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I am always the first person to advocate studying blogs you admire to learn their techniques. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to spreading the word about blogs that are doing things right, and how you can emulate them.
But in this post, I want to talk about how we can learn what no to do from the evolution of popular blogs.
Because they’ve learned from their mistakes, we have the opportunity to learn without ever having to make the same mistake they did. I’ll show you how, here.
This set of stages shows how the business-side of many popular blogs has evolved over time:
Begins with fixation on advertising income. Provides the initial excitement of earning some income for blogging. Then the blogger realizes it scales poorly: most blogs reach a natural ‘growth cap’ where traffic begins to plateau at its maximum level.
Without more traffic, advertising income can’t keep growing. It’s also inconsistent – a Google pagerank reshuffle or the loss of a major advertiser throws the blogger’s earnings into disarray.
Ad-blindness decreases the return you can provide to advertisers. So, the blogger moves on to stage two.
Focus shifts to affiliate income. By the time Stage 2 is reached, the blogger has developed a large audience of fans who trust what he or she says.
The blogger begins to experiment with affiliate recommendations and is surprised by the results. The blog’s earnings begin to increase again. This is a long stage for many blogs, as the negative effects can take some time to manifest themselves.
Eventually, affiliate sales slowly drop, and some readers become disenchanted with the blogger. There is only so much selling they can take.
Earnings are still good, but no longer growing. The blogger begins to wonder what would happen if they sold their own work, instead of someone else’s.
The blogger begins to sell their own work through the blog: freelance services like consulting, design or public speaking, or products they’ve created, like eBooks and online courses.
These sell much better than affiliate products, because the readers are already fans of the blogger, and the blogger keeps 100% of the earnings.
While selling these services and products is highly profitable, it’s also much more rewarding than selling other people’s products through advertising and affiliate marketing.
Selling services and products is so much more effective and rewarding than advertising and affiliate marketing that the blogger scales back significantly on their stage 1 (advertising) and stage 2 (affiliate marketing) efforts.
Many blogs remove all advertising and no longer sell any products other than their own. They know their efforts are better spent creating and selling their own products and services. Many wish they had focused on creating the ideal conditions for this from the beginning.
There are several blogs I follow – and you may follow too – that are just beginning to enter, or are already in Stage 4 at the moment.
Yaro Starak, someone whose business strongly illustrates the transition across four stages, recently wrote that he would be scaling back on affiliate marketing pitches, suggesting that “If you’re focusing too much on selling, then you’re slowly destroying your business because you’re destroying trust.”
Copyblogger also evolved through the four stages I outlined, and now no longer displays any advertising for products not released through the blog.
Darren Rowse was recently floored by the success of a $72,000 eBook launch and is focusing much more on his own products than affiliate marketing and advertising, once the core of his business.
I could fill this post with other examples, but these are just a few you may know. Blogs that once based their core business model around stage 1 (advertising) and stage 2 (affiliates) can’t shift away fast enough.
The ‘mistake’ I mentioned in the introduction to this post is that they poured so much time and effort into stage 1 and 2 methods in the first place, and didn’t make the switch earlier.
Of course, this kind of ‘mistake’ isn’t a real mistake or failure, it’s part of the learning process inherent in running a business.
We keep trying new things until we find the one that works, and sometimes we dedicate too much time and too many resources to the wrong strategy.
Why this is important
If you’re a relatively new blogger, or still don’t believe you’ve met your goals for the success of your blog, you’re actually at an advantage.
You can follow the example of the popular bloggers, but skip the wrong turns.
You don’t have to spend months wrestling with AdSense, Clickbank and Amazon referrals without real rewards before making the leap into Stage 3 – selling your own services and products.
In the time other bloggers spend pitching affiliate products to their readers and expending the trust they accrued, you could take a different path – growing trust slowly and surely over time by providing great value and treating readers with respect.
Over time, you allow that trust to flourish until you’re ready to share the services and products you’ve created for your readers.
In many ways, the trust your readers have in you is like a stock portfolio. Expend it as soon as you get it and you will probably lose trust over time.
Hold on to it over months, or even a year or two, and it will grow, and grow, and grow. By the time you’re ready to launch your ‘Stage 4′ business you will be a mile ahead of others who sunk time and effort into stage 1 and 2 only to later decide it wasn’t the right path for them.
If you feel like you’re currently stuck in stage 1 or 2, consider moving on to the next stage now. Switch your focus away from advertising and affiliate marketing and towards growing trust will be rewarded in the long-run.
If you’re yet to experiment with any kind of monetization, you’re also in a strong position – you have the choice to get it right from the start.
Which stage are you in? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.