I think that blogging, or rather, making a living from blogging, seems like a magical unicorn that comes easily and takes care of all financial problems with very little effort. We’ve all heard the success stories, read the income statements where we see astronomical and seemingly-impossible 5 figure months (and we’re all most likely reading these at our 9 – 5s) and wonder if we should pick up the dream. It seems so easy, right? But how do bloggers actually make money?
Keep in mind that for every ridiculous income statement blog post you’ve seen, there’s an army of small-time hustlers who are keeping their mouths shut because they don’t think they’re successful “enough” or are out earning $20/month with affiliate links. It goes back to the entrepreneur street cred I was discussing before, where so many will feel inadequate because they’re not living up to someone else’s reality. So instead of me telling you “oh, just start blogging and quit your job!” let’s get real and discuss how bloggers make money and what it really can take.
First, I would absolutely recommend two great sources that do deep dives on the realities of successful blogging: Joanna Blakeney’s post on The Jungalow and this great podcast episode from Young House Love. I think that, while these are all from very successful bloggers, they also give a realistic perspective of what actually goes into charging a $10k sponsorship fee and the businesses these blog brands are. I really like the nitty gritty these both get into, and I like to listen to that episode whenever I feel like I’m not making enough progress.
So let’s cover how bloggers make money and what goes into each aspect.
4 Ways Bloggers Make Money
If you’re interested in earing a passive stream of revenue, advertising is a good way to go. Everyone usually starts with Google Adsense as they have very minimal requirements to place their ads on your blog. The catch to this, of course, is that since they are so lax they don’t pay a ton. The minimum amount you need before they’ll cash out your earnings is $100. It took me SEVEN years of hosting ads on different blogs before I reached that threshold. It can be a painful crawl.
Once you get a more significant readership, the advertising options increase. Companies like MediaVine and Ad Thrive have better rates and from the reps I’ve spoken with, are very involved in making sure their partnerships with bloggers are successful. The lowest traffic requirements are at 30k viewers per month (MediaVine) and can be as high as 100k viewers per month (Ad Thrive), and you’ve got to be legit. Reps have told me about bloggers who have bought viewers to increase their numbers which is obvious from their analytics (specifically from the countries the viewers are from and the time on site) so don’t try to fake it as they’ll know it and may permaban you from applying again.
Also, it should go without saying, but if you plan on having a loyal community, you can’t be a jerk about your ads. Everyone understands (or should understand) that ads are a necessary evil for bloggers and I think, in my experience at least, that if you’re not obsessed with ruining the user experience with ads, most viewers won’t be bothered by it, but it’s when the overlays and unclickable close boxes stop the reader from actually reading your site that everyone suffers. Be intentional about user experience first, and revenue second because the advertising money doesn’t happen without the readers.
2. Sponsored Posts/Ambassadorships
The holy grail, being paid to write in your own voice, your own way. Sponsored posts are blogs or social media posts where a company will pay a blogger to post about their products in an organic way. The best types of sponsored posts are the ones where a brand is incorporated into a concept rather than just a straight ad. Ambassadorships are a longer-term partnership, where a brand will negotiate with an influencer to create a multitude of features over a period of time.
New bloggers starting out will often accept product-only sponsorships, where a brand will send product for free but won’t actually pay for any posts and I know many seasoned bloggers who insist this is something that should never be done as it makes it harder to create an expectation of payment for a bloggers time. On the other hand, I know that smaller bloggers need to get the experience and clips to show examples of their work, so it’s a bit of a catch-22 for new bloggers who are looking to sign new brand partnerships.
Here’s my unpopular opinion: your blog is your blog, so you do what you gotta do. In my early start on The Beige House, I accepted free product without payment because we were going to do that project anyhow and it felt silly to not free up our budget in any way we could (homeownership is fucking expensive). As time went on and the blog got bigger, I learned how to better approach a brand with a value-based pitch, rather than an “I’ll write about you if you pay me” sort of way (though that’s never how I would phrase it, you know what I mean) so it became less of a hostage negotiation and more of an actual “we’re in this together” partnership.
As far as what a blogger should charge, any time I’ve discussed this with other bloggers, the consensus seems to be new bloggers starting around $250 for ~750+ words and overdelivering the shit out of that post. Some bloggers also offer extra a la carte things, like videos (~$500 for 5 mins), social media add-ons, and guaranteed social media rotation of a post for a certain amount of time. The sponsored fees usually also include bonuses for free, like exclusive images for the brand to use.
Again, these aren’t hard and fast rules, and those fees might seem insane on the low or high end for you, so work best with what you are comfortable with and what expenses you have. No one is running the business of your blog but you.
3. Product Lines
Now you’re a brand and not just a blogger/Instagrammer, where do you go from here? Many bloggers take matters into their own hands and will create product lines that coincide with their brand. Some will dropship custom products on Etsy (Gemma Bonham-Carter has a great course on this), while other bigger brands will establish partnerships (Young House Love’s lamp shade collection is a great example), while others will focus on services like coaching and courses that teach what they’ve learned.
I think this is one area that a new blogger can grasp onto quickly, as it’s controlled solely by you and can be automated in many ways. If you plan to take the route of branded products, make sure you actually deliver things your readers want. There’s no point to creating watercolor pillows when you run a personal finance blog, you know? Your readers come to you for a reason and it’s in your best interest to maximize that niche.
Another one that new bloggers can begin right as they start to monetize their blog, affiliate products are third-party physical products or e-resources that aren’t actually created by the blogger, but they will receive a small commission for helping to facilitate a sale. These are usually tracked by a custom URL that tells the brand how a buyer got to them. Commissions vary wildly, but are usually within the 3 – 15% range, with larger commissions for highly niched, and sometimes expensive products (think like, Cisco WebEx kinda stuff). These, like Adsense, usually have a minimum threshold before they’ll pay out so often bloggers need to help make multiple sales before they’ll be paid.
Some more recognized affiliate sites are CJ, Awin, and ShareASale.
Remember that all of these avenues take time and none are a guaranteed “quit your day job” stream. They all require a constant hustle and don’t work without readers, so remember that the user experience of your blog far outweighs any of these: if you don’t have readers, you don’t have income. Keep your community as the top priority and utilize these four avenues in ways that add value to their experience.
PS – Also, don’t think you can hide your income hustle from your readers. Countries all over the world require disclosures so that your readers know that there is a financial advantage to a blogger partnering with a brand, both as a sponsorship and affiliate.