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.
You can reasonably expect that when you begin commercializing a free site, some people will complain, depending on how you do it. I launched this site in October 2004, and I began putting Google Adsense ads on the site in February 2005. There were some complaints, but I expected that — it was really no big deal. Less than 1 in 5,000 visitors actually sent me negative feedback. Most people who sent feedback were surprisingly supportive. Most of the complaints died off within a few weeks, and the site began generating income almost immediately, although it was pretty low — a whopping $53 the first month. If you’d like to see some month-by-month specifics, I posted my 2005 Adsense revenue figures earlier this year. Adsense is still my single best source of revenue for this site, although it’s certainly not my only source. More on that later…
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 StevePavlina.com, 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.
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
blog comments (and comment spam)
full vs. partial feeds
blog carnivals (for kick-starting your blog’s traffic)
search engine optimization (SEO)
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.