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How to Build an Audience of 1.5 Million Readers
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How to Build an Audience of 1.5 Million Readers

Alexis Dubief is the founder and editor of the extremely popular parenting blog Troublesome Tots, where she provides resources to help kids sleep better. She is a blogging savior to young parents all over the world and, starting from scratch, has built an audience of over 1.5 million readers.

Learn more about her story, strategy and monetization plans for 2014.

Can you tell us about your background? Why did you start blogging?

Alexis: Before I had kids, I was a senior product manager at Apple with an MBA and MS Finance. Now I’m a stay-at-home mom. I can say with all humility that the transition from professional to parent was not entirely smooth for me.

I started blogging in 2011 because I felt completely out of touch with technology and social media. I started writing about kids and sleep because it was something I was passionate about. I figured getting my hands dirty with WordPress would help me feel less out of the loop. I never expected anybody to read my little blog and I didn’t start out with any intention to build a serious readership or monetize my content.

As my traffic and readership started to grow, I started taking it more seriously. I have a lot of pride in ownership. If my name is going to be on it, it has to be something I can be proud of. Also, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to my readers because I know what it’s like to feel lost and insecure about being a parent. I know how vulnerable that person is who is awake at 3am looking for answers on the Internet. I try really hard to be a safe and helpful place for those people to land.

I feel a huge sense of responsibility to my readers because I know what it’s like to feel lost and insecure about being a parent.

I get tons of email, hundreds a month. I don’t have time to respond to them all anymore but I read them all. When I’m researching and writing, I’m thinking of those people and how I can help them.

Are there any tools you cannot live without?

Alexis: Truthfully? No.

Evernote is as close to a “must-have” tool that exists in my toolkit. I have a premium PicMonkey account which I enjoy, although Pixlr is a fine, and free, alternative. I like the Mac iLife suite — iMovie, iPhoto, Pages — but I could soldier on without them. I occasionally use Buffer and ever since the demise of iGoogle and Google Reader, I’ve started to enjoy the gentle charms of Feedly.

Recently, I purchased a copy of Freedom, a software tool that locks you out of the Internet for a set amount of time. I’m an Internet diddler and hopeful that this $10 purchase will get me focused on writing. Ask me again in six months and it could well be the case that Freedom is the tool I can’t live without.

It looks like you are using affiliate links. Any tips for making the most of this revenue source?

Alexis: Amazon is a great affiliate program because:

  1. It’s easy to setup,
  2. Everybody shops there and
  3. They sell everything under the sun.

However, given the six to seven percent commission they pay, you need to write about high-value products if you want to generate real revenue. Thus, it’s no surprise that the “serious” Amazon affiliate bloggers focus on expensive products like flat-screen TVs, laptops, and high-end cameras.

I write about babies, and most of the products I cover cost about $12. So while I sell a lot on Amazon each month, each sale nets me about $.50.

I believe the key to success for Amazon affiliate sales is that you are writing about products that are genuinely awesome and helpful to your readers. I don’t recommend anything I wouldn’t personally buy for a friend. I also will openly talk about products that I don’t recommend and back it up with details. You are much more credible if you aren’t just selling but honestly talking about why something is or isn’t useful.

Also, while Amazon offers a suite of plugins and widgets — all of which are quite ugly — to put product carousels all over your site, I think this approach is a mistake. Nobody minds an affiliate link to Amazon in the context of an honest book or product review. Just be wary of crossing the line from information provider to being an “Amazon Storefront.”

Do you have other plans to monetize your content?

Alexis: I’ve steered clear of advertising networks because they don’t pay enough and I don’t like the idea of cluttering my site with ads for products I wouldn’t actually recommend. I’ve heard too many horror stories from other parenting bloggers who were shocked to find “baby coffin” advertisements — and I wish I was kidding — on their site.

Frankly, there isn’t enough money in the world to get me to market baby coffins.

In 2014, I plan to put more effort into developing individual relationships with sponsors, specifically companies with products I can believe in. Obviously, this is a far more time-consuming strategy than banner ads but it’s ultimately one that feels more organic and hopefully will turn out to be worth the additional time and energy.

Additionally, I’m working on a book. In weak moments, I worry that the world doesn’t really need yet another baby sleep book, however, I’m also pretty realistic about the amount of money — or lack thereof — to be made with a book. Although relative to the $.50 I currently make selling other people’s books via Amazon, selling my own seems lucrative in comparison!

Are you willing to share traffic metrics? What do you find drives the most traffic?

Alexis: My site averages about 450,000 pageviews per month and there were 1.5 million unique visitors in 2013, far surpassing my wildest dreams for this blog.

By far my biggest driver of traffic is organic search. Here is my simple and successful approach to SEO:

  1. I focus on some basic keyword research and try to optimize each post for a unique term. This wasn’t always the case and many of my initial posts are all competing with each other for the same keywords. I’m deliberate about developing and optimizing around unique keywords for each post now and it’s paying off.
  2. I have a small but active Google+ following and I’m confident that much of the growth of my search traffic is directly related to my activity on Google+.

My second biggest source of traffic — although it’s a distant second — is Facebook. Pinterest has made its way into the top ten but that’s mostly from other people pinning my content rather than my own activity on Pinterest. I do think a good Pinterest plugin is worthwhile for any blog owner.

In 2014, I want to experiment with guest posting on other blogs, something I’ve never done in the past. We’ll see if that is as valuable as Jon Morrow suggests!

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