My Experience With Pinterest

I choose to spend most of my social networking time on Facebook and Instagram, less so on Twitter, and practically never on Pinterest.

However, I do “pin” on Pinterest. I do this with the hope that it will drive some traffic to my sites.

Pinterest is a very visual site, so I post photos of trains and grain elevators, hoping that people will click through to visit my site and maybe stay there a while.

How’s that working out?

Let’s look at the two main sites I’m pinning for – traingeek.ca and grainelevators.ca.

Traingeek.ca

Google is the source of 2/3 of the traffic for traingeek.ca, which isn’t a surprise to me. I’ve established the site as a good authority on Canadian trains and I get a lot of random visitors searching for information on railways in Canada.

That Pinterest traffic, though – 0.3%! I’m surprised at how low it is.

Grainelevators.ca

For Grain Elevators of Canada, Pinterest brought 0.4% of all traffic to my site.

Insignificant.

Conclusions

Currently Pinterest brings a relatively insignificant amount of traffic to my sites.

Based on that, I don’t think it is worth investing my time in trying to grow it. Even if I spent the time to double the referral traffic from Pinterest, it still wouldn’t be significant. My time is better spent improving SEO.

I think the topics that my sites cover (grain elevators and trains) isn’t really well suited for Pinterest. Do-it-yourself sites, recipe sites, home decor sites – those are a better match for Pinterest.

Building on Rented Land

Would you build a house on land you don’t own?

It can be done – it’s called a ground lease – but it’s generally not a good idea. You pay rent, you probably have restrictions on what you can build on the land, and at worst you could lose your building when your lease expires.

So why do people build their online businesses on social networks?

There are several reasons why, but I’m going to encourage you to have your own web site as your “home base” and use social networks only to drive traffic to your own web site.

First, the reasons why people start with social networking.

It’s Free!

The simplest reason why people build their online businesses on social networks is because it’s “free”. On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and other networks, you can create an account, even a business account, at no cost.

That’s seductive. You can get your business going at almost zero cost, setting up a Facebook page with your contact information and circulating it amongst friends and family, and then wait for the traffic to roll on.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t show up. Why?

My Customers Are There!

People host their businesses on social networks because their customers are on the same social networks.

Social networks like Facebook want you to pay for advertising. Their algorithms don’t encourage people to visit your page. Many people have noticed that they have thousands of people who “liked” their page, but each post only gets seen by a very small percentage of those people.

You can pay for advertising to boost posts or to run ads to drive people to your page – and these can be effective – but it costs money. The worst part is that you have to keep paying, because it doesn’t have a lasting effect.

There’s no free lunch.

Algorithms Can Change

Social networks can change their algorithms at any time, without warning. This can completely change how well your page is seen by prospective clients.

Facebook changes its algorithms frequently. It used to be that pages did well in searches, but those days are gone. People have moved to groups, which seem to do well at the moment, but those could be de-emphasized by Facebook at any time.

Instagram is emphasizing stories over posts these days. People have taken to including their posts in their stories in an attempt to get them seen, but I imagine the click through rate is pretty poor.

Basically, if it isn’t in your potential customers’ feeds, it won’t be seen, no matter how good your content is.

Bye Bye

Social networks can shut you down at any time, for any reason. This has happened on YouTube many times, on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. It can happen with little or no notice.

They own the site and they set the rules.

So what can you do?

Build an Email List

You should consider building an email list. That way, you control when you reach out to your subscribers and you don’t have to limit what you write. See 7 Reasons Why You Need a Mailing List if you still need convincing.

Your subscribers may not read your email, but at least you have a shot at getting it in front of them. It’s still up to you to create compelling, useful content that people want to read.

There are plenty of email providers out there. I’ve used MailChimp for years but there are many others, including ConvertKit and AWeber.

Host Your Own Site

You should host your own web site. At a minimum, you should have your contact information and a few pages showing your valuable work and why people should engage with you. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a simple WordPress site won’t cost you much to set up and will establish a home base that you own.

I’ve used Pair.com since 2001 to host my web sites. They are rock solid and dependable. They aren’t the absolute cheapest, but like many things in life, you get what you pay for. If you choose to use them, use my referral code pairref-XPua3w79 to get 20% off your first bill.

Other host companies include GoDaddy, BlueHost and many others. I have no experience with anyone else besides Pair.

You’ll need to register your own domain name. I use Sibername (affiliate link) for most of my domain names, and they are friendly and inexpensive. There are many others in this space as well.

Get Started

Start building on your own ground. You won’t be sorry.

Any questions? Leave a comment!

Breaking 1000 Hours – Growing my YouTube Channel

I hit a milestone yesterday. Over the past year, people viewed my videos more than 1,000 hours – a new record for me!

YouTube Watch Hours

YouTube Watch Statistics
YouTube Watch Statistics

Traffic has increased! It’s not enough yet to regain my Partner status, but it’s an improvement.

The watch time is 61,798 minutes, or 1,030 hours – much greater than the 790 I started with when I began working toward regaining my Partner status.

YouTube Subscriber Count

YouTube Subscriber Growth

I’m now at 984 subscribers, just 16 short of what’s required to regain Partner status. I have no doubt I will get there. I’ve gained 99 subscribers since I started this effort.

There was a notice on my account – and others, no doubt – about how YouTube was removing spam accounts around December 13-14, and that I might see a decrease in my subscriber count. The good news is that I didn’t see any decrease. I’m glad – that means the people who subscribe to my account are real people!

What’s Next?

More content, more engagement – keep on doing what I’ve been doing.

First Physical Print Sale

The Marquette, MB grain elevator

I’m very proud to say that I made a physical print sale!

I was approached by someone who was interested in a canvas wrap of the grain elevator that used to be in Marquette, Manitoba. That elevator was demolished in September 2013, so it’s not possible to photography it any more!

This is not my first print sale, of course. I have photos for sale at Fine Art America/pixels.com and on Redbubble, and I’ve sold a fair number of prints that way. However, I never know who actually bought the print. For instance, someone bought a mug with this photo on it recently and the only indication I had was a flurry of emails from Redbubble.

I sent my client some thumbnails, and she selected the above photo for printing. I had it printed on a 16×20″ canvas wrap and hand-delivered it. It was a real pleasure to be able to deliver a physical print and talk with the new owner!

The print

I wish I had thought to take a better picture of the picture.. but this will have to do. I like how it turned out.

See my Redbubble gallery or my Pixels gallery.

Growing my YouTube Channel – Three Month Update

Here’s my three month update on the progress toward growing my YouTube channel. As I mentioned in my one month update, I have two metrics I pay attention to: watch hours and subscriber count.

YouTube Watch Hours

YouTube watch hours over the past year

You can easily see where I started making the effort to increase the watch time on my YouTube channel. It has made a significant jump – not enough, yet, but a significant increase.

Note the watch time is now 56,136 minutes, which is 935.6 hours – well short of the 4,000 hours required, but a big improvement over the 790 I started with.

YouTube Subscriber Count

YouTube Subscriber Growth

I currently have 954 subscribers, inching toward that magic 1000 subscribers required for Partner status. I’ll get there, eventually, but the watch hours are more important.

What’s Next?

Keep posting, keep engaging… I believe these are helpful but I need to make a quantum leap in terms of watch time to reach the 4,000 hours. I’m not sure how to make that jump but I have a few ideas. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Growing My YouTube Channel – One Month Update

YouTube Channel - One Month Update

You may recall that I lost my YouTube Partner status early in 2018, due to a insufficient watch hours and not enough subscribers. Last month I said I was going to get it back, by growing my YouTube channel. This is a one month update.

I have two metrics to watch while I grow my channel: watch hours; and subscriber count.

YouTube Watch Hours

YouTube View Growth, August 2018
YouTube View Growth, August 2018

It’s difficult to tell from a 365 day graph, but what we are concerned about is the area under the graph. That’s the view time, which as of today was 48,977 minutes over the past 365 days. That’s 816 watch hours, compared to 790 from this time last month. That’s a 3.3% growth over the month. It’s a small growth, but it’s a visible and measurable start.

At a steady 3.3% month-over-month growth rate, I will reach the required 4,000 watch hours in 51 months. That’s way too long!

On to subscribers…

YouTube Subscriber Count

YouTube Subscriber Growth, August 2018
YouTube Subscriber Growth, August 2018

Today I have 912 subscribers, a gain of 27 over the month, or a growth of 3%. At this rate, I will hit the required 1,000 subscribers in 4 months. I mentioned in my previous post that I wasn’t very concerned about my subscriber count, and the numbers show that I am on the right track.

What’s Next?

Make more videos, longer videos, keep posting and sharing! Feel free to visit my channel – https://www.youtube.com/user/TrainGeek/

It’s a grind… but I’ll get there. Hopefully sooner than 51 months! 😉

Regaining YouTube Partner Program Status

Rejoining the YouTube Partner Program?
Rejoining the YouTube Partner Program?

My YouTube channel used to be part of the YouTube Partner Program. I monetized my videos with ads and every month, I’d get a few dollars added to my AdSense balance.

That all changed with YouTube’s announcement on January 16, 2018. They drastically increased the eligibility requirements such that you needed 4,000 watch hours over the past 12 months, and required 1,000 subscribers to your channel.

I didn’t meet that, so I was dropped.

Well, “suspended” might be a better word. YouTube’s blog post says that when channels that were earning under the Program meet the new criteria, they will be “automatically re-evaluated” and presumably reinstated, provided they aren’t spammers.

I’m not going to speculate why these changes were made. I’m not an expert in the online ad field and YouTube’s explanations seem reasonable enough.

The Pain

It didn’t hurt me a lot, since as I said, I was only earning a few bucks a month. However, I’m a fan of passive income, and I’m reasonably close to meeting the requirements, so I’ve decided to make a push to get to 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours.

Where I’m At

As of today, I have 885 subscribers and 790 watch hours in the past 12 months.

I’m reasonably close for subscribers, but I have work to do on the watch hours.

What’s the plan to get back into the YouTube Partner Program?

Growth Opportunities

I’m going to concentrate on the watch hours, and assume the subscriber count will take care of itself. If I quintuple my watch hours, it stands to reason that I’ll gain at least some subscribers in order to meet that target.

I see three main opportunities for growth in watch hours:

  • More content
  • Better SEO
  • Better retention / follow-on videos

More Content

It stands to reason that if you upload more content, you’re going to get more watch hours.

I don’t just plan to upload any old content, though. I’ve had a look at my analytics to see where my watch hours are now. People seem to like a couple of types of my videos:

  • Model train layout videos
  • “How To” videos (this video in particular is popular)

I intend to focus on uploading both kinds of videos more regularly in the next few months. I have a lot of model train video now that I am editing and preparing to upload, and I am interested to see how well it will be received. It will be long – 30 minutes per video – so it may fly or it may bomb. 🙂

I am looking for ideas for “how to” videos. I did one image editing video that got some views, and I plan to do some more.

YouTube Live

I think there is a lot of opportunity in YouTube Live. It’s easy to do – just start it up on your phone – and there’s no editing or other effort afterward. I’ve done a few sessions so far and they’ve been pretty well received. I’m going to keep doing those.

I haven’t done any desktop YouTube Live sessions yet. I’m not sure how well those will work but it might be worth a try.

Better SEO

I honestly haven’t paid much attention to search engine optimization (SEO) on YouTube. That has to change. People can’t view my videos if they don’t find them, and YouTube is basically a big search engine for video.

On occasion, I’ve added tags to my videos when I upload them, but I haven’t had any kind of system. This is in sharp contrast to my blog posts, which are always tagged and “SEO checked” using the Yoast plugin.

I am going to review all of my videos for a few things:

  • Thumbnail photo
  • Title
  • Description text (minimum 200 words)
  • Tags

I like this Brainshark post about YouTube SEO best practices, even though it’s a little old. SEO ages well.

Better Retention

YouTube allows you to put “end cards” on your video to encourage viewers to take an action, such as to watch another video, subscribe, or go to a URL. I’ve added end cards to many of my videos. So far, the analytics say that about 3% of them get clicked on. If I can get that up a percent or two, it’ll help!

I’m going to ensure all my videos have end cards, and for my most popular videos, I’m definitely going to put a subscribe button at the end!

Actions to Take

Here are the actions I plan to take in the next month to work toward rejoining the YouTube Partner Program:

  • Upload more model train videos
  • Upload more content in general
  • Review existing content for SEO
  • Review existing content for end cards

Your Turn

What’s your experience with the YouTube Partner Program? Did you get dropped after the January update? How do you do search optimization on YouTube? Leave a comment!

End of 2017 Progress Report

It’s 2018 – happy new year! – and I’m a little late with my end of 2017 progress report. Mea culpa. I’m here to report on how I did with my photography side hustle.

TL;DR> Good income, slacked off at the end.

The numbers are as of January 1, 2018.

Goal Review

I had five goals for 2017 for my photography side hustle:

  1. Gross income of $1,200
  2. Stock photography income of $50/month by end of year
  3. Net income of $700
  4. Write and publish two eBooks
  5. Get paid for one magazine article or photo

Income

I exceeded my gross income target! My gross income for 2017 was $1,498.30 which was almost 25% over my target. That was great.

My net income was $1,063.14, which was 51% over my target. Awesome!

I have nothing to complain about with those two numbers.

Here’s the breakdown of my income:

2017 Income Sources
2017 Income Sources

You can see that half my income came from image sales (which includes stock), about a quarter came from advertising on my web sites, and about a quarter came from work-for-hire. Print and product sales were minimal.

Image sales came from stock photography (Shutterstock, Adobe, iStock, and Bigstock) as well as a few private sales to companies and individuals. I earned $544.11 from stock photography, which was very nice indeed after all the work I put into editing, keywording and submitting those photos.

Photo sales are from Redbubble and Fine Art America and have been declining for several years. People just aren’t buying prints like they used to.

Advertising is from AdSense. The timing worked out that I received three payments over the year. It all depends on when I exceed the $100 threshold for payouts.

I expect the ad income to decline in 2018 for two reasons:

  • I removed AdSense from my main blog, and
  • Google is dropping my YouTube channel from their Partner Program since I don’t get enough views.

Work-for-hire income came from photographing two marathons – the Manitoba Marathon and the WFPS Half Marathon.

Product sales were minimal again, with one payment from Gumroad for my video, some affiliate income for the excellent Backyard Silver book, and a couple of Kindle sales of my eBook.

Stock Income

My target is $50/month – but I haven’t reached that yet. In 2017 I averaged about $32/month, so I’m getting there… but to be honest, I have been slacking off on submitting to stock. I have a lot “in the queue” but I have to get back into it. The good thing is that it is passive income at this point and I’m still earning money from my library of stock images.

eBooks

I did not publish any eBooks this year. I have one in progress but I haven’t completed it yet. That’s a major goal for 2018.

Magazines

I didn’t submit to any magazines, so obviously I didn’t get paid. Another major goal for 2018.

Summary

2017 was a good year. Let’s make 2018 even better.

 

Crowdfire Review

Crowdfire is an app that you can use to increase your social marketing reach. It connects with your social networks and gives you tasks to do to increase your engagement and gain followers. In this review I’ll discuss how I use it and what I’ve gained from using it.

I am reviewing this app because I use it, like it and want to recommend it. I have received no compensation of any form to write this review.

How It Works

After downloading the app, you connect your various social networks to the app so it can view your followers and post on your behalf. Currently it supports:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Etsy
  • Shopify
  • YouTube
  • WordPress
  • and more

Once you connect the networks, it’s time to get to work!

The Nag

Every day the app prompts you to do a set of “prescriptions” to extend your reach. It starts with a “report card” to show the follows, unfollows, and other activities that have happened on your various social networks in the last day.

Crowdfire Report Card
Crowdfire Report Card

The current set of prescriptions include:

  • Share your own posts
  • Share suggested posts
  • Share images
  • Follow people tweeting about your keyword
  • Like Instagram photos

Crowdfire suggests posts and videos from your feed. It usually suggests the most recent posts but sometimes it goes deep into the archives.

Share your own posts
Share your own posts

You can tell Crowdfire to stop suggesting any particular post for 10 days, or never prompt you again. You tend to have to do that after a while to avoid sharing the same posts over and over again.

I find the prompts for sharing others’ posts particularly valuable. You want to keep your Twitter feed from being “me, me me!” and share a lot of posts. Crowdfire’s suggestions are based on the keywords you give it, so you’ll want to pay particular attention to that.

Share others' posts in Crowdfire
Share others’ posts in Crowdfire

You can skip any of these prescriptions – note the Skip button at top right of each screen. If you keep skipping them day after day, Crowdfire will ask if you want to suspend that prescription for a while.

When to Share

Crowdfire gives you a lot of choices on when to share content – yours or anyone else’s.

When to share
When to share

I usually “post at best time” but sometimes I will post it immediately, if I haven’t posted anything recently. One thing I have noticed is that if you schedule several posts to “post at best time”, they clump together and are posted together. I would prefer that Crowdfire spread them out a bit.

Connect Your Content

In my opinion, the best feature of Crowdfire is how it watches your content feeds and immediately prompts you to share what you’ve produced. I’ve set it to watch my YouTube channel and my blog feeds, and as soon as I publish something, it’s prompting me to share it on social media.

Crowdfire share prompt
Crowdfire share prompt

Crowdfire makes it super easy to share them, too.

It has a post already written and all you have to do is click Share. You can always edit the post to put it in your own words if you wish.

The Good

  • I love that Crowdfire prompts me to share my posts immediately after I write a post.
  • I like the prompting to share others’ content.
  • I like that it prewrites my posts.

The Bad

  • I wish I could get it to prompt me to share only a couple of times a week instead of daily.
  • I wish I could permanently disable some prescriptions. I don’t ever want to share others’ images so I keep postponing that.
  • The prewritten posts are a little “cute” and I usually trim off everything except the post name. I don’t find them to be very professional.

Pricing

Crowdfire shows you a number of posts to share, but it is limited. If you keep scrolling down, you’ll find this:

Crowdfire Plus prompt
Crowdfire Plus prompt

I tried to find out what the Crowdfire Plus pricing was (via Twitter), and they sent me to this link, which shows the pricing when you click the Login prompt at top right.

The basic (free) subscription allows you to link one account per social network (1 Twitter, 1 Instagram, etc.) and it limits some features, as I explained above.

The Plus version (currently $4.99/month) doubles the number of accounts per social network and removes the limits. The Premium and VIP levels increase the number of accounts/network and removes the Crowdfire branding that the Free and Plus versions have.

Verdict

Crowdfire is a very useful application for anyone who is serious about posting regularly on social networks to advance their business. I recommend it to anyone who frequently posts on a variety of social networks.

Get Crowdfire

 

Semi Mid 2017 Progress Report

Here’s my somewhat mid-year progress report to show how I’m doing in my photography side hustle.

TL;DR> Doing pretty well!

The numbers are as of July 31, 2017.

Goal Review

I have five goals for my photography side hustle in 2017:

  1. Gross income of $1,200
  2. Stock photography income of $50/month by end of year
  3. Net income of $700
  4. Write and publish two eBooks
  5. Get paid for one magazine article or photo

Here we go.

Gross Income

The gross income I’ve received is $1058.48. If you look at that as 7/12 of what I need to reach my $1,200 goal, I’m definitely well above target!

I had several streams of income in the first seven months of 2017, including stock photography, the Manitoba Marathon, several image sales and ad sales through Google AdSense.

  • Stock photography sales were strong, with two payments from Shutterstock, my first from Adobe and my first from iStock / Getty. In total it was almost $400.
  • I was asked to help photograph the Manitoba Marathon and that netted a decent income for 7 hours of work. I enjoy the experience and one of the best parts is that you don’t have to do any processing at all – just hand in the SD card and you’re done!
  • I sold several images, both privately and through RedBubble.
  • I cleared the $100 threshold twice for Google AdSense. I may or may not receive one more payment before the end of 2017.

Score: ON TRACK

 

Stock Photography Income

As I mentioned, I received payments from Shutterstock, Adobe and iStock. I’m averaging about $35/month in microstock royalties, so I am getting closer to that $50/month target.

Beyond the “big three” of Shutterstock, Adobe and iStock, I have had some sales on Bigstock and 123rf with Dreamstime and Canstock going very quiet.

I submitted a lot of images in July (expanding my library by about 15%) and I’ll be taking and submitting a lot of travel images in August to expand my portfolio further.

I purchased and read Alexandre Rotenberg’s excellent Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography eBook (affiliate link) and plan to apply its lessons going forward. I will write a review of it shortly but I recommend it highly.

Score: GETTING BETTER

Net Income

My net income is very strong this year, and is already over my goal of $700 for the year. I’ve kept my expenses low by signing up for my web site hosting for 2 years last year, and so my only real expenses are the monthly Adobe Creative Cloud payments, domain name renewals and the eBook I mentioned above.

Score: ON TRACK

 

Write and Publish Two eBooks

I haven’t done anything on this yet. I need to get on it!

Score: FAILING

 

Get Paid for One Magazine Photo or Article

I have to submit those before I get paid! So… another thing for the “to do” list.

Score: FAILING

 

Summary

I am having mixed success this year to date. Income and expenses are good but I want to diversify my income streams more with more eBooks and get into magazines. The work never ends!

Steps For The Rest of The Year

  • Start writing eBooks
  • Investigate which magazine(s) to submit to, and make inquiries as to what they are looking for