In my series on blogging, I’ve tried to answer a few of the questions that come up a lot online, but I think the one I hear most often in “real life” conversations is, “How do bloggers make money?” Or “How ON EARTH do bloggers make money from taking photos of their shoes/dinner/faces and posting them on the internet?”, as it’s more often expressed.
To those of us who blog, even as a hobby, the answers to this question are probably really obvious (so if you’re already making money from blogging, in other words, this one’s not for you!), but to non-bloggers, or to bloggers who are only starting to think about monetising their blogs, the question of how bloggers make money can be totally mystifying. I know a lot of my “real life” friends and acquaintances are completely puzzled by how on earth I manage to make a living from blogging, and I’ve had the, “But how do you ACTUALLY make money ON THE INTERNET?” question quite a few times.
Well, I can’t speak for all bloggers, obviously, but there are lots of different ways in which you can make money from blogging. When I started writing this post, it was my intention to give a brief overview of all of them (My regular readers are currently laughing their asses off at the idea of me doing a “brief” ANYTHING…), but then I wrote approximately 50,000 words about Google Adsense, so this post concentrates purely on blog advertising, and I’ll follow up next week with some other methods of monetisiation.
How to make money by selling advertising on your blog
Although, as I said, there are lots of different ways to monetise a blog, in general, most of the money made from blogging is advertising-driven, and comes from people paying the blogger in order to place an advert for their own business or website on the blog. As with any other kind of business, if you have something that’s popular enough, it’s going to be possible to make money out of it, and the bottom line with blogging is that if you have enough people visiting your blog every day, you’ll be able to sell adverts to other businesses, who hope to get some of that traffic for themselves.
How many visitors do you need to be able to sell advertising?
That’s the big question, and I’m going to be honest: I don’t know the answer. I actually don’t think there IS a simple answer, in fact: there’s no magic number at which you’ll suddenly be able to start making money from blogging, so it’s really a matter of trial and error.
It stands to reason that if you have NO visitors (or very few visitors), there’s little chance of you making money right away, but it’s not necessarily the case that you need to have MASSIVE amounts of traffic in order to monetise successfully: depending on the type of advertising you’re using, and the niche your blog fills, you could do quite well out of a moderate level of traffic.
As I said, it’s really a matter of “try it and see”, but it really is a numbers game at the end of the day, so if you’re just starting out, or you have very little in the way of traffic to your blog, my advice to you would be to put all thoughts of monetising on the back burner for now, and concentrate on building up your blog instead, by creating the kind of content people will want to read: until you have that, you won’t have much chance of making money from blogging.
With all of that said, here are some of the different types of advertising you can run on your blog, with the caveat that this list isn’t intended to be all-inclusive – there are new types of blog advertising being developed all the time, so I’ve concentrated here only on the ones I’ve used personally!
Making money from blogging through Google Adsense
Google Adsense is probably one of the easiest forms of advertising you can use on a website, and, as such, is often used as a kind of “entry-level” monetsation method for a lot of people.
Adsense is a contextual advertising platform: you basically paste a bit of code into your sidebar/header/wherever you want it, and Google will display adverts which it thinks are a good fit for your content. So, in theory, if I write a post about green dresses, Adsense will show adverts for green dresses, because it assumes that’s what my visitors are interested in. Makes sense, right?
Adsense is also a pay-per-click platform. Bloggers don’t get paid just to display the ads on their sites: instead they get paid when someone clicks on one. Payment can be anything from a couple of cents to a couple of dollars: it depends on what the advertiser has “bid” for their ad – i.e. what they’re willing to pay for each click. Some niches are more profitable than others in this sense: advertisers essentially have to bid against each other to determine where their ad will appear on the page, so how much you earn from Adsense will depend on what you write about, and how competitive the keywords associated with that topic are.
My posts about clothes and shoes, for instance, might get a few clicks, because the adverts on those pages will be for, well, clothes and shoes, and those are things people visiting a fashion blog might want to buy. These posts about blogging, however, will be harder for Google to work out what to show adverts for: I have no way of knowing which adverts will appear on my posts (they’ll also be different for each person, so what I see could be totally different from what YOU see), but I suspect on THIS post, Adsense will probably show ads for ITSELF. Alternatively, it might just decide to contextulize the ads to the rest of the site, and continue to show ads for dresses and shoes – that makes it less likely for me to make money from these posts, because people who’ve arrived here searching for the term “how do bloggers make money”, probably WON’T click on ads for shoes. In other words: it’s complicated.
Is it even possible to make money from Google Adsense?
There’s a lot written about Google Adsense, and how effective it is, and I seem to read more negative reviews of it than positive ones: in fact, I’ve read a lot of posts stating that it’s “impossible” to make money from it as a blogger, and that it’s not even worth bothering with. This simply illustrates for me how different people’s experiences can be of different ad platforms: I actually make a relatively good income from Adsense, and have done for many years – in fact, for the first few years of my blogging career, Adsense was my sole source of income, and I made more from it than I’d been making in my full-time job.
It’s not a perfect solution, though: revenue isn’t always predictable, and Google likes to change the way it operates with no notice, which means your earnings from Adsense can tank overnight, with no explanation. There are also huge differences in revenue between different topics, and different blogs. This site, for instance, has never done particularly well on Adsense, probably because there are a variety of different topics, which makes it harder for Google to know what to display adverts for. (What kind of ads should Google associate with my Random Acts of Stupidity, for instance? Exactly.)
A site like ShoeperWoman, on the other hand, does much better on Adsense, because it’s about shoes and clothes: visitors to the site are there looking for shoes and clothes, which is handy, because that’s what Google shows ads for. So ShoeperWoman’s ads have a much higher click-through rate than Forever Amber’s do (even although Forever Amber has higher traffic to the site), because with ShoeperWoman I KNOW that people are there to see shoes, whereas with Forever Amber, I just have to hope that people who are there to read about random acts of stupidity, to hear about my strange childhood habits, or to get tips about blogging, will ALSO be interested in clothes and shoes, and will therefore click on those ads.
Google Adsense Tips and Advice:
With all of that said, although Adsense has been relatively successful for me, I can’t guarantee it will work for you. If you DO want to give it a shot, though, here are my main thoughts on it:
- Adsense is a good, easy staring-off point for people who want to monetise their blog, so don’t discount it just because you’ve heard people say it doesn’t make money.
- It will not work for ALL blogs or all topics.
- It takes a lot of experimentation to work out what the best placement for your ads is: sometimes a very small change in ad placement can lead to a big change in revenue (both good and bad). It’s not a good idea to just paste in the code and then leave it to do its thing: you need to be constantly monitoring the performance of your ads, tweaking the colours and sizes, and experimenting with different ad placements.
- Most of the clicks you get will come from people who have found your blog via Google, as opposed to regular readers, who visit every day and become “blind” to the ads. So, someone who typed “green midi dress” into Google, and wound up on my blog, is more likely to click on an advert for a green midi dress, than someone who just enjoys reading the site, and isn’t there looking for anything in particular. That means that posts which provide advice, or concentrate on products people can buy (as opposed to posts which simply provide entertainment) will tend to make more money than posts which are just general rambles about your life.
- That doesn’t mean you should stop writing the posts that DON’T earn money on Adsense: those posts are valuable in other ways, as I’ll discuss later in this series.
- Some topics are more profitable than others. Topics which lots of people are searching for information on, for instance, will be more competitive than ones which have a very niche interest. So, if your entitre blog is about ceramic garden worms, you shouldn’t expect to be able to retire on your Adsense earnings, because there won’t be many people searching for that, and there won’t be many advertisers looking to place adverts for their earthworms, either.
- Make sure your site conforms to the Adsense rules: there are guidelines on what type of content you can monetise with Adsense (fun fact: I can’t use Adsense on posts about “nude shoes”, for instance, because Google objects to the word “nude”, assuming it must relate to OMGPORN), how many ads you can put on your page at any one time, and various other things. If you break any of these rules Google will pull the ads and disable your account: they will often do this without warning or explanation, and will refuse to talk to you about why they’ve done it. I speak from personal experience.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This is true of all forms of monetization, but particularly with Adsense, which can be very unpredictable. As I said, it’s a good starting point if you’re completely new to monetization, but as your blog starts to grow, I highly recommend adding in other types of advertising and other revenue streams, so that you’re not totally reliant on one source of income.
- Adsense isn’t the only method of offering this type of pay-per-click advertising: it is, however, the most popular, and its the only one I have personal experience with, which is why I’ve chosen to concentrate on it.
Speaking of other types of advertising…
Monetizing your blog with an advertising network
This is an area I can’t say too much about (I will anyway, though), because although I’ve used ad networks in the past, I don’t currently use them to monetise my sites. Put simply, though, ad networks are agencies which sell ads on your behalf. Normally they’ll have a large number of sites in their network, and will be able to negotiate rates for advertisers to place ads on all of their sites at the same time.
Networks can be a good way to monetise, because they do all the hard work for you: unlike Adsense, which relies on advertisers coming to them, ad networks will be actively trying to sell space on your site, and will have the skill, connections and experience to do that effectively. Some examples of ad networks who work with bloggers are Mode Media, BlogHer, Handpicked Media, Style Coalition, and there are many, many more.
The advantage of using an ad network, as I mentioned above, is that they’ll deal with advertisers on your behalf: as well as negotiating ad rates for banners etc, some networks will also act almost like an “agent”, and will help organise things like brand collaborations, product reviews, events etc. They also offer different types of monetisation: unlike the pay-per-click model used by Google Adsense, many networks will use a model whereby you’re paid according to the number of page impressions your ads receive each day/week/month. This can be preferable for some people, because your revenue is linked to your traffic, rather than depending on people clicking – or not clicking, as the case may be.
The downside of ad networks, however, is that they tend to have strict entry requirements, which can sometimes mean they’re not an option for smaller bloggers. Many networks will only accept blogs which receive a certain number of visitors per month (in some cases this number can be very high), and they’ll also look at social follower numbers, reader engagement etc. If you’re a new blogger, you’ll probably find it difficult to be accepted by a network, so, again, my advice is to concentrate on building up your blog first, and think about monetisation later.
Selling adverts on your blog by yourself
Another popular method of selling advertising on your blog is the DIY-method, whereby you simply sell the ads yourself, setting a price, and allowing advertisers to purchase from your directly. I use this method on Forever Amber, and you can see my advertising page here.
I’ve chosen to use Passionfruit Ads to run my ad shop, because it basically takes all of the work out of direct sales: my ads are listed in their directory, and advertisers can simply click the “add to cart” button, purchase their ad, and have it up and running as soon as I’ve approved it. On my side, meanwhile, all I have to do is insert a piece of code into my sidebar, and when I approve a new ad, it instantly appears there. I find this easier than the totally DIY method, which meant me having to invoice the client, upload the ad, and remember when to take it down again, but if you don’t want to pay the $8/month which Passionfruit charge for their service, you obviously have the option to just manage the process yourself.
The benefit of dealing with advertisers directly (or through a third-party like Passionfruit) is that you’re in total control. You set the rates for your adverts, you decide which advertisers you’ll accept, and you keep all of the profits. The downside is that it can much harder to actually find people to advertise, because without a network behind you, you’re basically relying on people finding your blog, noticing you sell ads, and deciding to purchase one.
It can also be very time-consuming dealing with potential advertisers. Passionfruit definitely takes some of the work out of it, but although I provide quite detailed information on my advertising page (which is linked at the top of the site, and in the sidebar, where the ads appear), I still get dozens of emails every week from people wanting to know if I sell ads, how much they cost, if I’ll give them a discount/a freebie, etc. The vast majority of these people aren’t actually serious about advertising – they’re just trying to get coverage for free – but they take up a lot of my time, normally without anything to show for it, which can be quite frustrating, and is the reason why blogs with a lot of traffic will often choose to outsource advertising altogether.