Last Updated on May 29, 2019 by Jeremy
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One of the most popular questions we see in blogging groups is a simple one on the surface: how do I monetize my blog?
It shouldn't be a surprise why this question is popular, we all want to make money blogging. But at the end of the day it is the wrong question to ask.
The reason for this is because it is impossible to monetize a blog. There, I said it. Blogs don't make money. You cannot just publish content and magically make money on it.
There is a simple, yet fundamental shift in thinking that would-be bloggers need to realize, and it is that you do not monetize your website, you monetize your audience.
Monetize Your Website? No. Monetize the Audience
If you are asking the question of how to make money with a website, let's stop and have a look at that.
In most situations, you're most likely publishing content on your site, holding your breath, and expecting money to come out of it. And I am going to guess that if you found this from a Google search, that ‘holding your breath' bit isn't working out well for you.
Publishing content for the sake of publishing content is a dead end. You can do this for years, or decades, and still not earn more than a few dollars from it.
It is impossible to monetize a blog this way. We've been there. Others have been there. It is a universal truth in blogging that producing content does not equal earning money.
What you do monetize, however, is the audience.
For example, now that I have your attention you'll likely notice that I have ads on my site from Mediavine. You seeing these ads is what pays me, and I'll be earning about 2-5 cents for this pageview (thanks!). The ads don't exist until they're seen, and only in being seen in large enough numbers do I make any real money. At 225,000 monthly page views between my two sites, the ad impressions make $3,000-$5,000 depending on the season.
It's not monetizing the content, it's monetizing the eyeballs on the content.
Likewise, if you read one of my travel posts and I have a hotel recommendation, odds are good it is an affiliate link. You making a purchase is what pays me. Those links mean nothing if no one is buying them. At my same page views, I've been making anywhere from $500-$1,000 per month on hotel bookings alone. Repeat with other affiliate services as appropriate. (You can read more about our highest earning travel affiliate programs here.)
I'm still not monetizing the content here, I'm facilitating a sale and am getting a commission in exchange. But still, you guessed it, that requires eyeballs, a whole lot of clicks, and very specific actions from real people.
Take most of the other popular monetization schemes, be it selling a product, service, or something else entirely, and it all traces itself back to having an audience, in large volumes, resulting in that value being generated.
Get traffic first, and then monetize that.
There Are Some Ways to Monetize a Blog Without Traffic
Now, there are some ways that people have monetized their blogs independent of traffic, and it is a flimsy notion at best that we recommend avoiding.
These areas revolve around sponsored content, be it through a custom article, a direct ad sale, or a link insertion in an existing article. I call these flimsy because 99 times out of 100 they are not about advertising (despite being called that in an outreach email), but instead focused purely on SEO for blackhat link building (something that is frowned upon by Google).
In the last decade, online marketers realized that links are what makes the world of search go 'round. These shady marketers would do everything they can in order to build a favorable backlink profile to their sites. They'd throw a lot of money to other blogs and websites, demand a dofollow link (a dead giveaway), and, over time, will use the volume of new backlinks to start ranking better in search.
Google got wise to this.
Now, anyone who gets busted selling links (read: hosting dofollow links in exchange for payment) is liable to have their site removed from Google entirely. We've had friends who have got hit, and the process to recover does not sound fun.
This is why ads require nofollow link tags, and going even further all paid link placements are required to have an advertisement/sponsored notation per FTC guidelines (something those dofollow marketers will never, ever allow- another giveaway).
Regardless of the ethics of the above, this market still exists and is the only way people these days can “monetize a blog” without actually having an audience.
We just don't recommend it at all for obvious reasons.
But let's move past it and say you do get that one business interested in ad buy (perhaps a sitewide banner ad), who is happy to do a nofollow link, and is okay that you have limited traffic since the audience is a great fit. Out of all of the ethical options, this is likely the best case scenario on what is out there, and, unfortunately, it'll likely come at a bit of a premium to the partner you're selling to.
The reason for this is because new bloggers tend to charge seemingly attractive rates, sometimes as low as $10/month, $25/month, or $100/month for a sidebar banner ad or $50-$100 for a customized article. I can safely say anything we do will have an extra zero on it, so this number sounds great.
To an unsuspecting ad partner, the $100/month fee sounds like a low option. But say the smaller site gets 5,000 views per month, that $100/month fee is equivalent to $20 CPM (cost per 1000 impressions). Larger sites, like ours on Mediavine, charge just $5 CPM for ad boxes on their sites. The only difference is that with 20x the traffic, one month of hosting would cost $500- or 5x more lump sum.
I'm not pointing this out as a means to discourage new bloggers. If you can get that sale and the ethical boxes are checked, definitely consider it. But it is likely going to be few and far between as the system is not favorable to smaller sites in the slightest (we've been there, we know).
This is why it all comes back to SEO. Hardly anyone does this kind of marketing for the “advertising aspect” alone, which is why we discourage participating in any of it unless you can get all of the agreed requirements from above (nofollow links and advertising disclosures).
Overall, this post is likely going to be discouraging to you if you came here to find out how to make money with your content. Unless you engage in shady link selling, you simply can't. So put your effort into where the money is really at and find an audience who responds to what you produce.
Once you do, cater to them. Produce content they want to read (for ad impressions). Feature products they want to buy (for affiliate sales). Do whatever you can to give your readers the experience they want, help them solve their needs, and money will follow.
Sadly, it just doesn't happen the other way around.
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Looking for tips? Read our Blog Your Trip series!
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About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.