A friend asked how he could make money from his blog. With the caveat that I don’t make money directly from my blog, or try to (more about that later), I have some advice to share. Bloggers can pursue multiple options to generate revenue:
One way is to sell ads yourself. This requires time and skill that many bloggers don’t have. You would need to figure out what to charge for ads, identify potential advertisers, make the pitch, service the account and bill the customer (or arrange for handling credit cards). Journalists who blog might also feel that selling ads would present ethical challenges, either for the blog itself or with their day jobs.
However, the advantage of selling ads yourself is that you can target specific advertisers interested in the niche audience of your blog, which might bring you a higher ad rate if you are selling ads based on how many thousand impressions you serve (a rate called CPM, short for cost per mille, or thousand). You also could seek to sell sponsorships at a flat rate.
Some outstanding hyperlocal bloggers such as Howard Owens at The Batavian and Scott Brodbeck at ARLnow manage this challenge of producing content and selling ads well enough that they have made blogging their full-time pursuits. For part-time bloggers, taking on the challenge of selling ads on top of producing content can be daunting.
If you would prefer to concentrate on producing content and have someone else sell your ads, join an ad network. Jim Romenesko wrote last week that his new blog is going to use BlogAds. Google’s AdSense is the best-known ad network. Federated Media, adBrite and Technorati Media are some others. Some may have criteria you need to meet to join.
Ad networks tend to bring you lower rates than you might be able to get yourself (after all, they have to pay commission and overheads), but some let you set your rates (which doesn’t guarantee that they will sell at the rate you set). If you join a network that serves your niche or that bundles blogs with similar topics, you will be more likely to get higher rates.
Consider carefully whether you’re ready to sell at “remnant” rates, which can be tacky, distracting ads that yield you very little and may degrade the value of your site to visitors and to other advertisers.
We were hoping to build a successful model for a local blog network at TBD, and I think we would have succeeded if Allbritton Communications had stayed with the original plan. I expect and hope that eventually Digital First Media’s local Community Media Labs will include an advertising feature.
Another possible revenue source would be to line up a service that will provide you a mobile site and sell mobile ads for you. Verve Wireless does this.
Daily deals services contract with bloggers to advertise deals on their sites. Groupon and Living Social are the two biggest players in the daily deals field, but smaller players such as DealGarden are also competing for daily deals.
However, you should investigate daily deals opportunities closely. At the Street Fight Summit in New York last month, hyperlocal publishers said enthusiasm over deals is waning.
Innovative ad tools
I am interested in the possibilities offered by ad services developing new tools and new approaches to advertising. You might explore whether your blog would be a good fit for services such as NowSpots, Addiply or AdYapper. (What other innovative advertising services am I missing?).
You might be able to make some money syndicating individual blog posts or all of your content to a newspaper, website or other publisher. In essence, you combine your blogging with freelance writing (and/or photography and/or video, depending on what type(s) of blog content you produce). Ask the other publishers to include a link to your blog.
Self-publish content as a book
If your blog content might sell as a book, consider self-publishing a book (either a hard-copy book or an e-book), which might generate revenue as well as helping build your brand and boost traffic for the blog. If you’re self-publishing, promotion of the book is all up to you, and this approach is going to be more successful if you promote aggressively and effectively.
Online retailers pay blogs for steering customers their way. If you blog about books or movies (or topics that are popular subjects of books or movies), Amazon affiliate marketing might be a good fit.
Boost your traffic
Whatever approach you take on advertising, your success is going to rest in attracting strong traffic to your blog. Let’s say that you’re able to get a CPM of $10 for your most prominent ad and another $10 for a couple of secondary ads. That would give you a CPM of $20 for each page view on the site (an optimistic scenario, by the way; don’t project that kind of rate until you demonstrate you can get it). My blog had record traffic of more than 18,000 page views last month. So at that rate, I’d gross $360 in ads. If you can double that traffic, that’s $720 in ads. Update: Underscoring my statement that a CPM of $20 for a page with multiple ads is optimistic, this comScore piece places the average CPM for online ads at $2.52.
To boost your blog traffic, you need to practice effective search-engine optimization and promote your blog effectively through social media. You might on occasion contribute a free guest post to a more prominent blog that will link to yours, so the exposure can bring you increased traffic.
Consider other revenue sources
I am sure I have not covered all the possible revenue sources a blogger might pursue. I blogged earlier this year on varied revenue sources that newspaper organizations should consider. Bloggers might be able to develop some of those sources, too, as well as some I haven’t thought of. If your blog is using other sources, please note them in the comments here.
Build your brand
I should disclose here that I haven’t used any of these means myself. My blog contains no advertising and no sales opportunities. When people have wanted to republish some of my content, I have provided it at no charge. But I regard my blog as a huge financial success. My jobs with TBD and Journal Register Co. came at least in part because of the international reputation I developed, based in part on the blog. I am quite sure that I make a better living because of my blog than I would if I didn’t blog. So, if your blog helps you build your brand, understand that the payoff may be indirect.
Another disclosure: I have not worked personally with any of the services mentioned here, and I am not endorsing them. I encourage anyone considering such a service to do some research and read user reviews to determine which services are most reliable and which are the best fits for your blog. If you have experience with these services, or know of any that I have omitted, please share your knowledge in the comments here. And please correct if I have oversimplified or misstated how some of these services work. My depth of understanding in these areas varies. Some of these services may accept blogs only if they have a certain level of traffic.
Update: Jonah Kessel has some great advice for photojournalists on branding and doing business. Much of his advice will apply to bloggers in general.