All posts by Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez shares money tips and reviews on My Financial Reviews.

Chatting with Philip from Wise Bread

One of my goals for My Financial Reviews is to highlight personal finance blogs and sites that I think can help you with your finances. This week I had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing Philip Brewer from Wise Bread.

Who is your target audience when you’re writing on Wise Bread?phillip brewer wisebread

One reason that I started blogging at Wise Bread in the first place, and a big part of the reason that I haven’t tried to start any other money-earning blog, is that the natural audience for Wise Bread is so close to the target audience that I have in mind when I write:  People who are interested in living the good life through means other than buying more stuff–people who want to have the best, but who accept the notion that you can be happy having “the best” of only a few things, as long as they’re the right things.

My audience isn’t the only audience at Wise Bread.  For example, there are a lot of people who come for the “deal” posts–ways to get free or cheap stuff, strategies for handling coupons, etc.  I don’t tend to write such things, so it’s really good that some of my fellow Wise Bread writers do, because broadens our audience.

I guess, from my perspective, I’m not so much writing for a specific audience as I am writing about things that I care deeply about–and then hoping that people who are interested will find them.

(One big side-benefit of writing a blog is that I’m much less tempted to button-hole my friends and neighbors and tell them about my most recent economic worries or ask them whether they really get enough benefit from that second car to justify the expense.  I just write about it in my blog and figure that my readers are there because they’ve found themselves interested in what I write.)

What do you hope to accomplish in the next year with your Wise Bread column?

Interesting question.  So far, I’ve never really had a plan that went much beyond the post I’ve been working on.  (A few times the post I was working on seemed to expand beyond the bonds of an individual post and I broke it up into 2 or 4 posts, but that’s not really the same as a plan.)

I guess at the moment I’d have to say that I expect I’ll do much the same as I’ve been doing.  But, now that you’ve planted the idea in my head, I realize that I ought to do some planning!

How long have you been blogging?

I started keeping an on-line journal in early 2001.  I was hoping to attend Clarion, the science fiction and fantasy writers workshop, and I kept a journal where I wrote about my experiences:  Preparing the application, getting accepted, attending the workshop, and returning home to polish my stories and try to sell some.  This was in the days before blogging software.  I hand-coded my own pages in html and wrote my own php code to create forward and backward links from one page to the next.  The posts are still on-line.

I started blogging with actual blogging software in 2003 when I created an Esperanto-language blog to write about my activities in the Esperanto community.  I’ve upgraded that blog a time or two, but all the old posts are available (if you can read Esperanto).

My Wise Bread blog was the first one that included any effort at monetization.  I started writing there in June of 2007, right after I got word that my then-employer was closing the site where I worked.

What’s your blogging and fiction writing schedule?

I naturally tend to wake up around dawn.  (This didn’t work very well when I had to go to a regular job–I was up much earlier than necessary in the summer, while in the winter I would be late every day unless I dragged myself out of bed long before I was ready to.)

I like to sit down at the computer right after breakfast and work on fiction until I’ve written a solid chunk of whatever I’m working on, typically until time for an early lunch.  I’ll often use the early afternoon to work on a post for Wise Bread, although I’m flexible–if the fiction writing is going very well, I’ll stick to that for a while longer.

I use the late afternoon to work on writing-related tasks–preparing manuscripts for submission to magazines, doing research for blog posts, etc.  I generally take evenings off from work.  On weekends I usually try to fit in a bit of game playing with my brother, but otherwise I tend to treat the weekends much like any other days.

I do take advantage of having a very flexible schedule.  To be honest, what I really do is whatever I feel like; it’s just that I very often feel like writing.

When the fiction writing is going well, I try to make a habit of not checking email or blog comments during the morning, but it’s sometimes hard to resist.  And when the fiction writing isn’t going well, I tend to spend a lot more time than I ought to on non-writing tasks–although this does usually entail more time spent reading and responding to reader comments, so it’s not all bad.

Do you batch write your posts or do you work more on the fly?

I just about don’t write ahead at all.  I have a folder of partially-written posts that didn’t quite gel, that I sometimes take a second stab at (or steal ideas from).  And, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes a post will grow large enough that I’ll decide to split it up into pieces.  The best example of that was a long post on “getting by without a job” that I ended up posting as a series of 4 posts.  (Here’s a link to the first post in that series )

Sometimes, though, when I get more than one idea that I’m really excited about, I’ll go ahead and write a series of posts one right after the other.  That’s pretty rare, though.  On a typical day, I have no finished posts that I haven’t already posted.

As a blogger, what do you do that gives you the biggest bang for your buck in bringing in traffic?

The main thing I try to do is produce great content over and over again.  I figure if I do that, the traffic will come.

I do try to pick titles for my posts that will help bring in Google traffic.  That is, when I write a post, I try to put myself in the shoes of people who want to find my post, guess what search terms they would use, and make sure that my title looks a lot like the searches that might bring people to my post.  (Related to that, I also try to use search terms in the title and alt-text of my pictures.  I don’t do particularly well at that, but I see a lot of posts that don’t even try–they have pictures where the title and alt-text are either blank or something meaningless like the filename from the camera.  That’s a terrible waste of opportunities for people to find the post.)

There’s some initial value in titles like “Nine nifty notions for natural nutrition,” but I don’t think they offer continuing value.  You’re much better of with something like “Choosing natural foods” or “Natural foods on a budget” or “Nine tips for nutritious natural foods.”  A title like that is much more likely to bring continuing traffic.

I guess the other thing I do to bring in traffic is try to be a member of the community of frugal and personal-finance bloggers. I read blog posts, and when I see a post where I think I can make a useful comment, I go ahead and write it.

I found early on that there was no point in writing a post that offered a URL and said nothing more than, “You might be interested in this post that I wrote on the same topic.”  No one follows those links.  However, if you write a longer comment, where you expand on (or partially contradict) the original post, and then include a link at the end, you’ll sometimes pick up some traffic.  It may seem like giving away the store, but it works a lot better.  In fact, thoughtful comments that don’t include a link to any particular post seem to work about as well as anything–after seeing an occasional useful comment over a period of days or weeks, people begin to recognize your name.  Eventually they come to check out your blog because they’ve seen that you write stuff that’s interesting to them.  That’s when you have your chance to pick up another regular reader–something a lot more valuable than one or a few reads of a single post.

Thanks again Philip for a wonderful interview! Please subscribe to Wise Bread and chat with Philip on Twitter.

Gaining Insights from Phillip at Weakonomics

One of my goals for My Financial Reviews is to highlight personal finance blogs and sites that I think can help you with your finances. I was fortunate enough to have Phillip from Weakonomics answer a few of my questions on this new project.

What’s your end game goal with your Weakonomics website? weakonomics

Having an end game for Weakonomics would require me to have a goal for it.  Whatever happens will happen.  I’m not opposed to selling it, or I could get too busy and stop writing, or I could make enough money to write full-time.  Weakonomics has the potential to be a financial brand, so the possibilities are endless.

Who is your target audience when you’re writing on your blog?

I’m not after the personal finance newbie.  There are already hundreds of blogs and thousands of resources for those people.  I’m more interested in educating people who aren’t in the “fixing mode” of their financial life.  You don’t have to worry about that next credit card payment, and so you’d rather focus your energy on learning more about the finance side of personal finance.  This is of course a reflection of my own life.  Bloggers that focus on getting out of debt or finding the right portfolio balance are going through those things themselves.  I’m debt free and majored in finance, so at this point in my life those topics are boring.

How long have you been blogging?

I wrote my first posts in late 2007 when I was bored at my current job.  Weblogs Inc was looking for freelancers so I pitched an idea for either a
website or column called “Weakonomics.”  They weren’t interested (and plus my writing was crap).  I sat on the idea for a month or two, then decided to register because I loved the word I’d created.  The blog was up and running sometime around March of 2008.

 What’s your blogging schedule?

Like most brilliant minds, I have an erratic schedule.  My day job comes in cycles of high volume work and down time.  When I have spare time at work I do jot down ideas in an email and send it to myself.  Sometimes I will write on my lunch break as well.  For the most part I put the posts together at night.  I try not to spend more than an hour on my blog every day, but I must admit I do go over.

 Do you batch write your posts or do you work more on the fly?

I can’t batch write.  The closest thing to batch writing is when I make a really long post and decide to break it up into smaller ones.  What normally happens is I start writing something and it leads to another idea.  Before I’m done I’ve got four posts with opening sentences on different subjects.  Over time I’ll finish them one by one.

As a blogger, what do you do that gives you the biggest bang for your   buck in bringing in traffic?

The biggest bang for my buck has been with search traffic.  I write on good topics that entertain my regular readers, but it’s when I answer a question everyone is asking that I get the search traffic.  So when people were pulling money out of investments everyone was asking whether they should too.  I wrote a post on it.  When health care costs were a big debate in the election I wrote posts on the pros and cons of universal health care.  It’s answering questions that everyone asks that stand for as much as 50% of my daily traffic.

What’s your most popular post? Why do you think it has become a hit on   your site?
By far my most popular post has been “The Cons of Universal Health Care“.   It’s over a year old and still gives me search traffic.  I’m working on a follow-up to it, but I keep getting distracted with making lists.  I love reading lists and making them for Weakonomics.  To date my best one is “Six Lessons Star Wars Can Teach Us About Money” .  It looks like a recent post but it’s really just a republishing of the same list I made last fall.  The Star Wars community and Personal Finance community alike love it.

Do you ever see yourself being a full time blogger?

That isn’t my desire.  Blogging doesn’t offer the challenges that finance offers.  I’m on a career path that could really put me in a place to solve some serious puzzles.  For that matter unless I’m able to start cranking out NY Times bestsellers once a year I’d do much better in the income department continuing to work in finance.

But I also know that simply because I feel this way today doesn’t mean I will tomorrow. I want to have a family, spend hours every day with my future wife, and bring my dog to work.  I could do this as a writer full-time, and the only way to do this in finance would be if I started my own company and put the Sheconomist to work on making sure my lack of common sense doesn’t destroy the company.

Thanks again to Philip for a wonderful interview! Please subscribe to Weakonomics and chat with Phillip on Twitter.