Building a Well-Branded Website with Jon Ferlise of CubsInsider.com
Jon Ferlise has been a digital publisher for 4+ years. He’s the co-owner and Chief Strategy Officer of CubsInsider.com.
With a background in corporate finance, he teamed up with his business partner, Evan Altman, who has a background in writing to create the premier Chicago Cubs blog, cubsinsider.com
I asked him a ton of questions about how he grew his website. We discussed how he built strategic relationships and a community around his brand, created unique content that built his traffic quickly, and became more diverse post-COVID.
You can watch the full interview below.
How CubsInsider focuses on brand design
Jon Ferlise was simply looking for a hobby, and in January 2016 he had a pretty good feeling about the Chicago Cubs’s season and he was already a big fan. So he did something totally out o left field created the CubsInsider blog.
He partnered with Evan Altman, who had run another Cubs blog that had been more established, and so they decided to combine their blogs under the umbrella of CubsInsider since January of 2017.
What Jon found is that in order to take your website to the next level, publishers should be not just thinking about the quality of their content, but the quality of their brand design too.
To accomplish this, he taught himself just enough Adobe Illustrator on YouTube to help improve the look and feel of CubsInsider, and also purchased a theme. He still uses the same theme to this day.
To help maintain the look and feel of his website’s brand, he has a developer on retainer that can help with site issues. He also switched from Dreamhost to LightSail which is powered by AWS (Amazon Web Services), which gives him better control over his website.
Profile highlight: Jon: (03:02)
“You can go to a site and be like, “Oh, that was really cool information. But this site looks kind of like junk, or you go to the same information and the site looks amazing. And so I think people tend to be drawn to both those aspects, the amazing content, the amazing following, and then the great branding.”
How CubsInsider used unique content to build traffic quickly
Jon started seeing traffic growth for CubsInsider after the first month of creating the website. He started by attending spring training in baseball. Spring training happens in Florida and Arizona. He used his season tickets to attend spring training where he lives in Phoenix and started recording every single at-bat throughout the entire game on his phone.
He would tweet these video clips and post them on social media, and eventually, this strategy paid off.
During spring training of 2016, Jon captured Jon Lester’s first professional home run. Before this hit, Lester was unwantedly known for holding the MLB record for most at-plates without a hit (58).
Below is the clip that Jon filmed of Lester’s first MLB home run.
This was a big moment for CubsInsider because outlets like ESPN’s Sportcenter and Yahoo Sports re-tweeted this clip and news outlets both shared it, and more importantly, backlinked to CubsInsider, which improved their website authority.
Profile highlight: Jon: (06:38)
“I think anyone can buy their way into blogging. If you have enough money to do it, you can pay for Facebook ads, you can pay for advertising on Twitter, etc. But at the end of the day, it’s really about trying to establish a unique angle to the content that you’re covering.”
On diversifying content strategy to succeed post-COVID
Jon says that in the beginning, it’s much easier to gain bigger “chunks” of traffic, and things can grow very quickly.
That being said, once you get to a point where you have a large amount of traffic, those chunks tend to not be as large as they were in the beginning.
And what happened to CubsInsider was that due to the Coronavirus pandemic, things started to fall backward in terms of traffic, and that’s a very humbling experience when you’ve had years and years of exponential growth. Up until that point, Jon had been primarily focused on growing as fast as possible and getting as much traffic as possible. He says publishers are conditioned to the thought that you have to be doing x, y, and z and be succeeding on it, and if it doesn’t work, you feel like you’ve failed.
Profile highlight: Jon: (11:52)
“So we decided that while we’ve got this time to reset due to the pandemic, let’s do something to make CubsInsider better, make us stronger, make us more diverse.”
With traffic and ad rates down due to COVID, and with no live sports being aired, CubsInsider decided to make a live webcast series in April of 2020. They brought together Chicago Cubs former players, coaches, current players, and even minor leaguers to interview them. They are still doing this series, but have now converted it into a podcast.
You can listen to “The Rant” Podcast here.
How CubsInsider monitors its writers for quality and measures their ROI
Jon and his business partner Evan typically pool their writers from people in the Chicago Cubs space who have an interest or a background in writing. He says this differentiates them from other Cubs blogs, because CubsInsider is trying to build a community around their brand.
If someone reaches out wanting to write, they normally have them send writing samples. Whether it’s something they wrote for a different website, or just sending samples. There are 162 games in an MLB season, so oftentimes Jon will assign new writers to write the game recaps and then expand them from there.
The things Jon keeps in mind when evaluating the quality of (and helping cultivate) hired writers:
- How does their content perform in the first 6 months?
- Are they timely with delivering the content?
- When he edits their pieces, what does the quality of writing look like?
- How was the timing of the piece? Did the article have virality, did it get picked up by big names like BleacherReport?
For a medium-sized website, CubsInsider pays all their writers. In the beginning, they paid all their writers quarterly. And the formula was based on page views.
Profile Highlight: Jon: (19:28)
“What we found over time was that there was no correlation to the quality of writing and page views. While that’s not 100% necessarily true, because the person who gets the most pages is my partner, and his quality of writing is very high, but we shifted towards looking at what content got picked up, and did it go viral?“
Because what Jon learned is that the quality of writing did not always correlate to good SEO or page views. So, CubsInsider stopped paying their writers based on page views and now pays them based on a percentage of the content they contribute.
How CubsInsider builds a community around their brand by fostering relationships
Jon says that in general, the Chicago Cubs as a sports team do a really good job of bringing the bloggers together.
Every year, there’s a Cubs social media night. Due to COVID, it didn’t happen this year but instead was hosted virtually. Jon also meets people in the Cubs space through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media interactions.
I noticed on CubsInsider.com, on their podcast drop-down menu, they had a whopping six podcasts listed. I asked Jon whether these were all under the CubsInsider umbrella, or were they linking out to external podcasts?
Profile highlight: Jon: (24:26)
“I looked around and realized there’s a lot of different podcasts that are Cubs podcasts that are doing great work. But they don’t have a website. None of them are associated with a website. So, I thought I’m going to reach out to some of the ones that I follow or know of and ask them if they want to be hosted on our website. And so basically by doing this, we accomplished a couple things. One is to make it so that a reader can come to CubsInsider and get everything they need from the Cubs experience. So it’s not just one podcast, it’s many podcasts. Um, you know, and it’s not just one writer, it’s many writers.
CubsInsider now tries to diversify the content they offer. This method has the added benefit of not having to do a lot of additional work, and at the same time, it’s beneficial to the podcast guys, because now they have another place to distribute. Jon always says it’s all about distribution.
Whether you’re doing a blog or a podcast, it’s all about distributing your content. Jon says, you could have the best content in the world and no one might know of you, or you can have the worst content in the world, and everyone might know about you.
There are many examples on both sides. What’s most important is being able to distribute your content. It’s been a really good move for CubsInsider and hopefully, the podcasters stay in touch with them because they have a built bigger network together now.
I noticed on CubsInsider, that Jon had two different Cubs merchandise sections on the website. I asked him whether or not this was merch that their brand created, or again, was it relationships he had built with cubs merchandise retailers?
Profile Highlight: Jon: (28:36)
“For merch, what we had done originally is we went to Fanatics like everybody else does and Fanatics was very easy. You can go and sign up for an affiliate relationship with them and you get a certain percentage. And I thought, why don’t we just do that on our own? I mean, there’s a Cub store right across the street from Wrigley field. They ship, they have a website, they’ve got all this, you know, and it’s local. And so, so we’ve done that. We don’t use Fanatics anymore. We only use Sportsworld Chicago. Again, it’s based around the idea of let’s try to be a real, local website.“
What’s one piece of advice you’d give publishers knowing what you know now?
Profile highlight: Jon: (37:40)
“I would say more than anything when you do things that don’t succeed right away, that doesn’t mean they don’t work. And that’s been the biggest lesson. I think what I’ve learned that any blogger can ever learn is that it’s about building a foundation. I always compare it to the drip, drip, drip of water that over time, that drip, drip, drip of water turned into a river that created the Grand Canyon. And so publishers have to have time and pressure. And with that, that means you’ve got to be able to endure the pressure first off, but you have to be able to realize that what you’re doing at the very beginning will work in time.”
Wrapping up the CubsInsider Publisher Profile
Profile highlight: Jon: (27:51)
“More than any other Cubs blog, we try to be very inclusive of other Cubs fans. So we try to be a place where if you’re a Cubs fan and you can write, come on over. Check us out. So we’ve got a lot of writers, a lot more writers than most of the other sites do. And then the podcasts are an example of trying to create that community around the Cubs. We don’t just want our content to be delivered; we want our content to be known.”
Jon said he would have imagined CubsInsider would have grown as much as it has. But at the end of the day, his advice is that publishers need to make decisions.
“You need to do things that make sense to you, and you need to be repetitive in the nature in which you do that and understand that success doesn’t come right away. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of patience, and a lot of failures.”
Read the full CubsInsider interview transcript below
You know, how did your journey begin as a digital publisher? Do you want to give us a little background?
Yeah, gosh, you know January of 2016, I was feeling pretty good about the Chicago Cubs and I was looking for a hobby at the time. So, you know the Cubs were, were projected to do pretty well that season and I was a big fan. And so I thought, Hey, let’s do something fun and totally out of left field. My background I’m a certified public accountant. And my background was in corporate finance, which I had left in 2014. And so I thought this will be something different and kind of, you know, just started up a Chicago Cubs blog and did it for an entire year. And at the end of 2016, not only did it comes to win the world series, but I met another gentleman who ran another Chicago Cubs blog that had been a little bit more established than mine. And he had a writing background versus my finance background. So we decided to combine our sites and we’d been combined as Cubs insider since January of 2017 has been great. It was nice because my partner is, you know, a very high-quality writer. And then I came in with high-quality kind of branding. It was a real good combination.
Yeah. That’s, it’s funny, you mentioned the whole brand aspect of it because I feel oftentimes there are some people that forget that for longevity purposes, it is very important from a publishing standpoint and just in general marketing, it’s important to brand yourself correctly and, and try to build a brand.
Definitely to move and to move to the next level. You know what I find a lot of times with blogs and it’s not just Cubs blogs, but it can be any sport, any topic. And you probably know this as well as anybody is that you can find guys that have been doing it for a while and they’ve got quite a following, but their brand just is terrible. Their site just looks bad. It’s hard to navigate. It just doesn’t look good. And so many of those websites that are successful and that have reached that success because they’re such good writers and they, they have such interest behind them really can take it to the next level by a boost in that kind of branding and, and making those changes on their site so that people can see, this is, you know, you can do one of two things. You can go to a site and be like, Oh, that was really cool information. But this site looks kind of like junk or you go to the same information and the site looks amazing. And so I think people tend to be drawn to kind of both those aspects, the amazing content, the amazing following, and then the great branding
For sure. Yeah. I would definitely agree with that. So going back to kind of like where you, where you started, how long did it take you to start seeing traffic growth for, for Cubs insider?
You know I, I started getting growth probably after the first month or so. And the reason was a lot of that was because I w I went to spring quarter. I started in spring training, spring training in baseball, happens in Florida and Arizona. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. And so I had season tickets. I went to the Cubs games and what I started doing was recording every at bat and just like almost the entire game with my phone. And then I tweet stuff out and then I’d post it on the site and I was getting content that was unique that no other site had. And so I got, I got a pretty good following just to start from that. I kind of built on that every season actually, that’s, you know, I, I did some Facebook ads, which you know, I kind of have mixed feelings about Facebook, but it’s a very expensive way to build traffic and it’s not the best traffic.
I agreed, but, but it, it works. It gets you kind of to a point and it can over time be really good. But yeah, it was, it was that unique content that really, I think got me going and got people following me. And even the bigger blogs started picking up my content. One time actually John Lester, who was a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs entered the league. And I think he actually set a record for the long the the most at-bats in major league baseball without a hit. And he got a home run that I actually recorded randomly while I’m recording John Lester batting, who knows, but he got, he got a home run and I recorded it. And that, that was huge for me, that actually helped massively cause that, that got picked up by like Yahoo sports and like sports illustrated and like my tweet and was all on all these websites. That was really cool.
That’s fantastic. You know, the, the next question I was going to ask you is what strategies did you use in the beginning to get those to get that growth, but you, you kind of touched on that. And I mean, hearing hearing you say that about the unique content using your phone to film these players at bat, when they’re in spring training and Phoenix, that that’s pretty incredible. I feel like a lot of publishers might feel like the, the, the cards are stacked against them when they start a website and they’re trying to build authority get those higher authority, backlinks and stuff. But that is a really creative way that you just mentioned that then accomplished all those things where you’re getting that social traffic you’re getting. You know, when you had that home run from the person who hadn’t hit all seats, or however long, never hit one, never hit at bat then all, you know, Yahoo sports, these people that are, that are really huge in terms of domain authority, domain ranking are then now linking back to your content. I think a lot of publishers can, could probably take that advice and take those strategies and maybe think creatively and apply it on their own too. Yeah.
I mean, that’s the biggest thing. I think anyone can buy their way into blogging. You know, if you have enough money to do it, you can pay for Facebook ads, you can pay for advertising on Twitter, whatever. But at the end of the day you know, it’s really trying to establish a unique angle to the content that you’re covering. And I mean, what I found is that, you know, a lot of different things get observed over time is that, you know, SEO, you could read a lot about SEO and, and they’ll tell you, you know, these are the things you need to do, keywords, things like that. But what I found is we get better SEO when we have a post that shared a ton that gets a ton of traffic. So Greenville sees that that post is getting a lot of traffic and their algorithm ranks that post higher. And so things like that is like trying to just over time observe what’s happening with SEO, what posts are getting, you know, a lot more search traffic from Google and then trying to figure out why, and that’s, that’s where Ezoic and the analytics tool that you guys have is really useful because, you know, when I first got access to the Ezoic analytics tool, it was like, well, what do I need Ezoic analytics for? I’ve got Google
Analytics. Well, there’s a difference
Between how you guys measure traffic and, and report on it. And then the things you guys measure and report on versus what you can get in Google. And I think it’s actually, it’s not only is it more accurate? I think the insights into yield are also you know, a lot more valuable to public.
What strategies do you use now? Like how has you talked about kind of where you started? How has that changed now? Are you still, like you said, trying to, like I always said, SEO is part art, part science, and it seems like you’re trying to like test the waters and see what succeeds and what doesn’t, which is kind of the best way to go about it. But is there anything that’s changed now in terms of strategies, you know, newsletters, things that maybe you didn’t do in the beginning that you can touch on?
You know I would say there are things that are at the top of my list. When you say newsletters, that’s something that we could do you know mailing lists. That’s something that we need to focus on that we haven’t focused on. You know, I think when you, when you first start out, it’s it looks like this huge Hill to climb, but the thing is, is that you can really gain big chunks very quickly. And when you do their victories and it feels great and you, you gain momentum, but once you start getting up closer towards the top, it’s harder to gain those big chunks. And so, and so what happens sometimes actually, and what has happened to us, especially with the pandemic is sometimes you, you actually fall backwards and that after you spent years going forward, falling backwards can be a very humbling thing.
Because it, you know, when you’re, when you’re doing something that’s high growth, it’s you kind of get to expect or hope that that growth continues. And that was our plan. You know, for, for this year, we were planning on exponential growth which we’ve seen over the past couple of years and when the pandemic hit that just, you know, it just crushed us and it crushed everybody. And so the biggest challenge that we’ve had just lately is trying to reset things you know, where everybody was impacted by what’s going on in the world. And so what we’ve tried to do is, and what I’ve specifically tried to focus on is how can we be better after this now it’s not. So that’s a different thing to look at because what we had looked at up to this point is how do I grow, grow, grow, and get as much traffic as possible.
And, and you’re so conditioned to that thought and to doing that next, [inaudible] be succeeding on it. That when you get to a point like this, where you can’t do that, no matter what you do, you cannot grow. I stepped back and I said, all right, what can we do to change what we’re doing? So we started a webcast, a live webcast in April where we started you know, just me and my partner and another person in the Cubs blogosphere get together. We were bringing on former players coaches current players minor leaguers, things like that to interview them and just got that going. And we’ve now converted that we still do that. And we’ve converted that into a podcast. We started another website Chicago bears website, which just went up two weeks ago. And so in a sense, we’ve actually created a lot more work for ourselves.
But it’s trying to expand that base so that when we get to a point, so I know what it looks like when you succeed. And then we got to this point, so it’s like, all right, let’s while we’ve got this time, let’s do something to make, make us better, make us stronger, make us more diverse. And so that’s really what we focused on. You know, focused on growing, building the base, building the foundation, becoming more diverse and, and also, you know, in a sense dealing with failure or what feels like failure, even though it’s a pandemic, it still feels like you can’t convince yourself that, you know, you haven’t failed when you see the numbers drop the way they did. And so I think that’s enabling to a certain extent. So that’s what we’ve done
And, you know, kudos to you. I think it’s super smart that you’re taking that time to recalibrate diversifying, you know, that’s been one of our big points we’ve been pushing to people is that, you know, the better you can diversify as a publisher, whether it’s revenue streams, whether it’s content the better off you’re going to be in the long-term. I mean, just think about you think back to a few months ago, what if you’re a publisher who put all your eggs in one basket and your Amazon affiliate publishers, and now they’ve slashed your category by 6% and you’re making way less than you were making before. You know, that’s something where we tell people it’s great that if you can, you know, successfully take that time, it is more work like you’re saying, but in the end, you’re probably going to be much better off because of it,
As long as we can get past all this stuff at some point in the future, but at least, you know, sports are going at least. So that’s a positive thing from my perspective.
Absolutely. I know you touched a little touched on a little while ago about your partner with, with Cubs insider who had that writing background. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but, you know, did you, did you use his expertise in the beginning to write your articles? And do you still currently write your own articles with your partner or do you outsource it all? Just want to, I’m just curious about that.
So so what we did when we first came together is like I had this finance background, you know, I, I taught myself design, so I could kind of build the website. I run the it side of things. I’ve got actually ended up hiring an IT guy locally here on retainer. That just does updates whenever I have an issue. We actually just moved from DreamHost over to LightSail, which is through Amazon web services to have more control of our website. You know, we were, whenever we had issues with DreamHost, for example, it’s like you know, you had to call them and they had to tell you, and then every time you talk to somebody different, they’d tell you something a little different and maybe it would fix it. And maybe it wouldn’t. And if it didn’t, it was just like this really confusing thing.
So now we’ve got a person focused on it. That was probably the biggest thing that I personally did. And that the cost was really nominal, to be honest with you so small to, to pay somebody, just a monthly retainer to kind of do that. That was big. And when we, when we together, that was after we came together, though you know, I took my background and, and he took his background and he said, I want to be the editor and I should, all right, you’re going to be the editor. You’re gonna be in charge of all the content. And at first, I was actually planning on writing more than I did. I think I did a little at first. I still do occasionally I do a lot for the Bears website, just because you have to be able to divvy that, that workload up, but we’ve gotten people to write for us.
And I’m very involved in that process of recruiting writers of vetting writers of interviewing writers. I actually went and we got an intern to run our social media for us. And that’s been really kind of educational. It’s been beneficial. It’s just interesting. When you go out, there’s a lot of Cubs fans, right? So for us, it’s a little different than maybe somebody who maybe had a product type blog or something like that where there’s a lot of Cubs fans who want to be associated with a website. And when you start growing and becoming bigger and people know who you are, then they w it becomes a lot easier to get people to write for you. So and Evan, my partner has a really good reputation just as a writer, as an editor, as just a guy, a good guy. And so, you know, it makes it a little easier for us to get talent. That said, you know, it’s, it’s not always easy to get, you know, good writers that process can be difficult. It’s not always easy to get somebody who’s good at social media. That process can also be difficult. So it’s a learning process. I think more than that.
Sure. That’s kind of what I was gonna touch on too. About when you said you’re you vetting the writers in that process have you ever like been burned by a writer and you know, how in terms of vetting them, you know, how do you monitor your writers for quality and like, how do you know that a writer is delivering good ROI? What does that look?
That’s? That’s an interesting question. In terms of vetting, the writers we’ll have them send us writing samples and, you know usually they will have written for another website and so we can see their writing there, or they can just send us samples. It doesn’t really matter either way. You get a feel for it one way or the other. And then you let them go, you know, you let them write typically what we’ll do is we’ll bring writers in on our game recaps, you know, you’ve got 162, normally you have 162 baseball games when there’s not a pandemic. And so we get a recap writers who will just focus on writing recaps, and then they’ll expand from there. So typically you know, that’s kind of the vetting process and the recaps are more of kind of a necessary evil for a sports website.
It’s typically doesn’t drive a lot of traffic because it’s just not unique content for sure. We’ve used our recaps in a very, very strategic way to drive traffic to build SEO, to you know, to build our writer pool and to you know, kind of cultivate our writer pool. So when we have writers that do well there and, and, and you can see over time, right? I mean, like, you’ll always have people who are very enthusiastic at the beginning, but it’s like, how do they perform over six months? You know, are the first three months, you know, and are they there? Are they the ones that are writing? And then when they do, do they do a good job? Are they timely with it? When we go into edit their pieces, what does it look like? And so you can use, so it’s really, we’ve used that in that way to cultivate ed, to you know, kind of get writers up to speed and, and to develop them.
And then in terms of ROI, that’s a very interesting question, you know, in, in what we do we pay all of our writers, which is somewhat unique for a smaller blog medium size, maybe blog, but that’s always something that we’ve wanted to do. So will we create a pool, a discretionary pool where you know, we’ll distribute payments to them quarterly. And initially we did it based on you know, I D I came up with this formula, whatever, and it was based on page views. It was based on how much they wrote was a percentage of it. And then how much how many page views they generated was also presented of it. And what we found, or what I found over time was that there was no correlation to the quality of writing and page views. And w what I meant that’s not necessarily true because the person who gets the most pages is my partner and his quality of writing is very high, but it was really what got picked up, you know was it a topic that was viral?
Was the timing like good? Was it something that got picked up on like Bleacher report runs our stuff, you know, and, and so there was no real control that we had over what got picked up on Bleacher report and got, you know, kind of blew up a little bit versus no, what didn’t, there’d be it’s, you couldn’t really reward people based on the real quality of their writing. And so now we just pay everybody based on how much they contribute a percentage of what they contribute, because I think at the end of the day, that’s probably the, the most fair way to do it. So
That doesn’t make sense. Yeah. Even from my experience writing for Ezoic, you know, a lot of that what you said bleeds into leads into is true from what I’ve seen, you know, it’s, it could be a quality piece, but it doesn’t have that timeliness, or it doesn’t get picked up or shared very virally. And it doesn’t, you know, get that same kind of traction that you you’d like to see, and don’t always see, even if it’s a quality piece. And then lastly, you know, kind of still on this writing topic really quick how much content did you produce in the beginning versus now? And I asked you this because, you know, we’ve seen a lot of data showing that the most successful publishers over times over time are the ones that are able to kind of produce more to scale more, you know, quality is very important, but the numbers don’t lie. Typically it seems like publishers that can produce a lot of content in a year, tend to grow a little more than publishers do.
Absolutely. You got the more content you publish. I also have a St. Martin website SSM, strong.com. I don’t really tend to that as much. It’s, it’s more there and I’ll post on it here and there. But the one thing I know for sure is the more content you publish, the better your SEO is going to be. The more people are going to see your content, the more people are going to share your content. And so, yeah, I would say a hundred percent if you’re starting a blog you know, and you want to get traffic and you want to get SEO 100% content content content. You know, when people scale that up, sometimes that can look different.
And I have to commit to it. You really have to commit to it. It’s hard because, you know, like I said, back in January of 2016, you know, before then I had didn’t follow any blogs, much less a Cubs blog. And, and I didn’t really know much about them. And so the idea of starting a Cubs blog was cool because I was like, Oh, I have a website dedicated to the Cubs. That’s going to be awesome. And then, you know, you get like a day or two or three into it. And you’re like, I’m a writer. I just, I just became a writer. And, and, and you start to realize, wow I’m going to need to write every single day for as long as I do this. And so that’s a huge commitment. That’s a huge thing. And you can, in your mind, you can tell yourself that that’s what’s going to happen, but you really need to grasp that. You know, and for me, with a different background in finance becoming a writer and it takes time, it takes time to research the content. It takes time to, to figure out kind of how you build constructive content. That’s going to be, you know that Google’s going to like it’s, there’s a lot that goes into, it’s not just, Hey, start a website and just throw up content. It’s gotta be good, well-structured content that Google can crawl and light.
But while we’re still on content, I kind of perused your site. I wanted to get into some specifics on your, on your podcast drop down on your menu. I saw that there was it referenced, I think it was like six total podcasts. And I wanted to ask you, are those all something that’s under the Cubs insider umbrella, or are you linking out? Just tell me a little bit about that.
I think it was last year. I want to say you know, as you do this more, you get to know more that people that are doing it along with them the Cubs do a real good job of bringing the bloggers together. You know, at least once a year for their social media night, which didn’t happen this year, it happened virtually, but typically it’s an event in Chicago at a Cubs game. And so you get to meet people and just through Twitter and through Facebook and just interactions on social media and things like that, you really get to know other people. And so, you know, I looked around and was like, you know, there’s a lot of different podcasts that are Cubs podcasts that are doing great work. But they don’t have a website. None of them are associated with a website.
Interesting. And so I thought I’m going to reach out to, you know, some of the ones that, that I follow or know of and just start and ask them if they want to, you know, be hosted on our website, you know? And so basically what you had, just, just in an attempt to do a couple of things, right. One is to make it so that a reader can come to our website and get kind of everything they need from the Cubs experience it makes it easier. So it’s not just one podcast, it’s so many podcasts. You know, and it’s not just one writer, it’s many writers. And so try to diversify the content that you offer and, and without doing a lot of work, a lot of additional work, and it’s beneficial to the podcast guys, because, you know, they have another place to distribute.
I mean, I always say it’s all about distribution. Whether you’re doing a blog or a podcast, it’s all about distributing your content. I mean, you could have the best content in the world and no one might know of you, or you can have the worst content in the world, and everyone might know about you as many different examples on both sides. And so you gotta be able to distribute your content. And so I think that that was a real good move for us and hopefully for the podcasters and I stay in touch with them and we have a built bigger network now. And so that’s been cool. I think the next step from there something that we had started to look into was creating a network of our podcast, which I did some work around a it’s kind of a little bit more difficult trying to figure that one out. And a lot more time-consuming. I thought it was going to end up being, so we didn’t end up going anywhere on that quite yet, but that might be something we do in the future.
Yeah. That’s I mean, and just thinking back on that, you know, I, I think of it as it’s, it’s really smart. It’s a smart move. Cause again, when I looked at it, I wasn’t sure if they were something you created or something that someone else created. And, and when you answered that, it made me think, you know, it’s really smart. And I feel like there were a lot of maybe beginner publishers or people who aren’t too familiar with all the work, blood, sweat, and tears, and mainly time that goes into content creation. And they think, well, you know, he has a medium, large-sized blog kind of successful. Why would he give someone else, you know, free real estate on his site for their podcast? But in reality, you’re also getting the benefit of you’re getting content that you’re not having to create.
It’s someone else’s content and you’re also building that relationship with them. So it’s kind of a win-win. And I think a lot of publishers can learn from that, that it’s not so much always about, you know, what can I gain from this right now? But as you said, you want to make it a one-stop-shop for all the Cubs fans where they can get all that content in one place. This allows you to do that. You’re not creating the content yourself. And you’re also building a relationship with other people who are Cubs fans. So it really hits on three counts. And I think that’s really, really smart from a content standpoint, for sure.
It’s been fun and, you know, there’s, and we’ve seen other, there are other blogs obviously and they have different approaches. We try to be, you know, more than I think, any other Cubs blog very inclusive of other Cubs fans. So we try to be a place where if you’re a Cubs fan and you can write you know, come over, check it out, right. For us, if you want. So we’ve got a lot of writers, a lot more writers than most of the other sites do. And then, you know, the podcast trying to get. So it’s just trying to create that community around the Cubs more so than, you know, obviously we want our content to be delivered. We want our content to be known. I mean, we partnered with we have an affiliate relationship with a local Chicago Cubs merchandise store.
That’s right across the street from Wrigley Field. What we had done originally is we went to Fanatics like everybody else does and fanatics very easy. You can go and sign up for an affiliate relationship with them and you get a certain percentage. And I thought, why don’t we just do that? I mean, there’s a Cub store right across the street. They ship, they have a website, they’ve got all this, you know, and it’s local. And so, so we’ve done that. We don’t use fanatics anymore. We only use Sportsworld Chicago. And again, it’s around, let’s try to be a real local website.
I think it adds to the brand too. And that was something I was going to ask you on top of the podcast question was I saw there’s like a merge, you know, area for your, for your website. And is that what you were just talking about just now you’re that relationship with them? Yep.
You know, I, I think there are people who concentrate probably on more than we do. I think if you, there’s only so many things you can do in a day. So that kind of becomes part of the issue too. And you know, like I told you, before I start, we started the podcast, I just went for a run. So that takes time too. And so, you know, I’ve got my kids downstairs who are doing school, luckily my wife is at home. And so, you know, you’ve got to balance everything out too. So but I would say in terms of, you know, affiliate relationships. Yeah. I mean, it can be a good thing. You can definitely drive revenue. There are, you know, you can get an affiliate with Amazon and with you know, all sorts of different businesses, almost any business has an affiliate program where you can earn, you know probably eight to 15% commission.
And so it’s a good thing to do. I think that there are a lot of websites that I’ve seen a lot of blogs that focus a lot more on that than we do. And you know, I always looked at starting our blog as, as being something where, you know, I w w that’d be something that we’d worry about later, but what I wanted to focus on the most was distribution, like I’d said earlier, was getting the content, distributed, getting people to come to our website, building the website, getting the page views. And then once you have that set, it, it takes a lot longer than you think. But once you have it set, then you can start to focus on the affiliate stuff and, and the sales and, and that’s something we could definitely do better. But, but yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s certainly something that if you’re starting a blog, you should do right away.
If you’re depending on what the topic is, you know what you’re talking about, you know, if there’s like a new Cubs hat comes out for father’s day, every year, and the new Cubs that comes out for mother’s day, you can post on that. You can post it on your social media, you can post links and you will get sales and you will earn money. And especially if you’re just starting out, you know, it’s, it’s definitely a good supplemental income, and it can get to a point where it can actually drive quite a lot of revenue for us, with Zoe coming. Our relationship with you guys has been great. I mean, our revenue doubled as soon as we went over to a Zoe. And so, so that’s been great. So we actually rely mostly on our ad revenues because it’s been so good. But I would say maybe that’s, that’s, maybe that’s been bad for us because we should be focusing a little bit more on our, on our affiliate stuff too.
Well, it’s great to hear. I was going to really quickly ask you about monetization, but you touched on that a little bit. I’m glad to hear Ezoic helped you double your revenue when you first got on. I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the data myself to a lot of publishers. How does your monetization strategy different now than maybe it did in the beginning? Is there any differences is it, you said primarily ad like display ad revenue. How have things changed now compared to back then when you first started Cubs insiders? And are there any additional monetization strategies you might want to try in the future?
We’re always open to new monetization strategies. I will say that you know, we haven’t done much differently since we joined Ezoic, which was, I think in 2017 we’ve, it’s been more of just, you know, trying to take advantage of the, of what we had going. And like I said, just continue to build the traffic before we can get to a point where we’re like, okay, now let’s try some other things. I mean, I have thought about kind of getting some direct ad relationships again, local businesses, but that all died. And so that was a strategy that I was looking at coming into 2020 was maybe going to some local businesses in and around Wrigley field and around Chicago. And see if maybe we can get some direct advertisers on the site, which is something really cool that is done, which allows for direct advertisements to be put on site.
And, you know, you can kind of control how much how many pages they get, how many impressions they get, et cetera. And so you can sell that same way. And so that’s, that’s definitely something that in the future we want to look towards, which is supplementing our advertising right now through his own with direct ads. But yeah, yeah, I think there’s a whole lot you can do. And, and again, that’s the once, you know, like I said, you know, background in finance, coming into this, not really knowing what was going on. So once I met Jaan who is, who was my rep at first from Izzo, like, it was just such a wealth of knowledge that he brought to the table and, and it gave me the ability to kind of offload some of that and still grow without having to learn and do all this other stuff.
And so, yeah, you know, the revenue has been growing and the knowledge base is there and it’s nice to be able to learn whenever I have time. And then when I don’t have time to be able to say, Hey, can you just do this? And so is though it’s been an amazing partner in that way. And that’s exactly what I would call them as is a business partner. It’s not just, you know, a company like ad sense, for example you know, ad sense, you, you, it’s a black box. You, you know, which is what I used when we first started, where you start, you know, putting ads on your site and you start getting payments, but you don’t know why you don’t know how I mean, they send you a check, but you don’t know, you don’t really understand anything about it.
And that was the biggest relief when I came to Isaac was, you know what? I went to one of your annual meetings in San Francisco and, you know, learn a ton, met fellow publishers who told me all sorts of things that I like, as you said, SEMrush, and just other things that I had no idea about. And so it’s just the ability to have a business partner that has resources that connects you to those resources versus like AdSense, which is, you know, a way to earn revenue, but you’ve got to, you’ve got to do everything yourself,
What’s one specific thing that you did, like strategy, whatever that didn’t work. Can you speak on that strategy that didn’t work? Wow. Anything in anything in general? Is there something that you did in your, in your journey with Cubs insider that you thought, well, dang, you know, that didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
That’s a very interesting question. I’d have to really think about that. I mean I would kind of frame it this way. I would say, you know there hasn’t been anything that’s, that’s failed miserably. I mean, there’ve been aspects of the site. Like I created a player page that took a whole lot of time to do that didn’t really get any traction or pages and it, those kinds of a waste of time. But it’s like, you know, there’s not much to know to learn. Yeah, there is, but there’s nothing that you can do that you don’t, you won’t learn from, you know? And so that was something that you’re like, all right, Hey, I’m just learning what people like and where you spend time and kind of time as a percentage of revenue. You know, it’s like, if I spend 10 minutes here, I’m going to earn X.
If I spend 10 minutes here, I’m gonna earn Y which is more, you know, benefit analysis kind of thing. Right. Yeah. And, and, and kind of balancing that with quality, of what you’re doing as well. But you know what I mean, like right now, for example, we started this webcast that we’re doing. And I would say it’s you know, it’s, it’s small, you know, it’s it, hasn’t it, it’s not real big, you know, it’s not nearly as big as our site our following. So that’s something where you’re like, you know, wow, this is taking a lot of time, but we also enjoy doing it. And it’s something that, you know, we hope we’ll build, you know from there the same thing with the Chicago bears website that we just started very small, you know, I mean, we’re getting thousands and thousands of pages and our Cubs website, and then we’re getting, you know, maybe a couple hundred on the bear’s website to start.
And, and so it’s just, it’s, I would say more than anything to answer your question, it’s not so much about failing it’s about when you do things that don’t succeed right away. That doesn’t mean they don’t work. And that’s been the biggest lesson. I think any that I’ve learned in that any blogger can ever learn is that you know, I look at it as like building a foundation. It’s like I always compare it to you know, the drip, drip, drip of water over time, the drip, drip, drip of water. Now, granted it was a river created the Grand Canyon, right. And so you have to have time and pressure. And with that, that means you’ve got to be able to endure the pressure first off, but you’ve gotta be able to realize that what you’re doing at the very beginning. I mean, when I first started my blog, my wife was the only person
That read it. And so and I never would have imagined it would have grown as much as it did. And a lot of that was because of the combination with Cubs insider, but at the end of the day, it’s that you need to make decisions. You need to do things that make sense to you, and you need to be repetitive in the nature in which you do that and understand that success doesn’t come right away. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of patience, and a lot of failure. But I think I haven’t had any failure with our blogs that has that I could say, ah, it’s a good thing. I’m glad to hear that. I hope most publishers are like that too. You know, I want, it’s a good thing. If you’ve bought a pudding, you know, not any huge failures you can think of.
I think it’s a great thing. So yeah, I mean, you kind of, I, I, part of me wants to leave it at that because I think your advice to publishers there about building that foundation and, and being repetitive and the things that work and realizing that success is going to happen overnight. I think that’s a, that’s a good, a little, little parting wisdom, so, all right. Yeah. Well, John, I really appreciate you talking to me today. Thank you for being, or our first publisher profile that we’re highlighting and cool. I wish you success. Yeah. I wish you success with your blog. And I hope to talk to you soon. Thank you guys for watching. If you want to follow John’s work or just a Cubs fan, the website is www Cubs insider.com, or you can follow their Twitter at real Cubs insider, and we’ll see you guys next Tuesday.
Allen is a published author and accomplished digital marketer. The author of two separate novels, Allen is a developing marketer with a deep understanding of the online publishing landscape. Allen currently serves as Ezoic’s head of content and works directly with publishers and industry partners to bring emerging news and stories to Ezoic publishers.