Scottish entrepreneur Pete Cashmore started writing a blog from his bedroom as a teenager. Now 26, he’s worth £60million according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List, while his site – Mashable – has been valued at an astonishing £200million.
Mashable was originally intended to track the fortune of internet giants such as Facebook, YouTube and Myspace. But now the site itself is hot property, attracting 50million page views a month.
He now has 44 employees in offices in New York and San Francisco and has about 20million unique visitors a month. Mashable has won numerous awards and has been named a must-read site by Fast Company and PC Magazine.
Cashmore himself was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine this year, one of Ad Age’s 2011 influencers and placed a Forbes magazine web celeb 25.
How it started
As a teenager Cashmore was in and out of hospital. Spending much of his time in bed, the internet became his friend. He launched Mashable when he was 19 with the aim of explaining technology to a mainstream audience.
Cashmore initially worked on Mashable alone but the site was soon generating £2,000 a month in advertising revenue. This allowed Cashmore to devote himself to it full-time and also take on another writer.
He told website Entrepreneur.com that the biggest challenge in getting the site off the ground was that he didn’t have connections, as he wasn’t in Silicon Valley.
“But I did have an outsider perspective, and as it turned out that was an advantage because there's a mass market that wants to know what the coolest gadgets are and how to use Facebook, Twitter and other [technology] to get ahead,” he said.
“There's an advantage to having a certain degree of naivety about the challenges and the way things were before, so you can build something in a completely different way.”
Mashable is a private company, 100% owned by Cashmore. Exact figures for how much it brings in via advertising revenue a month or year are hard to come by but CNN’s interest in buying the site suggests it’s raking it in.
How do blogs such as Mashable make money?
It’s all about advertising. The blog has to be good enough attract enough visitors to convince advertisers that buying space on it is worthwhile and the more popular your blog is, the more advertisers will want to get involved and the more they’ll be willing to pay.
Advertisers will generally be companies related to the subject area a blog covers so companies which advertise on Mashable tend to be technology-related.
Companies can buy adverts on Mashable either on a CPM (cost per page viewed) basis or for a week or month. Ads vary in size and location on the page. Week-long sponsorships are also available for Mashable’s syndicated feed (RSS) which has over 580,000 subscribers.
Mashable also connects with its audience offline too and this also offers sponsorship opportunities.
For example, Mashable Connect began last year and is an annual invite-only conference with high-profile key speakers. Other offline Mashable events include the Social Media Day and the Social Good Summit.
It’s also been running the International Open Web Awards since 2007 to recognise the best online communities and services. Voting is done online with the winners announced at an offline awards ceremony. In 2010 the International Web Awards were renamed the Mashable awards.
Could you be next?
If you’re just starting out blogging the key factor in becoming a success will be picking a subject you can write about regularly – the best blogs are updated at least once daily, with the busiest having several new posts a day.
Once you have built up enough readers you can start approaching advertisers who sell products related to your subject area.
For example, if you were writing a blog about hiking, interested advertisers might be shops or websites that sell outdoor clothes and equipment.
Another option is to earn revenue from sponsored links. A sponsored link means the advertiser pays the blogger to publish a post in which there is a link to their website. Most bloggers will make it clear the post is sponsored in order keen everything transparent and maintain the integrity of the blog.
There are also generic advertising services that will scan the words in your blog post and automatically serve adverts – similar to the way search engines provide advertising based on what people type in. These don’t pay that well, but ensure every page on your site has some advertising on it.
There's also affiliate marketing. Here, links in posts or in advertising boxes refer readers to sites selling something. The number of people clicking on links is tracked and the blogger earns a commission on any sales.
For example, it’s relatively simple to become an Amazon affiliate – where you can get up to 10% of the money people spend buying things on Amazon if they click on a link to that product from your site. You can also become an affiliate for holiday sites like Expedia or lastminute.com which could work well for a travel blog.
Again, it’s important to maintain the integrity of your blog by only linking to sites that you would personally endorse.
The best way to do this is to relate the adverts and products closely to the content, but only after you’ve written the article. Write something you think is interesting or important, then think “what would a reader like to do next”, if there’s an obvious link to drop in you are providing something useful for a reader making them more likely to click.
This is the model Martin Lewis used in turning MoneySavingExpert from an email into a multi-million pound business – he was always scrupulous to link to the best products whether he made any commission or not, as well as telling people which links his site got paid for.