When several people suggested I publish my essays on a blog for profit, it sounded great. I figured I would get a domain, select one of the blogging sites out there, learn how to place ads, and be up and running. The hardest thing would be keeping the essays coming.
With my background in typography, graphics, and publishing software, it seemed like it would be a snap. Plus I’d already used WordPress software to create blogs on WordPress.com, so how big a deal could it be?
If it were that simple, everyone would be doing it (it seems as if everyone is), and every decent writer would be making money at it (or “monetizing” their blog, as they call it). It didn’t quite work out as I expected. Six weeks later, I’m still at it, though I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s much more to it than I could have imagined, although part of that is because I haven’t kept up. (And part of that is because I’m an obsessive nutcase who has to have everything just so…though I’ve fallen way short in my own estimation. Slightly funny, related story here.) I researched extensively, and none of the wonderful sites I discovered covered everything in one place. (This article by Steve Pavlina came awfully close, though.) So I’d like to share this list so you have some idea of what’s ahead if you’re considering a similar project, then I’ll provide some details for the curious and because I find it interesting. I’ll also mention an alternative to doing it all yourself if you have a product but don’t have the technical skills or energy to do what I’ve done.
I’ll try to be complete about this list, which covers what I needed to know or learn about, even if I didn’t end up using it. Before I started, I knew: the version of HTML from 10 years ago (no div, no dt), WordPress blogging software (easy-peasy, and no, that’s not a technical term), PhotoShop from 10 years ago, how to get around operating systems, and a bit about typography and design. I’m also a skilled researcher; it’s part of what I do as a technical writer.
The lessons fell under four general categories: technical/design, “monetizing,” traffic building, and Search Engine Optimization, which is really a subset of traffic building. Please see Starting a For-Profit Blog II for a narrative about the process if bulleted lists bore you.
- Why WordPress versus other blogging software or DreamWeaver
- Self-hosting WordPress blogs
- WordPress hosting services in general, my hosting service (HostICan) specifically
- Domains and parked domains (redirects)
- WordPress software (easy)
- WordPress customization (complicated)
- WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
- PHP (enough to figure out how to modify theme functionality)
- WordPress themes in general, the theme I selected in particular
- WordPress theme generators (abandoned…software out of date)
- Firefox integrated developer tools (largely abandoned…no graphics display and inconvenient Save scheme)
- WordPress plugins, customizing WordPress plugins
- How to edit WordPress CSS in DreamWeaver (abandoned: five pages of instructions to get started, don’t know or have DreamWeaver, likely to have WordPress compatibility problems)
- Favicons/icon editors (IcoFX)
- Comment/contact spam filtering (Askimet plugin for WP comments, Captcha in cforms plugin for contact)
- How to insert ads
- HTML and CSS validation, bug location and correction
- Embedded fonts (abandoned: too complicated, flaky, and doesn’t work on some Mac browsers)
- How RSS feeds work (don’t try reading the Explorer help…it fails to mention that you need a reader or aggregator, and few sites do anything other than bring you to the Explorer Favorites dialog box, which is not an intuitive way to get your feeds)
- MPEG-2 file conversion, bugaboos, ULead Studio 9, 10, and 11 editing software, Windows MovieMaker, Pixela ImageStudio; I now have a vague knowledge of what a codec is, and hope I didn’t hurt mine
In addition, I needed to decide what I wanted graphically (mind you, I’m a font and color freak); what I wanted functionally (what’s in each sidebar?; is there a plugin to let me insert links related to each post? [there is: Post links, which required modification to fit my theme and behave as I wanted it to]; how do I specify the order of pages on the navigation menu?); and what I wanted structurally/contentwise (look at my About menu to get a sense of how that shook out). And it had to look good in every browser; I’m lucky enough to have a friend who does QA and has every browser on both a Mac and a PC.
In the course of my research I discovered that half of what I found out there was out of date the minute it was written, so that was a bit of a roadblock.
- What “monetizing” and the various other forms of the word mean (that is one ugly, jargony word, but it’s in the dictionary)
- How much to charge for banner ads based on CPM (clicks per thousand, or mille)
- Banner ad “matchmaking” sites (usually based on CPM)
- Advertising “hot spots”—where on the page to place ads and why
- Monetizing FeedBurner feeds
- Revenue-generating options:
- Banner ads
- Affiliate programs, such as Amazon’s (people buy the product through your site; you get a commission)
- Context-sensitive text ads, such as Google Adsense
- Text link ads
- Chitika mini malls
And I think I really only scratched the surface.
- Social networking (tagging, voting, listing), such as
- Blog directories
- ODP (Open Directory Project)
- Many more…just look at the bottom of every post on this blog to get an idea
- AddThis (that’s where I got the little icon that’s at the bottom of every post)
- Google Adwords (you pay to be more likely to come up in the searches)
- RSS feeds, feedreaders (such as FeedReader), FeedBurner (provides a great UI for subscribing)
- Atom (I actually don’t know what that one is, I just saw it on a dropdown…something new to learn)
- Blog carnivals
- How often to post, whether to use comments, trackbacks, pingbacks
- Tag clouds (internal linking schemes to increase traffic)
- Links coming in/going out
Search Engine Optimization
Possibly the most complicated area of them all; at this writing, I still need to finish my research on it. this is basically a subset under Traffic Building, because you need SEO for people to find you easily by searching to build traffic. You could write a book on this, and people have; they charge a fortune for them.
Some people say SEO is not important anymore, that it’s the content on your page that gets crawled so don’t worry about tags and such. The debate rages on.
- Meta data tags (some say these are defunct)
- Tags on posts
- Titles (optimized, behind the scenes titles for search engines so web-page titles can be written in human terms)
- SEO all-in-one pack plugin for WordPress
- What are good tags, what are good keywords, what are people searching for and how (oy)
I’m still a little lame in this area and will have to learn more over time.
Was this necessary?
In 1972, when The Poseidon Adventure came out, Mad magazine ran a spoof on it. Do you remember the kid in the movie who knows everything about the ship? In the spoof, when the small group of survivors finally makes it to the bottom/now-top of the upside-down ship, the snot-nosed kid reveals that, in the event that the ship flips over, it has a safety mechanism that turns it right-side-up two hours later. (I believe the rest of the cast decides to lynch him or some such thing at this time.)
I think of this spoof whenever I find out at the end of an epic effort that there was an easy way to do it. (Ya mean Shelly Winters died and we wasted all that energy when the ship was going to just turn back over? Yes, there’s something wrong with me that this thought goes through my head 35 years later, and often.) This came to mind when I was rereading Steve Pavlina’s article on making money from blogging. I followed some links I hadn’t followed before, and ended up at his very favorable article about a company called Site Build It! They do it all, including the keywording and tagging, the traffic building, etc. (They do the technical stuff too, but for me that was the easy part of the project, relatively speaking.) If I knew then what I know now, I would have at least checked them out. At this point, I’m too close to the bottom/now-top of the ship to turn back. It sounded so useful, I’ve joined their affiliate program. At this writing, I haven’t purchased it (though I did read the reviews before I became an affiliate), but given the SEO work that is ahead of me, I just might. I’ll let you know.
If you’re interested in looking into it, please follow the link on the ad from my site. I’ll get the credit for the sale even if you don’t buy it today. It appears to be a great affiliate program, but I’ll let you know after I’ve been doing it for a while.
(Please note: I decided to write this article before I found out about SiteBuildIt! and joined their affiliate program. I realized there was a nice synergy when I learned about them, and I trust the particular reviews I read. Please see my policy on advertising models. I decided to be a HostICan affiliate as soon as I signed on with them.)
The narrative behind the birth of a blogazine continues here…