“Hey Low, how can I make money blogging like you?”
Every now and then I get the “make money online” questions from friends and family.
Some wish to earn a little side income online; others, to escape routine traffic jams to work, or to expand their business online, or to quit their 9-to-5 job, or… you get it.
I truly wish to help those I know accomplish this. But, I can only share so much during in-person gatherings or on Facebook Messenger or via Whatsapp.
Hence, I am writing this long article to share lessons I have learned in the past 11 years as an Internet marketer and professional blogger.
How much can you earn via blogging?
If you search ‘make money blogging’ on Google, one of the relevant search results suggested by Google is “can you really make money blogging”. This shows there are many doubtful searchers who have no idea how much one can earn from a blog (Google’s suggestions are based on how often the key phrases are searched).
To answer the question, let’s look around the Internet.
Lindsay and Bjork from Pinch of Yum made slightly more than $25,000 in April 2015.
In the same month, Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income made $86,371.99, Harsh Agrawal from Shout Me Loud made $11,796, Matthew Woodward made $26,283.41, Sharon from Digital Nomad Wanna Be made $3,334 while travelling around the world with her family; and you can find dozens more other bloggers who share their income online – from hundreds to ten of thousands of dollars monthly.
The key takeaways in this –
- It can be done. Many bloggers are making good money online.
- With the right ideas and strategies, there is literally no limit on how much you can make online. Pat Flynn is personally making (almost) as much as a small-cap public listed company.
Blogging for money: Best options?
There are many ways to monetize your blog.
Advertising, affiliating other people’s products, selling your own products, selling sponsored posts and the list goes on. Depending on what industry you are in and where your blog is at, there will be a better way to monetize your blog.
Gael Breton from Authority Hacker recently analyzed and crushed the numbers on how 23 bloggers make money blogging and came up with the following conclusion:
Own services and product sales are overall the most profitable way to monetise your blog
As you will see from the table below – while the incomes between most categories are quite comparable, the profit margins differ greatly.
|Business Model||Total Income||Total Expenses||Profit||Profit Margin|
|Ad Selling||$235,977||$135, 041||$100, 936||74%|
|Own Product Sales||$434,004||$113,767||$320,237||281%|
Services are generally hard to sell and therefore generate less revenue but the profit margin is excellent. A lot of top bloggers make a decent living blogging and selling services.
Ad selling generates a lot of income (2nd best) but because ad sellers need to produce a lot of content and sometimes acquire traffic, the profit margins shrink quickly.
Affiliate marketing is actually the most profitable monetization tactic, which makes it excellent for new bloggers who need to build an income quick. This site is mainly funded by affiliate income – and we managed to grow from a one-man-blog into a team of one editor, six active bloggers, and two social media marketers.
Own products sales generate the most revenue with great profit margins. The margins are slightly lower than affiliate marketing because of the costs associated with customer service, payment processing, etc., but the higher conversion rates make up for it and make this the #1 best source of income for bloggers.
Starting a blog: Where, how, how much?
Looking at the income figures, I bet many of you are pumped up and ready to jump in.
But where, and how, do you start?
To start making cash out of your blog, you will first need to… well? Own a blog. If you haven’t blogged already, starting a blog is extremely easy. I wrote a detailed step-by-step guide for newbies in April. If you read and follow the steps given closely, you should have your blog ready in less than 30 minutes.
In brief, here are the 4 steps to create a blog.
- Pick a niche
- Register a domain name
- Purchase a web hosting plan
- Install a blogging platform (i.e. WordPress)
And your blog is ready to go. Easy as pie.
1. How to pick a profitable niche?
We will talk about this in a later part.
2. Where to register your domain?
NameCheap is slightly cheaper in most cases but GoDaddy is the biggest domain registrar in the world. I use both of them to manage and register my domains; both are okay in my opinion.
3. Which web hosting to go with?
For web hosting – if you are just starting out and want something cheap with okay quality – go with iPage. iPage is my #1 budget hosting pick, the host is cheap, pretty reliable (>99.9% most of the time); and has all the necessary features a newbie needs (detail review here).
4. How much does a blog cost?
A .com domain costs about $10 – $15 per annum. For iPage, first signup will cost you not more than $50/year. InMotion Hosting Power Plan cost $4.49/mo; SiteGround GrowBig costs$7.95/mo (both mid level shared hosting, 12 months subscription).
In short, starting a blog will set you back around $60 – $120 a year.
What about free blog hosting?
I do not recommend running your blog on a free platform like WordPress.com or Blogger.com. Don’t get me wrong – those platforms are okay if all you care about are writing your thoughts and sharing ideas (if this is you, also check out Medium.com).
But a free platform is never a good place to host your blog if you wish to make money. There are way too many limitations and disadvantages on a free platform.
For instance, Blogger.com does not allow its users to post non-Google ads. WordPress.com, on the other hand, does not allow image ads and imposes various limitations on sponsored posts and affiliate marketing.
Profitable Niche + Targeted Traffic = Money
So, now that your blog is ready and we are all set for the gold…
How do you make money blogging, for real?
Some say content is king.
“Build good content; money and traffic will follow.”
Well, that’s not entirely true.
From my experience, content is only 50% of the game, if not less.
Yes. As bloggers, it is our duty to create engaging, informative and, perhaps, entertaining content.
But to make money, you must have two other key elements – a profitable niche and targeted web traffic. Without any one of these elements, your blog will not go far in generating cash.
The importance of a profitable niche
Here’s a story I have shared in one of my guest posts at ProBlogger.net earlier.
Back when I first started my career as an Internet marketer, I made an affiliate site to sell inflatable boats. Can you imagine how many people might buy an inflatable boat online? You don’t need to be an expert to answer this – not many.
What’s worse, this product is a seasonal product and only sells during the summer, so I was further limited in my sales. That said, I did make some money from the site – averaging not more than two sales per year. My inflatable boat business didn’t even take off enough to launch it onto the small pond, much less a big pond.
The lesson in this – No matter how well written your content or how beautiful your blog design – if you fail to pick the right niche, you will fail converting your effort into money.
So, how do you find a profitable niche?
There are countless ways to find a profitable niche on the Internet. I will cover three methods that work best for me.
Method #1: Follow the money
Why do most robbery cases happen in banks?
Simple. Because that’s where the money is.
The same theory applies to finding a profitable niche. We simply look for industries where advertisers are spending boatloads of money. It’s basic business sense. Advertisers would not invest that much money unless the ads are bringing back positive ROI.
Now this leads to our next question: How do we know if the advertisers are spending money? And, how much they are spending?
Search Engines + Google Keyword Planner
One quick way to find out is to search online – Google or Bing – to see if there are any advertisers in that niche. Generally speaking – if there are more than three advertisers competing for a key phrase – there is money to be made in that area.
You can then use Google Keyword Planner to guesstimate the average price of a click for that search term and predict how much you can earn per Google Adsense click*; and hence how much you can earn via selling ad space.
Note that there are no clear rules written but rough estimation (correct me if I’m wrong), Google pays 30 – 50% of cost per click to Adsense Publishers.
Another way to determine how much (and more importantly, where) advertisers are spending on PPC ads is via SpyFu.
Spyfu, originally GoogSpy, is a search analytics tool that shows the keywords that advertisers are buying on Google Adwords. It is the most accurate tool I’ve ever used. I use it every time I need to research a niche in depth.
The following images demonstrate how you can make use of Spyfu (free search). These niches were found when I was doing research for this article – each of these searches take less than 5 minutes to complete. There are more valuable details if we go beyond the free search but we will stick to the free edition for now. To do your own research, simply key in your competitors (or the big players in your shortlisted niche) domain into the search bar.
Niche #1 – $64,000/mo on Adwords
Niche #2 – $100,000/mo on Adwords
Niche #3 – $60,000/mo on Adwords
Niche #4 – $9,500/mo on Adwords
Niche #5 – $71,500/mo on Adwords
Niche 6 – $24,200/mo on Adwords
Another method I often use to judge the profitability of a niche is looking at the numbers at CJ.
Login to CJ.com and search for merchants in the niche you are studying.
- Are there any relevant merchants?
- Are these merchants offering good commissions?
- Are these merchants paying their affiliates?
You can use Network Earnings (the green bar) as a potential earning indicator.
See image below to understand how I interpret the numbers at CJ.
Method #2: Facebook
You can do a lot more than sharing travel photos and posting status updates on Facebook.
The world’s largest social media is actually a great tool to understand the new niche you are getting into. Learn more about your target audience, stalk your competitors, find an angle to tackle your niche, and so on.
I will demonstrate these functions using examples.
Using Own Facebook Page to understand your own fanbase
If you already have a Facebook page (you can create one before you start a blog, it’s free), the first place to look at is your fan base. Dive into some of these fans’ profile and pay attention to their demographics (male/female, locations, married/single/divorced, age, etc) and their interests.
Using Facebook Suggestions to find competitors
For those who own a Facebook page, go to Insights > Overview > Pages to Watch. This is where you can find and compare similar pages suggested by Facebook. You can click on each link to find out popular posts published on these pages.
Using Facebook Relevant Page to find even more competitors
Say I am starting a blog about finding jobs, here’s what I will do to discover relevant websites and Facebook pages.
- I know Monster is one of the major players in the job listing niche, so I will start with them. First, I’ll dig out Monster’s Facebook page via Google search (search “Monster job Facebook page”).
- Next I will extract the page id using this free tool – Find My Facebook Id (the Monster page id number is 87877000648).
- Replace X in the following URL “https://www.facebook.com/pages/?frompageid=X” and paste it to your browser.
- And this is how I found 20+ more similar page in the job listing niche (see image on your right).
How to make use of Facebook intel
There is a lot you can do with the list of competitors and fans’ details you have on hand.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Stalk big players’ activity on Facebook and learn their marketing strategies.
- Find out trending topics in your niche – What’s the latest hype in town? Can you find a new angle for your blog by looking at these trends?
- Expand to a new niche by looking at other players’ activities – This was how I discovered the typography niche when I studied web design (CSS/jQuery/HTML5) blogs.
- Understand your target audience – Where do they spend time online? What are their problems? Can you provide a solution?
- See why people are buying from your competitors – Can you provide something similar and make money?
- See why people are not buying from your competitors – Are their products too boring? Perhaps they are not marketing it right. Can you do something better and win their visitors over?
- Write better headlines and content – Find out which Facebook posts get the highest engagement, write similar headlines.
Method #3: Old School Keyword Research
I am sure you have heard about keyword research by now.
Or wait… you haven’t? Well I am not beating a dead horse again, so here’s a good read for the beginners.
Why keyword research?
Keyword research is usually performed in the beginning of an SEO campaign. Its objective, more often than not, is to identify frequent searched keywords (be it short or long tail) and set directions for the campaign.
What’s more in keyword data?
But as most experienced marketers know – there is more to harness from this keyword data. With the right set of keywords, we can also understand the following better (and might as well spot new business opportunities):
Level of Competition
More searches = higher demand; more results returned in a search result page = higher supply.
Relevant Brands and Names
Examples: For cameras – Nikon, Canon, Sony; for honeymoon getaway – Bali, Maldives, Hawaii; for web hosting – iPage, BlueHost, Hostgator; for celebrities – Taylor Swift, Linkin Park, Bruno Mars.
Generally speaking, buying intention is higher when there are lots of searches on ‘widget review’, ‘widget model number and name’, ‘10 best widget brands’, ‘buy widget online’. In contrast, searches for ‘widget history’, ‘complain widget’, or ‘the making of widget’ are less likely converted into business transactions.
The more advertisers bidding on a particular search term, the higher commercial value is for that search term.
Using keyword research to study a niche: Quick demonstration
Back when I first started, many webmasters (note – back then ‘blogger’ was not yet a popular term) relied on a tool named “Overture” – where you can simply input a search term and the system will give you a rough figure of how often that term is searched, for free. We will then compare these numbers with the amount of results returned and judge the competitiveness (and profitability) of a niche.
Now that Overture no longer exists we can hardly get reliable keyword data for free.
In the following images, I will demonstrate how I use these tools to study a niche and interpret data obtained. This process could take a very short time (less than 30 minutes) or it could take days to complete. It depends on how big your keyword list is and how deep you wish to dive in to understand the business landscape.
Niche: Movie Posters
Movie posters have always been one of my favorite collectibles. I don’t really collect them but I appreciate the art and sentimental value in them. Let’s see if we could turn my interest into a profitable blogging idea. Note that I have not done any research before writing this guide – so I am as curious as you are right now.
First let’s take a look on Google Trends.
Google Keyword Planner
Next, we will go to Google Keyword Planner to get more ideas.
The first result page (see image below) shows that there are plenty of searches for vintage movie posters (41,900+ monthly searches), horror movie posters (5,600+ monthly searches), star wars movie posters, classic movie posters (3,400+ monthly searches), Hollywood movie posters (1,600+ monthly searches), and so on. Also, there is also a relatively high demand for information on creating your own movie posters (~22,000 monthly searches).
To go one step deeper, we can click on the keyword for more details. This is where we can understand searchers’ intention better. Pay attention to what type of information the searchers were looking for. Can we spot buying intentions in these searches (if our plan is to sell movie posters directly)? Also, these keyphrases can be our blogging topics.
To get an even broader view of our topic, let’s go to Ubersuggest for more keyword ideas.
Back to Google Search
What if we prefer not to sell physical products? You know – it is no fun handling inventories and logistics. Can we just blog and sell advertising space? To answer this question, let’s try some relevant searches on Google and see if we can spot any advertisers or any affiliate programs.
Also, you can take a closer look on the advertisers’ marketing approach – do they advertise on blogs on top of search ads? If so, what kind of blog? Can you sell ads directly to these merchants? To guesstimate the profitability of this topic, we can apply this keyword data to Spyfu to determine how much advertisers are spending.
To go deeper, we might want to dig into organic search results (site back links, onpage optimizations, social media shares, etc.) to see how difficult/easy it is to compete in terms of SEO.
Making Decision: Small vs Big Pond?
Now that we have all the necessary market insights – it’s time to decide. Should we jump in? Is this a good niche? What would be a good angle to approach this niche? I’ll leave it to you to draw the conclusion.
One thing, however, I wish to make clear before we end this section – is about how you decide on a niche.
Quite a number of experts advise newbies to avoid steep SEO competition and pick a smaller playing field when choosing a niche.
“Be a big fish in a small pond”, they say.
I believe the exact opposite. You should try the big pond (target search terms with high demand and lots of big competitors) because that’s where the audience and money are.
Blog Traffic: Who is your audience? What do they want? Where to find them?
Still with me?
We will now move on to key factor #2: Targeted Traffic
To make decent money off your blog, you must pull in sufficient, targeted traffic.
Obtaining a targeted audience (and serving information they want) has always been the key to online success.
The more targeted traffic your blog gets, the more money you can make.
It is simple math.
Let’s say that you run a DIY blog and sell handcrafted art. Your blog’s average conversion rate is 3% and average conversion value is $25. On average, for every 100 visitors you will make 3 sales and make $75. If the number of targeted visitors goes up to 200, then theoretically there will be six sales and $150 profit down the road.
Smart blog traffic tips from team WHSR
So how do you pull in targeted traffic for a new blog? This is where your web marketing skills kick in. Think search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), word of mouth, email marketing, and so on.
We have covered quite a lot on building blog traffic from both search engines and social media in the past. Below are some of the best you should read and bookmark.
Understand your audience
Social Media Marketing
- 10 essential rules for effective Facebook marketing in 2015
- 10 essential rules for effective Google+ marketing in 2015
- 10 essential rules for effective Twitter in 2015
- 10 essential rules for effective Pinterest marketing in 2015
- SMM tips for bloggers: Taking your social media to the next level
- SMM Basics: Starter guide for SMM managers
- Which social media platform should your business be on
- How to magnetize your blog and build readership
- 7 quick ways to promote yourself (and your blog)
- How to win your first 1,000 page views
Networking with other bloggers / Word of Mouth
- How to start a successful mom blog (3): Networking in your niche
- 7 quick ways to promote yourself (and your blog)
Search Engine Optimization
My personal blog traffic tips
To avoid repeating what has already been said (and to give you actionable tips to start right now), I am going to give you a quick list of specific tactics that work well for me.
1. Guest posting
Regardless of how Google bashes guest posting practices – this strategy works. Writing quality guest posts on others’ blogs simply is the most efficient way to reach targeted audience and build blog readership.
If you are new to guest posting, Lori wrote a detailed how-to guest post guide in the past, go check out.
The key to success, as I see it, is finding the right blogs – those with real readers and social media followers. You can use Topsy or Buzz Sumo to spot popular blogs and influencers in your industry. Or, you can simply take a closer look at the comment section to see if readers are interacting with the bloggers. Always keep in mind that you are blogging for real readers (hence the quality of your content is crucial). Forget about posting on blogs with high Google PR but zero readers – this practice simply doesn’t work anymore in 2015.
2. Crowdsourcing post
Crowdsourcing posts is a good way to network with other bloggers in your niche and share each others’ social media followers attention.
I have gotten (and have seen many others getting) some good results via this strategy. This post written by Sue Anne Dunlevie (21 experts reveal their biggest risk that paid off), for example, garnered more than 500 social shares and 80 comments. Another crowdsourcing post on Triberr marketing that I recently bumped into (by Abrar Mohi Shafee) pulled in more than 1,000 tweets in a very short period.
3. Facebook ad
Facebook is a cost efficient way (it goes as low as $0.06/web click in certain industries) to pull in new targeted visitors. The challenging part in Facebook advertising is that you need to test a lot (different ad versions, different countries, different interests, etc.) in order to succeed.
4. Syndicate blog posts to other popular sites
Promote your blog to sites that syndicate others’ content; self-promote, beg, bribe, or blackmail (okay, I am kidding) the editor to accept your blog feeds into their syndication.
5. Attend conferences
Make new blogger friends and promote each other’s blogs online. I don’t particularly enjoy talking to strangers (honestly I am very bad at that).
However, my previous visit to WebSummit 2014 in Dublin brought me some new experience, and I have to agree it’s an effective way to promote a blog.
6. Blog comments
Leave constructive comments on others’ blogs (do not spam!). Write in a way that makes people want to find out more about you.
Here’s a great example of someone who has done it right.
7. Forum posting
Find relevant forums in your niche (Google search “keyword” + inurl:forum), post helpful content/replies, promote your site on signature links or drop links in your forum posts, but only when it’s appropriate.
8. Google+ community
Google+ community works pretty much the same as forum – the key to success is to give out lots of valuable info to community members in exchange for social media followings and blog traffics.
9. Giving out free tools and freebies
Everyone loves freebies. After all who doesn’t like getting something for free?
However, keep in mind that not all freebies are good on their own. You need to offer something in demand so you give the public a reason to talk and share your blog on social media. Remember the whole point of this is about getting traffic.
My core business at Web Hosting Secret Revealed (WHSR) is promoting hosting services. Rather than squeezing into the crowded Google SERP, I’ve found better odds targeting web designers who likely have use for my hosting advice. To land a seat with that audience, I’ve created loads of freebies.
Those loads of free icons? Yep – freebies targeted to my primary audience.
The free icons actually earned substantial attention from the blogosphere, bringing in new visitors and social followers. If you’re interested, these are just a few of the blogs that featured our free icons.
Social followers correlate directly with revenue.
Many bloggers wonder what metric to trust when it comes to growing their income. The guys at Authority Hacker correlated revenue with a bunch of metrics and nothing came closer than social Twitter followers. If you want to grow your revenue, focus on connecting with people on social media and engaging them with your content. That’s your best shot at improving your bottom line!
Growing your Twitter followers & traffic
A few quick tips in growing your followers and direct traffic from Twitter:
- Tweet frequently. To have your followers retweet and click on your tweet links, you will need to first appear on their Twitter wall. To do this I use a plugin named Revive Old Post and spend 20 – 25 minutes every other day on Commun.it to interact with my Twitter followers.
- Connect truly with your followers. A simple personal message is 100x better than blasting out hundreds of canned messages.
- Be hyperactive – respond to others’ tweets, join popular conversations, and tweet trending hashtags.
If I can only give you only three key takeaways, that would be:
- Yes you can make a living via blogging. Some top bloggers earn close to six figures a month regularly.
- The best ways to monetize your blog: Advertising, affiliate marketing, selling own products and services.
- Your blog content quality is crucial. But to start making money, your blog also need to be in a profitable niche and getting sufficient targeted traffic.
I have shared more than a dozen personal make money blogging tactics, tips, and ideas in this post. I would be very, very happy if this inspires some of you to take the next step and start monetizing your blog using the mentioned strategies.
Here’s one last reminder before I end this post: Results comes from action.
Many who came to me in the past had sufficient resources (skills, knowledge, time) to start a blog and make money. But they failed – because they also had more excuses to delay their plans and wait for the stars to align.
I can only show you the way and remove a few obstacles along the way. To succeed, you will need to walk the road yourself.
Share your experience with me
Do you have a plan after reading this? What’s your next course of action to start monetizing your blog? Please share with me in the comment section below. I am eager to hear about it and would like to help as much as I can.
Credit: Chart and texts on “What are the best ways to make money from your blog” and “Social followers correlate directly with Revenue” by Gael Breton.
This is a syndicated post. Read the original at Web Hosting Secret Revealed.