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.


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