Editor’s Note: First, let me note that this is a very long blog post. I probably should have chopped it up into a few blog posts, but I didn’t want to lose the stream of thought.
Getting a bit more practical, one of the themes in the Four Hour Work Week is the idea that you can have a nice source of passive income from a short investment in time called a Muse. Hilarycat posted recently on what constitutes a Muse (or in her words, a Passive Income Generator [PIG]). But the gist is that it’s not necessarily your main “day job”, but rather something that allows you to earn the income needed so that your main job doesn’t consume you. You can be free to pursue the things you want because the lights can stay on and the kids can stay fed.
As a way to get things started, blogs themselves can be nice sources of revenue and could potentially be muses if they turned into something bigger. That does not mean that it has to consume lots of time, but you should definitely thing about all the ways to generate revenue from a blog and related media. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. If you know of other ways to turn blogging and writing activity into muse-worthy income, let everyone know by posting some feedback in the comments.
Most folks who think about generating revenue from their blog think of the advertising business model where you post ads on your site and get paid for every click through. This is certainly one of the best ways to generate passive income from a blog, since you’re simply leveraging the traffic that comes whether you are working (or even awake) or not. The general formula for increasing advertising revenue is: Increased profit = increased traffic + increased visibility/placement of ads + increased quality / pay-out of ads + increased relevancy of ads.
- Google AdSense — The Obvious One. Of all the advertising brokers on the web, Google is the King of them all – with over 60% of total context-based advertising around. It’s hard to beat, and so that’s why most bloggers use Google AdSense for their advertising revenue base. The problem is that making money on Google Ads has been getting harder recently. There are thousands, if not millions, of sites that place ads, meaning that you’re sharing in a very small percentage of the total ad traffic. Some more comments and thoughts on Google ad revenue for bloggers here.
- Text-link-Ads — Another possibility for advertising revenue is getting paid to put text links into your blog. Not quite the same as Google Ads,but Google definitely frowns on it and penalizes sites that use it, so see it as as no-go if you want to use Google AdSense and Text-Link-Ads together
- Chitika,WidgetBucks, Azoogle Ads, Intelli Txt, DoubleClick, Tribal Fusion, Adbrite, Clicksor, AdHearUs, Kanoodle, Pheedo, TextAds, Bidvertiser, Fastclick, Value Click,MSN Adcenter, YPN, and BlogAds . Yes there are a bazillion ways to get ads on your site and get paid on a per-click or per-results basis. Much has been said about the above, but given that most are sharing the remaining 35-40% of the market amongst each other, you’ll be sacrificing the visibility that Google has for the wider base of potential advertisers. That being said, I don’t have much experience with the above. Can someone in the blogging world point me to a comparison of the above and state whether or not they can happily co-exist with each other and/or Google AdSense?
- Kontera — Another contextual ad system, but this one is different. It finds keywords on your page and automatically creates an advertising link that becomes a pop-up “ContentLink” that refers readers to additional opportunities. There’s some conflicting evidence as to whether Google allows it or not, but I’ll try it on this blog and let you know.
- Feedburner RSS ads — As you might already know, FeedBurner powers this site’s RSS feed. It not only syndicates it for wider distribution through a variety of formats, but also allows me to manage, audit, publicize, and even monetize the feed. FeedBurner now allows you to insert ad links into your RSS feeds and collect when they’ve been clicked. I’m trying it, so let me know if it annoys you.
- Blog Networks — A blog network is a group of blogs that team up to increase their mutual traffic and thus share in the increased ad revenue. I haven’t really done much research here, but I hear this can be quite lucrative. Anyone have any feedback?
- Sell your own advertising — Who says you need to get your ads thrown at you by a third party? If you think you can get significant traffic, sell your ads direct! Offer a permanent spot on your blog for a 125×125 ad (or whatever size you like) and sell it for whatever you think you can get. This will really only work for high-traffic blogs, but it really is a better way to go. You have to promise a certain amount of visibility, but you’re getting a fixed monthly income without any surprises or variability. I suggest this is something you can do when you get a few hundred thousand hits per month or a tens of thousands of dedicated readers. Not as hard as you would imagine…
- Get your site sponsored –Another take is to have your site be exclusively sponsored by someone. The same tack as selling your own advertising, but perhaps you offer to brand your site in a specific way or do some joint activities with the sponsor. Either way, a nice way to make some real passive income.
If you have merchandise closely affiliate with your site, then you can sell it online as a way of earning passive income.
- Cafepress — One of the most widely known merchandising site. Allows you to sell shirts, mugs, hats, books, bags, baby clothing, lingerie, lots of stuff emblazoned with your key IP and identifying marks. I’ve tried to put together some DHFW related items and merchandise here, but of course, the quality of the goods will determine how well they sell!
- Write eBooks – Another way to earn passive income is to sell content online. Write an eBook about a topic related to the blog or something else that suits your fancy and sell it on your blog, eBay, and even Amazon. Another possibility is to turn the blog itself into an eBook and sell that. How’s that for passive income? I’ll try writing a few eBooks myself and I’ll let you know how it goes!
Have products that you are genuinely happy with and want to refer others to? Would you like to make a commission helping to sell products and/or services that you already support? Affiliate programs are there to help reward referrals for sales. I would suggest doing this only if you would have made the recommendation for those products and services anyways. Why ruin the reputation of your blog (and thus your traffic) pitching stuff that doesn’t interest you or your readership? But if the products do indeed help and stuff you are legitimately using already or supporting, then why not? Get the passive income that comes from easy referrals.
- Amazon Associates — Probably the best-known affiliate program is Amazon Associates, which rewards you from 4% to over 6% for selling books and other items on your site. I have been running Amazon Affiliate advertising on this site since I started to promote the FHWW book and the shredder that I love so much. It’s a great way of generating passive income, especially if you’re already recommending the products!
- Commission Junction — One of the largest networks of affiliate-based revenue streams and offers. From their site: “Commission Junction’s network, the CJ Marketplace, provides publishers with opportunities to partner with leading advertisers while having access to millions of links and offers. The publisher is paid a commission by the respective advertiser when a visitor takes a specific action such as filling out a form, subscribing to a service (both lead examples) or making a purchase (a sale).” I am not sure how to use CJ effectively, but I am sure I will learn soon.
- Linkshare — Similar to CJ, LinkShare “runs the largest pay-for-performance affiliate marketing network on the Internet” and coordinates the relationship between advertisers and publishers (that’s you, the blogger).
- Clickbank — Similar to the above affiliate programs, but with one big difference — the products that you are referring visitors to are exclusively digital products. So, if you want to make referrals to music, eBooks, etc. that are available for immediate purchase and download, or if you have an eBook that you want to promote, ClickBank might be the way to go. I’ll let you know if it works with my eBook ideas!
- Affiliate Sensor — This one is a unique idea which combines the way Google Ads work (automatically placed ads based on contextual relevance) with the revenue generation of Affiliate links. So, you’re getting random affiliate links placed on your site that you will get paid on a Click-per-Action (CPA) basis. Hmm, not the best idea if you want to control your content. And, I’m not sure what Google will think of another context-based ad/revenue generation system on your site.
- ShoppingAds — Monetize your site with live merchant listings that display (supposedly) relevant products and pay you through good click-through rates. Because the ads are non-contextual, they don’t compete with or violate any Google Adsense Terms of Service. However, there have been a number of complaints about their business practices and timeliness of pay-outs.
- Roll-Your-Own — There are literally thousands of affiliate programs out there. If you have a product you like, see if they have an affiliate program, and go forth, promote and profit. But be careful and remember to promote only that which you’d recommend anyways!
Get Paid to Blog
Just like the affiliate programs, you can seek revenue for posting on blog topics that are of interest to you and your readership. There are a number of programs that will pay you to write about stuff. But, just like the affiliate programs, you have to be careful with these. The small amount of money you can make in posting a paid advertisement can be counter-productive to ad revenue since it could drive away readers. No one likes obvious advertising shills, and you’ll ruin your credibility, which means reduced readership, which means reduced advertising revenue and all the other sources of revenue. So, post only on what your readers will legitimately care about so that the little bit of revenue from posting itself doesn’t bite you in the end. You should post only on things that compliment existing writing and make it clear that while the post is sponsored, you support the content and are responsible for the results.
- PayPerPost — A somewhat controversial concept in which advertisers will pay you to post a topic on your blog. If the topic is of legitimate interest to your readers anyways and you can write it in a way that’s genuine then go for it. I believe it’s potetna revenue for work you are already planning on doing. But if it’s going to be clearly advertorial content that edges on authenticity, don’t risk your traffic and diminish all the other revenue streams for a few bucks. I’m undecided on this one. Thoughts?
- ReviewMe -A slightly different twist on the get-paid-to-blog concept. This site will pay you at least $25 per post to review advertiser’s products. Supposedly you can be quite candid and honest (even negative) in your reviews without penalty. But a word of mention here — ReviewMe will only accept blogs and websites that already have significant traffic and visibility. My site got rejected as being too lowly in the Blogosphere. So, the paradox is that if you already have plenty of traffic, you’re probably getting it without having to be paid to post. And you’re probably already making tons of $$ through other revenue sources. So, why would you want to sacrifice your traffic and ad earnings for earning just a few bucks on reviews? ReviewMe should see their opportunity to help fledgling bloggers get a market and traffic, not help the already well-established blog players.
- Blogsvertise, SponsoredReviews, BloggerWave — The same ideas as PayPerPost and ReviewMe. A review of all these pay-to-blog providers can be found here. You can also see a more comprehensive list of pay-to-blog sites here. I might give Blogsvertise a try, but they require you to post about them on your blog (interesting marketing technique), so you might see a post on that shortly. I’ll let you all know the results of these activities!
- Blogging for Hire — Finally, there are a number of sites that will pay you to post on their blogs. Now, I don’t really consider this as passive income cause you’re basically doing the writing for someone else and getting paid for your work. Maybe in that regard, all of these pay-to-blog services aren’t really passive income either. And if you’re working to get paid, you have to really see how much time it’s taking up. In which case, is it really a muse? It’s only worth it if you can generate significant income for very short amount of time. I’d only consider being paid to write a new blog post if I can do it in 10-15 minutes and get paid at least $25 for the effort. This makes my time worth $125 an hour (do the math – 12 minutes or 1/5 of an hour – for $25). So, in general, I wouldn’t really consider any of this section truly passive income.
- Another key consideration: Google is really smacking down pay-t0-blog sites. This might serve as warning to folks who want to get paid for posting. Since it doesn’t really back up the idea of passive income (it’s just another way to get paid for work), I’m not sure that it’s going to be a good idea in the long haul for folks looking at blogs as muse-worthy businesses.
Perhaps better and more valuable to readers than being paid to blog stuff you might not otherwise post is the idea of creating applications that run on the blog and are automated. These little applications can generate one-time or recurring revenue that requires little, if any, upkeep.
- Job Boards — If you are in a business niche that can attract job seekers as well as job posters, then running a job board on your site makes a lot of sense. You can automate both the posting functions as well as the seeking functions and charge a few hundred dollars for the post, and provide it for free to job seekers.
- Personals – Some high-traffic blogs that cater to a specific personality / cultural niche can do the personal equivalent of the job-board: personals. A few blogs generate hundreds of thousands of dollars this way, charging either for the post or a recurring fee for retrieval of messages, etc. If your blog caters to such audiences, then this might be a good idea for passive income generation.
- Other ideas – Do you have other application ideas that can generate one-time or recurring fees? If so, let me know and I’ll post it for a future update.
- Vizu — Make money by posting polls. There’s the free polls that cost nothing and generate no revenue, and then there’s the Vizu Power Polls that allow you to earn money by posting market-research type questions. I’m going to give it a try. Let me know what you think.
- Say you don’t want to blatantly advertise but still want to turn your blog into a muse. Say you advertise, but you would rather get the support of your community. Yes, your readers might have sympathy (or support) for you and want to support your efforts. If you have a blog that champions a cause or is worthy of support, you can simply ask for money. In fact, the only reason I’m running this blog myself is to turn it into a muse so that I can focus my time on other things. Indeed, if I can generate $150k a year from this blog, I can focus my efforts (and time) on things that are not so urgently related to making money. If you want to see what a donation page looks like and donate to the Help Rex Get a Muse Fund, please check it out on the sidebar to your right. If you want to download and install your own, check out ChipIn, the one I’m using on this site.
Of course, the key to any of the above revenue streams is traffic. No one will come to your blog and thus allow you to monetize that traffic if it isn’t interesting. And without traffic, there’s no revenue. So, how do you get traffic? The best way to do that is to make your site interesting. Increase the quality of the content and make it remarkable (in the words of Seth Godin) and you’ll see the results come in. All the rest of the above is just gravy. After all, your muse should be fun. If it’s just work, it ain’t a muse. But then again, if it’s not making money, it ain’t a muse either.
There are a few ways to go about increasing blog traffic organically (that is, without pulling shenanigans). One way is to keep writing good content and encouraging your readers to share it with others. Another way is to make your blog more search-engine friendly (where most of the readership will first come from) as well as make it easier to allow people to share content. This means never delete old posts, archive individual posts, incorporate the title of the post into the tags of the post, link a lot externally and allow people to link in a lot, make your blog slim and trim (something I probably have to do), and wrap hypertext around words. Another thing you can do to increase your blog traffic is to register it on blog registries like Blogowogo, Blogshares, Globe of Blogs, Eaton Web, and other places.
Other methods are to have Forums / Discussion Boards, Chat Rooms, Polls, Guest Maps, and Newsletters. Each serves as a way of either increasing the amount of good content or spreading the good content you already have. I might start a few forums and newsletters for Four Hour a Weekers if I can do it in a way that is passive and contributes to the overall value and traffic of the site.
To help with the above, getting accurate figures on how your blog is performing is key. I suggest Google Analytics as a key step to getting the sort of ongoing traffic numbers you need to determine if your blog is a PIG or just a Hog.