What is the Blogging Business Model?

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While some people suggest that blogging and publishing websites is the same thing, I think there is an important difference.

Yes, I sometimes use the terms interchangeably, but when getting technical and analyzing the business models of blogger vs. publisher, there is one key difference.

That one key difference is personality vs. impersonal brand.

When someone claims they blog, I take that to mean they publish a website where it’s clear they are the writer instead of a group of hired writers. The blog content is infused with their personality.  It’s personal even when it’s entrenched in a particular niche.

Fat Stacks (this website), for example, is a blog.  I write almost all the content.  Most of the content is based on my business and personal experiences.  It’s really a personal case study showcasing a part of my online business (i.e. being a publisher of niche sites).

On the other hand, being an impersonal publisher puts the focus on the subject matter.  It’s not about or through the lens of any one person.  It’s about the subject matter.  Even if all the content is written by the publisher, it’s done so without infusing the personality of the publisher.  The site would be same if that same publisher hired writers to produce the content.

Interestingly, most niches can be approached via blogging (personal) or as publisher (impersonal).

IMPORTANT:  Just because it’s a blog doesn’t mean it can’t be a business.  In other words, websites that are predominately written by one person or personality can be a BIG business.

Likewise, impersonal branded sites can be published for fun as a hobby or be pursued as a for-profit venture.  In fact, a lot of people start websites without their name or personality attached because they’re still working and don’t wish employers / clients to know their online “side hustle”.

Now that I’ve distinguished blogger vs. publisher, I’d like to delve into the nature of the blogging business model.

The blogging business model

My online business is mix of me being an impersonal publisher as well as blogger.  Fat Stacks is my personal business blog.  I launched a new site in 2017 under a persona (first time doing so).  My other niche sites are published by me, but are not about me in any respect.

Here’s the thing.  Monetization between the blogger vs. publisher is the same.

A blogger, like a publisher, can be an affiliate, earn with display ads and/or sell products and services.

The difference in the model revolves around trust.  Yes, brands can develop trust, but it’s not the same as a real person developing rapport with an audience.

Classic blogging model

A classic blogging model involves building audience, then selling a product, usually an info product or software. Services are also sold by bloggers.  Fat Stacks, which is a blog, does/did just this.  I built up a readership and sell an info product (Niche Tycoon).

The classic blogging model is prevalent in many niches such as:

  • Business niches such as this site;
  • Finance;
  • Fitness;
  • Mommy Blogs;
  • Personal Finance (interestingly, many of these segue into brands);
  • Travel;
  • Dating (how to get dates, etc… not dating networks).

The concept:

Publish good content, get traffic, build audience, sell info product and/or promote products (usually info products) as an affiliate.

In some cases, monetize with display ads..

The content:

The content for a blog by a blogger can be informative, entertaining, funny, personal… sometimes all of the above.

Examples:

  • A travel blogger can write about locations visited and methods of travel.
  • A personal finance blogger can write about ways he/she saves money, invests money and/or makes extra money.
  • A finance blogger can blog about personal investments, research findings, opinions within the finance sector.
  • A mommy blogger can blog about anything and everything relating to raising kids and keeping a home.  It may be geared toward crafts, decor, parenting, etc.  But it’s their experience that forms the content.

The Traffic

Traffic usually takes a while to materialize, but if persistent and the content is good, a following will develop.  Bloggers have an easier time developing a following, which is great for return traffic via email, RSS and/or social media.

As long as the content is excellent, traffic will grow and be consistent.  This is the lifeblood of any website.

Depending on the niche, social media (Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and/or Twitter) may be the primary traffic source.  For other niches, it may be search engines.  In some cases, if revenue per 1,000 visitors is high, paid traffic is an option.

Social Media Traffic
Facebook

These days it’s pretty difficult to rapidly grow free traffic from Facebook pages.  It’s still done, but it’s not easy and usually requires attracting a lot of fans.  The fastest way to attract fans is by boosting Facebook posts, which means it requires an investment.

Investing money into attracting fans isn’t so common any more because Facebook in recent years has minimized the organic reach of posts which means less traffic from Facebook.

While I use Facebook for most niche sites, it’s not the source I would choose as a primary traffic source.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a very viable free traffic source these days in visual niches.  Visual niches are any niche where the content can easily be in the form of images.  An example is fashion.

The key is publishing interesting or engaging content on your blog/site and then creating engaging visuals for Pinterest.

Like Facebook it takes time to build up a Pinterest following, but if you create quality Pinterest boards, you can seek out big group boards to post to which can dramatically speed up free traffic from Pinterest if a few or many of your pins do well on the larger boards.

Getting access to pin to group boards requires contacting those board owners and asking for permission to pin to them.  It’s pretty simple, but does require some hustle.

YouTube

If you can make good videos, YouTube traffic can be excellent.  A successful Youtube channel alone can make your blog/site a success.

As to which types of videos do best, that really depends on the niche and what the audience wants to watch.

One thing I like about YouTube is it’s actually a good social media platform for drier niches such as product-oriented niches.  Product reviews, how-to’s and product demos can do really well on YouTube.

Other social media channels

Across my niche sites I focus on Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube.  I’m not well versed with Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn and so I won’t comment on those platforms.

Search Engine Traffic

For many websites, search engine traffic is the biggest source of traffic.  Search traffic will materialize over time if you publish good content.

However, merely publishing good or great content doesn’t guarantee hordes of traffic.  To get hordes of traffic, you must target the right keywords (aka search phrases) and properly promote that content with attracting links.  Books alone have been written on both keyword research and attracting (or building) links.

If you wish to rank from high search volume keywords, you’ll need to learn how to do SEO, which is something that takes time and practice.  However, it’s a great scale and if you like it (especially link building), going after high search volume keywords can be very profitable in the long run.

Go long tail only

If the thought of building links doesn’t appeal to you, one option is to get really good at finding longer tail keywords.  Long tail keywords are more obscure search phrases.  There usually isn’t much competition, yet can deliver traffic.

The key with doing well by going after long tail keywords is achieving one or both of the following:

  1. Publish at scale:  Because long tail keywords typically don’t have that much searches each month, if you want lots of traffic, you must figure out how to publish content that targets, in an aggregate, lots of long tail keywords.
  2. High-value:  The other option to make long tail work for your is to identify long tail keywords that are high value and can in some fashion generate a lot of revenue.  Perhaps it’s a long tail phrase that resonates with what you have to sell.  Or, it’s a phrase that people use during their process to buy something and your role is as affiliate to help direct them to the right purchases.
Which is the best long tail approach?

If you can successfully do both, that’s great.

My preference is to go after lots of long tail keywords and scale up my publishing so I can rank in the search engines for lots of long tail keywords.  I like this because I enjoy publishing lots of content (which is also great for plenty of social media posts) and I like the fact there isn’t all that much competition for those keywords.

The Money

Most bloggers start generating revenue with ads (i.e. AdSense) and/or affiliate promotions.  As their confidence grows within the niche, they roll out an info product and sell it on the blog.  Sometimes the product is a big hit; other times, met with little interest.  The success of a product depends on the niche, the level of trust from followers, the sales copy and of course the nature of the product.

The blogger’s best tool

A key tool most successful bloggers use extensively and spend a lot of time mastering, is email autoresponders.  When one talks about growing an audience, what they really mean is growing their email newsletter.  This way the blogger can announce when new content is available, promote stuff and generally keep in touch with their audience.

FYI, publishers do this too… but email can be more powerful with a successful blogger whose audience really loves the content and personality.

The most successful bloggers manage to do what few sites do and that is get readers to visit their blog daily or weekly directly.  When this is achieved, it means the blog is something special.  After all, if your blog gets on the daily must-visit list of thousands or millions of people, that’s amazing.  A true achievement.

Example:  This finance blog is on my daily reading list.  It’s a blog in every aspect. I visit it almost daily.  The blogger, Garth Turner, publishes posts every day except Saturday.  Once in a while he has a guest blogger.

Blogger vs. Publisher: What’s Better?

I think overall bloggers have an advantage if the content they infuse with their personality appeals to their audience.  That personal touch helps establish trust big time.  When it comes to selling something or promoting something, trust is huge.

While brands can establish trust (think Amazon), it’s not the same as a when a blogger you enjoy reading and trust recommends something or has something to sell.  A trusted blogger can achieve incredibly high conversion rates.

On the flip side, publishers can get away with being more aggressive.  Corporations are impersonal; they’re expected to sell.  We’re used to impersonal brands selling.

If bloggers start promoting too aggressively, their loyal readers may get annoyed and check out.  Once that trust is broken, the blogger’s advantage is lost.

One final advantage of opting to be a publisher is the potential sale of the digital asset.  If a significant portion of the revenue is a result of the personality behind the site, potential buyers can’t get that asset in the sale.  Brands, on the other hand, operate independently of any one person so transferring ownership doesn’t matter.

One can’t always go the personal blogger route (unless you embrace personas) for a few reasons.

1. Mixed signals.  If you’re a finance niche blogger with loyal following, that credibility would be diluted if you also blogged in a totally unrelated niche such as pets.  It’s not out of the question, but it could be confusing to readers.

2. The Desire for Anonymity. Often when starting out you need to keep your identity hidden.  I get that.  Some employers/clients wouldn’t look kindly on you working to grow an auto enthusiast website, for instance.

3. Business decision. As mentioned above, potential buyers of websites are less inclined to pay as much for a personal blog than an impersonal brand.  A sold blog loses the personality that made it a success. I’m not saying it’s impossible; the buyer may infuse their own personality which resonates with the existing audience.  A buyer may also succeed transitioning it to an impersonal brand.  Many sites have started as a blog and as they grew, became a brand.

What if more than on person writes for the website? Is it still a blog?

In my view, the answer is maybe.  It depends on the overall flavor.

Take Copyblogger.com for example.

It was started by Brian Clark.

As it grew, more and more people were hired to write for it.  Alumni writers have gone on to illustrious blogging careers.

These days, Copyblogger content is produced by a team (Brian still contributes content).  It covers the same topic it did when Brian was tapping the keyboard regularly, but I think it’s migrated from blog to perhaps a corporate blog. It’s definitely a brand.

Another famous blog is Tim Ferriss’ blog.  It’s enormously successful.

Much of his content is contributed by guest writers, but Tim usually contributes with an introduction and you still get a personal flavor reading the content.  Despite it’s enormous growth, it’s still a blog (although he’s moved into being a big time podcaster now).

When a blog is best

If you have no need for anonymity, choosing one or the other isn’t easy.  It’s something to consider carefully.

You should go the blog route if:

  • You have no need for anonymity.
  • You write in an engaging style.  If your writing style is more serious or technical, assess whether on that basis it will still appeal to an audience.  The key is that you must be a good writer and have a voice that will resonate with your target audience.
  • You like to write:  Most bloggers write their own content.  Many site publishers outsource the content.  If you love writing and like having a voice, blogging is a great option for you.

If any of the above three criteria for choosing the blogging route isn’t met, you’re probably best being a Niche site publisher.

 

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