How Bloggers Make Money

by Roo on January 14, 2014

in blogging biz

Blogging’s no longer a new phenomenon, but there’s still a lot of mystery around it. Trying to explain a blog to a senior citizen, for example, is kind of a daunting task. “I write words? On the internet? People read them? Thanks for the hard candy?” The biggest mystery of it all is likely the money-making aspect of it. A blog can range anywhere from making no money at all to generating a full-time income. We’re going to just puuuuull back the curtain a little bit to give you a glimpse of how it all works. Warning: This is a CRAZY LONG POST.

How Bloggers Make Money

1) NETWORK ADS: Maybe you just finished poking around West Elm’s site, looking for a new duvet cover. You X out, check out your favorite blog, and whoaaaa there’s a West Elm ad in the sidebar! Internet magic made it so. Advertisers pay the network to distribute ads; network pays the publisher (or website owner) to display those ads. For the most part, network ads pay based on views and clicks. The more pages you visit on someone’s site, the more potential earning that website owner receives. CPM varies greatly, but for the sake of simplicity, an ad that generates $.50 CPM will make $.50 for every 1,000 pageviews.

How Bloggers Make Money[Source: Rage Against the Minivan]

2) PRIVATE ADS: Some websites host private ads, which means there is no network involved. Brand owner says “Hayyyyy, I’d like to buy an ad.” Website owner says, “Coooooool, here’s how much it costs.” Money is exchanged, and generally the brand owner saves money and the website owner makes a little more money since no one else is brokering the deal.

How Bloggers Make Money[Source: The Bloggess]

3) SPONSORED POSTS: A blogger will devote a blog post to writing about a particular brand. The Federal Trade Commission requires that these blog posts have a disclosure at the top and bottom of the posts. A blogger will secure a sponsored post either privately or through a network (same thing I outlined above generally applies here as well – privately generally makes more $$$, but going through a network means you don’t have to broker the deal yourself), and the pay varies a ton, based on the brand’s budget and usually based on the blogger’s reach. Some bloggers also are signed with a blog agent, who does a lot of the post-securing for them. You want a range, right?

Here’s where it gets tricky. A sweeps blogger (someone who writes about sweepstakes) may get a million pageviews a month, if you check out the blog posts, there are no comments. Or, a blogger may get 10,000 pageviews a month, but has a seriously engaged audience. Money exchanged depends on how “in tune” a brand is with the understanding all of this. But back to the numbers, bloggers charge anywhere from $50 a post to $500 a post to upwards of $5,000.

How Bloggers Make Money

[Source: Musings of a Housewife]

4) SHADY TEXT LINKS: I’m throwing this in here because people do it, but it’s against Google Terms of Service. A brand will email a blogger and say “Hey, you know that post you wrote about redecorating your living room? The part where you say ‘I think two lamps would look great here,’ we’ll pay you $300 to hyperlink ‘two lamps’ right to our websites.”

The first thought is, okay, wow, that’s an old post that no one reads anyway, and all I have to do is take ten seconds to link it and make $300? Absolutely!

NoooooooooooOOOOOOoooooo. As tempting as it may seem, don’t do it. Why? Because if you don’t follow Google’s rules, Google will no longer send traffic to your website. You know how your website is the top hit for “best jeans for a large donk”? If Google sees that link, your website will be deemed as shady, and you’ll no longer be getting search engine traffic.

5) DONATIONS: You may have a website you visit regularly and really love. It’s been helpful to you in one way or another, and you really appreciate the site. You see a little Paypal donate button. What is that, anyway? It’s there so you can drop some money in as a “Yo, sup, thanks” to the owner. I have happily donated to a website that will call your cell phone for you should you use it. I use and abuse that website on the regular (we eschew the whole house phone thing), so I drop in a few dollars here and there as a “Thank you for having this website and rescuing my sanity when my toddler hides my phone in the linen closet.” The donate option is less common now than it used to be (in fact, I started blogging after the donate button sort of died down), but sometimes you can find it on sites for people who are doing humanitarian/missionary work and writing about it.

How Do Bloggers Make Money?[source: The Very Worst Missionary]

6) SUBSCRIPTIONS: Some website owners do not want to deal with securing sponsored posts and ads, so they make their websites private. If you would like to read their website, you pay a yearly subscription (usually around $25 or so), and you never see an ad.

7) AFFILIATES: You write a blog post. You mention your favorite pillow. Through an affiliate program, you link the words “favorite pillow” to your favorite pillow. A reader goes, “Oh daaaang, that has potential to be MY favorite pillow!” and buys it. You get a little kickback. The most widely used affiliate program (I might be wrong) is for Amazon. Bloggers that use Amazon might have a banner or a few links in the sidebar. If you really like a blogger and want to give him or her the hookup, click through the Amazon link (<— it could look like this or it could be a banner, which looks like an ad) on their page before making an order. You don’t have to buy the actual favorite pillow for them to get a kickback; you can buy paper towels. As long as you click through their links, they get credit. Neat, right?

A year and a half ago I bought a treadmill. I knew that at its price point, it had potential to give a blogger a sweet commission. I emailed a blogger I really like and said “Hey girl hey, send me your Amazon link so I can buy this sweet treadmill.” She did; I did; she made money. If you’re a blogger, Amazon doesn’t allow you to make money off stuff YOU purchase, so any time I buy something off Amazon, I click over to a couple blogs I like and then click through their Amazon banners. Cool way for website owners to share the love with each other, as well.

How Bloggers Make Money[Source: Our Freaking Budget]

8) REVIEWS + GIVEAWAYS: In a true review, no money exchanges hands. Brand says, “Hey, will you review this handvac?” Blogger says yes. Handvac gets sent. Blogger tries it out and does a little write-up, but not necessarily in a devoted blog post. Also, the brand gets zero say on what the blogger writes. The review can be negative. One time a brand sent me a product and I had to say, “Listen, this thing is super pretty, but there are some functionality issues going on here.” I think not so golden reviews are good, too. Ever search for a product and every review is like YEAH THIS IS THE BEST! and then you try it out and you were like, “Okay, obviously someone padded the comments over there, because this actually kind of sucks”? Disingenuous reviews are lame.

Giveaways can be paid or unpaid. They can take a lot of work to administer, so getting paid for them is pretty reasonable (IMO), but a lot of people will try to just wrap it into a package deal (“Sure, you’re paying for a sponsored post, so I’m happy to do a giveaway at some point”). So no money is actually made here, and bloggers also have to pay taxes on anything they receive for ‘free.’

How Bloggers Make Money[Source: Dude Mom]

9) SPONSORED SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT: This includes Twitter parties, Instagram posts, and pins on Pinterest. If someone pays me to post a photo on Instagram, it will always (per FTC regulations) get tagged with #spon or #ad or something like that. I have not ever hosted a Twitter party, and someone would have to pay me a lotttttttttt of money for me to agree to it. I do other work outside of blogging (more on that below), and people in similar industries follow me on Twitter, so I don’t want to jam up their Twitter feeds with chatter about, like, oven mitts or whatever. I will, however, pop in with a tweet or two if a friend is hosting a party, as a show of support. Some people make the majority of their income off Twitter parties, so I’m totally not criticizing them. (Insert hands up Emoji.)

10) BRAND AMBASSADORSHIPS: A brand and a blogger will partner long term to promote a product or service, and the blogger gets paid as such. In the example below, Julie is part of the Lenovo Moms program. Lenovo is paying her, providing with product and travel expenses to experience and promote the new Lenovo line.

How Do Bloggers Make Money?

[Source: Julieverse]

11) OTHER. Okay, there’s a whole lot that fits into this category. Some bloggers partner up with brands to create a line of products. Some bloggers do consulting and speaking and e-book/book writing, and their blog becomes a platform to help them advertise that. Make sense?

How Bloggers Make Money

[Source: Young House Love]

I do a lot of outside-of-NF writing, so a lot of times people will check out my blog, realize I’m a copywriter, and contact me. On the other hand, sometimes clients end up becoming blog readers. You’ll notice that my Facebook fan page is the only thing holding the NF name, while my Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and personal FB usernames are simply my first and last name. While Neon Fresh is my blog, and I write on it, everything else I do is as Roo Ciambriello, so it makes sense to work it like that on social media.

SHOULD BLOGGERS MAKE MONEY? My answer is always a resounding ‘yea, dude.’ There’s this somewhat weird opinion that blogs should be just for fun. A lot of blogs are just for fun, and that’s fantastic. However, some websites cost money to run, and if the demand/desire is there for regular content (i.e., if you have readers who want to read what you write), then it makes sense to get paid if you’re devoting hours daily to writing. It’s just like any other potential hobby. Some people knit for fun, and some people sell their wares. Some people belt out Usher in the shower, and some get paid to sing in front of people. I think it totally makes sense for people to be paid when they lend their talent to others, but running your own site doesn’t necessarily mean making $$$. Womp. :) 2013 saw a lot of bloggers shutting down their sites, so.. who knows. The Internet is simultaneously weird and wonderful and full of opportunity and cat memes. Bless it.

{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie January 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

THANK YOU! I always get so many people in my life (well meaning of course) ask me, “so how do you make money on that blog?” I try to explain….but this is so much simpler. Thank you TONS!

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Glad you like it, Annie, thank you!!

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Megan January 14, 2014 at 10:52 am

I like the rundown! Now all I have to do is actually write stuff on my blog and, you know, get people to read it… first things first! :-)

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:07 am

Hahaha, baby steps, my friend!

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Jessica Hill January 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

Awesome, concise and readable. THANK YOU! Off to share.

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Thanks so much, Jessica! Glad you liked it. :)

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Brittany January 14, 2014 at 11:14 am

Fab summary Roo. Now to get back to making some after the kids have been sick or on break for going on 5 weeks!

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Handle it, girl! You’re a force!

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Jen January 14, 2014 at 11:26 am

Woo comments two days in a row! Look at me :)

Thank you so much for this summary. I used to blog just for fun, but didn’t have time to maintain it. I never got into the money-making aspect of it, but I’ve been interested in how it all works. So this super informative post was awesome. I agree with you that bloggers *should* make money! It takes a lot of time to write posts, reply to comments, take/edit photos, etc., and you guys deserve to be compensated for that time. It always drives me nuts when people comment and complain about sponsored posts.

Oh well, thank you for the great post and the great blog!

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:09 am

Two days in a row, you animal! :)

Gosh, I realize how long it takes to write a post (I think I take longer than most) and edit photos, and I think it takes the average reader three minutes to read it, and I’m just like… womp womp. Haha!

Thanks so much, Jen! xo

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Amanda January 14, 2014 at 11:29 am

I never knew that clicking an affiliate link would give the blogger a kickback – darn, I buy SO much through Amazon & other places and you could have been making money off my addictions this whole time. This is awesome!

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Elizabeth January 14, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Same here! I wish I had known this sooner but so glad I know it now! I will definitely start using the links embedded in the post!

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:13 am

Haha! I honestly didn’t realize the scope of how it worked until not too long ago! I think most people think you have to buy the item they linked to (like the favorite pillow) but I can just click through a banner and buy pantyhose or whatever.

I don’t know why I just wrote pantyhose.

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Anna January 14, 2014 at 11:40 am

Thanks for sharing, Roo! Super helpful :) And, as most money things are, a little overwhelming haha oh the world of blogging!

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Blogging is so weird, right? :P

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Jacqueline January 14, 2014 at 11:51 am

What did you mean by 4? I do links to other pages if I am referencing them in my posts. Or I like to my other pages if Im referencing something in my post. Does this mean Google isn’t sending readers my way because of that?

Also, the BIGger question: How do you even get started in ANY of this? Where does it all begin and how. Do you need a certain number of readers?

Not sure I’d be going this route. But I’m certainly curious after this post.

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Kelly {the Centsible Life} January 14, 2014 at 5:23 pm

#4 only applies when you’re talking about a company paying for your link. Linking to your own work, another blog, or even a business is fine as long as it’s not part of a scheme to get some company’s search rankings higher. Thankfully since Google has changed how search works (it’s more based on your social interaction especially if you use g+) this is becoming less common.

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:16 am

What Kelly said below is right on the money.

You can always apply to Google Adsense and see if you can start hosting ads to get the ball rolling, but generally networks and brands prefer that a blogger passes at least some threshold of pageviews per month. So if just my mom and my Facebook friends were reading my blog, it’s probably not in great shape to get monetized, does that make sense?

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Rebecca January 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Ahhh!!! So much easier to understand now. You’re so good to us.

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Aww thanks, boo!

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Jen January 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Awesome summary, that has me thinking of a few things in new ways.

My main question is how the hell do you get people to comment? I know people are reading my blog because I see my page views increasing. I know people enjoy it because they’ll tell me at random. But I can’t seem to get people to engage. And if one more person tells me to try ending with a question, so help me! I do! I do! I do! I still get nothing! HELP. ;)

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Oooh, when I first started blogging, I started commenting on a lot of other new blogs. I’m a friendly person (IMO) so if there were a few bloggers I felt like I could click with, I shot them an email to say what’s up, etc.

Or you could do a de-lurking post, hahaha. (See yesterday’s post.) :)

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Cheri @ Overactive Blogger January 27, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Such a good question/good answer! My folks tend to be quiet! But I’m going to keep commenting, and drawing folks into the blog! Love this post, thank you!

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M January 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm

This was an awesome post, thanks for the info! One question – how long does the Amazon affiliate link work? Like is it how cookies work, as in if I click on your Amazon link, then two days later buy something, is it still routing $ back to you? Or is this only if I click, then purchase within that SAME, non-closed-out internetty window?

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:20 am

I am actually not entirely sure how it works. Generally speaking I do a lot of surfing before I make a purchase, so if I know I’m going to buy something, I just click through a banner again and make it happen. Make sense? I know with a lot of affiliates (not just Amazon), it def needs to be within that SAME internetty window, as you so nicely put it. ;)

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Ceci Bean January 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm

What if I am using shady text links and I don’t even know it? Eek! I mean nobody pays me to do it (except for the occasional Amazon affiliate link) but I do link to things I’m talking about… Should I not?

Also, that is generous and clever to make purchases through the Amazon ads of blogs you like. Way to spread the love!

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Oooh linking to things because you like them is totally fine. It’s the crazy links that are out of context that alerts Google. :)

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Emilie January 14, 2014 at 1:10 pm

It is $1 per 1,000 page views, not 10,000 for network ads. ;)

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Emilie January 14, 2014 at 1:29 pm

I also lost page rank in October and I get plenty of google traffic. I haven’t noticed a difference in anything except I get less shady text link ad requests. Which is fine with me.

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:21 am

I think a lot of people dropped and rose during that last page rank update (it seems like no one really stayed static), but if Google pings your blog for text links, your page rank can actually drop to 0. O__O

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Emilie January 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

Sorry if I wasn’t clear. My page rank did drop to a zero and I’m still getting plenty of good traffic. I was a 4 for a couple of years and dropped to a 3 last year before getting the big fat 0 in October. I thought it was going to be a huge deal and was really disappointed about it. But I haven’t noticed a decrease in google traffic at all. There might be other consequences. I’m probably not as valuable to the people I link to. But it is a total myth to think that if you get a PR 0 you suddenly don’t show up in google search engines and won’t get traffic. NOT TRUE. And it is because of posts like this that I freaked out when I got the zero and yet I’ve still got high search placement on several posts. I haven’t even bothered yet to try and fix whatever google didn’t like and apply for reconsideration. Because it really hasn’t been a big deal at all.

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Ha! I was writing this at 5am and I knew I’d screw something up. Thanks; I changed it!

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Sara Beth January 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Thank you so much for this, it was SUPER helpful. I had a general idea, but this made it so much more clear. I woul love to know of any blogging boot camps or something like that which seriously helped you move your blog into the money-making realm.

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ShelbyDee January 14, 2014 at 2:02 pm

This is like when Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals the short little man behind the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Thanks for explaining it so thoroughly to us humble bloggers still trying to figure out where Oz is.

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Hahahaha I’m just a member of the Lollipop Guild, Shelby. :)

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Kristi January 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Great article! I have a question on the shady links. If that link that you added was a no follow link, then it would be fine?

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Yes, but generally anyone looking to purchase a text link will not pay for a no-follow link.

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Kristi January 14, 2014 at 2:16 pm

I can always dream! Thanks! :)

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Nicole January 14, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Wow, I did not know that bit about Amazon, thank you! I buy so much on Amazon, and have no problem giving my fave bloggers a little kickback.

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Laurie January 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm

The analogy I use that seems to help understanding is that I’m writing a column like you read in the paper, only it’s online. Of course, that results in some painful questions like, “Are you trying to be Erma Bombeck?” (which really means, “um, you’re not Erma Bombeck”)

But at least they understand that I’m creating content to read and entertain.

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Sarah @ Pretty Providence January 14, 2014 at 5:18 pm

This post is freaking dope, Roo! I was actually just thinking about writing one (and I still probably will) about what I do all day with blogging as a job. A lot of my friends, even ones who blog (just not as a way to bring in the bacon) think I am just hanging out watching TV at home and being funemployed and writing a blog post twice a week. How nice would that be!? But no… working for less pay per hour than I’d like but I’m not giving up…

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Natasha January 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Hey girl hey! I’m totally not a blogger, but I lurve reading them (especially yours, and I’m picky, I don’t read just ANYBODY) so this was an interesting read. It always cracks me up when people get all offended at sponsored posts. Everyone needs to make a little cash, right?!!! I totally didn’t know about the affiliate links though, that’s good info to have :)

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:36 am

GIRL I AM SO FLATTERED RITE MEOW. :)

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Kelly {the Centsible Life} January 14, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Good stuff. I like how you broke this down and your use of images makes it easier to understand.

The only thing I would add is that some bloggers use their blog as a platform for an existing business like a designer who shares photos of client projects, or a professional organizer who has an organizing blog. In those cases the business usually came before the blog while we traditionally think blogger—>business.

The majority of people I know who ‘make money blogging’ though make it through that ‘other’ category.

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Roo January 14, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Biz —–> blog, I feel you. Should I clarify that more under #11?

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Kelly {the Centsible Life} January 14, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Maybe! Trying to think of a good example. Maybe someone like Emily Henderson? (http://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/)

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Leigh Ann January 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Perfect run down!

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:22 am

Thanks, Leigh Ann! :)

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Dana January 14, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I enjoy reading my regular bloggers more than I enjoy reading my regular magazine subscriptions. I’d totally pay a minimal amount for a subscription to some bloggers. None of the bloggers I follow employ a subscription model, so I’m not sure if this would create an accessibility barrier to accessing all the blogs I follow in the same place–i.e. Feedly.

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 8:04 am

Yeah, some websites do it, but I don’t know that it’ll pick up speed in the blogging realm. I know some of my most popular posts have been helpful in some way (one about helping a new mom, in particular), and I would hate to limit it to people who can pay for it. I’m just hopeful that people don’t mind a commercial now and then. ;)

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Mel January 14, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Super interesting, thanks for the great run down.

I don’t necessarily think blogs should never make money, But one, the way a lot of them do it is sketch (e.g. non-disclosed amazon links).

Two, we are really, really lacking in language to describe blogs.

Broadly, there are online “Micro Magazines” and there are online “Personal Diaries of Experiences.” If you have ads and giveaways and guest posts and you schedule content for maximum pageviews and you use verbs like monetize, then that’s all good and more power to you. But there’s a gap in the language when my mom’s blogspot where she posts pictures of quilts she makes and the huffington post are the same thing. Magazines should have ads and make money, personal diaries shouldn’t.

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Tracie January 14, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Great post!! Sharing with my readers too:)

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Roo January 15, 2014 at 7:39 am

Thans, Tracie! :)

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Danielle Smith January 15, 2014 at 11:28 am

So beautifully concise and perfectly detailed. Well done. That ‘other’ category is a big one :)

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Julie January 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm

First-time commenter on your site here…but I have been enjoying it for months. (Sorry, I was totally lurking! I’m such a cliche, haha!)

I just want to say THANK YOU for this post. It has answered a lot of questions that I had, and ones that I didn’t know I had. You rock.

And yes, I will comment more in the future!

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Mellisa January 15, 2014 at 5:24 pm

This is perfect and ever-so helpful. I think I’ll be bookmarking this for future reference, too. Thank you so much, Roo!

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Deanna Segrave-Daly January 20, 2014 at 11:18 am

Just discovered your blog through The Lean Green Bean – awesome informative post – thanks!

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Temmy January 21, 2014 at 9:13 am

This has to be the most comprehensive post I’ve read on blog monetization. Thanks for sharing!

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Jo-Lynne Shane {Musings of a Housewife} January 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Haha. I got to the end and snorted my coffee. Bless it. Well, then. I guess I have to say, Amen. :-) No, really, well done! You summed it up well.

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Ashley Leen January 26, 2014 at 11:44 am

hi roo! thank you so much for this amazing post. :) my husband and i have just begun our blogging journey and are really interested in how to make moo-la, if only a teeny bit.

(and yes, i’ve been lurking for a few months myself!)

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