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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