How to Make Money with a Blog
You’ll never get rich blogging. 18 months ago that was the very first thing I wrote on this blog, and I still think it’s true. However, that’s no reason not to make some money from your blog. Depending on what you’re blogging about, even 10,000 to 15,000 monthly visitors could earn you $5,000 or more annually. Not enough to quit a job on, but who couldn’t use an extra $416.67 every month?
So what I want to do with this post is tie together 18 months of advice on this blog and several more years of experience with building and monetizing websites. I’ll link to most of the original articles and summarize what I said there, but it will always be advantageous to click through and read the full article so that you don’t miss any of the details. Think of this post as the starting point, not the finish line.
Step 1 — Becoming Ad-Worthy
The first step might be counter-intuitive: don’t monetize your blog too soon. I know it’s tempting to put ads up right in the beginning, but trust me: resist the temptation. Your only goal is to build good, consistent traffic to your blog, and worrying about making money will take your focus off the most important thing right from day 1. That’s no way to start.
(An exception to this would be if you think an ad or two might lend credibility to your site. If so, don’t go overboard. Put the ad up and leave it. Don’t keep messing with it.)
And so you’ll be ready to make money when it’s time, you’ll want to add Google Analytics and Quantcast to your blog as soon as possible.
The end goal of Step 1 is to reach a traffic level that is compelling to advertisers, and that level will vary widely based on what your blog is about. If you have a blog about knitting, you may need 5,000 visitors/month or more. If you’re in a more competitive and/or more valuable field like Forex trading on the other hand, you might need only 1,000 visitors/month.
Ultimately it’s the market that will tell you whether your traffic is compelling or not. If you start contacting advertisers and can’t get anyone to sign up, you probably need to spend more time building your traffic.
Step 2 — Wading In
Once you’ve built up a compelling level of traffic (and can prove it, thanks to Analytics and Quantcast), it’s time to start monetizing that traffic a little bit.
I like to start with basic advertising in the form of a 300×250 ad at the top of your sidebar. This is one of the most commonly used ad formats — which means more potential advertisers — and the prominent placement makes it as attractive as possible without being distracting to your readers. (Placement where visitors don’t have to scroll to see it is called “above the fold.”)
Where to find advertisers? My favorite place to start is with Google AdSense. It’s fast, it’s easy, and virtually anyone can sign up. Within minutes, you’ll have ads up and running. That’s the upside.
The downside is that AdSense just won’t work for many blogs. Because it shows ads related to the content on the page, you could have some very undesirable results. Let it run for a few days, and that should give you enough time to determine whether AdSense will work for you.
Step 3 — Establishing a Base Price
You may hear people talk about CPMs and other advertising metrics, but you want to keep it simple: flat monthly rates only. See Shoemoney’s post on “Why I Do Not Like CPM Advertising On Blogs” for a great explanation why. My experience has been exactly the same as his, so no sense rewriting what he’s already written.
So the question is, what do you charge per month? Well, if AdSense has been working, you already know what that advertising slot is worth to you. So take what you’re making per month with AdSense, add some dollar amount to compensate you for having to spend time dealing with the advertiser and putting the ad up, and you have your starting point.
AdSense not working? Take your monthly number of page views and divide by 500. That’s a $2 CPM and will give you a good starting point to work from.
Step 4 — Identifying Potential Advertisers
Once you know what you’re charging for advertising, it’s time to go find your first real advertiser. Why would you replace AdSense? AdSense can be really great for a blog, but I’ve yet to see a case where AdSense generated more revenue than a direct advertiser. That’s why it’s important to think of AdSense as the first step, not the only step.
Finding advertisers is a topic that I already wrote an extensive post on, so see “How Do I Find Advertisers for My Blog?” for a comprehensive guide.
Step 5 — Contacting Advertisers
Once you’ve identified some potential advertisers, it’s time to contact them. Since many advertisers are huge companies it can be difficult to find the right person to contact, so I like to contact other blogs where you see the company advertising and find out who their contact was. Sometimes, obviously, bloggers won’t want to tell you, but many are happy to help.
If you can’t get a specific contact name through another blogger or other means, you can usually find a contact form on their website. It’s obviously not as effective as going directly to the person handling the advertising, but it’s not a shot in the dark either.
When I contact an advertiser, I usually write something like this:
My name is [your name], and I have an opening for an advertiser on my blog, [blog name], which currently gets [visitor count] visitors/month. You can see full details on the traffic at www.quantcast.com/[your URL].
The ad slot I have open is a 300×250 ad in the sidebar, above the fold, and the cost is $[your base rate] per month.
If [company name] would be interested in this slot, please contact me at your convenience.
Definitely tweak the wording of this to reflect your personality and/or your blog, but I think you get the idea. You want to convey enough information to make them interested, but not so much that they feel like you’re wasting their time.
Step 6 — Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Adding, pricing and maintaining advertising is very much an iterative process. For your first advertiser, it’s probably best to start with a one-month deal. They may ask for a longer-term deal, but I always tell them that I’m just now getting started, so I want to keep it month-to-month for now. The next month, you adjust the pricing upward and keep moving up until you find the point at which advertisers back out.
Once you find that point, you can start signing longer-term deals. Just for simplicity, I like the six-month package. It’s long enough that you’re not having to talk to advertisers every month, but it’s short enough that you aren’t locked into a certain price point for very long.
You’ll also want to adjust the prices based on traffic levels. If your traffic goes up, your price should too.
From there, it’s just a matter of doing the same thing over and over again. Done right, your income from each ad slot (yes, you can add more as you go along) grows over time and you develop a list of quality advertisers that you like working with and who like working with you.
Step 7 — Expanding Beyond Advertising
I’ve written about the top three ways to generate revenue from a blog, but there are lots more than just those three. Keep an eye out on other blogs you like to see what they’re doing and keep networking with other bloggers to see what’s working for them.
How to make money with a blog very much depends on your particular blog, so you’ll have to discover what works for you. Hopefully this will be a good starting point for you as you begin, though, and as always, if you have specific questions or comments, please let me know below!