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Personal Blog Monetization Perils and Pitfalls

Posted By Guest Blogger 12th of February 2011 Blogging for Dollars 62

This guest post is by Brooke Schoenman of Brooke vs. the World.

I write for two blogs that are both travel-themed, yet very different from one another. Brooke vs. the World has been my personal travel blog for the past four years, while WhyGo Australia is more of a travel guide blog which is part of a larger travel network, and focuses on making money. Because of their different natures, I approach the way I write and promote each of these blogs in a different manner.

Brooke vs. the World has been around for a while now, and since I have a bit of clout in the online travel community, it does draw the attention of advertisers and has various avenues of making money. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to come to terms with whether or not I want to take it a step further to a point of it becoming a real money-maker. In considering my options, I’ve realized that this process would involve overcoming several challenges.

Prioritizing commercial topics over personal topics

Most personal bloggers choose to write about topics that only pertain to them, and do it in a way that requires them to talk about themselves. This approach can help build a following of people that truly can relate to you and what you’re doing, but it’s likely that focusing more heavily on broader topics that a more general audience can relate to from time to time will mean you can monetize your blog more successfully. There’s also the need to choose topics that fare better for SEO and purposely cause discussion. In other words, if you monetize your personal blog, you might have to blog about topics that aren’t as near and dear to your heart all the time.

For example, on my personal blog, I’d find it a bit bland to write an article on the “5 Best Budget Hostels in Antigua, Guatemala.” I’d much prefer to talk about my experiences with meeting new people there, perhaps in an article called, “The Amazing Friends I Met in Hostels in Guatemala.” Obviously, the first topic is going to appeal to a larger audience, maybe perform better with the search engines, and produce a better way of introducing affiliate programs with direct calls to action (think: “book your stay now”).

Censoring personal feelings

If you’re like me, you might use a personal blog as a way to vent and share your personal feelings. There’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, it can be a good way to connect with readers. However, if you monetize your blog, times may arise when it is best to not show your deep-down honest feelings—perhaps when you really dislike something. That’s a factor that can change in a blog when it starts to become a business: being openly judgmental can drive some potential advertisers away.

I let my personal feelings about traveling in New Zealand slip out on my blog last year. Sure, there were plenty of reasons why my feelings on the subject were negative, but by not censoring myself, I may have killed any chances of landing a media-related trip to New Zealand, or of working with New Zealand-themed advertisers in the future.

Broadening the horizons

Along with prioritizing commercial topics, the personal blogger looking to monetize their blog may need to broaden their scope. Talking about travel experiences and telling travel tales is one thing, but to gain a larger audience, you may try to provide experiences and tales for more than the countries that you’ve visited yourself. In addition, tackling list-style posts and easy-reading type articles can be a great way to draw in different types of readers. But are they your thing?

I think Darren touches on this point by talking about how his video posts do better when he has both the video and the transcription together. There are simply different kinds of audiences: some are visual (preferring photos or videos); others like to read about it. Some visitors are looking for a personal tale from a travel blog, while others want to know how exactly they can do the same things you did in a step-by-step guide. Each of these visitor types means that you may gain by branching out from your normal style. But personally, I find list posts and how-to guides feel less personal and unique (the majority of the time), and video blogs time-consuming.

Opening it up to others

Although it’s not necessarily essential, opening up a blog to focus more on others (another step in broadening the horizons) is beneficial when it comes to gaining more interest from your audience. You can achieve this by writing interviews, accepting guest posts, and linking more frequently to outside resources. Any way it happens, it will draw more attention to your blog. Yet it is a task that can be difficult to do smoothly if, so far, you’ve been focusing solely on your own story.

Brooke vs. the World, for example, has been a blog about my personal journey; the title pretty much says so. The objective has always been to share my travels, so the thought of adding another voice to the mix through guest posts would seem to break the continuity of what has now been years in the making.

Getting over the fear of selling

If a blog doesn’t start out to make money, it can feel as though the blogger is selling out by changing their focus to monetization later on. I think this is my number one issue with taking my personal blog to the next level—the fear that what I do and say will be only taken at face value, instead of genuinely. So, while I may feel strongly about the benefits of a certain product I’m writing about, I often fear making the initial call to action to achieve the response I’m looking for.

The fact that I struggle with this aspect could be all in my head, or it could be because the selling tone just doesn’t fit in with my personal blog’s voice. I’ve tried several times to write articles that are focused on the sale, but it just sounds out of place and inauthentic. I often worry that people will think that I’m only saying that I like a specific tour or travel product because I’m hoping to make some quick money from the sales.

Getting over the fear of selling yourself

Self-promotion is essential for making yourself stand out in a crowded niche such as travel, yet for many people, it’s not easy to do. You have to be able to tell people why you are interesting to follow and, most importantly, how they can gain from it themselves. Otherwise, you’ll be just another fish in the big Internet sea, swimming around waiting to be discovered.

Part of the process of drawing attention to yourself, however, can feel like bragging. Since most personal blogs have just a person behind them, there’s no business name to hide behind. So selling yourself seems very much like talking yourself up to others, which is what we were raised to think is impolite and annoying. I’m sure there is a fine line here, but I often find myself questioning whether it’s worth the risk of crossing that line.

I generally have no issues doing any of these activities with WhyGo Australia, since it’s a part of my job and I’m backed by a really awesome independent travel company. Overcoming these challenges with my personal blog is another story—and one that I continue to struggle with.

Have any of you felt the same when it comes to trying to make the change from personal blog to money-maker?

Brooke Schoenman is a long-time traveler and full-time travel blogger, originally from America but now in the process of becoming an Australia expat. For travel inspiration, subscribe to her feed at Brooke vs. the World, and for Australia travel tips be sure to bookmark WhyGo Australia.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
Comments
  1. I find your tip to censor personal feelings very interesting. I can understand why you would want to censor your feelings from your perspective. I, however, run a blog that can be very controversial at times because of the theme of the blog. I find that my personal feelings are necessary to the success of my blog. I always welcome other readers comments, even if they disagree with me. I think that this is what makes a good blog.

    Personally, I think that this tip depends on what type of blog you have. I cannot get a very objective view in my blog, so I have to give my personal feelings.

    • Great point Cameron.

      I also believe that it is possible to give a personal slant to commercial like articles. What is wrong in writing about a budget hotel you visited and then going on to give a list on 5 budget hotels? I suppose it all depends on your writing style and the type of blog you have. But a personal blog without personal posts? I don’t know.

  2. Being an Aussie blogger I was really interested in checking those links but unfortunately none of them work.

    Although most of my blogs are not designed for the purpose of making money I still advertise certain products and affiliates that are related to the blogs subject matter. This is important because people who come to your blog in search of a particular topic are only going to buy something if it related to that topic. That’s what targeted traffic is all about. No point trying to sell them a vibrator if their looking for travel insurance. ;)

  3. I’m trying to run middle-way with my Freethinking Out Loud. In a way it is a personal blog, it is highly opinionated and about the several topics that interest me. Worst of all, those topics (world politics, religion and critique of the technology) are not quite monetizable. On the other hand, I don’t write personal stuff more than to give a bit of tone to the blog and show the person behind the blog.

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. It’s always good to know there are other people around who think about the same problems as I do. This type of blog is hard to monetize, huh, it’s even hard to do a good SEO for it. But I like writing it. :) At one moment I’d probably realize that the real goal is a book deal.

  4. for monetization i only say do not fear just focus on what your are selling and believe on yourself. After a certain time every thing comes to your way remember “Rome is not built in a day”, every good things need sometime.

  5. Blogging is about you been you and not letting anyone else dictate how you do things. If people love your content, then they will stick around.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  6. It’s often the case in my field (painting, illustration etc) that the most successful artists aren’t always the best artists, but they’re certainly the best artists at selling themselves. One of my friends (to remain nameless) is a really ropey artist, and another is the best draughtsman that I personally know but is so shy that they wouldn’t say boo to a mouse. Guess which one’s working as a war artist with several appearances on TV etc. etc?

    • Oh, how annoying… and I know exactly how that goes. You don’t necessarily have to be a good writer to be successful at blogging, You just have to be able to promote.

  7. Indeed personal blogs are hard to monetize because it lacks a particular niche. Most successful personal blogs I’ve seen have monetized by way of direct ad sales rather than the typical AdSense and text link ad route.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Jhay :) I would have to say, though, that personal blogs don’t necessarily lack a niche. Everything on my blog relates to the pursuit of travel, and there are plenty of personal travel blogs that have a particular target (family travel, teaching abroad, etc).

  8. I understand the conflict. I’ve been looking for a niche to monetize for awhile and eventually decided to monetize a personal blog that focuses on a particular area of my life – emigrating from Britain to East Germany. I decided to blog about it firstly because it’s a story and I’m a writer by trade, but also because I realised it would be a unique experience – not many Brits move to this part of Germany – that I could share with others while it was happening, rather than penning something in isolation and then trying to sell it at a later date.

    I chose to write in terms of experiences that expats would deal with in the course of emigrating: culture shock, new cultural rituals, language issues, citizenship (if I get that far) etc, and also experiences particular to this part of the world and its culture. Being both informative as well as entertaining is a difficult balance, I admit and there are many experiences that I’m leaving out because they’re either not relevant and won’t perform well as articles, or I feel they are too personal.I realised early on that this wouldn’t be a complete representation of me and my life, but a representation of this experience. I’ll have other blogs in the future and not all of them will be monetized.

    You can visit here: waldiland.blogspot.com

  9. For me, I don’t really have problems with my personal blog in respect to revenue making/business face of it. When I started, I had a goal which is ‘Report my earnings and talk about things’. I’m sure along the line, I’ll want to monetize it and what I intend to do is simply provide simple guide for people that’ve followed my progress…it’s not a struggle as far as I’m concerned. For instance, I’ll be reporting the process of selling my sites on flippa and after the whole long thing, I’m sure questions will come in and people’ll want to know more. I can then provide more value at a price which I’m sure my audience’ll be willingly to pay.
    All in all, I think the deal is the mind set. I’ve got my fears also but I’m trying to deal with things as they come up. Thanks for your wonderful post. Enjoy your day.
    Tim.

    • Hi, Tim, and thanks so much for reading. It sounds like our personal blogs are much different from one another. I would never want to sell my blog as I consider it more like an online scrapbook of my life and journey over the past few years. But, it sounds like for the blog you are working on, and the plan that you have, that monetizing your blog will be a logical step. Good luck with the process :)

  10. I think adsense is best way to earn than anything sell in blog. I hard to do that.

  11. Great post. I think that adding a personal touch to any endeavor adds a bit of realness to it. People tend to gravitate towards that realness. Trying to monetize a personal blog can be done if it’s in a tasteful way. I think that promoting a product or service that you use and are behind 100% is a good way of going about it. An example would be, if you run a blog for your photography business, you could promote an affiliate link to a set of Photoshop actions that you use in your own workflow.

    • Good point Corey. In creating this connection on a personal level, it’s important to build a story which makes buying a product a reasonable conclusion for your audience.

    • I agree, tasteful is the way. I feel that I want my readers to enjoy the experience I’m having and not be bombarded with options to buy at every turn. If there is a product that is relevant to what I’m doing and the process I’m going through, which is a process others might follow in the future I can see it would be worth promoting.

  12. Brooke

    The monetizing is a tough decision as we will hear that we sold out, that we have an agenda and will only create blogs with affiliate links, have ads that interfere with the enjoyment of reading the blog, etc. Well that is going to happen regardless and that small minority seems to overshadow the larger majority who would like the tips on what you use and may be inclined to buy. I have been going back and forth with this and with a new launch looming, I am going to have the affiliate links from the beginning and not struggle with what people are going to say as in the beginning there will not be many people saying as the audience is being introduced.

    Self promotion in a travel site is necessary. If I am planning a trip, I want to to see the experience of other bloggers and some reviews. It is great to have tips but the experience of the hotel, the restaurants, the surrounding area, etc is way more important than some travel tips.

    • Suzanne, I completely agree that it is easier to deal with monetizing if done directly from launch. I have actually launched a new website for female travelers and I have made it a point that this site is for money-making. It’s a completely different feeling, and I’m sure you’ll find out soon enough. Good luck, by the way!

  13. Hi Brooke,

    You make a few great points about limiting beliefs in this post.

    As for censoring personal feelings that’s a tough issue. You want to shoot from the hip but you also want to make sure you don’t alienate yourself from individuals. The best way to do this is to handle negative viewpoints you have toward something in a diplomatic manner. You can make your opinion known about something without turning somebody off to that thing.

    I too had the same fear of being viewed as a shill or wheeler and dealer who was only out for the buck when deciding on if I wanted to monetize my blog or not. I finally realized it was a self-image issue. I didn’t feel that people wanted to buy anything from me because I didn’t have enough expertise in my area of choice.

    I offered immense value for a sustained period of time but it was until I accepted the fact that what I offered was worth it, and more importantly that I was worth it, that I began to feel comfortable monetizing aspect of my blog and prospering. That being said it look a great deal of time thinking things through and identifying my limiting beliefs in this area so I could release them.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Brooke. Enjoy your weekend :)

    RB

  14. Brooke so happy to see you here!

    I understand the fear of being more open with your feelings on a personal blog and I held back for a long time. But I found out once I opened up I was much more successful and my readers could relate to me. Sure I may lose out on some advertiser opportunities but I think I’ve gained in readership.

    Like you I’m careful about the monetization and am going to tread carefully in this area. I’ve seen a lot of non-travel bloggers do it well and I’m watching them for inspiration.

    • Thanks for reading, Ayngelina :) There’s a comment above about it being easier to monetize if done from the get-go, which I completely agree with. If only I knew that was what I wanted in the very beginning, hey?

      • In the beginning I don’t think anyone would have wanted to read my site let alone advertise on it!
        Oh well, we make mistakes and then learn from them.

  15. Matthew says: 02/12/2011 at 8:04 am

    >> Most successful personal blogs I’ve seen have monetized by way of direct ad sales rather than the typical AdSense and text link ad route.

    Indeed.

  16. As an individual that creates blog content for others, I would suggest that to much negativity is a bad thing.
    However-some of my most read blogs were about my experiences. Even though they sometimes were negative. If your in it for the money-temper yourself. If you blog for fun-do it your way.

    • Good advice :) I think that finding the line can be a bit of a challenge sometimes — you know the point where you can state your thoughts, but in a way that lets you look like a real person with real opinions while also not being too negative.

  17. I have struggled with this as well. I have a strictly personal blog on free wordpress that was my “practice” blog. Once I was a little more comfortable, I started a personal/self-help blog. I am in the process of writing my first e-book that will I will be marketing. From the very beginning of this blog, I had affiliate books available but not very prominent. I am in the midst of a 8 week challenge on the blog, and made an announcement of the upcoming e-book. It has been a fine line trying to prepare to monetize, without seeming like I am selling out. My next step will be to create online workshops and lead eventually into coaching. Since I am not taking direct ads, I have control over my content, and I feel more comfortable speaking with my mind. We shall see once I actually launch e-book in March!
    Bernice
    Living the Balanced Life

  18. I’ve run a couple of blogs and a podcast now, and from what I’ve learned there are a couple of dos and don’ts.

    Advertising – if you’re going to put in Google Ads (or direct sales ad space) then make sure that placement is sympathetic with your blog layout and style. Too often I see Adsense done badly, disrupting the content flow and putting people off reading. Done intelligently it still captures the eyes of your readers but doesn’t interfere with your content.

    Affiliates – a good affiliate product is one you can believe in yourself and explain the benefits of to your readers. Again, I often see badly placed Amazon links with no reasoning behind them, so I have no incentive to buy. Templates and widgets are good, but explaining why a book is good and then including an affiliate link to it is much better and less intrusive!

    If you put yourself in your readers shoes and maintain the quality of what you’re providing, your readers will probably be fine with your monetisation.

  19. Don’t know if this pertains to this post, but I have a garden blog. I have teleflora as one as my affilate advertisers, I want to do a small post about purchase your flowers now in time for valentines day. Is this ok to do or am I pushing it too much? I have had my blog since July 2010 and not really making much on it, I don’t need to make thousands of dollars a month but like to see something. Even with google ads I hardly see anything.

    If this is the wrong area to comment about this I apologize ahead of time.

    Tony

    • Hi Tony,

      I think it varies by blog… if you feel comfortable putting the post out, then do it.

    • Tony, I would say this is a good idea. Any post that offers positive advice and is close to the subject of your blog is going to be good. Afterall, how many times have you heard someone complaining that they can’t get a dozen roses at 6pm on Valentines Day?

  20. Sherry says: 02/12/2011 at 11:57 am

    Is it me or all of the links on this articles don’t work. I tried to visit Whygoaustralia but it led to an error page. Please check on this. thanks.

  21. I started writing blog about Laos food, culture and music. I called it Laos United. I just don’t know what to do to get more traffic. Could you please give me some advices or something to read. Thank.

  22. Hi there.

    I am just about to set up a new blog. It’s been always my dream to monetize my personal blog but to no avail. I am on the religious life/ christian living niche. How can I monetize it or should I ask if it’s even possible to monetize it?

    Thanks.

    Chris

  23. I prefer to sell the brand/website itself and hide my identity. I don’t like the idea of people knowing me for owning several websites.

  24. For me this is a real dilemma. I have several blogs running right now – none of them doing particularly well! I started blogging simply as a means of self expression, then got to using a blog to promote my professional reputation – linked to LinkedIn etc. In the present climate. it would be great to make some money out of the writing about what I do! That mean applying a whole lot more discipline and focus, and certainly thinking the how far to personalise. I found your post a really useful discussion of the issues – many thanks!

  25. I come at this from the direction of having a monetized blog. I struggle with how much to be personal there. I don’t want my site to be merely a sales catalog. So I throw in posts often that sell nothing, but put out an idea or a rant instead. It’s a tough struggle. After all, one does have to build relationships with the audience.
    Recently I heard an excellent thought concerning monetization. Your customers can afford to pay for what you’re selling them. So don’t be shy. The other side of that coin is that, if someone doesn’t like what you’re selling or can’t afford it, she’s not your customer.
    I do have a personal blog, too, where I share a few things. Still, I don’t journal there. I’m not like a teenager on a quest for notariety and validation.

  26. There have been quite a number of comments on here (and your post mentions it too) about the importance of a blog having personality. I wholeheartedly agree. Along with constantly updated content, it’s one of the trademarks of blogging, I believe. I was just thinking today about how guest blogging affects that, because it does affect the blog’s personality, especially with personal blogs. Some of my favorite posts have been by guest bloggers here, but there are other personal blogs that I’ve visited and recently stopped visiting regularly because the guest bloggers ruined the blog’s personality for me. It seems to be a fine line between harnessing the talents of other bloggers to broaden one’s own blog’s usefulness and appeal, and losing the blog’s every-so-important personal voice.

    • I’m glad to hear you comment about the guest blogging because it is definitely something I struggle with accepting on a personal blog format. Here on problogger, though, it seems to have a great purpose and value.

  27. I started out with travel info and stories about Scotland but I felt it lacked personality. Now my blog is more personal and also my subscribers are increasing.

  28. Good info, Brooke.

    Just yesterday I turned down another paid post. When I was asked why I told them that it was because doing the blog they wanted would serve the advertiser at the expense of the reader. I have no problem promoting things I use and like, and I like to review products honestly, but if I’m just parroting what someone else wants me to say, I lose integrity. Who wants to read infomercial blogs?

  29. Monetising any blog is not as straightforward as most people think it will be. Many think it’s just a case of adding some adsense scripts and banner ads here and there but the “income” which can be generated from this plan of attack will be limited.

    It’s a fine balancing act moving from a “personal” blog to blogging for dollars (!) since it can often come across in the writing of the blog post that this the blogger has written for money and isn’t really keen on the subject matter being discussed.

  30. Schoenman

    From a personal AND commercial perspective I could care less about who you met in Guatemala and what level of greatness they have achieved in your book – I mean I do not know you or care to know who you are as the name does not ring a bell as an authority in our area.

    I would like to know what hotels, or if you are really a cheapskate traveler, what hostels you slept in and whether you caught bedbugs or how easy it was to access the lodging from:

    1. La Aurora Airport

    2. The nearest chicken bus.

    Items 1 and 2 above depending on what type of traveler you are.

    That would set you apart from the run-off-the-mill travel blogger – a unique experience and perspective.

    “For example, on my personal blog, I’d find it a bit bland to write an article on the “5 Best Budget Hostels in Antigua, Guatemala.” I’d much prefer to talk about my experiences with meeting new people there, perhaps in an article called, “The Amazing Friends I Met in Hostels in Guatemala.”

  31. Go Brooke! Great article thanks , I know you work your backside off on your sites so it’s really interesting to read your thought processes. Hope you succeed in becoming a “Aussie”

  32. Good advice. I have several blogs (some for money, some for fun). The 2 I make money on, I never give my personal feeling, and I’m always selling. The other ones I treat more as a hobby, so I give my opinion all the time and never sell.

  33. To the comment above:

    Sometimes, your opinion can create your BRAND!

  34. Keeping the personal feeling is very important. You start your blog because you want to share information or your personal opinions with others, which not everyone would agree with you. I think the best way is to try not to judge people’s comments, as long as they are not offensive then it should be fine

  35. It’s really difficult to monetize a personal blog since as a default a personal blog is scatterbrained. Unless you have a certain character or you offer something new (or exclusive) it can happen. I never attempted to monetize my own personal blog but I do have a blogs/sites that tightly focus around a niche and they are good on their own.

  36. This is such good information. Thanks, Brooke, for getting the conversation started. I am relatively new to blogging and am looking for any legitimate way to earn from my blogs simply because I want to continue spending time in Rome and encouraging others to pursue their passion. I have much to learn and appreciate that everyone I’ve come in contact with has been helpful with ideas and suggestions. My personal blog (www.myrealrome.com) is about my story and encouragement while my other site (www.amomentinitaly.com) is solely for selling my custom photography cards. I feel it’s important to discover the unique voice of each before focusing too much on ads, but I’m definitely working in that direction.

  37. I think that Intention is a big part of monetizing a blog. If a reader expects your blog to be a personal travel journey then experience a lot of affiliate links they may question the intention of the entire post. However, once a reader understands that there is an exchange going on – good content for a bit of marketing – then they can choose to keep reading or go on their merry way. If it’s valuable content they will come back and eventually help you to “sell” your blog to others.

  38. Like several commenters here, my blog evolved from a simple journey to convert my many years of travel photos and travel notes to a blog into earning a little money. It was never planned that way or I’d have set it up much differently. It makes the journey more difficult but is a natural evolution. And while I think I haven’t changed any of the way I write and the topics I present, undoubtedly a little involuntary change does take place. Interesting and thought-provoking article.

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