How to make money as a blogger
Very few writers make a living on the Web. But for those who can build an audience and appeal to advertisers, blogging helps pay the bills.
For a while, it looked like blogging might be everyone's answer to the question: How can I become rich while working at home and focusing on a topic I enjoy?
As Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press wrote in 2003, "The online diaries known as Weblogs or 'blogs' seemed like a lot of inconsequential chatter when they surfaced a few years ago. But . . . what once seemed like a passing fancy has morphed into a cutting-edge phenomenon that may provide the platform for the Internet's next wave of innovation and moneymaking opportunities."
In the years since, some blogs have been sold to companies for millions of dollars -- but most haven't. According to the Nielson Company, there were 181 million blogs at the end of 2011, which begins to explain why the country isn't full of multimillionaire bloggers.
"Bloggers usually underestimate how hard it is to make money from blogging because there are so many blogs out there ... They assume that just by putting the blog up, it will be enough. Kind of like the 'if you build it they will come' mentality. That's not likely to happen to most people, though," says Jacqueline Bodnar, a prolific blogger in Daytona Beach, Fla., and author of "Starting Your Career as a Professional Blogger."
So for bloggers who are trying to become filthy rich, or at least aim for a respectable middle-class income, here are some things to keep in mind.
Money dribbles in
If you've lost your job and decide to start a blog to support yourself, good for you. But keep job-searching, especially if you don't have a spouse to bring in revenue -- because odds are, this isn't going to work out.
But let's say it does. It may take months before money dribbles in from advertisers. Generally, bloggers set up ads on their site, frequently with mainstream ad players like Google AdSense, Amazon Associates and Pay-Per-Post, all of which are fairly user-friendly. But after finding the advertisers, you'll need to find readers -- a lot of them.
A few years ago, the money for ads on blogs was "very, very high, at least for established blogs with large audiences," says Amy Corbett Storch, 35, who lives in Bethesda, Md., with her husband and three kids. She first began blogging in 2003, but then the economy tanked, and advertisers began to become more choosy with their dollars. And they still are.
Storch's blog, Amalah.com, which gets its name from a nickname given to Amy by a co-worker, was initially a humor-personal memoir blog. But since she had her first child in 2005, it's been considered a "mommy" blog, of which there are many.
In 2006, Storch quit her job as managing editor for a financial publishing company to be a full-time blogger working from home while raising a family. She also branched out beyond her own blog, and now blogs for sites including ClubMom, TheStir, Babble, AlphaMom and, in 2007, she co-founded Mamapop.com, an entertainment-culture site for parents.
Expenses to consider
Storch says the ads at the top of a blog or website -- banner ads -- are paid on a CPM basis (cost per thousand readers). "In the heyday, you might get (advertising) campaigns for $15 or $20 CPM," Storch says. "This month, my highest CPM ad is paying $6. Most are around $2 or $3."
That can work out pretty well if you have an audience; Storch says Amalah.com has about 700,000 page views a month. But if you're only getting, say, 1,200 page views a month, you might only make enough to treat your family to a night out at McDonald's.
Even if you're pulling in enough money to pay the mortgage, Storch says bloggers have to remember they're going to pay commission to their ad network, taxes on their blogging income, and hosting and Internet fees. Plus, she pays for childcare.
"If Amalah was all I was doing, I'd be completely freaking out. Diversify, folks," she says.
Write what you know
Sure, you can start your blog as a memoir, which worked for Storch. But if you have expertise that people pay for in the non-blog world, definitely consider blogging about that.
"It's not enough to just know how to write well, but you have to write something that provides value to the reader," Bodnar says. "When they feel they are getting something out of it, they are going to keep coming back. What that 'something' is that keeps them coming back is going to differ by the person and type of blog. Some people visit a blog day after day for advice, recipes, celebrity gossip or just to be inspired."
And some people visit a blog to learn more about real estate investment trusts. Brad Thomas is a textbook example of someone who has turned blogging into a viable profession, although it isn't his only income. He is a senior vice president at Bull Realty, a commercial real estate firm in Atlanta, who also works as a consultant. Still, his blog, called the Intelligent REIT Investor, has taken off.
In 2010, Thomas says, "I started basically writing and blogging just as a hobby. It was something I liked to do, and the real estate market wasn't very strong, so I just thought I'd write about it."
He quickly built up a following, with 10,000 to 20,000 page views a month. "I thought that was a lot back then," Thomas says. Now, three years later, he's seeing up to half a million page views per month.
Not digging ditches
It's also time-consuming. A lot of people ask Thomas if he sleeps at night, and he does, but he says there are many late nights where his energy is spent, but he'll "find a way to push that last sentence out."
Jill Smokler agrees, also noting that much of the work in blogging isn't blogging itself, but getting your name out there, which usually means writing on someone else's blog.
"In the mommy-blogging community, commenting is key," says Smokler, who is based in Baltimore and writes Scary Mommy. "Find blogs which you somehow connect with and comment on them. Click on the blogs belonging to the other people commenting and comment on them. Comment anywhere and everywhere you can, linking your URL. Are you sensing a theme?"
She knows of what she speaks. Smokler's blog helped her land two book deals. Her second book, "Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies)" just came out. It looks easy, but it isn't, Smoker says: "Very few blogs strike gold with a crazy viral post. I'm still trying after five years."
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