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4 Foundations of a Successful Blog

Posted By Darren Rowse 26th of March 2010 Case Studies 0 Comments

SXSW-book-reading.pngAt a recent book reading at SXSW I spoke briefly about a new chapter in the new ProBlogger book (due out next month) that is a case study of my main blog (4-5 bigger than ProBlogger) – Digital Photography School.

dPS is now just a few days away from being 4 years old and so with the new edition of the book Chris and I thought it might be a good idea to include a new chapter that examined how I’ve developed the blog so far.

The case study looks at 4 main aspects:

  1. how I launched the blog – the four foundations that I build in years 1-2
  2. how I built upon the foundations – what I focused upon in years 3-4
  3. how I monetize the blog
  4. the way I use email to drive traffic to and monetize the blog

In this post I want to talk briefly about the four foundations that I focused upon in years 1-2 of building my photography site.

I won’t go into great detail about each one here (if you want more the book is your best bet) but as my reading was interrupted by a fire alarm at SXSW I wanted to cover some of it here for those who missed the 2nd half.

Foundation 1 – Content

  • My #1 task in years 1-2 of dPS was building content.
  • The focus was content for beginners (this was expanded later).
  • My aim was for every post to solve a problem that a new camera owner had.
  • The content was all ‘how to’ related – practical stuff that helped readers do or achieve something
  • Quality of content was paramount – but so too was the idea of increasing the ‘quantity’ of content – I started with 3-4 posts a week but aimed to get it daily after 1 year.

Foundation 2 – Promotion

  • ‘Build it and they Will Come’ is an idea with some truth to it – but in the early days of your blog you also need to actively promote your blog – readers won’t just find it.
  • Define your potential reader – who are they? What are their needs?
  • Identify where that type of reader is already gathering online (and offline).
  • Participate in those sites where your potential reader is gathering – guest posts, building a forum presence, leaving useful comments, networking etc.

Foundation 3 – Community

  • People don’t just come online for information – they increasingly are coming online to find ‘belonging’
  • Readers want to participate, interact, join and relate – give them opportunity to do so
  • On dPS starting a forum was one way I did this however community was something I went out of my way to build on the blog itself.
  • Use polls, start discussions, run debates, ask questions, highlight readers work, invite people to promote themselves on your blog, link to your readers
  • When you build community you build an army of evangelists for your blog, create social proof and open many doors for growth and strengthening of your site

Foundation 4 – Capture Contacts

  • Most people who visit your site will never return naturally – even if they like your site
  • On dPS I prominently invite people to subscribe in numerous places
  • RSS is not always King – on dPS email subscription makes up over 75% of all subscribers
  • Email newsletters drive as much traffic as Google does on dPS
  • Email newsletters drive significant earnings (advertising, affiliate promotions and product sales)
  • Email newsletters build community and make the site more sticky and personal

NOTE: Monetization was not one of the Main Tasks/Foundations in Years 1-2

I did monetize the site from day 1 and dPS was profitable from the first month or two – but it was not my main focus. Rather I focused upon the above 4 foundations and let the monetization grow naturally as traffic and reader engagement grew.

In years 1-2 monetization was largely through 2 ad networks – AdSense and Chitika (aff). I did some low level affiliate marketing (Amazon mainly) but over 90% of the income in years 1-2 was from ad networks. Years 3-4 were when I increased my focus upon monetization.

Image by beley.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Thanks for this, Darren! It’s always nice to retouch on the basics and how to keep focus on laying the groundwork. I sometimes have to stop and make sure I’m not jumping ahead of myself and this does keep that in perspective.

    Much appreciated, sir!


  2. After my article appeared on ProBlogger on Sunday, my RSS subscriber count jumped by about 20% – but the number of email subscribers (which had previously been very small) tripled That’s a bit of a headscratcher.

  3. Darren, thanks for this excellent post. I’ll apply what you say, and I’m also directing my blog readers to this post.

  4. RSS definitely is not King anymore. I agree with this point wholeheartedly. In fact, I’ve noticed a lot more people following users on Twitter rather than subscribing to RSS feeds. Maybe people prefer the personal contact that Twitter provides while still being able to stay up-to-date on the latest posts?

    Whatever the case may be, RSS is still awesome but it seems people want a lot more interaction now a days rather than just a feed subscription.

    Great roundup of tips/points as always Darren.


  5. I agree completely that what you said should definitely be the main focus a blog in the first year or two. Some people waste all their time worrying about monetization and not enough about content and promotion, without realizing they would make more if they simply just focused on their content. Ryan of http://plantingdollars.com/ decided he wouldn’t focus on the money in the first year and has pretty much done exactly what you said. In just over three months, his Alexa rank is under 75,000.

    Can’t wait for the new chapter to come out!

  6. Step 3 to me really brings it home: “Use polls, start discussions, run debates, ask questions, highlight readers work, invite people to promote themselves on your blog, link to your readers.”

    That’s exactly where I need to be. I like how you broke these up into manageable chunks, really gets me thinking. I didn’t realize that DPS was that much bigger than this site. I’ve been thinking about adding a forum and it looks like it could work great. Thanks for the insight.

  7. Darren,

    Can’t wait for the new chapter to come out. This is a great little post about your thought process and how you developed a plan of attack over the years.

    People hope that they can build a business at the speed of light, and although the internet has shortened the time-frame as well as the average attention span, people still need to be aware that this all takes time.

    Thank you for showing how this develops and that nothing good ever happens over night in business.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Milliionaire

  8. Hey Darren,

    Thanks for sharing this info. As more individuals turn into creating blogs this what they need to know. My blog isn’t a year old, but I follow the same formula you have. It is great to know that I’m on the right track.

    Chat with you later…

  9. I’ve been definitely trying to make sure I’ve got these 4 foundations in place. Unfortunately when I began, though, my focus was monetization, which I’ve come to realize is quite backwards. Ever since I’ve shifted my focus, I’ve been seeing amazing results.
    Thanks for sharing, I will definitely be passing this along.

  10. Darren, great information as always. If these four things are the foundation of a great blog, genuine interest & passion for the subjects the blog will be about are the soil that foundation is built in.

  11. I preferred the community can be share, each helping one another. It’s like the food chain.

  12. What do you do when most of the other people in your niche are scammers? I’ve tried to start discussions on my blog but it requires a knowledge of anatomy and physiology to participate. So, I have two problems: there’s only one or two sites in my niche that I’d be willing to link to and it’s hard to start discussions because you need to have a pretty decent knowledge of anatomy/physiology to be able to make informed participation.

  13. Every time I read a post like this, it reminds me that there is no magic, just lots of effort, work, and time.

    I can do it too – that’s encouraging.

    Thanks, Darren.

    Ana/YourNetBiz Attraction Marketing Cafe

  14. The key here, which you stated, is a focus on content. I’ve done it before and I know a lot of people focus on making money right away so they create an ad site with affiliate products and sales copy instead of building a community.

    I appreciate the excerpt from your book. btw, will you have an affiliate program for your book? Best seller? I know I’m buying it and will be recommending it to everyone I work with.

  15. I don’t feel so bad about what I’ve been doing now. I’ve mainly been focusing on content and improving my writing skills…and letting my day job pay my bills. ;)

  16. This is great! I think I need to make subscription offers more prominent on my blog, I just have one button. I’ve seen some blogs that have a little sticky post at the top saying, “If you’re new here, subscribe!” I’m going to head over to DPS and see how you’ve done it :)

  17. truthfully content is the ultimate king, if you build content then content will build readership which then builds a community and if neccessary equals money. heres the chart

    Content – Readers – community

    theres absolutely no way around it unless you want your blog to be read only by your friends and close pals and that cant get you anywhere online.

    i love making friends, connect with me on twitter @makenicemoney

  18. This is great advice and nice confirmation to see that we are headed in the right track with our site. We have been Capturing Contacts since Day 1, but our main goal is to make awesome content. We have taken early steps at building community through our Facebook Fan Page and hopefully will be able to move these people into interacting with the site itself in the near future.

  19. Great post… I’m looking forward to the new book coming out.

    What my goal is for my first year is to put the best quality content that I can muster… Give away secrets, tips and 95% of everything that has made me money.

    I plan on turning the other 5% into an info product and selling it.

  20. Hi Darren, thanks for sharing an excerpt – I think those foundation steps are foremost what keeps the blogger alive. Many lose a sight of the importance of those as they start chasing monetizing techniques…there has to be a balance…looking forward to your book.


  21. Every blogger should implement all these 4 invaluable tips to build a better foundation of their blogs. Thanks Darren.

  22. Finally someone is exposing the truth about online blogging…..These tips your giving out have no grey area and GET STRAIGHT TO THE POINT!!!

  23. I like the 1st point made, “Foundation 1 – Content”, as i always say, content is the key to a successful blog.

    Very nice post

  24. I agree with these principles. It is most important to build your foundation before you can create a community or really start to monetize your blog.

  25. content must be in the 1st place

  26. Nice work Darren!,

    I have blog posts, but I build the community within Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

    YouTube is the only website that pays me for my content, so I am going to start thinking of ways to build my e-mail list up to drive traffic back to the fresh posts and also to up-sell on my e-book, t-shirts and toys in September.


    David Edwards

  27. Thanks for sharing Darren, and I hope you had fun in Austin- it’s a great city. Besides the useful tips here, the other implied pointer that I picked up was a reminder that patience is a virtue.

    I am so anxious for my blog/site concept to take off that sometimes I forget that I’ve been doing it for less than a year, and I need to keep my expectations real, but my goals set high. Thanks for that, whether it was intended or not, I appreciate the reminder.

  28. Perfect timing on this article as these are exactly the issues I need to focus on.

    One comment about monetising with Adsense ~

    When you started DPS years ago, I was also earning a substantial portion of my income from Adsense. However, click-through rates and profitability have dwindled markedly over the past couple years, right down to the current trickle.

    I wonder if your model experience would be as profitable now as it was then?



  29. I enjoy reading these posts and I have studied the different ways on how to create a seccessfull blog

  30. very glad to find interesting information especially in foundation 4 – capture contacts.

  31. Thanks for all these tips Darren! I am really focusing on content at the moment, and hoping it will pay off soon!

  32. Good post. I am following a similar path, having recently started my first blog. My blog is about building wealth, specifically investing, but in the beginning I laid down a lot of beginner posts and am continuing to do so. These posts will form the foundation of my blog and will be linked to throughout many of my posts so that new investors can dig deeper into my site to learn what they need to learn.

    I plan to begin monetizing in month two, though I don’t plan to generate any serious income for a while.

  33. These are great tips! It’s good to know that I’m on the right track. Although I may need to look into implement a newsletter sign up on my site. That will require some extensive brainstorming on my part prior to doing so.

    Great article!

  34. Good stuff, Darren. Nice to see what the plan has been for a successful blog that we can all take and model in our own businesses.

  35. Fabulous post. Thanks for these insights.

    My question would be: how do you apply these concepts to a non-niche blog? I have 2 blogs and co-created a 3rd. My personal blog doesn’t really have a niche even though the other 2 do. So how do I use these concepts with my personal blog?



  36. Thank you so much for this post and your insights and experience. I recently started up a new blog and I’m going to print this article off, highlight, brainstorm and mind-map it until my fingers bleed.

    Then I’ll get to work.

    I am excited about the second edition of your book and can’t wait until it hits the shelves.

    Giving away any advance reader copies for review? Love to have one if they’re being sent out.

    Thank you so much Darren!


  37. Great post. I’ve worked on content for two years. Now I’m monetizing.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

  38. Hi Darren,

    Thanks for posting this, my blogs haven’t been very successful in the past and I was always puzzled. Now you’ve made me see where I’ve gone wrong…I’ll follow these foundations and I’ll see how I go.


  39. nice post!

  40. I kick myself daily that I never started my new blog when I first had the idea, but it’s refreshing to read that what I’m doing now is inline with what you describe in Foundation 1.

    I’m a very keen reader of Problogger and appreciate all of the advice you provide.


  41. Thanks–this is easily the most helpful post I’ve read ANYWHERE!

  42. Hi Darren,

    Thanks for the info. Great as usual. :)

    I was wondering about email subscriptions. You say email makes up 75% of the subscriptions, but could you please give some indication of the % total revenue.

    Does your revenue have a similar proportion? Do you have more ppc advertising on site and affiliate in email? How do you break it down?

    Thanks in advance,

  43. Does this mean I should have an email newsletter for my blog?

  44. The fundamentals.

  45. Darren,

    Thanks for sharing this. I think your four points are spot on. i wish I could have been in Austin this year, but my schedule did not allow it.

  46. Hi Darren,

    I can’t agree more to the points mentioned here, especially content and community. It’s sad how many blogger forget the most basic thing – content and then cry out loud that six figure income from blogging is bulls**t. Another thing I would say about successful blog is focus. If you want to be successful in your niche, writing focused content will definitely get more readers.

    Thanks for the tips and waiting for more!

  47. Darren,

    Thanks for the great article on the four pillars of blog building!

    I have a couple of questions on building community

    1) At what point (i.e. number of visitors) is is worthwhile to invest more effort in community? Do you need a critical mass?

    2) Your advice included starting discussions and running debates: are you doing this through interactive events such as webinars or teleconferences or by written media through forums and blog comments?

  48. Darren,

    You recommended using polls to help build community.

    Here you are using the Democracy WordPress plugin.

    Why do you prefer it over Poll Daddy or WP-Polls?

    Better analysis?

  49. This post is fantastic – I’m particularly interested in the section on building community. Thanks for this!

  50. I think this information is so helpful. I read your blog everday and find something worthwhile for my blogging all the time.

    You are a great resource for those of us who need guidance in blogging.

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