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Things to Consider Before Joining a Blogging Network

Since I wrote my last post on the topic of travel blogging, even more blogs have popped up. Some were quickly picked up by blogging networks while others continued on their own. I’ve been approached by all three of the major blogging networks (BoardingArea, Upgrd, First2Board) and even joined BoardingArea for a bit.

What I learned was that there are both positives and negatives to being part of a blogging network. The positives include a moderate traffic increase, prominence in a sea of endless other blogs, and possibly higher revenue. After seeing several bloggers depart from their networks recently, I realized there are a few things bloggers should be aware of so they can make the right decisions and avoid being taken advantage of in the space. If you’re considering whether to join one of these networks, you should take the following into account:

1. Traffic. If you’re going to join a network to increase your traffic, this may not work out as well as you think. The more established networks will increase your traffic somewhat because they already have an audience and are basically just sharing their traffic with you. If you’re joining a start-up, you’re sharing your traffic with them and while your stats may go up as more bloggers join the network, this may not result in the great numbers you’re looking for. So if you’re looking to join a blogging network strictly to increase your traffic, go with an established one and have reasonable expectations for traffic growth. This brings me to my next point…

2. SEO. I get a large chunk of my traffic from search engines, which is an important source of growth. When you switch your hosting over to a blogging network, is the site SEO friendly? Do a Google search right now for one of your favorite travel hacking topics and look at the sites that turn up. If you’re trying to get ranked highly in search results, you want to make sure the network that will be hosting our blog is set up in an SEO friendly way. Poorly designed sites will negatively impact traffic growth. A solution is to keep your own hosting and simply tack on the network’s logo to your site.

3. Exposure. This ties into traffic. Blogging for a prominent network can result in a higher profile and more media attention. Again, it depends on who you partner with, the network’s level of experience, and whether they will work to seek more opportunities for you.

4. Revenue. As I explained in my previous post, there are five main ways to profit from your blog: Ads, affiliate revenue, free stuff from sponsors, guidebooks and services. When you join a network like BoardingArea, they will sell your add space at a premium and split the revenue with you 50/50. You’ll get paid based on impressions. In my experience, the folks at BoardingArea are professional. There is no hunting down Randy Peterson for a check, nor does you receiving your share of revenue depend on whether the company is able to pay it’s electricity bill that month. While the BoardingArea team handles your ads, you are free to pursue affiliate relationships and whatever revenue your site generates from affiliate links is yours to keep.

Upgrd has a revenue sharing model. In addition to sharing ad revenue, bloggers split credit card affiliate income 50/50. So if you generate $1,000 in sales from the US Airways card, Upgrd would take $500 of that. Michael from Upgrd noted that while the network does split revenue, some of that gets invested back into hosting and blogger dinners/meet-ups.

I asked the founder of First2Board regarding their set up and after sending me some information, I was subsequently asked not to publish it because they are making changes to their revenue payout structure.

Regardless of what your arrangement is, you should have the ability to access revenue stats to track how many sales you’re generating. Transparency is key in a revenue sharing model.

5. Who owns your content? Whichever group you join, make sure you have free reign to write about whatever you want and that your content is yours – so if you decide to leave and host your blog elsewhere, you are able to move your content over to the new platform without issues.

Contrary to popular belief, BoardingArea does not dictate what bloggers should write about. I spoke to Matt at Upgrd and he confirmed their policy is the same. I’ve been told by a few F2B bloggers that there have been some restrictions about the content they can publish and affiliate relationships they can pursue. With the changes they are implementing, I don’t know if that is still or will be the case in the future.

6. Network reputation. No matter what you do, it’s important to work with people who are honest and know what they are doing. That’s a place where I think BoardingArea has a real advantage. Yes, it’s a business, but the focus is on growth and opportunities for the bloggers.

When I interacted with Michael from Upgrd, I got the same impression. He describes his focus as clearing hurdles so bloggers can just blog. That’s the type of network you want to join: Where content comes first. After all, you are not a travel writer getting paid per article – you are a blogger, creating your own platform and attaching your name to it. If more bloggers are leaving a network than joining it, that should be a red flag about the way the business end of things are handled.

These are some of the core issues to consider when you’re contemplating joining a blogging network. Ultimately, Michael put it best: “The main reason to join a network is to remove….barriers so a blogger can focus on writing great content.” If you are not going to get this from a network, there is no point in joining. Head over to Godaddy.com, get yourself a $5.99 monthly hosting plan, and avoid the drama.

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Ariana Arghandewal

21 Comments

  1. Ariana: Very interested to read this. Not quite so publicly I’ve struggled with some of these same issues, and reading this here has helped me see that the concerns are universal.

    I’ll add my experiences here in case you or anyone else might be interested:

    Traffic: The #1 way for a new blog to be seen is to join a network site. I had a goal in mind for my views, I hit that goal in my first week after joining a network site. That said–content is king, and no site will direct traffic to you if you don’t have any content. Write, and the rest will follow.

    SEO: Probably the most frustrating part about a move is this. I saw my search engine referrals go from 200 a day to 4 upon moving. It took 2 months to get this back up to the level before the move. This is something you need to be ready for. Another issue are links from other’s sites. When you move they don’t. So you either need to reach out to the few biggest referrers and ask for a new redirect or hope they see the move and make the change themselves. All of this plays into your SEO, and a group of bloggers help because you keep linking each other’s content.

    Exposure: See Traffic; Being with a site people will come to find you. That’s great if your goal is comps and such, and bad if you don’t want to deal with all the people asking you to review things you have no interest in reviewing. There’s a definite cache built upon the overall site’s traffic. Reaching out to sponsors is much easier when you have the numbers of the parent site backing you up vs. just your own site’s numbers. This also ties into CC links should you want to go there.

    Revenue: Blog first, and the revenue will follow (in time). Doing it in the reverse order is running the race backwards; You’ll have a better view of where you’ve been, but you won’t be able to see where you want to go. I think the 50/50 split is pretty standard–although going on your own you end up getting 100% of the ad revenue for the ads you put up. I’ve seen my page views hold steady after leaving an affiliate site, but of course have decided to have no ads so ad revenue has plummeted to 0 for me. Someone who left and held 50% of their views while earning the same per view would see no change in ad revenue. Exposure of a large site will help with making money in the other ways you mentioned since views for the whole site will be larger.

    I’ll add one more:
    Comradery: This relates to the SEO section above, where I talk about a group of bloggers linking to you. Being with a group allows you to be a part of something bigger. There’s a great feeling to that, and also means helping each other out. I come from an “offline” background and had little online presence prior to blogging. If you already have a good online network of people this might be less of an issue. Being part of a larger site means you’re technically all “in it together.” That can be a great thing because you have instant access to people who know how to do things you don’t, can give advice, and offer ideas.

    Finally, don’t knock that godaddy managed wordpress hosting! 😉 I’m rocking it pretty hard, and really love it. Having no WP background I set it up in about 15 minutes and able to add/remove whatever I want whenever I want. Which reminds me of another great part of being on your own; full control of your site.

    • These are all excellent points, thanks for sharing. The stuff about search engine traffic and link backs is especially useful to point out. I have GoDaddy too and love it – so easy to manage and reliable.

  2. Quick shout to HostGator. They’re about the same price as GoDaddy and a little bit more secure, IMHO.

    I have to give a big mention to the ability to mention a host site’s home page views when dealing with sponsors. I have been offered opportunities since joining a network that I was rejected for previously for being too small.

    Milenomics mentioned the comraderie and I agree with that whole-heartedly. I’ve deleted a follow up sentence three times, which means I should stop at that!

  3. If you are established I have always been slightly concerned that I might lose revenue. Instead of visiting, say, VFTW directly I now just go to the BA home page and click Gary if his headline looks interesting. That costs him money.

    For a beginner getting onto a network is a no-brainer. If you have a major following already I’m not sure the maths works.

    • It’s certainly the easy way to get traffic when you’re starting out. Getting an MMS interview and writing quality content that high-traffic blogs link to is another avenue. I’ve personally gotten more traffic when you linked back to my Club Carlson series than I did on my highest traffic day on a blogging network.

      • Links can work well. I generally avoid interview pieces but Nomadic Matt asked me to do one for his site. I linked to the article and he got 1,000 hits from my readers on the day it ran. More importantly for me, that piece has been a continual driver of new readers for me and (4 months on) it still ranks in my top 10 referral sources most days.

        That Club Carlson piece was good, which is why I linked to it. I did something similar to Doctor of Credit recently. Some blogs like View From The Wing are mini-aggregators themselves and link back to a lot of other interesting pieces, and that always drives good traffic.

  4. Very interesting post! It’s always helpful to hear from someone who had experience with blogging networks. For a new blogger it’s probably a no-brainer to join one, if offered. Unless you get an interview on MMS, it would be incredibly hard to get noticed otherwise. I appreciate your insights.

    • Isn’t an “interview” with MMS the ultimate Hall of Shame? I’d think most would rather stand on the street corner whoring themselves – would be less demeaning.

      • Maybe it is that way now – when I started, all the major bloggers were doing it and it came with a nice traffic boost.

      • @Paul Well, I can only speak for myself here. For my blog it was a huge break, no question about it. It brought exposure and targeted traffic, I could never get on my own. Not for free, at least.
        Most of my regular readers came from the interview. So no, I don’t view it as demeaning at all. I’m sure others feel differently, and that’s totally fine.

        • Those interviews have been scraping the barrel for a long time. I was never asked to do one, which is odd because actually the most interesting ones were non-US sites who explain how they make it ‘work’ in a different environment.

          • @Raffles I am a bit surprised that you were never asked to do the interview. However, I doubt, it would do much for your site at this point anyway. It’s fairly well-known and generates enough traffic on its own.
            For brand new bloggers, the interview is a huge opportunity, especially in this over saturated industry. It can mean the difference between giving up writing and hanging in there. No, it won’t bring hundreds of readers for most, but at least a few.
            Oh, and I agree on non-US blogs. I also find them the most interesting.

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