If you’ve been blogging for a while, you may already have tried a range of methods to monetize your blog. Some will have worked better than others, of course, but most mid- to long-term bloggers are continuously looking for new ways to meet our readers’ needs through products or services we can sell.
Blog products have come a long way since I started out, and that’s partially due to technology and market trends, and partially because of the creativity of bloggers themselves. We now have an endless stream of external product offerings to choose from (such as advertising and affiliate programs), plus our own creative ideas for offerings we’d like to develop ourselves.
How can you choose the right ones to try on your blog?
Obviously, there’s the question of return on investment, and it’s a critical one. But there are other issues that you’ll want to consider, too—especially if the investment (in terms of time as well as money) is large. And in any case, we can’t predict a return without doing some thinking about how relevant the offering is to our readers, along with some other considerations.
Let’s look at them now.
1. Your brand
You’ve probably spent years building your brand—which might include a look and feel, a philosophy or attitude, a tone of voice, an approach to engagement, and—you guessed it—an approach to making money.
It would be jarring, for example, to find the Zen Habits blog cluttered with busy advertising. On-site advertising is incompatible with the clear-minded philosophy of the brand; if it were used, it would dilute or undermine the strength of Zen Habits in readers’ minds.
You can probably reel off at least a few monetization techniques that probably aren’t a great fit for your brand. That’s fine, but when you’re considering a new idea—perhaps one that someone else has suggested or proposed to you—your brand might be a good place to start working out how appropriate it is for you.
2. Your goals
Take a look at your yearly (or monthly) plan and consider, even at a superficial level, whether the idea seems like it would take you closer to achieving the goals you’ve set for your blog.
I find that this can be a good way to weed out possibilities early on, because some ideas are straight-out no-gos. For those that could be plausible, more thinking will be required, but at each point in your analysis, it’s wise to keep your goals in mind.
This way, they can act sort of like a “sense check” at each point: you think, “Sure, this is looking good, but does this still make sense for my goals?” That tends to be important if you’re looking at using the product offering to help you make a change in direction or focus, or build out your audience more broadly.
3. Your audience
Your audience has preferences and expectations about your niche, and your brand. Sometimes, surprising them with something new works wonderfully, but only if that new product or service meets their needs deeply, and is a no-brainer for them to use.
Some monetization options simply will not work with your audience. For an extreme example, if I was thinking of starting a content farm as part of a monetization approach, I’d have to look for a different audience, because the vast majority of my readers would have no use for that service.
That’s a simplistic example—obviously the questions you’ll consider can get much more complex than this. I know that bloggers in some countries, and some niches, still have trouble monetizing their blogs in any way, because their readers consider that their advice and work should be available free of charge—that their blog should be a labour of love and not paid work.
Regardless of where you blog, or the niche you’re in, you have an audience. Those readers have expectations and requirements of your brand, and your niche. While those expectations may curb your monetization options, they may also open up opportunities. You’ll want to keep them in mind whenever you review a new product or service idea.
4. Fit with current offering
If you’ve got this far, the monetization idea you’re considering is probably looking pretty good! Next, look at how this new idea fits with your current offering of saleable products and services.
This idea of fit includes in a range of considerations, from choosing the best-fitting product formats (e.g. you have a practical guide in ebook form, but you might see an opportunity for a video series) to where the product fits within the audience’s learning curve (you might have products for beginners and advanced audience members, but nothing for those at an intermediate level).
Some ideas will complement your current and planned offerings; others may eat into the sales of a product you’re already selling. If you think that might take place, you’ll want to do some sums to see if that cannibalization will reduce your bottom line. Sometimes, losing sales of a lower-margin product to gain sales on a higher-margin offering will still boost your profits overall, so this is an important consideration.
5. Peer blogs’ offerings
This is a bigger consideration with some product ideas than others, but it’s always worth reviewing your peers’, or competitors’, offerings to see how your new product or service will stack up.
By looking at what others in your niche are doing, you’ll probably be able to get an idea of the monetization options that are likely acceptable to readers. You’ll also be able to see how stiff the competition will be in a certain product space you’re considering.
Finally, you might be able to glean opportunities that haven’t yet been tapped in your market—opportunities that your new idea can take advantage of.
6. Time to launch
Product development or setup time is a big consideration in ROI calculations, but it’s also an important consideration in a practical sense.
The time it would take you to create or set up your new monetization method may simply be beyond what your schedule will allow. Unless you can make some space, this product might be out of the question—for the time being, at least.
By assessing the time to launch, you can also more easily choose between competing monetization ideas, and schedule the ones you do select into your calendar.
7. Time to run
There are very few set-and-forget monetization options, especially for those who have been blogging for a long time. The longer your blog has been around, the more likely that you’ll have explored all of the lower maintenance monetization possibilities.
This means that taking on a new product or service will eat into your time—probably significantly. Once you launch the new offering, you’ll need to promote it in an ongoing way. Each new product takes an extra commitment. Are you wiling to make it?
Again, considering the time it’ll take you to run a product after its launch—to deal with affiliates, say, or write guest posts, do interviews, and do any day-to-day maintenance—can help you to decide between different monetization possibilities. It can also help you decide whether you’re prepared to commit the necessary time to the make the new product a success in the longer term.
This is more than a current entrepreneurial buzzword—scalability directly affects our abilities to boost our blogs’ bottom lines. Is it as easy to deliver 100—or 100,000—units of this product or service offering as it is to deliver one? Is there some sales level at which you’ll need to invest more time to continue to make—or grow—sales?
The more scalable the product or service idea you’re considering, the more value you’re likely to be able to get out of it. The easier it is for you to ramp up service capacity, or product sales, the more lucrative that product will probably be.
When you’re considering scalability, look at your product and how you can potentially reuse or repurpose it, as well as at the support services or systems you’ll use to run and manage it.
This can help you to understand another element of risk involved in developing a new product or service idea. The more time and money you spend on it, the more easily scalable you may want the product to be—especially if that larger investment requires, from the outset, that you make large numbers of sales.
Is this monetization method for you?
Your experience as a blogger, and your understanding of your audience and niche, will probably make some of these considerations no-brainers. Over time, we all begin to develop that gut feel that tells us if a possible product or service will work for us.
But sometimes, the choices (or our reasons) aren’t that clear-cut, and it’s those times when working through this checklist might be helpful. Of course, you might need to add to or adapt this basic list to reflect certain extra considerations for your blog, brand, niche, or audience. If you can share your ideas for assessing new products with us in the comments, I’m sure we’d all find that helpful!