An overview of the top 10 blog monetization strategies, ranked in their order of what works. Updated for 2016.
This post was first created in 2009, but has recently been radically expanded and updated for 2016.
You want to make money with your blogging efforts. But, how? Which method is the best one?
I have now been teaching blog monetization for about 7 years – and in that time things have shifted around. While many people still desperately cling to the lowest hanging fruit of monetization methods, the ones that work best are the ones that take more work.
Because, there are certain truths that we must admit here about our blogs. They are:
- A blog is not a business. It is merely a promotional mechanism.
- A blog doesn’t make money. A business does.
So, making money with your blog isn’t a matter of choosing some “technique”. Really, it is a matter of setting up what amounts to a real business, where the blog is designed to attract your ideal customer and send them straight into your money-making machine.
Still Not Sure About Your Niche?
In order to make most of these monetization strategies work, you need to have a market to serve. Many bloggers are still rather unsure about their niche… or whether the idea they have has legs.
I’ve developed a short exercise which may provide some insight. Grab the Niche Profit Finder to get it sent to you…
1. Membership Site
I said above that a blog is not a business. Yet, there is one online business model that really does turn your blog into a business and its own virtual storefront. That’s the membership site.
Now, a membership site can take on a lot of different forms. Many people reactively think that it means a recurring monthly program. That’s one model of it, to be sure. You don’t have to be a recurring membership site, however the revenue can add up pretty nicely. Case in point, let’s look at the numbers of a mythical membership site. This site has the following numbers:
- It costs $20/month.
- It has 5% member churn (which means that, every month, about 5% of the members cancel)
If you enroll just 20 new members monthly (that would be roughly 1 member every 1.5 days), then here’s a rough schedule of your projected income in the first 12 months:
One sale every day and a half of $20, yet it compounds up to the point where you’re generating $3,665.74/month by the end of the first year. And it would just keep on going.
So, think about it. A blog is an informational resource. People are there for information and you are already creating content for that platform. Wouldn’t it be a natural extension of the blog if you also had premium-level content available for people to purchase right on your site? They could buy it on a per-page basis, on a bundle basis, or a full-on membership level where you charge them monthly, annually or otherwise.
Especially if you’re using a membership platform such as MemberMouse (which is what I personally use and recommend), you will have full order processing capability built right into your blog. If you’re using a payment processor which supports it, you also have 1-click buying capability. This means that once somebody has bought anything on your site, they can buy followup things with a couple of clicks instead of repeating the whole checkout process.
Your content for a membership site can range from a full multi-module course, to single training videos, or even a content upgrade (where members will receive special bonuses on your blog posts, whereas everybody else will see an option to sign up for membership).
The membership site is, by far, my favorite strategy for a blog. The options are endless. And it can truly turn your blog into a revenue factory for you.
Some Additional Reading:
- Want To Sell Digital Products? 6 Reasons Why You Need To Turn Your Blog Into A Membership Site
- All articles about membership sites
- The Membership Site Blueprint
2. Information Products (Of Your Own)
While a membership site is really a platform for selling a digital information product, we must allow for other formats. For instance, some people prefer to sell e-books. Some people prefer to sell their digital products using third-party marketplaces such as Clickbank, JVZoo, E-Junkie, GumRoad or others. All of this is valid.
In the end, the sale of knowledge and online education is huge business. There are big changes afoot in the world of education as we shift away from total reliance on colleges and universities and embrace a growing online cottage industry of on-demand, specialized education. If you have knowledge that other people want, you can participate.
Sites like Udemy give course creators a platform to distribute and sell their own online courses. You would need to use your blog to promote those courses, as you might expect. With Udemy, you need to be very aware of the limitations they place on you, however. You can make money with Udemy, but you need to be strategic in how you use them because many of their rules are not in your favor.
Some Additional Reading:
The sale of information is the most attractive option to make money with your blog, but let’s not discount the sale of services. It might not be as sexy in this world where everybody talks about “passive income” and the horrors of “trading time for money”. But, let’s be clear…
Offering services is often the fastest and most direct way to make money with your blog.
The reason is simple: No lag time. If you have the expertise, you can have the idea for a service and essentially be up and running for business within the day. Plus, you can charge higher prices for services or consulting than you can a digital course. Selling a “done for you” service can be quite lucrative.
The whole idea here would be to use your blog as a place to establish your credibility and expertise. You can usually give away much of your best stuff for free for the do-it-yourself crowd because most people still won’t want to actually do it themselves. They can just hire you. 🙂
Bonus points: Combine the sale of services with the sale of information per above. Your blog has a lot of revenue potential this way.
Some Additional Reading:
4. Physical Product Sales/ SAAS
We’ve talked about information/training products and services, but let’s not dismiss the sale of “real world” products. This could include digital products such as software, SAAS (software as a service), or even physical ecommerce.
Software as a service (or SAAS) is an incredibly great business model. You solve a problem for some niche of people using a custom software program (usually web-based) and you sell it to them. If you can bill for it using a recurring model, then you have a built-in revenue stream. And in many ways, it is better than a membership training site because software has the inherent promise of instant results whereas training requires upfront work before you get the result. I personally know several old-time bloggers who have evolved over the years into SAAS and now have six and seven figure businesses.
We also can’t forget ecommerce, where the purpose is to sell “real world” goods that get shipped to people. This is certainly not my area of expertise, but it is a multi-billion dollar business.
Now, on the surface, these models might not seem to have much to do with a blog. But, when we began, I said that a blog is not a business. It is a promotional medium. This means that a blog can make an AWESOME platform to promote either a SAAS business or even an ecommerce business. In the end, we always must approach monetization from the perspective of solving people’s problems. If that solution comes in the form of software or a physical product, so be it. Either way, the blog is a powerful way to get the word out, and the options that gives you even if using paid advertising are through the roof.
5. Affiliate Programs
Affiliate marketing is a great way to build up your income. People buy a product via your personal affiliate link and you earn a commission. It is attractive to many people because:
- You don’t have to make the product yourself.
- No fulfillment or support issues to deal with.
- You see other big-name bloggers doing it and it seems easy.
But, let’s be clear, relying on affiliate marketing as your business model isn’t all fun and games. It can be a lot harder than it looks. You have very little control over the sales process itself. Plus, in some markets, there is just a severe shortage of decent products that you can promote, feel good about, and still make a decent commission.
This is why I say that any form of direct sale of your own offer (which includes strategies 1-4 above) is preferable to affiliate marketing. I personally prefer to use affiliate marketing as a profit maximizer for my business. I make money this way, but it isn’t the core of my business.
In fact, I would go so far as to say you really don’t HAVE a business if you rely on affiliate marketing. A real business sells solutions to people, not simply acts as a middleman.
Your best bet to be successful with affiliate marketing is to treat anything you promote as if it were your own product. Never promote something only for the commission, but only do so if it represents a REAL solution that enables the transformation you deliver. Your blog should be based around enabling somebody to make a shift from some “before state” to a new “after state”, in context of whatever you do.
You look for the typical barriers that will come up during this transformation and you find those products that best get them where they want to go. And you provide helpful content to enable that transformation, with the product you’re promoting being a means to that end.
6. Speaking Gigs
If you become well known as an expert in your niche, you can turn that into speaking gigs which you get paid for. The purpose of your blog is to position yourself as an expert and gifted communicator, but then your target customer will be event organizers.
This option isn’t for everybody since many people aren’t great speakers and/or wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this kind of thing. That said, speaking can be potentially lucrative and it is still an offer which you are providing directly.
The “trick” here is to keep in mind who your real customer is. Your customer, in this case, is the event organizer. That person wants to have solid content for their event and they want butts in the seats. The best speakers, for them, will be the ones who are good speakers and can help fill the seats. So, you should be spending your time branding yourself online, building your own distribution assets (your blog, your social channels, your email list). Maybe even have a book in your name. And, you should have a page on your site which sells you as a speaker. Show a speaking reel of yourself speaking at other events, testimonials from other event organizers. YOU are the product here. Sell it.
7. Banner Advertising
The good ol’ banner ad. Everybody hates it. People block it. Yet, bloggers like to rely on it as the one-trick pony to monetize their blog.
Banner advertising ranks lower in the list here despite its popularity. This is because, for most, it simply doesn’t result in much revenue. For banner ads to turn into a solid revenue source, you need a LOT of traffic. Traffic that, if you had monetized it in a more direct way, you would have been making more money much sooner.
The reason for this is because banner advertising is in direct violation of some of our own goals as blog owners. We do all this work to attract traffic to our blogs, only to send them away again through a banner ad. Usually only to earn a few cents in return.
Plus, you’re not adding any VALUE. Most of the times, the ads being shown are for competing products. They compete for your visitor’s attention when they should have their attention on YOUR stuff. They provide no value (nobody ever said they were happy to see a banner ad). Many people block them or simply tune them out. And because advertisers know this, they sometimes resort to flashier ads that just assault your eyeballs.
Relying on banner ads would be like building up a whole storefront in your local city, only to tell anybody who walks in that they should leave and go visit Moe’s down the street. Just makes little sense.
All that said, banner ads can be a revenue generator. I’ve certainly done it (in my prior business in the tech niche). But, I think it should only be used heavily if you’re in a niche which has few other options. Some markets don’t lend themselves to a transformation (see the graphic above). Examples are markets like politics, celebrity, news, opinion. These kinds of markets mean you usually have to fall back on advertising as your monetization strategy.
For some more tips on selling more ads, check out this monetization case study of the Lipgloss and Crayons “mommy blog”, where ads are a pretty big part of what she does.
8. Paid Posts
Paid posts or paid reviews can generate some cash flow. You see it fairly often in markets where there is a lot of reading and community, where people buy stuff, but where there isn’t a clear transformation. For instance, the “mommy blog” market does this alot.
The truth is that blogs are a powerful branding tool. And in some markets (like moms), there are large brands created by women who simply don’t sell anything, yet they have a fair amount of influence. So, for companies who want to promote themselves, it makes a lot of sense to approach these bloggers and strike a deal to get them to talk.
This strategy ranks rather low on our list because it doesn’t work for most people. Plus, it has a bit of an “icky” factor to it (at least to me), however that is easily dealt with if you fully disclose the fact it was compensated (which is legally required anyway).
If you’re going to sell paid posts, my advice is to look at it more as a package deal. Consider your social channels, your email list and your blog. Set up bundles which provide the advertiser varying levels of exposure. Essentially, this is paid advertising, but you’re the direct provider. And depending on your level of influence, you can charge hefty fees for this.
But, always bear in mind, my advice is to always look for opportunity for direct solutions for your readers first (see options #1 and #2 above). I’ve seen many mommy bloggers who shy away from sales because they’re afraid to be seen as “salesy”, yet they’ll resort to shilling for other companies in a paid post. Seems… ironic. 😉
9. Build It & Sell It (aka Flipping)
You can build up a blog, build an audience, then turn around and sell the thing. In fact, some people actually buy blogs which are dead or are vastly underutilized by their owners. They’ll then put their marketing skills to work, build the SEO backlinks, build the readership. Then, they turn around and sell it at a profit. It can work.
If you’re going to do this and add real value in the process, then I would focus more on possibly acquiring blogs which have traffic, but yet it is clear the owner doesn’t have the time for it. They probably have a little guilt associated with not maintaining that site. They also likely never thought they could sell it and make any money. So, you can approach them and offer to buy it and say you’ll run it and provide a lot of value to the community. From their perspective, it can be a win-win. You then work your magic, build the site into a more effective marketing platform and then turn around and sell it to somebody else. You’re providing real value, enhancing a property people like, and profiting in the process.
What I wouldn’t recommend is simply starting up a brand new site, populating it with a few things, then trying to turn around and sell it as a site with “huge potential”. I’ve seen this crap many times. The blog has no traffic, and only a naive newbie would buy that from you. Installing WordPress on a domain provides no value.
10. Job Boards, Classified
Definitely at the bottom of the list, but it still works in some setups. When you have a thriving community in a good target market, sometimes you can provide value by way of a job board or an ad board for members. Keep in mind, however, that most of this kind of thing can be done for free elsewhere, so you REALLY need to nail down the real value of this before attempting it.
This is one of those strategies that used to have legs, but as we sit here in 2016, sits squarely at the bottom of our list for a reason.
So, What Next?
If I had to guess, you arrived at this post because you’re at the very beginning of thinking about making money with your blog. You’re trying to figure out the best way forward.
It can seem complicated. Even overwhelming. But, it honestly isn’t. It simply comes down to understanding the true purpose of the blog and then utilizing the right blueprint to build up what you intend to build.
If you want to take your knowledge of blog monetization to the next level and do it for free, I invite you to join me on my free training class. I call it the Blog Monetization Webinar. It is completely free. Yes, I will present you with an opportunity to join me for some additional premium training here at the Academy (at an exclusive, special price)… but that is always completely optional and I promise you’ll get real value from this training whether you decide to join us or not. So, pick the slot which works best for you.
If you see that all this is good and all, but you’re still trying to figure out that basic issue – your niche – this may help: