Once your blog has reached some level of popularity, either within its niche or more broadly, the question arises: how are we going to make some money from this? Blogging at a small scale is cheap, the writers and editors usually work for free, and WordPress hosting is inexpensive. But, the more popular a blog becomes, the more expensive the infrastructure needed to support it, and, of course, most people get into the blogging business on this level as a way of making an income.
The publishing business has been trying to figure out the best ways of monetizing their online content for a long time now, and has developed various means of generating revenue. We’re going to have a look at five of the most popular and give you some pointers as to how you could implement them on your own site.
Advertising is the traditional route for making money from editorial content. Unfortunately, traditional advertising revenue is on the decline. There has been a constant drop in CPM (Cost Per Mille) for display advertising over recent years. However, if your blog has built up a large enough audience, or a reasonable sized audience with demographics that marketers are particularly interested in, then there is still considerable scope for making money this way.
The biggest advertising network around is Google’s AdSense, which is a flexible and straightforward way for publishers to show relevant ads next to their content. The Quick AdSense WordPress plugin is one of the more popular ways to get ads onto a WordPress site.
There are many advertising networks that compete with Google’s that are worth checking out, including Chitika and Bidvertiser.
The alternative is for a site to go it alone and find its own advertisers. This can be a fruitful approach for large blogs with the staff to find and manage advertising opportunities, but it’s a time consuming process, and smaller sites are better off using an advertising network that will do much of the hard work for them. One exception to this is for blogs that are already very popular and well-known within a particular niche industry. They may find it easy to attract advertising.
Affiliate links are the second most popular method of monetizing. Affiliate links are coded links to products and services online. When a user clicks on an affiliate link, the point of origin is registered by the site, and the site owners get paid some percentage of the sale value. Many sites around the Internet exist entirely as affiliate sites, although they tend to have poor quality content and are often associated with spamming. Nevertheless, given the decline of advertising revenue, some large content sites plan to start using affiliate links to make up the lost revenue, including the Gawker Network.
Thirsty Affiliates provides a popular method for adding affiliate links to a site, as does the WP Auto Affiliate Links plugin.
Premium content can be an awesome way to make money, but it depends on the particular audience a blog has, and the sort of premium content. Opting to make some proportion of articles available only for a fee is not likely to go down well with readers who have become used to getting it for free, but with services like Google Wallet for Content, it can be done painlessly from the site owner’s perspective. This can also be used as a method of providing white papers, podcasts, and other value added content for a price. The Restrict Content Pro is another method for achieving much the same thing.
A very popular way of monetizing is to create an ebook based on the content of the blog. This isn’t strictly a WordPress-based process, but Amazon and Apple both provide excellent self-publishing tools.
If a blog has a very loyal audience, then donations can be a lucrative revenue stream. Unobtrusively soliciting donations from regular readers and providing an easy mechanism for payment has proven a viable source of income for a number of sites. PayPal is the most popular service used in this way, and for regular readers it’s a great way for them to say thank you.
However, for the casual reader, who wants to donate in response to an article they particularly enjoyed, it can be a disincentive to donation if they have to go through the process of making a PayPal payment just to send the small amount of money appropriate to a blog article. The Flattr service was designed so that making small donations is very easy. Flattr allows users to designate an amount of money that they are prepared to pay for content each month. As they read articles they enjoy, they click on the Flattr button attached to that content. At the end of the month, their money is split between the sites they have “flattred”. The Flattr WordPress plugin makes it easy to add the button.
Paywalls are a process, similar to the premium content model we mentioned earlier, that restricts access to some or all of a site’s content to registered users who have paid a fee. Paywalls are largely the domain of big media organizations like the New York Times, but there are a few bloggers who are making it pay, most notably Andrew Sullivan.
Unfortunately, not many people have the huge following that Sullivan has, so for all but the most popular blogs, a paywall is very likely to be a failure. There may be exceptions to this where a blogger is a recognized industry expert who publishes useful, actionable information regularly, but for your everyday blogger, asking is better than demanding, so the donation route is probably more suitable.
If you want to go ahead and implement a paywall on your site, TinyPass is a good way to do it.
How are you making money from your blog? Let us know your experiences of taking your blog into the black in the comments.
About Graeme Caldwell — Graeme works as an inbound marketer for Nexcess, a leading provider of Magento and WordPress hosting. Follow Nexcess on Twitter at @nexcess, Like them on Facebook and check out their tech/hosting blog, http://blog.nexcess.net/.