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!
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):
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:
- Putting ads within your content earns more than letting them sit in your sidebar, and
- 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:
- Blog Income Report from By Regina
- You Don’t Have to Be a Huge Blogger to Make Money Blogging from Blogging on the Side
- Grow Your Business: A Daily Checklist from Massive Sway
- Affiliate Marketing Basics: A Beginners Guide from Frugal Fanatic
- Can You Really Make Money Blogging?: One Year Later from Creative Savings Blog
- Writing an eBook: Turning Your Passion Into Profit from Massive Sway
- How I Started Making a Full-Time Blogging Income from By Regina
- How to Reach 1,000,000 Visitors in a Year of Blogging from Blogging on the Side
- 10 Practical Tips to Make Money Blogging from Play Party Pin
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?