Updated September 6, 2018
Are you wondering how to make money blogging? In 2010 I realized bloggers were making money. In some cases, they were making great money! Many of them seemed like regular people, just like me. How exactly were they doing it? And could I make money blogging too?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.
Table of contents
- Do people really make money blogging?
- Is it legit?
- Is making money blogging realistic?
- How long does it take to make money blogging?
- How much do bloggers make?
- How much is it possible to make blogging?
- How do bloggers make money?
- How does a blog fit into those income streams exactly?
- How can I start making money blogging?
- Can I start a free blog and still make money?
- Extra tips to make money blogging
Do people really make money blogging?
Yes, absolutely. I do, and countless others who do as well.
Also, there are no fancy degrees to get or formal hoops to jump through. We are regular people who simply figured it out. You can too.
Is it legit?
Caveat #1: As in any legit business, there are rules.
Caveat #2: There are not-so-legit people and shady practices in every industry. Blogging is no different. Stay away from both.
Is making money blogging realistic?
Yes, as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
As in any legit business, you have to work. Making money blogging is not easy and it’s not quick.
How long does it take to make money blogging?
If you’re a beginner, allow 6 months to make coffee money (a few dollars a month), 12 months to make a part-time income and 24 months to make a full-time income.
Your results may vary of course, but after being active in the blogging world for 15+ years, these are reasonable averages.
It takes a lot of hours per week to build and maintain a quality blog. Starting a blog today and making a full-time income within a few months is unrealistic. There is simply too much too learn and too much to build (your site, your content library, your social media presence, your trustworthiness, relationships with readers, etc.).
If you need money right away, building a blog may not be your best option. But don’t be discouraged. I squeezed blogging into the cracks of life for many years and it now brings in steady income. If you have some time, it is well worth the effort.
How much do bloggers make?
It varies widely. A few bloggers make millions of dollars a year. Others, like me, make a healthy full-time income. Some make less, and many make no money at all. In this way, blogging is no different than other industries (music, acting, retail, corporate business, etc). A select few make a lot and it trickles down from there.
Solid numbers about blogging incomes are hard to come by. For example, in the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lump bloggers in the very broad category of “Writers and Authors” which has a median income of $61,240 per year. That’s not an accurate measure since there are vastly different occupations included in that category. Information from small surveys and anecdotal evidence can also be found online, but much of it is outdated or taken from tiny sample sizes.
But I’m going to give you some tough love here. If you’re hung up on someone else’s numbers, it might be a sign blogging’s not for you. The most successful bloggers are satisfied knowing it’s possible, then put their heads down and just start.
But if you’re still curious, a quick Google search will lead you to plenty of bloggers who share their income figures and reports.
A word about income figures and reports
Some bloggers publish income reports, although more and more have stopped doing so. When reading income reports, be aware of two things:
- Understand the difference between total revenue and net income. Most income reports, Pinterest images and clickbait-y headlines tout total revenue. Net income, or profit (what really matters), is often buried in the post. I came across an income report recently with a super impressive number, but it was total revenue. I read the post. This blogger spent well over half their total revenue on Facebook Ads. On top of that, they had an extensive list of expenses. After the numbers were crunched, I had netted more than they did the previous month.
- Each blogger’s circumstance is unique so it’s really difficult to draw general conclusions. Just because you find a blogger making good money on a topic you write about does not mean you’ll be able to reproduce their results. There are so many variables involved and possible income stream combinations. Your results may vary.
How much is it possible to make blogging?
There is virtually no limit. While it may be interesting to know how much specific bloggers make, what’s most exciting is how much bloggers can make. No amount is guaranteed, and it’s not easy, but a blogger’s income is really only limited by their creativity. There are no ceilings to speak of. That’s one reason I love it.
How do bloggers make money?
There are 5 main ways bloggers make money. These are called income streams. Each of these 5 main income streams has many possibilities too.
Key: The idea behind “making money blogging” is to start a blog to establish yourself online, then branch out. As you read through the list below, you’ll notice a lot of the actual money-making doesn’t happen directly on a blog. But I’ll explain more in the next section.
1. Advertising & sponsored content
Companies want to get their product in front of potential customers. They may be interested in advertising on your blog if your readers are their ideal customers. Here are ways to incorporate advertising into your blog:
- Display ads – Graphics in your sidebar, header, footer or within your content. The simplest to start with is Google AdSense. Once you have more traffic, I recommend Mediavine or AdThrive.
- Giveaways & reviews – Companies provide you with free product (and hopefully monetary compensation) and you highlight that product on your blog.
- Sponsored or underwritten posts – Companies pay you to write posts mentioning them or their product.
- Newsletter / video / podcast sponsorships – Advertisements in emails or mini commercials in videos or podcast episodes.
Advertising is easy to start, making it a popular income stream for many bloggers. However, it’s not nearly as lucrative as it once was and it requires a lot of traffic to be truly profitable. Also, it runs the risk of frustrating your readers (ever been on a site only to be assaulted by the ads?) and making your site look cheap and unsophisticated. Therefore, it’s not a top recommendation of mine.
2. Affiliate marketing
As an affiliate marketer, you promote someone else’s product or service to your readers. 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.
There are thousands of affiliate programs to join. Some I participate in:
- Self Publishing 101 – An excellent online course for people who want to make a living writing.
- Amazon Associates – Get paid when readers purchase Amazon products through your links.
- WP Engine – The host I use to run my own site.
- Bluehost – The host I recommend to new bloggers in this post.
- Amazon Influencer Program – A different Amazon program which gives you your own Amazon shop like mine here.
- Target – I love Target.
Affiliate marketing is one of my favorite and most profitable income streams. You can highlight products or services you use and love without having to do the work of creating or maintaining that product yourself. I talk about affiliate marketing in much more depth in Affiliate Marketing: The Ultimate (Free) Guide.
3. Digital products
Many bloggers create and sell their own digital products. Digital products are great because they don’t require inventory and can be distributed quickly and easily. There’s no overhead and low risk. Examples of digital products bloggers create:
- Ecourses – Teach others what you know and sell it over and over again. Example: Self Publishing 101.
- Online classes or workshops – Teaching, but in a live setting.
- Virtual summits – Like a conference, but online. How to run one.
- Ebooks – Self publishing is very profitable for many. My first digital product was an ebook. Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Free launched in 2010. It still sells every month.
- Premium Content – Content others must pay to access.
- Membership sites – A mixture of teaching and community.
- Photos – Many photographers sell their photos online.
- Audio or video – Create music jingles, voice overs or video clips.
- Apps, plugins or themes – Great for those who love code.
4. Physical products
Some bloggers sell physical products. Some examples:
- Books – Many bloggers have become traditionally published authors due to their blogs.
- Handmade Products – Are you a maker?
- Manufactured Products – Many bloggers find a manufacturer to make their idea a reality.
- Retail arbitrage – Can you find great deals? Turn around and sell them at a profit on sites like Amazon or Ebay. Example: Hustle at Home Mom.
- In-person conferences, classes or special events – The exchange of something tangible (money) for a ticket to an in-person experience.
A surge of bloggers have started selling physical products the last few years. It can be profitable, but can get complicated with manufacturing, keeping inventory, shipping, returns, etc.
Some bloggers reduce the hassle of producing physical products by dropshipping or through POD (print on demand).
Some bloggers use expertise related to their blog topic and get paid when others hire them. Services can be offered locally or virtually. Examples:
- Speaking – Many bloggers find speaking gigs as a result of the platforms they build on their blogs.
- Virtual assistance – Read my post How to Become a Virtual Assistant for my experience & lots of ideas.
- Freelancing – This is offering a service to clients and is similar to virtual assistance.
- Organizing, decorating, cooking – Some bloggers provide in-person services to their local readers.
Offering a service is an excellent way to make money quickly because startup costs are low, little to no inventory is required and you get paid for a skill you already have. The downside is, it’s not scalable; you only have so much time. You can only earn as much as your time allows. Put another way, you’re trading time for money.
How does a blog fit into those income streams exactly?
Good question. It’s surprising to some, but the highest earning bloggers don’t make most of their money directly from their blog.
Sure, they might make a little income from ads or sponsored content on their site, but for most, their blog is simply a convenient place where their content lives. Their content positions them as an authority on their topic. Then they use their authority to sell products to their readers, like books, courses or physical products.
Even though most income might not come directly from a blog, having a blog is important because you can control your message and have a place where you are findable (is that word?). Also, it’s the best place to build an email list.
How can I start making money blogging?
There are 3 main steps to get started:
- Start a blog. Establish yourself as an authority by creating excellent, useful content about your topic.
- Choose income streams related to your topic.
- Interact with others online to keep your blog top of mind.
Goal: make your blog the go-to resource for your topic. As people visit and seek your advice, you will make money through your various income streams.
Let’s break this down.
First, once you start your blog, focus on building a solid library of at least 10-20 blog posts. Make sure they are helpful and meaty. Remember, your goal is to become the go-to resource on your topic. In other words, make your content on the topic better than any one else’s.
Second, figure out which of the 5 income streams above are natural extensions of your posts. Implement them one at a time until you find the ones that work best for you.
Third, build relationships on social media, in Facebook Groups and wherever your ideal readers hang out. Don’t just promote your own stuff, be a helpful part of the conversation. People will eventually check out what you have to offer.
Can I start a free blog and still make money?
Yes. However, I would caution against it. Why? When you use a free service, you don’t have as much control over your blog — the free service does. This can be risky, especially if you rely on your blog for income.
A self-hosted WordPress blog is my recommendation and can be started very inexpensively. See my step-by-step tutorial here.
Extra tips to make money blogging
- Use as many income streams as you can reasonably manage. Diversification is key.
- Excellent content is the key to long-term success. There’s no way around it.
- 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. Find a combination that works for you.
- Don’t be a clone of another blogger. Find a unique angle.
- Successful bloggers don’t start a blog just to make money. Instead, they blog about a topic they truly enjoy and can write about indefinitely. They let the money grow out of that topic organically.
How to Start a Blog (to Make Money or Otherwise) – My step by step tutorial for beginners.
Affiliate Marketing: The Ultimate (Free) Guide – My favorite way to make money blogging.