FBP002: Carrie Rocha of PocketYourDollars.com ⋆ [FinCon]

FBP002: Carrie Rocha of PocketYourDollars.com

In this episode I interview blogger, and now author, Carrie Rocha of PocketYourDollars.com. Carrie has been blogging since 2009, when her expertise in saving money and getting out of debt led her to building a real community, getting the attention of big media, and learning to monetize her new found position. She took her blog full-time in just 10 months and now has her own book under the same name, Pocket Your Dollars.

Listen to this episode if you care about:

  • How to go full-time with your blog quickly.
  • How to do deal blogging and affiliate marketing.
  • How to build a real, engaged community one person at a time.
  • How to attract book publishers.

Carrie and I discuss:

0:20 – Who she is and what motivated her to start a blog. Carrie was over $50K in debt at one point and paid it all off!
4:40 – What it was like to grow a blog to full-time in 10 months.
6:40 – What can people expect when they go to PocketYourDollars.com and how has that evolved?
11:00 – Was going “full-time” a big goal early on?
13:30 – How she dealt with the “health insurance issue” and financial issues of going full-time.
14:55 – How did you get traffic to the site and how big media mentions helped?
18:45 – What was traffic and engagement like in that first 10 months?
27:20 – What tools and software do you use?
28:30 – What’s up with the 100+ comments on the “Open Mic” posts?
33:45 – What’s your mix of search: referral vs direct vs search?
36:00 – How her blog makes money?
39:00 – What is affiliate marking, what are the networks, and what are the steps to getting links on your site?
43:15 – How do you curate and manage all of the deal links and updates/expiring offers?
46:50 – The number one thing that matters when it comes to publishing a book.

Resources mentioned in the podcast:

Transcription:

Philip Taylor: Hi everyone, Philip Taylor here. This is the financial blogger podcast and I have with me today, Carrie Rocha. Carrie is from pocketyourdollars.com, and author of the book by the same name. Say hi, Carrie.

Carrie Rocha: Hi everybody!

Philip Taylor: So the financial blogger podcast is just a way to get to know some of the financial bloggers out there, current stars, rising stars and learn the motivation behind what they’re doing and also get some insights into how they’re running their business, their blog. So Carrie, welcome. Maybe first start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and your blog?

Carrie Rocha: Well, every blog has a back-story, right? So you’ve got to hear that. In June 2006, my husband and I had over $50,000 in debt. If you remember back to those days, it was part of— it was during the boom. And we decided that we wanted to get out of debt and so we decided we want to get out of debt and stay out of debt for the rest of our lives. And we just said, “To do that,” not even really knowing how or what— we weren’t following Dave Ramsay or anything like that, we just decided we were going to do it. It took us 2 ½ years to pay off that debt, and when we got out of debt it was November, 2008. That was the beginning of the tank of the economy and people that I knew were losing their homes to foreclosure, they were losing their jobs, and I was hearing all this chatter on Facebook, like, “I don’t know how we’re going to get by, I don’t know what we’re going to do.” And I was, like, raising my hand saying, “I know something about this!” I know how to live with nothing because we just did it to get out of debt. While all the rest of you were just booming, we were tightening our belts. So I literally felt compelled from the inside, to start a website. Honestly, it was a community service. That’s how I viewed it. To help my friend, my family, some people I knew from church. Sharing money information that I had learned in our journey getting out of debt, and my vision had been that I would also talk about the actual getting out of debt, part. How did we do that? What mindsets did we have to change? Because, what’s interesting is that June 2007 isn’t the first time we had said, “This is our time. We’re getting out of debt.” I just found a journal I wrote in 2003 where I wrote, “2004 is our year of getting out of debt,” except, it wasn’t. It was our year of getting more into it and the same with 2005. So, what was it? I wanted to share what really had happened that allowed us to pivot for real and finally to do after we had tried and failed so many other times.

Philip Taylor: Gotcha, that’s a great back-story. So, you started the— it sounds like you started the Facebook… No, it wasn’t the Facebook community. It was some kind of community. Did the blog start at that same time?

Carrie Rocha: Yeah, so it was the middle of March, 2009 and I was working fulltime by day. My husband was a grad school student studying at night. After I put my kids to bed I thought I’d just do a blog so I just started. I didn’t know how to do it, I didn’t know anything. I just started. What happened is… I have this kind of driven part of my personality, and a little competitive. So two things, my husband is watching the news— and we live in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area, and on the news they said, “How are you fighting back against the recession? Send us your ideas.” And my husband nudged me, “You should email them!” So, I did and ten days after I started my website they did this feature story about me and this blog, that really had no content. But they did that. And I thought— I had this confidence so I reached out to a newspaper reporter. And I knew a money saving thing that he didn’t know about and I hooked him up with some subjects to talk about it and— I began networking in the media. In that first year of my website, I did about 100 media appearances that year between TV and radio.

Philip Taylor: Wow!

Carrie Rocha: It was just wild, crazy. And that’s how, in all honesty, most people are into search engine optimization and I need to be smarter about that. What’s really worked for me is I’ve been able to just nail this media thing and build a really solid network of contacts that’s really increased my credibility, obviously, and my audience. And, in time I realized you could make money blogging. I didn’t even know people made money online when I started. It was several months later before I even knew you could, and I’m fortunate that 10 months after I started my blog it was financially successful enough that when I got laid off from my job, and my husband was still in school so he wasn’t working, we just transitioned into self-employment and our blog has supported our family now for 3 ½ years.

Philip Taylor: Did you say 10 months?

Carrie Rocha: Ten months.

Philip Taylor: Wow!

Carrie Rocha: Isn’t that crazy? From somebody who knew nothing about how to monetize a website and 10 months later it was making a fulltime salary is wild!

Philip Taylor: That is wild.

Carrie Rocha: It was a crazy time because remember, I was working fulltime. I had a six-week-old and a just under two-year-old when I started so it took a lot of effort. People might say, “Oh, that was like a get-rich-quick,” but do you knew how much effort I put into it and how stressful it was for my whole family? Because this is what my days looked like when I started. And I’m not trying to be a big martyr. I’m just trying to tell you the honest truth. How did that work? I was the chief operating officer at a non-profit so I didn’t have a mindless job. I got at 5:00 or 6:00, worked for an hour to 90 minutes on the blog then headed out the door to work. Did a full day of work, came home, cooked dinner and got my kids to bed. At 7:00 I sat down at the computer again and worked on the blog until after midnight, every night. I only had four or five hours of sleep per night for those first 6 months. Keeping up with the niche that I picked about sharing this money saving stuff, it was way more too time consuming that I imagined. If I would have known how intense it would have been I probably wouldn’t have started. It just took so much time learning about monetization, learning about websites and then fielding all of the media stuff. Doing the media— I ended up with TV and radio segments, having to produce that running around buying props… It was a lot of work! God bless my family for putting up with me during that time.

Philip Taylor: That’s incredible. And I want to definitely get into more about the media and the revenue models that you chose. But just backing up a little bit more, what can people expect when they go to your blog? And maybe talk about how it transitioned over time.

Carrie Rocha: Basically, what you’re going to find are two types of things. One is the most popular part of it, taking what’s on sale at a variety of stores—about a dozen different stores like Target and Walmart. What do they have on sale this week and helping you locate any available coupons for those items and then giving you commentary about whether these items are really a good sale price or not. I talk from the peanut gallery about that. The other component would be legitimate freebies you can find on the Internet or really amazing deals. I don’t post anything that I haven’t tracked, to make sure this really is a bona fide good price, it’s a good product. You know, I’m doing all that leg work. I will say the thing I’ve wanted to transition to time and again is the Evergreen content. I will get to that in a minute, but I ended up writing a book last year and I had wanted— I might not have written a book if I’d been able to get to that content on my blog. But, I kept finding that the deals and the freebies, they’re so time-sensitive and it’s just got such a short shelf life it takes so much energy to keep up. And I have a staff now of people who work for me and we have a whole system. We have manuals about formatting guidelines and editorial guidelines and it’s— we’ve built a small newspaper, a small publication. We have systems and structure in place so that I can be focussed on the business development side of it, networking, managing relationships, the media and marketing. Lately it’s been stuff related to the book and that kind of promotional stuff. And then I have staff who can write things that don’t need my voice. Things that are just fact based. I mean, if something is on sale there’s not a lot of personal voice in that so somebody else can write that.

Philip Taylor: Ooh, that’s awesome. You are a go-getter.

Carrie Rocha: There’s something in my personality that just is determined, yeah.

Philip Taylor: Wow, this is the fastest blog success story I think I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible. So, the deals and ways to save money for peoples daily spending, you see this as sort of helping them similar to you on their path toward getting out of debt?

Carrie Rocha: I do, because when we decided to get out of debt we never got a second job. We actually took the money we had— and we weren’t making loads and loads, just two middle-America incomes and we said, “Let’s try this on the expense side first.” And so we found all these different ways to reduce expense, and the more I would talk about it the more I knew people around me wanted to know that too so I began to share that. And, I get stories and examples. Probably the most powerful reader story was from a woman who emailed me and said, “I’m so grateful I found your website and with the savings I’m actually able to buy my medicine now for Lupus.” She had Lupus and couldn’t afford her medicine, but now she can afford to buy the medicine she needs.

Philip Taylor: That’s great.

Carrie Rocha: Yeah.

Philip Taylor: That’s a great story.

Carrie Rocha: But can I say one thing though? Where this niche of financial blogging is concerned, it’s interesting. My blog has been about deals, but if I could just download my brain into the Internet, which I can’t do— I actually have to type up the words, I would be writing so much more about how I’m instilling financial values in my kids and the day-to-day money conversations my husband and I have. Those kinds of things, that’s— I care about deals and how to save money but my real passion is more the tried-and-true personal finance. And I would say I’m experiencing more of this tension as I am trying to shift more to that. In terms of creating the capacity in my life to write more of that content it’s—most people in this space are kind of one or the other and I really want to be able to do both.

Philip Taylor: Yeah, yeah, it is difficult to do both. But it sounds like you’ve found what works financially for the blog earlier on and you applied the 80/20 rule to that, right?

Carrie Rocha: Yes.
Philip Taylor: You tended to that instead of focussing on areas that weren’t as beneficial toward you. Now, doing this full-time, it sounds like early on that was a pretty big goal for you, right?

Carrie Rocha: It actually didn’t become my goal. About 4 months before I went full-time, my dad, who lives out-of-state, came to visit. And I was just running around crazily. He pulled me aside and said, “You’re going nuts, you can’t even keep your head straight. You need to stop.” And I said, “Dad, did you know you can make money online?” He says, “You can?” And he even encouraged me, “Well, you better figure out how you can make enough so you can quit the other thing you’re doing!” That helped me validate— there was some sort of validation that I needed in that to encourage me to go forward so I paired back to part-time in my day job which I knew would position me for lay-off. And honestly, I’m grateful I got laid off because I was able to have COBRA for our health insurance for the first period of time which helped in that transition. And my husband and I did a couple of things when I went full-time. We knew if things didn’t work out I could get unemployment. We never did take unemployment, but I knew I could. And too, we said we’d build up our emergency fund even more before we went— we said, “Let’s do this for three months.” If everything bottoms out and we don’t make any money then we’ll decide what we’re going to do. So it really helped me in making the leap to feel like I don’t have to do this forever. I know it’s just a time-limited thing and there’s a finite amount of risk my family’s going to absorb and it won’t sink us or bankrupt us if this flops, we’re just going to try it and see. I needed to box-in the risk in order to make that leap, if that makes sense?

Philip Taylor: Gotcha. Wow, this sound like good content for the Part-Time Money Podcast, the other podcast that I do. It’s a very similar story to what I went through where we sort of had a transitional period where we saved a lot and had a back-up plan before we made that leap, so that’s very wise of you. What about health insurance now, what do you do?

Carrie Rocha: We buy our own. What was interesting when I shopped for it individually is I wished I would have done it a lot sooner, but I was so afraid of getting my own insurance. There are only three or four companies in the state of Minnesota that provide insurance so I didn’t go through a broker or anything. I went to each one of those company’s websites, found the available plans and then just made a spreadsheet comparing the premiums and all that, and our expected expense. And, we have kind of a hybrid with a high deductible of about $11,000 but it’s not a true high deductible plan because we pay co-pays for office visits and prescriptions. So we do that, but we don’t qualify for a health savings account. We have our own separate savings account that would cover our deductible, God forbid something should happen that we’d need to tap into it. But I will say that I was so afraid of that moving into self-employment that I buried my head in the sand because I didn’t want to deal with it. But it was not as scary as I thought it would be once we got through it.

Philip Taylor: Wow, you sound just like me, the same story… Crazy!

Carrie Rocha: Yeah, that’s funny.

Philip Taylor: Let’s talk about your site again. For those who are maybe just starting a blog or having trouble getting traction, let’s talk about how you got traffic to the site and maybe touch on some of the media efforts if that was a part of that.

Carrie Rocha: There are days I’ve had huge amounts of traffic, but really, at the end of the day you want to make sure what you’re doing is retaining people. Any good business is focussed on customer retention. We’ll talk about media in a minute, but what I want to talk about what I did with each person who came to my site. When I started, anybody who left I comment, I decided I was going to personally connect with them. I personally emailed every person who left a comment for the first six months on my blog… “Thanks for leaving a comment.” I would say something about what they said so they knew that it was a human writing this. And then I would ask questions like, “How did you find me? What can I do to improve?” I would also ask if there was any way they could imagine that would make this a better community. I know those efforts were so important because I’ve had people tell me that they used to want to quit reading my blog sometimes, but they never did because they thought I might notice so they stayed. So I want to just say, people need to recognize that you’re connecting with people and I was all about a community. One other thing I did from the very beginning is I said we’re always going to talk about ‘we’. So you’re going to hear me in this whole thing— I’m going to talk about ‘we’… We, we— we do this… To me it’s like nails on a chalkboard when bloggers write ‘I’ this, ‘my’ blog, ‘my’ this, ‘my’ that, because leadership is about building a community, building a team. So, if you want people to follow you, you need to help them get into something that they can believe in. So I would talk about how ‘we’ were going to do this together, ‘we’ are a community that’s having an impact. On an annual basis, what should ‘our’ goals be for this community? And I really focused on that so people got connected to the brand. That’s a little side tangent from the facts…

Philip Taylor: That’s gold, that’s gold. Thank you for sharing that.

Carrie Rocha: You have to transfer. You know, I go on TV or I do radio and I still… I mean, I was on TV earlier this morning talking about Valentine’s Day so I was talking about Valentine’s Day stuff, but there are a couple of things that I’ve learned about media. You have to get people who are watching TV or listening to the radio to convert into web traffic; it doesn’t happen automatically. And so if you think just because you show up on some big name show that you’re going to get a lot of traffic, you’re wrong. It doesn’t always happen that way. You have to give them a reason to go to your blog and, so, I often have a reason because I’ll have more of these tips found on my blog— that’s usually the lead back. But if I were writing just about broader personal finance things, I would find a reason to have additional content or another eBook or something on my blog that I could ask the reporter to mention at the end of the interview: “This is Carrie Rocha of pocketyourdollars.com. You can go to her website to find more of this kind of information.” Some kind of push and hope that then it hooks people enough to get them to want to come.

Philip Taylor: Awesome. You said there was really a 10-month period before you jumped to full time, so talk me through traffic-wise how you did during that period and how the community growth was as well.

Carrie Rocha: That’s a good question and, I will say, it’s four years ago now so it’s not off the top of my head, but I can remember within the first few months seeing 1,000 visitors a day and feeling like, “Wow, that was really awesome”. I remember when my feed burn or email list hit a 1,000 and I was, like, jumping up and down in the office. And once it hit 1,000, I would set goals like 2,500 and whatever. And so, by the time I went full time, I don’t remember, it was several thousand hits a day. I will say my biggest traffic days have typically been Black Friday and Cyber Monday because I’m talking about deals, I do a lot of media and I give them a reason to come to my website. Don’t pay attention to what’s in your inbox, I’ll curate all the best deals you need to pay attention to on my website. I do that, and in that day I’ll get like 20,000 hits in a day, so that’s kind of where I’ve hit now. This year I want to get up above. I want to break that ceiling. I’ve been there a couple of times.

Philip Taylor: And are they coming to the home page or any specific deal page?

Carrie Rocha: You know what? I generally drive traffic from my home page. I’ve tried a few times with certain things to do. I thought today I could do pocketyourdollars.com/valentines. I don’t know how effective any of that has ever been and I’m not very good at making targeting landing pages and of all of that. If I— and I had a graphics person, you know, my husband or I could do that. That might be different. But I just drive them to my home page and then I have a slider box where I can feature some content and, if I’m doing a big push on something, I do need to feature it on my home page. Otherwise, I just get inundated with emails “I came to your page to look for this and I couldn’t find it”. I’ve also been very mindful. I use a great search-tool on my website called Swift type. That’s what powers the search and I really like it because it gives me a great report. I get an email once a week and it has ‘auto-populate’, so someone starts to type something and populates with ‘these are blog posts that might answer that’, so most people can find what they need that way and I only get, say, 30 or 40 search queries a week where they don’t get a response and I get stats about what exactly they were looking for and that’s helpful to me. I sometimes go and write new blog posts or I tag things differently if I know I have something that people couldn’t really connect with and I’m mindful of that.

Philip Taylor: That’s a really slick tip.

Carrie Rocha: I will say one of the things I’ve been mindful of – my background was in a non-profit, but we were a web-based non-profit – is the user experience of my website. I really like, from a navigational perspective, the look and feel. I recognized early on that if I want to go on TV and I want to be public with this, I need a website that I’m proud of that a TV station would be proud to put on air and it doesn’t look homemade. And so last year I invested quite a bit of money and did an extensive re-design and one of the things— of course I said, “What do I want the site to do?” and all of that. But I used a website called ‘CSSmania’ and it’s like a gallery of websites. And I went into CSSmania and took each element like header, main navigation, featured content. I made a list of all the elements of my site and then I went to CSSmania and looked at hundreds of websites for just that one element until I could see something that resonated with me so that I could go back to my designer and say, ‘I want it kind of like this but not like that’ and I had concrete examples. Then we were able to put together a draft and then we did focus groups. I did a lot of things to really try to involve the community that uses this website. I looked at it as a remodel we were all part of and making sure users felt like they still could get access to what they wanted. And I say that because sometimes I think bloggers are too self-centered and they think from their perspective, not from their customer’s perspective— what do the users want and how do the users navigate the information they have.

Philip Taylor: Talk a little bit more about how you use your tests in that.

Carrie Rocha: You know what I didn’t do but I wish, cause I’ve done it in others things – you could actually have, well I’ll that back. When I just had screenshots, I first did a mock-up of just screenshots, having my graphic person just doing Photoshop, what the mock thing would look like. No links worked, and I found a handful of people, I don’t remember how many it was, about a dozen or so, I think, and I sent them the link – I didn’t tell them anything – I just said look at this for 5 minutes and then send me some feedback and I had some specific questions like: “What did you notice first?” “The things that you like on the site right now, are they all here?” and just some things that was just a gut check because I knew everything had transferred over, but I heard from some people that ‘this’ isn’t there. I was like, ‘okay, something’s wrong with the layout because it is there but people didn’t see it; they didn’t notice it’. And so I did that, and then we made adjustments, then, while it was still just on paper and not as expensive as having built it. The other thing is we built into the budget of that project to launch early and then do another significant round of changes about 6 weeks later because I’ve learned in time you will not get it right. People will use your website differently than what you think, and there are sites like crazy egg and others where you can get heat maps of how people are using your site, what they click on, and Google analytics has some of that. I looked at all that and then we launched the site and then I was always asking and collecting that feedback and then prioritized it and we made a round of changes right away for two reasons, one, the audience really felt I was listening, because that’s really important— we’re getting to it, we’re collecting, we’re going to make the most important changes right away and, obviously, to improve the user experience, and two, I keep up with it. I set aside money and I make an annual budget for my business and I have money set aside every year for website changes and modifications to be constantly improving.

Philip Taylor: How’d you find the people to do the work for you?

Carrie Rocha: That’s a great question. In Minneapolis, we had a word camp. There’s actually a Google list that’s Word Press developers and I stumbled upon it and, through a Google search and then through that word camp, I met somebody who was really good. I had had a previous Word Press developer and I outgrew what he could do but, even with that, I Googled online the kinds of questions I should be asking somebody. So I interviewed them and checked references, because I think sometimes we’re just really trusting, right? I know you on Twitter, so for sure you’re going to do a good job for me. Just because you think someone is going to do a good job it doesn’t mean they’re going to do a good job, and so do your diligence before you hire someone and then I put together specs and a contract and I also put together a non-discloser, particularly with a developer— I had him build some custom plug-ins for me. He told me they were mine, but I wanted in writing that I owned them and that he could not disclose that to others exactly how we were doing some of this functionality on my site that I figured was going to look pretty cool to some other bloggers.

Philip Taylor: Nice!

Carrie Rocha: Then he and I agreed and he’s packaged one of those plug-ins and he’s selling it and he and I have a financial arrangement about that and that’s fine.

Philip Taylor: For someone just getting started… your own wordpress, you use a lot of it? Plug-ins— is there a particular theme that you use, that you modified?

Carrie Rocha: Yea, right now I’m running on Genesis, and I will say I don’t know very much about the technical stuff. Even when I was starting out I found some other bloggers whose websites I liked, I emailed them, ‘Who built your site for you?’ I found my very first people that way, just networking with other bloggers via twitter and Facebook and by emailing them. And so that’s what I want to encourage someone new to do. Most bloggers, if you have a specific question, they’ll help you. Don’t ask them to mentor you because that’s being wide open. But, if you ask them, “Who have you used for this? Do you know a plugin that does that?” most everybody is willing to help because we were all helped when we started.

Philip Taylor: Right. And we love talking shop because our spouses are tired of hearing about it, right?

Carrie Rocha: Exactly, you got it.

Philip Taylor: And we don’t want to talk about that with our community all of the time because we want to stay on topic with them.

Carrie Rocha: Yes, exactly.

Philip Taylor: You do something called Open Mike, and it’s been wildly successful for you.

Carrie Rocha: Okay, so it’s kind of a modified forum. People sometimes say you should add a forum to your blog so people can talk, and all of this. And my thought was I’d have to moderate more of that and then people need logins and I had seen some flop. So I just do one blog post every Thursday morning and I call it Open Mike. People can ask questions, they can share comments that are loosely on topic. Something related to money or their household, something in that realm. And it’s just a conversation. I try to stay out of it if I can, but in any week, on a low week we get 100 comments, on a good week 300-350 comments. And it’s a great community builder. I’ve really gotten to know people, and the people I’ve hired to work for me all are people who have been active there. I’ll email them and say, “‘Hey, I need help doing this.” And I already know they’re smart about it because I see them talking about it in the comments, “Can I pay you to help me?” So it serves multiple purposes and it has a funny back-story. It started because my website got hacked when I was on vacation once and all my content was lost and I had no backup, so I did a post, just one each day, “Here’s an open topic post. You all talk amongst yourselves.” And then everyone said, “Can we keep doing that? That was great.” And I also love it because readers will email me questions like, “Can you tell me how to save money from this particular vend?” Very specific, and I don’t want to have to deal with answering that level of specific question and I’ll often say, “Why don’t you go ahead and ask in the Open Mike post?” and, usually, somebody in the community will have a suggestion.

Philip Taylor: A crowd-sourcing of everyone’s solutions there.

Carrie Rocha: Exactly.

Philip Taylor: It sounds like you’re already at a sort of critical mass with your community already before opening that. Any tips for someone who wants to make an attempt to do an Open Mike that may not have quite the community that they know would jump all over it like that?

Carrie Rocha: Yeah, I wouldn’t do that and have it flop. I’ll hold off. What I would do instead is— whatever topic you’re writing about, make sure the last paragraph is thought-provoking. And ask questions. If there’s one thing other people come to me and say, it’s, “How do you get so many comments on your blog?” And I’m like, “It’s really simple. I ask questions.” And then sometimes people are reading and you ask a question and they feel like, “Oh, I want to answer that” so make your comment section easy for them to answer but build the conversation after your individual blog post and you’ll get a sense of when people need something more. When either some of them start to get off topic or you’re getting emails about things that you don’t really want to write a specific blog post to answer that but you bet it’s a question other people have. Now you’re probably at a time where you could try that and I wouldn’t maybe even do Open Mike every week if you don’t have enough critical mass. Do it every other week or once a month. I tried something once and it flopped and, so, I’ll tell you about it so you don’t do it. People would say, “I remember we talked about ideas to save money at bridal showers a few months ago on an Open Mike. I wish it was easier to go back and find that. That’s why you should have a forum.” I hear that sometimes. Then I thought, maybe if I made some topic-specific Open Mikes, then we could have them. Like one about stuff related to pets or home maintenance or whatever. And those basically flopped, so I didn’t do that. What I found worked better to try to generate very topic-specific conversation was for me to do a reader question and say, “Reader Susie Q. who emailed me has asked this question about pet health insurance. Is it worthwhile?” I don’t even necessarily go and research the answer. I found that when people feel like they’re talking to a person, they’re much better than just throwing out their thoughts into nothingness. I had much better results with that and it’s an easy and quick way to make a blog post when you want content. Just grab a question and say, “Let’s open it up to all of you. You’re all really smart. What do you know? What’s your experience?”

Philip Taylor: Awesome! Awesome! Really quick before we move on to our last topic, I want to make sure I let you get out of here in time. Traffic wise, what percentage is direct vs. referral vs. search.

Carrie Rocha: Good question. Goodness, I didn’t look at that recently. I’m going to guess probably about 40 percent direct, about 30 percent referral and probably about 30 percent search. But my site isn’t the most advertised for search engines and, actually, that’s one of my goals this year. I just installed the SEO plugin and I’m really kind of focused. And the referrals tend to come from the media appearances that I’ve done because I always will provide them some web copy as well so they can link to the video of the story. Then I have, like, two paragraphs that summarizes what I talked about which I’ll link back to my site.

Philip Taylor: I’m sure Facebook is big for you as well referral-wise.

Carrie Rocha: It is, and I’ve really— over the last 6 months I’ve tried a variety of different things to improve my Facebook strategy and really I’ve seen some great increases. I’ve done a few promoted posts that have worked really well. I know some people are against that. I’m not, but yes. On a good day, I will get thousands of people coming to my site from Facebook.

Philip Taylor: That’s great. I think you have something like 25,000 followers there?

Carrie Rocha: It’s like 28,000 I think we just hit.

Philip Taylor: That’s probably another reason why you don’t need forums, because there’s a lot of engagement there.

Carrie Rocha: That is exactly it. I appreciate that with Facebook. People can ask and people can answer and I put it on my contacts page on my website, “Before you email me, don’t forget that you can leave a comment or post something on my Facebook wall and, in fact, you might get a quicker answer if you post it there.” So I notice the quantity of my emails drop and more people are posting on my Facebook wall which is good for a lot of reasons, including their posting there helps my post show up in their news feed for longer.

Philip Taylor: There are a lot of other things I wanted to talk to you about. Things like hiring your staff, things like how you manage your time, but I think the biggest forefront of folks mind— you said upfront that you went 0-10 months and you’re already full time, so we’ve got to talk about how you’re making money off your site. Tell people about how you earn revenue off of this blog that you’ve got.

Carrie Rocha: So I earn revenue two ways. One is advertising. Google AdSense is my biggest advertiser. I’m also part of one other blog network and I just have 250×300 ads that run on every page and those generate half of my revenue. So that is half. The other half comes from affiliate marketing. Because of the content that I’ve been talking about a lot, I’m talking about products; I’m referring people away from my site to either print coupons or to buy products that I recommend, so it makes it really easy to me to use a referral where I’m earning a commission for all of that traffic. I’ve really gotten involved in that affiliate community and tried to learn a lot there so I could work smarter not harder with those referrals that I’m making and so 50 percent of my revenue comes from that. I will say that you put a couple of gravy things on the side. I’ve been doing a little public speaking and a little freelance consulting— all that to me is gravy. It’s not my bread and butter business model.

Philip Taylor: So the AdSense on the right side, just those two big blocks, that’s on every page and that’s half your revenue?

Carrie Rocha: Yeah, half my revenue.

Philip Taylor: What does that amount from those two AdSense blocks.

Carrie Rocha: Anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 a month

Philip Taylor: Wow, that’s pretty good with AdSense. Why choose it to keep it on the sidebar? Why not below the post or in the post?

Carrie Rocha: I do have one under the post. It just doesn’t do as well. I don’t know. I would say I probably could optimize that some more if I wanted to take the time and I haven’t because it’s working well enough, but I made a commitment early on to not over-ad. Not to have all these banners and sidebars so I said ‘two and that’s it’ and I’m done. And that’s just what I’ve done. I will say what’s interesting: the top ad is Google AdSense and the bottom ad is an ad network through Lifetime Moms. It’s a digital lifetime TV and that doesn’t pay as well, but I’ve gotten some good connections via that blog network that have been good for me. So, my point is it’s not always about money, sometimes there are non-tangible things that you get in exchange and you got to be mindful of the whole equation.

Philip Taylor: And I think you’re got a great placement for advertising as you said. If you’re got more time, let’s delve into affiliate marketing. I think more people when they blog, they sort of understand the AdSense content really quickly and understand how to get that on the side. What are some of the networks out there that you can get involved with, how do those work and how do you get the offers onto your site?

Carrie Rocha: Affiliate marketing is the idea that you use a referral link, like a special URL that has some tracking built into it. You post that on your website. It’s all performance based, so when someone clicks on that link and then takes whatever the desired action is. It could be buying something, it could be providing their information and becoming a lead for an offer, it could be printing out a coupon— whatever the desired action is on the merchant or the retailer’s part. If your reader does that action, you earn some money. And there are different terms. Sometimes you earn a percentage of a sale. There are all these different things, each one works but here are a couple of things that you need to know. The first is terminology. I am an affiliate and a website retailer like Macys.com or Amazon, they are a merchant. I say that because they email you all the time from these email addresses— affiliate@ [their company] and you can get mixed up and think they’re the affiliate. They’re not, you are. So you’re an affiliate and they’re a merchant, and the way that you get these special tracking links, for the most part, most large brands are part of an affiliate network. And so there are a number of large affiliate networks. Commission Junction, Link share, share sale, Google affiliate network, and pepper jam are probably the biggest ones that most of our folks. So there are these different affiliate networks and it’s a two-step application. You apply to become part of the affiliate network and basically it gives you access to window shop at all of the merchants who are administering their affiant program within that network. And then you have to apply— you just kind of click a button or check a box and you can apply to that specific merchant’s affiliate program. From there you’ll get access to their traffic links and it’s easy as putting a special URL on your site. My big word of encouragement is if you’re going to get into affiliate marketing is what you’re going to have to do first as a blogger is have some editorial guidelines – what do you write about, when and why. Make sure you’re clear on that, because it really does create a conflict of interest when you can write content that makes money for you. Yes, you can justify that it adds value to your readers, but is it really a fit? You need to know what your guidelines are, and you also have to be clear on the disclosure. A site-wide disclosure is actually not good enough. You need to be disclosing in any blog post where you have a conflict of interest and a material investment— you’re making money if people take an action you’re encouraging them to make. You have to make a note of that in your blog post. I don’t really make a big deal. I just put at the bottom something to the effect of, “This blog post contains referral links that might generate a commission for pocketyourdollars at no cost to you. Please see my disclosure policy for more details.” I’m very upfront with that. But the editorial guidelines are what will help you as a blogger because you’ll be able to monetize without losing your voice. Without people challenging you saying “You’re in this for the money.” You say, “No way!” These are my guidelines— if it fits and I could make money, great. If it doesn’t fit and I can’t make money, then I’m not doing it.

Philip Taylor: Okay, I like that you keep your integrity as well. I mostly do bank-brokers and credit cards. I don’t do a lot of deals that are sort of quickly expiring like this. It seems like a lot of management, because I just have a small inventory of affiliate links on my site and it’s easy for us as a team to sort of keep track of that and update them when they need to be keeping a small inventory. Twenty pages max on our site to have affiliate links that we would need to manage. But it seems like your side has a volume of deals available. You’re constantly updating your ten deals a day list sometimes. So how do you curate all of those offers coming down the pipe, and then how do you manage it on the backend and make sure you shut off the blog post that had the deal that already expired.

Carrie Rocha: Let me start with the expiring thing and say I don’t do the best job in the world at swapping out all the links all the time because they’re just so many So many. But one thing that I did and it was one of these custom things that I had built is sometimes there’s an offer that I know. Today’s Valentine’s Day. There are some things that are only good on Valentine’s Day, so I built into my system so I can set an expiration date in time, and it automatically gets noted as expired. So when you look at my archive, you’ll see some posts are greyed out a bit— they’re only about 30 percent colored, and they’re prepended and it says expired, and so we use that as our primary way of informing the audience ‘this is done’. We also have the ability to checkbox and have something get noted as being out of stock and something similar happens. We are big on that, and I invest money on a weekly basis. I pay people to keep some of my content current because I feel like you’ll lose your audience if they feel like you still have to swim through things. So we have to manually do some of that and I pay people and we have processes that we use. And then curating it, just like anything, we’re humans, we’re not doing this on a data feed basis. We’re reading lots of content on the web, we’re reading all the emails we get from all the merchants and we’re out shopping on these websites. Wow, they’ve got a deal or a sale, let’s go find some specific products that are quality products already on sale, combine this deal and write a blot post. Very labour intensive, but I can feel good about it at the end of the day because I can tell people, “This is the value I’m adding, the personal component.” And I’ve been able to make the economics work. We can run this as a business and I can pay people to help do this and we can make a living doing this.

Philip Taylor: Well, I’m so happy for you, it’s a great success story. Thank you so much for sharing what you have today. If you’re a follower of the blog, we’ll also be releasing a talk on the market where she does a deep dive into some of these topics. And Carrie, thank you so much for being on. Is there anything that I forgot to ask or anything that you want to talk about, maybe share your book with folks?

Carrie Rocha: Just one thing. I wrote this book last year. It just came out in January and here’s one thing I’ve learned about books, because bloggers would say, “How do you get a book?” What the book publishers care about is your audience. If you have a large enough reach, a publisher will work with you to find a topic to write a book about. That might sound kind of crass because you might feel like, “But I have a burning passion and this needs to be said.” Yeah, that’s not really how they look at it so much. You can have a great message, but what they want is for you to have a platform that you can sell books to. So know that, and if you have a desire to write a book, you need to build a large platform and have influence and context that can help to sell books or you’re not going to get a book deal.

Philip Taylor: Excellent advice. Congrats on the book and all the success of the site. I look forward to seeing you soon.

Carrie Rocha: Yeah, in St. Louis if not sooner.

Philip Taylor: Alright, thanks Carrie.

Carrie Rocha: Bye.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Taylor

Philip Taylor