Sunday 3 July 2011

Writing for Blogging for Money for a Living

A little surfing around, consultation of some articles written by "experts", and I conclude that the total number of blogs currently available on the Internet rounded up is fourteen zillion. Yes, zillion. That's a lot. Like really a lot. It begs some questions. How the dickens is any fool delusional blogger supposed to get their voice heard, that is, their text read? Why is the acronym for Fat Chance spelled FFC?

It has come to my attention that some people - I was going to say "fellow bloggers" but that's pretentious of me - are managing to earn a few bucks. One or two seem to be actually making a living by blogging. Wow. I started with the idea that sooner or later somebody might offer me a couple of bucks to stop. Of course the purpose of a blog is not the reading, it's the writing. Yes, we write because we have to write. We don't write because we have to be read. Then again, what's the point of memorizing Shakespeare if all we ever do is recite our lines in an empty theatre? Once in a while it's nice to hear somebody clap.

This reminds me of an old joke. Fred and Bill look at an old car and Fred says to Bill, "How about a hundred bucks?" Bill hems and haws then Fred says, "Okay, I'll give you two hundred bucks to take it away."

Apparently my voice is going to become one voice out of 7 billion voices later this year. (Planet Earth: 7 billion people in 2011) Yes, I will be or I already am just another in the background noise of the cacophony of life. Out of that, I am one of over two billion people plugged into the Internet. (Wikipedia) That's two billion people who not only are living their lives but have the means of telling the world about it.

Don't Quit Your Day Job
Right off the bat, I think any of us have to be responsible about anything we undertake. What's that old saying? Oh yes: "Don't quit your day job!". The papers are sometimes filled with stories of some individual who's had a terrific success story, a story which paints the picture of a person who has supposedly come out of nowhere and risen to the top in a bolt of lightning. However I am reminded of the lottery. Once a week I buy a ticket for the Canadian lottery called Lotto Max. - This is my stupid, pie-in-the-sky, fanciful attempt to win my way out of poverty. I spend a couple of bucks for the pleasure of daydreaming of what I'd do if I won. - According to the lotto web site, the chances of winning are one in 28 million. That means for every winner, there are twenty-seven million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine losers. Well okay, that's approximate, but you get my point.

Wait! What's my point again? Try, but don't quit your day job. For every winner written up in the headlines, there are a lot and I mean a lot of losers.

Coming back to the lottery, you win a million bucks for essentially doing nothing. Gee, my job requires me to work to get money. I can sell my car to get money. In other words, I don't usually get money for nothing. I have to give something up (a car) or I have to provide a service (my job). There is an exchange. Somebody gives me money, I give them something.

Have a Product
Amanda Hocking is a 27-year old indie author who has probably not only startled a lot of people but gotten every budding author from here to Timbuktu salivating over the possibility of getting the brass ring. In a nutshell, this young lady during her teens and early twenties wrote books in her spare time. Yes books, like nine of them and then in April 2010 decided to try her hand at publishing them through Amazon's Kindle service. Well, surprise, surprise, the sales took off. Yeah, like through the roof. In January 2011, she sold 450,000 copies which I calculated would have made her about $130,000... just in that one month! She has now signed a book deal worth $2 million with a publishing house. (Writing: Amanda Hocking: indie author goes viral)

Okay, this is the exception to the rule. There are a lot of people writing; there are a lot of people self-publishing on Kindle so why did she succeed? Who knows? One in a million. But one important point came out of this that she said herself in an interview. She had a product to sell. Yes, she was lucky but she did have a product to sell. What I mean is that she didn't start with an idea and try to make the rounds of the publishing houses looking for money. No, she had a book. No, she had nine books. She had nine finished products to be marketed and sold.

Is Amanda Hocking lucky? Yes. But on the other hand, let's not forget the definition of luck: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. If you're prepared, if you're ready, if you're able, then when that moment of opportunity shows up you will be able to take advantage of it. You aren't going to win the lottery if you haven't bought a ticket. You aren't going to sell 450,000 copies of your nine books if you haven't written nine books. (Luck: Preparation Meets Opportunity)

What am I trying to say? Simple. I personally don't have a product. I haven't written a book and while I am writing a blog, it's not really a product which can be marketed and sold. But I'll come back to this.

Having an audience
Whether it's a book or a blog or a music video, there is the question of people wanting it. If nobody wants it, if nobody is interested in it, how the dickens are you going to get anybody to spend any money on it? Rebecca Black, a 13 year old girl from California, made a music video which went viral and apparently has gotten twenty million hits. (Internet song "Friday" goes viral) However going viral is not necessarily the same as building a fan base. Going viral is more like winning the lottery. It's luck, just pure luck.

Alexa Internet, Inc. a subsidiary of, is involved in the collection, analysis, and publication of statistics on web traffic. This company collects its data from people installing its Alexa toolbar in Internet Explorer. From what I understand, data about sites you visit are passed back to the company which it then uses to create its ranking of individual sites. There is some controversy about Alexa statistics as the company only has data provided by those people who install its toolbar. I'm sure this is quite the minority in the great big world of those surfing the Net so its ranking comes from a narrow audience. How does this fact affect its ranking or the validity of its ranking? Beats me, but there seem to be a number of people who criticise the company's pool of data.

Criticism: ShoutMeLoud
The main data Alexa get’s from is Alexa Toolbar, so if your site gets 20,000 UVs per day and only 10% of them would be using Alexa toolbar then Alexa will get data of only 2000 visitors. The remaining visitors probably won’t be counted or they would get data of them from different sources. So, all in all Alexa Rankings is not too much dependable for considering a website’s total traffic.

Disclaimer: CometSEO
The traffic data are based on the set of toolbars that use Alexa data, which may not be a representative sample of the global Internet population. To the extent that our sample of users differs from the set of all Internet users, our traffic estimates may over- or under-estimate the actual traffic to any particular site.

Okay, we've been warned. Unfortunately, I haven't found anything else representing some sort of global ranking. And, well, it's free! - Yes, there other companies doing what Alexa does like Compete.Com, however these services seem to cost something. So, for the moment, Alexa wins by default because it's currently not charging anything for its statistics.

Alexa: The Big Boys
Alexa's Top Sites show for the top ten (the entire list shows the top 500):

1. Google
2. Facebook
3. YouTube
4. Yahoo
5. Live
6. Baidu
The leading Chinese language search engine
7. Wikipedia
8. Blogger
9. MSN
10. Tencent (
China's largest and most used Internet service portal

From there, some other famous web sites:

11. Twitter
17. Amazon
18. Wordpress
23. eBay
24. Bing

Alexa has Top 500 List, Top Sites by country and lists by category.

Alexa: The lesser knowns
You can find out the ranking of any web site by using their Site Information query. Just fill in the URL of the site you're interested in and click on the button Search. Note that lesser known sites may not turn up any ranking at all.

Out of curiosity, I decided to check out a few sites I know and came up with the following rankings. Keep in mind that these rankings change every day so what I've written down may not match what you see if you click to check out the latest figures yourself.

Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce
Alexa: 1,426,411

Perils of Divorced Pauline
Alexa: 1,670,259

The Bitter Divorcée
Alexa: 1,161,736

Divorced Women Online (Cathy Meyer)
Alexa: 225,613

Daily Plate of Crazy (Big Little Wolf / D. A. Wolf)
Alexa: 203,942

Scary Mommy
Alexa: 30,576

Dooce (Heather B. Armstrong)
Alexa: 14,416

Where am I?
Here's the rating I found on June 30, 2011:

William Quincy Belle
Alexa: 3,114,901

Curiously enough, the rating today is 2,475,752. Woo hoo! Bring out the champagne! Well, not yet. This brings us to an oddity about the Alex ranking.

Alexa: caveat
For illustrative purposes, let's say nine web sites all get 1,000 pageviews per day. Let's then say that my site gets 999 pageviews per day. I am ranked #10 relative to everybody else. Let's say that one day, I get 1,001 pageviews. All of a sudden, I have more pageviews than the other nine so suddenly I'm number one. But, I'm number one relative to everyone else. I haven't suddenly become super popular, in fact, I only have a single day where I've gotten two extra pageviews. Big deal. Nevertheless, relatively speaking, I am now head of the pack.

But, but, but the opposite is also true. In the above example, let's say all nine other sites saw their own pageviews drop from 1,000 to 998 while mine remained at 999. Once again, I would be on top. Woo hoo! This 2nd example explains my ranking jumping from 3,114,901 to 2,475,752. My pageviews have not gone up so I have to assume other web sites saw their pageviews go down. Whatever the case, I doubt this will be sustained. I've tracked my ranking for the past 8 months and although I started at twelve million and have risen in the ranks, I've been hovering around three million for 6 months.

By the way, the other sites I mentioned above I've looked at more than once over the past month or two. Their scores are sustained so I would say what I've written above is probably a fairly accurate ranking for each of them.

Going Viral
Okay, I'm saying viral more as a joke but what I'm talking about are the serious contenders in the quest for web traffic. The number of pageviews per day coupled with the stats of number of visitors, number of returning visitors, etc. all add up to the ability of a web site to generate public interest. Public interest? Ah, now we're talking about being able to advertise and I'm guessing for some serious dineros.

I only learned about this web site and its creator Heather Armstrong a couple of months ago but have come to understand that from a traffic point of view, this woman is rocking. With an Alexa score of 14,416, Ms. Armstrong is right up there with some pretty significant web sites. What is truly interesting is that her web site is her job. Yes, apparently she and her husband are making a living from running the web site. I remember when I first looked at the site, I didn't find the content interesting to me. However, I learned a long time ago that just because something isn't interesting to me doesn't mean it isn't of value and isn't interesting to others. After all, I don't particularly care for teenage werewolves but judging from Twilight, there are a lot of people who do. - FYI: I have been learned that Amanda Hocking's success is based in part on cashing in on this interest. She writes books about teenagers and werewolves and the like. That explains to a certain extent why she took off: she's writing about a hot topic.

Anna of the web site ABDPBT (Alexa=92,071) wrote "How Much Do Bloggers Make? Case Study: Heather B. Armstrong AKA Dooce" in which she analyses what Ms. Armstrong may be bringing in. She says that Dooce.Com is getting over five million pageviews per month. What!?! Five million? You can fill in your own expletive here. *laughs uproariously* This is hilarious. In the month of June I got a total of 8,000 pageviews. Gee, if I turn on AdSense, maybe I could generate, what, 5 or 6 cents? *chuckles* Never mind not being in the same ballpark; I'm not even in the same city, the same country, heck, maybe not even on the same continent!

I said previously that I "didn't get" the content of Dooce. What's so interesting about it that would generate so much interest? Alexa summarizes the site with: Talking a lot about poop, boobs, her dog, and her daughter. *perplexed look* o... kay..., but... Alexa goes on:

Dooce's three-month global Alexa traffic rank is 14,266. This site has a relatively good traffic rank in the cities of Louisville (#406) and Richmond-Petersburg (#611). The fraction of visits to the site referred by search engines is roughly 5%. The site is based in the US. Compared with all internet users, Dooce's users are disproportionately female, and they tend to be moderately educated people under the age of 45 who have incomes over $30,000 and have more children.

Hmmm, now I think I'm making the connection between the content of the web site and the fanbase. Who's going to be interested in kids and poop? Other people with kids and poop. More precisely, other women with kids and poop. We could argue that this is a niche market but judging by the numbers, it seems like a fairly substantial niche. Anna of the web site ABDPBT ends her analysis by saying, my semi-educated guess is that Armstrong Media’s gross revenues are between $1 million-$2 million a year.

*spit take* Wow. Ms. Armstrong, I curtsey before you oh goddess of the blogging world. For a comparison, I find in the About of the web site Scary Mommy, the claim the web site gets 700,000 pageviews per month. Not up at the same level of Dooce but still substantial. Is Jill the domestic satirist, as the Scary Mommy About calls the author, generating enough to make a living from her web site?

By the way, I just looked. Heather Armstrong has 1,560,121 followers on Twitter. I have 78. I'll never curtsey before Ms. Thompson because I'll never be allowed in the same room.

What mistakes am I making?
In cruising around looking for information about blogging do's and don'ts, I've run into a number of interesting articles giving good tips and explaining just what a bad job I've been doing while blogging.

Mistake: Not writing about a single topic
The word "eclectic" sounds nifty but according to the blog pundits, this isn't a good idea for a single blog. As one guy said, how would you feel if you are reading a movie blog and run into an article about sports? Good point. I've wondered if I should actually have more than one blog with each devoted to a specific theme. I know in the beginning I wrote reviews about the movies I saw with the idea of publishing them in an online newspaper then I said, "What the heck?" and started including them in my blog. Apparently "eclectic" is not good.

Recently, I've written a few articles about divorce and garnered the attention of some other bloggers who write pretty much exclusively about the topic. They may be a tad disappointed to type in my URL only to find me discussing Transformers: Dark of the Moon. (Yes, believe or not, I actually went and saw that film. It would have been terrific if I was 15 years old.)

At least when I write an article for the online newspaper I contribute to on a semi-regular basis, I do not reprint the articles in my blog. Hmmm, how about throwing my coverage of the up-rising in Egypt or the war in Libya or even the William and Kate's royal wedding into the mix? Geesh, now that really would be eclectic! People might start to think my blog was bipolar or something; the "Sybil" of the blogging world.

Mistake: Not interacting
The rule seems to be: When a reader leaves a comment, the author should respond. I am terrible because I never respond. Actually, I have to point out that I hardly get any comments. On the other side of the coin, while I read other blogs, I do not often leave a comment. But, let me point out something about this which I've been mulling over. I note that some people belong to a "community". I use the word community in the sense they read the same blog, make comments on all new blog entries, etc.; they are part of the regular readership. This is sometimes reciprocal: I comment on your blog; you comment on my blog. While it seems to be good for the community, I wonder about making the site self-combust. Dooce is no longer interacting with individual visitors; at over five million pageviews per month Ms. Thomspon couldn't be. Somehow I think the site has now taken off on its own. Visitors are coming on their own attracted by the content or based on the recommendation of their friends but Heather Armstrong isn't actually interacting with each new visitor or even all the regular visitors. That's what I mean by self-combusting.

Mistake: Not soliciting feedback
Kat Wilder describes herself as a divorced mom musing on life, love and single parenting. Her articles seem to be based on her interactions with her best friend Sara or other friends and generally cover a specific issue. They always seem to end in one or more questions where she asks her readers what they think. In other words, her blog postings are constructed in a manner to solicit feedback. (Her Alex ranking is 3,181,919. I also note that Kat has 488 followers on Twitter and 186 friends on Facebook. As I said, I have 78 and 14 respectively.)

Jill Hamilton writes "In Bed With Married Women" described as is a place to talk about sex in all its funny, weird, boring, smokin' hot glory. Knowledge = power and all that. She takes an irreverent and humorous look at all things sexual and is, in my humble opinion, an amusing wit. (Alexa = 1,087,186). Like Kat, Jill constructs her postings in a way to solicit feedback from her readers. On top of it, she seems to periodically have contests where she gives prizes. Hey! That'll get you some feedback!

Unlike the above two examples, I write a posting which is my opinion. I write a researched posting which are my findings (always with verifiable footnotes). I'm not sure how much room there is for your opinion. I don't exactly start a debate. I've just proven with references that the Earth is not flat and Pi is approximately equal to 3.14 or I've said that when I was five my mother dropped me on my head (that explains a lot). What's to argue about?

This fancy pants word just means turning your blog from an I'm-doing-it-out-of-love endeavour to a for profit one. This involves selling advertising space and many systems like Google's Blogger offer built-in programs where the author can opt-in to automatically introduce publicity from a program like AdSense. I have never done this so what I know about doing this is limited or zilch.

Both Kat Wilder and Jill Hamilton (In Bed With Married Women) have monetized their web sites. I have no idea what they may make from doing this but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask. They can always tell me to bugger off.

Final Word
I started my blog on June 1, 2010 as some sort of writing experiment. I started not knowing what I was doing and didn't have any idea of where I was going. A year later I still don't know what I'm doing and have no idea of where I'm going. *smiles* I do not feel I have any sort of readership which could be categorized as steady. Will that correct itself? As long as I continue to be eclectic, I doubt it. Are there other things I could do, mistakes to avoid? Definitely. Whether I do them or not remains to be seen. Will I monetize my site? I can picture doing this out of curiosity but I can't see doing it for the money. I still have a day job and unless this blog starts making, let's say, a hundred grand a year, you won't see me counting on a supplemental income any time soon never mind quitting my job. Oh yeah, I don't see myself starting to talk about kids and poop so Heather Thompson of Dooce will remain pretty much uncontested in her field, at least uncontested by yours truly. I can be scatological but I admit I currently don't have any diapers in my life.


Wikipedia: Web traffic
Web traffic is the amount of data sent and received by visitors to a web site. It is a large portion of Internet traffic. This is determined by the number of visitors and the number of pages they visit. Sites monitor the incoming and outgoing traffic to see which parts or pages of their site are popular and if there are any apparent trends, such as one specific page being viewed mostly by people in a particular country. There are many ways to monitor this traffic and the gathered data is used to help structure sites, highlight security problems or indicate a potential lack of bandwidth — not all web traffic is welcome.

Wikipedia: Slashdot effect
The Slashdot effect, also known as slashdotting, occurs when a popular website links to a smaller site, causing a massive increase in traffic. This overloads the smaller site, causing it to slow down or even temporarily close. The name stems from the huge influx of web traffic that results from the technology news site Slashdot linking to websites. The effect has been associated with other websites or metablogs such as Fark, Drudge Report, Reddit, Twitter and Digg, leading to terms such as being Farked or Drudged and the Reddit effect. Typically, less robust sites are unable to cope with the huge increase in traffic and become unavailable – common causes are lack of sufficient data bandwidth, servers that fail to cope with the high number of requests, and traffic quotas. Sites that are maintained on shared hosting services often fail when confronted with the Slashdot effect.

Wikipedia: Alexa Internet
Alexa Internet, Inc. is a California-based subsidiary company of that is known for its toolbar and website. Once installed, the toolbar collects data on browsing behavior which is transmitted to the website where it is stored and analyzed and is the basis for the company's web traffic reporting.

Wikipedia: Heather Armstrong
Heather B. Armstrong (née Hamilton, born July 19, 1975) is an American blogger who resides in Salt Lake City, Utah. She writes under the pseudonym of Dooce. Armstrong explains that "Dooce" came from her inability to quickly spell "dude" during IM chats with her former co-workers.

Wikipedia: Website monetization
Website monetization is the process of converting existing traffic being sent to a particular website into revenue. Pay per click (PPC) is one of the most popular ways of monetizing a website. Various ad networks facilitate a webmaster in placing advertisements on pages of the website to benefit from the traffic the site is experiencing.

Wikipedia: Pay per click
Pay per click (PPC) is an Internet advertising model used to direct traffic to websites, where advertisers pay the hosting service when the ad is clicked. With search engines, advertisers typically bid on keyword phrases relevant to their target market. Content sites commonly charge a fixed price per click rather than use a bidding system.


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