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How To Get Free Shoes, Running Gear, and Blow-up “Love Companions”: A Guide To Running Blogger Nirvana

Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 | 9 Comments

I have a bunch of friends that have started blogging.  A few have asked me how to break into the word of product reviewing.  A few more have asked me how to generate more traffic to their blogs.  While many resources exist, none are dedicated to runners in general or barefoot runners in particular.

These steps will assume you are interested in creating a blog that will allow you to review products or sell advertising space.  If you are writing a blog simply for the sake of sharing your thoughts, most of this advice will be useless.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert on website design, optimizing for search engines, or a trained writer.  My credentials are shaky at best.  I’m just a somewhat lazy dude that happened to pay attention to the things that have made my blog relatively popular over time.  Oh, and I like to help people out… hopefully this information will help you in your aspiring blogger career.

The Fundamentals

1. Your ultimate goal should be to build an audience. Everything else flows from this idea.

2. Understand that the Internet is not a zero-sum game. Cooperation always trumps competition.  There is a tendency to think of others bloggers or website owners as competition.  Get stuck in this mindset and your blog will wither and die.  Your fellow bloggers are your single greatest resource.  Reach out to them.  Help them out when you can.  You will be repaid handsomely.  Traffic on their site equals traffic on your site.

3. The quality of your content will determine the success of your blog. Pick a targeted audience and write for them.  Give people useful information and they will return.

4. Understand that product reviews are marketing. Companies give you stuff because it will increase sales.  As such,there will be some pressure to give a positive review.  I’ll talk about this in detail later.

5. Don’t change your URL. I’ve done it four times… each time I’ve lost about half of my traffic.  I finally learned my lesson- http://barefootrunninguniversity is here to stay.

6. Write at a sixth grade reading level. Luckily, I do this naturally.  The rest of you will have to apply the intellectual brakes. Cut and paste some of your text here: http://www.writingtester.com/tester/grade_level.php

7. This thing takes time. It will start slow and build over time.  At some point, your blog will start to snowball and eventually reach critical mass.  For me, it took about three years of plugging away.  These tips should shorten that time for you.

Okay, that was a random collection of fundamental ideas that will govern our blogging behaviors.  Here are some random bits of advice that will help you create your running blog nirvana:

Frequency of posting: I try to post three times per week.  I’ve found this seems to generate the most traffic.  My ideal schedule is Monday morning, Wednesday morning, and Friday evening.  I often deviate from this based on other happening in my life, but this is my general blueprint.  Any new post will usually get hits for two days before traffic starts to slow down.

Topics of posts: I generally write about four things: product reviews, barefoot/minimalist shoe running tips/news, my own training, or random stuff.  Each one has a specific purpose.

  • Product reviews: These generate the most traffic and allow me to get free stuff.  I try to produce at least one every two weeks.
  • Barefoot/minimalist shoe tips and news: Since I teach about this stuff, it is the bread-and-butter of my blog.  I try to give some bit of advice or report on some news-worthy event once per week.
  • My own training: I like sharing bits of my life on my blog, which includes my own training.  We all go through ups and downs, and I like to talk about that.  I find these posts resonate with my audience.  I try to talk about my own training or races once per week.
  • Random stuff: This includes anything off-topic that may be of interest to my audience.  Sometimes it may be fitness-related, lifestyle, or blog or writing-related.  These posts are my attempt to reach a slightly wider audience without alienating my loyal readers and avoid becoming a one-trick pony.  If I feel the need to go really far off-topic, I usually create another blog.  For example, my family is about to embark on a crazy RV adventure.  i want to write about it, but many of the topics will be completely unrelated to barefoot or minimalist shoe running.  My solution- set up a new blog (http://robillardadventures.com).

All four of these topics will always be written with my audience in mind.  I strive to give them something of value with each post.

Measuring Traffic: Knowing your traffic statistics is necessary if you are interested in increasing your readership.  It will give you a method to assess what is creates traffic and what bombs.  My preferred method of tracking is statcounter.com.  I also use Goggle Analytics on occasion, and refer to alexa.com frequently.  All three of these tools will give you feedback on the health of your blog.

Building an Audience, Part 1: People will go to your site to learn or to be entertained.  Assuming your site provides one or both, how do you get people there in the first place?  The first step is simple- get your blog’s address out there!  Attach it to your email signature.  If you participate in forums, place it in your sig line.  I use an email autoresponder (mostly because I am REALLY bad at returning messages in a timely fashion) which includes my URL.  If you comment on other peoples’ blogs, list your blog in the “website” field.  Warning- don’t include your blog address in the text of the comment itself; it is considered a little to spammy. Finally, list the blog on social networking sites.  I use Facebook and occasionally Twitter.  Feel free to friend or follow me. :-)

Building an Audience, Part 2: Okay, so you are spreading your URL everywhere.  What else can you do?  If you have a post that could be especially good information for your intended audience, consider posting it to an online community.  A huge warning here- there are some prerequisites.  You have to be a known, contributing member of that community.  The post has to be directly related to the theme of the community.  Finally, understand there is a very fine line between providing useful information and spamming.  There are no set rules, just know your fellow community members.  I’ve crossed the line before and genuinely regretted it.

Building an Audience, Part 3: Once your blog starts to get a few followers, you can begin to reach out to other bloggers.  There are two effective methods to generate traffic via others: 1) exchange links, and 2) write guest posts.  In the beginning, I was a link whore.  I linked to anything and everything that offered a reciprocal link.  I had links on my original site for things like the Garden City, Kansas Visitor’s Bureau and the Boise German Shepherd Dog Owners Webring.  That strategy didn’t help much.

Instead, I found it to be more effective to set up a blogroll on your blog.  It lists the latest posts from other blogs via RSS.  Offer to add someone to your blogroll in return for them adding you to theirs.  It’s clean and efficient.  Most importantly, it’s a win-win for both parties.

The second idea is incredibly effective- guest writing.  It works like this:  Person A has a relatively popular blog.  Person B has a relatively unpopular blog.  Person B writes a “guest post” for person A, which will include a link to Person B’s blog.  Again, it is a win-win situation.  Person B gets some traffic from person A’s audience.  Person A gets something different for their audience.

If I find a writer with a new blog, I love giving them the opportunity to write a post on BRU.  It has been a positive experience for me, my audience, and the guest writer.

On that note- I am always looking for new guest writers OR blog owners that are looking for a guest writer.  Drop me an email (barefootchronicles “at” gmail “dot” com) ;-)

Develop Relationships: This is tied to the last idea, but can be extended to anyone on the interwebs.  Over the years, I have developed good relationships with a host of people in and around the barefoot running niche.  I have had the opportunity to meet a ton of really cool people.  Not only has it been incredibly fulfilling personally, it has been beneficial professionally.  Get to know people.

SEO… is it worth the hassle?: Search engine optimization.  There was a time I spent a lot of effort to make my site as Google-friendly as possible.  The results were underwhelming.  I’m not the type of person that wastes a lot of time on ineffective stuff.  I found it was MUCH more effective to spend my time and energy writing great content and connecting with my fellow bloggers.  As long as the search engines index your content, you’ll do fine.

Product Reviews: Ah, the good stuff!  Admit it, this is the reason you read this is the first place.  :-)  Most product reviews work like this:  You contact a business.  The business assesses your site.  If you get sufficient traffic, the business sends you a product to test and review.  After a period of time, you write a review.  Like the guest writing above, it is a win-win situation.  You get free products and traffic from the reviews; they get very cheap advertising.

There are some caveats, however.  First, you may not like the product.  Since they gave you the product, you will feel pressure to give it a positive review.  Okay, that’s really the only caveat.

This is a tricky issue.  Different people seem to take different approaches.  Some will post a negative review.  This will undoubtedly alienate the business.  I did this with one pretty well-known company that shall remain nameless.

Other bloggers will automatically give all products a positive review.  Interestingly, I have never witnessed this in the running community, only other niches.  Still, it is one approach.

I use a filtering approach.  I don’t request to review products I know I will not like. This is the reason I do not review shoes like the Nike Free.  If I do test a product and absolutely hate it, I will send it back to the company with an explanation of why I don’t like it.  You never see these reviews, though I may mention my dislike in various online communities.

Occasionally I will try a product that I know others will like, but I may not care for ti myself.  If this happens, I give exact reasons explaining why I don’t like it and an explanation of why others would like it.

In order for a product to get a glowing review, I REALLY have to love it.  When I do find such product, I do what I can to help the business promote the product.  This is the reason I repeatedly mention some products like the Merrell shoes, Sport Kilt, Ted’s Lunas, and Tim Ferriss’ “The Four Hour Work Week“.

How to Start Reviewing: Businesses want reviews from sites that get traffic.  Traffic is generated by reviews.  How do you develop traffic to get the reviews in the first place?  Simple- review the stuff you already own!  One of my first reviews were the Vibram KSOs I had owned for a few years.  Those first few reviews will generate the necessary traffic to convince businesses to send you products to review.

In the beginning, you will probably have more success seeking out smaller startup-type companies.  They tend to have lower traffic requirement.  I found 100 hits per day to be the critical number.

Once your blog grows to around 500 hits per day, you could probably convince pretty much any company in your niche to send you products to review. This is also the apparent threshold where companies begin contacting you.

When I was first approached, I was shocked!  It was hard to believe they found me.  The euphoria wore off once I started to be contacted by companies completely unrelated to running.  I was actually contacted by a company selling blow-up dolls.  While I am not opposed to people’s sexual practices behind closed doors, I didn’t think my audience would necessarily benefit from that one.  :-)

Looking for a good place to start for a “seeder review”?  I’m always looking for bloggers to review my book.  If you are located in the US and are interested, just drop my an email with your blog’s URL (barefootchronicles “at” gmail “dot” com).

Contacting Companies: Okay, so you have enough traffic to possibly get products to review… who do you contact?

The first option is to contact companies via the contact email or form on their website.  This may or may not be effective depending on the person answering the email.

Second, you can try to find someone in their marketing department.  Try Googling the business name and “marketing” or “pr”.

Third, you could ask someone that has already reviewed the product.  I generally avoid this approach.  The businesses are not always eager to have their information distributed.

Making Money With Your Blog: It is possible to earn a decent income from your blog.  Again, there are many experts that could probably give better advice.  My advice is geared toward the lazy blogger that isn’t interested in spending hours and hours optimizing your income potential.

  • Option 1: Amazon Associates.  This is a great program for the novice blogger.  You sign up, add various links or widgets to your site, and Amazon pays you a portion of the sales if someone buys the product via your link.  I use this quite often for in-text links.  For example, let’s say I wrote a review for Merrell’s new women’s Pace Glove.  The link attached to that shoe is attached to my Associates account.  I make about 6% of the sale price from each sale via that link.  I don’t use this too much, but I do make about $40/month.  The best part- you don’t need big traffic numbers for this to begin earning income.
  • Option #2: Google Adsense.  You can see this on many sites as textual advertising.  It is pretty popular, and some people earn a decent amount of money in the program.  Warning- it is very easy to get booted from the program!  My account was disabled because someone (not me or anyone from my IP address) clicked on my ads a few hundred times over the course of one day.
  • Option #3: Paid advertising.  This is the most lucrative.  Businesses pay you to place some sort of advertisement on your site.  Some people make a hefty sum of money doing this.  The tricky part is determining the price to charge.  The more traffic your site receives, the more money you can charge.  I occasionally use on-site advertising, but do not actively seek it out.

There are a few other viable options to monetize your blog, but these are some of the easier methods.

Conclusion

Well, this is pretty much everything I have that could be of value to novice bloggers.  There are infinite nuances to the art of blogging; it cold easily fill several volumes.  If you are interested in learning more, the interwebs are abound with blog-building advice.  Just start Googling.  Remember the first fundamental: build an audience.  Do that and everything else will fall into place.

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How To Earn Easy Cash

If you are searching for another method to earn cash on your blog or website, consider becoming an affiliate of this site.  Sell The Barefoot Running Book by adding a link… that’s all there is to it.  When someone buys a book through the link, you get a cut of the selling price.  It’s all automated; you just have to insert the code.  Find out details here: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/affiliates/

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9 Comments

  1. Mark
    February 4, 2011

    Great post! I think it’s your passion more than anything else that is the reason for your success.

  2. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    February 3, 2011

    I’ll review your book (I only have the first edition though). Or your sex toys for that matter.

    I’m also an excellent guest poster, if your requested topic involves potty humor.

  3. P. Thrift
    February 3, 2011

    Thanks for a super informative post! I’m a new blogger, and don’t care much for trying to get the free stuff (mainly because I wouldn’t qualify, too slow, too small of a blog, etc)
    but the idea of reviewing what I have purchased and a regular schedule for blogging really makes sense.

  4. shel
    February 3, 2011

    well i suck. i have contacted everybody and their brother for either race sponsorship or gear testing and everyone ignores me. believe me, i don’t do the small caps, poor grammar thing either – i pile on my credentials and act all grown-up, yet humble and pleasant and the door is slammed on me. every. single. time. it’s almost super natural. i have resigned myself to the fact that “someone” out there does not want me to be in the gear reviewing business, nor have any good swag for my race.

  5. shel
    February 3, 2011

    well i sick. i have contacted everybody and their brother for either race sponsorship or gear testing and everyone ignores me. believe me, i don’t do the small caps, poor grammar thing either – i pile on my credentials and act all grown-up, yet humble and pleasant and the door is slammed on me. every. single. time. it’s almost super natural. i have resigned myself to the fact that “someone” out there does not want me to be in the gear reviewing business, nor have any good swag for my race.

  6. briderdt
    February 3, 2011

    Much like when I was working as a trainer in a commercial gym (much to the chagrin of my “competing” co-workers), you are very free with the information you share. I’ve always thought this was good karma, and would come back in positive ways in my life. I’ll be looking closer at these points and applying them… Thanks!

  7. Frances aka "Barefoot Fresca"
    February 3, 2011

    You are a generous barefooted guy. May your own blog cup overflow from extending yourself like this to others.

  8. Kevin Leathers
    February 3, 2011

    Jason
    GREAT post for the rest of us bloggers out there! Thanks for sharing.
    Kevin

  9. Tweets that mention Barefoot Running University » How To Get Free Shoes, Running Gear, and Blow-up “Love Companions”: A Guide To Running Blogger Nirvana -- Topsy.com
    February 3, 2011

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Vanessa Runs, Jason Robillard. Jason Robillard said: RT @barefootjason How To Get Free Shoes, Running Gear, and Blow-up “Love Companions”. http://bit.ly/gY3pyA [...]