A friend told me that he would like to launch a site to get ahead in his career and make a regular income.
It’s an exciting idea. Blogging allows you to build a career around a topic you are passionate about. You can live a very flexible lifestyle. You can work from anywhere in the world. You don’t even need to be available all the time as your content archives work for you around the clock.
It’s possible to make money from your site, but it’s important you have realistic expectations. Blogging is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes hard work and is not going to happen overnight.
Most sites will fail to earn any income. Some will make some pocket change only. Only a few might do so well that they can quit their jobs. My recommendation is to keep your day job but start working seriously on your site in your spare time (or in the working hours if you can get away with it 😀).
Starting a site is less about becoming rich than it is about turning a comfortable profit from your hobby. Here’s how you can make first $500 from your site.
Three ingredients needed to start making money with a site
First, these are the ingredients needed to be able to bring in the revenue from a site. Make sure you work on these before expecting to make money:
1. You need to grow a loyal audience
Making money online is all about building authority and trust with an audience. You need traffic to your site, especially targeted traffic from a specific group of people. Without people visiting your site and without having a loyal and targeted audience, it will be very difficult to earn any revenue. Targeted audience is what can be monetized and what sponsors want to reach.
You need to create value for people through content that you publish to be able to attract traffic, to have visitors spread the word about your work and to start building trust. Have expertise in your topic and offer something that people find useful and valuable. See my complete guide on how to grow traffic and build your audience.
2. Your topic needs a buying market
The topic you focus on has to have a buying market and has to be monetizable. Some topics are tougher than others so make sure your topic has an audience interested in spending money if you want to monetize the site. See if there are products on the market that are relevant to your topic. See my full guide on how to pick your topic.
3. You need to publish strategic content
Don’t just “sell” as that will affect your ability to build an audience. Publishing sales pitches is not what people want to consume. You won’t believe how many bloggers expect to do well by publishing pure marketing messages. Just telling people about the product and asking them to buy will not attract anyone. Best content is the content that relates to your audience, brings them value and integrates products naturally within it.
Create content that is targeting people who are looking to buy. People become aware of a need they need fulfilled, go into an information search and look at the different alternatives before making a decision on what to buy. People go to Google and do a search to start the product hunt. They are ready to make a decision and make a purchase.
You need to rank well for those searches to be near their wallets. You can be the one that helps them evaluate the alternatives by publishing reviews, comparisons and discount offers. See my full guide on creating content that people want to read.
Most popular ways for making an income online
Now let’s take a look at the most popular options for earning an income online. To make it easier, I’ll split all the options into main categories.
First thing first, though. Consider what the goals of your site are to figure how you should monetize. All sites are not created with the aim of making money.
- Businesses use sites in addition to their social media marketing, to connect and be in touch with their customers.
- Professionals use sites to build their network.
- Some organizations use sites to acquire new customers, and others use it to understand the changing trends of markets and start further research to develop new products.
If I am running one such business, will I want to drive my readers away to a competitor’s website? When the core goal of my site is to promote my business, why will I want to advertise and promote somebody else’s business? In these cases building a mailing list and selling your own product makes more sense. These are the different categories for the options you have when monetizing your site
Become an affiliate marketer
There are thousands of companies who will pay you commission for sales that you generate through your content. You join an affiliate program then post some links on your site. You earn a commission when someone clicks through your links and decides to sign up or buy a product on the other end. Even the New York Times entered the affiliate market by acquiring website The Wirecutter in late 2016. The Times paid more than $30 million for the site which has affiliate revenue as its main income source.
Find opportunity in markets and products you are familiar with. The product must be relevant to your topic and your audience. You must use it, it must be useful and valuable to you. Are you using a product that makes your life easier? Have you read a book that inspired you? Become an affiliate and promote it. Visit their website. They probably have an affiliate program.
If not, contact the company directly, explain your situation and ask if they can agree an affiliate deal with you. You can also join one of the larger affiliate networks like Commission Junction, Clickbank or Shareasale.
- Create valuable content about the product
- Help people use the product better
- Show how the product can improve their lives
- Get revenue when they click your link and buy the product
Note 1: Don’t use banner ads
A note not to use banner ads to promote affiliate offers. Do you know anyone who clicks on banner ads? When is the last time you clicked on a banner ad? Traditional banner ads take away from the user experience. They distract users and because of that users tend to ignore ads. Banner blindness is a very known phenomenon which was proven by several eye-tracking studies and has shown that readers do not fixate on ads at all.
There is also the rising popularity of different ad-blocking browser plugins. An increasing number of people use these plugins which automatically block all banner ads. What it does is that it removes all the banners, pop-up windows and other advertising from the pages you are browsing on.
This trend can be clearly seen as these plugins are usually placed towards the top of most downloaded plugins for Chrome, Safari and Firefox. A study published in June 2016, shows that 420 million people block advertising when browsing the web on their mobile phones. 36% of mobile phone users in Asia-Pacific have adblockers installed. 66%+ of people in India and Indonesia have adblockers on.
Adblockers are getting more and more popular, especially with the younger generation. This might affect the earning potential you have with your site so it’s worth making sure to check how your own site looks with an adblocker activated. Are the banners displaying? Are your affiliate text links working fine? Adblock don’t only block those annoying banner ads and pop-ups. Text link ads to affiliate programs may be blocked as well.
Note 2: Use links within the content and disclose
Rather than using banner ads to promote an affiliate product, create some interesting, useful and shareable content that your audience loves. Then put relevant affiliate links inside the content. Always remember to disclose your relationship with the company you promote.
Do activate Adblock Plus, uBlock or one of the similar plugins and check your own site. Do your affiliate text links display fine? If they are being blocked you will not see them at all. Your text link would be removed and there would be no blank space. There is a page on the Adblock Plus website where they talk about allowing acceptable ads in Adblock. Text only ads seem fine to them from reading that page. These are their rules for banner ads:
- No animations, sounds
- No attention-grabbing images (preferably text only)
- No overlays or pop-ups
- Ads should be marked as “ads” or similar
It basically means that you should not use any intrusive ways to display advertising. If you do, you will be blocked. Rules that apply to affiliate text links are:
- Redirect should not present any other page than the destination page
- Not more than 2% of the text can be hyperlinked with affiliate links
- Should not behave or be formatted differently than other links
- Should not be misleading
These rules seem very reasonable. Your affiliate links should not be any more intrusive than any other link or any other text you have on your site. Keep it all consistent in the way it looks and functions.
Fix all the links and fill in this application form in order to whitelist your site. Fill in your details and add exact URL’s to pages where you display the acceptable ads. If your site is accepted, you will be added to the whitelist and ads on your site will then start showing to the Adblock users. It’s a very quick process and it will let you sleep better at night knowing that your text ads are displayed to all your visitors. The process went very smoothly for me and my site was whitelisted. My text links to affiliate offers are working fine.
Pay-per-click ads like Google Adsense and display advertising
Google Adsense is the easiest way to get started making some income on your site. It is easy because Adsense automates the process of selling and displaying ads for you. You place a piece of code and Google delivers text and image ads that are relevant to your audience and your content. Google pays per click. Depending on the popularity of the topic you write about, a click can earn you anything from few cents to several dollars.
You just join Adsense, choose how you want your ad to look like, install a piece of code on your site and you are set to start showing ads. AdSense lets you customize the appearance of ads to match the look and feel of your site. WordPress plugin Google Publisher Plugin, made by Google, will help you insert Google ads into your content.
For WordPress bloggers, you can try the WordAds platform made by people behind WordPress. The alternative is the many advertising networks available who mostly use CPM (cost per thousands impression) where you get paid by the number of impressions. Popularity of your site is an important aspect that decides whether you should consider this type of banner advertising as you need a very large amount of impressions to make a decent income. Many of the biggest sites online only rely on banner ads and increasing page views to increase their revenue.
Negative side of Adsense and display advertising is that many people have banner blindness (many visitors dismiss banner ads as they find them intrusive), tend to find ads annoying and ignore them. This leads to a very low click percentage. You also need a high volume of visitors and clicks to earn a decent amount.
Most try to increase click rates by displaying many and large advertisements such as those in pop-ups, but these methods are not very user-friendly, and you will lose your audience. Even though adding an ad on your article is an easy method, in general, most bloggers will make very little from PPC and other advertising.
Sell advertising (banners, podcast/video ads) to brands directly
You can sell banner ads and other sponsorship slots directly to advertisers. You agree on a fixed monthly fee that you charge to display a banner on your content. A better and profitable option in general than the pay-per-click ads.
Find products relevant to your audience, then simply contact the company and ask if they would be interested in sponsoring your site. This normally involves banner advertising, and you get paid a fixed amount per month. Consider also selling advertising on your videos or your podcasts as these can command even higher fees than traditional banner ads.
Negative for this method is that it can be a very demanding and time-consuming process compared to automated options like Adsense. Here you need to identify potential advertisers, get in touch with them and negotiate and make a deal. Still if successful it can be very rewarding.
Most of the banner ads you see in sidebars of sites are not paid for by the advertisers, though. Majority of bloggers only have affiliate deals or pay-per-click or PCM deals to work with.
I understand when people use banners if a company wants to pay them a fixed monthly fee to display their banners. If your site is big enough to attract these offers, it seems like a fairly easy and simple way of making an income. If your site is popular and you are getting a lot of page views or advertising offers, then you should certainly consider putting up a couple of banners at least.
There is nothing to fear and nothing to lose in approaching advertisers to see if they are up for a partnership with you.
Sponsored posts and paid reviews
Depending on the topic of your site, there could be many opportunities for you to get paid by companies and brands for writing product reviews or in other ways promote their products, events and services.
Most bloggers are regularly contacted by companies that will send them products to review. Some brands would pay for this service, some would send you gifts or just give you free products. Bloggers are seen as more trustworthy source of product recommendations than traditional advertising, hence there are companies out there looking to get their products reviewed, used and covered by bloggers.
Some bloggers, especially those that are very influential in the fashion industry, can command thousands of dollars per sponsored post on Instagram or on their site.
Negative points to this are that you don’t necessary get paid very much unless you negotiate and the content you end up creating is of less worth to your visitors compared to the best content. If you can make a deal with a suitable company and you have freedom to create a great piece of content, this option is very attractive. Just remember also to disclose that it is a “sponsored post”.
You will also discover that many people will contact you directly asking to buy reviews or text links. Even though many bloggers accept these, I would recommend to ignore these offers. Selling links normally ruins the user trust and it’s not something search engines like. By accepting them you risk being banned from the search results.
Be a freelancer, a coach or a consultant
This one focuses more on the credibility, authority and trust you have built as a blogger. You could become a consultant and charge clients for providing the services you specialise in. You could become a coach and charge for people to have one-on-one private sessions with you on specific topics related to what you do. This works best when you have proven your skills and built your credibility.
You could also focus more on the freelance aspect and get paid to create content and write for other sites. Some websites would pay you to submit quality guest posts for them to publish. Many websites are looking for influential and authoritative contributors that they would gladly pay for.
Some are looking for copywriting help where you can submit content as a ghost writer without having your name on in public. All these may be time-consuming and depending on your name may not pay the most but you get to practice your writing and the payments do add up over time.
The negative of this is that you obviously need to work and produce something of value to get that one-off fee. It is a time-consuming work. This makes it not as passive as some of the other income options in this post.
Create and sell your own products and courses
One of the best options for monetizing is to invest your time in creating something that will provide enduring value and bring you continuous revenue. Create the content once, put it in a permanent form and sell it over and over. This one-to-many approach helps you scale your efforts and make more money than the personal one-on-one coaching which is very limited with the amount of time you have in a day.
Putting your work into a permanent form is very important as you won’t need to keep recreating your value over and over. The best way of doing this is to create your own product. Your product will provide value even when you are not physically present. It will allow you to take a break from posting new content once in a while. It will basically let you stop trading your hours for dollars.
You can develop something that is genuinely helpful to people, that solves a problem that they have. Package the product in a specific format and sell it. Your product can come in many formats. This could be e-books, webinars, video and audio courses, group coaching, private forums and membership sites. There are many sites such as Teachable that can help you run a courses on any topic. You could charge one-off fees or you could get people to sign up for recurring monthly membership.
The product that you publish should be related to what you stand for and what you talk about. You are seen as the expert and the authoritative figure in that field. You have built the audience of people who trust you and follow you.
The best way of seeing if there is a demand for a specific topic is to look at what works best on your own site:
- What type of articles got the most buzz, the most page views and comments?
- About what do people contact you with questions the most?
This will give you an idea of what people like from your content, and what people see you as authoritative and knowledgeable about. If you try to cater to everyone, you won’t sell anything. You’ll be debating on both sides. Instead, pick an audience and cater to them. Dig in, and really focus on meeting their needs and answering their questions.
You will be selling a product just like you do in affiliate marketing but in this case, you’re selling the product that you own and get complete profit from. It does take more time and effort to create the product and you also have to consider customer support but if done well it’s more passive income than doing one-on-one coaching and consulting.
Pay-to-view premium content
Limit access to some (or all) of your content and allow people to get access to it by paying a small fee. Many big newspapers have these types of paywalls as their main source of income these days. You might notice the paywalls on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other big publishing houses.
As usual, WordPress has plugins that can help you create a paywall, such as Memberful WP plugin.
Amazon Kindle Publishing, YouTube Partnership and others
You can use your existing content to earn passive income on other platforms. If you produce many videos for your YouTube channel, you can become a YouTube partner and monetize your videos.
Similar to this, you can add your site to the Amazon Kindle store and get paid when people read your content on Kindle. You can read blogs on Kindle and some people do. See the Kindle Blog store here for a list of sites that you can subscribe to. It takes about 5 minutes to set this all up and is a new revenue stream for your site so no reason at all not to do it (open to US/UK bloggers only).
Amazon Kindle Publishing for Blogs is a self-publishing tool that allows you to submit and sell your content on the Kindle Store. This is the quick process you have to go through to get your site approved and stocked in the store:
- Go to the Amazon Kindle Publishing for Blogs
- Create a new Kindle Publishing Account (free)
- Add your site via a simple one-page process
Ask for monthly donations or an annual membership
Depending on your topic and the readership of your site, a donation page might be one of the easiest and most effective ways of monetizing. This is one of the original ways bloggers used to make money in the early days. It’s still a very effective strategy if you have a loyal audience.
See for example Patreon pledge page for the popular Wait Buy Why blog which at the time of writing has more than 4,400 patrons contributing with more than $13,000 monthly. Or one of the very early blogs by Jason Kottke which allows fans to purchase yearly memberships in order to support the site.
PayPal offers these buttons and it just might be the way for you to get rewarded for the help you provide to your readers. Ask for donations and see how your audience responds.
Sell your branded merchandise
Some bloggers can build very passionate audiences for their cause. In these cases, one of the ways to monetize is to create branded merchandise such as t-shirts, hoodies and coffee mugs. Can your site be the next Red Bull?
Let brands post on your job board
Depending on the type of audience that you have built there might be the possibility for you to create a classified ads or job board where you would allow brands to post their listings for a fee.
Again WordPress features plugins that can automate this for you, such as Another WordPress Classifieds Plugin.
Turning your DIY-project into a real business
Pick and choose several of the methods above to diversify your income and turn your DIY-project into a real business supported by banner advertising, sponsorships, affiliate sales and other revenue.
Experiment, test and take your time choosing the methods that fit your topic the best. Don’t force it. You will find that the best methods will come to you naturally over time as you build your content archives and your loyal audience.
The idea of quitting your job, leaving the rat race behind and doing something on your own terms is the fantasy that appeals to many cubicle bound employees all around the world. It is a great idea, a great dream to have and definitely something that can help get you motivated to achieve big things.
Finding yourself stuck in a boring job reading about all the people who have chosen to follow their passion can tempt you to give it all up and pursue the unconventional path. Don’t jump into it though assuming that just having the courage to pursue a different path is the only thing that matters, while everything else are just small details that can be worked out afterwards. Planning is key in this process.
Everyone needs to pay the bills after all and just quitting your job to start the site idea you have thought about is not very responsible in most cases. Having a steady paycheck is very comforting in these situations, as it allows you to keep your living standards and if you use it well can allow you to invest your time in things that have the potential to make your life better in the future.
There’s no need to give up your job when starting a site. There is a better option and everyone with a job can start today. Quitting your job is a good choice only if you have some savings on the side. Building a site where you can make enough money blogging to replace your day job takes a long time. During these long months you can live off your savings while working on growing the site.
Have your day job something to fall back
Instead make your site a hobby, a side-project or a professional presence online and have your day job something to fall back on while you are building your audience. This way you work on your site in the evenings, weekends (or even at work if you can) and you start small without taking too many unnecessary risk. The barrier to entry may be low, but it is very difficult to actually succeed.
Optimizing your lifestyle will help you make the transition. Try to lower your costs as much as you can. Get rid of the debt. Downgrade your lifestyle in terms of luxury (not necessary to downgrade the living standards). Make smarter choices and cut down on expenses. Make a budget.
All this will lead you to save more money and having more money saved means that you might be giving yourself an opportunity to quit your job faster and having more time to focus on this new project. It also means that you have lower bills, which means that you need to make less money from your site to cover your living costs.
This is the best way to go without risking to lose too much (especially for those that have bills to pay and other commitments). Jumping too fast and too early into a full-time career as an online publisher is a big risk and you have a higher chance of failing and getting into a bad financial situation without having a fixed income from your day job.
Full-time workers vs full-time blogger
If you have established a great professional presence and a personal brand is it worth quitting your job and becoming a freelancer or blogger? Nassim Taleb has a good answer in his book Antifragile. Being a full-time employee of a company seems like a great option. You get the perfectly stable and predictable income, you may get a yearly bonus, you may get benefits like annual paid vacation. Having a salary deposited into your bank account once a month makes you stress and anxiety free.
Freelancers, however, seem full of stress and anxiety as they don’t have a fixed income. Income can be extremely variable. Some months your content may go viral or you may successfully launch a new product and these months can be good. Some months though there is nothing new coming up, you might have hit a writer’s block, Google may have changed their algorithm and stopped sending you as much traffic as before and then you suddenly cannot even cover your living costs.
It seems pretty much a one-sided choice for people to take, doesn’t it? Take the stress-free monthly income from a corporation instead of going on the roller-coaster of income and the lack of job security. The recent economic crisis has changed this picture somewhat. It is now easier to lose your job and to be made redundant. Depending on the job field you are working in and your age it might not be easy to recover from a setback like that. Is the image of safe full-time employment now merely an illusion of stability?
Full-time employees have less of a need to evolve and re-examine themselves continuously as their jobs are less volatile in that sense. And this is why there can be some big shocks happening in case of a redundancy, where it could be difficult to get back and stand on your feet again. You get stuck in the old way of thinking and the old way of doing things. Full time employment is a smooth and steady but very fragile option with the biggest vulnerability being that large shock of income going to zero.
A need to evolve and re-examine yourself continuously
Freelancers are less exposed to the risk of a complete halt. If you have built your content archives, your products, affiliate offers, a large readership and freelance clients, your income will be dripping in slowly but surely without much risk of getting redundant and getting your salary taken away from you. You have many smaller employers and more options, compared to the full-time employee who only has one big employer and is reliant on it.
Full-time employees have less of a need to evolve and re-examine themselves continuously as their jobs are less volatile in that sense. And this is why there can be some big shocks happening in case of a redundancy. This income variability is the key that makes blogger more adaptable. These variations in the income make people think, re-think, adapt and change continuously. They have to learn to fit and adjust their strategies and tasks as continuous pressures on them to perform. You basically need to learn to adjust according to the opportunities and threats there are. You are continuously educating yourself.
For bloggers it is about randomness and the daily/monthly ups and downs. There might be a large variability in income but the large shocks have a smaller role to play. This variability encourages improvement of the strategy – bloggers have to find new ways of reaching visitors, they have to get better skills and learn and adapt on the go. The volatility provides bloggers with valuable information and it directs them to be adaptive. The illusion of variability may actually make the blogger more robust and ready for the future challenges than a full-time employee.
Something to think about for you but definitely only when you have established a great online presence with regular income and clients coming in.
On the way to your first $500… and then what?
If you keep working hard on this, work consistently over a longer term, and as long as you never give up, in due time you will become a success and your site will start making even bigger amounts. What it comes down to now is that you must take action into your hands. It is not enough to read all the “become a problogger” advice – you must start creating something.
You must put in the consistent hard-work, create a great site, and you must find and connect with your audience. And you must do this daily for a long time, before you slowly start getting the results, and start being able to live the blogging dream.
When you do start creating a large name with a large audience for yourself and you start making decent income online you will have several options:
- You could quit your daytime job and focus completely on your site.
- Or you could use the authority you’ve built with your site to get yourself a more prestigious or higher paying job.
- You could get a publishing deal and write an old-fashioned paper book that may become a bestseller. Many bloggers have actually achieved this.
- You could extend your brand by going into offline events where the money could be even bigger. Many bloggers have not only accepted high-paying fees for speaking at events.
- Some bloggers have even organized and put together their own themed events in the real world.
- Have a new, great idea? Use the audience you have built to raise the money for your new project by crowdfunding.
- Another option is to sell your site if there is an acceptable offer at the table and you feel that you have done what you could for this topic.