Make money with your Web site or blog
Published: September 4, 2007
|On message boards at blogging communities and even on boards for full-time freelancers, making money with a blog or Web site is a hot topic. There have been some stellar successes on the Internet, such as the recent sale of Mediabistro.com for $23 million.|
The site's founder, Laurel Touby, told The New York Times, "This company is a true Internet success story. This started as an offline community, a cocktail party, that turned into this Web site that actually makes money." Over an 11-year period, Touby parlayed the site into a critical tool for anyone interested in freelancing.
Not everyone can say they've made millions. But I've talked to several writers who say they receive revenue from the Google AdSense program each month, in amounts ranging from $10-$100. Many affiliate programs--through major online retailers like Amazon Associates as well as print publications--enable you to earn money by placing advertising messages on your pages.
There are no guarantees, but if you hit on a winning combination of Internet traffic and a specialized niche, you stand to gain something, depending on a number of factors.
Web guru J. S. McDougall, author of Start Your Own Blogging Business, offers a piece of advice few bloggers consider, and it should be followed before you make your first post. McDougall's advice can apply to blogs or Web sites. "Have a specific audience in mind when you design the blog," he says. "Often, lots of sites are meant to entertain the author, not to entertain the audience. Then interest dries out after a while."
His theory can be proved by doing some blog-hopping or visiting random Web sites. There are graves aplenty, where sites were started and the content stopped within months, sometimes even weeks.
But there's a market out there. "Large companies," McDougall says, "are all looking for content." Many freelancers would agree, considering the increasing number of calls from editors eager to keep Web sites current and interesting. Create riveting content, and you may be offered a reprint fee.
McDougall's book delves the world of blogging, complete with the nitty-gritty on content and advertising. He goes into detail about companies who share ad revenue with site owners, and tools for expanding readership. The Vermont author says he always had an interest in publishing, and he's taught himself a lot since college. The adrenalin rush of the Web captured his fancy too. "I like the idea of being able to write something and publish it--worldwide instant publishing."
For him, one of the most important elements in setting up a site rests on the nature of the content. "It goes back to the subject matter. You should pick very carefully in terms of interest. For instance, if you're doing a sports blog, you're casting too wide a net. That isn't targeted enough." He suggests picking a team or specific subject. "It's much easier in terms of marketing--you could really become an authority with a team-focused blog, because the topic appeals to a very specific audience."
Having a sharp, well-defined focus will definitely help to attract advertisers, because marketing is all about placing a message in the right hands.
So once you've carefully chosen your topic, what's next? McDougall says blog aggregators are "very important" in drawing traffic. "They make the blogosphere accessible to those who use Web tools for surfing, because the aggregator informs readers of new content as well as content related to subjects of interest. One example is Technorati, whose label system permits a visitor to search for new content in a given subject area. Technorati lists blogs, providing details about updates and changes. McDougall's book notes that Technorati claims to track 32.5 million sites with 2.2 billion links. There's also del.icio.us, a site billing itself as a social bookmark resource, where you can organize your bookmarks with tags related to subject matter you're interested in. Select a few sites like Technorati or del.icio.us and become familiar with them. They're great tools for bringing readers your way.
Once you have a steady stream of readers, you should see revenue grow, perhaps slowly at first but increasing alongside your traffic numbers. Most affiliate sites and advertising sites are easy to set up. You set up your account, set your preferences, then copy and paste a simple code, and add it to the pages you select.
"The blogosphere is a viral environment," McDougall says. But if you happen to hit on a hot story, "You make an opportunity for lightning to strike." He says a blog can "struggle along, but then strike a nerve."
It's important to set up your pages in user-friendly fashion so you don't annoy all those visitors. McDougall says your page should come up within 1-2 seconds of your guest's arrival. Being careful with sizes of graphics and images, and refraining from overly busy design will ensure no one has to wait long for your content to show.
Writers often set up a blog as an adjunct to the writing they do for a living. In addition to maintaining a busy freelance business, journalist Brette Sember writes the blog Your Plus-Size Pregnancy. "I have Google AdSense on my site," she says. "But I've made no money since placing those. However, I also have affiliate links up through Commission Junction and other places. I've made more money than I expected through these--they've really been a nice little bonus. And I do link my books through Amazon and make money that way too."
I started my Covering Florida blog in October 2006. At first, I had 15-20 people a week showing up. Over time, I learned a number of things, chiefly by trial and error, that helped increase my traffic. I post a new column each weekday, if at all possible, and I always include a graphic or photo. I've learned, as a result, to be creative with my digital camera. I listed my blog at both Technorati and Blog Catalog, and I'm active with both those sites. I also added my blog content to a site, BlogHer. All these sites have been very useful to me both as a writer and a reader.
I read McDougall's book carefully after a fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors recommended it. I followed McDougall's advice on ad placement and promotion. I found myself wishing I'd read the book before I started the blog. I also write a blog Creative Writer US, but there's less traffic there. Ironically both my blogs have a Google page rank, 4 out of 10, and that is a plus in terms of people finding me through search engines. I worked hard for that 4; to put the rank in perspective, one of the most popular blogging sites, ProBlogger, is ranked 6. The Drudge Report, arguably the most popular news site on the Internet, is ranked 6. I use two different ad revenue programs on the sites. I haven't made enough money to take a cruise, but I am seeing the revenue steadily increase. The majority of my traffic comes from those who use Google search. Blogging has helped editors find me and it has also led to interviews with reporters, a benefit to my book sales.
Sometimes, bloggers or Web site owners can also sell space directly to an advertiser or sponsor. Be sure the terms of service at your blog or Web site host permit you to do that. Some hosting companies define what types of ads can be placed on their pages.
Talking to fellow bloggers is a great resource for determining what's right for you. And who knows? You may, as McDougall says, "strike a nerve." If you do, you'll be singing all the way to the bank.
Directories & aggregators:
Blogs written by subjects in this column
Your Plus-Size Pregnancy
Fruition Web Systems
Kay B. Day
Creative Writer US
--Sept. 4, 2007
Coming next in Web Savvy, an interview with author Sandra Beckwith, who tells you how to work the Web to promote your book.