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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