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You’ve build up a steady flow of traffic to your website’s blog. You’re building an email list, and even seeing some pretty good engagement on your blog posts.
But how do you make money blogging?
Monetizing a blog or website with a lot of readers isn’t always as easy as you might assume. Although some blog revenue streams might seem attractive, not all of the ways to monetize a blog are practical from a business perspective.
If you have high quality traffic, it should be possible to generate blog revenue—you might not even need that much traffic to get started. Professional bloggers find a variety of ways to monetize their blogs. You can too.
Here are the 8 major blog revenue streams, as well as examples of blogs that make money with them.
- Blog ads
- Content subscriptions
- Membership sites and community subscriptions
- Affiliate links
- Online courses and information products
- Coaching or consulting
1. Blog ads
If you tell people you’re trying to monetize a blog, they will assume you want to use ads.
Ads are one of the most common methods to make money blogging for a simple reason—they are easy to set up.
It takes relatively little work to set up an AdSense account and implement ads on your website. You don’t need to do great audience research or figure out the logistics of selling a product. You just have to set up the ads and let them run.
Despite how easy and common they are, ads are not a great way to make money blogging.
If you ask “how much money can I make with AdSense on my blog,” the answer is probably “not much.”
Blog ads pay cents for your traffic. Hosting ads on your blog is easy, but it doesn’t bring in much revenue. Worse, adding ads to your blog can damage readers’ perception of your brand and content.
In his book Perennial Seller, media expert Ryan Holiday references Forbes as a prestigious organization that has let its brand come under fire. After Forbes began accepting amateur contributions, Holiday argues that the perception of the publication began to slide. As he writes:
“Their strategic choice took a toll on the brand, primarily because it took a toll on the trust between the publications and their readers.”
Ads have the same effect. I mention Forbes because its online edition has become known for its reliance on ads.
Autoplay video ads, banner ads, skyscraper ads and more are all over Forbes’ website. Galleries like the above allow a new page to load with every click—which in turn serves more ads and further increases revenue per session.
If you have massive traffic and an established brand like Forbes, you may be able to make money by hosting ads on your blog. Forbes still attracts a range of high-value contributors that allow the brand to persist.
But if your numbers are lower or you sell products and services, you might want to make money blogging without ads.
2. Content subscriptions
Content subscriptions are a natural follow-up to blog ads because they are often used by similar websites.
For serious journalism outlets like The New York Times or The Washington Post, relying on online advertisements as a source of revenue isn’t an option.
A stunning political exposé is hard to take seriously if it’s served alongside a flashing ad for car insurance.
As print newspapers declined in circulation, serious journalism outlets moved to a subscription business model.
In the case of The New York Times, readers have free access to 10 articles each month before needing to purchase an online subscription. This approach has reportedly led to strong digital growth for the publication.
What if you don’t have the resources to publish content like The New York Times? It’s still possible to generate blog revenue through a content subscription, although it does become more difficult.
Layne Norton is a professional bodybuilder, professional powerlifter, coach, and online content creator. He has produced content for some of the largest fitness websites in the world, including Bodybuilding.com. His website offers content only available to members.
Mark Manson is a popular advice blogger who wrote the fourth most-sold book of 2017 (it was published in 2016). At the time of writing, his book is at the top of the Amazon Charts for nonfiction, and has been on the list for 33 weeks.
He too offers a subscription that grants access to members only content, with a slightly unusual call to action.
This model of blog revenue can work—if your content is in high enough demand.
Each of the three examples given in this section are able to charge for their content because their content is held in high esteem.
The New York Times has won 122 Pulitzer Prizes since 1918, more than any other newspaper.
Layne Norton holds a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and has deadlifted over 700 pounds in competition (formerly a record). His content and thoughts are considered high quality and authoritative.
Mark Manson has written a wildly popular (even viral) self-help book, and attracts readers through a writing style that is both philosophical and entertaining.
And in each of the latter two cases, membership grants access to more than just written content. It includes webinars, Q&As, instructional videos, and in-person meet-ups. With so much free content available, you need to offer something really special to attract paid subscribers.
Can subscription content work as a way to make money blogging? Clearly it can. But examples of bloggers who make money through membership content tend to have a few things in common:
- High authority in their space
- Large readership
If you command high authority in a very specific niche, it may be possible for you to make money blogging through membership content.
Otherwise, you may be better off mixing in other blog revenue streams, releasing your content for free, and doing content marketing for other offerings.
3. Membership sites and community subscriptions
It can be difficult to monetize subscriptions to content (although it can be done). What about using a blog to drive other subscriptions?
If you’ve been blogging for any amount of time before trying to monetize your blog, you probably have an email list. Building an email list is one of the most important steps you can take for your blog.
Your list represents a group of people that have at least one thing in common—an interest in your content. What if you could leverage that interest to make money blogging?
Building a paid online community is an approach some bloggers use to successfully monetize their blogs.
Fitness expert John Romaniello uses a “mastermind” as one of his business’ revenue streams. Masterminds are a popular method of connecting like-minded people under the tutelage of a single expert.
In a mastermind, which is typically between 10 and 30 people, participants pay to receive coaching from an expert in their field—alongside others who have similar goals. For the expert, a mastermind can be a way to monetize expertise on a larger scale than one-on-one coaching.
You’ll notice that the web page for John Romaniello’s mastermind doesn’t include any information about price. At the same time, it mentions that joining will require flying to in-person meetings several times a year.
The mastermind for Roman Fitness Systems is in high enough demand that joining requires an application. From the context, it’s probably not cheap—and people are probably willing to pay the cost.
Masterminds are relatively small learning communities, but it’s possible to monetize blogs on a larger scale as well.
Farnam Street is a blog devoted to understanding decision making, business, learning, and “the art of living.” Run by Shane Parrish, it boasts over 155,000 email subscribers and a podcast that achieved 1.5 million downloads in 2017—with only 10 episodes.
Farnam Street monetizes its readership in several ways, but one of the most prominent is its Learning Community.
A paid membership to the Learning Community grants access to weekly emails, a backlog of membership content, and access to “the best book club in the world.” And, of course, conversations with other like-minded members.
The differences between subscriptions to a community and subscriptions to membership content are subtle, but important. At a fundamental level, the difference is this:
- Subscriptions to content depend on the quality of content—and high quality of content is often accessible for free online
- Subscriptions to a community depend on the members of the community—and finding like-minded people is often difficult to do on your own
Network effects can play a role in a community (a community gets more valuable as it adds more people). One-of-a-kind content can thrive in a subscription model. Other differences play a role, but these characteristics are the most fundamental.
Whether your subscription site is perceived as a content membership or a community membership can even depend on your positioning.
Farnam Street offers members exclusive content, but positions itself as a community. Layne Norton’s members might interact, but his website positions a subscription as granting access to members only content.
If you can build a community unique enough to attract paying members, membership sites and subscriptions can be a strong way to make money blogging.
In some cases, scaling your business with subscriptions to a community can be difficult—Ramit Sethi of GrowthLab has given a detailed account of the decision to cancel “Ramit’s Brain Trust,” a paid community, because of the resources required for community management.
But if you’ve reached that point, you’ve already successfully monetized your blog and can explore other blog revenue streams.
4. Affiliate links
In the course of your blogging, you have probably linked to products you use or have heard of.
And it makes sense to do that. When people read your blog, they are looking for your perspective and trying to learn from your experiences. The products you like to use are part of that.
As long as you’re recommending products, is there a way to monetize your blog at the same time?
Affiliate links are an option that many blogs use to bring in revenue. When you add affiliate links to your website, you can get paid when your readers buy products you recommend.
Amazon’s affiliate program is by far the most popular source of affiliate revenue, and many blogs use Amazon affiliate links as a way to make money blogging.
Brain Pickings, a blog run by Maria Popova, frequently recommends books by including links to Amazon and public library availability.
For a highly trafficked site with relatively few revenue streams, affiliate links offer an important source of blog revenue. Brain Pickings content often includes book quotes, and has a massive readership—adding affiliate links to the books mentioned is a natural step.
Farnam Street, mentioned earlier, also discloses its participation in Amazon’s program on its about page.
Many blogs find that affiliate links make sense as a blog revenue stream.
Using affiliate links to recommend products you don’t use is perceived negatively, but adding affiliate links to your website can be a simple way to monetize your blog. If you’re already adding a link, it might as well be an affiliate link (although you should disclose that you use them).
The revenue opportunities from affiliate links can be limited, however.
Outside of rare exceptions and massive traffic, you are unlikely to build a business that is completely driven by affiliate links. You only receive a small percentage of proceeds, so you need large numbers of readers to buy if you want to generate significant revenue.
Still, compared to blog ads, affiliate links are less likely to damage your brand. If you regularly make high quality recommendations, affiliate links can add blog revenue.
In some ways, asking for donations may be the most straightforward way to make money blogging. What’s simpler than asking for money?
Of course, asking for donations and receiving them are two very different things. Still, there are some blogs and content creators that have successfully monetized using donations.
Brain Pickings is an easy example.
On the support page, Brain Pickings asks for recurring or one-off donations. These donations and revenue from affiliate links are, to my knowledge, the blog’s only major revenue streams.
Donations on blogs can be a difficult way to make money blogging, and often require high traffic and highly engaged readership to be effective.
However, services like Patreon are allowing content creators of every type—not just bloggers—to more effectively get support from their audiences.
Patreon provides a platform to collect donations from supporters, either on a monthly basis or for each thing created.
By simplifying the donation process, allowing creators to set up patron goals, and letting creators deliver exclusive content and updates to patrons, Patreon has changed how online content creators get paid.
Independent music artist Kina Grannis provides one example of generating revenue through Patreon.
Grannis rose to prominence after winning the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest in 2008. As a reward, her music video was played during the Super Bowl and she won a contract with Interscope Records.
A contract she walked away from.
As an independent artist, Grannis is supported in part by fans on Patreon. Although she isn’t primarily a blogger, I wanted to include Grannis because the way she positions her Patreon page is brilliant.
Patreon seems to be more popular among artists and fiction writers than it does with bloggers, but there are still blogs that use Patreon as a method to collect online donations. The blog Wait But Why, by Tim Urban, has over 4,000 patrons.
Even on blogs not popular enough to have interviewed Elon Musk, Patreon can serve as a useful revenue stream. Psychology PhD Jamie Madigan uses Patreon as one way to support his blog on the psychology of video games.
Donations on blogs are a difficult revenue stream, and they may not be the most effective way to monetize your blog. If you run a business blog, asking for donations online will probably not go over well.
But if you produce a lot of free content, a lot of artistic content, run a non-profit, or have a highly engaged audience, collecting online donations may be a way for you to make money blogging.
Ebooks are a natural extension of blogging, and one of the more popular ways to make money blogging.
When you sell ebooks through your blog, you avoid the logistics and margins associated with selling physical books. You don’t need to work with a publisher unless you want to, and after the book is produced you can collect 100 percent of the revenue.
Top ebooks are even starting to eclipse physical books—and most readers will have some of each. With your email list as an initial platform and the rise of Amazon as a digital publisher, it’s possible to move a lot of ebooks very quickly. Tim Ferriss walks through the various steps—from choosing a niche to creating a book to marketing online—in an article on his blog.
Habits blogger Steve “SJ” Scott is one example of a blogger who has successfully monetized a site through ebook sales.
Scott’s website covers a habits, producing content on creating good habits and breaking bad ones in a variety of different areas. Because he occupies a specific, content-heavy niche, there are a lot of opportunities for Scott to expand blog posts and guides into ebooks.
That’s just what he’s done. I count 23 different books on his “My Books” page—there are so many books that it took me more than one try to count them.
Ebooks can be a reliable source of blog income. If you want to monetize your blog using ebooks, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, your margins will be high in terms of percentages, but low in terms of actual dollars.
You’re going to be hard pressed to sell an ebook for more than $15—and many sell for under $3. Even though you’ll get to keep most of that money, you’ll need to build sales volume if you want to turn your blog into a business.
That’s likely why Steve Scott has written so many ebooks—each book is an opportunity to generate more revenue from existing customers.
Second, the ebook space has a lot of competition.
Ebooks have become such a popular way to make money blogging that it’s become harder to make money with them. Look around—it seems like every third blogger is trying to sell you their ebook.
And, to be frank, a lot of them are terrible.
Ebooks can make money online, but you’ll need to focus on building your audience by creating useful blog content. That, and your ebooks have to be more than a cash-grab—high-quality, valuable ebooks are easier to sell and make more money in the long term.
7. Online courses and information products
When you sell information products online, you are selling expertise.
An information product is any product that serves as a vehicle for you to deliver knowledge or expertise. If you sell videos, webinars, online courses, or audio recordings, you are selling information products.
Info products can be an extremely effective way to make money blogging for a simple reason: scale.
An information product has the potential for extremely high margins. Once you’ve created the product once, the cost of producing additional copies to sell is minimal.
This is beneficial on its own, but is especially valuable for information products because there’s effectively no limit on what you can charge. Presentation of information matters to a degree, but ultimately the product’s value is linked to the value of its information.
The ability to charge high prices at high margins makes information products a good way to scale blog revenue—and to monetize a small email list.
One note: technically ebooks (already discussed) are also information products. They are included in their own section because it’s typically harder to charge high prices for an ebook compared to a set of video or audio recordings.
GrowthLab is an organization that helps people start and scale online businesses. In addition to producing a lot of free content, GrowthLab generates revenue by selling in-depth video courses—information products.
GrowthLab products sell for thousands of dollars, and are primarily sold through an email list—one that stays engaged because of high quality blog content.
The information product approach to making money with a blog is a proven one. If you’ve ever asked “how do blogs make money without ads,” this is how many of the most successful blogs do it.
Danny Margulies of Freelance to Win uses his blog to help people start online freelancing businesses. He offers a pair of courses, on bringing in freelance revenue and becoming a better freelance copywriter, as a method of monetizing his blog.
The info product approach to blog monetization also works outside of the world of freelancing and online business coaching.
Take Zack Arnold, a former film and television editor who set out to move more and be healthier. On his blog, Optimize Yourself, he helps other creative professionals avoid burning out by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
He offers a variety of courses to do that, which serve as the revenue for his blog.
Or take Tom Miller, an engineer, math, and physics tutor who started a blog that helps math and engineering students do better in their college classes.
His blog has information ranging from the most efficient study methods two breakdowns of course materials. It’s monetized through his online course, Study Hero.
Clearly information products can be an effective way to make money blogging. Are there any downsides? A few.
First, creating a detailed video or audio course is more difficult than slapping up some ads or throwing together an ebook of old blog posts.
There are technical questions, like how to host videos (a lot of people like Wistia) or what recording equipment to use (I’ve seen the Snowball Mic touted as a solid, low-cost option).
And, of course, an information product lives or dies based on the value of its information. If you want to take advantage of the high margins info products can achieve, you need to be able to charge a high price—which in turn requires a high-quality product.
Because of the higher prices and the aura of distrust around some forms of online business, information products can also require more of an up-front investment in marketing—particularly content marketing.
It’s easy to see the value of a physical product. If an ebook doesn’t provide value, a customer is out a few dollars at most.
But if an info product is a flop, the customer takes a much larger hit. Info product customers are putting their trust in that product’s creator—longer term content marketing and email marketing are therefore important as a way to build trust.
Information products can be an excellent way to make money blogging. Once you’ve gone through the up-front costs of product creation, information products are a high-margin and scalable business model.
8. Coaching or consulting
Expertise can be sold through ebooks or other information products, but it can also be sold through coaching or consulting.
Providing services online is another extremely common and viable way to make money blogging. If you’re an expert in your field or have marketable skills, moving online grants you access to a much larger potential audience of customers.
Of course, just about anyone can offer an online service. That’s why the blog is an important part of selling your services online—it gives people a chance to see your work and thinking. It gives you a chance to demonstrate your expertise.
Joel Klettke is a conversion copywriter who blogs at Business Casual Copywriting. He’s put together high-performing copy for giants in the B2B tech space, and his blog is a way for him to describe his process and general best practices.
Of course, you can also reach out to contact and hire him from his website.
John Romaniello, a fitness and business coach mentioned earlier, runs an exclusive online coaching service in addition to his masterminds. He takes clients infrequently and provides detailed, customized training.
Because he’s been blogging for around a decade and publishing a bestselling book, there is always demand for his coaching. There would have to be, because the application form on his website is incredibly extensive.
Not for the faint of heart.
One potential drawback of a service-based source of blog revenue is that it is more difficult to scale. Because you are exchanging your expert time for money, and there are a limited number of hours in the day, there’s a limit to how many clients you can take.
However, this also has its advantages.
In a service-based business, you get to work one-on-one with clients. You can get up close and personal, learning more about what your clients need and how to best get them results. The knowledge you build from service experience can also be used to build info products.
A service business also has the potential to get better results for your clients.
In some industries, there’s simply no substitute for one-on-one coaching. The results your clients achieve through coaching and feedback can be better than they’d get on their own with any info product.
Sarah Jones of Introverted Alpha provides dating advice for introverted men. Although she initially used a business model focused on information products, Jones eventually switched to a program that combines training materials with one-on-one coaching.
In an intimate industry like dating, Jones felt that one-on-one coaching was a better way to get outstanding results for her customers.
Providing services can be an effective way to make money blogging because it monetizes expertise you already have. You can work one-on-one to deeply understand your clients and get extraordinary results.
Conclusion: 3 key principles to making money with a blog
There are a variety of different and equally viable business models available to people who want to make money blogging.
Whether you choose content subscriptions, memberships, coaching, or information products, there are a few principles that apply to everyone trying to make money blogging.
The first key to making money with a blog: Creating useful content
No matter how you monetize your blog, you need to create useful content.
If you decide to use ads, creating high-quality, valuable content is what will bring people to your site to see them.
If you sell subscriptions, your content is your product—and your free content is what will prove to potential customers that your subscription is worth it.
If you decide to sell information products, your blog content is the marketing that helps you build long-term trust with your audience.
Outstanding content is the cornerstone of a successfully monetized blog. As content marketing and SEO expert Andy Crestodina says, the goal of content marketing is to create the best page on the internet for your topic.
The second key to making money with a blog: Building a platform
You might have content, but how will you find your customers?
If you produce regular content, you need to have a way to get that content to people interested in it. You need a platform—a way to interact with your fans.
Author, blogger, and media expert Ryan Holiday argues that a platform—specifically an email list—is the most valuable career asset a person can have.
Looking at the blogs and businesses on this list, it’s easy to see why. Many use their list of email subscribers as their primary sales tools. The online business site GrowthLab only sells its products through its email list—and only during very specific launch periods.
If you’re producing the best content on the internet, people are going to be interested. Give them a way to follow you, and a way for you to stay in touch. Building your platform is a key step in monetizing your blog.
The third key to making money with a blog: Multiple revenue streams
You may have noticed that several of the businesses featured in this article appear in multiple sections.
That’s because, in most cases, successfully monetized blogs use multiple blog revenue streams to generate income.
Fitness coach John Romaniello uses online coaching, masterminds, and book sales to generate revenue. Farnam Street uses affiliate links and memberships.
Even Brain Pickings, a site that doesn’t sell anything, monetizes using both affiliate links and donations.
You don’t necessarily need to set up multiple sources of revenue right when you start making money with a blog. When you’re starting out, bringing in any income at all is a big step.
But as you grow and scale up, setting up multiple sources of revenue can help you take advantage of the various pros and cons of each business model. It can also help you protect your business, as you’ll be less reliant on a single source of income.
As you look at how to make money blogging and consider the business models that make the most sense for your blog, keep these three principles in mind.
With outstanding content, a strong platform, and multiple revenue streams, you can follow the example of the businesses in this article—and make money with your blog.