smart spending

Turn your blogging hobby into cash

Highlights
  • There are an estimated 70 million blogs and most don't make much money.
  • Blogs can be created quickly and for free using online templates.
  • Some bloggers rely on name recognition in local markets to sell ads.

It's the ultimate 21st century new media dream job: A self-published blog that creates a steady income and allows you to quit your day job.

But how do you turn your blogging hobby into cash? Despite the obvious appeal, it's not an easy path and requires a disciplined approach.

An estimated 70 million blogs exist today, and the vast majority don't make squat. In fact, 95 percent of blogs are abandoned, according to the blog search engine Technorati's state of the blogosphere 2008.

Granted, there are success stories, such as Julie Powell's blog that became a book that became the movie "Julie and Julia," but the more common tale is of folks with day jobs earning some extra cash. Bloggers who do make money -- even if it's just a little -- seem to write on a consistent basis, have a passion for the blogging topic and in some cases, a willingness to embrace "sponsored" blogging.

Even so, if you want to blog for cash, keep in mind the following words of advice from experts and bloggers.

Blogging isn't easy

As with any moneymaking venture, there are the confounding cases of success -- the Amway millionaires of blogging.

Case in point: Elise Bauer of Carmichael, Calif., started a blog called Simply Recipes in 2003. As a Silicon Valley consultant, she had little time to cook, "let alone learn how to cook beyond what I had learned growing up," she says in her blog.

Three years later, Bauer's blog was ranked by Time magazine as one of the 50 "coolest" Web sites and won "best food blog overall" by the Well Fed Network, a Web compilation of food and wine blogs at Wellfed.net.

"She just wanted to show people you don't have to be a gourmet cook to make great meals, and now she's one of the biggest food bloggers in the world. She was an early ad network member with BlogHer, and she's ... able to focus on it full-time," says BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page of Palo Alto, Calif.

BlogHer is a blogging community for women that boasts 2,500 bloggers, including Bauer. It reaches 15 million unique visitors per month, and its bloggers were eagerly courted by top marketers at BlogHer's recent annual conference in Chicago. Bloggers who attended wrote about the abundant corporate freebies in their postings.

Camahort Page wouldn't disclose specific revenue figures for top earners, but says, "The average income is about $300 a month, but there are the outliers earning a living in each of our topic verticals. It's that whole 80-20 rule. In each vertical, there's a top 10 (percent) or 20 percent who are the biggest earners."

By choosing to team up with blogging networks like BlogHer, bloggers outsource the time-consuming work of promoting their blogs to advertisers. On BlogHer, they agree to a 10 percent, fixed-cost monthly fee and the ad revenue generated is split between the blogger and BlogHer, Camahort Page says.

Blogs can be created quickly and for free using online templates, such as WordPress or Blogger, and can host their blogs on affiliated sites, also for free.

The no-brainer source of income for many blogs is Google's AdSense program, which pays bloggers each time a reader clicks on an ad from their blog.

If you're a blogger consumed by a day job, AdSense makes sense. With just a few minutes to sign up, you can access a vast network of advertisers through Google. Google automatically matches ads that suit your audience's interests.

"If you can specialize in one sector, like pizza, and can become a celebrity of the pizza-eating world, that's when Google will pick you up," says Craig Agranoff, a Florida-based Web producer who writes three blogs including WorstPizza, where he reviews pizza joints.

Bloggers can also make money directly by tapping into the money-generating power of affiliate advertising, such as Amazon's affiliate advertising program, which pays bloggers if a reader buys a book reviewed on a blog.

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While driving reader traffic remains the lifeblood of any blog, not all bloggers make money directly from blogs. Instead, they make money because of blogging, either through consulting gigs, business connections or book contracts.

Still, it's tough to make money. "My three blogs make money off of Google Ads and '125 ads,'" Agranoff says, referring to small Web ads that are 125 pixels by 125 pixels in size.

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