Starting a blog is easy. How to make money blogging is slightly more difficult.
First off, the bad news. Let’s get out of the way the notion of you’ll make money from blogging overnight. It’s not going to happen. Blogging is definitely NOT a “get rich quick” scheme.
It will take some time. In my opinion, it can be as little as six months, but for most, it’s at least a two-year journey.
Though, a blog can be a very profitable business and great for someone who’s looking to start as a side hustle. No joke, it is possible to make 5, 6, and in some cases 7 figures or more a year blogging. With hard work and a dash of luck, you sell your blog for seven figures as I did in 2018.
Blogging is certainly a legit way to make money online.
This post is all about how to monetize your blog. There are clear-cut ways to make money online.
I break down each of them and tell you the pros and cons of each. Some of the options to make money online will depend upon your chosen niche. Not every business niche can work with each option to make money.
For example, my previous business was an investment blog. Most of my revenue was from affiliate marketing. Though I could have also made money from ad banners, sponsored posts, digital products, and a membership site. It wouldn’t have worked with selling physical products.
Summary of How to Make Money Blogging
The list of making money blogging is in the order of the degree of difficulty. The first option being the easiest whereas the last being the most difficult. While there are some outliers, this is pretty much the definitive list of making money online:
1. Consulting and Coaching
The first and easiest way is to trade your time for money. While long term I’m personally not a fan of this type of work, it is an option for most when just starting out.
In fact, this very blog I am offering consulting for this very reason. I’m in a position financially where I don’t need the income but still would like to help clients who can use my skills.
At some point though, you want to able to scale your skills and make money while you are sleeping. Consulting doesn’t allow you to do this as you eventually will need to hire more employees. You only get paid for the hours you work and is no different than working at a job. Which essentially consulting is. With consulting every month the revenue clock starts back at zero.
Ideally, you want to create a process out of your consulting and sell it via other means like an online course or software as a service. You need to systemize what you do.
On the positive side, you can hang your single and be up and running with consulting pretty quickly. Your website is effectively a glorified online brochure. You use your blog as a sales and marketing tool to attract possible clients.
If you go this route with your blog, make sure you have what I consider the obvious things to facilitate sales. Have some sort of sales funnel. It can be as simple as your email address and phone number. You should have these types of options to get in touch with you:
- Web signup form
- Phone number
- Social media
- Mailing list
I’m not a fan of placing your email address on your web site. For one reason is the spam you’ll get from it. The other issue is you aren’t directing your pre-qualifying your prospects. You are best to use a web form and ask some basic questions about your prospects.
I recommend WPForms to create your web form.
With a consulting blog, you can be up and running and in business with a few hours of work.
With coaching, it is essentially the same thing as consulting but usually for individuals instead of businesses. If you are an expert in your field create coaching is an easy way to generate revenue from your blog.
2. Blog Advertisements
Online ads can take on many shapes and forms but usually are in the form of ad banners, buttons, videos, and text links. These ads are usually placed in your header, content or navigation sidebar, but can be more invasive and interrupt the user’s experience. The two primary ways to make money with online ads are:
- CPC/PPC — Cost Per Click (it is sometimes called Pay Per Click). Every time a reader clicks on the ad, you are paid for that click.
- CPM — Cost Per Mille (thousand) impressions are ads that pay you a fixed amount of money based on how many people view your ad.
I’m personally not a fan of online ads to make money blogging, but it is a viable option for many. Here are my grievances with online ads:
- Significant Traffic Needed — The biggest problem with a beginner blogger is you need significant traffic (5,000 monthly page views or more) before you can make a decent amount of money.
- More Visitors Not Seeing Ads — The trend is more and more individuals are installing ad blockers. From current data, 20-30% of all visitors have an ad blocker installed which means they do not see the ads on your blog.
- Distracting To Your Brand — You’ve spent all of this effort to attract visitors and with ad banners now sending off to another website and may never return.
If you are still interested in using ad banners as a way to monetizing your website, you can do so via two ways:
- Ad Networks
- Private Placement
Ad networks do all of the heavy lifting for you. They manage all of the ad inventory and serve the best-suited ad to the visitor. The ad network gets a cut of each ad displayed on your site. They maximize the revenue for you and the ad network.
Everyone works well with this setup – publisher (you), ad network and merchant. The merchants like this arrangement because of the large number of blogs (read pageviews) they have access to instead of working with individual blogs.
Some ad networks specialize in specific niches so check first with an advertising rep to make sure your blog is a good fit. Here are some possible ad networks you can use on your blog:
The easiest way to get started with an ad network is with Google’s AdSense. If you have existing content you can be up and running literally within minutes. On the positive side, they require no minimum traffic. Unfortunately, the usually generate the least amount of revenue. There are usually better options to make more money CPC.
Unfortunately, many of the ad networks require a minimum of 100,000 unique visitors per month. If you are just starting out, this is usually a non-starter.
The problem with ad networks they are trying to maximize the ad revenue. At first glance, this may sound great! But this is usually at the expense of search ranking with Google. Typically the more aggressive the ad banners, the less likely you will rank for high competitive keywords in Google.
The other way is via private ad placement. You do the work all yourself but have all the control. Usually, you do this when you are large enough website audience or working with very small businesses and niche.
You find the merchants, you set the terms and price, you create the IO (known as Insert Order in advertising speak), and work out displaying the ads on your blog.
The most challenging part of this is then managing your ad inventory. You need a way to serve up the ads to your audience. You have three possible options:
- WordPress Plugin
- Self Hosted Ad Server
- Hosted Option
Starting with a WordPress ad plugin is your best bet if you are just starting out. I recommend AdSanity. Though as you grow you more than likely not want your blog to host the ads. It slows down the performance of your blog.
If you are technically advanced like me, then you can host your own ad server. I used Revive Adserver which is is free to use. It gives you all sorts of options like separating the ads from the website and makes your blog run faster.
The last option is a hosted option. One such option is available for free from Google. Oddly enough, it’s called Google Ad Manager. While it’s free and is advanced, I found it unnecessarily complicated and difficult to use.
3. Sponsored Posts
Sponsored posts mean what it sounds like.
You or the merchant create an article to publish on your blog. The merchant pays you for publishing that content. That payment can be in the form of cold-hard cash or could be a free product to write a free article in return. With sponsored posts, you work out the terms with the merchant.
Keep in mind that sponsored posts should not only include your website content but your other channels you have influence as well. This includes your social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and alike. It can also include your mailing list as well. As a package deal, you can include promoting their product via other mediums.
If you do a sponsored post, you are legally required (at least in the USA with the FTC) to disclose that the article was paid for. Failure to not disclose puts you and the merchant at legal risk.
Also if you do sponsor posts, make sure the links to the merchant are “nofollow”. Many merchants will use sponsored posts as a means to help increase the amounts of links to their website. Backlinks are the lifeblood with SEO. Google frowns upon links that aren’t organic – meaning they aren’t paid for. So the standard used by Google is to make sure the links are not counted. Use rel=”nofollow sponsored” when linking to the merchant in the sponsored post.
When sponsored posts are done well, they are genuine and are helpful to the reader. If done wrongly, they cheapen your brand and make you look like a sellout. The other problem with sponsored posts is they require a certain amount of web traffic before vendors will work with you. The amount of traffic will vary based on the company. Some companies may not even care since it’s part of their ad spend budget looking at a sponsored post as a branding exercise.
I’m personally not a fan of using sponsored posts and believe they require too much effort for just a small payout. If you do consider using them, plan out your course of action in detail.
4. Affiliate Marketing
With affiliate marketing, you promote and market other company’s products. You make money when a visitor clicks on a link and then converts.
That conversion is defined by the merchant. It can be as simple as email signup, to as complex as not only opening an account but depositing money (in the case of financial services I worked with). Most merchants with affiliate marketing credit you when a sale occurs. The two most common methods for conversions are:
- CPL (Cost Per Lead) — You get a commission when someone signs up to their mailing list. These signups may or may not become paid customers.
- CPA (Cost Per Action) — You get a commission when a specific action occurs. Usually, it’s a sale, but can be whatever the merchant defines as a successful conversion.
Affiliate marketing, unlike online ads, is typically better suited for a beginner blogger.
The reason is you are paid on the quality of conversions with affiliate marketing, not quantity. Affiliate marketing, you only make money when a visitor converts. Ad banners, on the other hand, you make more money with more web traffic. So a beginner blogger can make significantly more money with affiliate marketing than with ad banners. What matters with affiliate marketing is how engaged is your audience and relevant to the merchant’s product.
For me, affiliate marketing is my favorite way to make money online. The beauty of affiliate marketing is you have:
- No inventory
- No customer service
- No research and development
You can literally make money while you are sleeping. If you like a product, you can literally be up and running selling it on your website in a few minutes.
If you want to get started, I wrote an article so you can get started with the best affiliate marketing programs.
The downside with affiliate marketing is you don’t own the product you are offering. Affiliate marketing programs come and go and you are at the whim of the merchant. If they decide to shut down the affiliate program, you have just lost a source of revenue.
This, unfortunately, happens more often than you think. So you must diversify using multiple affiliates and not rely on revenue from just one merchant.
5. Digital Products
The next level up is building your own digital products instead of selling someone else’s via affiliate marketing. Digital products can be broken down into 4 different types:
- Online Courses
- Virtual Summits
The nice thing about digital products is you create them once. You have no inventory and have unlimited upside potential. The only limitation is your ability to market to a captive audience.
Some digital products can take more time than others. For example, a short eBook can take a few weeks, whereas a course can take 3-4 months or more depending upon the length.
When I first started developing websites it was hard to do audio or video online. Instead, you sent out audio CDs or DVDs to the customer. So this required inventory that needed to be created and replenished when you ran out.
Today for most of the marketplace (with maybe the exception of 65+ and older audience) everything should be sold online without a physical product. Once the digital product is created you have unlimited upside potential. Your limit is your audience size and your marketing abilities. No other limitations exist.
Instead of creating a physical book you mail, you deliver it online, usually via an Adobe Acrobat file. It can also be what my friend Rob Berger did and self-published his own book on Amazon. Rob’s book is not only available via Amazon’s Kindle platform, but as a physical book as well. Amazon handles the printing and shipping for Rob’s book.
eBooks work well because they are relatively easier to produce than other digital products. The other advantage of writing an eBook is you gain credibility in the topic. Plus I’ve seen eBooks that are simply repackaging blog content into book form.
Online courses are where you deliver educational material electronically. Compared to consulting, coaching or traditional classroom environment it is much more scalable. To teach one person takes the same amount of effort to teach 10,000 people.
The other advantage is removing the location aspect to teaching. You can teach anyone, anywhere in the world at any time. If someone in Germany at 2 AM wants to learn how to cook the perfect blueberry pie, there’s a course for him online.
There are many aspects to online courses. They can be hosted on your blog, or if just starting out it might make sense to use an Educational platform like Teachable.
This option has only appeared on my radar recently. Think of it as doing a mastermind group, but digitally. You bring together a bunch of experts on a topic and hold a live event online.
Developing software requires more work but can pay of handsomely if you have the technical prowess. With courses, you are systemizing what you know so others can learn. Software takes that same domain knowledge and makes it into a useful tool someone can buy.
Software can be things like an app for a smartphone, a WordPress plugin, or something that is web-based. Though typically anything online has gone the route of SaaS (Software as a Service) and discuss that in more detail in option number seven. This type of software is usually a one-time fee.
6. Public Speaking and Conferences
An often missed opportunity is going into the offline world with speaking in public and creating a conference around your niche.
The easier of the two is public speaking. You submit your topic to a conference, you get approved and create your slide show. You then go to the conference, give your presentation and then party.
As a public speaker, if you are good at it and well known in the industry you can command high speaking fees. $1,000 – $10,000 isn’t uncommon for a speaking fee for a popular conference. But it can go even higher. Some very well known speakers ask for $100,000 a pop! Though for most speaking at conferences it is more of a way to makes yourself known with your peers.
The other option is to create a conference around your blogging topic. My buddy Philip Taylor makes most of his money from the FinCon annual conference. It’s a great conference that unites personal finance bloggers.
Blogging, although you are writing and communicating all the time, is actually a very lonely endeavor. You spend hours in front of a computer. It’s not uncommon to work out of your house and for some work in pajamas. So an annual conference where you meet up with people you communicate with online is a great way to make money with your niche.
Philip’s conference in his first year made $85,000 in revenue with $11,100 profit. Not too shabby for a conference that now had over 2,800 attendees in 2019. I’m sure revenue and profit are much more now than that first FinCon conference.
7. Membership Site and SaaS
This one is my favorites and I did quite well with this business model. Another business I owned was web hosting, which technically falls under the Software as a Service (SaaS). Compared to the typical one-time sale with digital products, you have reoccurring revenue. In 2008, without that reoccurring revenue, I would have been dead in the water.
Instead with other business models where the clock resets every month, you have a monthly income from your subscribers. It’s a type of business that starts off slow but then grows like a rocketship once momentum starts.
If you are looking to create a membership site, my favorite plugin for WordPress is MemberPress.
The negative issue with this type of monetization is it takes a while to grow your MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) to support yourself. Unless you have a clear vision, I typically recommend not making this your primary way to make money blogging and look as part of a bigger picture.
8. Physical Products
This could be selling someone else’s products or could be your own.
A common avenue is using Amazon’s FBA program. Since we are talking about a blog I assume you have your own storefront as well for another source of traffic and revenue. WooCommerce is a good option if you like using WordPress.
The next level up is drop-ship a product. You hold no inventory, nor have to ship the products. There are many services that will do this for you and a nice way to start out. The issue, of course, you no control over costs other than switching vendors.
Personally, I’m not a fan of selling physical products, but I have quite a few friends who do very well with physical products. One option if you are considering going down this avenue is finding a similar product and offer it to your audience via an affiliate link.
The downside with physical products, unlike digital products, they aren’t infinitely scalable. You have to deal with COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) and while you might be able to improve margins as you sell more it is a fixed cost.
I personally would diversify your revenue and create a mixture of the eight options. As with any business, relying on just one source of revenue is a recipe for disaster.
For someone just getting started, I think your best options are: consulting, affiliate marketing, and digital products. As you build out an audience I would then think about creating a membership site or SaaS product. Again, your niche might be unique, but for most niches, these are the best options available to you.