Having thought through whether you should blog for money it is now worth taking a look at some of the different models for doing so.
I tend to break the different models that bloggers are using to make money from blogging into two areas – Direct and Indirect methods.
Direct Income Earning Methods – these methods are where a blogger earns an income directly FROM their blog.
Indirect Income Earning Methods – these methods are where a blogger earns an income BECAUSE of their blog.
Most blogs tend to fall into one or the other of these methods – although there is nothing to stop bloggers experimenting with elements of both ( I’ve seen a few bloggers get into trouble with this (example: Scenario 1 in the previous post).
In this post I’ll look at 8 direct income earning methods and in the next post of this series I’ll explore indirect methods. Please note that on occasion in the following post there will be few affiliate links to services that I use and have had some success with. These will be marked with (aff) after them.
Direct Income Earning Methods for Bloggers
There are many ways of selling advertising space on a blog (this could almost be a series of it’s own) but some of the different advertising options that I see bloggers experimenting with include:
- Contextual Advertising – Programs like AdSense and YPN (beta) are very popular with bloggers and are probably the most common income stream being used by them today (MSN are developing one too). In short – these programs scan the content of your blog to assertion what it’s topic is and attempt to put contextually relevant ads (text and image) onto your blog. They are generally simple to use and involve pasting some code into your blog’s templates. Payment is on a ‘per click’ basis (referred to as CPC or ‘cost per click’ ads). Contextual ads suit blogs that have a particular niche topic, especially if it has some sort of commercial angle (ie it has products and services associated with it). They are not so good with ‘general’ type blogs (ie many topics) and/or political/spiritual blogs which argue just one side of a case (this confuses AdSense). I write much more extensively on how to use AdSense on your blog here.
- Other CPC Advertising – There are a variety of other ad systems that pay on a per click basis which are not contextual in nature (which is important as systems like AdSense do not allow you to run contextual ads on the same page view as them). These systems include Chitika’s eMiniMalls (aff) which I reviewed here.
- Impression Based Ads – Impression based ads pay a small amount for every person who views the advertisement. The amount that they pays varies from program to program (and ad to ad) and is generally a fraction of a cent. There are a variety of ad systems around like this including Fastclick (aff) which I reviewed here and Tribal Fusion. Impression based ads won’t earn you much if you don’t have a lot of traffic but can be great if you do.
- Blog Ads – BlogAds have become something of an institution when it comes to advertising on blogs. They traditionally have had a focus upon monetizing political blogs but are expanding their focus lately. The beauty of them is that bloggers set their own rates and can accept or reject advertisers that apply to them to be featured on their blogs. These ads put the control of what ads show and how much they earn into the hands of the blogger. The downside is that if you price them too high you could never have any ads showing at all. They can also be difficult to be accepted into as a publisher as these days they only accept people into the system if they have a someone who is already in ‘sponsor’ or recommend the new publisher.
- Text Ads – Another increasingly popular way to sell ads on your blog is to look into text links. The beauty of these are that they don’t take up much room and that depending upon the system you choose to run them you can have control over which advertisers you accept and reject. AdBrite (aff) is one such system that gives you control in a similar way to BlogAds in that you set your own prices and approve all ads. They also other other formats of ads. Text Link Ads (aff) is another text link seller that more and more bloggers are using. The beauty of both of these systems is that they have a pool of advertisers already so you don’t have to go looking for your own advertisers. Their systems are also both very automated and are just a matter of pasting some code onto your blog. I use them both and while they don’t earn anywhere near as much as AdSense or Chitika for me they add up over the year and have done well for me. Bidvertiser and Adzaar are other system that I know are popular with some (we’ve used them quite successfully on b5media although I have little personal experience with them).
- RSS Ads – An increasingly popular way for people to read blogs is via RSS. As a result publishers and ad providers have been keen to find ways to place ads in feeds. These attempts have been met with a variety of success levels. I’m yet to hear of too many people making big dollars with RSS ads yet but the ad systems seem to be improving. AdSense offers RSS ads to some of it’s publishers (you have to have a certain number of impressions first) as does YPN. Feedburner is a tool I’ve used to help monetise my own feeds – they give publishers three options (1. AdSense if you’ve been approved by them, 2. Amazon affiliate program and 3. if you have a lot of subscribers (over 500) they have an Ad Network). Pheedo is another system that you might like to try (although I’ve not had much experience with it).
- Other Ads Systems – In addition to the above systems (most of which I’ve used myself) are many other advertising options which I’ve not had experience with and so won’t personally recommend. I’m sure they are worth experimenting with however as I see many of them being used by bloggers every day. Here they are in no particular order:
- AdGenta, CrispAds, Clicksor, Intelli Txt, Peak Click, Double Click, Industry Brains, AdHearUs, Kanoodle, AVN, Pheedo, Adknowledge, YesAdvertising, RevenuePilotTextAds, SearchFeed, Target Point, OneMonkey, and TextAds. Feel free to add your own and tell us how you’ve gone with them in comments below.
Another form of advertising that a smaller number of bloggers are using is to find their own advertisers. All of the above systems have the advantage of finding you advertisers (or at least assisting in the automation of ads to your blog) but as your blog grows in profile and influence you might find other options for private deals come up.
The big blog networks have people dedicated to the task of finding advertisers (often working through ad agencies) but smaller bloggers might find this worthwhile also. I’ve been selling ads on my Digital Camera Blog for two years now and as it’s grown in traffic and profile and managed to attract larger companies (who are willing to pay more) to buys space. Currently the blog features ads from Adobe who have bought a combination of banner, newsletter and text ads.
The key if you’re going to take this approach is to target advertisers in your niche that have products that closely relate to what you’re writing about. There are a variety of ads that you can offer them including banner ads, buttons, text links, mentions in newsletters and even individual post sponsorships. I would highly recommend that you always make it clear to readers that your post is a sponsored one when you’re writing a sponsored post.
3. Affiliate Programs
Affiliate programs are where you take a commission for referring a reader who purchases a product or service to a company. Probably the most common of these for bloggers is Amazon which has tens of thousands of products that you can link to (I reviewed it here). Other affiliate programs that represent many different companies and products include Linkshare, Commission Junction and Clickbank.
Affiliate programs take some work if you want to get the most out of them (perhaps more work than advertising) but can be lucrative if you match the right program with the right blog/topic. If you want to explore affiliate programs more you might like to read 10 tips for using affiliate programs on you blog.
4. Selling/Flipping Blogs
The idea of selling (or flipping) your blog is one that many bloggers have in the back of their minds for ‘one day’ but in reality it is not something that is overly common… yet (I think this is changing). Probably the largest sale is that of Weblogs Inc (a network of blogs) which sold to AOL for a reported $25 million. Of course this is the stuff that most of us can only dream of – but there are examples of smaller blogs being sold, either privately or via auctions on sites like eBay and SitePoint. One such auction was that of the Blog Herald which took place here.
Starting a blog with the main goal of selling it down the track is one that I’ve heard of a number of bloggers doing but few have been successful. Rather than starting with this intention I think if you start with the intention of building a quality site that has a large readership and it’s own good income stream you are more likely to find buyers down the track.
5. Donations and Tip Jars
A very small number of blogs have a history of making good money with these (Jason Kottke being one of them). To be successful with asking for money from readers you’ll want to have a large and loyal readership (and a rich one might help too). Most bloggers just don’t have the critical mass or the cult following to make it work.
Another method that some blogs use with reasonable effect is to sell T-Shirts, Mugs, Stickers etc with the blog’s name, logo and/or taglines on it. This is another idea that will probably only work if you either have a brilliantly designed merchandise range and/or you have a cult-like status as a blogger with some fanatical readers who are a little obsessive about your blog. Some blog topics lend themselves to this more than others.
7. Selling Subscriptions
The idea of charging readers for content is one that surfaces from time to time. While there are numerous websites around the web that do this successfully (community membership sites) I’m yet to see many (any) blogs do it well. The problem that most bloggers who have tried it have run into is that most topics that you could think to start a blog about already have free sites available. To make it succeed you would need to have some sort of premium/exclusive content and/or real expertise on a topic.
8. Blog Networks
Another emerging income source for bloggers are blog networks. There are two ways to make money here. Firstly you can start a network and contract bloggers to write for you or secondly you might like to join a blog network as a writer. There are many networks out there and all have their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ll attempt to write a post on what to think about when you’re looking at whether to join a network later in this series.
Next in the series we’ll look at indirect ways of making money because of your blog.