If you’re trying to make money from your blog, you might be living in the wrong decade. For a good while blog advertising paid, sometimes well. In recent times those revenues have greatly dwindled. Unless you’re getting well more than a million unique visitors per month — rare even for high-quality and well-read blogs — chances are you’re seeing ad revenues consistently decline.
People still read blogs, but there are just so many that few can capture a significant portion of any user’s attention. The masses spend more time on Facebook, Twitter, and Google than any blog, so that’s where the big ad dollars go. Even among blogs, readers are spending more time with BuzzFeed, Gawker, and even Upworthy than they are niche blogs. Those sites get the big ad deals. Other blogs have to fight for scraps.
If you’re sick of fighting for scraps, perhaps it’s time for a change of attitude. Instead of scraping for every penny of CPM, you should stop seeking out revenue, period. While it might sound insane at first, it’s actually a great first step towards using your blog to make money.
Blogging is about giving
The best blogs give away ideas to users. They give away inspiration. They give away useful tips that can help set readers on the right path. While it’s understandable that the blogger wants to be paid for the time and effort that goes into that giving, it should not be the primary concern. Bloggers need to give, and give a lot, before they can even think about taking. Given the state of the ad market, that equation should be tipped even further towards giving.
James Altucher is a shining example of this kind of giving. Every day — whether it’s through his blog, his newsletter, or his Twitter Q&A — he gives away a little piece of himself. Yet he has never placed an advertisement on his blog. He doesn’t run affiliate programs. He just writes about issues that trouble him, that touch him, that help him relate to readers. He’s rewarded with a loyal following and readership that few individual bloggers can claim.
Stop fighting the current
In addition to helping readers, bloggers should give away content for economic reasons. When anyone with an internet connection has the ability to start a blog and when sites like BuzzFeed can churn through hundreds of new posts per day, content becomes a commodity. Who has the advantage in a commodity-driven market? The players with the manufacturing advantage. Chances are that’s not you and your blog.
That doesn’t mean the dream of earning money is over. Far from it. In fact, the opportunities might be greater now that the display ad market has crumbled. In a recent blog post, Seth Roberts calls this “pain”. The pain of the crumbling ad networks is forcing bloggers to think differently about how they run their businesses. If we follow Altucher’s example, we can see how this can turn into greater opportunities for gritty bloggers.
Using your blog to make money
If you use your blog for giving, you should attract a loyal audience. People love to get stuff for free. Once you have that audience in place, you can start offering premium services that offer greater value than a blog alone.
Books: Altucher might not advertise, but he certainly sells his own products through his blog. You can see immediately upon visiting that he’s promoting his latest book, Choose Yourself. Chances are if he wrote this book without an audience he built through his blog, he wouldn’t have sold many copies. Instead it’s a National Bestseller. This formula is becoming true for an increasing portion of nonfiction books. Publishers aren’t going to sign you if you don’t have an audience ready for them. And you can forget about decent sales from self-publishing if you don’t have a ready audience.
Consulting gigs: Books can be a great way to earn passive income, but they’re not exactly a reliable path to revenue. Consultants are always in demand, and you can create your path to a consultancy by proving your expertise. You accomplish that, of course, through your blogging. You won’t start off getting the big contracts, but once you get a few smaller gigs, establish a reputation, and perhaps even publish a few case studies, the gigs can start building up. That’s how you really get paid.
Speaking engagements: Being invited to speak at a function is perhaps the king of paid gig. You not only earn the fee — which for established speakers can reach five figures — but you also strengthen your reputation. There are also opportunities to sell your books and services to people who were impressed by your presentation. As such, it’s not easy to book a speaking gig at a well-known event. But once you start building up a reputation in the lower ranks, you can work your way up and land one of these lucrative gigs.
Software: Everyone can blog, but not everyone can write a compelling book. Software engineers specifically might not have the focus or skills to write a book. After all, their time is mostly spent working on software — software they’re likely giving away for free. Blogs can provide a platform for programmers to prove their mettle. Just as readers might buy a book from a blogger they enjoy, they might buy intricate software from a blogger, especially a blogger that gives away smaller programs for free.
Learning essential skills
The saying goes that a jack of all trades is a master of none, but there is plenty of value for a well-rounded businessperson. In fact, if you want to run a blog, sell books, book speaking gigs, and speak at conferences, you’ll have to break out of a laser focus on one skill and learn more.
As a blogger, you can stick with a limited set of skills. If you can write and can plug HTML code into a WordPress back end, you can survive. If you want to make money with your blog, though, you need to expand your skill set to match the demands of these new endeavors. For instance:
Writing a book is not like writing a blog. You need to maintain focus and interest for 50 to 100 times the length of the average blog post. You need to learn how to research, which includes reading texts and conducting interviews.
Selling products and service is not like selling advertising. With ads you can sign up for a network and paste some code into pre-made boxes. You need to learn to accept credit cards if you want to sell books or sign consulting clients. You also need to engage in active marketing. Those all involve skills that go far beyond those of an average blogger.
Speaking is not like writing. On a blog you write daily, so you can have a few misses and still retain your audience. When you speak, you need to make sure every engagement is of the highest quality. One poor speaking gig can ruin your reputation, hurting your ability to get further gigs.
The game has changed
By this point, only the most naive bloggers haven’t recognized that the entire game has changed. Ad revenues realized in the late 00s are never coming back. Big players, such as BuzzFeed, have captured what remains of them. Most ad money is going towards larger platforms, such as Google and Facebook. It leaves bloggers in a tough place.
The solution is to stop making money from your blog. Stop thinking of ways you can squeeze more money from your traffic and start thinking about how you can provide more value for your audience. Give them ideas and inspiration daily. Then provide them with something that they’d value — for a price, of course. No one should work for free in perpetuity. But when it comes to blogging, free is becoming the smart play.