Last month, May 2020, I hit my eight-year blogging milestone. That's a long time, right? Over the last eight years, the question I received most often was, “How do you make money as a blogger” or “How much money can you make blogging?”. So, I thought I would update this post with numbers from last year through June 2020, detail all the different income streams bloggers use to earn a living online, and I'll even detail just how much I’ve made in the last eight years I've been a blogger.
LB Note: I'm still earning a living online and writing for FinancialBestLife.com, but in December 2019, I sold the website to Soapbox, a division of Motley Fool, and now we creatively partner on the site. I can't talk about how much I sold the website for, but I did include selling a website as one of the income streams below. The amount I sold FBL for is also not including in the total for 2019. Some things just have to stay private!
The answer to “How much money can you make blogging?” is “it depends.” There are many bloggers who never make more than $500, and others who earn over $100k in a month.
For those just starting out, it's still easy to make some money online, especially with a niche topic you’re REALLY passionate about. Keep reading for how to make money with a blog, and what it actually takes to turn a website profitable.
How to Make Money Blogging – The Three Main Income Streams
Without fail, the minute I mention at a cocktail party or work function that I’m a blogger people ask me how to make money blogging and how I’ve managed to make it work. They lean in, genuinely interested in what I have to say like there is a secret.
The short answer is that bloggers (myself included) make money in three primary ways: affiliates, product sales, and sponsorships.
What is Affiliate Income?
Affiliate advertising works like this: brands (via affiliate networks) will give bloggers links to products or services. Bloggers embed those links into their posts and then they get a “fee” or “commission” of whatever business they bring to that brand.
I see this as a win-win. I get a commission for my influence, help keep this site afloat (Hosting isn't cheap) and you get to buy with a company that’s reputable, often at a discount because you used my affiliate link.
Most bloggers monetizing their site do it through affiliate advertising. Some do it very, very well. (Looking at you, Michelle)
I didn’t start monetizing my site in this way until late 2015. 2015! But here's a confession: I made a whopping $90 in affiliate income in my first year doing affiliate advertising.
But I wanted to grow my business and knew affiliates could help get me to the level of income I wanted.
I also realized that since I was running my own website, I could set my own rules and only recommend companies I’d used or personally vetted.
Money flows where your energy goes. In 2016 I took Michelle’s affiliate course to learn more about how affiliates work and how to optimize my own content for affiliate recommendations and sales. And it worked! Putting my energy into monetizing my site has increased my income, especially in affiliates.
Here's a quick-and-dirty overview on how I made it to my first $1k in affiliate sales and how you can as well.
Getting to Your First $1k in Affiliate Income
Make Money Blogging Tip #1 – Join the Networks
Really, there's a lot of experimentation involved with affiliates, no matter which network you go with or which product you decide to promote.
I constantly test and re-evaluate my affiliates based on their performance – always keeping in mind what works well, and what doesn't.
The best place to start is to look at products you know and love or have already recommended. Then do a search online of which affiliate program has that relationship, it'll either be through a network, or the company/brand may have their own affiliate program.
Personally, I like working with affiliate networks.
They do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, have daily reporting (so you never wonder where your money is), and come built in with a lot of resources like multiple landing pages and creative so you can test what works best. Networks have all of this to make YOU more successful at promoting their affiliates.
Some programs can be a bit sketchy, but the ones below are some of the top affiliate programs in the business, and I've used ALL of them at some point or another. (No sketchies allowed.)
Top Affiliate Programs for Bloggers in All Niches
Some of these require a minimum number of page views to join, but if you're looking for affiliate networks to join and start generating cash…start here! *some of these are affiliate links
- Commission Junction (now CJ Affiliate)
- Impact Radius
- Amazon Associates (sign up with your own Amazon Account!)
Make Money Blogging Tip #2 – Prioritize Building Traffic Over Other Activities
It isn’t enough to say, “I want to make affiliate income.”
- Say you want to make $300 a month at first from affiliates.
- That’s $10 per day.
- And if you leverage an affiliate that pays $5 per lead…you just need 60 leads a month, or 2 per day.
Figuring 2-3% conversion, you can then estimate how much traffic you’d need to each post in order to hit the number of sales you need.
Make Money Blogging Tip #3 – Monetize Existing Content First
This was a great tip I got from the Commission Junction advertisers' Facebook group. Instead of worrying about how to pick an affiliate that works and creating new content for that post, they recommend you pick your ten highest performing posts and try to grab an affiliate link that already works within those.
This is what I did and it’s a great way for beginners who aren’t already doing affiliate income to quickly leverage the content they already have to get started.
Make Money Blogging Tip #4 – Start (Super Duper) Small & Scale
The world of affiliate marketing is overwhelming. It seems as if every brand offers an affiliate relationship and in the beginning you don't know which are going to work for your audience, what people are going to want to buy, or what’s going to fit in best with your blog.
When I was looking at my top ten posts, I made a list of potential products that would fit, then looked in my existing affiliate portals to see if any brands were offering an affiliate relationship.
At first, I only leveraged six affiliates within my top ten posts and only two new affiliate content pieces. I’d prefer to be a master of a small group first rather than a master of none. Now I’ve worked up to 15-20, but I try not to go over that amount as it gets hard to manage them all day and day out.
Make Money Blogging Tip #5 – Promote, Promote, Promote Again
It’s called affiliate marketing. And marketing is a touchpoint game.
Really. They’ve done studies that prove it takes nearly seven “touches” to get someone to buy.
Because you’re a blogger and need to be a bit more authentic with your connections, you’ll have to spread this out over time and promote to your audience in a genuine way…
……but the point is if you want to earn affiliate income you have to think like a marketer and not like a blogger.
Affiliates can take work on the front end, but afterward, an affiliate conversion is pure passive income.
Initially, I was hesitant to begin building out a digital product.
Part of it was not wanting to put the time and effort in on top of working a full-time job, running this blog and a side hustle, and renovating a home in my mid-twenties. But more than that, it was a little bit of imposter syndrome – I didn’t think I was relevant or interesting enough to have a product.
Then, I finally clued into the power of passive product income.
It was a day when I was super sick in bed and had three articles due to clients…and I could barely find the energy to get out of bed.
On top of being sick, I was panicked and stressed. How was I going to get all of it done?
I’m in a business where if I don’t consistently produce, I don’t earn.
That kind of money stress was an awful emotional feeling on top of physically feeling terrible.
…But an amazing thing happened that day.
Earlier in the month, I'd scheduled an email to go out to my email list on the same day I happened to be sick. I do all of my promotional emails at the beginning of the month and schedule them out. Then I made $300 that day while I was sick and sniffly in bed.
It may not seem like a lot, but that $300 on a day when I didn't work felt so amazing to me.
It was then I realized how powerful it can be to make money while you’re sick, when you sleep, or when you have any other type of emergency.
How to Start Selling Digital Products: Steps to Your First $1k
Make Money Blogging Tip #6 – Prime Your Audience for Sales
Your audience is the most important thing in all of this – they’re the ones who frequent your blog, support what you do, and (potentially) buy your products. This is why it’s important to prime your audience months in advance before you ever start selling a product.
They’re used to certain things from you, and if you automatically start giving them the hard sell, they can get turned off, quick.
Priming your audience could include:
- Slipping in affiliates before you start pushing your own products.
- Doing a pre-sale to your email newsletter subscribers
- Social media posts on “exciting projects” and products you’re working on.
- Giving folks sneak peaks of the products via social media.
You can probably brainstorm a number of ways to do this, my point is…don’t go from selling nothing to one day plastering your products all over your website.
Make Money Blogging Tip #7 – Leverage Email Marketing
90% of what I sell is through my email list. It’s such a powerful thing to have because your email subscribers are the people most likely to buy.
After all, they opted into your email list, so they’re obviously feeeeeeling you and what you’re putting out.
So, if you want to sell products and don’t have an email list, put together that email list first before you build out products.
Not sure where to begin? Check out this complete guide on how to grow your business with email marketing.
Do what you can to grow the list, as you’ll be able to see a very visible correlation between # of subscribers and sales conversions.
And remember: Your email list is GOLD, baby.
Better known as sponsored posts, brands will pay me for posts that mention their business, review a product, or contain relevant, valuable content related to what they offer. They do this because they want to gain exposure or drive traffic to a certain site or piece of content.
Most of the sponsorships I do are in the forms of sponsored posts on a topic, or sponsored mentions of products on social media. In the last eight years, I have also made money with video sponsorships (like I did with Awkward Money Chat). I made a little money via google adsense for putting ads on my youtube videos but it's such a small number I won't mention it here. There are blogging who make the lion's share of their income from youtube ads – it can be quite lucrative.
Demand for video is only going to increase, so if you have a knack for or a passion for being in front of a camera, leverage this.
Additional Ways to Make Money Blogging
The above (affiliates, products, sponsored posts) are the three biggest ways I make money, but there are other revenue sources as well. Some of the ones below I currently use or have used to make money blogging in the past.
I participate in a handful of ad networks who run ads on my site and pay me for it. While I was previously ignoring this area, I started really investing time into this revenue stream in late 2016.
Previously, I made only a few dollars each month and now I make about $1200/month on network ads alone.
There are also direct ad sales, where you can embed an image with a link in your sidebar. This is a bit old school and rarely done, but some still do it. Occasionally I'll sell an ad in my sidebar directly to a business. It's more money than going through an ad network, but not as consistent.
I did these in the past, but only received the product as compensation. Although I no longer do this, many bloggers do, and reviewing products (for cash or for free) is a lot of fun.
In the eight years I've been blogging I've received well over $10,000 of free product and books (and recently, free travel!). I’m mentioning this to illustrate that there are other ways to monetize your site and your own time beyond cash money.
Coaching & Consulting
In 2015 & 2016 I offered one-on-one sessions to beginner bloggers who wanted to learn a lot in a short amount of time and expand their brands and websites to become online income generators.
I've worked with people all over the U.S. (and even folks in the Phillippines and Australia!)
If you're really knowledgeable in an area, you can sell that expertise as a coaching service. The best part is, private coaching is always a great option for revenue because your main way of marketing those services (i.e. your blog!) is already built and you can leverage this to get new clients.
Appearances and Speaking
I’ve also done appearances at conferences and local events for travel expenses + a fee. Sometimes I prepare a presentation and speak, other times I sit on a panel and talk on a given topic (like the awesome panel I did with Prudential during the summer of 2015.)
If it's a company I really believe in, or a group that's trying to do some good work and they're local, I'll often just do a talk or session for free. It's important to me to give back – even if it's just 1% of my money, time, or efforts. Everyone can do 1%.
I won't lie. I was in a weird place and pretty much over “money content.” As a result, I tried to sell the website from June 2017 until February 2018.
I had a lot of interest, a lot of people who paid the deposit to poke around in my Google Analytics, but ultimately, no one was interested in buying the brand. (“Too much L Bee,” they said.) So, I sat with the question for a while of if I really wanted to let “my baby” go, and decided I didn’t. I left it up in the hands of the universe – when the right buyer would appear, I'd know. I wasn't going to force it.
Fast forward to 2019 and I'm married and pregnant and on top of all this, I'm battling a major case of burn out. I met Soapbox at FinCon19 and we started a conversation. Here is what selling a website looks like at a very high level.
They'll access your analytics and want to look at your income from the last 2-3 years. Then they'll verify both via bank records and looking at the guts of your website.
- They'll make an offer, typically based on a multiplier of the valuation of your website, (for example, 1.5-2x your annual revenue)
- If that sounds good, you'll do legal paperwork, maybe a bit of back and forth negotiating on the payments, terms, and how the handover will work.
- You'll swap over all relevant accounts pertaining to the website.
- You get your money.
And it's not like there is a degree in buying and selling websites. My point is, that these deals can look like whatever you want them to look like.
How to Make Money Blogging FAQ’s
Can you really make money blogging?
The answer is, it depends. (Here's great data from a survey of bloggers.) There are many bloggers who never make more than $500, and others who earn over $100k in a month. In terms of earnings, I find myself solidly in the top 10% in terms of earnings (according to this Lifehacker article), but that it's harder than ever to crack that elusive top 5. I've been trying to consistently crack this top 5% for YEARS now.
How long does it usually take?
I started monetizing – $200 here and there – within my first six months. I didn’t see really good, full-time(ish) income until year three. So no, it’s not a “get rich quick” scheme. That’s not to say there aren’t bloggers who learn very quickly how to monetize in year 1. It’s different for each blogger.
How can beginners make money blogging?
Beginner bloggers make money in the same way established bloggers do. The only difference is the more established bloggers have more traffic, more conversions, and can command higher prices for things like sponsored posts and brand partnerships.
Everyone has to start somewhere. Every blogger you see out there started small, and then grew.
This is why blogging consistently and over time is so important. It’s the same as building a career – you have to work your way up.
How can I make my first money blogging?
I would say affiliate income is the best way for beginner bloggers to get started. Even if you don’t have a large audience, an engaged audience of 10-20 people buying the products you recommend can generate revenue.
It probably will not generate a ton of cash, but you can (and will) make some money. Which, if you’re looking for a way to monetize your hobby, can be very exciting.
“How I Made $225,000+ with a Blog Side Hustle”
I'm happy to report this blog alone has made over $200,000 for my personal finance bottom line.
- YTD Blog Income Total (2012) – $1,395 (I blogged 7 months of 2012)
- YTD Blog Income Total (2013) – $8,255
- YTD Blog Income Total (2014) – $11,345
- YTD Blog Income Total (2015) – $27,647.15
- YTD Blog Income Total (2016) – $52,009.08
- YTD Blog Income Total (2017) – $62,910.42
- YTD Blog Income Total (2018) – $67,028.89
- YTD Blog Income Total (2019) – $85,943.57
- YTD Blog Income Total (2020) – $21,116.96
Total Lifetime Blog Earnings = $337,651.07 (OVER EIGHT YEARS)
These numbers aren't as big as some of the ones you'll find on the internet, but I'm still incredibly proud. I can't get caught up in that comparison game (even though it is very, very easy at times.)
To build something worth nearly a quarter of a million dollars with just a computer and my own fingertips…well, I can't find other words. I'll try. But the even more impressive thing is that I've consistently stuck with something for seven years.
How to Start a Money Making Blog of Your Own
There are three primary steps when you want to start a blog. (I'm about to make this so simple for you!)
- Name your blog/buy the domain
- Buy hosting
- Pick a WordPress theme & customize it
How to make a blog and pick a domain name
Maybe you already have a catchy blog name rattling around in your head. If not, decide first what your blog is going to be about and then choose a name to go along with. At a minimum, at you can buy the domain name that is your given name (e.g. laurenbowling.com) and blog/write there.
I cover this somewhat in the brand building section of my Financial Best Life Blueprint, but the important thing when picking out a blog name is to pick something where your passions are your expertise intersect.
- Once you've settled on a name, you can go to any place that sells domain names to pop in and see if yours is available.
- The exact one you want may already be taken, so you can choose something else, or play around with the spelling until you find something that works.
- A word of advice: pick something easy. When you're talking about your blog, you're going to want to be able to mention it without any weird spellings or hyphens. This way, you won't lose out on any potential traffic or readers!
Blog Name Ideas:
- How to Choose a Blog Name You Won't Regret [BloggingWizard.net]
- 7 Blog Name Generators [WPBeginner.com]
- How to Choose a Blog Name [Blog Pioneer]
Ideally, you'll want to buy your hosting and domain name in the same spot as this is a way you can rack up some savings!
Hosting is like the highway. A content management platform is a car that drives you along the highway, putting your information quickly and easily out into the world. If you want to actually make money with your blog one day, you'll need to get hosting so you actually own the website.
Why do I need hosting to make money blogging?
Think of it this way: if you use a free platform, it's like renting a house. You can't really change the paint colors, or do renovations, or buy new stuff. Blogging on a free platform is similar to renting – you can't do anything that monetizes the website. Especially ads. Because you don't own it.
Getting hosting and a domain name is like buying a house. It's yours – and you can do whatever you want with it!
You’ll need to get self-hosting (a “self-hosted website”) in order to make any real money. Click here to get your own self-hosted blog with HostGator for just $2.75 per month using my special link, and then come back go here for my step-by-step tutorial on installing WordPress.
Most blogs are run off WordPress and it's the easiest and most user-friendly content management system to use. (This is my opinion, but most agree with me. WordPress is for bloggers.)
Get a great WordPress theme
One of the reasons WordPress is so popular is because of how easy it is to learn and use, and how easy it is to design a great-looking website. There are many places to get both free and premium WordPress themes, and I've listed just a handful below.
Free WordPress Themes:
- WordPress.org (has plenty of free themes to get you started that you can also upload to your self-hosted wordpress site!)
Premium WordPress Themes:
Once you find a theme you like, you download the zip file, then upload it to WordPress under the “Appearance” section of the dashboard and – voila! Depending upon the level of customizations you want to make, you can either download a free WordPress theme or pay for what's called a premium theme.
The TL :DR
I’ve made really good money, enough to replace my full-time income at times. But it’s taken me years. So, be patient. And really, you should take the eye-popping number in the title and divide by eight to get an average of what a “micro-influencer” makes annually from blogging. I get ~ $42,000 which is nothing to sneeze at but is also what an average college graduate makes.
There's also flexibility, which now that I'm a mom, makes blogging a very good income for me because I can still earn while being at home.
But at times, this was money I made on top of my full-time job. $40k in “side hustle” income for something I'd do for a free is very, very nice. Suffice to say, I'm proud!