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Darren Rowse on the Intersection of Blogging and Digital Commerce
2nd July 2015 • The Digital Entrepreneur • Rainmaker Digital LLC
00:00:00 00:31:17

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We know about the power of content marketing to build audiences, inform what products and services to develop, and ultimately connect the two together. And whether you call it blogging or not, text remains a cornerstone of the online content mix.

Darren Rowse is one of my favorite people. He’s been an inspiration, a business partner, and remains a good friend. At Digital Photography School, he’s built what amounts to a case study in digital commerce and community — and it brings in 7-figures in revenue as well.

Nothing happens overnight, even when it may seem that way. In today’s show, Darren and I discuss the long road and constant evolution that brought us both business success, powered by blogging and digital products and services.

In this 31-minute episode Darren Rowse and I discuss:

  • The state of blogging in 2015
  • The long-term power of evergreen content
  • Why Darren is getting into podcasting
  • How a hobby became a multimillion dollar business
  • The evolution of a digital commerce community
  • How ebooks and online courses drive revenue
  • Smart market research for creating digital products

Listen to The Digital Entrepreneur below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

Darren Rowse on the Intersection of Blogging and Digital Commerce

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Brian Clark: Everyone, welcome to another episode of New Rainmaker. I am your host Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Copyblogger Media.

Today, my extra special co-host, and my revolving co-host chair, is a gentleman who I’m quite fond of. He’s been an inspiration for me in a lot of ways to even begin this crazy journey that began in 2006. He’s a friend. He’s been a business partner. He’s an all-around great guy, Mr. Darren Rowse.

Let’s go ahead and ask. Darren, how is it in the morning over there in Melbourne, because it’s nighttime here in the States?

Darren Rowse: Yeah, Monday morning here, so I thank you for a Sunday night podcast from your side of things. Well, we’re heading into winter. We’re in winter. It’s the school holidays day one today, so it’s gray and noisy here, although I just sent the kids out for an hour.

Brian Clark: I’m actually awake more on Sunday night than Monday morning, so I figured it was not too bad. It is winter in Australia. I just dropped my kids off at summer camp. It’s just completely opposite experience, but more of the same in many ways.

Brian Clark: All right, so you’re up to a lot of stuff, which always makes for a good podcast because we have plenty to talk about. One thing that I want to kick around with you, because it has been, for me, nine and a half years — I can’t believe that — that I started Copyblogger in January of 2006. Some people may get or know, but Copyblogger was a play on, or a complement of another term that had been established fairly recently back in those days. That was ProBlogger, which of course many people know you as ProBlogger. You’re that guy. Wait, did you start in 2005 or before?

Darren Rowse: ProBlogger was September 2004.

Brian Clark: That’s amazing. We’re working on 11 years for you for that site.

Darren Rowse: Yeah, it’s hard to believe. I think I started blogging in 2002, so it’s coming up on 13 years now.

Brian Clark: It’s been all right to you, though, right?

Darren Rowse: Yeah, it’s just changed my life.

Brian Clark: Radically. All of us, right?

Darren Rowse: Radically.

Brian Clark: I’m curious, because it has been a decade or so, what do you call the state of blogging today? When I put the spin on it with Copyblogger, that was basically just saying, “Hey, this is a way to look at it that’s a little different in that you sell products and services instead of advertising.” Now that’s known as content marketing.

The world has changed amazingly from back in the day when we were trying to convince kumbaya bloggers that it was okay to make money, which you took on, head on. Then I came along and said, “Let’s sell stuff.” A few people thought I was evil to say that. Now, you look at today, and it’s not like we live on the same planet. Blogging’s still relevant even though not everyone uses that term I suppose.

The State of Blogging in 2015

Darren Rowse: I guess that’s the main thing that I usually talk about. A lot of people are still doing it, but they may not even call it that or even know they’re doing it. But it’s still central to a lot of businesses today. I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. There’s certainly a whole heap of other things you can be doing with your time now as well. I guess it makes sense to look at it as part of a mix rather than just the only thing you do these days.

Brian Clark: It is odd. As a medium, the Internet was text heavy right from the beginning. That’s what search engines could see. That’s what people could produce. The people that were drawn, as creators or producers as opposed to consumers, were a lot of writers.

Now, obviously, video is huge, just like offline. Audio is huge, which we’ll talk about in just a bit. More people consume content visually or auditorily than we’ve got readers in the world. Yet, it persists. The whole idea of being able to repurpose audio, or even start with text and then go visual with it, that’s been a major theme that I’ve seen really come on strong — the whole idea of making your content really work for you.

The Long-Term Power of Evergreen Content

Darren Rowse: Yeah, for me, I heard Tim Ferriss speak recently. His argument is that long-form evergreen content is still probably the best investment that you can make for a business today in terms of building your platform and growing rates. I think that extends across the different channels, whether it be video, audio, or text. That’s certainly been my story. Long-form evergreen is what I spend 99 percent of my time trying to create.

Brian Clark: That’s what got me here. I remember when I started blogging and broke some of the, not your rules necessarily, but the Scobles and the other old-guard type, Steve Rubel, you know, those guys — 250 words max. Blog every day. It’s your personal opinions — so I wrote 1000-word evergreen educational articles. To me, that was where the value was at. Both of us differentiated and succeeded with that type of content, and it’s still incredibly valuable.

Darren Rowse: It pays off over and over. A lot of the content that I created in 2004 on ProBlogger is still the best-read content on ProBlogger today — 11 years later. It’s forced me to go back and update it. The same on Digital Photography School. To this day, I guarantee you that there’s 10 articles right now that are in the top 20 articles being read on Google Analytics, and they’re old, long-form evergreen content. That two or three hours I put into creating that post 11 years ago is paying off today many times over.

Brian Clark: That’s amazing. I always say that building an audience is an unfair advantage as long as you continue to serve them. You just continue to reap the rewards. The content that you created in the first place to get the audience is bringing you new audience. That may be the truly unfair part, but in a good way — a fantastic way if you’re a long-term thinker, I would suppose.

I do want to talk about Digital Photography School. You know how fond I am of that business. A lot of people know that’s kind of your main gig. A lot of people just know you for ProBlogger. It’s interesting. I do want to touch on that.

Speaking of audio, you’ve stopped your holdout against podcasting. It’s 2015, and Darren says, “Yeah I think it’s ripe now to go ahead and launch a podcast.” Tell us a little bit about that. Why’d you pull the trigger?

Why Darren Is Getting into Podcasting

Darren Rowse: There’s probably two or three reasons that all come together. One, I became a fairly avid podcast listener myself. That all happened because I started to take walks in the afternoons. I was bored on my walks, but I had to start exercising. That was a part of a whole health kick for me. I filled up that time with podcasts. It just dawned on me — like it’s probably dawned on millions of people before me — how effective they are, how personal they are, and how fantastic they are for bringing about change in people.

A lot of the podcasts I’ve listened to have been more health-related. They’ve really inspired and motivated me to make huge changes in my own health journey. As I’m listening to them, I’m thinking, “I could do this.” That’s what I’m all about. I’m all about bringing change in people’s life. What more effective and personal way to do it than to speak one on one, in some ways, to them through auditory? That’s been the big part.

The other part is my first love with communications has always been speaking and presenting. Podcasting is just doing that into a microphone. It gives me an opportunity to exercise those passions for communication that I had only really been able to do two or three times a year when I get to travel and speak at conferences. They’re the big parts. There’s also been a little bit of a nagging from a few friends as well, who all have said, “You know you really should start a podcast. It’s been four years since they’ve taken off.”

Brian Clark: And you’ve got that great accent, Darren. You’ve got to factor that in. I know you take it for granted, but the rest of the world is like, “Wow, he sounds really cool.”

Darren Rowse: I’m not sure about that.

Brian Clark: Oh, no, trust me. That’s what everyone says behind your back. But yeah, it, it is. It’s so personal. You touched on portability and on-demand. The ability to do something else without looking at a screen. This is a personal thing, but I am just over staring at screens. We’ve been doing this for a long time. They talk about the Millennials being digital natives. Some of us, we’re older, but we fit that profile because, for whatever reason, we gravitated toward online.

Audio to me has been somewhat liberating in my quest to keep my phone tucked away somewhere, not looking at it constantly. I love to go for walks and hikes as well. I’m a reader, but I’ve become an audio consumer as well because it just makes so much sense.

Tell us a little bit about the new podcast and where we can find it. We’ll make sure to put a link in the show notes, but let us know what it is and what it’s about.

Darren Rowse: It’s simply called ProBlogger. You can search in iTunes, or I’ve added it to Stitcher and all those other directories. It’s gradually being approved across a lot of those. In many ways, it’s taking a lot of the ideas and content that we’ve got on ProBlogger, the blog, and putting it into more of a discussion format and a presentation as such. It’s kicking off with my 31 Days to Build a Better Blog series, which has been participated in by 30-40,000 people over the years and turned into an ebook. Really taking those challenges every day is a little bit of teaching and little challenge that you can go away and do on your blog.

So it’s daily for the first 31 days, starting Wednesday of this week. By the time this podcast is live, I presume it will be live. After that, I’m not really sure. It’ll at least be weekly after the first month, possibly couple times a week depending on how inspired I am by podcasting. So far, it’s been just amazing. I’ve loved the producing of it. Not so much the editing. I think I might get someone to help me with that. The producing of it and the creation of it has been something that’s just given me heaps of energy.

Brian Clark: Absolutely. I’ve been watching on Twitter, and I went over to iTunes and left a review and all that. It’s cool because your existing audience is excited — even though I think perhaps your crowd is similar to ours in that they’re predominantly readers. They’d like to scan an article and figure out if they want to dive in deeper. Sometimes, those types of people are not a fan of audio because it’s not the right context for them.

Your existing audience is coming along. They’re your base. They’re your catalysts. They get you rolling in iTunes and get you that great start in New and Noteworthy, which is really cool, that you’ll see over the next two months.

But the real cool thing is that you’re going to reach people that may have never heard of you because it is in audio, and that may be their dominant consumption preference. Was that a big part of your decision, or is that more just a nice thing to have?

Darren Rowse: It probably wasn’t a major motivation for me, but it’s certainly something of, in talking to plenty of people who have podcasted before, that’s been their story. I’m interested to see that. In fact, I got an email this morning from someone who fit that category. I wasn’t even meaning to have this launched by today — iTunes put it in so quickly. It took 12 hours to get approved. It got found, and then I thought, “I better share it on Twitter.” It’s already found one new reader, which is amazingly quick for me. That’ll be something I’ll get to measure over the next few days particularly.

Brian Clark: It is fairly fascinating. It’s an audience expansion technique, even if you’re not thinking about it. We preach, again, relying too much on someone else’s property, but iTunes as an audio search engine can be hugely beneficial. Of course, you’ve still got home base, which is point number one of any good blogging strategy. Well, best of wishes with the new show. I know it’s going to be fantastic. The series itself that you’ve been doing for years, it’s 31 days for it?

Darren Rowse: Yeah, 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

Brian Clark: I remember when you first launched that. I thought it was brilliant. It’s become an institution at this point. You do it over and over. There’s always new people coming in, and some people actually want to revisit the whole process.

Darren Rowse: Yeah, a lot of the people who bought the book do it on a monthly or bimonthly basis. It’s about creating habits. In my first episode — great bloggers are action takers — they’re also the actions I take that are normal, small things, so a lot of the 31 things are things that you can build into your daily or weekly rhythm of blogging that can bring a lot of life to what you do.

Brian Clark: Cool. Let’s shift gears just a little bit. I’m correct, I assume, in that Digital Photography School is still the bulk of your business?

Darren Rowse: Yeah, it’s about 10 times bigger than ProBlogger to this day.

Brian Clark: Do you still find people that are somewhat surprised that they don’t realize that ProBlogger’s not the main jewel in the crown?

Darren Rowse: Always, always. Then again, I always come across people who go, “I just discovered ProBlogger, what’s this other thing?” It goes both ways. I get a lot of, “My wife reads Digital Photography School, and I never realized it was the same person.”

Brian Clark: To me, it’s just a great business period. It’s admirable and amazing what you’ve built over there. The thing that gets me about it, the old business opportunity style, Internet marketers, always had the same...

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