You've probably heard of some folks out there making thousands of dollars a month from the comfort of their own home, simply by regularly typing their profound thoughts into a blog. Maybe you even have a blog, but are not getting much of a readership or seeing any extra income, much less full-time income, from it. How can online sellers best leverage this still relatively new technology, and what software and other tools are out there to help? And more importantly, how can you get interested readers by offering helpful information, but still market products to them without turning them off?
"A lot of people think a great blog is about great writing - but it's not," says Skip McGrath, eBay PowerSeller and co-author with Marsha Perry of the new book, Make Money Blogging from Home. "A great blog happens when you have good ideas and good information that people can use. Obviously you have to blog about a topic that enough people care about, but once you find that topic, you want to focus on it and keep your readers' needs in mind," he says.
Write about What You Sell
If you are selling a certain type of item on eBay or other sites, you have a built-in topic to write about: your stuff! What it is, collecting it, where you find it, etc.
Ten-year doll dealer Nancy Stronczek, who sells American Beauty Dolls on eBay in her eBay Store, writes a blog about the dolls at americanbeautydolls.blogspot.com. Blogging for about nine months, Stronczek says, "I wanted to set up a site where people could get to know me - more than the "About Me" page on eBay. And I wanted more room to expand upon the types of dolls that I sell, especially to the doll-collecting community and to other dealers." She says she has blogged about the doll shows where she has exhibited. In a recent post, she's written a review of a show with about ten photos of interesting exhibits.
eBay seller, blogger and education specialist Cindy Shebley, who blogs at clovercitysells.blogspot.com, says it's important to stay on track and know what your goal is with a blog. "The biggest mistake I think most people make is not having a focused goal for the blog," she says. "I also think that when most people write, especially on blogs, they write about and for themselves. It's important to understand that your reader doesn't really care about you, the writer. They want to know what's in it for them. It's very difficult to write with the reader in mind."
What is the biggest pitfall for a new blogger, in her mind? Thinking that a blog will make you rich overnight. "Yes, you can make an income from blogging, but it takes talent and like so many other things, being at the right place at the right time." She suggests that if you want to write about different things, to consider having more than one blog. "For instance, an eBay Seller may have one blog talking about the art glass pieces they sell in their shop, another blog as an Education Specialist to attract potential students, and a third blog spotlighting the unique finds they have sold as an eBay Trading Assistant."
McGrath also emphasizes the danger of not blogging often enough: "Most blogs that fail do so for one of two reasons: The blog is not focused on one niche or topic, or the person just doesn't blog enough. If you blog every day for two weeks and then don't blog for two weeks, your blog will certainly fail," he says.
A Nice Look and a Personal Touch
"I find that attractive blogs set up with professional-looking appeal will work the best," says Stronczek, "meaning interesting, clear photography, (and) have some meaningful things to say that are informative as well as well-written." She also advises a personal touch - in her case, "what I collect, or my favorite kinds of dolls, etc. That provides confidence and a sense of communication with the buying community to whom you are selling."
Gale Langley, who sells creative t-shirts, cards, and other items you can see at scribbleprints.blogspot.com, agrees that a professional look to a blog is important. "As an artist, I think design is especially important. I know if I visit an artist's blog and it has a plain or badly laid-out look, I'm not likely to stay. On other sites it's not as important (I don't care as much if a coupon and freebie blog looks bad), but I think if you're selling art, the look of your blog can affect what people think of the rest of your art."
While she thinks the blog has helped with sales, she said it's hard to track. "I have seen sales go up since I started blogging, but I'm not sure if that's due to the blog or not."
Integrating Content with Promotion
Although it's not necessary or even desirable to promote items in every blog post, a natural way to do it is to include links or widgets to products when they are related to your subject matter.
McGrath says one of the product categories he and his wife Karen sell on eBay is kitchen gadgets. "If I had a blog post that reviewed kitchen gadgets (not a bad idea by the way), I could link my blog to my products for sale, or I could join affiliate programs from kitchen gadget providers or even display Amazon listings for kitchen gadgets." He says, "Once again, the topic is important. If you blog about current events, then you can only advertise general items such as LifeLock, or Carbonite, or Credit card and mortgage offers. But when your topic is narrow, such as fly fishing, then you can advertise related products and services such as fly fishing rods and reels, or fly fishing lodges and fishing guide services."
That will almost always give you more income, he points out, and it's easier to build a loyal list of followers.
WordPress and Blogging Software
Although there are a number of blogging services you can use, many folks swear by WordPress. "WordPress won this war a few years ago," says McGrath. "WordPress is the iPhone of blogging. There are hundreds of plugins (applications) that vary from free to very low cost."
Marsha Perry, a WordPress expert (and McGrath's co-author), says, "Putting up a website or a blog is easy. Putting up a good website or blog is the difficult part. "
She says one of the top reasons she recommends WordPress is because it's easy to use. "People who feel comfortable using email or surfing the web will find this to be really straightforward software. It's made to be user-friendly. As a website developer I've seen many applications that claimed to be easy for non-technical people to use. They weren't, but WordPress is the real deal!"
WordPress uses a template system to help people have professional-looking sites, she says, and there are hundreds of these templates, or themes, to choose from. "The software is actively upgraded so it's getting better and better all the time. It's well documented," she says. There is also has a huge user base with an active forum, which is an invaluable source of tips, hints and help. WordPress also comes with plugins, which are like bits of helper software that "plug in" to the WordPress system, she says. The one that Perry says she I always recommends is Akismet: "It takes care of about 98% of comment spam."
Analogous to plugins, there are many "widgets" out there to help you sell your products on your blog - and help you sell other people's products as an affiliate where you keep a percentage of the sale.
One such service is netSpray. "Using a netSpray widget is simple and straightforward," says netSpray Director of Communications Chris Drinkut. "Either find or submit an item for sale. Grab the corresponding code, and go sell it. The blogger can set the color scheme, and photos are a standard with each widget."
NetSpray also now features an eBay importer tool, allowing you to promote any eBay-imported item using the netSpray widget. There are many other widgets available you can use in your blog, such as those provided by blogging service TypePad, and for Amazon.com affiliates.
Don't Forget Social Networking
Another way sellers get the word out about their blogs is to send quick notes about their most recent posts to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
"I have had huge success with Twitter," says McGrath. "I have almost 7000 followers on Twitter. When I do a blog post, I also tweet the post title and a link to read it. This does two things. First it creates an inbound web link that can be found in Google and second, it drives anyone on Twitter to my post. I have done a tweet and watched my page stats jump. For example, when I blogged about my new book on blogging, I did a tweet the next day. I saw four sales come in within 5 minutes of doing the tweet," he says.
McGrath says he is struggling with Facebook, but did get a sale from it a couple of days ago. Stronczek also uses Facebook and Twitter to help get the word out about her posts, and lists all her selling venues on her blog.
Ultimately, what you get out of a blog will, as the old chestnut goes, depend on what you put into it. But because a blog is such a personal effort, it can also be personally rewarding. "Blogging really has a way of bringing people together. I've been amazed at the comments I get from people all over the world," says Perry. "I know other bloggers who have met experts in their subject areas because of their blogs. It's also just a lot of fun to focus on things that interest you and correspond with people who share that interest."
Making $500 month with a blog is pretty easy, says McGrath. Getting to that first point can take a while, but the good news is that "typically, once you are making a steady income, it's pretty easy to increase it. My two blogs average a couple of thousand dollars per month and I could do more if I blogged more, but I am also running an eBay and Amazon business, publishing my newsletter and writing books."
McGrath says his top month ever for blog income was $7,000, but at that time he was blogging almost every day. Now, he blogs about three times per week.
McGrath says blogging is also fun. "Who doesn't like to give advice and get paid for it?"