Back in the summer of 2011, we had a crazy idea for a group blogging project. The thought was to build a new blog in public, publishing step-by-step exactly what we did for everyone to see. Along with our blog, we wanted to inspire our readers to start blogs of their own and follow along.
The project was a hit. Hundreds of people registered new blogs as part of the group, to have both audience size and revenue tracked in public as part of a friendly competition.
We called this the Million Dollar Blog Project because we aimed to create a million dollars in aggregate revenue for the participating blogs, and because we wanted to build a case study blog of our own that was capable of earning a million dollars.
This month it has been two years since we first announced the project.
Today we’re going to look back on the project and results, and we’ll share an interview with the blogger who built the biggest audience and earned the most revenue of all blogs entered.
Million Dollar Goals
We set our sights on a million dollars in combined revenue for the group, and in the end we made a solid effort.
Participating blogs earned a combined $290,058 in revenue during the two year project. 56 blogs earned $100 or more, and 24 earned $1,000 or more. These blogs currently attract 254,958 monthly visitors.
Keep in mind these are voluntarily reported numbers. Revenue is self-reported on the honor system, and monthly unique visitors are verified stats via the Clicky analytics service.
We’re proud of these accomplishments for all of the bloggers who participated. We didn’t hit the $1 Million goal, but $290k is real money that has made a real difference in peoples’ lives. Congrats to everyone.
One person’s success in particular stood out above all the rest. Let me introduce you to Thomas Frank.
Meet Thomas Frank, Creator of the Most Successful Blog in the Project
Thomas Frank runs College Info Geek, the blog that ended up at the top of the MDBP leaderboard. I reached out to Thomas to find out exactly how the site developed, and how he has been able to build a large audience and solid revenue.
Note: I prepped the interview below with Thomas two days ago and at the time his blog was in first place for both revenue and monthly visitors. A last minute update from Robert Farrington of The College Investor puts his blog in the revenue lead with $69,715. Congrats Robert on your success, I’ll be following up with you to get the full story.
Here’s the full interview with Thomas:
Corbett Barr: Thomas, tell us about College Info Geek. How did you come up with the idea for the site?
Thomas Frank: College Info Geek is a “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em” story. The idea for the blog was actually born out of getting rejected when I applied to write for a different blog.
I discovered HackCollege during my freshman year, and instantly become a fan. Right after spring semester, they advertised that they were looking for writers. Eager for fame/resume fodder/a portfolio, I wrote a big guest article and sent it along with my application. Unfortunately, they could only hire so many of the applicants, and I didn’t make the cut.
Since I had that article already written, I decided that I’d just start my own blog about succeeding in college. And thus CIG was born.
(I later became friends with all the HC guys and have collaborated with them, so there are definitely no hard feelings.)
CB: What was the state of the blog when the Million Dollar Blog Project started? Did you start the blog for the contest?
TF: I started CIG before MDBP, but didn’t see much in the way of results for a long time. I went about a year before I got truly serious and started trying to get traffic; before that, I had a very infrequent (and sporadic) posting schedule.
The main reason for that was me simply not having well-defined goals. In the beginning, I basically just wanted to help other students and build up a writing portfolio to impress recruiters (even though I was an MIS major).
When I joined MDBP, my blog was just starting to get some good traffic (~400 visits/day). I had finally decided to get serious, and was putting in major hours creating content and trying to learn all I could. That’s actually the reason I came across ThinkTraffic in the first place.
You’ve earned some impressive revenue and traffic numbers for the site ($55,952 in total revenue so far, and 51,781 monthly unique visitors). Tell us how the site earns an income for you, and how you got to this point with revenue.
For the most part, I earn money through affiliate marketing. I’ve always been inspired by your “Write Epic Shit” message, so when I wanted to teach students how to build their own website, I went all out and created a huge guide.
Over the past 17 months, lots of students have used that guide, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make money through hosting commissions.
Going forward, I’d like to branch out a bit and create something of my own that bring in revenue. It’ll probably be a book.
Is College Info Geek your full time “job” now?
Yep! Now that I’m out of college and working on it full-time, I’m trying to branch out from just blogging. I started a podcast at the beginning of 2013, which is going really well. I’m also looking to get into public speaking – there are definitely a lot of potential universities out there I could visit.
And how did you grow the audience? How have you gotten to over 50k monthly unique visitors? Any special strategies to share?
There have been a couple catalysts for big growth that have helped:
I had one of my DIY posts featured on LifeHacker, and another post did really well on Reddit about a year later. I was able to partner with a few companies to do giveaways, which brought in lots of subscribers. Other than that, I’ve done pretty much everything, though building relationships with other bloggers and guest posting are probably the most effective “standard” things that I’ve done.
As far as social goes, I’m actually seeing good results with Pinterest. I joined a community board with a lot of other bloggers, and it’s got a pretty big following. I see good traffic on the occasions when my Photoshop derping actually turns out something good-looking. I think replicating Pinterest success really depends on your target market, though.
How did the Million Dollar Blog Project help your progress? What did you learn from participating?
The main benefit was the competition. Once I got near the top, my competitive nature helped me to push myself. Greg Ciotti’s blog Sophiste Funk was really giving me a run for my money for a while, and Expert Enough beat me out for a while on several occasions.
I made sure to use the accountability journal feature as well. I didn’t really ask anyone else to read it or to remind me to write in it, but it was still nice to go back and look at the notes I wrote there from time to time.
Looking back on your success so far, and the challenges you faced, what do you wish you had done differently, or what do you wish you had known when you started?
Two things I would have started doing way earlier: podcasting and building an email list.
I attended Pat Flynn’s podcasting session at BlogWorld during June 2012, and got really pumped to start my own… but then I procrastinated for six months. With the feedback I’ve been getting, I definitely it would have been good to start earlier.
As for the email list, well… that’s what pretty much everyone says. Anyone reading this who doesn’t have an email list should start building one now.
What are your plans for College Info Geek going forward?
I created a sort of “curriculum” list in Evernote a couple months ago – essentially a giant list of topics I want to cover in each of the three focuses I talk about on my Start page (learning hacks, personal branding, and finances). So right now I’m working on fleshing out that content in order to make CIG a go-to resource on each focus.
In addition, I’ll be working on more podcast episodes, trying to get my name out there as a speaker, and eventually writing that book. I’m also making sure to stay busy educating myself now that college is over. My Japanese studies have really ramped up since I graduated.
Thanks so much, Thomas!
What’s Next For Expert Enough?
As I mentioned above, we started a case study blog for this project. The site is called Expert Enough, and you can see step-by-step how we built the blog by following the MDBP posts from the beginning.
Expert Enough has been an interesting project for us. On one hand, we haven’t dedicated enough time to the site to reach our million dollar goal. On the other hand, it has been a fan favorite blog with an audience that keeps growing, despite the lack of attention we’ve given it at times.
To summarize the results from Expert Enough so far, it now attracts over 40,000 unique visitors a month. Since launching the blog in November, 2011, 418,956 people have visited the site.
Here’s what the monthly visitor growth looks like for the site:
There’s clearly an audience here (and a fairly engaged one as well, with over 1,900 comments left on the site). The site just keeps growing and growing.
But the revenue picture hasn’t kept up. Expert Enough has earned a total of $7,899 since launch, completely from affiliate earnings through products mentioned in blog posts or in sidebar ads.
There are much bigger revenue opportunities for Expert Enough. However, we made a decision as an organization to put them on the back burner in favor of projects that made more sense from an overall business standpoint. As Chase likes to say (paraphrasing), every “yes” you commit to impacts the quality of every other “yes” you’ve made.
Both Fizzle and The Fizzle Show have been our biggest priorities, and they’ve been paying off handsomely. In fact, we’re so focused on Fizzle that we recently reorganized the entire business (including Think Traffic) under FizzleCo, Inc. (more on that in upcoming episodes of The Fizzle Show and here at Think Traffic).
So what’s next for Expert Enough?
We’ve considered all options, from refocusing to selling to partnering to letting it simmer, and everything in between. Over the coming months we’re going to be announcing some interesting opportunities for Fizzle members involving Expert Enough. We simply need to get other people involved to help us fulfill the long-term vision and potential of the site, so we’re going to start looking for help inside the halls of Fizzle.
Wrapping Up the MDBP
This is the official end of the Million Dollar Blog Project. It’s been a fantastic experience that led to hundreds of new blogs being launched, and over $290,000 earned by participating blogs.
Projects are fun because they have a start and a finish. We get to learn from what happened and move on to the next thing.
If you participated or followed along over the past two years, thanks for joining in. If you didn’t follow along, you can always refer to the original series to see exactly how Expert Enough was built, and learn from the same process our successful MDBP participants went through.
Help us congratulate Thomas Frank and all the other bloggers who made breakthroughs as part of the project.