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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Make Money With A Blog

Do you actually want to monetize your blog?
Some people have strong personal feelings with respect to making money from their blogs. If you think commercializing your blog is evil, immoral, unethical, uncool, lame, greedy, obnoxious, or anything along those lines, then don’t commercialize it.
If you have mixed feelings about monetizing your blog, then sort out those feelings first. If you think monetizing your site is wonderful, fine. If you think it’s evil, fine. But make up your mind before you seriously consider starting down this path. If you want to succeed, you must be congruent. Generating income from your blog is challenging enough — you don’t want to be dealing with self-sabotage at the same time. It should feel genuinely good to earn income from your blog — you should be driven by a healthy ambition to succeed. If your blog provides genuine value, you fully deserve to earn income from it. If, however, you find yourself full of doubts over whether this is the right path for you, you might find this article helpful: How Selfish Are You? It’s about balancing your needs with the needs of others.
If you do decide to generate income from your blog, then don’t be shy about it. If you’re going to put up ads, then really put up ads. Don’t just stick a puny little ad square in a remote corner somewhere. If you’re going to request donations, then really request donations. Don’t put up a barely visible “Donate” link and pray for the best. If you’re going to sell products, then really sell them. Create or acquire the best quality products you can, and give your visitors compelling reasons to buy. If you’re going to do this, then fully commit to it. Don’t take a half-assed approach. Either be full-assed or no-assed.
Can you make a decent income online?
Yes, absolutely. At the very least, a high five-figure annual income is certainly an attainable goal for an individual working full-time from home. I’m making a healthy income from My Bloggs, and the site is only 19 months old… barely a toddler. If you have a day job, it will take longer to generate a livable income, but it can still be done part-time if you’re willing to devote a lot of your spare time to it. I’ve always done it full-time.
Can most people do it?
No, they can’t. I hope it doesn’t shock you to see a personal development web site use the dreaded C-word. But I happen to agree with those who say that 99% of people who try to generate serious income from their blogs will fail. The tagline for this site is “Personal Development for Smart People.” And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your outlook), smart people are a minority on this planet. So while most people can’t make a living this way, I would say that most smart people can. How do you know whether or not you qualify as smart? Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you have to ask the question, you aren’t.
If that last paragraph doesn’t flood my inbox with flames, I don’t know what will. OK, actually I do?

This kind of 99-1 ratio isn’t unique to blogging though. You’ll see it in any field with relatively low barriers to entry. What percentage of wannabe actors, musicians, or athletes ever make enough money from their passions to support themselves? It doesn’t take much effort to start a blog these days — almost anyone can do it. Talent counts for something, and the talent that matters in blogging is intelligence. But that just gets you in the door. You need to specifically apply your intelligence to one particular talent. And the best words I can think of to describe that particular talent are: web savvy.
If you are very web savvy, or if you can learn to become very web savvy, then you have an excellent shot of making enough money from your blog to cover all your living expenses… and then some. But if becoming truly web savvy is more than your gray matter can handle, then I’ll offer this advice: Don’t quit your day job.




Web savvy
What do I mean by web savvy? You don’t need to be a programmer, but you need a decent functional understanding of a variety of web technologies. What technologies are “key” will depend on the nature of your blog and your means of monetization. But generally speaking I’d list these elements as significant:
  • blog publishing software
  • HTML/CSS
  • blog comments (and comment spam)
  • RSS/syndication
  • feed aggregators
  • pings
  • trackbacks
  • full vs. partial feeds
  • blog carnivals (for kick-starting your blog’s traffic)
  • search engines
  • search engine optimization (SEO)
  • page rank
  • social bookmarking
  • tagging
  • contextual advertising
  • affiliate programs
  • traffic statistics
  • email
Optional: podcasting, instant messaging, PHP or other web scripting languages.
I’m sure I missed a few due to familiarity blindness. If scanning such a list makes your head spin, I wouldn’t recommend trying to make a full-time living from blogging just yet. Certainly you can still blog, but you’ll be at a serious disadvantage compared to someone who’s more web savvy, so don’t expect to achieve stellar results until you expand your knowledge base.
If you want to sell downloadable products such as ebooks, then you can add e-commerce, SSL, digital delivery, fraud prevention, and online databases to the list. Again, you don’t need to be a programmer; you just need a basic understanding of these technologies. Even if you hire someone else to handle the low-level implementation, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. You need to be able to trust your strategic decisions, and you won’t be able to do that if you’re a General who doesn’t know what a gun is.
A lack of understanding is a major cause of failure in the realm of online income generation. For example, if you’re clueless about search engine optimization (SEO), you’ll probably cripple your search engine rankings compared to someone who understands SEO well. But you can’t consider each technology in isolation. You need to understand the connections and trade-offs between them. Monetizing a blog is a balancing act. You may need to balance the needs of yourself, your visitors, search engines, those who link to you, social bookmarking sites, advertisers, affiliate programs, and others. Seemingly minor decisions like what to title a web page are significant. In coming up with the title of this article, I have to take all of these potential viewers into consideration. I want a title that is attractive to human visitors, drives reasonable search engine traffic, yields relevant contextual ads, fits the theme of the site, and encourages linking and social bookmarking. And most importantly I want each article to provide genuine value to my visitors. I do my best to create titles for my articles that balance these various needs. Often that means abandoning cutesy or clever titles in favor of direct and comprehensible ones. It’s little skills like these that help drive sustainable traffic growth month after month. Missing out on just this one skill is enough to cripple your traffic. And there are dozens of these types of skills that require web savvy to understand, respect, and apply.
This sort of knowledge is what separates the 1% from the 99%. Both groups may work just as hard, but the 1% is getting much better results for their efforts. It normally doesn’t take me more than 60 seconds to title an article, but a lot of experience goes into those 60 seconds. You really just have to learn these ideas once; after that you can apply them routinely.
Whenever you come across a significant web technology you don’t understand, look it up on Google or Wikipedia, and dive into it long enough to acquire a basic understanding of it. To make money from blogging it’s important to be something of a jack of all trades. Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” That may be true, but you don’t need to master any of these technologies — you just have to be good enough to use them. It’s the difference between being able to drive a car vs. becoming an auto mechanic. Strive to achieve functional knowledge, and then move on to something else. Even though I’m an experienced programmer, I don’t know how many web technologies actually work. I don’t really care. I can still use them to generate results. In the time it would take me to fully understand one new technology, I can achieve sufficient functional knowledge to apply several of them.
Thriving on change
Your greatest risk isn’t that you’ll make mistakes that will cost you. Your greatest risk is that you’ll miss opportunities. You need an entrepreneurial mindset, not an employee mindset. Don’t be too concerned with the risk of loss — be more concerned with the risk of missed gains. It’s what you don’t know and what you don’t do that will hurt you the worst. Blogging is cheap. Your expenses and financial risk should be minimal. Your real concern should be missing opportunities that would have made you money very easily. You need to develop antennae that can listen out for new opportunities. I highly recommend subscribing to Darren Rowse’s Problogger blog — Darren is great at uncovering new income-generating opportunities for bloggers.
The blogosphere changes rapidly, and change creates opportunity. It takes some brains to decipher these opportunities and to take advantage of them before they disappear. If you hesitate to capitalize on something new and exciting, you may simply miss out. Many opportunities are temporary. And every day you don’t implement them, you’re losing money you could have earned. And you’re also missing opportunities to build traffic, grow your audience, and benefit more people.
I used to get annoyed by the rapid rate of change of web technologies. It’s even more rapid than what I saw when I worked in the computer gaming industry. And the rate of change is accelerating. Almost every week now I learn about some fascinating new web service or idea that could potentially lead to big changes down the road. Making sense of them is a full-time job in itself. But I learned to love this insane pace. If I’m confused then everyone else is probably confused too. And people who only do this part-time will be very confused. If they aren’t confused, then they aren’t keeping up. So if I can be just a little bit faster and understand these technologies just a little bit sooner, then I can capitalize on some serious opportunities before the barriers to entry become too high. Even though confusion is uncomfortable, it’s really a good thing for a web entrepreneur. This is what creates the space for a college student to earn $1,000,000 online in just a few months with a clever idea. Remember this isn’t a zero-sum game. Don’t let someone else’s success make you feel diminished or jealous. Let it inspire you instead.
What’s your overall income-generation strategy?
I don’t want to insult anyone, but most people are utterly clueless when it comes to generating income from their blogs. They slap things together haphazardly with no rhyme or reason and hope to generate lots of money. While I’m a strong advocate of the ready-fire-aim approach, that strategy does require that you eventually aim. Ready-fire-fire-fire-fire will just create a mess.
Take a moment to articulate a basic income-generating strategy for your site. If you aren’t good at strategy, then just come up with a general philosophy for how you’re going to generate income. You don’t need a full business plan, just a description of how you plan to get from $0 per month to whatever your income goal is. An initial target goal I used when I first started this site was $3000 per month. It’s a somewhat arbitrary figure, but I knew if I could reach $3000 per month, I could certainly push it higher, and $3000 is enough income that it’s going to make a meaningful difference in my finances. I reached that level 15 months after launching the site (in December 2005). And since then it’s continued to increase nicely. Blogging income is actually quite easy to maintain. It’s a lot more secure than a regular job. No one can fire me, and if one source of income dries up, I can always add new ones. We’ll address multiple streams of income soon…
Are you going to generate income from advertising, affiliate commissions, product sales, donations, or something else? Maybe you want a combination of these things. However you decide to generate income, put your basic strategy down in writing. I took 15 minutes to create a half-page summary of my monetization strategy. I only update it about once a year and review it once a month. This isn’t difficult, but it helps me stay focused on where I’m headed. It also allows me to say no to opportunities that are inconsistent with my plan.
Refer to your monetization strategy (or philosophy) when you need to make design decisions for your web site. Although you may have multiple streams of income, decide which type of income will be your primary source, and design your site around that. Do you need to funnel people towards an order form, or will you place ads all over the site? Different monetization strategies suggest different design approaches. Think about what specific action you want your visitors to eventually take that will generate income for you, and design your site accordingly.
When devising your income strategy, feel free to cheat. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Copy someone else’s strategy that you’re convinced would work for you too. Do NOT copy anyone’s content or site layout (that’s copyright infringement), but take note of how they’re making money. I decided to monetize this site with advertising and affiliate income after researching how various successful bloggers generated income. Later I added donations as well. This is an effective combo.

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