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Banking on a blog: How to get more than a penny for your thoughts

>> Click here to see an interview with Heather B. Armstrong

When Lisa Guidarini found out that Heather B. Armstrong was doing a book signing of “It Sucked and Then I Cried” in the Chicago area, she knew she’d be attending.

Despite the fact that the two had neither met nor spoken, Armstrong had helped Guidarini, of Algonquin, with a deep personal struggle.

It was through her words at Dooce.com – one of the 25 most read blogs online, according to Technorati.com – that Armstrong had connected with Guidarini.

“Her honest blogging about her own depression gave me the courage to write openly about my own,” Guidarini said. “Seeing how her unashamed admission helped other people – via their comments – made me realize how much a stranger can help another stranger.”

It’s a common story in the world of blogging. A reader learns to cope while a writer shares her own battle to do the same, and it’s happening more often.

Millions of blogs have been created online, and the number continues to increase. But with the increase in popularity comes an ever-expanding set of decisions that go with starting and growing your own site.

The rewards of doing it well, though, come not only in personal satisfaction and connection, but also in monetary gain.

“A lot of Web sites bring in a good, small second income for people,” said Armstrong, whose own site serves as the full-time job for her and her husband, Jon. “I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think that you could bring in a little extra cash, for sure.”

Although some bloggers, such as Armstrong, are approached by advertising companies, others seek them out by registering through ad network services such as Google Ads.

Many writers have learned, however, that the decision to put ads on a site can be complex.

For example, Guidarini, herself a blogger and creator of bluestalking.typepad.com, has an ad for a technology company on her side bar, but gets paid only when someone makes a purchase after clicking the link on her site.

Rachel Sankey, 23, creator of RachelSkirts.com, of Cary, said she used to have Google Ads, but decided to take them down.

“It’s just distracting, and it makes you look like you sold out,” she said.

And Steve McCoy, a Woodstock resident and creator of SteveKMcCoy.com, said his main source of income on his site is an Amazon agreement, where he gets money after readers make a purchase on Amazon.com through his recommendations.

“I get a certain percentage, and it’s stuff I’d recommend anyway,” he said.

Last year, he earned about $100 a month through the feature.

Armstrong said making money off a blog has gotten easier with the advent of blog ad networks such as the one she uses, Federated Media Publishing. The services also buffer the writer and the specific advertisers.

“So I don’t have to deal with calling McDonald’s,” she said.

And more and more companies are learning how to put their faith in bloggers.

“Businesses like McDonald’s, which is running on my Web site right now, and HP, and I had Wal-Mart on there for a while, are willing to have their logos and their brands, next to unfiltered crazy people. Right?” Armstrong said. “It’s taken some time, but they’ve seen the advantages.”

Even with the best ads, a site won’t make an author rich unless it gets traffic.

Armstrong’s site in February alone had 1.5 million unique visitors and 5.5 million page views. But she admits that’s not an easy model to replicate. Her site only skyrocketed to national recognition after she was fired from her job in 2002 for blogging about work.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” she said. “I had a lot of significant things happen to get attention.”

She added that people need to have patience.

“I’d been working on the Web site for 4½ years before I experienced any sort of success,” she said.

Guidarini, Sankey and McCoy have more realistic traffic targets to shoot for. The three get hundreds of clicks a day, while flirting with the 1,000 mark.

Guidarini’s site, which started mainly as a way to review books, flourished after being featured in the New York Times, while Sankey’s and McCoy’s sites relied on the oldest of buzz – word of mouth.

However, McCoy said that even if people hear about a blog, they won’t stick around if the content isn’t good.

“My first piece of advice is to figure out what you want to do with your blog, and do it well,” he said. “People read your blog because you’re good at thinking, or whatever hobby you happen to be a part of.”

Armstrong said her own raw writing has been what has helped her succeed.

“For people who are just starting out, I would say to write about what you love, because the authenticity will show straight through,” she said. “And get involved in communities of people that you want to read you.”

She added that a lack of formal training shouldn’t stand in your way.

“It can be anybody,” Armstrong said. “It could just be you, in college writing so your parents back home can see what you’re going through, which is just as valid and just as important as the Huffington Post. That’s the great equalizer about this new technology.”

Sankey said that even if she never makes a fortune off her blog, she’s still glad she created it.

“It can really be a lot more than just talking about yourself,” she said. “I never realized when I got into it how much I was going to rely on people for friendship and support.”

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