Monday, January 19

Tools to grow your blog (and profits)

When it comes to debt reduction, frugality is only half of the equation. Most of the time, we're also told to try and find alternate sources of revenue.

For a lot of folks, that means blogging.

Of course, not everyone blogs for profit. Some do it to make themselves accountable, which helps them stick to their goals. Others just need a place to vent. But, by and large, most bloggers will admit that some profits would be welcome.

The real question, of course, is how to go about that.

The larger blogs make money primarily through advertising. That sounds great, in theory, but it's not terribly useful for those of us still building our blogs. With low readership numbers, we simply can't demand much for advertising -- assuming advertisers are even showing interest in your site.

That's why most bloggers' first love is AdSense. It gives you some advertising while you build your numbers.

Unfortunately, you can only have three AdSense units on any given page at a time. So what to do with all that white space?

Affiliate marketing networks:

Probably the best-known example of affiliate marketing is You put up a "Deal of the Day" ad, or simply choose a category of items to show. Whenever someone clicks through and makes a purchase, you get a commission.

And, of course, you can go through to your favorite stores and find out if they have affiliate programs to sign up for. But that's a little time-consuming, no?

Luckily for all of us busy, capitalistic bloggers, some companies spend their time gathering stores together for us. These are affiliate marketing networks.

A few different sites recommended me to try out Pepperjam Network. I have been a member for about 3 months now, and in that time at least 30 new partner stores have been added. Needless to say, the variety keeps growing. Whatever your blog is about, there should be some retailers for you.

Some of the stores offer you a commission on any purchases. The rates can vary from 1% (eBay) to 50%. Most of the stores seem to hover around 10%.

Alternately, you may get paid just for generating leads for the company. You get paid for each person who signs up, either for a service or simply to receive more information. Just like commission, leads rates vary from company to company. They can be as high as $65, or as low as $1.

The fact is, you won't get rich with affiliate marketing, especially while your readership is low. It's simple math that the more people look at your page, the more likely it is that one of them will complete a transaction. In other words, it's important not to set your hopes too high for your first few months. As your readership grows, however, you may see an increase in profits.

Right now, though, Pepperjam is willing to give you a leg up on making money. Any new members who sign up through the correct banner ad (I've inserted one below) will get $10.

You can also earn up to $50 a month blogging about Pepperjam. For each post about the network, you'll earn $10 -- and you can post up to 5 times a month. Unfortunately, we blogspot folks don't qualify. I'm not sure if the same policy applies to WordPress, so it will be worth checking out. But for anyone who's purchased a domain name, you can make some easy money.

Interest piqued? Well, then click on through and register.

PJN Promo

Another affiliate marketing group is Linkshare, which I discovered through The Body Shop. I figure that, since we spend so much money there for Tim's skin, we may as well get a little bit of it back. As of yet, I haven't completed the registration process, but I will keep people informed as I learn more about the network.

Referral programs:

One of the best-known ways to make a few bucks on the Internet is by referring others. You generally get a set rate per referral, with some sites giving you a commission as your referrals earn money.

Perhaps the best-paying referral program is ING. Unfortunately, Tim and I don't have the required $250 to qualify for the program. But for anyone who has an emergency fund, this is a great option. The most obvious benefit of ING is that it tends to offer slightly better rates than brick-and-mortar banks. But the referral program is fab, too: You'll get $25 to join (when an existing member refers you) and then $25 per person you refer.

Another site you often see hyped is Inbox Dollars. When you first sign up, you get a $5 bonus. You also get 10% of your referrals' earnings. So far, I've referred four people. Based on that, I've made $2.78. It doesn't sound like a lot, but if I keep referring people, it will eventually add up.

You can also earn points at Inbox Dollars through simple activities, such as reading email, taking surveys or participating in various free offers. If you shop through their merchants, you can get a percentage back.

Allegedly, you can also make money playing games, but that's a bit of a misnomer, honestly. What happens is this: You sign up for World Winner (a game company) and for each cash game you play, you receive some credit at Inbox Dollars.

Still, World Winner does have a policy that will allow you to play games (and potentially win a few bucks) for free. The first time you deposit $20, the company matches it with game credits. So, after playing a couple of games, I went back into my account and transferred my $20 back out of the account. This gave me some free money to play (and potentially win) with.

CashCrate is another popular program. On this site, you can take surveys, try out offers, or shop. (If this sounds like Inbox Dollars, try to remember that all these programs are mainly using the same companies. There is some variety in retailers, as well as payout amounts. Still, it's a good idea to pick one or two sites and concentrate on those. That way, you aren't overly stymied by a lack of new offers.)

CashCrate doesn't have as many options as Inbox Dollars, but it has a pretty decent referral system. There is no sign-up bonus, but you receive 20% of your referrals' earnings -- plus 10% of their referrals' earnings. Additionally, when your referrals get to the $10 mark, you receive a $3 bonus. So if you get even a few motivated individuals, you will see some real progress.

There are a couple other programs you'll see, such as Squishy Cash and Vindale Research. Frankly, they didn't impress me much.

Squishy Cash has a lot of free offers, plus a lot of specials such as "Earn $3, get $1 bonus." But it often takes awhile for the offers to be verified, which can mean you miss out on bonuses. In addition, the payouts for the program struck me as a tad low. On the other hand, if you think you can earn referrals, you'll get 20% of their earnings, plus 10% of their referrals earnings.

Vindale Research has much better payouts -- some of the highest you'll see. But the program struck me as restrictive. Also, at $50, it has one of the highest limits for cashing out. (Although the cash-out process is automatic, which I thought was a nice touch.) Each person you refer nets you $5. So, again, if you feel confident in your ability to refer, you could make a few bucks.

All in all, referral programs are good for money coming in dribs and drabs. Unfortunately, like affiliate marketing, you probably won't get a ton of referrals while your readership numbers are low. Still, as all you Dave Ramsey fans can attest, even a little extra money can have a big impact.

Also, don't forget that you don't have to actively recruit referrals. So if all you do is put up a couple of ads on your site, who cares if it takes more than a month to get your first check? How much effort did you have to expend for those funds?

In other words, you may never be able to buy your own jet, but the money you make can be a dent in debt or padding on an emergency fund. It can be extra money where it counts the most.

Acting the part:

If you want to make your blog into a profession, you have to first act as though you are a professional blogger.

First and foremost you will probably need to pay for a domain name and hosting company. I am somewhat reluctant to leave the free hosting of blogspot behind. But, since appearances are everything, it will be a leap I have to eventually make. My personal goal is to get my own website once I hit 400 readers.

In the meantime, I am a little shocked by how expensive some of the web hosts are. For this reason, I thought I would spotlight two hosting companies that have much more reasonable prices.

Lunar Pages is currently offering a $4.95/month rate, when you sign up for a 12- or 24-month plan. This deal includes free set-up, plus unlimited storage and bandwidth. You also receive a free domain with your account. There is a 30-day money back guarantee.

1&1 Hosting also offers a free domain with its hosting services. Packages start at $3.99 per month, but probably the best deal is the small- to medium-business website: 3 months free (normally $9.99). 1&1 does not offer unlimited space, like Lunar Pages. However its money-back guarantee is for 90 days. Even the lowest package comes with vouchers for marketing programs: Microsoft adCenter, Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and City Search.

So now you have a professional-looking site. But you have to make sure other people hear about it.

One of the first things to do is make up business cards. VistaPrint offers 250 business cards for free, with a shipping costs of $5.45. These will come in handy as you network, especially if you decide to attend any blogging conferences. (And, as an added bonus, you'll have a card to enter those "free lunch" drawings that so many restaurants have.)

If you want a little more control over the style of the card, try Overnight Printing. The company is currently offering 100 free postcards with any business card order (promo code: 100FREEPC17). The rates are a bit higher here -- $9.95 for 100 business cards -- but with the postcards, it works out to be a pretty decent deal.

Now, you'll be all set to network at conferences and any other meet-up occasions. Since those don't happen every week, though, you need more ways to get public attention.

Of course, the traditional way to do that is through comments. By getting your name and website out there, you're increasing the odds of being noticed. The one caveat here: Leave substantive posts. No one will click through to your site based on, "Yeah, great post!"

Beyond that, there's basic social networking, through places like Blog Catalog, Technorati and Twitter. Through these sites, you can get to know other bloggers. If they know you, they may start to read you. And, if they like what they read, they may link to you.

Another opportunity to watch for are guest posts. If you can secure one of these, you are being spotlighted for a whole new crop of readers. Even if they don't immediately subscribe to you, they have seen your name. The next time they come across it, there will probably be a glint of recognition. Slowly, as you repeatedly get your name out in the blogosphere, you will build a broader reader base.

Still, most bloggers -- especially PF bloggers -- don't take a lot of trips. So guest posts can be hard to come by. You need another way to get people to read your posts.

Enter the blog carnival.

Blog carnivals are collections of submissions that tend to center around one or two main topics. These are free to enter and happen as often as every week. There is a catalog of blog carnivals, so that you can peruse at your leisure. You can check them out by category, but I also recommend reading through the whole list. There are always a few I would have missed if I had stayed strictly within the PF category.

Keep at it

Overall, the best advice for any goal-driven blogger is simply to keep plugging away. Endurance counts for a lot. As you go through various blogs, you'll find that people lose interest or post irregularly. The successful bloggers tend to be the ones who don't get discouraged -- or distracted.

Also remember that this isn't a comprehensive guide. I am still learning, right along with all of you. There will be more discoveries as time goes by, which I will be more than happy to share with you. And I hope you will return the favor.

What is the number one tip you would give a blogger looking for more readers? More profit? What techniques aren't mentioned here?

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Blogger Meg said...

I love for unobtrusive, related ads! Obviously you won't get rich but it's got the set-it-and-forget-it of Adsense with a much higher payout. Shoot me an email if you want earnings numbers :)

January 21, 2009 at 7:36 AM


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