Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit? 2012 Update

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[Editor's Note: this is the first in a week-long series of posts at GeneaBloggers entitled Genea-Opportunities - 2012 Update. ]

How and Why I Started Blogging

By now most readers as well as members of GeneaBloggers know my story and how I got started with blogging. I won’t rehash that, but let’s say it started with one blog (Destination: Austin Family) almost six years ago and now I personally author 15 blogs and manage several others for clients. Blogs serve many purposes from recording personal memories, documenting research, memorializing ancestors to marketing a business and more.

Keep in mind that when I say I “author” blogs, some are only updated periodically or not at all.  I keep them because their content may be of value to other researchers. As for active blogs, there are about five or six to which I post regularly and this takes up about six or seven hours of my time each week.

The Current State of Genealogy Blogging

The genealogy blogging world has evolved quite a bit since I started in late 2006, and even in the last six months. Here is what I now know about blogging in the genealogy industry and what I do and don’t do in terms of my blogs [WARNING: opinionated statements ahead!]:

  • Donations: Late last year I decided to place a donation button on my GeneaBloggers site to help with the upkeep of the site. The hosting fees run me about $300 a year and then there are the domain registration fees and the like. I’m happy to report that so far this year, donations have actually covered all my expenses at the GeneaBloggers site. Thank you to everyone who has donated over the past year – it is greatly appreciated! That being said, I see nothing wrong with having a donate button or, for a family-run blog, asking others to chip in.  I was hesitant at first, but now I feel comfortable with the idea. I look at it the same way I do some of my family history research that my cousins and I do together: if one of us orders vital records, we split the cost among us. Many readers actually thanked me for making a donation process available and I’ve not received any negative push back on the concept.
  • Advertising: This is another area where I decided to test the waters and have done so only recently. I don’t mean where I advertise my own offerings which I’ve done in the sidebar at my blogs since the beginning.  I mean accepting paid advertisers.  I was contacted by imediasalesteam (which is now Cox Digital Solutions) and was asked to carry one or more ads on GeneaBloggers. I agreed mainly because I could approve or disapprove of individual advertisers before their content appeared on my site.  So far, most ads have been for Ancestry.com, ASPCA and other entities. Over the course of two months, I’ve earned a little over $30 on that one ad.  Not much, but as my grandmother would say, “Thirty dollars is thirty dollars.” I know I could do more in the area of advertising but I’ve opted not to for several reasons: a) I don’t want my sites looking like a Las Vegas billboard, b) I just don’t want to put much energy into signing up advertisers and c) I think there are more profitable ways for me to spend my time in the genealogy field.  [Note: if anyone is interested in signing up with Cox Digital Solutions, please contact me and I'll put you in touch with my contact there.]
  • Affiliate Advertising: I’ve actually done better with affiliate advertising on my blogs especially over the last year.  (Full disclosure: I carry an ad for the Flip-Pal® mobile scanner on my blogs and websites and I do consulting work for their parent company Couragent, Inc. ) Again, I am a bit passive when it comes to any advertising and I pretty much just “throw it up there” and I let it run on its own.  I earn about $15 on every Flip-Pal sold and 10% on accessories.  I also earn 3% on the sales of other affiliates that I referred to Couragent.  So far for this year, I’ve earned about $300 which is respectable considering I haven’t done periodic posting of coupons etc. I think affiliate advertising is perfectly acceptable for bloggers in the genealogy community and can actually provide a much bigger income stream than I am seeing with the right amount of marketing.  One rule that I follow: I always believe in the product I am advertising and I make sure it is a good fit for my followers in the genealogy community.  I could hawk any number of things on my blogs, but I refuse to do so just to make a little money.  I think all of the advertising I do sets the tone for my site.  Control freak? You betcha!
  • Source Citations: I know I am delving into potentially troubled waters here, but I’ll say what I’ve said before: there is a time and place for source citations in a genealogy blog. Most genealogy blogging is not research writing. Most of my blog posts are genealogy industry news and the like. This doesn’t entitled me to sloppy research even about companies like Ancestry.com or other genealogy vendors. It does mean I try to give proper attribution to story leads and I do try to research a topic as much as possible.For research blogs, I do try to cite my sources.  Here is where I get to reveal my new blog! My Leehive Ancestors is an exercise in organizing and tracking research data, specifically cluster genealogy data.   I cite my sources because I want other researchers to understand the data I am posting.
  • Blogs Come and Go: I add about 10 newly-discovered blogs each week to the list at GeneaBloggers and currently there are about 2,650 listed. Many of these blogs that are brand new won’t be active six months from now. Most bloggers will lose interest and either delete their blog, or more likely, just stop posting. I believe you should never delete a genealogy blog even if you’ve stopped posting to it.  Those posts can still serve as cousin bait and still have value especially when other researchers find them out on Google and the other search engines. What I see here – the “dropping off” effect as I call it – is also seen in the genealogy industry. How many newcomers have ventured into genealogy only to lose interest? I’m not sure I have a ready answer as to “why” – perhaps it is frustration over the process of performing sound genealogical research? Perhaps it is an education issue and there’s a need for more educational offerings? I think if I had the answer as to how to keep the newcomers active in genealogy, I could retire.  Comfortably.
  • Blogging for Others Can Pay Off.  I can and do set up blogs for genealogy vendors and sometimes I actually blog on their behalf. And I get paid for it. Full disclosure (don’t you just love this “true confessions” stuff?): I have helped set up blogs for my Flip-Pal and WikiTree clients and I do publish blog posts on their behalf.So how does this work and how did I get these gigs?  Basically I had proven myself as a someone who could set up and manage several blogs and also post content that was of interest to my niche (genealogy) and do so consistently. And so I saw this ability as a service I could market to vendors and I just approached them. That’s right – just like knocking on a door and sharing the good word about genealogy. Some tips: you do have to be organized, you do need to track your time and work (I use excel) and you do have to be willing to also use social media tools to get the full impact of a blog post.  But there are companies willing to pay you to do this.
  • Blogs are Tools. Plain and Simple. I try to be a realist about most things yet still remain ever the optimist.  I’ve come to realize that as much as I might have an emotional attachment to a blog, especially if it is a place where I share my family history, a blog is just a tool.  It is a piece of online publishing technology where I place words and images in hopes of getting something in return. What do I get? For starters, I get to connect with other genealogists.  I get to connect with family, even shirt tail cousins I’ve never met in person. I get to market my services as a speaker, an education and a researcher. I get interview requests from major media outlets. I get to share my expertise. I get to carve out my specialty, my niche. And sometimes I get to make a little cha-ching from it.  All this from blogging about my passion.

Conclusion

They say you always remember your first blog, and I do. My first blog is my favorite, it is where I feel I can be me without fear. I can write about how I got involved in genealogy, what I want to accomplish, and even the mistakes I’ve made. In that blog I write from the heart and I know a voice of passion for genealogy will come through. It won’t make me a fortune, this I know. Be it will always be my sanctuary and where I can gather my ancestors around me and let me be me.

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various genealogy vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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