People seemed to enjoy my first and only foray into the “how to make money blogging” genre when I outlined the real economics of blogging – not as glamorous as is often portrayed when someone’s trying to sell you an affiliate product to get you started, but it has worked out for me, so it can probably work out for anyone else under the right circumstances. I had a few requests to share my experience and insights on monetization specifically, so here you have it – I’ll share:
- How I Make Money Online
- How Much I Make Online
- Which Ad Networks and Methods Work and Which Ones Waste Time
- Other ways to Make Money Online
How I Make Money Online
I make money through a variety of models and methods. I’m a big fan of diversification and multiple streams of income. Reason being, I’ve had catastrophic failures before in individual streams, like having my first blog wiped out by Google or having a high-performing ad network stop paying. Now, I run a couple blogs, with Darwin’s Money being my primary project at this point. But if something ever happened to it, at least I have a fallback. I also get to cross-promote and up-sell advertisers that may have landed on one or the other. So, here’s a breakdown of my key income streams at the moment:
- Adsense – Google’s Adsense is the most popular and the immediate starting point for all new bloggers. While many more experience bloggers eventually forgo Adsense in favor of selling their own products or other higher margin methods, it’s great to see that first income stream. If you have decent content, ad placement, and of course, traffic, the income is relatively predictable and steady. Even non-bloggers know what this is so I won’t spend any more time on it.
- Affiliate Ads – Ever wonder why everybody loves to review ING accounts or credit cards? That’s because they’re affiliate links embedded in the articles. Love ’em or hate ’em, affiliate ads are often a pretty steady stream of income for bloggers. Basically, if someone clicks through a credit card link in an article I wrote, I’ll get say, $40. I don’t do a lot of these ads but I have a couple here and there – maybe 1 in 20 articles is a review of some sort. With a couple conversions of various products per week, I can reasonably make a hundred or more bucks per month.
- Direct Ad Placements – Occasionally, an advertiser will contact me to ask for placement of a banner on the site, help get the word out about a new launch or some other means of direct advertising. When I can, I try to lock in a deal for as long as possible, even by discounting the fee. Contrary to how I might run a brick and mortar business, I really seek value capture immediately at the expense of future revenues in these models. See, many people who contact me are just consultants or they have an ad budget today that will dry up next month. If we agree to a monthly ad renewal, often times within a month or two, they terminate. By offering a discount of say 10-15% for a full year signup, I lock in those revenues immediately. Depending on the type of ad and duration, a deal might mean anywhere from $25 (monthly) to $600 (annual); it depends. But by locking in just one deal per month, that’s a nice additional revenue stream.
- Freelance – Writing for other websites is a decent way to make some money on the side, especially when your blog isn’t performing yet. On one hand, some might say that this is effort and content you could be adding to your own blog instead of someone else’s, but I believe there is a law of diminishing returns for smaller blogs, so if I wrote 3 articles or 30 for this blog this week, I won’t get 10x the impact (revenue, traffic, etc.) in the end. Freelancing is a good way to both get others to see your work (often a byline at the end), and also, to see how others write and learn about the standards you must conform to. Freelance gigs vary by site and I don’t do a lot of it, but to stay diversified and networked with others, I do a bit each month.
- Many I’ve Tried that Don’t Work – see below
How Much I Make Online
Well, if I start publishing my specific income each month, my wife’s gonna start asking for a bigger allowance :> ! But to not be a total cop-out, I’ve been officially earning 5-figures online for a couple years now. That may sound daunting if you’re not making it now, and as I outlined in my first article on the economics of blogging, I started off getting less than a click a day regardless of how much effort and promotion I put in. But, over time, you grow your audience, your network, your efficiency and your monetization. We’re talking about $833 a month to make that happen and by diversifying income streams, it’s not that much of a stretch to get there.
Which Ad Networks and Methods are a Waste of Time (for me)
- Amazon.com – I’ve always found this network to be virtually useless. Amazon works for someone who’s running a techie site and they review products and put the links in each article or something, but in my experience, Amazon has been one of the worst performing networks for me. Even if I do a book review and someone buys a $10 book, the 4% commission is a whopping 40 cents. I make more than that on an Adsense click which doesn’t even have to result in a sale.
- Kontera and other in-text pop-ups – Not only is the pay per click really low on these, it looks obnoxious and unprofessional. When I see those underlined words with pop-ups upon mouseover on a site, I automatically think “amateur”. The income is probably about 5-10% of the income per page view for Adsense in my experience. Just not worth it.
- Most Affiliate Products – Regardless of how compelling a story you tell or how useful a product is, if you don’t have the traffic and relevant audience, people just won’t click through, and even worse, they won’t buy. The conversion rate is really low, especially from traffic from routine followers and social network traffic. Why? Because they didn’t come there looking for that. An exception might be when you get Google Search traffic for a keyword related to the product. For instance, if someone searches “$100 credit card signup bonus” and lands on your Chase $100 Bonus page (see example)…(like that? It’s all about getting the most shots on goal), well then that may very well result in a conversion – because that’s what they were looking for. Someone reading your RSS or coming in to read a different article from Twitter? Not as likely.
- Most Banner Ads – Oddly, even though banners are pretty loud and obnoxious and virtually every site has them, I rarely get clickthroughs from banners. Most affiliate conversions come from a review with an in-text link to the site.
Other ways to Make Money Online
There are some other ways people make a complete killing online. To date, I just haven’t had the time or inclination to pursue these measures, but they’re out there:
- True Affiliate Marketing – You’ll see tons of ads out there selling you a book on “how to make money with affiliate marketing” which has to make you wonder if you’re late to the party, but for the people that pull it off, they basically write up a book, ebook, “system”, DVD, or whatever on something…anything. Often times, they know nothing. But they basically produce a product for sale. It might be crap, or regurgitated from wikipedia. Then they sell it for what seems like a good price. Just enough to get some sales, but not so cheap that it seems “cheap”. Say, $24.95. Then, they pay bloggers like me to promote the heck out of it. It’s a revenue split, often 50/50. I’ve never promoted one of these things, but for those bloggers who do, they often make a few bucks by giving up some of their page space, and perhaps reputation, while the original author sits back and collects the checks. It’s a nice biz model if you can pull it off. Usually though, these authors are experienced in this Affiliate Marketing genre and know all the ins and outs and have a network set up. If it were this easy for everyone, we’d all be working in our slippers.
- Sell an ebook – Similar to what I outlined above, some people make an ebook (basically, a big article, PDFd, and called an ebook) based very much on their core competency of their blog. They may either sell an ebook or even give it away. By giving it away, there’s still something in it for them. There may either be affiliate ads in there, links back to their site, or just plain PR. In the end, the goal is to add value by doing so. I haven’t tried this out yet, maybe someday down the road.
- Sell your real book – I have a friend that wrote an exercise and nutrition book and sells it online for $49. Why people pay this is beyond me, but they do. She’s making a killing. She’s using the affiliate model above with the 50/50 split, and she also does book signings, conferences, etc. to promote it.
- Sell your services – Many people list consulting and other online services in there online income statement. I don’t do consulting or host a web service, but if you write a blog on web design and you’re a web designer on the side, what a great outlet to capture new contracts right? Just drive people to your site and then funnel them to your real business. Sounds simple, and it is – many people do this.
So, that’s it in a nutshell for Darwin. If I had more time, I’d probably be trying to make even more money online and growing through more revenue streams but in the end, it’s only money. I’m sacrificing enough by keeping a couple gigs going, but maybe in another life! Hope that gives you a sense of the economic realities of blogging from a monetization standpoint and perhaps spurs some ideas!