service.

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google analytics
Google Analytics is one of the many traffic statistics services out there. It’s
free and it records in-depth data, and has many advanced features such as
the ability to track conversions.
Head to to sign up – you can use an
existing Google account if you have one. Once you’ve logged in, Google
will guide you through the process of setting up your first site. You’ll then be
given some tracking code to place in your blog’s theme.

Visits, Visitors and Pageviews
Three important terms for dealing with traffic are:

Visits: Instances of people coming to your site

Visitors or Unique Visitors: Individual people who come to your site

Pageviews: The number of times that each page of your site
has been loaded

You can divide the pageviews by the number of visits to find out how
many pages the average visitor views. For example, if you’ve had five visits
to your site today and fifteen pageviews, the average visitor views three
pages per visit before leaving.
This gives you an idea of how interesting your site is. If your pageviews are
about equal to your visitors count, it may mean that your site isn’t attracting
people to stick around and explore. Consequently they arrive
and immediately leave, totaling just one pageview per visit. While this
happens for some users no matter what site you have, it shouldn’t be the
average as that should be taking into account people who explore deeply
through the site.
A typical pageview per visitor ratio is about 2 or 3 pages per visit. This takes
into account the people who leave immediately, or who just visit from their
RSS reader to read the latest post, and balances them out with people who
stick around for a long time.

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generating traffic
Analytics will provide you with another useful statistic that’s relatively
similar in terms of what it tells you, and that’s how long (in minutes and
seconds) the average user spends on your site. You may discover that
despite your pageviews-to-visitors ratio being fairly low, the average user
spends five to ten minutes on your site because you publish lengthy and
engaging pieces.

One feature of Google Analytics that is particularly useful is the compare
date range feature. On any page showing you a traffic graph over time, click
on the arrow next to the date range text above the graph and you’ll see a
calendar appear. Tick “Compare to Past” and fill in the date ranges you’d
like to compare.
Using this feature you can easily see how much you’ve grown in comparison
to a certain timeframe. Maybe you’re comparing 2010 to 2009, or just one
month against another. Either way, this tool is great for seeing how your
short-term growth compares to your long-term growth.
To be honest, it’s also handy when you’re feeling a bit discouraged about
week-after-week traffic, because you’ll usually feel better after seeing how
far you’ve come in a year!

Visitor Demographics
It’s important to keep your eye on visitor demographics because it can give
you hints as to how you should tailor your content.
Americans and New Zealanders may want to read different things, as
might people using Firefox and Internet Explorer. It’s up to you to make an
analysis and determine how these users are different, but if you pay enough
attention, you can make a real difference in the quality of your content for
the people that are most interested in your site.
There’s also the possibility that you’re trying to engage a certain demographic,
so it’s good to be able to tell whether you’re succeeding or not.

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Google Analytics provides quite a bit of demographic information, including
location, ISP, connection speed, and information about the user’s browser
and operating system.
A lot can be gleaned from this seemingly useless technical data; if many of
your users are coming from a university network, you’re no doubt attracting
a bunch of students. If your users are on dial-up, they may be older people
or not very good with computers. It can also be an indicator of socioeconomic status in certain countries where high-speed Internet is pricy. If
your visitors are coming from a bilingual country, you can also determine
what language they speak.

Traffic Source
Traffic source is one of the most useful types of data that Analytics records.
It’s very helpful to know where visitors are coming from, which search
engine keywords you’re doing well with, and so on.
You can find out who is linking to you and thank them (it’s good public
relations and holds you in good stead for the future). You can determine
which target audiences you’ve attempted to draw traffic from are working
best, and change your search optimization strategies for coming months
based on how effective search traffic has been for you in the past.

Finally, it’s important to know which content items are doing well.
Certain pieces will do wonderfully and others will flunk. Knowing
which articles did well, helps you plan content for the future. There’s no
point in continuing to spend money on something that isn’t working for
your site.
Not only does Analytics provide you with the number of pageviews each
content piece attracted in a given timeframe, you can also see how the
visitor navigated your site and view a click overlay – a tool that shows you
where the hot spots of activity on your site’s layout are.

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Analyzing the Data
Once you find out how your visitors are interacting with the site, what
they’re reading, how long they’re spending on each page, and how they’re
leaving, you can analyze the data to find out what’s going wrong for you and
what’s working.
If visitors happily read a single page for five minutes before leaving, maybe
you’re not doing enough to funnel them to other parts of the site or get their
contact details onto your mailing list.

Maintaining Focus
The number one hobby of bloggers isn’t blogging. It’s checking stats.
Don’t become too obsessed with checking your numbers and hoping for
immediate surges of traffic.
Tempting as it is, this can be a major time-wasting activity. There are many
hours of productive work you could put into generating traffic during the
time that so many bloggers (myself included) spend refreshing stats. If you
don’t have this problem, you may find it hard to believe that people really do
sit there refreshing their stats all day!
Secondly, it gets discouraging. Your site might be growing quite well – new
blogs tend to grow quite slowly, so a few new visitors a day is fine right
at the beginning. But if you spend all your time watching the stats and
anticipating the next visitor to stumble onto your site, you’ll get frustrated
and disillusioned. This loss of perspective and impatience has caused
many bloggers to throw their hands in the air and quit. It really is a bit like
watching grass grow or paint dry – it takes time!
Perspective is such a difficult thing to keep in blogging. There are stats to
check, feed items to read, tweets to make, and other social media sites to
get involved in. In fact it’s possible to get so distracted that you lose focus
on the thing you’re meant to be focusing on: blogging! Measurement and
analysis really should be treated as feedback tools.

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Basic techniques for
generating traffic
Traffic generation is a complex business of trial and error. It often involves a
lot of tinkering with strategies and techniques to find the ones that suit you
best. And most of all it’s a case of building momentum.
Early on, your traffic will be small and efforts to increase it will often have
small increases. Over time you can get bigger and bigger wins as you not
only fine-tune your techniques,but also build momentum behind the site in
post quantities, readership, and brand awareness.

Grassroots Techniques
For those just getting started, grassroots techniques can be very helpful.
There are different phases of site growth where certain methods are more
effective than others, and some rely on a certain amount of critical mass
(particularly with regard to generating traffic from social media). Grassroots
techniques have that name because they don’t require anything except
some enthusiasm. If you and your site don’t have a following yet, you’ll need
to start at the very beginning, and that means:

Getting people to link to your articles
Participating in forums
Leaving comments on other blogs
Developing your social media profile

The most effective means of traffic generation often involve you, your
staff, or your friends having well-developed social media profiles with
plenty of reach, or money. These techniques don’t require any of the above
points, except perhaps networking, but we’ll discuss that in a moment.

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Asking for Inbound Links
This simply means publishing great content (and for this to work, I do mean
great content) and then reaching out to influential people who might be
interested in that content.
Here’s the thing: all influential people are busy. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t
be influential. There are people competing for their attention all day long,
and they have their own job to do.
They may ignore you – not to discourage you, but that’s just how it is.
So when you send them content, you need to make sure it’s your best, or
they’ll blacklist you as someone who likes to waste their time. You then need
to sit back and hope that they read your message to begin with. Many will
not, and it’s not something you can really blame them for.
Your email needs to personable, honest, and humble. Simply direct them to
your piece and suggest that if they find it useful, you’d appreciate a link.
A single link – even from a big blog – doesn’t always mean a whole lot of
traffic, and it certainly won’t mean overnight success. This is a long-term
endeavor, and you’re just building up a foundation of inbound links and a
trickle of traffic to start you off. Once you build enough of these inbound
links the hard way, the trickle will add up to something worthwhile, but
remember that it takes work to get to that point.
Be patient. Be persistent. And get used to people ignoring your emails.

Forum Participation
Forums are great because they allow you to identify a bunch of highly
targeted individuals who you know for a fact are interested in whatever it is
you’re publishing content about.
Marketers realized this many years ago, and unfortunately for us, the abuse
of these communities means there are a lot of obstacles in the way between
them and you promoting your site.

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This can be a good thing: if you were a participant in one of these
communities, as you wouldn’t have to filter out more promotional material
than actual discussion. But it’s still something you’ll have to deal with
The best thing to do is to by become a bona-fide contributing member
of the forum, answering questions and helping people, participating in
discussions and debates, and generally becoming a well-known contributor
of the forums, before you can even think about including your URL in a
signature without raising eyebrows.
This is a very time-consuming process, and it’s tough becoming known
as one of the forum’s regulars, which is why once most blog owners start
developing an audience of their own, they stop maintaining their presence
on forums. There comes a certain point where it doesn’t provide enough of a
return for the time invested. But, when you’ve only got two or three readers
on your site and one of them is your mother, it’s certainly a way to attract
some interest and make some relevant contacts without spending money.

Leaving Comments on Blogs
As most blog commenting sections allow you to have your name link to your
blog, this is a good way to get other bloggers to notice you, interact with
those who read the other blog, and hopefully get some of them back onto
your website.
As with forums, there is etiquette to consider. Bloggers don’t appreciate
“yes man” comments that show you didn’t read the post or ones that aim to
incite their readers (yes, some bloggers think inciting a comment war on a
competitor’s site is a great way to draw some attention).
Make sure you also use your real name or your pseudonym, not your blog’s
name, and certainly not keywords pertaining to your blog.
Contribute something that’s actually helpful to the people who will read your
comment and you’ll be fine. If you’re finding that it’s a stretch to come up
with something to say, then don’t comment just for the sake of it!

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Finally, in the world of blogging, there’s plenty of room at the top. You don’t
need to approach all your competitors like competitors. Think of it as being
about cooperating and sharing knowledge, at least in terms of your relationship
with other blog owners, and you’ll be more successful in the long run.
If they don’t like you, they won’t link to you. Earning a link in one of their
posts means a lot more to readers than the link on your name in the
comment section.

Developing Your Social Media Profile
This comes in handy for traffic generation much later on as you develop
a following, but in the meantime, it’s a way to meet contacts and make
friends. Some of those people might be starting blogs of their own with
similar readership levels, publishing content relevant to yours, and therefore
you can exchange links to share with your readers.
You might get lucky and befriend someone who’s already established. Most
established bloggers like to point out someone who is new to the scene but
offering something helpful – the hard part is getting on their radar.
Either way, developing social media profiles is something every blog owner,
editor, or writer should do, and will help you both now, and when it’s more
established. We’ll go into using social media more in the next section of
this chapter.

Unless you’ve got a bit of a fan club of your own, you’ve probably found that
I wasn’t lying when I said busy and influential people will ignore you (a lot).
In the process of researching these people before you contacted them, you
may have noticed some of the people who they do interact with, who are a
bit more accessible to you. It could be an employee or a friend of the person
you want to contact.
The best way to get in touch with people in high places is to befriend these
people and help them out. Just chat and send them cool links or do them a

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favor and build a relationship with them for the moment. You can ask for an
introduction later on when it’s appropriate.
Take the time to care about the person first, because there are undoubtedly
many others who contact them wanting nothing more than that introduction.
I don’t believe in using people; if I can meet someone influential after I help
someone they know, that’s great for both of us.
Networking with other bloggers, regardless of their influence, is generally
a good practice purely in terms of being part of the blogging community,
learning from each other and helping each other out. When I started out
in blogging, I spent a lot of time reaching out to other bloggers who were
also starting out, and the occasional links, feedback, and camaraderie was
well worth it! In fact, one of the bloggers I met two months in to blogging is
now a top 100 blogger and runs a rather huge site called ZenHabits! So you
never know who you might be befriending.

More Advanced Methods
This section puts the focus on grassroots methods of traffic generation, the
kind of techniques you need to resort to right at the beginning, especially
when you’re bootstrapping your business. The rest of this chapter will focus
on more advanced techniques that the professionals use on a day-to-day
basis, but like everything that’s highly effective, some can cost you in social
or fiscal capital.

social Media Basics
The term “social media” refers to Internet services that enable users to share
and discuss information.
This means everything from social networks like Twitter and Facebook to social
information sites like Wikipedia fall under the umbrella of “social media.”
From the perspective of someone interested in it as a business tool, social
media is about generating word-of-mouth traffic, where influencers (and

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regular users) pass your links and ideas on to one another, proliferating them
further through email to peers, links published in posts on their blog, or
sharing content on social networks.
Social media does two things, each by way of making new connections with
other people and businesses:

It helps you spread your brand
It helps you spread your ideas

Both equate to very similar things, because your ideas reinforce, support,
and define your brand. What are some of the things you want to do with
social media, and how do they help you?

Make Friends
Forget about getting links to your site out there for a moment. Relationships
with the right people can get you further than links, and this is where social
media is really useful: it puts you in touch with people. People who use
social media are making themselves accessible.
They might not be easily accessible, but you still have a better chance of
interacting with someone influential in this sphere than any other if they’ve
opened themselves up to it and participate in these social networks.
Tweeting your links might get you a few new visitors a day, but making the
right friends can get your links far, far more than that.

Expand Your Readership
If you’re networking with the right people and publishing great content on
your blog, undoubtedly a portion of your new contacts are going to check
out your blog and become a reader.
There are a number of techniques people use to achieve this. The most
common way is simply to share links to new posts on your blog as a status
update or tweet. Some people opt to simply include a link in their bio and
focus on meeting new people and engaging with them. This results in fewer

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clicks through to your site, but those who do, are more interested in you and
what you do.
Of course, you need to be mindful of etiquette. Linking to yourself too
often is equivalent to sending people spam emails, and the last thing
anyone making a living from the web wants to do is to be perceived as
a spammer.
Many Twitter accounts and Facebook pages link to new posts as they’re
published and this can bring in an influx of new traffic – it seems that many
people are steering clear of the RSS reader these days, preferring to let their
social network contacts dictate what they read through posting links
and retweets.
Social media is good at directing traffic to your blogs if you use it properly,
but I have to say that I’ve found that it’s much more effective at relationship
building – developing loyalty in your existing readers and contacts, and
building credibility.

Build Credibility
As I mentioned, it’s important to avoid looking like a spammer, and
interestingly social media is something that can be used to actually build
your credibility.
You do this by taking part in discussions, answering people’s questions and
helping them solve problems. You give away some of your time.
You can do this through monitoring the feed of status updates and tweets
from your friends, or the comments on pages you’re watching on sites like
Digg (though you shouldn’t expect to get much intellectual conversation
happening there), or you could reach outside of your existing network and
use something like Twitter Search to find keywords and communicate with
people that way.
There’s always someone looking for an answer to a question in social
networks and going to Twitter before Google is a practice that’s being called
“crowdsourcing.” Instead of searching for information on the web, people
search the knowledge of their network, hoping that this information (while

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not as immediate) will be more credible and irrelevant information will be
filtered out.
Communicate with people and make an effort to help them, and your social
media presences will help you – and thus your business – build credibility.
As your sites become successful and your profile rises, you may find it’s
difficult to keep up individual communications with followers and fans.
But fear not, there are other ways you can maintain credibility, including
delivering useful content.

Offer Useful Content
It’s important to show that you’re not only interested in your own content.
You should certainly tweet links to your posts, but you should also mention
any articles relevant to your field that you found interesting or helpful.
That phrase “relevant to your field” is super important. If you’re an individual
posting on a social network, fine, post whatever you’re into! But if you’re
posting from your site’s account, be reasonable and stick to the general area
you’re posting about.
In short: share content. Make it interesting and helpful, and make it
relevant to your field. By doing so, you deliver value to your followers and
fans en masse, and this is a very useful technique for building your social
media profile.

Social Media Sites
There are a multitude of social media sites around and it’s important to pick
out and focus on a few. Here are the most important:
1. Twitter
Twitter is currently the most popular social network for people who
produce content. Twitter is known as a microblogging service, and you
post status updates or “tweets” that are restricted to an upper length
limit of 140 characters. This is just barely long enough to hold very
abrupt conversations, link to posts, and complain about things.

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The power of Twitter for content producers is in the Retweet. This is
when someone duplicates someone else’s tweet to transmit it to their
own followers. Sometimes individual tweets can get retweeted enough
to effectively go viral and the resulting traffic can be significant.
The best chance to get retweeted comes if you have been consistently
delivering valuable tweets to your followers and building the habit of
retweeting with them. It’s also great to retweet other people’s links from
time to time so that they return the favor.
2. StumbleUpon
The StumbleUpon service allows you to explore new sites randomly
within your areas of interest. Stumblers then press a thumbs-up or
thumbs-down button to let StumbleUpon know what they thought of
the site. The more positive reviews a site gets, the more likely it is
that StumbleUpon will send their users there when they press the
“Stumble!” button.
The key to using StumbleUpon effectively is to select categories
carefully and experiment with the relevant options. Because Stumblers
tell the service what their categories of interest are, you have a better
chance of success when you select a highly targeted category.
3. Facebook
To many, Facebook is a social network for keeping in touch with friends
and family. Companies are now setting up Pages for themselves or
their products and using Facebook as a promotional outlet. Thanks to
Facebook sharing widgets that you can embed on your blog, audiences
are slowly beginning to share links.
The traffic that Facebook can send can be significant if your link appears
in the right place. The Psdtuts+ blog that I work on occasionally has
links published on the official Adobe Photoshop page on Facebook, and
every time this happens we receive a solid 5,000–6,000 visitors!
4. Digg
While for most bloggers, Digg is increasingly difficult to get on, it can
still benefit sites enormously when a post gets frontpaged. Digg is a
social news site, which means news, blog posts, funny pictures, or

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other content types are submitted by a user, and their level of humor or
usefulness is evaluated by other Digg users and they vote it up or down.
(Digg has its own verbs for this: to “digg” is to vote up and to “bury” is
to vote down).
If enough users vote the content up, it appears on the frontpage of the
site. The amount of traffic Digg can send varies depending on the post
topic and the difficulty of getting frontpaged is extremely high. If you can
manage it though, the rewards are great!
5. Reddit
Reddit is a site very similar to Digg but with the added dimension of
sub-Reddits. These are like mini sub-sites with niche focuses like
“Apple,” “games,” “tech,” and so on. Getting traffic from a sub-Reddit
is significantly easier than getting frontpaged on Digg or Reddit, making
them a good place to start experimenting with social news marketing.
6. Niche Social News Sites
The more targeted the audience you promote your material to, the
better. This is why social news sites that focus on a specific topic are
so useful and why sub-Reddits are great. Such niche social news sites
have the great potential to deliver smaller, but more focused traffic
doses as compared to Digg or Reddit.
Some topic-specific social news sites include Sphinn for search engine
news, Tipd for stock market posts, Showhype for entertainment,
DesignMoo for web design, DZone for development, and Hacker News
for entrepreneurship. Search around and you’ll find a variety of niche
social news sites with great potential for delivering solid doses of traffic
without, the difficulties of getting frontpaged that a site like
Digg entails.

Social Media Etiquette
It’s really easy to annoy people in the world of social media. Because users
have had to fend off the attacks of relentless self-professed marketers and
scammers using dubious techniques for so long now, there’s a high level of

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scrutiny and suspicion applied to just about everyone. Here are a few tips to
keep yourself looking professional online:

Don’t have more promotional links than real status updates on
Facebook or Twitter. Converse. The only exception applies to accounts
that specifically state that they are link feeds.

Promote other people as much as you promote yourself.

Don’t take it personally or become disheartened when someone
unfriends or unfollows you. This is not so much a matter of etiquette as
it is common sense.

Don’t send automatic email or direct messages. Use email and direct
messages incredibly sparingly unless you have a friendly relationship
with the recipient.

When using Facebook and playing with those silly apps, avoid the
button that’ll spam the app to all of your friends.

People are okay with Facebook pages posting links sparingly, but don’t
use your status updates to spam links all over your friends’ news feeds.
They’ll get annoyed when they can’t see what their friends have been up
to lately.

Add to the signal, reduce the noise. Determining what constitutes
“signal” and what constitutes “noise” is a very subjective thing and
most social media users aren’t very good at it, but if you can master
one technique that will help you make and keep friends, it’s determining
what noise is and not making any of it.

How to Approach Social Media Marketing
To compare the methods of online marketing to traditional marketing use the
following comparison: social media is to public relations as buying traffic is
to advertising.
You use social media to create relationships, with your contemporaries
and peers, and with your audience. You don’t use social media to advertise
and spam.

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Take an interest in the people who take an interest in you. If you actually
care about them, then you can get somewhere with it. That’s the nature
of the strange world of social networking where the most anonymous of
relationships can be very personal.

guest Posts
Guest posting is one of the oldest and most effective ways to build a
credible reputation and generate traffic for your blog in one fell swoop.
Guest posting is the practice of writing an article to be posted on someone
else’s blog. If accepted by the other blogger, your work will be introduced to
a new audience of people who may, if you’re lucky, became part of your
own audience.

Why Guest Post?
You build credibility because someone is endorsing your work. The more
famous the blog is, the better this will work. However, even if the blog is
relatively unknown, someone vouching for you who is not you is beneficial.
If people can take the information in your post and act on it right away, that
bolsters your position.
And of course the main thing is that you generate traffic, because you don’t
offer to guest post without the promise of some promotion for your site in
return. Often the promotion will be a link to your blog in the author biography,
and often you’ll be able to link to your own posts throughout the piece.

Who to Approach
Some people say that you should start small and work your way up to the
bigger blogs once you have a reputation that precedes you. I say send out
your best work for the big blogs first.
While it can be nice to give content to peers who are also starting off fairly
small, targeting the biggest movers and shakers in your niche puts you in
front of the most eyeballs the quickest.

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How to Approach Them
Be humble and polite. Be professional. Ensure that your email is written with
flawless spelling and grammar because many bloggers and editors won’t
look at your attached piece if they find something about your email even
remotely off-putting.
Don’t be the rambling fan. Write your email from the perspective of an equal,
one professional to another.
Treat the recipient like a human being. Although this attitude is finally
starting to slip away, there was a time when less renowned bloggers viewed
the heavyweight bloggers the way music fans look at their favorite artists. It
was a little bit odd and some bloggers still have these cult followings.
If you can’t get an email address for the blogger and need to use a contact
form on their site, don’t include the article in the body text. Simply ask if
you can have their email address so you can send them your article for
Above all, don’t contact someone about a guest post if you haven’t actually
written anything yet. Promising and then failing to deliver something will
seriously damage your reputation.

Do You Ask for Payment?
If the blog generally pays contributing writers, and you’re writing the post
as a writer without much emphasis on promoting your site other than a link
at the end of the post, then it’s pretty fair to ask if there is pay for the
guest post.
If you’re heavily promoting your site, then don’t ask for money. The time you
spend writing is a marketing expense.
My suggestion is that if the blog owner normally pays people to write for
them, think like a business owner, not a freelance writer, and offer to write
the post for free if your site receives prominent exposure in the piece. A link
at the bottom of a post and a bit of cash won’t do much to generate traffic
for your site.

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How to Write a Guest Post
We’ve been over the planning and production of content, and a guest post is
pretty much the same, though there are a few extra things to be aware of.
First of all, stick to writing about what you’re awesome at. When you’re
writing for someone else’s blog and audience, it’s not the time to start
experimenting – do that on your own site. Give them a good, solid piece on
a good, solid topic that you know like the back of your hand. There’s a good
chance you would have written about the topic ten times before. Suck it up
and do it again!
Be aware of how you link out. Unless you’re told otherwise, the safest bet
is to split the links you include in half: 50% link back to other posts on the
blog you’re writing for, while 50% link to your own blog. Some blog owners
don’t like it when guests start linking to all their friends’ blogs and other
random sites.
Don’t give everything you know away! Leave the reader asking enough
questions that they’ll make the effort to check out your blog. It takes a lot for
some users to be tempted to check out a new site, so you’ve really got to
work to give them a reason to do so.
Finally, be sure to send your post along with a bio, at the end. If the
blogger you’re communicating with doesn’t receive a bio they may just link
your name to your site and fail to tell their audience anything else about who
you are. Bios are hard to write for yourself, but it’s something you’ll need to
use all the time in this industry, so spend some time on one you’re happy
to re-use.

After the Post is Published…
After the post is published on the other blog, link to it on your own blog. Tell
your readers how much you enjoy the blog you’ve guested on. It’s only fair.
Send out a tweet and get some friends to retweet it. Make an effort to show
that you’re a grateful person and appreciate your host for having you in front
of their audience.

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It’s also customary and conducive to future relationship building that you
send a thank-you email when you see the post go live. Let them know you
appreciate the time they spent editing and formatting your piece and don’t
criticize them for removing a particular paragraph or word; it’s the editor’s
job to improve on what the writer created, and the blog owner knows what
their audience wants to see.

Content aggregators
The term “content aggregators” covers a range of services that
aggregate content from various places around the web, making it easier
for users to find new sites that include content about topics they’re
interested in.
Some use a team of moderators to determine the good from the bad, and
some use their user base to filter content for them. The two things about
content aggregators that stay the same are:

They refer people to content on other websites.
They all have a mechanism for filtering content.

The challenge for you as a blog owner is getting your content past whatever
filtering mechanism is in place. The only way to do that (at least in an ethical
manner) is to create truly excellent content, and hope for the best.

What is the Benefit of Having My Content
Included in an Aggregator?
More traffic. Depending on the size of the aggregator’s readership and
the rating that your content is given, aggregators can send a significant
amount of traffic your way. As with most traffic generated from social media,
content aggregators tend to send you a big spike of traffic on the day the
content is listed, and as it tapers off, you’ll receive a couple of visitors each
day (probably because someone came across the old listing via a search

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Content aggregators don’t generally do much for your reputation or
credibility. They just send you the traffic. What you do with it from there is
up to you.

How Do You Get Included?
There are generally two types of content aggregator.
One type is run by a team of editors and moderators who actively seek
content to add to their listings, or moderate submissions and determine
whether or not they’ll make it onto the site. If the site has a ranking system
or many sub-categories, moderators may determine the amount of exposure
your content is given – does everyone who visits the homepage of the site
for the next few hours see it, or is it just shown on the category listing?
The second type of content aggregator is run by its users. People submit
content of their own or someone else’s. Usually these sites are looking for
users who curate content that they deem to be interesting as they surf the
web, rather than people like us who are promoting our own businesses. That
hasn’t stopped us from making use of them, though; the main challenge is
getting the user base to vote the content up.
The secret to that, of course, is to create excellent content and target it well
(submit it to the right sites in the right categories).
Note that social news sites like Digg and Reddit, which we covered earlier,
fall squarely into the second group.

What Are the Options?
Alltop is a popular content aggregator that collects a bunch of sites for each
of the categories it has pages for. Unlike most aggregators where content
is displayed on a post-by-post basis, once you get your site listed in Alltop,
each post you publish will show up in the feed.
Sites that are included in Alltop are selected by moderators. You can submit
your site at The service doesn’t send a ton of
traffic, but it’s one more source to add to your referrers list.

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Delicious is a social bookmarking service. It’s basically a take on browser
bookmarking with social aspects,and the convenience of not requiring
you to back up your bookmarks to a file every time you switch computers.
There’s no direct moderation, and Delicious judges popularity based on how
many people are bookmarking the same page. If a lot of people bookmark
a post on your site you might make it to the Popular page and see a surge
of traffic. Even if you don’t make it there, just being in Delicious’ archive will
bring occasional visitors.
Diigo is also a social bookmarking service, with a focus on allowing users
to annotate pages with notes that other Diigo users can see (unless the
annotations are made private). It’s a bit like Delicious on steroids, and
various other pharmaceutical substances.
Digg is a site we discussed earlier, and while it doesn’t generally fall under
the social bookmarking category, it does constitute a social news site, which
is one type of content aggregation. Digg offers varying levels of exposure,
the most coveted of which is getting listed on the front page.
Sites like Slashdot are aggregators for a specific audience. Slashdot is a
technology aggregator. There are too many to list here for the various niches
of the world, so you’ll need to do some research to find one suited to the
content you create. Slashdot is a moderated aggregator, but there are many
sites of each type when it comes to niche-specific aggregation.
Socialmarker is a site that allows you to submit your posts to 215 content
aggregation services in under five minutes (assuming you’ve taken the time
to sign up for them before your first submission session, and have had your
browser remember the usernames and passwords).
If you want the best value for your time, select a bunch of the sites
Socialmarker supports that are relevant to your field, and have an assistant
make submissions using this service every time a post is published.
There are many other aggregating sites that are niche-specific. In the case
studies at the end of this book, I’ll show you how we used a set of tutorial
aggregation sites to get some of the early traffic for Psdtuts+.

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generating traffic

Buying traffic
Usually, buying traffic means advertising. There are many ways to advertise
online, and the process is much easier than that of offline advertising. We’ll
look at ads in a moment, but first let’s examine the purest form of “traffic
buying” on the net: StumbleUpon.

Advertising doesn’t guarantee you click-throughs; it just puts your ad out
there for more people to see, which can only guarantee that the ad will be
seen, not necessarily clicked. That’s not exactly buying traffic in the strictest
sense. Some services, however, are built on the premise of sending people
to random sites based on what they might be interested in, and by far the
most popular of these services is StumbleUpon.
You can get a good laugh or two or a few interesting facts out of
StumbleUpon, but one of the services they offer to businesses is the ability
to purchase traffic directly.
In other words, when a user clicks on the “Stumble!” button, there’s a
chance they might end up on an advertiser’s page, and a chance they may
end up on a user-submitted page.
What makes StumbleUpon unique – and these are precisely the things they
use to sell their unusual advertising service – is that you can target a very
specific audience without requiring a click-through. The fact that you don’t
need to get the user to click on an ad before they get to your site is precisely
why I’ve listed this service before the advertising options available to you.
It’s buying traffic in the purest sense.
Another cool thing about StumbleUpon advertising is that you get feedback
on your campaign. StumbleUpon is built around the concept of giving a site
a thumbs-up or thumbs-down before moving on, and is a bit of an ingrained
habit in its users. There aren’t many alternate and effective ways of getting
your site out there, while receiving feedback about it in the process. But
whether or not you find the feedback useful or actionable is up to you.

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But is it worth it?
StumbleUpon users are known to be some of the most fickle, instant
gratification-oriented users around, even in the somewhat attention spandeprived world of social media. The fact that most Stumblers move on to
the next site in a matter of seconds is the biggest cause for concern in an
otherwise excellent scheme.
Whether purchasing traffic from StumbleUpon will work for you or not
depends on what you’re publishing. If you can target your content precisely,
and the content doesn’t generally attract the fickler set of users, you may be
in luck. There are many mixed reports. Buying StumbleUpon traffic has been
very effective for some, and a hopeless flop for others. The solution? Give it
a trial run. After all, it’s not a terribly expensive service.

Contextual Advertising
Contextual advertising is a form of advertising where instead of purchasing
ad space on a specific website, you add money to an account and set up
some ads based on keywords, and the service attempts to place those ads
on the most relevant sites who have agreed to publish with them.
Google AdWords is the dominant player in the contextual advertising
market. They have the most advertisers, and the most reach amongst
publishers. While it’s always worth checking out the competition, AdWords
is most likely going to be your best bet.
The danger with popular services is saturation, and it may be that too many
advertisers are already going for the keywords you want to bid on, in which
case another service may work better for you. It’ll have less reach but at
least you won’t be paying a dollar or more per click. But, there are still plenty
of affordable keywords with AdWords.
AdWords is the part of Google’s business that deals with advertisers.
Advertisers create ads and bid to have them show up near certain keywords
through this service. AdSense is the arm that deals with publishers, allowing
them to implement the code that dynamically displays the ad and keep up
to date with how much they’re earning.

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The most important thing you can do is
proper keyword, no matter which service
you go with. But regardless of the
keywords you use to rank in the search
engines, which keywords have the right
balance of low cost, high visibility, and
limited competition?
There are so many variations on the
keywords that can be used in just
about any field, so keyword research
can take a lot of time. Google offers
a tool that makes the job easier at

Google AdWord’s keyword
research tool is also useful
when you’re looking to
start a profitable blog. It
gives you an idea of how
many people are searching
for and advertising on sites
relevant to the keywords
you might like to capitalize

Simply enter a few keywords or phrases pertinent to your site’s topic, and
you’ll be given a list of related keywords, the search volume they attracted
through Google, and the amount of advertiser competition. Advertiser
competition pushes up the cost to bid on the keywords, and it makes
it harder to be seen at all. The lower the competition, the better. Search
volume, essentially tells you how many people searched for a keyword in a
specified time period. The higher this is, the better.

Buying Ads Directly
The easiest way to ensure that your ad money is spent on reputable sites
that reach the audience you’d like to have is to purchase your ads directly.
Depending on the size of the site (and when it comes to advertising, the
bigger the better), this method can get pretty pricy. A month of advertising
ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and rarely will you see a
bargain in the two-digit range.
But it does provide you with some certainty that the ads aren’t being shown
on any old site, and better yet, it provides repetition. You see, while web
surfers have become somewhat blind to ads, they still have a subconscious
effect, and some estimates say it can take more than seven repetitions of

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the image before they begin to feel familiar and comfortable with the brand
being advertised.
That may lead them to click through the next time they see the ad, or they
may find a reference to the brand somewhere else and that familiarity will
lead them to take a closer look.
There are two major downsides to buying your ads directly. The first is
that where contextual advertising draws attention to your ad across a
whole range of sites, the ads you buy directly stay on one site – they don’t
rotate. You have to weigh this up with the benefit of knowing that all your
advertising dollars are keeping your ad on a reputable site that you know is
Secondly, you pay a flat rate even if nobody clicks on your ad. If it doesn’t
work, you cancel the deal and find somewhere else to run your ad.
Contextual advertising only charges you when a user clicks on an ad and
goes through to your site.
Ad Blindness
I touched on ad blindness earlier. You can’t blame people for having to find
ways to filter out the astounding amount of advertising they’re subjected to
each day.
But it does make life difficult for advertisers!
For instance, everyone knows what a Google AdSense block looks like,
and their profitability for site owners – especially those running blogs for the
tech-savvy – has gone down over the years (happily it’s still okay to spend
your money there as an advertiser, since you only get charged for each
As a finishing thought in this section on buying traffic, always try to
experiment with your ads until you find something that works for you.
Sometimes a subtle change in the copy of an ad can make a profound
difference in click-throughs.

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giving away Free stuff
Giving things away can be a very effective way to generate traffic. It brings
back visitors and customers who might have been slowly steering away. It
also creates goodwill and happy users, and because everyone likes to link
to a giveaway, it brings in new visitors as well.
There are two types of giveaways. The first, and most potent, is the type
where you truly give something to every single user who stops by. This
only works for digital downloadable goods because they cost nothing to
distribute over and over; e-books, wallpapers, basic software, icon packs,
and so on are all feasible options.
The second type of giveaway requires some sort of contest to sort out who
gets the products and who doesn’t. This can work for any type of item,
whether physical or digital, because you have a limited number of winners.
The simplest form of these giveaways is if you ask readers to leave a
comment and you select randomly from them to determine the winners.

More Value Generates More Return
Naturally the more value you provide in a giveaway, the more interest you
will generate from readers. This is why a complete giveaway of digital goods
works so well because you are literally giving something for free to one and
all. Consequently the value is high because everyone gets to participate.
Similarly, if the prize is large in a contest, or the number of items being given
away is high, then there is more value in the giveaway.
When you provide more value, you get more return on it. An amazing
giveaway is far more likely to generate response and links, than something
that no one really wants.

Getting Prizes for Free
You don’t always want to give away your own products. As publishers, we’re
in luck when it comes to giving things away. In fact if you have an audience,

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it can be quite easy to get other people to give you things to give away.
This is because other businesses will want to use your outlet as a way of
promoting their products.
It’s a fair deal. They get a form of advertising, you have a tool that helps
generate traffic, and develop customer loyalty.
Most of the time, all you have to do to get some freebies to give away is
to simply ask. That said, it’s always good to have built up a relationship
with someone before needing to ask them for something. In the world of
the web, nine times out of ten, people only contact you because they want
something. Ask yourself what you can do for someone now so that you can
develop an acquaintance or business friendship of sorts.

The Costs of Contests
Even if you are giving away someone else’s products, there is still a price to
pay for running a contest type giveaway. That price is your time.
In particular picking winners, judging entries, contacting people, and
organizing the delivery of prizes can be extremely time-consuming if you
are not careful. If you’ve never run a giveaway before, it’s always good to
start simple.
Avoid giveaways that have an element of judging until you are more
seasoned, as judging can be a very laborious process if you have a group
of people who need to agree. Also avoid giveaways with too many winners
or too many sponsors to liaise with. Start with just a couple of winners and
a couple of sponsors so that you don’t have too much communication to
In addition, if you are running a contest to give away physical goods, then
avoid these pitfalls:

Not Factoring in Postage
If you’ve ever tried posting a heavy book to the other side of the world
you’ll know that the cost of posting physical goods can sometimes be
more than the goods themselves.

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Not Checking International Availability/Price
If you are giving away a major competition item such as an iPod, you
should always consider that prices and availability vary around the world.
If you have a reader in Mozambique win the prize, then you may have a
lot more difficulties than you would if the winner was in New York.

Posting Takes Time
Perhaps the most time-consuming task involved in giving away physical
goods is going to a post office, wrapping and packing, finding the
correct addresses, and actually posting off the prizes. If you have a lot
of prizes to a lot of people, this can turn a small giveaway post into a
large amount of work.

Getting Other Benefits from Giveaways
Giveaways are effective for bringing traffic, but if you truly want to get the
most of your giveaway, then it’s good to ask for something in return.
Perhaps the best example of getting your readers to do something, is to ask
them to sign up to an email subscription in return. This is easy to do for the
reader who simply agrees to get the odd promotional email from you, and
leaves you with another asset: an email subscription list that might be good
for, say, affiliate marketing.
The price the user pays is a fair one – a free product in exchange for the
right to include them in your community.
If they unsubscribe the day after they receive the prize, that’s fine – most
people won’t, and for each contest or giveaway you run, the number of
people who sign up and stay signed up will exceed the number of people
who do not.
If you are creating an email subscription list, a great affordable tool to use is
Aweber (, which allows you to set up auto-responders.
This means that when the user signs up their email address, the first email
they receive comes almost immediately. You can place the download link for
your freebie in this email thereby ensuring that only people who subscribe
get the freebie.

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Affiliate marketers love to create email lists because they are great for
maintaining an ongoing conversation with the subscriber. If for example
you create an email list where readers get a free e-book on blogging, you
then know that those people are interested in blogging. You could then,
for example, start sending them occasional emails with special offers for
blogging products. You can learn more about affiliate marketing in the
next chapter.

Using Social Media to Spread the Word
If you are delivering great value in a giveaway you’ll want to spread the
word. Particularly if you are giving away free items to one and all, people will
want to link out to your post, tweet about it, and share it with their friends.
Of course, social media won’t suddenly spring into action all on its own. You
have to do a few things first! Here’s a checklist to follow:

Tweet about it yourself. Make a Facebook update about it. This is the
part where you say something about the giveaway in whatever format
the social site in question allows you to.

Ask those in your field who you have good relationships with to
do the same.

Ask your employees and contractors to do the same.

Ask your grandmother to do the same.

There’s an obvious pattern in this, and it exemplifies what I was saying
about social media a few pages back. It’s about communication and the
propagation of ideas. Nurture your online relationships and this will work
out for you.

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leveraging Your existing
network and assets
When it comes to generating traffic, leveraging your existing network and
assets is a very useful practice. This means cross-pollinating between sites
you own, telling people you know about the site, and generally leveraging
the means at your disposal to drive more traffic.
There are two aspects to this, and we could call both “your network,” but for
clarity I’ll separate and define those two aspects:

Your Network: the network of contacts that you’ve built by taking the
time to develop good relationships with people in your field, people in
related fields, and even friends and family, before you need their help.
Your Assets: web properties, email lists, or even offline businesses
you’ve already built that already have their own following.

Your Network
There are various layers to your network, and various ways to go about
leveraging their word-of-mouth. I’ve listed them in what I believe is the
correct order of importance when it comes to helping you with your blogging
endeavors, and how to go about getting assistance from each group.
The top priority network can be defined as your network of peers in the
same or relevant fields, using social media and the web to propagate their
People who care about the topics you’re covering will have their own
network of people who care about what you’re covering, and those people
will again have their own network of people who care about what you’re
covering. And their… okay, let’s not take this too far.
The goal is to achieve a ripple effect where your top-tier network announces
your news to their top-tier network (your second-tier network), and as the
news is passed down the line, these secondary, tertiary, and other networks
join yours.

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The easiest way to get their help is to ask them for it, assuming that you’ve
spent some time getting to know them without wanting anything from them,
and have done a few voluntary favors by spreading their news on to your
own network.
Let them know you’ve got a site launching, or an important feature article being
published, that it’s important to you and you’d really appreciate if they’d let their
Twitter followers or [name your social network here] followers know about it.
If you’ve bothered to reach out to them before you needed their help, you
should have pretty good luck here.
Next, you want to make an announcement on forums you’ve already built
credibility in. Do not publicize your site on a forum where you are new and
un-established. The correct way to leverage this network is:
1. Build a reputation first as a useful and valuable member of
the community.
2. Let people know about your new project in a post.
Don’t change the order of these steps, as the etiquette of forums is
established and unforgiving: the newbie who promotes their site is a
spammer, and you will be treated like a spammer if you do this (that is,
dropped off in the trash can). You may need to have been a regular on the
forums for as long as six months or a year sometimes.
The third group is your existing social media networks. This is a mixture of
friends, peers, bloggers, journalists, and general people you know who use
social media.
These are the people who do not exist in the first group, but will receive your
initial announcements about the site anyway. There is a small chance they
will retweet the announcement, email their friends, blog about your blog,
and so on. There’s a good chance that by announcing your launch to the
general group of people following your online output, someone will pass the
news along in some way or another.
For really, really important events such as the launch of your site, you might
also go to the fourth group, which is your friends and family. If your friends
and family are not in one of the first three groups, they’re probably not going

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to be very helpful in generating traffic. But, as you may have guessed, the
general idea is that the more people who know about your launch, the better
the chances are that it’ll be passed on to someone who has considerable
reach and the power to send you significant amounts of traffic.
Who knows, maybe grandma knows a professor at the local university who
teaches a class on the topic you blog about. They may pass the link on to
hundreds of young, tech-savvy students if they like what you’re doing.

Your Assets
When you first start out you probably won’t have much in the way of assets
to draw on. But as you develop and launch sites, you will find that existing
sites and email lists can be a great benefit to kicking off new sites, or even
just promoting particular posts.
Leveraging your assets, means reaching out to the people who already have
an interest in your products, such as existing blog subscribers, and getting
them to head over to your latest site and subscribe there as well. This is a
process termed by the multi-blog owning individuals of the world, “crosspollinating.”
At Envato, where I work, we have a fairly large network, so we’ve learned a
thing or two about the process of cross-pollination. Here are the important
things to remember:
1. Your Target Audience is Still a Consideration, Even Among
Your Own Sites
If you’re launching a site about the art of bonsai, you might blog about
the launch on your coffee bean roasting blog, but not on your automotive
mechanics blog. Even though bonsai and coffee bean roasting are quite
unrelated, it is reasonably likely that those interested in either might be
interested in the other.
On the other hand, while I’m sure there are people who are right into bonsai
and fiddling under the bonnet of their car, I doubt there are very many. It may
raise more ire than it will readers.

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So an example from Envato is that we announced the launch of Mac.
AppStorm on FreelanceSwitch because we know that freelancers are
reasonably likely to be Mac users. But Web.AppStorm wasn’t announced
on AudioTuts+ because there’s not a whole lot of crossover in the audience,
and if there was, they would be readers of a few of the other sites in the
Envato network where it was announced anyway.
2. Select the Right Time Zone
If you only have one other web property, post the news about the launch just
before the time of day that analytics shows as being the most active. Tweet
the news at the same time. For most sites, it’s recommended that you make
the announcement during a time when most Americans are still awake,
simply because they form the bulk of English-speaking web users.
If you’re running a blog that appeals to a specific nationality, perhaps a blog
that helps Scotsmen become better at making haggis, launch it during their
active web time!
3. Stagger the Time Zones
If you already have more than one web property, divide the number of hours
in the day by the number of blogs you run. If you have two blogs, you’d
assign a twelve-hour block to each blog, make the initial announcement on
the most popular of the blogs during its most active time of day, and then
make the post on the next blog exactly twelve hours later.
If you have more than two blogs, rank them in terms of readership, and try
and mix it up so that you don’t have all your most popular blogs coming
up first in the list, and the less popular blogs at the end. You want an even
distribution of popular and less popular blogs.
Then, set up a post on each blog, using your flagship blog to lead the
way, and publishing the news on each of your blogs, based on the order of
your list, at intervals determined by the calculation earlier. If you have six
blogs, one of your sites would then publish the announcement every four
hours, for example.

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generating traffic
This ensures your news covers as many time zones as possible in a 24-hour
window and gets the best coverage, and prevents the buzz from dying down
too quickly. It sounds simple but it really is an effective practice.
4. Ongoing Cross-Pollination
Have your editors read each other’s websites so they can post about
relevant articles on the other blogs in your network. Cross-pollination is an
ongoing effort and can be extremely effective.
A great example of cross pollination is when TechCrunch publishes the lead
to a CrunchGear story that is particularly suited to the main TechCrunch
audience. When you hit the “Read More” link, it actually takes you over to
CrunchGear. This means that only readers who are genuinely interested will
arrive at CrunchGear, where they can then be exposed to lots more content
and will hopefully become regular readers.

Consistency and Momentum
The web and social media will forget you if you’re not visible frequently
enough. Building a brand that lasts doesn’t happen when you disappear
or slack off for any period of time. It’s also important to remember that if
all other things are equal, Google will rank a site that is more consistently
updated higher, than one that’s not updated often. So far, this chapter has
covered various tactics for generating traffic on a more short-term basis. For
the long-term, build your campaign around this: consistency and momentum
build traffic and audience.
When the web was younger, one could put up a static website with
information that went unchanged for years, and it would bring in plenty of
traffic once it had a few decent inbound links and the popular search engine
of the time indexed it (there was good old Altavista, and some of you may
not know that Yahoo! was once more popular than Google). It didn’t happen
for everyone, but at the time the concept of building a site and letting it sit
there attracting visitors without working too much on it was a reality.

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The web has evolved to a point where the frequency of your output, and
the prominence of your brand, are important factors in deciding how much
traffic is piped through to your site from other sources. Because there’s so
much information going around the web now, much of it is outdated quickly,
so the freshest sources of information are rewarded.
So be consistent. Set a frequency of posting and stick to it. Decide which
social sites you’ll use to build a following and stick to it until you’ve built
a network that’s easy to maintain before becoming active on even more
sites. Find a writing style and approach that your readers like and stick to it.
Consistency will do more to build your brand than anything else.
With consistency comes momentum. Keep up your posting frequency as
one of the most common mistakes bloggers make, is to forget to post for a
few weeks and think they can pick up where they left off once they get the
time to push out another post.
Keep publishing content of the sort that your readers want to see. That
doesn’t mean more of the same – you need to become good at spotting
trends in your readership. If you’re consistent enough in the way you run
your blog, momentum naturally follows.
Stop that momentum, and you’ll have to start building your traffic and
following all over again. That’s simply how the world of blogging works. It’s
filled with short attention spans and too much information to fit in them.
Having consistency and momentum doesn’t mean you shouldn’t
innovate. It just means you shouldn’t stop innovating halfway along the
road to success.

linking out to generate
and Keep traffic
Linking out can generate traffic for you.
That may sound counter-intuitive, since linking to other sites may mean
people click on a link and don’t return. Truthfully, if a user clicks a link and

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doesn’t return, they probably wouldn’t have stuck around for long even if
you hadn’t linked out.
But if you recommend an excellent resource to them, they may come back
and subscribe, because making good recommendations is one way to
build credibility and respect. Specifically, it builds the reader’s trust in you
as a media gatekeeper: someone who filters the mass of information and
presents only the useful material to their readership. Traditionally, this role
was that of newspaper editors and news program producers. Despite the
hurrah about the web ending the control of gatekeepers over what we read,
we still tend to gravitate towards them in an ad-hoc way. There’s just too
much information to deal with otherwise.
Moreover, linking out can draw the attention of the person who wrote the
piece that you’re linking to, and can build goodwill with them. This helps you
whether that person has a readership of one or one million.
One blogger I met said their blog had “made it” in terms of traffic after
they linked to another prominent blogger. When the prominent blogger
checked their recent backlinks, they were impressed with the post they were
referenced in and linked back to them. The support of that popular blogger
meant the new blogger got enough traffic and credibility to get a serious
following going.
Be generous with linking out. It doesn’t hurt you to do it, and it makes
people feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Don’t obsess over “the competition” beyond keeping an eye on what they
are doing. In the blogging world, the name of the game is collaboration and
cooperation. It’s about sharing your audiences. This isn’t because some sort
of hippy-commune attitude is expected in the blogosphere, but because
ultimately, if you share your audience with ten other bloggers in your field,
you could grow your blog’s readership by ten times if their readers like you.
It also builds your credibility when other bloggers, who a visitor may
already trust, recommend your work. Something needs to occur that builds

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credibility before the reader subscribes to your blog. Maybe they’re really
impressed with something you’ve said on your site, but most often, the best
way to build credibility is to have someone else who is well-trusted give it
to you.
If you want other people’s audiences, don’t compete with them. Cooperate
with them.

search traffic
A massive amount of the Internet’s traffic is filtered through search engines.
Almost everyone – including, I’m sure, yourself – uses search engines many
times every day. Firing up Google (or, for a small fraction of the web surfing
population, one of its competitors) is simply the most practical way to find
information on the Internet.
That’s the number one reason why you should make the study and
acquisition of search traffic a priority: search engines push more readers
around than any other type of web service.
So how do you tap into this vast flood of traffic? The practice of designing
your site so that it ranks well in search is called search engine optimization
(SEO). It involves a broad spectrum of tactics, from designating specific
heading tags to fulfill different SEO roles, to using the right anchor text when
linking to your own site.
While for many blog owners SEO is something that is mostly for their
web developer, it’s still useful to have at least a broad understanding of
how it works.
Search engine optimization is basically about setting up your site so it has a
structure that search engines can understand. Crawlers use a few methods
to determine which keywords have priority, including heading tags (the <h1>
tag will give keywords more weight than <h2> or <h3>, and so on), keyword
density, alt text on images, and a whole lot more.
The best SEO is about conforming to the best practices of well-structured
websites, and choosing your audience and topic wisely. Many people get

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caught up in SEO as some sort of magical pill that’ll make your site
instantly popular.
As with any field, your best bet will be to use a professional, but because so
many people want magical results, the unscrupulous and unethical scammer
is a mainstay of the search engine optimization industry. It’s important to
be careful when hiring a specialist, or you may end up wasting money on
a scammer or what’s known as a “blackhat SEO” specialist: someone who
will use exploits to get a better ranking quicker – exploits that will have you
penalized if you’re caught.
Do your research and hire someone reputable. A good place to go is
SEOMoz’s Marketplace (
Before we go through a primer on SEO (it’s an involved topic that can’t be
covered in detail here), let me address two issues that are very important for
those in the web publishing business.

Duplicate Content
The short version is: don’t let others reprint articles that have been published
on your site elsewhere on the Internet.
By all means you can resell the content for offline use – say, to a print
magazine – but it’s never a good idea to allow the original content on your
site to be duplicated word-for-word on another site.
Google, and perhaps other search engines, may penalize you for hosting
content that’s been duplicated on the web if they can’t determine that
you were the first to post it. And penalties aside, it wouldn’t be a happy
ending for you if the other site managed to overtake your post in the search
rankings just because it has a few more readers and backlinks.
Keep content unique and original when it comes to the web.

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Your Readers are Human
Don’t write for the search engines.
You can spot a site that’s been written for the search engines very quickly,
and I know that my own reaction is to leave immediately. I’m sure most
people do the same thing.
Your readers are human. It’s an obvious statement, but one that people
forget all too frequently. Write for the humans while using the best practices
that make your site accessible to search engine crawlers, and you’ll do well
in the long-run.
If you can fit some keywords into your post without affecting the quality of
your title or post, great! Do it. But be careful to remember where the line is,
and stay on the right side of it.

How Search Engines Find and Sort
Most search engines are complicated systems, using mysterious algorithms
that nobody outside of the search companies have ever seen. The details of
the algorithms aside, the way they find and sort information – at least from a
bird’s eye view – is quite simple:

Spiders are automated systems that search engines use to “crawl” the
web, checking each link they come across and finding new sites for the
search engine to list.

After the spider has crawled a page, that page becomes part of the
Google index and the content of the page is analyzed for the purposes
of ranking.

The way search engines use algorithms to rank content is the
aforementioned complicated and mysterious part of the system. The

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words on the page, the structure of the site, the number of links referring
to the site, and many more factors all come into play to determine which
keyword searches will return the page as a result, and how high up in
the results the site will be.
When we optimize our sites, we seek to improve our chances of ranking
higher for the keywords we think our target audience will be using.

I’m not an SEO expert but here are some of the generally accepted rules of
optimizing your site for search. If you want to get into more depth, there are
plenty of books and resources on the topic. If you don’t want to deal with
the technicalities of this area, it’s really worth hiring a professional (one with
an excellent reputation), or ask your web developer about it.

Link Building
The most critical components of SEO are links coming in to your site.
Modern search engines place a lot of emphasis on links to pages on your
site, the text of the links, and the authority of the site they are coming from.
So if a site that is highly ranked by Google sends a link your way, that
counts for a lot. If you created a brand new site yourself and linked back to
your first site, that link wouldn’t count for much at all because the site it’s
coming from is itself not an important site.
In essence, every link to your site is treated as a vote for how important your
site is. If the link comes from an important site, then that’s a real vote of
confidence, and the search engine will rate it higher.
With this in mind, one of the big keys to search optimization is to build links
back to your site. Of course as a blogger, that’s your main goal anyway! So
rather than dwell on this aspect of SEO, I’ll just say that as you produce
more and more great content, the amount of links directed your way will
increase, and your search ranking will follow suit.

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Site Structure
Consider the structure of your site carefully, and design it so that there
is an appropriate segmentation and encapsulation of different types of
Think of site structure like this: your site’s name is the broadest category.
The blogger then adds categories on the site based on what they think
they’ll be writing about. Unfortunately, they rarely consider how to best
categorize. You want a structure that, instead of getting broader on a
horizontal level, uses a vertical structure to get narrower.
Let’s take a fictional example like The site
provides pet owners and prospective owners with all sorts of information,
from nutritional information to how to best select a new dog from the
breeder’s litter. A flat, broad structure looks like this:
Dog Nutrition – Dog Care – Cat Nutrition – Buying a Dog – Bird Care
It’s a very sloppy system with lots of redundancy and clutter. It also makes it
harder for users and search engines to put relevant content items in groups.
Here’s a better site structure:
Pet Care:
Dog Care
Cat Care
Bird Care
Pet Nutrition:
Dog Nutrition
Cat Nutrition
Bird Nutrition
Pet Purchases:
Purchasing a Dog
Purchasing a Cat
Purchasing a Bird

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Or, alternatively:
Dog Care
Dog Nutrition
Purchasing a Dog
Cat Care
Cat Nutrition
Purchasing a Cat
Bird Care
Bird Nutrition
Purchasing a Bird
I would most likely go with the first scheme, because the second scheme
would make it more difficult to cover other species of animal later on. Both
however, will work much better than the first ragtag bunch of categories I
showed you, for humans and spiders alike.

The following advice applies to both the heading on an article page
(the title tags that will be displayed in the search engines), and the bar at
the top of your browser, and to a certain extent, the sub-headings within
articles themselves.
Remember, the title tags will be the first thing people see when your site
shows up in the search engine. Don’t go into marketing mode. Just focus on
making the title informative and explicitly descriptive of the page contents,
while employing the right keywords (in a way that looks natural), and by
remaining both concise and compelling.
When it comes to the title tags, they should also brand the site, and it’s
acceptable to use some category information to provide context. Don’t do
either of these things on the actual heading on your site, of course.

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Maybe that sounds like a tall order, but it’s not all that difficult. Compare:
“Dog Walking”
“How to Walk Your Dog – Dog Exercise and
Health – Pet Care Instructions”
If the inclusion of contextual categories isn’t to your taste, the following
would be acceptable:
“How to Walk Your Dog – Pet Care Instructions”
That’s what you want your title tags to look like. The article heading on the
site itself should simply be “How to Walk Your Dog.” Be consistent and
use the same title in the heading and the tags (the tags just allow for a little
embellishment to help branding and ranking in the search engines).

Make the search terms or phrase you want to be ranked more prominent
in the content. Don’t go overboard with it. Use it so that the user doesn’t
detect that you’ve tried to make it more prominent – it shouldn’t ruin the
natural feel of the content. It just needs to be in there. Keyword density does
not matter. Just use the phrase that you want people to use to find your site.
It’s common sense really).
Believe it or not, search engines have algorithms that try to determine
how good the quality of the language used on your site is. The better your
writers are, the better your rankings will be. Don’t hire a mediocre writer just
because they’re cheaper. Hire someone who is a good wordsmith.
Use descriptive headings. Heading tags have a higher priority than
paragraph text when the search engine is trying to analyze the site and
determine which keywords it should rank well for. Don’t overuse them, as
you’ll dilute the quality of the content and the value of the keywords. In other
words, use headings in SEO the same way you’d use them to guide the
reader through the document.

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Finally, and this may seem obvious to many readers, search engines cannot
read all text. They can’t read text in an image, nor often in a Flash file or any
client-side scripting that does not end up rendered as HTML. If you have to
log in or submit your email address to see certain content, the spider will not
see it. If you want it ranked, put it in HTML text, and put it where the spider
can get to it.

One popular source of search traffic that many people forget about is
Google Image Search.
Most people don’t use alt and title tags on their images, and when they do,
they’re not thinking about how to get the most out of them. But if you put
some effort in and describe the image from the perspective of someone
looking for what your page is about, you may actually get some traffic
this way.
Google Image Search traffic won’t be as sticky as standard search engine
traffic because a number of them are just looking for free pictures, but it
does help a site’s growth, particularly if someone is after a diagram or graph
on a topic they’re interested in, or if you’re running a celebrity, car, or gadget
site. Those image searchers may just stick around for the content.

Linking and URL Structures
Links and URLs are both important page elements that need to be
considered from an SEO perspective.
Many people don’t care about the SEO ramifications of links on their pages
because they don’t care whether the link will benefit the owner of the
content that is being linked. When you make the effort, it is noticed, and it
builds goodwill, which is good for your business.
But it’s also important because the links you use in your articles to other
articles on your site, or even your homepage, actually do matter to the
search engines.

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The spider is depending on you to create a useful structure that
enables users to get around your site easily, and this is where anchor
text comes in.
Anchor text refers to the words the link is attached to. If there’s a link on
a page in the body text and it says “scuba diving gear,” the anchor text is
scuba diving gear and the URL is wherever you’re taken when you click on
the anchor text. These two elements make up a link.
Search engines often use the anchor text on inbound links as part of
the ranking process, cross-referencing with the text on the page as
well as inbound links from other sites. If many people are linking to the
content using the same keywords that the article is using, the site receives
a boost.
This is why it’s considered bad form to use “click here” as anchor text.
Next time you’re linking, whether to someone else’s content, or to content
on your own site, keep this in mind and take a few seconds to produce good
anchor text.
URLs are also important. Search engines do pay attention to the structure
and content of the address, not just the content it leads a user to read.
The URL should be readable by a human, so use the keywords that you’re
targeting and do not misrepresent the content on the page. Try to keep
things as consistent as possible. Let’s look at some examples:
The first example is an example of what not to do. The second link is a userfriendly link.
Both sites are owned by Google and both feature user-generated content.
Only one seems to practice what Google preaches. It’s understandable as
Google didn’t build YouTube, but it’s a good case in point. The first link is
useless from a usability and SEO perspective – imagine if YouTube didn’t
have the credibility derived from millions of inbound links, or the ranking
boost I’m sure it gets as a result of belonging to Google?

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A Final Note on SEO
There are too many sites on the web that put more emphasis on writing for
search engines and keyword density than on human readability. There’s an
old myth that this will somehow yield better results than simply creating
awesome content.
In the interests of dispelling this myth, flick through the advice presented in
this section and consider that every single bit of it also points you to create
a better experience for your users.
Google and the other search engines have one goal: to index the web
and direct users to the sites that are most useful to them. It’s not in their
interests to cater to site owners who use tactics like blasting keyword
density sky-high. All of the tactics I’ve given you should fall under the
strategy of creating a great site that real, flesh-and-blood people will love.
Moreover, as you grow your site so that it’s well-respected, well-reputed,
and full of lots and lots of great content, the search benefits that follow will
also translate better into readers who stick around!

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A business isn’t much of a business without revenue, so
undoubtedly one of your major focuses in running a blog is going to
be monetizing the site.
Before we discuss how to create revenue,it is critical to understand
that a focus on monetization should only come after you have
created a site that delivers value and has thereby gained a decent
sized readership. In other words, first you need a great product,
then you make money out of it.
If you have a great blog, with persistence, revenue will happen in
time one way or another. If your product isn’t right though, and
people don’t actually want to read or visit, then no matter how
much focus and energy you put into making money, it’s just not
going to happen.
In this chapter we’ll assume you’ve put together a great blog with
great content that is well managed and run, and has already begun
attracting an audience. Under this assumption, we’ll focus on both
common, and not-so-common ways to make money, what the risks
are, what the rewards are, and how to work out what is appropriate
for your site.

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general tips on Monetization
No matter how you approach blogging, you should be prepared for a certain
amount of losses early on. If you are doing all the work yourself in the early
days these losses will simply be manifested as your time, energy, and lost
earnings from doing other types of work.
If you are investing in staff and development, then naturally you should look
at your blog as a business. This entails a plan for getting some revenue as
well as capital, to sustain the early losses on your path breaking even by
month-on-month, and ultimately leading to complete profitability.
While any truly successful blog should be able to turn a profit on its blogging
costs, getting a blog to succeed is a difficult road and can take time, during
which you will be burning cash.
The most useful advice I can give on monetizing a blog is to experiment and
research. Look at as many options as you can, don’t be afraid to try things
out, and study the results closely.
It’s a good idea to keep detailed records of strategies you are trying,
the results they are creating, and how the different income sources are
stacking up. This is the best way to determine what is going to work for
your particular circumstances. Often a combination of strategies is best.
For example, you might run advertising, occasionally make use of affiliate
programs, sell a product such as a book tie-in, and maybe offer freelance
services via the blog.
Making money with blogs is certainly possible, and if you’re lucky it can
even feel easy. But for most of us, it takes a lot of hard work, trial and error,
and perhaps most of all, time. What might begin as a trickle can slowly
grow in size, so it’s good to stick with it. I often take the philosophy that
something is better than nothing, so it’s best to get something happening,
until you can find a more optimal approach.
Iterating through monetization strategies means you have the opportunity to
refine your ideas, do more of what works, and replace what doesn’t. If

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Monetization tips
your blog is popular, you will eventually find a way to turn the popularity into
revenue – it just might not be as easy, or as fast, as you initially hope!
Anecdotal evidence from bloggers online sharing their revenue, suggests
that typically, revenue numbers follow an S-curve. That is, it takes a while
to get started, then ramps up and finally plateaus as a blog’s audience and
traffic steadies off. You can view three real case studies showing actual
revenue numbers and income streams at the end of this book.

The most obvious way to make money with a blog is through advertising, and
as you might imagine, there is a very wide range of options, from text ads to
banners, ad networks to private sales, video ads to audio ads; you name it,
and someone has tried it as an ad system. But before you get too enthusiastic,
you should know that making money from advertising is not easy.
Ad rates on the web tend to be quite low, particularly as there is so much ad
space out there. With the explosion of websites and programs like Google’s
Adsense, which allow just about anyone to start running adverts, there is
a ton of choice for advertisers looking for somewhere to show their brand.
That’s not to say that you can’t make money with advertising and in fact
most of the biggest blogs use ads as their primary income source, however,
it’s important to recognize that it’s not without its challenges.
The first hurdle you will need to overcome is volume. Advertising only really
works at reasonably high volume. Let’s say an advertiser is willing to pay
$2 for every thousand times their ad is shown (a decent rate); then you will
need to serve up 500,000 pageviews a month to bring in $1000 for that
ad spot. Google Adsense blocks typically deliver fractions of a dollar per
thousand impressions, so you can imagine you’d need an even greater
volume of traffic to produce a meaningful income stream.
The second hurdle is having an audience that advertisers want to reach.
For some blog niches, even Google Adsense can deliver reasonably
high returns, while others are simply too broad, or too unappealing for
advertisers. A great example that shows no one is immune to these issues,

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is the problem YouTube has in generating ad revenue across its very wide
range of content. While popular videos are easily monetized, the site has
had consistent problems generating revenue from its eclectic and at times
rather bizarre range of videos.
If you can find either a very targeted audience that is attractive to
advertisers, or a very high volume of traffic, or preferably both, then you can
profit very well from advertising. As with all monetization strategies, it’s best
to do a lot of research, and then experiment extensively.

Advertising Terminology
Some common terms used in advertising are:
1. CPC – “Cost per click” ads pay every time a viewer clicks the advert.
So, if you show an ad to a million people, but only five people click
on it, then you’d get paid five times the CPC rate. So if an ad pays
$0.25 CPC, then you’d need to have 4,000 people click on the ad to hit
$1,000. And no, don’t try clicking it yourself, there are ways to detect if
the clicks are unique!
2. CPM – “Cost per thousand” impressions (the “M” in CPM stands for
mille, which is Latin for thousand) is one of the most common methods
of pricing advertisements. If an ad pays $2 CPM, then you will need to
show 500,000 impressions to receive $1,000.
3. CPA – “Cost per action” is typically used in affiliate programs (see next
section) and refers to payments being tied to the user taking a specific
action, such as signing up, or making a purchase.
4. eCPM – “effective CPM” is a term used particularly on Google’s Adsense,
but useful for publishers in general. It is a way of comparing earnings
from different ad units, particularly if they haven’t been shown for
over a thousand impressions, or are using different payment models.
So an ad unit shown 500 times, and having earned $1 through a Cost
per Click (CPC) system, has an eCPM of $2, because if you extend it
out you’re going to end up with 1,000 impressions presumably earning
$2 all together.

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5. IAB Ad Sizes – The Internet Advertising Bureau has created a set of
standard sizes that most ad networks and buyers will be looking for.
Common sizes include the “Leaderboard” size, which is 728px wide
and 90px high and the “Large Rectangle,” which is 336px wide x 280px
high. You can find the full banner specs at the IAB site: http://www.iab.

Advertising Solutions
There are several ways to sell advertising, including different networks and
formats. Here are some solutions you will want to investigate:
1. Google Adsense/DoubleClick.
Adsense is in a class of its own and has supported many bloggers and
startups in their quest for revenues. The pluses are that you can set
up instantly and begin earning literally within minutes. You can choose
to show text ads only, image ads only, or a combination of both. The
negatives are that not only does Adsense not earn much in general, it
can also make a site feel cheap thanks to negative perception of text
ads and a general low quality to the image ads. It’s not a bad place
to start and you will likely end up using Adsense for spaces you don’t
know what to do with, but it’s unlikely to make up your entire long-term
advertising strategy.
More recently Google has been integrating DoubleClick’s Ad Exchange
into Adsense. DoubleClick was a purely display ad company that
Google acquired in 2008. The integration promises to lift the quality of
banner ads through Adsense, so this may be good news for publishers.
2. Display Ad Networks
There are a huge number of display ad networks around. These usually
take applications to join and will have requirements on how much traffic
and what spots you are selling. Famous networks include Casale, Burst,
TechnoratiMedia, and TribalFusion. Speak to a rep to find out what
sort of returns you can expect. Anecdotal evidence in blog comments
suggests you can expect around $1 CPM, but that even this can take
time to build up to.

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Display ad networks also vary wildly in the quality of ads they show.
You can often switch on and off certain campaigns from the back-end
though and this can help ensure you don’t dilute your product with ads
that are downright awful.
3. Niche Ad Networks
Specialty ad networks often yield better results than the more
generalized ones due to their niche targeting; however, they are also
harder to get into. Examples of such ad networks include Glam (http://, which specializes in female-oriented sites, TheDeck (http://, and FusionAds ( for web/tech
sites and FederatedMedia ( with a bias
towards new media. Rates on some niche networks can be relatively
high; FederatedMedia for example charges $10–$30 CPM for most
ads, however keep in mind that publishers only receive half of this as
earnings and it’s hard to know how many of these ads actually sell, so
the eCPM will be much lower.
Researching your own niche and asking bloggers in the same area is
the best way to find out who might be appropriate for your blog. Also
recently the Adify ( platform has been used to build a
lot of niche ad networks and browsing their site can be a good way to
locate networks that relate to your site.
4. Direct Sales
Selling direct to advertisers has the benefit of cutting out the middleman.
Given that networks charge anywhere from 10% to 50% of the ad sale,
this can be a major saving. However, it also entails a lot more hassle in
managing the ads yourself and unless you are out selling your own ads,
you will really be relying on advertisers finding you, though that may be
the case with some ad networks as well!
If you’re taking this route you will want to take a look at OpenX (http://, which provides free ad server software that you can use
to manage those direct ad sales. This allows you to give advertisers
statistics as well, track ad expiries, and generally manage the ins and
outs of swapping ads and setting their timelines.

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5. Self-Serve Ad Marketplaces
A variety of self-serve ad marketplaces exist where you can list
your site and have the ad buying process automated. These sites
will take a cut of the ad revenue, but because they are a bit more
passive the cut tends to be smaller. Examples of self-serve ad
marketplaces include AdBrite (, which offers a
variety of formats varying from text ads to interstitial ads, AdEngage
(, which does a lot of CPC ads, BlogAds (http://, which specializes in serving ads for blogs in general,
and BuySellAds (, which mostly caters to the
creative/tech niche.
Note that Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google (mentioned above) are also
basically offering self-serve ad marketplaces, but given their size they
are really a different category.
6. Advertising on Screencasts
Many of the big video sites like ( and YouTube
( offer their own advertising services that you can
apply for. Alternately you can also join independent video advertising
networks like BrightRoll ( and AdBrite (http:// Video advertising tends to come in many forms including
text ad overlays, pre-, mid-, and even post-roll ads (referring to what
point of video the ad appears at).
7. Inline Text Adverts
Kontera ( and Linkworth (
both offer inline text ad services that turn ordinary words in a post into
rollover ads. These types of ads are generally considered extremely
spammy and off-putting for readers, so it’s probably best to stay well
away unless you are sure you know what you are doing.
8. Rich Media Adverts
VideoEgg ( is a company specializing in Rich
Media advertising, which includes Flash/video-based ads that begin
playing on rollover. For what they are, the ads look relatively unobtrusive
and can provide a decent return when there is inventory.

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9. Advertising on Images
A slightly novel, and not necessarily effective, idea is to place
advertising on images. The best known service in this area is AdBrite’s
BritePic ( service. This service might be useful if you
were running a blog which was very much about the images.
10. Advertising on RSS Feeds
Since Google purchased Feedburner (
some years ago, publishers have had access to publishing Adsense
ads on their RSS feeds. Unfortunately, conversions tend to be pretty
low so unless you have a large readership, this is unlikely to contribute
any really significant earnings and risks cheapening your feeds if you
generally avoid Adsense on your site anyway.
An alternative is to sell your own ads on your RSS feed, though
like all direct sales this has its own sales management issues. You
can implement RSS ads on a WordPress blog using the Feed
Footer plugin (
11. SEO-Optimized Text Link Ads
Once very popular, services like Text-Link-Ads (
and LinkWorth ( provide a different type of text
ad to Adsense and its ilk. These text ads are delivered in a hard-coded
PHP/HTML way so that they help advertisers rank on search engines.
Unfortunately, a couple of years ago Google started cracking down and
penalizing sites that sold text link ads and since then the networks have
been much less extensively used. You should only use this type of ad
with caution as it may end up shooting you in the foot if you lose out on
vital search traffic.
12. Social Ads
A new company putting together a social/interactive twist on advertising
is ( The ads they serve are
small interactive areas where users can participate in some sort of way.
This concept is still in its infancy, but it could be a developing area in
the future.

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Monetization tips
13. Podcast Advertising
If your blog publishes podcasts you should be able to find an ad
network to help monetize the podcasts. The best known appears to be
PodTrac (
14. Product Ads
Product ad networks showcase a variety of products in a single ad spot
or widget. CPMs for these types of ads can be quite good, particularly
on blog topics that relate to the products where the ads are extremely
well targeted. Well known companies in this space include Shopzilla
(, Widgetbucks (, and
Chitika (
… And many more options!
As you’ve no doubt noticed there are a lot of options for selling ads online
and it’s a bit of a maze figuring out what’s going to work. As mentioned
previously the best approach to take is to experiment and research as many
as you can. Blogs for bloggers such as Problogger (
are a great source of reports and reviews from other bloggers about different
services and can help work out what is going to work for a particular site in
a particular niche.

affiliate sales
Affiliate programs allow bloggers and marketers to refer people to buy a
product and in exchange receive a percentage cut of the sale (if it takes
place). Affiliate, or referral programs, as they are sometimes called, are
usually open to anyone though sometimes they require an application. They
typically pay anywhere from 5–50% and can be lucrative if used well.
Many companies operate affiliate programs online and you can check
directly with companies in your niche either by searching their website
or simply by contacting them. There are also more general affiliate
marketplaces and sites like Amazon that can be applicable to virtually
any niche.

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When you sign up to an affiliate program you are usually given an affiliate
code and special affiliate links for products. When you use those affiliate
links in place of a plain uncoded link, a small tracking code, called a cookie,
is placed on the user’s computer. If they then go on to make a purchase,
the sale is associated with your account and you receive a cut. The cookies
have an expiration date on them, and if the user has already visited the
product site of their own volition or through another affiliate link prior to
clicking your link, then the referral usually won’t count.
Most affiliate systems have specific terms of use that you should read and
follow. Typically the terms prohibit certain uses including spam emails and
practices like registering domain misspellings of the product and using URL
forwards. In other words, you should only be sending referrals in a sensible,
honest way!
Most affiliate programs are what’s known as single-tier, meaning that
you refer someone and then you receive a commission. Multi-tier affiliate
programs take into account users that you refer who go on to become
affiliates themselves and refer a second tier of customers. Multi-tier
programs usually pay a lower percentage but offer the additional benefit of
a greater number of commissions and the potential of bagging a first-tier
referral who goes on to become a big affiliate.
If you are referring customers to purchase a subscription service, you should
also check if the commission percentage is paid on the first month or on all
months. Programs paying ongoing commissions can start small but really
build up into a steady and reliable income stream.

How to Use Affiliate Programs
Using an affiliate program can take many forms. The simplest is to grab the
affiliate link and a banner ad and place the banner on your site much like
an advertisement. In fact, if you are having trouble selling your ad spots
this can be a good interim measure to fill the space. While this can prove
effective, it is generally not the best way to create affiliate income.
A second method for using affiliate links is simply to replace any link to
a product with an appropriate affiliate link. For example, if you happen

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Monetization tips
to mention a book in passing, you could link up that book to its Amazon
sales page, complete with your Amazon affiliate code and anyone following
the link would potentially earn you some cash. This can be a much more
effective method of earning affiliate cash as it’s far more transparent and
relies on readers clicking links they are interested in. It’s particularly effective
on product-oriented sites such as a blog about iPods where users are not
only interested in the products but likely to make purchases.
By far the most effective way to earn affiliate income, however, is through
personal recommendation. For example, a blog post about a new service
where you test out the product, point out its merits and failings, and
substitute in affiliate links is likely to be the most effective way of sending
traffic that converts. This is of course mostly the case when the product or
service is good and you truly endorse it.
Recommendation relies largely on your reputation and objectivity. If readers
feel your recommendation holds weight, they are likely to convert based
on your opinion. This can have great effects in income but is a doubleedged sword as you are effectively staking your reputation on every
recommendation you make.
Building up a strong reputation can take a while, but once achieved
effectively makes you both an expert and a celebrity, at least amongst your
readership. Just as ad companies have long used celebrities to endorse
their products, you too can lend your personal weight and receive financial
benefits for doing so.

Affiliate Marketing Sites
Some important sites for affiliate marketers are:
1. Amazon Associates (
Amazon’s affiliate program is important because it’s not only open to
anyone with an Amazon account, but its enormous range of products
makes it applicable to virtually every niche. Users clicking on an Amazon
link have 24 hours to make a purchase for it to count towards your
account. One important fact to note, however, is that the purchase they
make need not be from the product or page you referred them to. This

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makes the Amazon Associates program quite powerful as users you
refer to a $10 book may end up buying a $500 television.
2. CommissionJunction (
CommissionJunction is a marketplace for affiliate programs. Signing up
to a single CJ account gets you access to browse through thousands
of affiliate programs from a very wide range of companies. If you are
unsure what types of products you could sell from your blog, then it’s
worthwhile signing up and taking a look through.
3. AzoogleAds (
AzoogleAds is a CPA-based ad network that is a sort of cross between
advertising and affiliate marketing in that users only convert on taking a
specific action, which is in essence what affiliate programs also measure
on. They are quite large and are a valuable service to check out if you
are looking at affiliate marketing.
4. ClickBank (
ClickBank is a huge digital retailer offering mostly e-books. Bloggers can
search their database of products to find a book they are comfortable
promoting and then grab the referral code to begin marketing.
In addition to these sites, many retailers and sites will offer their own direct
affiliate programs. So make sure you check out products and services
related to your niche, to see if they have a link anywhere on their site for
affiliates. Even if one isn’t evident, you can try contacting the company to
see if they have a quiet affiliate program you can join.

Premium Content
If something is popular when it’s free, you can almost always count on
a certain small percentage of people to be willing to pay for extra. In
software this model is called “freemium”, because the majority of users
sign up for a free subscription or free trial, and then a small percentage –
often on the order of 0.5% to 2% – will upgrade to pay for extra
premium features.

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In the case of free content, if your audience is large enough and the interest
is high then there will sometimes be a market for extra higher quality and
related content for a premium fee. This can be done even with news-type
content, the most famous example being the Wall Street Journal (http://, which has a paid subscription model.
But premium content works at its best on sites where there is some sort of
learning involved. People looking for knowledge are often willing to pay for
it, particularly if it’s specialized, hard to find otherwise, and being taught by
an expert!
One approach to premium content is to sell e-books, however we’ll
cover this particular instance in the next section on products for sale. For
now, we’ll look at subscription-based systems that give the user access to
extra content for a recurring monthly or yearly fee. If your blog is providing
the free content, then this paid content effectively means that this is a
“freemium” system.

Types of Premium Content
In a premium content model you should be selling access to some sort of
content that is related to the regular blog. This is a logical connection and
ensures that your audience is going to convert as smoothly as possible.
You can offer all sorts of content behind the paid wall including video, audio,
text, or even related downloads of tools and resources.
For example, a site about self improvement could have a premium
section that offers extra video interviews with self improvement gurus, a
downloadable calendar for planning improvement strategies, and some
meditation music tracks.
You can also package in services into a premium content model. For
example, one-on-one mentoring, group webinars, moderated forums, or
personalized email help with the content.
Another strategy you can take with premium content is to have a progressive
unveiling system. So when the user signs up, they initially get access to a
certain amount of extra content and then this gradually increases over time.

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This might work in the form of a course that gets harder and more advanced
as you go along, or simply as a “coming soon” sort of promissory system
to keep users hooked. Either way, the most important thing is to deliver
on the promise and fulfill your obligations to users. So if you are using a
progressive unveiling system as a means to produce content as you go, be
careful that you don’t promise more than you can create.
Essentially your premium content section is a product you are selling, so you
should research and plan it as such. Work out how you can add as much
value as possible for your readers. The more value you can add, the more
likely the subscriptions will sell.

Premium Content Considerations
Like any business model, the freemium business has its own unique
strategies and issues that you should be thinking about. You can read about
a real life case study of a blog creating a premium content model to great
effect at the end of this book.
Here are a few key considerations:
1. Choosing Price Points
Pricing is one of the most challenging aspects of any business. You
should consider what similar products are selling for, whether you are
going for volume or only a small number of very high paying customers,
and how you want the product to be perceived. There is no magic
formula for selecting a price and you should pay close attention to how
the price is received and look at testing out tweaks through promotions
and discounts.
2. Sales Funnels
An important consideration when selling any sort of product is to
consider how you bring users from casual readers into converted
premium members. You should be looking at the process as a funnel
that takes all your visitors: some become readers, then some show
interest in the product by perhaps reading the sales page, then some
initiate the process of signing up, and finally some users actually go
through and become members.

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If you are using Google Analytics
you can set up the Goals function to
track how visitors fare in converting
by setting Goal points on key
pages like the sales page, signup,
payment, and completion. You can
then use this information to analyze
how people drop off during the
process and what you can do to
improve conversion rates.

Whenever you add
products or subscription
programs you will
inevitably need to deal with
support. On a small scale
you might be able to get
away with email, but for
serious support check out
these apps:
TenderApp –

9. Money Back Guarantees
Money back guarantees and
Kayako eSupport
information on how users can
unsubscribe easily are important
when creating subscription
programs. People are naturally
wary of committing to a long-term
contract or obligation that forces them to keep paying when they want
to get out. Offering a full refund policy in the first month can dramatically
improve your conversion rates and, provided you genuinely have a good
product, often doesn’t result in a lot of refunds.
12. Affiliate Programs
As described earlier, an affiliate program lets other bloggers and
marketers help you sell your product. Creating an affiliate program
with a reasonable commission plan can help you market the premium
content system beyond your own blog’s readership.
If you create an affiliate program, be sure to let other bloggers know about
it when you are launching the premium content product. Launch dates are
the ideal time for other bloggers looking to generate revenue from affiliate
marketing through interviews, reviews, or simply news posts.

The Mechanics of Creating Premium Content
While getting a blog up and running is pretty easy thanks to WordPress and
its like, creating a premium content subscription membership is a bit trickier

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and if you aren’t tech savvy you will probably want to hire a web developer.
There are some off-the-shelf systems that you might be able to manage
even without much web knowledge, but it certainly doesn’t qualify as a walk
in the park!
Here are some ways you can build a membership system to house your
premium content:
1. aMember Membership Software
aMember is an off-the-shelf product that is relatively easy to use and
quite popular for producing membership applications. It’s quite stable
and has extra plugins to make it work with WordPress and other CMS
products; that way the premium content can be handled in exactly the
same way as you create normal content. Note, however, that if you are
hosting downloadable files then you will need to protect them somehow
as otherwise users can simply copy the URL of the file and distribute it
outside your system.
It also has a suite of payment system plugins to work with PayPal,, and other payment processors. The software costs a
couple hundred dollars and the support team from aMember can install
it and help you get set up. Unfortunately, they aren’t native English
speakers and the documentation and support responses reflect this.
aMember has some handy features right out of the box including the
ability to send emails to members and paying members separately, to
run an affiliate program, to create voucher codes and to run multiple
different subscriptions and memberships.
2. WordPress Membership Plugins
There are some premium WordPress membership plugins cropping up
recently including Wishlist Member (http://member.wishlistproducts.
com), MemberWing (, and WP-Member
( that you can use to turn WordPress’s regular
user system into a membership system.
3. Custom System with Third-Party Subscription Management Tools
If you want complete control and customization, then you can contract
a web developer to build a system from scratch to house your premium

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content. This can often result in the most seamless implementations, but
it’s neither cheap nor fast.
One cost- and time-saving idea is to use a third-party subscription
management tool to handle the payments side of the app. This is quite
specialized work and often represents the most significant development
cost. The other advantage to using a third-party tool is that they usually
come packaged with lots of clever reporting features that you will
grow into.
Some famous subscription management tools include Chargify (http://, CheddarGetter (, and Zuora

selling Products
The great thing about blogging is that in building a successful blog brand,
you will have created a very effective vehicle to sell related products. Earlier
in this book when we discussed branding we looked at how TechCrunch has
used its brand to extend out into a multitude of products and services. It’s
so effective because readers and fans see products coming from your blog
as bearing the same mark of quality and standard.

Types of Products
If you can think of a product that is somehow related to your blog, then you
can probably sell it online! Here are a few typical product types that blogs
choose to distribute:
1. Books
Blogs have proven very effective launching pads for books, including
the New York Times best-selling 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
( When you build an audience who enjoys
your writing and subject matter and has grown to trust your opinions,
then a book on the same or a closely related subject is a very good
bet for success. From LifeHacker ( to ZenHabits

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(, HuffingtonPost ( to
FreelanceSwitch (, you’ll find books and ebooks to be a staple product for generating revenue from blogs.
You can either approach a publisher with an idea, showing how it ties
in to your ready-made audience, or you can simply go it alone using
the tools listed below to produce and sell your book online and in
printed form.
2. Reports, Guides and Short E-books
Related to books are other forms of written products including reports,
guides, surveys, and other short e-books. For example, a blog about
stocks might produce a short guide each year to its stock picks for the
year. Or a blog for professional writers might run a survey of how writers
earn their money and sell the survey results.
3. Merchandise
Merchandise can range from simple T-shirts and branded paraphernalia
through to special custom products. In my experience, merchandise is
not a big seller for most blogs unless they are doing something unusual.
Certainly simply putting your logo on a CafePress (http://cafepress.
com) T-shirt is no guarantee of big earnings. Some blogs do produce
highly customized products to great effect however, so it can be
done. A good example of a blog doing this is CuteOverload (http://, which puts together an annual calendar of cuteness
to add to their regular advertising income.
4. Digital Goods
Digital goods are products that are purely in digital form. Examples
include music tracks, e-books, videos, stock creative goods, sheet
music, documents such as legal kits, and software. These sorts of
products suit blogs for the simple reason that they involve no physical
delivery or warehousing and can be duplicated (and sold) over and
over again.
Although these four categories represent the most common types
of products sold in association with blogs, they certainly aren’t the
full gamut.

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One great example of a blog that has gone really far with selling
products is the blog/e-newsletter for photography enthusiasts,
PhotoJojo ( In their digital store, Photojojo sells
everything from frames and stickers through special camera lenses and
cameras! The products really are quite spectacular and you can see
them at

Resources for Selling Products
There are numerous resources online to make selling products easier, some
useful sites are:
1. PayPal (
Although it’s mostly a payment mechanism, PayPal can be useful if
you want to take a low volume, low-fi approach to selling. Setting up a
PayPal account to receive money is simple and you can receive emails
when a payment is made, after which you can deliver either physically or
via email whatever it is that has just been sold. This approach takes next
to no investment and though it won’t get you far in the long term, it can
be a quick way to get started selling.
2. Lulu (
Lulu allows anyone to sell printed books using a print-on-demand
service that is of a decent quality. Lulu’s product range includes not just
regular books, but photo books, calendars, DVDs, and a variety of other
goods. Your customers simply order through Lulu, make their payments,
and receive the items – with no work whatsoever on your part!
If you are selling books via Lulu you can also have them distributed
through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other major retailers using the
Lulu distribution network.
3. E-Junkie (
E-Junkie is a simple service that works on a subscription basis and
handles the sale of digital goods. You simply create an account with a
payment service such as PayPal, give e-Junkie the details, and upload
your products. Payments go straight into your account and products are
delivered to the purchaser. E-junkie makes its money from your monthly
subscription. Other services similar to E-junkie include the unfortunately

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named Payloadz ( and Tradebit (http://
4. CafePress/Zazzle ( and
Several print-on-demand services exist for merchandise and they can
put your logo, phrases, or other imagery on almost anything you might
think of including badges, clothing, calendars, posters, and more.
These are extremely easy to set up but generally the products aren’t
spectacular quality and unless you are doing something very impressive,
sales probably won’t be high.

ad services
A popular way to monetize blogs in recent years has been by creating job
boards. They work well because job boards open up a site to a whole new
type of advertiser (companies looking for new staff), don’t use up any of the
existing ad real estate, and are perceived as a value-added feature by users.
Similar advertising services that you might consider are a classifieds board
or a resource directory. Each service suits a different type of blog. For
example, classifieds would probably work well for a highly localized blog
or for a blog catering to a particular niche hobby where people would be
interested in trading their collectables. Similarly, job boards work for blogs
that have particular user groups suitable for finding candidates. Examples
might include tech, business, and creative blogs.
Directories work in niches where there are many small companies looking
for a way to connect to an audience of potential buyers. For example a
site catering to web developers might work well to host a directory of web
hosting solutions. There are many hosting companies vying for contracts
so many of them might be willing to pay a small fee to list in a directory that
can generate traffic.
Note that you can also marry directories with affiliate marketing to host a
directory of products that you have affiliate links for, thus generating revenue
off any leads that are sent through.

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Monetization tips

Building Ad Services
Advertising services can require custom builds if you have specific features
you are looking for. As usual you will need to find a developer and consult
with them on how to best go about creating the app.
There are also many off-the-shelf products and services you can use to
quickly get up and running. Some useful sites include:
1. Jobamatic (
Jobamatic is a service from SimplyHired that allows anyone to set up a
job board for free. If you don’t have many jobs on your board, Jobamatic
can pipe some extras in from their massive database. The service makes
its money by taking a cut of some of the revenue made from job listings.
The service powers job boards on blogs like GigaOm and Venturebeat.
2. PersonForce (
PersonForce is another service for creating job boards where it’s free
to set up, but the company takes a cut out of job ads sold on your
behalf. The service powers job boards on blogs like TechCrunch
and Venturebeat.
3. WordPress Themes for Job Boards, Classifieds and Directories
Another option is to set up a WordPress installation to power a job
board. This is essentially repurposing WordPress’s content management
system. There are several themes around that can achieve a decent
result including JobPress ( and Templatic’s Job Board (
Similarly ClassiPress ( turns WordPress into
a classifieds listing and DirectoryPress (
turns the site into a link directory.
4. WordPress Job Board Plugin (
Using WPJobBoard, you can add a job board to an existing WordPress
blog without too much hassle at all. It’s a plugin so you don’t need to
set up a separate installation to theme as you do if you use the themes
mentioned above.

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5. Oodle Marketplace for Classifieds (
Oodle is a popular classifieds service that offers publishers a way to
create a branded classifieds system they can add to their own site. It
works on a revenue-sharing model.
6. Open Source Job Boards ( and http://
Thanks to the magic of open source, you can also use two free
codebases for building job boards from Joobsbox and Jobberbase.
Joobsbox even has themes and plugins available for it to help you
customize it to your needs.

Getting an Ad Service Going
Advertising services can seem like licenses to print money; after all you
can virtually sell a never-ending supply of ads for an almost arbitrary amount
of money. However, there is a catch: they are notoriously hard to get going.
Advertisers will generally only advertise if there is a large number of users
using the service, and users will only use the service if there is a large
number of advertisers in the service. So it’s a bit of a catch-22 situation.
Once you build up a reputation with both advertisers and users, then these
can be fantastic earners. For example, a job board that is famous in a
particular niche as the place to find jobs, can attract anywhere from $50 to
$300 per job listing with dozens of listings a month.
Some strategies for getting a service going are to:
1. Offer Cross Promotion of Advertisers on the Blog
Since you have a blog with an audience that these advertisers want to
reach, you can offer weekly or monthly posts that feature advertisers
from the service. Example post headlines are “This week on the job
board” or “Best services from the directory.” If done well they can help
get the ad service going while still producing a post that users will, if not
find useful, at least not find too annoying.

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Monetization tips
2. Offer Limited Free Advertising
Getting advertisers when you are charging for listings is difficult, but
finding them when the service is free is pretty easy. Consider running
the service for free for the first six months until it gets a reputation and
then switch over to the paid model. You’ll have some chafing from
advertisers, but hopefully if you made it clear that the free period would
not last forever, then it shouldn’t be too bad.
3. Advertise the Service Yourself
Like any product you are selling, ad services can benefit from a bit of
promotion. Create some adverts to appeal to job posters, companies
that would list in the directory, or people who’d list in the classifieds,
and pay to advertise in places those people might visit. It might not be
cheap, but it can buy some momentum for your service.
4. Create an Affiliate Program
Affiliate programs tend to work best if the service is already working
well, so these might not get much momentum early on, but they might
be worth investigating, especially if the ad service software you are
using offers an affiliate module that you can switch on easily.
5. Try to Find Ways to Seed the Service
Ultimately your task in launching an ad service is to seed the service to
make it useful. Discount listings, special offers, promotion on the blog,
networking with advertisers, and anything else you can do to get some
content on there is worth pursuing.

selling Your expertise
A successful blog generates clout with its readers as they come to know
and trust your site’s voice and opinions. If the site is particularly successful,
this reputation can extend out to become industry-known, so that you and
your staff come to be seen as experts in the field.
A reputation for expertise can be traded on to sell a variety of services.
While this is usually done by a single blogger, it can be used by a company
of consultants as well. A great example is SEOMoz (,

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a company that specialize in search optimization services. For a long
time their blog was one of the main draws to sell consultative services,
establishing them as trusted experts in the SEO niche. Their SEO
consulting services, which were priced at up to $1,000 an hour, were
then handled by a team of SEO experts who in many cases were the
same people who write for the blog. Today SEOMoz has moved on from
consultative services into selling a web app package, which we’ll discuss in
the next section.
Some of the ways you can monetize a reputation for expertise include:
1. Consultative Services
For blogs that dispense advice of one sort or another, establishing a
consultative service to give more personalized assistance can work
really well. One of the ways people choose a service provider is to
look for signs that they are an expert in their field. Seeing a blog giving
advice on the subject to thousands of readers is a clear sign that you
and your team know what you are talking about.
2. Selling Related Services
In a similar vein to selling consulting services, blogs with expertise in
one subject can sell services in a related area. For example, a web
design blog could set up a web-hosting service banking on their
reputation for understanding the needs of web designers, expertise with
the web, and clout as a trusted blog in the niche.
In selling related services you need to look for services that are useful to
your readership. So understanding what audience group is reading the
blog and what their needs are is essential.
3. Speaking Engagements
Being an industry expert presents some unusual ways to make money,
one of which is to sell face time in the form of speaking engagements.
Generally speaking, however, this doesn’t really scale beyond a single,
well-known blogger.
4. Training Seminars
A better version of speaking engagements is to conduct training
seminars on topics from your blog. This strategy is much more scalable

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Monetization tips
as the trainer isn’t banking on their own reputation as much as the
overall blog and company brand.
Training seminars can be conducted either entirely online as webinars,
or in physical locations if you can coordinate enough people in a given
place. Seminars can be quite lucrative, particularly if you are in a
specialized niche where people are prepared to pay well to learn
from experts.
Training seminars can also be expanded to have trainers and speakers
from other blogs and companies in the same area. This positions your
brand as a leader in expertise, networks your company with other key
influencers, and leverages the marketing and promotional abilities of the
speakers you bring in.
5. Paid Reviews
Offering a service where you charge to review products can leave a
bit of a bad taste, so approach this option with caution. Services like
ReviewMe ( and PayPerPost (http://payperpost.
com) made the idea of paid posts popular for a time as they were seen
to be an easy way to quickly monetize blogs. The services are still
around, though most big name sites steer clear of the practice as it can
give your readers the impression that you are a corporate shill.
If you take the paid review route, make sure you are up-front about
the service, possibly with a disclaimer in the review. You should also
always take the reviews seriously and put together objective reviews.
One approach that might work is to conduct reviews on a regular basis
regardless of whether you have a paying customer, and then treat the
payments as a priority fee to have their review put to the front of the
queue. Rephrasing the paid review concept might help take some of the
sting out.

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Creating and selling
web apps
Selling Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has become extremely popular
in recent years. The idea of a hosted web app that customers pay a
subscription to access and use is a great business model because it makes
life easy for the customers. There’s no upgrading, there’s no installation
and they can usually increase or decrease their commitment over time by
changing plans to more featured and expensive plans.
The original SaaS provider, SalesForce (, is now a
billion-dollar listed company on the NYSE. But the great thing about the
model is that it extends to much smaller outfits and apps, which is where
your blog can come in.
A good example of a blog using this model comes again from SEOMoz, the
site mentioned earlier for selling expert consulting services for up to $1,000
an hour. As a way to build links to their site (one of the primary SEO tactics
that they specialize in), the company decided to build some clever tools that
users could access via the web. Examples included a tool to check a site’s
ranking for certain keywords or give an analysis of a site’s optimization for
search engines.
As the portfolio of web tools grew, SEOMoz decided to wrap the tools up
into a subscription bundle offered to readers for a relatively low monthly
fee. As customers have increased, the company has continued releasing
more web apps and tools into the package to make it more value-packed.
Eventually the web app side of their business was so successful that
SEOMoz shut down the consultative services division and now focuses
purely on providing apps.
Another company using a blog to promote web apps is the very famous
SaaS company 37Signals ( Their products include
project management tool Basecamp and customer relationship management
tool Highrise. They cater to small-to-medium businesses looking for simple
tools online. The 37Signals blog is called Signal vs. Noise (http://37signals.

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Monetization tips
com/svn) and has over 100,000 subscribers. The blog runs a single ad spot
and is primarily a marketing vehicle for the web apps the company makes.
Whether you create a blog and then later come up with a web app to
service those readers, or have a web app that you promote with a blog, the
end result is effectively the same. In both cases, the blog is essentially the
marketing and reputation building machine for the business, where revenue
is generated by the app.

other strategies
Some other strategies for monetization include:
1. Running Events
Previously, we discussed running training seminars and how you can
trade on expertise to create industry-known and recognized events.
Another type of event that you can run is a conference.
Due to their scale, conferences are a lot harder to organize. You will
need a fairly big brand and reach, a lot of cashflow to pay for all the big
up-front expenses, as well as experience in planning and putting on
large-scale events.
Between corporate sponsorship and ticket prices, conferences can
pay off. A number of big blogs put on annual conferences including
Carsonified’s Future of the Web series (,
AListApart’s EventApart conferences (, and
TechCrunch’s TechCrunch50 (
2. Getting Complete Sponsorship
Previously we looked at attracting advertisers, however a different
sponsorship route is to get a company to truly sponsor a blog. This can
sometimes mean effectively locking out all other types of advertisers,
and often even renaming the site.
3. Asking for Donations
Some blogs with great audience reputation have a practice of asking
for donations from their readership. Theoretically this is possible on a

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large scale, as proved by Wikipedia,
but in reality it’s one of the worst
monetization routes, and if you can
pull it off, you could probably pull
off many of the other strategies far
more effectively. This is a strategy
you should only employ if you have
ethical reasons for shunning other
monetization routes.

iterating and
The important thing to keep in mind
when searching for a way to generate
revenues is to find a strategy that works
with your particular blog, readership,
and niche.
Often you will find a blend of strategies
work. If you visit many of the top blogs
you will notice they are pursuing a
number of strategies, for example
LifeHacker (
sells books and guides while also
taking advertising money. Problogger
( uses speaking
engagements, a book, advertising,
and affiliate revenue to great effect.
The small but well-known design site
DesignisKinky (
hosts annual events, publishes a periodic
magazine, and sells merchandise.

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Make Money
Looking for more
information about making
money? Check out
these sites:
1. Problogger’s “Make
Money Blogging”
page (http://www.
This great roundup
from Problogger goes
over some of the key
ways his sites earn their
money, including links
and mini reviews of
different services.
2. Entrepreneur’s Journey
If you’re interested
in affiliate marketing,
then be sure to check
out this site run by
entrepreneur Yaro
Starak, which discusses
a variety of ways you
can make money
blogging, in particular
through affiliate
3. Teaching Sells (http://
This course on how to
build membership sites
to house educational
content is very well
put together and full of
useful content to get
you going.

Monetization tips
Moreover, you should not necessarily expect to hit on the optimum
combination of strategies immediately. Unless you have prior experience
or a very strong instinct, you should aim to experiment and iterate your
strategy, refining as you go. Sometimes certain plans will only really work
once you have achieved a certain momentum. Or they only work for blogs
in particular niches. Other times you will find that a blog in your niche has
already worked a particular strategy into the ground, leaving little room for a
new entrant.
If you expect monetization to be hard and take time, then you will be
prepared for the worst: a long period of losses. Sustaining losses on the
path to profitability is to be expected for any business. If you are ready for
them then you will be positioned to take advantage of any good fortune that
brings you to profitability earlier.

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long terM
So you’ve built a great blog, attracted an audience, created a
revenue stream, and successfully created a blogging business.
What next?
In this chapter we’ll discuss long-term strategies and approaches
to take for your blog. Even if you have barely started, it’s not a bad
idea to begin thinking about these issues so that you can slowly
nudge your business in the right direction.
Whether your aim is to cash out through a sale, expand from one
blog to many, grow other businesses off the back of the blog, or
simply run a successful blog operation, one thing is for sure: having
a strategy makes a big difference in ensuring you end up at the
right destination.

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Building a long term
Creating a business that stands the test of time is a worthy pursuit. If you
enjoy managing and operating a great blog, then you should invest time and
effort into making sure your site continues on for the long term.
Because blogging is such a new phenomenon, there isn’t much
experience in long-term blogging. Nonetheless, here are some important
1. Be Adaptable
In a fast-paced environment like the internet, the most important thing
is not to be able to predict the future, but rather to be able to adapt to
it when it happens. Every year brings new innovations in how blogs are
funded, how they are designed and built, how they are promoted, and
a myriad other changes that sometimes develop into either long-term
trends, or simply passing fads.
As a long-term blog owner, it’s important to be thinking about where
the market is going and to stay on top of trends. Don’t be afraid to
experiment with new ideas and adapt your blog to them.
2. Invest in the Future
If you are taking a long-term approach to blogging, then it’s important
to invest in the future. Build a great team of people, invest in products
that can keep delivering revenue in the long term, and look at creating
partnerships with other companies in the niche.
3. Consider Diversification
If you want to survive in the long term, then you should think about
hedging your bets. This means looking out for opportunities to diversify.
For example, adding new content types such as screencasts, expanding
your topic area in case the broad niche declines in popularity, publishing
content through new mediums, and so on. In essence, you want to
ensure you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.

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long term strategies

From one Blog to Many
Once you’ve come to grips with building a profitable and popular
blog, chances are you’ll be able to replicate that success. In fact, many of
the most popular blogs are now small networks of blogs in one form
or another.

The Benefits of Operating Multiple Blogs
As the operator of a successful blog, you will have a variety of advantages in
starting successive sites:
1. The Ability to Seed New Sites Quickly
When you start your first blog it’s very difficult to find those early
readers. Successive blogs however, can be seeded with readers from
the first site. All this takes is a blog post or two on the original popular
blog to let readers know about the new site. Readers who enjoy your
first site are likely to migrate over, helping to get the new site off the
ground. More tips on launching with multiple blogs can be found in
Chapter 6 on generating traffic.
2. Reputation and Weight with Advertisers
Multiple blogs bring advantages in dealing with advertisers. For
example, you can organize discounts on multi-site advertising, leverage
your existing site’s reputation to sell ads on new sites, and provide free
trials for new sites to existing advertisers.
3. Extending an Existing Business
By creating new blogs under the same business umbrella, you stand
to gain through economies of scale associated with things like your
accounting, management, development, and design. Instead of starting
all these things from scratch, you can port over entirely or partly from
your current sites. You’ll also have the experience and relationships to
carry through your hard-won lessons to the new sites, and get them
going much faster.

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4. Cross-Pollination
Because blogs naturally attract their own audiences, combining multiple
blogs can help expose one blog to another blog’s unique audience.
In many ways this is an extension of the idea of seeding a new blog’s
audience. Cross-pollination can be done through posts about the other
sites, a blog network badge or drop-down that lists all the sites in the
network, or by cross-posting between sites.
Of all these techniques, on-target cross-posting is the most effective.
It involves selecting a post on one blog that would be of interest to the
audience from another blog, then posting an extract on the second
blog with a link for users interested in reading the rest. Cross-posting
relies on being able to find a natural overlap between two sites, and if
it’s on-target, it can be extremely effective because it puts the second
blog right in front of the audience. More tips on cross-pollinating can be
found in Chapter 6 on generating traffic.

Horizontal vs Vertical Networks
There are two options for extending your blog out to become a network of
blogs. Horizontal networks are groups of blogs in different topic areas, while
vertical networks are clusters of blogs around the same related topic area.
The Business Insider network ( is a good
example of a vertical network. They have systematically added new blogs
covering different types of business news from tech business to listed
company news. On the other hand, Gawker Media ( is an
example of a horizontal network, where the blogs range in topic area from
New York gossip to Sports to Tech. They aim to be a publishing group that
uses its blog expertise to hit many different demographics.
Creating vertical networks holds more advantages than creating horizontal
networks. While horizontal networks create some benefits, verticals
deliver those benefits and more, including much greater audience sharing,
existing reputation and knowledge of a niche, and better propositioning
for advertisers.

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long term strategies
Other examples of vertical networks include the TechCrunch (http:// family of blogs, the Tuts+ network of educational blogs
(, and the GigaOm group ( Other
examples of horizontal networks include b5Media ( and
SplashPress (

How to Launch and Manage Multiple Blogs
Here are some tips on launching and managing multiple blogs:
Blog Management Systems
While you can simply run multiple installations of a blog platform such as
WordPress, a better solution is to use a system that supports multiple blogs.
The upcoming WordPress 3.0 will offer this support, as does WordPress
Multiuser, Expression Engine, and MovableType. Of course, a custom blog
management system would theoretically also work!
Replicating a Concept
If you hit on a successful formula for a blog, it can often work well to
duplicate the same formula into different topic areas. This can mean
duplicating everything from staff structures to design, as well as generally
sub-branding a single overarching a brand. By creating a successful formula
and then duplicating it out over and over again, you have the benefit of
building on a successful system and with each successive blog you build
the brand to become bigger and stronger.
Moving Between Sites
As mentioned above, it’s good to think about how your sites will crosspollinate each other. One important aspect of this is how users switch
between sites. This might be through a list of the available sites in your
sidebar, a network drop-down menu ,or a tabbed structure. The more
prominent and clear it is that they are multiple sites that are part of a single
network, the more likely you’ll get cross-overs.
Deciding When to Grow
An important decision in building new blogs is deciding when it is a good
time to grow. If you have a large store of capital, this decision is much more
flexible. However, if you are bootstrapping, it’s important not to overextend

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yourself. Therefore it’s a good idea to make the first site profitable first, and
then use the revenues to build successive sites. This ensures the business
and sites remain sustainable.
Managing Larger Teams
The bigger your organization gets, the more management you will need. As
your staff grows, things like manuals and style guides will become vital. Also
important is having a structure to manage the various site editors and in turn
their writers. This can involve large amounts of writer invoices to process,
password management, and a variety of other issues. All of these are good
reasons not to expand too quickly. By growing one site at a time, you can
grow the capacity of your administration system at the same pace, without
extending your costs beyond your income.

Building Networks with Other Bloggers
Some bloggers begin networks with other bloggers in order to share
audiences, build credibility with advertisers, build brand, and sometimes
share content. Creating a network in conjunction with other bloggers
can be successful in meeting these goals. An example of a popular blog
network is the Smashing Network started in 2009 by major web design blog
SmashingMagazine (
The Smashing Network offers members increased traffic from the
enormous amount of traffic that SmashingMagazine has. In return, posts
from member sites are listed in aggregated form on the SmashingMagazine
homepage. This in turn helps the site grow and offer content at an
exponential rate. In the future, the network could then also offer advertising
partnerships to its members, or leverage the group to promote its job board
and services.
Another example of a network collaboration between different bloggers
is the LifeRemix ( network started by Glen Stansberry
from LifeDev ( and Brett Kelly of Cranking Widgets
( This network includes the Top 100 site
ZenHabits (, as well as a number of other high profile
blogs. The network mostly exists to share traffic and to help bloggers use

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the power of their group to get book deals, find advertisers, and look for
monetization opportunities.
Creating a blog network with other bloggers relies on either having great
social contacts at other blogs as is the case with the LifeDev network, or
having a lot of weight in a niche as SmashingMagazine does.

using a Blog to Build
other Businesses
Blogging can be a good way to grow into other businesses. In Chapter 7 on
monetization, we discussed SEOMoz, the search optimization company that
first used their blog to sell consultative services and later made the leap to
selling a package of web apps. While the blog is still going, it’s fair to say
that the blog itself is just one part of the larger business.
SEOMoz is an example of how a blog can be used to build other
businesses. This is particularly the case for entrepreneurs with limited
experience or capital. In these cases, a blog can be an affordable way
to get started building up audiences and cashflow. Then as you develop
monetization methods like products and web apps, you can gradually make
the shift so that the emphasis of your business is the products, and the blog
becomes a marketing tool on steroids.
A blog can also make a great launch pad for a startup idea. In the case
of the very popular question and answer site StackOverflow (http://, the site was the product of two very popular coding
blogs: CodingHorror ( run by Jeff Atwood and the
now-defunct Joel Spolsky blog JoelonSoftware (http://www.joelonsoftware.
com). In many ways these two blogs provided the marketing capital
necessary to give StackOverflow a massive head-start that other startups
can only dream of.
The best approach to take in using a blog business to launch another
business, is to develop products and services related to the same audience

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that visits your blog. In both StackOverflow and SEOMoz’s case, the
audiences were a perfect fit for the businesses they were developing.
Consequently both new businesses took off and are businesses in their
own right, far beyond the blogs that helped start them.

Valuing and selling a Blog
In Chapter 7 we discussed a variety of monetization methods. There is,
of course, one final way that you can profit from starting and running a
blog, and that is to sell it! While this is more of an exit strategy than a
monetization method, it’s worth discussing for bloggers thinking about their
long-term plans.
Some considerations for selling a blog:

Make Sure Your Accounts are Up to Scratch
If a business has little in the way of accounts, or has missing
documentation, poor reporting or a variety of other bad accounting
practices, these are clear warning signal for buyers to stay away. They
can hide a multitude of sins and alter the calculations made to value a
business dramatically. If your plan is to sell your blog, it is even more
vital than ever to make sure you have complete and accurate financial
records for the business.

Keep it Separate From Other Businesses and Interests
Selling a business when it is intermingled with other interests is difficult.
If you can, keep your staff, assets, accounts, and business generally
separate from any other business concerns you might own. And of
course you should always keep your business separate from any
personal accounts and interests you may have.
In many ways, separation is related to the previous point as mixing
and mingling accounts and assets makes it difficult for buyers to see
the business you are selling as a single, clear entity. The more mixed
up things are, the easier it is for things to be hidden, and nobody likes
surprises, especially when money is involved!

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Build so it Can Operate Without You
If you plan to sell, you should be building a business that isn’t reliant on
you being there. The new owner is going to want to be able to pick up
where you leave off and keep the business intact, and not have its brand
equity drain away as soon as you leave the site. So plan ahead and
make sure that the site can be managed without you, and isn’t reliant on
your personal brand for viability.

Some Considerations for Valuing a Blog
It’s important to state that the price you sell a site for is incredibly variable,
and based on a number of a factors:

Who Approached Whom?
Selling a business is a negotiation, and like any negotiation, there are
many factors that determine who has the upper hand, which in turn
determines the final price. In particular, it makes a big difference how
you connect with potential buyers. If you put a site up for sale, unless
you receive many interested parties, you are going to have the lower
hand in any negotiation because buyers know that you want to sell, that
you might even have a time limit, and that if your site is on the market
for a long time, they might be able to buy it for less. Vice versa if a buyer
approaches you; come in with the upper hand and can play hard-to-get
to drive the price up.

How Much Value Will the Blog Bring the Buyer?
You can maximize your sale price if you can find a buyer who can
increase the value of the blog by mixing it with other businesses or
products they already own. So for example, when sold
to the Discovery Network in 2007 for $10 million, it no doubt achieved
a high premium because Discovery Network knew they could bring
new readers to the site from their network and vice versa, as well as to
increase the revenue of the blog by marrying Discovery advertisers with
the new acquisition.
Comparatively, if the site had sold to a buyer with no existing
investments or products in the same market, there would be no value

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added, and the sale price would be purely based on the other factors
listed below.

How Much Revenue is the Blog Generating?
Arguably one of the two most important factors in determining a price,
particularly for high-growth areas like the Internet, is revenue. Although
costs are a critical component of the equation, for larger sites buyers
will be assuming they know how to handle costs. So for example, an
experienced operator looking to purchase a blog may feel they can
leverage existing resources such as publishing and editing staff and
have a good idea of what such costs would be for a particular size
publication. In these cases, they will be much more interested in your
overall revenue because it is the main unknown factor in determining
whether the operation is viable.

How Much Does the Blog Cost to Operate?
The flip side of revenue is costs, and these certainly impact a sale,
particularly for smaller buyers looking to maintain the same operation
rather than merge it in with their existing businesses. In these cases,
your costs will largely determine how profitable the acquisition will be for
the buyer.

How Fast is the Blog Growing?
Perhaps the most important factor in pricing a business is its growth.
High growth can overshadow pretty much every other factor, holding the
promise of higher revenues in the future (if revenues are low), economies
of scale (if costs are high), cancelling out general market trends (if they
are negative and the blog is still growing), and generally showing a
potential that in turn drives the price up.
Growth is the reason behind high valuations for web services with small
revenues but large audiences, most famously Twitter. And it’s a good
reason to sell while things are on the up, even if it’s not exactly the right
moment according to your plans.

What is the State of Web and Advertising Markets?
It is always important to keep an eye on how the markets are faring
generally. In bad economic times when ad spending is falling, it’s natural

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that buyers will be less likely to pay a premium. Timing is important
when selling!

What are the Assets of the Business?
Finally when you sell, consider all the assets you are selling including
any intellectual property, content, physical assets, and code assets.
Everything contributes to the total worth of the business from brand
trademarks to the website’s design, special code you’ve had developed,
and the sheer volume of articles you might have.

While numerical valuations are useful for quickly quantifying what a site
might be worth, keep in mind that they are only guides. Ultimately a site
is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Still in terms of numerical
valuations, all sorts of equations are possible including:
1. 10-15x Monthly Revenue for Small Sites on Auctions
This rough pricing guide is often used on auction sites like Flippa (http:// The multiple is quite low, which is usual for smaller sites.
It’s also based on monthly revenue because revenue figures for blogs
change so quickly, and because it’s not uncommon to find sites for sale
that haven’t even existed for a year.
Using a revenue rate extrapolated out from recent weekly or monthly
figures is also sometimes called the run rate. It’s important when
negotiating to check that everyone is using the same revenue numbers
to calculate on.
2. Anywhere from 1-10x Annual Revenue
For high-growth sites, taking a huge multiple on annual revenue is not
unheard of. These valuations are very much based on projections of
growth and differ around industries.
Unless you have a business that is showing amazing viral growth, you
should probably assume the multiple will be down at the lower end.
3. Anywhere from 2-20x Operating Profit
Operating profit is your revenue minus your costs, but before deductions
like taxes are made. It’s also referred to as EBITDA, which stands for

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Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization, or EBIT,
or Operating Income.
If you are measuring value according to operating profits, then you
can expect the multiples to be much higher. In traditional business,
valuations are more likely to use operating profit because those
industries have a much longer track record and buyers know exactly
what to expect. For those types of businesses, you often hear about 35x profit valuations. Online there is much more speculation, growth, and
opportunity, meaning in turn that the potential multipliers can go
much higher.
Again, the reality is that a business is worth whatever someone is willing
to pay for it, and online buyers are often willing to pay more, particularly in
good economic times. Don’t expect to find any real hard and fast rules and
always negotiate hard.

Tech Target and Internet Brands
TechTarget ( and Internet Brands (http://www. are two large publicly traded companies in the web
publishing space. At times in 2009 they traded at:

Tech Target – Approx 1x revenue and 3.1x EBITDA
Internet Brands – Approx 2.7x revenue and 7.2x EBITDA

These are useful statistics to compare, though of course they are much
larger, and potentially very different businesses to a single blog that you
might be valuing!

How to Start Selling
There are a few different routes that you can take to sell a site:
1. Auction Sites for Smaller Businesses
One of the most common ways you hear about sites selling is on
services such as These services host auctions for sites and
businesses, and typically work well for small transactions (less than

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$100,000) as they are quick to list on and expose the sale to a large
number of buyers.
However, there is one very large drawback to this style of sale. In an
open auction the process is open to manipulation. For example, Flippa
runs a comments section where buyers can discuss the auction,
potentially pointing out problems and issues to try to keep the price
down. Additionally everyone knows what is (or isn’t) being bid for a
site, taking a lot of the negotiation out of the equation. Finally, putting a
site up for sale and having it not sell doesn’t really leave you in a good
bargaining position for future sales.
That said, I sold my first blog ( on an auction site and
the sale went quite well. At the time I knew little about valuing a blog,
and managed to achieve a premium of $10,000 for a site with just a
few hundred dollars of revenue. The sale price was really based on the
potential of the site. is the most well-known auction site, however eBay also
provides a place to sell under the category “Businesses and Websites
for Sale,” and you can also try sites like DigitalPoint (
and BuySellWebsite (
2. Listing a “For Sale” Notice
There are numerous sites where you can list a business for sale to
attract leads. Some listing sites include GlobalBX (,
BusinessesForSale (, and BizQuest
Alternatively, you can announce on your own blog that you’re looking at
selling and if anyone is interested, they can contact you for more details.
3. Getting a Business Broker
Business brokers are agents who help shop around a site. These
companies typically help find buyers, help set prices, and help with
the negotiation process. Of course, they also take a cut of the sale!
Ask your accountant about finding local business brokers who have
online experience.

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4. Shopping Privately for Buyers
Perhaps the most common way to find a buyer is to privately shop
around for buyers. This might simply be done through some strategic
emails sent out to companies you think might be interested to ask for
offers and interest.
5. Preparing Information for Prospective Buyers.
If you are planning on selling a blog, you should make sure you have a
set of information you’re ready to distribute when a prospective buyer
enquires. This can either be vague, in order to get interest for more
serious discussion, or for smaller sites, you may lay out all the cards
transparently from the get go. You might include information such as:
1. Traffic and specifics such as search traffic.
2. Revenue, costs, and profit.
3. Assets for sale.
4. Growth.
5. Detail of how the site could grow.
Spend some time looking through listings on sites like to see
what information sellers present, and decide how much detail you wish
to give.
6. Using Escrow Services
Whatever route you take in finding a buyer, it’s always important to
use an escrow service such as ( when
making the transfer. These services provide a trusted third party to make
sure the buyer receives the website and assets, and the seller receives
the money. The escrow fee is typically a percentage of the transaction
and can be shared between buyer and seller.

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Case studies
The following chapters are case studies from Envato, the startup I
cofounded in 2006. At Envato we have a mix of different businesses we
run, fueled in some part by my love of serial entrepreneurship! Initially blogs
were nowhere in our business plan, but over the years we’ve developed a
few different blog brands into traffic powerhouses, and it’s from these that I
wanted to share examples.
These case studies each aim to illustrate some aspect of creating a
successful blogging business using real-world stories and examples from
my own experience.
Wherever I could find accurate records, I’ve tried to include real-world
numbers for revenue and costs as well as traffic and growth so you can
see how things might go for a blogging business. I’ve added particular
detail to the FreelanceSwitch case study, as it was the first of our blogging
businesses and hence the most useful for new blog entrepreneurs to study.
I hope you find these case studies useful. The blogs themselves are all
online today, so you can go and check them out before you read through.
They are:

Case Study 1: FreelanceSwitch (

Case Study 2: Tuts+ (,,
and so on)

Case Study 3: AppStorm (, http://web., and so on)

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Case studY 1:
Our first case study looks at one of the earliest blogs I worked on
called FreelanceSwitch ( As the name
suggests, the blog publishes articles and advice on freelancing. Today
the site also includes a job board, resource directory, forums, and
directory of freelancers.
Launched in April 2007, the site was the first major blog dedicated to
freelancing. Within five weeks we had accumulated 7,000 RSS readers
and in the years since the site has grown to be a consistent performer
with a readership standing at over 50,000. It has helped legions of
freelancers with advice and support, it is completely profitable, and has
generated enough additional revenue to start the blogs featured in the
other two case studies in this book. And for me personally it was the
steepest learning curve on blogging.
In this case study we’ll look at how we landed on the blog topic,
how we monetized the site, how long it took to reach month-onmonth profitability, and what other lessons can be learned from the
FreelanceSwitch experience.

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch

hitting on a topic
Although FreelanceSwitch was the first major blog I worked on, it was not
in fact the first blog I created. About two months earlier I had started a blog
(that I later sold) called NorthxEast where I wrote about online business.
It was my very first blog and the place that I learned all those basics of
blogging, like how to use WordPress, what RSS was, and how to write posts
that people enjoyed.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this book, it’s a really good idea to get some
blogging experience before you get serious about investing in a blog
business. For me, NorthxEast was my proving ground, and as it turned out,
a lot more too.
A couple of months after starting NorthxEast and working ferociously hard
on it, I had accumulated about 300 RSS readers. It had one advertiser who
lasted only a month at $80, and some regular readers and commenters who
were largely the result of my constant networking on other blogs and sites.
In short, things were going relatively well for a newbie like me and I was
very happy!
Now, prior to working and blogging online,I had worked as a freelance
graphic and web designer for a couple of years. During that time I had
learned a lot about the ins and outs of freelancing and I decided to compile
some of those lessons into a long post called “A Comprehensive Guide
to Starting Your Freelance Career,” which you can still find online at:
The post took me a whole day to write, and looking back, wasn’t actually
particularly comprehensive at all! But it had a lot of insight gained from trial
and error, and it turned out to be really useful for people.
At that time, the site Problogger ( used to run periodic
“Speed Linking” posts where the author Darren Rowse would link to a few
worthy articles. I had sent in a few of mine in the past, and this particular
time Darren published a link to the freelance post.

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From that link the article made it to’s Popular bookmarks of
the day. Sadly this was enough to crash my server at the time, and I spent
half the day frantically trying to get it all working again. It was a lesson in how
important it is to have caching plugins set up on WordPress installations!
Since this was far and away the most successful post I had written on my
fledgling blog, it seemed patently obvious that the topic of freelancing was
much more popular than the rest of my posts. It happened that I also knew
more about freelancing than I did about my regular subject matter of online
business. This was no coincidence. I believe that knowing your subject
matter is extremely important if you want to produce good quality content
on that topic.
Deciding to strike while the iron was hot, I sat down that weekend and
designed and built a WordPress theme for a new site. I picked out a domain
that was memorable and catchy, and by the following Friday we launched
the site. While I’d never made a WordPress theme before, it’s important to
remember I was a web designer already with a fair bit of experience doing
things like registering domain names and designing and building sites. So
while not everyone may be able to launch a site in less than a week, it does
show that this is nowhere near as complex as say, opening a shop.
Before we started FreelanceSwitch, I can remember thinking that there were
no untapped niches left anymore and lamenting how I wished I’d gotten into
blogging years earlier when it was all wide open. When the opportunity to start
a blog on freelancing appeared, I suddenly had to rethink my earlier belief.
In fact, I no longer think my original worries about untapped niches are true
at all. There are always new niches to explore and new ways to approach
existing niches. In fact, the second case study in this book is about how
we approached a crowded niche, and the third is about how we lucked out
again and discovered another mostly untapped niche two years later.
Still, it remains that there was a lot of luck involved in finding such a great
topic, which I happened to know lots about, and which also didn’t seem to
have many blogs writing about.
But most of all, this sequence of events illustrates how important it is to jump
in and get your feet wet with blogging. Luck has a tendency of happening to

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch
the most persistent people. That is, for people who keep trying long enough
that pure odds dictate that sooner or later they hit on some success.
When I began NorthxEast I was pretty sure that writing about online
business would be a runaway hit. It turned out that it wasn’t at all,
particularly for me at the time, but instead something completely different
turned up.

Capitalizing on a
good idea
To say that FreelanceSwitch was a success purely because we chose the
right niche however, is to sell our early efforts short. In fact, once the site
got started, I discovered there were a couple of sites around who’d written
on the subject of freelancing, but they’d been patchy at best, and not
necessarily well-written or focused.
What worked at FreelanceSwitch was a combination of things:
1. We Started With a Really Great Brand
As a designer I am sorry to say that I have perpetrated some fairly
bad websites on the world in my time. But when it came to designing
FreelanceSwitch, the stars aligned and I managed to come up with
a very fresh-looking site that came across as both professional and
approachable. I found a funny-looking mascot at the site iStockPhoto
( that became the FreelanceSwitch guy,
and used a bright spacious look to make the content stand out and
feel inviting.
The design of the site won a lot of credibility for a site that was in fact
a total nobody. It made first-time visitors immediately assume that this
was a professional outfit, even though in fact it was just me and my
wife, Cyan, writing. In fact one of the early “writers” on the site “Jack
Knight” ( was just me under a
pseudonym attempting to make it look like we had a bigger writing staff
than we really did!

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2. We Seeded Our Readership from Existing Sites
Getting your first readers is really tough. When you are an absolute,
complete unknown entering the great big world of the internet it can feel
pretty daunting. When starting NorthxEast it took me months of hard
work to build up a readership of just 300 people. I posted twice a day, I
constantly networked with other bloggers to try to get them to link to me
and to build contacts and friends. I tried all sorts of early tactics to bring
readers, often resulting in just 2 or 3 click-throughs.
When it came to launching FreelanceSwitch though, I had the
NorthxEast base to work off! All of a sudden that hard work paid off
because I could use one site to get another started. This was done by
moving the original freelancing article over from NxE to the new site
using a 301 redirect (a type of redirect that preserves search traffic) and
a post telling my readers about the new site. Since I’d gained a good
dose of people interested in freelancing when I wrote that first big post,
there were plenty of people interested in the new site.
In fact, the links and redirect from NorthxEast helped get
FreelanceSwitch up to about 400 RSS readers in the first two days! This
again illustrates how important it is to get started early. The sooner you
begin, the sooner you can begin acquiring not just knowledge, but a
base of resources and readers to build on.
3. Writing Evergreen Articles
As we discussed in Chapter 5, not all content is equal. And while shortform blog posts are great for day-to-day reading, they generally don’t
bring traffic and bookmarks. For that you need longer, high-quality
articles that provide a wealth of information and value to readers. These
types of posts are pillars that you can build a blog on as they attract
readers, links and bookmarks.
The original post I’d written for NorthxEast was this type of content,
but we’d already used that article idea up. So I started coming up with
other big articles. At the time big “101…” lists were just starting to get
popular and I wrote “101 Essential Freelancing Resources” (http://,
which was actually a pretty simple list of services but was big enough,

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch
and well-chosen enough, that readers found it useful and it made its
way onto Digg’s homepage.
List style posts are great, but they certainly aren’t unique (even back
then) so we really needed some posts to give us a voice. For this I tried
my hand at humorous takes on freelancing under my pseudonym of Jack
Knight. First there was the “12 Breeds of Client and How to Work With
Them” ( for which I drew some crude cartoon illustrations and
then later my attempt at Late Night TV style Top Ten lists with the “Top
Ten Signs You May Be Charging Too Little” (
humour/top-ten-signs-you-may-be-charging-too-little). Both of these
also made it to Digg and brought us a wealth of traffic.
For each one of these “hit” posts, there were a number of posts that
weren’t so popular. Each of them took anywhere from 4 to 24 hours to
put together, particularly the “12 Breeds of Client” post, which was epic!
And the hard work went for the ones that didn’t produce great results as
well. But the good news is – generally when you put in a lot of work – it
shows, and the not-so-amazing posts were still good content.
In between the epic posts, we wrote lots of good filler and tried out a
variety of different techniques including polls, posts that asked for user
stories, posts that built on other bloggers writing, and a lot of other
techniques. You can learn about short, filler-style posts in Chapter 5 on
planning content.
It was a lot of hard work getting a strong voice for the blog. This was
particularly true in those early days when we didn’t have enough money
to hire other writers, and both Cyan and myself had other jobs to do.
Nonetheless we persisted, often working in all hours of the day and
night and the results were overall very rewarding.
4. Trying Everything to See What Works
Perhaps the biggest reason for FreelanceSwitch’s success was the
attitude that we took to the site. Looking back I remember being willing
to try anything to get FreelanceSwitch to work, both in terms of traffic,
and in terms of monetization.

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Many of the things we spent hours, days, even whole weeks on, proved
not to be particularly effective. For example, regarding monetization,
we tried affiliate programs for all sorts of companies in all sorts of ways.
We tried mentions in posts and custom-made banner ads, from reviews
of products to different types of text links, and for some reason none
of it worked. Eventually I gave up, having learned a lot about affiliate
marketing on a blog, but also having little to show for it.
I would also spend massive amounts of effort trying to get posts on
Digg. I would join groups of bloggers, market links I had for Digg, make
friends and network on the site, investigate different times of day to
submit to Digg, try to build my account up to be a “top digger,” and
even managed to get myself kicked off the site when my strategies
veered into the not-so-clever. There were times it paid off and the site
appeared on Digg, and I was able to network with lots of other bloggers,
which had dividends as well. But for the most part it was pretty
frustrating to watch stories either go nowhere or almost get homepaged,
and then at the last moment end up buried.
We also tried starting a podcast, launching forums, building a longrunning interview series, and a short-lived paid review service. We tried
partnering with other bloggers, we tried joining blog carnivals, and we
tried submitting links to prominent blogs. We tried any and every social
media service that came along.
Individually many of our initiatives weren’t successful, but as a whole,
they built a lot of momentum and in the long run the site profited from it.
I think it’s important that when you’re getting started and you’re a bit of
an underdog, to try absolutely everything and anything, provided you’re
mostly expending your time and effort, rather than large amounts of
capital. At the end of the day, if you waste a lot of time working hard on
different ideas, you will always walk away with the learned experiences,
and in the early days of blogging these are invaluable.

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch

the road to Profitability
Early on at FreelanceSwitch we set about trying to make money, and this
began with selling advertising on the site from the very first week. Because
we had made such a big impact early on with our posts appearing on Digg,
we actually had a number of advertisers approach us in the first weeks. We
set the ad price high at $1000 per month for an ad spot, and amazingly we
sold a couple based on our initial traffic surges.
While we had this extremely auspicious start to our monetization strategy,
unfortunately it was not all so straightforward. In fact it took us nine months to
reach month-on-month profitability. It turned out that our early ad sales were
more lucky than sustainable, and while we tried out other monetization plans
including affiliate programs, paid reviews, and eventually a book, it wasn’t until
we hit on a subscription-based job board that we finally hit pay dirt.
In the following tables and graphs, you can see the actual numbers from our
first year of operation, including what we spent and what we earned. There
are two major costs that are really just estimates: my time and Cyan’s time.
Like most business owners we put in whatever hours were necessary, didn’t
pay ourselves, and took it all as part of the investment.
Furthermore, because these numbers were mostly compiled after the fact,
there is also the blurring of time which means I had to estimate some of the
costs. Still, the overall trends are fairly accurate.

Shown in this graph is FreelanceSwitch’s income for the first 2 years of
operation. Some important things to note:

“Advertising” income includes direct ad sales, affiliate earnings, textlink-ads, Adsense, paid reviews, and a lot of miscellaneous revenue
experiments. The bulk however comes from direct ad sales, particularly
after November 2007.

The advertising income varies and is quite inconsistent. Some months
it gets very high, some months it drops by as much as half. Overall with

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hindsight it’s clear that neither ad income highs nor lows last, however at
the time, watching the numbers half in one month was very scary indeed!

Job board income grows very consistently and by the end of this graph
starts plateauing. We’ll discuss the job board in a bit more detail shortly.

Fig 9-1: Job board versus advertising income.

The graph below shows costs for the first two years for FreelanceSwitch.
Some important notes:

“Misc Management” is complete guesswork and is my approximation
of what the cost of my and Cyan’s time were, as well as general
management such as accounting. I would guess that in reality this
figure is a really low-ball estimate, particularly as time went on and the
business was growing.

Initially the costs of writing and editing were fairly low (or nonexistent)
because this work was being done by Cyan and myself. Then over time

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch
this number grew until we found ways of making it more efficient. It has
continued to this day at around $3,000–$4,000 per month.

Contractor costs, which include the design and development of the site,
are incredibly variable. They are also missing one big cost, which is my
time for design (something I’m very bad at estimating). Nonetheless,
the costs of building the job board (November 2007), upgrading the job
board (June 2008), and most recently redesigning and upgrading the
entire site (January–March 2009) created some significant cost jumps.

These types of contractor highs can be avoided, but really are part of
reinvesting back into the business. So for example, the job board costs
were expensive, but the job board income ended up paying for itself and
creating a very consistent revenue source.

Fig 9-2: The many costs of FreelanceSwitch.

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Profits (and Losses!)
This graph shows an approximation of profit and loss. Note that this doesn’t
include things like taxes, equipment, office costs, business set-up, and so
on. It’s purely the product of the two graphs just shown.
As you can see from December 2007, the profits start, and while they
fluctuate a lot, they are fairly consistent. These profits are negated
somewhat by the costs just mentioned, but nonetheless have helped fund
the sites in the next two case studies!

Fig 9-3: Income, costs, and profit/loss for FreelanceSwitch.

Book Income
Finally, I have kept this graph separate as it distorts the others if they are
combined. It’s a graph of earnings from the book How to Be a Rockstar
Freelancer that we launched as the official FreelanceSwitch book in
January 2008.

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch
As you can see, the income begins very high and quickly tails off into a
consistent monthly revenue source.
It’s important to keep in mind that the cost of producing a book is
significant. Cyan and I wrote and edited the book together and it took many
months to get it all done. If you can manage it though, the rewards are great!

Fig 9-4: Sales of How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer.

Trial and Error
Our monetization plan for FreelanceSwitch’s early days can really be
summed up as: try everything and see what works. We began with privately
sold (via email) banner ads, tried other ad programs like Google Adsense
and text ads, tried affiliate programs, sold Text-Link-Ads (which
these days will get you an SEO penalty), wrote a book and sold it, sold ads
on our RSS feed, tried ads on the podcast, tried many variations of all the
above, and eventually created a subscription-based job board.
Some strategies were relatively successful. Text-link-ads yielded a solid,
dependable income stream for a long time, until eventually we removed

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them for fear that Google was penalizing us. The book did well and we
spun that off as a book business called Rockable Press (which is where you
got this book). And of course banner ads have made up the staple of our
revenue for most of the site’s life.
Some strategies were less successful and one was a downright disaster.
Among the many affiliate programs we tried, one was for a template site
called TemplateMonster ( While it was a very
successful service, it turned out that our audience hated the company.
When we added a “templates” section to the site, which was a library of
third-party templates for sale, the reaction in our comments was extremely
negative. Though it immediately started yielding revenue, we axed it days
later. After all, our site was about making freelancers happy, not peddling
third-party products that they mostly despised!
While banner ads remain to this day a great earner, they have always been
by nature variable. We get good return for the traffic we serve, but we’re
dependent on a handful of advertisers who come and go and result in some
great months of revenue, and some not so great.

The Subscription Job Board Model
From the very beginning, FreelanceSwitch was meant to have a job board.
On launch day I created a placeholder page that just said “jobs coming
soon!” Later we contracted a developer to build a completely free job board
that had someone approving jobs (to prevent spam) and it flourished, though
being free didn’t exactly have a great return on investment!
When it came time to monetize the job board, the standard model would be
to charge advertisers for posting a job. This is how most job boards work
and it’s great for full-time jobs because the advertiser is looking to pay a
large salary over many years, so what’s a hundred dollars or so for a listing
fee in comparison?
But in the case of freelance jobs, we found that many of the projects being
outsourced were rather small in size. Imagine if you paid $100 to advertise
a project that only paid out $250 to the freelancer! The economics for small
jobs just don’t make sense.

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch
Conversely, while full-time job boards rely on job seekers who are looking
for only one job every couple of years, freelance job boards rely on a base of
freelancers who are repeatedly looking for work.
So with this in mind, we created a job board where posting an ad was
completely free, and viewing jobs was free, but to apply for a job you had to
have a paid subscription of $7 a month.
It was a bit controversial to say the least and we caught a lot of flak for
charging our own community instead of the employers. Nonetheless, it
seemed to make sense and we persisted. Thankfully a growing group of
freelancers subscribed.
On the business side of things, we also pursued this model because a large
group of low-paying customers usually results in a much steadier income
stream than a small group of high-paying customers. This was a lesson
I had learned from trying to sell advertising and the resulting fluctuations
in our monthly income, that came about from advertisers unexpectedly
withdrawing their ads.
As the charts above indicate, the subscription model has flourished and
grown into a very dependable income source for the site, far more steady
than advertising has been. As you can also see, it’s an income source that
has reached a plateau, and while we’ve made efforts to grow it beyond this
point (including adding a freelancer directory), it seems that for the time
being this is about where that income stream is going to stay.

Growing Costs
While advertising was growing and revenue on the whole was looking
positive, in the early days our costs were also escalating. These costs
resulted from two main areas:
1. Replacing Ourselves with Staff
The number one cost growth was from hiring people to replace my
and Cyan’s work. This began with hiring writers and paying casual
contributors, and later replacing Cyan as an editor. We found writers
mostly through our contribution form, which was open to anyone,

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and for which we paid $60 per published contribution. These casuals
often kept turning out content and became regular writers. We also
occasionally advertised for writers or asked writers we admired to post.
One such writer was Leo Babauta, whose own blog ZenHabits went on
to become a massively popular Top 100 blog!
For other types of freelancers, we simply placed a job ad on our own
job board. This is how we found the fabulously talented N.C. Winters,
the comic strip artist who has graced many of our blogs with signature
comic strips. His work includes FreelanceSwitch’s Freelance Freedom,
which has over a hundred and fifty editions published and counting.
2. The Cost of Experimentation
Trying out ideas like forums, podcasts, resource directories, job
boards, redesigns, and other concepts for growing the site were not
without their costs. The most significant of these was the job board
development costs and general blog redesigns and upgrades. Luckily as
a company that specializes in web development, we could keep these
costs reasonably low, and in the long run, the cost of the job board in
particular, paid for itself.
Other experiments did not always pay for themselves, but nonetheless
were worthwhile. After all, nobody hits a home run the first time. You
have to swing and miss a few times before you connect with
something great!
One of the best examples of a cost that really blew out was when
we had the idea to have a survey of freelancers to find trends and
interesting statistics. While it sounded easy enough, it turned out that
polling 3,700 freelancers and then tabulating and graphing the results
takes rather a lot of effort! The resulting PDF (The Freelance Statistics
Report) eventually made its way to RockablePress, and after a good
year and a half finally paid for itself, but it certainly wasn’t the profitable
and easy exercise that I first thought it was going to be!

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch

The month-on-month breakeven point finally occurred for FreelanceSwitch
in December 2007 after seven months of hard work. It was a lot longer
before we repaid all the many months of losses from the early days, but
even that eventually happened.
The best thing has been that since we hit breakeven, FreelanceSwitch has
continued to be profitable in a very steady, consistent fashion. The reliable
income that the site has provided in turn paved the way for a variety of new
ventures, two of which are the subjects of our next pair of case studies.

Below are various graphs from Google Analytics showing traffic trends for
FreelanceSwitch from April 2007 to April 2009:

Fig 9-5: Traffic to FreelanceSwitch.

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As you can see, the traffic at FreelanceSwitch is somewhat unusual in that
we had very high volumes of traffic virtually from Day One. This is due to the
large amounts of social media attention we had in the early days, particularly
from Digg. This is apparent when you look at the following graphs.

Search Traffic
In this graph you can see traffic only from search engines. As you’ll
notice it’s been building steadily month after month. This is why optimizing
your site for search is so incredibly important, as this type of traffic is
very sustainable.

Fig 9-6: Search traffic to FreelanceSwitch.

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch
If you are new to operating websites, you may also find it interesting to
note that Google accounts for the vast majority of search traffic, with Yahoo
coming in a very distant second.

Direct Traffic
The following graph shows traffic from users who have come directly to the
site, usually by typing in “” into their browser address
bar, or by following a bookmark. This graph also shows a steady increase
in direct traffic, meaning that every month a greater and greater number of
people are converting into loyal, returning readers.

Fig 9-7: Direct traffic to FreelanceSwitch.

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Referred Traffic
While direct and search traffic show nice steadily increasing numbers, the
real oddities in the overall numbers come from referring sites. These are
users who click links on other sites, such as Digg or StumbleUpon.
This graph shows that referring traffic has been much more inconsistent with
some early, enormous peaks when FreelanceSwitch appeared on Digg.
Also of interest is the fact that StumbleUpon and Digg account for the vast
majority of traffic. shown here refers to Google’s Feed Reader.
These days Google Analytics has become increasingly sophisticated with
how it displays traffic from RSS readers. Today our graphs have started
showing “Feedburner” as a single item, however in the graph shown here,
Netvibes (at #10) is also traffic from the RSS feed and comes up separately,
similarly further down the list would be even more RSS sources.

Fig 9-8: Traffic from sites linking to FreelanceSwitch.

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Case study 1: Freelanceswitch

Building Sustainable Traffic
One interesting conclusion you can draw from these graphs is that social
media traffic (such as the traffic from Digg and StumbleUpon), while great
for sending large amounts of people, is very inconsistent and ultimately not
what you want to build a blog on.
Search traffic and direct traffic, on the other hand, grow consistently and
can become the backbone of your site’s traffic.
Looking at the overall traffic again, you will now see that although the traffic
hasn’t moved that much from beginning to end, the type of traffic has
changed. In the beginning we spent a lot of time and effort acquiring social
media traffic, while later in FreelanceSwitch’s life the traffic has become far
more sustainable.

lessons learned
The two most important lessons I learned from FreelanceSwitch were:
1. It’s Important to Get Your Feet Wet as Early as Possible
With the low cost of starting a blog, there is no reason not to give it a
try immediately. Planning is fantastic, but experience often yields results
you hadn’t planned for. In my case, blogging at NorthxEast yielded an
idea that formed a great and profitable blog.
4. It’s Important to Experiment
Monetizing FreelanceSwitch was difficult and took a long time. It’s hard
when a venture is burning cash to stay calm and keep trying new things,
but when you are in a new business, it’s critical that you keep options
open and iterate until you find something that works.

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Case studY :
Our second case study examines how a site that began almost by
accident succeeded in a very crowded niche. This is a look at how
Psdtuts+ ( and the Tuts+ network (http:// got started.
Psdtuts+ launched in August 2007, four months after
FreelanceSwitch, and very quickly grew to be the largest
Photoshop blog online. Thanks to advertising and a subscription
system, Psdtuts+ built enough revenue to grow into a network
of educational sites called Tuts+ that is enormously popular. The
network publishes daily tutorials on subjects ranging from audio
production to photography and ranks in the Top 1000 sites in the
world, according to web traffic reporter

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Case study : Psdtuts+

in the Beginning…
While the official launch of Psdtuts+ was in August 2007, the real beginnings
of the site date back to late February. At that time I was fascinated to learn
that there were entrepreneurs out there who bought websites, gave them a
makeover, and resold them for a profit. This practice, known as “flipping,”
was particularly common on a site called the Sitepoint Marketplace (which
has since been rebranded as Flippa,
So I decided to try this out for myself, and began searching through the
marketplace for a good site to purchase. Because I knew a lot about
Photoshop and had written a few tutorials some years prior, I was very excited
to find a listing for a basic Photoshop tutorial site called Psdtuts+. It had some
very average tutorials on it, was plastered with ads, and was selling for the
grand sum of $1,200. While this may not sound like a lot of money, it sure was
for me back then. Money was very tight and we were meant to be focusing
on our nascent startup Envato, and not buying websites to do up. Still, in a
moment of wild abandon, I bought the site anyway!

Fig 10-1: The original site that I bought.

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When I told my wife Cyan about the purchase, she was horrified. It must be
said, the site really was not much to look at, and though the listing claimed
it made a good amount of money from text ads, it turned out those numbers
had been inflated. In fact during the following three months, the site earned
less than $100, and even those monthly returns were steadily declining!
It also turned out that I wasn’t very good at giving sites a once-over. I tried
with a quick and dirty design overhaul, but the result was just another
not-worth-visiting tutorial site, and the statistics showed. They didn’t go
anywhere, in fact they continued to slide downhill.
This incident taught me a valuable lesson in web entrepreneurship. You have
to really add value if you want to get anywhere. There’s no such thing as a
quick buck, at least not for me!
At this point I had pretty much given up on Psdtuts+, months had passed,
and I’d learned my lesson. Cyan also politely requested that I stay well away
from buying any more domain names with money we could use for rent!
While Psdtuts+ continued its existence as a mediocre tutorial site, I kept
thinking that if I found some time, I’d try putting up some tutorials. I wanted
to do this, not to try to recoup that initial investment, but more just for my
own diversion. After all, I rather liked writing Photoshop tutorials and had
written a bunch some years earlier when I was learning design.

an oversaturated niche
Back in 2007 there were already lots and lots of Photoshop sites around.
After all, the flagship of Adobe’s range of creative software has always had
a huge following. In fact there were so many tutorial sites around that there
were meta-tutorial sites that aggregated tutorials from all the smaller sites so
people could find them all. The best known of these were Good-Tutorials
( and Pixel2Life (, both sites
that are still successfully operating today.
Some of the tutorial sites themselves were relatively large and welltrafficked, though the quality of tutorials was very variable. There were the

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Case study : Psdtuts+
odd brilliant tutorials, but for the most part, Photoshop sites at the time were
often a bit amateur with the tutorials written by inexperienced users rather
than professionals. They were still useful, and certainly when I had been
starting out I’d read many of those sites myself!
But overall it must be said that while Photoshop tutorials was a saturated
niche, it wasn’t saturated with quality.
I wish I could say that I observed this all and made the conscious decision
to pursue a quality strategy with Psdtuts+, but in reality I simply stumbled
onto that plan. One day I finally decided I was going to clean up the domain,
put a very simple HTML site in, and upload a couple of tutorials that I could
be proud of. The site would still not be much, but at least I wouldn’t be
embarrassed if people found out I owned it.
So I dug up an old tutorial I’d written in 2004 about making a Mac-like
wallpaper. I then set about writing two more tutorials (because you can’t
have a site with just one tutorial) and I designed a site that was a little bit
strange-looking and featured a large spoon graphic that I’d bought and
always meant to use somewhere.
And so I launched the all-new Psdtuts+ without a proper blog back-end, and
absolutely no fanfare or announcements anywhere. All it had was a basic
HTML site and three tutorials, one of which was pretty decent and two of
which were just filler really. This is the original Mac-like wallpaper tutorial:

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Fig 10-2: Psdtuts early on with just 6 tutorials and 2 ads (for other sites of ours).

Ever the entrepreneur, I interspersed my tutorials with Google Adsense
blocks (one every six or seven steps). After all, I figured I might make a few
dollars to go towards paying back that $1,200 that Cyan still sometimes
made fun of me for!
After submitting the three tutorials to the two tutorial aggregators GoodTutorials and Pixel2Life, I forgot about the site for a couple of days.
It wasn’t until I logged into Google Analytics some days later that I
discovered an unexpectedly large amount of traffic on the site. It turns out
both the original tutorial and one of the quick tutorials had made their
way onto the Digg homepage. Not only that, the one about Mac wallpapers
appeared on the enormously popular Lifehacker (
site. And to boot, all the traffic had earned about a hundred dollars in
Adsense money!
I was pretty thrilled to say the least, though it didn’t actually dawn
me yet that there was a potential business here. Instead I just thought:
“wow something I wrote made it to Digg without me having to actually
do anything!”

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Case study : Psdtuts+
So I decided to write another couple of tutorials and though they didn’t make
it to Digg, the traffic did continue in strong, steady fashion with StumbleUpon
contributing, and the tutorial aggregators sending plenty of focused
Photoshop fans who bookmarked the site and got it onto’s
Popular page.

Content is King (and Quality Content
Most of All)
It seems that I had inadvertently stumbled on another untapped niche. This
time it was in the most unlikely of places, the middle of an over-saturated
niche. While there was a lot of Photoshop content online, there wasn’t much
consistently high-quality content.
The tutorials I originally wrote probably wouldn’t pass muster these days,
but at the time they were far longer and far more detailed than the average
tutorial and they produced pretty neat effects too. Because there was so
much average content out there, it meant that a site producing consistently
high-grade content stood out almost as much as if there had been no
content on the subject.
In many ways, having a lot of average content is worse than having none
because it creates a lot of noise. Finding the good stuff then requires a lot of
effort and searching. Readers like to have great content handed to them on
a plate, and Psdtuts+, mostly by accident, was doing just that.

recognizing the opportunity
At this point, we got serious about the site and realized that maintaining
a HTML site was not really a viable option. So we decided to switch over
to WordPress. I designed up a site and had it built by some external
contractors called PSD2HTML ( I decided to use
contractors as I still wasn’t that comfortable with building WordPress sites
and the results were not too bad. And so about three weeks after the site
first launched, it became a proper commercial operation.

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Fig 10-3: Psdtuts in its first WordPress incarnation.

In the beginning, the content was all generated by me, and because of the
nature of the tutorials, it was only one or two posts a week. Nonetheless,
the traffic poured in and we managed to sell a couple of ads, continued
making money from Adsense, and by working an affiliate program for some
illustration materials into a couple of popular tutorials, managed to generate
some affiliate income.
The most pressing need at this point was to get some help with the content.
We decided to invest some of the money from FreelanceSwitch (which was
inching towards profitability) into hiring writers.
The first thing I did was to add a “Write a Tutorial” link which offered $75 for
any tutorial we published. I set the price at $75 mostly because that was
the maximum we could afford. This got a couple of responses, one of which
we did publish by a young, talented Photoshopper who was not yet out of
high school named Arik. The tutorial got onto Digg’s homepage and brought
another flurry of traffic. But great content from the contribution link was
mostly few and far between.

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Case study : Psdtuts+
At this point it occurred to me that to find a writer capable of making it to
Digg, I should look in Digg’s archives. And that’s how I found a small site
called Abduzeedo ( where a really talented designer
named Fabio Sasso had published a couple of simply beautiful tutorials.
While I really didn’t think he would respond, I wrote to Fabio to ask if he’d
write for Psdtuts+ and to my great astonishment and good fortune, he
wrote back!
I can’t say how lucky we were that Fabio wrote for Psdtuts+ in those early
days. If you’re into design you’ll probably know that Abduzeedo is now one
of the largest graphic sites online, a testament to Fabio’s talent.
Encouraged by Fabio, I wrote to a number of other potential writers, but
unfortunately none of them wrote back. Still all the effort was worth it for the
one reply from Fabio.
In the meantime, it was clear that $75 really wasn’t proper recompense for
these long and involved tutorials because very few people were taking up
the offer, so the reward went up to $125 and then, a little later, $150 per
published tutorial and the content coming in also increased.
At this point we were still publishing two tutorials a week, one by me, and
one by either Fabio or a guest writer. The content was slow but steady and
the income fairly small, but the traffic was growing really quickly. I asked
Cyan to take over editing so I could manage to produce tutorials and we
concentrated on just keeping the site alive.

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Fig 10-4: Psdtuts in its second WordPress design with one of Fabio’s Christmas tutorials showing.

the Path to Monetization
Creating revenue is always difficult, and once again we found ourselves
experimenting with ideas. Adsense, while initially having some success,
was a pretty limited source of income. Worse, however, was the fact that it
made the site feel really cheap. Every time we made it to Digg’s frontpage
the comments invariably described the site as “made for Adsense” or
“plastered” with ads. So Adsense had to go!
Affiliate programs, while initially successful thanks to a couple of judiciously
placed links in tutorials, had tapered off and it felt forced putting them
into more tutorials. Text-link-ads were on the site and producing a limited
amount of revenue, which helped.
Banner ads were doing a bit better and revenue was coming in slowly, but
steadily. When the BuySellAds ( service launched,
we switched over for both Psdtuts+ and FreelanceSwitch and this helped
tremendously by eliminating much of the administration and labor involved

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Case study : Psdtuts+
in selling ads. Where previously we had to calendar dates for advertising
changeovers, liaise with advertisers, respond to enquiries, manually update
banners for advertisers and generally do a lot of leg work, all of a sudden it
was now all automated!
When we first started selling banner ads our traffic was high enough that I
chose $1,500 per month as the price point for our 125px x 125px ads. To
be honest I wasn’t wildly confident about selling them, but miraculously it
worked and we sold two ads within a month!
This was good news because not only were content costs mounting up, so
were an unexpected cost source: bandwidth!
Psdtuts+ was so wildly popular that we quickly found ourselves delivering
a terabyte of bandwidth each month. Luckily we were early users of
Amazon’s S3 service to host and serve our images and this helped
tremendously. Nonetheless even on S3, bandwidth costs were getting more
and more significant.

Selling PSD Files
It’s always good to experiment with ideas to monetize a site, and an
interesting idea we had was to sell the source Photoshop PSD files for the
tutorials. This way, readers could choose if they wished to pay an extra, say
$2, and be able to follow along from the final file in Photoshop.
While it sounded like a great idea in theory, it turned out not many people
actually ponied up the cash. Luckily, implementation was easy as we used
a service called e-Junkie (, which cost next to nothing
to set up.
Despite the low returns, there was just enough interest in the source files
that a better idea came along. What if instead of selling individual files,
we could increase the value by providing a premium subscription that
offered access to all the files? We could even increase the value by adding
a couple of bonus tutorials to make it more attractive. And we’d make the
subscription $9 a month, which is a reasonable amount of money, but not so
much as to be a major purchasing decision for most people.

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Premium Subscriptions
When the premium subscription first launched it had a couple dozen source
files and just one bonus tutorial (that I’d specially made for the launch).
There was quite a bit of resistance to the idea with many readers worrying
that from now on all the quality content would be behind a paid curtain,
something that was not the intention at all!
Happily a few people signed up, and overall the subscription plan
immediately generated more money than the paid PSD files. Once regular
readers realized we would continue delivering the usual quality of free
content, everyone settled down contentedly.
The great thing about the subscription plan was the value in the membership
continued to increase over time. The more time passed, the more content
became available, and the more useful the subscription became.
We offered a 100% money back guarantee to lower the barriers to entry
and while a few people asked for their money back, the vast majority either
continued happily or simply unsubscribed after a month.
The system was built using some off-the-shelf software called aMember
(, which I purchased for a couple hundred dollars,
attempted to install myself unsuccessfully, and then got aMember support
to install for me!
As with FreelanceSwitch, the subscription system would be the platform
that we would build off. With the stability of a subscription base, we could
now afford to plough more money into content, which in turn made the
subscription more valuable, which helped grow subscribers, and so we had
a sort of virtuous cycle!

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Case study : Psdtuts+

expanding on a winning
Nine months after launching Psdtuts+, it was time to expand out the
clearly successful formula to other types of tutorials. Beginning with web
development and NetTuts+ (, we launched over the
course of two years a total of seven more sites. Each one applies the same
overall editorial concept into a different niche, with a different editor and
different writers.
The plus side of this is that the Tuts+ franchise as a whole has now grown
far beyond just Photoshop tutorials. The downside is that whenever our
revenue looked like it was going to pass costs, we would launch a new site
driving our costs up again.
Managing a suite of blogs also introduces an additional layer of complexity
as you now need a business capable of:

Managing a team of editors, each with a team of writers.
Hiring, training, and occasionally replacing editors.
Handling hundreds of invoices from writers and freelance staff
every month.
Managing servers, installations, and themes.

These requirements meant we brought on a Tuts+ manager by the name
of Skellie, who was a former editor of FreelanceSwitch. Then we hired a
WordPress developer named Derek to build and manage the themes on all
the blogs. And we hired a freelance (and later a full-time) PHP developer to
manage the servers, optimize performance, and handle emergencies.
Because Tuts+ is run as part of a larger startup, we have had the benefit of
piggy-backing accounting, management, and legal costs from our parent
business Envato. For an independent blog business, however, these are
significant costs not to be discounted.

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Increasing Costs
As the network grew it also became apparent that we needed to pay our
writers and contributors more if we wanted to attract the best talent. It was
important to get great writers because great content was the foundation of
our success. While the base submission payment is still $150, the payments
for regular writers and special one-off contributors has increased so that we
now pay a range of $200–$800 per tutorial depending on the experience and
fame of the author and the depth, length, and quality of the content.
Similarly the additional burden of managing the growing enterprise also
led to greater and greater costs as we hired more staff, more management
overhead, and of course the ever-present hosting costs.
In fact, by late 2009 our monthly bandwidth had passed 40 Terabytes of
data per month, leading to hosting costs in the many thousands of dollars.

Consolidating the Plus Membership
Faced with these mounting costs, the subscription revenue was no longer
really cutting it. As we launched new Tuts+ sites, we tried adding more
and more premium subscriptions, one for each site. However, aside
from Psdtuts+, none of them really produced major results and we found
ourselves ticking along with one profitable site and an increasing portfolio of
cost centers.
Fortunately in early 2009, our Tuts+ manager Skellie had the simple but
brilliant idea to consolidate our premium subscriptions into one super
subscription at the same old price of $9 a month.
While we lost some revenue from members who had been subscribed to
multiple memberships, this was more than made up for by the additional
members who now found the membership valuable enough to join.
The consolidation of our subscriptions showed that delivering value is the
most important thing you can do in business. The subscription system has
since become the backbone of the Tuts+ operation and is helping us now
expand even further. As was the case with FreelanceSwitch, subscriptions

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Case study : Psdtuts+
offer a very consistent revenue stream as opposed to advertising, which can
be strong but also can be prone to quite major variations.

some statistics
To get a better idea of how the Tuts+ growth occurred, I’ve compiled some
graphs of traffic, revenue, and costs. As with FreelanceSwitch, they are very
approximate as our records from the early days were quite sketchy and
often neglected to include details of costs like hosting, accounting, and
so on.

Income and Costs
In this graph you can see a plot of our income versus costs over the first
two years.

Fig 10-5: Income, costs, and profit/loss for Tuts+.

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Some important points to note about the graph:

You can see that it wasn’t until more than 19 months had passed that
we finally started having months of profit! This is largely due to the
constant increases in costs as we pushed to expand the sites more
and more.

In March 2008, we hired a Psdtuts+ editor and began expanding the
number of sites from one to four over the next four months. This is
responsible for the sharp rise in costs leading to the heavy losses we
sustained in 2008.

In February 2009, we merged the subscriptions into a single
subscription, and this is where the income finally begins to beat costs.

Another interesting graph is to look at how subscription and advertising
revenues compare. You can see this below.

Fig 10-6: Income from subscriptions versus advertising and affiliate earnings.

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Case study : Psdtuts+
Here you can see how much more consistent the subscriptions line is when
compared to advertising. In the first two years, the subscription monthly
income never goes backwards; it is a constant grower. Advertising, on
the other hand, had a lot more movement and in the early days before
subscriptions were introduced it led to a very bumpy beginning.

The gain for all these increases in costs of course was traffic. This is shown
in the following graph where you can see the steady growth in traffic as
individual sites have grown and the number of sites has increased.

Fig 10-7: Traffic across the Tuts+ network.

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tuts+ today
Today Tuts+ continues to grow, though not at quite the same rate as
those earlier days. Happily, the months of profit have helped repay the
many months of losses and we are now in a position to once again begin
expanding aggressively.
Our vision for Tuts+ is to create educational content in a self-sustaining way
for a range of subjects from our traditional strengths of creative skills all the
way out to language learning. By building a business vehicle that brings
in sizable revenues, we have created an engine to power the creation of
much greater quantities of educational content, 90% of which we can then
distribute freely, saving only a small portion to keep it self-sustaining.
Our next step of expansion is to graduate from our WordPress blogging
roots into a social content platform for education where tutorials are still the
core, but user interaction is added. It’s an expensive step and requires much
development, and for those reasons would not have been possible for us to
begin with.
In many ways Tuts+ is a great example of how building a blogging business
can create a much larger enterprise. Through iteration and expansion, you
can take what might today be simply a WordPress-powered blog and turn it
into a network of sites that rival even some much better funded startups!

lessons learned
The most important lessons I’ve learned from Psdtuts+ and Tuts+ are:
1. You Can Succeed Even in a Saturated Niche
Don’t assume that because a niche has a lot of competitors, it’s all
sewn up. Finding a way to differentiate is the key to competing against
entrenched sites.
2. When Something Good Happens, Roll With It
Opportunity is only half the equation. When it strikes, you need to
push hard to take advantage of that opportunity. When traffic started

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Case study : Psdtuts+
materializing on Psdtuts+, it took months of hard work writing tutorials
to capitalize on it. Only then were we at the point where we could hire
serious help.
Later when Psdtuts+ was running successfully, it was risky to try to
propagate the same idea out and franchise it into a number of other
sites. But ultimately we managed to capitalize on the idea and grow our
reach much larger.
3. Delivering Value is Critical
The most important event in the Tuts+ franchise has been the
consolidation of the subscriptions into a single membership. When the
value-to-price ratio was out of whack, the membership numbers never
really accumulated. It took a dramatic increase in value, while holding
the price steady, to make it into the business-building revenue source
that it is now.

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The first two case studies in this book have been about sites that
are financially successful. This last case study concerns a set of
blogs, called AppStorm, that have not yet reached profitability. By
some measures the sites are healthy, particularly in traffic, but as an
entrepreneur it is revenue that determines a site’s ultimate success.
At the time of writing this, the AppStorm sites are at a crucial stage
in their growth. We have traffic, we have growth, and we even have
some revenue. But financially the sites are still burning through
cash month after month. And while they will hopefully still end up
profitable, they make for an instructive case study to show that like
any business, blogging can be risky.
The AppStorm network began in February of 2009 with a single
blog dedicated solely to Mac Apps, residing at Mac.AppStorm
( Today in traffic and RSS subscribers,
this is the largest blog focusing solely on apps for Apple’s desktop
systems. From that one site we’ve since franchised out the idea
to two sister sites: Web.AppStorm ( and
iPhone.AppStorm ( about web and
iPhone apps respectively. Traffic growth for the sites has been
steady and because apps are a rapidly growing area, they have
much potential.
In this case study, we’ll discuss how we came to find the idea for
the sites, how they have been managed and grown, and the difficult
path to monetization.

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Case study : appstorm

the importance of
A central theme throughout these case studies is to be on the lookout for
telltale signs that there is a successful blog niche to exploit. The idea for
FreelanceSwitch came about through a hit article about freelancing on an
older blog on a different topic. The opportunity for Psdtuts+ presented itself
when a few experimental tutorials generated a lot of traffic. In the case of
AppStorm, the idea arose from a simple search ranking on Google.
One of the early posts on FreelanceSwitch was by the writer Ivan
Brezak Brkan who penned “35 Absolutely Essential Mac Apps” (http:// for the
site. It was an article about Mac apps for freelancers that experienced
success on both Digg and Delicious. It was a classic evergreen article that
attracted lots of traffic and was a big success. However, a month or so after
the post was published, I pretty much ceased to think much about it.
Two years later when browsing through Google Analytics I happened to
notice that one of the top keywords that FreelanceSwitch ranked for on
Google was “Mac Apps.” A bit of research revealed that in fact the one
article by Ivan had been consistently sending high amounts of search traffic
month after month.
If you Googled “Mac Apps” or even related keywords like “Buy Mac Apps,”
up would pop FreelanceSwitch nestled in amongst a bunch of dedicated
Mac blogs. The traffic these search rankings sent made that single article
one of the top 5 posts on the site virtually every single month.
Being a Mac user myself and knowing how much Mac users love their
independent apps, it crossed my mind that a blog about great Mac apps
would surely be popular. After all, Apple-related topics have historically
always done well on social media sites such as Digg.
A bit of research on Google revealed that there was only one specifically
focused Mac app blog around, a site called MacApper (http://macapper.
com). While relatively established, MacApper was not so big as to be

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unassailable. Of course the big Mac sites regularly publish articles and
features about Mac apps, but for completely app-focused coverage, there
was really only MacApper, revealing potentially an open sub-niche.
And so with a search ranking and the knowledge that there was only one
major competitor to contend with, we set about launching a dedicated Mac
app blog!

assembling a Blog
Most of our projects begin with a search for a domain name. For me
personally, having a name makes things feel a lot more real. Unfortunately
finding a good domain name that is still available is hard work!
Fortunately this time I managed to persuade my younger brother to
think up and check names for me! From a huge list of 50 or so available
combinations of “App” and something, we chose AppStorm. We were only
able to acquire the .net name but it was memorable, short, and immediately
suggested a nice little logo design with a lightning bolt!
Almost a year later using the domain brokerage service, we did
finally manage to acquire the .com at a price of $3,000. This was quite a lot
to pay for a domain name, particularly for a fledgling brand, but we decided
to invest the money to protect the site’s long-term brand.
It’s always best to have the .com domain as so much traffic goes there
despite however much effort you put into marketing alternate endings.
Hopefully one day finding a good domain name will get a little easier, but for
now it seems we’re stuck with spending a lot of creativity and occasionally
having to pay large sums for names that someone is sitting on.

Planning a Content Roster
With the domain name located, we set about creating a provisional plan for
content. Since the site was about Mac apps, it definitely needed reviews
as its staple fare. I knew that lists in the style of the original “35 Essential

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Case study : appstorm
Mac Apps” post were great traffic draws, so we made “Roundups” one the
top categories. Finally, for Mac users looking to get more out of existing
software, we added the category of “Howto” for guides and tutorials on
using great apps.
I also contacted the comic strip artist NC Winters who illustrates for
FreelanceSwitch to ask him to put together a weekly cartoon strip. I’ve
found that these comic strips give a site some character and help them
stand out from the crowd. While not every blog needs a comic strip, I do
think it’s always important to have an individual voice and style.

Finding an Editor/Writer
My experiences with FreelanceSwitch and Psdtuts+ had taught me that the
most important person to hire for a new blog is the editor. In this case I was
hoping to find an editor/writer to produce content initially and then slowly
bring in other writers to supplement their own contributions.
After posting a job ad on our own FreelanceSwitch job board, an extremely
talented young man named David Appleyard applied. As one of the content
editors at the well-known Mac site, TheAppleBlog (
and a web entrepreneur himself, David was a perfect fit.
Since David lived in England and I was based in Australia, everything
happened through email.
I wrote out a detailed brief for David explaining the rough content
roster I thought would work, how we might organize the site, what
expectations were for him, and so on. David sent his suggestions back
and we made a few adjustments. Notably David introduced the idea of
adding “how to” content.
While David compiled the first couple of weeks of content ahead of time,
I busied myself getting a site organized. I put together a design and had it
built into a WordPress theme. Having had lots of experience in setting up
blogs by this point, the process of rolling together a new site was relatively
painless, and soon enough launch day came around and we had everything
set up and ready to go!

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launch and initial growth
While FreelanceSwitch grew with very little in the way of resources, and
Psdtuts+ grew almost by accident, Mac.AppStorm grew on the back of our
other properties.
By this time our company Envato had grown to encompass a large number
of blogs and sites and a simple announcement on the different sites in the
network was enough to send a large dose of traffic: 35,000 visitors in two
weeks. In many ways this gave us a sort of blog jumpstart in both traffic and
immediate brand recognition.
Still even with an initial surge of traffic, it takes great content to grow a blog
and so David set about publishing high-quality content day-in, day-out to
build on those initial visitors and to create a loyal reader base to grow from.
We also tried a number of different ideas to help spur the site on:
1. We set up a 301 redirect on the initial FreelanceSwitch article so that
old search traffic and visitors started coming to the new site. This was
achieved with a simple WordPress plugin found online. A similar plugin
can be found at
2. David wrote a special “12 Mac Apps for Running a Freelance Business”
( post. We then placed an intro post on
FreelanceSwitch that quoted a bit of the article and then followed up
with “Continue reading at AppStorm.” This is a great technique for
seeding one site with another. I discovered this technique from the
massively popular TechCrunch, which regularly seeds its sister site
CrunchGear in the same manner.
3. While we didn’t seem to get any traction on Digg for the new site,
I discovered that submitting roundups to the “Apple” subreddit
( on social media site was a great
way to get a few hundred visitors with little effort. Looking for specific
social media sites and communities that work for a new blog is a
fantastic way to find early traffic.

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Case study : appstorm
4. David set up a weekly app giveaway, which resulted in great
relationships with app makers and freebies for readers. The initiative
proved a great success and is now part of the AppStorm formula.

Evergreen Content and Search
The most successful initiative we pursued in the early days of AppStorm
was to publish a series of posts around related Mac subjects like
screensavers, icons, and wallpapers. Most notably we published these
three posts:

“50 Mac Desktops for Maximum Visual Goodness.”

“50 Unusually Awesome Icon Sets for Mac.”

“34 Stunning and Free Mac Screensavers for Mac OSX.”

These three posts were strategically written to appeal to readers looking
for useful resources and to include keywords that rank well on Google. The
payoff has been enormous as the three posts have led to Mac.AppStorm
ranking in the top results for “Mac Desktops,” “Mac Icons,” and “Mac
As an example of how these types of articles can perform, here is the traffic
for the Mac Icons post:

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Fig 11-1: Traffic to a post about “Mac Icons” in the first 10 months.

The post had huge early success through links from blogs like LifeHacker,
DownloadSquad, and MacWorld. This then translated to a consistent stream
of 4,000–5,000 visitors every single month since.
In fact those numbers have even been climbing as the page has risen in the
ranks of Google terms. In the month of March 2010, the same post about
Mac Icons received a whopping 18,970 pageviews:

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Case study : appstorm

Fig 11-2: Traffic to the same “Mac Icons” for the most recent month (March 2010).

It’s not hard to see how a handful of evergreen posts like these can form
the backbone of a site. Moreover, it was by introducing these posts early
that we created the traffic and search rankings we would need in the
coming months.

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growth and expansion
Growth on Mac.AppStorm was looking very strong right from the beginning.
While there were some flat months, overall the trends have looked (and
mostly continue to look) very positive. You can see a graph of traffic for Mac.
AppStorm below:

Fig 11-3: Mac.AppStorm traffic for the first 10 months.

Perhaps more importantly, in RSS numbers we watched as
Mac.AppStorm very steadily caught up to and then passed our original
competitor MacApper. Here is a graph comparing the RSS subscribers of
the two sites:

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Case study : appstorm

Fig 11-4: RSS readers for Mac.AppStorm vs.

With such positive results, I decided to expand from a single site into a blog
network. This had always been the plan, but this move came a little earlier
than I’d originally planned. As we’ll discuss shortly, our revenue was not yet
up to scratch, but with such positive growth I was rather optimistic about
how things would progress.
In August we launched Web.AppStorm and 3 months later we launched
iPhone.AppStorm. Both sites continued the same approach, the same
content formula, and the same site design into new app niches.
The growth of each of the new sites contributed to AppStorm as a whole
reaching close to one million pageviews per month at the time of this
writing. This is a great achievement in traffic, and the potential to roll out the
same formula-driven sites into other app niches in the future is great.

While Mac.AppStorm got off to a great start in traffic, revenue was
not as forthcoming in the early months. For the first month or so we

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made no attempt to run any advertising, instead opting to just focus on
building traffic.
When it did come time to place some advertising we began with a modest
Adsense block at the end of posts. The income was just a handful of dollars
so we tried switching over to a service called VideoEgg that shows rich media
adverts. The brands were high-end and the CPM rates reasonable, but ads
only appeared occasionally, presumably when the company could fill inventory.
A few months in, David suggested adding BuySellAds (http://buysellads.
com) spots and that he would try contacting a few app providers to see if
they were interested. This turned out very well and we immediately started
selling $100 ad blocks of 125px x 125px each. As traffic continued to grow
in the following few months, I kept upping the prices until they peaked at
about $350. At this price level, however, fewer advertisers were interested
and in fact our ad revenue started declining!
This was an important lesson for me as I found that while it’s important to
experiment with pricing and it’s also good to try to maximize your earnings,
sometimes it’s better to have a consistent set of ad incomes even though it’s
not the absolute most anyone would pay for the spots.
In recent months we’ve also been testing Adsense blocks on older archive
posts only. This technique ensures that regular readers who are keeping up
with the site don’t see so many ads, while we still monetize search traffic
and less regular readership. The resulting income isn’t a huge dose, but
every bit helps!

Quick Look – Thinking Outside the Box
While banner and text advertising have been the primary income sources to
date, it’s become clear that we need to look for other income to supplement
or even replace this stream if we are to be successful.
This realization actually came when I sat down to write this case study you
are now reading! When I was looking through the stats and laying out how
our income was going, I realized that we weren’t heading anywhere good,
and that the months of losses had no clear end in sight.

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Case study : appstorm
So a few weeks ago, an email exchange with David to brainstorm ideas for
monetization resulted in our first strategy: Quick Look.
Quick Look posts are a type of paid posting that we have begun trialing.
They allow app developers to pay a small fee ($49 at the time of this writing)
and submit some details about their app. We then compile a short post that
includes a couple of screenshots, some app details, and a poll. The poll lets
readers vote on whether they’d like to see the app reviewed properly, and
notices at the top and bottom of the post ensure that readers know the post
is sponsored.
Here is an example of a Quick Look post:
While sponsored posts are nothing new, we believe our approach makes
them transparent enough and useful enough to be successful. Comments
from readers so far have been extremely positive as well, mostly just
discussing the apps themselves. This is a great sign that they are finding
the posts useful, and encouraging for advertisers who want their apps to be
seen by potential buyers.
It’s only been two weeks since we launched the service, but so far the signs
are good and it looks like our first month will earn $200–$300. This isn’t a
huge amount of money, but it’s something we can build on over time, and
can also roll out to Web.AppStorm and iPhone.AppStorm.

Trialing an Idea Quickly
Whether Quick Look is ultimately successful remains to be seen.
Regardless, it is a good example of another principle that I have found to
be extremely important in running a small operation. Namely, it’s important
to trial things in the simplest, cheapest way possible when the outcome is
In the case of Quick Look we put together a very fast, very cheap solution in
the following way:
We began by running a poll using the PollDaddy (
service to ask readers how they would feel about a sponsored post service

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to showcase apps. We spread the word using Twitter to quickly get a
couple hundred responses. They were overwhelmingly positive, assuming
the service was done unobtrusively and the apps were relevant. This was a
good sign and so we decided to proceed.
Creating a payment system is expensive and time-consuming. So instead
we created a form using Formstack ( and used their
PayPal integration service to add a payment component. We set up the
form to ask for all relevant information and then email David the results. This
service can be set up for free, though if you are processing any reasonable
number of submissions you’d want one of their subscription plans, which
range from $14 to $160 per month.
From the form results, David then copies and pastes the results into
WordPress where we have a few specific styles and bits of text prearranged
to make the process quick. He grabs a poll from PollDaddy and applies a
quick skin we created so the poll matches the site and then the post
is ready!
If we were to experience a heavy volume of submissions, this process
wouldn’t prove very efficient, particularly in the copying and pasting. In an
ideal solution, we would build a specialized WordPress plugin to handle the
forms and payments and generate the posts directly in WordPress as drafts
for David to log in and publish.
Of course building a system like that costs money, and until the service
is successful there is no point investing in it. Instead we’ve developed
something quickly and cheaply. If it generates income, we can reinvest that
income in making the whole thing into a seamless revenue machine!

Expanding Too Early
In retrospect the biggest mistake I made with AppStorm was expanding too
early. When it came time to write up this case study, I had a chance to really
look back and try to isolate the mistakes that have prevented AppStorm
from reaching its full potential to date, and expansion stands out clearly.
When we launched Web.AppStorm, the signs for Mac.AppStorm were

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Case study : appstorm
extremely positive with a long track record of month-on-month growth in
both traffic and in ad sales. At the time, revenue wasn’t enough to cover
costs, but all the signs seemed to indicate that it would keep growing.
Thanks to many previous successes, I decided to take a chance and
organized a sister site to Mac.AppStorm, and so we launched Web.
AppStorm. Shortly after, for whatever reason, traffic growth slowed down on
the original , and due to my continual experimentation with ad placements,
revenue also dropped off.
On top of this, the Web Apps niche is not nearly as nicely defined as Mac
Apps, and so the site’s growth has been much slower and steadier than
the quick jumps at Mac.AppStorm. This is a clear sign that instead of
responding to an open niche, we were carving out a new niche. While this
is doable, it’s always more expensive and more of a long, hard slog than
discovering an open topic.
A few months later, after seeing somewhat sluggish growth and a bit of a
downturn in revenue, I had the somewhat bizarre response of deciding that
the best defense was an offense, and so I asked David to start up a third
blog with iPhone.AppStorm.
The iPhone apps niche is a logical one to go into because iPhone apps are
so wildly popular, and initial signs looked very promising for this niche, much
as they did for Mac.AppStorm a year ago. Nonetheless, starting a third site
added tremendous weight to our costs.
At the moment the costs of running three sites are large, but income is
as yet relatively meager in comparison. If we wanted to minimize our
losses, then we expanded too early, and in retrospect should have given
Mac.AppStorm more time to settle and become profitable. Then we could
have used Mac.AppStorm as more of a base to create the other sites. As it
is, we are using our own pockets to fund all three sites and the losses are
only really sustainable because AppStorm is part of a larger business.
Today, thankfully, our revenue has been picking up and thanks to the hard
work of our editors David Appleyard and Jarel Remick, the traffic has
been growing. With some initiatives like Quick Look, we may yet wrestle
AppStorm into profitability and ultimately success.

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lessons learned
The most important lessons I’ve learned from AppStorm are:
1. Study Traffic
We use Google Analytics on all our sites and it holds an absolute wealth
of information. I make it a daily practice to check in and hunt through the
statistics for trends and data that I might not know about. Sometimes
this doesn’t seem like the best use of my time, but every now and then I
find a nugget of information that is incredibly useful. The realization that
we were ranking for the term “Mac Apps” was one such gem!
Similarly, by paying a lot of attention to Analytics, we discovered that
posts about topics like Mac Icons and Mac Desktops were a gold mine
for search and long-term traffic. This realization has led us to create
more of these evergreen posts, and to create similar core traffic posts
for additional AppStorm blogs.
2. Find a Great Editor
Success in business depends on the people you hire and the team you
build. Nothing great is built by one person, and never was this clearer
than with Mac.AppStorm, where a combination of David’s creativity and
energy and my experiences from previous sites led to a successful blog.
Without a great editor, not only would the site not have run as well, we
also wouldn’t have our weekly giveaways, most of our advertisers and
revenue, or a sustainable plan for the future!
Since then we’ve had two other editors work on AppStorm and a host
of great writers have contributed one-off and regular columns. It is only
through this set of talented people that we have had the traffic growth
on the AppStorm network.
3. Build Traffic on Previous Successes
Success in blogging, like many things in life, builds on previous
successes. When I started my very first blog I started literally from
scratch, cobbling together readers from anywhere and everywhere.
FreelanceSwitch in turn had a small boost from that early blog, and then

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Case study : appstorm
Psdtuts+ came and again was helped along in both capital and readers
by FreelanceSwitch. By the time AppStorm launched, the other blogs
made launching the smoothest and simplest it has ever been!
If you look at AppStorm out of context, it’s tempting to think, “well of
course it has lots of traffic, it had the rest of the Envato network to
support it,” but it’s important to see that you have to build resources
step by step, reader by reader, site by site.
4. First Profitability, Then Expansion
It’s very tempting to try “growth” as a strategy to combat losses. It’s
counterintuitive but appealing to the entrepreneurial mindset, after all
it’s entrepreneurs who coined the phrase “You have to spend money to
make money!” But the AppStorm experience really brought home for me
that it’s important to build strong, stable foundations before you start
building on top of them.
When I expanded from Mac.AppStorm, it wasn’t yet steady or profitable,
and growing two new sites was a very costly and risky thing to do. It
may yet turn out okay, but even if it does, this will have more to do with
our capacity to bear losses than anything else. For new entrepreneurs,
that capacity is more likely to be limited, and the principle of profitabilitythen-expansion will be even more critical.
5. Sometimes it’s Good to Take a Hard Look at Things
Oddly enough, one of the best things to happen to AppStorm was
me having to write this case study. While I think we all knew that the
sites needed attention, spending time to write out this analysis and
discussion really focused my team’s attention on solving our problems.
It’s too early to tell whether those steps will result in success, but being
the optimist that I am, and knowing the great team we have, I think we’ll
get there! Hopefully in the updated edition to this book, I will be able to
share many new lessons and success stories from AppStorm!

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Final word
We live in a time when the world of publishing is a very exciting place to be.
In the last few years we’ve seen traditional publishing falling into turmoil
thanks to declining advertising and audiences, mobile devices coming of
age, e-Readers and tablet computers beginning to proliferate and promising
new ways of consuming content, blogs growing ever more popular, and the
internet continuing to be a source of disruption to traditional businesses.
In fact there is so much going on that sometimes it feels like things
never stay still. In this world of change, it’s important to stick to a few
fundamental principles:
1. Be Determined to Succeed
In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins describes how companies
that achieve greatness often encounter lots of problems along the
way. One of their defining attributes, however, are that they meet their
issues with an absolute belief that they will eventually succeed, while at
the same time not being afraid to confront the exacting details of their
everyday worries.
I believe it’s very important that as entrepreneurs we stay optimistic about
how things will turn out, but not at the expense of confronting the realities
of how our businesses are faring. We all hit walls, we all have product and
even business failures. These, however, are just road blocks and while they
are important in that you have to navigate through them, they are not the
end of the road. There is almost always a path to success; sometimes it’s
just a much more difficult path than we may ideally like!
2. Stay on Top of Trends
Every industry has trends that you have to keep up with, but none move
as fast as the online world where new products, ideas, markets, apps,
services, and opportunities are created daily. It’s a fantastic and exciting
place to be, but it can also be bewildering and it’s important to find
ways to keep up.
The key to staying on top of trends is to subscribe, visit, and read other
blogs. Choose sites not just from your niche but from around the web

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Final word
and stay up to date with them. Pick industry-leading sites and pay
attention to what they are doing on their sites. Look at what services,
techniques, design, content, and features they offer. Look for ideas that
you can take and implement in your own business.
3. Continuously Improve
It’s all too easy for a blog, even a fast growing one, to stall in its growth.
A plateau in traffic, in revenue, in subscribers, or in any other metric
generally only has one true antidote, and it comes in the form of a
philosophy of continuous improvement.
If you are constantly searching for ways to improve, to expand, to
update, to move with the times, and to be better than you have ever
been before, then it will show through in the results you see.
When you are committed to continuous improvement you will find
yourself experimenting with new ideas, trying out new systems and
approaches, and by simple probability, sooner or later you will hit on
winning ideas.
4. Hire Well and Manage Well
The key to a great business is the team that works there. Coming to
appreciate just how critical a team can be has been one of the most
important lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur. No great business is
built alone, so it’s imperative that you get the right people and you
keep them.
To build the best team possible, you need to treat hiring as a deliberate
and important part of your business. Spend the time to hire well:
interviewing, reviewing, looking at multiple candidates, and offering a fair
and attractive job proposition. Build momentum by encouraging good
people to find other good people.
And when you’ve got a great team, make sure you spend the
time looking after their needs so that you keep them. Read up on
management related articles and books, make sure you talk your staff
through what’s important to them. Make keeping good people as big a
priority as hiring them was.

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5. Stay on Top of Your Accounts
Running a business without good accounts is like driving blind: you
might get where you’re going, but you’re infinitely more likely to hit a
tree! Accounts enable you to know what’s coming, to understand your
cash flow, to plan for growth, and to know when you have to make
changes – before it’s too late.
As a new entrepreneur, I always understood that money was important
but nonetheless did my best to only do the bare minimum of account
keeping. Looking back, I realize I was lucky to scrape through some
narrow moments only on the back of overall growth. I don’t want to think
about how things could have turned out if perhaps our business growth
had stalled at the wrong moment. Certainly today I take a much greater
interest in the business accounts and cash flow!
6. Never Stop Learning
When I was young I thought that learning was something you did in
school and then in university and maybe in the first years of your work.
After that I assumed you attained a magical complete understanding of
whatever it was you did and that was that. Today I believe nothing could
be further from the truth! Learning never stops and thank goodness it
doesn’t because learning creates opportunities.
When you learn about new things, even if they have nothing in common
with your business, you open up new horizons for yourself. Broadening
your depth of experience naturally allows you to spot new and interesting
possibilities and opportunities. So while one aspect of learning is staying
on top of trends, another is simply learning about anything that seems
interesting to you and then looking at how it can apply to your work.
When I first encountered blogging I was mostly just looking at it as a
way to express myself online and to tell anyone who would listen about
my ideas on business. But by learning about blogging, I quickly realized
that there were all sorts of implications for the rest of my work as well.
7. Make It About More Than Just Money
If you do something you are passionate about it, will generally show
through. While money is something everyone is passionate about on

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Final word
some level, it will usually only get you so far. Make sure you build
a business that you love working in for more than just the paycheck
it brings.
Taking this approach will not only lead to a happier working life, but it’s
also a safeguard in bad times. If things do ever take a turn for the worse
and money is tight, you will still have a reason to enjoy work and to
struggle through. Happily, tough times never last forever, and sooner or
later you’ll push through!
I hope this book helps you on your own path to blogging and business
success. Congratulations on choosing such an exciting field to be a part
of, and good luck in all your projects! I look forward to subscribing to
your sites!

Collis Ta’eed

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aPPendix: a
Blog BasiCs
Crash Course
If you’ve picked up this book, chances are you already know what a
blog is, probably read quite a few, and very likely have already tried
your hand at blogging. This appendix is for readers who may not
be quite so familiar with the basics of blogging. Here we will race
through some of the basics of what blogging is, how it works, and
how you can get started blogging today.
The rest of the book assumes that you have blogged before in
some shape or form and are reasonably familiar with fundamental
concepts like what a post is, what a pageview is, and so on. If
that sounds like mumbo jumbo, then read on for a crash course in
blogging basics!

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course

what is a Blog?
A blog is a website that periodically updates with dated content called blog
posts. A blog post can be text, images, video, audio, or any combination
thereof. People blog about personal thoughts, opinions, news, stuff they
like, stuff they don’t, information they’ve collected, how-to guides on how to
to do things, …in short you can blog about pretty much anything!
Over time, blogging has evolved into a sort of online news/magazine
medium, so that bloggers can be anything from hobbyists to professionals
to media outlets. This means that blogs now also appear in a variety of
forms. Some still look like the online journals they originated as, while others
resemble newspapers and online portals.
Elite blogs attract thousands of readers and visitors a day, many bringing
in enough revenue to support one or more people working on them. In fact
some have grown into large businesses spawning conferences, job boards,
and even social networks.
Of course, how you measure your success as a blogger is up to you.
Whether it is having a small, devoted following, bringing in a side income,
or being linked to and talked about by other bloggers you look up to, every
blogger has different goals. This book is about blogging as a serious hobby,
profession, and ultimately as a business.

day-to-day Blogging
So what does a blogger actually do? The quintessential task of any blogger,
of course, is the production of content for the blog. But serious blogging
isn’t just posting, in fact a typical blogger’s day might include:

Researching, Reading and Planning Content
Keeping a consistent stream of quality content generally requires
bloggers to stay on top of the latest news, trends, and discussions. That
means typical bloggers spend a lot of time reading, researching stories,
looking for news to break, and generally planning out posts.

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Producing Content
Producing content – that is, writing posts, recording podcasts and
videos, finding images, and compiling links – takes up a fair amount of
any blogger’s time.

Marketing the Blog
Finding readers for a new blog is a challenging task all on its own, and
marketing both the blog and individual blog posts can take a lot of time.

Analyzing Blog Statistics
There are many ways to measure a blog’s success, from traffic to
revenue to community participation. These statistics merit a lot of
analysis to determine how a blog can be more effective and successful.

Managing the Business
For bloggers who use their blogs as a business or income stream,
there is usually a good amount of work to do on the business itself,
including tasks like finding advertisers, managing income, and paying
freelance writers.

Every blogger’s workload differs and depends on how you approach
blogging. In some instances you may find a blog almost markets itself, while
others need a lot of attention to get the word out. Some bloggers prefer not
to spend too much time on statistics, while others pore over every number
and graph.
In this book, we generally view all these tasks as being broken into individual
jobs that you can hire staff for. In this appendix, however, it’s important to
understand that for the vast majority of solo bloggers, these are all daily
tasks that the blogger must handle personally.

setting up a Blog
Blogs consist of two parts: the front-end where readers see blog posts, and
the back-end where the blogger writes and manages the blog. The backend or administration area usually includes tools and settings to change how
the blog looks on the front-end, to approve and moderate comments, and of
course to write and edit blog posts.

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course
To set up a blog you will need two things: blogging software and somewhere
to host the blog. Depending on what blogging software you use, you may
need to set up your own web hosting, or have it part of the package. Below
you’ll find basic explanations of how hosting works, what blogging software
packages are available, and recommendations on what you should choose.
In the main part of the book you will find more detailed and advanced
explanations and descriptions of some of these technical facets of blogging.

Web Hosting and Servers
To get a site online, you need to have it stored on a computer that is
permanently connected to the Internet and set up for serving up websites.
This computer is called a server and you can rent space on a server, or even
rent an entire server from companies called web hosts.
Once you sign up to a hosting account, you’ll get access to a set of tools
to manage your server, upload files, and install software. Typically, hosting
accounts are charged on a monthly or yearly basis, and these days prices
are pretty low. For example, the popular host Dreamhost (http://dreamhost.
com) offers monthly packages for less than $10 per month.
You also need a domain name, which you can usually purchase from the
same web host for as little as $10 per year. This domain name then gets
mapped to the web hosting account so that whenever someone types in
that URL, the files on your website that are hosted on that web host, appear
on the person’s screen.
To make matters more complicated, some web hosts won’t support certain
types of software depending on how they are set up. When choosing a
web host, it’s a good idea to ask their support or sales staff about using the
account with the blogging platform you’ve chosen.

Blogging Software
There are a variety of types of blogging software available, and they fall into
two general camps: hosted and self-hosted. Hosted software means you
don’t need to worry about the web hosting part at all; it’s taken care of for

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you. You’ll usually need to pay a subscription fee, or put up with some sort
of advertising – that’s how the company makes their money. Many hosted
packages will still allow you to purchase a domain name and then map it to
the hosted package. If you don’t wish to buy a domain name though, they
will give you a website address to use instead, but expect it to be longer and
less personal.
Self-hosted blogging software comes as a set of files that you download
and then install on your own web host. You often need to create a database
on your host, which means you’ll need to know a bit about what you are
doing, or be good at following technical instructions.
Fortunately, some web hosts offer self-installing versions of some of the
more popular blogging packages. In particular, One-Click WordPress Installs
are common, and this makes life a lot easier if you aren’t very comfortable
with hosting set-ups.
The most common blogging platforms are:
1. Blogger: Hosted, Free account via
2. Hosted, Free account via
3. WordPress: Self-Hosted, Download from
4. Movable Type: Self-Hosted, Free for Individuals, $400–$1500 for
businesses, at
There are plenty of other options, free and paid, hosted and self-hosted,
including: TypePad, TextPattern, LiveJournal, ExpressionEngine, Serendipity,
SquareSpace, and Mephisto to name just a few. You can read more about
choosing a platform and hiring a web developer to organize your blogging
software in Chapter 4.

What Software Should You Choose?
Choosing a platform can be a bit bewildering when you first start out. It’s
important to do a bit of thinking and research as changing platforms down

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course
the track can be difficult and you can lose readers along the way if you
aren’t careful.
Experimental or Hobby Blogging: Try or Blogger
Both of these options are very fast to get started with, but limited down the
road when it comes to customization and features. Consequently both are
good for getting your feet wet, seeing how blogs work, and for use on blogs
you are certain will only ever be a hobby.
If you use either Blogger or and think it is remotely possible
that you may want to get more serious in the future, then I highly recommend
that you set up a custom domain name. Getting your own domain name will
ensure that if you need to move to a more complete software package such
as the two listed below, that you will be able to keep most of your existing
traffic and search engine ranking during the changeover. Both services offer
tools to map a domain name back to your blog.
Serious Blogging: WordPress Self-Hosted
Both WordPress and Movable Type are very robust, scalable, and
professional platforms for running your blog. Out of the two, WordPress is
the more popular, however both have their benefits.
WordPress is completely free no matter what use you put it to. It has literally
thousands of themes available, some free and some that need to be paid
for, as well as plugins to do just about anything you can think of. Because
it’s the most common blogging platform, you’ll find buckets of advice and
articles on using WordPress, and lots of designers and developers who
specialize in custom builds.

Customizing a Blog Installation
Bloggers will typically spend a lot of time customizing their blog installation
with plugins and extensions, design modifications, and so on. In this book
we won’t dwell on the technical aspects of blog customization in too
much detail as blog platforms differ vastly. Chapters 3 and 4 have some
information on development and design choices, but beyond this you can
find a range of helpful advice online.

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Basic Blogging Concepts
When you first start blogging, there are a lot of new concepts, terms, and
skills to get your head around. Listed below are some of the more important
topics and a short explanation of each. The list is by no means exhaustive,
so you will want to do some reading via the resources provided at the end of
this appendix.

Every day, visitors will arrive at your website to read and browse the
pages there. These visitors are collectively called “traffic,” and they are the
lifeblood of a site. A common misconception for new bloggers is that traffic
will mysteriously appear on a new site. In reality, a site needs to be known
and found somehow, hence a large portion of this book is dedicated to
generating traffic to a site.
Common Terms:

Visitors: A person who has navigated to a page on a website.

Uniques: Refers to unique visitors in a given period, so that means
counting each person only once and not once for each time they have
visited. If you have a blog with a large number of repeat visitors each
month, you may find your visitors per month and uniques per month
are two quite different numbers. Advertisers will sometimes ask about
uniques as it lets them know how many actual people are visiting.

Hits: Hits generally means the number of times a server processes
requests from a visitor’s browser. So if a visitor looks at a page that
has three images, the server will register a hit for each of those images
as well as more for the page itself. Unfortunately, the word hits is
sometimes misused to mean visitors or visits. Consequently it’s good to
clarify the term before you assume its meaning.

Pageviews: Each visitor to a site will browse one or more pages.
Each page that is displayed registers as a pageview. Typically blogs
average 1–5 pageviews per visitor depending on how old they are and

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course
how frequently they are posted to. Certain other types of sites, for
example social networks like Facebook, will have much higher average
pageviews per visitor because a typical visit involves more activity.
Pageviews are extremely important because they will determine how
many times an advert will be displayed on the page.

Analytics and Stats Packages: To measure and analyze a site’s traffic,
you need to install some sort of analytics package. The most common
is the freely available Google Analytics (,
which is installed using a small bit of code that gets placed on every page.
Google Analytics has a huge range of functionality and detail, and will let
you measure everything from where people click on a page, to what sites
they arrived from. You can read more about Analytics in Chapter 6.
Another common type of statistics package is the log analyzer. Log
analyzers are installed on the server itself and have typically less
features and functionality. Given the choice, you are probably better off
using Analytics or a similar package.

There are two ways to read a blog: the first is to visit it in a browser, and the
second is to subscribe to the site’s updates via an RSS feed. Every blog
platform can be set to produce an RSS feed for the site. Visitors then grab
the URL for the feed and add it to their feed reader where they get notified
of updates. It’s also possible to have the feed send updates via emails for
readers not familiar with RSS.
Subscriber numbers are important as they provide a rough gauge of how
large a blog’s audience is. It is also possible to serve up adverts on a site’s
feed, thus providing another source of revenue.
Common Terms:

RSS Feed: RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is a format
for a file that your blog software keeps updated with the latest blog
posts. Feed readers then check in with the file to pull in updates. In fact,
there are other types of web feeds besides RSS, including notably Atom

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Feeds, but most people simply say “RSS” or “Feed” and use it to mean
any type of feed.

Feed Reader: A feed reader, or feed aggregator as they are sometimes
called, is a website or program that lets the user subscribe to multiple
feeds. There are a variety of feed readers around, ranging from
customizable homepages like iGoogle and Netvibes, to online readers
like Google Reader, to desktop applications like Newsfire, to regular
browsers like Safari and Internet Explorer.

Feedburner: The most common service for measuring, analyzing,
and serving adverts on feeds. A blogger will typically set up a regular
feed on their site, then “burn” the feed through a Feedburner account,
which really just means repackaging it with a Feedburner URL that can
measure subscribers and other statistics. Then the blogger publicizes
the Feedburner URL in the place of the original feed URL on the blog.

Social Media
“Social media” refers to websites where users interact in different ways.
Social media includes social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn,
social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Magnolia, social news sites
like Digg and Reddit, as well as a variety of other sites like StumbleUpon
(a hybrid social news and bookmarking site), Twitter (a social chat and
microblogging site), and many, many others.
Social media is important to blogging as it is a major source of traffic for
many blogs. Sites like Digg and Reddit can provide a flood of traffic if
a particular blog post hits the front page, while sites like StumbleUpon,
Delicious and Facebook provide a way for users to share blog posts they
like with their friends and the world. You can learn a lot more about social
media and traffic generation in Chapter 6.
Common Terms:

Submitting: Sites like Digg and Reddit require a blog post to be initially
submitted as a story or link. Submission creates the entry on the site
where users can then vote for or against, as well as comment and

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course
discuss. On Digg, it makes a big difference who submits a story, since
so-called top diggers have legions of followers who pay attention to
what stories they are submitting.

Voting: Social news sites like Digg and Reddit rely on users voting for
stories to determine which are the most newsworthy. The more votes
a story gets, the higher the story is ranked and the higher the resulting
traffic will be. On Digg, stories need to hit a certain threshold of votes
before they get front-paged, at which point the resulting traffic can be
enough to push many servers into overload, commonly known as the

Bookmarking: Social bookmarking sites require users to save or share
a URL on their account. Often there is a “Popular” page, where other
users can see what URLs are currently getting a lot of attention, and
they in turn may save or visit the site themselves.

Arguably one of the cornerstones of blogs is the ability for readers to
discuss the content being posted. This discussion occurs in the form of
comments on the page itself, and blog posts by other bloggers linking back
to the original post, known as trackbacks. Comments can be switched off
or require an account, and while a few famous blogs are set up that way, in
most cases commenting is open to anyone and everyone. This also allows
spammers to fill the web with comment spam, in much the same way as
they do with email spam. Any good blog software package will have some
form of spam filter, and it’s a good idea to install one of these early on to
save yourself time moderating comments endlessly to get rid of the rubbish!
Common Terms:

Moderating Comments: Most blogs are set up so that the blogger
must approve, reject, or mark a comment as spam, known as
moderating. To make life easier, the blogger can set a rule that once a
particular commenter has had one comment approved, they no longer
need to have comments moderated.

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Trackbacks, Pingbacks, Linkbacks: All three of these terms mean the
same thing. They are links back from another blog to a specific post on
your blog.

One of the biggest topics in blogging is monetization, which as the word
suggests, means finding ways to make money out of a blog. Monetization
methods include advertising and sponsorship, sales of products and
services, and even selling the blog itself! This subject is discussed in detail
in Chapter 7.
Common Terms:

Affiliate or Referral Program: Many companies offer affiliate programs
whereby a blogger can sign up to help sell the company’s product or
service, in return for a commission or affiliate payment. Usually signing
up to an affiliate program, or referral program as they are sometimes
called, will mean getting a special affiliate link and banner adverts to use
to promote the product or service.

CPM: When selling advertising space on a site, there are a few different
ways to price the placement. CPM stands for Cost Per Thousand (M
is the Roman Numeral for 1,000) and means the cost for an advert to
be shown a thousand times. For example, a site that serves up 2,000
pageviews a month and that is selling advertising at $5 CPM, would
cost $10 to advertise on for one month (2 lots of $5).

CPC: CPC stands for Cost Per Click, and is used when the cost is
measured not for the number of times an advert is shown, but for the
number of times an advert is actually clicked on. CPC is used largely
in search advertising like Google Adwords, where the advertiser is only
interested in actual click-throughs.

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course

Web Design, Development and Formatting
Although you can get away with not knowing anything about web design
and development, it most certainly helps. In particular, when formatting
blog posts, or tinkering with your blog, a bit of knowledge can go a long
way. There are four primary coding and layout languages that are used in
blogging, each is explained below.
Common Terms:

HTML: HTML (hypertext markup language) is the basic layout language
of the web. It’s a very easy-to-understand language that uses “tags” to
designate how to format and layout text and content. A simple example
is the bold tag <strong>. Applying this tag to text like so:
<strong>This text is bold</strong>, this text is not.
Will tell the browser to make everything in between bold, giving
this output:
This text is bold, this text is not.
There are HTML tags to do all sorts of things, including more complex
ones for laying out pages with graphics. Knowing basic tags for adding
images, formatting, and arranging things on a page is a very helpful
skill for a blogger. An excellent site to learn basic HTML is W3Schools

CSS: CSS (cascading style sheets) is a language used to further define
how things should look in HTML using files called style sheets. These
are created once, and then applied to many pages. This makes life
easier as styles can be defined in one place and then used many times.
Styles can also be mixed into the HTML itself. You can easily get by
without knowing CSS as a blogger, but if you are interested in learning
more, again W3Schools ( offers a good
set of basic tutorials.

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Javascript: Javascript (or JS) is a programming language used to
actually do stuff, as opposed to HTML and CSS, which are just for
displaying text and pages. Javascript is used for things like monitoring
statistics for programs like Google Analytics, adding little applications
to a page like a calculator, and generally making a website a bit more
clever. As a blogger you don’t need to know how to write Javascript at
all; however, there may be times where you will need to copy and paste
lines of JS code for widgets and applications that you wish to add to
your blog.

PHP: Like Javascript, PHP (hypertext preprocessor) is a programming
language for adding functionality to a site. It differs in that it is generally
used to power more complex stuff. For example, most blogging
software is written in PHP. Because Javascript runs in a person’s
browser, they can switch it on and off, thereby disabling and enabling
the stuff you are using it for. PHP on the other hand runs on the actual
server where your website is hosted. This means it is more secure and
can do things like accessing the database.
It’s unlikely you will ever need to have much to do with PHP unless you
really start working on your blog’s design and development. But because
so many blogs are written in PHP, in particular WordPress, it’s likely you
will come across this acronym occasionally when reading about blogs.

Search Engines
As you know, search engines like Google and Yahoo are used to find things
on the web. In particular they can be used to find your site! This makes
them very important to bloggers as they can grow to be responsible for a
very large portion of a site’s traffic. This has led to a whole industry around
optimizing websites to garner more search traffic. In Chapter 6 we discuss
search engine traffic and optimization in more detail.
Common Terms:

SEO: SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of changing a
blog’s structure and content to result in more search engine traffic.

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course
Common SEO techniques include using popular keywords in post titles,
editing the site’s design to be search engine friendly, and finding ways to
get more links back to different pages. SEO is an ever-evolving field, and
there are professionals who charge a lot of money for the service.

Ranking: When you search for a certain term in a search engine, you get a
list of pages of results. Where a particular site sits in the results is referred
to as its ranking. So when you optimize your site, you are trying to rank
better for certain search terms in order to receive more search traffic.

More Terms Explained
There are many terms, acronyms, and phrases associated with blogging
that you will encounter. You can find a great list of definitions and
explanations on QuickOnlineTips’ Giant Blogging Glossary at http://www.

what Can You expect?
When you’re brand new to something like blogging it’s easy to make some
assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. Here are a few basic facts about
blogging that are worth knowing:
1. It Can Be Hard to Get Noticed
There are many, many thousands of bloggers out there, some
professional, some hobbyists, some just personal bloggers. The
“blogosphere” is vast and noisy, so it can be difficult to get noticed as
a brand new voice. Over time, with application and great content, you
will be heard and get known, but you must not expect it to be handed to
you. Getting noticed takes effort.
2. You Can Make a Lot of Money, But It Takes a Lot of Work
There are bloggers making considerable amounts of money, and in fact
two of the case studies in this book record how two blogs have worked
their way into five and six-figures per month in revenue. However, like
most things in life, it takes a lot of work.

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In 2008 Technorati released the results of a global survey of bloggers
that revealed that the majority of bloggers surveyed carried some form
of advertising on their blogs. The mean (or average) annual revenue
was $6,000, but this is heavily weighted by the top 1% of bloggers who
generate over $200,000 per year, meaning the majority of bloggers don’t
earn very much. You can see more of the survey results for both 2008
and successive years at:
3. You Get Started Easily and Quickly
Some pursuits take a lot of time to get into; blogging, on the other
hand, is something you can literally start doing today. It may take a
long time to become successful, but actually getting started is as
simple as grabbing an account at a hosted blog provider like Blogger or, or signing up to a hosting package and publishing your
first post. In the next section we’ll discuss how you can start blogging
today yourself.
4. Getting Comments, Readers and Traffic is Addictive
Perhaps the best thing about blogging is that once you begin finding
readers, having them comment on your posts, and seeing traffic begin
to trickle in, the feeling is fantastic! If you love discussing ideas, sharing
findings, teaching skills, and generally opening up to the world, then
you’ll love blogging.
5. Blogging is a Marathon.
A common and sage piece of advice about blogging is to think of it as
a marathon rather than a sprint. Blogging is about consistent posting,
marketing, and effort, and in the long run, just sticking at it will outpace
many of your early rivals. Sometimes you may get disheartened, and
sometimes you may get sick of posting, but if you keep at it, keep
experimenting and evolving, the odds get better and better so that your
blog will be more and more successful over time.

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course

diving in…today
The best way to learn about blogging is to get involved, and that is
something you can do today! Here are three things you can begin
doing immediately:

Start Reading Other Blogs
Reading blogs as a budding blogger means looking at how they are set up,
what content works and why it does, how often they are posting, what kinds
of posts generate the most discussion, and so on. Reading popular blogs
is a great way to get in the thick of things, and if you read blogs in the niche
that you intend to blog yourself, you’ll also get a good idea of the landscape
and where your new blog will fit in.
The best way to find blogs to read is simply to start surfing. Google Blog
Search and Technorati are two great places to begin your browsing, and
more often than not, you’ll find posts linking to more posts and before you
know it, you’ll be inundated!
You may also wish to grab an account with a feed reader site like Google
Reader and begin subscribing to the better blogs you come across. This is a
good habit to get into as you enter into the world of blogging, as you’ll find
there are a lot of sites to keep track of.
In Chapter 2 we discuss how you should research a new niche before
opening your main blog enterprise, and much of the discussion centers
around investigating competing blogs in and around that topic. So this is a
great habit to get into as you embark on your blogging journeys.

Start Reading Blogs About Blogging
Naturally there are some great blogs about blogging out there, and they offer
a constant stream of advice and opinions on the subject. While this book
gives a solid overview of blogging as a business, sites written specifically on
the subject of blogging will often go into minute detail on niche topics, as

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well as mix in blogging news and opinions. You can find a selection of great
blogs on blogging listed in the resources at the end of this chapter.

Start a Blog
Of course the best way to get involved in blogging is to start doing it. The
two easiest sites to open a blog to experiment with are and, where you can literally be up and running in a few minutes.
If you’ve already got an idea you’re serious about, you may want to go the
whole way and grab a web hosting account with WordPress, Movable Type,
or some other blog choice, in which case check the resources at the end of
this chapter.
In any case, starting a blog and habitually posting to it at some regular
interval is the best way to find out if blogging is something you really want
to get into. Jumping straight in will also give you more perspective as you
go through the rest of this book. So feel free to start a blog right now, about
anything you like!

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appendix: a Blog Basics Crash Course

additional resources
Blogs about Blogging
• Problogger (
• DailyBlogTips (
• BlogHerald (
Books about Blogging
• ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure
Income by Darren Rowse
• Blogging For Dummies
• WordPress for Dummies





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