I’m co-leading a discussion session at Wordcamp about Monetizing Blogs, so I thought I’d also touch on it here with a post about 10 Ways to Monetize Your Blog.
First, I should preface this discussion by saying you first need to seriously evaluate whether you want to work at monetizing your blog. Steve Pavlina has a very thorough post that goes over what’s necessary to really do this well, and why the majority of people who try end up not generating significant income.
Second, you have to make sure that making money from your blog directly is your goal. For example, for this blog direct income isn’t my goal. I didn’t have ads at all untli recently, and the only reason I added them was to use the ad network management application I’ve been working on called RMX Direct. It’s quite possible that your blogging goals may just to network, write about something you’re interested in, or serve some business purpose that isn’t direct income generation.
With that out of the way, let’s get started:
1. Contextual Advertising
Surprise, surprise. Advertising is easily the most popular blog monetization tactic, mostly due to it being the easiest thing to implement. Advertising comes in many forms, and contextual advertising is the most popular due to Google Adsense and it’s general success with blogs and niche sites.
I’m going to assume everyone reading this is familiar with it, but I think it should be mentioned that too many bloggers assume that Adsense is the best solution for their blog. For some blogs and topics it works great, for others, not very well at all.
My advice is to not limit your blog to one ad network or just one form of advertising. Other contextual options include the Yahoo Publisher Network, Chitika, Clicksor, AdSonar, and others. It’s not easy to manually test all these though if you’re shuffling ad tags around and randomly allocating your impressions to them, using a ad network management tool like RMX Direct can help you manage, evaluate, and control your various ad networks.
2. Display Advertising
As I mentioned above, contextual networks aren’t always the best solution for blogs. In some cases there aren’t enough advertisers in niche topics, and in others the users just isn’t likely to click. In this case, you want to be working with ad networks that provide CPM display advertising. This means you get paid something for every ad viewed, opposed to only getting paid per click.
Just like with contextual networks, it’s important to use multiple display ad networks to get more variety from your ads, to not let any one network control your inventory, and to make sure you’re earning the most amount of money possible.
3. Targeted Advertising
The most desirable form of advertising is having companies that wish to pay good rates to advertise on your blog directly whether it’s text or image ads. Many bloggers feel that this is a pipe dream, but I speak from experience from running a wakeboarding blog for many years that you can make solid income from targeted advertising without having insane amounts of traffic.
There are a number of key things you have to do though in order to get this type of advertising:
- Have a blog with leading content in your niche and a professional design
- Create a “media kit” which is essentially a page on your blog that explains that you take targeted advertising, what your rates are, demographics of your users, your traffic levels, examples of the types of ads people can run, testimonials from any companies that have advertised with you, and a phone number and email address they can use to get more information.
- Have obvious “Advertise On This Blog” links in key places on your blog.
- Give a company or two in your niche free or very low-cost advertising in order to get the ball rolling. When advertisers see their competitors or companies similar to them advertising, they get the idea that it’s available. If all they ever see is Adsense ads, they might not realize it’s an option.
- Be willing to be creative to help your advertisers achieve their goals, and lower your price to get the deals.
- Provide statistics and results to your advertisers. Use an ad server like RMX Direct, phpAdsNew, or something similar which has the ability to create reports per advertiser.
Once you’ve set your blog up properly, start approaching companies in your niche who will want to reach your traffic. You don’t need to go after the biggest companies, there are many small companies who are looking to get better results from the web, and they might not even know about your blog. You don’t need to be an ad sales professional, you just need to present your case well on why they’re missing out if they don’t advertise on your traffic. Make it easy on them to work with you, help them create ads, help them determine what sizes to use, and work with them to make sure they get the results they need. It seems like hard work at first, but after you get a solid base of advertisers going, it’s a great source of income and it starts to streamline.
4. Text Link Advertising
Another somewhat unobtrusive form of advertising is using services like Text Link Ads or Adbrite to sell text ads directly to companies. This is pretty low effort and often doesn’t take up too much space on a site, so it’s easy to implement and try out. It should be noted though that you need significant traffic for it to be a big source of income.
5. Affiliate Links
One of the older web monetization methods is still as good today as it’s always been. If you’ve got a blog in a specific area, there’s a very large chance that there are companies out there that sell products or services your users are interested in. You can earn some nice income recommending or linking to those products.
Amazon.com is probably the most common affiliate merchant used by bloggers, but I’d advise finding other unique merchants who may pay better and be more specific to your topic. Amazon is always there as an option, but you’re more likely to get more help from the merchant if you go with a smaller company.
Another nice thing about affiliate links is that they fit well with quality content. Reviewing products and services for your users is valuable content, and if you can make money off it as well it’s a great combination. A word of warning though that you shouldn’t change your reviews or be biased due to the fact you can make money off a referral.
While traffic also helps for affiliate links, it can sometimes be an easier way to generate income without high traffic levels like advertising requires. As an example I did a review of a web analytics application a couple of years ago, and this blog had very little traffic at that point. I referred two sales through that review though that still earn me $150 a month every month two years later.
6. Selling Your Content (Ebooks, Videos, DVDs)
If you’ve got great content, another option is to package it and sell it. There are numerous bloggers who have created ebooks and even real books based on their blog content and made great income selling them. You can also expand to infoproducts like videos, DVDs, audio CDs, and printed books on demand.
This can take some significant work and it requires great content to actually sell, but it can be a nice income stream that lasts a long time.
Depending on your topic and your level of expertise, you can sell consulting services. If you’re a web analytics expert, you could offer web analytics consulting services on your blog for an hourly fee. This takes very little work to setup beyond creating a page outlining your services, getting a standard contract, and having a way to take payments from companies. Again though, it just takes a little bit of effort to let people know that consulting services are available.
Not quite as common as it once was, it used to be fairly common for bloggers to ask for donations on their blog through Paypal or some other service. This only works if you have a dedicated userbase, and a large enough number of users that their donations add up. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re also putting a lot of advertising and other monetization methods on your blog. You’ll come off as a bit too greedy in that case.
9. Selling Products
Besides infoproducts, you can sell real products like t-shirts, bumper stickers, clothing, or whatever other kind of merchandise makes sense for your topic. Companies like Goodstorm, CafePress, Lulu, and others make it easy by creating the products based on your design and letting you set up a shop. There is no risk to bloggers, which makes it a great opportunity.
10. Selling Your Blog
Perhaps the most extreme of the blog monetization methods, but it can be lucrative! If you aren’t attached to your blog and are willing to part with it, you can usually find a buyer for it. Your blog must be pretty good, and have a level of traffic worth buying, and it really helps if you already have some income streams going for it. Blogs usually sell for 12-24 times monthly revenues, and there are numerous places you can sell them like eBay and the Sitepoint Marketplace.
It definitely takes some work to monetize your site well, and having good traffic really helps out. Work on building a blog with a solid userbase, and you should be on your way to generating income using any of the methods above. Good luck, and please share any blog monetization experiences you have in the comments.
Update: I was pointed to a similar post by Darren Rowse at Problogger.net that is also a recommended read on the subject of making money from your blog. He mentions many of the same things, and has a couple I didn’t mention as well.