An in-depth look at a fashion blog, turned mommy blog and how she can make more money with sponsorships, tweak her design, and increase her traffic. Our February blog monetization case study.
This blog monetization case study is going to be a little different than my usual fare. And this is why…
Today we’re going to be talking about a “mommy blog” known as Lipgloss and Crayons. The blog is owned and run by Carly. And her beautiful daughter, Lydia. 🙂
Carly has quite a respectable blog going on. She started out mainly as a fashion and lifestyle blogger and made a transition into more traditional “mommy blogging”.
Like a lot of mommy blogs I’ve come across, Carly is pulling pretty respectable traffic. Between 15,000 and 20,000 page views per month, she tells me. Her email list is sitting around 500, and she’s generating $500-$1000 per month in revenue with the site.
Like most bloggers, she’d like to increase traffic and increase revenue. She’d also like to reduce her bounce rate.
What makes this one unique for me is this…
How Mommy Blogs Usually Monetize
The whole “mommy blogging” community has always been an interesting thing from my perspective. And it is because it is such a different school of thought than what I teach.
See, I teach how to monetize a blog by building a real business behind the blog. That means earning leads and ultimately making offers to them. It is all about providing real value and helping people, but in the end, we’re talking about making SALES.
Most mommy bloggers aren’t much into that. In fact, some are outright averse to it. Instead, monetization is more about sponsorships, advertising and affiliate marketing (maybe). Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but people like myself are left looking at the possibilities these women are sometimes sitting on top of.
The traffic. I gotta hand it to them, but many mommy blogs generate traffic that would make any online marketer drool. These women know how to generate traffic like crazy!
Problem is, they typically monetize using the most low leverage form of revenue generation that there is for a blog – which is advertising.
For some of them, however, it works out fairly well. The mommy blogging community has become a real advertising force and, sure enough, major brands most definitely woo women with large followings because of the public relations power they wield. Much of the monetization of these blogs comes, then, by way of their PR power. Banner advertising and sponsored posts are quite common in the mommy blogging space.
So, let’s dive into the Lipgloss and Crayons blog and see how we can increase her monetization results. 🙂
But First, A Heads Up…
The blog profit audit is a service I offer to blog owners who are looking to increase their leads and conversions from their blog. What you’re going to find in this post is more or less what I do for clients, with two notable exceptions:
- I am not doing a 1:1 phone call as I usually do, which means I am primarily going only off the information sent to me during the application process.
- I am doing this blog audit with a public post in mind to make it most actionable for everybody. Usually, these blog audits are completely private.
Every blog audit I do starts off with a video walk-through of the site. And during that video, I simply “talk out” what I find and what I’d do differently.
So, here is my walk-through of Carly’s site:
Growing The Email List
One of the first things which struck me about Carly’s numbers is that, considering her traffic levels of close to 20,000 monthly, her list was actually pretty small (at around 500 total). A quick look at the Wayback Machine for this site and it looks like there’s been some form of opt-in on this site for a couple years or so.
So, we’ve got quite a low opt-in rate.
The other problem? The email list is on Feedburner. What a buzzkill. :/
The importance of building a real email list is something I’ve talked about many times here at the Academy – and it is SUPER important for Carly. It is directly and intimately related to the two things she wants more of: traffic and money.
So, first and foremost: Dump Feedburner immediately. I know it is free and all, but as an asset, any email list on Feedburner is all but useless. It is based on RSS only and you sacrifice every good thing about email marketing.
UPDATE: In my email conversations with Carly back when this post was written, I learned that she had a pop-up which was building her list on Mad Mimi. This is certainly better than FeedBurner. However, aside from the popup, there is no option on the main site to opt into her list on Mad Mimi. So, there’s a huge disconnect. I would still recommend Aweber, where she could combine the power of true email marketing while also being able to send her blog updates via her RSS feed – all in one service.
I highly recommend Aweber. With an email list of Carly’s current size, it will run $19/month and there will still be room for growth. Aweber is most definitely where you want to host an asset as important as an email list. Plus, there is so much potential in that email list (even if its only 500) that you simply can’t use unless you’re using a good company like Aweber.
From there, we must increase the opt-in effectiveness of this blog. Like so:
- Move the opt-in box up to the top of the sidebar. Right now it is way down below the fold.
- This blog needs a compelling call to action to entice people to opt-in. And it needs a lead magnet of some kind. Simply “Subscribe” is the weakest call to action one could possibly have in that location.
- The “submit” button needs to be re-done. Make it colored so that it visually stands out. And change the text from “submit” to something benefit driven. Nobody wants to “submit” to you… they want to receive something.
Just those simple changes would grow the email list at a significantly faster clip than it is now, given traffic levels.
In terms of a lead magnet idea, I would do something fashion-oriented. It seems to fit the brand nicely.
Of course, it could be taken all the way by instituting the most effective opt-in techniques across the blog. A header opt-in, a footer opt-in, an opt-in at the bottom of blog posts, the about page, etc. It really is a matter of how aggressive one wants to get and I know that many mommy bloggers aren’t comfortable getting too aggressive with things like that.
Do what works, however, and this list will grow at a nice clip. Carly has an engaged audience and I know they’ll get onto her list quickly if she focuses on it properly.
Tweaking The Design and Setup
The best thing aesthetically about Lipgloss and Crayons is the photography. The photos of Carly and her daughter are absolutely priceless – and it is great personal branding for her as well. The other photos on the site are colorful and large – and I think that suits what she’s doing.
I think that strength needs to be seen in the header. It wouldn’t take much effort to create a better branded header, featuring Carly and her daughter. The “Lipgloss and Crayons” title could be also be turned into a logo to go along with it. It is a good brand and I don’t think it is being fully served by simple black text at the top.
Some other actionable design tweaks:
- Post headlines should be much larger than they are. I would double the font size and get rid of the all-caps text.
- Links blend in too much. They are simply bold. They need to be underlined and use a different color text. This will also help make sponsorship links more effective and get more clicks. And it will reduce the bounce rate. Right now, it is really hard to see what’s clickable and what isn’t.
- The fashion links and photo credits at the end of many blog posts should be highlighted. Perhaps in a formatted box or something. Really make them stand out because they are an important part of the blog.
- Make external links out to shops open in a new window. Right now, many of them don’t and it is contributing to high bounce rate.
About The Bounce Rate
One of the things Carly was concerned about was her site’s bounce rate (which is at 65%). In her words, that was “horrible”. I’m here to tell her… that isn’t too bad. 🙂 I mean, it isn’t stellar, but I’ve seen much worse.
Reducing bounce rate is one of those things you have to get a little bit granular about. While all sites have a global bounce rate, the actuality is that bounce rate is determined on a page-by-page basis. Then, you need to consider things like traffic source, the browser platform, etc.
Some traffic sources just bounce by nature. Carly says that she is currently getting quite a lot of traffic from Pinterest, but that a lot of the posts that those pinners are coming to have the highest bounce rate. Her outfit posts (which see less Pinterest traffic) have a lower bounce rate (45%-50%).
This can be the nature of Pinterest traffic. For instance, I’ve also seen high bounce rates from StumbleUpon traffic. Many times, these audiences are just speed-scanning through things and they’re borderline ADD anyway. So, they’re quite likely to bounce.
I’m here to tell Carly that her bounce rate isn’t very concerning at all to me. I wouldn’t worry about it. 🙂
She could reduce it, however, by ensuring that those Pinterest visitors see MORE of what they came for when they arrive on her site. If they’re coming in for a drink recipe, then show them MORE drink recipes as related posts that they could click on. Make them very visual, since Pinterest users really dig that kind of thing.
Improving The Monthly Revenue
Finally, let’s talk about her income.
Now, Carly is doing pretty decently. Averaging $500-$1,000 monthly, with occasional bumps (she said December was a good month). The breakdown is roughly this:
- Mostly sponsored posts. She does 3-6 sponsored posts per month, averaging $150 apiece.
- Affiliate links for her fashion posts bring in maybe $100/month.
- A few sidebar ads, although this represents a minority of what’s going on.
If She Went The Information Marketing Route…
First of all, pretty much everybody knows by now that direct sales of product is really my primary focus. In my ideal world, I’d see Carly put together an information product of some kind and sell direct to her audience. Or perhaps put together an exclusive coaching program.
I asked Carly if selling something directly is something she’d be willing to do. Her response:
I am open to selling something direct, but I feel like it would need to fit seamlessly into the content…..I don’t want to become a salesperson on the blog or feel like I’m pushing a certain product ALL the time.
And I get that. In fact, I’m quite sure that most mommy bloggers are in the same boat – they don’t want to be “salesy”.
Now, I would make a strong argument that there’s a huge difference between making a great offer for something that will truly help your reader… and being “salesy”. But, one has to be willing to make that offer.
In my ideal world, Carly would implement a business backend to her blog, based around the blog revenue funnel. If she did that and oriented the blog around lead generation, she could create a high five-figure or even six-figure business with her site.
In terms of WHAT to sell, I think it would be in alignment with her current brand. Her image seems to be that of the fashionable mom. The fashion niche isn’t exactly small. 🙂 Everybody wants to look good. And you take that first-level benefit of looking nice and dig deeper into some real core benefits for the audience. More respect, potentially higher paycheck, a feeling of self-confidence, impressing others. Essentially, take a look at Maslow’s Hiearchy of Needs and you can see that fashion hooks into some pretty deep psychological needs that we all have.
Carly could help women achieve those things – and fashion would be the vehicle to go about it. Carly has a lifestyle brand going on right now. She could totally build a business around that and help many women in the process.
If She Sticks With The Advertising Route…
Now, let me take my “build a business” hat off for a minute and jump into the other mindset – advertising.
I used to run a technology site and advertising was a fairly large chunk of the revenue model for awhile there, so it is definitely something I have some experience with. So, let’s look at that.
First off, if Carly makes some of those design tweaks I mentioned above, I believe she makes sponsorships more valuable on her site (which means higher prices). Making the links more obvious will get more clicks, which means better performance for sponsors, which keeps them coming back. And creating that feature box at the end of the posts will highlight the product placements, making it more obvious and more valuable.
As I stated before, Carly needs to take her email list more seriously and really concentrate on building it. She could use the power of her email list to increase the power of her endorsements and therefore command higher prices for sponsorship contracts. While Carly has a pretty respectable social presence (4300+ followers on Twitter, almost 10K followers on Pinterest, 4500 followers on Instagram)… she can magnify that substantially by using email. Email, by far, has the highest engagement rate over all those social platforms.
All this would allow Carly to put together more complete sponsorship packages for companies which are going to be much more effective than a simple banner ad in the sidebar (selling for $50).
A full sponsor package which includes a sponsored post, an email to a real email list, and some kind of campaign on her social profiles… it could easily sell for $1,000 or more. And it would go up as her audience grows.
Imagine striking a deal with a sponsor and being able to go to them and say that you’ll send out a review to your 5,000 person email list, include a sponsored post on the blog, all while executing a preset marketing campaign across Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. That’s valuable. And worth way more money than a simple sidebar ad or even one sponsored post.
This is why building up that email list asset is so important!
Also, right now, Carly is selling ads using PassionFruit. They look to be an ad network specifically for women bloggers. I would stop using them and do it directly. Unless PassionFruit is doing a lot of work for you and demonstrating that they’re bringing in good revenue for you, then I wouldn’t use them. You can easily do this all in-house, and that would give you more flexibility to create your own ad packages.
Also, don’t list pricing for ads on your blog. Have them contact you to get the media kit that way you have the opportunity to followup and close the deal properly.
Lastly, get testimonials from sponsors you’ve worked with. If you’re in the PR business, then ADS are your product. So, just like any other product, you need to sell it. Social proof always works well, and you want to SHOW these companies that you can bring them eyeballs and sales. That’s what they want.
Wrapping It Up
The Lipgloss and Crayons blog has a lot of great things going on. She has a highly engaged audience, good traffic, very solid social media followings, and a revenue stream.
She has some definite design tweaks she could make which would improve her branding, reduce her bounce rate, and make her sponsorships more valuable.
She also has a few options for increasing her revenue. The real key is to begin treating it like a real business. All businesses make sales. Now, in Carly’s case, it could be that her focus remains on sponsorships and advertising. That’s fine, but even then… treat that like a business. Set up a lead generation funnel for it, have a followup marketing campaign for sponsors, and sell these packages in-house rather than outsourcing to things like PassionFruit.
She has a nice lifestyle brand going on. A brand based around what I see as the fashionable mom. I think its awesome. If she spends some time concentrating on building the business part of it so as to back up the blogging she’s doing, she’s got a lot more potential in this blog than she’s currently realizing.
Got A Mommy Blog?
If you have a mommy blog which is getting decent traffic but you feel it is under-monetized, get in touch with me. Just shoot me an email right here and let’s talk about how we could potentially work together to make it happen. You can also message me on Facebook.
I see SO many mommy blogs with so much under-utilized potential… and it’d be fun to not just give advice on it, but actually see it through to get the results. 🙂