I know that most people’s idea of a blog runs the line of, ‘Dear Blog, Today I…’ and to most the idea of making money from a blog is comical or, well, cute. I’d like to explain here and now that these same people are probably frequenting sites that are technically blogs and there are plenty of blogs that make millions of dollars each year. Blogging is no longer your digital diary to the world wide web, it is business and business is good.
I also feel that now is a good time to burst your get-rich-quick dreams. Probably not gonna happen. While there are many blogs that turn a seven figure profit, their success is usually not immediate or easy. Launching, marketing, and maintaining a successful blog takes urber-time and commitment. For the record, if you’re looking for an express lane to wealth you might want to skip my whole site. While it is possible to make a lucrative living by writing, you will have to work for it and if you lack the ass-in-seat commitment or are doing it to earn a quick buck, you won’t last long anyway. There, disclaimer over. Back to blogging.
In the novice spirit of this post, I’m going to assume that you don’t have a blog…if only so I can start at the beginning.
So what the hell do you blog about? This is a tough one and even the pros rarely nailed it on the first try. I myself started four blogs before this one. All were short lived and when I decided to focus on one single subject, writing wasn’t even my first choice. Having been my own worst enemy most of my life led me to the subject of self-help. The problem was I didn’t have enough passion for it and I certainly didn’t have a slant on a current topic.
I subscribed to the newsletters of popular self-development blogs to get a feel for the blogosphere, but I had to force myself (with much resistance) to sit at the computer and read through them. Then I also found I had a hard time brainstorming blog post ideas. Both of these were red flags that I was on the wrong track so I reevaluated and changed my direction.
In hindsight, I realize that I hadn’t distilled my topic. I had a general idea of what I was interested in but had not narrowed my subject down enough. Sometimes there is too much freedom in writing and that ‘anything is possible’ atmosphere makes it too hard to see what you can do. I still have some blog ideas percolating but they include addiction recovery and abuse. Now there’s a specific topic I can not only work with, but am passionate about.
You’re going to evaluate your passions and interests in search of your blog topic. To build a successful and long-term blog, you will spend a lot of time with your subject. Best to be almost obsessed with it or you’ll hit burn out in record time. Don’t pick a should. Don’t choose your topic because you feel like you ‘should’ write about it, even if it’s super-impressive and professional. I’m not a big fan of shoulds to begin with. ‘Should-ing’ here will sabotage your efforts from the start.
Do you read? Or more importantly, do you read any non-fiction? If you do, this is sure-fire way to add possible topics to your list. I rearranged my bookshelves by subject once and I realized something telling. My passion-projects (or side-hustles) were based on the topics I have the most books about. Go figure. You can reverse-engineer this process.
Once you’ve decided on a few possible blog topics, try brainstorming some blog post ideas. If you run out of inspiration in three minutes, you may want to reevaluate. Maybe narrow your topic. When I first brainstormed topics for this blog I filled ten pages, though I don’t know how long that took me. Either way, that immersion is what you’re looking for.
There are a lot of other fancy ways to define and analyze your blog topic including checking the stats on trending topics and researching keywords by topic for popularity.
Org vs. Com
I’m sure there is potential in building a blog on Blogger or Weebly (my author site is on Weebly) but for me, when it comes to professional blogging, WordPress is my one and only. The best argument I’ve ever heard for it is that there is help out there if you need it. Designers and programmers are already familiar with the platform. This alone is reason enough. The question is, which one?
Here are my thoughts on the subject: 1) If you don’t like moving – not your residence and not your digital files – do it right the first time and 2) if you’re going to monetize your blog or want to use plug ins (these are like little software programs that customize what your blog has and can do) or want to ‘go pro’, you need to use dot org.
Both versions are fantastic. I’ve used both but there are differences you need to be aware of, the biggest being those plug ins. WordPress dot com doesn’t support plug ins and if you’re going to be building a professional blog, which will offer downloads and have an email subscription list, you are going to want plug ins to make that happen.
If you already have a blog on dot com or another blogging platform, don’t be disheartened. You can move your blog. If you already have a domain and hosting, kudos. If not, you will need to purchase your domain name (yourblog dot com) and hosting. Don’t worry, both of these are affordable.
Of course, this is where things get technical whether you already have a blog or not. You can pay for the installation and migration and all these digital goodies, but you don’t have to. When I first installed WordPress, I worked alongside a book I bought for twenty five bucks: WordPress Absolute Beginner’s Guide by Tris Hussey. It is chock full of screen shots so you can see what you’re (supposed) to be doing. I know there are resources online but I’m a book addict and was learning something new.
If you’re starting from scratch, start by researching hosting providers. This is where the digital files for your blog (including WordPress itself) will be housed and where your visitors will technically ‘go’. You probably won’t need a premium plan since you probably don’t have premium traffic yet. For more information on blog hosts, check out this post of mine on Blogger Elementary.
I’d like to state here that if you are unfamiliar with WordPress and will not be immediately setting up your blog…whether your held back by funds or fear, at the very least set up a practice blog on WP dot com. You don’t ever have to publish it. Just get on there and play around creating blog posts and designing a home page. This is a great way to accidentally ‘learn’ WordPress.
Obviously, setting up a blog on dot org is more involved and requires you purchase hosting but this is rather inexpensive and is well worth the trouble of moving your site later. On the other hand, if you’re planning to blog only for pleasure, feel free to use dot com…just know that it isn’t built to accommodate a fully-customizable site and probably won’t withstand lots of traffic.
I’m going to quickly go over the minimal costs of running your blog. If you’d like you can read more about these topics in depth.
The first two expenses include two you’re familiar with: registering your domain and purchasing a hosting plan. Both of these are inexpensive (insert collective relief). Your domain will be your site’s address so you will be purchasing your www(dot)yourblog(dot)com and there are a number of providers for this. I bought mine through Go Daddy and paid for two years (okay, technically you’re renting but there are reasons for this).
For hosting, shop around and check for ecommerce ability, server reliability, email features, and site backup-whether you backup your site or they do.
Three other services you may want to consider are a separate business email, an email subscription manager and an image service. To me, these are essentials even to the beginner. Buying an email address (if it isn’t included in hosting) for your site is more professional and will help you manage your email. So instead of you(at)gmail.com, your blog will be (you)at(yoursite)dotcom. Looks pretty impressive, huh?
The next debate involves email subscription services. And I know you’re already thinking you’re going to save money using MailChimp. I can feel it. But here’s the thing, blogger beware of using affiliate links in MailChimp.
The site’s compliance tips are incredibly vague, though they reassure me that a blog promoting sponsors is allowed. They do not allow affiliate marketing but do allow affiliate links. All I know is that I’ve heard horror stories of people being shut out and losing access to their email subscriber list because of compliance. Hell, I have a MailChimp list for one of my sites, but only because I was sure I wouldn’t be using affiliate relationships at all. Of course, you can move your list later but many providers require your subscribers re-subscribe and that can cause a loss in your readership. I don’t know the actual percentage of subscribers you would lose by doing this, but according to Jon Morrow (now) of SmartBlogger (bookmark that site) it will be as high as eighty percent.
Now, in case you weren’t aware, your blogs subscriber size directly correlates with the amount of income your blog can earn. This list of loyal readers is worth its weight in gold and you don’t EVER want to jeopardize it. Losing eighty percent would be devastating.
I will agree that using AWeber is expensive. Personally, I had to wait an extra three months to launch just to afford the service but I know that setting my blog up permanently the first time will save me frustration and headache in the future. At the time of this writing, the service runs around thirty dollars a month. The good news is that their service also provides you with auto-responder (automatic emails you set up to go out at any interval) as well as opt-in pages (a form that allows readers to opt in to your list with their email, with or without a freebie download offer from you) that will make your life easier.
Auto-responder in itself is worth the price, in my opinion. I’m planning 30 Day programs (The 30 Day Blogger/Copywriter/Freelancer), these are courses that are automated through auto-responder. When someone signs up for the course, auto-responder automatically sends the workbook and the first email. Then it sends a new lesson each day for thirty days. This allows me to develop these courses and then automate them so I’m not spending half my day tracking who gets what and when. I can’t imagine and probably wouldn’t have done it. It also allows you to send an automatic welcome email to new subscribers and well, it pretty much just automates the whole damn system.
Yes, I know that it is possible to find copyright free images online. The problem is that many of them are of low quality (especially if enlarged) and you can spend more time searching for usable images than writing your actual blog posts. So while this one is purely optional, chances are you will eventually get so frustrated during an image search you’ll be happy to pay ten dollars just for it to be over.
I was a subscriber of Dollar Photo Club but they were acquired by Adobe. They also used to be ten bucks a month for ten images. (Now I sound old.) My credits were transferred to Adobe stock, where I now pay $29.99 a month per ten images. I have yet to not find an image I love, though. I’ve never used istockphoto.com but the pricing there is $40 per month per ten images. They do offer purchasing credits though, and this eliminates an automatic deduction from your bank account.
Another quick blogger beware: Don’t use images that you don’t have the right to use. Just don’t.
Build Your List
Now that we’ve looked at the necessary steps to set up a blog capable of earning a profit, the next step isn’t to add advertising. It’s to build your list of subscribers. This may seem backwards but who do you expect to make money from without traffic?
There are a number of ways to do this. One popular and highly effective method is to offer a free download in exchange for subscribing. This is one of the first methods I incorporated by offering a twenty-some page report titles, 50+ Writing Markets and Resources to Get More Clients and Increase Your Income. Catchy, huh? It will forever more referred to as 50+. Yours doesn’t have to be a ‘book’. You can create a printable checklist or offer a number of things, like 5 Healthy Crockpot Freezer Meals. Use your topic to decide what would benefit readers, then offer that. Remember, it’s all about your readers. Your job is to help.
Other ways to build traffic…and potentially your subscription list are:
- guest posting
- creating (and marketing) a contest
- installing opt-in pages throughout your site
- link building
- participating in the same communities as your readers
- posting to social media
- posting to social bookmarking sites
- placing opt-ins at strategic places on your blog pages and within posts
- you’ll also want to consider sending emails to your list, maybe a newsletter or a quick note every so often…this is actually a huge topic. Google email marketing.
Basically, you need to market in new ways to get new eyes on your blog all the time. You will spend just as much, if not more, time on marketing your blog and blog posts as you do writing. Seriously. You are now a content marketer. Check out this primer at SmartBlogger.
Two Types of Income
Finally, let’s talk about ways you can make money with a blog. See, I told you this wasn’t a get rich quick thing…look at all the potential work you’ve already had to do! There are two different types of income you can earn from your blog: direct and indirect.
Direct income includes earning from ads posted on your site, affiliate marketing and writing paid product or service reviews. Direct income is earned directly from your blog.
Indirect income is earned (drumroll) indirectly. These are paid services or products you offer through your blog. Selling an ebook, offering a course, selling consulting or coaching services, selling yourself as a speaker or offering a membership program are all examples of indirect monetization.
Another way to profit from blogging involves treating them as property where you buy, sell and even flip them. This involves a lot of analysis of analytics that I’m not going to go into here. Shit’s complicated.
I think a lot of bloggers are quick to throw some Google Ads up on their site without much thought. Depending on the topic of your blog, these blogs may very well be advertising for their competitors by doing this. Do a Google search of your blog’s subject and look at the ads displayed at the top of the results and the right side of the page to see the types of ads Google AdSense would likely post to your site.
Also, I think that the best (and safest) route for monetizing your blog is to diversify your efforts. With the release of Google Panda, many blogs that were earning comfortable amounts got show down to almost nothing because of their heavy reliance on AdSense and search engine traffic. Diversifying your income and building a subscriber list can help avoid devastation if the rules are changed again in the future, as they undoubtedly will.
Personally, I planned on using primarily indirect monetization by selling ebooks, programs and courses. Affiliate marketing kind of found me by accident. I had read about it but hadn’t given it much thought. When I finished the first draft of 50+ and was reading through the hard copy (with a pink pen for editing) it dawned on me how many books, services and products I was recommending because I used them and was excited about them or their use was an essential part of the how-to of my subject. Light bulb. I spent an afternoon searching these for affiliate programs and signing up as an affiliate promoter. Then I changed the links from the ones I’d already embedded for their product or site to those provided in my affiliate kit. These went to the same pages but tagged me for commission. Ta-da!
I don’t suggest you go looking for affiliates to promote but instead come across them organically, as I did. The last thing you want to do is promote something to your readers that you may not have ever used and have it turn out to be defective, or worse…an outright scam. Cause guess what? You just lost all that trust you had built with your readers and probably lost a good percentage of them cause they will let you know if it happens…and will let your other readers know as well. Hell hath no fury like a scorned customer with internet access.
To incorporate affiliate links in your blog, I suggest setting up a dedicated page of recommended resources. Be sure that every page includes an affiliate disclaimer. On here, PaidWrite, I have a tab labeled ‘Appendix’ and it is a library, cataloged by what you want to learn more about. If I read a book about writing or blogging and it was so useful that can’t wait to share it with others who would find it useful, I add it to the appendix. Not even half of the links in there are affiliates but I’d have these pages anyway. They provide my readers with the further resources they need to grow their careers and blogs.
For most affiliate programs you will need to set up a business account with PayPal. It’s free and really only means that you will be able to receive payments instead of just making them. You have to confirm the bank account that you link to but overall it’s rather painless.
As I mentioned before, depending on the subject of your blog and any products you offer, Google AdSense may display competitor’s ads on your site that actually wind up costing you sales. Still, this can be a viable option to earn some money early and cover your set up expenses. You may want to consider a trial period or implement the program until you begin offering your own products on your site. This can be a good way to gauge what sells on your site and if the earnings are worth the clutter and atmosphere of having ads on your pages. Experiment if you choose to but remember that the trade off is creating a selly atmosphere on your blog.
I’m a big fan of indirect earning. I like constantly having new projects to work on. Like I’ve said before, I get bored quickly once I master something and having a steady stream of new projects brings me right back to that entrepreneurial euphoria and excitement. If this sounds like you, I suggest you consider writing ebooks, teaching or developing courses or programs. These can be involved as with webcasts and phone calls or uninvolved using auto-responders and shopping carts, as you like. You can also set up a member-only portion of your site. Other options include hosting webinars, offering consulting or coaching services or becoming a speaker on your subject.
Don’t discount local opportunities either. I’m currently designing a Blogging101 program to teach as a local adult enrichment course. I figure blogging and writing are sedentary and isolated so it will get me out of the house and around people. I’ll let you know if I regret it; I’m a pretty solid introvert.
Another option I’ve considered is taking on speaking gigs in local schools, explaining the viable option of making money with words and the different ways this is possible. I’d also like to develop a packet of resources for young writers to show them where they can learn more about the business of writing and the markets that buy young-authored writing and art. I wish someone had given me one when I was young, though it would’ve been damn near useless since this was before anyone had internet. You can do the same (speaking, I mean) by finding local organizations and platforms that can help you hone your craft.
Hopefully I’ve given you an overview of the possibilities for making money with your blog and now you’re excited and full of ideas about what you could offer your readers. Just one last word of advice before you get to your brainstorming…be generous to your readers. Don’t write fluffy blog posts and charge for all the good stuff. You will build a larger and more loyal readership by giving them your best and once they see how helpful and informative your site is, they will be more than willing to buy a book or service or product from you, knowing the time and devotion you put into all your other writing.
This is the End
This is where I leave you, all inspired and excited about your blog’s potential and your own as well. If you have questions or comments, leave them below. I’d love to hear about your blogging plans and/or topics!