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.
Every now and then I get the “make money online” questions from friends and family.
Some wish to start a blog and make some 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, etc.
I truly wish to help those I know accomplish this. But, I can only share so much during in-person gatherings or Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger.
Hence, I am writing this long article to share lessons I have learned as a problogger in the last 15 years.
Topics covered in this guide:
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 – as Google’s suggestions are based on how often the key phrases are searched.
So how much can you earn via blogging? To answer the question, let’s look around the Internet.
Lindsay and Bjork from Pinch of Yum made more than $85,000 in November 2016 in revenue (they have stopped sharing exact figures after).
Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income earned over $160,000 in December 2017.
Matthew Woodward made more than $25,000 in December 2017.
The key takeaways I got from these income report are:
This leads to the next question…
There are endless ways to make money from your blog.
Banner advertising. Affiliate sales. Creating and selling your own products. Sponsored reviews.
What is the best option?
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 analyzed how 23 bloggers make money blogging and concluded that selling your own products are, in overall, most profitable (see table below).
|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 and you don’t have a blog yet… you must be banging your head right now.
Why didn’t you start earlier?
Well, it’s still not too late to jump in.
Here’s my a step-by-step guide on how to create a blog here. Read that first and come back to this guide later.
I’ll wait! :)
Okay! 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, ” so the expert says.
That’s not entirely true – at least not from my experience.
Content is only 50% of the game, if not less.
Yes, as a blogger, it is our duty to create engaging content to keep our readers entertained.
But to make money in the long run, you must have two other key elements – a profitable niche and targeted web traffic.
Without any one of these elements, you will not generate much cash from your blog.
We will look at each of these two key elements now.
Here’s a story I 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 would purchase an inflatable boat online?
What’s worse, this product is a seasonal product and only sells during the summer, so I was further limited in my sales. The site averaged not more than two sales per year. It was not worth my time to build that site.
The lesson in this: No matter how well written your content or how beautiful your blog design is – if you fail to pick a profitable 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? Because that’s where the money is.
The same goes 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.
Here are a few tools you can use to find out if the advertisers are spending money (and more importantly, how much they are spending).
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, 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 pay-per-click (PPC) ads is via SpyFu.
Spyfu, originally GoogSpy, is a search analytics tool that shows the keywords that advertisers are buying on Google Adwords. I use it every time I need to research a niche in depth.
Images below are some examples I found using Spyfu Free Search. Each of these searches take less than 5 minutes to complete – and I can learned about the profitability of a niche by just looking at these stats. 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.
Real life example #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 Commission Junction (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.
Join public Facebook group – read users conversation to understand their problems and needs.
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.
How to make use of Facebook intel
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.
Why keyword research?
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.
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?
We will now move on to key factor #2: Targeted Traffic
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.
Before we dive into specific traffic tactics and strategies, let’s talk about the big overall strategy.
The most effective way to promote a blog is to focus on things that are already working for your blog.
To do this, you need to:
The right data
We know data is crucial to your blog growth.
If you don’t use the right web metrics to track progress and fine tune your site, then you may be taking two steps backward instead of one step forward.
Depending upon the nature of your niche and level of understanding, you might look at different types of statistical data.
At first look, Google Analytics report can be overwhelming. So many numbers! And you may not be familiar with some of the metrics or concepts.
But luckily, the truth is:
Go simple. Your objective is to build a better blog for your users, not spending hours after hours learning the technicalities behind Google Analytic numbers.
Here are the four Google Analytics numbers to track:
I discussed these metrics in details in my blog improvement guide so let’s skip that for now.
Suppose you now have the data on hand … what do you do?
Well you pour in more effort and money to tactics that work.
Real life example
(To see this number, login to Google Analytics Dashboard > Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.)
As you can see – Users are spending more time on some of these pages (underlined numbers) compare to my site average.
Longer time on page means:
Based on this data, I now have a number of pages gives the best engagement rates.
Questions I asked myself in this scenario:
The key is to focus on winners and make the best out of them.
Doing so might not give you an instant boost to your blog traffic. But as this snowballs – the magnitude would be bigger than many tactics.
Now that we are done with the overall strategy, it’s time to look into some specific blog traffic tactics.
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.
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 crowdsourcing post on Triberr marketing that I recently bumped into pulled in more than 1,000 tweets in a very short period.
Crowdsourcing posts with good results.
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:
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.
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.
If you can take away only three key points from this article:
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.