Oct 25 2011

Blogging For Dollars? Or Something Else?

Categories: Blogging, General Dave Rathbun @ 9:15 pm

In Part I of this post I talked a little bit about what I think it takes to get started in the world of blogging. In this post I would like to talk more about some of the challenges related to running your own blog. To that end I would like to answer a few questions that people have asked me, and perhaps one or two that people have not asked but maybe should have.

How much money will I make?

That’s often the biggest question, isn’t it? I can honestly say I have never directly made a penny off of blogging. I realize that’s not a big incentive for some folks, but it’s what you should plan for, at least for the first two years of blogging. Two years? Yes, two years at least. I believe it takes that long to build up an audience, and by virtue of having a increasingly larger audience, more traffic. In the 90’s every web site was all about the “eyeballs” or how many visitors they attracted. Eventually folks that control advertising budgets figured out that being seen wasn’t enough, they had to eventually sell something. The rules changed. It wasn’t about page views and unique visitors anymore (although those metrics are still important enough to be interesting) but about clicks and conversions.

That being said, if you want to try to make money on your blog, there are a number of advertising or affiliate programs that you can sign up for. In my experience, most will not pay very much unless you have a whole bunch of traffic. The general idea is that with a whole bunch of traffic you should generate at least a few clicks, and for every hundred clicks or so someone might actually buy something. Google offers a very easy way to start including advertising on your web site (be it a blog or something else). I have used Google on a number of different sites and ultimately dropped it because the advertising revenues were going down despite increases in traffic and clicks. I decided that the minimal income I was receiving wasn’t worth the hassle of keeping up with the program, and ultimately after fighting with Google’s support department for nine months over one particular question I just dropped out altogether.

One of my fellow BI bloggers (with a reasonably popular blog) makes about $100 to $150 via his blog. That’s not monthly, that’s for an entire year. It’s not exactly enough to pay the mortgage, but at least it covers the web hosting which makes for a break-even situation.

One side note about advertising: In my opinion, if it’s not well done, it can be a real turn-off for your readers. My suggestion to you, the aspiring blogger, is to start the process without any intention to include advertising of any kind for at least the first two years. That way you have built an audience, and hopefully they will stay with you if / when you do start to include advertising. For me, personally, the aesthetic issues of having banners or other advertisements are not worth the small amount of funds they might generate. I’ve run this site for over four years without any advertising, and I anticipate that continuing into the future. Then again, I do have a day job, so I am not depending on this site to make money. Your situation may certainly be different.

Why do it then, if not to make money?

In the last section I said I have never directly made a penny off of blogging. That is true. However, I have certainly realized many indirect benefits. Before I evolved from a consultant to a productive member of society ;) I used my blog to publish technical articles. That helped me to maintain current clients as well as attract new ones. Clients paid the bills, so anything that helped me grow my client list was certainly beneficial.

Between my blogging and my participation on BOB I have been recognized as an SAP Mentor for the past several years. I can’t begin to list all of the indirect benefits that has provided, including the invitation to spend an hour with Hasso Plattner (one of the original founders of SAP) at the SAPPHIRE conference in 2011. What a treat that was!

I have been invited to present at conferences I might not normally have attended, like the Mastering BusinessObjects conferences in Australia. (Hi Josh! :) ). I have been invited to several SAP events under their blogger platform, which means my travel expenses are often covered in addition to the conference fee, and that makes my boss quite happy. Anything that makes my boss happy is obviously a benefit to me.

Your mileage may vary in this, of course. But conservatively speaking, I would not expect to gain these sorts of benefits until you have a larger audience, which gets back to the two year time frame I mentioned earlier.

Ok, so I’m not making money. How much does it cost?

I touched briefly on this in my first post about becoming a blogger. There are a number of places that would love to host your blog, BI or otherwise, for free. I’ve already mentioned wordpress.com and SAP SCN. Cost: zero dollars. Since you can run a blog with no cash outlay, the concerns about generating income become less crucial.

Even if you get your own domain, you can find hosting that is very affordable. I am aware of at least one hosting company that will provide web space, a host control panel, the ability to have your own email addresses… and the entire package costs less than $5 a month. The upside is you can get your feet wet and start blogging with a minimal cash investment. The downside is that you’re often hosted on a server with hundreds (or potentially thousands) of other smaller web sites. If one or two of those sites starts getting more traffic, it can impact visitors to your site. Or if you start getting a lot of traffic your host may ask you (nicely, at first) to upgrade to a more expensive package since you are using more resources. Unfortunately it can turn out to be the luck of the draw as to whether you are on an overloaded server or not.

What about that domain name? Anything I should consider?

Once you’ve decided to go the separate hosting route, how do you pick a domain, and how much do they cost?

You can get your own domain from any variety of sources for $7 to $12 per year. When I got my first domain it was $50 per year! :shock: Finding a good domain name has become harder since many of the good names or combinations of key words are already taken. There is an entire industry dedicated to grabbing new or expiring domain names and then “squatting” on them, hoping someone will want to eventually buy them. (There are reports that Apple paid a fortune for the iCloud.com domain name. Something in the order of millions of dollars. :shock: ) However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find something available. I get asked all the time what “dagira” means, and how it’s pronounced. I will let you know right now that you can pronounce it any way you like. (I personally say it with a hard “g” sound.) The domain name is made up of the first two letters of my name (Dave), the first two letters of my wife’s name (Ginger), and the first two letters of my last name (Rathbun). Da-Gi-Ra, that’s all there is to it. What does it mean? Whatever I want it to. :)

One of the advantages of a “nonsense” domain like this is that they’re easy to get. Nobody else would register dagira.com because it doesn’t mean anything. Most three or four letter domains are gone because of company acronyms, but six letters is still well within the sweet spot of short (and therefore memorable) domain names. One of the bloggers that I try to visit when I have time is Jon Reed who blogs at JonERP.com. See? Six letters, easy to remember, and in Jon’s case it’s a combination of his first name and the blog topic he covers.

Hm, I just checked, and DaveBI.com is available. Maybe I should grab it. ;)

How do you check to see if a domain name is available? Go to any domain registrar web site and they’ll have a way to check which domain names are available, or if not, they will often suggest alternatives. GoDaddy.com is one example, and one of the original domain registrars Network Solutions is another option.

Ok, so what makes a good domain name?

Shorter is better. People can remember short and succinct domain names better than something like DaveTalksAboutBusinessIntelligenceAtHisBlog.com.

Many folks will tell you that your domain name should include key phrases that will also be found in your blog posts. That would make BusinessIntelligence.com quite attractive (and in fact it’s already taken). However, there is also a risk in this strategy that should be considered. What happens if the industry focus changes? Years ago we talked about Executive Information Systems, or EIS. I don’t hear people using that phrase much anymore. After that we built Decision Support Systems, or DSS. That, too, has become less in vogue. Who is to say that “business intelligence” won’t follow the same trend? SAP has already started using “business analytics” instead of intelligence.

For similar reasons I suggest you that avoid using product names as a part of your domain name. First of all you have to deal with the potential attention of the trademark holder for that product! I believe that the court system in the United States has upheld the right for folks to register “productnamesucks.com” under freedom of speech rights ;) but that’s probably not an attractive domain for blogging, at least not if you intend to say things in a positive fashion. Nowadays internet savvy companies will reserve domain names like that ahead of time, rather than waiting for customers to get them instead. Even if a domain is available, it’s possible that – depending on how you use it – you could end up losing the domain due to a trademark complaint. In my opinion, it’s just not not worth the potential legal hassle. You may notice that “Business Objects” does not directly appear in the URL for BOB, and in fact the hosting domain has nothing to do with anything other that discussion forums.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is that product names can change. I can only imagine how my friend Mico felt when she learned that SAP was going to (at least try to) drop the product name Xcelcius after she had spent so much time building her brand at EverythingXcelsius.com. That’s something that was completely out of her control, and now she has to work out a strategy to deal with the results.

One last item about selecting a domain name: Make sure your selected phrase doesn’t have unintended meanings! For example, is this ExpertsExchange.com or ExpertSexChange.com? And then there is the domain for Pen Island aka www.penisland.com … and yes, that’s a real working web site. Fortunately it’s about making pens. If you have any doubts as to what your domain could potentially imply, it is easy enough to write the domain down in all lower or all upper case letters and let your friends check it out. I even checked “dagira” using the Google translation service to make sure it wasn’t a nasty word in other languages.

I have some ideas about domain names, anything else I should consider?

Yes! In this day and age, you should be sure to check to see if the Twitter handle associated with your domain name is available, and probably Facebook as well. I did not register “dagira” as a Twitter handle when it first came out, and I wish I had. Unfortunately it belongs to someone else, so I got “dagira_tweets” instead. I don’t do Facebook at all, so I didn’t even bother to check there.

You should also consider registering the .org and .net and perhaps even the .mobi version of your selected domain name. I registered “forumtopics.com” years ago when we needed a host domain for BOB. I did not think about registering the other versions until later, and by then forumtopics.net was taken. Why does any of this matter? If you’re in this for the long haul, you’re going to be building a brand. Your brand will be far easier to recognize if you use it consistently across various social platforms, and right now that means primarily Twitter and perhaps Facebook.

Should you use your name as your brand? You could, but remember that one of the suggestions I made in my last post about becoming a blogger was that you might want to have more than one blog, in case you want to cover disparate topics. Which blog gets your name, and which has to make do with something else? It’s like picking your favorite child. :) My name is certainly associated with my work, but it doesn’t have to be my domain name too. One of my favorite stories related to this goes back even before the founding of BOB. I was at the Business Objects conference in Washington D. C. with some coworkers. We sat down at a table for lunch, and one of them turned to the gentleman already seated and introduced herself as being from Integra Solutions. His response made my day, my week, my year. :) He said, “Ah, Integra Solutions, Dave Rathbun!” My recognition was directly related to the amount of time I spent on the BUSOB-L LISTSERV mailing list, where my name was my brand. It was associated with the company I worked for at the time, but I still had started building an individual brand at the same time.

If you’ve found the perfect domain name and the twitter handle isn’t available, you can still consider using it. Just recognize that you’ll have to make some concessions like I did by using “dagira_tweets” as my twitter handle.

Summary

In the first post about blogging I talked about picking a subject. In this post I talked more about the technical side of hosting your own blog, should you decide to go that route. In my next post I want to talk about exposing yourself – in a good way :) – to the Internet, and what that means.

3 Responses to “Blogging For Dollars? Or Something Else?”

  1. Comment by Joshua Fletcher

    Hey Dave! :) Good post – it’s worth adding that if you are only in it for the dollars, people will pick this up over time, or personally you will be less inclined to keep it up if it takes you a few years to make it successfully. Mileage will also vary depending on the topic and industry.

    SAP BI and BusinessObjects is a good example where the target market is very small in context to other topics, so you won’t be able to make great money by ads etc. But the brand you build, and the contacts and experience you gain, and the value you give back (karma?) are all worth more than money generation, in my opinion at least!

    Cheers, Josh

  2. Comment by Scott Wallask, Managing Editor

    Good stuff here as always, and it’s interesting to read some of the growing pains. Having blogged personally and professionally, I would say the only sure way to get paid to blog is to work for a company that wants you to blog as part of your duties. But then you’re blogging about what the company wants to post, so that’s the trade-off. A personal blog I write happens to have the word “Boston” in the blog URL (just a random choice on my part based on the blog’s name), and someone I know who is familiar with blog stategies told me that having a city name in a blog URL is actually quite helpful in terms of Google searches.

  3. Comment by Dave Rathbun

    Scott, the concept of SEO or Search Engine Optimization is one I want to go into more depth on in another post. It could be an entire series of posts on just that topic. :) In short, I don’t subscribe to many of the SEO techniques because as soon as one technique becomes over abused, Google changes their search algorithm to adjust for that. I believe it’s far more important to establish good content first, and then worry about how your content will be found. Spending a lot of time on SEO before you have content is – in my opinion – like inviting everybody to a party before you’ve decided how to decorate your house. Once the people you have invited arrive, there has to be something to see or they won’t come back.

    While today having “boston” as a part of your blog address (and it would be even better if it were hyphenated component like boston-blog rather than part of a single word like bostonblog) might provide a slight advantage if someone is searching for “boston” stuff, tomorrow it might not matter. I think it also depends on how much competition you have. As Josh observed, there aren’t that many BI blogs out there today, so a search for common BI terms will frequently find my blog even though it has a nonsense name. :) That being said, if you’re competing against other web pages describing events that took place in the Boston Garden ;) having the keyword as part of your domain name may be the final tie breaker that determines how far up the search results your page appears.

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