People love blogs. We read them, think about them, use them to promote our brands, and oftentimes blog as a hobby or personal endeavor. Clearly, people are making money blogging, or there wouldn’t be such a heavy appeal — so how are they doing it?
Obviously, you can use content marketing to attract people to your main site. But if all you have is a solid blog that people like to read, how can you turn that traffic and interested audience into a real stream of revenue? It’s simpler than you might think.
Before I dig too deep into the methods you can use to convert your loyal blog audience, we need to talk about how you build a successful blog in the first place — and what to do to keep it successful while you pursue these money-making avenues.
So let’s say you haven’t yet built a successful blog — maybe you haven’t started yet or maybe you’ve started a blog but haven’t found your groove. What does it take to do so?
· Choose a valuable niche. Your first step is to find a valuable niche. Yes, you think your subject matter is interesting — otherwise, you wouldn’t be blogging about it — but what do other people think? You need to choose a subject and a focus that will appeal strongly to the greatest number of people, and for that, you’ll need to bear several things in mind. For example, what are your key demographics? What’s important to them? What kind of voice will you use? Not only that, you’ll also need to consider what kind of competition is out there; what angle can you take to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
· Build a professional site. After you’ve got your niche selected, you need to build a professional site — and by that, I’m mostly referring to the design. If you have an ugly or unprofessional-looking design (like the example seen below), you probably aren’t going to get very far. Take your time and build a platform that’s going to complement your writing abilities. Make sure you have a solid, consistent brand throughout; it’s alright to use a template, especially if you’re on a tight budget, but make sure you stand out from the competition in some way.
· Create amazing content. Easy, right? This is the most important step to building a great blog, and it’s also both the easiest to understand and most difficult to execute. What makes content great? It can’t be reduced to any one series of factors; the reality is, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of variables that play into how your content is read and received. Your content needs to be valuable to your audience — meaning practical, informative, or entertaining — unique in some way, detailed, easy to follow, and reliable. And that’s just the start! I detailed some of the elements of high-quality content in this post. If you need help coming up with ideas for content, see 101 Content Ideas For Your Website or Blog.
· Nurture and grow a following. Next up, you need to build an audience and keep that audience growing. Hypothetically, your awesome content should be enough to attract an audience on its own, but the reality is, you’ll probably face difficulty earning those first few thousand regular visitors. You need to go out of your way to promote your content, using channels like social media and other visibility opportunities, and keep your audience members around by responding to their comments and making them feel like they’re actually a part of your blog. For help promoting your content, see The 10-Step Checklist for Promoting Your Next Blog Post.
· Foster a community. It’s helpful, though not absolutely necessary, to foster a community around your brand. You’ll already be engaging with your readers to attract and retain them, but you’ll generate even more loyalty by enabling your readers to engage with each other. Some brands do this by offering a forum, or simply by encouraging more discussions in the comments section of each post. However you choose to do it, work actively to keep your community engaged.
· Cultivate loyalty. Finally, try to cultivate loyalty so you don’t lose your audience members to a competing blog or have them trail off in disinterest. There are a number of different ways to do this, such as by offering subscriber perks, like bonus content in email lists, rewards for active participants, or even contests and giveaways. Keep your followers happy, and they’ll stick around indefinitely, so find out what would make them happy and give it to them.
Assuming you have a high-traffic blog already in place (with at least a few thousand monthly visitors), you’ll be ready to start monetizing. However, before you start choosing your tactics and strategizing your execution, you should know and become familiar with a few basic principles in monetization:
· Prioritize your content. When you decide to make money from your blogging efforts, that can become your primary focus. You’ll get lost in a chase for more money-making opportunities, and the quality or consistency of your content will begin to suffer. Don’t let this happen to you; no matter which path to monetization you choose, you need to keep the quality of your work high and consistent. You won’t be able to make any money if your regular visitors stop coming to your site. All other considerations are secondary.
· Keep it tasteful. Next, consider the fact that any method of making money can be done tastefully or obnoxiously; just as most people are turned off by an aggressive salesman getting in their face about a product, most people are turned away from blogs that try to make money in egregious or tasteless ways. For example, if you cram advertising down your users’ throats, or advertise with companies that conflict with your values, your users could stop visiting your blog out of annoyance or even lost respect. Keep all your methods executed tastefully and appropriately.
· Scale gradually. Next, you’ll want to scale your efforts gradually, for a number of reasons. If you try to do everything at once, you could end up shocking your readers; imagine coming to a website that was once ad-free that’s now chock-full of ads in every corner. You could also compromise your own execution; this is especially true if you’re unfamiliar with the mechanics of running your monetization efforts. Try to do too much, and you’ll only make more mistakes throughout the process.
Now, let’s take a look at a variety of different monetization methods you can use to turn your blog’s traffic into real revenue.
1. Affiliate Marketing
First up, there’s affiliate marketing — a subtle way of advertising a chosen product and earning money from any sales you facilitate.
The concept here is pretty simple. You’ll work with an outside partner — usually an eCommerce platform or another online business — and select a product or handful of products to promote on your blog. You’ll be given custom links to the product page, which you can work into your blog in any way you choose (usually this means referencing the product in context on one of your posts). When someone follows that link, they’ll have the option to buy that product. If they do, you’ll earn a percentage of each sale.
There are many variables here; different programs offer different percentage commissions and different perks, and you may even find affiliate deals for service-based industries, or payouts based on traffic instead of conversions.
Pros and Cons
Here are some of the most important pros and cons to know:
· Easy learning curve. First up, the learning curve is extraordinarily easy. Even if you exhaustively research the options available to you, it won’t take you more than a few hours to get started with a program. The only thing you have to do is include links on some of your posts, and those links are given to you straight-up.
· Low accountability. You aren’t responsible for much on an ongoing basis. You can include as many or as few links as you’d like, and you don’t have to alter anything on the product pages themselves. You’re not responsible for anything other than including the links, and you usually don’t have an ongoing relationship to manage.
· Ongoing passive income. Your links will keep earning money as long as people are following them. This makes affiliate links some of your best opportunities to secure passive income in the long term.
· Reputation problems. Unfortunately, there’s a chance using affiliate links could be problematic for your reputation. Posting about a product is sometimes an indication that you’re being compensated to mention it, compromising the honesty and reader-serving nature of your blog.
· Choosing the right products. It also takes some work to find the perfect products; you have to balance high-paying affiliate link opportunities with the necessity of using products that fit your blog’s niche and appeal to your key demographics.
How to Start
If you’re interested in getting started, there are a number of possible paths forward. One of the easiest is to use Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, which is not only one of the biggest, but one of the simplest platforms to work with. You can earn up to 10 percent of whatever sales you drive, and select from thousands of products. You can also propose an affiliate offer to brands you know that might be interested in one.
Is It for You?
Affiliate marketing is a good entry-level way to start monetizing your blog. If you’re looking for something hands-off, relatively innocuous, and easy to integrate, it’s a perfect fit. However, you need to be aware that unless your brand is seeing tens of thousands of visitors, this isn’t your most profitable option. If you’re uncertain, it’s worth a try — it won’t cost you anything but a bit of time.
2. Ads and Sponsorships
Next up are ads and sponsorships, which are probably the most obvious path to monetization on this list.
You’re probably already familiar with online advertising. You’ve seen it, you’ve used it, and you’ve probably clicked some ads in your time. Here, your job will be to sell advertising space to interested parties, giving them small sections of your blog where they can promote their businesses to your readers. You have a lot of wiggle room here; you can offer a single banner slot on a rotating basis, or offer display ad opportunities all over your site.
You can also pursue a sponsorship, which is a form of direct advertisement, where you announce a company’s sponsor of your blog for a specific post or specific time period. The options are practically limitless.
Pros and Cons
Ads are pretty straightforward, but there are some pros and cons to be aware of:
· Constant demand. There will never be an era where companies don’t want to advertise at all. Advertising is always in demand, for practically all price points, so you can always count on having at least some interested buyers for your blog’s ad space.
· Template basis. Once you set up your site for advertising, it’s easy to swap ads in and out. That makes it relatively easy to change ads between different buyers, and if you ever lose one partnership or opportunity, it’s easy to replace them without making major changes to your strategy.
· Scalability. Advertising is also one of the most scalable monetization paths on this list. It will help you generate a profit during your early stages, but can help you make money consistently as your audience grows even further. The more traffic you get, the more money you’ll make.
· Difficulty finding a good fit. You may run into trouble finding a perfect fit for your blog. Ideally, you’ll have ads that complement your content or are valuable to your audience, but finding that fit at the right price point and at the right time can be challenging. It may take some extra research or outreach.
· Reputation problems. While most readers don’t mind seeing an ad here or there, you may encounter some reputation problems if you have too many ads on your site. It can make your site come across as spammy or unprofessional.
How to Start
How to start depends partially on what platform you’re using and what stage of development you’re in. You could use a website plugin, or partially redesign your site to accommodate more advertising, or you could use a service like Google AdSense to do most of the legwork for you. Google AdSense is probably a good place to start if you’ve never monetized a blog with advertising before. You can always scale up or pursue different options at a later date.
Is It for You?
Advertising is a universally effective means of generating revenue. It’s straightforward, basic, and requires minimal ongoing upkeep. If you’re willing to annoy your readers a bit by placing them on your site, they’re a good, reliable way to make money that doesn’t require much research or development.
3. Premium Content (Such as Digital Products and Downloads)
Next up, you can create digital products or downloadable assets as a more commercial way to make money on your blog.
Rather than relying on someone else paying you to promote their material, you’ll be creating your own material to promote. Depending on what your blog is about, this could be any number of things; for example, if you blog about arts and crafts, you could sell downloadable templates or patterns. But for the most part, bloggers stick with what they know; your readers are already enjoy reading your content for free, so wouldn’t they be interested in reading more advanced material for a few extra dollars?
Obviously, if you want your readers to pay for content, it needs to go above and beyond what you provide for free in your blog. You can write in more detail, at greater length, include more examples, or offer a better design (or all of the above). eBooks and whitepapers are common ground here, often sold for a few dollars per download.
Pros and Cons
As you might imagine, there are some pros and cons to this:
· Ongoing revenue source. Once you’ve created your eBook or downloadable material, it’s going to serve as a semi-permanent revenue source. That is, as long as your content remains relevant, it can continue generating income for you indefinitely. You won’t have to worry about contracts or expirations.
· No reliance on outside partners. You’ll also be creating this material yourself (or contracting the work out in some cases). You won’t have to rely on an outside partnership, such as an affiliate or sponsor, to provide you with work or constrict you with an arrangement.
· Reputation benefits. Since your material will be written by you for your readers’ benefit, this can serve as a way to boost your reputation even further. Every time you promote your book, you’ll also be promoting your blog and personal brand.
· Peripheral benefits. There are a number of other peripheral benefits to writing an eBook. Eventually, you could offer the book as a free download to incentivize email subscribers, or you could even sell advertising within the eBook as an additional way to make money. There are tons of options to play around with.
· Upfront work. The biggest downside to this strategy is the amount of upfront work it takes. You’ll spend weeks crafting your content, and there’s no guarantee it’s going to be successful.
How to Start
If you want to write an awesome piece of content worthy of your readers’ cash, you don’t need anything fancy. You’re already writing content your readers love, so trust your research and your experience to find something valuable worth paying for. If you’re having trouble coming up with an idea, look at some of your competitors and see what they’re doing in terms of “premium” content.
Is It for You?
If you don’t feel like messing with any external partnerships, this is definitely the monetization strategy for you. It’s approachable, somewhat reliable, and can only improve your reputation over time. That is, as long as you don’t mind putting in a lot of upfront work.
4. Donations & Recurring Pledges
Your readers are enjoying your content for free, so why not ask them to contribute a donation in exchange? That’s the main idea here.
Tons of websites (not to mention organizations, like Wikipedia) use donations as a model for revenue. They genuinely exist for the common good, but also need money to keep things running, so requesting voluntary donations is the best chance they have at getting it. The model is simple; offer a box or conversion opportunity for donations from your readers, then push your readers to donate in the body of your content. You could also go with a paid subscription model, which keeps some content inaccessible until a payment is made, but the line here is blurry, so I’ll choose to focus primarily on strictly voluntary donations.
Pros and Cons
These are the pros and cons of the donation model:
· Staying free of ads. First up, you’ll stay completely free of any form of advertising. You won’t be pushing any products or services. You won’t be linking out. No other brands will interfere with your work. This is purely organic, and your readers will appreciate you for it.
· Unlimited potential. Depending on how good your content is and how generous your readers are, the potential here is technically limitless. There’s no cap and no budget for donations, so if you find a sweet spot of recurring donations, you could stand to win big.
· Unreliability. Unfortunately, since you’re relying entirely on the whims of your readers, donation models are entirely unreliable. You may get a handful of donations one month, nothing the next, and a huge surge the month after that. If you don’t mind volatility, that isn’t much of a problem.
· Reputation problems. Asking for donations can make you seem like a beggar, or make you seem amateurish in your execution. Even tactfully asking for donations could weaken your reputation in the eyes of your users. Depending on how often and how you ask for donations, you also run the risk of annoying your users or turning them away from your brand entirely.
· Interference with other opportunities. Asking for donations on top of advertising is a bad idea for a number of reasons. By opting to go with donations, you’re forgoing most other opportunities to make money.
How to Start
The donation model may be the easiest strategy on this list to start. You won’t have to do much research or much setup, and once it’s in place, you don’t have to worry about it (other than occasionally promoting the option). There are many Wordpress plugins that exist to allow your users to donate money to your brand, such as Give — do your research here, as each plugin has pros and cons.
Patreon is a great way to secure recurring monthly donations from your readers. WaitButWhy.com uses it and makes over $13,000 per month in pledges from its readers. Patreon gives you the option to offer rewards to patrons, which can be set at different tier levels. Alternatively, you can take the WaitButWhy approach and just accept contributions from your patrons without offering any additional rewards.
Generally, all you’ll have to do is connect the feature to your PayPal or bank account, and let your users take care of the rest.
Is It for You?
The donation model isn’t for everyone. If you don’t plan on doing any kind of advertising, and if you don’t mind making the ask of your readers, it could be a good fit for your blog.
5. Coaching and Consulting
Coaching and consulting force you to get more hands-on to make money, but draw on the power of your reputation.
Over the course of your audience building, you’ve become an expert in your niche. People respect and admire that expertise, and could probably use it in their own lives. Chances are, you’re informing and educating people with the content you write; coaching and consulting merely takes that education to the next level. You can attract clients with your blog work and schedule them for ongoing one-on-one sessions, charging an hourly rate or a retainer for your services. Depending on the level of your reputation and the value of your services, you can likely make a respectable salary with only a handful of major clients.
Pros and Cons
Of course, there are pros and cons to this approach:
· High revenue potential. First off, you’ll be setting your own consulting rates. It will take some time for you to find a rate that’s both acceptable to your clientele and reasonable for the work you do, but generally consulting work has enormous potential. As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to charge even more.
· Reputation benefits. Just like with producing more content, consulting and coaching can earn you more exposure, driving more traffic to your site and ultimately earning you more money. Try to get testimonials from your clients when you can.
· Difficulty getting started. However, it’s generally hard to transition to a consulting career. Your first few clients will prove difficult to get, and you may experience difficulty executing your first few sessions. Consider working with a mentor to get you started in the right direction.
· Ongoing work. Many of the items on this list represent passive income, without the need to work for your money on an ongoing basis. Consulting and coaching will demand that you put in hours regularly to continue earning.
· Scalability problems. You won’t have a problem with your first few clients, but if you scale any further than that, you’ll start to run into time management problems. You’re only available for so many hours a week. You can circumvent this by delegating the work to others, but at that point, you’ve become more of a consulting business than a monetized blog.
How to Start
There’s no easy way to start consulting or coaching. The best way is probably the most straightforward; add a page to your blog dedicated to advertising your consulting services, try to get your first client, and let the rest unfold as it may. You’ll need to do some competitive research to find out what other coaches and consultants in your area are doing, and learn from their successes and failures.
Is It for You?
This one depends more on your personal disposition than on your money-making goals and industry. Are you the type of person who likes working with others one-on-one? Do you prefer passive or active income? Can you envision yourself as a consultant? Look inside yourself to find the answer; it’s a profitable mode as long as it’s a good fit for you.
6. Courses and Workshops
If you like the idea of educating, but prefer something more hands-off, you can create courses and workshops for your readers.
You have something to teach your readers, so why not formalize it in a course or workshop? The idea here is to create material your readers will be willing to pay for, to help them reach some goal within your industry. This could include learning a specific skill, like how to optimize a site for search engines, or create something specific, such as a business plan for their startup idea. You’ll create a step-by-step guide, preferably something interactive, to guide users through this process, and you can charge for the opportunity.
Many organizations offer online courses for free or cheap, such as Coursera, so if you’re going to do this, you need to offer something unique that isn’t already being covered. It may be difficult to find a good angle, but if you can, you could strike gold.
Pros and Cons
As usual, there are pros and cons to offering coursework:
· Passive income. Once you’ve created the courses, you don’t have to do much in the way of ongoing work or maintenance. Your customers will readers will continue paying for the learning opportunity, and you can sit back and let the cash roll in.
· Expansion potential. If your first course is successful, you have multiple opportunities for expansion. Offering follow-up courses, or similar work in a different subject, could be powerful and profitable ways to make more money in the future.
· A-la-carte style. Coursework is easy to offer alongside any of the other money-making methods in this list (except perhaps asking for donations). You could even offer sponsored coursework cobranded with the partner of your choice.
· Huge investment of work upfront. One of the major downsides is that your coursework will likely require even more upfront work than an eBook or downloadable good. You’ll need to dig deep, do research, and be exhaustive if you want people to part with their money for this opportunity.
· Customer service issues. You may also find that some of your customers are dissatisfied with your coursework, depending on what you charge, the expectations you set, and how thorough you are in your offer. This can lead to customer service issues, including refund demands, which requires your time and attention and could weaken your reputation if you aren’t careful.
How to Start
Just like with premium content, there’s no specific way you need to start this process. Think carefully about a subject that your readers need to learn that falls in your wheelhouse, do the research necessary to learn more about it, and start putting together an outline of materials to offer. If you’re building something interactive, you may also need to pull in a web developer, or you can rely on an external platform like Teachable.
Is It for You?
If both premium content and consulting sounded good to you but neither seemed quite right, this is a good middle ground. You’ll need to be okay with upfront effort, but the long-term potential here is phenomenal.
This method is less about making money in an ongoing stream and more about making a profit from selling your blog.
If you’re no longer interested in continuing your work, or if you have a high bidder, you can always sell your blog outright. This has a number of advantages for both the buyer and the seller; the buyer can transform the blog how he/she sees fit to make an even greater profit down the road, and the seller can reap profits immediately without having to continue any work.
Depending on the arrangement, you may even be able to continue blogging for the platform — maybe even in a paid position — but the profits will go to the new owner, if there are any.
Pros and Cons
By now, you know there are pros and cons coming:
· One fell swoop. When you sell your blog, all it takes is one motion and you’re done. There’s no ongoing management. There’s no worrying month-to-month. You’ll get a paycheck once, and you’ll never worry about it again.
· Instant value. Selling your blog is a way of getting much of the profits you’d stand to make early. So if your blog has the potential to make $100,000 in the next three years, you can probably get $50,000 or more right now.
· Building to that level. One drawback to this strategy is the sheer amount of effort it takes to develop a blog worth buying. Not only does it need a ton of traffic and attention, it also needs to have flexibility and development potential.
· Paperwork. You’ll probably need to spend some time negotiating the details of the deal. The legal red tape and paperwork are an annoyance, but shouldn’t stop you from moving forward if this is what you want.
· No longer blogging. After selling your blog, it won’t be yours anymore. For some, this is a good thing. For others, it’s a nightmare. Think about this carefully before closing the deal.
How to Start
Obviously, it will take you some time to build a blog big enough that it’s appealing to prospective buyers. But once you’re at that level, you can announce on your blog that you’re willing to sell it, or start connecting with online entrepreneurs you know might be interested in your niche. There are also public listing platforms you can use to advertise your blog is for sale, such as Flippa, which is dedicated specifically to buying and selling blogs.
Is It for You?
If you’re uninterested in the ongoing work and you don’t mind dealing with some red tape, selling your blog may be your best bet. It won’t return you the greatest profit in the long run, but it will net you money instantly and free up your time for other projects you’re interested in pursuing.
Experimentation and Follow-Through
I’ve covered a number of potential monetization strategies in this guide, but it’s important to note that you can’t just pick one and run with it. Different strategies will work differently for different brands, and there’s no guarantee which ones will or won’t return a profit. If you want to secure the highest long-term profit, you’ll need to spend some time experimenting and evaluating the return on investment (ROI) of your efforts.
For example, let’s say you start with a paid advertising campaign, but find that it isn’t generating as much revenue as you’d like. You can keep it for a while and try a premium content offer. You find that you make more money with the content, but not enough to justify the effort you poured into creating it, so instead you turn to online coursework, which pays off in spades. The more you experiment, both with the types of strategies you choose to use and your tactics within those strategies, the more you stand to gain in the long term.
At this point, you should have all the information you need to plan, organize, and execute a monetization strategy for your blog — or if you’ve yet to start a blog, you now have a potential path of development forward. There’s no one right way to do this, and the strategy you think will work best may end up faltering, so collect as much information as you can and still remind yourself that there are no guarantees. Keep an open mind, keep your priorities focused on your readers’ experiences, and get to work!
Below are some resources to help you on your path of developing a money-making blog: