Case Study Update – Digital Photography School

Posted By Darren Rowse 3rd of January 2007 Case Studies

I’ve been using my Digital Photography School as a case study over the past 9 months since it’s launch.

I’ve previously talked about it (at launch in a vidcast, then giving a progress report and then talking about some of my goals for it) but it’s been almost six months since I gave an update so I thought it was about time for another one.

A few basic stats to start with:

  • The site has been running 9 months
  • I’ve posted 178 posts to the site in that time
  • I’m currently aiming for around 4-5 posts per week (one each week day)
  • Numbers of subscribers to the weekly newsletter currently stand at just under 13700
  • RSS subscriber numbers are currently at around 3000 (according to Feedburner). This oscillates between 2800 and 4000 depending upon the day
  • This week the site is averaging around 8000 daily unique visitors to the actual site viewing around 17300 daily pages (again this varies a lot – and is higher than normal due to being dugg a couple of days back)
  • The Flickr discussion group has 2900 members (of course not all are active) and it’s new forums have active 650 members.
  • Earnings have been slow but steadily growing. Its nowhere near my most profitable blog when I think about the effort that goes into it or the traffic levels that it has. To this point AdSense has been my main focus but I’ve been hesitant to put many ads on the blog at this point – I’m hoping to build it up and then find a small number of sponsors to have premium sponsorship of the site. I’ve also introduced an affiliate program or two to the site which are returning good results.

Traffic has been up and down over the months since launch as a result of a variety of links from big sites and social bookmarking sites. But overall I’m pretty happy with traffic levels considering the length of time that it’s been live.

The last two months have seen a distinct rise in search engine traffic. It’s still not a massive proportion of overall traffic but as the blog gets older it continues to grow (ie we’re out of the ‘sandbox’). In my experience it generally takes around 9-12 months to really hit it’s straps in this way so it’s about on schedule.

Current Strategies and Developments:

Newsletter – the weekly newsletter has become a central strategy on the site and sends a lot of traffic to it each Friday (I send it in time for readers to get some new tips to try on the weekend). The newsletter is largely a recap of the week that was but I also include a few exclusive tidbits. A great signal to me is that if I’m an hour or two late with it that I get readers emailing to ask where it is and what’s wrong!

Flickr Discussion Group – I started the Flickr discussion group around 6 months ago as a place for readers to discuss their photography. My reasoning for doing it at Flickr two fold. Firstly I didn’t have time or the expertise to start an actual forum of my own. Secondly Flickr is a hive of activity of my main target market for readers – digital photographers – to get involved in this established photographic community was a smart move upon reflection.

The forums have been good for sending traffic back to the blog (as well as the other way around as well). Interestingly some readers have been members of the Flickr group for some time without knowing about the blog – in fact two distinct groups of readers/communities have emerged.

I use the Flickr Group in a few ways:

  • Building Community among readers
  • Cross promotion of blog articles
  • User generated content – with permission I’ve used some reader submissions on the main blog as standalone blog posts

The Flickr group has definitely added to DPS since it was started – however it’s also been a source of increasing frustration and in the past few weeks I’ve started an actual forum to eventually replace it (see below).

Comments are Back – one of my initial experiments on the blog was to run it without comments. Over the last couple of months I’ve switched them on and readers have responded reasonably well. Comments are not as active as they are here at ProBlogger but much of the discussion also happens at the new forums.

Added Affiliate program – my site is largely focussed upon digital photography tips and not post processing (photoshop etc). More and more readers were asking questions around photoshop so I’ve begun to develop a relationship with a photoshop expert who has a membership site and a variety of products which I promote. This has worked well for readers as they’re getting quality information that they want, it doesn’t compete with my own site’s information and it converts reasonably well. I’d like to deepen this relationship with this partner in the coming months.

Focus upon Content
If I had to identify the single most important lesson that I’ve learned (or relearned) over the past 9 months with DPS it would be that the main source of growth has been simply that my number 1 priority has been to continually be adding useful, original, easy to understand and apply content to the blog each day. While flickr groups, forums, design and other features might help – it’s been the content that has caused other sites to link up, that has drawn readers in and that has kept them coming back. It’s not rocket science is it? Content is King.

I’ve worked hard at writing for a particular audience (beginner to intermediate digital camera owners) and sticking to that focus. My articles are largely ‘how to’ articles with a few ‘inspirational/motivational’pieces thrown in.

I include a lot of images/examples in my posts and work hard at writing in a non technical and easy to understand fashion. The result is that many readers in my target audience seem to be sticking around and getting involved.

I do get a few complaints from experts that I don’t meet their needs – but my approach to them is to invite them in as experts to share their knowledge and to reemphasize the focus of the site to them. Some leave – some catch the vision and have joined in.

New Strategies:

New Design – I’ve been wanting a new design for the site since the day I launched but it’s only been in the last month that I’ve moved forward with it and have engaged the services of the Blog Studio to give the site an overhaul. The new design has only been live for a couple of weeks. It has made the site much more user friendly in terms of navigation, search and aesthetics and since it’s inception I’ve seen page views increase per visit slightly and have had a lot of great feedback from readers.

New Forums – as part of the overhaul I’ve decided to add purpose built forums (using vBulletin) to the site. I’m a little hesitant to do this as the Flickr group has served its purpose well. However I’ve adding forums for two reasons:

  1. Reader Feedback – increasingly it was readers who pointed out weaknesses with Flickr’s set up before I noticed them. On an active and long thread with photos it’s a very slow page load, there is no way of having categories etc. Readers were complaining (and leaving) every few days.
  2. Control – one of the reasons I moved my first blog from to Movable Type and then WordPress was that I didn’t like the idea of hosting something I ‘own’ on someone else’s servers on a system that I have little control over. With Flickr groups there is little control for administrator in terms of how the group looks or runs. There is no way to monetize the community directly and ultimately Flickr (or Yahoo) not only hosts the content but owns everything (and can themselves monetise it). I gave all of this feedback to Flickr months ago but never heard anything back from them.

I suspect the discussion group will remain somewhat active in the short term (I won’t be killing it off) but the coming weeks will be about transitioning from it to the new forums.

Topic Expansion – while I want to keep the site largely focussed upon camera techniques and tips I am looking to broaden the topic in a couple of ways in future. I’ve already done this with a few photoshopping technique posts (something the site will never fully major in (as it’s not my strength) and have plans for a couple of other related topics.

Future Directions:

User Generation Content – with my increased focus upon b5media I’m actually going to have to devote less time to DPS. As a result I’m thinking seriously about ways of involving more people in the blog. This will hopefully include more user generated content. I’ve already had some great tutorials submitted by readers via the forums and through email and IM conversations and am excited that the site is slowly transitioning to a community blog rather than a single author ‘expert’ (I use the term loosely) blog.

I’m excited by the numbers of readers who are putting up their hands to help out with the site and the ideas that they are coming with. The main thing I need to work on at present is harnessing the energy of readers and releasing them make the best ideas happen.

New Authors – I’ve also been toying with the idea of taking on a few regular columnists/authors and have a small group who will take it in turns to write a weekly photoshop column. The challenge is that while the site does reasonably well with traffic at the moment it doesn’t earn massive income at this point and to take on authors will need to be done without sending the site backwards profitability wise.

New Features and Topics – my immediate plans for DPS are for a period of consolidation having only recently launched the forums and new design. There is still some work to be done on tweaking the design and expanding the forums topics. I’m currently recruiting moderators for the forums and want to focus on getting that part of the site humming along before any more expansion.

Having said that – this afternoon I mapped out a six month plan which involved more expansion of the site. For it to fully reach it’s potential there will be a big need for users to participate though as I do not have the time to put many hours into the site in the coming 12 months.

New Monetization Streams – the goals I’ve always had for DPS have not been only about making money. In fact it’s a blog that is more about a hobby that I want to learn about and improve in myself then anything else. Of course I would like it to pay for itself and eventually be profitable also if possible.

At this point I’m probably spending more on it than it’s making – however as it user base, reputation and archives of content grow I see it as having more and more opportunities for income streams both with premium sponsors but also affiliate programs and even e-resources of its own (eventually). I’m taking a long term view of this and am happy to continue to make small losses (or to break even) on the site in the short term in order to build it up.

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