The post below was originally published on my small business blog after a friend asked me some basic questions about how he could begin to make money blogging. I've since shared it here as a way to help freelance writers build an additional revenue stream (originally on October 16, 2008). And I've now updated it for All Freelance Writing readers with even more blog revenue streams you can choose from.
Blogging has been a hot business concept for quite a few years now, but many people blogging for income are still baffled about how to make serious money. “Is it even possible to make a real income blogging?” you might be wondering. It is.
My Background in Blogging
Before I go into specific ways you can make money blogging, I'd like to share some of my own background in this area so you know that I know what I'm talking about.
I've been blogging since 2004. I've run dozens of blogs over the years (and have quite a few active ones now). As of 2009, I'd consider myself a "professional blogger" -- making a full-time income from a combination of my own blogs and freelance blogging for clients. While blog incomes can vary quite a bit over time due to things like search engine algorithm changes and changes in income models, I've learned to diversify my blogging work to keep the money coming in. I've even taken a brand new blog to earning several thousand dollars a month in just its first few months.
If there are revenue streams to try, I've probably tried them at some point. But that doesn't mean I ever settle with things as they are. A key to making money as a blogger is to continually learn more about your target audience, how they interact with your blog, and testing new revenue models to find out what works best.
Revenue Streams for Bloggers
Before you can start testing different revenue streams for your own blog, you need to know what options are available to you. Here are some common examples or blog income streams that you might be able to use in your overall monetization strategy:
- Network ads (like Google Adsense)
- Private ads (selling text links, banners, etc. on your blog -- just make sure you use the nofollow attribute so you don't get penalized)
- Affiliate ads (through Amazon, Clickbank, Commission Junction, etc.)
- Ads placed in your RSS feed
- Sponsorships (these go beyond occasional ads to a larger paid partnership between your blog and another brand; full disclosure required of course)
- Marketplaces (anything from a paid job board to user-submitted classified-style ads)
- Niche directories (for example on an indie music blog you might have an indie artist directory with paid listings)
- Premium content / Paid memberships
- E-books / book sales
- Software / app sales
- Other digital products (like a "get started kit" or templates of some kind)
- Personal coaching services
- Services related to your blog niche
- Newsletter sponsorships (if you have a newsletter tied to your blog)
- Blog-themed products (this won't work for every niche, but for example if you blog about coffee, you might sell your own branded coffee mugs)
- Blog for clients (get paid to blog for others in the same or similar niches and you can also build exposure for your own blog)
- Accept tips (these are sometimes called donations, but unless you're a nonprofit organization, you really shouldn't be asking for donations -- the "buy me a coffee/beer" style links can be more appropriate for your blog)
- Sell "reprints" of your old posts (to other blogs, or turn them into reprints for a magazine or your local newspaper)
You can choose to mix and match as many (or as few) of these revenue streams as you want. And remember, you can have multiple revenue streams from a single idea. For example, you might release several e-books rather than just one. Keep testing until you find the perfect blend of blog income sources for your site.
The Reality of High Income Blogging
Plenty of people make far more money than I do blogging. Plenty of people also make far less (and almost nothing). Pro blogger Darren Rowse did an interesting casual study in 2007 on what real bloggers are earning (many simply aren’t). (Read his findings.)
When you look at his updated survey results in 2012, things can look even more grim. For example, bloggers reporting that they earned $10 or less per month went up from 26% to 38%. In 2007, 9% earned over $15,000 per month whereas in 2012, only 4% even reported earning over $10,000 per month. Those earning $10-99 per month stayed about the same. Those in the $500-999 per month range went down by 1%. And those in the $1000-10,000 range dropped a few percentage points. (Thanks to that big increase in the $10 per month or less group.)
Should you be discouraged by the fact that a lot of people make next to no money from their blogs or that reported earnings seem to be going down? I don’t think so. Here’s why:
- Not all bloggers are really “in it for the money.” Earning may just be an added benefit, so many bloggers might just not be optimizing their revenue streams (because they simply don’t care).
- A lot of bloggers are new, and still learning the ropes of monetizing their blogs. Like in any kind of business model, it can take time (one of my blogs became my highest earner in just three months, while another wasn’t earning significantly for over a year, as an example).
- Frankly, not all bloggers know how to effectively market their sites. If they can’t market the blog, or offer something people really want to read, they’re not likely going to make money.
Ingredients of a High Income Blog
On that note, there are a few key elements that, while they won’t guarantee you’ll earn real money, will make earning a blogging income easier (assuming you’re looking for a long-term strategy, and not a "post crap content, load it up with ads, SEO the hell out of it, and earn until Google penalizes you" strategy):
- Niche - Your blog’s niche is the topic it covers. You’ll have an easier time earning money from a blog niche that lends itself to ads, products that you can sell as an affiliate, or products and services you can offer to that audience. You’ll also have an easier time if you go with a niche that not only has a decent-sized audience (preferably one that you don’t expect to disappear in the near future), but one that also isn’t already over-saturated with other blogs that would make it difficult for you to reach your target readers.
- Expertise - Do you have to be an expert in your niche? No, but it certainly helps. That’s because when you know the niche topic well, and you have credentials, it’s easier to build trust with an audience. When your blog audience trusts you, they’ll take more kindly to certain types of monetization (such as affiliate links to products that you’re reviewing, because they’ll trust your reviews more).
- Quality Content - It’s not usually too difficult to tell the difference between a blog written by a true expert giving quality advice and information and a blog where the "blogger" simply hired a bunch of cheap ghostwriters to put together keyword-rich posts for ad revenue. While the not-so-"elite" content can serve a purpose (and even make money for a while), quality content carries far more long-term income-generating potential. Why? Again, people will learn to trust it. When people trust your content, they not only keep coming back, but they start to spread the word about your site (including by giving you unsolicited backlinks). High quality content offers other benefits as well. For example, you may be able to get media exposure if you become recognized as an expert in the niche. When others spread the word for you, your blog’s (and income’s) fate doesn’t rely solely on traffic from search engines (so you don’t have to panic if you slip in search results for some reason). Quality content makes that easier.
- Marketing Ability - You have to promote your blog in some way to get traffic. Without traffic, you have no visitors (no one to monetize through ads, sales, etc.). Many bloggers don’t excel at marketing. They just follow the same "been there, done that" tactics that everyone else uses instead of really paying attention to their market and how they would best be reached. Marketing encompasses everything from your search engine optimization (SEO) to get higher search rankings to advertising to networking with others in your niche (such as by commenting on their own blogs).
- Consistency - It’s important that your readers have at least a vague idea of when you’ll be updating if you want to keep those regular readers exposed to your income streams. Depending on you and your niche, that may mean posting once per month, once per week, daily, or any other schedule for that matter. (This is sometimes one of my own biggest struggles in blogging.) In my own experience at least, when I blog consistently, income climbs quickly; when I stop for a while or get too irregular in posting, income drops respectively, regardless of what that consistent blog frequency is.
Making money from your blog might not be an easy task, but it can really be done. If you treat your blog like a business, and don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll instantly make a lot of money, you’ll improve your chance and rise above the ever-growing blogger crowd. Take your blog seriously. Take yourself seriously. And most importantly, never give up. Anyone can start a blog, but you need to be persistent to really make it work as a business.
Do you have additional monetization tips to share? Do you have a favorite blog revenue stream I didn't include here? Would you like to share your own successes or struggles with making money blogging? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media -- a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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