Whether you are writing a hobby blog, content marketing for your business, or blogging as a business, there is always an opportunity to monetize your blog.
There are plenty of options for how to make money from your blog, and for an established blog the income can be incredibly passive, allowing you to focus on creating content (or whatever else you want in life).
In this chapter, we will review the primary methods for monetizing a blog and I’ll recommend the methods I prefer for long term blogging success (and income) with the least effort possible.
IN THIS ARTICLE
- Overview of the major ways to monetize a blog, and the ways I recommend
- Monetizing a blog that is a content marketing platform for a business (with third party products)
- Diversifying your blog income streams: Why everyone should do it and how
- Passive income streams vs. active income streams in blogging
THE TAKEAWAYS UP FRONT
- Affiliate marketing is the easiest way for new blogs to monetize, followed by programmatic ads if the site has more than 10k monthly session
- All mature blogs should include a product to diverse the blog’s monetization strategy
- Most sites that make more than $25k per month offer a course
THE MAJOR WAYS TO MONETIZE A BLOG
AND THE WAYS I RECOMMEND MOST…
Why I choose affiliate marketing, ads, and own products
Monetizing a blog is quite simple at its base. Simply connect your readers with products and brands that are directly related to your content and that they will appreciate it. In exchange for the “introduction”, you will receive a commission or fee. This is the same tactic magazines and newspapers have used for years (print ads) except it is much easier for small players to enter the space now.
Tracking sales and commissions is extremely accurate, and the availability of plenty of data allows us to optimize the ads we show and the products we recommend to our readers.
There are countless other means of making money from a blog, such as selling a service, selling promoted posts on your site, and even selling your own products (which I do recommend), however affiliate marketing is the perfect place to start monetizing your blog, followed by joining premium ad networks and serving programmatic ads as your traffic grows, and selling your own products as your brand becomes more defined later.
Connecting readers with brands through affiliate marketing, and premium ad networks is the way to start monetizing your site. These two ways of monetizing a blog are passive by nature (only requiring that you maintain traffic to your blog after embedding the programmatic ads and affiliate links), pay well (between $10 and $500 per 1,000 users), and are simple to use from the start.
Though I love ads and affiliate networks for monetizing a site in its early stages (first few years), in order to push your blog’s income to the $7,000 per month and up range, you will need to deliver your own products (information products are the most efficient) or a course eventually. Once you (and your site) have established enough expertise and authority in your niche, adding a product and/or a course is the best move. Nearly every blog that brings in $25,000+ per month sells a course, showing that delivering your own products makes the sky the (income) limit.
Don’t worry, we’ll lightly touch on these two options so that as your blog matures and you hit the right stage of growth, you’ll have the knowledge necessary to return back to this concept, deliver a product or a course, and continue your blog’s growth.
In this section we will review my recommendations for how to start making money on your blog, which approaches you should take first, and we’ll finish with a review of all of the other common ways for monetizing a blog and why I do/don’t recommend taking that approach.
GUIDELINES FOR MONETIZING YOUR BLOG EFFICIENTLY
- Avoid trading time for money
- Avoid selling out and providing ingenuine advice for compensations
- Always make your foremost goal delivering value to your readers and honoring their trust
- Start monetizing your blog with affiliate marketing and progress to programmatic ads at 10,000 sessions
- Once you’ve established enough expertise and authority, create and deliver an information product designed to lead into a course, then deliver a course
- Be sure to list appropriate disclaimers according to FTC requirements
DECIDING WHICH MONETIZATION PATHS TO BUILD YOUR BLOGGING STRATEGY ON
The best monetization approach for you and your blog will change as your readership (and visits to your site) increases, as your brand becomes more established, and as you gain expertise and credibility in your niche. As such, I recommend following this path:
- Short Term (from Day 0): Affiliate marketing
- Mid Term (at 10,000 sessions per month): Serve Premium, Programmatic Ads (Ezoic then Mediavine)
- Long Term: Own Products (Information Products, Courses) (After you have enough expertise to create a full eBook, then proceed to a course if appropriate)
This path focuses on creating low effort, nearly passive income at all levels of growth for your blog without trading time for money. For each approach, once the mechanism (hyperlink, ad integration, eBook and sales funnel) is established, upkeep is very low and the mission returns to focusing on growing traffic.
In addition to my three preferred methods of monetizing a blog, listed above, there are other options that I advise against because they trade time for money (limiting our ability to scale).
- Sponsored Content: Potentially compromises the integrity of the writing
- Services and Consulting: Trading time for money isn’t scalable
Note, that if your existing business (agency, retailer, consultancy) revolves around a service then using your blog as a platform to promote and sell services is an excellent idea. However, if you plan on being a blogger whose core competency is blogging, then affiliate marketing, ads, and selling your own products is the approach that will lead to the most success, scalability, and freedom
Now that we have introduced each of the primary income streams in blogging, let’s review how each monetization approach works.
What is affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is the process of recommending specific products, services, and brands to your readers and receiving a commission for each of the purchases your readers completes that originated via your content.
Affiliate marketing conversions from your site are tracked via tailored hyperlinks to the products/services that contain a tracking code unique to you and your site. These tracking codes and “affiliate links” can be edited to even report which page and link a reader started on and which product they ultimately purchased.
These affiliate links unique to you are created within a publisher dashboard that is created for you after you apply to join and are approved for whichever affiliate network manages the brand and products you wish to share with your audience.
Each brand has a set of terms and conditions for affiliate links dictating the compensation and the “cookie window” in which you get credit for a purchase that originated from a click on your site.
Compensation rates vary from product to product and brand to brand usually 3% to 15% of a sale for physical products and up to 50% of a sale on digital products.
The cookie window, or the period of time of the click in which you receive credit and compensation for the sale, varies from program to program. For instance, the Amazon Associates affiliate program cookie window is only 24 hours, while the cookies for some recurring services are as long as 6 months.
Why is affiliate marketing such a great opportunity?
- Affiliate marketing can be started on day one, unlike premium ads that require 10k sessions and creating your own products takes ample time
- Affiliate marketing can be a service to your readers, as you recommend the products, they need to solve the problem they’ve come to your site about
- Affiliate marketing is very unobtrusive as links embedded in text and images do not disrupt the user experience
How much can you make with affiliate marketing
Compensation rates for affiliate marketing tend to be much higher than ads compensation. While premium Ad revenues per 1000/mille users (RPM) are $10 to $45, affiliate marketing RPMs on a well optimized site can be $50 to $500.
Keep in mind that affiliate marketing RPMs are heavily dependent on the price of the products you recommend, the terms of the affiliate program you are part of, and how well you’ve optimized your products and link embedding approach to your audience.
How to get started in affiliate marketing
When starting in affiliate marketing, many bloggers ask “which affiliate programs should I join?” This is the wrong approach.
Instead, ask yourself what amazing products you can recommend to your readers to solve the current problem they are trying to solve, then join the programs that offer them. To do so, Google “[product’s brand] affiliate program”. In the Google results, follow the link that takes you to the brand’s affiliate partners’ page and follow the instructions to join the affiliate program the brand is part of and finally signup as an affiliate partner with that brand.
Keep in mind that some brand’s affiliate activities will be managed within a larger affiliate program (like Avantlink or CJ) and some brands will have an internally managed affiliate program. Both are fine.
The point is to stay focused on finding suitable products to recommend to your audience and then joining affiliate programs accordingly.
What programs should you absolutely join?
I do recommend starting prepared with a handful of programs that tend to have a majority of the products I come across that don’t have “in-house” affiliate marketing program management. By applying to and being approved for these affiliate programs from the start, whenever you think of a product to recommend, you can simply hop onto the dashboard, generate the link, and embed in a post, without worrying applying, waiting, and getting approved
The affiliate programs you should join are:
- Individual affiliate platforms (managed by the companies)
How to create and embed affiliate links
Once you’ve signed up each affiliate program, follow these steps to create a trackable affiliate link:
- Go to the affiliate program’s dashboard
- Go to the respective link builder
- Enter the product link
- Enter “add a tracking page” or “add a deep link”
- Shorten the URL within the link generator using Bitly or another service
- Add the affiliate link for your target product to relevant text and calls to action in the text
Note: When adding affiliate links to content, do not add any more frequently than each 500 words, unless it adds value
HOW TO INCREASE AFFILIATE MARKETING INCOME
- Track, measure, and optimize continuously
- Optimize your affiliate marketing approach routinely (products, text, placement, etc.)
- Link consistently throughout your content and site
- For every article ask “what product relates to this content that can help the reader?”
- Only recommend products that line up with searcher intent based on your target keyword
- Aim for non-intrusive, text links
- Hyperlink images within posts
- Optimize routinely based on click through data, conversions, and performance across various products, brands, and affiliate programs
- Create a marketing plan for each monetized post, conducive to the content and recommended products, to drive traffic from sources that will appreciate it
- Funnel traffic to well monetized and high performing posts (in terms of monetization) via internal links on your site
- Target high dollar products to recommend via affiliate links
WHAT CONTENT IS BEST FOR AFFILIATE MARKETING: PROBLEM SOLVING CONTENT…
Affiliate marketing works best when recommending products that solve the problem which drove a reader to your page. This could be the problem of comparing products, looking for a process, or planning something.
In every piece of content wherein there is a problem to solve and tools are required, those tools become opportunities for honest, genuine affiliate marketing that creates value for your reader.
If you aim to make money off of your site, or need to make money to fund your site, adding plans for the following posts to your content plan will create natural monetization opportunities that are mutually beneficial to you and your readers.
The best types of content for affiliate marketing are as follows
- Recommendation Lists
- Product Reviews
- Guides and tutorials (requiring products or services)
All of these types of posts are built around recommending products, services, and other tools that help the user solve a problem and allow you to naturally embed affiliate links while responding to the driving need.
FTC DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS: AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT OF AFFILIATE MARKETING
As there is an opportunity to make a significant profit with blogs by admittedly leveraging the trust of our readers, the FTC mandates that we do so honestly and in good faith, which I can appreciate.
A major component of blogging for profit is the FTC mandates for disclosing financial relationships and compensation made from your recommendations and mandating that all endorsements must be honest, not misleading, and made in good faith.
I highly recommend reading the FTC guidelines for endorsements (in blogging and otherwise) to ensure your blog is legally compliant.
You can find that information here: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking
PREMIUM AND PROGRAMMATIC ADS FOR MONETIZING BLOGS
One of the oldest forms of monetizing written media are advertisements – visuals designed by brands and placed in magazines, newspapers, and blogs with the aim of selling a product, building a brand, or driving a call to action. In return, the publication received compensation in exchange for the space used for the ad in its publication
Though the days of print are waning, “ads” are just as strong as ever, though their evolution and the evolution of the information age make delivering ads easier and more convenient for blogs and small websites.
One major change from the days of print media, when brands simply paid a flat rate for an ad that everyone reading a magazine would see and no idea if the reader would actually see it, programmatic ads have created a much more calculated experience for bloggers, readers, and brands to meet.
What are Programmatic Ads?
Programmatic advertising is the automated buying and selling of online advertising and then automatically displaying them on your site. This online auction for ad space on your site maximizes the revenue you can make from ads while eliminating the hassle of actually having to sell ads.
“Premium” Programmatic Ad Networks: Higher Revenue, More Tools, and More Support
Though Google Adsense delivers programmatic ads and countless other companies do as well, the paid rate per 1,000 readers (commonly called “Rate Per Mille” or RPM) is usually so low that it is rarely worth the user experience dip to serve programmatic ads. However, premium ad networks, particularly Ezoic, Mediavine, and AdThrive, deliver a more “curated” ad experience to readers, made capable by building relationships with brands and high-quality publishers and bloggers to garner a much higher RPM.
Whereas normal programmatic ads revenue can range between $1 and $7, premium ads are commonly touted delivering $10 to $45 RPM. Even better, premium programmatic ad networks deliver some amazing technical benefits (data, analytics, user experience testing) and collaborative support (“publisher networks”, great technical support).
Of the many benefits of programmatic ads, the most prominent benefits for bloggers are the ability collect and analyze data and optimize accordingly. My favorite two purposes in action today are using artificial intelligence and machine learning in the programmatic ads experience and leveraging user experience data and ad performance to optimize ads
Artificial intelligence and machine learning in premium programmatic ads help us optimize better and earn more
“AI” and “machine learning” are buzz words popping up everywhere that I won’t attempt to define in this book, I will simply label them as “computing processes that actively learn”. Within the programmatic ads space, companies like Ezoic are using AI and machine learning to dynamically test an infinite number of ads, ad layouts, and content layouts on your blog to not only maximize ad performance (i.e., profits) but to test for the best general layout for user experience, so you can learn from it. Plus, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The capabilities that come with a premium ads service for bloggers are immense and go far beyond the initial payout.
Premium programmatic ad networks make it easy to leverage user experience data and ad performance to optimize ads
Google Analytics is an extremely powerful tool for bloggers, delivering information on the user experience and performance of each post. Premium ad networks generally layer data on top of Google’s robust stack of data, showing us which posts make the most ad income, how posts can be improved, and more.
Extra Bonus: A Support Network of Experienced Bloggers and Tech professionals
“Collaboration” has been a buzz word for years, but good ad networks take this to the next level by connecting bloggers within their network. This means that once you’re in (with, say, Ezoic or Mediavine) you’re part of a community of publishers (bloggers) that constantly share information and best practices and also have the tech support of the ad network to lean on for ad issues, site issues, and higher level analysis of industry trends.
THE PREMIUM AD NETWORKS I RECOMMEND JOINING: EZOIC AND MEDIAVINE
Thanks to great RPMs/earnings, great technical support, and a plethora of tools and resources I highly recommend monetizing your site ASAP with Ezoic and Mediavine, two amazing ad networks that make the experience/payoff of serving ads great.
EZOIC – THE NETWORK YOU SHOULD JOIN AT 10,000 SESSIONS PER MONTH
Ezoic is the perfect “entry-level” premium ad network, as the minimum threshold for admittance is 10,000 user sessions per month. For most Ezoic publishers that have made their earnings public, RPM’s range around $7 to $15. Even better, Ezoic has some amazing tools for helping your site grow.
Ezoic’s best feature is that it constantly uses artificial intelligence to dynamically change the layout of your content and ads to test what layouts and characteristics lead to higher ad revenue and the best user experience.
A site speed accelerator that uses caching and a content delivery network (CDN) to ensure your site loads as fast as possible, ultimately improving your SEO and rankings in Google. Within a week of signing up for site speed accelerator, my site speed (according to Google Page speed Insights) jumped 50 points and my traffic via Google jumped 10%.
Finally, Ezoic’s big data analytics feature takes Google Analytics data and layers ad earnings data and data from its own experiments, for a robust set of analytics you can use to understand what kind of content pays best and how to optimize your site for ad revenue.
Ultimately, I highly recommend joining Ezoic once you reach the minimum monthly sessions threshold. When you do, check your Google Page speed Insights score and considering signing up for the Sitespeed Accelerator, and routinely leverage the Ezoic analytics.
To join Ezoic, head over to the Ezoic home and apply today.
MEDIAVINE – THE NETWORK YOU SHOULD JOIN AT 25,000 SESSIONS PER MONTH
Once your blog matures enough to join Mediavine, I highly recommend making the switch. Publicly available information on Mediavine earnings show RPMs of $15 to $45, although this number is heavily dependent on niche, audience, and optimization
In addition to the higher RPMs, Mediavine offers an extremely helpful publisher network in which publishers (bloggers) share insights on how they are growing, improving, and weathering the struggles common in Blogging. Additionally, Mediavine constantly pushes out useful content on how to grow your blog, how to optimize your site, and how to maximize ad revenue.
When you reach the minimum 25,000 monthly sessions, definitely apply to join the Mediavine Publish Network.
To join the Mediavine Publisher Network, head over to the Mediavine homepage and apply today.
SELLING YOUR OWN PRODUCTS (INFORMATION PRODUCTS, COURSES AND PHYSICAL PRODUCTS)
In a study of the highest earning blogs, all of the highest earning, outlier blogs had one thing in common – they hosted their own products and courses.
Though affiliate marketing and ads make for great sources of passive income as we build our blog, the most lucrative opportunity for monetizing expertise was packaging information (or expertise) into a product – generally an information product (e.g., eBook, spreadsheet, course, etc.). This one-time investment of the time, energy, resources, and effort to produce a digital product becomes a resource that can be sold an infinite number of times with virtually no additional cost.
Additionally, selling an information product can be accomplished with any traffic level.
Let’s dig into the opportunity of taking the same expertise you deliver on your blog and packaging it into an information product your readers want and need.
Why selling products makes sense: Your blog delivers snippets of information, and your readers want more
Your blog is built on your expertise and sharing information that your readership appreciates. Creating an information product with a more exhaustive and complete set of information packaged into a single book or course serves you and your readership well. An information product simply allows you to continue giving and sharing, without the 3,000-word limit and targeting/serving readers that want “more”.
As we take the opportunity to ditch the “3,000-word average” of blog posts we gain the opportunity to go extremely in depth on the topics that our readers want more of. Case in point: This book that you are reading is the culmination of nearly 100 blog posts, repacked in a digestible way I could never achieve on the web. By writing this book I have been able to structure the information in a digestible way and deliver the information in a more accessible way than you (the reader) would experience digging through 100 blog posts.
Why you should sell your own products: The opportunity to deliver higher margin products that cater to your readers
Though the 30% commission of an affiliate partner’s eBook sounds great, or the 15% commission on a physical product seems fantastic, it doesn’t compare to the 100% you keep by creating your own product.
With the same conversion rates as you experience with affiliate marketing, this adds up 3x to 7x more revenue than you might otherwise enjoy or the opportunity to sustain your blog on only 1/3 to 1/7 the traffic. In either case, taking the control of creating your own product empowers your blog and creates independence in an everchanging space.
MORE REASONS TO CREATE AND SELL YOUR OWN INFORMATION PRODUCTS
- Products allow you to keep more of the margin
- Information products help establish you as an authority in your niche
- Well made products can remain evergreen (with slight refreshes) as income sources indefinitely
- Products allow good monetization at any traffic level
- Information products allow you to respond directly to the needs and requests of your readers
- Most blogs making $5000 to $9000 a month sell their own product
- Nearly all blogs making $25,000+ per month sell their own course
This all seems great, the opportunity tocreate and sell something yourself, but it is really possible?
Yes, it absolutely is.
So, what should you sell as your own information product?
Though the initial answer is generally an eBook or a course, you can create and sell any tool that can help your readers within your niche solve a problem they’ve come to you with.
Here are a few examples of great information product opportunities by category.
- Spreadsheets and trackers (e.g., budgeting, project management trackers, content planners)
- Software (e.g., apps, WordPress themes, WordPress templates)
- Courses (e.g., cooking courses, professional skills training, language courses, etc.)
- Video series and virtual conferences (within a paid membership area)
- DIY plans and designs (e.g., furniture plans, tiny house plans, home project plans)
Many good blogs these days are monetizing with their own product that were created in response to the needs of their users. If you need some ideas, google your niche and click through sites scanning what is for sale on their sites to spark some ideas.
Additionally, signup for and peruse markets that sell websites, such as Flippa or Empire Flippers, to get ideas of products you can create for your site and the income possibilities
The biggest determiner in whether or not you succeed in selling your own products: Whether or not you start
Of the most successful blogs selling their own products, two traits distinguishing them from the rest: just starting, and building relationships via email marketing.
Just Start: There will never be a perfect time to start and you will likely never make a perfect product. It is very likely that the first product won’t make enough to be your only product – which is all the more reason to start. As soon as you have enough knowledge of the market and expertise on your topic, start creating your own product. Get that first “learning experience” out of the way so you can roll that first product experience into the second product.
Collect Emails from Day 1 and Build Relationships via Email: In a major blogger study, Brandon Gaille discovered that bloggers who made $9,000 per month and bloggers that made $25,000 per month generally received the same number of visitors per month to their site, but $25,000 per month bloggers learned how to capture email addresses better, build relationships better, and create/deliver products better. To max out the returns you receive from selling your own product, begin collect emails and building relationships with your readers via email immediately. This way, you will consistently receive input, questions, and critiques that will shape your product into something useful, and you will have an audience ready and waiting to hear about the product you created for them.
Though affiliate marketing, premium ad networks, and selling your own products are excellent options for monetizing, they are not the only options for monetizing. Consider these monetization opportunities as well, as long the method serves your readers and serves your mission
- Sponsored posts
- Lead generation
Having the attention of an audience is a valuable thing, and something that brands will definitely pay for – hence the sponsored post. Sponsored posts are pieces of partnered content in which either you or a brand partner to write a specific piece of content that serves their needs and is hosted on your site.
I personally do not take on sponsored posts as I want my audience to know that anything, I say is my objective, unadulterated perspective. However, many bloggers use this as a means to monetize in the early stages of blogging, making hundreds of dollars from a single post.
If you go this route, be sure to respect the trust your audience has in you or you will lose the hard-earned rapport.
Sometimes as bloggers, we collect email addresses and contact information for individuals seeking a service that we can’t provide. In these cases, we can (with the proper legal processes) sell the contact information to firms that may be able to provide the service (e.g., doctors, divorce lawyers, roofers, home improvement specialists). If you choose to monetize via this route, confirm that you are handling the reader’s contact information in a legal manner and following all required disclosure processes
The opportunity in blogging is a fantastic one, but it is a constantly shifting one. Google algorithms are constantly changing. Large affiliate networks (like Amazon) are constantly changing commission rates. Ad networks are constantly adding new tools. And the speed of change will only accelerate – especially in the area of monetization.
Affiliate marketing didn’t exist in 2010. Now, affiliate marketing is a major, automated income stream. Selling links was the way to make money in 2010, now that income stream has disappeared. There wasn’t an ad network that paid well for sites with less than 10,000 sessions 5 years ago, now there are several.
The only thing you can count on not changing, is the fact that blogging will constantly change.
This change creates risk – the risk that the monetization path you are relying on now (affiliate marketing, ads, selling a non-evergreen product) will change in a heartbeat. The question is, which one will change?
Who knows…but the best way to hedge your risk is to not put your eggs (websites, traffic, and monetization plans) all in one basket (one monetization stream)? The answer is to diversify and build income in as many areas as possible in a reasonable way, so that any major changes to the industry will not cripple you. If you have already built up the tools and resources in the areas not affected, you’ll never be overly affected by any potentially devastating changes.
Build your site, and monetization streams, at a pace that works for you, but DO NOT forget to diversify your income streams.
ACTION ITEMS FOR THIS SECTION
- For affiliate marketing: Brainstorm 10 products and services you have used that you can genuinely and naturally recommend in your writing. Search for their affiliate programs, and signup
- Brainstorm 5 potential products that you can create that would add value for your readers and sell easily
- Signup for the major affiliate networks now
- If you have over 10,000 sessions per month, signup for a premium, programmatic ad network now.
Add the appropriate, FTC compliant disclosure statement to all content that contains affiliate links or to any sponsored posts