Wondering how blogs make money? This is an honest overview of why people blog, the skills involved, and how bloggers earn a living.
The inspiration for this post came from an email I received from a reader who was irate about the advertising on my blogs. They seemed to have a lot of misconceptions about how I made money from the ads and the purpose of my blogs.
A polite exchange of emails helped clear everything up. The reader and I learned a lot about each other. And in the end, we had a great conversation.
However, I thought it might be helpful for future bloggers and anyone who enjoys personal blogs to understand how blogs make money. (This doesn’t apply to large conglomerates like Spruce or The Kitchn. They have a team of employees and, I assume, a different business model).
I’m active in several blogging communities, so this information comes from a combination of personal experience along with information from other independent bloggers. I was also inspired to share this information after reading Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. (It’s so good that I think should be on EVERY perspective writer’s TBR list).
Why do people blog?
Here are a few reasons why people start blogging:
- They have a passion that they want to share with their friends and family.
- A small business that wants to use its blog to promote itself.
- A misconception that blogging is an easy and lucrative job. (This misinformation usually comes from bloggers who make most of their income selling “blogging courses”).
- Writers who are trying to make money while they work on their books.
- People who are looking to supplement their income with something they can do on evenings and weekends (or during naps, if you’re a parent blogger).
- Some bloggers buy up other people’s blogs, hoping to increase profitability or gain a stable income by managing a diverse portfolio of blogs. These aren’t my favorite bloggers as they don’t usually care about the content as much as making a profit, as a result, they often offer recycled or AI-written content with stock photos.
My Blogging Trajectory
I started blogging in 2002 when Brad and I went on a 6-month cycle tour. My personal blog later gained quite a bit of traction while we were living in Ireland. However, it wasn’t until 2016, that I decided to quit working out of the home and focus on writing.
The decision to write full-time came about because of a few reasons.
- Creativity has always been a big part of my life, and writing was one of my favorite creative pursuits.
- I needed to work on my physical and mental health, while still having time to be an engaged parent.
- Low financial risk because we had secure and affordable housing.
Why Bloggers deserve to be paid
Blogging isn’t easy… unless you’re making a junk website (which is mostly about throwing out a ton of low-quality content hoping to hit on a trend), blogging is a ton of work.
All bloggers are content creators. Decent bloggers are either really good at what they do or hire someone to help them. A high-quality blog requires the following skills:
- Basic web design and maintenance
- Understanding of what makes good content.
- Writing and editing skills.
- Good photography and videography skills.
- Food blogs need recipe development and testing.
- Basic accounting skills.
- Social media management.
- SEO research for articles and site structure.
- Lots of admin work (responding to emails, comments, following up with sponsors, etc.)
In the beginning, I did everything myself. After I got my cookbook deal, I knew I needed help, so I hired a web admin and marketing manager.
At that point in time, it cost me about $675/month to run my blogs. Then there’s the cost of my time, as I work on maintaining the blogs and creating new content. It’s not easy money, but I really enjoy the creative process.
4 Ways blogs make money
There are four main ways that blogs make money.
1. Display Advertising
Display ads are annoying, but they are one of the main ways blogs make money. Most ads pay a certain amount per impression. This means that the blogger will earn money for simply having the ad displayed on the screen. However, earnings are higher if a reader clicks on the ad.
There are a number of ad management services. Here are a few that I’ve tried, with some pros and cons:
- Google ads is the easiest to qualify for. They’re the first place to go for ads and have the advantage that you can control exactly where the ads are displayed. However, you won’t make much money with google ads.
- Ezoic is more profitable, however, they dramatically slowed down my site. So I don’t recommend them. It’s better to wait until you can qualify for a better ad service.
- Mediavine and Adthive are both high-quality advertisers. They’re faster than Ezoic and pay well. The only trick is that you don’t have a ton of control over where the ads are displayed. I’ve tried both Mediavine and Adthrive, and I really can’t recommend one over the other. I like Mediavine’s dashboard and plugins. Adthrive has better support and creator tools. I think I earn slightly more with Adthrive… but the advertising world has fluctuated so much in the past few years, that it’s really hard to tell.
If display advertising really bothers you, then get an adblocker… but at the same time, consider sending your favorite bloggers a donation. They likely depend on display advertising to pay their bills.
2. Affiliate Income
Affiliate programs are an indirect way of advertising. An affiliate program is when a blogger earns a percentage of a sale from an online retailer. Often these smaller retailers are part of a larger affiliate program (so they don’t have to manage it themselves).
I’m part of 4 affiliate programs, though only one of them pays me on a monthly basis… Ironically, the world’s largest affiliate program also offers the lowest percentages. At this point, about 1/10 of my income comes from affiliate marketing.
3. Sponsored Content
Sponsored content is when a brand or product directly pays a blogger to feature its product. (It’s more popular for fashion, travel, and technology blogs).
It sounds fun! And I have been given some great things, like a stack of books, and a chocolate treat box. However, I also have to wade through tons of junk emails to get those offers.
If you’re thinking of doing sponsored content here’s some advice:
- Never accept offers for guest blog posts… they’re always garbage, especially if they want to pay you for the post.
- Create a price sheet that values your time. My prices depend on whether I’m creating a new recipe, photographing the product, or sharing it on social media. If I really like the product, then I might run a giveaway for free, just because I think my readers will also enjoy the product.
- All sponsored content and links should be marked as sponsored. Not only is it what google expects, but it’s also an FTC requirement. If a brand doesn’t want you to do it legally, then they’re probably not worth working with.
- Use a contact form. Most junky sponsored post offers come from bots. So I automatically delete any offers that come from the email address I use in my privacy form. I figure a real person would use my contact form rather than wade through the legalese to find my email address.
4. Personal Products
Probably the most REWARDING way for blogs to make money is by selling their own products. It’s so nice to directly earn income off of something you’ve created (versus indirectly through advertising).
There are lots of different types of products that bloggers create and ways of using a blog to promote your products:
- A blog is a great platform for selling crafts, food, and other homemade goods.
- Bloggers can sell digital products, things like recipe books, craft instructions, quilting patterns, or how-to guides.
- Offer online or in-person classes.
- Sometimes blogs create unique products. These can include branded tea towels and t-shirts. Or a line of products developed in conjunction with a different brand. One blogger in my community partnered with someone to sell custom-designed furniture!
- Most writers have a website and sell their books through that site (either directly, or indirectly by sending you to the bookstore).