Is there anyone who hasn’t dreamt of leaving their job to set up a blog? Who wouldn’t love to spend their days with a laptop on the beach, sharing their insights with adoring readers in exchange for a massive income?
The allure is real, for sure. So real that many of us have taken the first few steps toward it. We’ve chosen a domain name, secured hosting, installed WordPress and published a few posts.
Many of you have gone even further than that. You’ve continued to publish good content and you optimized it for the search engines. You’ve built the beginnings of a following – and a subscriber list. Your search engine traffic is steadily growing.
But are you making a living yet?
There’s a terrible secret about this blogging-for-a-living dream. It’s that very few people actually achieve it. For all the hoopla I read and hear about “how to get to $100,000 a month” it can sometimes seem like you’re a moron if you aren’t pulling down at least a measly $250,000 US per year from your blog.
The reality is far less lucrative.
There have been several surveys about how much average bloggers make. The most recent one is from iBlogMagazine, for their 2015 Women’s Blogging Industry & Business Annual Report. It found that most bloggers are making less than $2,500 a year from their blogs. Unfortunately, that stat is really fuzzy – I wish the survey had asked how many made less than $1,000 a year from their blogs. But we’ll use it as a starting point.
It also took a bit of time for bloggers to see even $500 a month. In fact, 62% of their respondents still hadn’t reached $500 a month.
The next most recent survey is from Blogging.org, done in 2012. After quizzing 1,000 U.S. bloggers about their earnings, it found:
- 81% of bloggers never made even $100 from blogging.
- Only 8% made enough money to support a family.
Just to add one more data point, consider this fairly old survey from Problogger.com. Here’s what it revealed about bloggers’ incomes for just the month of October 2008:
- 37% said they made no money at all
- 29% said they made less than $10 that month
- 12% said they made between $10-$29
- 12% said they made between $30-$99
- 17% said they made $100 to $499 or more that month
Unfortunately, we’re going to have to give those figures a little wiggle room. As some of you have already guessed – those percentages don’t total to 100. They total to 107.
Despite the imperfect data, I think you’re seeing the trend. I wanted to cite three different studies to thoroughly debunk this idea that most people are making megamoney from their blogs. They aren’t. Some are, of course. Maybe 1-2% of bloggers are clearing $10,000 a month from their blogs. And about 5-8% of other bloggers are “earning a living”.
So here’s the real question from all of this background. How do you get into that 5-8%? How do you become the one in twenty blogger that can actually pay their bills with their blogging?
That’s where blog monetization comes in.
The money’s in the niche – or not
One caveat before we dive in. Whether or not your monetization efforts are successful depends a lot on what niche your blog is in. It also rests on how well you’ve defined an audience for your blog.
So – for example – if you’ve got a blog about B2B social selling and sales automation, you’re going to have a vastly easier time making money off that than if you were blogging about, say, marshmallows. All the work people do strategizing and planning their blogs pays off. Literally. So if you’ve skipped that, and you’re not earning any money, start there.
But let’s assume you’ve chosen a niche with some monetary legs to it, and you publish high-quality content people really like. Then this is the buffet of blog monetization methods you get to choose from:
Probably not the most effective monetization method, but certainly the easiest. To use AdSense you just paste snippets of code into strategic spots on your blog’s pages. The AdSense system takes it from there, serving up ads related to your blog’s content. You just sit back and collect money when people click.
That’s the slacker approach. It works, but if you’re willing to set up some tests to see which ad formats and settings do best for you, you’ll earn more – up to 100% more. Just proceed with caution. Too many AdSense ads can make a site seem spammy, and can even hurt your SEO rankings.
This is not considered the best way to monetize a blog, though it is wonderfully low-maintenance. I used to earn about $3,500 a month from my AdSense sites, though that was (gulp) over a decade ago.
This page has three AdSense ads just above the fold.
2) Email marketing.
For some sites, this is their sole monetization method. And it can definitely work. I’ve heard people on Warrior Forum say that an email list can be monetized so that each subscriber earns you $1 per month.
I think that’s a bit high, honestly, though some people swear they’re getting it. Either way, here are just a few of the ways to make money from an email list.
- Sell “dedicated emails” to advertisers. You take their ad copy and then mail their message to your list. See our post about solo ads for more information.
- Sell ad space in your email messages.
- Sell your own products in your email messages.
- Sell links or other small content formats in your messages (similar to ads, but often disguised as content)
- Sell affiliate products in your messages
3) Affiliate programs
Ah, the big kahuna of website and blog monetization. At least it used to be. Affiliate programs – aka affiliate marketing – is where you sell other people’s stuff and they give you a commission on each sale. There are entire affiliate networks where you can choose from hundreds of products to try to sell.
When you choose among affiliate products, pay attention to how much of a commission you get, how much the average order size is, and how long the “cookie length” is. That’s the term for how many days you’ve got between when someone clicks your affiliate link and when they actually buy. The shorter that time-frame is, the harder it is to make money.
ClickBank is one of the oldest affiliate networks around.
4) Sponsored Posts.
These are posts you write on your blog, but they’re commissioned by a company (or a person) that pays you to promote their product or service in your post. Ends up, sponsored posts are the most common way bloggers earn money.
Sponsored posts may feel a little icky if you’ve never done one. But depending on how much editorial control you keep over the post (and you should keep a lot), they don’t have to make you feel like you’re selling your soul. Also, choose to only work with companies and to promote products you really like – that helps, too.
How much you’ll earn per sponsored post depends a lot on how big your audience is and what your niche is. There are calculators that attempt to show you how much you could charge, but like anything – a sponsored post is worth what people are willing to pay you for it, period.
For context, though, here’s what Sue Anne Dunlevie of SuccessfulBlogging.com says is the going rate for sponsored posts:
There’s another study of what sponsored content costs here if you want more information.
You’ll want to limit how many sponsored posts you publish or your blog might start feeling like a sales pitch. They’re just one way to monetize your blog – most bloggers don’t make all their money from sponsored posts. Most typically it’s 20% or less of their total income, though in the iBlog survey, 18% of bloggers said they each 20-50% of their income from sponsored posts. Another 18% said they earn 50-70% from them.
5) Influencer marketing partnerships.
As your blog’s traffic and social following grows, so does your opportunity to market yourself as an influencer. And as you know, influencer marketing is quite popular right now. It’s a legitimate way to earn money from your blog.
You’ll probably need at least 1,000 email subscribers to make the grade as an influencer. A healthy social media following (like 10,000 or more Twitter followers or a Klout score over 60) will help, too.
These are the types of support influencers typically offer to companies:
This is how they get “paid” for those services:
Meh, huh? If you were looking for lots of money, that chart may be a disappointment. But if building your audience (which is, after all, the core of your business) is your priority, this could work.
Here’s a little more detail about how it looks when the transaction does involve currency:
6) Freelance projects – and even a job.
At first I didn’t think of this as a way to monetize a blog, but so many people are categorizing it as such, I’ll include it here.
If you do a good job with your blog, odds are high someone will reach out to you to ask you to write a few posts for them like the ones on your site. This is certainly a good way to make money, especially if it ends up being a long-term gig.
Just charge enough to make it worth your while. Because of your blog, you’ll be considered a “subject expert”, if not an outright influencer. That means you can charge more than a regular, write-about-anything freelance writer would.
7) In-kind goods or trade compensation.
Not all payments come in cash. Samples, promotional gifts, and free gear are all legitimate ways to get paid, too. For many bloggers, this type of payment exceeds how much cash payments they get. If you’ve picked a niche you really love, this might make all your blogging work feel worthwhile.
8) Sell your own products.
This is one of the best ways to convert traffic into money – and build your audience and your relationship with them at the same time. “Products” could be physical, digital or even services. A soap blogger could sell their wares, for instance. They could even figure out a drop shipping setup and add a store section to their blog. Or they could put together a “starter kit” for new soap makers, complete with training (either videos or an ebook) and all the supplies someone would need to get started.
Most often, though, “products” on a blog starts with a paid ebook. Training courses are also very popular. Mastermind groups and membership sites can work, too. Really, selling “products” on your blog just means selling something you made – the format is up to you.
The ClimbHealthy.com blog sells a full-length book and nutrition coaching sessions with the owner.
9) Speaking gigs.
You’ll probably get more speaking gigs if you launch a podcast to complement your blog, but plenty of people get speaking gigs with just their blogs.
It’s said that speaking gigs can be very lucrative. However, I’ve also heard a reasonably popular public speaker say she actually makes fairly little from her speaking gigs. She mostly uses them as a platform to get big-ticket clients.
Either way, this is one of the options for squeezing just a little more money out of your blogging work. Also consider doing a couple of paid webinars if you like to talk live to groups.
10) Land a book deal.
There are dozens of examples of blogs that have been converted into books, or of successful authors who started out as bloggers. So if you’d like to be in print and see your name up in the window of your local bookstore, this is a viable path.
Just don’t expect riches. Sure, some people get million dollar book deals. Most of us get about $30,000, though that can vary widely – from $7,000 to $100,000. Even $7,000 is certainly not nothing, but it won’t buy you J.K. Rowling’s lifestyle.
Of course, if your book ends up being successful, your blog can serve as a valuable way to keep readers engaged until your next book is published. That’s why so many authors maintain blogs: to keep hungry readers fed.
There’s an almost endless number of ways to turn your blog’s traffic into cash. One piece of advice, though: Don’t sell out.
Otherwise you’re just eroding your business base, and the real driver of your income: Your readers.
What do you think?
Know of more monetization tactics than what I’ve mentioned here? Post a comment and tell us about them.