Bloggers Talk: Monetizing Their Sites
By: Ashley Robison

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In response to last week’s post, The Money Myth of Fashion Blogging (and How to Monetize Your Blog), I’ve asked 4 bloggers to share their experiences with monetizing their sites, the successes they’ve faced, and the challenges they’ve encountered.

Each of the women I have talked with has had varying successes in monetization– Gala Darling has found great success in selling her podcasts, and has worked in selling branded merchandise, using affiliate links, and selling banner ads.  Grechen, the powerhouse behind Grechen’s Closet (and several other sites), has built up her full-time blogging job focusing on being a shopping blog, using affiliate links, and selling banner space.  The lovely Sally from Already Pretty has monetized her site using the ad network BlogHer and selling text links, all while cultivating individual relationships with those who approach her.  Lastly, Kristina from Pretty Shiny Sparkly has found success selling banner ads and building brand relationships, all while being a full time med student!

These ladies each represent different niches, varying readership and methods of monetization.  I hope though, that in these short few questions, that their answers will help demystify monetization and provide inspiration, ideas, and insight in to the process.

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At what point in your blogging did you decide you wanted to monetize your site? At what point did you start actively pursuing it (if they vary)?

Gala: I decided to start monetising on day one.  When I started my website, I had just quit my job at New Zealand Post, traveled across the USA & Europe, & moved to Australia.  I had absolutely no money, & was living off a credit card with a very small amount of credit on it.  I was inspired to start my blog because of Darren Rowse (Problogger) & Steve Pavlina (stevepavlina.com), who I saw making a very good living from theirs.

I think a lot of people think that blogging for money is bad or unethical somehow, & I disagree.  I think there are so many ways to be an ethical blogger, to contribute to the world & to earn a fair living from it.

 

Grechen: I was several months in before I realized I might be able to make a little money from my first website (Grechen’s Closet).  I started it purely as a means to share my favorite online finds, outfit pictures, and a designer directory I had created – not as a way to make money. I was bored with my current career and my new site was a welcome diversion.  I started getting some attention from the online boutiques I featured (for free) and realized that I was creating something of value to online boutiques & designers – not only to my readers.  I honestly didn’t think much about selling advertising until a boutique asked me about it – but I ran with it!! It was 2 years before I was able to make my website my full-time job, during which time I started working with affiliate sites as well as advertisers.

 

Sally: To be honest, I decided to monetize my blog once advertisers began asking me for my rates. It never occurred to me to pursue ads or other revenue streams on my own, but once the opportunities cropped up, I felt like I could embrace them. Well, the non-sketchy ones, anyway.

I don’t actively pursue monetizing my site. I have probably proposed ads to a dozen vendors – all of whom knew me from previous blog/editorial collaborations – and NONE of them were interested. I would love to be more proactive about revenue, but it just never works for me. Weird.

 

Kristina: As a previous photoblogger back when blogs weren’t cool (circa 2003), I already knew that monetizing blogs was possible, but I knew it was difficult. So I actually am one of the rare people who knew from the start I wanted to monetize my blog if people/sponsors were interested. But I didn’t start actively pursuing it until I had the traffic and numbers that I knew were at least a bare minimum to be of use to potential sponsors. Namely, I waited until I had at least 15,000 page views per month and ~400 RSS subscribers.

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What approaches do you take to monetizing your site?  What have you found to be most successful and most surprising?

Gala: My site has moved beyond being something which makes money & now I make money because I have the site — if that makes sense.  For example, speaking gigs pay very well, & I am able to line those up because I have a big web presence.  But really, the key is to diversify, & I think that’s always the way for a self-employed person.

At the beginning, I made the bulk of my money from advertising, but when the economy crashed & burned a couple of years ago, suddenly no one had any money to spend on blogs.  It put me in a really bad position & I remember being in Austin, Texas, freaking out because I was about to fly back to NYC & move into my new sublet — but I didn’t have the money I needed to secure it.

The most surprising successful venture I’ve embarked upon is my podcast.  I’ve been writing a book, & the way it works is that I write a chapter (10,000 words) every month, compile it as a PDF & then record an MP3 of myself reading it.  I sell the chapters individually & I also sell subscriptions for people who want all of it.  It’s the most profitable thing I’ve ever done.  I was anxious about releasing it because I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to pay for content, so it’s been amazing to see the enthusiasm for it!

I’ve tried lots of things which didn’t work.  I sold t-shirts for a while, but ultimately, I don’t wear t-shirts, so I couldn’t really get excited about it!  You have to be passionate & truly back the products you put out into the world, or it’s going to flop.

These days my income comes from a combination of places.  My podcast, advertising, speaking gigs, & contracting to companies on various projects.  It’s quite a hodge-podge, & it was nerve-wracking at first because I was used to a regular pay cheque.  I prefer this way though — there is truly no cap on how much I earn.  It’s all up to the amount of imagination & effort I’m willing to put in.

 

Grechen: Right now, I make money by selling ads and via commissions I receive through affiliates.  When I started out, I made more selling ads than via affiliate commissions, but now, it’s tipped a little more in favor of affiliate commissions.  I never did very well with Google AdSense; now I don’t use it (or recommend it) at all, although I do make a little via the Google site search tool.  I don’t use it to make money though, I use it because I think it’s a comprehensive search tool for my sites.  I’ve also tried Chitika, but I didn’t find the results to be relevant for my readers and quit very soon after starting.

 

Sally: As I mentioned above, my monetization is almost entirely passive. The exception would be my relationship with BlogHer, which has been steady and generally beneficial.

The most surprising approach has been selling text links. Their main drawback is how they affect your Google Pagerank, but since that system isn’t terribly significant compared to other measures of blog success, I don’t sweat it too much. Text link ads are unobtrusive, easy to sell, renew regularly, and benefit both parties.

My attempts to deploy Google AdWords have all failed miserably. Since my blog is about the intersection of style and BODY IMAGE, AdWords was constantly throwing diet pills, girdles, Botox, and loads of other inappropriate ads onto my site. And since their system only allows you to filter out a certain number of notoriously offensive ad categories, I could never customize it to my liking. My BlogHer ad is restrictive in some ways, but at least I have near-total control.

 

Kristina: The most successful and surprising approaches to monetizing have been via giveaways. Asking potential sponsors to do a giveaway and then realizing that I had over 300+ entries was a wake-up call for me about what I could be doing (i.e. requiring sponsorship before allowing giveaways) as well as provided the sponsoring shop a great teaser of what kind of buzz could be generated with RSS. As for what failed miserably – everything else that didn’t result in sponsorship! In the beginning, I had sent professional, personalized requests for sponsorship that sometimes didn’t even garner replies. One time I copied/pasted what I had written to one potential sponsor, and had forgotten to replace it with the current business’s name later on in the email! Needless to say I didn’t get a response. :)

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Do you approach companies to work with you/sponsor your site, or do they approach you? (Or is it a healthy combination of both?)

Gala: I’ve never really approached any companies to work with them, which is kind of weird!  Often someone from a company will email me & say, “We should work together!” & we’ll bat ideas back & forth.  That’s historically been the way it goes, which suits me because I’m either a) too lazy or b) too busy to chase companies down for this kind of thing.  I recently hired two amazing managers who seek out opportunities for me & it has improved my life so much!

 

Grechen: When I was only a few months into writing, a boutique that I had featured contacted me about advertising opportunities.  That’s when I realized I might be able to make some money from this…after that, it was a healthy mix of companies coming to me and my reaching out to them.  I used to send out hundreds of e-mails a week introducing Grechen’s Closet and linking to my media kit; I’d receive a little interest in return.  Now, it’s companies coming to me – I don’t have time to reach out like I’d like to, although I do think it’s important – if not only for advertising opportunities, just to introduce yourself to the people you’d like to work with.

 

Kristina: In the beginning, I approached companies. Now, I can kind of sit back and filter requests. Sometimes I really fall in love with a brand that I think deserves some exposure, or that I’m really passionate about, and I will approach them – usually then is when the magic happens, when we both realize we can do great things for one another.

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What’s your #1 piece of advice for bloggers wanting to monetize their site?

Gala: Make sure you feel good about the way you choose to monetise.  We all have different comfort levels — what feels good to you may not feel good to me — so just maintain your integrity & listen to your instincts.  Okay, I know you only asked for one thing, but another important one is to put a premium on customer service, whatever that means: dealing with your advertisers, giving them stats, or responding to people who buy your stuff.  You have to keep your customers happy!

 

Grechen: Don’t even think about it until you have established a community around your blog (via blog comments and social media tools) and are networking with other bloggers in your niche.  Then once you’re sure you’re in this for a while, GO SLOWLY and deliberately.  Work ONLY with boutiques/advertisers you would personally buy from and never ever EVER compromise your readers for the sake of money.

 

Sally: Advertising on blogs is market-driven. I would never advise anyone to post their ad rates or traffic stats, or to calculate ad rates based on some generic algorithm. Decide what placing an ad on your site is worth to you, throw a number out there, and see what happens. You’ll be able to cut great deals for up-and-coming indie vendors, and get better returns from larger, more established companies if you operate on a sliding scale. Using this system means that both you AND your potential advertiser get to weigh the monetary worth of creating a relationship. If either of you feels it’s a bad fit, no deal. Everyone walks away feeling secure in having made a sound decision.

 

Kristina: Have a professional, clean layout, and great content. Make sure you build your traffic to a respectable number first. Never fudge your numbers. NEVER low-ball yourself – by doing so you are low-balling all of your fellow bloggers, and we really would prefer that you not. ;)

Image via karrah.kobus

Comments

  1. Treacle says:

    Very insightful. Thank you.

  2. meowsk says:

    Great interviews! Some very useful information here.

  3. Cate says:

    Great advice and information, thanks for sharing your insights xoxo

  4. Bere TOT says:

    Love the post, full of information for the bloggers that want to start making money with their blogs. I have been thinking about it and after reading it I got some new ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  5. fede says:

    Great advice. thank you

  6. I have a food blog.
    Already earned some money with him. But now I will improve. Thanks for the advice.
    Patty Martins
    Brasil

  7. Thanks for all of the great advice! I loved the variety of insights and this reminds me that it’s probably time for a makeover!

  8. Amy says:

    I agree with Kristina, waiting until she had enough viewers and RSS subscribers to make it worth a company’s time to work with her. Sure, I can easily shoot an email off to some brand but why would they say yes when I only get so many views?

    I had planned to monetize my blog when I get enough viewers. This just reaffirms it.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. This was awesome! I’m always trying to figure out the best way to monetize, but what this shows is it varies for every blog, blogger and niche. Makes it difficult to figure out what will work for me, but I got some valuable insights into what’s been working for others.

    Thanks for sharing ladies!!!

  10. oliver says:

    Thanks for the Advice :)

  11. thanks for sharing…realy usefull!!!

    xoxo from rome
    K.
    http://kcomekarolina.blogspot.com/

  12. Angeline says:

    Great advice…I’ve just started being approached by companies interested in advertising and I have no idea how to handle it, especially since my traffic isn’t very high.

  13. Kate says:

    It’s great to hear 4 different sides to the story and there are also some really great ideas too. I haven’t had the best success with monetizing with my blog so instead I’m focusing on content and maybe someday I can get paid to do what I love.

  14. Style Bite says:

    What great interviews. It’s inspiring to hear real life advice from bloggers that are making $$ with their sites. xo

  15. Bella Q says:

    Ah, such a good article. I appreciate the 4 point of views and the refreshing honesty each of them voice. Part luck, part hard work and a whole lotta great content.

  16. Talynn Lynn says:

    I own 7 blogs and started all of them with the purpose in mind of making money from them. Although these ideas are typical ways of making money, the ladies indeed put a creative spin on money making. I highlighted a line from each question/answer from each lady and plan on reading over them often. Who knows maybe these quotes will go down in history, or at least, they will always be inspiring to me. Thanks!

  17. Miss Viki says:

    Thanks for the insights and advice, it is really very interesting to read how successful bloggers are approaching monetization. What works and what does not and how individual and creative you can be about this subject.

  18. Ingrid S says:

    Great advice & inspiration for all of us bloggers, regardless what genre we are in.

  19. Lisa says:

    I do not currently make money from my blog, but would like to in the future when I get more traffic. Great tips!

  20. I’ve read this wonderful post and the comments with great interest. I would like to share details of two very successful alternative methods of monetising your fashion blog.

    I am involved with two online products which are allowing fashion bloggers to earn excellent passive income, without compromising their ethics. In fact both products compliment fashion blog sites and allow you to provide added value.

    The first is become-stylish.myprivatestylist.com – which is a high quality styling program where ladies input their measurements, coloring, face shape, body shape, etc and they are delivered a custom tailored program with photos and descriptions of exactly what clothing and accessories will flatter them and what to avoid. The award winning program was developed by the president of the Australian Chapter of the Association of Image Consultants International. It’s a phenomenally popular tool and a good income earner for affiliates – with lots of back up support and training and monthly payments.

    The second is become-stylish.com – an online style, confidence and etiquette mentoring program for women. It’s like an online style university. Content is provided weekly by renowned image stylists, etiquette consultants and personal development coaches. Affiliates earn a healthy income every month for as long as members stay current. Many members have stayed for 12 months. We also provide affiliate support and training, and pay commissions every month.

    I’d welcome any enquiries, but you can find out full details of the programs and the affiliate opportunities by visiting both sites.

    Thankyou, hope this information is of interest to those looking to monetise their blogs.

    Best wishes for success – Annette Welsford

  21. Lauren C. Francis says:

    Great post… I took lots of notes and I’m very inspired to make my blog as success as well. Thank you ladies!

    http://www.laurencfrancis.com

  22. Another good one is GLAM ads. You have to have really good content to be accepted to their program and over 10,000 hits a month but they pay well (per impression, not per click) and they resemble Google ads. My site has one on the top header, and several other blogs like Denimology and PurseBlog use them as well.

  23. Melody Stone says:

    Great post – now I just need to get up the courage to do some of these things. :)

  24. Kiki says:

    Wow! This article was supper helpful! thanks

  25. Cameron says:

    This is a great article, as I’ve been trying to figure out how exactly to make money from my blog, and definitely agree with Grechen about Google AdSense being more or less worthless, as I never liked the adverts they would put up on my blog. I guess slow and steady is where I’m going for the foreseeable future. Thank you all.

  26. daisymay says:

    This is a great post, thanks for the great info and tips.

    Daisy Dayz Home
    Cross-Jones-Photography Home
    Daisy Dayz Day Zero Challenge

  27. Maryjane says:

    Great tips and advice, very eye-opening and helpful.

    Thank you!

  28. Rosa says:

    I was actually thinking about this with a fellow blogger friend of mine a few days ago .. this article was really helpful :)

  29. Marusya V says:

    Great post! got all the answers at once! Thank you for sharing :)

  30. –it’s wild how close in time that whole era is to us. If you’re a boomer, your grandparent’s ma and pa were right in it.

  31. Seph says:

    This was extremely useful for me, because I am currently building a blog on self-discipline.
    I’ll stick on this site for a while to read about some more experiences of other bloggers!

    My blog is http://www.builddiscipline.com for everyone that’s interested in developing self-discipline.:)

  32. Josephine says:

    Hey! I have a suggestion., one way to monetize is through product links from big programs such as LinkShare. A really cool and alternative way to find fashion photos in a blog-friendly format is through FashionTraffic.com.
    It’s doing what you love – blogging about fashion, and making some money while you’re at it. Does it sound interesting?

  33. Sarah says:

    Thank you! This was incredibly helpful! For the past week i’ve been sifting through your website reading all the tips and tricks about blogging because I recently started my own. Monetization always confused me but with this article it has cleared up so many questions! Also, I truly enjoy your blog, very insightful for new bloggers like me!
    thecouturecafee.blogspot.ca

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