You’ve heard about blogging and decided to have a go yourself. All you have to do is post regularly, wait for some traffic, stick some ads on it along with the odd affiliate link, and then the money starts rolling in.
Sort of. It could work. Well, at least to some extent.
Let’s just say while you’ll probably earn something (eventually), the money won’t exactly be rolling in.
The truth is, this model only achieves a fraction of what your blog could earn if it was monetized more effectively.
Worse, with changes in the way we all access the web, any income you might achieve when using this model is only going down. (More on this below…)
But… if you want to know how to monetize a blog the right way, and maximize your earnings from it (rather than bring in just pocket change along with an unhealthy dose of disillusionment), read on.
How to Monetize a Blog
I’ve lost count of the number of questions I’ve read on Quora (and sometimes answered) about how to monetize blogs effectively, where a number of the answers reflect the Ads and Affiliate Links monetization model, seemingly with little awareness of just how ineffective it actually is.
I’ve also been in contact with a number of subscribers on my list who have blogs that follow this model, suggesting it might be more in their long-term interests to approach things a little differently.
So this post aims to provide a more business-minded, and far more lucrative, alternative. I even show you proof of just how much more lucrative it can be – the difference in potential income levels will no doubt shock you.
Whether you have:
- A standalone blog you’re hoping to monetize; or
- A blog attached to an existing business…
You’ll see how to monetize it correctly and make it profitable.
Even better, you’ll see how to scale up your activities, and multiply your earnings further.
I’m assuming you already have the basics covered:
- Creating and publishing content regularly to your blog that’s of interest and value to the market you are hoping to attract as your audience.
- You’re in a niche that can be effectively monetized. A blog about the antics of your pet cat will be far harder to monetize than a blog about forex trading or property development.
If not, get those steps in place first.
Once taken care of, the rest is relatively easy to achieve.
Yes, it takes work, but none of it’s rocket science or particularly complicated.
What’s Wrong With the “Ads and Affiliate Links” Model?
The Ads and Affiliate Links model to monetize blogs is often part and parcel of a passive income-type approach and mindset. Sit back, and just earn money from your content. Nothing further required.
The problem with this idea is, if you’re blogging effectively, it’s far from passive. Once you stop creating and publishing the required content (along with everything else that blogging entails), organic traffic levels – and therefore any income – drops markedly.
(Worse, the Ads and Affiliate Links model excludes the possibility of scaling up and opening up new traffic possibilities, which I cover in more details below. The relatively low income just can’t make it work.)
If you have to put the work in anyway, you might as well get the best return you can and adopt a more sustainable and far more lucrative monetization model.
The good news is it also makes the passive income idea closer to reality. Or at least makes running a blog a lot easier and more enjoyable.
The increased income means you can pay others to take on increasing amounts of the workload. You can build a team around you.
Even better, it adds far more value to your business, making it saleable for many multiples of what it would otherwise sell for.
Take a nice lump sum and enjoy all the passivity you want.
The “Passive Income” idea isn’t the only problem
Because such blogs are solely reliant on income from ads and affiliate links, the understandable temptation is to add as many ad blocks and affiliate links to the site as possible.
The result is often an unattractive sea of flashing banners and increasingly desperate exhortations trying to encourage visitors to click on one link or another, often at the expense of providing any actual value to the visitor.
There’s seemingly little thought for what the visitor is actually looking for, and what might encourage them to stick around and engage.
Unfortunately the common reaction is the complete opposite of what the blog owner wants. Instead, they rapidly hit the back button, hoping never to return.
The result is a frustrated blog owner who can’t understand the lack of clicks and high bounce rates, and visitors steering clear of the site in future.
It gets worse:
- The rapid back clicks from search visitors damages rankings. The message to search engines is that the blog didn’t give what the searcher was looking for. Other sites will rise in its place, while the blog disappears from view.
- Google also manually review sites for quality, authority, and so on. It doesn’t look good for such blogs. The following comes from their Search Quality Rating Guidelines (used for manual site reviews) and is part of how low quality sites are identified:
MC [main content] is present, but difficult to use due to Ads, other content/features, etc.
Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines (from this summary)
- In addition, such content will get few if any social shares, and be unappealing for potential social followers. So a key channel for traffic, engagement and SEO benefits is largely off-limits.
- Similarly, it’s hard to attract incoming links from other sites. Who wants to damage their own authority by linking to a blog like that?
In other words, unless the site is designed with the interests of – and value provided to – the visitor paramount, traffic attraction (and therefore income generation) becomes challenging to say the least.
Even if they do attract some traffic, income levels are far lower than they otherwise could be.
Want to see evidence of the difference it can make when monetizing your blog more effectively?
Take a look at the following graphic, borrowed and adapted from a Quora post. It shows the massive difference in earnings for a blog that was relying on ads for income, and then switched to following the model outlined below.
They made a simple change (hidden with question marks here, but revealed below). That one change increased earnings more than ten-fold.
The main problem is the Ads and Affiliate Links model involves you sending traffic to other sites, where they make a lot more money from those visitors than you.
If instead you hold onto those visitors and monetize them effectively for your business (rather than sending them elsewhere), you benefit from all that potential revenue yourself.
Here’s some more detail on why the Ads and Affiliate Links model will never allow you to effectively monetize your blog.
If someone’s paying to show an ad on your site, you only get a proportion of what they pay, with the rest going to the advertising network.
With the traffic derived from your site, the advertiser will only convert a small proportion of those clicks into sales. For the advertising campaign to be profitable, each click has to be worth a lot more to them than what they are paying for the ad.
In other words, you’re directing your visitors to other businesses and only getting a small fraction of the value those visitors actually represent.
Finally, a combination of increasing mobile usage and increased adoption of ad blocking technology means a significant proportion of your visitors will never see the ads in the first place.
All in all, displaying ads on your site can only achieve minimal income levels at best.
Are affiliate links any better?
With affiliate links, you generally earn when a sale results from a visitor clicking through on the link.
Even though you may get 50% or more commission, depending on the program, the business you’re sending your visitors to will make a lot more money than you.
Again, you’re only getting a fraction of the value those visitors represent.
Firstly, you’re sending that business a customer, someone who’s likely to buy repeatedly. But you’ll likely only see a commission for the first thing they buy.
Even for recurring products or services offering recurring commissions:
- This often stops after a certain length of time.
- Your commission might only apply for the original purchase. If the customer switches plan, e.g. upgrade, your commission may no longer apply.
- The customer may make additional purchases over time on which you get no commission at all.
Secondly, even if they have the best tracking systems, and without any dishonesty on their part, you’ll still be sending the business customers for which you may never see any commission whatsoever, even though they might click straight through on your link.
Google recently reported 90% of people switch between devices when accomplishing a goal, such as making a purchase.
In other words, your visitor could follow the affiliate link on your site on one device, and purchase later on another. Based on Google’s research, most of them probably do.
The inability to recognise the true value of publishers’ traffic is a clear threat to the affiliate marketing channel.
However, affiliate tracking is mostly done through cookies, and sometimes IP addresses. Both relate to a single device.
If the customer’s purchase path has been across multiple devices, you’ll never be credited with the sale.
As you can see, neither Ads nor Affiliate Links are particularly effective ways to extract value from blog visitors. In fact, most of the value leaks away like a sieve; and what’s left is only decreasing.
Worse, any income you do earn is at the expense of what your site could otherwise be earning. There’s a huge opportunity cost.
Sure, both ads and affiliate links can be useful additional income streams. But they shouldn’t be used at the expense of the more effective monetization model shared below.
The important point is this.
The Ads and Affiliate Links model means your blog largely exists to help create lucrative customer lists for other businesses, not your own.
Turn this around, and you open the door to rapidly increasing income levels.
So, without further ado…
Here’s How to Really Monetize a Blog…
Build a List
Your email list is the foundation of effectively monetizing a blog.
Primarily, a blog is a lead generation tool, and a tool with which to nurture and amplify your relationship with those leads.
So if you’re not using your blog for the primary purpose of building your list, you’re missing the main source of revenue generation.
The fact is, a lead is worth far more to you long-term than earning a few cents here and there per click-through on an ad or link to an affiliate product.
Here are just a few ways in which the value of those leads can be realized:
- You can earn revenue from them multiple times and in multiple ways:
- You can sell them your own products and services (see #2 below).
- You can sell affiliate products to them more effectively than you can ever do via a simple link on your website.
- If you still display third-party ads on your blog, by bringing your leads back to your website repeatedly, you build traffic and can earn more advertising revenue.
- Your relationship with them means they are more likely to refer your site to others within their own network, both through social networks, linking to your content directly (building SEO benefits), word of mouth and other channels.
- You gain a better understanding of your market, and can fine tune the products and services you are selling accordingly.
How Do You Turn the Visitors to Your Blog into Leads?
Try these 10 different ways to convert blog traffic into opt-in leads for your list.
Rather than ads on your site that build revenue mainly for other businesses, you’ll have lead generation ads building revenue for your own. This is a far more lucrative use of the space on your site.
Any third-party ads, if used at all, should be carefully placed so as not to distract from this main goal. However you’ll generally generate more revenue by not having them, avoiding distractions that divert your visitors’ attention from joining your list.
Of course, it’s not enough to just add leads to a list. It’s also vital to communicate with them on a regular basis in order to:
- Build the relationship.
- Build their familiarity in you, your brand and your message.
- Bring them back to your site repeatedly.
- Educate them so they better understand the value of your products and services.
- Keep your business front of mind.
To do this, simply leverage the content on your blog and elsewhere. Send out regular emails when you publish something new and of value to them.
Remember… Repurpose and Republish Your Content Elsewhere Too
For effective list building, it’s also vital not to focus on your blog alone, but to repurpose and republish your content elsewhere too.
Your content published elsewhere will tend to attract far higher engagement levels and reach than you can achieve through your blog alone.
There are two main ways this helps you with list building:
- Link back to content on your blog (for example, within a Medium article, SlideShare presentation, or YouTube video), from where you can convert the visitors into leads.
- Incorporate content upgrades directly. In other words, link to opt-in pages on your site where you offer a lead magnet directly related to the content in question in exchange for the visitor’s email address.
Create and Sell Your Own Products and Services
Let’s return to that graphic referred to above (source), this time showing the original with the question marks now removed.
What’s the difference?
The only difference in their monetization model was they started selling their own product, rather than relying on ad income.
Everything else stayed mostly the same, including traffic levels.
As you can see, in comparison their previous income was just pocket change, less than a tenth of what it became.
Through selling your own products, you not only earn first-hand income (rather than a cut from someone else’s), you also develop a prime asset for your business, namely…
Your Own Customer List!
People who have bought from you once are far more likely to do so again. Their relationship with you has changed.
A buyer is a buyer is a buyer.
This is what makes your own customer list so valuable.
As an example, within my own business, customers who first bought from me over a decade ago still return and buy again.
In contrast, if you’re only earning through advertising and affiliate income, you get none of this benefit, and consequently much reduced revenue.
You’re sending the buyers who visit your blog straight to other businesses, rather than developing your own list of customers.
Even if you should earn something as a consequence, leaving that aside for a moment, your business is no stronger after the click or the sale than it was beforehand. Sure, there’s a bit of momentary income. But there’s no long-term asset.
In contrast, your own customer list is an asset that adds a huge amount of value to your business.
What to Sell
Building a list helps you understand where you’re able to add more value for your visitors. And therefore more revenue into your business.
Listen to feedback such as incoming emails and comments on your blog. What are their desires and needs?
The obvious first choice of course is often to create and sell an ebook.
It’s a start of course, and okay. But the problem is ebooks have low intrinsic value. It’s hard to sell one for much beyond $10-$20, which greatly limits your options.
For example, it means your average customer value is so low, it’s hard if not impossible to find effective advertising channels you can use profitably in order to reach a much wider audience for your product.
On the other hand, package up the same material as an e-course or a series of webinars or videos, even a set of hard-copy DVDs, and the intrinsic value immediately increases.
You can often sell it for upwards of $99, and often many multiples of that, depending on the niche you’re in.
Other ideas include the following:
- Software: you don’t have to be a software developer yourself. Instead, commission some software via a site like freelancer. Think about what software might be valuable for your audience. It will likely only take a few sales to break even on your initial investment and start profiting.
- Services: are there services you could offer your audience, either by providing the service directly yourself or by commissioning others?
- Personal or group training: could you develop a training course that you deliver say over a number of weeks, or provide personal mentorship?
There are plenty of other opportunities.
Do some research to find out what others are selling in your niche. Study their business models (though avoid the assumption they’re using optimal lead and sales generation processes).
If you currently use the Ads and Affiliate Links model, what affiliate products tend to do well? Could you provide something similar yourself?
Maximize Income with Recurring Billing
Selling one-off products and services are one thing. Selling repeat billing products and services can further transform how you monetize your blog, and multiply revenues many times.
As an example, imagine you’re selling something for which each customer pays you just $30 a month. Let’s say you gain just one new customer a day and, taking account of say a 20% cancellation rate, you have a net gain of around 24 customers a month.
Here’s how the figures start to add up over the course of a year:
Of course, these figures change markedly based on the monthly customer value, and the net customer acquisition rate.
Here are a couple more examples based on customers paying just $10 a month, and $99 (based on the same rate of customer acquisition):
Imagine what happens to these figures when you’re gaining 3, 10 or more customers a day, rather than just one.
With this model, as long as you are gaining more customers than you lose through natural attrition (people cancelling, failed payments etc.), your business is growing and the monetization of your blog becomes increasingly successful.
(If you don’t believe any of this is possible, check out these real life examples).
The key is to think about what you could offer of enough value to your audience that would mean they’d be willing to part with X number of dollars per month.
Here are some ideas:
- A members area to your site with exclusive resources, training, software, or whatever would appeal to your audience. Perhaps a private community with special access to you. Think about what would work for your audience.
- Providing software as a service (SaaS). Rather than a download-once, use forever piece of software, could the same functionality be tied in to an online service that people would pay a regular amount to access and use?
- A regular service. Could you position yourself as providing a service that customers would pay a basic monthly fee to retain access to? This could be anything from virtual assistant services to online marketing to accountancy to graphic design.
- A shipped product. For example, people pay on a monthly basis to receive everything from shaving supplies to cookies to training materials and printed newsletters. What would fit with your audience?
How to Sell
An important point is that you won’t primarily be selling to visitors to your blog directly, for example through blog posts promoting a particular product.
Instead you will sell through your list, through follow-ups, promotional campaigns, and so on.
To reiterate, the job of your blog, along with other content, is primarily to act as a lead generation tool.
Once those leads are on your list, you can then communicate with them through email and encourage them along the path to purchasing from you (or through you in the case of affiliate products).
So you’ve got #1 and #2 covered?
You’re not only building a list, but starting to build a customer list too with something of your own to sell.
The foundations are all in place.
Now it’s time to start scaling up.
The first stage is to get some clarity on your marketing numbers.
It’s hard if your traffic levels and customer levels are low to start with, but never-the-less begin to track and get a feel for the basics:
- What’s your customer value? How much is each customer worth to your business? For example, if you sell a $30 product, the customer value will be just that, $30. If you sell a repeat billing product where a customer pays $30 a month and stays on average six months, your customer value is $180. How much of this is actual profit for your business?
- What are your conversion rates? How many visitors to your site does it take to acquire a new lead? A new customer? For example, if for every 100 visitors, you acquired 10 leads and 1 new customer on average:
- Your opt-in conversion rate would be 10%.
- Your sales conversion rate would be 1%.
- How much is each lead worth? If for every 20 leads on your list, you get 1 new customer on average, and that customer brings in a profit of $150 to your business over time, each lead on your list is worth $7.50 ($150/20). This means if you can acquire leads at less than $7.50 each, you can scale up profitably (presuming they convert at the same rate and have the same value).
Once you get to know these figures (keeping them monitored over time), you can start to scale up your blog through advertising, such as promoting content on Facebook and Twitter.
You can also work on boosting your conversion rates and customer value to make your advertising more successful.
For example, let’s say leads are currently worth $7.50 to your business, but your advertising is bringing in leads at around $10 each.
While you could potentially optimize the advertising further to lower the lead cost, you could also:
- Increase the lead conversion rate. Do some A/B split testing on your opt-in conversions, for example, testing headlines, offers, buttons, and so on.
- Increase the sales conversion rate. Again, do some A/B testing on your sales process. What can you add to the sales process to encourage purchase? For example, what would happen if you added a regular webinar?
- Increase the customer value. How could you increase the value of each customer to your business. For example:
- Add an upsell. What else could you offer to customers to encourage them to spend more? Perhaps an upgraded version of the normal package?
- Increase customer retention. If repeat billing customers normally stay on average for six months, what could you do to increase that? Examine their reasons for cancelling and develop a strategy to encourage them to stay longer.
- Sell more to the same customer. What else could you sell to the same customer? Once someone has bought from you, they are much more likely to buy from you again. In fact, research has shown you’re between 5 and 14 times more likely to sell to an existing customer than to a new lead. Use this to your advantage.
Let’s say some testing increased your lead conversion rate by 30%. It previously cost $100 to bring in 10 new leads. It now costs $100 to bring in 13, reducing your lead acquisition cost to $7.69.
You’ve also worked on your sales conversion rate, discovering you could double it by adding in a webinar. For every 20 leads on your list, you now acquire 2 new customers.
At the same time, you’ve increased your customer value so that each customer is now worth on average $250 profit to your business.
So what is each lead worth now?
With each customer now bringing in $250 of profit, and 2 customers (so $500 total) from every 20 leads, each lead is now worth $25 ($500/20).
In addition, you’ve decreased the lead cost to $7.69.
Each new lead now brings in an average of $17.31. For every dollar you spend on advertising, you’re bringing in $2.25, profiting by $1.25 each time.
Spend $1,000, and your business profits by $1,250.
Or $10,000 for profits of $12,500.
A few notes of caution:
- Leads from different sources will have different values for your business. Track it carefully by source to ensure you’re making rather than losing money, and make adjustments as required.
- Ramp up advertising expenditure carefully and steadily. If you leap from say $5 a day to $100 a day once you see some positive data, the data itself may change and mean an advertising campaign is no longer profitable. Ramp up by around 20% every few days, keeping a close eye on the data.
- Watch your ads. Closely monitor your ads for performance. Particularly on platforms like Facebook, ads grow stale. Continually test new ones to try to improve on previous performance and keep ads fresh.
(I’m sure you can now appreciate how the Ads and Affiliate Links monetization model doesn’t permit you to scale up your blog like this. You simply don’t have the revenue to advertise profitably, nor the sales and conversion process to adjust to make it work for your business.)
Don’t Forget About Content
Remember advertising is only part of the picture. The content you create on a regular basis is also crucial.
Continue to create and publish content regularly, and extending the reach of it through repurposing and publishing to other platforms. You’ll find this also helps to scale up your blog over time by growing your audience, including on social media, along with your authority, influence and overall visibility.
Your content is often important too for achieving the conversion rates that a successful advertising campaign relies upon. For example, you need it to continue communicating effectively with your list, building trust and credibility with them, and moving them closer to the sale.
While there are several elements to monetizing a blog successfully, a key turning point is often when blog owners start focusing on building their own list and selling their own products and services.
Using ads and affiliate links alone, a model followed by many low-income blogs, will only ever achieve a small fraction of what the model outlined here is capable of.
There’s a learning curve, sure. But none of it is not rocket science. It’s simply about following the process and learning and improving all the time as you go along.
Remember to get the cheatsheet you need for monetizing your blog effectively.