Following our series about how to make money blogging, we have reviewed how to start a website, choosing a name, domain and hosting, how to make money depending on the hours you are willing to put in (you can also check my July income for both sites). I share my big blogging mistake, and how I got my Alexa below 100K in 8 weeks my failed attempts at making money online I failed at making money online, then succeeded, with freelancing and starting my own website.
Following our series about how to make money blogging, we have reviewed how to start a website and how to make money depending on the hours you are willing to put in (you can also check my July income for both sites), then the mistake of blogging in the dark, and how Make Money Your Way dropped under 100K in Alexa rank over its first 8 weeks of life. Now let’s talk about monetizing your site!
When I started blogging a year ago, I thought I would make about $100 per month in Adsense and a couple of referral programs that I was familiar with, like Airbnb. Yes, I just inserted a shameless plus to an Airbnb link, and if you want to book a cheap accommodation this summer, feel free to use it!
Anyway, I had no idea affiliate programs were for just about any product you can imagine. Web hosting (I really have to stop doing that!), credit cards, flights… every other day I receive warnings that a new affiliate program is available, for XYZ product. A few I have been rejected because my blog is not US based, and since the majority of my readership is in the US it may be a stretch to ramp up affiliate sales to high levels but it has been a nice increasing share of my blog income month after month.
Why affiliate and Adsense income is so great
Because unlike direct advertising, this way of monetizing your site is not frowned upon by Google. You can put up links about Airbnb on an online income post and Google wouldn’t blink. Whereas you put a link to a mortgage company in a post about mortgages and you get Google slapped for unnatural linking.
Furthermore, direct advertising can end up being pretty complicated, as paid links should be disclosed and if G catches you doing it without disclosure, you may be penalized in your search engine rankings or even lose your PageRank.
Affiliate sales and Adsense are straightforward, you set them up, and every time someone visiting your profile clicks on the ad (and orders something in the case of affiliate) you make money. No need to keep track of anything, you get a report and a check when you reach a certain threshold.
How to set up Adsense
You have to head over to Adsense and set up an account. It is pretty straightforward, then you will be given unique codes depending on the size of the ad you want to put on your website.
Try putting up one ad, then two, then a different size, a banner on the sidebar, a square box inside the post, etc. experiment and play around to see which ads have the best conversion rate and look the most integrated with your design and writing format.
DO NOT, ever, click on your ads. Google knows it’s you, and runs a complicated algorithm to make sure paid clicks are genuine. You could get banned from Adsense for that.
Which affiliate program is the best?
There are a lot of programs out there. I haven’t tried them all so couldn’t give you an exhaustive opinion about the absolute best affiliate program. However, it is important that you check out a few, as they can offer different rates of reward for the same company.
When you like a product and are going to be talking about it, just Google “XYZ affiliate program”, and see what the company has to offer. It can be a direct program with the company or via third party sites like FlexOffers, Commission Junction, Adspeed, etc.
Amazon runs its own affiliate program which is quite popular as you can use it every time you review a book, a product, etc.
Optimizing the reader’s experience
That is a topic Google is obsessed with. Everything has to be reader oriented, and Google’s algorithm will detect if your page has too many links or ad banners. If you decide to use Adsense, you are only entitled to three banners on each page. Remember your last experience with a website full of flashing banners, when you didn’t know where to click and half the links were taking you out of the website to some scammy content? That is what Google is trying to avoid.
So make sure you keep the ads simple and discreet. At the beginning you won’t have many pageviews, so it may not even be worth your while to set up ads. Some bloggers say you should put them anyway, or you might lose readership if you put them down the road, others say the amount you can make is negligible to even bother.
Whatever you choose, try to limit the ads to what really brings you income.
How much you can make with affiliate sales and Adsense?
The amount is unlimited, that is the beauty of it. Instead of getting a few hundred dollars to place a sponsored post on your site, every time a reader clicks on an affiliate links, a cookie is installed on his computer and tracks the sale to pay you a percentage.
The bad news is, unless you have a niche site with very targeted traffic and a high conversion rate, you won’t be making much until you get some decent traffic. Your best bet, instead of repeating in each post that you use XYZ for your banking/internet/cooking needs, is to create a nice detailed post that will help your readers.
Should you push products you are not using yourself? I wouldn’t but probably more because I am too lazy to research and write an accurate post than for the ethical side of it. I also have a problem with pushing products altogether so you won’t find posts about mortgages or credit cards every other day on RFI.
But if you can write in details about how the latest credit card works, the rate, how to churn it, and who can apply for it, then every time someone clicks on the link and gets approved for the card you’ll get a fee.
Affiliate pros like Pat Flynn make over $20,000 a month from ONE product alone, and have a wider range of products they recommend. How is that even possible? Because they spend hours creating an awesome tutorial for potential buyers to check out, and then work their SEO magic for that tutorial to rank first when people look for “XYZ tutorial”. Imagine you want to buy a cool theme for your site, like Genesis, the one I use. You Google Genesis and find out a detailed tutorial telling you the pros and cons, maybe comparing it to other competitors like Thesis, etc. You were already looking into it, so you are tempted to make the sale. And so you don’t have to go back to Google, the tutorial has a convenient link for you to order, maybe even with a discount attached. That’s it, the site owner made a sale. For software and hosting, affiliate payments are around 30% of the order, Genesis costs $90, you just made the guy $30. Maybe another 1,000 people checked that tutorial that day, and 10 converted into buyers, there you have your $300 day. Sweet!
Obviously, any blog owner who is looking into affiliate sales and using Genesis will have an affiliate link to it, so ranking number 1, or even on the first page in search engines is quite complicated. You can try a long tail keyword, with 3 to 5 words and focus on that for your post, but before you do, check out how much traffic that long tail gets. Say “Is Genesis worth it” bringing 500 monthly searches, it may not be worth your efforts, not only for the low amount of searches but also because there is already a doubt coming from the person who looks for that answer, so conversions will be lower than with people googling “buy Genesis now”.
Pat Flynn has a conversion rate of around 6% on his Bluehost sales. If you check out your most popular post, how many SEO visits you got, say 500 (not a very high number), at 6% conversion, it would result in 30 sales. That company pays $65 per sale, meaning the post could make you $1,950! Of course conversion rates are different for everyone and so is the payout for each company. But that is much higher than what you would get as a staff writer to write a post, or by renting a banner on a site whose most popular article only has 500 pageviews.
On Adsense, the problem is the same, the more visitors you get, the bigger the income, but unless you have really targeted ads (which you don’t have much control over) and a great click through rate, you won’t make much. Even nice big blogs making over $1,000 a month are an exception. You can expect anywhere from $2 to $10 per 1,000 views on a normal site, more on a highly optimized niche site.
What you can try to control is the cost per click, that is the price Google will pay you every time a reader clicks on your ads, by doing extensive keyword research for the best paying keywords. I don’t do keyword research and my cost per click has been anywhere from $0.05 to over $2. That means on a $2 per click day I can make as much money from one click as I would from 40 on $0.05 days. It takes a LOT of pageviews to get 40 people to click on your ads, better have just one, but then again it is a question of whether you are blogging for fun or want to maximize your profit and in this case should do keyword research for better paying keywords.
When you optimize a post for a specific keyword, remember Google loves to change the rules of the game, so what may rank well today may not rank well tomorrow. That is why I choose to just write about what I feel like writing (oh and out of laziness, did I mention that already?), rather than forcing myself to write “monetize your blog” 5% of the word count of this post.
How is affiliate/adsense going for you? Do you use them?