Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why I Am Not (But Still Am) a Professional Blogger

From June 2007 to June 2008 I was a professional blogger, by which I mean I earned the bulk of my income from blogging. Right now, I work full time as a technical writer and continue to blog on the side. My side blogging earns me some income, around $200 a month.


Unlike the majority of people who think of "professional blogger" as someone who makes a direct living off the advertising or affiliate income of his or her blog, I leveraged my blogging skills into landing corporate blogging jobs.

The story of how I became a professional blogger is here.

Lessons Learned From Being a Corporate Blogger For Hire
  • Once you have blogging skills and some know-how, it's easy to get a full-time paid corporate blogging position that pays a little less than a technical writing position. Many companies know little about blogging except that it is good. If you can prove you know about blogging, you can get a job. Since it's not in the company's current budget, it won't be a high paying job, but it will be more than $5 or $10 a post, which is ridiculous.
  • The hard part is teaching companies what blogging is, what it isn't, and defining the blog's goals. Do as much of this as you can before you accept the position. Remember, you are (probably) not planning to have the company make direct income off of the blog.
  • Corporate blogging is marketing. If you're a corporate blogger, you're a marketer. Welcome to a new field.
  • You don't control a corporate blog, the corporation does. That means posts may be edited and vetted, and you represent a company, not yourself. Mistakes are not tolerated.
  • No one on the internet writes about how to be a corporate blogger for hire. I had to start my own blog on corporate blogging for hire, which I stopped updating when I stopped working as a professional blogger. It contains a lot of good info about my experiences.
  • I'm just as happy earning a good living as a technical writer and doing blogging on the side as I was earning a poor living doing blogging full time.
Why I Didn't Go the Straight Route

Earning direct income from blogging is possible, if you:
  • have massively good content
  • write posts that are original and useful
  • are a great editor
  • have very easily hookable content
  • write excellent titles for nearly every single post
  • have no filler content on the blog
  • write in a niche that lends itself to rich advertisements
  • have little competition in this niche
  • have laser-like focus
  • procure lots of insider connections
  • spend lots of time marketing
  • spend lots of time social networking
  • have a few years to kill
  • have incredible luck
Don't have all of these? Don't bother trying to earn a living directly from blogging. And please note the last one. You can meet the other requirements and still not make a living directly from your blog.

But wait! There is a secret way you can shortcut these requirements. Want to know the secret?
  • Already be a famous person
Things That Matter

My main blog dropped from 10k to 100k on Technorati over the last year, because I'm doing barely any networking. I still have regular readers, maybe more than last year. But I'm not getting many links, PageRank hates me, and I'm not getting the notice I could get if I did any marketing.

I don't have a laser-like focus for my blog. That means that, unless you're willing to wade through all the topics I write about, you're not going to read my blog regularly; a lot of it won't be relevant to you. That's why I started a new blog devoted solely to my main topic: tabletop gaming.

I rewrote or erased a few posts, wrote an occasional less-than-stellar post, and have been wrong about things on occasion. All of which are not conducive to gaining authority. Them's the breaks. I had more important things to do this year than gain authority on this blog. And it shows. The content on this blog in 2006 and 2007 was incredible; this year's it was simply good.

Several times over the past few years I've done giveaways on the blog: my entire ad income from my first year of blogging income ($75), $100 of ad earnings (plus $200 in donated items), a $25 giveaway, and recently a game from my affiliate earnings. Every time that I've given away money, I've made back the amount that I gave away in less than a month.

It took me a year of Google ads to earn $75; after the giveaway I earned $75 in the one month from donations and new text ads. In my last giveaway, I gave games worth around $40 earned from several months of affiliate link clicks (and a game company offered and gave dozens of games in donations as well); in the last few weeks I've earned $40 in affiliate link clicks from grateful readers. How about that?

Stats matter a great deal. Not because of the ego boost. Stats matter because they let you know when people link to you, allowing you to take part in a conversation that may be happening elsewhere. They also give you a feel for how well your content is performing in general terms, which helps you decide how to proceed with subsequent posts. And they give you an idea of what people are looking for when they come to your blog.

Things That Don't Matter

There are a number of things that really don't matter when you blog:

Worrying about advertising is a waste of time. First build a great blog. Advertising is easy. Try a few things here and there, and keep the ones that work. I make most of my blog income from Amazon affiliate links and text link ads. Some text links are through Text Link Ads, and some are negotiated directly. Some paid reviews, Google Ads (very little), and Project Wonderful money, too.

Stop swapping links and playing blogroll games. My site has a large, up to date blogroll of all the blogs in my niche, but it is there to serve my readers. It's the only comprehensive list of its kind on the internet. I don't swap links. [Update: To clarify, linking out to relevant sites is a great idea; so is getting linked to. I mean that you should avoid just swapping links with random sites to boost your pagerank. If your links are useful to your readers, you will lose authority.]

A nice design is nice, but not critical. People should be able to easily navigate and read the text. There should be RSS and email feeds. Anything else is cream.

I've been linked to from nearly every big site there is: Boing Boing multiple times, Problogger, Gaping Void, Seth Godin, Kotaku, Joystiq, and so on and on. Hits result in a large influx of traffic that dies away, one or two subscribers, and a few hits over the next several months. One-off hits don't mean much for your blog; they are appreciated, of course, they're an ego boost, and they could be the stepping stone to a relationship with some fine people. What counts for your blog is keeping readers with continuously good content, not bursts in traffic. Now if I could get semi-regular hits from big sites, or a link on the side of a big site, that would be something.

Much professional blogging advice is only worth implementing if you already have a lot of traffic.

What is a Successful Blog

Given all this, what do I think makes a successful blog? Any one or more of the following:
  • Your writing and/or marketing skills grow.
  • You learn about your blog's subject, and can become an expert.
  • People know about or talk about your site, or consider you an expert.
  • People notice your posts (traffic).
  • People read what you write (subscribers). Notice the difference between subscribers and traffic. I can get 30,000 people to visit my blog in a month, but 25,000 of them will hit one post and leave. That may be ok for ad impressions, but not for becoming an influence.
  • People leave comments and engage you in discussion.
  • People link to your site, increasing your "ranking".
  • Readers tend to do what you ask them to do. You use your blog to sell products you've created, such as books, music, and so on. Or people who read your blog help you to find jobs when you need them.
  • You receive direct income from your blog.
There are many ways to have a successful blog, and many ways to evaluate what is successful.

The Future of This Blog

I'm going to continue this blog, but I'm probably going to move more of my gaming content, such as monthly game patents, to Purple Pawn. This blog will be even less commercial next year; hopefully, Purple Pawn will continue to grow.



Unknown said...

Dave was right, this was definitely worth a look. I'll have to read through it again to absorb it all. You've got me thinking on a lot of these points and anything that makes me think is a good post.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Dave who?


Unknown said...

Dave at rpgbloggers.com?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Ah, that Dave. Thanks.


Ove said...

You're absolutely right - blogging really does teach You a lot about the subject You are writing of.
A year ago when I started my boardgame blog I didn't know a squat about it compared to what I know now - and it's still a top of the iceberg.
But my blog doesn't even get near to Yours. My top is 430 visitors a month. And most of my fellow countrymen don't even know what is a "real" boardgame. So I'm like a trailblazer here :)

Jonathan Jacobs said...

thanks again Yahuda. As a green-blogger (as in n00b) - your advice is well taken and can basically be followed up by: 1) write well and often, and 2) network yourself. I've always seen blogging as a vehicle for new opportunities instead of the opportunity itself; and it seems - from your story - this is proved true again. happy holidays -- jonathan.

Unknown said...

That was instructive and well written. Thanks, Yehuda.

~ Maya
The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy

Dave The Game said...

I suppose I should have mentioned that I recommended this article over the rpgbloggers mailing list :)

Anonymous said...

I want to first thank you for providing some insight through your experience.

While I agree with most of your post, I wonder about your comments pertaining to link-swapping/blogrolls and design being things that don't matter.

This may be the case in your experience, but I think overall these things do matter.

1) Swapping links is a form of networking, and the more friends you have the better. I like to "share the love" and promote sites I think are worthwhile and I like the reciprocation. Would I do it with just any Joe requesting to swap links, no.

2) You only have one chance to make a first impression, so site design can be crucial. Good design probably has diminishing returns (as in at a certain point, the better you make it, less impact it makes), but bad design definitely has a big impact.

I could be misunderstanding you, but it seems a little hypocritcal if you claim link-swapping/blogroll exchange doesn't matter, yet you take advantage of a network, such as the RPGBN, for Purple Pawn.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Good points, Mad Brew.

Linking out is critical! I have a large blogroll, as you can see, and I'm happy to receive links from other sites.

As you surmised, I am speaking about link-swapping for the sake of link-swapping. I want every link on my blog to be useful to my readers. Otherwise, my links have no authority.

And, as you say, design has diminishing returns, unless you have the prettiest design on the internet.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, Yehuda!

Anonymous said...

Nice advice all around :)

Now if I only had the time to actually create content for my site... :p

Fortunately I'm not in it for the money (it's just too hard in my opinion), but I feel bad when I stop updating due to "real life" issues, even if I know my site isn't read by more than a couple of people.

Chris said...

Did I miss the announcement of Purple Pawn...? :-/ Just what I need - yet more blogs to read! :)

It interests me that you get $200 a month from your blogs, because I'm currently earning nothing at all (although in principle I am continuing to promote my various brands, which is more of an intangible benefit).

Anyway, I must return to tying up my work...

Happy Hannukah!