This is probably the question I get asked the most, either by nosy types who seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone how much money they earn, or by newer bloggers wanting some advice. It’s also one of the biggest areas of The Blogcademy and certainly the section that garners the most discussion.
So today I’m sharing some ideas on how you might want to monetise your blog. But I’d caution you to just take these ideas as hard and fast rules. The great thing about being a blogger is that there are no rules or restrictions on what you can try to make an income. Blogging is all about forging your own path, coming up with your own ideas and going your own way. So think of this article as a jumping off point for starting to dream up your next light bulb moment.
Diversify your income streams
The most important thing to realise is that, as a blogger, it is imperative to diversify your income streams – the classic don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Having some form of advertising in place is usually the first port of call for anybody wanting to monetise a website, but what if businesses and brands decide that they don’t want to have blog ads any longer? If the bottom does fall out of digital advertising, you don’t want this to be the only way you pay your rent.
While I don’t think you should stretch yourself too thin or have too much going on (it can be difficult to keep up with and confusing for your readers) at least three or four revenue streams, in my opinion, would be advisable.
This is how I handle all the adverts on Rock n Roll Bride. So basically if someone wants an advert on my site, they email me directly about it and we take it from there. The main reasons I do it this way and not through a third party like an ad network (see below) is because a) I can have complete control over who is represented on the site and b) I don’t have to give anyone else a cut of the profits!
I’m not going to go into all the ins and outs if how my advertising systems work in this article (you’ll have to come to The Blogcademy for that juicy info!) but needless to say it’s the way that works best for me.
There are hundreds of ad networks representing widely varying types of advertisers and placing them on a plethora of different niches of blogs. But, in a nutshell, they takeover a space on your site (usually in the sidebar and of their own specified size) and fill it with adverts from the brands that they represent. The great thing about working with an ad network is that they have the connections with bigger brands that you might not, and once the ads are live there is very little work that you need to do. The downsides are that they take a cut of the profits and you can’t have complete control as to what ads might suddenly appear on your site.
You get paid per click. I hear the average is about $2/CPM (cost per thousand impressions) but it varies depending on the type and size of advert as well as the traffic of the blog. Some of the networks also limit the impressions that ‘count’ to a specific country – so for example if you were working with an ad network based in the US they will only pay out from the impressions made by your blog visitors based in the United States.
Now lets say that hypothetically your blog gets 20,000 page views a month and you had three adverts on your site. At $2/CPM that would make you a whopping $120 a month… hardly enough to live off. These types of adverts also often take up a lot of valuable real estate on your blog’s sidebar so clearly if you do choose to go down this route it can’t be your only source of income.
Similarly to an ad network, you can place adverts hosted by Google on your site but instead of getting paid per 1000 views you get paid every time one of your site visitors clicks it. The amount you get is dependant on a number of factors including size and complexity of the graphic, but it’s usually only a couple of pence per click. The good thing about Google ads is they ‘read’ the content of your site and make sure the adverts posted are relevant, however the downside is that if you ever write about something off topic the adverts displayed can get a little screwy. When I wrote about weight loss and weddings for example all the Google ads around the post were for slimming aids and crash diet shit – UGH! Again this method is unlikely to net you a fortune on it’s own, but it all adds to the pot without a whole lot of effort.
Affiliate schemes are basically a way for you to earn income from the links you post within your blog’s editorial. Websites like Amazon, Reward Style and even Apple offer affiliate accounts. So instead of linking directly to a book or a dress or the new Apple gadget that you’re just going to die without, you’d instead link to the item via your affiliate account. If someone then clicks that link and goes on to purchase the item you get a percentage of the total value of the order.
The great thing about affiliates is that there’s no limit to how many you can sign up for, the downside is that it can be quite a faff to find every item you want to link to. Also, the fact that people not only have to click the link but then go on to make a purchase before you get paid anything can mean it often feels like quite a lot of work for not a huge amount of money. I’ve heard some people moan about bloggers somehow ‘duping’ their readers by using affiliate links, but the way I see it, if you’re going to link to something anyway and it doesn’t cost the end user any more to buy something after clicking through from you, why shouldn’t you get a little kickback for referring them?
Whether digitally, like an e-book or a video series, or physically like a book, a magazine (ahem) or some cute handmade jewellery – use your blog to promote it! Your regular readers will be your biggest champions so often are more willing to pay for a little something extra from you. My advice would be to have a range of products – some high end and expensive and others more affordable in order to appeal to a wide range of people with different budgets and desires.
(No, not in that way you filthy animal) Use your blog, and the things you write about, to sell your services – for example as a photographer, a graphic designer, a public speaker or a stylist. But how?
Don’t just tell people what you do, show them what you do. Your blog and your social media is the most perfect platform imaginable to do this. If you’re a photographer use your images to illustrate your blog posts (duh…) As a graphic designer you could offer advice about design as well as showcasing your design projects in a way that’s helpful to your readers (Shauna does both these things so well and loving her blog was actually the main reason I booked her to do my graphic design work!) As a public speaker or teacher you could write posts covering the topics you like to speak about and as a stylist you could style some shoots for publication which will showcase your epic skills. The possibilities are endless really. Don’t just tell people you’re a photographer/designer/speaker/stylist show them how damn good you are at your job. If it’s done beautifully and with integrity your work will sell itself.
Traditional advertising has certainly changed in many blog niches, particularly for fashion and lifestyle bloggers. Instead of simply throwing a banner advert up, brands are now pushing bloggers to create the content themselves and to work closely with their products. Maybe by using them in styled photo shoots, wearing them in outfit photos, designing a range for them or even having them sponsor a blog series. I read that Dior recently partnered with French fashion blogger Garance Doré and sponsored her video series, Pardon My French. That means she was paid to wear free Dior clobber on camera. Sheesh, It’s a hard job but I guess someone’s got to do it!
My only word of caution here would be that some brands will only offer the blogger free items in exchange for promotion rather than any payment. In the beginning this may sound very appealing (I mean who doesn’t love a freebie?!) and many smaller companies genuinely do only have limited budgets for marketing (remember the item they’re offering you isn’t free for them!) In this situation my advice would be this – if you love the company and would buy the item anyway, I think a collaboration like this can work well to a point. Both you as the blogger and the designer/company sending the item will benefit. However, just remember that you can’t pay your mortgage with free jewellery and I wouldn’t recommend eating a handbag.
Many larger brands or companies will try their luck by just offering a free item to a blogger and hope they will be so excited/flattered to be asked that they’ll blog about them for days! A little secret here – these larger and more well known companies usually do have some budget to pay bloggers, but they often won’t disclose this until you ask! Don’t be afraid to value your worth and broach the subject of payment. A simple reply like “I love your company and the item you’re offering and I’d love to work with you on this project. Can you please let me know your budget for this collaboration?” and just see what they say. Some will come back with a flat out ‘nothing’, others may offer you a token amount but some may surprise you with what they have available. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain so don’t be a scardy cat. They can only say no after all!
There has been a HUGE debate raging for a long time about bloggers accepting freebies for review, and whilst it is a muddy topic, I feel that as long as you go into any deal with the utmost honesty it’s part of the job… and every job has it’s perks right? Make sure you tell the company from the outset what you will/will not offer them in exchange for a free item and always always disclose in your posts when you’ve been comped something or have been paid to write about it. Also it should go without saying, but giving someone a crappy review after they’ve sent you something for free is a big no no! I’ve actually never been in this situation myself, but if I was ever sent something and I didn’t like it I’d probably send the item back with a note saying thank you but I didn’t feel it was quite right for my blog.
This kind of monetisation has also caused many a naysayer to cry “sell out!” but really, this is one of the least spammy or ‘sell-outy’ (er yeah that’s a phrase) way to advertise. By actively engaging with a product or service the blogger is able to give a much more honest review of something to their readers, which is ultimately what they, and the brands themselves, really want. In my eyes its a win win situation. I really enjoy working closely with brands and businesses I love to come up with creative ways to promote them.
There is no magical money tree
… and neither is there a pot of gold at the end of the allusive blogging rainbow. Simply having a blog is not a means to an end and there is no quick trick you can employ to net yourself a fortune overnight. I honestly think that some people genuinely believe that us bloggers have some magical secret bit of code that we put in to our website’s backend and it suddenly starts printing money. If only.
A blog will not make you money. Your blog is a vehicle for you to use to start making money. And this takes it’s sweet ass time. You have to launch it, write on it – every day – for a few months (at least), build an audience, get that audience to love and trust you, and then start developing ideas for monetisation. The notion that you can start a blog and start making money from the off is totally and utterly ludicrous.
And remember, always keep it classy
However you choose to make money from your blog, having the utmost integrity is key. Not only by disclosing when you’ve been paid (or gifted) something to write about it (you readers will NOT like feeling like they’re being duped or lied to) but also with who you choose to work. If you get a slightly icky feeling when you think about it, or something just doesn’t sit right with you then listen to your gut. If you don’t like the way something feels, you readers probably won’t either.
The other thing to realise is that not all these avenues will necessarily work for your blog. I know many bloggers who do really well out of affiliate links or example, but I’ve tried it and never really made enough to make it worth the effort. Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn through trial & error what works best for you, your readers and your business.
Many bloggers have come under scrutiny for monetising their blogs with things like brand collaborations, affiliate links, ‘selling out’ to advertisers or by accepting gifts for review, but what many people outside the blogging bubble don’t realise is just how vital is it to have these various streams of revenue and to build these relationships. Without them our blogs simply wouldn’t exist. Bloggers need to be constantly thinking “what’s next?”, to question the status quo and push boundaries in order to stay ahead of the curve. We need to be savvy about how we create our content and inventive with how we make our money. While that might lead to some raised eyebrows, until a concrete and one-size-fits-all method to monetise digital publishing comes to light, bloggers will constantly have to develop and redevelop ways to earn a crust. It’s not an easy job – far from it – but it’s the best bloody job in the world.
- Photography: Brooke Davis of Blush by B