David Risley got a very early start in the blogging world at a time when Google was a promising startup, and AOL CDs were still sent by the truckload. He’s managed to build a six-figure business, and currently shares the tools of the trade over at Blog Marketing Academy.
When did you first start blogging?
I started about 15 years ago, before blogging was even a word. It was a very manual process back then. Raw HTML files and the whole thing… but it was still the essence of what blogging is – writing and publishing articles. I got started as a technology blogger, and was motivated by a magazine article on how to build a website in 20 minutes or less. I thought that’d be cool, so I set up a basic site on my ISP’s free 5MB of web space they gave me. The rest is history.
What moment did you realize you could make money from blogging, and possibly generate a full-time income?
Back in the day, the idea of web advertising was kinda new. But, I began to see people with tech sites do it. For example, I had a chat with Anand Lal Shimp, from Anandtech.com, way back before he was a big deal in the tech space. He was beginning to host some advertising on his site. At the time, I was on Geocities (remember them?), but I made the decision to move my site over to Pair Networks so that I could get rid of the Geocities “no advertising” rule. From there, I decided to pursue some advertising revenue with the site.
Every successful business has a strong foundation. What are the building blocks to monetizing a blog?
The foundation would be to provide solutions to things people need/want solutions for. The easiest monetization options will come when you’re solving a problem for people, because then you can build a real business around it rather than just “monetization”. Aside from that basic foundation, the building blocks would be the blog (obviously) and your email list. The email list is incredibly important because without it you’re building no leverage. As you grow, you’ll begin to treat that email list more like a database, and manage it inside a CRM. From there, it is about fostering relationships, taking care of your people, and of course – making offers. This is a people business… and never forget that.
One common question is, “when should I start monetizing?” In my interview with Chris Brogan, he said to monetize right out of the gate. What do you suggest?
Yep. I agree with Chris. If you have business ambitions for your blogging, then get on with it. The last thing you want to do is create an entire atmosphere of “free” around your blog. You’ll only attract freebie seekers and it will be a LOT harder to make money down the road. No real business out there opens up an office and invites people to come in freely and take the products for nothing in order to “get famous”. So, we shouldn’t be doing it online either.
On the flip side of this, you must be patient and think long-term. I’ve seen some bloggers try to monetize early (nothing wrong with that), but they make the mistake of squeezing so hard that they just alienate everybody. They’ll pack the site with ads, for instance. And, that’s not the way to go. Don’t try to squeeze juice from a turnip. In the early days, you’ll put a few money-makers out there, but it is more of a foundation. Don’t get discouraged when you don’t make a ton of money right away, and don’t get more aggressive when you don’t. This is something you have to work over time. Anybody who says generating revenue online is an “overnight” thing or super easy is lying to you.
Some put ads on their site, recommend things as an affiliate, or sell their own products/services. Which route should people go? Are there benefits of maybe one over the other?
I’m a big proponent of direct solutions to problems, and I believe that’s what forms the foundation of a business. Ideally, those products would be yours, so product creation and direct marketing is my personal favorite. I love membership sites. :-) Second to that would be affiliate marketing, so you still only want to promote the ones that are real solutions to the problems your audience has. Never just promote with the mindset of “spray and pray”, where you just litter your site with affiliate links and hope to catch a fish. If you’re going to promote an affiliate product, do it as if it were YOUR product.
My last choice would be advertising. It works. But, it requires a lot of traffic. And, in my view, if you’ve gone through the work to build up that much traffic, you’d be much better off directing it to a more direct revenue generator than to turn around and send your hard-earned readers somewhere else. Readers don’t care for banner ads. And, let’s face it, the goal of those ads is to get YOUR reader to LEAVE your site. And…that sucks.
How do you go about monetizing without alienating your readers?
Honestly, I know a lot of bloggers fret over this, but I think the entire premise of the question is bogus. Here’s why…
First off, a blogger should never have the mindset that it is evil or annoying to make a buck. If you approach this with that kind of attitude, and the whole time you’re afraid of your own readers hating on you for making money, then you’re doing this all wrong.
Secondly, “monetization” is just a bad word for bloggers. I’d ban it if I could. :-) Because, once you go offline, we all seem to understand the basic idea that a business makes money by selling products/solutions to people’s problem or desires. One doesn’t “monetize” a business. It is either a business… or it isn’t. So, if you’re doing this right, you ARE offering real solutions that people want. If you’re doing that, why would they be alienated by it?
Also, keep in mind…if one of your readers is alienated by you offering a solution to a problem, then in all likelihood they weren’t a good reader for you. They don’t have the problem you’re addressing, so they’re not a targeted person.
Last thing I’ll say about this is….you definitely CAN alienate your readers by being overly aggressive in your sales. So, just don’t do that. Even if they are targeted readers, you can still piss them off with over-aggressive marketing. So, that’s always a bad idea. It doesn’t mean you want to avoid marketing, but it does mean you have to not go all used car salesman on ’em. Nobody likes that.
Are there any tools, apps or services that you recommend?
A bunch of them, but rather than repeat myself, people could check out my “Toolbox” page.
Where can people learn more about you?
Everything can be found at Blog Marketing Academy.
Mike Stenger is a writer with a love of all things technology.