Updated July 8, 2015
If you’ve ever wondered how to make money blogging, you’ve come to the right place. As an 11-year veteran blogger, this is what I’ve learned. First, here’s my story in a nutshell…
How I went from hobby blogger to pro blogger
Without any technical or computer skills, I started a blog in 2004 (here’s how). For six years, I blogged as a hobby. In 2010 I focused on generating income.
Since then, my husband traded a 9-to-5 job he hated for a part-time job he loves, together we homeschool our kiddos and my full-time online income makes up the bulk of our income.
It takes time, creativity and hustle—a lot of all three—but it’s absolutely doable.
The 5 Basic Steps
Here are the five basic steps if you want to make money blogging. I’ll discuss them in more detail as we go, with an emphasis on #5.
- Establish your home base
- Produce valuable content
- Build relationships
- Grow your platform (and branch out)
- Choose and implement streams of income
If you find yourself getting overwhelmed as you read through, you’re normal! Don’t worry, I’ll give you some tips for starting at the end. Also, please note this post contains affiliate links.
Alright, let’s break it down.
1. Establish your home base
If you want to make money blogging, obviously you’ll need a blog. If you don’t already have one, no worries, simply follow the steps I outlined in How to Start a Blog. This is the easy part (even if you’re not technically-inclined).
2. Produce valuable content
Once you have a blog, write. Draw from your expertise and experience and write informative posts and articles about your chosen topic. Make your content excellent. In order to make money, you must have visitors, but in order to have visitors, you must have content worthwhile to visit.
Writing and producing content is the time consuming part. It’ll be a while before you start seeing an income. There is no way around this. There are no shortcuts. We all have to put in our time.
3. Build relationships
While you create your content, start building genuine and sincere relationships via social media, commenting on other blogs, forums and the like. Reach out to people in your niche. Find people who could use the information you provide. Get to know them, interact, be friendly and helpful by offering no-strings-attached tidbits of your expertise. Building authentic relationships is important for a few reasons:
- You will establish a reputation of being trustworthy and generous.
- Your site will be found. People won’t naturally find your site if you don’t put yourself out there.
- It’s very possible these relationships will turn into much more than just acquaintances to chat with online. These people will likely support you in the future and more than that, they may become fantastic, life-long friends.
4. Grow your platform (and branch out)
Keep growing in the knowledge of your craft so the content you produce gets increasingly great. Use your blog to get exposure, build authority, gain trust and be helpful. (Have I said that before? It’s just so important.)
A lot of people don’t realize that for many bloggers, much of the money they make does not come from their blog directly. A blog is a platform. It’s online property, a digital home. After proving their trustworthiness, bloggers use their blogs as springboards to launch other projects that bring in income, such as ebooks, books, speaking, products, etc.
Only think about making money once you have earned trust. Many, many people want to skip ahead to the money part, but if you try to dive into monetizing before you’ve really built your platform, you run the risk of damaging the good reputation you so desperately need.
5. Choose and implement streams of income
This is the part you’ve been waiting for—the actual ways people make money blogging.
Before we dive into the details, I’ve put together a bonus pack which provides an analogy to help you understand what I call the 4-legged approach to making money as a blogger. It’s free to all Useletter subscribers. Sign up here and I’ll send it to you right away:
There are numerous ways bloggers make money. Each blogger has a different combination of income streams. There is no “right” way. And that’s the beauty of it. There are endless possibilities. You’re job is to find a combination that works for you.
Income streams ebb and flow, so successful bloggers are constantly exploring new ways to make money. The key to making good money as a blogger is to have multiple streams of income. Even small trickles of money coming from various sources over time can add up.
The best way to start monetizing is to let it happen organically out of what you are already doing. Hopefully you are blogging about something you enjoy. As you grow, monetize in ways that would most suit you and your audience.
Following is a list of income streams bloggers adopt, broken down into five main categories:
Unlike many of the other categories, advertising is all about generating income directly from your blog, website or other digital asset(s).
Display ads are graphics or images similar to billboards or ads in a magazine. Typically they are positioned on your site in the sidebar, header, footer or within your content. Sometimes they are referred to as banner ads.
Ads on your site are meant to complement your blog’s content, making them attractive and relevant to visitors. Advertisers hope that your visitors will then click on those images to explore and purchase the products or services they offer.
Display ads are often provided through ad networks. Ad networks are companies that connect advertisers with publishers (bloggers). Ad networks act as a middle man between advertisers and publishers, negotiating partnership details between the two. The ad network takes a cut from the partnership profit. Ad networks are attractive to many bloggers because they take the hassle out of display advertising.
Some ad networks, like Google Adsense, are relatively easy to get into and are easy to set up. Other ad networks, though, are selective in who they accept. Examples of ad networks are Google Adsense, Blogads, BlogHer, Beacon Ads, Federated Media, Sovrn, (formerly Lijit), Media.net, Rivit and Sway. There are many more, so once you get involved in your niche’s community of bloggers, you’ll soon hear of others.
Can you really make money with Google AdSense?
This is a very popular question, and a good one. Google Adsense is probably the most popular ad network and a good place for beginning bloggers to start if they want to pursue display ads because it’s so easy to set up.
However, if you want to make really good money with Google AdSense, you either have to be in a unique niche in which advertisers will pay a lot of money for clicks on their ads (hard to find), or you have to have a lot of traffic (hard to get, especially for beginners).
For these reasons, I don’t recommend AdSense (or display advertising in general) as the main pursuit for new bloggers.
- To apply for Google AdSense or ad networks, contact the ad network via their website (linked above).
- If you want to get an idea of pricing and traffic for popular blogs, sites like Beacon Ads and Federated Media are places you can do that.
- If you’re using CPC/PPC ads (cost per click/pay per click), check out Google’s recommendations for best ad placement on your site. It’s important that your content doesn’t get drowned out by ads. Google has indicated sites with too many ads above the fold may be penalized in search. If you’re not sure what above the fold is on your site, use this tool.
- As always, experiment. Experiment with ad placement to get the right combination on your site.
Further reading: Jason from ProBlogSchool explains ad networks in great detail in his post Ads 102: How to Make Money Using Ad Networks.
Private ads are similar to display ads in that they also come in the form of buttons or graphics and usually appear in the sidebars of blogs. They are unique in that there is no middle man (ad network) to negotiate the partnership. Partnerships are arranged directly between a blogger and an individual, small business or company.
Initial contact can be made by the blogger or by the advertiser. Be clear on what’s expected by both parties. Not sure what to charge? Look around to see what others in your niche charge. You can often find this information on a blog’s advertising page or media kit.
Don’t just throw up an advertising page and expect advertisers to come calling. Go to them. Not sure how to do that? Find other blogs like yours that are your size or slightly larger. See who is advertising on their site. Contact those companies and ask if they’d like to advertise on your site too. Create a pitch and make it a win-win. Check out iHeartOrganizing‘s advertising page as an example.
Tip for private ads on your blog: If you have ads in your sidebar, keep them full. Instead of displaying a blank box with “Advertise here” fill it with an affiliate graphic (see Affiliate Marketing below for more). Crystal Paine puts it well when she says, “[Blank ad spots] scream, ‘My advertising space isn’t valuable enough for people to want to buy so I instead have this big blank box!'”
Giveaways & Reviews
If you’ve read blogs for any length of time, you’ve surely seen a review or giveaway and maybe participated yourself. A company supplies a product to a blogger to be reviewed and/or given away to readers.
A word about giveaways…
I list giveaways here because some bloggers charge to run giveaways in addition to the expected free product to keep for themselves. There are varying opinions about whether or not one should be compensated for giveaways.
As I see it, it largely depends on whether the product is for marketing purposes or for advertising purposes. Companies use marketing to spread the word about their product or service.
With advertising, a company makes a deal with another party to help them spread the word. Companies expect to pay for advertising. For example, a company may market their product by handing out free t-shirts. Because you like the t-shirt, you take it and wear it. You obviously wouldn’t charge the company when you wore their t-shirt.
But I think a giveaway on a blog would often fall in the category of advertising. Yes, the company you’re working with may give you a product to use (indeed, they should!). However, they are also asking you to provide a service to them. After all, you are spending your valuable time fielding their emails, writing a post (or posts), following up with giveaway entrants, etc.
If there is nothing else you’re getting from the partnership except for the free product, this service should be compensated in my opinion.
Further reading: Amy from Mom Advice wrote a post about reviews a few years back that still offers good tips.
Tips for reviews & giveaways:
- Products you receive for free need to be reported as income on your taxes so keep excellent records and make sure the products you are accepting for review are really ones you want to pay taxes on later.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. This is your blog. No need to just take what you’re offered on the first round. Make it a win-win for both.
- If you don’t want to do a review for a company, ask the company if they’d like to buy ad space instead. Mention that they’ll still get a spot in front of your readers.
If you have an email newsletter or podcast, you can accept advertising just as you would on your blog. You can reach out to potential advertisers, tell them how they would benefit from advertising with you and pitch your idea.
Further reading: Podcast Launch: A complete guide to launching your Podcast with 15 Video Tutorials by John Lee Dumas. Dumas is just a regular guy who consistently makes 6 figures per month from his podcast. Not only does he show you how to launch a podcast, but he covers making money from your podcast as well.
Writing a sponsored post means you work with a company and write a post about their product or service. Be upfront and disclose your relationship to your readers.
Keep sponsored posts to a minimum so you don’t turn off readers. If you read blogs, you’ve probably seen sponsored posts. They can be spotted by the disclosure stating something like, “This post was sponsored by [company] but all opinions are mine.”
Find examples of sponsored post details and rates on Life Your Way.
Underwritten Posts or Series
Underwritten posts differ from sponsored posts in that the post topic is about whatever you want it to be (as opposed to the company’s product/service), but an advertiser pays to get a “Brought to you by…” type note in the post.
Anticipate the posts you think will get a lot of response, and pitch companies with an underwritten spot.
An example of an underwritten series is this Christmas Gift Guide at MoneySavingMom.com.
Listen to what others have to say
There are bloggers who have been quite successful with advertising and who’ve shared what they’ve learned.
Check out Elite Blog Academy (enrollment opens once or twice a year but you can sign up at the bottom of the homepage to be notified). This course deals with getting more traffic and therefore increasing your advertising revenue. Read my full review of this course here.
Another resource is How to Monetize Your Food Blog. This ebook is about ad networks, advertising and how to set up an ad waterfall so you get the most out of your ad spots. (It also briefly covers some of the other monetization methods listed below.)
The Niche Site Duel deals with finding the niches in which advertisers pay high rates.
- Many are easy to set up and maintain.
- They can be used as a way to get readers used to ads on your site before you gain higher-earning advertisers. In other words, it can eliminate “ad shock” down the road.
- Advertising is indeed lucrative for select bloggers.
- Mobile access, popup ad blockers and streamlined browser readers often remove ads from websites, rendering them far less effective.
- Good advertising revenue depends on very high traffic or a niche with high-paying keywords (hard to find these days).
- Advertising rates have declined over the last few years.
- Ads often make a site look spammy and cluttered.
- Ads often make a user click away from your blog. For a few cents, is it worth it? You have to decide.
- Many readers have developed ad blindness.
- Many bloggers have been banned by Google’s Adsense program for no apparent reason. It’s unpredictable.
- While it is possible to block certain URLs from showing up in your Adsense ads, sometimes bad ones sneak through. This can be detrimental to your brand and platform.
My advertising advice
- Be patient. Wait for the right partnership that won’t make you compromise.
- Make sure your advertisers are in line with your values.
- Don’t do text links. They are often spammy and looked down upon by Google.
- Unless you are an established blogger for whom advertising is already working, this is the income stream I would pursue last. The traffic requirement and low ad rates means your time will be better spent elsewhere.
As an affiliate marketer, you promote someone else’s product or service in a post or elsewhere. You link to that product or service using your unique affiliate link. When, someone clicks through that link and makes a purchase (or completes a desired action set by the company), you earn a commission.
Apps, Plugins or Themes
If you have a knack for code-writing and can write your own themes or plugins, you can sell them at a place like Creative Market. Also, many plugin authors offer their plugins for free but ask for donations.
Do you have a domain collecting problem? Did you know you could sell them for profit? Try a site like Sedo.
You could do all sorts of things with this type of digital product. You wouldn’t have to go big the first time around. Test the waters by holding a small, local event first. Grow bigger as you learn the ropes and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Simply pick something you’re good at that other people want to know and teach it! Do it once or twice to refine your presentation and then start charging a small fee to those who want to take your class. Check out how LeadPages uses webinars to sell their product in this free 10-part video series.
Many, many bloggers have written ebooks. I’ve made a healthy chunk selling my own ebook Tell Your Time the last few years. (Here’s why I turned down a traditional book deal in favor of self-publishing.)
I don’t think ebooks sold on blogs (generally) make the same kind of money they did a few years ago, but for some, with very compelling topics and a decent group of supporters who help promote, it can be a good option.
On the other hand, there are many authors making a lot of money selling ebooks on Amazon. The key, they say, is to write multiple books, not just one.
If you want to write your own ebook, check out my series How to Write an Ebook.
One benefit of having an ebook is the ability to participate in ebook bundles which can generate quite a bit of income. Again, it’s about relationships and pooling your resources. See how Stephanie and Erin do it at Ultimate Bundles.
Premium Content & Membership Communities
Insider spaces, one-on-one interaction, VIP rooms. Premium content is just what it sounds like—content that others must pay to access.
This isn’t a new concept, but I do think it will become more and more common. There is free information all over the internet, so in order for this to work, you would have to offer something truly unique—some sort of “insider information,” special access to individuals whose expertise is highly sought after, products or services that go above and beyond the norm, such or special treatment such as one-on-one interaction and coaching.
I’ve experimented with premium content when I created my Useletter Archives (now closed). I now sell my Knowtbook, the answer to the question, “Hey Amy, can I pick your brain?”
Another example of a premium content site is Food Blogger Pro. Bjork started this site after being asked by food bloggers how he and his wife Lindsay built their hugely popular food blog, Pinch of Yum.
SomeGirl has an excellent series about how to become an iStockphoto seller. A significant portion of her family’s income comes from selling photos.
Selling Blogs & Websites
Many bloggers have sold their blogs or websites for 4-, 5-, 6- and even 7-figure sums.
There is also something called flipping websites where you obtain a small blog or website, grow it and then sell it for profit later. If you want to flip a site, check out Flippa.
And if you want to read about those who have sold their blog, you can read this.
For many bloggers, their blogs have helped them sell books, both self and traditionally published. I’ve heard over and over again that traditional publishers will not typically consider your manuscript if you don’t have a blog first.
And if you’re a self-published author or a hybrid author (that is, you have both self-published and traditionally-published books), a blog is a great way to sell books.
Conferences, Classes or Special Events
I consider hosting an event like a conference a “physical” product since it involves an exchange of something tangible (in this case, money for a ticket to an experience) and happens in real life (as opposed to an online class). You can also do bigger events like day-long seminars or workshops or even multi-day conferences.
Do not underestimate the work that would go into pulling off one of these events successfully. It’s a huge undertaking, but if you have a background in event planning or are extremely motivated, organized and are good at networking and making connections with companies (sponsors) etc., this might be for you.
In your niche or area of interest, it’s likely there are large, established conferences already. So, try narrowing down your conference topic in order to target a more specific group.
If you’re going to put on a large-scale event, be very clear and very specific in your goals and make sure there’s a strong desire for the information you can provide. And then do it with excellence. The way you would make money, of course, is to charge a fee to attend and/or partner with sponsors to cover your costs (and your salary).
You can set up your own shop for free and it’s simple to get started. It’s not so simple to stand out from the crowd, so that will likely be your biggest challenge.
Here are some tips on how to market your Etsy shop (but would largely apply to Handmade as well).
You can sell manufactured products and use your site/blog/newsletter to promote it.
If you create the product yourself, that’s great, but if you don’t know how to create your own product, you can sell someone else’s in your own shop.
If you have an idea for a product you’d like to sell but aren’t sure where to start, this couple tells you how they started selling wedding linens online. Their Online Store Tutorials are particularly helpful.
Think of this like freelancing. If you have a skill (who doesn’t?), why not offer your service(s) via the internet (a.k.a. virtually)? It does not have to be computer related. Think of ways you can use your already-gained skills in your favor and put them online.
- Administrative Assistant
- App Developer
- Audio/Video Editor
- Concierge/Personal Assistant
- Cook – This isn’t completely virtual as you would have to deliver food, but you could still use the internet to get exposure. Here’s an example.
- Designer – Check out Minted’s Design Challenge for a place to start.
- Digital Freelancer – Pick a task you can do quickly that others “will get around to someday.” For example, digitizing their boxes of photos.
- Photo Editor
- Project Manager
- Social Media Manager
- Software Writer
- Visioneer – Have people send you pictures of their room/house/yard and offer suggestions for improvement. Post before & after photos on your blog.
- Web Builder – If you’ve set up your own site, contact local brick & mortar businesses and see if you can set up theirs. Barter services to get your feet wet, gain experience and build a portfolio.
- Web Developer
- Writer – The advantage of writing for other sites is that you get to be a part of something that’s already established. Also, you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects of running and maintaining your own site. Keep your ears peeled for contributor opportunities. You could start by guest posting.
I wrote a post called How to Become a Virtual Assistant with tips for anyone wanting to offer their services online.
Further reading: The Bootstrap VA: The Go-Getter’s Guide to Becoming a Virtual Assistant, Getting and Keeping Clients, and More, an ebook by Lisa Morosky. Make it your first business investment. This ebook blew my mind; it’s loaded with tips, resources and step-by-step instruction.
Selling a service is great because the startup costs are low and little to no inventory is required.
The problem is, services are not scaleable. In other words, your business size depends on how much time you have. You only have so much time in your day so you can provide a finite amount of service.
Tips for service providers:
- Create a simple brochure-type site with just a few pages: Home, About, Contact, Resume, Services & Pricing, Before and After Photos (if applicable) and Testimonials once you get some.
- Participate in forums, comments and other social media platforms and answer questions. Build a reputation as an authority and expert.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? You’re not alone. It is overwhelming.
You should know there are no magic bullets. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another and vice versa. There are no guaranteed, across-the-board results either. Your mileage may vary. Take the time to think through what might work for you.
What’s your personality?
Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Are you organized and like to work ahead? Are you spontaneous and fly by the seat of your pants? All these questions will help you determine the best fit for you.
For example, I started a forum many years ago, but as an introvert, I quickly realized managing and moderating all the conversation was too stressful. So, I handed it over to someone who loved the social aspect of it.
Also, I like to tackle a project and move on. I don’t like open-ended projects that are ongoing. That’s why I prefer writing and selling an ebook rather than running a membership site.
Take your personality and temperament into account and decide what will work for you.
What’s your season of life?
When I started blogging I was a mom with newborns and toddlers. There was just no way I had the time or energy to devote to an online business. But now my kids are older and it works differently.
It’s true my children are now out of the newborn and toddler stage but we have moved into the spend-your-life-in-the-car stage, chauffeuring people to activities all the live long day. Not to mention the hungry-every-5-minutes stage where they eat as fast as I cook. If it weren’t for my husband’s flexible schedule, I’d have to seriously rethink things.
Think realistically about what’s going on in your life. How much time do you really have to devote to blogging?
What are others in your niche doing?
If you’re still stumped, one of the best ways to figure out what might work for you is to look at well-established bloggers in your niche and take note of the monetization methods they use. If those methods will work with your personality and season of life, start there.
First, start a blog if you haven’t already.
Second, sign up for the Useletter. I wade through the latest blogging information and share bite-sized tips for bloggers and online entrepreneurs. It’s free and emails arrive on Saturday mornings.
If you found this guide helpful, I’d appreciate it if you shared it. Thank you!