Let’s get this out of the way right away, blogging is not a get rich quick system. Anyone that tells you it is is either lying or using some shady practices like illegally re-publishing content from other sites. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at how bloggers can ethically earn money for their efforts. Some of these methods will work better for some bloggers than others and all of the full-time bloggers that I know use a combination of methods.
Displaying advertising is the most straight-forward method of trying to earn money from a blog. You put up some banners from Google Adsense or another ad network like Buy Sell Ads and then just wait for people to click on the ads. (Never click on ads on your own blog because that can get you barred from most ad networks. Clicking your own ads is fraud).
Display advertising seems like the easiest way to make money through blogging. All you have to do slap-up some Google Adsense ads and watch the money roll-in, right? Wrong. Unless you have a lot of page views (100,000+ per month) on your blog, using Google Adsense advertising is not going to pay your bills although it might provide enough for a nice dinner out every month. Adsense takes a 32% cut of all revenue from ads displayed on your blog. A slightly more lucrative option is to directly sell banner ad space on your blog, but again you need a lot of page views in order to charge more for advertising space.
You should also consider the effect that advertising has on look and the initial impression that your blog gives off. I will fully admit that right now I don’t like the way that Free Technology for Teachers looks with all of the banner ads that I have. That said, I have contracts with all of those advertisers that I don’t intend to break.
Affiliate marketing used to be the “hidden” way that bloggers made money. Now, thanks to FTC regulations requiring disclosures, affiliate marketing is more transparent. Affiliate marketing is linking to a product (like an Amazon book) or a service (like MediaTemple web hosting) through a specially formatted link that tracks back to your affiliate account with the company. If a visitor clicks that link then makes a purchase from that company, you get a percentage of the sale. The percentages vary greatly from company to company and product to product. I’ve seen percentages as low as 1% and as high as 50%. Some affiliate programs like MediaTemple’s pay a flat rate per sale. (Disclosure: I used a MediaTemple affiliate link in this post).
Affiliate marketing works better for some bloggers than others. You don’t need a big audience in order to make money from affiliate marketing, you just need the right audience. I’ve never done well with affiliate marketing on Free Technology for Teachers, in fact I’ve abandoned it there, because people coming to Free Technology for Teachers are looking to save money not spend money. On the other hand, my friends Gillian Duffy and Liza Tolisano Ford do well with affiliate marketing because their audiences are comprised of people in the spending mood. Gillian runs a travel blog and a site that hosts travel book reviews, her audience has disposable income. Liza is a mommy blogger who runs Addicted to Saving on which she is constantly sharing great ecoupons for all kinds of household products.
Amazon has the largest affiliate marketing program, but there are programs for all manner of products and services. The next time you’re on the site of a company whose products or services you use, look for “affiliates” buried in the footer of the page. Also take a look at places like Commission Junction for access to a huge network of affiliate programs.
This is the method that actually is almost as straight-forward as it seems. You have a product for sale, people buy it, you deliver it, and then you cash the check (or transfer the money from your PayPal account to your bank). The question is, what are you going to sell? Bloggers sell all kinds of things from scented eye pillows (more about that in a bit) to videos to ebooks.
Let’s assume for now that you don’t want to turn your living room into a warehouse full of products to sell. Instead, let’s talk about virtual products like ebooks and videos. Common Craft has built a nice business by selling their videos. Common Craft is a husband and wife team that runs their business of out their house in Seattle. People pay an annual subscription to access their video library. Chris Guillebeau makes a good living by selling his ebooks. In both of these cases the inventory for the products is unlimited, there are not any shipping costs, and sales can be made at anytime. E-Junkie is a service that will manage the transactions of your virtual goods.
Like affiliate marketing, the success of selling virtual products does depend in large part on your audience.
Now back to the scented eye-pillows; my friend Kim sells scented eye-pillows, her blog is there to support her primary business of selling her crafts. Blogging is not her primary occupation, it’s secondary to her craft. Selling physical products brings with it all manner of accounting and tax implications that are not associated with virtual products. Consult your tax professional if you want to set-up an online business that sells physical goods.
Selling services can be the most lucrative of these four methods of earning money through blogging. Selling services can mean consulting, coaching, keynote speaking, conducting webinars, or any other situation in which people are paying for access to your expertise. While it can be the most lucrative, it also takes the most time. You don’t wake up one morning as an expert and start charging $25,000 to deliver a keynote (by the way, I don’t charge anywhere near that much). It takes time to build up your credentials and become recognized in your field before you get invited to keynote (and then you better be good if you want repeat business). I spoke at a bunch of events for nothing more than free registration. And when I did start charging I didn’t charge much more than the cost of a tank of gasoline and a Subway sandwich.
Besides speaking at live events, you might consider offering webinar presentations. Again, I did a lot of these for free before I ever started to charge for them. Generally, you won’t earn as much for a webinar presentation as you will for a live presentation, but you do get to present from the comfort of your home.
How much does Richard make through blogging?
This is the question that all of my friends wonder about, but few are brave (or crass) enough to ask. In 2013 between advertising revenue (bear in mind I have 1,000,000 combined pageviews per month), speaking at live events, and conducting webinars I earned about as much as a high school principal in Maine. The breakdown of revenue sources is roughly 40% advertising, 50% speaking, and 10% webinars.
Pick a strategy early, but don’t be afraid to change.
If you’re looking at blogging as a means earning some money, pick a strategy early on. I didn’t have a strategy at all when I started Free Technology for Teachers and as a result I’m in a position with that blog that makes it more difficult for me to use affiliate marketing or to sell a virtual product than if I had just called it Technology Reviews for Teachers or something like that. If your focus is to develop your blog as a means to getting invitations to speak at events, make that clear on the blog with a page about the workshops you can offer.
Finally, whether you’re looking to make money through advertising, affiliate marketing, or speaking always remember that your blog posts should help people in some way, shape, or form. If you’re blog posts don’t offer material that people find helpful, they won’t return on a regular basis.
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