Michael Hyatt wrote the following on his website: “I didn’t start blogging to make money from it. The thought never occurred to me. When someone suggested I start accepting advertising, I resisted. I thought somehow it would compromise my integrity. Then I realised that all professional creatives charge for their work. In fact, this is what separates the pros from the amateurs. For ex. authors receive royalties, musicians sell tickets and artists sell paintings. If you want to blog as a hobby, fine. But art and money aren’t enemies. In fact, in most cases, the former isn’t possible without the latter.”
I think this is so important for bloggers to remember. When you are running a blog, all of the costs of running your blog (other than the obvious expenses like domain, servers, etc) are hidden in your own time. You are the one who conceptualises, conceives and creates the content. Even though these aren’t actual costs, they are still real and this is where you need to decide whether you want to remain a hobby blogger or whether you would like to take this further. As we’ve said before, starting a blog with the intention of making money from it will set you up for failure because it just doesn’t happen that easily but there is a real possibility of you monetising your blog if you are willing to put in the work. Many hobby bloggers eventually give up their blogs because it takes serious dedication to keep a blog running. It takes hard work to keep audiences, grow search traffic and create fantastic content.
There are different ways of monetising your blog, the most common being banner ads. With this, you can either use an ad network like Google Adsense or get brands to advertise directly with you. Many bloggers feel like banner ads make their blogs look ugly or cluttered but if done well, the ads can blend into your blog’s design. Also remember that you can choose the types of ads you want and don’t want running on your blog. No food blogger wants ads for dog food or dentures running on their blogs. Adsense has supported many bloggers in their quest for revenues. The plusses are that you can set it up instantly and begin earning money literally within a few minutes. You can also choose to show text ads only,display ads only or a combination of the two.
Selling advertising directly to advertisers (or in some cases ad agencies) has the benefit of cutting out the middle man. You will be making more money but this also means more ‘work’ as you have to manage the ads yourself and unless you’re out there selling your ads, you’ll have to wait for advertisers to find you. I suggest you take a look at OpenX as well as Google DFP which provide free ad server software that you can use to manage those direct ad sales. This allows you to give advertisers statistics as well, track ad expiries and generally manage the ins and outs of swapping ads and setting their timelines. I prefer working with Google DFP as it’s not as difficult as OpenX to set up and it’s relatively simple to use.
The key to making money from banner ads (and all ads for that matter), is good numbers. Advertisers are not going to pay you thousands for something 50 people read a day. Search traffic (Google, etc.) and Direct traffic is the kind of traffic that you want to build on with your blog. This is the kind of traffic that will form the ‘backbone’ of your site because it grows consistently. While traffic from social media can send great surges of traffic your way, it’s inconsistent and too unpredictable to build your blog on.
Before I discuss ‘traffic’ more, I’d just like to quickly clear up some of the terms I see being used incorrectly in the ‘blogosphere’.
- Visitors is used to describe a person who has navigated to a page on a website.
- Uniques refers to unique visitors in a given period, so that means counting each person only once and not once for each time they have visited.
- Hits generally means the number of times a server processes requests from a visitor’s browser. So if a visitor looks at a page that has three images, the server will register a hit for each of those images as well as more for the page itself. Unfortunately, the word hits is often misused to mean visits/pageviews.. This may sound more impressive BUT if you are dealing with advertisers in the ‘know’, and you say you had 60 000 ‘hits’ that month while you actually mean pageviews, they will THINK that you mean hits which isn’t all that impressive.
- Pageviews means that each visitor to a site will browse one or more pages. Each page that is displayed registers as a pageview. Pageviews are very important as they will determine how many times an ad will be displayed on the page.
To measure a site’s traffic, you need to install some sort of analytics package of which Google Analytics is the most popular. It’s freely available and is installed using a small bit of code that gets placed on every page. Google Analytics has a huge range of functionality and details and will let you measure everything from where people click on a page to what sites they arrived from. All this info will be valuable when dealing with advertisers as you can give them precise information.
Another option for monetising your blog is to allow sponsored content. For a food blogger, that would mean creating a recipe or doing reviews for a brand who then pays you for your blog post. This is a great way of making money and you might get to work with really awesome brands but it’s something that needs to be entered into with a little caution. If you’re simply writing a post to keep a client happy, your readers will catch on and they won’t be impressed. I will discuss this and working with brands in a follow up post.
Affiliate networks are also a great way to monetise your blog. There are many companies who offer affiliate programs, Amazon being one of the biggest. The way it works is that you make a certain percentage from every product sold through your unique affiliate link. The best way to use affiliate programs would be to include them in a post where you are already writing about a product or on a product review page, should you have one. Don’t go writing about a whole bunch of products just to you can use your affiliate links. If you are writing about a delicious soup you made and you happened to use a specific blender, then sure, add the link but don’t spam your readers with links all over the place.
One way of monetising your blog, which requires a little work, is to write and sell e-books. This depends on your topic of course. Food bloggers will find this much easier because you’re already developing recipes for your blog and an e-book is just an extension of that. The work required consists of developing and photographing the recipes, laying out the e-book and making it available for purchase. You would also need to be able to accept credit card payments on your blog (you can set this up through PayPal) as well as allow your readers to download the e-book once purchased.
Then finally, one of the ways I’ve found most lucrative is through freelance work that I have been commissioned to do by companies and magazines. This is not work that is featured on my blog but it’s still work I’ve gotten because of my blog, which is why I’m including it. I do recipe development for many different companies and I am commissioned every now and then to do magazine shoots which I enjoy tremendously. If you build your portfolio up and focus on good quality images and recipes, this is definitely something for you to look at getting into. Alternatively, if you are not a food blogger but have a product to offer, you could utilise a website like Etsy.com to sell your goods. Turning your blog into a book is another idea but I wouldn’t count on that to make you stacks of money. Rather look at it as a project of passion. It is incredibly self-satisfying to have your work published and it definitely leads to other opportunities, which is the reason I continue doing it.
Now you know the different ways of making money through your blog, you might need a few tips on how to actually get it going. Through years of blogging, I’ve learnt quite a bit but the following tips also come from my web-guru husband, Chris and through the advice of other bloggers that I admire.
- Presence. If you as a blogger don’t have a presence (both online and real world), people won’t know who you are. And if people don’t know who you are, why are they going to pay you to create content or advertise on your blog? When you’re making money through a blog, it becomes a business and the blog is your product. So use social media to build up your brand and to introduce yourself to people.
- Rate card. Creating a rate card for your blog shows that you mean business and that you indeed, treat your blog like one. In your rate card, include info about your readers and some of your stats. Sex, age, how many readers you get a month, etc.
- Keep track. If you’re doing a blog post for an advertiser and there’s a link from the post to their website, use bit.ly or outbound tracking with Analytics to track the number of clicks. This in turn could be used in case studies and be sent along with your rate card to other potential advertisers.
- Keep experimenting. Moving banners around on Simply Delicious has proved to be very educational for us. This is also one of the top tips given by Google for increasing ad revenue. Try different types of banners and find out what spots work the best on your site, after all, the more clicks (conversions) your advertiser gets, the more likely they’ll want to advertise more and the better your case studies will be.
Making money from blogging is certainly possible and if you’re lucky it can even feel easy. But for most of us it takes a lot of work, trial and error and research. What might begin as a small amount of money can steadily grow so it’s best to stick with it. If your blog is popular you will eventually find a way to turn that popularity into good ‘ol cash. It just might not be as easy or fast as you hoped it would. It is best to think of blogging as a marathon, not a sprint. It takes consistent posting, creativity, marketing and effort. There are times where you might feel disheartened and sometimes you might even feel like this is not really what you signed up for. But if you keep at it, keep experimenting, creating and evolving, your blog will get better and better and more successful over time.