Can You Make Real Money Blogging?

Earning a living won’t come easy or quickly, but here’s advice from those who have been successful.

Earning a living won’t come easy or quickly, but here’s advice from those who have been successful.
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For awhile, it looked like blogging might be everyone's answer to the question: How can I become rich while working at home and focusing on a topic I enjoy?

Not that that isn't happening, but for those who are younger or who haven't been paying attention, about 10 years ago, blogging was just beginning to buzz. As Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press wrote in 2003, "The online diaries known as Weblogs or 'blogs' seemed like a lot of inconsequential chatter when they surfaced a few years ago. But ... what once seemed like a passing fancy has morphed into a cutting-edge phenomenon that may provide the platform for the Internet's next wave of innovation and moneymaking opportunities."

In the years since, some blogs have been sold to companies for millions of dollars – but most haven't. According to the Nielson Company, there were 181 million blogs at the end of 2011, which begins to explain why the country isn't full of multimillionaire bloggers.

"Bloggers usually underestimate how hard it is to make money from blogging because there are so many blogs out there ... They assume that just by putting the blog up, it will be enough. Kind of like the 'if you build it they will come' mentality. That's not likely to happen to most people, though," says Jacqueline Bodnar, a prolific blogger in Daytona Beach, Fla., and author of "Starting Your Career as a Professional Blogger."

[Read: Why You Should Launch a Side Gig Now.]

So for bloggers who are trying to become filthy rich – or at least aim for a respectable middle-class income – here are some things to keep in mind.

Making a living won't come quickly. If you've lost your job and decide to start a blog to support yourself, good for you. But keep job-searching, especially if you don't have a spouse to bring in revenue – because odds are, this isn't going to work out.

But let's say it does. It may take months before money dribbles in from advertisers. Generally, bloggers set up ads on their site, frequently with mainstream ad players like Google AdSense, Amazon Associates and Pay-Per-Post, all of which are fairly user-friendly. But after finding the advertisers, you'll need to find readers – a lot of them.

A few years ago, the money for ads on blogs was "very, very high, at least for established blogs with large audiences," says Amy Corbett Storch, 35, who lives in Bethesda, Md., with her husband and three kids. She first began blogging in 2003, but then the economy tanked, and advertisers began to become more choosy with their dollars, and they still are.

Storch's blog, Amalah.com, which gets its name from a nickname given to Amy by a co-worker, was initially a humor-personal memoir blog. But since she had her first child in 2005, it's been considered a "mommy" blog, of which there are many.

In 2006, Storch quit her job as managing editor for a financial publishing company to be a full-time blogger working from home while raising a family. She also branched out beyond her own blog, and now blogs for sites including ClubMom, TheStir, Babble, AlphaMom and, in 2007, she co-founded Mamapop.com, an entertainment-culture site for parents.

Storch says the ads at the top of a blog or website – banner ads – are paid on a CPM basis (cost per thousand readers). "In the heyday, you might get [advertising] campaigns for $15 or $20 CPM," Storch says. "This month, my highest CPM ad is paying $6. Most are around $2 or $3."

That can work out pretty well if you have an audience – Storch says Amalah.com has about 700,000 page views a month. But if you're only getting, say, 1,200 page views a month, you might only make enough to treat your family to a night out at McDonald's. Even if you're pulling in enough money to pay the mortgage, Storch says bloggers have to remember they're going to pay commission to their ad network, taxes on their blogging income, hosting and Internet fees, and she pays for childcare.

"If Amalah was all I was doing, I'd be completely freaking out. Diversify, folks," she says.