Thursday, February 5, 2009

How To Make Money Blogging: Picking the Right Topic, Covering it the Right Way

Okay. I've been publishing PrintToOnline for 16 days now. I've written 26 posts, I've done *some* marketing, let Technorati and Google know I'm here, I've paid attention to SEO. So how'm I doing?

According to Sitemeter, I've had 336 visits so far and I've served up 673 page views. I'm averaging 21 visitors a day -- not bad really, for a 16 day old blog.

I'm getting unsolicited links from other publishers writing about online journalism, like this one today from, who writes about BeatBlogging at

"Question: Why bother with Twitter? Answer: Why not bother with Twitter? Oh, and innovation."

(The link goes to my recent "Why bother with Twitter" post, of course.)

Other results:
I'm the number one search result on google for "how to add a traffic tracker to your blog." I'm the number seven result on "how to make money off of my blog." In the long run, if I can keep these rankings, and add some more good results like these, Google will bring me some good traffic.

I've got ads placed from Google Adsense in three places on each page (Google's limit). And, I'm getting paid for each click on them. With all these successes under my belt, I must be doing pretty good on the money front, yes?

Um, no. According to Google AdSense, I've made 56 cents. If I do this well all year I stand to make a good $12 or $15!

If you want to make more than that for your efforts, you're going to have to spend some time doing some analysis before you launch your online publication.

To make money publishing, you need to write about a topic that:

1. Gives lots of people something they really want and need. Hyperlocal coverage of neighborhoods, as is being done at WestSeattleBlog, MyBallard, SealBeachDaily and many other places, satisfies this requirement. People really do want and need coverage of their communities as it is being done at these publications. WestSeattleBlog did almost a million page views in December, and many other hyperlocal blogs are doing tens of thousands of page views per month, and are selling ads to local advertisers (and most are using Google AdSense).

2. Gives lots of people something they really want and need, that isn't already being provided by someone else. Find a niche that's wide open. I'd probably be doing a lot more traffic here if there weren't already dozens of other blogs already covering this topic. I might even be able to sell my content to someone if it was more exclusive.

Luckily making money wasn't my objective in starting this blog -- I'm writing this to be helpful to my peers at the PI and elsewhere in journalism, and to have something cool to put on my resume.

3. Once you've satisfied #1 and #2, you've got to provide A LOT of the content that lots of people really want and need. The more you post, the more people will turn to you for more posts. If you really want to build audience and loyalty, I think you need to try to post at least once every two hours. (More on how to do this without breaking your back in an upcoming post).

You want your online publication to be addictive -- something that makes your readers come back and check in two or three times a day. Publishing good content frequently is the way to inspire addiction in your readers. At West Seattle Blog, writer Tracy Record posts more than a dozen items every day, and tweets at the same time.

Why do you care about being addictive? Take a look at this Quantcast traffic report on the SeattlePI's traffic: "Addict" readers account for 1% of our traffic, and 24% of our page views. 'Nuff said.

4. And finally, as a blogging entrepreneur, one of the first things you're going to want to do is figure out whether the content you want to write is something you can 'monetize.' In other words, make money off of. Is the content you want something that advertisers are going to want to advertise around? Make sure it is before you get started. If you ask around you'll find for example that it's been very hard for media outlets to convince advertisers to buy ads around forums and story comment pages, around photo galleries and other content.

If you're looking at being a hyperlocal blogger, for example, you'd look at the neighborhoods around you and figure out first which neighborhoods would best support a blog. To figure this out you'd look at:

1. How many potential readers are in your coverage area?
2. How much traffic do you figure they'll bring?
3. How many advertisers are in your neighborhood?
4. How many do you figure will advertise with you?
5. Is this service already being provided in that area? If it's being done badly, you can still expect to be able to attract an audience, but if it's being done well, you might consider looking elsewhere.
6. How much can you charge for the ads? (Ask around to other people doing similar publications. They'll likely be ready to share what the going rates are.)
7. How much will it cost you to produce the content and sell the ads? (Likely this will be sweat equity for the content, with low cost. Maybe you'll want to buy a video camera, but you probably already have a computer and an internet connection. But who will sell the ads? And how will you pay them?)
8. What does this math look like at startup, and at maturity? Two years out, are you making money?

If you are looking at going into hyperlocal blogging, you'd check with the city to find your target neighborhood's population, get a listing of business licenses in the area, find out how "wired" the neighborhood is (& ergo how many online readers there are), how many college graduates and English speakers there are -- look into everything you can think of that will help you determine online population and advertiser base. You'll probably want to look at a number of neighborhoods to figure out which one pencils out the best.

I guess the ultimate message here is, the thing you love and WANT to write about isn't necessarily the thing that's going to make you money. If you want to make money, you're going to have to do some research before you haul off and launch your product.

Want to go deeper on this? Apply to be a participant in The News Entrepreneur Boot Camp, held May 16-21, 2009, in Los Angeles. The boot camp is sponsored by The Knight Digital Media Center in partnership with USC Annenberg School for Communication, the Center for Communication Leadership and the Online Journalism Review.

"This expenses-paid intense one-week boot camp is designed for 12 competitively selected digital entrepreneurs with great ideas for community news and information initiatives in the public interest. Topics to be covered include:

* Identifying the best business model for sustained success.
* Developing a sustainable business plan.
* Marketing and audience development.
* Content production and management models.
* Legal and tax issues.
* Identifying capitalization sources.
* Developing and implementing revenue and advertising strategies.
* Successful social networking models.
* Selecting and implementing technical platforms.
* Understanding and using metrics."

12 entrepreneurs will be participate in the bootcamp. Will you be one of them?

Meantime, did I miss something important? Please share your thoughts here, or ask a question if I've left out something you're wondering about.


  1. Thanks Michelle this is very interesting. I appreciate you doing all this work. Marla

  2. Thanks Marla. Great to hear the feedback. Blogging can be a lonely business! When you first get started there can be very little feedback. So thanks for taking the time to write!


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