Is Blogging Going Extinct—or Evolving?
At a networking event, one of the participants commented that blogging seems to be falling by the wayside. While I can agree to a degree with that statement, I think rather than going extinct, it is evolving into something else.
What's interesting is that blogging, as we would recognize it, has only been around since the mid-1990s. And to receive a comment suggesting that blogging is declining is testament to the speed at which the Internet universe evolves.
In observing both the blogosphere and marketing universe for decades now, I've noted three distinct evolutions of what I would consider blogging.
Writing Articles (Or Blogging Unplugged)
Long before there was such a thing as the Internet, experts and enthusiasts sought to get attention for their work with articles in print magazines and newspapers. To have an article appear in a national magazine was a true badge of honor because it usually had to pass editorial review before any paper and ink were dedicated to it in the publication. The article writers could get reprints of the articles to distribute to customers and prospects... sometimes having to pay a hefty fee to get them from the publisher.
Unfortunately, these opportunities were few and far between. And writers had to be seriously good to even be considered for an article placement. Plus, the writers had to spend quite a bit of effort and sometimes dollars to send copies via snail mail to people they wanted to reach.
The Blogging Boom
Then the Internet arrived. By the mid-1990s, users had the ability to post an online diary or journal of sorts. This chronological entry aspect of blogs continues to this day. While early blogs may have been journals about the blogger's personal life (and many still are), eventually posts started to look more like "blogging unplugged" articles, as opposed to diary entries.
By as soon as the early 2000s, there was growing interest in blogging. Three major developments converged to make it a movement:
WordPress. In 2003, the WordPress blogging platform made the scene and, in my opinion, that was the watershed moment that really launched the blog movement. With its robust and flexible platform, blogging was easier and accessible to everyone, giving more people a voice on the web and in the world.
Google. As article writers of old were painfully aware, getting attention and recognition for writing and expertise was tough. Even on the early web, getting attention was done through such things as newsgroups. While there were other search engines prior (Lycos, Ask Jeeves, etc.), when Google launched its search engine in the late 1990s, blogs now had a better way to get found.
Google AdWords/AdSense. As more blog posts got more eyeballs looking at them, often due to search engine traffic, advertisers wanted a slice of the blogging pie. But placing ads on individual blogs could take a lot of research, time, and investment, often with little return for advertisers. And bloggers also had a hard time finding suitable advertisers to monetize their sites.
So when Google's AdWords (for advertisers) and AdSense (for bloggers) programs made the scene in the early 2000s, it was a major boon for blogs. This system effectively brought together advertisers and bloggers, serving ads on blog sites based on visitor interests and online behavior. Everyone wins: Advertisers can expand their reach, bloggers make some money, and visitors only see ads that interest them. It worked brilliantly and some early adopter bloggers became quite financially successful because of it.
This has been the blogging model since about the mid-2000s. But that era may be coming to an end.
The New Blogging Age
In all honesty, I got started on the blogging path late in the game in early 2010. Prior to that, I was so involved with my newspaper editor and promotional product work that blogging wasn't a good fit for me and my time was at a premium. But as the newspaper business started to wind down for me, I looked to self publishing, both books and blogs, as my next adventure.
Unfortunately, even within less than a decade of the start of the blogging boom, the possibility of making consistent and easy money from blog advertising was already starting to wane. The amount I was making from my self hosted blog from AdSense ads was a pittance compared to the effort I was putting in. I'm willing to admit that part of this may have been due to the narrow niche of my topic at that time. But even then, it was starting to get discouraging.
I also hoped my blog would build my B2B (business to business) sales. But when visitors did pop on over to my sales sites, they were tire kickers.
As the blogging era rolled on, it became tempting to justify investing in costly or low income sites as simply a way to build an expert status or following. This was especially the case for business blogs. True, building a reputation is the end goal for having a blog! However, I think that this attitude encourages bloggers to abandon measuring their blogs' success, causing them to over invest in their sites in the name of "PR."
Though its easy-money heyday may be pretty much over, blogging isn't dead... yet. But by the mid-2010s, blogging evolved into a much more complex and challenging adventure due to a number of technological and cultural developments.
Site visitors want content, but they don't want ads. Most don't understand that content development has a cost that needs to be paid, and that this cost is usually covered through advertising revenue. Sure, visitors can "whitelist" an ad blocked site. But for some visitors, that may be a hassle, causing them to just abandon the site without viewing. (I've even done that myself.) And who gets nothing because of this behavior? Bloggers. So, today, other income strategies need to be employed.
Advertising Income Versus Affiliate Income
Some very successful bloggers (especially those who started early in the game) may still identify AdSense-type advertising income as a major income source. But today, many are just as likely to report "affiliate income" as a significant source. Affiliate income is commissions based on sales of products or services initiated or completed through blog sites. The blogger usually features the offering right on the site, usually in blog posts, or in email marketing efforts.
Featuring these products and services for sale can require disclosure of the financial relationship the blogger has with the seller.
The Rise of "Influencers"
Bloggers who have significant followings are now considered influencers because they can sway opinions and buying behavior of their followers. This makes them attractive to advertisers. So advertisers may offer them incentives to talk up products and services on blogs, websites, and social media channels. Those incentives could include free products, VIP opportunities, and especially cash. Today, "bloggers" may even be more inclined to call themselves "influencers," in the hopes of landing advertising sponsors.
More importantly for both advertisers and bloggers is that talking up products and services with blog posts, as opposed to running advertising for them, can help get around the ad blocker problem. It's not technically "advertising"... or is it?
The most problematic thing for influencers is disclosure. Improper or missing disclosures of financial relationships between advertisers and influencers can raise scrutiny from government agencies such as the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Taxing bodies such as the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) are also watching for unreported influencer income of cash and other benefits. (Check for appropriate government agencies outside the United States.)
The Rise of "Content"
Blog articles and posts are now starting to be called "content." Though content can still mean articles, it also may be a combination of offerings including podcasts, webinars, videos, online courses, and photos. Though not a direct source of income, the main goal for content is to build a following and expert status, or even to become an influencer, which could be lucrative.
Content can also be sold by bloggers, either through paywalls and subscriptions, or by selling products such as eBooks and online courses. But unlike AdSense type advertising income which requires little or no action on the part of the site visitor, selling content is not an automatic income stream. It requires a dedicated marketing and selling effort.
Paywalls and Subscriptions
Some blogs (and even larger media companies) have sought to monetize their websites through gated content. Gated content means that in order to read posts or other content, visitors must pay in some way to view. This can be done through paywalls and subscriptions.
Paywalls are mechanisms which don't allow site visitors access to content unless they pay a fee. Some sites may allow visitors to view a certain number of posts for free per month before a fee is charged. Others may allow visitors a summary view of a post and then ask for pay to see the whole thing. Still others may require a monthly or annual subscription for any access. Some may even ask visitors to "pay" for content access by signing up for an email subscription.
Of today's blogging income strategies, paywalls and subscriptions can be the most challenging. Site visitors have become accustomed to free and completely available content on the web and are already suffering from information overload. So paying a fee of any sort—even if it's an email subscription—is usually reserved for only the most premium and desirable content. And how desirable does content have to be for visitors to part with their cash or email address? It better be pretty great since other equally valuable content is just one click away somewhere else on the Internet for free.
The Rise of the Blog "Business"
Lots of people would like to make some coin while blathering on a blog about anything and everything. Like those who dabble in the small business realm, these bloggers are "hobby" bloggers. It's easy enough to get started. So why not?
While hobby bloggers still exist, those bloggers who are more serious quickly realize that it takes quite a bit of effort to keep a blog going in addition to actually writing posts. As the blogging landscape gets more and more competitive—not only with other blogs, but with every other content option, including apps and multi screen entertainment viewing—bloggers are finding that they need to put a lot more investment in advertising and administration. Isn't it ironic that bloggers may have to invest in advertising to build traffic so they can make money from advertising placed on their sites?
To help keep all those expenses from eroding income, serious bloggers may create a business so that they can write off qualifying expenses on their tax returns. (If this describes you, consult with an attorney, CPA/tax adviser, and commercial liability insurance broker to discuss issues that will apply to setting up and running your business.)
The "Influencer Content Business"
In the subheadings for the above discussion, three terms were in quotes: Influencer, Content, and Business. This was not by accident. Today, the combination of those three aspects embodies what blogging is today: Influencer Content Business.
An Influencer Content Business is one whose primary mission is to build a following and income by offering content (of all types) that is created by a blogger/influencer. While the term "Influencer Content Business" may not catch on, it embodies what successful blogging looks like now.
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© 2017 Heidi Thorne