In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I start talking about blog monetization strategies that I’ve personally had experiences with in my 10 years of blogging.

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  • 0:46 – Important announcements
  • 3:15 – Blog monetization method #1: Google AdSense
  • 8:48 – Blog monetization method #2: Amazon Associates
  • 13:50 – Pick of the week

DPP034: Blog Monetization Strategies (Part 1)

Hey, I’m Tristan Higbee, and this podcast is all about the things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, including blogging, ebook and video creation, podcasting, and other things relating to internet business and online marketing. You can find a full transcript of each episode of this show at DigitalPublishingPodcast.com.

I’d really appreciate it if you rated this show in iTunes. Just go to itunes.digitalpublishingpodcast.com and then click the blue “View in iTunes” button in the sidebar to rate and review the podcast in iTunes.

Important announcements

An ancient form the Georgian alphabet at Davit Gareja, Georgia.

An ancient form the Georgian alphabet at Davit Gareja, Georgia.

Before we get started here, I want to say that there is a small chance that there will not be a new episode next week. Next week is my last week here in Georgia, and I might be traveling somewhere inside the country or maybe even to Azerbaijan if I can manage it. And then for the two weeks after that, it’s likely that there will not be new episodes. I’ll be traveling in Armenia for the first week and Turkey for the second week, so I probably won’t have the opportunity to record new episodes. So to recap, there’s a chance that there won’t be a new episode next week, and there probably won’t be a new one for the two weeks after that, though that is subject to change. As long as you’ve subscribed to the podcast, you’ll get the next episode whenever it does happen to come out. I’ll still be answering emails and responding to comments, so let me know if you have any questions or things that you want me to cover in the next episode that does come out. Incidentally, if you want to follow along with my travels, I post trip reports and photos to my personal blog at thealoof.com.

And then before we get into the meat and potatoes today, I have some follow up. Last week I talked about link blogs and gave a couple examples. Podcast listener Frank Katzer gave another great example, and that’s Swiss Miss, which is a very popular link blog about things relating to design. Thanks to Frank for giving another great example, and you can check out the Swiss Miss link blog at swiss-miss.com.

So podcast listener Val from ValsLoveBytes.com asked me on Twitter last week to talk about blog monetization, and I thought that was a great idea, so I’m going to talk about the experiences I’ve personally had with making money from blogs and the different ways that’s done. And that will be the bulk of this episode, and because of how much there is to say here, the topic will be broken up into one or possibly even two additional podcast episodes. This is the first in that blog monetization series.

Blog monetization method #1: Google AdSense

Google AdSenseGoogle AdSense is an ad network. You sign up for the program and then put the ad code wherever you want it to be on your blog—in a blog post, in the sidebar, between blog posts, and so on. Google looks at what your site and site pages are about and shows people who visit your site ads that are relevant to your content or to other things that the visitor has looked at recently online. You get money every time someone clicks on one of the ads. The exact amount of money you get depends on how much advertiser demand there is for keywords associated with your site and content.

I’ve had some good and some not-so-good experiences with AdSense. One of the first blogs that I put AdSense on was an online poetry club I had. As you can imagine, there’s not a whole lot of money in the poetry world, and there aren’t too many advertisers clamoring to pay big bucks to advertise their poetry-related products or services. The amount of money I got whenever someone clicked on one of those ads was pretty low—like 5 or 10 cents. It takes a long time for that kind of money to add up to anything substantial, and it never really did in that case.

These days I have AdSense ads running on a couple of my sites. One of them is fkb.me, my free Kindle book site. I get around 80 cents to a dollar for each ad click there, and that’s a solid amount. I’m happy with that amount. I also have AdSense on one of my rock climbing-related blogs, and I think I get about 30 to 40 cents for each of those clicks. That’s not great, but it’s better than nothing, and it certainly could be worse.

If you’re in extremely competitive and lucrative niches—things like finance, insurance, or law—you can get up to $5, $10, or even $20 per click. The problem is that those are, well, extremely competitive niches, and it will be hard for your site to get noticed in niches like that. Just try ranking in Google for any insurance-related keyword and you’ll see what I mean. You’re competing with large businesses that have SEO and marketing budgets that are significantly larger than yours.

I’ve also put AdSense ads on YouTube videos in the past, and that worked out pretty well. I had a channel that was all about Kindle e-readers and tablets, and that was a good niche to be in from a pay-per-click standpoint. But again, it all depends on your niche. I think it would be less lucrative if your videos were about poetry rather than technology, for example. I wasn’t making a killing from that—I think it was around $100 or $150 per month—but it was mostly passive.

The best thing about putting AdSense ads on your blog is that it’s really easy to do. If you have a WordPress blog, I recommend the free Quick Adsense plugin. It’s an easy way to insert AdSense ads in various locations on your blog.

The bad thing about AdSense is that you usually need a lot of traffic in order to make any significant amount of money with it. And even if you have a ton of traffic, you might not end up making much if your niche isn’t very lucrative or competitive. The odds of you putting AdSense ads up on your blog and then being able to quit your day job are not in your favor.

You can get a relative idea of how much money you can make in your niche by using the free Google AdWords Keyword Tool, which you can Google to find. Log in with your Google account, type in some keywords relating to your niche, and see what the CPC (or cost per click) is for the various related keywords. If you’re seeing numbers in the 20 cent range, that’s not very good. If you’re seeing a few dollars per click, that’s where it starts to get interesting. But note that the prices you’re seeing aren’t the amounts that you as an online publisher will earn per click. Those are the prices that advertisers pay to Google, and then Google might pay you about half or two-thirds of that. Still, the higher the cost per click, the more you will earn per click.

Overall, AdSense can be a nice way to make some extra money, but you probably won’t make enough to live off of. You can go to google.com/adsense to sign up for the service.

Blog monetization method #2: Amazon Associates

Amazon LogoAmazon Associates is Amazon’s affiliate program. You can create an affiliate link to just about any page on Amazon. That includes individual product pages plus things like search result pages. Whenever someone clicks through your affiliate link and buys something on Amazon within 24 hours, you’ll get a small commission. And you’ll get a commission for anything that people buy in that 24-hour period, not just the thing that you linked to directly. The commission you get will be 4–8%, depending on how many things people buy through your affiliate links that month. The more things you sell, the higher the commission rate will be. And I’ll include a link to the Amazon commission chart in the show notes for this episode, episode 34, at digitalpublishingpodcast.com.

In order to make money with Amazon affiliate links, you first need to understand the buying behavior of the people coming to your site. Let’s take one of my rock climbing sites as an example. Putting affiliate links to climbing gear on Amazon won’t do me much good, because, as an avid climber myself, I know that the vast majority of climbers don’t buy climbing gear on Amazon. They’re much more likely to buy from Backcountry.com, REI.com, or any number of the smaller, climbing-specific online stores. The prices of climbing gear on Amazon are consistently higher than they are at the more climbing-specific stores, and climbers know that. And on top of that, climbers are often cheap and/or poor. So basing my monetization strategy on Amazon affiliate links for climbing gear wouldn’t be the best idea.

But let’s say I have a blog about backyard gardening. That’s the kind of topic that would be perfect for being an Amazon affiliate. You could recommend all sorts of things like garden hoses, planters, pruners, shovels, shears, fertilizer, wheelbarrows, trellises, garden gnomes—all those kinds of things. How you actually link to these products from your blog can vary, also. You can have a “Things I Use” or “Things I Recommend” page and make a nice list of all the stuff you use and like. In addition to that or in place of that, you could, in individual blog posts, review the individual products that you use and then link to them on Amazon.

You could also create advertisements for the products you highly recommend, and then put the ads in your sidebar or insert them after blog posts. You can still use the Quick Adsense WordPress plugin that I mentioned earlier for doing that kind of thing. So let’s say that you bought a garden hose from Amazon that you think is the greatest thing in the world. It’s the best garden hose you’ve ever used. Create an ad for it and put it in your sidebar or wherever else you want it to be, and then link to that product on Amazon with an affiliate link.

Amazon affiliate links are how my free Kindle book blog, fkb.me, makes most of its money, and it’s not an insignificant amount. People click through the affiliate links, buy things on Amazon, and I get a commission.

There are pros and cons to being an Amazon affiliate, and you should keep both sides in mind. The big pro for me is that nearly everyone buys things from Amazon, and people trust Amazon. People are comfortable with the Amazon buying process. They don’t have to figure out whether the site they’re buying from is legit, and all of the customer reviews help people be more comfortable with buying the thing you recommended. The downside is that the commissions you get as an affiliate are relatively low, and you need to sell a lot of things to earn a decent amount. One good thing to keep in mind is that the higher the price of an item is, the more money you’ll get, so it may be worth your time and efforts to focus on products at the higher-end of the pricing spectrum. Another downside is that Amazon doesn’t operate in every country, and their affiliate program isn’t available in every country or every state if you’re in the US.

You can learn more about the Amazon Associates affiliate program and sign up for it at affiliate-program.amazon.com.

Pick of the week

We’ll save the rest of the blog monetization methods for future episodes, so that brings us to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable.

ChainCal appMy pick of the week this time is a mobile app. I use an iPhone, so it’s an iOS app, but I’ll also mention some Android equivalents that also look good. The app I use is called ChainCal [link]. It’s an app that I use to help build and establish habits. You open up the app and create a new habit that you want to either build or break. I made it a goal last month to do some recreational reading every single day (which is something I’d gotten out of the habit of), so that is the habit I wanted ChainCal to help me with. When you create a new habit in the app, a new calendar is created. Each day that you meet your daily goal, you tap on that day on the calendar and it turns that day into a pleasant salmon-colored square. As the days go by, you get a nice visual representation of how you’re progressing or not progressing toward your goal. If the whole month is full of salmon-colored blocks, you’re doing a great job. If there are a lot of grayed out boxes, you’re not doing so great. The app also shows you the current streak that you’re on and the best streak you’ve had. So let’s say you want to quit smoking. If you’ve been cigarette-free for the past 7 days, it will say that your current streak is 7 days. And if that 7-day streak is the longest you’ve had, it will also say that 7 in a row is the best you’ve done. Let’s say you give in tomorrow and break that 7-day streak. It will still say that your best is 7 days, but your current streak will reset to 1.

I don’t know about you, but this kind of thing works extremely well for me and for how I process things. I made it a goal to write in my journal every single day, and I’ve been going strong now for more than 500 days (since February 1, 2012, to be exact). I’d feel pretty horrible if I missed a day and broke the chain, so I have to keep going. That’s the power of a system like this—you really don’t want to break the chain once you get going. It’s been the same way with my reading goal that I started last month. I’m on day 25 and haven’t yet broken the chain. The app lets you have multiple goals for whatever kind of daily goal or habit you want to make or break.

Again, the app is ChainCal and is $1.99 in Apple’s App Store. It’s a simple app but is nicely designed and is well worth the price. You can find out more about the app and see some screenshots and stuff at chaincalapp.com. There are several other habit building apps that you can download for free if you don’t want to pay for one. Just search for “habits” or “goals” in the app store and you’ll be able to find something more to your liking. I like ChainCal for how clean and simple the interface is, but your mileage may vary.

Now if you’re an Android user, I’ve got a few suggestions for you. MyChain, Habit Streak, and Seinfeld Calendar all look good, and they’re all free. MyChain looks like the one most similar to ChainCal. Again, I’ll link to all of these in the show notes for this episode.

Any of these kinds of apps for whatever device you have are great for building a writing habit (like a thousand words a day or 500 words a day), a reading habit, a marketing habit, or any other kind of habit you can think of that might benefit you as a digital publisher.

Final words

And that’s all for episode 34 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out digitalpublishingpodcast.com for complete transcriptions and other blog posts there at the blog. Again, the next few weeks will be a bit hit-and-miss as far as the podcast publishing schedule goes, but I promise that you can expect part 2 in this blog monetization series sometime in the next month, and I’ll try to podcast as often as my travel situation allows.

Please don’t hesitate to email me any question you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi. And again and as always, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast, and thanks for listening.