It's an appealing fantasy: Start a blog. Watch it take off. Then, quit the office life, sit at home, and live off the advertising revenue.
But successful, moneymaking blogs elude most people who try to start them. The vast majority of blogs, written primarily for family and friends, attract fewer than 50 page views a day and earn pennies per month, if anything. According to a Problogger survey, most bloggers earn less than $100 per month, and 3 in 10 earn less than$10 per month. Only 16 percent of the 4,000 respondents say they make more than $2,500 a month.
Gia Lipa, 43, is one of those success stories. In 2006, she started her personal finance blog, the Digerati Life, to teach herself more about the Internet. She started networking with other personal finance blogs and soon had a growing number of online friends who linked to one another's blogs. Within six months, her blog pulled in between 800 and 1,000 visitors a day, and the audience has since grown sevenfold. In early 2008, Lipa left her full-time job as a technical engineer to put 50 hours a week into her blog. She now earns about $10,000 a month through ads, links, and guest blogging. "I'm amazed how it turned out," says Lipa. "I didn't know I could replace my [engineer] salary after a year."
Like Lipa, the most successful bloggers tend to pick a topic that they love but that also fills a niche in the blogosphere. And while building traffic is a prerequisite, learning how to monetize the content is just as essential to turning a hobby into a moneymaking operation. Here are tips from experts on how to turn your blogging habit into a lucrative job:
--Monetize in multiple ways. Paul McFedries, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Website, says there are three basic ways to make money. First, bloggers can run advertisements through a program like Google AdSense, which matches up ads with blog content and pays based on how often visitors see and click on the ads. A blog about dogs, for example, might feature ads for shelters and dog food. The second way is through affiliate programs such as Amazon.com, which shares book-sale profits with websites that refer customers. And third, bloggers can turn a profit by selling related products that they design, such as T-shirts or crafts.
--Begin with ads. Lynnae McCoy, a 37-year-old mother of two and the creator of the Being Frugal blog, recommends placing ads on the site from the start so readers get used to the look and don't complain when they're added later. McCoy, who earns about $1,000 a month from her blog, says advertisers started contacting her as soon as her blog began to appear as one of the top links in popular Web searches, such as "being frugal." "The first six months are the hardest because you have to work hard to get your blog noticed," says McCoy.
--Look for partnerships. When Jim Wang, 28, the Columbia, Md.-based author of the Bargaineering blog, writes about saving money on vacation, he tries to mention the site Travelzoo, which pays him $2 for every person who signs up for its newsletter after clicking on Wang's link. He didn't earn much money during the first two years of his blog. But now it gets around 850,000 page views a month, and he turns those eyeballs into $10,000 a month.
--Make extra cash offline, too. Some bloggers also use their site as a way to advertise their skills and services for additional income. After Lipa took advantage of Google AdSense and affiliate programs, which each make up about one third of her revenue, she offered her blogging services, including outreach work, to other sites and corporations. She now charges an hourly rate that makes up the rest of her revenue.
--Be patient. "It takes years to get to the point where you can earn a living off the site," says Wang, who didn't get more than 100 visitors a day for the first six months of his blog's life. From a monetary perspective, he says, it would have made more sense to stick with his day job as a software developer. That's why he warns anyone against pursuing a blog just for the moneymaking potential. "Your time is better invested elsewhere if you're doing it for the money, but if you have a passion or some other motivation, do it," says Wang.
He follows his own advice: In addition to Bargaineering, Wang writes low-earning blogs on grilling and Scotch.