Afternoon Discussion Group: My Blog as a Media Company

Liveblog

Kathryn Finney, @KathrynFinney, kathryn.finney@simplygoodmedia.com
Jaden Hair, @SteamyKitchen, jaden@steamykitchen.com

Kathryn: This afternoon session is going to be informal. Please try to make your questions general enough to benefit everyone.

Jaden: The first part of the morning is how we've structured our businesses. Then we skipped a whole section on how to get to scale. We skipped that part because things have been shifting so fast. Five years ago, it wasn't hard to get press. There are 30,000 food blogs right now, so it's harder to get press.

Know what you stand for. Have a very specific point of view. Be controversial. Pitch your story to press.

We are in the business of clicks, but subscription-based media is in the business of paid subscriptions. We have to understand how they play their game.

Kathryn: Take it to the basics. SEO is huge. Look for people who are bigger than you. If a link is "nofollow" it might help you to increase your traffic but will not help increase your page rank. If you can get on the first page of Google's search results, you will get a lot of traffic from that.

Audience Member: I have posted SEO tips for bloggers at http://taraziegmont.com/2012/what-do-bloggers-need-to-know-about-seo/

Create tracking codes so that you know where the clicks came from.

Audience Member: Tiny.cc is a URL shortener that will help you track clicks. Bit.ly does the same thing.

Kathryn: If you have a photo-heavy blog, make sure you're using image alt & title tags.

Jaden: Another tool I use is Quantcast. I insert it in the same place that I insert Google Analytics code, and it gives me the exact demographics. I can see college education, gender, income.

Kathryn: Everyone else can see that data, too. Just keep that in mind.

Audience Member: If you've had your blog up for about a year, is it useful to go back and add keywords in the tags and post?

Kathryn: Yes! It's really helpful.

Audience: Should we be looking at Alexa, too?

Kathryn: You have to be careful because it only measures tracking for visitors who have the toolbar. If you have a lot of visitors reading from mobile, you won't get any of that Alexa data or ranking.

Quantcast is a good tool if you're actively seeking sponsorship. The numbers are accurate.

Jaden: If I'm looking at other food blogs and I want to see where in the world a blog is in relation to mine, I can compare with Alexa.

Audience: You get a back link for each of these services that you use to verify your site. It can help to build page rank and authority.

Kathryn: You have to balance your desire to improve your page views with your reader's experience. Readers don't want to see the title and photo of a recipe and then click through to a second page for the recipe. They want it all in one spot.

There's some research that says that the reader can't digest more than 200 words at a time, so it might be good to insert photos or break it into a second page. But you want to have the reader have their best experience possible.

Jaden: I'd rather build good SEO and good page rank through good content rather than think of ways to game SEO.

Kathryn: We're talking about adding the title of your post in the title section. Tell Google what you're writing about. That's all there is to it.

Jaden: I have another tip. Scour the news and have a point of view. Pitch that out to editors. If you write a small short post on your site about a current news piece, pitch it out to media.

Kathryn: Yahoo! has a little section with the hot topics of the day. Google has it too, but Yahoo! is big.

Last Presidential Election, there was a big kerfluffel about Sarah Palin's wardrobe. We redid her wardrobe for under $1000, and we got a huge amount of traffic from that.

Maybe you want to do a post saying, "If I were Jessica Simpson's personal chef, I would make … for her." and include the recipe.

Jaden: A very real thing that happened was that melons were tainted with salmonella. I rewrote recipes with substitutions for melons. Then I sent it out. Send it out to the News Desk or to reporters on Twitter or Facebook.

Audience: Have you used writers to help your site grow?

Jaden: With my blog, it's a little different because readers are expecting my expertise in the kitchen. That's my personal decision. Recipes have to be tested, tested, tested, tested to be on my site.

Kathryn: We run it a little differently. A blog doesn't have to be just about a person. It can be a group blog, it can have contributors. There's no right or wrong way to do this. What we've done is reassess where we're at and decided to turn The Budget Fashionista into a bigger brand with a group of writers. A lot of people (not readers) were extraordinarily angry with me. I got horribly mean emails. One from my lawyer said, "We expected that from someone who goes by 'The Budget Fashionista!'" There was other stuff I wanted to do. I wanted to travel. I wanted to be out, meeting people, and be present. I can't do that if I have to write 10 posts every day.

I took a step back and went on vacation with my husband. We decided to structure the blog more as a publication. I like to write, but I didn't want to do the other stuff. We decided to hire someone who could manage all that stuff. We have full time writers. I write a lot more now than I did when I had to do the management. We have guest posts. We have contributors, some of them write for free because they want the page rank and the traffic.

Guest posting is a great way to grow your blog.

Jaden: There was a time when we had to say, "what do we have to do differently so that we can only work 3 hours a day each?"

We didn't want to trade our time for money. We started investing in projects to make sure our content was evergreen. If I write a post about how to make the best mashed potatoes, I want it to be at the top of the Google rankings.

The more projects I can do that require less time to make more money, the better.

Audience: What's a rough range of what bloggers are paid?

Kathryn: I don't mean to be effusive, but it really depends on your niche and the amount of revenue you're generating. We don't have a lot of writers, but we want to pay them. For a good substantial, well-researched post for our top people, we pay $40-50. We require a lot from that one post.

For some of our people who are just starting out, we usually start about $10 a post. If they're really good, we move them quickly to the higher level. It depends on their work.

We have a full time managing editor who gets paid a salary. One of our writers writes 10-12 posts a week, and I write her a big check each week.

We pay really well because we want great content. We know certain posts will generate a lot of traffic over a period of time.

We tried to pay by the word, but we settled on paying per post. When we paid by the word, there were lots of filler words.

If you're not using Google Docs, you should. We put all of the posts from the week into one big Google Doc called Editorial Review. It goes past two sets of eyes before it gets to me. I edit it.

Audience: For people who are not going to hire other writers, how do we maintain freshness of the content?

Kathryn: You have to figure out a schedule for yourself that you can maintain that allows you to do all the other things you want to do in your life.

Jaden: There's no right or wrong answer. Every niche is different.

Audience: Are there tips and techniques? Having your content be sensation? Be evergreen?

Kathryn: The Yahoo! is good because that's what people are searching for right now.

Have you ever heard of the 20/80 rule? 20% of what you do generates 80% of your results? Look in your Google Analytics and see what people are reading and do more of that.

Audience: You have spoken about scale. Define scale. What kind of metric would measure it?

Jaden: It depends on your audience and your niche.

Audience: What's a respectable number of page numbers or impressions per month? I don't want to embarrass myself by going to a sponsor with terrible numbers.

Kathryn: If you're going to turn into a media company, you have to let go of the Good Girl. There's no specific number we can give you to tell you what scale means. IF your goal is to quit working your day job, use that as your scale. When you get to that point, you have scale.

It's not a million page views or subscribers. It's when you can do what you want to do.

Jaden: I have the answer! Go find a PR agency that works with clients that I want to be in touch with. Ask them what metrics they're looking for. Ask what their clients are looking for. It's different for every market.

"If I don't fit your metrics, what do I need to work on? If I don't fit your metrics, would you consider XYZ?"

Kathryn: In fashion and beauty, traffic doesn't matter as much as it used to. They look at influence. They look at Klout. They look at media. They look at tv appearances. Who's talking about you.

Most PR firms would rather work with someone who has 10,000 highly engaged, active readers than someone with 2 million unengaged ones.

Audience: It's not necessarily who you're influencing in terms of readers, but who your niche is influencing.

Audience: I've been talking with Say Media. I don't meet their minimum traffic criteria, but I'm talking to them because they have no one who does what I do. If I had never reached out, I wouldn't have been able to connect with them. You should reach out even if you don't have the numbers. Your unique voice and vision might be worthwhile to them.

Kathryn: How can you move people with your blog? How can you move them to act? It could be reading a recipe and buying a wok. It could be putting together action for a political issue.

The best way to measure your influence is to look at engagement.

I'd caution you to not go to PR firms before you have a strategy. It's easy to get caught up in the money and lose sight of why you started doing what you're doing.

Audience: How do you transition from being a blogger to a media company?

Jaden: I say I'm a publisher.

Kathryn: When people ask me, I say that I run a media company and I'm the editor at large at BlogHer.

Our parent company is TBF LLC, and our network of websites is Simply Good Media. There's Kathryn Finney who does consulting. That's a very lucrative stream of revenue. Very local and specific business need social media help. There's Kathryn Finney, the tv personality. They're all little businesses within the whole business. I want to see what's making me money and what's not making me money.

If you're looking into expanding into a group blog versus an individual personal blog, that's a good way.

Jaden: I'm different. If I have too many businesses, I have to manage too much stuff. I have just one business, Steamy Kitchen. It's easier for me. Did we touch about legal status and trademarks?

I'm not going to talk about legal status because you need to have your own discussion with an attorney.

You have to invest in your logo. You can pay $99 at 99Designs.com. Have a logo and a professionally designed site.

Email newsletters. What's the difference between an email newsletter and a feed?

The feed is a mirror image of the posts I've written. An email newsletter is hand compiled each week. It has a short personal note from me, one or two paragraphs. I include a photo or picture from each thing I've written that week.

I use Mad Mimi. It's drag and drop, and it's free for up to x number of subscribers.

Kathryn: We actually send out a newsletter every day, and it comes from our feed. Our readers want the information when they wanted it, but our readers just wanted to know what was on the site. They wanted to be reminded of when to go back to the site.

We used to do a handcrafted email each week, but our readers wanted it daily. We used to use MailChimp but now use Constant Contact. You don't have to pay for your newsletter. Until you reach around 2,000 subscribers, you shouldn't be paying for a service.

Audience: How is your email letter different from your other outlets?

Jaden: The first paragraph or two is freshly written, but the rest I pull from the week's posts.

Audience: What are your tips for people who've been blogging for less than 5 years? Where do you go from here?

Jaden: I'll give you a book to read. Chris ? wrote a book called the $100 StartUp. It's awesome, awesome. You should read it about how to transition from being an employee to work for yourself.

Seth Godin says in Linchpin: Make yourself indispensable in your current job. Kick butt at one very specific thing. Be so indispensable that they have to give you what you want. Tell them you want flexibility to work from home.

Kathryn: Another good site, too, is Problogger. His book is really good, too. When you're starting out, no one is going to understand what you're doing. You have to be BOLD. You have to have the vision. You need to pull in your family members to help you for free. Ask your friends to help you promote your posts. You have to be bold and aggressive (not mean and weird). You have to believe in yourself. Get all the free labor you can possible get.

If you can't get other people to buy into your vision, you need to rethink what you're doing.

We were talking about how to create posts that people are going to link to. Guy Kawasaki linked to my Sarah Palin post and said he loved it when business people seized opportunities. I got a lot of work from that.

Jaden: What you need to ask yourself is "What would Kathryn Finney do?"

Audience: Another book recommendation is The Lean StartUp by Eric Reed.

Audience: Following up on being bold and aggressive, if you know there's an established site and it's the same subject matter as your site, when is the right time to reach out to them to work together?

Jaden: Any time. You have a very unique point of view, and you bring something special to the mix. Whenever you feel comfortable.

Audience: What is the age demographic that both of you find follow your blogs? I may be looking for older readers, and I wonder if those readers are out there.

Kathryn: Look at the Pew Internet Reports. Women are online more than men. Women over 50 are one of the fastest growing segments. Only one demographic is growing faster than that.

For our demographic, most of our readers are between 25 and 49, but 15% of our readers are over 50 and 15% are under 18. When we found that out, it was really fascinating. The over 50's are really engaged. They're our super fans.

We're undergoing a massive redesign to improve user experience, and we are doing a lot of posts on how to be sexy after 50 and dispelling myths about older women and fashion. They're not a large segment, but they're incredibly engaged.

For my mom, getting a smartphone has really increased engagement. She scrolls through Facebook when she's waiting at an appointment. She keeps track of her grandchildren.

My older readers come from SEO, from BlogHer, from More, and from magazine articles. There are a lot of great sites out there. If you can get to be a HuffPo contributor, that can be a big source of traffic.

Audience: It's also good to look at other blogs who have the same targeted readership.

Audience: What happens when your content gets stolen?

Kathryn: It's going to happen. It's the internet, and it's going to happen. You can ignore it and think of it as the cost of doing business. Or you can litigate it. Litigating copyright and trademark is very, very expensive, like 6 figures expensive.

Jaden: I choose to ignore it. My greater purpose is to get people into the kitchen, and they're going to get more people into the kitchen.

Kathryn: We only litigate when it's someone really big. We don't prosecute the spammers. Because it was ABC, we sent a very strong letter because ABC was doing a Budget Fashionista segment without me.

Jaden: I've been with every ad network out there, and I always come back to BlogHer.

Kathryn: Me, too. I have too, and I came back to BlogHer.

BlogHer TV is being spearheaded by Stacy Morrison. She's formerly the Editor in Chief for Redbook. She's amazing. She has fabulous shoes and blonde hair. It's a new initiative, and they're looking for content partners. If you have high quality video content, see me or see Stacey.

(audience question about exclusivity in syndication contracts)

I'm always nervous when people want exclusivity for something. They have to pay a pretty high price for that.

You have to have scale to really make money from YouTube. A lot of other media companies are looking for video content. If you're interested in doing video, now is a good time to get started on that. Video is still kinda new. BlogHer TV, ABC. It's so very new in terms of income stream.

Audience: I'm a professional organizer and I work with hoarders and stuff. I kind of like blogging about all sorts of things like travel, food, fashion. I don't really want to have 3 or 4 different blogs. I really do like talking about professional organizing, but I also like this sort of general stuff.

Jaden: The easy answer is just do it. I reached a point where I'd built enough following and clout that I could switch without losing anybody.

Kathryn: You have to ask yourself what is it to want to do. It's one thing to expand into another broader category. The question you have to ask yourself and really think about it is "what is it that I want to do? Do I want to have a lifestyle blog where I talk about all the kinds of things I want to do? or do I want to have a blog where people come to me for tips and help on organizing?"

Audience: At what point do you have to say that "I love what I'm doing, but most of the traffic is coming from something else?" It comes from something that's on my mind, but it's not really related to my blog.

Kathryn: I think this goes back to what Jaden just mentioned. It is really hard (but not impossible) to build a media company based on a personality, where you right about anything. The niche is what's going to get you well known.

I'm doing a lot of stuff with women of color and tech because I spent 8 years doing stuff with fashion online, and then transition to tech. When you're building and just starting out, you need to have focus.

We are all multifaceted people, but in order to build a business, you have to have focus.

Jaden: What you're going through is something that every single blogger has gone through. My suggestion is to travel somewhere.

You know how to increase your luck? Increase your experiences. Increase your safety. Expand your circle. That's the best way to beat burnout.

Network. Meet people.

It's no longer six degrees of separation. It's three degrees of separation. Expand your circle and network, network, network.

Kathryn: I can't tell you how many people come to BlogHer and things get mashed together. Last year, Ree Drummond talked about how she started, basically just because she came to BlogHer. You're here. Network, network, network. Make new friends. Make opportunities with new partners.

Jaden: Form an alliance and show each other's ads instead of Google ads. They are ugly.

Kathryn: You're not going to make a peck of money where you can quit your job unless you have massive scale. It's probably not worth it. Put something from a friend or a house ad for your own site.

Trade ads with other bloggers. It's really smart. Particularly better than putting an affiliate banner up. How is that affiliate banner helping you in terms of money or traffic? Exchanging an ad with a friend is more relevant to your brand and builds user experience.

Audience: I'm trying to branch out to find other people who are my people. They're slightly over and slightly under my current demographics. I know a small group of bloggers who started promotion each other, like the Old Boys Network, but it was the Old Girls Network.

Kathryn: Your tribe is here at BlogHer, no matter what you're blogging about.

Women have a fear of asking, but we need to get over that. You need to be confident in what you ask for.

Audience: Have you done anything to market to global companies in order to reach a more international market?

Jaden: It's pretty global. 15% of my audience comes from Canada. 9% come from Australia. I don't actively market, but I'm good friends with leading bloggers in those markets and we promote each other.

Kathryn: I just came back from Vancouver where I did an interview with Lulu magazine. People were traveling a lot to and from New York, so I started to do a lot of interviews with newspapers in the UK and Europe. Frugal shopping is popular worldwide right now. It's been really interesting to see what's happened on the global economic end.

I didn't see these out. They found me. I'm pretty sure it was either from Google or from watching me on a TV show.

Audience: I feel like there's some element that I'm missing about gathering up all the interest I have.

Jaden: You have a ton of content. It's just a matter of putting that content on your site and work with other websites that have similar interests and linking to each other. You have the hardest part done.

Audience: I've been doing the one woman show. It's been so much work, but it hasn't translated into the bottom line. How do I do that?

Jaden: You just have to wake up an hour earlier each day and do it. Do the social media. Spend the time. What are people searching for to find you?

Kathryn: This is a marathon. This is not a sprint. You have to have passion. It's not going to happen tomorrow. It's going to take some time to do this, to build income. We want things to happen right away. You have to do what you're passionate about. If you're not passionate about it, you're not going to have the stamina to finish the race.

Jaden: The best way to approach an ad network depends on your niche. Search for your niche and ad networks.

Everyone agrees that BlogHer Ad Network is awesome.

Kathryn: Ask bloggers you know what they like and dislike about their ad networks. Ask everyone you meet at this conference what they think about the different ad networks. If you keep asking, you'll have a good idea about what might work for you.

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