This post is based on episode 198 of the ProBlogger podcast.
If you’ve been blogging for a while but haven’t started monetizing your blog, you might be wondering what income stream you should add first.
This can be a sticking point, whether you’re a new blogger or have been blogging for a while.
There’s no one “perfect” income stream to start with (though I’ll be making a recommendation at the end of this post about the one that suits most blogs).
What you pick will depend on your topic, your audience, and more.
Different Factors Affecting the Income Stream You Choose
Your Topic: Some income streams suit certain topics better than others. For instance, bloggers writing about spirituality or politics often find advertising doesn’t work so well.
What Your Readers Want: Your reader’s intent matters too. If they’re on your site because they want information, it might make sense to sell them an information product. If they’re on your site to connect with others, they might instead be willing to subscribe to a membership community.
Your Audience Size: As your blog grows, so will your income from most income streams. Some income streams won’t really work at all with a small audience, particularly Google AdSense.
Your Readers’ Location: If you have a lot of local readers, that can lead to specific opportunities such as selling advertising to local readers. If your audience is global, something like Amazon’s affiliate program might work well for you.
The Source of Your Traffic: Some types of traffic monetize differently from others. For instance, traffic from search engines can be a good fit for Google AdSense, but traffic from social media might convert well into affiliate product sales. Email works really well if you’re selling a product.
Six Different Income Streams You Could Try
#1: Amazon’s Affiliate Program
Amazon’s affiliate program is called “Amazon Associates”, and it attracts some mixed feelings from bloggers. (If you’re not sure what an affiliate program is, we’ll be coming to that in a moment.)
One issue with Amazon Associates is it’s simply not available for some people. Amazon won’t let you join if you’re in certain states due to tax laws. And Amazon isn’t available at all in some parts of the world.
But most of the complaints I hear are that Amazon’s commission isn’t very high (it’s normally 4%, though it can be higher on certain products) and that the affiliate cookie only lasts for 24 hours.
Personally, I find the Amazon Associates program works well for me, particularly on Digital Photography School.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- We have a very US-based audience that knows, likes and trusts Amazon.
- Some of the products we promote are high-value ones (e.g. $2,000 cameras). And even 4% commission on those quickly adds up.
- Amazon will give you a cut of everything a person someone buys within 24 hours of following your link. I often get commissions from people buying books, cosmetics, jewellery, and even nappies (diapers).
- Amazon’s links are easy to integrate into a blog, and they provide a number of tools and widgets you can use.
- Amazon is really well optimised for holidays such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so you can promote special deals at these times.
While Amazon won’t be a perfect fit for every blog, it’s a good first option as you can be up and running with Amazon affiliate links in just a few minutes.
#2: Other Affiliate Programs
Being an “affiliate” for a product means you recommend it to your readers and get a commission each time someone buys that product. You’ll get an “affiliate link” to the product with a special tracking code so your commission can be correctly credited to you.
There are a huge number of affiliate programs out there, and you can promote almost anything. For instance, my wife Vanessa has a style fashion blog where she promotes a number of different physical products. She also writes about books and recommends those using affiliate links to Australian stores (as most of her readers are Australian).
Some online stores have their own affiliate program, but many will use an affiliate network such as Commission Junction, Commission Factory, ShareASale or LinkShare. These work well for bloggers, as your commission from several different stores can be pooled together into one payout (so long as they’re all on the same network).
If your topic isn’t a good fit for physical products, you can promote virtual products that are often information based such as ebooks, ecourses or membership sites. Some of these will pay quite a high commission, with 50% considered normal.
You can also promote software products. On ProBlogger, for instance, we recommend hosting options, tools, landing page sites, plugins, WordPress themes, and so on.
Whatever you’re promoting, make sure it’s a product that’s on topic and matches what your readers want to buy. You should also be sure it’s high-quality and something you’re happy to be associated with through your recommendation.
My Tips for Making Money As a Blogger Through Affiliate Marketing (podcast episode)
#3: Join an Advertising Network
I see a lot of bloggers start out this way, particularly those who’ve already built a bit of an audience. Advertising doesn’t work well if your audience is very small, as you won’t get more than a few cents from it.
One popular option is Google’s AdSense network. Some bloggers don’t like it because they find they don’t make much money for it. My experience is that you need a lot of traffic, and it works best with US audiences.
Another good network to try is Mediavine. There are some restrictions on who can join based on your traffic and niche. But the bloggers I know who got accepted say they do a lot better from it than from AdSense.
Mediavine doesn’t represent some categories (e.g. politics and religion), and your blog should fit into one of these areas: food, parenting, DIY, health, fitness, fashion, travel, crafts, education, entertainment.
You’ll need to have 25,000 “sessions” (visits to your site) each month as measured by Google Analytics. If you have less, you might not get accepted.
This is a slightly different type of advertising where you find a brand that’s willing to work with you directly, cutting out the “middle man” of an advertising network. Again, you’ll need some traffic for this to work.
There are a variety of ways you could sell sponsorship. For instance, you might offer:
- A banner ad on your blog
- A sponsored post (written by you or the sponsor)
- A sponsored giveaway or competition on your blog
With Digital Photography School, we often offer sponsors a “bundle” of different things – perhaps a banner ad on the blog and in the newsletter, some social media promotion and a competition.
#5: Creating Products
Up to this point, the methods I’ve shared are all about promoting other people’s products – either as an affiliate or by working with them as an advertiser or sponsor. These methods all involve sending people away from your site to buy someone else’s product.
That works well, especially when you’re starting out. But another option is to create your own product that you sell through your blog.
This takes quite a lot of work, particularly if you’re going to sell a physical product that needs to be designed and manufactured. Even a virtual product such as an ebook takes time to create.
My first product was an ebook, which included some previously published posts along with some extra material. It took me three or four months to create it and get it ready to sell.
Selling your own product works best if you’ve got an engaged audience rather than a lot of fleeting traffic from search engines. Ideally, you want to get your readers onto an email list, because email is a great way to sell products.
If you’ve already built up an audience, and your readers are engaged and interested, a product could be a great first income stream. You can include your readers in the development of the product. They could even help fund it through a site such as Kickstarter.
Creating a Product Library for Your Blog (podcast episode)
#6: Selling Your Services
The final income stream you might try when you first monetize is selling your services. This could be linked to an existing business (e.g. if you’re an accountant, a lawyer, or a child behaviour therapist), or you could start providing a new service that relates to your blog.
One avenue many bloggers go down is to freelance on related topics. For instance, if you’ve got a fashion blog, you could write copy for fashion site. If you’ve got a parenting blog, you might be able to land a column with a parenting magazine.
When I did a recent survey of about 100 full-time bloggers, I found more than half of them offered freelancing services such as writing, consulting, and coaching. So that’s another option to consider when you’re starting to monetize.
Which Income Stream Should You Try First?
The options we’ve been through are:
- Amazon’s affiliate program
- Other affiliate programs
- Advertising networks
- Creating a product
- Providing a service
Any of these could make a great first income stream for your blog. But if you’re not sure which one to choose, I suggest going for affiliate marketing (either with Amazon or with another brand).
Affiliate marketing has a very low barrier to entry. Many programs will approve you instantly. You can get links straight away to put into your blog posts.
While you might not make a lot of money from affiliate marketing in the early days, you’ll learn a lot. You’ll see which products your audience are interested in buying. You’ll discover whether they prefer physical or virtual products, or whether they’re more likely to buy high-priced or low-priced ones. This can help you work out what type of product you might want to create.
Affiliate marketing can also help you to figure out which brands might become sponsors for your blog. For instance, if you find jewellery does well on your blog, you might reach out to some jewellery stores or manufacturers.
A Couple of Important Things to Remember
Remember, making money from blogging takes time. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. Most bloggers have more than one income stream, particularly if they’re blogging full-time. Many will also have tried some things that didn’t work for them.
So if the first income stream you try doesn’t work for you, hang in there and keep experimenting.
And while some bloggers talk about “passive income”, making money from your blog isn’t really passive. You’ll spend time building your audience, creating a product or building relationships, and so on.
So by all means experiment with income streams. But don’t do it at the expense of other important things, such as creating great content, engaging with your audience, and promoting your blog.
Image credit: lucas Favre