Mark Herro has gone after a niche space – shaving. In this interview, he dives deep into how he monetizes his blog, and how banner ads can be still profitable even today.

Revenue of $6,000/mo

Email list size of 9,000

Founded in 2011

 

Hello! What’s your background, and what is your blog about?

Hi, I’m Mark, AKA “Mantic59” in my niche (I started out back in the days when “handles” or screen names were a lot more popular than they are now. I just kept the name as a “brand”). 

My site, Sharpologist, is all about “what your father didn’t teach you about shaving.” I mainly concentrate on “old school” shaving with a lathering shave soap or cream, shaving brush, and a single blade razor. But the site does wander into other men’s shaving and grooming topics too.

I’ve had the site since 2011 (and before that I had an established channel on Youtube). I took early retirement from my desk job a couple years ago to work on the site full-time. I’m now making a full-time income about equal to my old job and I’m on track to make a 6 figure annual income for the coming year!

What motivated you to get started with the blog?

When I was just running the Youtube channel I had a small “production blog” on Blogspot, where I would focus on how I made the videos. I also started producing some other shaving-related content. But it was not regularly scheduled and almost an afterthought.

Then in 2011 one of my shaving “converts” who also happens to own a large digital media company in the Midwest and suggested making a full-time website about men’s shaving and grooming. I had virtually no background in website design and operation so we partnered and “Sharpologist” was born.

In the beginning, the site was strictly part-time (almost “beer money” part-time) but after a few years the site established itself pretty well and traffic and revenue! It rose to the point to where I could take it full-time.

By 2015 my regular desk job was not fulfilling me (business climate was terrible with a lot of layoffs, reorganizations, and other drama) so I took early retirement to become an entrepreneur.

What is the revenue model for the blog?

The main revenue channels for the blog include banner ads (yes, banner ads!), affiliate sales, and sponsored posts/videos.

I used Adsense initially but the revenue return was minimal. I then tried some other ad networks but quickly discovered that the potential higher return was more than offset by the shenanigans many of the networks permit (drive-by downloads, sketchy content, little/no control of creatives, etc.).

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Now I sell banner advertising directly to advertisers in the niche and also affiliate programs where possible. I control content by using Google’s Doubleclick For Publishers (DFP) advertising server: although there can be a steep learning curve it is very powerful and free to use!

I’m on a number of affiliate programs including Amazon, Share-a-sale, Refersion, and Commission Junction. Amazon used to get the lion’s share of revenue but recent changes to the program have dropped revenue significantly.

Finally, I offer sponsored posts and videos to advertisers in my niche.

My monthly revenue for ‘17 has averaged about $6000. That’s actually lower than the year before, but this year I’ve had several personal challenges that have prevented me from putting the time I know I need to devote into the site.

Those challenges have finally been resolved recently and I’ll be working to get back on track for a six figure revenue for 2018: I plan to add membership options and online courses to the site.

What are some strategies you have used for building up the traffic?

I’ve done a lot of work to analyze where my readers come from. It’s *not* social media: according to a recent survey about half my readers are not active on social media at all. Further, my niche is very fractionalized on social media, particularly Facebook.

Guest posting has been likewise disappointing. Reddit can be very useful but extreme care must be used.

So while I do put some attention into a social media presence, the bulk of my traffic comes from SEO. My email newsletter can bring solid traffic as well.

How have you grown the email list?

I have a 9500 subscriber email list that has been built up over the past number of years. I have a four month(!) onboarding automation with nothing but solid instructional content once per week and almost with no selling at all (just a few relevant affiliate links where they make sense).

After the onboarding time those who have not unsubscribed are “quality” subscribers: solid, reliable, and engaged. I limit my emails to one per week unless there’s a really good reason.

The challenge has been growing the list over the last year or so. New readers have gotten savvy and cynical about joining yet another email list so I only get a few new subs a day, despite good lead magnets and different action items (pop-up’s, slide-in’s, plain-vanilla HTML graphics inline with content, etc). 

How do you write great content that performs well?

I try to find out what my readers want, then give it to them.  Part of my email newsletter onboarding is a survey of reader pain-points. I also keep a fairly close eye on some niche-specific forums for timely, relevant ideas.

The sweet-spot for content length seems to be 1000-1500 words. I don’t do it all myself. I have a small group of (paid) freelancers who pick up my slack and I accept freelance/guest content when it’s good quality.

I try to run draft content through an SEO analyzer (I’ve found webtexttool.com quite useful for this) to make sure it’s search engine-friendly.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome with your blog? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Mostly it’s been finding the time to get everything I want to get done, done. After the personal challenges I’ve had to deal with this year I have started to semi-automate everything I can, particularly social media postings (with apps like Grum, Missinglettr, Zapier, etc). I won’t completely automate since I think it’s important to monitor/engage with social media conversations when necessary.

I pay a little more for a hosted WordPress solution (in my case, Rainmaker Digital, but there are many other options available) that includes things like backups, trojan detection/mitigation, server maintenance, etc).

I also try to have about a month’s worth of content in the editorial queue so I don’t get caught flat-footed by an emergency that takes my time away from the site for a while.

I did have some joker try a negative SEO campaign on me in mid-2016.  It took several months (and a couple consultants) to recover. Luckily, while pageviews dropped, revenue was basically intact. I have since put a number of procedures in place to prevent and mitigate such attacks in the future, including Copyscape, DCMA.com, and some other SEO monitoring apps.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I keep an eye on blogging and SEO resources (Problogger, Copyblogger, Neil Patel, etc.) for the latest trends and new applications that might be helpful.

What’s your advice for bloggers who are just starting out?

Build a solid foundation working part-time over a number of years. The revenue didn’t happen overnight but was built up to the point to where I could go full-time with confidence.

Where can we go to learn more?

Here’s SharpologistTwitter, Facebook and Instagram.