How to Monetize Your Blog
"Monetizing" a blog means using various methods to earn money from your blog. Once upon a time the answer was simple - you signed up with an advertising network like Adsense or Chitika, and collected a few cents every time someone clicked on one of their ads.
All that has changed, for several reasons. One, advertisers are paying less - their advertising budget is now spent on Facebook and other social media. Two, Google will penalise your blog for having too many ads (ironic, since they're often Google Adsense ads!!). But the third reason is by far the biggest - ad blockers! Millions of people have installed ad blocking software, meaning that about half your readers won't even see your carefully-placed ads!
As a result, bloggers everywhere are reporting a collapse in earnings from Adsense on blogs.
If Adsense is dead, what do you do instead?
Selling direct to your readers is the new way to earn income from a blog. That doesn't mean you have to become a retailer, with a garage-load of stock, mailing products out to customers. There are many options that don't require you to handle stock.
The easiest products to sell are virtual products - an ebook, a game, or an app. If you are going to create your own, the easy way to sell this type of product is to make it downloadable from eJunkie, because it takes care of the whole process of downloading and payment. For ebooks, Smashwords or Booktango are good options - don't limit yourself to Amazon.
Short ebooks offering further advice related to your blog topic can sell well. If you can manage a series, so much the better.
If your blog has a local flavour (for instance, a travelguide to your home town), don't assume you need a vast readership to attract advertisers. Some local businesses will pay a small fee to be reviewed or featured on your blog, even in its early stages.
If your blog is on a topic where you have expertise, you could offer related consultancy services - tarot readings, website design, interior design, etc. Or you could gather a panel of experts and charge them a referral fee for every client you introduce through the blog.
Arts & Crafts
If you're good with your hands, you can sell products you make yourself. Artworks, pottery, clothing - handmade items are in demand. You don't have to make a lot of stock - provided you have enticing images on your blog, customers will be willing to wait for you to make goods to order.
Drop shipping means that you behave like a retailer - advertising products for sale, accepting payment and dealing with the customer - but you don't hold stock. Instead, you send the order details to the wholesaler, who sends the product directly to the customer. Commissions are high, but of course there is a lot more work and responsibility involved and life can get complicated (e.g. when a customer wants to make a return).
There are networks for drop shipping, but most of them charge fees to join. Do your research first. Another option is to approach a merchant direct. For instance, on my pointe shoe blog, i did a deal with a dance physiotherapist whereby I earned a 30% commission, drop-shipping her books.
Advertising and Affiliate Networks
As I've already said, Adsense and affiliate banners don't make much money these days. In the long run, you will get a much better return by selling ad space direct to merchants. However, if your blog is new, you'll have to wait until you have evidence of good readership before merchants will even look at you - so in the meantime, the networks are better than nothing!
Tailored Ads, Not Banners
Many new bloggers make a fundamental mistake: they put ads in their sidebars, and a banner or two at the top and bottom of their blog, and think that's enough. It isn't. Readers come to your blog to read the content. If they're on a mobile, they may not ever see your sidebar! You need to use affiliate or advertising links within your blog posts or on dedicated "shopping" pages, if you want to make real income.
Tip: Never put an ad banner above the text on your blog, Google will hate it.
Ads in a Blog Post
This used to be the best method of selling affiliate products, but there's increasing evidence Google doesn't like them. If you can find a product which is directly relevant to the subject and which they're likely to want to buy after reading your post - do it. Otherwise, don't.
Google wants authoritative blogs that provide solid information, and advertising within posts may be one signal they use to decide, is this person being genuinely helpful or are they just trying to sell something? Because of that, I'm much more cautious about selling products within posts now, and am more likely to make separate shopping pages.
Ads on a Shopping Page
You may have noticed that although Google doesn't like blogs that have too much advertising, it has no problem with shops! Capitalise on that by creating dedicated shopping pages. Here you can showcase multiple products on each page, perhaps providing brief explanations of which product is best for which type of customer or which application.
My own blogs follow this pattern. I am always astonished that people will keep coming back to my blog to buy something when they could just as easily go straight to Amazon or eBay. The key is that they find my "shop" easier to navigate, because they don't have to wade through lots of irrelevant products.
For instance, say they're looking for a belly dance costume. If they search on Amazon or eBay, the search results will be full of silly Halloween costumes, cheap hip scarves, saucy lingerie, tablets to remove belly fat - and somewhere in there, maybe, a few belly dance costumes. Whereas when they come to my shopping pages, I've already found them and they're displayed for them to choose from.
Where to Find Products
There are many stores which offer affiliate programs. Amazon and eBay are perhaps the most famous - but you will usually get much higher commissions from specialist retailers. A good start is to Google "affiliate [your blog topic]".
Often, when you sign up as a merchant affiliate, you'll notice you're not signing up directly with the merchant - you're signing up with an affiliate network. These companies are in the business of managing affiliate programs for a large number of suppliers. The problem is that you'll have to reach a minimum threshold to get a payout - often $50 to $100.
That's why I recommend using a service like Skimlinks instead.
If the choice of affiliate networks is bewildering, and you're not comfortable with coding, there is one easy option - Skimlinks. With Skimlinks, you get instant access to all the big affiliate networks and thousands of merchants, instead of having to apply to each one individually for approval. You can read more about how that works in this article.
Skimlinks is a free service, so it costs nothing to give it a test drive. You can sign up here.
Monetizing your blog or website is hard work today. It's no longer a case of sticking a few ads in the sidebar and forgetting about them. It's a big learning curve but there are rewards, too. Good luck!
Text copyright Marisa Wright.