How I Monetized My Blog

Every so often, I get asked if it’s really possible to make money blogging. And then I’m asked to explain how I monetized my blog. I’ll get to that second question, but the short answer to the first one is: yes.

The long answer is: yes, but it’s not fast, not easy, and not always reliable.

You can make money blogging. But you had better love it (write about your passions), because you’re going to do it for free for a very long time before it starts paying off. 

Now let’s talk about how I monetized my blog!

How I Monetized My Blog --- Every so often, I get asked if it's really possible to make money blogging. And then I'm asked to explain how I monetized my blog.  || via diybudgetgirl.com #money #monetizing #blogging

Can I make a lot?

If your initial goal when you decide to start a blog is to make money, that’s fine. Lots of people do it and they’re incredibly successful. But remember that all those books and bloggers who claim they made $40,000 in their first year are in the minority. They also dumped a lot of money into their start-up (ever heard the phrase, “You have to spend money to make money?”).

Aside from the obvious costs [which would be self-hosting, since you can’t monetize on a free WP site. And using Blogger is a huge mistake (for more information, here is a hangout video from Learn to Blog Hangouts explaining why you should stop using Blogger) since you don’t own your content and Google can shut you down at any time for any reason], many of the bloggers who made lots of money really fast started out with fancy photography equipment, took professional classes to learn how to take great photos quickly (instead of learning as they go like the rest of us do), they paid their way into participating in giveaways and link parties (a fast way of increasing your followers), they hired VAs (Virtual Assistants) to take care of social media for them, they paid someone to design their blog from the start, they flew out to conferences all over the country….

You get the idea.

I’m not saying throwing money into your blog is a bad idea. If you can afford to do it and you KNOW this is what you want to do, then by all means. It will make your life easier in the long run if you can afford to do all of that.

What I am saying is this: if you decide to grow your blog organically, without spending money on gaining traffic or followers, do not compare your progress to the bloggers who didn’t do it the same way. That can only end in tears.

Do NOT compare your progress to the bloggers who paid for theirs. Click To Tweet

I spent November and the first half of December feeling like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown after reading How I Made $40k My First Year of Blogging (affiliate). That book may as well have been called, All the Things Chelsey Has Done Wrong Since 2012. I’m on my third year and no where close to $40,000. But of course I’m not! I didn’t have the same advantages the author did–I had a husband in grad school when I started blogging and his stipend was basically the only income we had. There was NO WAY I could afford to do what she had done. Besides, I learned a lot of valuable lessons from the mistakes I made. Dwelling on it was silly (even if it did inspire me to get my butt in gear). Of course, that’s obvious now, but when you’re in the middle of all that stress, it’s hard to see the light on the other side.

Long story short: your progress will be slower and you’ll have to work much harder on getting your blog seen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.

Should I spend money on my blog?

A lot of the things those bloggers were able to pay someone to do are huge time consumers. I know a lot of people think blogging as a career is silly and, “Of course it must be easy. ANYONE can blog.” Anyone can write a blog post, yes. But the majority of my work day does not involve taking pretty pictures and writing blog posts. (If only that were the case….)

Anyone can write a blog post, but not anyone can be a successful blogger. Click To Tweet

I spend 6-8 hours a day running background stuff my readers don’t even see. It’s a lot of social media presence (bash Twitter all you want, but we live in the age of the Internet now and crying about it won’t change that. Without social media, your blog WILL fail. Period) and a lot of technical maintenance. I taught myself HTML and some CSS in high school and, honestly, I don’t see how bloggers can be successful without knowing a little bit of coding. I’d be doomed if I couldn’t mess around in the CSS code myself. (That’s mostly because I can’t afford to pay someone to do it for me.)

By the way, if you want to learn HTML or you want a reference book, HTML & CSS (affiliate) has been WONDERFUL. I learned a lot from it and I’m constantly flipping through it when I need to fix or update something. You don’t need any previous experience to learn from this book. 

When should I monetize?

I started monetizing in January 2014 and I had NO clue what I was doing. I also didn’t have the recommended number of monthly page views. My PVs were around 10,000. Most bloggers recommend you have 20,000 before you start monetizing–mostly because there are some programs that won’t accept you if you have less than that. (And Amazon will kick you out of the program if you don’t make a sale in 6 months.)

The reason I started early, though, was because I kept reading blog posts from bloggers who said their followers were angry that they were monetizing. I decided to avoid that and get people used to seeing ads before my blog grew any larger.

Honestly, I have no regrets and I highly recommend monetizing as early as you possibly can if it’s something you’re interested in doing. Monetizing early gave me the opportunity to mess with my ads, play around with how they would work within my theme and niche, and gave me the freedom to completely screw it all up before I had a ton of followers to answer to. 😛 (And to those few of you who were here for all the messiness, thanks for sticking around!)

How should I monetize?

The easiest way is to join ad programs. 

The best ones for me have been Google AdSense (read How to Get Approved for Google AdSense), Amazon Affiliates (read How to Insert Amazon Ads Within a Text Post), and ShareASale (read Bloggers Make Money with ShareASale). 

Media.net is easy to work with and not very restrictive. But they don’t earn as much as the others. 

BlogHer is very competitive and out-earned Google AdSense in the first month I worked with them (after 11 months of working with AdSense, btw). However, they are INCREDIBLY restrictive. They earn a lot, though, so that’s a huge bonus. But now that they’ve been bought by SheKnows, I get paid each month, rather than having to wait until I hit $100, like with other programs.

They also don’t allow you to put any other ads above-the-fold (that area before your readers have to scroll down). Since other programs like AdSense require an above-the-fold ad, you’ll have trouble working with both. Unfortunately, you have to sign a 1-year contract with them. So you can’t just start using them and then stop when you decide it’s not working for you, like you can with other programs.

A lot of bloggers also recommend writing ebooks. It’s something I’ve considered doing, but only on a topic I really know and want to write about. The problem with this advice is that now every blogger on the planet is trying to write an ebook, whether they’re qualified to give out advice or not (there are millions of blogs out there. Can you imagine if every one of them wrote a book?). That said, if you develop a large enough following, then you’re clearly doing something right and writing an ebook wouldn’t be a bad idea.

How I Monetized My Blog

Here’s a screencap of my income sheet (which I keep track of in Excel):

How I Monetized My Blog --- Every so often, I get asked if it's really possible to make money blogging. And then I'm asked to explain how I monetized my blog.  || via diybudgetgirl.com #money #monetizing #blogging

 Click the image to view a larger version.

The total going down the right-side of the page is the total for that merchant. Some don’t pay you until you reach a minimum amount–usually it’s $100. Amazon pays once you reach $10 if you’re doing gift cards or direct deposit, $100 if you do checks. They also take out a processing fee for checks. ShareASale pays once you hit $50. (Everyone else is $100, I believe.)

The total going across the bottom of the page is the total for that month.

I keep Etsy below my ad total because it’s not an affiliate program, but there’s a separate section for how much ads + Etsy gained. As you can see, my Etsy shop doesn’t do that well. I also only have one regular product in it. However, my plan was to add more after the holidays, which I’ll be working on this weekend (by testing products, I mean. I have NO idea when I’ll actually make them available in my shop).

As for the colors–the red and the black should be obvious (red means I earned nothing and black means I earned something), but grey means that the account wasn’t open yet. As you can see, there is a lot of red and grey.

The biggest reason for this is that I had NO clue what I was doing and I was too empty-headed (and stubborn) to go looking for answers. I figured I could figure it out on  my own. Turns out, I could. But it was much slower that way. I would have done myself a lot of favors by seeking out help and using Google to find articles on how to improve my Google AdSense earnings, for example.

As you can see, Amazon Associates and ShareASale greatly out-earn all of my other programs. That’s because of how I use them and how they fit into my niche. (They’re also affiliate networks, not ad networks.)

How do I make my ads work for me?

Most bloggers who are successful with ads say two things:

  1. Putting ads within your content earns more than letting them sit in your sidebar, and
  2. Using text ads within your post is better than just using image ads. 

The second one is because what you have to say about a product means more to readers than an image you’ve said nothing about. If you’ve built a trusting relationship with your readers (meaning you let them know if a product sucks), they’re more likely to take your word for it if a product is great. I’ve written some negative reviews, but mostly on social media. I try to be completely honest about my experiences, though. 

Holidays also help boost revenue. You can see my income jumped a lot from November to December. With people buying things online, gift guides really helped with that.

It’s not all about selling a product, though. Amazon tracks your cookies for 30 days after someone clicks a link from your blog. So if you click on a link to a book, close the tab, wait two weeks, and then buy a Jacuzzi tub from Amazon, I get commission for that tub. (No extra cost to you, of course. And I have heard of someone buying a tub after clicking on an affiliate link. The blogger made about $1000 off that sale. I can’t even imagine….)

The BEST way to earn money, though, is to concentrate on growing your page views enough so you can join something like The Blogger Network. This is actually my goal for 2015. The Blogger Network will take over ads and, instead of paying them, they just take a percentage of what your ad revenue is. Which gives them a lot of incentive to make sure your blog is profitable. A lot of people who have used them say their ad revenue doubled and even tripled. The drawback is that you need a minimum of $80k page views per month (through Google Analytics) to join.

Resources That Helped Me Earn More from Ads

I mentioned earlier that I should have sought help on making my ads work harder for me. I started doing that in November (another reason for the large jump). Instead of making you go out on your own and hope you stumble on something helpful, here are a few videos and blog posts that helped me figure it out.

First, I joined Learn to Blog on Facebook. I’ve learned a lot reading other people’s questions and asking some of my own. That led me to discover the Learn to Blog Hangouts. This is the one that REALLY helped me:

They explain how to set up custom channels, which is also huge in helping you figure out how much ad space on your site is actually worth. That way, if you want to start selling ad space independently, you know what to charge.

I also read a book called How I Made $40k My First Year of Blogging (affiliate). The author basically did everything I mentioned in the introduction to this post (spending lots of money to get started), but she also has some advice if you don’t want to do that. She’s how I discovered The Blogger Network. She has a lot to say about photography, since she’s a food blogger (so if you’re a food blogger, definitely read this book! If you’re not, it will still be helpful to you). That really motivated me to work harder on my photography.

Ruth Soukup’s book How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul (affiliate) was the first and best blogging book I have ever read. Bonus: she skips all the crap about how to start a blog. I hate when I buy an ebook and they spend the first 30+ pages talking about how to set up Twitter. That’s something I can Google for free. This is something that happened in How I Made $40k My First Year of Blogging and it REALLY made me mad. Fortunately, the rest of the book was helpful. Ruth runs Living Well, Spending Less, by the way. Her blog is wonderful and I recommend following her.

Blog posts that I’ve found helpful are:

There are SO many more resources out there. The problem is finding them. Pinterest has been a huge help to me, as well as Facebook groups. 

The thing about blogging, though, is that just when you think you have it all figured out, you learn something new. Sometimes that something contradicts what you thought you already knew, which can make things kind of confusing and frustrating. So we’ll see what I learn in 2015! Hopefully this time next year I’ll be coming to you with much better numbers. :)

Just when you think you have blogging figured out, you learn something new. Click To Tweet

Edit: The amount of people whining about my “Blogger is a mistake” comments are increasing. Here’s the thing. I am not here to coddle you or tell you that every uninformed decision you’ve ever made will be OK. (Though I am also not here to be mean–I WANT to help, which is why I posted that link about Blogger to begin with.) I’m here to give you a REALISTIC idea of what it’s like to monetize and lay down some facts so you can learn from my mistakes and fix any you’ve made as soon as possible. (Google how to transfer from Blogger to WordPress. It’s possible. People do it all the time.)

If something I said has made you feel bad about the choices you’ve made, then be a professional about it–either it bothers you enough to fix it (in which case, stop wasting your time whining and just go fix it) or it doesn’t bother you at all (in which case, stop wasting MY time). And now you know to do research before jumping into something. 

Do you blog for profit? What have you learned?

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68 comments

    • Chelsey says:

      You DEFINITELY need Ruth’s book! I had to carry a notebook with me when I read it–SO much useful information!

      My resolution for 2015 is to grow my blog and get at least 80,000 page views a month so I can join The Blogger Network and earn more from my ads. :)

      Thanks for stopping by! :)

    • Chelsey says:

      Thanks, Andrea! I find it frustrating when bloggers share what they’re doing *now* to make money, but don’t share the road they took to get there. So I definitely try to be as honest as possible. :)

  1. Becky says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all of these great tips! I have been blogging since 2013, but am now just trying to get really serious about it. I’m by no means expecting to make a living off my blog, but would love to monetize it a little for some extras in our life! I’m pinning this to check out the adsense tips! Found you at the Pretty Pietistic Party!
    Becky recently posted…Growing Your Faith: Being In God’s Word DailyMy Profile

  2. Angela says:

    These are some great tips. I think that a lot of people think you can just make lots of money right off the bat. I’m going into my second year of blogging and am just now switching to self hosted. I’ve waited to do so until I started getting my PVs up. But I am not even a smidgen close to 10k! Thats my goal for 2015!

    • Chelsey says:

      Angela, that’s about when I started self-hosting, as well. One thing about Ruth Soukup’s book is that she breaks down how much bloggers make, but she also explains when their PVs and income started to pick up. The average seemed to be after 3 years of consistent blogging. Keep working at it and you’ll get there!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Love this! I started monetizing from the start with Google ads and Amazon. No one really cares right now and I did read about how people got mad when other bloggers started to monetize. I don’t make anything really, I don’t have the pageviews yet, but hopefully this year will be different! Thanks for linking up to Totally Terrific Tuesday!
    Stephanie Co-Host
    Managing a Home

  4. Jennie @ Little Girl Designs says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m in the beginning stages of my new blog and so had been focusing on content and slowly monetizing. I had read too that it is better to start with ads so your readers don’t get mad when you add a bunch in later ;)…Your blog income sheet made me realize that I need to make one of those instead of just keeping a running total in my head. I just finished it and it is good to see everything in one place. So, thanks for that encouragement. Hope you have a wonderful day!

    • Chelsey says:

      Jennie, I think it’s a great idea to have a way of physically tracking your income as soon as possible. That way, you’re in the habit of it when you do start making a decent income. It will make taxes much easier. 😛 Same goes for expenses, though I only just recently made one of those. So awesome! I’m glad this post motivated you to do that! :) Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Choclette says:

    You’ve done really well. I’m just coming up to year 6 and I’ve made virtually nothing. I know a lot needs doing and I’m on Blogger too, which I’ve just read here is a huge mistake – yikes!

  6. April G says:

    Thank you for being honest about your income. I made around the same amount last year, but when I hear about people who make $40K in one year, I’m in awe, but not sure I should trust what they wrote. I love the resources that you shared and will have to take some time to go through them all.

    Your co-host from Turn it Up Tuesday,
    April

    • Chelsey says:

      April, I feel the same way. Because what I’ve noticed about many of the people who say they make $40k a year…a lot of it is coming from selling us the book that explains how they did it. Not that I think they’re 100% lying, but it does often seem like just a marketing ploy. 😛

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you enjoyed my post. :)

  7. Holly says:

    This is such a great post as in love hearing others stories. I’m like you & have stumbled through on my own, learning what I can. Adsense & nuffnang are working for me but I only monetised in the last couple of months. Affiliate links haven’t worked for me yet but hopefully someone gets the hottub haha
    Holly recently posted…Simplify My Life Challenge January DeclutterMy Profile

    • Chelsey says:

      Thanks, Holly! My affiliate links took a long time to actually get somewhere (as you saw 😛 ). But they are picking up as I work on increasing my traffic, so definitely keep at it! :)

  8. Christie says:

    These are some very awesome tips! Thanks so much for linking up at the Totally Terrific Tuesday Link Party. I hope you stop by again tonight at 10pm to show us what you’ve been up to this week. It’s so much fun partying with you!
    Christie recently posted…Chocolate Chip Cookie PieMy Profile

  9. Christine says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m a brand new blogger and I feel a bit overwhelmed at how much there is to learn! My intention from before I started was to make this my new job and to hopefully make money off of it…in the future. So this is great to read about your resources and lessons learned! Thanks so much for sharing!
    Christine recently posted…Chocolate Chip Banana MuffinsMy Profile

    • Chelsey says:

      I’m glad it helped, Christine! There is so much to learn and so many people have different takes on blogging, so it’s DEFINITELY overwhelming. I still feel that way sometimes. -_- Good luck!

  10. Brittany M. says:

    Hi Chelsea, this post has a lot of valuable information. I learned the lesson about Blogger pretty early thank goodness, and I’m still trying to get my social media accounts built up because that is the life blood of getting traffic. I am still new at this…just started in November, so I love when more seasoned bloggers share knowledge it is so helpful! Shared, followed, and subscribed to your YouTube! Stopping by from Turn It Up Tuesday :)
    Brittany M. recently posted…Turning Deployment Blues Into ProductivityMy Profile

    • Chelsey says:

      Hi, Brittany! You’re right, social media is very important! My husband and I were just talking about that the other night, actually. Content is king, but social media is queen. 😛 Thanks so much for the follows and shares! Are you sure you’re following me on YouTube, though? I don’t have an account on there for my blog.

  11. All that's Jas says:

    OMG, thanks you sooo much for this post. I can’t tell you how many times I was on the verge of quitting my blog. I don’t even care to make money with it (although your post might have changed that, lol), but after doing it for 3 years it doesn’t get nearly as many comments or viewers as others. Very discouraging! Finding time to promote and participate in social media daily IS a full time job and since I already have one (that pays) it is very hard. I’m like you – too stubborn and cheap to pay others to do things for me, so there were many days (and nights) where I pulled my hair out bc the blog theme updated, I lost everything and had to start from scratch! Sorry for the lengthy comment here but you really made my day! Thanks :)
    All that’s Jas recently posted…Easy Ravioli LasagnaMy Profile

    • Chelsey says:

      I agree! Most blogs fail within the first year, and I imagine a huge reason for that is how frustrating it is to do all that work with so little gain. It wasn’t until the last 6-12 months that I started getting any regular commenters, so I understand your frustration!

      Losing all that work is AWFUL! I can’t even imagine. I hope you’ve looked into installing a child theme since then. Definitely worth it!

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • Chelsey says:

      OH! Ha! I should have read this comment before responding. That makes way more sense. 😛 Thanks, Brittany! That channel is awesome and I hope you get a lot out of it!

    • Chelsey says:

      Thanks, Christine! I’m glad you think so! I always get so frustrated with blog posts like that because they often tell you what they’re doing *right now* to make a full time income, but they skip over all the stuff they had to do to get there (like failed blogs, for instance–many professional bloggers had multiple blogs before finding one that stuck).

      Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Joyce @ Live Laugh Love Post says:

    Fabulous article! I found yours from Turn It Up Tuesday party, that’s why I was so curious to read your post. It was incredibly impressive! But, I have no chance to read Ruth Soukup’s book. I will sign up Ruth’s workshop this Spring. Anyway, thank you for sharing :-)

    By the way, congratulations on your featured from Turn It Up Tuesday :-)
    Joyce @ Live Laugh Love Post recently posted…Homemade Bacon and Eggs RiceMy Profile

    • Chelsey says:

      Thank you, Joyce! I’m glad you liked it. It’s too bad you can’t read her book, it’s awesome! Let me know how her workshop goes, though, it’s something I’ve been thinking about joining. Thanks for stopping by! :)

  13. The Future Mrs. Vines says:

    This is a great article for even the “seasoned” blogger to read. I work outside of the home full-time and I never really took off on my “old” blog like I wanted to, but after taking breaks, starting again, taking breaks, redesigning my site a gajillion times and watching others, I think I’ve finally got it. The funny thing is my “old” blog just really started making some money. I’m still pretty set on just starting fresh. I can never stop learning, either.

  14. Aimee says:

    Okay, now I’m freaking out. You mentioned something about how hosting on Google is bad… which is what I’m doing. I just bought a domain through them and I’ve put in a TON of time on my blog. Now I feel like it’s all gonna get shut down and I’m wasting my time with them. :(

    • Chelsey says:

      A lot of people host through Blogger and are fine, but many of them wind up switching to WordPress (which you can find tutorials for). Honestly, I’d recommend just reading the blog I linked to and seeing if you still want to host through Blogger.

  15. Betty says:

    Wow, I ran across your site because I was hosting a Gilded Panda Giveaway recently. That’s how I ran across this blog. Thanks for your honest thoughts about BlogHer and how you organize your spreadsheet. I am doing the blog thing organically as well, and it’s been a tremendous learning curve as I am slowly figuring myself out in the process. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    • Chelsey says:

      I’m glad you like the post, Betty! (Hope your giveaway went well, too! I loved working with GP.) Growing a blog organically has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I LOVE it! Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Linda @ Mixed Kreations says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all your great tips, resources, and what works for you, and being straight forward and tell how it is. I’ve Had a blog since 2012 but didn’t really get serious about trying to make my blog pay me by monetizing it until recently. I’ve had an Adsense account, share a sale, Amazon, and a few others for awhile. But until I found “Learn to Blog Hangouts” I just wasn’t sure what I was doing. I have made some money from adsense and I think Craftsy too. But not enough to get paid yet. Learn to Blog Hangouts has gave me the motivation to get my butt in gear so that I can monetize, and grow my blog organically. I’m now trying to restructure my blog. Working on post, seo, traffic, etc. it will be slow going because sometimes I may only have an hour that day to work on it, but any time is better then none.
    I am so thankful that there are bloggers like yourself that are there to help other bloggers learn to monetize their blogs, and give them tips on growing organically. It’s like the majority bloggers that do monetize their blogs don’t want you to know how because you might take some of their money they could of made.
    You have an awesome blog, so glad I found it. Again thanks for sharing your tips and resources! Now off to find one of the books that you recommended that I saw earlier.

    Oh one more thing have you ever tried infolinks? And if do what do you think of them. I have them on my blog but sometimes I think that I should remove them. I worry they may annoy readers to the point they leave. I have cut them down where there’s only a couple in my post.
    Linda @ Mixed Kreations recently posted…Diy Valentine Day ProjectsMy Profile

  17. Bobbi says:

    Hello!! Just wanted to let you know I will be using this in a round up (posting soon) from the Teach Me Tuesday party! Very much appreciate you linking up with us 😉

  18. Kimsea Sok says:

    Thanks for sharing..! First, I would admit that you have a wonderful blog and huge community since I found a lot of blog comment over here..!

    Honestly, it was a nice tips about make money blogging and how to monetize blog. Actually, I have been blogging almost 3 years but I didn’t make much money from my blog.

    However, I am not going to give up my work. I love to write blog post and learnt from other bloggers.

    thanks for sharing your honest tips.

  19. Chloe says:

    I just recently opened up affiliate accounts at linkvehicle, amazon, CJ, and e-junkie. I honestly have NO clue what I am doing, or how to even do it. After reading your post I am not sure if I should start yet because I only am at about 3,000 PV/month. To dream of 10,000… wow! Thank you for the wonderful tips. I will be referencing this often!

  20. Jody says:

    Thank you for your AMAZING tips! I just started a blog and am researching so I know what to do to make money eventually. I didn’t know you had to have a self hosted website! Eek! I better get crackin!

  21. Whitney says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I really needed to hear so much of what you wrote. Like the bit about some bloggers making much more money quickly because of being able to spend more on their blogs upfront and your list of good resources. As a new blogger, it can really feel like I’m never gonna get to the place I want to be, but it’s always encouraging to hear about the honest process of those successful bloggers who’ve come before who are still working hard and proving to us newbies that blogging as a career is indeed possible and a feat worth pursuing if one is up for the challenge. :)

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