It’s every bloggers big dream. We wake up one morning, yawn, and check our Google AdSense accounts. Out of nowhere we see our earnings skyrocket. Things snowball from there, and soon enough were getting six-figure checks from Google. Just for blogging! Imagine that.
For some people its not some far-off fantasy. In 2005, when people thought there was no way to make big money with Adsense, marketer Jeremy Schoemaker turned heads with his $132,994.97 AdSense check. Personal development blogger Steve Pavlina dropped AdSense from his site in 2008, despite making over $100,000 per year from it. Those stories of advertising success stuck with many bloggers, leaving them on a quest to find that six-figure payday.
Unfortunately, for most it never came.
I know, because I was one of them. For years I tried to build a blogging empire that would rake in the AdSense dollars. I studied what successful bloggers did to ramp up their earnings. I focused on my highest-traffic properties. Yet no matter how well my traffic-building strategies worked, they didn’t proportionally expand my pockets. I even picked up some cheap airline tickets and attended a few conferences. While they helped, they still didn’t put more money in my bank account.
That’s when I realized that ad networks just wouldn’t cut it. They might work for a certain type of blogger with a certain traffic level, but there were some niches for which it just would not work. Even worse, the niches in which AdSense did pay out big were pretty saturated. Bloggers have little recourse in this matter. They can still collect their periodic AdSense checks, dubbed Webmaster Welfare for their ability to pay the basics and little more, but the chances of finding big money are slimmer and slimmer.
The solution is to find other ways to make money from our blogs. There are a few ways to do this. But first, a word on why ad networks don’t work.
The problem with ad networks
There is a key phrase to keep in mind when dealing with ad networks: if it were so easy, everyone would do it. Well, it is, in fact, so easy. And yes, pretty much everyone does it. So how, then, can we expect to make big money?
Ad networks feed on the idea of abundance. There is an abundance of blogs that seek advertising, and an abundance of advertisers who want to spread their brands. Ad networks work with the advertisers, promising them display ads on a wide range of websites. That’s when we get to the big problem.
Since anyone can sign up for AdSense, and many other ad networks, advertisers cant be sure of the quality of each site on which the ad will appear. Because many of these sites are low-quality, and since theres a chance that they ads appear on poorly targeted sites, advertisers don’t want to pay premium rates for these ads. And so they broker relatively friendly deals with ad networks.
The ad network, of course, has to make money somehow. And so they take a cut of the sale for themselves. Bloggers never see nor hear of this commission. All they see is the amount they’ll get paid per thousand impressions. This number is typically low, below a dollar for the common blogger, thanks to the other forces involved. If the advertiser gets a friendly rate and the ad network takes a cut, there’s little left for the blogger.
In order to make big money, advertisers have to notice a blog. They have to want its ads to appear on this site. Then, and only then, can a blog make big money on AdSense. This is a rare phenomenon, of course, since advertisers can just keep with business as usual, spreading their brand wide without much care about a sites quality.
Alternative 1: Direct deals
Advertisers might get favorable rates from ad networks, but that’s not the only way they advertise on the internet. Its just one easy way to get a large volume of ads on a wide swath of sites. Many advertisers also broker deals directly with websites that they want to target. Bloggers can benefit greatly from these direct deals, since they don’t have to pay a middleman.
The issue, of course, is that advertisers don’t broker direct deals with just any blog. They’re looking for certain qualities, and some blogs just might not possess them. They want page views, they want unique visitors, and they want a certain style of content. Without those, its difficult, if not impossible, to woo advertisers directly. Even if you can, it takes business savvy to broker a good deal. It also takes time and effort to find such a deal.
Blog networks actually have the best chance of landing these direct deals. They can report big traffic numbers, since they can combine traffic from all of their blogs. Some blogs also combine forces to get better ad deals. I run a sports blog that gets very good traffic in its niche, and we used that traffic to leverage a good deal for ours and a few other sites.
Still, brokering a direct deal takes time and effort. Many bloggers might not have these resources. They might also lack the business acumen to negotiate a fair deal. As such, many forego this option and stick with the easiness of AdSense. That’s a shame, because the lack of time and effort can close doors to other alternatives as well.
Alternative 2: Sell something
The easiest way to make money is to sell something. Think about it this way. The entire idea of advertising is to make money. Yet advertisers are often uncertain what sells. Does the ad play well? Is it appearing in the right places? Even if sales increase, its often impossible to determine whether the advertising played a direct role.
Yet a sales increase is a sales increase. Whats the best way to ensure a sales increase? By selling something. While its different than a face-to-face sale, bloggers can use their blogs to sell products and services to readers. Its a tricky balance, but once struck it can lead to a sustainable income.
There are two ways blogs can sell products and services. First, and most popular, is through affiliate channels. Affiliate marketing and sales has been around for far longer than the internet, but the internet made it easier. In essence, an affiliate is a third-party salesperson. The affiliate sells a company’s products, and then gets a commission on it. Many bloggers have made big money this way.
The only problem is that making money via affiliate sales fundamentally changes a blog. Many blogs have a purpose of entertaining or providing information and analysis. Its tough to sell people things when they’re visiting for those purposes. Many bloggers mistakenly slap affiliate links on their sties and don’t change anything, thinking that people will simply click on the links and buy things. The reality is that they will not.
Whether its affiliate or direct, sales require, well, salesmanship. It might not be the same as a face-to-face sale, but its a sale all the same. People need relevant information about the product or service, they need reassurance that its for them, and, most of all, they need some convincing. In order to sell people on a product or service, bloggers must become salesmen. Its easy to understand why many don’t want to travel this path.
Bloggers can also sell their own products. This also requires a bit of salesmanship, but since its for their own products many bloggers take less of an issue with it. These products are mostly of the informational type: ebooks, audio programs, videos, and other media. They’re cheap to produce in terms of money, but they take time, in the ways of research and composition, and effort. Still, the blogger keeps the profits, which is a motivating factor.
Make no mistake: your blog probably can’t make money with AdSense or other CPM ads. Maybe its enough to cover your hosting costs, but that’s about it. In order to make serious money, bloggers need to seek alternatives. Affiliate marketing might not be for everyone, but it can help some. Direct products can help many realize their dreams of becoming full-time bloggers. Whatever the way, don’t make the mistake of relying on AdSense. There might be success stories, but they are the exception.