“Can you make money blogging?” Abby and I are asked that question every week. Many times people start a blog on a whim and then discover that they love the process. After posting consistently for a period of time, things start to take off. As traffic and subscribers grow, they start to wonder if it would be possible to make money from their blog.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
There’s nothing wrong with this line of thinking. For many bloggers, the only way they can justify the extra expense and time commitment involved in growing a blog is by earning some income.
For some, the idea of earning an income from their blog is off-putting and not something they feel comfortable doing. That’s ok as well! It's a personal choice.
For those of you that would like to make money blogging, here are the four most common revenue streams to consider. You can choose one or any combination of the four.
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1. Make money blogging with ads
This is the oldest method. The blog advertising model has been around forever. The idea is that you grow an audience and then sell that audience’s attention (whether through views or clicks) to the advertisers on your site. With all business models, you are selling something. In this case, it's your readers' attention.
It’s easy to get started with this model-- Create a Google Adsense account, generate some ad code, and then paste the code into the sidebar, header, or other widget areas on your WordPress blog. Once your Adsense account reaches the $100 threshold, Google will send you a payment. This is how Abby and I started with ads in April of 2013. It took us many months to reach the $100 payment threshold, but it sure was fun getting that deposit from Google into our checking account!
Once you reach a certain level of blog traffic, typically around 100,000 pageviews/month, you have the option to start working with an ad management company. I recommend doing this as soon as possible. Experts will optimize your blog for ad revenue and use sophisticated ad servers and a layering process to allow specific advertisers to compete for space on your blog which will drive up your CPM (revenue per thousand impressions) and, therefore, your overall ad revenue each month.
If you’re at this point, there are two managed ad companies I recommend. The first is Ad Thrive. This is the company that Abby and I use to manage all of our ads. The service is fantastic, and they really know how to maximize earnings.
The second recommendation is MediaVine. I don’t have personal experience with this company, but I’ve talked to enough bloggers to feel comfortable recommending their service. They have a very hands on approach and on-boarding process.
How much can a blogger earn from display ads?
This is the only negative of using ads as your primary blog revenue source — you need a lot of pageviews to make any type of substantial income.
In my experience, with roughly 500,000 page views/month, Abby and I earn around $1,500 dollars each month. That’s $3.00 per every thousand page views we receive each month. So if you get 100,000 page views/month, you’ll get around $300 in ad revenue. If you generate 30,000 page views each month, you’ll earn roughly $90 each month in ad revenue.
Do keep in mind that it’s possible to earn much more than $3 per thousand page views. Typically, during the holiday season, that number jumps quite substantially without any additional effort on your part.
Also, with more obtrusive video, over-image, and pop-up ads, a blogger can raise the $3 up closer to $5 or more. Just understand that you may impact your level of trust with your readership if you start throwing ads in their face at every turn. It’s a balancing act. Remember to keep your long-term goals in mind when deciding on your ad mix, not just the short term profits.
2. Make money blogging with affiliate partnerships
There are many bloggers who make a living solely through recommending various products and services to their readers. When the reader clicks on one of these links and makes a purchase, the blogger earns a commission as a percentage of the sale price. The commission levels can range from 10% on the very low end to well over 50% on the high end. For example, Abby and I pay our affiliates a 40% commission for successfully recommending our various products. With some key partners, we pay even higher.
The bloggers who are most successful with affiliate marketing weave product recommendations into their posts naturally and organically without coming across as pushy or sales-y. They recommend products they actually use and love, and that comes through in their writing. Their readers will end up thanking them for recommending the products that will be helpful for them and make their lives easier.
On the other hand, it is really easy to lose readers' trust by using affiliate links inauthentically, using them too often, or seeming like you're really just trying to make a sale rather than helping your readers. Yes, affiliate income is nice, but it's definitely not worth sacrificing your readers' trust to earn a few extra dollars.
Do you have a popular cookie recipe post? It’s ok to talk about and recommend that amazing cookie sheet that you absolutely love. It's easy to link to it with an Amazon Associates affiliate link, and you may earn some income recommending something you use and love.
If you recommend some overpriced, sales-y, and scammy training program that you haven’t personally used, though, you may just have killed your trust and credibility.
For instance, Abby and I recommend a few different blog hosting companies depending on the traffic and size of the blog. All of these hosting companies are ones we have personally used, tested, and experienced their customer service. We can vouch for them so we have no problem recommending the service.
When looking for affiliate partnerships and affiliate programs, think more about your readers' needs than the commission offered. The goal is to help your readers, and when you do that successfully, the affiliate income will naturally follow. It's never a good idea to push people towards products. Casually mention them and why you like them.
Depending on the state you live in, the easiest way to start earning affiliate commissions is through the Amazon Associates program. (Laws in certain states limit bloggers' ability to become affiliates with some companies.) Just about any physical product is available on Amazon and if one of your readers purchases something after following your recommendation and clicking on the Amazon product link, you’ll earn commissions.
Share A Sale and CJ (formerly Commission Junction) are two other large affiliate networks. We routinely recommend the Genesis Framework and Restored 316 child themes, and both of those affiliate programs run through Share A Sale.
The third way to find affiliate partnerships is through the books and products you already use. If you read an eBook about a particular topic, there’s a good chance that book has a private affiliate program. Take a look at the website or even email the author to see if they have an affiliate program. If you have a large audience, it’s not uncommon for the author of an eBook or a course creator to start an affiliate program just for you. It can be lucrative both for you and the author or creator.
How much can a blogger earn with affiliate links?
Unlike the ad revenue section above, it’s hard to give an accurate prediction of the amount of affiliate income a blogger can earn per the amount of traffic they generate. There are just too many variables.
I will say that if done correctly and authentically, the affiliate revenue possibilities far exceed the ad revenue potential by at least 5-10x.
For Abby and I, affiliate income is a large part of our monthly revenue. It takes work and time to build the credibility, but if we make $1,500 in a given month from ads, we’ll typically make $9,000 from affiliate income. We use Amazon affiliate links, hosting recommendations, WordPress theme recommendations, email marketing recommendations, and various other eBook, and software recommendations.
To learn in depth strategies and techniques for affiliate marketing, we recommend the eBook Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers by Tasha of Designer Trapped in a Lawyer's Body (who is an affiliate marketing genius!).
3. Sponsored Posts
Sponsored posts are similar to affiliate sales in that with both strategies, the blogger is selling someone else's products. Sponsored posts differ from affiliate sales by the way in which the blogger earns money. While affiliate marketing, bloggers earn a commission when their readers buy something through their designated link, with sponsored posts, the company typically pays the blogger a flat fee to write a post (and often do corresponding social media mentions) telling about their experience with the product. The rate is not based on how many readers purchased the recommended product.
For some bloggers, sponsored posts are their bread and butter and the way they make the majority of their income. When done well, this can be just fine. When considering taking on a sponsored post, Abby typically asks herself whether she would write the post even if she weren't being paid by the company. If the answer is yes, she moves forward with the project. If the answer is no, she declines, even if that means turning down a large sponsored post fee.
As with affiliate sales', the readers' best interest has to come first and foremost. Bloggers quickly lose their readers' trust when sponsored posts seem contrived or sales-y or when a large percentage of their posts are sponsored content. It's definitely all about striking a balance.
When bloggers are first starting out, one of the easiest ways to get connected with sponsored posts is to join a social media group like Pollinate or TapInfluence. These companies act as a middleman; they have relationships with brands who are interested in working with bloggers, and when a blogger is part of the social media group, they receive information about how to apply for sponsored post opportunities with those companies. This is easier than trying to reach out to each and every company individually, particularly when you are newer to blogging.
That being said, it is also great to pursue direct partnerships with brands. Though finding the correct person to contact can sometimes be a challenge, if you can overcome that hurdle, a direct relationship with a company is a lot more likely to turn into recurring sponsored posts, rather than just a one-time partnership.
How much can a blogger earn with sponsored posts?
As with affiliate marketing, the amount bloggers earn from sponsored posts varies greatly. It can range from a few hundred dollars for a newer blogger to several thousand dollars for very established bloggers. Rates vary by company and by situation. For example, if a company is providing a large amount of product, the monetary compensation may be less, where if the product is lower in value, the monetary compensation is usually higher to compensate.
For more information on connecting with brands, what to charge for sponsored posts, and how to write the perfect pitch to companies, we love the eBook Bloggers and Brands from Shannon of AKA Design (who makes the majority of her blogging income from brand partnerships!).
4. Making money blogging with digital product sales
This is the most difficult-- but potentially the most rewarding-- category of blog income. The idea is that you create and sell and your own products. Typically, this is a digital product like an eBook or training course.
It’s a lot of work to create an eBook or course on top of all the other existing work that goes into maintaining a blog. You always run the risk of spending hundreds of hours creating a product that doesn’t sell or resonate with your audience.
To make sure your product actually sells, you need to pay careful attention to the needs of your audience. Create something they want and are asking for, not just something that would be easy or fun for you to create. Pay attention to what particular posts on your blog do the best. What resonates with your audience? Is there additional training or information that could be turned into a product for sale?
Also, for your first product, it’s wise to think about pricing. There’s a lot of information and recommendations out there that suggest charging a lot of money for your products. On some level, this is good advice, but I think many people take this too far, especially for their first product.
Abby and I took the exact opposite approach with our first product. Abby wrote an eBook about starting and growing a blog in the spring of 2014, and we offered it for sale on June 10, 2014. We were super nervous about how well it would do!
Not knowing for sure how it would sell, we decided to offer the eBook with pay-what-you-want pricing (PWYW).
We had a recommended price of $24 but mentioned that if the price was an issue or sticking point, we still wanted you to have the book so they could enter any amount from $1 and up. Sure, there were hundreds of people who purchased the book for just $1, but overall we averaged $10 per sale and sold hundreds of copies.
This initial large customer base was great for our first product. We now had validation that the product resonated with our audience and got lots of great feedback and recommendations from our customers. We used that information to eventually improve and expand the book for version two. We removed the PWYW pricing and actually increased the pricing to correspond to the improved product with more material.
People have asked whether or not we regret using a PWYW pricing model; Abby and I always answer the same way -- we wouldn’t change a thing about offering our first product for such a low price. Dozens of people emailed to say how grateful they were to be able to get the material for a few dollars or whatever they decided to pay.
We took the long view — sacrificing potential short-term returns in exchange for testing the market, gaining trust, and gaining experience. You can always raise the price of something, but it sure doesn’t look good to your first customers if you later decide to lower the price because the product doesn’t sell.
How much can a blogger earn selling digital products?
It’s hard to give a direct answer to this. Some bloggers flop majorly with their first product and never try again. Others have massive success with their first launch, making multiple six-figures of income. Most of you will be like Abby and I, somewhere in the middle.
Most months, Abby and I earn as much from our own products as we do from ad revenue and affiliate income combined. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t. Creating and selling your own products is a tremendous amount of work, but the payout and satisfaction of creating or authoring something that people will gladly pay for is a great feeling. Currently, we offer four products that each serves a certain segment or need of our audience.
My recommendation is to start small and to start on the lower end of the price spectrum. You’re in this for the long haul, so you will certainly have the opportunity in the future to create an amazing but complicated training course with a high price tag. I don’t recommend doing that with your first product — start small and learn from your experiences and improve everything the second time around.
If you're thinking of launching a product but aren't sure where to start, you can download our tried and true launch plan (absolutely free!) here.
You make these strategies sound great but is it really possible to earn money blogging or is this just hype?
It really is possible! A few years ago, Abby and I never would’ve dreamed we’d be working from home, acting as our own bosses, earning a full-time living from a blog. But we worked hard, worked smart, and it happened. It can happen for you as well. We’re not special; Abby was just willing to work harder than just about everyone else despite everything else going on in her life. That’s it!
But as you get into a rhythm and make blogging connections, you'll start to see consistent growth. At that point, you can start thinking about these four blog revenue models.
Start with either ads, affiliate income, or sponsored posts (maybe all 3!) and then graduate into making and selling your own products. You’ll learn a ton and, hopefully, start to earn a substantial income!
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This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.