When an Australian sports editor, Jacob Arnott, goes on assignment to the London Olympics next month, he'll take his father with him. Jacob will also have to take time off school.
Jacob, whose sports website averages 500 unique visitors a day, is 14.
His sports news and commentary site, The SportingJournal, which he began a year ago, now has about 15 sports writers, aged 13 to 25, who cover a wide range of sports, including football, basketball, cricket, tennis, cycling, swimming and surfing.
Jacob lives in Melbourne, Australia, and as you'd expect, there's plenty of Australian content, but The SportingJournal's focus is international. For example, it has articles on the NBA Finals, football's Euro 2012 tournament and the tennis Madrid Open.
Jacob has been getting useful free publicity in Australia recently because he and another of The SportsJournal's writers, Erin Byrnes, have been assigned press passes to the Media Center at the Olympics.
There's another teenager involved. Jacob has teamed up with the Canadian-based Felice News, a not-for-profit news organization whose founder, Max Jones, is 15. The Felice News reporters are aged 12 to 25.
During the Olympics, Jacob and Erin will work with a team of Felice News reporters to produce an online news web show, Your Olympics.
Jacob (right) has high hopes for next month. He's hoping to attract about 1 to 2 million visitors during the Olympics.
You could call this a success story in the making. While his website is getting useful traffic, so far Jacob is earning “not much”, so at the end of my interview with him I've added a few ideas – things Jacob could experiment with to boost his site's earnings.
I asked him about his site, the challenges he's faced, and his plans.
I assume you must be really keen on sports. What sports do you play?
Yes, I play footy and cricket for school (Carey Grammar). Sport has been a big thing in my life as it is to most people, but sport is something that I enjoy a lot and hope to continue to play and enjoy.
How many hours a week do you usually spend working on your site?
Anywhere between 20 and 40 hours. I am currently super busy with planning for the Olympics which will be a huge launching point for us at The SportingJournal. We're hoping to have a new website design launched for the games, so you could say the games are a big re-launch for us. But I have to remember to fit in school work and social activities along with this which at times is a challenge, but need to make sure I have some down time as well.
Your site looks good. Where did you learn how to create it?
All of the internet. I use WordPress and learned to do this online and taught myself how to do this mostly myself.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced and how did you deal with them?
It's a challenge to get visitors and took a long time, as well as keeping strong and getting our writers to publish regular, high quality content which is a challenge in the sport industry where so much is happening, so quickly.
How long did it take to attract visitors?
Eight months. It took a long time to begin to attract an audience and now we're trying retain our readers as well as growing them, which is a challenge in itself.
What have you done to promote the site?
Social media, social media, social media with some mainstream media publicity on top. Social media is a key thing for us and is how we've attracted most of our writers. But overall the best publicity comes from TV News which has the most audience and you're forcing the viewer to see what you're doing. Remember 90% of the time one interview leads to another, like I was in The Australian newspaper the other day, since then I have had 5 radio interviews and 2 TV appearances.
Could you give a few examples of the sorts of things you do using social media?
A couple of examples … posting on other pages, hash-tagging popular events, for example, #RipCurlPro or #AFLDeesvBlues along with postings on Linkedin, Gumtree and other employment websites.
Has it been difficult persuading people to write for you? What reaction do you get when they learn you're not paying your sports reporters?
People apply because they want to and they have a passion for the sport that they would be writing about. Passion is everything. It's happened before that a website's begun to get sponsors and pay writers, and people aren't doing it for passion, then just produce lots of average content, and don't really care, so for now we don't pay people.
I see you have AdSense ads and other ads. Have you tried selling ad space on your site to businesses or are you publishing ads from a network?
This is something that we're beginning to move into and hopefully will make it our main way of income. AdSense pays really poorly, so I'm looking forward to getting off it.
Have you tried promoting affiliate products?
Do you have plans to generate revenue in other ways?
Cross-promotion and selling content to other organisations.
What plans do you have for the site?
To become the place to go for sport news and opinion in Australia
Have you any idea what you'll doing five years from now?
Not at all. It'll be exciting to see what happens next.
Six ways to monetize a sports news site
By going from zero to 500 unique visitors a day, Jacob has achieved a lot in his first year online. Here are a few ideas he could experiment with to boost his website's revenue.
A major challenge he faces is that his visitors are not arriving in a “buying” mindset. They're arriving with the aim of reading free articles or watching free videos. Unless he adds different content, he'll struggle with trying to divert their attention and with trying to put them in a buying mood. That's tough – especially if you're trying to do it with banner ads, because website visitors are used to ignoring banner ads.
Here are six things he could try…
1. Banner ads. He could join a variety of affiliate programs and experiment to see which products earned the most commissions. For example, he could try banner ads for:
- Sports betting (if his parents approve!)
- Sports tickets
- sports memorabilia/collectibles
- sports books
- sports magazines (such as Sports Illustrated)
- health and fitness books
- fitness clothing
- fitness gear
A quick scan of the sports section at Amazon will give him many more ideas on related products to promote. For example, he could experiment with promoting NBA T-shirts on NBA pages.
However, plonking banner ads on pages is an easy, lazy way to do affiliate marketing. It's usually not very effective. He should be able to do better than that.
2. Enthusiastic reviews. The affiliate's job is to “warm up” visitors so they're already in a ready-to-buy mood when they reach a vendor's site. One way to do this is by writing enthusiastic reviews of handpicked products, preferably ones you love and can be genuinely enthusiastic about.
For example, Jacob or his writers could review sports biographies. SportingJournal visitors obviously like reading about sports, so books about successful sportsmen and women should be an excellent fit. For the same reason, reviews of sports magazines might be worth trying. (Amazon's commissions on book sales are often very small, but Amazon's stats can be very useful because they reveal what OTHER books those customers buy, when they visit Amazon through your affiliate link.)
Jacob would be likely to achieve much better results from affiliate marketing if he did keyword research, aimed for not-too-competitive longtail phrases, created a page for each specific product, and wrote reviews of each one.
Using this approach, he should be able to attract the kind of visitors I love – ones who arrive not merely looking for free information, but arrive in a buying frame of mind.
3. Keyword research. If he does keyword research he'll find that advertisers usually pay more for “buying keywords” – the ones typed into search engines when someone is close to buying. For example, you would expect AdWords advertisers to pay not much for “football”, a bit more for “sports watch” and higher again for a very specific phrase such as “Polar FT4F Heart Rate Monitor Watch”. You would expect another good key phrase to be “buy heart rate monitor watch”.
If he can attract visitors in a buying mood to pages containing buying mood keywords, he'll have a much better chance of making a sale and earning good commissions.
When doing keyword research, ideally you want to find high demand/low competition phrases. If you're looking for free options, places to start are the Google AdWords Keyword Tool and WordTracker's limited free trial. Wordtracker also has a free introductory Keyword Research Guide.
4. Don't be too quick to abandon AdSense. You may be able to boost your AdSense earnings substantially. A nice side benefit of reviewing specific products is that you should see a nice jump in your AdSense earnings from those product review pages. AdWords advertisers pay more per click for specific keywords and so AdSense publishers earn more per click. Affiliate links and AdSense can work well when BOTH are used on a page.
If AdSense isn't working for you, don't drop it. Instead, change your methods. It's usually MUCH easier to earn money from AdSense than any other Internet marketing method because no sale is required. All you have to do is get the click.
5. Redirecting traffic. Sometimes, pages can disappoint. They can fail to get the traffic you'd hoped for. If you target highly competitive, high-paying keyworks it can take years before you succeed in ranking well for those keywords. But you don't have to give up on them. You can DIRECT traffic to your favorite pages.
For example, if traffic isn't arriving at your sports magazine review, you could write a teaser link such as, “Is this the sexiest Sports Illustrated issue yet?” and paste the link on other pages of your site, linking to your review of Sports Illustrated.
Or you might have a link saying “Shocking Tell-All Biography by Joe Sportsman. See our review”, linking to your review.
6. A sports gear store. Another option would be to add a store to The SportingJournal. You can do this the hard way, manually, or you can do it the easy way by using Datafeedr, a WordPress plugin. Datafeedr enables you to quickly create a small or very large store full of, say, sports collectibles, sports gear, health and fitness stuff, etc., with each item handpicked and having an affiliate link. These stores can be made unique in all sorts of ways. A 7-day free trial is available through this link: http://www.datafeedr.com/apn
In a sports store, sports collectibles might be a good choice to experiment with because collectors often become hooked on the products they're collecting, and have a strong desire to add to their collection. That's exactly what you want in a website visitor – someone bursting with a strong desire to buy.
It will be interesting to return to The SportingJournal in another year to check on Jacob's progress.