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Blogging for Income – A Passive Income?

Last week two posts popped up in my RSS feeds with the words ‘passive income‘ in their headings.

BJ asked – So Where’s the Passive Income? and Dave writes about Growing a blog or blogs as a source of passive income.

The idea of passive income is obviously one that many people strive for – and it’s a term that I’ve heard used many times to describe online income streams – including blogging.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t use the term passive income to describe blogging for income.

While there are a few aspects which could be described as passive – the overall experience that I’ve had is anything but passive.

Where is Blogging for Income ‘Passive’?

Archives – Perhaps the main area of where blogging has an element of ‘passivity’ to it in how it can earn an income is when it comes to your archives.

I’ve been blogging now for close to 4 years and in that time would have published over 20,000 posts across my own blogs. While the writing of these posts is anything but passive (more on that later) the great thing about it is that even after those posts drop off the front page of a blog they continue to have earning potential.

In fact as I look at the most popular pages of my blogs (and the ones that earn the most) – the vast majority of my income comes from my archives – posts I’ve not thought twice about for months, if not years.

In that regard – that income has a passive element to it – old posts are like an investment that continues to earn an income into the future.

Set and Forget Income Streams - One of the great advances from the last few years in generating an online income has come from the improvement of advertising networks like AdSense which allow publishers to add a snippet of code to their blogs that will automatically run ads on the blog over time.

While you can (and should) definitely work on your ad optimization – many bloggers get to a point with their ads that they are able to largely set and forget them. The ads will earn an income and the cheques (or direct deposits) will appear each month. There is no searching for or negotiation with advertisers – the system handles it all for you. This takes a load off many publishers minds and allows them to concentrate on other activities of running a good blog.

Put the idea of Archives and set and forget income streams together and there is an element of passivity to blogging for income. Add to it that money made from blogging doesn’t depend upon you being ‘open for business’ to make money (ie I make more money during the hours that I’m asleep than when I’m awake due to my time zone) and I can understand why people might describe it as a passive income.

However in my mind – that’s where the passivity in blogging as an income generator ends (feel free to suggest more ways if you can).

Where is Blogging for Income ‘Active’?

While there are these elements of passivity in blogging for income – there is also a lot of hard work.

Running a successful and profitable blog (or blogs) takes a consistent amount of work over the long term. This work needs to happen throughout the life of a blog – from the early days when you’re trying to establish yourself in a niche – through to those times when your blog ‘matures’ and you’re hit with a whole load of new responsibilities and pressures.

Some of the many tasks bloggers need to engage in include:

Writing Content - 20,000 posts in 4 years = 13 posts a day (7 days a week). My posting frequency isn’t that high these days and I do have others working for me these days to help out – but there’s a lot of work in those archives and producing quality, useful, well thought out and stimulating content takes time.

Monitoring Conversations – As your archives build so too does the number of potential conversations happening on your blog. Many of these conversations happen with little need for your involvement (although good bloggers are active in the conversations on their own blogs) but as a blog gets older the need for moderation of spam comments can increase.

Engaging in your Niche – Conversations happen outside of your blog also and most successful bloggers have systems in place to monitor what is happening in their wider niches. This lets them know what is being said about them elsewhere but also helps raise their profile and become valued members of the wider community. Monitoring the niche via RSS and news alert services are half of this equation – engaging in the conversations on other’s blogs is the other half. It all takes time.

Design – Different bloggers will put a different emphasis on the design of their blogs – but over time it will be one of the areas that you either need to invest time of your own into or to pay for someone else to look after for you.

Managing Others – Many bloggers eventually move their blogs to a multi-author environment to help them spread the load of running their blogs. This striving for a little more passivity brings it’s own work. Recruiting, motivating, paying, inspiring and setting boundaries for those that you engage the services of takes time also – sometimes more than it is worth!

Negotiating Private Ad Deals – once a blog gets to a certain size it’s fairly normal to be approached by advertisers wanting to buy space on your blog. This might be anything from a text link through to a larger banner ad campaign. This can be a very time consuming proces.

Other Tasks
I could go on about the other tasks that bloggers engage in in a lot of details – but here’s a list of other tasks that many good bloggers get into:

  • Search Engine Optimization - many bloggers spend a lot of time on this
  • Ad Optimization – while it can eventually be passive – to really get the most out of it you need to track results and keep tweaking
  • Multiple Blogs – many successful bloggers expand into new niches
  • Researching Blog Tools/Platforms - the industry is constantly changing and there are so many potential things to add to a blog
  • Researching Ad Programs – there are an ever increasing number of ad networks being launched.
  • Email Correspondence – answering reader questions, fielding interviews, responding to partnership inquiries
  • Monitoring Metrics – keeping a track on what people are reading, where they come from, where they go, what they click on etc

Of course not all bloggers do all of these things – and some have their own routines and tasks that they would probably add to the list. But all in all I’ve found that while there are some bloggers who make good money from blogging that the majority of them do so as a result of a fair bit of work.

Can Blogging Become More Passive over Time?

Lastly – I’ve heard a number of newer bloggers hypothesizing that they’ll work hard in the short term of their blogging and then be able to slow down and live off the ongoing earnings from their archives.

It’s a nice image isn’t it – sort of going off to work hard in the ‘blog mines’ for big money for a few years and then retiring to the Bahamas to allow the investment you’ve made by building up your archives to keep earning you an income.

Unfortunately there’s a problem with the theory. Blogs that become inactive will usually have a decreasing income level over time. I’ve seen this happen to a number of blogs over the last year (including a few of my own).

For archives to earn an ongoing income they need to rank well in search engines. The problem is that one of the factors that Google (and other SE’s) use to work out how highly to rank a blog is how often they update. If your site is constantly changing and being updated they tend to rank you more highly. They also seem to look at freshness of content. The older a piece is the more competition it will have for it’s keywords and the more out of date it will be seen as.

So – what generally happens is that a few months after the ending of a blog search engine traffic will begin to slide. It may never completely disappear – but over time the income will diminish significantly.

The key to maintaining a good level of SE traffic is ongoing frequent posting – keep putting deposits in your archives over time and you should maintain (and even grow) your ranking. Stop posting and you’ll start to see a drop off.

The only way that the ‘blog mines’ analogy really works with regards to passive income is if you work hard to build up a blog and then sell it to invest what you earn in a truly passive income.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Well said, Darren. Even if you have others writing for you, it takes a lot of time to manage quality, program the channel with appropriate content, educate your team, promote the blog, hire/fire personnel, maintain the back end, etc. Managing 11 bloggers on Strollerderby is as much (if not more) work than maintaining my own blogs!

  2. Fitness Guy says:

    It’s still more passive then running an acounting firm or a law firm or any of the other things I might be doing instead one day. Blogging really is great.

  3. Allen.H says:

    Yep, even in blogging – there is no such thing as a remote-controlled business. I posted my first impressions as an employer (at 17, lol) and after almost a week, I realize it’s not as automated as it sounds, almost exactly for the same factors you have mentioned in your post.

    Allen.H

  4. kris says:

    I think people use the term “passive income” a bit lose here. Steve Pavlina defines this difference in a good way I think. He is saying that when you work in an office you have a “fixed” income, but when you blog or run a business your income can go up well beyond what you can make in a job.

  5. I have definately worked hard to be where I am. I do understand that my friends and family often think that I do not work hard…but to make money anywhere takes time and efforts.

  6. Excellent and well thought out post. Personally I look at a blog as a supplement (reaching out method) to my primary business which is a passive income business (eventually). Using a blog to supplement a real estate business or an MLM business is a great way to generate prospects.

  7. Marti says:

    What is this “Income” you speak of?
    LOL
    The-still-not-earning-much-jokester

  8. I know I work up to 8 hours a day on my blogs sometimes and even more…so it is definetly not a passive income in my case! ;)

  9. egon says:

    Even on the short term I’ve noticed this is true. When I’m in the posting mood I do make a little bit more than wen I start slacking off.

  10. Nicholas says:

    I have to agree with Darren on this one. Passive income is a term that is too loosely thrown around when it comes to blogs. Blogging is a business, and you should do it because you love what you do…

    Realize your passion in life, find a way to make money at it, and in a sense, you will never have to work a day in your life.

    If your passion is in the topic you blog about… I don’t see why you would want to get away from it for a long stint of time…

  11. Armen says:

    It really takes effort to blog. Anyone who says otherwise either has never tried it, or they are new to it. I’m new, and already I see the difficulties.

    I’m never completely happy with the design, and I’m always trying new things, testing plugins, etc. My current blog isn’t to make alot of money (although I do run adsense), it’s to learn more about ‘blogging’ so that I’ll be better equiped in the future if I find a niche or something.

  12. Well said, I’m sick of hearing people saying things like “someday I hope to have a passive income like you have.” My income is anything but passive, it’s hard work.

    My preferred term is “indirect income.” I don’t make an hour’s wages by working for an hour, I create (or maintain) things that will provide an income stream for a time in the future.

  13. Brad says:

    Good article. Maybe “Relaxed Income” is a better phrase. You may be busy but at least you can be busy in your own house and take your own breaks. ;)

  14. David says:

    Nice advice….those that put in hard work will reap the rewards. That goes for just about everything in life. Blogging is no exception. 20,000 posts in 4 years….yikes….I only have 19,987 to go!! I better get at it. Thanks for the insight.

  15. If blogging creates passive income, then bloggers are the most active passive people I know!

  16. G says:

    I really think if you start a blog for the money then you will lose steam quickly and it will die. but if it is a blog that you are interest in then the post will come easier and more frequent and not worried about the money then you can put up adsense or other way of income.

    I guess to sum up… Blog first then worry about money later.

  17. There is no such thing as Passive Income. Whether an MLM, Bonds, or Real Estate the income you receive from it may be Passive for a while but unless you pay attention to it, it will go away.

    The benefit of these types of income is that you can decide when and how often you want to look in on it. This gives you a certain amount of freedom. Unfortunately, to many people are sold on the idea that Passive Income is “free” income and with a little bit of work you will be financially free for life. It just isn’t so. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still worth perusing but unless you know what you are getting into you will never succeed.

    Good luck and a Great Blog!

    Roman
    http://www.diycashflow.com

  18. sewdough says:

    Any blog that means anything and gathers any significant audience, especially repeat audience – takes time, dedication and effort. Yes, as is mentioned above, not the effort it takes to run some businesses, practice medicine or a plethora of other jobs – but it’s a move that requires lots of quick input for longer rewards. Very comparable to old time ‘passive income’ of real estate investing. Put in time, fix that falling house, rent out and make that lingering money. You sweated, now sit back and open your wallet!

  19. Trent says:

    Instead of thinking of it as passive income, I tend to think that blogging is something that you get paid more for per hour the longer you stick with it with a consistent level of quality. For example, if I figure the amount of income per hour for January for my blog and compare it to November, the income level per hour is substantially higher. That doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to go up every month, but that the overall trend line should point upwards as long as you keep posting.

    The big problem with that is that the first few months are often painful, enough so to drive people away from it.

  20. dan m says:

    Good article, with some decent tips for setting up advertising on your blog. just remember, as with everything else online, content is king. Make your content “anticpated, persoanl and relevant” in the words of internet marketing guru Seth Godin this is the most effective and rewarding way to generate quality business online. If you want to know how I feel about blogging check out my company blog at

    http://www.familyandfriendsfinancial.blogspot.com

    and if you are interested in a more active supplemental income check out http://www.familyandfriends.com

  21. Ezra says:

    Thanks for the post, Daren.

    As it’s been said many times in this page that blogging is not really that passive. You have to keep generating good quality posts, and they are not always trivial to do.

    I know some bloggers that I follow have “dry” periods, when they don’t have much to say. This is especially true when they write particularly on one niche, unlike the Dooce who can write just about anything and be watched.

    So when I tried to attack this passive income ad driven website dilema, I considered doing an aggregation site instead. Contents come from other sources, we just collect them. There is some coding to do in the beginning, however after some time, there should only be minor maintenance. After some facial redesign, we should be ready to launch it. Hopefully it will generate a decent passive income. Please take a peek: http://www.buzzoo.net

  22. Name any profession or task that you can make money by being passive. Passive income is just a scam term; anyone who actively has a blog or any other kind of web entity knows what a commitment it is to keep it fresh.

  23. I’ve never understood the perception of blogging as passive income. It has always struck me as a slightly better version of standard income, as you can earn money while you aren’t technically working.

    It could be argued that those earnings are just spreading out the wealth. It trickles in instead of coming in two-week chunks.

    The level of activity required to maintain a successful blog makes the ‘passiveness’ pretty nonexistent. Your schedule is certifiably insane (and god-damn do I respect you for being able to write that much quality content), but even with a less frequent update schedule, the commitment required is pretty heroic.

    I completely agree with this summary, I wish more people were of blogging like this. It often gets treated as an ‘oh, that’s such an easy *child’s* way of earning money’. In essence, it’s just as hard as running your own small business.

    Your product is quality content about a specific subject and as the blogger, you are the entrepreneur.

  24. Zylo says:

    Thanks, Darren, for yet another great article.

  25. Staralicious says:

    I agree with a lot of the comments here, the key ingredient I have found with any blog is continual content creation, espeicially in the growing phase.

    It is certainly not passive, however if you are lucky enough to make sufficient money for it to be your primary source of income, there is a certain satisfaction that goes with that.

    Staralicious

  26. To take this defintion from dictionary.com 2. not participating readily or actively; inactive: a passive member of a committee.

    Blogging for me is anything but passive. Indeed, if income was my only objective, I’d do something different. My blog is hard work, but I love it. I love the joy it gives me, the joy it brings others and the sheer pride that I have put an effort into something that has turned out so great. The income from the blog is a bonus and I try to remember that.

    The purpose is passion income, not passive income.

  27. Keith says:

    This just motivates me more to write more stuffs on my blogs.

  28. Came across the article through digg.com… after reading the article I read Darren somewhere… and well waddyaknow, its good ol’ Darren Rowse from DPS :) Wasn’t aware you were such a prolific blogger !

  29. Andrew says:

    For passive, blogging can be tough, especially once you have a few sites up and running. I have a few blogs going now and it can be exhuasting at times, fun, but exhausting. This is a great article, just as Keith above said, it motivates me to work on the sites more.

  30. BJ says:

    Thanks for the mention, Darren.

    I agree with you absolutely – there are passive-income components to blogging, but overall, blogging requires consistent effort. On the other hand, it does beat a day job! Blogging’s fun, creative, let’s you play with ideas, and there’s always the potential to make far more for your hours of work as time goes on. Not to mention the people you meet, the opportunities that arise … but Problogger readers already know that :)

  31. Jeff says:

    Simple as it can get, you build it, they will come. But its not always easy in the long run. Time, efforts and patients make the ends meet and you shall be rewarded with the suceess.

  32. I figure that I put in about an hour a day worth of work into my blog in the morning . . . not making much income now, because I just started a few months ago, but it will be interesting to see how that changes in a year.

  33. Resource Box says:

    I’m getting 60% of my revenue from two sites I haven’t touched in about a year and 40% from two new sites I work on almost every day. Overall revenue is still very small, but I can see the “passive” nature of some of that income. However, if you want your web based income to grow to a significant amount, there is a lot of “active” work you still have to do every day to build up your sites, archives and readership. While not 100% passive, it beats having to work in a cubicle for a boss, though…

  34. Andrew says:

    All this talk of “passive income” is starting to sound a lot like the infomercials on late at night about get rich quick schemes involving multi-level marketing. It’s really starting to peeve me that bloggers are getting caught in this sort of mentality.

    I actually saw a small piece on MLM the other day, and it got me thinking about how blogs and MLM are starting to meld. Then I see this post by Darren, and it just got me thinking that even more.

    So I wrote up an essay of what I think is going on in the blogosphere, a sort of call to action for bloggers to stop acting like multi level marketers. Check it out, and please let me know if you think I’m right or wrong:

    http://www.onlineindustrialist.com/2007/01/30/blogging-for-money-multi-level-marketing-20/

    I value opinions on this, cause it’s something I’ve been pondering the past few days that really irks me. Thanks.

  35. Jen says:

    I suspect that the term “passive income” may be related to the lingering perception of blogging as a low-status occupation… you know, a netful of giggling pre-teens cross-posting about their crushes in a semi-literate stream-of-consciousness texting shorthand. Michael Moncur’s term – “indirect income” – seems a more apt and accurate description for the earnings of bloggers who take the activity seriously, and who see their blogs as a valid alternative to old-school self-publishing media.

  36. StrikesFire says:

    I appreciate the Steve Pavlina comment (via Kris). And I think the concept behind “passive” income is even more subtle. True, the term really doesn’t reflect the amount of effort involved in generating $. It’s more about changing your mindset from “I can only EARN money based on the clock or what my boss tells me I’m worth” to “I can ATTRACT money in all kinds of ways all the time.” Once you have this belief firmly engrained, you’re able to open up dozens of channels through which you can attract the object of your desire – cash! Otherwise, you simply attract more ways to “earn” during your waking/working hours – which is fine, but limited.

  37. It is a well written and well thought out article. Darren, is it possible to post a 13 good article for day?

  38. Oogly says:

    Actually, there really are “Set and Forget” websites that you can set up, forget about and they’ll just generate passive income: Spoof or Satire sites such as http://www.ModernManEater.com or http://www.IseeJesus.com. Blogs and the updating they require are WAY too much work for anyone with a real job. Many of the successful blogs and sites just point to other sites anyway. Get them to to the work of spreading the word for you. If you can get a spoof site into the Internet’s cultural zeitgeist, you’ve got income forever with no more input on your part!

  39. Anton says:

    Still a long long way to make my blog as my passive income. I give an applause for you, more than 20.000 archive is great!

  40. really an eye opener. I’ve been all these days imagining money from blogging as a passive source of income. But after analyzing what you mentioned I am well convinced that it may be a passive source of income but not a steady passive source of income. Thanks Darren.

  41. Great article. I started my blog a couple months ago and there is nothing passive about it, but I do find I enjoy it. I post an article a day on average and I write every article title I can think of in the my own drafts section so that I always have something to write about. My problem has still been getting traffic though. The same as everyone else’s problem I guess. I have only used a few techniques like using article submissions and a few of my articles get quite a bit of google traffic. I feel I have some good quality content, but no one links to me offhand.

  42. freelancer says:

    Nice work at this web site. You gave me inspiration for my own blog which i hope will be to the benefit of its users.

  43. Well, obviously I think there is some hope for passive income. LOL But in contemplating this, I think residual income is more accurate. With some membership affiliate programs, one can certainly get a residual income started via blogging. But for it to be truly passive, it would have to be large enough and with a good enough service to carry on on its own once you sold the blog or lost interest in it. That of course rules out MLM. And it rules out blogs with updating ads, but no one managing it.

    The funniest thing, in my digital contemplation, I searched for ‘passive income blog’ and the #1 position was a post on Passive Income from WealthyBlogger.com … from August 2005. No passive income advertising other than Adsense (ads for ‘Smart Financial Freedom in 3 Days). And no new posts since the end of August. Go figure.

  44. haloman says:

    I am just starting out with this blogging/income and very confused where to start to start earning, maybe you could point me in the right direction……

  45. Angela says:

    Hi Darren!

    Have to share something with you that came as quite a surprise to me.

    When checking my stats this morning I clicked over to a google search link I found within my stats to see how well I ranked in the results. It was a search that led to a post on my blog titled “Blogging for Income – Be Prepared”

    The keywords were “blogging for income” so I expected I would be buried at least several pages down if not more.

    Imagine my surprise when I discovered I had come up in the #1 spot out of a little more than 6.2 million results just above a link to this post of yours!

    So tell me, how did I do that? I just might want to do it again. :-)

    Hmmm…interesting. Just checked it again and now you’re back in the #1 spot and I’m in the #2 spot. Could that have anything to do with the fact that I just clicked on this post which is the link of yours at the top of the search?

  46. Paul says:

    Kudos on your efforts.

    The number of comments you have already signals how successful you are in driving traffic and ‘earning a passive income’ actively.

    thanks for putting up great content. Perhaps that’s why u rank tops for many keywords.

    cheers!
    Paul
    http://www.passivelifeincome.com

  47. As I browsed through a tones of sites, I feel I should even internet market my site. I’m basically a computer graphics person, but I sometimes feel that it will be time consuming, but what’s also the harm in doing it.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Is Blogging Passive Income? – Not Really…. Darren Rowse explains… [...]

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  3. [...] There is a lot of talk in the blogosphere about passive income, with Belle, Dave Carlson and Darren Rowse all writing about the idea. They seem to agree that while passive income is possible, blogging is not a good way to do it. [...]

  4. [...] The idea of passive income is obviously one that many people strive for – and it ’s a term that I’ve heard used many times to describe online income streams – including blogging.read more | digg story [...]

  5. [...] The idea of passive income is obviously one that many people strive for – and it ’s a term that I’ve heard used many times to describe online income streams – including blogging.read more | digg story [...]

  6. [...] I just read this article by Darren Rowes, and that made me think of how big a similitude there is between the following 3 characters: [...]

  7. [...] Talking about blog income (I’m talking about myself here) at this stage sounds funny but I just now read an interesting post at Problogger.net where Darren discusses what’s passive blogging income and what’s active blogging income. Passive blogging income is when you don’t update your blog as frequently as you used to and your archives fetch enough traffic from the search engines to generate you decent ad revenue. Darren rightly says it doesn’t work for a long period simply because the search engines prefer websites and blogs that are constantly updated. [...]

  8. [...] Blogging for Passive Income? Passive income from blogging is like a vision of paradise filled with virgins and ever-flowing wine. However, it can be done with hard work, a knack for marketing, and luck. The more content you get the more passive income starts kicking in. Get to it! (tags: blogging income) [...]

  9. [...] Read this great post by Darren Rowse. Here are a couple of snippets: The idea of passive income is obviously one that many people strive for – and it’s a term that I’ve heard used many times to describe online income streams – including blogging. [...]

  10. [...] Darren from ProBlogger has written a long and informative post regarding the passive and active aspects of blogging income. I found his insights to be interesting and his authority on the subject can hardly be questioned. In his article, he attempts (and succeeds) in defining how blogging can be a passive source of income as well as an active one. [...]

  11. [...] I found this story on digg yesterday. It’s titled Blogging for Money – A Passive Income, and it’s written by Darren Rowse, a somewhat well know professional blogger. I imagine most people know what passive income is, but in case you don’t, see this “passive income” definition on Wikipedia. [...]

  12. [...] Actually, I’m talking about a post over on Shoemoney’s blog about whether or not blogging can be considered a passive income. I must say I agree with him… it’s scarcely passive. Blogging’s a lot of work. [...]

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