Want to learn how to make money blogging?
Well, I can show you. I’ve built three different sites to over $1 million per year, including this one.
Here’s a screenshot of just one month of revenue for Smart Blogger:
Granted, it was a good month. We don’t always make that much money.
But we almost always cross $100,000 in sales.
Well, I’ll tell you. Not because I want to brag (well, maybe a little), but because most of the advice out there is complete crap.
For instance, do you see any ads on this site?
No? How about e-books for sale?
None of those either, huh?
There’s a reason why.
The Best Way to Make Money Blogging
Over the past eight years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some of the smartest bloggers on the planet. I worked with Brian Clark as he built Copyblogger to a multimillion dollar brand. Neil Patel and Hiten Shah also hired me to help them launch the KISSmetrics blog, eventually creating a multimillion dollar SaaS company.
Combined, I wouldn’t be surprised if both blogs have earned more than $50 million. In comparison, the $100,000 per month I’ve managed to generate here is a pittance.
I’ll also be straight up with you… it wasn’t easy. For the first several years, I worked 80-100 hours a week, and even now I usually put in at least 60 hours.
The good news?
It’s paid off. If you’ll take some of these lessons to heart, it’ll pay off for you too.
Before you get started though, there’s one crucial lesson you need to understand:
How Do You Make Money Blogging?
The moment you decide to use your blog to make money, you’re no longer just a blogger. At that moment, you also become an entrepreneur, and your blog becomes a small business.
You’ve probably heard of financial planners giving free seminars to attract clients, right?
Well, blogging is a lot like those free seminars. You’re giving away your expertise and knowledge in the hopes of attracting customers and then gaining their trust.
In other words, if your goal is to make money with your blog, use it as a lead generation mechanism. Nurture those leads until they are ready to purchase, and the profit can quickly snowball.
Let me tell you how it happened for me…
My Story of Making Money Blogging
It took me about five years to earn my first dollar.
During that time, I started four different blogs, working on them at night and on the weekends. The first three failed. Despite investing hundreds of hours into each one, I made too many mistakes, and I eventually had to shut the blogs down. I didn’t earn a penny from them.
And I won’t lie to you… it sucked.
Each time a blog failed, I seriously thought about quitting. I felt like I was putting in all that time and energy for nothing.
But it wasn’t true. I was learning.
Yes, I made a lot of mistakes, but I didn’t repeat them. So, while those first four blogs were all “failures,” each one was also closer to success than the last.
With the fourth blog, everything finally clicked. I was getting 1000 visitors a day within about two months, and I sold it for $10,000. That’s when I knew I was onto something.
From there, I went to work for other big blogs for a few years, helping grow Copyblogger and KISSmetrics into what they are today. Eventually though, I felt the itch to go out on my own again, so I left and started this blog. It now turns a fairly steady $100,000+ a month.
In total, it took me about eight years to get here, but in exchange for investing those eight years, I now have enough money to support me until the day I die. Also, every day I get emails from people telling me how I changed their lives for the better.
So, it was worth it. No question.
But was it easy?
No. It was just as hard as starting any other business.
I did learn a thing or two that might speed along the process for others, though. Let’s start by talking about the exact step-by-step process for how to make money blogging.
Here’s How to Make Money Blogging
- Set up your blog
- Write content that gets lots of traffic
- Convert visitors into email subscribers
- Send those subscribers content that builds trust
- Sell products or services your audience wants
It’s hard to do. The process is simple on the surface, but each step is enormously complicated and requires extraordinary skill. Especially the last one.
For instance, do you want to sell your own products or services? If so, which ones?
Here are just a few of the options:
Or… what if you don’t have any products and services to sell? What should you do then?
Well, you can also make money blogging by selling someone else’s products and services.
The most conventional (and least profitable) method is selling advertising, where you allow companies to promote their products and services to your audience in exchange for a fee. You can also form partnerships with other companies, promoting their products and services and earning a commission each time one of your readers purchases. This is called “affiliate marketing.”
Which model should you choose? What should you do?
Well, I can give you my thoughts. After a decade in this business, I’ve learned a few things, and I believe some of them might surprise you…
Don’t Sell Advertising (or Use Google AdSense)
Ask your average beginner how they plan to make money blogging, and they’ll say they plan to sell ads on their site. After all, that’s how big newspapers and magazines monetize, so why not them?
But it’s a mistake.
When I was at Copyblogger, we ran a little experiment. Normally, we refused to sell any ads on the site, but just as a test, we decided to put three ad spots in the right sidebar. The site looked like this:
Initially, we placed ads for our own products in each of the three spots, and we tracked all the sales resulting from someone clicking on the ad. I don’t remember the precise numbers, but we had something like $50,000 in product sales over 30 days. Not too shabby.
Well, out of curiosity, I shopped around to see how much advertisers would pay for the same ad space. The absolute highest rates I could negotiate would’ve brought in only $5,000 per month per ad spot, totaling $15,000 per month — 70% less than we made selling our own products.
And this was for a big, authority site! Imagine the pitiful rates a beginning blogger would get trying to make money blogging that way.
Granted, it’s not really a fair comparison. With your own products, you have to consider the cost of development, support, and other miscellaneous expenses, but even factoring those in, advertising our products was still more profitable by far.
The next most profitable strategy would have been to partner with other companies, collecting a commission on each sale as an affiliate. We never tested it, but I would guess we would’ve made somewhere around $25,000 per month on the spots — 60% more than advertisers would have paid.
If you have an engaged audience that trusts you, and you’re trying to figure out how to make money blogging, selling ads is never a smart move. And that includes all the variations like Google AdSense, sponsorships, and advertising networks. None of it will make nearly as much money as promoting your own products or earning commissions from promoting someone else’s.
Let’s talk about that next…
Start with Affiliate Marketing (or Services)
As I write this, it just so happens that I’m in the initial stages of starting a new blog (more details to be announced soon). It’s in a completely different space where I have no products, so I’ve been pondering the best way to monetize it, and here’s what I think…
Affiliate marketing is the smartest strategy.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a business model where you endorse other people’s products or services in exchange for a commission. On software and information products, affiliates typically earn a 50% commission or sometimes even more, so it can be quite lucrative.
Pat Flynn, for example, makes over $100,000 a month in affiliate commissions. Here at Smart Blogger, we mostly promote our own products, but we also make a tidy sum promoting LeadPages and SiteGround:
Granted, you won’t make that kind of money when your blog is small, but when you’re just starting to learn how to make money blogging, affiliate marketing is still a good way to start for several reasons:
- It’s faster. Instead of investing months or even years creating a product, all you have to do is publish a link on your site. Assuming your audience is engaged, you could be earning commissions within hours or even minutes.
- The income from affiliate marketing is almost entirely passive. You don’t have to worry about creating products, supporting customers, or any of the technical complexity of selling your own products or services. You can also invest the time you save into growing your traffic, leading to more revenue later.
- It can guide future product creation. If one affiliate product sells 10X better than all the others you promote, you might want to think about developing your own version of the product, because you have proof your audience wants it.
Personally, I think the advantages are so enormous that when it comes to how to make money blogging, no one should consider any other business model… with one exception:
If you are a graphic designer, real estate agent, attorney, or any other type of service provider, you probably want to offer your services on your blog from day one. The profit you make will almost certainly outstrip anything else, at least in the beginning.
Lesson #3: Build the Funnel in Reverse
Even if you’re making fantastic money from affiliate marketing or selling services, chances are you’ll want to try your hand at developing your own product at some point. So, where should you start?
My answer: with blogs, the most profitable price is usually the end of the funnel. Here’s what I mean…
You’ve seen a sales funnel, right? A company entices you with a freebie, then they offer you something cheap but irresistible, and then they gradually sweet talk you into buying more and more expensive stuff. It’s a tried and true marketing tactic, and you should absolutely build a sales funnel for your blog.
What you might not know is you should build it in reverse.
A lot of bloggers launch a cheap e-book as their first product, and then they get frustrated when they don’t make much money. Here’s why: the real profit is at the end of the funnel, not the beginning.
Selling e-books is fine and dandy if you have half a dozen more expensive products to offer your customer afterwards, but it’s downright silly if you don’t. You’re much better off creating and selling the expensive product first, and then gradually building cheaper and cheaper products.
When you do have some less expensive products to sell, you can offer those to new people first, safe in the knowledge that you have something more profitable up your sleeve to sell them later.
Here at Smart Blogger, our products cost $9,997, $1,997, and $997, $497, $197, and $47. We started on the expensive side first, and we gradually worked our way down. It’s been much, much more profitable this way.
There’s No Such Thing As a “Cheap” Market
“But Jon,” I can hear you spluttering. “I can’t sell a $10,000 product! My customers don’t have that much money.”
My response: you’re 98% right. Unless you’re selling exclusively to multimillionaires, the vast majority of your customer base won’t be able to afford premium products, but what’s interesting is it doesn’t matter. Often, you can make more money selling to the 2% than you can to the entire 98% combined.
For instance, our $10,000 product is a year-long coaching program for bloggers — a group that’s not exactly known for their wealth, but I always fill all ten spots within minutes of opening the program. Here’s why: the last time we opened it, I notified 40,000 bloggers. 2% of 40,000 writers is 800 people. By only accepting 10, I’m creating a situation of extreme scarcity.
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