DISCLAIMER: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you click a link and choose to purchase, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you (sometimes even saving you money!). This helps me keep this blog afloat. I only promote products that I know and love, or that I think you'd love!
Are you just starting out with your blog and look at other bloggers, wondering how they make money blogging? Or maybe you’ve been blogging for years, but you don’t know how to make real money with your blog.
Blogging can open up doors and opportunities that will allow you to bring in extra income. It could be side income for a rainy day, or quit-your-job, game-changing income. It’s up to you.
Imagine sleeping in and rolling out of bed. You lazily walk into the kitchen and start a pot of coffee. Maybe you hop in the shower, or maybe you say screw it, throw on some yoga pants, wrap your hair up in a bun, brush your teeth, and call it done (not that I’ve ever done that).
You sip on your coffee as you check emails. Someone just emailed you asking if they could interview you for a feature story on their website. You confirm, then go check your social media, happy to see that your last post got tons of shares.
Your friend texts you asking if you can meet her for brunch in an hour. She wants to try this new place and you’re the only person she knows who can go to brunch on a weekday. You have some work to do, but it can wait. So you agree to join her, and meanwhile, you’re getting paid.
Believe it or not, it can be done. I was able to ditch the 9-5 in favor of a more flexible lifestyle as a result of my blogs.
But (there’s always a but), there’s a lot of misinformation out there. A lot of people start blogs thinking that they’re going to make money blogging super quick. That you throw up some affiliate links and that’s it. Then they give up when they realize that it’s not as easy as they thought. Or as some would have you believe.
So in this guide, I’m going to share some ways that you can make money blogging, as well as bust some common blogging myths.
Ways to make money blogging
There are several ways you can make money with a blog, and I’ll talk about each of these in more detail. Six of the more popular ones are below:
- Renting ad space directly
- Affiliate income
- Sponsored posts
- Writing product reviews
- Create an online product
These are the main ways to monetize your blog. Now let’s break down each one, with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Oh, and warning… this guide is long, but you’ll definitely want to read it to the end if you’re interested in making money blogging.
I’ll start with Adsense, because this is one of the first ways people often try to monetize their blogs with. However, of all the ways we’ll talk about in this guide, Adsense is the least likely to make you the kind of money worth writing home about.
There’s a huge misconception about Adsense. A lot of new bloggers think, “oh, I’ll just write some posts, put a bunch of ads up on my site, and soon I’ll be making hella money!”
No. It doesn’t work that way. In order to really make substantial money with ads, you have to have a lot of traffic. And by a lot, I mean 6+ figures in page views per month. Which, if you’re just starting out, is not going to happen right away. It may not even happen ever.
How Adsense Works
Advertisers work with Google, and they “bid” on ad space. The amount of these bids will vary based on the competitiveness of a keyword. Google then plays matchmaker, and places the ads on the best sites which are most likely to get clicks. When someone clicks on an ad, the advertiser pays up, and the website owner (aka YOU) and Google make money.
For instance, if I have a post about how to start a blog, Google might place ads about website hosting or domain name purchases. Google’s logic is, if someone reads a post on starting a website, they’ll probably be interested in web hosting. And that logic earns Google billions of dollars each year.
AdSense ads can generate revenue based on a cost-per-click basis (also known as CPC), or a per-impression basis, with impressions being the number of times that ad is simply seen.
So if no one clicks on an ad in my post, but that post gets 1,000 views, I might make a little money from impressions, but not very much. And by not very much, I mean a few pennies.
And therein lies the rub. It’s hard to make any money unless people actually click on your ads. But people are now so blind to ads on websites, and they don’t click as often.
When you do get clicks, you get paid more (it can vary from a few cents, to even a dollar or more per click). It depends on the keyword. Other factors can affect it, too. For example, how long someone stays on the site whose ad they just clicked on, etc.
One reason I don’t like using AdSense on my sites is because if a user does click on an ad, it drives them away from my site! Why the hell would I want to do that? I spend all this time and effort trying to get people to my site. The last thing I want to do is have them leave.
That said, I admit that I do use AdSense on a couple of my websites. One is an old blog on making side income. I use Adsense for testing purposes so I can talk about that particular stream of revenue from actual experience.
Another site is a niche site that I set up several years ago and haven’t touched since. This particular site ranks high on Google in a competitive niche, and the revenue from the site is completely passive.
A huge word of caution: Do NOT try to game the system by clicking on your own ads. Or by asking your friends, family, or readers to click on your ads. Google is smart… scary smart, and believe me — they will know when you do this, and it could get your AdSense account banned.
Not to mention, it’s Google — the biggest search engine out there — and who knows if they would also penalize your site from being seen in their search engines. I know I wouldn’t take that chance. Especially over some measly AdSense income.
Renting ad space
Renting ad space is another way to make money with your blog. This is similar to Adsense ads (or other ad platforms), except in this case, you’re renting space directly to another company.
Another difference is that you get paid a set fee per month rather than based on the number of clicks the ad gets (like with Adsense).
The benefit of this is that you get to choose the companies you work with, so you can reach out to companies who align with your niche. You can choose brands that you love and believe in.
And because you can target companies who are a better fit, they’re more willing to work with you even if you have a smaller audience.
The best thing to do is make a list of brands that would be a great fit for your readers. Then email each company’s marketing department (or the owner if it’s a small company). Tell them about your blog and your audience. Share why you think their product or brand would be a great fit for your readers.
Then ask if they’d be interested in a partnership. Mention that you rent ad space on your blog and ask if they’d be interested. If they say no, you could mention that you also accept sponsored posts, or that you offer influencer opportunities in exchange for free goods.
You’d be surprised at how effective this cold-emailing method can be.
Make money as an affiliate
Earning money as an affiliate can be fairly simple (and fun). How it works is that you sign up as an affiliate for a company, and they give you a special link or block of html code that’s unique to you. This code or link is what you put on your site wherever you want to recommend their product or services, and when someone clicks it, it takes them away from your site, to the advertiser’s site to complete the sale. When someone makes a purchase using your link, you get a commission.
Some companies will even pay you a commission if a visitor leaves the site without buying, but comes back and buys within a certain timeframe (sometimes up to 30 days later), even if their next visit was not through your direct link. The way they do this is by using cookies to “track” a visitor’s steps. Since they tracked the first visit that came via your link, you still get paid for the referral as long as it’s within the alloted timeframe.
The amount you get paid varies, depending on the terms set up by the company. I’ve seen affiliate commissions as low as 4% and as high as 40% or more.
Becoming an affiliate for the right companies can be a very lucrative endeavor once you build your blog and get a lot of traffic. Look at Pat Flynn (SmartPassiveIncome.com), for instance. He is an affiliate for Bluehost, and in October 2015, made over $41,000 in affiliate income from them alone. That’s insane!
The thing is, Pat’s blog has a huge audience (he had over 3 million unique visitors to his site in 2014). In addition, he is super transparent, and has extremely high ethics when it comes to promoting. He’s completely open about his affiliations with companies, and he has built such a trust with his readers that they know that anything he recommends is going to be good. They don’t think twice about following his recommendations.
Building trust with your audience is the key to being a successful affiliate.
How to become an affiliate
The most well-known and widely used affiliate program is Amazon Associates, and this is where I recommend newer bloggers start. You can go to Amazon and sign up to be an associate, and then promote anything on their site for a small commission for each sale. The Amazon Associates program works on a tier-based commission structure.
In general, the commission structure is based on the number of purchases made via your link. Commission starts at around 4% at the time of this writing, but goes up the more items you sell through your links.
For instance, if you sell 2 items in a month via your affiliate link, you’ll make 4% commission. But if you sell 7 items in a month, your commission rate goes up to 6%.
While these amounts may seem small, if you have a popular blog, and you promote several cool products that your audience will like or could use, then these numbers can add up. I know someone who makes $1000+/mo regularly, just by linking to products she knows and loves.
What other affiliate programs are out there?
The best place to find affiliates are through 3rd party companies that help connect vendors and affiliates. Here are a few:
You can go to these sites and browse through literally thousands of vendors or products to find something that will be a good match for your audience. Let me repeat that… find something that will be a good match for your audience.
In my early blogging days, I discovered affiliate marketing and went to some of these 3rd party sites and signed up for all kinds of programs. The problem was, I was basing my selections solely on my own interests, or programs that had really high commissions instead of those that were a good fit for my audience. And guess what? Nobody clicked.
Another thing you can do is go directly to the source. If there’s a company or product that you really believe in, and you think that your readers would really enjoy it, too, check to see if the company has an affiliate program. The easiest way to do that is to go to their website. Typically, if a company has an affiliate program, they will have a link in the footer of their page.
If you don’t see anything there, then another trick I like to try is to use an awesome Google feature that you may not have heard of. The search within site feature. What it does is tell Google to search for a keyword within a certain site (rather than all of the internet).
In the Google search bar, type: site:typeurlhere affiliate
So for example’s sake, let’s say I wanted to see if Amazon had an affiliate program, this is what my search bar would look like:
This brings me all results of pages within Amazon that contain the word affiliate and helps me know where to go to sign up for their affiliate program. It works the same way with other sites. If they have an affiliate program, likely you can find it this way if it’s not in the footer links.
*Note: Some of the affiliate programs you find will have an approval process that requires that you submit your site url along with a description of your site, as well as why you think you’d be a good fit. Sometimes you won’t get approved. Typical reasons for nonapproval may include:
- Your doesn’t really fit their product
- Your readers aren’t in their demographic
- Your blog is aesthetically unattractive (which could affect their brand perception)
- You don’t have enough traffic
- Your site contains objectionable material
If you aren’t approved, there really isn’t much you can do, although it wouldn’t hurt to ask them why (so you can fix the problem if there is one). If it’s a result of low traffic or unattractiveness, you can always reapply once you get more traffic, or prettify your blog.
Once you’re approved as an affiliate, it’s time to start promoting! If you’re an Amazon Associate, you can put an Amazon widget in your sidebar that encourages readers to use your widget to get to Amazon and shop. Personally I don’t find the widget attractive, so I don’t use it.
What you can do is create your own custom sidebar image that points to your generic Amazon affiliate link. This way you can make it so it matches your brand and fits in better with your blog.
Usually the advertisers will have custom images that you can choose from to put in your sidebar. Depending on the advertiser, they may offer several images to choose from, in different sizes, colors, and backgrounds, so you can pick what will be most appealing on your site.
Affiliate income is one of the best ways to make serious money with your blog. If you want to learn the step-by-step affiliate marketing strategy course that shows you how to increase your affiliate income and make more money blogging, I recommend you check out my friend Michelle’s course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing (affiliate link). I took her course and it’s got so much awesome information.
Michelle grew her blog from $0 to over $50,000 per month in affiliate marketing, so she’s definitely the one to go to for advice on this
Getting sponsored posts for your blog
One way to make money with your blog that some bloggers don’t have much experience with is getting sponsored posts for your blog.
What’s a sponsored post? It’s a post that a 3rd party pays you to put on your blog. Think of it as a paid guest post. It can be written by you or the third party.
Many bloggers hate the idea of sponsored posts because they feel like it cheapens their blog, or that it might turn their readers off. That it makes them a sell-out.
Here are my thoughts on this. As with ANY post you put on your blog, there should be value. In other words, if you accept a sponsored post that is in line with your brand, and provides some sort of value to your readers, then great! It’s a win/win.
Occasionally, you might get the opportunity for a sponsored post that may be just a little left-field. Something that all of your readers will be able to identify with. I had an opportunity like that once. A company approached me and wanted to write for another blog I had. They offered me a very generous amount.
They asked me to choose 2-3 topics that fit my niche, which was great. But the final post was very poorly written.
I let them know my thoughts, and offered a few suggestions. They made my changes, and the overall piece was much better. It still wasn’t something that was really valuable for my audience, but it wasn’t terrible, either.
I went over the terms with them, and we agreed that the money was for posting the blog on my site only. I didn’t have to do any further promotion for it. They also asked that I not mention that it was a sponsored post except in tiny print at the bottom, but there was no way I was going to do that.
The quality, while definitely an improvement, was nowhere near the quality of my own posts. I knew my readers would be able to sniff a rat, so I agreed only if I could disclose that it was a sponsored post.
I spent years building trust with my readers, so I wanted my audience to know right away that this was something that I was being paid for. That way if the content didn’t resonate with them, they’d understand. They’d know it was simply a way for me to help cover my blog costs.
I also refrained from sending it out to my email list. I posted it on the blog and that was it. Not one reader complained or even mentioned it, which was good. However, I did learn a lesson and decided to only agree to sponsored posts that align with my blog and my audience.
Why companies pay for sponsored posts
In order to position your site as one that would be attractive to potential sponsors, it’s important to understand why companies will pay good money for sponsored posts – especially if they are the ones doing the writing.
Companies use sponsored posts for two main reasons:
- As a way to get in front of your audience
- To help them with their SEO, or search engine optimization
Using sponsored posts to capture a new audience
This is pretty self-explanatory, but companies often employ PR teams, some of whose job it is to scout popular bloggers, also known as influencers, in order to find ones whose readers might like their product or service.
Considering how expensive advertising via print media or major media outlets can be, companies can stretch their dollars, and oftentimes gain a more loyal audience, simply by going to the influencers and leveraging their audience.
If I have a blog that gets 10k hits a month from loyal readers, and a company wants to pay me a few hundred bucks for a post, they capture the attention of a lot of people at a better cost than typical advertising.
And you turn your readers on to an awesome service that they may not know about, so it’s a Win x 3!
Using sponsored posts for SEO
Some companies simply use sponsored posts as a way to increase their SEO juice. I could totally get all nerdy on you and go on forever about SEO, but simply put, one thing that greatly increases a site’s value in the search engines’ eyes is when other reputable sites link to it.
Websites are “graded” in terms of search engine value. Google’s grading system is Page Rank, but it’s reportedly no longer a valid indicator, although a good PR does still hold some clout. Google’s Page Rank system ranks sites from 1-10. If you have a PR of 4 or above, you’re doing excellent in the blog world.
Now, the hot thing is Domain Authority, aka DA. Basically the higher your DA, which ranks from 1 to 100, the more valuable your site is.
If your site has a low DA, but a site with high DA links to you, this increases your DA ranking. Got it?
So companies look for sites with high Domain Authority, and pay for sponsored posts, which contain links back to their site, in order to get the “SEO juice.”
There are SEO companies who provide links in this manner as a service. In fact, an SEO company might pay a blogger with a high DA several hundred dollars for a sponsored post. In that single post, they might link to several different client sites. This is financially beneficial for them, and one reason some are able to pay so well. This was the case with the sponsored post on my other blog that I mentioned above.
How much can you make from a sponsored post?
It depends on the company, the product, and your own blog. Sponsored posts can range anywhere from $25-50, to $500+.
Just remember: while it’s tempting to find companies who will pay for posts, you don’t want to put money before your readers.
As long as paid content is in line with your blog, and something useful for your readers, great. But the minute you let dollars replace quality content, you’ve lost the game. Your readers won’t stick around.
Any time you think about making money blogging with sponsored posts, be sure that that your readers can get value from it.
Writing paid product reviews
This can be a great way to monetize a blog, and one of the ways I’ve used most often on my other blogs. Essentially, it combines the best elements of affiliate income and sponsored blog posts.
The way it works is that a company pays you — either in cash or in goods — to write a review about their product. This benefits the company for the same reasons a sponsored post does. It puts them in front of a new audience, while boosting their SEO by giving them a backlink from your site.
I have experience with both forms of payment. While it’s always nice to get cold, hard cash, getting free stuff can be extremely fun. Oftentimes, it’s something that I might not have splurged and bought for myself, so it’s a way to “treat” myself.
When a company pays you in goods, the retail value of the product often exceeds what they’d pay in cash. This is also something to consider.
My first experience with writing paid reviews was for a swimwear company that I loved. I had literally only been blogging for about 2 months. I took a chance and emailed their marketing department. I introduced myself, my blog, and why I should review their swimwear, which retailed in the $100-150 range.
I was extremely excited when I got an email back from them along with a pdf of their upcoming catalog. They told me to pick 2 swimsuits — if they didn’t have my first choice, they could send my second. In return, they asked me write a review of their swimwear. They added that any photos shared via social media would be welcome.
Score! I didn’t even have much of an audience at this point. They were less concerned with my new blog status or traffic numbers. All they cared about was the fact that my readers would be good targets for their swimwear.
A couple of weeks later, I received a package with not only the two choices I had sent them, but 6 other swimsuits, a cover-up, a sunglass case, some lip balm, and other goodies, such as stickers and fake tattoos.
I was like a kid in a candy store, and not only did I write the review, but I became a loyal ambassador to their brand, telling several people about them, and tagging them in social media posts any time I went to the beach.
In other words, I developed a relationship.
Yes, the goods were great. Not only did I sincerely love their product, but because they over-delivered, I became a raving fan, and an influencer for their brand.
The key to making money writing reviews for products is sincerity. Do NOT write a positive review for a product that you didn’t like, simply because they paid you to. It’s unethical, it does your audience a disservice, and it’s harmful to your reputation. Always be honest in your recommendations and reviews.
If someone offers you chance to review a product, be honest. If you didn’t like the product, talk about what you didn’t like (as well as what you did) in your review. If you feel uncomfortable being paid for a review of a product you didn’t like, you can always decline.
In this case, it’s always helpful to explain why you weren’t happy with their product. You could also share tips on how they might improve it.
This establishes trust with them, and it’s possible they have other products which you might like. They’ll appreciate your honesty as long as you deliver it in a constructive manner. They may even keep you in mind for collaborations in the future.
Remember, it’s all about relationships. Both with your readers and the companies you’re doing business with.
Create & sell your own product
I saved the best for last on this post. Creating your own product is by far my favorite way to make money with a blog. Because at the end of the day, having asomething that you 100% own and have full control over is gold.
It’s also the best way to make serious money in my opinion. One of my clients just launched a product and had over $1.5 million in sales. Yes, you read that right.
Don’t get me wrong. Creating and launching your own product is a lot of work, but the payoff can be huge.
While you could create and sell a physical product through your blog, you have costs like inventory, shipping, and returns. With a digital product, there’s no inventory, and you can automate the delivery of the product.
Plus, it’s completely scaleable. You create it once, but you can sell it a million times. There’s no limit to the amount of money you can make with a good digital product.
Some examples of a digital product:
- Online course
- Membership site
- Downloadable printables (budget templates, shopping lists, recipes, etc.)
The sky’s the limit with digital products. You can even create an affiliate program for your products and get other people to promote you. Give them a 40-50% commission, and you could reach a whole new audience of people who will buy from you.
Since the product’s already created (and there’s no inventory), there are no additional costs to you. Which is why digital products usually offer such high commissions to their affiliates.
Other ways you can make money with a blog
The above ways are the most common ways to make money with a blog. But there are some other ways you can use your blog to make money.
- Sell a physical product
- Promote your freelance services
- Sell your blog or website
In this post, I’ve shared 10 different ways you can make money blogging. Some ways will work better for you than others, and there’s no “one size fits all” approach.
I encourage you to try a few different ways I’ve outlined here. See what works best for you, your blog, and your readers.
Ultimately you want to serve your readers by adding value to their lives in some way. If you do this, it will be easier to make money blogging.