Posted by: Michelle Mitton | June 17, 2008

Readers’ Panel: How to Make Money Blogging

How to Make Money BloggingDear Michelle:

How do you know if you have enough readers to make ads worth it? . . . If you are blogging for extra income how do you make money through ads? . . . I have BlogHer ads on my blog, but I don’t make any money off of it . . . Any advice on setting up your own ads? I’m rather disillusioned with BlogHer ads at the moment.

(I’m paraphrasing questions from Family Musings, The Not Quite Crunchy Parent, The Crazy People Next Door and Musings of a Housewife)

So many questions, so little time but the general gist of things seems to be: For the love of all that is broadband how do I make money blogging??

If you’re asking these kinds of questions then you’ve made it through the “Why am I blogging in the first place?” stage and are on to “I’d like to see a bit of reward for all my labor thank you very much” phase.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: if you’re in the blogging business for the money then you’re bound for disappointment. And poverty. Very few–and I mean very few–bloggers make an income large enough to support themselves or a household. Though I guess it’s not unusual that out of 70 or 80 million blogs out there only the top 100 or 200 or are profitable if you think of it in terms of professional writers. How many aspiring writers are there out there and how many make a solid living out of it? Or in terms of professional sports–how many baseball players actually make it to the pros and find their way to big bucks? As with many jobs in the field of entertainment and recreation, only the top spots usually generate the cash. You need talent, a business plan, visibility and lots of luck.

Having slapped you around to the reality of things let me also state that you can make money blogging though your income-to-time-spent ratio, as with any small business, will most likely be very skewed at the start. Creating a successful blog, one that can generate income (if that’s how you measure success), takes so many hours that if you’re in it for the money you’re better off getting a job at the office with regular pay for regular hours.

To give you an idea of what I mean, I started Scribbit back in June of 2005. I blogged for a year as if I was strolling along a country road, distracted by all the pretty scenery and not really caring about anything until a year later when I finally got down to business and started blogging seriously. It’s been two more years since then and I’ve posted at least every day and spent an average of five or six hours a day writing and building my blog.

If you multiply five hours times 365 days times 2 years you come up with . . . well a lot of hours. If I’d worked at McDonald’s for $6 an hour I’d have about $22,000 gross to show for it. Instead, I’ve only just turned pro this past January, I’ve made slightly less than $3000 and every penny has gone back into Scribbit as investment. (Though these numbers don’t include gifts and products people have sent me which would probably add at least another $1000 to the total).

So don’t think blogging is the way to riches and fame–unless you happen to be the luckiest dog in the universe and get your sad Pokemon ebay story to launch your blog into 30,000 unique visitors a day, a book deal and your own sitcom. About the same odds as being attacked and eaten by a troupe of rabid monkeys at the mall.

But do not despair because most bloggers I know aren’t in it for the money, they’re in it for the personal satisfaction that creativity brings and earning change to pay for soccer lessons or a weekend getaway is just gravy. So the question remains: How do I get me some of that gravy?

I’ve waited to tackle this because I’m new to marketing and advertising and I’m certainly no genius at it. In fact, for those of you who constantly say, “You do it all so perfectly! How do you do it?” let me assure you that here is one particular area where I’ve flopped miserably. I’ve relied on others’ expertise, gone through a lot of trial and error and have worked my buns off to make up for my lack of skills and it’s finally starting to pay off.

How soon should I start putting ads on my blog?

Be very careful about taking this step. Why? Because ads clutter things up, hampering your blog’s readability. Sure you’ll see sites that have decent ads but the majority have a tendency to throw up ads like they’re throwing spaghetti noodles on a wall–leaving them where they stick until all you have is a jumbled mess of noodly madness.

Decide for yourself where the point is when you’ll venture into advertising–when you have 200 visitors a day? 500? 1000? You decide but set it as a goal, it’ll help keep you going. How much traffic do you have to have to make decent money? Honestly, quite a bit. I get a few visitors around here every now and then and let’s just say my husband isn’t quitting his day job anytime soon.

If your blog is small and tender you’re not likely to make a dime from ads anyway and you run the risk of creating a design mess if you don’t know what you’re doing–not that you can’t correct the problem later on–but it will make more work for you in the long run if your ads are done poorly. My advice? Wait a bit, set some goals, learn all you can about blogging and marketing, build yourself up, concentrate on quality content–then tackle the paycheck.

What are my options for making money on my blog?

You have several options.

1. Charge for posts you write. This can be through individual advertisers paying you to write a review of their products (usually I’ve been offered $100 per post to give you an idea of what a post here is supposedly worth) or through a site such as PayperPost.com where you sign up and the site itself pays you directly.

Personally? I don’t like this option and won’t do it, though please take no offense if you love it. To me it makes it hard to keep that line between reviewing for information and reviewing for profit. If someone’s been paid to write a review (and in the interest of disclosure you should mention that you’ve been paid) then I’m a tiny bit skeptical of the viewpoint. It’s not as if I think writing paid reviews is dishonest, it’s not, it just that it casts a certain amount of uncertainty about your objectivity which puts distance between you and your readers and if they don’t connect with what you’re writing and don’t believe your reviews your blog suffers.

2. Sign up for affiliate programs. Many places such as Amazon.com offer affiliate programs where you can sign up and every time someone clicks through to Amazon.com from your site then buys something you get a cut. Simple, easy, clear.

I haven’t seen this to be a huge moneymaker–though if your experience says differently please let me know, I’d love to hear from someone who has had this work for them. Tell us your secrets!

I have recently signed up for the affiliate program at TasteBook.com, which you see on my sidebar, where if you buy one of the Scribbit cookbooks that I’ve put together through TasteBook.com then I get 15% of the money. It’s similar to Cafe Press where you can make up merchandise with an image of your choosing, set up a store, determine the markup on your items and make a profit. I’ve set up a Cafe Press store where people can buy hats, t-shirts, bags and mugs with my Scribbit logo on it (the link is there on my sidebar) though I sell them at cost rather than with a markup.

4. Accept paid ad spots. This is probably the most common and most effective but also the trickiest because once again, there are even more options.

How do I set up paid ads on my blog?

I’m only going to touch on a couple of the ways you can do ads but however you do it the process is similar.

1. Google Adsense. This is perhaps the easiest and most widely used. I’ve read recently that Google Adsense is partnering with Feedburner to make it possible to put ads in your feeds. You sign up for the Adsense program, insert the HTML text for the ads into your blog, sit back and wait for the money to roll in.

Trouble is, it doesn’t typically roll in. It does if you’re Dooce or Problogger or someone with more unique visitors per month than I’ve got over the lifetime of my blog but I’m guessing if you’re reading Scribbit right now that you’re not quite to that seven-digit point yet.

Google Adsense pays per click which means that you don’t get paid unless someone clicks on one of the ads on your site. To give you an idea of how scarce than can be, I signed up for Google Adsense when I created my Custom Search Engine for Momblogs a year ago so that ads would show up on the query results page and out of a year’s worth of queries I’ve only made $30.23. And unless all you good people run over to my sidebar, querying and clicking madly, I don’t expect those numbers to increase much (and asking people to click on your ads, by the way, goes against their ad policies and will get you in trouble). Adsense won’t even pay you anything until the pot reaches $100, so I guess that $30.23 is for me what you’d call an “unrealized gain.”

2. Sign up for other ad services. There are plenty of other ad organizations that sell ad spots and will set them up on your blog the way Adsense does–Text Link Ads is one. They’ll each offer different deals on how you get paid, some will pay you for impressions, or times the ad was viewed, some will pay you per click, some will split profits when goods sell. I’ve heard you can make decent money with these sites though I do get nervous about these services because rumor has it that Google will dock your pageranking if you go with one of their competitors’ ad programs. Rotten, slimy, underhanded–yes, it’s all that but hey, this is capitalism and the free market economy and that’s one of the side-effects. Google can set the rules however they’d like and I deal with it.

I have no idea whether the rumor is true or not but to be honest? I’m too scared to find out. I get 500 views a day from Google searches and to risk my pageranking would be a very bad thing. Yes, I’m a coward but I don’t know that the potential profits warrant the risk . . . for me at least.

3. Go with tried-and-true BlogHer ads. This is extremely popular and has some strong benefits to consider. BlogHer ads pays you per impression rather than per click. This means that you get paid based on how much traffic you have rather than how many clicks your ads get. Of course, you have to go by BlogHer’s stat counters which–I promise you–will show less traffic than even your most conservative stat counters so you can figure on less money than you might be dreaming of when you see their rates (and they’re not bad, I’ll give them that).

I considered going with BlogHer because it was easy to install, because I like BlogHer in general and because it paid well. I figured I could probably make $500/month going this route, though maybe less depending on how different their stats are from my own calculations–you never know, though I was measuring conservatively. If you haven’t had any money coming from your BlogHer ads you may not have enough traffic to make it go–yet. Give it time, concentrate on building your readership and see if that makes a difference.

The biggest reason I scrapped the idea of going with BlogHer ads was their restrictions on my content. They stipulated that I could not do reviews of products valued at more than $40. HA! Why did I go into blogging in the first place? To escape editorial repression (among other things) so the idea of being restricted this way was extremely unpleasant. As in no go.

So I decided to go it alone . . .

How do I set up my own ads?

I decided, despite my utter lack of expertise in this arena, to manage and sell my own ads. This means I maintain control over my own content, maintain control over the ads themselves rather than advertise for a company I don’t like (such as occasionally happens with Google Adsense–if you submit a query to my Custom Search Engine for “spanking” Adsense throws up advertisements that will curl your toes) and I keep ALL THE PROFITS.

I’ll tell you that it’s been rough going this route, and it’s not for the faint of heart, but I’ve been glad that I’ve stuck with it and I see a lot of potential for even more revenue (that’s the polite word for MONEY). In managing my own ads I’ve met lots of people in the business community that have been good contacts (and really nice people to know). I’ve been able to “network” more effectively when I’m out there drumming up business rather than letting another site do all the work for me and even when people don’t purchase an ad here at Scribbit getting out there and pounding the pavement has given me greater visibility.

But it’s very hard. I’ve offered free spots to friends, I’ve made deals and discounts, I’ve made my rates very low (and they’re still pretty low given my traffic) and I’ve had my share of rejection but it’s slowly starting to pay off. After six months of this I’ve got about all the ads I think my sidebar can handle and I’m trying now to fine tune the system to make the ads as profitable as I can for my advertisers (go buy something from them! Tell them Scribbit sent you!) The hardest part is figuring out what is effective and what isn’t, how much traffic one technique generates and how much my ads profit my sponsors.

I could write a whole post on managing your own ads and I probably will in a few months but for now that’s all the information you need to get you into the decision making process. And if you someday become rich and famous, think about coming back and taking out an ad with me–I give you good deal.

***

Thanks so much to Erica of Littlemummy.com for all of her tutelage in this area–she gave me more information than anyone else and was vastly helpful. If you haven’t already, please check out her series of posts on making money from blogging. If you have more questions you’d like me to tackle please leave me a comment, I’ll be speaking about blogging basics at BlogHer next month and I’ve started keeping a record of all your questions for the conference and for future posts–I’ll get around to them all eventually I promise.

And Summer of Summer’s Nook had the stars looking out for her this weekend as she’s won this weekend’s giveaway and now owns two Shabby Apple dresses of her own.

Sponsored by: Soapier.com–helping people stay clean!

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