Navigating the big wide world of blog monetization
The Business of Blogging, Work

Navigating the Big Wide World of Blog Monetization

So you’ve poured your heart and soul into your blog, it’s got a good motto or mission at its core, people are connecting with it and the next step in cementing its status as a full-fledged business — what will launch you from a passionate hobbyist to a full-time blogger — is monetization.

Monetization is the machine that keeps a blog running. It’s also a highly controversial subject, as often there are naysayers who believe monetizing your blog means selling yourself out. But let’s be realistic: one cannot pay the bills by working for free. If you are offering a useful service and running your blog like a business, you deserve to be compensated like a business.

The most important thing to remember is balance. There’s a certain skill in balancing ads and sponsorships and working them gracefully into your blog. Some bloggers are able to weave sponsored content into relevant and genuine stories, while others allow a stream of scripted words and product placements to bury the original purpose of their blogs. How you tip the scales is purely a process of trial and error.

When considering your options for monetization, think about what works naturally for your particular format, how much time you have to dedicate to it, and how your audience will respond to it. Above all, employ a few different options as you never want to put all your eggs in one basket. Diversifying your income streams is incredibly important when working in the finicky industry that is digital media.

This is by no means an all-encompassing post on all the ways you can make money with your blog, but it’s a good starting point if you want to dip your toes in the water and seek out proven sources of income. As I emphasized in my previous post, your first step is to always, always work on increasing blog traffic and reader engagement. They are the foundation on which you reap your revenue.

Ad Networks

Google AdSense is the most well-known ad network, and probably the most-despised. A lot of bloggers place a Google ad or two in their sidebars and grumble that they only earn a few dollars a month from them. That’s because Google AdSense is what’s known as a CPC (or cost per click) network, and you only get paid when a visitor clicks on an ad. Low traffic on your blog is the primary reason for low payouts, though certain blogs have “clickier” audiences than others. (For the record, Google AdSense works fairly well for me, but only after I established a decent following.)

Another option is a CPM (or cost per mille) network, which pays upon the number of impressions your blog receives. A mille is 1,000 pageviews. That means for every 1,000 pageviews on your blog, you’ll earn a fluctuating rate (based on type of ad, time of day, geolocation and other variables) regardless of whether or not someone clicks on an ad. If you have consistent traffic, you can almost be assured of what your monthly payout will be from a CPM network.

The only caveat is that CPM networks do not fill 100 percent of your blog impressions; they only fill a percentage of your available ad space. Even if you have 100,000 impressions per month, you may only be paid for 50,000 of them. This is why it’s a good idea to use multiple CPM networks on your blog, as some can fill the ad spaces that other networks can’t (a practice known in the online marketing world as backfilling).

The cream-of-the-crop CPM networks are often exclusive, require above-the-fold placement, and pay the highest (usually in the range of $2 to $3 per mille). They include Mode Media, Federated Media, BlogHer, and Martha’s Circle. Application and acceptance into these networks is highly competitive and dependent on your traffic and posting frequency. In some cases, you have to be invited by them or referred by another blog in their network.

Non-exclusive CPM networks typically accept any blog that meets their minimum traffic requirements, but they also pay the lowest (less than $1 per mille). They include Sovrn, Conversant, YellowHammer Media, and Burst Media. If your blog has been around for a bit, I guarantee you will start getting emails from any one of hundreds of these lower-tier networks each week, urging you to sign up with them.

Individual Ad Sales

If you prefer to hand-pick every advertiser that appears on your blog, selling your own ad space is the way to go. Many bloggers start out this way and find it to be the most effective option even as they expand. It does require more maintenance, as you have to vet every advertiser and handle your own billing, but there are services that help automate some of that process for you, such as Passionfruit and Blogads.

Individual ads appear as banners or buttons in your sidebars, header or footer, and are usually billed on a monthly basis and geared toward small businesses.

Affiliate Marketing

When you link to a product in your post (through an affiliate text link or banner ad), you can earn a small commission from that link if it results in a purchase. Most affiliate networks install a cookie (typically lasting 30 days) in your visitors’ browsers and credit you for any purchase made within that time period. Sometimes it’s a flat-rate commission, and sometimes it’s a percentage of the sale. Because the potential for income is based on how well you’re able to sell, affiliate marketing is also called performance marketing.

The most popular commission-based networks are ShareASale, CJ Affiliate, and RewardStyle, which many businesses use to manage their affiliate programs. Other businesses run their own programs, and you’ll usually find them under their “Affiliates” or “Resellers” pages. Amazon Associates is another respected program if you promote a lot of products that can be found on their site.

Sponsored Posts

You’ve likely seen some form of these on your favorite blogs. They’re often marked as a sponsored post (which they need to be to comply with FTC regulations) or disclosed in such terms as “brought to you by” or “in partnership with.”

Sponsored posts are a type of native advertising, which means they’re incorporated into the blog’s regular content. They can command higher fees because they reach a greater number of eyeballs. When you partner with a brand to create a sponsored post, it can consist of a product review, reader giveaway, or simply a write-up on their company. Not all sponsored posts involve a monetary exchange either; some bloggers accept products or services in return for a review. Whether that product or service is worth the level of exposure you can offer is up to your discretion.

Social Media Campaigns

There are content marketing agencies that specialize in social media campaigns. They work with brands to identify the top influencers in a given industry, craft a promotional campaign that involves pins, tweets, status updates, Snapchats, or Instagram posts, and roll it out en masse on a specific day or week.

Examples of these agencies are Linqia, Socialyte Collective, and Sway Group, but as social media grows in significance, I see more and more of them start up as standalone companies or separate departments of public relations firms. If you’re a blogger whose strengths and numbers are in social media, this option is the most worthy for you to pursue.

Brand Ambassadorships

If a company likes what they see in terms of your blog content, your social influence, and your personal style, they may approach you to be a brand ambassador — in other words, a spokesperson for their company. Brand ambassadorships and their obligations vary on the terms of your particular contract, but can include sponsored posts on your blog, participation in live chats or live steams, in-person appearances at special events or trade shows, print or web ads, media interviews, product endorsements, or perhaps a branded product within their own line.

Brand ambassadorships are typically negotiated on a contractual basis (anything from a few months to a year or more) and may be exclusive or non-exclusive. Generally, if you are asked to represent, say, a health food bar, you can’t work with another health food bar/drink/pouch that same year or even into the following year.

Digital Products

You don’t have to author a book or land an endorsement deal in order to sell your own product. If you have a wealth of knowledge to share, you can supplement your income by creating an e-book or online course from it. Brand yourself as an expert in your field, put together a digital resource that people can download, and earn passive income from a product that only required an investment of time and money at the start.

If you really want to get your product out there, you can even buy advertising space on other blogs or launch your own affiliate marketing program.

Freelance Writing

While this isn’t necessarily tied into your blog, your blog can actually lead to writing opportunities on other blogs. Some may ask you to guest post on a one-time basis, while others want you to be a regular contributor with your own column. There is wide variation on the pay scale for freelance bloggers. You might ask to be compensated fairly for your time, or you might agree to blog for more exposure if you think the byline will more than pay for itself in click-throughs to your own blog.

You can also pursue freelance writing for other publications such as magazines and newspapers. Being a “real writer” helps establish credibility, which could then lead to more opportunities by way of sponsorships or speaking gigs. At the very least, it allows you to branch out from your blog and experience the other side of media.

Speaking Engagements

Another offline extension of your blog is speaking engagements. If you’re a noted personality, or respected for your contributions to the industry, you may eventually be asked to speak (or demonstrate your craft) at local stores and workshops, all the way up to out-of-state fairs and conferences. To be a successful speaker, you should have a repertoire of three to five topics for which you’re best known, and they should be apparent from the style and content of your blog.

Speakers may be compensated by way of travel expenses and event passes (for presentations at conferences), given honorariums (for lectures at nonprofits), or paid presenters’ fees (for workshops and special events) commensurate with experience or notoriety. If you’re a keynote speaker (and not simply one speaker on a roster of many), you can negotiate a higher fee from the event organizer. The most in-demand speakers are usually represented by agents or speaker bureaus, which arrange all of their appearances.

A Final Word

Monetizing your blog is very much a crash course in experimentation. You may not hit a homerun with your first attempt, and it could very well take a year or two before you see any real revenue from your efforts, but as you can imagine, marketing is never easy — especially when you are marketing yourself.

Complicating matters even more is the fact that every blog is different, from its focus to its audience to its stickiness. What works for one may not work for another, so you really do have to play around to come up with the right formula for your own blog.

Best of luck to you in navigating this big wide (crazy confusing) world of blog monetization!

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  • It is pretty crazy isn’t it? I would have never imagined myself doing it, however, with encouragement from a friend, I took the plunge. Happy blogging!

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