Making Money from Blogs: Interview
In a few short years blogging has journeyed from the reserve of the geek to a cottage industry, turning into a full-time career for many. How can individuals or businesses start making money from blogging? New Media Knowledge went in search of answers.
Blogging has become almost a must-have for the modern professional and business alike, seen as a good way to issue news and be perceived as a thought leader, with the added bonus of being a great tool for search engine optimisation (SEO).
According to Herve Le Jouan, managing director of Internet watcher comScore Europe, blogs are “increasingly displacing traditional media usage and carving out an ever-increasing slice of the online advertising pie.”
So just how can bloggers make money? NMK caught up with Thomas Vollrath, managing director of domain name registry site 123-reg, to find out.
I’ve seen US stats saying one per cent of US bloggers are earning more than $200,000 a year from blogging. What’s the state of the play in the UK?
I'd say that figure sounds optimistic for the US and it would certainly be optimistic for the UK! There probably is a very small proportion of UK bloggers making serious money, but the vast majority do it as a hobby, as a way to promote and market their main business or - perhaps - as a way to make a bit of additional income.
That's not to say that it isn't possible to make good money from blogging, but it's not necessarily going to be easy either. Just like any other business, you have to find your niche, plan and work hard to make it happen. And even then, it might not.
What are the key ingredients to a successful, profitable blog?
In comparison to traditional web design, sustainable monetised blog design has some slightly different elements to it. Be sure to keep in mind:
It’s all about the content: Content is the heart and soul of every blog. It should be relevant to its audience, interesting and the centre point of any design. If a particular post includes images that’s fine but don’t bombard readers with images all over the page, this will distract them. Make the blog easy to read. Clean and simple designs that put white space to best use are usually the best blogs. Bear in mind that most readers will be scanning posts rather than reading word-for-word.
Owning the blog: There are many free blog production services on the Internet and they are really easy to set up and maintain, all you do is provide the content. However, do bear in mind that the advertising, design and feel of the blog is within the control of the third party so when looking to successfully monetise a blog this isn’t necessarily the way to go. Instead, you may want to buy your own domain as it doesn’t cost the earth and provides complete control over a blog’s content, advertising and design. This way you really can make your blog stand out from a majority of free blog services.
Don’t over-advertise: Obviously, when looking to monetise a blog, advertising is important, but don’t let it rule your blog, this will offend visitors. Use them in positions that will get noticed, for example the top of the page, but use them sparingly.
The importance of navigation: A majority of visitors will see your blog via search engines, links from other blogs and social media sites. When they reach your blog, make sure they can navigate it easily, if they can’t they will leave quickly. Links to categories, bookmarks and recent posts should be easily accessible and also utilise the footer for additional navigation.
For the uninitiated, what are the options for bloggers looking to monetise their blog?
The most obvious option is to put adverts on your blog. You can use an advertising program like Google AdSense which analyses the content of your blog and displays relevant adverts on there. Every time a visitor to your blog clicks on one of the adverts, you'll receive a small amount of commission.
The commission you'll earn for each click is usually tiny (pennies), but if your blog gets lots of visitors it can really add up. This is probably the easiest type of advertising to arrange, as you can sign up to programs like AdSense online and it's generally easy to add the adverts themselves to your blog.
There are other kinds of advertising you can use too however. With banner ads, you usually charge advertisers for the number of times the advert is displayed rather than the number of times it is clicked on. Rather than dealing with advertisers direct, you'll probably want to sign up with an advertising network. They serve as brokers, connecting prospective advertisers with bloggers.
Advertising aside, there are lots of other ways to try and monetise your blog. You can sign up to affiliate programs which pay you money each time you send custom to other sites. For instance, if you write a book review on your blog, you can link to the book on Amazon using an affiliate link. If anyone goes on to buy it, Amazon will pay you commission.
You may also be able to charge for your content in some way - some bloggers have successfully had their blog posts published as a book. Or you might be able to charge for some premium content on your blog - like white papers, guides or tutorials.
Alternatively, look to become part of a blog network. These companies bring prolific, strong bloggers together in order to try and make money.
And if none of that works, many bloggers operate a sort of 'honesty box' system, asking for donations from readers who've enjoyed their visit. This can be a good way to recoup the costs of running your blog, though you're unlikely to be able to retire on the proceeds!
Looking at the likes of Huffington Post and TechCrunch, for example, they’re meant to be blogs but it could be argued that they now just look like news sites. Where do you draw the line between a blog and a news site?
Yes, it's interesting isn't it? If you'd tried to define what a blog was a few years back, you'd probably have said it's an online diary. But I think now it's not always so obvious.
If you're trying to tell if something is a blog, I'd look for a few things. For a start, the articles or posts on there should be arranged like a diary, in chronological order so you can go back through them, from most recent to oldest. And visitors should be able to take part in a 'conversation' by leaving comments and referencing a blog post on their own blog, using trackbacks or a similar function. I'd always expect a blog to have a feed of posts (also called an RSS feed), so the content can be syndicated to other places.
I think the content of a blog is important too. It's not a place to be impersonal, to toe a corporate line or to overtly sell your company's products. If you're a business, the blog is a good way to project the human side of your company. If it's just you blogging, it's a place to tell people about the things you're interested in.
In truth though, perhaps the difference doesn't matter so much these days. Many features which started out in blogs - like people being able to leave comments - have now been adopted by more traditional websites. And as long as it's doing the job you need it to, does it matter what you call it?
Some of the original bloggers are turning their backs on blogging, saying it’s not really truly ‘blogging’ any more. What does ‘blogging’ mean for you and how has it evolved in the last three-five years?
If you ask me for one thing that goes to the heart of blogging, it's the need to be genuine. Blogs are one place where you can't get away with deception or spin - the nature of the blogosphere is such that visitors will see straight through you.
The only way you can succeed with your blog is to be upfront and honest - and I don't think that fundamental truth has changed. Sure, blogging has become more mainstream - perhaps that's in part why people who were in at the beginning have moved on to other things.
There's one other big interesting development though. A lot of bloggers use their blogs to highlight interesting things they've found online and share them with other people.
Over the last couple of years we've seen lots of other services emerge that allow you to do this too. For instance, there's Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed, all of which can be used in this way. These services are all very easy to use and are part of the 'real time web' - so other people can see what you've posted, the moment you post it. They also allow you to share thoughts and ideas, instantly and very easily.
What does that mean? Well, nobody can be sure, but one plausible effect could be that fewer people use their blogs as a way to share interesting things they've found online, or thoughts they have, as they have them. We might see blogs used more for longer, more considered posts - so maybe bloggers will start to publish fewer posts, but each post will have more substance to it.
What I would say is that blogging isn't going away any time soon. There still aren't many other ways to publish short to medium-length articles easily and quickly. Lots of individuals and businesses have proved blogs are useful - whether they're looking to make money from them or not.
Has the experience of UK-based tech blog publishing house Shiny Media dented the perception of blogging as a business?
So no, I don't think Shiny Media's demise has really affected people's perceptions. It is not easy to make significant money from blogging in its own right and few people would argue that it is. The collapse of Shiny Media merely underlines that.
What are your top tips on starting and monetising a blog?
· Don't lose site of your content. That's still the most important thing - the quality of what you publish will attract visitors and keep them coming back. And without visitors, you'll never make anything back
· It all comes down to that audience. Your blog's audience is the key to making money from advertising, from syndication, from whatever - without people visiting, you can't possibly make any money at all. So always think of them first
· Find a niche. You can't possibly be all things to all people with your blog, so set out to cover a particular topic and appeal to a particular group of people, and stick to it
· Try different things. You might find some types of online advertising work really well, whereas some don't give you any return at all. So don't be afraid to mix things up a bit
· Work together. There is strength in numbers, so why not join forces with other bloggers? Some of the more successful blogs are run by a team of people, so why not try that?