Article by Jerry Low
Geek dad, SEO data junkie, investor, and founder of Web Hosting Secret Revealed. Jerry has been building Internet assets and making money online since 2004. He loves mindless doodling and trying new food.
“Hey Low, how can I make money blogging like you?”
Every now and then I get the “make money online” questions from friends and family.
Some wish to earn a little side income online; others, to escape routine traffic jams to work, or to expand their business online, or to quit their 9-to-5 job, or… you get it.
I truly wish to help those I know accomplish this. But, I can only share so much during in-person gatherings or on Facebook Messenger or via Whatsapp.
Hence, I am writing this long article to share lessons I have learned in the past 11 years as an Internet marketer and professional blogger.
So are you ready? Let’s rock & roll!
If you search ‘make money blogging’ on Google, one of the relevant search results suggested by Google is “can you really make money blogging”. This shows there are many doubtful searchers who have no idea how much one can earn from a blog (Google’s suggestions are based on how often the key phrases are searched).
Lindsay and Bjork from Pinch of Yum made slightly more than $25,000 in April 2015.
In the same month, Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income made $86,371.99, Harsh Agrawal from Shout Me Loud made $11,796, Matthew Woodward made $26,283.41, Sharon from Digital Nomad Wanna Be made $3,334 while travelling around the world with her family; and you can find dozens more other bloggers who share their income online – from hundreds to ten of thousands of dollars monthly.
According to another study (see image on right), 14% of bloggers actually earn a salary through blogging and make about $2,000/month.
There are many ways to monetize your blog.
What is the best option?
Advertising, affiliating other people’s products, selling your own products, selling sponsored posts and the list goes on. Depending on what industry you are in and where your blog is at, there will be a better way to monetize your blog.
Gael Breton from Authority Hacker recently analyzed and crushed the numbers on how 23 bloggers make money blogging and came up with the following conclusion:
As you will see from the table below – while the incomes between most categories are quite comparable, the profit margins differ greatly.
|Business Model||Total Income||Total Expenses||Profit||Profit Margin|
|Ad Selling||$235,977||$135, 041||$100, 936||74%|
|Own Product Sales||$434,004||$113,767||$320,237||281%|
Services are generally hard to sell and therefore generate less revenue but the profit margin is excellent. A lot of top bloggers make a decent living blogging and selling services.
Ad selling generates a lot of income (2nd best) but because ad sellers need to produce a lot of content and sometimes acquire traffic, the profit margins shrink quickly.
Affiliate marketing is actually the most profitable monetization tactic, which makes it excellent for new bloggers who need to build an income quick. This site is mainly funded by affiliate income – and we managed to grow from a one-man-blog into a team of one editor, six active bloggers, and two social media marketers.
Own products sales generate the most revenue with great profit margins. The margins are slightly lower than affiliate marketing because of the costs associated with customer service, payment processing, etc., but the higher conversion rates make up for it and make this the #1 best source of income for bloggers.
If you read till this point, I bet many of you are pumped up and ready to jump in.
But where, and how, do you start?
To start making cash out of your blog, you will first need to… well? Own a blog. If you haven’t blogged already, starting a blog is extremely easy. Follow the following steps closely and you should have your blog ready in less than 30 minutes.
And your blog is ready to go. Easy as pie.
1. How to pick a profitable niche?
We will talk about this in a later part.
2. Where to register your domain?
NameCheap is slightly cheaper in most cases but GoDaddy is the biggest domain registrar in the world. I use both of them to manage and register my domains; both are okay in my opinion.
3. Which web hosting to go with?
For web hosting – if you are just starting out and want something cheap with okay quality – go with iPage. iPage is my #1 budget hosting pick, the host is cheap, pretty reliable (>99.9% most of the time); and has all the necessary features a newbie needs (detail review here).
4. How much does a blog cost?
A .com domain costs about $10 – $15 per annum. For iPage, first signup will cost you not more than $50/year. InMotion Hosting Power Plan cost $4.49/mo; SiteGround GrowBig costs$7.95/mo (both mid level shared hosting, 12 months subscription).
In short, starting a blog will set you back around $60 – $120 a year.
I do not recommend running your blog on a free platform like WordPress.com or Blogger.com. Don’t get me wrong – those platforms are okay if all you care about are writing your thoughts and sharing ideas (if this is you, also check out Medium.com).
But a free platform is never a good place to host your blog if you wish to make money. There are way too many limitations and disadvantages on a free platform.
For instance, Blogger.com does not allow its users to post non-Google ads. WordPress.com, on the other hand, does not allow image ads and imposes various limitations on sponsored posts and affiliate marketing.
So, now that your blog is ready and we are all set for the gold…
Some say content is king.
“Build good content; money and traffic will follow.”
Well, that’s not entirely true.
From my experience, content is only 50% of the game, if not less.
Yes. As bloggers, it is our duty to create engaging, informative and, perhaps, entertaining content.
But to make money, you must have two other key elements – a profitable niche and targeted web traffic. Without any one of these elements, your blog will not go far in generating cash.
Here’s a story I have shared in one of my guest posts at ProBlogger.net earlier.
Back when I first started my career as an Internet marketer, I made an affiliate site to sell inflatable boats. Can you imagine how many people might buy an inflatable boat online? You don’t need to be an expert to answer this – not many.
What’s worse, this product is a seasonal product and only sells during the summer, so I was further limited in my sales. That said, I did make some money from the site – averaging not more than two sales per year. My inflatable boat business didn’t even take off enough to launch it onto the small pond, much less a big pond.
The lesson in this – No matter how well written your content or how beautiful your blog design – if you fail to pick the right niche, you will fail converting your effort into money.
There are countless ways to find a profitable niche on the Internet. I will cover three methods that work best for me.
Why do most robbery cases happen in banks?
Simple. Because that’s where the money is.
The same theory applies to finding a profitable niche. We simply look for industries where advertisers are spending boatloads of money. It’s basic business sense. Advertisers would not invest that much money unless the ads are bringing back positive ROI.
Now this leads to our next question: How do we know if the advertisers are spending money? And, how much they are spending?
One quick way to find out is to search online – Google or Bing – to see if there are any advertisers in that niche. Generally speaking – if there are more than three advertisers competing for a key phrase – there is money to be made in that area.
You can then use Google Keyword Planner to guesstimate the average price of a click for that search term and predict how much you can earn per Google Adsense click*; and hence how much you can earn via selling ad space.
Note that there are no clear rules written but rough estimation (correct me if I’m wrong), Google pays 30 – 50% of cost per click to Adsense Publishers.
Another way to determine how much (and more importantly, where) advertisers are spending on PPC ads is via SpyFu.
Spyfu, originally GoogSpy, is a search analytics tool that shows the keywords that advertisers are buying on Google Adwords. It is the most accurate tool I’ve ever used. I use it every time I need to research a niche in depth.
The following images demonstrate how you can make use of Spyfu (free search). These niches were found when I was doing research for this article – each of these searches take less than 5 minutes to complete. There are more valuable details if we go beyond the free search but we will stick to the free edition for now. To do your own research, simply key in your competitors (or the big players in your shortlisted niche) domain into the search bar.
Niche #1 – $64,000/mo on Adwords
Niche #2 – $100,000/mo on Adwords
Niche #3 – $60,000/mo on Adwords
Niche #4 – $9,500/mo on Adwords
Niche #5 – $71,500/mo on Adwords
Niche 6 – $24,200/mo on Adwords
Another method I often use to judge the profitability of a niche is looking at the numbers at CJ.
Login to CJ.com and search for merchants in the niche you are studying.
You can use Network Earnings (the green bar) as a potential earning indicator.
See image below to understand how I interpret the numbers at CJ.
You can do a lot more than sharing travel photos and posting status updates on Facebook.
The world’s largest social media is actually a great tool to understand the new niche you are getting into. Learn more about your target audience, stalk your competitors, find an angle to tackle your niche, and so on.
I will demonstrate these functions using examples.
If you already have a Facebook page (you can create one before you start a blog, it’s free), the first place to look at is your fan base. Dive into some of these fans’ profile and pay attention to their demographics (male/female, locations, married/single/divorced, age, etc) and their interests.
For those who own a Facebook page, go to Insights > Overview > Pages to Watch. This is where you can find and compare similar pages suggested by Facebook. You can click on each link to find out popular posts published on these pages.
Say I am starting a blog about finding jobs, here’s what I will do to discover relevant websites and Facebook pages.
There is a lot you can do with the list of competitors and fans’ details you have on hand.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
I am sure you have heard about keyword research by now.
Or wait… you haven’t? Well I am not beating a dead horse again, so here’s a good read for the beginners.
Keyword research is usually performed in the beginning of an SEO campaign. Its objective, more often than not, is to identify frequent searched keywords (be it short or long tail) and set directions for the campaign.
But as most experienced marketers know – there is more to harness from this keyword data. With the right set of keywords, we can also understand the following better (and might as well spot new business opportunities):
Level of Competition
More searches = higher demand; more results returned in a search result page = higher supply.
Relevant Brands and Names
Examples: For cameras – Nikon, Canon, Sony; for honeymoon getaway – Bali, Maldives, Hawaii; for web hosting – iPage, BlueHost, Hostgator; for celebrities – Taylor Swift, Linkin Park, Bruno Mars.
Generally speaking, buying intention is higher when there are lots of searches on ‘widget review’, ‘widget model number and name’, ‘10 best widget brands’, ‘buy widget online’. In contrast, searches for ‘widget history’, ‘complain widget’, or ‘the making of widget’ are less likely converted into business transactions.
The more advertisers bidding on a particular search term, the higher commercial value is for that search term.
Back when I first started, many webmasters (note – back then ‘blogger’ was not yet a popular term) relied on a tool named “Overture” – where you can simply input a search term and the system will give you a rough figure of how often that term is searched, for free. We will then compare these numbers with the amount of results returned and judge the competitiveness (and profitability) of a niche.
Now that Overture no longer exists we can hardly get reliable keyword data for free.
In the following images, I will demonstrate how I use these tools to study a niche and interpret data obtained. This process could take a very short time (less than 30 minutes) or it could take days to complete. It depends on how big your keyword list is and how deep you wish to dive in to understand the business landscape.
Niche: Movie Posters
Movie posters have always been one of my favorite collectibles. I don’t really collect them but I appreciate the art and sentimental value in them. Let’s see if we could turn my interest into a profitable blogging idea. Note that I have not done any research before writing this guide – so I am as curious as you are right now.
First let’s take a look on Google Trends.
Google Keyword Planner
Next, we will go to Google Keyword Planner to get more ideas.
The first result page (see image below) shows that there are plenty of searches for vintage movie posters (41,900+ monthly searches), horror movie posters (5,600+ monthly searches), star wars movie posters, classic movie posters (3,400+ monthly searches), Hollywood movie posters (1,600+ monthly searches), and so on. Also, there is also a relatively high demand for information on creating your own movie posters (~22,000 monthly searches).
To go one step deeper, we can click on the keyword for more details. This is where we can understand searchers’ intention better. Pay attention to what type of information the searchers were looking for. Can we spot buying intentions in these searches (if our plan is to sell movie posters directly)? Also, these keyphrases can be our blogging topics.
To get an even broader view of our topic, let’s go to Ubersuggest for more keyword ideas.
Back to Google Search
What if we prefer not to sell physical products? You know – it is no fun handling inventories and logistics. Can we just blog and sell advertising space? To answer this question, let’s try some relevant searches on Google and see if we can spot any advertisers or any affiliate programs.
Also, you can take a closer look on the advertisers’ marketing approach – do they advertise on blogs on top of search ads? If so, what kind of blog? Can you sell ads directly to these merchants? To guesstimate the profitability of this topic, we can apply this keyword data to Spyfu to determine how much advertisers are spending.
To go deeper, we might want to dig into organic search results (site back links, onpage optimizations, social media shares, etc.) to see how difficult/easy it is to compete in terms of SEO.
Now that we have all the necessary market insights – it’s time to decide. Should we jump in? Is this a good niche? What would be a good angle to approach this niche? I’ll leave it to you to draw the conclusion.
One thing, however, I wish to make clear before we end this section – is about how you decide on a niche.
Quite a number of experts advise newbies to avoid steep SEO competition and pick a smaller playing field when choosing a niche.
“Be a big fish in a small pond”, they say.
I believe the exact opposite. You should try the big pond (target search terms with high demand and lots of big competitors) because that’s where the audience and money are.
Still with me?
To make decent money off your blog, you must pull in sufficient, targeted traffic.
Obtaining a targeted audience (and serving information they want) has always been the key to online success.
The more targeted traffic your blog gets, the more money you can make.
It is simple math.
Let’s say that you run a DIY blog and sell handcrafted art. Your blog’s average conversion rate is 3% and average conversion value is $25. On average, for every 100 visitors you will make 3 sales and make $75. If the number of targeted visitors goes up to 200, then theoretically there will be six sales and $150 profit down the road.
So how do you pull in targeted traffic for a new blog? This is where your web marketing skills kick in. Think search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), word of mouth, email marketing, and so on.
We have covered quite a lot on building blog traffic from both search engines and social media in the past. Below are some of the best you should read and bookmark.
Understand your audience
Social Media Marketing
Networking with other bloggers / Word of Mouth
Search Engine Optimization
To avoid repeating what has already been said (and to give you actionable tips to start right now), I am going to give you a quick list of specific tactics that work well for me.
Regardless of how Google bashes guest posting practices – this strategy works. Writing quality guest posts on others’ blogs simply is the most efficient way to reach targeted audience and build blog readership.
If you are new to guest posting, Lori wrote a detailed how-to guest post guide in the past, go check out.
The key to success, as I see it, is finding the right blogs – those with real readers and social media followers. You can use Topsy or Buzz Sumo to spot popular blogs and influencers in your industry. Or, you can simply take a closer look at the comment section to see if readers are interacting with the bloggers. Always keep in mind that you are blogging for real readers (hence the quality of your content is crucial). Forget about posting on blogs with high Google PR but zero readers – this practice simply doesn’t work anymore in 2015.
Real life examples
Here are some of my guest posts in the past.
Crowdsourcing posts is a good way to network with other bloggers in your niche and share each others’ social media followers attention.
I have gotten (and have seen many others getting) some good results via this strategy. This post written by Sue Anne Dunlevie (21 experts reveal their biggest risk that paid off), for example, garnered more than 500 social shares and 80 comments. Another crowdsourcing post on Triberr marketing that I recently bumped into (by Abrar Mohi Shafee) pulled in more than 1,000 tweets in a very short period.
Facebook is a cost efficient way (it goes as low as $0.06/web click in certain industries) to pull in new targeted visitors. The challenging part in Facebook advertising is that you need to test a lot (different ad versions, different countries, different interests, etc.) in order to succeed.
Promote your blog to sites that syndicate others’ content; self-promote, beg, bribe, or blackmail (okay, I am kidding) the editor to accept your blog feeds into their syndication.
Make new blogger friends and promote each other’s blogs online. I don’t particularly enjoy talking to strangers (honestly I am very bad at that).
However, my previous visit to WebSummit 2014 in Dublin brought me some new experience, and I have to agree it’s an effective way to promote a blog.
Leave constructive comments on others’ blogs (do not spam!). Write in a way that makes people want to find out more about you.
Here’s a great example of someone who has done it right.
Find relevant forums in your niche (Google search “keyword” + inurl:forum), post helpful content/replies, promote your site on signature links or drop links in your forum posts, but only when it’s appropriate.
Google+ community works pretty much the same as forum – the key to success is to give out lots of valuable info to community members in exchange for social media followings and blog traffics.
Everyone loves freebies. After all who doesn’t like getting something for free?
However, keep in mind that not all freebies are good on their own. You need to offer something in demand so you give the public a reason to talk and share your blog on social media. Remember the whole point of this is about getting traffic.
My core business at Web Hosting Secret Revealed (WHSR) is promoting hosting services. Rather than squeezing into the crowded Google SERP, I’ve found better odds targeting web designers who likely have use for my hosting advice. To land a seat with that audience, I’ve created loads of freebies.
Those loads of free icons? Yep – freebies targeted to my primary audience.
The free icons actually earned substantial attention from the blogosphere, bringing in new visitors and social followers. If you’re interested, these are just a few of the blogs that featured our free icons.
Social followers correlate directly with revenue.
Many bloggers wonder what metric to trust when it comes to growing their income. The guys at Authority Hacker correlated revenue with a bunch of metrics and nothing came closer than social Twitter followers. If you want to grow your revenue, focus on connecting with people on social media and engaging them with your content. That’s your best shot at improving your bottom line!
Growing your Twitter followers & traffic
A few quick tips in growing your followers and direct traffic from Twitter:
We are not done yet. Up to this point, you have learned –
Now is time for the last piece of our puzzle – how to monetize your blog visitors.
In this section, I will focus on three specific ways to monetize your blog traffic in long term.
That said, bear in mind that there are countless ways to make money online. If you look at Ashley Faulkes’ article, which he has covered more than 100 online business ideas; you’ll see that blogging is just part of the big picture. Questions to ask yourself, as per Ashley’s suggestions, are:
For those who need an income source quick – you might want to explore as many options as you can before taking our advice here.
Selling an ebook is a classic blog monetization technique.
Ebooks offer a ton of benefits:
Many experts started making a name for themselves with an ebook. Remit Sethi, founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich and one of the foremost experts in online business, sold his first ebook for $4.95.
It was titled “Ramit’s 2007 Guide to Kicking Ass.”
That ebook led to a New York Times Best Seller and 14 different premium products that made him into a very rich person — all completely online and primarily sold through his blog.
You’re done! Now promote it to your heart’s content.
If you’re already discussing and recommending products and services to your audience, why not make some money from the people you refer?
It doesn’t cost your readers anything, and you earn a commission whenever one of them buys the product.
Affiliate marketing can be a great source of income for little additional work. Check out these ideas for incorporating affiliate sales into your revenue:
1- Find Opportunities in Your Current Content
First, go through the articles you already published and look for products or services you’ve mentioned. Once you find them, simply go to each website and look for an “Affiliates” page.
Then follow the instructions to become an affiliate. Once you become one, you will usually get a unique tracking ID to place at the end of each URL.
When a visitor clicks on that URL with your ID and buys the product, you will earn money.
2- Find Opportunities in the Products/Services You Use
Make a list of every product and service you use. I use a lot of online software that relates to my business. These can be great opportunities for affiliate revenue.
Go to each product’s website and see if they have an affiliate page. If they do, sign up for the program.
Since you don’t have content for these yet, you will need to create some. Here’s what I suggest:
You’re teaching people useful free information and getting money in return.
3- Find Opportunities in the Product/Services You Want to Use
Want to use a certain product but can’t afford it? What if you could make your money back in a relatively short amount of time?
If the product has an affiliate program, this is a real possibility.
First, make a list of the products/services you want to use. Then go to their websites and see if they have an affiliate program.
If they do, buy the product and sign up. Then use it, create a case study/tutorial, and promote the post to your audience like you did before.
These posts can stay active for a long time, bringing you passive income for the life of each article.
4- Promote affiliate products in an email autoresponder
An email autoresponder is an automated sequence of emails that gets sent to people when they subscribe to your email list.
Here are my two favorite services:
Both of them allow you to set up an autoresponder.
Just like promoting affiliate products on your blog, promoting these products in an email autoresponder can generate passive income for you.
You can either promote them directly in the emails or create blog post tutorials and promote those. Either way, there’s opportunity to cash in.
Here’s what I suggest with your autoresponder:
Job boards match job seekers with employers. They can offer full time gigs, part time, or contractual work.
For example, Problogger job board matches bloggers with companies looking to hire someone to create content for them.
If you’ve got authority in your space and you can match job seekers with employers, you can host a job board and make money each time an employer wants to post a job opening.
You can also charge job seekers for access to the board.
Note: This part (ways to monetize) is part of Michael Karp’s (WHSR blogger) article published in November 2015. It was edited and added to this article on Jan 18, 2016.
If I can only give you only three key takeaways, that would be:
I have shared more than a dozen personal make money blogging tactics, tips, and ideas in this post. I would be very, very happy if this inspires some of you to take the next step and start monetizing your blog using the mentioned strategies.
Here’s one last reminder before I end this post: Results comes from action.
Many who came to me in the past had sufficient resources (skills, knowledge, time) to start a blog and make money. But they failed – because they also had more excuses to delay their plans and wait for the stars to align.
I can only show you the way and remove a few obstacles along the way. To succeed, you will need to walk the road yourself.
Do you have a plan after reading this? What’s your next course of action to start monetizing your blog? Please share with me in the comment section below. I am eager to hear about it and would like to help as much as I can.
Credit: Chart and texts on “What are the best ways to make money from your blog” and “Social followers correlate directly with Revenue” by Gael Breton.