A few days ago, I was able to interview Steven Snell from Vandelay Design. In less than a year, Steven’s blog has become one of the most read blogs in the “blog design and usability” niche. In fact, the Vandelay Design Blog has over 1000 subscribers to its feed, a major milestone.
One of the reasons I picked Steven for an interview is that I believe he’s performing the art of using a business blog to perfection. Unlike so many corporate blogs, that seem to exist just to exist because it’s trendy, Steven’s blog provides useful information, establishes his knowledge and authority, and makes his customers confident in his abilities. Most importantly, it gets him business. I know excellence in execution when I see it…so I present to you an interview with Steven Snell, from Vandelay Design.
1. Tell us a little bit about your design business, how long you’ve been on the web, and the services you provide.
Vandelay Website Design has been in business for about a year. We provide web design, blog customization and website maintenance/updates. The blog has been online online for about 9 months, with the first 3 months being very inactive.
2. I believe that all businesses should use blogs for promoting their business. But so many either don’t, or do a poor job at it. How do you use your blog to promote your business?
Well, first of all, I agree that blogs are a great tool for any business that has the resources to run a blog. The whole purpose for starting the blog for Vandelay Design was to get some additional content on the site that would draw search engine traffic, and ultimately more web design business. There are so many web design companies out there that it’s extremely difficult for a new one to compete well in search engines for popular words and phrases. The blog posts obviously create additional pages on the site that draw some long tail searches. In recent months the blog audience has really grown steadily and the blog itself is now more of an asset then was originally planned. The search traffic is now taking a back seat to additional opportunities that might be possible, like developing new services (such as marketing, consulting, etc.) that could be promoted through the blog. Actually, when I saw the announcement last week that Performancing is offering some new services I thought it was ironic because that is almost exactly what I would like to do at some point.
3. What’s your primary method of monetizing your blog?
Right now the blog creates no revenue except through promoting design services, and also promoting my writing services. I plan to start using a few advertisements in coming months on the blog (not on the rest of the site like the design portfolio).
4. How much time do you spend blogging (and on blogging-related activities) every day?
I would say about 2 hours per day, 7 days a week. Sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between what is blogging-related and what is business-related. That includes time to read other blogs, visit social media sites, check email, and obviously write articles.
5. What are you three favorite blogs (the ones that you visit and read the most)?
That’s a pretty hard question. It changes from time-to-time, but I would have to day Dosh Dosh, Pro Blog Design, and Smashing Magazine. Maki always has very original and useful articles for any online marketer. Michael (Pro Blog Design) has articles that are insightful and informational for blog designers, WordPress in particular. Smashing Magazine is the type of blog that I would like to run sometime in the future. It’s focused on a strong niche and recognized as a leader in the industry.
6. Are there any challenges that are specific to blogging in your niche?
One of the challenges is that it is pretty saturated. Sometimes it’s difficult to be original, and it’s almost always difficult to write about a topic in a way that hasn’t been done before. At the same time there are so many potential blog readers in the target market that getting traffic is easier than in smaller niches, so I think it works both ways.
7. On a scale of 1-10 where 10 is “most important” – how important do you consider visitor statistics to be, and what are some ways that you use your stats to improve the performance of your blog?
I would say 7. Statistics obviously don’t make a blog successful on their own, but I’m kind of a statistics guy, so I like to analyze and learn from the past. Specifically, I use stats to see what topics create the most interest. If I am going to develop a post specifically to target social media users I’m going to focus on some aspect of design rather than something about marketing, SEO, or blogging. Over the past few months I’ve seen repeatedly that design articles produce the best results for me when I want/need big traffic. Readers like the other topics too, but they just don’t do as well with social media for me. I think I also use stats to improve the blog by setting goals and holding myself accountable. I’m a pretty competitive person, so I set specific goals for traffic and I go after it. I know that ultimately stats won’t get me to where I want to be, but if they can help me to improve my blog through motivation, that’s a big step.
8. If there was one niche besides design that you could successfully blog in, what would it be?
I would love to write about sports, specifically football. It’s on my list of things to do once I can achieve my goals with my current projects. Actually, if I answered #5 truthfully, rather than listing blogs that are relevant to the topic of my blog I would have said that my favorite is the University of Miami athletics blog from the Sun Sentinel.
10. Has Performancing helped you? In what ways? Is there anything we could do better?
Performancing has helped me by providing some of the best articles about blogging. I’m only 6 – 9 months into be a blogger, so I’m learning every day. One of the things I really like about Performancing is that readers get several perspectives from different writers. The collective knowledge of the staff is far greater than any one individual. I haven’t really given much thought to what you could do better. I know you guys have great networks, so maybe some type of improvement to the networking opportunities for readers. I know you have the forums, and honestly I haven’t taken advantage of them and definitely should start. So maybe you don’t need improvement, maybe I need to improve how I use the site.
11. Are you a quantity, quality or “somewhere in between” kind of blogger?
I would say I’m somewhere in between. I post about 4 – 6 times per week, so certainly not at the quantity of some bloggers who crank out several posts a day. Quality is definitely crucial, regardless of your niche. I don’t want to take quality so far that I can only produce 1 or 2 posts per week. So far the middle ground has worked pretty well for me.
Thanks for you compliments. I love Pro Blog Design because any time I have something that I want to do with WordPress I can search your archives, and it’s most likely already been written about.
Great interview Steven. It’s exciting to hear that you’re considering new services. In particular, your posts on social media and optimizing for them are some of the very best around. I’m sure your services would go down really well. 😀
And I was really honoured to hear that Pro Blog Design is one of your favorite blogs!
Nice interview. Great to see how someone uses their blog to make money without using ads.
Thank you very much for this opportunity. It’s appreciated.
Esp. all the corporate blogging aspects. Thanks!