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Whose Blog IS This?

Today Lightening talks us through the process of deciding whether to monetize her blog and how she involved her readers in that process.

I recently went through the process of deciding whether or not to monetize my personal blog Lightening Online. Personal Blogs seem to be a whole different ball game when it comes to monetization.

Some people have VERY strong views about the ethics of earning money from a personal blog. Blogs on various “how to” type topics very clearly offer the reader some kind of benefit. The question is, do personal blogs offer enough to be considered “worthy” of making the blog writer some kind of income? Is entertainment enough? If you truly consider your blog readers to be friends, is there an ethical consideration to earning money this way?

Now we all know how precious and important blog readers are. Without them a blog is very little more than a wind chime tinkling in the breeze with no-one around to hear its melodic sound.

Upsetting, and possibly losing, the small blog readership I had painstakingly and carefully built up was one of my biggest concerns when it came to monetizing my blog. Losing the credibility of my voice was another. Plus of course the worry that people might perceive my motivation for blogging as something akin to personal gain.

So I made what I considered to be a wise move and gave my readers both a say and a vote in whether or not they thought monetization of my blog was a good idea.

During my training to become a Child Care worker, we were taught a very valuable lesson when it came to asking questions. You should NEVER ask a child a question if you are not prepared for a negative answer. For instance, if you want a child to come to lunch, you don’t say to them “would you like to come to lunch”, you say “it’s time to come to lunch now”. By phrasing it in the former way, you are leaving opportunity for them to respond with a “no”.

It’s quite simple really. If you don’t want a “no” for an answer, don’t ask a “yes or no” question. It’s a pity I didn’t consider employing this wisdom when it came to asking my blog readers whether or not they thought I should monetize my blog.

By asking my readers opinions I was giving them the opportunity to vote “no” to monetizing my blog. Was I really prepared to accept “no” as an answer?

While on the whole my readers were supportive of my desire to monetize my blog, some were quite vocal in their dissent. This led me to feel rather uncomfortable about proceeding with monetization. I felt that if I did I would be blatantly doing so against their wishes.

Those of you who are parents will understand that there is a big difference between a child who accidentally stumbles into wrongdoing (okay, maybe not accidentally…) and one who wilfully goes against something you have told them not to do.

I guess in some ways, I felt like the child in this blogging relationship rather than the parent. If I went ahead and monetized my blog, I did so KNOWING that it would upset those readers. If I went ahead, was I committing some mortal blogging sin that would be the death knoll for my precious baby – my blog?

I’m not for a minute suggesting that either myself OR my blog readers are children. I’m just using this analogy to illustrate a balance of power. As a parent, I get to make the decisions that I feel are best for my child. I might take their views into consideration, but ultimately, the balance of power lies with me.

Inadvertently, I had shifted the balance of power in my blog. Instead of ME making the decisions, I had mentally allowed my readers to have the power over those decisions. Partially by offering them the chance to vocally object but also by my own reaction to their opinions.

I needed to remind myself that this is MY blog. I’m the one who gets to make the decisions. I’m all for reader input, considering the readers views and so forth. As I’ve already said, a blog can be a rather lonely and empty place without it’s readers.

BUT, your readers come to hear what YOU have to say.

I realised that I needed to TRUST myself more. To believe in myself. Something had attracted those readers to my blog. That something was ME. If I believed that a small amount of monetization would benefit me without harming my blog then I could follow that belief confidently, trusting that whatever had attracted my readers to my blog in the first place, would encourage them to stick around regardless.

After all, it is MY blog! :)

Lightening’s personal blog, Lightening Online, is a place where she shares her laughter and tears as she journeys through life. She also has a more recent blog discussing blogs and issues related to blogging at Lightening’s Blogworld.

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. I do not see any issue in monetizing personal blogs, as long as the ads are not getting stuck in the readers faces.

    In my opinion only very few personal blogs are very interesting and I feel like reading it on a ongoing basis. If you have a loyal readers who come to your blog often, there is nothing wrong in making some money from your blog, as it is your blog and you make the decision.

    Ramesh
    The Geek Stuff

  2. Ms Sparky says:

    I need all the help I can get. I must get the book!

    Thanks

  3. Anette says:

    Lightening,
    Thank you for this post. I honestly never thought about the possibility of asking an audience about their input. I think I would rather try to gage them without asking. And then maybe tell them why they would benefit from it.

    You know, like putting a vitamin pill in front of a child, eating one yourself, while telling a story about “the adventures of Mr. Pill.” Or something like that.

    Anette

  4. Shanel Yang says:

    I assume everything worked out just fine, no? I hope so! : )

  5. what if you’re new to blogging and a recent graduate (college student), guess what? you’re broke! The person may need to make money as soon as possible.

  6. Vered says:

    Interesting. I happen to think that bloggers have every right to monetize their blog.

    I just stopped by your blog and I have to say you did it VERY tastefully so I honestly don’t see a problem.

  7. Kirk Warren says:

    I monetized my blog early on so that any readers I built up would be used to seeing the ads. Introducing them later after they’ve grown accustomed to the look and ad-less site makes it that much harder on them and easier to criticize the move to ads.

  8. Ken says:

    When I first started working for the company I am at now, one of the first things that happened was an orientation type of meeting. At the meeting they discussed a list of 5 goals or missions that we were to strive for. Things like contributing useful services to society, giving back to the community, and employee happiness. The final point and most import was profit, the reason being, the profit allows us to spend our time with projects that contribute to society, gives us means to give back to the community, and enables us to have perks in the office or fun company outings.

    In the blogosphere, perhaps earning money might allow us to buy a professionally designed site that is easier for visitors to navigate. Or maybe it might just be enough to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, that we may have skipped had it not been for the ads.

  9. I agree with Kirk. It is a pain and a bit of wasteful fussing early on, but if people ome to your blog and it already has a small amount of ads on it, then they can’t complain.

    My blogs are mainly “commercial” so it actually adds a little bit to them to have advertisments on them. I think it makes them feel more established and the matched content of adsense ads reinforces my topic.

    However, I am thinking of setting up a personal blog, (once I have gotten through a personal/work battle going on that I probably couldn’t resist blogginf about inappropriately…). In that situation it would feel odd to set it up with ads originally, as that is not why you want to blog on that topic.

    Anyway, I thought your approach was appropriate. If you would go on blogging regardless of having no followers, then it shoudl be your decision to make money to cover hosting or whatever.

    Cris

  10. Sara says:

    Phew! About halfway through the post I was ready to scream, “Stop! It’s *your* blog! It’s your decision!” but it sounds like you got there. Seriously, the content is free but writers’ time is not, so I have very little pity for readers who oppose monetization.

  11. Ryan Mac says:

    Great blog post and great tips also, people want to hear what I have to say, not what they have to say, otherwise they would be on their own blog.

  12. sailor says:

    Food for thought. As Sara said – ‘but writer’s time is not’ free.

    This might be true but one has to consider the fact that the reader’s time is not free neither. If you do something that does not take the reader’s views into consideration, you might just lose them as readers and that you normally cannot afford on a personal site.

  13. Paul says:

    If it’s an ethical decision regarding whether or not you should make money off your friends, well… if they are your friends, why wouldn’t they want you to make money. If I own Paul’s Bacon Hut, I want my friends to buy my that delicious pork from my place before they buy bacon from down the road and I expect them to WANT to buy from me to support me. I don’t see any difference in a personal blog. I’m sure the readers of Lightening’s Blogworld also read other personal blogs that may have ads on them and they support them by still reading them. I say, fill that puppy up with ads and makethemillion.com (I’m so smooth.)

  14. Julien says:

    I think there comes a time when you have to go ahead and actually earn some money out of this…it’s all great fun and everything but as your blog grows, so does the time you have to spend on it. I believe a blog should be google adsence free until it has a decent number of visitors a day. I hate it when I visit a new blog, and it’s already got loads of ads everywhere…

  15. L-Jay says:

    Doing an article for Problogger is ‘good for business’ – so it’s important to make the most out of it. I’m sure people will be clicking on the links to see your blog – first impressions are very important (they say you have less than a minute to impress new visitors). So why not use this opportunity to ‘wow’ your new traffic – the first paragraph of your top post ‘One More Step Along the Road I Go’ might not be the best opener.
    - Just a thought

  16. L-Jay says:

    ooops! NOT to be a drag – the link to the blog on blogging has a (“) at the end of the address and so directs you to an error page. About two months ago I won’t have known what was wrong with the address – (not many people like me are problem solvers). You might want to fix this just to make beginners – like me – find their way to your blog about blogging. ;-)

  17. Jess says:

    I don’t see a problem that people monetise for personal blogs. I just think that finding a source of advertising might be a little more difficult than those blogs that have a definite market or niche. For example, knitting blogs advertise knitting – they know that’s what their clients do and are interested in. In a personal blog however, it may be a little more difficult to define the best revenue making avenues.

    Best of luck anyhow

    jess

  18. Ulla says:

    I think there are decisions we as bloggers should take on our own, without asking our readers. In june I decided to go bilingual on my blog, because google analytics showed me that I had quite some visitors from english speaking countries. I have visitors from Germany too. So what would have happened if I had asked my readers? Some would have said: Fine! Some would have said: Why English texts, I am German. In the end, I would still have to decide.

  19. Jade Craven says:

    I’m of the opinion, at the moment, that the personal blog should be relatively ad free. It should focus on you, the person, as a brand and give people a reason to stick around.

    Yet I’m not really one to talk as my personal blog isn’t up yet.
    The key is creating advertising that is relevant to the reader and contributes to the positive experience. On a personal blog, especially one with such a large focus, it can be hard to do this. A good option is having contextual ads, such as adsense, at the end of a post just before the comments section.

    A great example is Skellie. Her personal blog links to the services she offers as well as a monetized blog. When you visit that monetized blog, you are exposed to highly relevant advertising. I find if I’m after a particular service, I’ll visit blogs I know will advertise a relevant blog or resource.

    When my site is eventually set up, it will link to other web projects. However by choosing to click on a link the reader has a fair idea about what types of advertising they are being exposed to.

    Another useful technique is finding a theme where the ads will tastefully blend in. The three column blog may not be the best but there are some free magazine themes that discretely include ads. Additionally it may be useful to tap into the loyalty of readers by providing in text forms of monetization. Providing this is disclosed, it shouldn’t be a problem.

  20. Your information is valuable to readers, i have no problems using your sponsors to help in my endeavour to create a successful website.

    As long as the webmaster does not ‘deceive’ the user into or clicking on a ad or use pop-ups then why not be rewarded for your time spent hard at work.

    Cheers

  21. This was a really, really good, timely article because for months, I’ve been contemplating how and when to monetize my blog. My concerns have been the same as yours – potentially turning off some people who don’t like to see any form of monetization at the site.

    But you’re absolutely right – it is your blog. My blog. I make the decisions.

    One thing I’ve learned from other bloggers like Copyblogger is that it’s a mindset. Once you have it in your mind to make money from your blog and you go forward with it, you will attract readers who intuitively understand and respect it while losing others. By deciding to monetize the site, you might lose some readers – the conventional wisdom is that is a natural part of the process. Kind of like a snake shedding its skin for the new.

    Brilliant, timely article. Very well said – I especially liked the parent-child analogy – it was right on the mark.

  22. Amir Helzer says:

    I don’t think it’s a question of right or wrong – neither asking your readers, nor acting against it.

    Most of our communication with our users goes via newsletter, so the replies I get are all personal. However, there are great similarities to a blog.

    What I often find out is:

    * It’s good to ask in order to know. Too often, I got answers that are against my gut feeling. It’s good, better to do what my customers need – not what my stomach feels like.

    * If people tell you they’re willing to spend money on what you’re proposing – it’s a very good sign. It’s pretty bad if they tell you, up front, that they’re not going to pay (e.g. click on your ads).

    You’ve got every right to want to make money from your personal blog. The only question is – HOW. If people don’t react well to flashing side-bar ads or ugly Adsense ads – you should find other, more effective ways to monetize your personal blog.

    Instead of understanding it as “no way to monetize” I would look at it is “don’t try to monetize this way”.

  23. I think discussion about ads is a bit of a red herring. It’s not really about them, it’s about who gets to decide things on a blog. And in that case, whilst it is the owner, going against the readership in a massive way will not work out.

    Fortunately there are very few decisions that are going to leave most of the readership on one side, and the blog owner on the other, so I’d err on the side of doing what you want at the end of the day.

  24. Metro says:

    My opinion is to try different things with your blog. Asking your visitors for input is how you develop your network. Try many things and see where it leads.

    Think relevance. Advertising that is relevant becomes a resource to your readers not an annoying in your face ad.

  25. Kevin Boss says:

    I think as long as you keep the ads relevant and not plaster them everywhere, your visitors won’t mind. They might even find useful services they didn’t otherwise know about.

  26. MOst of readers want to know about something..
    Sometimes opinions is good but sometimes they not bother about it..
    It depends on our quality content

  27. One thing I have learnt during my blogging journey so far is that if you have 100 readers then you may well have 100 opinions or variations on opinions about any one topic.

    I guess the very comments on this post demonstrate that. How we perceive things will vary to how the next person might perceive them.

    I haven’t been around long enough to really understand the “why” as to those who vehemently oppose blog monetization. I’m not sure if it’s a case of a few spoiling it for the rest of us or whether people somehow feel they might be taken advantage of.

    L-Jay – I appreciate your feedback in regard to my latest blog post. I would like to add a couple of things in my defense. The first was that I didn’t know when my post was to appear here. The second is that I take pride in my blog being an honest representation of what is happening in my life at any particular time. If people are somehow turned off by my mentioning seeing a Psychiatrist then I accept that they are perhaps not the right readers for my blog. I suffered from post natal depression which resulted in a nervous breakdown and now I’m on the road to recovery. I choose to be deliberately open about that fact in the hope that the myths surrounding depression can somehow be squashed.

    Stephen – I’m glad you found it useful in some way and thank you for your kind words. :-)

    Sara – thank you. Yes, I did get there in the end. One of the biggest gifts that blogging has given me so far has been learning to trust myself and believing that I do have something to offer. Whether that be to 1 person or 1000 doesn’t value it any less.

  28. Karrie says:

    To me, the interesting idea within this post was not really about monetizing you blog but about how to interact with readers. It’s making me think more about how I phrase questions to the readers in my blog posts IE examine how would I REPLY if it wasn’t my own blog post. Thanks for a good post I didn’t expect to be so relevant to me!

  29. NYCWD says:

    This is in fact a very volatile topic, particularly when it comes to personal blogs. In fact, I have read this type of post dozens of times over the last few years and am always surprised how the final decision as to whether or not to place the advertisements are split.

    Personally, I am adamantly against them and posted here in detail as to why. The reasoning behind it is really a very simple although philosophical debate, how much do you value your life? You have to ask that question because ultimately that is what a personal blog is about, and the amount of money that the corporations or advertising networks such as AdSense may be willing to pay does not usually come close to that value.

    Since personal blogs are mostly about opinions, using contextual advertising offers the distinct possibility that you may unintentionally be advertising for something that you opinionated against. This damages your credibility and may label you as a hypocrite, damaging your reputation to current and potential readers.

    In the end though, it ultimately is your blog and your decision to make. The question is, can you live with that decision if the money you make from those ads are not from your writing or a “unicorns and rainbows” post… but from something personal that is in no uncertain terms, priceless?

  30. Guera says:

    I find it interesting that some people are so opposed to ads on a personal blog, compared to those on a commercial blog. I think there is an inherent “prejudice” (for want of a better word) against personal bloggers in the blogosphere – almost like many of those in the commercial sphere don’t think of personal bloggers as “real” bloggers. This is particularly seen in some of the attitudes towards mommybloggers.

    I am obviously coming from the P.O.V. of a personal blogger who has ads on her site and went through a similar thought process as you, Lightening, when putting ads on my blog. I didn’t ask my readers, but I almost felt the need to apologise for putting them there. But I knew I wanted to see if I could bring in a little money from the blog – it may only be a hobby, but it is one I spend a fair bit of time on, so why not see if it can be profitable? I absolutely agree that it needs to be tasteful and not intrusive, but the same goes for ads on all blogs – I will quickly leave a blog where I have to wade through ads to find the content.

    The interesting thing, though, is in many of the ad studies done it seems that most regular internet users (those considered “computer savvy” I guess) don’t click on ads and often don’t even notice them, so I think it is probably only the minority who feel strongly about internet advertising who really notice and take offence. (Of course, this also begs the question of whether the ads are worth it, if you’re doing your best to make them unobtrusive and most of your readers don’t even notice them).

    Personally I think ads should be targetted at search engine visitors – those visiting you for information on a particular subject. I think this is why niche blogs do much better in advertising because their visitors are looking for something specific and are more likely to click through an ad related to their search.

  31. Sangesh says:

    I can’t but agree with with “Kevin Boss” and “Metro” has said in his comment regarding online advertising in one’s site. One other thing that you can improve on is the overall design of your blog and content placements or rather content layout as well.

    Oh yes, I have to say that the quality of your posts are very good. Keep it up & best of luck.

  32. Meg says:

    If your blog is “personal” (and I can’t think of a category with more wide-ranging interpretations), then it’s your “personal” decision what you do with your page, whether you want to put up ads, post pictures of your cat, or do a 70-post discussion on why you disagree with your dad on the issue of gun control.

    People can have opinions, vehement or otherwise (which cracks me up) , but at the end of the day, you answer only to you. They can choose to stay or choose to go, and vote their approval or disapproval in that way.

    But if you’re deeply concerned about the opinion and response of *every* person that visits your website, you are going to have a painful time of surviving any open forum.

    All you can do is be respectful to people in how you interact with them, establish your own rules, and then focus on what you’re actually supposed to be doing there: blogging.

    If they don’t like the choices you make, it’s a HUGE interweb. They can find someone else to shape into their perfect blogger. :)

    And no… I don’t have ads. But I don’t care if anyone else does, and I certainly don’t judge the quality of their content by their advertising.

    (Well, only if their ads are for “Girls Gone Wild”.)

  33. --Deb says:

    I LOVE this post. My first and dearest blog is primarily a knitting blog and monetization in the knit-blog world? It just doesn’t happen. Bloggers who happen to have books or yarn shops are “allowed” to have links to them, and there is the occasional, rare ad, but anything more extreme? Massively frowned upon. Which makes the thought of trying to monetize that blog (as opposed to my Punctuality Rules! blog on writing) is more or less dead in the water as ideas go. It’s so nice to hear from someone else who’s questioning this–it’s like there are two, completely separate blogging universes–the “professional” and the “recreational”–and never the twain shall meet!

  34. Readers click on some monetized links because they find them usefull. It’s up to us, bloggers, to not propose too much monetized stuffz, and to find what kind of monetized links they ‘need’.

  35. L-Jay says:

    Hi Lightening – my point was to help Problogger readers understand the importance of preparing for extra traffic. I noticed Problogger themselves doing this when they were featured on TV news. They had a special welcoming section and a guide to what Problogger was all about. I thought this was a very effective way to introduce the blog instead of being exposed to hard-core content straight away. I’m sure this approach enabled Problogger to start good relationships with new readers.

    Easing new readers into your world builds trust. (I guess I’m the type of person who gets put off when you just meet someone and they tell you their whole life story.) You are obviously interested in making money from your blog which means that you need to develop a new plan to keep your regular readers engaged but also be approachable to new readers. (Side note: You mentioned posting for the ‘right readers’ for your blog – can you be that choosy when you want to make money?) Coming in on a story half way through can be hard – (especially when your Problogger article says you’re a stay-at-home country mum but your bog says you are depressed and you’re choosing not take the advice of your doctor) – so at least a ‘filling-you-in’ welcome post could benefit new readers.

    However, I guess it would have been nice to be notified beforehand that your article was going to be posted on Problogger so you could have prepared for your new readers.

    On a site like Problogger I try to be analytical and ‘logical’ – but on a personal note: I’m a mum of three and suffer from post natal depression. It runs in my family and in fact my mother never got over it and became an alcoholic because of it. She died of alcoholism before she turned 50. So you can see that my comments here are definitely not personal, or intended for you to have to defend yourself – they are intended to help, maybe even inspire, Problogger readers.

  36. To me, the interesting idea within this post was not really about monetizing the blog but about how to interact with readers. Thanks for a good post

  37. Sueblimely says:

    Lightening,
    I think you were brave to ask your readers knowing that you would get some negative feedback. However part of the strength of your blog is how you have interacted with them in the past, so this seems a natural thing for you to do.

    I am sure many of your readers will be interested in following your progress – me for one who has partly held off advertising because I don’t think I will earn anything from it.

    Your honesty in other aspects including asking about advertising will make you far more believable if you do talk of how it is progressing.

    You have written an excellent article here too.

  38. Some of you have pointed out that this post is more about the delicate balance of power in a blog rather than monetization and you’re right.

    What I learnt through this process was that while what my readers think and say is definitely VALUABLE, it’s important not to rate that value HIGHER than my own thoughts and opinions. I feel there is a very fine line there between a blog owner valuing the opinions of it’s readers and giving them the balance of power.

  39. babyberto says:

    I’m the guilty one.
    Mainly, the purpose of my blog is monetizing but I never really now how.
    I just started my blog but I never really know if I can profit from it.
    Just wanted to try something new, aside from this I want to learn from blog and from this community of brilliant minds.

  40. Vikie Onyekuru says:

    Ligthening,
    Your blog is something else. I read through and through and came to agree with you on most of the issues.
    Your bravery and effort to keep in tune with the times has really helped you thus far. Great work you are doing and l have personally learnt a lot from you. Keep on blogging.

  41. I struggled with the same question and did what you did and asked them. Of course the automatic response for most readers is “OOOO” “No I don’t want to see a bunch of ads”

    But your true readers, the ones who love your writing and information will not be turned off by a little monetizing so I just started slowly adding recommendations.

    After 3 months, that became the norm and I added a section on the sidebar with a few select (Related) Solutions to problems.

    Worked great.

  42. I went ahead and put ads on my blog about 18 months ago and I’m in the personal blog category. I don’t expect to make loads of money from them and I haven’t invested much time in what type of ads to have, or beefing up my readership.

    I think that so long as ads aren’t all over the place and in your face, why not. Like other advertising I can choose to ignore them if I want. You’re right though, it doesn’t matter who you ask, you’ll always get loads of differing opinions.

  43. I just wanted to say thank you to those who have said nice things about my blog. I was tempted to respond to each of these comments individually but wasn’t sure how I would go keeping up. I have been reading them all though. Thanks everyone for your thoughts, experiences and encouragement on this issue. :)

    L-Jay – I think your points were very valid and had no problem with you sharing them. I guess I wasn’t 100% sure where you were coming from with some of it. Thanks for clarifying.

    Darren – thanks so much for sharing a tiny piece of your webspace with me. :)

  44. Denise says:

    Personal blogs can be monetized easily if you have established yourself as an expert in something. Otherwise there is no point monetizing it.

  45. Ligthening,
    Your blog keep generating so much comments and interest. I am trying so hard to master the art of blogging so that l will go commercial too.

    Continue the good work with bravery and commitment.

  46. this is an excellent post , I’m grateful to you, thanks.

  47. tim says:

    As some readers have said, don’t sell your time cheaply. By the way, domain name registration and webspace is not free. I also admit that the readers who say to begin with ads so there is no difficult change.

    I began my blog with a lot of experimentation, both with the design AND ad programs, while I had very little readership.