Darren Rowse: On Creating Profitable and Successful Blogs

Not only do I want my book blogging to result in a traditional publishing deal or a successfully self-published book, I also want that effort to create a successful blog that continues to attract readers and income after the book is published. This should be your goal as well. That’s how you create a business and a career  around your book and your blog.

To find out how to accomplish this feat, I asked Darren Rowse for an interview while I was at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Los Angeles this past November. Darren is the author of the extremely popular ProBlogger blog and the co-author of ProBlogger, the book, which was published in 2010 by Wiley. (If you recall, my last two posts consisted of interviews with his co-author, Chris Garrett.)

I was excited to interview Darren, a warm and humble man not above sitting on the floor in the hallway of the convention center for our interview, for several reasons. First, I wanted to find out about his blog-to-book deal and experience and to write a post about it. Also, since he blogs about both how to become a successfully blogger and one who makes money at this endeavor, I wanted to pick his brain for great information on this topic to share with you here. Why? Because if you can create a great blog as you blog your book, your odds of getting noticed by readers, agents or publishers increases tremendously. Plus, by making money as you blog or blog your book you can create a job, as well as a career, as an author in the process. (Remember that a blogger is an author and a publisher, and to have a career as either you do need to earn an income.)

Darren began blogging and, like many bloggers, learned by experience. He’s shared those lessons generously—as he did in this interview—for almost ten years on ProBlogger. He also has a photography blog, called Digital Photography School, and writes FeelGooder and TwiTip as well. He makes his living as a professional blogger.

My interview with Darren was quite long. I’ve broken it into two parts. Part one covers a variety of topics, including researching your blog, increasing traffic (readership) to your blog, creating a profitable blog, and producing a successful blog. Part two, which I’ll publish later this week, will deal with Darren’s blog-to-book deal, writing a book, and blogging a book.

What, if any, market research did you do before beginning your blog?

In 2002, when I started blogging, I didn’t really do any research at all. That blog was purely an extension of me. I was writing about everything and anything, but as I blogged I realized my readers wanted less. They wanted a more focused blog because I was blogging about photography, blogging, church, movies, and all kinds of stuff I was involved with. The more topics I wrote about, the less people I found who had all of those interests. Like most people, I’m a fairly eclectic person.

That’s when I started to focus on niches. The first one was a photography blog, which wasn’t really researched. ProBlogger isn’t a blog that was overly researched, but it was probably more intuitively researched. I realized a lot of bloggers were starting to talk about blogs and debate the idea, and I was beginning to debate the idea myself. It was more a blog I wanted to read and that I thought my friends wanted to read.

Do you recommend people do research before they start a blog?

It’s probably more important to start with a topic you are interested in and engaged with. It is probably worth testing that topic with other people; that’s worth a little bit of research. Obviously, if you want to make a bit of money, then you want people to read it. If there is no one is interested in that topic, then it is probably not a good topic. The global usage of the Internet is so big now, though, that there is always going to be someone interested. Even quite tiny niches can grow reasonable good sized audiences.

How long did it take for you to gain blog readers, and can you pin point any certain event that created a tipping point when readership noticeably increased?

I don’t remember a lot of the readership stats from the early days, but it probably took about a year or so on that personal blog before it began to get reasonable well read and quite well known in some of its areas. ProBlogger took about a year and a half to grow to a point where I would say it was a full-time income and enough to live on.

On that blog the tipping point in terms of traffic was probably when I actually revealed that I was making money from blogging and talked a little bit about the reality of it and that it was a full time thing. I kind of avoided talking about that; I didn’t want it to be a sensational post, like “Darren Makes This Much Money!” But I had to talk about the personal aspect of it almost in that way to give some credibility to topic.

Most of my other blogs have had fairly steady growth; there’s not been a whole heap of “this moment changed everything.” There’s been a series of posts I’ve written that have grown the audience and shown a spike in traffic, but then things died down. Over time things trended upward.

I know a professional blogger who says you have to write a certain number of posts before you see a big traffic change—actually 1,000 posts. Would you agree?

I’ve often said the fist thousand posts are the hardest. I’ve talked to bloggers who in their first week have had massive traffic because they’ve written something that hit the mark with people. And then for others it takes years. You certainly grow as a writer and learn the skills of blogging the more you do it and practice it. Like any type of writing, you improve as you write. I’d be hesitant to put a number on the number of post you need.

What are the 3-5 top things you do to drive traffic (readers) to your blog?

  1. Writing the content that will serve them is the thing to do first. It doesn’t bring the readers in, but it certain helps when they are there to keeps them. I think that is really important. If I were starting again and trying to drive readers I would go through an exercise or try to work out who I want to read the blog and define their needs and where they were hanging out.
  2. Working out where the readers are on line. With Digital Photograph School, they were all on Flickr at the time. On Flickr photo sharing site people have cameras. So that’s a place where I developed a Flickr group, which is like a Facebook page, and I began to develop relationships there and share the links to what we were writing to build engagement on another site. As a result of that, we were able to drive people back to our site. That was probably a fairly significant thing.
  3. Developing relationships with other bloggers who had my potential reader.  LifeHacker is a big tech how to site and they let you submit story ideas.  I was constantly submitting story ideas, and probably one in four they would pick up. After a while you get the feel for the type of things they are interested in. They drove a lot of traffic in to Digital Photography School. Even though they weren’t a photography site, they had technologically inclined how-to articles that related to ours. I developed that relationship, got to know the editor of that site. They started watching us, and I didn’t have to submit so much. Ten others might pick up the thread on your post on that site as well, and you get on the front page of Delicious or Digg because of the accumulation of traffic.
  4. Social media can be good if you pick the right one for your audience. These days a lot of our readers hang out on Facebook; they don’t use Twitter so much in the photography space. Developing a space there proved good.
  5. Set up an email newsletter list. This didn’t help us find new readers, but it helps us drive traffic every week. We send out a newsletter each week, which is basically just a recap of our posts for the week. That drives our biggest day of traffic by far; it doubles or triples our normal day of traffic because we send out an email to all the people who have subscribed over the years. We have a nicely designed template and list the posts and feature a few photos in it. We have a few ads in it either for our own ebooks, or we sell the ads. If we don’t send that out, our readers say, “Where’s my newsletter?” They love it. They come to expect it. It’s a useful way of keeping in touch with the site. That’s why we promote our newsletter so heavily on the site. Also, it makes it easy for them to know what posts ran that week. Most of our readers have no idea what an RSS feed is or what Twitter is. Some don’t understand what Facebook is. So they’ve got no other way of getting notification of new posts other than email, and so they thank us. It’s certainly not seen as a spammy type thing by our readers. I don’t do that so much on ProBlogger, but on the photo site it’s gold.

How did you become profitable with your blog?

In the early days, I did so was mainly with ads, or ad networks, like Google’s ad network, and a little affiliate marketing, like recommending books on Amazon—so mainly books. As I started the photography site, I recommended cameras and earned a small commission on those—four percent. But if you’re selling $1,000 cameras, it can add up.

Would you say that’s pretty doable for most bloggers?

It comes down to having a readership. If you don’t have anyone reading your blog, you won’t have anyone clicking those ads. But that certainly is very easy to implement the ads. You just copy and paste some code.

What kind of readership do you need to start implementing ads and seeing income?

It varies a little from niche to niche because some of the ads will pay more in some niches than in others. I was always aiming for 1,000 readers a day; in my mind that was what I needed to start making enough for it to be a part time job. Then again I now know other bloggers with a couple hundred readers a day who sell ebooks or their own products or services, and they are well on their well to being full-time bloggers because of the price of their products and the engagement they have with those readers. If you’ve got really loyal readers and they are going to buy the things you recommend or that you make, you can build an income stream quite quickly.

Can you offer my readers 3-4 tips for producing a successful blog?

It’s a combination of things.

  1. Heart.
  2. Telling stories. That is gold. It certainly has worked for me—being personal on the blog. Telling my own story, and giving reader a space to tell theirs, either in posts or in comments.
  3. Building interaction and community on your blog. A lot of bloggers just provide information and don’t actually provide interaction. For us, that meant setting up a forum area. For others, that would mean setting up a Facebook page where you can have that engagement. For others, it’s purely in the comment section. Asking lots of questions. I think building community is very important.
  4. Then you have to be strategic. How am I going to find subscribers for my blog? Doing analysis on the different technologies.  Maybe its RSS feeders, maybe its email, maybe it’s Facebook. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe you need to send them letters? Some people don’t hang out on the Web much at all, but you can drive them there in some other way. Working out those kinds of strategies: How will I find those readers, how do I hook them into the site, and then what journey will I take them on? After they’ve subscribed, then what next? Do you want them to follow you on Twitter? Do you want them to comment on a post? You might send an email that says, “Here are 10 of our most popular posts. Drop by and let us know what you think of them. Leave a comment.” It’s thinking strategically and asking yourself, “What journey do I want to take my readers on?”

Look for part two of my interview with Darren later this week. Until then, his tips and advice should keep you busy building a better blog and blogging a better book. Feel free to leave your questions and comments here for Darren or for me.

About Darren Rowse

DarrenRowse has been blogging since 2002 and doing it professionally — earning a full-time living from the medium — since 2004/5. You can find his blogs at ProBlogger, Digital Photography School, FeelGooder, and TwiTip and find out more about how he became a full time blogger here.

Before he became a blogger he worked in quite a few jobs but had primarily been working in churches as a minister (mainly with youth and young adults) for around 10 years. He has a degree in Theology and half a degree in marketing. He is also an entrepreneur who loves dreaming up ideas, starting new things and letting his “creative juices loose on projects that I often start up on an impulse.”

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Great read but one error I spotted, and I hope you don’t mind me pointing it out. In the third par, it should be successful not successfully.

    Kind Regards,

    Tony

  2. says

    This was a great article – covering some things that most interviews don’t ask Darren. Good job! Personally, I am looking for where my readers are hanging out. I have a site about living in Hawaii – moving to Hawaii, and I can’t seem to find giant numbers of RSS subscribers, or been able to sway them by the thousands to come look at my site. Darren’s right – find the readers and figure out how to target them. This is the point I’m at now. I have 400+ posts and another 70 pages… I am pounding away at posts every day, so eventually it might all work out. If not – well, I’ll start making books from all those posts! Again, great post – anything I can read coming from Darren is always lined with gold. Aloha!
    Vern at AFA recently posted..College Student Wants to Live in Hawaii

  3. says

    This article was very interesting. I will readnit again and see what from these ideas I can do on my site. Looking forward the next part!

  4. Nina says

    Tony,
    Glad you liked the post, and I’m always happy for free proofreaders! Going to fix it now!
    Nina

  5. Nina says

    Vern,

    Yes, I felt blessed to get Darren to sit with me and offer up his goldmine of experience and information.

    I know where my readers hand out, and some come to my blog(s), but I’ve had a hard time getting subscribers. I’m not quite sure what the trick is there. I have a newsletter, too, and that’s a slow build in my experience. I’m plugging away at it, though. My unique readers is growing faster and faster, though, so I assume you reach a tipping point.

    Have you tried turning some posts into ezine articles to drive traffic to your site? That might be an idea that would work for you.

    Aloha!
    Nina

  6. Nina says

    Thanks for stopping by, Jonathan. I hope the ideas Darren suggests (and any I might have posted) help you. Nina

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