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How Small Blogs Became 6-figure Income Generators (and How You Can Do the Same)

This guest post is by Patricia Rodriguez of Adsgadget.

From its early beginnings in 1993 to its inevitable rise in the last few years, blogging has become part of our daily lives. Almost everyone has a favorite blog, a blog that they read first thing in the morning while taking the coffee, or a blog they wonder off to after reading the front page of the New York Times.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the names Mashable, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, LifeHacker, and the like. These are just a few of today’s biggest blogs.

Most people have probably heard, or at least can guess that most of the big names in blogging started in 10×10 dorm rooms, small bedrooms, or a corner in the attic at the family home.

What exactly did these bloggers do to turn a hobby into six-figure income generators and, ultimately, the most visited blogs in the world? Here’s a little insight on some of the biggest blogs on the internet today—and how they got there.

Catching the wave: choosing the right topic at the right time

In 2004, when he was only 19 years old, Pete Cashmore started blogging from his parents’ home in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Pete had an interest in new technologies and how social media was increasingly changing the way people related to one another. he was particularly amazed by how certain government and police websites were combining their in-house data with Google maps to learn information on certain areas and citizens.

Nice little story, right? Pete Cashmore never went to college; instead, he founded Mashable in 2005.

How did he do it? He decided to explore a subject that was changing the world in a time when it was at its peak. Social media exploded in the early 2000s and Pete was there to ride the wave. Not only was he a great writer, he was passionate about what he wrote.

How can you do it? When you start a blog, you do it because you love what you do, because it’s a hobby you like to spend your time on. Don’t lose sight of this just because you’re looking to make a buck. Be passionate through every word you write on your blog. Write about what you like and what you know. And remember that today’s news is what will happen tomorrow.

Pete Cashmore tapped social media networking at a time when it was making its world debut. See what your era has to offer—there are new discoveries and trends springing up every day. It’s all a matter of being here now, being passionate, and writing about it.

The ad factor: Once Pete managed to create a huge community of loyal readers, he went for the big profit makers: advertisements. He subtly included Google AdSense’s banner ads throughout Mashable and reaped his revenues automatically every month.

Now, since creating a site like Mashable is not a simple thing to do, my advice to newbies and beginner bloggers would be to start small. Find self-serve ad platforms that cater to long-tail publishers’ needs. Adsgadget, AOL ads, or Twitter’s new ad platform would be good places to start.

Be cool: the blogger’s guide to creativity

Interactive designer Josh Rubin was always looking for creative inspiration and a better understanding of how people functioned. Ever heard of CoolHunting? It’s one of the biggest blogs on new designer trends, technology, art and culture. It was founded by Rubin.

Originally launched in 2003 as a designer’s reference site, CoolHunting has become an award-winning blog with a huge international audience that’s growing every day.

How did he do it?  He combined creativity, beauty, and a great idea.

For those bloggers who think content is everything, think again. Yes, interesting and fresh content is super-important, but knowing how to present it is just as important.

When visiting CoolHunting, users are greeted by a colorful, visually attractive and engaging home page, full of great photography and designer breakthroughs.

How can you do it? Be visual. No matter what the topic, don’t neglect your blog’s design and aesthetic factor. Yes, write about what you know. Yes, write about a subject that fascinates you. But present it in a way that can’t be ignored, a way that won’t make visitors move their mouse to the upper right corner of their browsers and press on that “x” to close your page.

Let’s say you decide to open a blog on recipes that you have picked up on your worldly travels. Take professional photos and post them on your homepage. Make people go “Wait… What is that? Is that food?!” Include pictures, and step by step instructions with interactive ingredients lists.

Think of new blog visitors as being like yourself the first time you went to your favorite restaurant. Regardless of how you got there, I’m sure the first thing you noticed wasn’t the ingredients written on the menu, but the way the plate looked when they put it on your table.

The ad factor: Josh Rubin got to the point where his site was bursting with organic traffic, so he decided to implement advertising and make the most of his success. When you scroll down Josh’s page you can see fashionable ads from AdRoll or AdMedia servers. These ads are targeted to his specific audience, so you can just imagine how many clicks each one gets.

Have a voice, be aggressive and be ready for criticism

Once upon a time there was a woman called Arianna Huffington. She decided to start a small website called Resignation.com. The website was a call for President Bill Clinton’s resignation and a place for conservatives to mesh together.

Needless to say, you need to be a very opinionated person and have quite a strong voice in order to even think of starting such a website. I’m sure she received her fair share of criticism but carried on nonetheless.

Ever heard of The Huffington Post? It was founded in 2005 by the same person.

How did she do it? By having a voice and not being afraid to shout it.

This is a blog with a very particular tone and a voice of its own. Though sometimes seen as being a bit too aggressive, The Huffington Post presents news in a different light. And people love it.

How can you do it? People like to hear opinionated minds, and they like well-written news with a handful of criticism on the side. They like sassy writing and bold ideas.

Find your blogger voice and shout it out. Don’t be afraid to get criticized. Learn to take in the bad, and spin it your way.

The ad factor: You guessed it—Arianna also opted for ad platforms when she started getting big on the internet. Nowadays she works with Google’s AdSense and DoubleClick platforms.

Advertising: a fast way to turn your hobby blog into a profession

Without a doubt, what pointed these internet enthusiasts in the right direction was their passion for what they were writing. Once they found their voice and attracted a good amount of loyal readers and steady site traffic, they turned to advertising.

Blogging isn’t easy, even when it’s done as a hobby. Turning that hobby into a full-time profession is even harder. It takes time, effort, patience, and most importantly, it takes passion. None of these bloggers started earning overnight. It took them a while before they found their voice and decided to go big and take risks.

All you need is to remember who you are, what you love, and go public with it. You’ll figure out the rest along the way.

Patricia is the PR manager at Adsgadget, a new self-serve ad platform for publishers worldwide. She has years of experience in the online marketing industry and has worked as a content writer for several media outlets.

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Comments

  1. Sometimes people do lose sight of why they started a blog in the first place. Its incredibly important to never loose that passion, because once you do you are no longer unique, you are just one in a million. Great post!

  2. Losing sight of your goals online is very understandable. We are bombarded every day with new information, opportunities, news etc. We find ourselves chasing the next big thing, when we can actually be sitting on it!

    My two cents!

  3. Gene Madondo says:

    its always interesting to read about how people started out small and made a success of their tiny blogs which are now the leading blogs in their niches. Its certainly true that it is best to write about something you love and know a lot about, that way you look forward to every post and enjoy blogging. Its also true that sometimes you need to be fearless and stand up for what you believe in and not be afraid of criticism. I am glad you also mentioned the way their sites are monetized, many people think that its only google adsense that pays well.

    Thanks for a great post Patricia.

  4. Ben troy says:

    I like the strategy of using ads in the short term as long as they are well picked and placed. I had some problems with that on my own blog and as I continue to learn more about monetization I understand the importance of building a brand and a long term strategy over short term pocket change. Good post.

  5. Richard Ng says:

    Hi Patricia,

    This inspiring article will sure to spur and motivation for the small bloggers (me included) to view it that impossible is nothing! I started my blogging venture 1 year ago and still lovi’n it!

    Cheers!

  6. Trant says:

    Great article, as Chris mentioned above, people do often get lost in the dream of making an income from their blog that they end up losing passion for it. A lot of bloggers need to think less about the earning side of things and focus more on the people they are writing for.

  7. james says:

    Sometimes I think its smarter NOT to go to college nowadays. I am going to be 50k in debt with nothing to show…if only I had invested that in SEO…that guy did the right thing by founding his own company

  8. conie k says:

    The reality is that more people are starting blogs to make money than lose sight of what is really important. What the point of creating a blog full of ads if no one is reading it

  9. Thanks a lot for putting this up Patricia. I feel inspired by this little stories. I love the strategies you are recommending. Especially the ad’s.

  10. Survey Crest says:

    Blogging has gathered pace in recent years and is a useful tool to portray your passion of writing and engaging people to read your work. But always remember if you are good at something never do it for free.

  11. Great post, it’d be good to see a series on this subject as there seem to be a staggering number of professional blogs out there nowadays.

  12. Victoria says:

    Great article – needed some inspiration for my blog – or what to remember in the future! I’m pretty new I the blogging world, but thought that I would try it out, not to grow big, but to tell about the things I like. I’ll focus on keeping my passion, as that seems really important to me.

  13. Good to read about such blogs, it surely motivates beginners like me to do better because blogging is no longer a hobby rather its fast becoming a new profession which surely has good future.

  14. You’re right about that. Blogging does take time ESPECIALLY if you once did it as a hobby and want to start earning from it. The changeover is amazingly difficult.

    I was telling my (new) accountant this morning what I did for a living. When I mentioned my TV work, she was un-fazed. I talked about my books – she was okay. When I mentioned blogging, she sat up and took notice. She’d never heard of anyone making money blogging.

    There you go!

  15. Mi Muba says:

    In a slight span of ten years of its life the profession of blogging is now swamped by those who blog for money, money and money hence why quality is now where and quantity is rising; but bloggers have also to consolidate after sometime as it happens in every field. The real bloggers would survive eventually

  16. Victoria says:

    Patricia, very well done! I thank you for sharing these excellent and entertaining stories with us. I have definitely visited all of those sites. I often wondered how they got started. It is hard to start your own blog. I can see why so many people give up and quit when nothing takes off overnight. One thing I have found works for me is seeing small increases and success with each post. We have to appreciate each step in the right direction and if traffic starts to drop, we have to evaluate what has changed since this has happened. I look at each month as a new win as more organic traffic heads my way. As you said, the most important thing is to write about those topics you are passionate about. I have 3 blogs for this reason. I felt it was better to break them up into 3 blogs, instead of having all those topics on one blog and it seems to have helped; however, is a lot more work. Being a full-time college student with 5 children whom we homeschool it does take a bit of creativity, but is well worth the effort. I love meeting all of those incredible people from all over the world and have been shocked by the global reach. Thank you again.

  17. Liz Hancock says:

    Hi Patricia,

    I just love hearing stories of how successful bloggers and entrepreneurs get started. It is inspiring as well as motivating. I didn’t realize HuffingtonPost had such a controversial beginning, but it goes to show that if you show who you really are and don’t hide your god given interests, talents, what-not, you might just find some like-minded people that appreciate you.

  18. Carlinton says:

    This article inspires me. I am sure that all individuals who read it will be saying the same.
    It is always good to read about real life stories about individuals who have started from an idea or hobby and then turn it into a super business gaining great success.

    I am motivated to work hard at fulfilling any task that will give me great success.
    I always have an interest in websites and blogging. I hope I can find a topic that I love and see how I can blog about it.

    Great Article! Continue to share these great articles.

    Carlinton

  19. Lillian Leon says:

    Wow, what an awesome article. So inspiring and motivational for us rookie bloggers! Thanks so much Patricia and Darren Rowse for publishing this. I will be sharing it!

    Btw, I can’t believe Pete Cashmore is only 27 years old!

  20. Lynkez says:

    Sometimes some bloggers get boring with very long articles. They at times get out of point and confuse the readers. It is always advisable to stick on the key points and explain them in brief but precise terms.

  21. Daniel Jordi says:

    Very inspiring post. I figured by now that the blog posts I write with my opinion expressed get the most feedback. They are not the ones viewed the most but the ones commented the most, either people aligning with me or by critics. But I figure if there are critics and people sharing my opinion, I did a great job :-)

  22. Patricia says:

    Hi everyone!

    Thank you all so much for the wonderful comments. I am so happy that this post gave you all motivation and inspired you to keep going; this is exactly why I wrote it.
    I know how frustrating it can be to start your blog and invest so much time and effort into doing something you love, and at the end of the day still have to look for a way to make ends meet. We are all under the impression that very few people make a living by doing what they love, but this doesn’t have to be so!
    As Survey Crest commented above, if you are good at something you should never do it for free; It takes talent and willpower to start your own blog and you deserve to earn from it. Having a blog is very hard work, but not loosing sight of why you started it in the first place is even harder.

    To all of you, keep striving and don’t give up. Write about what you love and appreciate your readers! The rest will come with effort and a bit of time. If these people could do it, anyone can.

    Thank you again and I look forward to sharing more great stories!

    Cheers!

  23. Arbaz Khan says:

    That was a great article to draw some inspiration.
    I never have heard of Coolhunting blog and I am thankful to you to introduce it to me. You said great, that catching the wave is the only way to get success as Pete did with Mashable.
    It was a superb post and I could use some inspiration from it to sit together with the big bloggers :)

  24. This is a great post. Thank you. I disagree, however, on the fact that you keep mentioning ad revenue as the best way to turn a blog into a viable business. I’ve been blogging for 3 years. I’ve made $1,800 in ad revenue. But I’ve made hundreds times that in product sales, online courses, etc. Advertising is hard unless you get hundreds of thousands of visitors. Otherwise, you need another business model. There are plenty out there. You just have to find one.

    • Patricia says:

      Hi Preston,

      I’m happy you liked the post, thank you for the comment!
      I agree with you that advertising can be hard if you’re not getting a good amount of visitors per month. I agree that product sales is also a great way to profit from a website; it’s a great business strategy and it can definitely generate good earnings. However, maximizing ad revenue depends a lot on the type of ad network your using, it’s optimization capacity and many other characteristics.
      Are you still trying with ad networks or solely doing product sales nowadays?

      Cheers!

  25. Shelby Roth says:

    This is amazing post. I loved the idea you put up with the advts. I actually loved it; very inspiring and encouraging in my blogging. I hope it will be of more help as I look forward into applying the same. Thank you for sharing!

  26. don says:

    Great post, but the problem I have is how do you get to the top pages. I can’t seem to get my blog where it can be seen.

    • Patricia says:

      Hi Don,

      It seems all you need is to optimize your SEO efforts. If you’re writing high quality content and maintaining your blog on a daily basis you should be fine, just consider who your readers are and what the best way to get their interest would be.
      Also, try social networking! Have you opened a fan page for your blog on different social media? Joined blog community groups? Even if you have any blogger acquaintances, you can propose a blog post collaboration and see where it goes from there.

      Good luck and thank you for the comment!

  27. Awesome writing Patricia! I really liked it. Sometimes not everything go the way we dream of but the small we start makes sense when we desire the best out of it and keep our focus no matter what happen till we gain victory at the end. I bet it is better way not to look down into small blogs, they might look so small but with a very crucial and huge benefit in our business. I find your content educating and encouraging, keep up!

    • Patricia says:

      Hi Carla,

      Thanks so much for the great comment! I am very happy you found the post encouraging:)
      It’s important to remember that big things often start small, you just need to want something enough to make it happen.

      Good luck with everything!

  28. Freddy John says:

    Inspiring Article. This will surely help small bloggers to earn much.