Wednesday, 30 September 2009

How to Start a Student Blog, Part Two

blogging in bed
Image thanks to Sergio Alvaré Peláez

In the first section of this two part article (within this four part series... I know, I’ve confused myself too) we looked at what is required to make it as a successful blogger and how to get started on a platform. In this part we will focus on how to start building on what you’ve got in order to expand your blog.

Where Next? Thinking of the Future

Decide early on if blogging will be a long-term thing for you, and plan accordingly. Of course you can never be 100% prepared, and changing your mind on some things is inevitable but, as far as you can, try to settle as many things as possible right from the beginning. A consistent and clear message will not only save you time re-jigging plans, but help your readers to invest in you and therefore help your blog grow.

Making Your Mark in a Niche

In my first year of blogging, being part of a niche was central almost entirely to my small success. It focused me, it helped readers and other bloggers to understand where I was coming from, it helped me attract attention, get links and guest post spots on other blogs within that niche, and it did all that without limiting me. I think a lot of new bloggers get put off of assigning themselves within a niche because they’re not sure that they’ll be able to stick to it. But, in my opinion, you need this to guide your journey; like a north star, you don’t always have to look at it but when you need to it’s there. I found it useful that Charade encompasses two great niches: student and fashion, which opened my writing scope right up.

Building Relationships & Guest Posting

As an estimate, I’d say around 75% of my readership to date have resulted from guest posting on other sites. Think about how you found Charade, was it from finding my writing on College Fashion, IFB, Wish Wish Wish, or Painfully Hip? I consider guest posting crucial to success, particularly at the beginning of a blog, but even as you grow (massive bloggers like Leo Babauta of Zen Habits who has well over 100,000 subscribers, still take the time to guest post elsewhere.) As for building relationships with other bloggers, it is as much for your blog as it is for your own sanity! Aim to make friends you can turn to in a crisis, not just gain a link in their blogroll.

Making Money

Okay, the topic everyone always wants to talk about when it comes to blogging! There are many, many ways to make money through your blog, and I won’t even come close to mentioning them all, but I will say this: you won’t make serious money from your blog unless you invest serious time and dedication into blogging, you honestly won’t, so think hard if you’re willing to spend 2 years of regular blogging before even making a hint of income.

Adsense. Most of your readers won’t click a Google ad; now that many people have sussed out them out, clicks are becoming rarer and rarer. Therefore, you need mass traffic to make money because it’s always such a tiny percentage that will click. Also, you need to be strategic about where you place these ads, and different strategies will work on different sites, so try out different things. Some sites you’ll barely notice them, and on some they stick out like a sore thumb, but both of these methods can potentially attract clicks.

Project Wonderful.
I seriously dig Project Wonderful, not because I’ve made a lot of money I might add, but because they have an honest system where everyone’s a winner. Reputable companies which you get to filter 100% can advertise on your site for a price that they think is fair. You’ll probably get contacted by an ad ‘network’ fairly early on in blogging, and long-term Charade readers will remember my old banner ads which were sourced this way, but the amount of money you make is the same and the ads are generally less relevant and harder to filter.

Commission Junction. I’ve yet to make a penny here, but if you dedicate yourself to just one or two companies and make the effort to sell, sell, sell, I’ve no doubt you could earn a crust.

Amazon Associates.
There is serious money to be made here, but again, serious money takes serious dedication, not just placing one or two random links on your site and waiting for the money to pour in.

Private and ‘Featured’ Advertisers. This is where the real money is when it comes to advertising on your blog and where you’re in total control. Think about what your site honestly has to offer an advertiser and contact a few early on, and then raise your price as your readership grows. Consider offering a ‘featured’ service for free initially, or for a gift from the advertiser’s site, just to get people to take notice of you and perhaps pay later if they receive valuable clicks and sales from your readers.

Sponsored Posts. These are tricky to go after and will most likely just find their way to you eventually. It helps to have a strong and clear niche to attract sponsored posts, otherwise companies will be unsure of who they’re targeting. Fix a price you’ll accept and stick to it, because sponsored posts can annoy your readers and it’s not worth losing even one of them for $20.

Podcasts, ebooks, merchandise... This will all come when you’re truly established and will mark you as a ‘serious’ blogger. Your aim should be to target the loyal follower rather than the passing traffic, and this is where you can make serious money and really turn your blog into a business. The sky is the limit, but don’t do any of it half-heartedly because, if people are disappointed by something they’ve paid for, the backlash will be a lot worse than any disappointed comment on a post that was free.

Developing a Brand

Branding is so very vital to a blog, as is being consistent with that brand. Even if you change small things like a new topic your interested in writing about, or a design element of your site, keep a strong message like ‘a fabulous lifestyle on a student budget’ to stop you from straying too far. Whenever and wherever you guest post or even just leave a comment, remember what you’re trying to say with your brand, stick to it and respect it.

Free Stuff and Competitions

Early on, with even just 100 subscribers or so, you’ll start to be contacted by small companies offering you products to review and giveaway or receive for free yourself. This is great, but don’t get over excited, no one wants to see your blog turn into a sales catalogue, and a lot of what you’ll receive just won’t be worth selling out for. Your reader should be your top priority at all times; if they’re not, they’ll know it, and they won’t hang around long. Suss out any company before linking your brand with theirs, run seriously good competitions and remember your reader and what they want to see on your blog.


I’ve learnt pretty much all I’ve needed to know so far from these two resources: Problogger and Blogger Buster (as Blogger is my platform) so I’d suggest subscribing now and reading up on the archives. Tomorrow I will post 50 of the best links for a new blogger for further reading on each of the subheadings I’ve used, as I realise I’ve been quite brief (I’ll leave the serious guidance to the real experts!)

As the result of a negative comment, I’d also like to apologise to those not interested in this series and wondering why it’s here. I just want to have somewhere to direct people when blogging questions come up (which they have done from several readers) and Charade most definitely will not be turning into a technological/blogging tutorial site from now on!


Kb said...

Great post, I'm still thinking about ads, so it's nice to see all perspectives covered. I'd quite like to look into guest posting, it'd be nice to write about something slightly different for someone else.

Marie said...

This was another brilliant post - thanks for the links.

A said...

Megan, I've a question and hopefully it's not too nosy but I am really curious about how you made contact with advertisers in the early days. Did you approach PR companies, individual businesses, small ones or large...

Voila Megan said...

A - Not too nosy at all! Basically, it's all been a bit mish-mashed and I've tried out various methods. Early on I was contacted by an ad network, who basically grab up lots of blogs and then sell mass advertising on all of them combined to the big advertisers, so in a lot of ways it was really great to be such a small blog and have that opportunity. But, in the end, I just couldn't get on with the system and cancelled it without even getting the money I'd earned. All my old banner ads were found this way. Generally, from my experience, I wouldn't recommend it as I didn't feel at all in control.

Then I discovered Project Wonderful (the two bottom ads in my ad box) which I've seen that you are using, so you'll know that mostly the advertisers find you, although it's not a bad idea to contact them yourself.

My Modcloth and Oli ads run through Commission Junction, where it's sales that earn for you, not just placing the ad.

Other, short-term, ads you may have seen on the site have often been in exchange for the company giving products to Charade for a competition and have usually contacted me initially.

My advice is to contact all kinds of ad people yourself, small and large, if you think they fit with the feel of your blog - it never hurts and they can only say no! You can even offer free advertising to tempt them, and then hope that they may return, or that other advertisers who happen across your site will think "if that company is advertising here, I should too!"

Hope that helps in some way!

A said...

Super informative, thank you Megan!

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