Updated September 6, 2018
Are you wondering how to make money blogging? Several years ago 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?
This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through an affiliate link and make a purchase, I may make a commission.
The 3 steps to make money blogging
- Start a blog and establish yourself as an authority by creating excellent, useful content about your topic.
- Choose and implement income streams related to your topic.
- All the while, 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.
How do bloggers make money?
This might be surprising: successful bloggers don’t actually make all their money from their blog.
Sure, they might make a little income from ads on their site or from sponsored content. But for most, their blog is where their content lives. Their content positions them as an authority on their topic. 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 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 some make no money at all.
While it’s interesting to know how much a blogger makes, what’s most exciting to me is how much a blogger can make. No amount is guaranteed, and it’s not easy, but there is virtually no limit. It’s amazing how many creative ways bloggers generate income. That’s one of the reasons I love blogging.
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 Information from small surveys and anecdotal evidence can also be found online, but much of it is outdated or taken from tiny sample sizes.
A word about income 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 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 in the title (and Pinterest image). It was total revenue. Not until I read the whole post did I learn this blogger spent well over half their total revenue on Facebook Ads alone. On top of that, they had an extensive list of expenses. By the end of the post I realized 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 too 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 long does it take to make money blogging?
It takes a lot of hours per week to build and maintain a quality blog. Usually, it takes months of blogging before seeing income from it.
I tell new bloggers to allow at least 3-6 months to make a decent part-time income and 1-2 years to make a consistent full-time income. There are always exceptions of course, but after being active in the blogging world for almost 14 years, these are reasonable averages.
The idea that you can start a blog today and make a full-time income within a few months is, for most, not realistic. 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.
What are the ways bloggers make money (income streams)?
These are income streams. There are 5 main ones, with many possibilities under each:
- Advertising & sponsored content
- Affiliate marketing
- Digital products
- Physical products
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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Ultimate Bundles – A company that sells bundles of digital products at steeply discounted prices.
- Genesis – The WordPress theme I use & recommend. More 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.
- Online classes or workshops – Teaching, but in a live setting.
- Ebooks – Self publishing is very profitable for many.
- 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.
This is another favorite income stream of mine. My first digital product was my ebook Tell Your Time: How to Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Free which still sells every month. I’ve sold various other digital products over the years as well.
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.
- 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, meaning, you can only earn as much as your time allows.
How can I start my own blog and make money?
Once you start your blog, focus on building up 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.
Next, figure out which income streams are natural extensions of your posts. Implement them one at a time until you find the ones that work best for you.
In the meantime, build relationships on social media, in Facebook Groups and wherever your potential 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 blog for free 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 will 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.
5 extra tips to make money blogging
- Use as many income streams 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 for years. They let the money grow out of that topic organically.