As my friend Kelvin likes to say, sometimes we’re more suited to offer someone else advice than remember how to use it for ourselves. Occasionally this happens to me, but at least I’m always ready to try something rather than just sit around wishing I had. However, this all starts with a story from some years ago.
Many years ago I read a blog post called Customers Won’t Discount Your Dishonesty, where the author was basically talking about internet tricks a lot of online marketers try. The article specifically mentioned this sneakiness when you’re trying to leave a website, only to have a pop up window stop you with a discounted offer without just letting you go. I didn’t like it then and I’m still not a fan of popups.
I remember when my wife and I first moved into this house and we thought we needed new windows. This guy came to the house and was here for 3 hours, first measuring the windows, then supposedly doing all the calculations he had to do so that he could talk to us further. He then dropped the price on us; $36,000. I actually laughed out loud, which is so unlike me, but it was more than 1/3rd of what we’d paid for the house.
He left, but three days later we got a call offering the same package for $16,000; once again we said no. Then four days later we were offered the same package for $9,000. At that point I told the person that I didn’t want their company calling me anymore because I didn’t trust them.
A couple years later, my wife contacted one of the big home improvement chains and asked someone to come look at our windows. This guy gave us a quote where most of our windows came to $70 each, with the big bay window coming to $1,000 on its own; I could understand that, as it’s a different style. We didn’t go for that one, but we did replace a lot of the other windows, at a very affordable price.
That’s actually worked quite well on my main computer… but it’s done nothing for me as it pertains to my smartphone. And Google was supposed to take care of that for me.
The thing is, it’s much worse having popups on the phone than it was on my computer… for the most part. The problem is that often one of two things happens way too soon. The first is that you’ve just arrived on a page and you’re ready to check out the content when suddenly this long thing pops in from the top, totally obliterating what you were about to read to smack you in the face with a newsletter or product offer. The second is that you actually get to start reading when this popup appears and not only blocks the content but is so big that you can’t even X it out.
It’s in these moments when I think back on my initial windows issue back in 2000 and makes me not want to trust the people whose content I was hoping to read. I spend a lot of time online and on Flipboard looking for content to read and later share with my online audience. I hate having my time wasted because I got sucked in by a blog or article title that looked intriguing, only to get a bait and switch that won’t let me see what I thought I was going to see.
It brings two thoughts into my mind. The first is that the content might not be all that good, which is why the owner is trying to get me to sign up for something without being able to read it first. The second is that now I don’t trust them because it seems they’re more concerned with getting subscribers than is catering to their audience.
Just so you know, even though I hate all popups, I do understand why people use them. Some studies have shown that one can increase their subscribers by as much as 40% by using them. Those same studies have shown that traffic and visits to those sites decreases by about 10% over time. If you’re running a large site or making money from your newsletter that’s probably negligible. If not, why are so many so willing to alienate visitors so early?
I may hate popups, but because I understand why some people use them I’d like to put in a request for using them more responsibly.
First, stop making them so big that we can’t close them out on our smartphones. All you have to do is check your own site on your phone to see if it’s bothering people.
Second, stop adding things that have nothing to do with your site as a popup. I have no idea how this happens, but sometimes I’m either getting affiliate program popups or that weird window talking about some type of Facebook survey where I can either win some prize or that I need to take in order to read more of the content. I mean… what the heck?!?!?
Third, stop having popups go live within that stupid 30-second window. If your content is actually good (which means it’s got some meat) then you could set it to go live 60-90 seconds after someone’s been on your site.
I know mobile’s happy with me because I don’t have any popups on any of my sites. I’m not sure that’s translating to more visitors since only 15% of my traffic comes from mobile (more than half of those being Apple phones; I should be nicer to Apple people lol). I’m also not sure if Google’s supposed mobile penalty is actually working against anyone because it seems to still be prevalent based on what I’m seeing.
If you’re a content publisher using popups, have you modified what you’re doing since Google made its proclamation?
I’m going to tell a truth up front; I want to make money off my blogging efforts. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make money, especially if you put a lot of time into it. I may not be blogging 24/7/365 because, after all, I do have a life and responsibilities, but I put enough time into it that it wouldn’t be depressing if I started making money off it (by the way, did you ever notice that little blurb just underneath the commenting policy before you leave a comment? lol).
With that said, I decided long ago that the first thing I wanted to establish with anyone who ever visited any of my websites or blogs or even my videos is that I could be trusted, and that I had ethics that would preclude me from doing anything I didn’t believe in or that gave me the impression that I couldn’t trust the people who might want to work with me. To that end, let’s start with a video:
What Helps You Trust Others https://youtu.be/SIW8wPqCcNA
As you can see, I’m not overly trusting of a lot of people. Of course I trust most of you who comment here (okay, no I don’t lol), but in general I like to make people earn my trust, just as I work at getting people to trust me.
In the early days of this blog, I used to add a product at the end of every blog post. That’s when I used to be with Commission Junction and I was new to affiliate marketing. I was probably familiar with 50% of the items I shared, but I definitely wasn’t familiar with the rest of it.
I was trying to appeal to the people who were coming to the blog, which means that sometimes I had things like shoes, dresses and baby items… none of which I’d ever use. It took me a couple of years to realize that wasn’t the way to go and I stopped doing that, only posting things I actually used or knew about (which is why I link to a lot of books). I also never made any money from any of those things, and I didn’t deserve to (the only thing I ever made money off was that Mailwasher Pro ad over there on the left; I still use that and yeah, you should too. BTW, this isn’t an affiliate link, but a link to the original article I wrote about the product).
Don’t I look ethical?
Over the years I’ve come up with my own ethics as it pertains to affiliate marketing and accepting sponsored posts (which I don’t do on this blog or my main business blog). I used to apply these standards to guest posting on my finance blog when I accepted them and, because so many people didn’t follow through on their agreements, became one of the reasons I stopped accepting them. It was way too much time upfront and on the back end that it just wasn’t worth all the effort anymore.
A phrase I hear all the time these days is “side hustle”, which basically means finding ways to make money off your blog via ads and such. Many of these folk are doing it the right way, but I also know there are folks who are doing things that they really don’t believe in because, to them, it’s all about the money; money trumps everything.
Man… if y’all knew how much money I’ve let slip by me over the years because there were things I just wasn’t going to do you might want to slap me across the face and say “get real”. Hey, if it violates my own ethics or standards I couldn’t live with myself. This isn’t a religious thing either, since I’m a non-believer in anything like that. It’s just my belief that there are way too many people willing to do literally anything for money, and I refuse to be one of those people.
Anyway, that’s me. I’m not going to ask anyone if they believe in being ethical for money or if they’re being ethical in making money because I don’t want to put anyone on blast. Instead, I decided I’m going to share some of my positions regarding my ethics, or “rules” if you will, that help me determine what’s good and not good to do.
1. If you really don’t believe in a product or service, don’t write about it.
It’s rare that I’ve written about products on this blog other than when I’ve talked about books. I did write on that Mailwasher Pro item and since I’m still using it all these years later I think I’ve proven that I really believe in it. The last product review I wrote about was concerning the Fitbit Flex, and I was as detailed as I could be about how I use it.
My friend Pete sometimes writes product reviews on his main blog, but one of the best he ever wrote was when he talked about buying solar panels for his home and all the research he put into it before deciding on who to go with. Check out this post and notice the quality of the information he give about solar panels in general and why he selected the people he did. This is the kind of quality one can give you if they’ve actually used a product or service, and he’s not even making any money off it.
If you want people to trust you, your words will come across better if you’ve actually seen what you recommend personally, rather than many of the researched reviews about products that, if you’re actually paying attention to the articles, you realize folks have never used.
2. If you accept guest or sponsored posts, have a policy and make sure people read it before you work with them.
Some of you know I’m not big on guest posting, and I don’t accept it on any of my blogs unless I ask someone to write one based on their expertise. With that said, I do accept sponsored posts on 3 of my blogs (although only one actually gets requests), but I have one rule that I stick with.
That rule is… people need to use my name in the email. It might sound petty but I’ll tell you why I have it.
I learned that my finance blog is on a lot of lists of sites that accept guest posts. I learned about it 4 or 5 years ago. This meant that, though I have an advertising policy on that blog that most people aren’t even seeing it.
I know this because most of the email I get is something like this:
My name is XXXXXX and I recently found your blog and wanted to reach out on behalf of some of my clients.
Specifically, we are interested in guest posts and sponsored posts. Is this something you offer?
If so, could you please send over more information.
My gripe is that the advertising policy is right on the main page of the blog, with the link just under the About link. It’s nice and bold, very easy to spot. That I’m always asked about guest posting or sponsored posts and what it entails when everything is written in the policy is irksome.
The advertising policy also tells people to write to Mitch at the blog’s email address. I do that because it’s a test. See, I’m big on responding to comments (along with 29 other things as it regards blogging), and if I accept a comment on this blog I’m going to respond to it (because unfortunately we know that some comments won’t pass muster).
Thus, I expect anyone who wants to have a sponsored post on my blog to respond to any comments those articles get. A good test to see if people will pay attention to the rules is to see if they’ve even made an effort to see if there’s an advertising policy (or guest posting policy) on a site before reaching out to the person. If they don’t, it’s easy for me to tell. After all, the rules are in the policy; it’s not like I’ve made it hard to follow.
3. If you accept banner ads, at least check out the advertisers first.
I not only accept banner ads, but I’ll accept sponsored links on posts that are more than 6 months old. That comes with two caveats though. The first is that the link has to have something to do with the article. The second is that I get to check out all links before I approve them.
I check out all links and websites. There are topics I won’t accept, so if they have blogs I check those out as well just to make sure we’re on the same page. If I’m going to link to it I want to make sure it’s trustworthy because my name is going to be associated with it. We also know the Big G is always looking at everything we do online, and even though I won’t go out of my way to please them or any other search engine, it’s stupid to intentionally antagonize anyone right?
4. Have established policies or procedures that you want others to follow and that you yourself follow.
I shared my advertising policy for my finance blog above. I haven’t added it to either of the other blogs that I would accept advertising for because I’ve yet to be asked. I have comment policies on 4 of my blogs where they’re easily seen (if not always paid attention to) just above the comment area.
I also have a way to show people when I’m linking to an affiliate product (a light blue line under the link) and this year I’ve started adding a disclaimer at the end of any article that has a link in it (I used to put a note pretty much anywhere in the post). That’s actually requested by search engines, although I’m not sure how they’d know there was a notice or not.
5. Let people know whether or not you’re providing the service
You might be trying to make money by providing services instead of products. In that case, I’m going to assume that you’re including it in your articles when you write on certain subjects or in your About page.
However, I’ve also known people who say they’re providing services, then turn around and give it to someone else to do. If you have employees that’s fair, but if you’re giving it to someone you don’t know via Fiverr or some other service, that’s disingenuous and sneaky, especially if you’re not telling people that’s what you’re going to do.
I see that often with people who contract with someone to provide articles, then pass it off to someone else and pay them way less than what they’ll be getting. That’s when quality starts to fall, and you’re going to be the one who takes the blame and gets the criticism.
Your ethics don’t have to be my ethics when it comes to making money. All I’m suggesting is that you think about your ethics when you’re ready to start trying to make money online. In person people are pretty forgiving; online, not so much. Be honest and real; that’s all I’m asking for.
A week and a half ago I bought a new mattress. It only took me 20 years to do so, and 20 years to realize how mattress technology has changed. Let me share the little video I did about it with you:
Kind of cool, right? For those who didn’t watch the video first, the company I bought this mattress from, Raymour and Flanigan, is the same one I bought my other mattress from along with the cool looking headboard. As a matter of fact, my previous dining room table, which is hidden somewhere in the basement, was also purchased from the same company; I’m saying it that way because the location of the main store has moved to a new and much larger location. In this area, this furniture store is one of the big names in town and because I’d purchased other things for them I trusted them much easier than I trusted a couple of the other stores I visited.
Also, because you might not have looked at the video (go ahead, look at it to see how neat it is lol), you may not know that I purchased a Beautyrest, which is a top brand name and one of the top ranked mattress companies in the country. I’d also heard of them so that also made it stand out in my mind and helped encourage me to buy it. Of course it didn’t hurt that it was on sale, and they threw in new box springs and added free delivery and they took the other mattress and bed springs away for free also; win! 🙂
The thing is, this isn’t where I started my research for mattresses. It started online, mainly because of my wife, who’d had some mattresses recommended to her. All of them were off-brands, and some of them were mail order only. Even with research I couldn’t imagine ordering a mattress that I couldn’t test first.
There were a couple other stores we checked out before I went to this store because one was closer and one we happened to walk by in our large city mall and decided to check out. I’d actually tested what I considered a perfect mattress, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on a $5,750 mattress! Maybe when I hit the lottery I’ll consider it. lol In any case, I didn’t know those stores all that well, so even if I’d found something I liked I probably would still have hesitated.
Let’s face it; we love what we love and buy what we know. I’m pretty loyal to foods and desserts that I’ve loved since I was a child. I still buy Tide because Mom bought Tide. I buy Ragu because it’s the first spaghetti sauce I liked. I’m a loyal Hershey’s chocolate fan, Miracle Whip fanatic and Velveeta lover because they’re foods I trust and the company’s behind them are brands I trust. It would take a lot for me to even think about trying something else, let alone switching permanently. That’s what branding does to and for us; it simplifies our life and makes us consumers for life.
This is one of the things most of us who blog or are self employed are working to be for someone else. I find it’s not all that easy to do, although I know it can be done. I know this because I can name names, although I’m not going to do it right now (I’ve done that before).
There are people making pretty good money online because they’ve been able to brand themselves well; I’m certainly not going to hate on them. I don’t want to be against them; I want to be in the place they’re in. I’m working on being seen as an authority in multiple areas, and I’m working on being more influential in those same areas. I don’t need thousands of people, but I’m definitely shooting for those 100 true fans to help me realize my long term goals.
I know what will work if I only want more traffic, but that takes a lot of time and effort and isn’t the best way to reach your target market. I know many people say success is in the numbers; that’s turning out not to be true anymore, especially for a lot of people on YouTube lately.
For once I’m not giving advice in one of these posts. Instead, I’m looking for a conversation to see what some of you think is the best way to build yourself as a brand. I know I’m not convinced in guest posting, email lists, Adwords or Facebook marketing. I’ve actually done all of those things and, because of stupid Google Panda I got smacked down like a lot of other people over the years. Who knows; maybe I did it wrong, so I’d be interested in hearing what y’all have to say.