This guest post is by Glen Allison of www.GlenAllison.com.
This is a case study outlining my three-step website development and the graphic design aspects of my blog monetization.
As a visual artist, when I finally decided to start monetizing my blog, one of my primary concerns was to maintain the clean graphic design of my website without the clutter of “in-your-face” advertisements screaming at the viewers, whom I didn’t want to overwhelm with my monetizing endeavors.I’m a travel photographer and during the past couple of years I launched three related blogs: one for travel stories, another for fine art photos and one for lighting tutorials to describe my portable lighting setups for shooting unusual tribal characters in exotic, remote locales. Why three blogs? My goal was to build website traffic as fast as possible in an effort to increase my Google search rankings. My website has an embedded ecommerce feature using a Photoshelter platform to market my travel stock photos. High site traffic is crucial to these sales since I’m competing with the world’s largest stock photo agencies, several of which I’m also a contributor.
My three-step website development strategy for blogging, augmenting traffic, and monetizing is as follows.
Step one: redesign
My primary blog audience is other photographers, who are not going to be my main stock photo and fine art customers but these photographers will serve as a base to build readership that will augment my website page rank.
Initially I created three WordPress.com blogs but since they functioned as entities separate from my main website, the traffic they generated wasn’t aggregating toward the SEO of the main site I ultimately wanted to promote for stock photo licensing. My first step was to completely redesign my website by moving away from a Photoshelter readymade template into a design that incorporated the Photoshelter eCommerce and the three blogs into the site architecture in the background of my one primary website. By applying a few SEO strategies, my page rank rose from zero to one during the first year.
Step two: targeted social media
After wetting my feet and honing my skills with these three blogs my target shifted toward augmenting site traffic by using social media, primarily Twitter, where I created three separate but related accounts. Then I started following the followers of a few well-known photo pundits of portable location lighting since I decided to use my Stroborati lighting blog as the primary traffic driver to my website.
Photographers seeking lighting tutorials would be my targeted audience and I chose to follow the followers of top lighting photographers in the industry, who had more than fifty thousand Twitter followers themselves. At first I tried to do this manually and believe me it was the world’s worst nightmare. What a boring, time-eating task.
A couple of months ago I discovered TweetAdder and soon automated much of my Twitter activity. What a godsend this software has been. I programmed it to follow eight or nine hundred followers daily for each of my targeted groups, one for each of my three Tweeter accounts so I wouldn’t be following the same people with each account. Now I’m getting three or four hundred reciprocal followers daily. I’m not using an overly aggressive campaign so building up my own huge following will take several months.
I’m also a novelist and, yes, I blog well-written quality content with dramatic photos from my travels to keep the viewers coming back for more.
I set up TweetAdder to automatically send a thank you message to each person who followed me back and in this message I suggest they might be interested in seeing my Stroborati blog where I feature location lighting setups for fierce Naga headhunter tribal warriors and fine art nudes. I also include links to those blog pages. Naturally this message attracts curiosity. Just about everyone who follows me winds up hitting my site. Remember I’m following a highly targeted audience that is keen about lighting details. My unique, eye-catching photo subjects peak viewer interest since most lighting tutorials on the Internet cover rather mundane subjects by comparison .
I might add that if any new follower sends me a direct message with questions, praise or comments, then I immediately correspond with them one-on-one in an effort to create personal interaction. As a result, my time spent on social media endeavors has skyrocketed. I must also manually fill out the captcha info for all the TrueTwit validations.
In only two or three months, however, my page rank jumped from one to three. So the social media campaign was really paying off.
Step three: monetization
In retrospect I should have installed my site monetization prior to my blitz social media campaign, but better late than never. So I spent the last month signing up for affiliate relationships with Amazon and a couple of top online photo equipment dealers and several companies selling Photoshop third party plugins, products that would interest my targeted audience.
I also developed several of my own Photoshop action sets that I sell from the site as well. Before I knew it, I had a slew of monetizing links and immediately realized I had to minimize the clutter. As an image artist it’s extremely important to me that viewers have a stimulating visual experience when they visit my site.
I decided to include AdSense and have placed three discreet, 125x125px, ad blocks on each blog page: one at the top left corner of each blog post and one in the bottom left corner plus one in my sidebar. I chose a color theme for the ads that matched the design of my website and I only use text ads with small black text and with no blinking photos, which I find extremely distracting.
AdSense automatically selects ads in context with topics in the blog post and the selections are often amusing. For my fine art nude lighting tutorials from Bangkok, the AdSense bots frequently make surprising choices like, “Date Sexy Thai Women” or “Thai Girl Massage.” Oh, well, at least I’m getting lots of clicks for hot chicks.
For my Amazon links I initially used their default, somewhat garish colors for text and prices, which adds clutter. So I decided to mute this visual assault by toning down the text colors and deleting the price info altogether.
In the text of my lighting blogs I mention the photo gear I used for that particular setup. In the past I created links for this gear back to the manufactures’ sites so my viewers could learn more if they desired. Now I’ve changed all those links to have my affiliate code embedded. Also at the end of each blog post I added small, clickable photos of this gear (with no text but viewers can hover the images for info) and each is now linked to Amazon for my affiliate sales. Here’s a sample blog page.
Many of my viewers are interested in the awesome array of photo and lighting gear I travel with and the specific software I use to create my dramatic images. So I set up a “Gear Links” page and a “Software Links” page both with clickable sample photos of the items, each embedded with my Amazon affiliate code. And while I was at it, I created a “Glen’s Favorite Photo Books” page. You will see that eliminating the prices streamlines the page design with minimal eye flicker, especially with so many items to peruse. The links for these three product pages are listed near the top of my blog sidebar to make it easy for viewers to find them.
When I include fine art photos in my blog posts, the images are linked to RedBubble where viewers can purchase prints, calendars, greeting cards and posters. Another monetizing feature that’s not in your face.
And finally, in my blog sidebar I’ve included the small but intriguing cover photos of about a dozen great photo books by famous photographers. There are no prices showing and no text, just a cleanly designed column of exciting book covers to draw attention as the reader scrolls through my blog post. If they want more info about a specific book, they can hover over its cover photo.
Am I potentially reducing my click rate with these toned down design choices? Probably, but design is more important to me while still incorporating passive income opportunities. In the first month I sold fifteen books through Amazon with a conversion rate of approximately one in eighty clicks. My website is currently getting about 12,000 hits per month.
Augmented site traffic will surely increase my newfound passive income endeavors that don’t scream out at the viewer. I certainly don’t want to run people off with my overnight, blitz monetization campaign.
Glen Allison has embarked on his second marathon 10-year, nonstop vagabond odyssey across the globe to photograph extraordinary destinations. His images have been published more than 60,000 times in most of the world’s leading travel publications. Visit his website, www.GlenAllison.com and follow his escapades on Twitter.