Q&A: monetizing cosnow

I was recently approached by a local firm doing research on “how expert influencers effectively monetize their online efforts and if there are more effective ways for them to leverage their influence”.

In the name of transparency and openness, I wanted to share with you guys some of my thoughts around why I run cosnow, what I get out of it, how much money I make (not much), etc.

How do you stay on top of industry trends, announcements and new introductions?

I subscribe to a handful of other blogs and mostly get my news via a couple hundred twitter accounts. I could probably stay on top of this “news” more, but our site value is less around ‘news’ and sometimes more about quality reviews, insight, and coverage of events, products, etc. I only have so much free time so I try to focus and find only the more important or interesting things that not everyone else is covering.

I find folks like freeskier and other dedicated magazines do a much better job at covering everything. So I intentionally have to carve out my niche and do just a handful of things well (not a bunch of things ‘good’).

I also intentionally try to take a stance or editorial perspective that may go against what others are saying if I do want to cover a high-profile announcement. I also consciously try to stay away from simply turning into a ‘marketing megaphone’ blog where press releases are regurgitated (though, in earlier years, that drove a ton of traffic) so I safely ignore most that come to my inbox.

How if at all do you monetize Colorado Snow? If so, what method is most effective?

I don’t intentionally. I occasionally am offered a text link placement for a certain amount of money for X months. I’d say I see no more than a couple hundred bucks a year.

I have done some paid (and unpaid) guest posts which buys an après or two, I suppose.

I have explored placing affiliate links on the site but they’re not effective as I don’t want to include them in the posts themselves and lend opportunity for folks to question our intentions (quality content vs. making money).

I also intentionally stay away from display ads as they’re distracting, slow the page load, and lead to a bad user experience. As with the content, I think of our traffic as a narrow, high-quality niche, (as opposed to quantity, get tons of traffic) and, well, advertising is based entirely on pageviews.

I just want people to come and find interesting stuff to read or learn about or think about. Any ‘monetization’ from that is purely icing on the cake.

How often do you receive product from vendors? How often do you post about them as a result?

I see an offer about once or twice a month. I accept about half (only half are good fits in the first place) and then write about 3/4 of them. Usually if there isn’t a good story or reason to talk about the product, then I don’t want to waste reader time on it.

I’m conflicted because there is an opportunity to provide feedback to a company in the form of a negative review, and the ability to provide our thoughts to people searching for the product.

But, I’d rather focus on the positive and spend my limited time on that which I think is worth sharing. That’s not to say every review is glowing, there are always nits and faults and areas to improve which companies seem to value after reading our reviews.

What is your attitude toward promoting products/services on your blog?

I obviously like to promote local (Colorado) companies, resorts, etc. but still get pitched by terrible PR firms and individuals all the time.

So, usually my first test is: are you even remotely Colorado related? Then are you doing something about skiing, snowboarding, or activities related to snow/water? Then, are you even interesting to us, personally?

Those that are actively open and offering opportunities (a resort representative who will sit down and talk about upcoming events, or someone will ask me to give my perspective on driving a specific car in the mountains) are the ones that I’m obviously more willing to lend exposure and thoughts towards.

But, I try to keep an editorial balance and talk about as much as possible going on in the space that I find interesting: events I can’t attend but think others would like (self included), products I’ve seen that look awesome but the company won’t lend a review unit, etc.

I think of Colorado Snow as the site I, myself, would read to keep in touch with whats going on in the state, at resorts, in the winter, what new technology and products are out there, etc. But it’s not designed to be comprehensive, it’s mostly just me and my wife writing, so I remain a bit selective.

(Side note: I’d love to have other writers volunteer their time if they had tried products or services they’ve used (some friends have done this on occasion) to write a review and get some exposure or just have an outlet to share. I think that would build momentum around the site and increase the quality of products/services to be highlighted that much more.)

Do you review products/services you’ve purchased or acquired yourself, or just those offered from companies?

I do both. I have a backlog of restaurants, hotels, bars, skis, poles, and all sorts of experiences to write about. There’s just only so much spare time so I first write about the things that have been provided to me for purposes of evaluation.

Where do you find most of your traffic coming from? How do you think that impacts your monetization?

Most of my traffic comes from search (since the site has been around for over 5 years) and Twitter (since I’ve been on Twitter since the very early days).

So, I try to build a tight community and brand on Twitter, interact there, and get more people to come visit the site. But I don’t think there’s any monetization strategy I’d want to put in place there (it would detract from the community) but it does help with getting exposure, meeting interesting people, and demonstrating ‘expertise’.

People who find me via search likely won’t click on ads (so why monetize?) even though they do help with adding pageviews. So, I just keep focusing on quality and figure that if we publish good information that people are searching for, that will keep attracting quality readers and continue to demonstrate ‘expertise’ (leading to more interesting opportunities, encounters with brands and individuals, etc.).