What Does Success Mean For A Blogger? Income… Or Being Famous?

I want to talk a little bit about what success actually means for a blogger. Now, this is an item that can generate some debate and, in fact, what brought it to mind for me was actually a question that Deborah Ng (she’s the community director for the New Media Expo) actually brought up on…

I want to talk a little bit about what success actually means for a blogger.

Now, this is an item that can generate some debate and, in fact, what brought it to mind for me was actually a question that Deborah Ng (she’s the community director for the New Media Expo) actually brought up on her personal Facebook profile. And she started off by basically saying that,

I’ve been thinking a lot about some successful bloggers I know lately. They have big names but the income they bring in from blogging isn’t very much. Many of them talk about how successful they are but they have to seek out sponsors to go to conferences or sometimes just to pay for web hosting.

And she goes on from there… and it’s a very valid point. There’s way too many people out there who were talking about how successful they are or allowing people to assume that they really know what they’re doing in terms of blogging success but yet they can’t seem to pay for just basic necessities or they get a day job.

And this leads to the whole question of… exactly how successful are you REALLY or are you just “acting”?

Fake Success

Now, there is a whole thing out there about “fake success” and there are a lot of people who do this. They portray themselves as successful and yet they hardly make any real money from their websites. These kind of people tend to be more like social media butterflies, but they’re really broke! They get lots of Twitter followers, they might get a number of comments, or they’re quite out there on the social media scenes so people think they’re a big deal.

One of the big things about this is that often, people from the outside will look at people like that and they will assume – just because they’re so prevalent on the internet that they’re automatically successful. That’s not necessarily the case. Maybe they’re just really good at being loud and saying lots of things. It doesn’t necessarily mean this is leading to anything that actually has an impact on their real life. So don’t necessarily jump to those conclusions.

You also have people who come off as successful but yet, in real life, they’re an employee because they literally are just being paid to write posts for somebody else. So, yes…they are technically making money as a blogger, but essentially they’re an employee.

So, I don’t look at it necessarily the same way. I don’t take anything away from them.

BS Metric That Bloggers Use

Now, there are a lot of BS metrics that a lot of bloggers look at. They tend to look at the wrong things. They look at vanity metrics and they’re thinking, “OK, this is what’s important”. So they really overly concern themselves with things like how many comments they get, how many Twitter followers they have or how many Facebook fans they’ve got. And these are vanity metrics. They might make you feel warm and fuzzy and if your main goal is just to become famous, then knock yourself out.

Here’s the truth about it…

How many comments you get on your site does not translate into anything valuable. I can tell you from personal experience. If you go to my tech site right now at PCMech.com and you look at the average comment count on a post, it looks pretty low. That’s because the tech audience doesn’t really comment a whole lot. They tend to be used to a one way flow of content. However, that site makes pretty decent coin. So it just proves right there that the number of comments does not equal anything that actually translates in the real world success. It is just vanity metric.

Same with the number of Twitter followers. People can go out there and employ all kinds of various tactics to get thousands and thousands of Twitter followers but it doesn’t mean anything. They could be using a bot to go collect those things. They could be hiring somebody on Fiverr to go rack up a bunch of Facebook fans for them.

So, it really doesn’t matter how many of these vanity metrics they’ve got and how great they look – it doesn’t mean that they’re actually successful.

The REAL Important Metrics

Now when it comes to REAL important metrics – or important in the real scheme of things – I think it comes down to:

  • SALES.

These are probably the two most important metrics that you can look at in your business.  As far as I’m concerned, if we’re talking about true success for a blogger, these are the two big things.

I don’t have any exact statistics in front of me right now, but if you look at the average blogger out there and how big their email list is – it’s really low. There’s a lot of bloggers out there that are not even collecting emails. I bet you the average is pretty close to zero. So, how successful are they, really? How much leverage have they really built? Not a hell of a lot.

And when it comes to SALES, it’s usually really low. The average income of a blogger is extremely, extremely low. Most people make zero at it. Then you get other people out there who might be making 500 bucks a month or even a thousand dollars a month and they’re thinking they’ve made it to big time because, as a percentage basis, actually making a thousand dollars a month as a blogger is pretty high. You’re actually in the upper echelon of income for bloggers. Sadly enough. But yet, in the real world, we know that you can’t even get close to living on only a thousand dollars a month.

So those people who make truly full-time income at this stuff, they’re truly in the upper upper, upper one tenth of a percent echelon in terms of income made by blogging. I look at that as the measure of true success, not the people who are making 500 to a thousand.

All this to say that being Twitter famous doesn’t mean anything. It’s not truly success.

Obviously, for some people, income is not necessarily their goal here. Blogging is just a hobby for them and success is defined differently for that kind of person. So, I definitely don’t want to take anything away from anybody who’s blogging for fun. But if business is the goal then we need to concentrate on the right things here. Lots of fame doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re successful. It doesn’t mean anything at all. Some of the most “famous” people I’ve seen in social media  have day jobs because they can’t afford to make ends meet otherwise.

Real Business

Now when it comes to real business, this is what truly makes success.

Most bloggers do not run businesses. They run blogs. And that’s really what is comes down to.

A blog is not a business. A business is not a blog. In order to really make money, you have to run a business.

What does a business do? A business creates success by creating products and providing services. And a business is what is going to create success and allow bloggers to make real money.

So if you’re not putting effort into creating products to sell, providing services to people, and basically running a real business and using the blog as a marketing vehicle for it – I don’t see how you’re ever going to find that true success.

As we wrap this up, I just want to make the point that Twitter followers and comments DOES NOT a business make. You cannot get those things and concentrate on those types of metrics and think that you’re creating a business for yourself. You’re not. All you’re doing is creating a lot of talking back and forth. You’re not providing anything of value to the world and you’re not getting paid for it.

So, at the end of the day, we need to keep those things in perspective. And if you are a true success as a blogger, concentrate on creating products to sell and providing services to people who need them.



  1. I am two months into blogging and have made a couple hundred dollars. I don’t really look at it as a business, but rather a way to get more traffic and drive sales. Success for me is First, helping people; Second, website sales; Third, affiliate links.

    1. Nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind, if you are looking at it as a way to drive sales, then it IS a business. 🙂 Sales are merely a statistic which measures what volume you’re helping people.

  2. Dear Mr. Risley, may i ask how memoir type blogs fare? My blog is an account of child abuse. No prurient details. Right now I am overrun with parasitic hits like vampirestats. Am a beginner. Marie

  3. Thanks David for your comment, and clearly articulating what metrics we should be keeping an eye on. I recently started my blog, so I know I should be focusing on building my e-mail list in the beginning, and making sure I provide valuable content. I’m not sure of what products to create just, but I understand it should be based on solving a problem or need. How do I find out the needs of my audience, when I’m just starting to build an audience?

  4. This post made me feel so much better! I had no idea that so many bloggers are not making a living. I just assumed everyone was making 3 times what I am. I look at other blogs with more Facebook fans than me and get depressed. I keep thinking what am I doing wrong? Why am not more “successful” which for me, I just realized, means how known or famous I am. But at the end of the day, I am making 70k a year from my blog, which I absolutely run like a business, so really I shouldn’t be upset. But I have also recently realized that I have been determining my personal “self worth” based on how many fans I have, irregardless of income. I think I am only as loveable as the amount of likes I got on my last status update. I know this needs to change and I am on it.

    1. Trust me, if you’re generating $70K from your blog, you’re in the upper crust of blogging (in terms of income made from it). So, you should feel good about that. 🙂

    2. Stephine,

      I was just on your site and I did not see your opt in to build your list. I then went back to the page and looked again. I found it after searching really hard for it. It is all in text.

      I personally think that you may be missing a large number of people that might want to follow you without and “traditional opt in” box. By having an opt in box, I think that may help increase your 70K per year..



  5. I think you make some valid points about having products and services to sell but I think there are still plenty of blogs out there successful for reasons other than sales and email subscribers but instead for – pageviews.

    I just randomly came across a website while browsing called celebrity networth and compete shows 500k+ page views per month (and they always avg low)

    That’s a blog without a product or service making money (likley mid six figures) strictly on sheer page views.

    Having a product or service to sell is just one way to make money (and a very effective one for blogs with less page views). In any case I think it all just comes down to niche. A blog like the example above probably has a list but makes most of its money from display advertising.

    1. This is true. But, 2 points I’ll make…

      (1) As you know, most bloggers are not running celeb blogs with half a million page views. 🙂
      (2) I would argue that that blog DOES have a product. Its called advertising. 🙂 And, they’re product is to put eyeballs on other people’s sites (i.e. advertisers). If they’re not producing that value to their client, those page views won’t matter. Where a lot of bloggers go wrong with ads is that they just put the ad code on the site, cross their fingers, and hope. And just let the mere presence of traffic do the earning. But, to really make advertising work, you have to still treat it like a product, actively market it, and deliver a result to the advertiser.

      So, I’d argue we’re saying the same thing here. 🙂

  6. You know it’s interesting that you bring this up. I had a bit of an epiphany a few weeks ago as I was reading something from a popular interviewer and blogger. He mentioned that he lives at home, (I assume he means with his parents), so he can afford to do other things with his life and business. That struck me because I always thought that he was much more successful based on his professional website and business. Don’t get me wrong, I like his stuff and feel that he’s very talented at interviewing, and I also don’t believe that he’s trying to fool anyone…but it struck me. I don’t know if I’d consider living with your parents being successful. It’s not the kind of success I’m looking for with a family to provide for. I guess this online life / business / success is more fleeting than a lot of people know. We all have our different views of success. It gives one a lot to think about.

    1. So much of it comes down to mindset. I talk a lot about this on this site, and I can only hope it sinks in with enough people to make a difference.

      Anybody who tries to make money by thinking like a typical blogger… will probably not make much money to speak of. As I said, businesses make money. And, the thing is, most bloggers don’t make that leap of logic. They get so entrenched into the “online” way of thinking that they forget they have to provide something valuable (product or service) to get paid for.

      This was one of my reasons for the name change on this site. A blog is a form of marketing – hence “blog marketing” academy. So, that person who just blogs and interviews people… all well and good, but what is he selling? If all he is doing is pumping more “content” into a sea already rife with “content”, then he’s not really producing much value. Which is why he’s living with his parents.

  7. What does a business do? A business creates success by creating products and providing services. And a business is what is going to create success and allow bloggers to make real money.

    True success: Making people successful. Giving people the tools, the products, the services, THE VALUE. We are all business people, with the eye to the bottom line. But success that gives value is the best success.

  8. I completely agree about your real important metrics, and I’ve also noted that virtually all of my sales come from my e-mail list… NOT from people who are FB fans or Twitter followers (but not yet email subscribers). I view FB and Twitter as “outposts” whose goal is to get people back to my main site where they can become e-mail subscribers.

    One thing I’d love to see are some benchmark numbers for:
    – Conversion rates from unique visitors –> email subscribers
    – Conversion rates from email subscribers –> customers

    …so that I can evaluate my own numbers and see where I need to improve. Everyone always talks about how much $$ they made with a launch, but I seldom see people giving their actual conversion rate numbers… not as sexy as income reports, I guess!

    Also, I’m always interested in ratios of free to paid content (or how to distinguish between types of free/paid content so that your free stuff is insanely valuable, yet your paid products are so much MORE valuable that people will be willing to pay)… or alternatively, of free content e-mails to promotional e-mails. I’ve heard 3:1 recommended. What do you think?

    1. This post might help a little:

      The big thing is that “value” of a piece of content is all in the eyes of the beholder. Who says one thing is more valuable than another? Its usually a bullcrap comparison. And, in a content-rich world where people can pretty much find what they want, I would argue that content alone isn’t worth much at all.

      So, I wouldn’t worry about any artificial delineation. Just give awesome stuff on both sides of the pay-wall, and then realize that the real VALUE that people are paying for isn’t just more content, but often simplicity, clarify, and service – things not often found on an open, public blog.

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