5 Tips for Monetizing a Blog Without Ads
- Secure sponsors and review their products
- Include affiliate links receive a commission
- Create a course and sell it on your blog
- Productize your knowledge and sell it on your blog
- Self-publish an ebook and sell it on your blog
They say hard work is a reward unto itself.
But for most freelancers – you know, the kind with bills and a constant eye on their bank balance – it’s a lot more rewarding when work turns into hard cash.
Let’s face it: There’re only so many pats on the back you can survive on when you’re trying to make money from your blog.
Like, five. Maybe seven, tops.
Eventually, probably sooner rather than later, you need to take those pats on the back and turn them into bank account deposits.
In other words, you need to monetize your blog.
You don’t have to go far to find the supposed secret to making money from a blog, either: shake a stick at Google, and you’ll find plenty of people promising that paid ads are your golden ticket to blogging for money.
Take Ryan Robinson, for example, who’s taught over 400,000 monthly readers how to start a blog. In his words:
“Displaying advertisement space is arguably the easiest, most basic (and quickest) form of starting to make money blogging.”
HOWEVER, also in blog guru Ryan Robinson’s words:
“Of all the different ways to make money blogging that I’m engaged in, [running ads] is one of the lowest returns in terms of total dollars earned (especially for my amount of traffic).”
With over 2.4 million readers last year, Ryan has the numbers to optimize ad payouts.
And that’s still not enough. These days, to earn $100,000 a year through Google AdSense, you need approximately 20,000 visitors a day.
So, if you see someone bragging about the revenue power of ads like this recommendation from ProBlogger:
“AdSense is how I earn around 35% of my income as a full-time blogger and I would thoroughly recommend it as a way of monetizing a blog – especially for those just starting out.”
…dig a little deeper and check the fine print (a.k.a., the date) like in the comments of ProBlogger founder Darren Rowse’s AdSense Tips article, which were published in – wait for it – 2009.
BRIEF INTERRUPTION: We lurve Problogger around here. This is nothing against Problogger! Just a reminder to always check the dates when grabbing tips from the interwebs. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Needless to say, decade-old enthusiasm isn’t very reliable.
But okay. Let’s ignore the outdated advice for a minute. Say someone – someone with a pretty website and tons of widgets – says ad revenue brings in 35% of their blog earnings.
(Or, just say they’re someone who took the below survey…)
Well, there’s fine print there, too.
If they make that much money with their blog, they’re hardly a beginner blogger. More likely, they’re an uber large publisher with over 100,000 unique monthly views. This report entirely omits bloggers who make less than $2,000 per month (which, in reality, is the majority of bloggers).
What’s more is that when you get into the really high income levels (over $25,000 per month), blogger income from ad revenue dramatically drops to 3%.
Oh, and there’s one other teensy-weensy thing:
People don’t like ads.
I mean, look at the masses of online users who actively block ads. A chunky 25% of U.S. Internet users actively avoid giving ads the time of day.
And – just in case that simple truth isn’t enough – there is an onslaught of cons to putting ads on your blog:
- Ads dilute your brand
- Ads take up too much real estate on your page
- Ads distract your reader and kill your conversions
- Ads increase your load time
- Ads ruin your trust factor
So, the jury is in: Unless you have a blog that pulls in over 100,000 monthly views, paid ads aren’t the best way to make money online. They aren’t even a good way to do it.
Where does that leave the hopeful blogger who wants to translate their adoring fans into adorable revenue streams?
In a much better place than you’d think, actually.
How much money can you make by monetizing your blog without using ads?
In short, you can earn more than six times the average annual income in the U.S. (which was logged at $31,786 per capita in 2017).
If we’re talking freelance copywriter salaries, that’s triple the average amount that 50% of freelance copywriters expect to earn (which is less than $50,000 annually).
That’s right – pro bloggers can rake in an average annual revenue of $185,975.
And if you’re really good, you can hit the six-figure mark on a MONTHLY basis.
In less than six years, Michelle Gardner, who runs the Making Sense Of Cents blog, one of the most successful monetized blogs out there, earns over $126,000 in monthly revenue.
Impressive, right? But far from the top-of-class results.
John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneurs on Fire, has grossed over $1.5 million for the year so far.
And totaled $16,204,901 in blog revenue since he launched in 2012 – wowsa.
Did you notice any of his blog revenue flowing in from ads?
Didn’t think so.
Okay, so maybe you’re thinking, I don’t have six-plus years to dedicate solely to growing my blog.
Totally normal. These are superstar-status bloggers.
(Plus, you need to run your freelance business, right?)
But that’s not to say you can’t make money blogging as a normal human-status blogger.
You can. You totally can.
But not without some serious commitment.
Skip the commitment, and you’re likely to end up as one of the 69.4% of bloggers who make zilch.
That’s right – the majority of bloggers don’t make any money at all.
Why? Among other things, because they didn’t put in the commitment – 59.3% of bloggers start a blog and then abandon it.
To make money blogging, it’s likely to take a year to reach part-time income levels. For full-time income levels, double that timeframe.
Okay, so blog monetization is great, but not so easy-peasy.
Let’s make sure you’re in the minority here and tackle when to monetize.
When should you monetize your blog?
The short answer: monetize your audience when you’ve established your blog and have a growing fanbase.
Like most everything, the long answer comes with more deets.
Does size matter? Of course it does.
Naturally, the bigger your following, the higher your chances of earning a significant income. Critical mass is a real thing. Check it out:
75% of the traffic and 90% of the leads HubSpot pulls in on its blog each month actually come from posts that weren’t published that month.
When you hit critical mass levels, your older content starts working for you, spurring exponential growth like HubSpot’s 2011 and 2012 jumps in blog subscribership and blog traffic.
But is it a requirement to have a large following? Not at all.
You can start monetizing your blog as soon as you have your foundation laid out and a growing (even if slowly) subscriber list.
Seems straightforward enough.
Here’s the catch: You need to be willing to commit designated time to create content. And not just dropping an article or two from time to time. You need to publish consistently.
Why? Because that’s how you grow and sustain that growth. There’s no way around it.
So…how often should you blog?
Brands that publish over 16 posts each month get nearly 3.5 times more traffic than companies that publish zero to four monthly blog posts. (Is it good traffic? Is it returning traffic? That’s the topic of another post! One thing at a time.)
Beyond traffic, your blog frequency also affects the number of leads you pull in. If you’re a company with one to 10 employees (and as a freelancer, you probably are), sources say you’ll benefit the most by blogging more than 10 times per month.
And…how long should your blog posts be?
As far as blog post length goes, the optimal word count has been getting longer and longer. The average blog post ranges from 1,140 to 1,285 words, so the rule has become to shoot for at least that.
To hit the top 10 positions in search rankings though, you’ll want to write even longer.
If writing upwards of 2,450 words per post sounds overwhelming to you, you don’t have to leave your freelance blog monetizing dreams behind just yet. Shorter posts work well for different purposes.
Case in point:
- For more comments on your freelance blog, discussion-based posts with 275 words work well, like this post with over 300 comments.
- For more social shares, aim for the 1,000 to 1,500 word range.
- The perfect blog post length may not even exist.
The moral here is: Aim to write at least 10 blog posts each month at 1,000+ words per post. If you’ve got the people-power to pump out more content, do it. And if you can write epic blog posts, (obviously) do that, too.
Sound doable? Then so will what’s next.
Best Blog Monetization Tactics
That Are Actually Doable
Once you’re churning out content on the regular and building a solid audience, you’re ready to take it to the next level. So let’s get monetizing…
Write Sponsored Blog Posts and Product Reviews
One way to leverage your blog audience is to connect with companies that will pay you to either:
- Write a post about a relevant topic that includes a nestled link to their site (a sponsored post) or
- Review one of their products and services in your article (a product review).
For a real life example, check out Lou Martin, a pro blogger, in action on her Product Review Mom blog.
Lou gets paid anywhere from $200 to $500 per post review.
If that sounds like pennies to you, think again. She does this full-time while raising two teen girls. It adds up quick. Three to four quick reviews a week could give her full-time income.
Why does this blog monetization tip work so well?
With your growing audience comes a niche market that other relevant brands and organizations want to tap into. They’ll pay you to access your like-minded audience.
Lou has drummed up a healthy niche audience that attracts large brand partners such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Neutrogena and more. She’s even got her audience demo info sorted out for partners to scan for a match.
Influencers really take the cake for sponsored posts, though – 54% of them leverage their audiences and partake in publishing sponsored posts.
The better you are at promoting sponsored posts and the more consistent you are at churning them out, the better your paycheck will be.
If you take a closer look at John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneurs on Fire blog, the largest portion of his revenue currently comes from his sponsorship arrangements.
As for what you can charge for sponsored posts, it runs the gamut.
Annabel Candy, a seasoned 17-year blogger and original founder of SuccessfulBlogging, charges over $700 for a sponsored blog post.
Ryan Robinson is another pro blogger who charges $1,500 per sponsored post.
AuthorityHacker earns three to five figures in revenue for publishing reviews, as you can see in this 12-month earnings snapshot.
Naturally, the more your audience grows, the more you have to leverage per sponsored post and review.
If you’re looking for ways to review products and secure sponsored posts, scope out some of these sites:
And if you want to copywrite for your clients and help them promote affiliate products, there’s a near-endless supply of affiliate marketing programs to peruse:
But if that doesn’t suit your (or your client’s) brand, our next monetizing method might be more your speed.
Partner Up with Affiliates to Monetize Your Blog
Another monetizing option is to connect with affiliates. Just like sponsored posts, affiliate blogging also involves hooking up with like-minded peeps.
The difference here is you’re paid a commission fee every time one of your readers purchases their products from one of your blog links.
If you want to keep your integrity high and your reputation unscathed, make sure your affiliate partner sells products and services that your audience actually cares about.
Ask yourself honestly: Will your audience benefit from your affiliate’s offer?
Follow in the footsteps of others who do affiliate blogging well. Looping back to Michelle Gardner’s Making Sense of Cents blog, she exclusively promotes money-saving sites she believes in.
Which keeps her on topic and serving her audience’s interest with good quality products or services – the single top reason why consumers trust brands.
There’s no need to inundate your following with useless products that won’t serve them. Beyond being an exercise in futility, doing so runs the risk of losing their trust, hands-down the most lethal biz move you can make.
After all, 63% of customers would only buy from you if they believed you to be authentic and trustworthy.
On top of that, 81% of consumers “must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.” So don’t blow it. You’ve worked hard at building trust among your blog audience.
Speaking of doing what’s right, it’s a legal U.S. requirement to disclose any affiliate links included in your blog. Michelle also nails this nicely at the top of her affiliates page.
Okay, now that we’re clear on whom to partner up with (those who warrant trust, of course), on to the payouts for affiliate blogging.
An average affiliate commission runs between 5% and 30%.
Just like commission rates vary, so do annual affiliate income levels. In one poll of 117 bloggers, the annual affiliate revenue ranged from less than $20,000 to over $2 million.
Why is the range so wide? It depends on several factors. The three biggest are:
- Industry – Health companies like The Vitamin Shoppe pay out a max of 9% commission, while marketing SaaS companies like SEMrush pay as much as 40% in recurring commission.
- Product price – Generally speaking, lower-priced products tend to have higher commission rates and luxury goods often pay out at lower rates, which is why you’ll see a huge range from 1% to 75% on sites like ClickBank.
- Vendor’s valuation – Ultimately, payouts are decided on and set by the vendor.
The gist of it is: Payouts vary, so while affiliate blogging can make bank for one creator, it can be more like a piggy bank for another.
Even within a single vertical, the numbers can run WILD. For instance, WordPress products offer an average commission payout of 35% for their affiliate programs, but that’s an average with a lot of standard deviation.
Let’s zoom out, though, and look at the people behind the numbers.
Can affiliate blogging be a bust? Yes.
Can you still earn a significant income? Double yes.
As a blogger who partakes heavily in WordPress’s affiliate marketing, Tom Dupuis went from making $20,000 to $150,000 within two years. Here’s a snapshot of a month’s worth of affiliate income at the end of 2018.
Michelle Gardner attributes 63% of her blog income to affiliates (for the month of August 2019) and she earns over $100,000 per month blogging.
For a star-studded example of how much money you can make from affiliate blogging, look no further than Smart Passive Income’s founder, Pat Flynn.
He earned $200,000 in commission payments for including a link to an exam software product on his first website almost a decade ago.
Since then, he’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars from affiliate marketing including $300,000 from a single affiliate agreement with ConvertKit.
And yeah, if you’re wondering, the goods are solid on both sides of the affiliate blogging game – 65% of publishers claim the top benefit to affiliate marketing is generating additional revenue.
In the U.S. alone, retailers spend nearly $5.5 billion annually on affiliate marketing and a staggering 84% of online publishers use affiliate marketing.
Oh, and unlike paid ads, blog publishers like affiliate marketing – 76% of publishers say affiliate programs make monetizing a cinch and 45% claim it doesn’t disrupt the user experience.
With warm and fuzzy sentiments like these, take a gander at some of today’s most popular affiliate programs:
- Affiliate Window
- Amazon Associates
- CJ Affiliate
- eBay Partner Network
- Leadpages Partner Program
- Rakuten Marketing Affiliates
- Shopify Affiliate Program
As you can see, affiliate blogging is a lot like ice cream. There’s an option for every palette and diet.
In sum: Affiliate blogging is a non-intrusive way to serve your readers while making money from said service. Just be sure you can vouch for your affiliate’s offerings.
Our next blog monetizing tactic is also a way to serve your audience with tons of options.
Productize Your Expertise and Sell a Digital Download to Earn Money Online
Selling digital downloads is a great way to scale your business without sinking in a ton of time.
Why? Because the majority of your work is done on the front-end. Once you’ve created your digital file and uploaded it to your site, you’ve conquered the uphill portion of the hustle.
From there, you just need to maintain your marketing.
You don’t have to worry about hitting limits on customers or sales. Inventory mistakes that can cost you $10,000 aren’t a problem, either.
That flexibility carries over to the format, too.
You can go the guide route and create a downloadable how-to guide that walks people through your process, just like Robert Joyner does.
He sells his Painters Guide to Design & Composition for $79 a pop.
Entrepreneur Marc Eglon takes it a step further and sells The Tiny Product Manual for $39, to help creators turn their lightbulb ideas into tiny products.
Another option is to make processes super simple and streamlined for people by offering plug-and-play templates. Designer entrepreneur Vanessa Ryan’s Boho Chic Toolbox sells a bundle of templates for designers for $225.
OR you can go a little wild and create an off-the-beaten-path digital download like Chris Albon’s Machine Learning Flashcards, which go for $12 for a package of 300.
Okay, you get the point.
Keep it relevant to your freelance copywriting business, of course, but there’s room to get creative with your format.
But as varied as digital download formats come, there’s one trait they all have in common (which you need to include):
They make your target audience’s life easier.
Put another way, jump on the ol’ “offer value” bus and solve your audience’s problems.
After all, you’ve written your blog to help people solve their problems in the first place, right?
Selling your digital download shouldn’t be any different.
Getting to the kind of income you can expect depends on your price. There are a few options for navigating pricing:
- Cost-based pricing – Add your desired profit to the cost of producing your digital download
- Value-based pricing – Set your price at your audience’s perceived value
- Competition-based pricing – Use competitor pricing as a benchmark
Regardless of your pricing strategy, a good rule to follow is to price above your expenses, taxes and profits.
And not to be afraid of testing that price out.
Some businesses massively increase their revenue by testing their pricing. Take Server Density, for example, which tested two price points and converted fewer customers but increased their total revenue by a giant 114%.
Okay, that’s all gravy for a SaaS company like Server Density, but it’s not for everyone.
Be warned that testing your pricing strategy can also come with a couple of caveats:
- It’s unlikely that your results will reach statistical significance (i.e., can’t be attributed to random chance)
- You may price anchor and need to explain yourself (e.g., your no-longer-available lower price) to prospective customers
All in all: There’s no hard-fast rule to the type or price of digital download you sell. Get creative and offer something of value to your audience. See what they will – and won’t – pay for it.
If you do this well, you’ll scale your blog income. Our next monetizing tip also offers great scalability.
Sell an Online Course to Make Money Blogging
Another lucrative way to monetize your blog is to package up your knowledge and sell it in the form of an online course. It’s a timely tactic, too.
Why? The market for elearning is on fire.
Its latest valuation was $190 billion just last year and is anticipated to grow beyond the $300 billion mark by 2025. And 40% of that market share is anticipated to come from North America, totaling $120 billion by 2025.
If you want to talk CAGR (compound annual growth rate), the elearning market is projected to grow at a 7% CAGR through the same time span.
As far as what to focus your course on, choose a topic that combines your passion with your copywriting expertise and has profit potential.
More specifically, list out a bunch of ideas and start plotting them on this Passion/Profit Matrix.
(Want a printer-friendly version of this matrix? Then check out this 12,000-word guide on how to create, sell and profit from online courses.)
After you’re done plotting, choose the one from the upper-right quadrant that lights you up the most.
This process is how Amanda Boleyn came up with The Basics of Building a Business online course.
Although that’s not to say choosing your course topic should end there. There’s a pretty big next step you can’t ignore.
Validate and then validate again. (Makes it a two-part step, doesn’t it?)
In other words, check in with your audience and find out if your course topic is something they want to learn about and are willing to pay for.
To get useful feedback from your audience, reach out to them and ask questions. There are several ways to do this, so no excuses here:
- Post about it on your social channels
- DM people
- Email your subscriber list
- Run a poll or survey
- Make phone calls
- Chat with people face-to-face
- Scour forums and groups and engage in conversations
- Check out Amazon’s book inventory on the topic and read reviews
HOWEVER, it’s not enough just to ask. You need to listen to what your customers want.
That’s the key ingredient for complete market research validation. Once you do that, and only once you do that, you’ll find the effort worthwhile.
How worthwhile? Exceedingly.
Vincent Retg, a French entrepreneur who founded Le Musicien Formations, earned nearly 2,000 euros in online course sales in his first month offering his Melody Maker course.
Do you think he got there without validating his idea? (Spoiler: No, he definitely didn’t.)
Finally, our beloved Michelle Gardner earned upwards of $434,698 selling a single online course.
Success with online courses is like a wheel. The more speed you pick up in one rotation, the faster the next one is…
Every successful course launch puts you closer to launching six-figure courses.
Going from blogger to online course seller is especially profitable as you gain traction and move further along in your blogging career. For pro bloggers who make over $25,000 in monthly income, a ginormous 80% of their income is generated from online courses.
However, while online courses are a burgeoning option for writers to monetize their blog, they’re far from the only solution.
If you don’t have the time and energy (or desire, for that matter) to create and market an online course – or if you’re not in a position to teach an entire course because, say, you’re not yet an expert on something – an ebook is another great info product to turn your fans into your patrons.
Make Money by Selling Ebooks
Copyhackers started with four little ebooks, which brought in about $20K in 5 days and gave Jo the signal she needed to keep going with this biz. Today Copyhackers is a multi seven-figure business that gives ebooks away instead of selling ’em – but it all started with those four ebooks.
The global breakdown is where things get really interesting for the ebook market. The countries with high Internet penetration are the zones with the greatest market share. Check it out by region.
What does that mean for the near future? Look out for the quickly expanding Asia-Pacific region that’s welcoming digitalization and smart device penetration with open arms.
If you’re looking for topic ideas, go with a topic in your expertise wheelhouse that aligns with your passions and your business goals. Creating it will be more fun that way.
(And trust me, you’re going to need a little fun in there. All hard work and no play makes Jack a frustrated freelancer.)
A few fun ebook examples…
Spin up something like the creators of Pasta-based, Matt and Steph, did with their Complete Vegan Italian Thanksgiving ebook.
Or something similar to what entrepreneur, David Delahunty, created with his 5 Ideas a Day ebook (page no longer exists).
As for anticipated earnings, selling an ebook can potentially put you over the edge and earn enough money to quit your full-time gig.
That’s what it did for creator Justin Jackson. In 2016, he was able to take the plunge from blogging side-hustler to full-time entrepreneur thanks to his ebook Marketing for Developers.
In fact, selling his ebook was the final ingredient needed to bring in $146,000 in revenue that year.
And Justin did so well with his ebook that he created an online course version of it. (Can you say gravy on top of gravy? His ebook practically became income poutine.)
If you decide to go the ebook route, though, it comes with a caveat.
Sure, the global market size projections look great, BUT there’s contending evidence that points to both ebook sales dropping and ebook sales growing.
A quick explanation:
In 2017, there was a contentious announcement that ebook sales fell 10%, which meant that 450 represented publishers witnessed a drop in ebook sales from 180 million to 162 million units within a year.
While that may appear to be a bleak outlook, there’s actually growth in the nitty-gritty detail. Reporting on that same year, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that “over 1,000 independent authors surpassed $100,000 in royalties in 2017 through Kindle Direct Publishing.”
Which means: Traditional publisher ebook sales declined while indie-published ebooks soared.
And to further confuse the market stats, popular Data Guy’s proclamation that ebook sales doubled in 2018 in the U.S. was refuted by The New Publish Standard’s article that stated, “the industry data we’ve seen so far… paints a highly misleading picture of the market.”
How’s that for a dichotomy?
The main takeaway (and our recommended solution to selling your ebook) is to self-publish your ebook and either:
- Sell it through your own site if you want all the profits or
- Sell it through Amazon with one hand in your pocket poised to hand back some of your revenue.
10 steps to self-publish an ebook
Jo’s going to create a program on writing and self-publishing an ebook as part of Copyhackers’s upcoming Content School. But for now, to self-publish your ebook, we recommend these 10 simple steps:
- Decide on your ebook topic
- Record yourself talking about your topic
- Get your recording transcribed
- Sit down (or stand!) and turn your transcript into a great draft
- Title it
- Proofread it, format it and add your images
- Design your ebook cover
- Convert it to a digital download file
- Price your ebook
- Publish your ebook to your storefront and sell
Pretty straightforward, right?
Phew – that’s five of the best routes to monetize a blog. Let’s recap.
Do you need to carve out an ad budget to make money blogging?
One word: Nope.
Do you need to hit all five of these best blog monetization methods to restock your bank account?
Three words: Most certainly, no.
Even if you only carry out one, you’ll be miles ahead of zero blog income. It doesn’t even really matter which one it is, either.
A whopping 61% of consumers make a purchase based on a blog post they’ve read, which means at least 61% of your readers are primed for monetization.
In other words, if you have anything useful at all to sell to your audience, chances are your blog-reading audience will buy it. (After all, you’re their trusted source who authors the content they’ve been eating up).
HOWEVER, the more blog monetization channels you tap into, the better off you’ll be.
Translation: Diversify your blog income (i.e., try as many of these five blog monetization tactics as you can) to earn more money. The more you diversify, the more you’ll earn.
For the cherry on top, let’s go back to our iconic blog monetization king, John Lee Dumas, one more time.
In September, 2019, his revenue from sponsorships and affiliate revenue are basically even stevens.
But that wasn’t the case just six months ago. Affiliate revenue accounted for almost half of his blog income then.
Imagine how much more that change would’ve hurt if he had less streams to rely on. Or, at the very least, imagine how much more stagnant his income would be if he didn’t keep it varied.
Now, be like John, ditch the ads and start loading up your plate with the buffet spread of blog monetization tactics:
- Secure sponsors for your blog posts and review products and services of like-minded businesses
- Include affiliate links in your blog and receive a commission each time someone purchases
- Create a digital download and sell it on your blog
- Productize your knowledge with an online course and sell it to your blog readers
- Self-publish an ebook and sell it to your blog audience
It’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind of party, so long as you do actually choose. Good luck!