Gini Dietrich

The ROI of Blogging: Brand Awareness and Reputation Generate Revenue

By: Gini Dietrich | October 14, 2013 | 

The ROI of Blogging: Brand Awareness and Reputation Generate RevenueBy Gini Dietrich

When we started blogging seven years ago, it was a complete disaster.

There was no such thing as blogs written about blogging. No such thing as FeedBlitz or email subscriptions. No such thing as social share buttons or Livefyre. Nowhere to go for blogging inspiration.

It was just a blank screen, some incomplete thoughts, and a publish button (at least for us it was).

Fast forward four years when we actually put some goals in place for Spin Sucks and it was things such as, “Increase visitors by 36 percent” and “Add one guest blogger every day.” What we were missing, though, was the ROI of blogging, in terms of actually getting clients from all of the work we were doing.

Tom Elgar, the CEO of passle, recently wrote a blog post called “The Unremarked Death of Another Business Blog.” In it, he describes how difficult it is to not only start and maintain a blog, but to grow it and to keep it alive, AND how to show an ROI of blogging.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, producing content, producing engaging content, and producing a variety of content are the biggest challenges for content marketers. But 33 percent also said they have the inability to measure its effectiveness.

What is the ROI of Blogging?

This is where we were stuck in the fall of 2010. We had exceeded the goals – which I’ll today refer to as vanity goals – we set at the beginning of the summer, but we still weren’t making any money from the blog.

We batted around some ideas. Should we sell content? Should we create a subscription-based professional development site? Should we host paid webinars?

The answer to all of those questions was yes and we embarked on trying to generate revenue from each of them.

We created eBooks and sold them for $9.99. We built monthly webinars and charged $50 to attend. We even developed a professional development site called Spin Sucks Pro that cost $50 per month to join.

It all flopped.

Well, not entirely flopped, but we didn’t make enough money to cover the costs to create these things and we certainly will never recoup the costs in building Spin Sucks Pro.

So What Works?

A little more than a year ago, we sat down and looked at the assets we had created and considered the freemium model that exists on the web. We decided charging for content wasn’t the way to go and we began to offer all of that for free.

But now we were back where we were in 2010 and still had no idea how to make money from all of these efforts. We still didn’t have an ROI of blogging.

In January of this year, we decided to stop trying to make money on content and begin to drive new clients from the reputation we had built.

Today, 40 percent of our new business has come directly from Spin Sucks. Which means prospects are finding the blog – either through search engine optimization or word-of-mouth – and like what they read.

It’s fairly easy for us to track that right now because it’s a simple, “How did you learn about us?” when they first approach us. For consumer businesses or organizations with more than 100 or so customers, that gets a little more difficult, but setting up a mechanism to learn how people know about you is the easiest – and most efficient – way to track your blog’s effectiveness (assuming lots say, “I read your blog!”).

It’s true you can’t measure brand awareness and reputation, but if you use your blog to achieve those two goals, the revenue will follow.

P.S. The image is of me blogging on the Champs-Élysées in Paris this past April.

A version of this blog post first appeared on the FeedBlitz blog, who also happens to be a client of ours.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I think to many businesses have a blog because they are supposed to, without real thought as to why.
    You have real goals, one of which is lead development. Since you know what you are wanting to do with the blog you can track ROI.
    Establish the goal then you can determine the return. Like most aspects of marketing, too many businesses start blogging with no clear objectives.

    • ClayMorgan You’re right – lots and lots of organizations start blogs because they think they have to. I won’t pretend that we had it all figured out when we started blogging. It took us four years to figure out the ROI. Most business leaders won’t let you take that long.

      • debdobson62

        ginidietrich ClayMorgan When one of my attorneys comes to me and says they want to start a blog, my first question is why.  For many, they say others have a blog.  Not a compelling reason.  Not every attorney nor every business needs to have a blog.

        • debdobson62 ginidietrich ClayMorgan I agree with Clay too – same goes for social media. Companies join because they think they should, but they don’t establish any goals to determine if they are successful or not.

        • debdobson62 ginidietrich ClayMorgan But, attorneys need to differentiate with a blog. They can teach and deliver authority about issues oriented to their practice area. It’s the best way to also get around strict ethics rules, too. When you are educational about what your services are…

        • debdobson62

          Soulati | Hybrid PR debdobson62 ginidietrich ClayMorgan I completely agree a blog is a great platform to differentiate, teach and develop their thought leadership.  What I find is if they are doing it just because others are than they won’t be committed over the long haul.

        • debdobson62 Soulati | Hybrid PR ginidietrich ClayMorgan Ahh, yes. In that case that would be a problem. Blogging is a long-term strategy; attorneys fail to realize that!

      • ginidietrich ClayMorgan Once you know what you want, consistency is huge, too. It’s the difference between what you’d do for a deep friendship vs. the other thousand people you know on FB.

    • ClayMorgan Exactly.

  • Another honest post G, thank you! As we are discussing the addition of a blog to our site, which metrics to apply does give me pause. Whilst I “know” we need a blog, if I stake too much on it, and we apply the wrong metrics, that could be setting me up to fail.

    • RebeccaTodd Not every organization needs a blog. It’s really great for building a reputation, helping prospects understand how you think, and generating leads. It also helps immensely with SEO, particularly if you don’t already create a lot of content. Ivey creates a lot of content so it might very well just be tweaks is what you already do versus launching something new.

      • ginidietrich RebeccaTodd you have to seriously agree on the purpose for the blog. It doesn’t have to be for sales purposes. You can have it employee focused as a running newsletter. It could just be the brand story. Or you could just fill it with links to your EBay items you are selling.

        • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich RebeccaTodd And set a realistic schedule. Better to agree to and state up front that you’ll be posting one thing a week than to randomly add things here and there. No one is ever going to say it out loud, but we all unconsciously make decisions about the value of connections based on whether they consistently deliver what they say they will.

  • BillDorman

    I started blogging to meet chicks….that worked for awhile and even got some free food and drinks….kind of….but knew that wasn’t sustainable. Then I decided my goal would be to make $1,000,000; get 1,000,000 likes and 1,000,000 followers. Now that I have done that I’m looking for a new challenge……..
    I got into blogging because I thought it was the thing to do in social; I had a blast and met some really great and interesting people. However, because I lacked a particular strategy other than ‘fun’ it was not sustainable. 
    I too could have been more strategic and tried to further build my brand through my blog, but that really sounded boring too me and I know me all too well that if there isn’t a certain amount of fun involved it’s hard to keep my attention too long. 
    See what happens when you get old, fat and lazy; we like to call it walk away power but we all know what it really is, huh? 
    Yes, if you commit to it and have a strategic plan it is an excellent platform to brand yourself or your business; you are living proof as you have done an excellent job. 
    Good post for all the people who hit that wall and wondering what in the heck am I doing in here.

  • Too many organizations get stuck on the vanity metrics and don’t see a clear path to more important metrics like leads and sales, or worse, they’re so focused on generating leads and closing business that they determine the entire exercise a failure before its time.

    • jasonkonopinski I would rather have 10 website visitors and 5 customers than 1000 visitors and 2 customers.

      • Howie Goldfarb jasonkonopinski I would rather have 100,000 visitors and 200,000 customers. Wait. What?

  • I miss those days of blogging and drinking. How you can type after 7 glasses of Champagne I have no idea.
    ROI is easier than you think. It is the analysis and the acceptance of value judgements. The hardest thing to settle on is value. Say you have 5 inputs that all lead to a ‘result’. Often it is easy coming up with costs. Time spent. Cost of something (like paid advertising). Then you get a sale that had some known touch points and usually some unknown (did they also see an ad? Did they talk with someone word of mouth? etc) 
    Although I loathe saying this, with marketing often a lot of value is subjective unless you have a long time frame to test out various inputs of your overall strategy.  You can measure how much blogging costs…but you decide if it has a 15% or a 50% impact based on what you know. And this is what separates managers and businesses. The ones able to make better educated guesses do better in the market place.

    • Howie Goldfarb Companies / brands shouldn’t be afraid to admit value is subjective. SEOs will tell you site traffic is desirable but those who understand the tail will say, who cares about site traffic…you can get half as many visitors and sell twice as much if you are providing real value (to your point below). 
      The actual value of an advocate/prospect/customer lies somewhere between the actions they take (click, visit, buy) and truth is, people rarely enter into a one-off and certainly not into a long term business relationship based on one channel. I do an exercise all the time where I look at the history of a cilent’s experience, and consider the more obvious correlations as well as the unspoken ones.

      • JoeCardillo Howie Goldfarb I just had this very conversation with a client last week because he’s getting pushback on some of the things we’re doing that can’t be translated directly to sales. Since we began working with them, their brand awareness and reputation has gone from non-existent to one of the industry leaders. You can’t measure that directly to sales, but we know the sales guys appreciate not having to explain who they are every time they sit down with a prospect.

  • I wonder what the average is for businesses drawing customers through their blogs. 40% seems like a great percentage! I have a small site I set up myself and a blog I update but look at more as a venue for samples of my work, although I want each post to benefit the readers first and foremost. Honestly, I haven’t acquired clients through the blog but also haven’t made that a goal yet. Yours is a great example of how that can work.
    Btw, where can I get a free image of me blogging in Paris?

    • Word Ninja Um, I think you  have to go to Paris and blog.

  • It’s a great time to be in business, if you don’t have to manage a blog.  With so many high level leaders writing blogs, we have access to all this incredible free content and expertise to help us run our business. If blogging is part of our business strategy, we need to be prepared to work hard, because it is the most front and center example of our work. I love your guest blogging strategy, it is so helpful on many levels (SEO, content, expertise, frequency.)

    • jolynndeal The strategy was to introduce topics where we are not experts. It teaches us, our clients, our competitors, and our peers. If that makes us all better, I’m good with it!

      • ginidietrich jolynndeal Even better!

  • onsci1

    ginidietrich Rieva SpinSucks great , keep up the fab work

  • Samantha Hosenkamp

    Nice post!

  • What ClayMorgan said! 
    Also, the “how did you hear about us” question is perhaps the most important one you can ask – especially for smaller businesses. With just a little bit of effort you can track where your business is coming from. It’s a no-brainer, yet so many businesses don’t do it.

  • Nice. Now that’s what I call blogging!  (referring to the fabulous image) Great post again . You talk about a lot of things that work and a lot that didn’t. You talk about a time seven years ago when tips and tricks and all the fabulous info like this post didn’t exist. But today , when they do exist do you think it is possible to start a blog and have over 10K hits a day and be fully monetized in just 2 months (when you don’t have an established prior media or celebrity presence). I hear stats like that often from several bloggers(mom, food, lifestyle) and having blogged for about 6 months now and not being anywhere close to 10K hits a day, I wonder are those kind of stats are possible in a two month time frame?

    • LSSocialEngage Heck, we don’t get 10,000 hits a day. We’re in a very niche industry. If we got that many, I’d wonder what we’re doing wrong. Keep that in mind…you’re not writing about something the whole world wants.

      • ginidietrich Well that makes complete sense and that is why for me the numbers they quoted with such confidence discounted the credibility of the person(s) I was speaking with. The math just didn’t add up for their niche either. Thanks for the response.

  • sherrilynne

    Gini, traditional mainstream news media is on its knees because it can’t figure out a paid-for model that works, so don’t beat yourself up over a couple of flops. 🙂

  • rdopping

    Funny, just reading CTRL ALT DEL by mitchjoel (shameless connect  ’cause you know who wrote it) and it inspired me to write a post about relationships in a team based context centred around accountability. 
    I think the elusive ROI is all about building relationships. Mitch talks about the direct relationship and the impact of ignoring that idea. he made reference to the long tail of building on relationships over time. 
    How does that impact your potential for business development? You have proven it. Do you really need any more proof?
    If anyone tries to monetize the hours you spend building relationships then let them. I will be over here working on what counts.

    • rdopping I really loved that book. I like how he talks about the changes for your life and your career.

      • rdopping

        ginidietrich Yeah, I am afraid to read the life part……

  • EricPudalov

    ginidietrich Thanks for this post!  When you had done the #FF, I started thinking, I need to blog more, but what about?  And why?  While my personal blog isn’t directly related to what I do for a living, I can certainly start building those sorts of relationships that you’re doing here, and also keeping track of the analytics.  Thank you for the kick in the butt!

    • EricPudalov Now that you’ve written it here, you’re going to be held accountable!

  • BillSmith3

    Great post Gini!

    • BillSmith3 Thank you, sir!

      • BillSmith3

        ginidietrich BillSmith3 My pleasure Gini.

  • Would you count speaking engagements as part of the ROI?
    I would think that the blog has aided in landing those gigs.

    • EricPudalov

      ExtremelyAvg I would say so!  Doing more speaking engagements gets your brand out there, does it not?

      • EricPudalov ExtremelyAvg Yeah…but I don’t include speaking in the 40%. I count that as part of brand awareness, but if I counted it in here, it’d probably be closer to 50% or more.

        • ginidietrich EricPudalov ExtremelyAvg That’s excellent. It sounds like you’ve figured out how to make a blog valuable.

  • Thanks for your honest analogy of your progression with the blog.  We are still trying to find our blog footing, so to speak. We decided to utilize for authority on services we offer, but expanded to allow the common, non-technical person so to speak a insight into what we offer and how it can help them.  That coupled with our touchy-feely, family oriented posts that help our clients or perspective clients get to know us on a personal level as well.

    • sydcon_mktg It’s a very, very smart strategy. People want to know the people inside the organization.

  • awolk1

    Nice piece Gini. Most companies don’t even get as far as you did – they forget that reading a blog is voluntary and wind up producing something that’s so banal no one would want to read it. That, or they forget that the blog is not a place for press releases and other client related news. 
    If you’re actually writing something people want to read, you’re 95% of the way there. Figuring out what metrics to use is the easy part.

    • awolk1 What?! Writing a blog is not a place for releases?! 🙂 You are SO RIGHT. I love it when organizations have figured out how to tell their news in engaging and informational ways. It’s so nice to see you here. Thanks for stopping by!

  • My latest presentation Friday was, What Is Your Future With Content? (now on SlideShare)…and it zeros into year 3 when a rocket takes off with your content via the blog. What many companies and bloggers need to know is the consistency of generating astonishing content is the key to success. That remarkability thing everyone likes to toss around. Finding a niche topic and sticking with it while having a blast at the same time is the recipe for continued success and eventual $$. Or, maybe cents. heh.

    • Soulati | Hybrid PR I was just reading your post about ecommerce and laughed out loud when you said you were going to get rich quick. I love you!

  • HonoureBlack

    Dear Gini Dietrich, 
    I thoroughly enjoyed your article, “The ROI of Blogging: Brand Awareness and Reputation Generate Revenue”
    As a PR student as well as an employee of a small business, I often struggle with my “work” Blog. How do I get people to read it. What do I want to say? Will it generate a conversation? Will anyone notice?
    Before these struggles, however, I had a hard time even convincing my employers to begin a blog. 
    I was asked: Where do we start? What is the purpose of our blog? Are we using it as a marketing strategy, a way to communicate with our customer base, are there some things that we do not want to blog about?
    This resonated with me: “…how difficult it is to not only start and maintain a blog, but to grow it and to keep it alive, AND how to show an ROI of blogging.”I want to know how I can show the ROI of my blogging to my employers. Do I run a incentive contest, one that is often done on twitter, offer a discount or a free item to the first 10 people who comment on the blog? This idea seems to cheapen the blog in a way.Regardless, I think we as a business need to decide if our blog is about reviewing and marketing new product (which would be strategically chosen product, of course). Or if we want our blog to be about “us” as a store, our daily experiences, wine advice and reflections on events, customer stories, etc.In short, do we humanize the blog or make it part of the promotional machine?

    • HonoureBlack You have to first figure out what you’re trying to do. The questions you are asking are the right ones, but now you have to answer them! For instance, the vision of this blog is to change the perception of the PR industry. It’s a huge vision, which may never be accomplished in my lifetime, but everything we write here goes to that vision. 
      Then you have to have goals. In the beginning, the goals may just be to increase readership and subscribers. After all, you can’t generate revenue without those things. Set benchmarks for success and exceed them. Then you’ll be able to make money at it.
      But it’s not a short-term project. It takes years to monetize a blog. Years.

  • Digital_DRK

    Delivering genuine consistent creative engaging content, which in turn helps create  that reputation and eventually gets you some ROI. 
    I would say the  “Social Media Mantle”  deservedly belongs to you!   🙂

    • Digital_DRK Is there an actual mantle that goes along with it? Can I hang it in my office?

      • Digital_DRK

        ginidietrich  Digital_DRK  or perhaps a  FollowFriday needs a  MediaMantleMonday…

  • Hi Gini!
    I came by to look at your author bio and imagine that, I came across this. 🙂
    I know it’s your job to measure things, everything. I wonder though, in hindsight, how much those incremental (failures) steps did to contribute to the customers you’ve acquired or detracted from it. Have you looked at the paper trail to see if there were people who just always bought whatever was offered? Did they become clients of AD?
    I also wonder what role perception plays on these buying decisions. I know it’s easy to ask people where they came from, but it seems like a longer conversation and your measurement skills probably can tell a pretty amazing story. I’d be very curious to know.

    • hackmanj Sure! The paper trail shows a few things…most people either hear about us through word-of-mouth or my speaking. Then they see us mentioned in one of the social networks. Then they come over here and they like what they see. There are probably three or four other places they hear about us and THEN they make a purchase decision. It’s pretty rare the blog, alone, drives the revenue. It’s all integrated, but when asked, and they say, “I read your blog,” I count it in that column.

  • Lara Wellman

    So did you change something in January to make that happen or did you just start looking for different things and stop trying to make money directly from the blog?  
    For us I find out blog is an entry point and then people start following more closely and when they’re ready they jump up to the next level.  It’s not always a fast process, but it’s definitely key.

  • ginidietrich

    Barzhini Thanks, Tonya!

  • I know I’m late to the party on this one but I just wanted to say THANK YOU for being willing to share real examples of what works and what hasn’t. 
    Also, I have actually seen a blog post bring in new business! First time ever (to my knowledge) … Pretty cool.

    • KateFinley It’s pretty nifty when it does that!

  • SpinSucks

    cision Thanks Lisa!! WIll I see you at #contentjam?

    • cision

      SpinSucks You’re welcome! And goodness, that came up on us quickly! I don’t know if I’ll make it :/ SHUCKS!

      • SpinSucks

        cision It did, didn’t it. Hopefully you can make it!!

  • Hoping you are a model that many of us will follow, Gini. I have my own multi-author blog running on the corporate site. We will be “long tail” relative to a lot of content out there, and I hope that we can capitalize on being early, consistent, and competent.
    Great seeing all of the pics at ContentJam. Smack Stacey for me, will ya?

  • bojandordevic

    cision ginidietrich SpinSucks added to instapaper

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