In 2005, former Manhattan “It” girl, author and ex-wife of an oil tycoon, Arianna Huffington, launched a newsy blog called The Huffington Post. Initially slammed for featuring posts by Huffington’s most famous and influential friends, it soon became the most popular blog in the world. With 46.2 million unique visitors per month to the US site alone (there are seven more international editions) it’s no wonder internet giant AOL bought ‘The HuffPo’ for $315 million in 2011.
There’s never been a better time to blog – and make money from it. A Sensis report found that 65 per cent of Australians use social media, including blogs, and tablet use increased from 18 per cent to 35 per cent between 2012 and 2013. “So it’s more likely that people will see advertisements on a mobile device than in print,” says Suzi Dafnis, CEO of the Australian Businesswomen’s Network and publisher of its award-winning blog, herBusiness. “Yes, people might be watching TV, but they still have their iPads in front of them.”
An amazing blog plus advertising equals income, and if you’re really good, throw in book deals, speaking engagements and endorsements, and you’ve made yourself a money-spinning empire.
But Huffington, who is still president and editor-in-chief of the HuffPo, was rich before she started blogging and she had a Rolodex of powerful contributors willing to write for free. So how do you profit from blogging without Kate Moss on speed dial?
Tips for successful blogging
1. First, you need page views - a lot of them – and experts advise that to attract an audience you need to zero-in on a topic that appeals to a wide audience, such as interior design or baking. “Find a niche, because the blog arena is becoming more crowded,” says Dafnis. “And deliver fresh, new content on a regular basis.” According to a survey of more than 500 bloggers by online advertising network Nuffnang, only 11 per cent post once or more a day. So thrashing the keyboard as often as possible is one sure-fire way to stand out.
2. Make sure your content isn’t just fresh, but useful – drawing readers again and again, adds blogger Darren Rowse. It’s something Rowse overlooked about 10 years ago, when he published a blog reviewing digital cameras. “I made a few mistakes. It was difficult to get ongoing readers, because readers would buy their camera and never come back,” he admits. The answer? A new blog that serviced Rowse’s snap-happy audience, long term: Digital-Photography-School. With a heaving 4.5 million unique visitors per month – and 600,000 at his other blog, ProBlogger – Rowse earns a plump six-figure salary. The advertising sales alone bought Rowse his family home. “I never expected to blog for more than three months," he says. “When I started I didn’t even know how to make text bold.”
3. Social media, according to Rowse, is crucial for boosting readership and attracting cashed-up advertisers. But there’s no point Instagramming if most of your readers are Pinterest-ed. “We survey readers to analyse where they’re gathering online,” says Rowse. “Are they on Twitter? Are they on Facebook? It gives us a sense of where we should be ‘hanging out’ and developing a presence.” Nikki Parkinson, founder of fashion blog Styling You, admits, “I wouldn’t even have a readership without social media.” The former journalist’s tips and tricks draw 66,000 unique users per month, and she’s amassed more than 10,900 ‘likes’ on Facebook and 9500 Twitter followers. “My agent can sell advertising because of those numbers.”
Parkinson’s blog started as a side dish to her styling business, but made her so much cash – three times what she earned as a senior journalist – that she stopped doing one-on-one styling about two years ago. “The blog was the best accidental business decision I ever made.”
Make money from your blog
SELL ADVERTISING SPACE
Think banner ads and pop-ups. You can sell directly to brands, or through an advertising network such as Google Adsense or Nuffnang, where a team of salespeople do the work for you. It’s free to join, there’s no minimum number of unique viewers, and you earn between 50 and 85 per cent of the ad sales. In 10 years, Darren Rowse earned “well over $1 million” through Adsense. Do your homework first, warns Lorraine Elliot, blogger at Not Quite Nigella. “There are lots of networks that pay bloggers little to nothing but pocket the lion's share simply because some bloggers don't know how much they should be paid,” she says.
GET WITH THE AFFILIATE PROGRAM
Each time a user clicks on a product advertised or endorsed on your blog and buys that product, you score a small commission. “You earn between four to seven per cent,” says Rowse. “It’s not a lot if you’re recommending, say, books, but if you’re recommending cameras or designer shoes, it adds up.”
PEN SPONSORED POSTS
Brands will pay you to write blog posts that look like blog posts but aren’t blog posts. They’re ads. Nikki Parkinson makes 65 per cent of her income this way. Be sure to disclose that you’ve published a sponsored post.
Be easier to find on search engines with these tips
Think about the specific words users would type into a search engine to find your content and includes those keywords in any post. But be specific. Use the word ‘beauty’ and you’ll be competing with every big and small beauty brand in the world.
Search for your blog on different browsers, such as Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Different browsers detect your site differently, so tweak your content until it ranks well on the most popular browsers.
Google can ban bloggers from their index for “illicit” behaviour like spamming or loading your pages with irrelevant keywords. Follow the guidelines at support.google.com/webmasters.