Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Simple, Delusion-Free Guide to Monetizing Your Blog

You've got a blog.

You like blogging and you get a a nice number of readers every day. It seems like a natural choice to monetize your blog and get something back for your efforts.

There is a lot of press about people making a living from their blogs - and some people do, it's true. There are a small number of professional bloggers out there who can make reasonably significant money from their blog, part- or full-time wages.

In many of these cases, these people had a large following *before* they began to blog. In others, they focused on celebrity gossip and related topics. It's unfortunate, but celebrity is the easiest way onto the money train. Today's post is for the rest of us.

I'm writing this post with two assumptions - 1) That you enjoy blogging in and of itself and; 2) That you are not trying to game the system and create an income machine. If you want to know how to fake your way into fast money, this is definitely not the post for you. If you have a blog you love and want to understand what you can *reasonably* do, read on. :-)

Here are Four Methods for Monetizing your Blog:

Banner, Block and Interstitial Ads

It's probably safe to say that the biggest ad network used by bloggers is Google Adsense, but it is not the only ad network out there. Many ad networks, both big and small, allow for creation of ads that can be placed in a variety of locations on your blog.

Banner ads were very popular in the early days of blogging. Many free blogging spaces put their own top banners above your blog to pay for your use of the space. These days banners are less common on blogs, because they separate your content from the audience in what is a very crucial space in your blog - below your header and above the cut, where they have to scroll down in order to keep reading. Banners across the bottom of a blog are often ineffective, because people read what's above the cut on your page and may not read all the way down.

Today, ads in the sidebars and in between posts, known as interstitial ads, are quite common. Block ads can be placed just about anywhere on a blog and can be practically any size. Interstitial ads separate posts or separate the top of a post from the bottom - you see this quite often on news/magazine sites: "Continue reading below." Interstitial ads that separate posts add distance between one post an another, but can also appeal directly to an audience with properly targeted ads.

Strengths: These kinds of ads are very easy to set up and, with most ad networks, a certain amount of targeting to your audience and topic is available. You can manage size and location so that these ads are not *that* intrusive.

Weaknesses: Your audience may not respond all that kindly to obvious monetization of your blog. Non-intrusive ads might not receive any attention at all. Bury your ads in the bottom right hand corner of the blog and no one will click on them. Many experts recommend avoiding interstitial ads, because they say it looks cheap. The irony is that at least two of the experts I saw with that advice had an ad planted squarely in the middle of their copy. So take your expert advice with a grain of salt. :-)

Be Aware: All ad networks have rules against you clicking your own ads to drive up rates. They also have rules about you making a point in the blog to encourage your readers to click the ads. Furthermore, many smaller ad networks have rules about mixing and matching advertising networks on one blog. Be careful to read the Terms of Service and not get on the wrong side of an ad network, or you could find your earnings held hostage or revoked altogether.

Contextual Advertising

Should your blog reach a certain number of visitors per month, you may be able to add contextual ads to your copy. These are, once again, served by a number of advertising networks. These ads appear as double-underlined links in your text and usually provide a pop-up ad as the reader scrolls over them. There isn't that much targeting available to you through these networks, since the words in your copy provide the context. Sometimes, the ads are hilariously off-topic.

Strengths: These forms of advertising are small, reasonably non-intrusive at first glance and sometimes actually useful.

Weaknesses: Contextual Advertising is not as targetable as banner/block ads and the pop-ups can be both annoying and are often blocked by readers.

Be Aware: There's no legal way to point out to your readers that these are not some evil virus put there by your blog host, but are, in fact, a way for you to make money. You have to hope that your readers are sophisticated enough to get what you are doing - something you can't rely on, realistically.

Affiliate Marketing

This is probably the most tried-and-true method of blog monetization. If you have a strong, focused topic, there are probably folks out there selling related items. There are any number of affiliate marketing networks, a little time searching around will surely come up with the best one for your blog.

Affiliate marketing works best when the blog actually discusses the items being marketed. This draws the reader's attention to the item directly.

Strengths: Affiliate marketing works well for review blogs, subject-enthusiast blogs, blogs in niches where information about relevant products and services are hard to find.

Weaknesses: Bloggers that rely heavily on sponsorships and received items can appear biased. There's a fine line to walk between unbiased, honest reviews and making yourself either unpleasant or a stooge.

Be Aware: Reviews of featured products are now reportable to the FTC and to the IRS. Bloggers should be aware of the new regulations and disclaim properly when reviewing received items.

Your Products and Services

Ideally, you have a unique idea or, at least, a unique approach to an idea. Perhaps you've written a book about it, or have branded T-shirts and coffee mugs or...something. Don't be afraid to commoditize you. Book, shirts, your services - these can all be featured on your blog as a way for your readers to show that they are part of your "team."

Strengths: You are selling youself, your ideas, your creativity. These are (or should be) your areas of strength - what you do best.

Weaknesses: No one cares until you make them care. Have a book? How nice. Having a book does not mean anyone will buy it - until that book becomes the most relevant and interesting thing for them.

Be Aware: The more you put yourself out there, the more you will draw attention - both good and bad. Be ready for negative reviews of your book, bad client experiences and nasty commenters on your blog. Note that they exist, then move on.

None of these monetizing methods give you a bye from promoting your blog, expanding your network or doing the work to create good, relevant, compelling content. If you are already doing the work these methods still might not bring in $$$ while you have 100 readers. But, when you have 100,000 readers or 1,000,000 readers, you might be one of those few who can say they make a living at blogging.

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