I did a short series on how bloggers make money last year (It was so long I had to split it into three parts, which you can find here, here and here), but I thought it might be helpful to talk a bit about how I make money personally, and my general thoughts on what works for me and what doesn’t.
Blog monetisation is one of those things people don’t really talk about much, so it’s come to be viewed as a bit of a dark art, and some of that is for good reason: there are so many different ways to monetise a blog, and one of the main things I’ve learned over the years is that what works for one blog might not work for another, so it can be difficult to offer concrete advice. With that said, here’s the low-down on how I make money from blogging, in the hope that it might help someone, somewhere, somehow – or at least help demystify the process a little, if nothing else!
Diversify your income streams as much as possible
I guess this advice probably applies just as well to freelancers, or any self-employed person: it’s never really a good idea to have all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, because if you’re completely reliant on just one source of income, and that source dries up all of a sudden… well, you can fill in the rest for yourself, can’t you? If you’re just using Google Adsense, say, and then one day Google decides to ban you from the programme (Which can totally happen, by the way: it’s happened to me in the past, always for spurious reasons!), you don’t just lose your Adsense account – you lose your entire income: whoops!
Which brings me to my first income stream, which also happens to be the one I’ve been using the longest:
(I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of what each of these income streams are, or how they work here, but you can click here for an explanation of Google Adsense, if you don’t know what it is…)
Google Adsense tends to be many bloggers’ introduction to the world of advertising: it’s easy to set up, there’s no minimum traffic requirement, and you can be earning money from it within a few minutes/hours/days – or not, as the case may be.
Despite being one of the most popular advertising platforms around, Adsense gets a bad rap from a lot of bloggers. I’m a member of a few Facebook groups for bloggers, for instance, and I frequently see people telling newcomers to the groups not to even bother with it, because it makes no money, and just isn’t worth the trouble. That may well be true for those bloggers, but it definitely isn’t true for ALL bloggers: in fact, for many years, Adsense was my sole form of income (Yeah, I totally made that mistake I just advised you all against, and put all my eggs in the Adsense basket – I learned, though…), and it still accounts for a substantial portion of my monthly earnings.
(Aside: I’m not going to give actual figures in this post, partly because I’m not really comfortable with that, but also because it’s actually against the Adsense terms and conditions to disclose exactly what you earn from it.)
With that said, there’s a huge difference between what each of my blogs earn from Adsense. This site, for instance, earns far less from the programme (the Adsense ads are the ones at the bottom of each post, and in the sidebar, by the way…) than my other two blogs do, and I suspect this is part of a general trend, whereby “personal” sites will tend to make less from it than product or advice-based sites will. The reason for this is is pretty simple: Adsense is a contextual advertising programme, so, for the most part, it looks at your content and tries to serve ads which will match it. If you write about shoes, then, Adsense will show adverts for shoes (most of the time): the people who visit your site will (probably) be there because they’re interested in shoes, so they’ll be more likely to click on the adverts, which makes you money: simple.
If you write posts about what you had for dinner, or that one time you went for a walk and ended up touching an electric fence, however, Adense will have a much harder time working out what kind of adverts to display alongside that post, therefore you’ll have less chance of earning money. The other thing a lot of people don’t realise about Adsense is that it takes a lot of experimentation to get it working effectively: it’s really not just a case of pasting in the code and hoping for the best. We’ve spent literally years experimenting with ad placement, colours, etc, and sometimes what can seem like a tiny change to your layout or placement can make a huge difference to your earnings. A lot of new bloggers don’t realise this, so are inevitably disappointed when they make very little money from it.
If you want to make money from Adsense, then, you need to have:
a) content which Adsense can easily match with advertisers
b) visitors who are looking for specific information
For a long time, this blog made very little from Adsense, because it didn’t fulfil that criteria. People don’t go to Google and type in “stories about people touching electric fences”, after all, and even if they did, it’s unlikely that Adsense would have a huge amount of ads to suit that content. (I mean, I HOPE not anyway: wouldn’t it be weird if it did? ) Earnings from Adsense have been slowly increasing as I start to add different types of content, but I don’t anticipate it ever being a huge earner for this site (It IS a big earner on some sites, however – my other two blogs, for instance, do much better on Adsense, because they’re more product based, and more tightly focused), which brings me to my next income stream:
(For an explanation of how affiliate linking works, go here.)
After a few years of just using Adsense, I decided to add in some affiliate links, which I still use, via Reward Style and Skimlinks. As I said in my previous post on this, income from affiliate linking is really unpredictable. In general, I can predict roughly what I’ll make from Adsense every week: it goes up and down depending on the traffic to the site, but it normally remains within a particular range. Affiliate income, on the other hand, is all over the place: I can go days without making any money at all from it, then one day I’ll make more than I normally do in a week: you just never know.
For me, although it’s not the biggest earner on the site, I do make a reasonable income from it, and I think it’s worth doing, because, unlike Adsense or other image-based ads, affiliate links are unobtrusive: they don’t take up any space on your screen, they don’t look ugly, they don’t auto-play and annoy people… They are, however, intensely disliked by some readers, who will go out of their way to avoid clicking on them, and who deeply resent bloggers who use them. To be totally blunt, I don’t really understand that attitude – if someone enjoys reading my blog (which they’re obviously not being charged to read, even although it takes me a long time to create the content), then it seems quite petty to want to prevent me making a few cents out of it, so I continue to use the links, but if it bothers you to know that some of your readers might be put off by them, they might not be for you.
Another issue that affects what you can earn from affiliate links is the type of content you post. Affiliate income depends on people clicking the link and buying something – if you don’t normally link to many products, then that will obviously lower your chances of earning money using this method. In my case, despite appearing to shop non-stop, a lot of the clothes I feature are old(er) and out of stock, so I don’t earn anything from them. I’m also not able to do outfit posts as regularly as I’d like, because of time and weather constraints – blogs which feature a constant stream of outfit posts, made up of items which are available to buy now, will have a much better chance of earning money from affiliate links
Sponsored posts are a fairly new addition to Forever Amber, and I really only started doing them this year. As with affiliate links, some readers dislike them, so I don’t advise doing too many of these in a short time-frame, but, depending on your blog’s traffic and followers, sponsored posts can be very profitable. Again, I prefer not to give exact figures, but a couple of sponsored posts can almost double my income for the month, so they’ve definitely been a worthwhile addition for me. My traffic is low compared to some, but I know of bloggers who’re able to command at least a couple of thousand pounds per post – you have to have a LOT of traffic to be able to make that kind of money, obviously, but to answer the question at the start of this post, sponsored posts have been by far the most profitable form of advertising for my blog.
Earlier this year, I signed up with Handpicked Media, who handle all of my sponsored posts for me: they negotiate the fee and put together the brief, so all I have to do is write the post. They do, of course, take a cut of the profits in exchange for this, but it’s been well worth it for me: I love blogging, but I DON’T love haggling over money, and when I tried to sell sponsored posts myself, I found myself drastically under-valuing them, and ending up working for almost nothing, purely because I was too embarrassed to ask for more money. If you’re good at selling yourself, though, this is something you could always manage yourself – I just prefer to be able to concentrate on blogging, and let someone else look after the rest!
Finally, I also sell advertising at the top of the site, and in the footer and sidebar. Most of this ad space is also handled by Handpicked Media: I have a few ad slots which I sell directly, but I’m probably going to remove these soon, because they don’t sell particularly well, and I don’t think they’re worth the space they take up on the site. The ads run by Handpicked Media, on the other hand, do much better (despite being much more expensive), so I keep those running, even although, if it were up to me, I’d have no adverts at all on the site – they ruin my precious layout, and I think they look pretty ugly, but blogging for a living is all about compromise: I could have a beautiful site, without any pesky ads at all… but I wouldn’t earn any money from it, so there wouldn’t be much point!
* * *
Ultimately, the most profitable income stream for YOUR blog will depend on:
a) Your traffic levels – in very simple terms, the more visitors you have, the more money you can make
b) The type of content you post. If you want to make money from something like Adsense, for instance, you have to produce the kind of content that ranks well on search engines, and covers topics that people are advertising for. (You could be number one on Google for the term “one legged purple pony”, for instance, but you’re probably still not going to make much money from writing about that…) If you want to make money from affiliate links, meanwhile, you’ll have to create content which contains plenty of links to products people can buy.
Oh, and no matter HOW you decide to monetise your blog, you’re going to need to have enough visitors to make it worth your while. And that’s the REALLY hard part…