Joe Ponzio started his blog as a way to build platform for the book he planned to write (not necessarily blog). When his blog readership exploded, he sealed the success of his book. After going book to blog to book, he reports, “the book and the blog go hand-in-hand.”
In the case of Fwallstreet.com, both the blog and the subsequent book, F Wall Street, Joe Ponzio’s No-Nonsense Approach to Value Investing for the Rest of Us (Adams Media, June 2009), focus on explaining common sense, long-term value investing in plain English. And Ponzio reports, “Readers understand one better if they also read the other. Both have separate content, but there is a small amount of duplication. I’d say that 90 percent of the website is completely new, original content, which is crucial because readers come back to your site looking for more answers, more explanations, and those tidbits that your editor cut out but that you felt were important.”
Ponzio’s blog quickly became a big hit, which explains the success of the book. The following interview offers insight into why and how he blogged his way to successful authorship.
Why did you begin blogging?
I launched FWallStreet.com in June of 2007 to accompany the book. I had written a majority of the book at that point, though I didn’t yet have a publisher, and wanted to have an online resource for people to visit and host discussions after reading the book.
I didn’t plan on advertising the website or letting the world know it was out there until the book was published. Still, the website took off. By the end of 2007, just six months after its initial launch, FWallStreet.com had more than one million hits.
How did you choose your topic?
The book actually started as a “how-to” guide for my children, then three and soon-to-be-born. It was a simple, 80-page manual on how to think about investing for the long-term and how to evaluate companies and stocks.
I chose investing because that’s what I do for a living. It’s what I’m passionate about. And there is so much bad information out there that only a small percentage of the population ever hear about, learn about, and stick with value investing. I wanted to make sure that my children would be in that select group if I wasn’t around to teach them personally.
What, if any, market research did you do before beginning your blog?
None. I didn’t think that hard about it when I started, and I figured my blog would be lost in the sea of constantly-updated, keyword-rich, go-go-go stock market blogs. Readers ended up visiting FWallStreet.com, became curious by the design, and stayed for the content. And…they told their friends about it! Most of my early visitors did not come from link exchanges or advertising (I did none) but from emails from other visitors. People would see FWallStreet.com, email it to a friend, and voilà! Another visitor.
One thing I learned over time is that content truly is king. If you produce good content, people will want to come and read it. The only way to produce good content is to blog about something you love.
My advice to aspiring bloggers: Stick with topics you truly know and about which you are passionate, and catch the visitors right away with a good design. Content is king, but you have to present it (via a solid design) in a way that makes them want to meet the king.
Did you think you were writing a book, did you plan on blogging a book or were you simply blogging on your topic? (In retrospect, would doing one or the other have made it easier to later write your book?)
I knew I was writing a book. Rather, I had written a book and knew that the blog was a key part of supporting the book if it were to get picked up by a publisher.
In retrospect, I would have done things the exact same way. I would have written the book (or a majority of it) and then let others tell me if it should be shopped to publishers or trashed. Blogging is a very long-term and time-consuming activity.
You can always write a book, determine it is garbage, and start over. And when the project is done, it’s done. Once you start blogging, you’re at it every day or every few days, and it goes on forever. You had better make darn sure you love your topic and want to commit the time going forward to blogging, responding to comments and emails, and building your blog.
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 increased noticeably?
Believe me when I say that this is not the norm: I started having visitors right away, and the site exploded month after month as I blogged and engaged visitors. I happened to be in a very niche environment—nobody was really dedicated to blogging about value investing, Warren Buffett, and slowing down.
Obviously, links from CNBC.com, The Motley Fool (fool.com), and other large financial websites helped (a lot), but it’s the quality of your content that keeps people coming back.
What did you do to drive traffic (readers) to your blog?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but it’s true: Good Content is King! There is a magic formula to blogging: Good Content + Good Design = Successful Blog. There is no other formula for long-term success.
Don’t fall victim to scams. You can buy links or traffic, but, they are only good for short-term bumps. Think about the way that you read websites. If you click a link and end up on an ugly website with terrible content, are you likely to return?
Traffic isn’t about how many hits you can get in a single day, but about how many people return and refer others.
How did your blog-to-book deal come about?
The success of the website simply couldn’t be ignored. The traffic was growing like wildfire and the community was growing. Once you have an audience and a platform, getting an agent and/or publisher is fairly easy. Just let them know how many books your website might sell, and they’ll fight to work with you.
What one or two things that you did would you attribute to your blogging success (and to the book deal you landed)?
This is more a question for the FWallStreet.com readers. Why did they keep coming back, referring their friends, and commenting? All I did was take what was previously taught by investing greats like Warren Buffett, Benjamin Graham, and others, and present it in a simple, somewhat easy-to-understand, and visually appealing format. Apparently, people were yearning for that. (I was yearning for it as well, which is why I did it in the first place!)
What advice would you give to writers wanting to blog a book (and build readership/platform while doing so)?
There is an audience for every topic. Whether you’re blogging about national politics or corkscrews, there are people out there who want to read about it. Stick with what you know well, write with passion, don’t skimp on the design and presentation, and triple check your grammar and spelling.
What’s the most important thing a blogger can do to get noticed in the blogosphere?
If you’re producing quality content on a well-designed blog, you’ll get noticed. Do the simple things—submit your website and RSS feeds to the appropriate directories, make sure that comments you post on others’ websites link back to your own (assuming it’s appropriate), and make it easy for people to share your site on Facebook and Twitter.
If you do those things, you will have a successful blog in time. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.