UPDATE: I've learned a lot since writing this post. For a more informed and complete take on this topic, you should read my more recent post: How I monetized a blog in 30 days: what worked, and what didn't
This week I'm writing a three-part series about how you should approach planning and strategy when starting a blog. I've already outlined how you might plan your content creation, and your marketing. This post will assume that you've figured out how to get your readers, and explore different ways you can actually make money with your blog.
Disclaimer #1 - This blog (The Less Annoying Blog) isn't trying to make any money directly. We're just trying to raise awareness for our company, so I don't have any direct experience with blog monetization. This post shouldn't be taken as a step-by-step guide, but rather as a way to get started brainstorming.
Disclaimer #2 - It's really reaaaaalllly hard to find reliable numbers online about this stuff. No one wants to share how much money they make, and even if they do, their blog might be very different from yours. All the numbers I use in this post are basically just educated guesses. You won't know how much money you can make until you actually get started.
Ok, now that we have all that out of the way, let's talk about different ways that blogs make money. The main thing in common with all of the different strategies is that you're making money off your readers, so the more readers you have, the more money you should be able to make. Here are some different ideas to consider:
This is by far the easiest and most common way for bloggers to make money. Basically you just throw some ads onto your blog (generally on the sidebar, the top of the page, and/or the bottom of the page). When users click on these ads, you get a little bit of money. It's pretty simple.
There are a bunch of different companies that make it easy to place ads anywhere you want on your blog. They give you a little bit of code which you add to your site, and then they'll take care of the rest. The most popular ad network out there is Google Adsense, but there are tons of other options if you want to look around.
I'm sure you're wondering how much money you can make from advertisements. Once again, there's no way to give a confident answer, but I'll try to come up with a decent guess. To come up with these numbers, I used this Adsense calculator I found online. I'm going to assume that your blog gets 200,000 page views per month which sounds like a lot, but it's not as high as it seems (think about 10,000 regular readers visiting your site 10 times each month and visiting an average of 2 pages per visit). I'm assuming that you have an average click-through rate of 1.5%, and an average cost-per-click of 63 cents (which I got from this site).
With all those assumptions I just made, you'd be getting $1,890/month according to the Adsense calculator, or $22,680 per year. Not too shabby.
Another common way for bloggers to make money is to recommend products to their readers and make a commission off the sales. This can definitely lead to a conflict of interest, but as long as you're upfront with your readers about what you're doing, it can be a great way to make money while helping out your reads.
Here's an example of how this might work. The most popular affiliate program is Amazon Associates. You just post links on your blog to products on amazon, and anyone that buys the product through those links will earn you a small commission. You obviously don't just want to plaster random links all over your site, so you should fit it into your content in a natural way. Maybe every other week you could discuss a book you recently read. You don't need to actively encourage people to buy the book, but just link to it at the bottom of your post. If your readers are interested in reading it, they'll click that link to buy it and you'll make a little bit of money from Amazon. Everyone wins.
Again, estimating how much money you could make off this is tough, but here goes: Let's assume again that you have 10,000 regular readers (again, this sounds like a lot but it's nowhere near the readership of really popular blogs). Let's also assume that you write two posts about products each month (book reviews, product reviews, whatever) and that 1% of your readers end up buying whatever you mention for an average price of $20 per item. According to Amazon's commissions chart, you'd get 7% commissions on those sales for a total of $280/month or $3,360/year.
This strategy isn't as common, but it can be incredibly profitable if you have the right audience. The idea is that while many of your readers only casually follow your blog, some of them are really passionate about your content and they'd be willing to pay to read what you have to say. You can't put your entire blog behind a pay-wall because that would drive away the majority of your traffic, but you can offer additional content for a small fee to your hardcore fans.
So once again, let's say that you have 10,000 regular readers. If you're a great writer and do a good job engaging your audience (which we discussed in the last post), it seems reasonable that .5% of your readers (50 people) might be big fans of yours. So lets say that you offer premium content (maybe extra posts each week, videos, newsletters, whatever) for $10/month. With 50 premium subscribers, you'd be making $500/month or $6,000/year.
Selling other products
Whenever you have a huge audience, you have all kinds of opportunities. Assuming you earn their trust (and don't plan on taking advantage of them), you can make additional revenue in any number of ways. I'll give a specific example, but the main point of this section is that you should be creative.
One example of something you could sell is branded merchandise. It's easy to make t-shirts, mugs, and all kinds of other things online and sell them to your users. If you made t-shirts and sold them for a $10 profit to your hardcore fans, that's an extra $500 in your pocket.
Putting it all together
If you implemented all the ideas I just suggested (using my made-up numbers), you'd be making something like $32,000 each year. That's not a massive amount of money, but when you consider the convenience of being your own boss and deciding your own hours, it's pretty good. But the most exciting thing is that this is just the start. Other than writing the actual blog posts (which you'll obviously have to keep doing), everything I've mentioned is pretty much automated. Once you set up your ads, those will just work forever. If you post an affiliate link, that blog post will keep getting new traffic from search engines every day, and you'll keep seeing small profits from that. My point is that everything you're doing builds on itself, and you could end up making way more money than I estimated in this post.
You should also consider how much traffic you'll actually have. In this post I estimated 10,000 regular readers for a total of 200,000 hits per month, but think about what happens if you actually have that many readers. If you have 10,000 readers and you keep writing great content, what's to keep you from gaining even more readers? If you double to 20,000 readers per month, then all of a sudden you're making $64,000 per year.
Does 20,000 people seem like a lot? I just checked my favorite sports blog (deadspin.com), and they've already had over 185,000 hits to their posts just today, and that doesn't even count the people that viewed their home page or any of their older posts. I'd guess they're actually getting more like 500,000 hits per day. My point is that the ceiling is incredibly high with a scalable online business like blogging. Sure, with the numbers I gave you'd only be making a modest salary, but if you work hard get a little lucky, you could make much, much more.