It's an appealing fantasy: Start a blog. Watch it take off. Then, quit office life, sit at home, and live off the advertising revenue.
But just like Olympic medals, money-making blogs also elude most people who seek them, despite success stories such as Dooce.com and Problogger.net. The vast majority of blogs, written primarily for family and friends, get under 50 page views a day and earn pennies per month, if anything. It is possible, however, to be one of the chosen few who defy the odds and snag thousands of dollars each month, or at least enough to fund a car payment. Here's how to do it:
1) Pick a topic that you love. Of course, it's best if you love something other people also love, such as motherhood, politics, or celebrities. "All blogs have the potential to create revenue, but the more popular ones are tech and product-focused, versus ones that are just a 'day in the life of,'" says Farnoosh Torabi, You're So Money author and senior correspondent for TheStreet.com.
Steve Pavlina, who blogs at his eponymous website, cautions against being overly narrow in focus. "Instead of picking a niche like diet tips, where there's only so much you can write, instead pick a general way of looking at life or an area of interest that you're passionate about," he says. He writes about personal growth, which encompasses relationships, finances, career development, and spirituality.
2) Build up traffic. Strategies on gaining readers could fill an entire book, but the basics involve reaching out to other bloggers, writing quality content, and updating that content daily. Advertisers usually pay a rate based on every 1,000 page views, explains Torabi. Joining a blog network, creating a great title, and gaining a strong following are all ways to build those views, she says.
Pavlina experienced his first spike in traffic in May 2005 when he wrote an article on how to become an early riser. He credits his success to continuing to publish unique articles that help people change their lives for the better. He says he now gets around 2 million visitors a month and his monthly revenue is in the five figures.
3) Wait to monetize. Or start immediately. When to start placing ads on your site is a subject of debate among bloggers. Lynnae McCoy, blogger at Being Frugal, recommends placing ads from the start so readers get used to the look and don't complain when you add them later. But Pavlina suggests waiting until you have 100,000 page views a month (no easy feat), because before that, any monetization will just make "coffee money."
4) Temper your expectations. Blogging is not exactly a get-rich scheme, as many bloggers point out. According to a survey by Darren Rowse of Problogger, who earns over six figures a year off his blog, most bloggers earn less than a dollar per day. "It's like any 'pro' thing," he says, adding that as with sports, most people do it for fun. A smaller subset makes a small amount of money from winning competitions, then an even smaller group makes a full-time living from it. And a very small group makes a lot of money, like Tiger Woods.
His survey also found that about half of the 3,000 respondents earned over $100 from their blogging, with most of those earnings in the $100 to $1,000 per month range.
Many of the bloggers who do earn money are working full-time hours, or longer. Silicon Valley Blogger at Digerati Life works at least 40 hours a week and earns between $3,000 and $5,000 a month, which means she earns around $25 an hour—a rate she hopes to improve in the future.
5) Start strong. Many successful bloggers say the first six months are key, not because they made much money as they were starting out, but because it was essential for them to market and optimize their new blogs in order to stand out in a crowded field. "The first six months are the hardest because you have to work hard to get your blog noticed," says McCoy.
6) Don't rely purely on Google AdSense. While Google ads are usually new bloggers' first foray into advertising because they are so easy to use, they often provide only a fraction of successful bloggers' income. More lucrative deals can come from advertisers who pay directly to have a banner ad or link placed on the blog. McCoy and others say advertisers started contacting them as soon as their blogs started coming up as one of the top links in popular Web searches.