Monday, January 17, 2011

Successful Blogging

Bryon Powell is the editor-in-chief of a website known as iRunFar.com. After quitting his job as a Washington D.C. bases attorney, he turned his life to full time trail-running. To read more about Bryon's story, click HERE. His website was morphed into a running website in 2007 and since then has welcomed over 1.5 million hits. I had to talk to Bryon about how his hobby became a full time job, what he contributed to his success and a few other topics that include athlete sponsorships and controversy online. Below is the interviewed I conducted with Bryon on Thursday, January 13, 2011.

For Mud, Mountains Miles and More visit www.irunfar.com 

SJ:
So I wanted to talk to you about your blog only because, from my perspective it looks like your blog is pretty much what you’re doing for work these days.
BP: Yeah, it’s a primary draw on my time. I do some other things like coaching and freelance writing associated with it. So I don’t have a traditional job as it were.

SJ: So what I really wanted to talk to you about was getting some information from you just to share with other people, how you came to doing this for work. Because when I met you in 2006, your blog was more or less a hobby for you like it is for me.
BP: Yeah I mean in 2006, it was just like everybody else’s personal running blog.

SJ: So when you started blogging, why did you start blogging, what was it for you?
BP: I started blogging originally back in 2002 when I started law school. I was in law school, working full time and trying to run so I had pretty much no free time to keep up with my friends and family. So rather then try to send emails off to everybody I sort of created a personal blog. Eventually toward the end of law school, 2006, it started becoming more and more about running and I didn’t want all my non-running friends to have to read about that. So I separated a running blog out and just keep going with it.

Some people read it, a few people read it, mostly close friends but over time it kept growing. Then in 2007 I was out at Wasatch just going from aid station to aid station, just hanging out, waiting to pace later, when I met a woman who was writing a story on ultras for Runners World. We just got to talking, me and Andy Jones-Wilkins and a few others were just talking to her and she eventually got our contact information to follow up with us about training and picking out a first ultra. Eventually we did an interview and in prep for that I came up with some thoughts and it was in that moment that I decided to sort of just change it from a personal blog to being informative. So it was in Late October 2007 that I made the switch of focus.

SJ: There’s a few people out there who think blogging is a way of self promotion. How do you feel about that?
BP: For some people it is. Some people explicitly have made a name for themselves doing the running blogging thing and that’s totally fine. I think there’s some people in trail-running/ultra-running that have a problem with self promotion but our sport has definitely grown not just in size but in prominence and in many different aspects because a couple people self promoted.

Some people don’t like Dean Karnazes because he was and is terribly good at self promotion. He’s a good runner, they discount that, he’s not the best but he’s a very good runner. But they’ve been turned off by his self promotion. I don’t think that’s a problem.

On a lower level I think increasingly sponsored runners are sort of expected to be out there by their sponsors, blogging, not necessarily all the time but if you look around, the vast majority of sponsored trail/ultra runners in the US are blogging. You can call that “self promotion” but I think it really just creates a way for them to be in contact with the community. They would be just as friendly with open communication in person but there’s only so many races a person goes to in a year. So blogging creates extra avenues for access and interaction which ultimately I think is a good thing.

SJ: Do you have any running sponsors?
BP: Not running sponsors, no. I used to, but I kind of got out of that when I started doing freelance writing and doing this website thing, to decrease bias and now, now I continue to do that because I don’t want to be sponsored by company “X” and have so many judgements of me thinking I’m only going to work with the “X” and not being able to work with other companies. And now, not being sponsored, I have good relationships with many companies.

SJ: So in terms of these sponsorships, while we’re on the topic; without getting into the details of who; most of your sponsorships were they product sponsorships?
BP: In the past? They were all just product sponsorships. I was on Team Montrail in 2007 when it was the huge team. I got two or three pairs of shoes a year and some clothing and pro-deals with a couple different companies. And when that got cut massively in 2008 I was on the Wasatch Speed Goat team which was a small amount of free product and some pro deals. So on the running side I was never a paid athlete.

SJ: How often do you think that that occurs, paid athletes in the ultra world?
BP: These Days?
SJ: yeah..
BP: There’s definitely a couple dozen people. For the most part its very low level. $1,000 or less. And I say $1,000 is low level because the people that get that generally it helps people pay entry fees for races for the year and a little bit of travel. Not many people are making more then their race fees for the year, It’s just easier for a company to give a small stipend. Thats basically what it is, they’re given cash. A dozen people might get significantly more then that.

SJ: So back to your blog, so you use Word Press..
BP: yeah..
SJ: Have you always used word press?
BP: No I used blogger from 2006 to the beginning of 2010.
SJ: And how easy was it for you to change over from Blogger to Word Press when you did?
BP: The actual mechanics of the switch are super easy. There is an import tool on Word Press that you can import blogger blogs from. And that was super easy. It was harder to get links to redirect because at the same time I was all ready blogged on irunfar.com and not irunfar.blogspot.com. But in moving from blogger to word press I also switched to irunfar.com with no blog sub domain. The actual switch from Blogger to word press you could do it and be done before dinner. I mean it would import the posts in 15 minutes and then it’s just tweaking stuff.

SJ: And did you find it easy for folks to find you again? I mean obviously since you all ready had the domain name.
BP: Yeah, I set it up so that no one could get lost. All of my subscribers via iss or email was seem less. I use Feedburner, a google tool, to manage my subscription so that was flawless. I put in redirections on my old address blog irunfar.com to the new irunfar.com. So basically I didn’t lose any readers. A couple issues for a day or two where I lost readership for sure but in the grand scheme of things I didn’t lose any regular readers.

SJ: Are you more pleased with the Word Press?
BP: I am, I like it in that, for most people blogger is a perfect tool. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s hard to screw up. There’s so many plug-n play options. But I found that as I was looking to expand and modify the general look and theme of the website it was much harder to do that on blogger. I couldn’t modify it as much as I wanted. Blogger is a very robust community but so is word press with tools and plugins and widgets. I enjoy the freedom to modify the website. You can start a Word Press website and work with it with the same ease as blogger but learning how to write some HTML code has allowed me to work with my website without restrictions that I would have had on Blogger.

SJ: So it seems like it wasn’t that long ago when you hit 100,000 hits. I think maybe it was a year ago.. what is it up to now?
BP: It took me 655 days to reach 100,000 page views. I started the blog as a personal running blog on December 7, 2006 and I hit 100,000 page views on September 21, 2008. I have this information on a little note on my website. So it went from 655 days to 162 days for the 100,000 and it kept going down and right now, this past 31 days I’ve had over 110,000 in the past 31 days. And it’s hard for me to get all time numbers real quickly but from October 2007 to today I’ve had 1.5 Million Page views.

SJ: That’s page views?
BP: Yes, so that’s individual hits on a specific page. The total numbers are probably not that much higher then that. I mean basically, irunfar.com has had 1.6 million views to date.

SJ: So google analytics is just a really neat way for you to keep track of the numbers if you will. So my next question is, how the hell do you go from 100,000 page views in 2008 to 1.5 million.
BP: The short answer is, a lot of hard work.

SJ: What does that hard work consist of?
BP: I think a lot of that hard work is... consistently posting is one. Doesn’t necessarily have to be on a schedule down to the day but if you’re going to post every week, post almost every week. If there are periods where you’re going to be busy you can preschedule posts. I’ve done that on more than one occasion. So I’d say posting regularly, not just regularly in meaning often but I mean frequent so that people can say, “Oh it’s been a week, Sherpa should have a post up.” I see that a lot. People will post 4 times in a week or twice in a week and then not post in a month. I would encourage a lot of people to use RSS in terms for reading blogs because no one misses them. But for those who regularly go to websites, that regular publishing is very important in terms of keeping and captivating that audience.

Publish what you’re passionate about. That’s important in that it’s not only posting frequently an regularly, but doing that over a long period of time. Blog burn-out is easy. If you try to start going in the direction of an informative blog and then burn out on ideas after 3 months, you’re going to stop posting. So, for most people if you like sharing your adventures, just keep doing that. You’re going to be motivated to continue doing that through time. Unless your Anton Krupichka or Jeff Rowes or Scott Jurek you might not be getting 100,000 page views a month based on that but I don’t think most people are going to be shooting for that. They’re just going to use blogging for an interact tool.

For those who want to grow as a blogger or who’s primary goal is Bret the voice and readership, publish informative things. Now thats going to be different things for different people. It’s going to be what you’re able to do and what your skill set is in. My girlfriend Meagan is probably not going to have 100,000 page views but she focuses on writing about adventures and connecting herself with others through adventures in the wilderness. Some people focus on minimalist shoes and barefoot running. Some people like to write about gear. They have a passion for running shoes generally. If you don’t have a passion about the details and technical details of running shoes, then don’t start writing about running shoes. Yeah sure you might have a favorite pair of shoes and you start writing about that but it’s going to be pretty apparent if you start writing about things that you don’t have or aren’t willing to build technical expertise about.

Same thing goes for race coverage. Most people can’t get to many races. So starting to do race coverage on your blog; if you can’t add beyond what those who are going to those races can say then what are you adding to the conversation? That’s actually an important point. Write things you have a passion and maybe some knowledge about but also try to write things maybe you can offer a different take on.

SJ: Did you try at all to be controversial in some of your posts?
BP: No. There have been some controversial posts. I mean, that is a useful tool. Online, controversy gets page views. There are people who have made a name for themselves by being controversial; not necessarily in the running world but more generally. There are people who post controversial stuff that post stuff, opinions about race lotteries and junk like that because those are their feelings. And that comes through and people accept that. It’s all good but just trying to be controversial for the sake of that... I don’t know how much that’s going to be controversial. Especially in the ultra-running community. In a sport that is small and niche and community oriented; making enemies purposely even if you’re not directly attacking a person, you’re going to piss people off. And if you do that continually that’s going to turn people off your website. Why make enemies instead of friends?

One time I wrote an article on people over racing and I used Dean Karnazes as an example. It wasn’t meant to be an attack on Dean at all. It’s just that he’d been racing a lot and after seeing him at a couple races he looked fatigued. I know he’d run well at Vermont that year and always at Western States for years and he was a good runner; he just wasn’t able to do that at that time. It was more my trying to address a situation and provide an example that people thought I was trying to out him but that wasn’t my intent at all.

SJ: So I have to ask where is your blog going as you head to the future, do you have a vision?
BP: I wish I had time to sit down and think about vision. I have to back track and address another point first. You asked about controversial things or do I suggest posting controversial things to get viewers. I don’t. I rarely post stuff with the intent to get viewers. I more post things because I think they will be interesting or useful. So I guess in looking forward I’m going to continue to write about things I enjoy writing about or finding contributors to write about those things. In the future I’ll build out resources for new runners and ultra-running. more how-to content. I haven’t talked much about it publicly but I’m writing a book that’s coming out this spring thats more of a How-To guide to ultra-running. Gear coverage, gear reviews and no other major shifts. I’m not going to fix what ‘aint broke.

SJ: Well I thank you for your time Bryon.
BP: The pleasure is all mind Sherpa. It was great talking with you and good luck this year!