This guest post is by Josh Klein of Digital Strategy with Josh Klein.
You had an idea for a blog. You developed a smart blog strategy. You wrote a compelling about me page. You learned how bloggers make money, and you even followed some examples of how Darren makes money with his blogs. Then you picked up a “how to” guide, like the excellent free ebook from Michael Martine, “How to Start a Business Blog.”
And then you blog, and you promote, and you make some cash on the side. You’re up and running! But how do you know you’re succeeding? How do you know you’re heading in the right direction, and simple patience and dedication will turn your hobby into a profession? When do you know if you’re a problogger?
Amateurs can make choices based on their raw enjoyment, their traffic numbers, their comments, and their links, but professionals need to measure their return on investment (ROI). Probloggers need to pay their rent. But you’re not cashing big checks yet, and you still need a way to see if you’re on the right track.
I want to tell you about four things you can do, right now, to understand your business goals for blogging and test whether or not you’re achieving them. Because the truth is your follower count and your page views won’t pay your rent.
1. Measure your influence
Whether you’re selling your own product, promoting affiliates, offering a service, or advertising, your ability to make money is dependent on your ability to successful convey to your audience the value you offer them in such a way that they take action. Ideally, you’d measure your actual profits as a way to see if you’re succeeding, but you may have just started to get traction. There are other ways to test your influence.
Followers—be they RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or something else—are not a great way to measure your influence, at least not at face value. The reason for this is that the volume—reach, in marketing-speak—is less relevant than the quality of these relationships. You could message a million people, but if none of them were the right people, you’d be done for.
PostRank is a great service to measure influence in an effective way. Not only will it track the views your blogging gets, it will follow “social events” as they happen across the web, as people discuss and share your posts. This is the kind of activity that really demonstrates your growing influence, and as a practical matter, you can use it to follow up directly with the people that have “pre-qualified” themselves as interested in what you have to say by sharing your posts.
Instead of tracking how many people follow your blog, you can track—and take action based on—the people actually doing something with your blog that brings them closer to becoming customers. If your posts are spreading beyond the initial push you give them, you’re starting to make things happen.
2. Solicit and test feedback
When you ask your audience something, do they answer? It’s easy to forget, since blogging is a broadcast medium (you write, others read), that comments and emails are from real people who took a real chunk out of their day to not only pay attention to you, but to give you something in return. Compared to your average fly-by reader, make sure you cherish these people, and try to take to put their interest to good use.
When your audience gets in touch with you, don’t simply thank them and send them on their way. Instead, try to solicit their opinions on the direction you should be taking things, test their feedback on the blog, and build a lasting relationship with them.
There is a bigger difference between zero true fans and one true fan than there is between one true fan and 1000 customers. Again, it’s important to emphasize “true fan” rather than “follower” here, because these are people that go out of their way to engage with you.
If you’re gaining and interacting with true fans, you’re starting to make things happen.
3. Understand the sales funnel
A sale is good news, no matter how you look at it. But some sales are better than others. How so?
If you make some money, but don’t know exactly how it happened, you’re not likely to repeat the process. That old adage applies here: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”
A problogger has a system—a repeatable methodology of reaching sales—that makes him or her a pro. There are many different systems, and you’ll ultimately have to try a few and find what works for you, but the point that you need one can’t be overemphasized. Even a single sale is a monumental achievement if it goes according to a preconceived plan.
You don’t need to write down a lengthy business plan, just to understand the funnel. For instance, “I’m going to sell a course. I’ll promote this course through a sales page, which is driven to repeatedly throughout a free ebook, which I will distribute by guest posting on blogs in my niche and offering as a download.” This certainly could benefit from more detail, but the outline is there. Then you can measure each step of the process; if 10,000 people read your guest posts, about 5,000 download your ebook, but only ten click through to the sales page … well, maybe you need to change the way your ebook promotes your sales page.
Once you have a system, and it succeeds once, you have all the proof you need that it is possible. Your next step is to make it better. Remember that the first sale—at least, the first measurable sale—is the hardest to make. After that, it’s just incremental improvement.
4. Stay true to your one goal
You were smart enough to think strategically about blogging when you first laid out your plans for world domination, but how often do you get mired down in the details, losing sight of your original goals? I’ll be the first to admit that opening Google Analytics to see whether yesterday’s post got as many views as the one from the day before is an addiction. But probloggers know that information is only useful insofar as you can actually take action based on it.
Here’s a novel suggestion: try to boil down your goals to one sentence, maybe a paragraph if necessary. Blow it up into big letters and print it out on a piece of paper, then tape it somewhere that is within your line of sight as you work.
As you write and promote your blog, grow your influence, interact with fans and partners, and watch your sales, always look back to this goal and ask yourself, “is what I’m doing right now getting me there?” You goals can change—they almost certainly will—but you can’t get get “there” if you don’t know where “there” is.
If you do this, all that time you spend replying on Twitter or reading other blogs will start to take on a new dimension. You’ll start to question the value. These activities may very well turn out to be worth pursuing, but at least you’ll have made it an active choice based on our strategic goals.
Over time, what you’ll find is that you naturally gravitate towards the things that matter, and as importantly, you’ll understand why those things matter. This is how you know you’re succeeding, even before the paycheck arrives in the mail—you know you’re working towards a goal you care about.
How do you measure your success? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Josh Klein is a marketing consultant with experience working with major brands on Madison Avenue and small businesses around the country. He writes about marketing and business in general at his blog, Digital Strategy with Josh Klein.
This will be very helpful when it comes to the way I look at things. I’m still trying to build my reader base but will start asking for feedback soon.
Awesome post, I think you can get sidetracked with too many aspects of running a website, I’m currently looking at re-branding my website to make it a well oiled machine!…
Awesome post Josh.
I like what you’re saying about knowing the difference between having a ton of followers/friends, and having quality connections on social channels.
I’d much rather have 200 quality, like me people who enjoy what I’m putting out and engage in cool conversations than 1000 friends that were added via bots, which seems to be the Twitter trend.
I’m also a huge advocate of not only clearly defined goals, but ensuring you don’t veer off. Conversely, however, I’ve found it quite useful to approach goals arbitrarily sometimes: entertaining new ideas as they come in and considering and quickly engaging action plans to make them real. Pretty ambiguous world out there, things influence us. I think having a good balance of that, and being conscious of when you’re being influenced to engage a new idea, and what is influencing you, is king.
Super post dude,
Great post! Apparently I’m failing
Couldn’t agree more about Google Analytics. I have a love/hate relationship with it. As a newbie I’ve found myself more preoccupied with it than focusing on more important basics and fundamentals. Lesson learned stay on target to what’s really important and don’t check Analytics more than once a day.
I realize that even when I don’t make sales, my blog is still progressing when I see that the Alexa ranking is improving, when I see more people interacting with the blog, when there’s more retweets and shares. That’s how I know my blog is at least moving in the right direction. Now, when these things stagnate, that’s when I know it’s time to take things up a notch. That’s when I know it’s time focus on creating some awesome content and get out and network with others.
SO much of it boils down to #1 measuring. You measure feedback, traffic and results. Obviously if you are just starting out you cannot expect sudden numbers like problogger. It is all relative.
The important thing is to set (reasonable) goals and work hard to make them. If your numbers keep going up…you are doing something right. If not you need to rework your strategies.
metrics, metrics metrics…. Test and refine!
Great post! I like the “your follower count and your page views won’t pay your rent.” I’ve really gained. thanks
We’re all blogging in the dark, for the most part. The light gleams an instant. Then it’s night once more.
If you’re not enjoying it, traffic isn’t increasing, and there isn’t much interaction between your blog and readers, I’d say that’s a pretty indication whether or not you’re on the path to success – whatever that may be for you.
For me, it’s all about interaction.
If people aren’t engaged by my content, whether directly on my blog or on their favorite social network, I know I have some serious work to do before worrying about ROI ( hate that term ).
Your post should be an eye-opener to all the bloggers. Whoever reads and follows your advice will know exactly what they are doing wrong and how they can fix it to be successful.
It’s important to take from this post the fact that you need to come up with a way to connect with your readers beyond blogging. Do you have an autoresponder set up? How about an about page where you start a conversation with someone who first visits your site?
will try post rank. never heard of it. by the way great post.
Great article, a must understand for any business is the sales funnel. I highly recommend all companies DNA and monetize the genesis for all entrants into their funnel. It makes keeping your funnel full and flowing proactive not reactive.
I would think it’d be somewhat simple to figure out if you have a successful blog – how much money you make vs. the time you have to put in.
-spend 15hrs a week on writing posts, and make $5 in revenue, you know you’re failing ;)
“failing” at what level??If money is your main motive I might call it a failure-if you want to spread information and get people to think for themselves,not so much;)
@Chris, this is so sad but true. The problem is how do you turn it around when everyone loves you but don’t want to pay for what you offer? *Sign*
I measure success by providing the best quality thought leadership and content in my blog niche.
My goal is to make http://www.graphicdesignboss.com the authority on running a successful design business – without the crummy adsense ads and the templated feel style posts that some design blogs have.
My blog voice is hopefully one that is genuine, sincere and personal.
Understanding your sales funnel will not just help you in to see how the sales and money is coming into your website, but also it will give you a bigger picture of what your customers are going through so that you can enhance these funnels to really take advantages of your visitors, as different visitors will react to different elements.
I guess you know your successful when you are no longer digging in the couch for change to get coffee so you can stay up and write. In the same sense you know its over when the love of telling your thoughts is gone.
Josh Klein really came with an excellent subject where adding comments required little more thoughts and experience. It is certainly not an article for blog writers but it is truly for bloggers. Here I love to share my point of view to measures the success my blog:
At the very first, bloggers goals comes as two categories, Main and Secondary. Main related to the goals of starting a blog and secondary related to the goals after started a blog.
The Main Goal can be: 1, Write articles on to share with world, 2. Make blogging as a full time profession, 3. A medium to earn money slowly but steadily. Interestingly these are the most highest three goals found among most of the bloggers…
When it comes to the secondary, it mean after starting the blog, 1. Keep posting regularly, 2. Build subscriber base, 3. Promote using possible methods, are the major goals, but not limited.
A good blogger always write down his goals from both category and that would be his great yardstick to measure the exact success! This can be done through monitoring the progress continuously, setting specific time on specific goals and work on that etc… depends on blogger to blogger and personal setups.
In my best experience, why should we search for a blog success criteria instead directly ask to Darren? He have already shared his success secrets to the readers and it has everything new and experienced bloggers want to know.
Thanks Josh for the thoughtful article and Darren for the given opportunity to share with readers!
I am in to writing blogs these days, thanks for the tips.
I like tips number 4, stay true to your goal. Once you have strong determination, you can succeed. Thanks for reminding me about “goal” I love this post.
I’ve seen one of my posts fetch a PostRank of about 7.2. Still trying to reach 8/9 :)
Thanks nice post. . . . I consider myself as successful if i get or about to get that things
Oh sorry to mention what’s that thing. That thing is what i want to get.
I look at blogging from a business perspective. Alexa ranking is nice, comments are nice, but I need to pay the bills first like anyone else.
Great post. I write a health blog (i’m a registered dietitian) which started after my father had debilitating stroke.
Hasn’t made any revenue yet (never was in the initial business plan but will be soon).
My measure of success so far was when a reader called me “her angel” after giving her some nutritional advice that changed her life around.
Thanks , Mary
@Mary – that’s exactly what I’m talking about; congratulations on that, you’re making a difference to that person.
Thanks for the comments all!
I know I’m succeeding when I check my analytics and earnings every morning. They’re increasing quite fast and this is the the proof I need. More subscribers, traffic and income every day. A major thanks for this goes to Darren and his tips :)
This is great advice – it can be so hard to tell if you’re on the right track, and until that rapid accelerating payoff, it’s really hard to tell. These are great signposts to watch for, but in truth, there is always going to be a certain amount of gut instinct and faith that plays into the decision.
Well, I think it depends on how you define success :)
Very timely post Josh, very timely! Often times, bloggers lose focus of our
goals because there are so many things wrestling for our attention. You named a
few in your post. Bloggers constantly need to utilize personal means to remind
ourselves of long term objectives. If we fail to keep our goals at the front
of our minds we can easily be swept away with the flow of things. This
post aids to refocus our efforts on the core, the big picture of why we do what
we do. A bit cliche there but it is true.
I measure my success by monitoring changes in key areas. For example, keeping
track of the average time visitors spend on my site. The first time it moved
from a few seconds to over 6 minutes I was ecstatic.
One of my top pages is about how to fast, read about it here http://bit.ly/bIm5AO
Thanks again Josh and you too Darren.
This is excellent advice and I can completely relate to it. On some of my own blogs, when usually successful monetization methods did not go anywhere, I found myself treating the blogs like I hobby which I wished I had more time for, not to pay the rent. When the blog does make money, it’s an entirely different playing field – as slaving away to increase traffic at least does get one somewhere in terms of ROI.
Even on low-traffic sites which I have had on the backburner for a long time, I can sometimes get a general idea of what their potential is by comparing their long-term traffic to their long-term revenue. In other words, if a site has gotten 1000 page views in a month and made $4 in that month, I can at least estimate that increasing the traffic to 10,000 page views per day could mean increasing the revenue to $1200 per month, and so on, and then get a better idea of whether it is worth the time and expense.
Although of course this calculation does not necessarily work for all monetization strategies but it helps give a general idea.
Nice post you got here. As a novice in blogging, I find your article very useful. I somehow felt that you were actually talking to me and giving me advice on all the things I needed help with. I remember how excited I was with the first few blogs I made. I was always checking my page views, hoping that it has increased. It didn’t really matter to me if I wasn’t able to convert them into actual sales. Now things are really tough and I’m beginning to falter. I need to find solutions. I’m going to use this article as my guide and yes, I will stay true to my goal. Thanks for sharing Josh.
I think that you should always find your own definition of success. Really hone in on what you hope to gain from starting a blog and then go from there!
I don’t know why my comment is appearing in this blog as it written by spending lots of time and thought on the post. It is too bad.. I am leaving this blog and unsubscribing… because it is happening always with you sucker. I have read and understood even adapt your comment policy to my blog. It is better first you understand your comment policy.. This is the disease of all self turned “A-List’ blogging fools…
first you grow hair in your head and come to blogging….
thanks for this article , I have a news site and my goal is to make it successful…and I think I am moving forward to my aim…
Good article. Even on low-traffic sites which I have had on the backburner for a most long time.
I am inclined to believe that the best measure of success is simply the number of subscribers and/or dedicated and loyal readers your blog has. The more readers and fans of quality that you have, the more likely you will have the platform you need to build the trust that will facilitate the sales as you go.
Thanks for the excellent post!
Killing title always works.
I just landed on this page simply because of title ;)
These are some standards to test if you’re succeeding at blogging. It is also important to always keep in mind your true goal and whether the things you do lead you there.
There’s a lot of ‘here’s what to do’ and ‘here’s metrics to use’ out there in the informational blogosphere. But you go way beyond that and give ‘here’s WHY, and HOW-TO’ screen and utilize all that info’. Brings it into sharper focus for me.