Writing for the Web, From a Coffee Detective’s Perspective


Writing for the Web, From a Coffee Detective's Perspective

Be prepared to work hard, and to roll with the punches.Nick Usborne from www.coffeedetective.com

Way back in 1979 Nick Usborne needed a decent paying job that didn’t require any qualifications (he believed he didn’t have any).

Like most of us, his career evolved – in Nick’s case from being a direct response marketer to working exclusively with online businesses, as an advisor and consultant. Along the way he also became a book author and web publisher. And ultimately, an exceptional copywriter.

His recent focus has been on creating and teaching web writing and copywriting courses, both via his own site, Conversational Copywriting, and for American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI).

But he’s also a self proclaimed “Coffee Detective,” uncovering the best ways to make gourmet coffee at home. How this came about, and how it helps him sharpen his copywriting skills, is what we’re going to find out now…

1. Nick, you’ve been a copywriter since 1979, with a focus on web writing ever since the Internet came around. How does www.coffeedetective.com fit into that picture?

Writing For the Web - NickMy Coffee Detective website works for me in a few different ways. First, it’s a source of passive income. Love that! But, because of my professional background in writing for the web, it’s also where I test stuff and learn.

Working on the site has taught me a huge amount about every aspect of writing and publishing online.

SEO — content marketing — social media marketing — working with images and video — all of it!

I learn best by doing. And that’s why I’ve acquired more professional skills from working on my coffee website than I have from any other source.

TAKEAWAY #1: The reasons for starting a website and online business are as diverse as their creators. For some, it’s an extension of their hobby or a means to fund a charitable cause.

Most, if not all, plan to earn at least some extra income by doing something they enjoy doing. For a good number of people it becomes their family’s sole income stream.

Nick uses his Solo Build It! site as a learning and testing experience to help him improve the skills he needs for his main business. Whatever your reason may be, SBI! gives you the best chance to achieve your goals.

2. How did you decide about your niche? How did you know it was the right topic for you and had great business potential?

I’d love to tell you how clever I was in choosing my niche, and how I had figured out there would be great demand for the topic, and amazing revenues to follow.

But it didn’t go like that!

I’d been doing some client work, helping a coffee company launch its first ecommerce website.

The project took about 6 months. Once we were finished, I thought, “Hmmm… right now my brain is brimming over with information about gourmet coffee online. How can I leverage this opportunity?”

The answer I came up with was to create Coffee Detective. SBI!’s Action Guide and brainstorming tools helped me refine the concept and decide about the topics for my first 30+ pages.

Beyond that, I just took it one step at a time… figuring out ways to attract more traffic, and trying ways to monetise it.

TAKEAWAY #2: Nick’s niche decision reminds me of two golden success rules I came across recently: “Use what happens and tolerate uncertainty.”

Nick used what had happened in his life — having gained tons of gourmet coffee experience from a project — as the topic for his online business. I would say that’s a pretty clever move… to put the knowledge he gained “accidentally” to good use rather than letting it go to waste.

What knowledge or experience do you have laying around in your head? Why not follow Nick’s example and use it to build your own niche business online? If you are unsure where to start, discuss your ideas and questions with our experienced Advisor Team.

Writing for the web - Mug with the Coffee Detective logo.
Mug with the Coffee Detective logo.

3. Tell us about your philosophy regarding content. How do you know what your prospective customers are looking for? Where does this information come from?

I do all kinds of different things. I use Solo Build It!’s Brainstorm It! tool to find which keywords are worth optimizing for. I use SEMRush for competitive research, and discover the topics my most successful competitors are writing about.

I use BuzzSumo to find out what coffee-related topics are being shared the most through social media. And I invite reader questions and submissions through the Content 2.0 module in Solo Build It!.

When companies send us coffee or equipment for review, that results in a new page, images and maybe a video.

And then sometimes I just write whatever the heck I feel like writing!

TAKEAWAY #3: Too many bloggers do only what Nick mentions in his last sentence… they write whatever the heck they feel like writing! Or perhaps they write what they “think” their readers are interested in. That’s fine if you don’t care about getting targeted traffic and earning an income from your site.

But if you take your site seriously, and want to make it profitable, you need to base your content decisions on data, not on gut feel. That is what Nick does first and foremost. Only sometimes he writes what he feels like, which adds a unique “Nick perspective” to his site.

As an SBI! member, you will lay the groundwork (aka the “content blueprint”) for your site with the help of Brainstorm It!. This type of keyword research is invaluable, especially in the beginning.

As your readership grows, ask them for their input. What questions or problems do they have? What types of website content would they like to see from you? You can either ask them via your newsletter or invite them to ask their questions on your site.

Solo Build It!’s Content 2.0 module makes this kind of feedback on your site super easy. See it in action on Nick’s “Ask Your Coffee Questions” page. Scroll down, and you’ll see that Nick received and answered hundreds of questions. Each submission becomes a new page on his site, attracting more targeted traffic from the search engines.

That means his readers write some of his content for him. They share their hands-on experience with gourmet coffee, which in turn benefits his entire audience.

4. You provide a lot of valuable content for free. So how do you make money with your website?

Mainly through ads, with a bit through affiliate commissions. Until recently I was using Google AdSense as my ad network.

But I now use MediaVine, which is delivering much better results. AdSense is a great starter network, because others — including MediaVine — require you to meet a significant threshold in terms of audience size.

I also have an ebook on sale through the site… but it doesn’t contribute much.

TAKEAWAY #4: Nick’s primary reason for creating Coffee Detective was to hone his web writing and copywriting skills with hands-on experience. He didn’t plan on developing his site into a full-time income stream.

For his purposes it makes sense to stay on the passive, less time-intensive side of the monetization spectrum. Like many solopreneurs, he implemented Google AdSense first, and later switched to an alternative advertising system called Mediavine. To be accepted by Mediavine, your site needs at least 25,000 sessions (aka visits) per month.

Other SBIers we interviewed made the same switch and reported better results than with AdSense. So, once you have that amount of traffic, it’s a good option to test.

Affiliate marketing is another way to earn passive income from your site. It works especially well for product-focused niches, like Nick’s. You write an in-depth review about a certain product, for example a new coffee maker, and then link to the merchant where your reader can purchase the product.

It works even better if you combine your written review with a video. Check out Nick’s review about the “Impress Coffee Brewer” for an excellent example.

Writing for the web - Coffee Maker
One of the many coffee makers Nick reviews on his site.

5. You are active on 5 social media platforms, including YouTube. How do you produce and publish all that content? Do you do it all yourself, or do you outsource certain tasks?

I do it all myself. Like I say, this is my “learning platform.” It’s where I get to create text, images and videos I can use across multiple digital media.

TAKEAWAY #5: Wow. “Feeding” 5 social media channels with platform-specific content is quite time-consuming. I was surprised to hear that Nick does it all himself. His reasoning makes sense, of course. He wouldn’t learn as much if he outsourced managing his social channels.

But does he at least use some automation tools? Nick replied to my follow-up question:

“I use Tailwind for Pinterest. It’s the only channel I automate, because it really isn’t very “social.” Comments etc. are rare. I am not a big fan of automating channels that really are social, like Facebook and Twitter.”

Nick makes some great points in his answer. On some social platforms it’s super important to interact with your followers, like answering questions and quickly reacting to comments. For these channels, it may be best to make your posts manually. Or — if you do use a scheduling tool, e.g., Buffer — you have to at least monitor the posts and tweets actively.

For a platform like Pinterest, which is more of a search engine than a social channel, using an automation tool is fine. Tailwind is our preferred Pinterest marketing, scheduling and analytics tool as well. SBIers get a 15% discount when they sign up for Tailwind.

Our best advice for social media? Focus on the two to three platforms that suit your topic and personal taste best. Post great content there consistently. Build up a relationship of trust with your followers. Once you have an established presence there, consider branching out into more networks, possibly with the help of a VA (virtual assistant).

Writing for the web - Nick on a coffee research trip in Jamaica. Those are coffee beans drying on the concrete.
Nick on a coffee research trip in Jamaica. Those are coffee beans drying on the concrete.

6. You have also created and teach a course for American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI), where you recommend SBI!. What would you say is the advantage that SBI! gives your students over other site builders?

To my mind SBI! offers a number of advantages.

First, all the fundamental tools and services are included, in one place and fully integrated. Keyword research, stats, forms, e-newsletter delivery and a lot more.

Second, the page building tool is great. I wasn’t a huge fan of the initial BlockBuilder (BB1) page builder tool. But the new BlockBuilder version (BB2) is fantastic.

Third, great community and support. Plus I really appreciate having access to SiteSell Professionals. I’ve used their services a few times now, for example for moving my pages from BB1 to BB2 and — more recently — for changing my site design.

Fourth — and this is huge — the SBI! team is always ahead of the game. Whether it’s a Google algorithm update, or the introduction of a way to deal with GDPR… I know I can rely on SBI! to give me the information and tools I need.

BTW – Nobody is paying me to say all this! I just happen to be a big fan of Solo Build It!. 😊

TAKEAWAY #6: Thanks for the kudos, Nick! As an instructor for a prestigious organization like AWAI, Nick knows how to tell a great educational system from a so-so one.

And that’s really what SBI! is — an educational system that also includes all the tools you need to execute what you learn, plus access to a community that supports you in moving forward even if the going gets tough.

Everything in Solo Build It! is designed around one primary goal: to enable you to build your online business in the most efficient, and effective, way and with the highest chance of success.

As we’ll see in Nick’s response to our next question, time is every solopreneur’s nemesis. With SBI!, you don’t have to worry about web hosting, security, finding compatible plugins, or the newest developments in the online business world. It’s all included, in one place, and for one affordable price (which is less now than it was in 2004).

7. What has been your biggest challenge so far in your career as a copywriter, online teacher and “coffee detective”?

Time. Not enough time! So many things to do. So much to learn!

TAKEAWAY #7: Yep, there it is. Time, the most valuable and limited resource each online business owner has. There are only so many hours in one day, and so many roles to fulfill: CEO, content researcher, content writer, video producer, social media marketer, newsletter editor… the list goes on.

You have to be disciplined about how you spend your time. Focus on the tasks that matter most for your business. And that’s exactly what SBI! is designed to help you with.

8. What do you enjoy most about being a solopreneur? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

It gives me control over my life. Working for yourself isn’t always easy. There are rough patches. But I’d always rather be the boss of my own life and work.

Working from home has also given me the chance to watch my kids grow up, day by day.

TAKEAWAY #8: “Being the boss of your own life and work,” that’s the ultimate goal for all of us solopreneurs, business owners, freelancers, work-at-home moms and dads, digital nomads and side hustlers.

In our (admittedly somewhat biased) opinion, the best way to achieve this life goal is with an online business that generates a stable income from a variety of sources. And the most effective way to build that business is to create a “theme-based content website,” also known as a niche business, like Nick’s Coffee Detective site.

Writing for the web - Nick's office
Nick’s “office” at Mont St Hilaire, near Montreal, Canada.

9. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?

Be prepared to work hard, and to roll with the punches.

That’s the secret of my own success, such as it is. I’m a ridiculously hard worker. I’m persistent. I don’t stop.

Each morning I get up, have breakfast, and then tackle the day’s work.

TAKEAWAY #9: Not much to add to Nick’s top tip except to reinforce his advice with the words of Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich,” one of the 10 best-selling self-help books of all time.

Margit Streifeneder
Margit Streifeneder is the Marketing Co-Director at SiteSell. She works with a small but mighty team to spread the word about Solo Build It!, via helpful content, informative emails and eye-catching ads. She's passionate about helping solopreneurs achieve success, and enjoys interviewing SBI! members about their achievements. Besides growing her own online business, she loves exploring new places, hiking, dancing and spoiling her three cats.