There was an error in this gadget

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Do you actually want to monetize your blog?

Do you actually want to monetize your blog?
Some people have strong personal feelings with respect to making money from their blogs.  If you think commercializing your blog is evil, immoral, unethical, uncool, lame, greedy, obnoxious, or anything along those lines, then don’t commercialize it.
If you have mixed feelings about monetizing your blog, then sort out those feelings first.  If you think monetizing your site is wonderful, fine.  If you think it’s evil, fine.  But make up your mind before you seriously consider starting down this path.  If you want to succeed, you must be congruent.  Generating income from your blog is challenging enough — you don’t want to be dealing with self-sabotage at the same time.  It should feel genuinely good to earn income from your blog — you should be driven by a healthy ambition to succeed.  If your blog provides genuine value, you fully deserve to earn income from it.  If, however, you find yourself full of doubts over whether this is the right path for you, you might find this article helpful:  How Selfish Are You?  It’s about balancing your needs with the needs of others.
If you do decide to generate income from your blog, then don’t be shy about it.  If you’re going to put up ads, then really put up ads.  Don’t just stick a puny little ad square in a remote corner somewhere.  If you’re going to request donations, then really request donations.  Don’t put up a barely visible “Donate” link and pray for the best.  If you’re going to sell products, then reallysell them.  Create or acquire the best quality products you can, and give your visitors compelling reasons to buy.  If you’re going to do this, then fully commit to it.  Don’t take a half-assed approach.  Either be full-assed or no-assed.
You can reasonably expect that when you begin commercializing a free site, some people will complain, depending on how you do it.  I launched this site in October 2004, and I began putting Google Adsense ads on the site in February 2005.  There were some complaints, but I expected that — it was really no big deal.  Less than 1 in 5,000 visitors actually sent me negative feedback.  Most people who sent feedback were surprisingly supportive.  Most of the complaints died off within a few weeks, and the site began generating income almost immediately, although it was pretty low — a whopping $53 the first month.  If you’d like to see some month-by-month specifics, I posted my 2005Adsense revenue figures earlier this year.  Adsense is still my single best source of revenue for this site, although it’s certainly not my only source.  More on that later…

Can you make a decent income online?

Can you make a decent income online?
Yes, absolutely.  At the very least, a high five-figure annual income is certainly an attainable goal for an individual working full-time from home.  I’m making a healthy income from StevePavlina.com, and the site is only 19 months old… barely a toddler.  If you have a day job, it will take longer to generate a livable income, but it can still be done part-time if you’re willing to devote a lot of your spare time to it.  I’ve always done it full-time.
Can most people do it?
No, they can’t.  I hope it doesn’t shock you to see a personal development web site use the dreaded C-word.  But I happen to agree with those who say that 99% of people who try to generate serious income from their blogs will fail.  The tagline for this site is “Personal Development for SmartPeople.”  And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook), smart people are a minority on this planet.  So while most people can’t make a living this way, I would say that most smart people can.  How do you know whether or not you qualify as smart?  Here’s a good rule of thumb:  If you have to ask the question, you aren’t.
If that last paragraph doesn’t flood my inbox with flames, I don’t know what will.  OK, actually I do.
This kind of 99-1 ratio isn’t unique to blogging though.  You’ll see it in any field with relatively low barriers to entry.  What percentage of wannabe actors, musicians, or athletes ever make enough money from their passions to support themselves?  It doesn’t take much effort to start a blog these days — almost anyone can do it.  Talent counts for something, and the talent that matters in blogging is intelligence.  But that just gets you in the door.  You need to specifically apply your intelligence to one particular talent.  And the best words I can think of to describe that particular talent are:  web savvy.
If you are very web savvy, or if you can learn to become very web savvy, then you have an excellent shot of making enough money from your blog to cover all your living expenses… and then some.  But if becoming truly web savvy is more than your gray matter can handle, then I’ll offer this advice:  Don’t quit your day job.

Comments or no comments

Comments or no comments
When I began this blog, I started out with comments enabled.  As traffic grew, so did the level of commenting.  Some days there were more than 100 comments.  I noticed I was spending more and more time managing comments, and I began to question whether it was worth the effort.  It became clear that with continued traffic growth, I was going to have to change my approach or die in comment hell.  The personal development topics I write about can easily generate lots of questions and discussion.  Just imagine how many follow-up questions an article like this could generate.  With tens of thousands of readers, it would be insane.  Also, nuking comment spam was chewing up more and more of my time as well.
But after looking through my stats, I soon realized that only a tiny fraction of visitors ever look at comments at all, and an even smaller fraction ever post a comment (well below 1% of total visitors).  That made my decision a lot easier, and in October 2005, I turned blog comments off.  In retrospect that was one of my best decisions.  I wish I had done it sooner.
If you’d like to read the full details of how I came to this decision, I’ve written about it previously:  Blog Comments and More on Blog Comments.
Do you need comments to build traffic?  Obviously not.  Just like when I put up ads, I saw no decline in traffic when I turned off comments.  In fact, I think it actually helped me.  Although I turned off comments, I kept trackbacks enabled, so I started getting more trackbacks.  If people wanted to publicly comment on something I’d written, they had to do so on their own blogs and post a link.  So turning off comments didn’t kill the discussion — it just took it off site.  The volume of trackbacks is far more reasonable, and I can easily keep up with it.  I even pop onto other people’s sites and post comments now and then, but I don’t feel obligated to participate because the discussion isn’t on my own site.
I realize people have very strong feelings about blog comments and community building.  Many people hold the opinion that a blog without comments just isn’t a blog.  Personally I think that’s utter nonsense — the data just doesn’t support it.  The vast majority of blog readers neither read nor post comments.  Only a very tiny and very vocal group even care about comments.  Some bloggers say that having comments helps build traffic, but I saw no evidence of that.  In fact, I think it’s just the opposite.  Managing comments detracts from writing new posts, and it’s far better to get a trackback and a link from someone else’s blog vs. a comment on your own blog.  As long-term readers of my blog know, when faced with ambiguity, my preference is to try both alternatives and compare real results with real results.  After doing that my conclusion is this:  No comment.  

Posting frequency and length

Posting frequency and length
Bloggers have different opinions about the right posting length and frequency.  Some bloggers say it’s best to write short (250-750 word) entries and post 20x per week or more.  I’ve seen that strategy work for some, but I decided to do pretty much the opposite.  I usually aim for about 3-5 posts per week, but my posts are much longer (typically 1000-2000 words, sometimes longer than 5000 words, including the monster you’re reading right now).  That’s because rather than throwing out lots of short tips, I prefer to write more exhaustive, in-depth articles.  I find that deeper articles are better at generating links and referrals and building traffic.  It’s true that fewer people will take the time to read them, but those that do will enjoy some serious take-away value.  I don’t believe in creating disposable content just to increase page views and ad impressions.  If I’m not truly helping my visitors, I’m wasting their time.
Expenses
Blogging is dirt cheap.
I don’t spend money on advertising or promotion, so my marketing expenses are nil.  Essentially my content is my marketing.  If you like this article, you’ll probably find many more gems in the archives.
My only real expenses for this site are the hosting (I currently pay $149/month for the web server and bandwidth) and the domain name renewal ($9/year).  Nearly all of the income this site generates is profit.  This trickles down to my personal income, so of course it’s subject to income tax.  But the actual business expenses are minimal.
The reason I pay so much for hosting is simply due to my traffic.  If my traffic were much lower, I could run this site on a cheap shared hosting account.  A database-driven blog can be a real resource hog at high traffic levels.  The same goes for online forums.  As traffic continues to increase, my hosting bill will go up too, but it will still be a tiny fraction of total income.

Posting frequency and length

Posting frequency and length
Bloggers have different opinions about the right posting length and frequency.  Some bloggers say it’s best to write short (250-750 word) entries and post 20x per week or more.  I’ve seen that strategy work for some, but I decided to do pretty much the opposite.  I usually aim for about 3-5 posts per week, but my posts are much longer (typically 1000-2000 words, sometimes longer than 5000 words, including the monster you’re reading right now).  That’s because rather than throwing out lots of short tips, I prefer to write more exhaustive, in-depth articles.  I find that deeper articles are better at generating links and referrals and building traffic.  It’s true that fewer people will take the time to read them, but those that do will enjoy some serious take-away value.  I don’t believe in creating disposable content just to increase page views and ad impressions.  If I’m not truly helping my visitors, I’m wasting their time.
Expenses
Blogging is dirt cheap.
I don’t spend money on advertising or promotion, so my marketing expenses are nil.  Essentially my content is my marketing.  If you like this article, you’ll probably find many more gems in the archives.
My only real expenses for this site are the hosting (I currently pay $149/month for the web server and bandwidth) and the domain name renewal ($9/year).  Nearly all of the income this site generates is profit.  This trickles down to my personal income, so of course it’s subject to income tax.  But the actual business expenses are minimal.
The reason I pay so much for hosting is simply due to my traffic.  If my traffic were much lower, I could run this site on a cheap shared hosting account.  A database-driven blog can be a real resource hog at high traffic levels.  The same goes for online forums.  As traffic continues to increase, my hosting bill will go up too, but it will still be a tiny fraction of total income.

Multiple streams of income

Multiple streams of income
You don’t need to put all your eggs in one basket.  Think multiple streams of income.  On this site I actually have six different streams of income.  Can you count them all?  Here’s a list:
  1. Google Adsense ads (pay per click and pay per impression advertising)
  2. Donations (via PayPal or snail mail — yes, some people do mail a check)
  3. Text Link Ads (sold for a fixed amount per month)
  4. Chitika eMiniMalls ads (pay per click)
  5. Affiliate programs like Amazon and LinkShare (commission on products sold, mostly books)
  6. Advertising sold to individual advertisers (three-month campaigns or longer)
Note:  If you’re reading this article a while after its original publication date, then this list is likely to change.  I frequently experiment with different streams.
Adsense is my biggest single source of income, but some of the others do pretty well too.  Every stream generates more than $100/month.
My second biggest income stream is actually donations.  My average donation is about $10, and I’ve received a number of $100 donations too.  It only took me about an hour to set this up via PayPal.  So even if your content is free like mine, give your visitors a means to voluntarily contribute if they wish.  It’s win-win.  I’m very grateful for the visitor support.  It’s a nice form of feedback too, since I notice that certain articles produced a surge in donations — this tells me I’m hitting the mark and giving people genuine value.
These aren’t my only streams of income though.  I’ve been earning income online since 1995.  With my computer games business, I have direct sales, royalty income, some advertising income, affiliate income, and donations (from the free articles).  And if you throw in my wife’s streams of income, it gets really ridiculous:  advertising, direct book sales, book sales through distributors, web consulting, affiliate income, more Adsense income, and probably a few sources I forgot.  Suffice it to say we receive a lot of paychecks.  Some of them are small, but they add up.  It’s also extremely low risk — if one source of income dries up, we just expand existing sources or create new ones.  I encourage you to think of your blog as a potential outlet for multiple streams of income too.
Text Link AdsAutomated income
With the exception of #6, all of these income sources are fully automated.  I don’t have to do anything to maintain them except deposit checks, and in most cases I don’t even have to do that because the money is automatically deposited to my bank account.
I love automated income.  With this blog I currently have no sales, no employees, no products, no inventory, no credit card processing, no fraud, and no customers.  And yet I’m still able to generate a reasonable (and growing) income.
Why get a regular job and trade your time for money when you can let technology do all that work for you?  Imagine how it would feel to wake up each morning, go to your computer, and check how much money you made while you were sleeping.  It’s a really nice situation to be in.