Tom Drake started his blogging career in 2009 while still working as a financial analyst. Over the past 5 years, he has become the manager and editor-in-chief of more than 5 personal finance sites (including Stupid Cents) under his umbrella company, Drake Media. A professional financial analyst, Tom knows the value of a dollar and how to stretch it. But as a blog consultant, he also knows how to optimize web presences to attract the most views. He’s with us today to discuss his unique approach to blogging, and share some of the secrets to his success.
Hi, Tom, thank you for being with us today. You are an avid financial blogger, with Stupid Cents and Online Money, as well as providing guest posts on numerous other sites. Where did this passion for blogging come from?
Well, I first got interested in personal finance when I was right in the middle of getting married, looking for a house, and then having our first child, so I started Canadian Finance Blog to share my take on these topics. After a couple years, I started to look at blogging as more of an actual business, that's what lead to me to also blog about writing, increasing traffic, and then monetizing it.
You have a unique approach to blogging, in that you’re somewhat of a blog consultant. You partner with other peoples’ blogs, spend a great deal of time optimizing them, and then you split the resultant profits. How did you find this to be the niche for you?
The credit for this idea belongs to Jim Yih. He had a site for about a decade that had loads of great content, but little traffic and no real income. After writing for me a bit on Canadian Finance Blog, Jim came up with the idea of a partnership where he can focus on the writing and I can handle the technical side of site design, search engine optimization, and income opportunities.
Together we worked to rebrand his original site into Retire Happy, which took Jim from a relative unknown in the blogging world to someone with a huge online presence as the face of an Canadian blog that “The Globe and Mail” called the 'best Canadian personal finance blog.'
As I started to become known for working that business model, it led to a couple other writers working with me so we can both focus on our strengths. The reason this works so well is simple; each person believes that the other is the one doing all the work, so a 50/50 split seems like a great deal. My partners often sound amazed at some of the changes we implement and the results they produce. On my side, I believe I'm partnering with some of the best writers out there. They can whip up an excellent, thought-provoking article in 30-60 minutes, while I can struggle for an entire evening to get my own posts finished.
Many of our readers might be considering a career path, or even a side job, in blogging. If someone is considering starting their own blog or guest posting, what are three things they should do first before they spend a considerable amount of time and money?
First off, write about a topic that you're passionate about. Not only does that make it easier to consistently come up with ideas for the next article, but it will keep you going in those earlier months when there is no income and possibly not many readers.
I would also suggest looking at blogging as a business right from the beginning, not as a hobby. Even if you are not making much money in the first year, it can be a great way to get some tax breaks. Maybe that small income made could cover the expense of a new computer for you to run your business from.
Now if the career path someone is considering is more of a freelance writer role, then the goal needs to be to get some posts online to build up a portfolio to reference. Two great books an aspiring freelance writer might want to get out is Confessions of a Professional Blogger and The Freelance Blog Writer Side Hustle, both written by some of those great writers I partner with!
Could you walk us through your own process of writing a blog article? What goes into your article topic selection, your keyword choice, and then how do you craft the body of the post?
I still do a lot of keyword research with SEOCockpit, but not for the reasons that most people might think. I use it more as an idea generator. I can filter down thousands of keywords down to just a handful of really solid article topics that address questions that people have. So I know I'm writing on a topic that has some decent search volume, but I don't think building an entire post around a keyword for search engines has much benefit...certainly not for readers and Google is getting smarter about that too.
Let’s imagine our reader’s blog has started to attract attention, and viewership is on the climb. How should our blogger proceed in order to capitalize on their hard work and see some cashflow?
The easiest thing to do first is sort your posts by regularly recurring traffic (normally search traffic). The top 10% of those posts is where you'll get the best return on your time. Look at each of them, and see where there's an opportunity to monetize the post. If it's a post about the benefits of rewards cards, then why not mention your credit card of choice? If it's a post on shopping frugally, then include some links to deals and coupons.
Conversely, a blog is underperforming, suffering from low traffic and readership, and you agree to consult with the owner. What are the first things you’d do to optimize the blog?
The first thing I look to do is give Google what it wants to see. This can mean reducing content duplication by noindexing sections like category pages, making sure the site is properly set up for Google+ Authorship, or simply a new site design that is cleaner, faster, and easier to navigate.
When a blog really takes off, the owner is likely to see an income boost. This is great news for the owner, but it also makes them vulnerable to the income effect. What is the income effect, and how should our readers protect themselves from this dangerous phenomenon?
The income effect is simply spending to match any increase in income. So this is something everyone should watch out for. Whether it's getting a raise or starting a side gig, it can be tempting to spend that new money on things you haven't been able to afford before. However, it's important to step back and consider how that extra money can benefit you. If you were doing just fine before, then maybe that money could go into increased savings. If you were struggling before, then maybe there's some debt repayment that should be happening.
All your life you’ve lived in and around Canada. Do you find Canadians and Americans have different mentalities when it comes to saving and and growing their wealth? Anything us Americans can learn from the Canadian work ethic?
The two countries are really pretty similar; both are looking to save money where they can but both also have problems with consumer debt. The Canadian economy has held up better over the last 6 years or so, but the credit for that lies more with banking regulations than the financial habits of its citizens.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today, Tom. Are there any final words you’d like to leave our readers with before we let you go?
Just remember that personal finance really comes down to cash flow. So look to reduce your expenses where you can and increase your income by starting a side business or working towards a raise. As long as you keep bringing in more money than you're spending, you'll come out ahead. Thanks for the chat!
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