I know there have been a couple of recent blogging gatherings.. I wasn’t able to attend but kept an eye on feedback coming through my Twitter time-line to get the general gist of what was going on.
One thing that seemed to feature quite highly was the issue of monetizing your blog, or even becoming a Pro-Blogger (i.e. your blog is your primary source of income and you are doing it pretty well full-time). I think I would say that now, I would probably be classed as a Pro-Blogger, and initially when I started my blog I longed for a time in the future where I could just blog and nothing else. Although my blog was never started with any set goal in mind (I just went with the flow) and in fact, there still is no set goal, being a Pro-Blogger is not quite the euphoric state I’d thought it might be. It’s a huge risk to throw all your eggs in one basket and because blogging is a constantly evolving genre, there is no path already beaten; I have the constant feeling of finding my way.
For a start, the tricky issue of monetizing is always at the forefront of your mind and it is inextricably linked with stats. I saw a tweet from one of the blogging conferences that said something along the lines of ‘the biggest blogs aren’t necessarily the best’ which of course it is true, but when it comes to advertisers, they really don’t care what you’re writing about, just as long as you have enough viewers reading it. At the end of the day, they want eyes on product, and many, many of them. The harsh fact is that if you can’t keep your stats at a certain level, there won’t be a high enough revenue to feed your cat, never mind yourself. There is still an assumption from advertisers that they pay less for on-line advertising than they would to be between some glossy pages. And it is generally way, way less.
Magazines aren’t asked to prove how many people actually read about a particular lipstick – bloggers are. Because we can prove it, it is now expected that we will. I generally don’t give out individual post figures because over time these change dramatically and unlike a magazine, a blog post is always there. It doesn’t go in recycling and the information is accessible for just about ever if Google is your friend. (To clarify: magazines do have to produce circulation figures but these obviously never can identify how many people have seen one particular product – on a blog, this is absolutely possible.)
I source a lot of my own ads, and have very carefully used a count-down system which nobody has done before. So, rather than create a simple ad, I do a countdown to launch to create a buzz and anticipation about a forthcoming launch. It is rare that I advertise a product already available. I turn down more than I accept because I want to keep a certain benchmark for BBB and featuring endless cosmetic surgery clinics or similar isn’t it. The collective I belong to, Handpicked Media, is unfailingly supportive. I am not a natural sales person and will only tell the absolute truth about my stats so I don’t inflate or make stuff up, but without ads or countdowns, this blog can’t flourish. It’s the hardest aspect of pro-blogging – I always feel bad if there is a low response.. to the point of giving money back.. see, I said I was rubbish… but nor can I use any manipulative tactics to increase response. It just has to be what it is, and reader response is in fact a very good learning indicator.
Some bloggers have looked at the agent option; if you’re a really, really successful blogger then that seems like a very sensible course of action, although I nearly fell off my chair a couple of years ago in disbelief when I first heard bloggers were getting agents. I might do it, I might not. Nobody might want me! Eek. Having an agent will definitely bring you more revenue, but you’ll need a good point of difference and a heck of a lot of business nouse and self-control if you don’t want to end up as just a party-filler.
I don’t want to use an affiliate link company, because as I’ve mentioned before, I want a proper relationship with the retailers where I can negotiate special deals for BBB readers that aren’t the same as everyone else’s. Affiliate linking is where I would get a small percentage of any sales made from a link I provide – if I feature a £4.99 nail polish and ten people bought it, I’d get about 49p, just so you know how that goes. Beauty, unless it is very, very high end and expensive, doesn’t do quite so well on Affiliates as, say fashion, where retail price per product is generally higher. I am currently only working with two e-tailers on an affiliate basis, although more are in the pipeline.
Then, there are sponsored posts. I take these pretty seriously and again, turn down more than I accept (one a month on average). My conscience couldn’t take writing about rubbish for money, and anyway, my readers would know.. they’d just know.
Which brings me round another tricky issue. The more time you spend on your blog, the more you know your readers and the more you write for them instead of yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that and I actually love seeing a product I know that readers will respond well to, but on the down side, and again stats related, I end up not featuring some products because I know that it won’t be of great interest and I won’t get the stats even though it will bring more diversity to the blog. This issue also ties into PR, because it is very hard to say no to a PR about to lose a client because they haven’t managed to get enough coverage that you can’t help them out because you won’t get the stats. So you lose, or they lose. Once you start knowing this stuff, you can’t un-know it.
The bottom line of commercialised blogging is stats and they rules your life, night and day. When Google decided to change its algorithm (I say that as though I actually know what that means, but only in the very vaguest sense!) it wiped away 20 thousand from my stats in a couple of weeks. I couldn’t sleep, never mind eat. I’m slowly, slowly building them back again and have totally relaxed about it… but for a time, I was beside myself.
Finally, the more successful you see other bloggers being, the more you want a piece of the action. It’s natural, but it’s not nice. It is never nice – especially with friends – to feel jealous, but I do sometimes. The rational me gladly wants them to succeed, the blogging me thinks ‘why didn’t I get chosen for that trip’, or ‘what did I do wrong that I didn’t get that exclusive?’ Because it all matters for stats and that piles on tonnes of pressure. You have to work relentlessly on a pro-blog. I am not naturally a jealous person but there is something about seeing others chosen over you that can nearly break you.
You can’t turn the clock back to the early days of blogging; it’s marching onwards and evolving every single day, but really, really think hard if pro-blogging is the way you want to go. I love blogging, I love the remnants of the ‘old days’ which are still there if you look, I am amazed every single day that so many people want to read what I say about beauty. And, I love the variety, the excitement and the achievements, which on a good day are better than any fairground ride. But, it is not an easy ride, not by a long chalk. There is no way, at this stage, that I could support myself fully on blogging alone. I am full of admiration for anyone that can, because I know what has to go into it for the slightest bit of hard cash to come out of it. And I am in the very lucky position of being able to be experimental about whether pro-blogging can work for me without losing my integrity or the very thing that readers come to BBB for – the truth.
PS: Just after reading this through – it started fairly aimlessly with no end conclusion at the beginning – I’ve realised that even just saying all this is what blogging is about. Being able to say it out loud and being prepared to take the consequences, good or bad, with no editor editing out the unsavoury bits or the bad grammer. Blogging, even about beauty, is about laying yourself bare. Brilliant!