Is trying to make money blogging still worth it in 2021? And can a blog really generate a significant amount of revenue, or is it a whole lot of work for very little reward?
In this post I’ll break down the top ways you can monetize a blog in 2021, use it to build your reputation, and promote other parts of your expertise-based business – like selling online courses.
Let’s start with what is usually the clearest and fastest opportunity for generating income from a blog: affiliate marketing.
With affiliate marketing, you highlight and link to products that are likely to be of value to your audience. Then, if someone clicks your link and ends up buying the product, you earn a commission.
For expertise-based businesses, this is a natural fit. As someone who is an expert in your topic, field, or industry, you are almost certainly aware of products and services that could be of benefit to your readers. Readers, on the other hand, may be unaware of the options or may overwhelmed with the number of options. You are in a great position to “curate” the choices and help your readers make informed decisions.
To identify products that may work, the first thing to do is to make a list of all of the products you most value or feel your clients will value. Focus on products that really align tightly with your area of expertise. So, if you are focused on spiritual healing, for example, selling Web hosting as an affiliate is most likely not going to work all that well for you.
Next, find out if an affiliate program is available for any of these products. This information may be readily available on the company’s Web site (often “Affiliate Program” or something similar can be found in the footer area of the Web site). If not, try searching on “Company Name Affiliate Program.” In some cases, companies will not make their affiliate programs highly visible because they want to attract only affiliates who are serious about marketing their products and will make an effort to find the program. In other cases, they may rely on a third-party, like an affiliate network, to handle their affiliate program. Searching will usually show whether a program exist and where you need to go to apply for access.
Another route is to go directly to one or more of the networks that specializes in affiliate sales. Amazon Associates is an obvious first stop – especially for physical products or books – but there are other major networks available, including:
Networks are great because they typically have a very low bar to entry, and you can promote almost any product or service.
While you may only make a small amount per sale – as little as 1 to 3 percent for most physical products – digital products and services can bring commissions ranging anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. You don’t have to do much math to realize that even a relatively low traffic blog can generate a decent amount of revenue if you feature the rights products for your audience.
My bias is for higher priced products that pay at least a 15 percent commission, but your options will depend on the nature of your market. I also really like subscription products that pay out a commission over a year or more of the subscription. These create a continuing income stream which can help smooth out your overall revenue. Above all, go for quality and relevance rather than quantity.
In general, bloggers like affiliate marketing because it’s unobtrusive for readers and easy to implement on a website. You can include affiliate links for any products or services that you mention on your post, or host affiliate ads relevant to your blog audience. I’ll mention, too, that this is the primary revenue source for Learning Revolution, so we know from first-hand experience that it can work very well.
Who is affiliate marketing for? Affiliate marketing can generate revenue for blogs of all sizes, from startup to large, established sites. The key is to find the right products for your audience – ones that will create high value for your readers and that result in a good commission for you.
What kind of revenue does affiliate marketing generate? It can range from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per month. The main variables are:
- The amount of traffic you attract to your site
- The fit between the affiliate products you feature and your audience (which directly impacts click-through and purchase rates)
- The price point of the products you feature
- The commission percentage you earn on the sale of a product
All of those are variables that you can at least influence, if not control, by the choices you make about products and the efforts you put into growing your audience. In other words, the sky is really the limit when it comes to what you can do with affiliate marketing.
Another option to make money from blogging is to enroll your website into an ad network. This involves creating spaces for display ads on your site and using a code that enables ad providers to fill those spaces. You are then paid per thousand views, or per ad click, depending on the network. Top ad networks include WordAds (through WordPress) and Google AdSense.
The main downside of ad networks is that they usually require minimum traffic levels to consider a website for membership. (And, really,, you won’t make any significant money from ads until you have strong traffic.) As your site gains in popularity (1+ million views per month), some premium networks will offer better returns for ad space.
For new and untested sites, expect to earn per click, not per view. Google AdSense includes a revenue estimating calculator, but that starts at 50,000 page views per month. Hosts are paid 51-68 percent of the price publishers pay per click (PPC), but that price can vary wildly, from $0.20 to $15 or more, depending on competition within that niche. Ultimately you can earn a lot of money from PPC display ads, providing you have a popular website and your blog viewers are engaged with the content and actually click on the ads you display.
PPM, the price per 1000 impressions, is typically considered the preferred model for ad hosts, because they don’t have to incentivize visitors to do anything other than visit their website in order to earn money. Unsurprisingly, this form of revenue is typically only available to top-performing sites with a track record of producing sales.
The other figure you might see in relation to display ads is RPM, the estimated revenue per 1000 visitors. For AdSense, that’s typically around $1-$2, although if you’re in a competitive niche you could earn more.
Who are ad networks for? Almost any site can join an ad network and start earning revenue, making this an easy entry-level way to monetize your blog.
What kind of revenue do display ads generate? Small websites have to work harder to earn revenue from display ads, because they are almost always paid on a CPC basis. (This is a reason that affiliate marketing is nearly always a better choice for smaller blogs.) Popular and established sites can earn money on a PPM basis and see their profits soar.
Rather than relying on third-party ad networks to see space on your site on your behalf, you can earn more money by approaching relevant businesses directly. Local colleges, equipment stores, and private companies can all be persuaded to purchase ad space on your site if you can demonstrate the value to them. For example, if you teach a photography course, you could approach independent equipment retailers or print shops.
Also consider demographic overlaps between your visitors and the target audiences of other businesses. If your learners fall in the 18-24 demographic, for example, a nearby skate park or ice rink could be persuaded to advertise on your site, even if your subject has nothing to do with sports and leisure. Just remember to consider how appropriate the ad will be on your site.
When it comes to figuring out a price to charge for ad space, size, location, and visitors will be your key metrics. The Google AdSense heatmap (below) provides a nice visual of the best places to host ads, based on how people view websites. Sites like Hotjar also offer heatmap tools you can use on your own website to better understand how viewers look at your content.
As a rule of thumb, the “hotter” an area is, the more you should charge for an ad in that location. Start with a base rate of a tenth of your page views. For example if you have 1000 visitors per month, charge $100 for a 1-month ad placement. Then increase that rate based on the size and location of the ad on your website. A banner ad at the top might be 2x your base rate, and a center ad, 4x your base rate. Experiment with your pricing to maximize your returns.
Who is selling web space for? Anyone can sell ads on their website, although the better your site performs, the more supporting metrics you’ll have to show that your price is worth paying. Your personal brand can also be a significant factor – businesses are very interested in working with people who have a reputation and clear influence in the markets they target. You can’t be shy about promoting your ad space either, be prepared to call up businesses or approach marketing directors.
What kind of revenue does selling web space generate? The total revenue will depend on the number of ads you display, the price you charge, and how frequently you’re able to fill up your space. However, selling space on your website directly to other businesses pays far more than most small sites make from ad display networks.
If you don’t want to sell ad space on your website but still aim to make money blogging, you can create sponsored posts instead. Many businesses will sponsor bloggers to review their products or write an informative post with their brand name attached. Sponsorship can take a variety of forms, from businesses sending you products to use and review, to fixed-sum payments for each post published.
You can search for sponsorship opportunities yourself by pitching relevant businesses with post and collaboration ideas, or you can attract inbound enquiries by hosting a sponsorship page and press kit on your website. How much you charge is up to you but consider the value of your website, your network social, and your personal brand as well as the time spent creating and publishing the post.
The absolute minimum rate for a sponsored post is around $50 if you want to be paid in cash instead of products, but unless the sponsoring company is providing the post content, aim to charge significantly more. Your time is valuable – and so are you! Sponsored blog posts are a form of influencer marketing, so emphasize your network when selling post space.
Who can sell sponsored posts? Anyone can pitch a sponsored post. Even if your website doesn’t get many visitors, some companies will sponsor posts in order to build backlinks and capitalize on a network of “micro influencers” to help sell their products and services.
What kind of revenue does selling sponsored posts generate? Sponsored posts typically earn more upfront than other kinds of website ads, but beware of how much time you’re putting into them. If you have to spend 2+ hours writing a sponsored post that pays $50, it’s probably not the most cost-effective use of your time.
The next step up from searching for post sponsors is to find a sponsor who will provide the entire revenue for your site. This can be a lucrative form of monetization, but it does come with restrictions. Almost certainly, you won’t be able to promote any other product or service for the duration of the sponsorship, and depending on the terms, the sponsor could end up taking over your brand. As an expertise-based entrepreneur, your business and reputation should be your first consideration, and a site sponsor could override your brand recognition.
Despite these concerns, some bloggers negotiate highly successful site sponsorship deals. Working with the right company can strengthen your brand by association, and sponsorship simplifies the process of monetizing your website.
Who is site sponsorship for? The best sponsorship deals are usually available to established bloggers who already run successful sites. However even large companies will partner with small content creators, so it’s always worth approaching any business you’d like to sponsor your site.
What kind of revenue does a site sponsor generate? Ultimately the deal you strike will depend on the size of the sponsor, the value they see in your website, and the extent of the sponsor’s presence on your website.
Paid guest posts
Getting sponsors to pay for posts on your site isn’t the only way you can monetize blogging. You can also approach other sites about writing content for them, for a fee. Paid guest posts are harder to find than unpaid, but they are available. Traditionally, guest posting is a way of generating backlinks and accessing new audiences, and that quid pro quo is considered payment in kind. However, as a subject matter expert, there are paid opportunities available if you search for them.
Look for businesses in your niche that run a regular blog, or news and magazine sites accepting submissions. Reach out to marketing directors through LinkedIn and pitch your idea for a guest post. Your post needs to add value to the brand you’re writing for, so consider the angle that will best suit their site.
Who is guest posting for? If you can write a post for your website, you can write a guest post. Use a spelling and grammar checker such as Grammarly or Hemingway App to make sure your post is publication-ready. Consider an SEO analyzer such as Yoast as well or follow the publication guidelines from the site you’re pitching.
What kind of revenue does writing guest posts generate? Because there’s benefit to the writer (backlinks!), guest posts tend not to pay more than a nominal free. However, if you pitch the right post to the right company, they can be a lucrative additional revenue stream.
If you are interested in getting paid to blog for others, you may want to check out 10 Great Sites for Finding Blogging Jobs (Even as a Beginner) on SmartBlogger.
Another way to get paid for blogging is to gate the content behind a paywall. There are lots of paywall plugins available for WordPress, or you can use a service such as MemberSpace to restrict access to your posts. Alternatively, consider blogging on a platform such as Medium, or join Patreon. Both sites allow you to limit content visibility to paying members.
In order for a paywall to work, you typically have to have already built up a loyal following of readers who are prepared to pay for continued access to your blog. That makes a Patreon or self-hosted paywall a less viable option for new bloggers.
If you’re just starting out, consider Medium instead. Because Medium is based around a community of paying readers who subscribe to gain access to all the site’s content, you don’t need anybody to pay specifically to read yours. Instead, you get paid based on the time Medium members spend viewing your posts, and how many reactions (“claps”) you generate.
Who is gated content for? Established bloggers are the most likely to succeed with gated content. New bloggers who haven’t yet built an audience will struggle to make paywalls work unless they use a platform such as Medium, which democratizes the process of paying for content.
What kind of revenue does gated content generate? Gated contentcan generate significant revenue for bloggers, even if the cost for individual members is only a few dollars each month. And while most Medium writers make less than $100 per month, the top creators can earn tens of thousands of dollars each month.
If you run a popular blog, chances are your readers enjoy your voice. You can develop your following into a brand identity and create merchandise to generate additional revenue from blogging. Print on demand stores such as Redbubble and CafePress make it incredibly easy for you to create designs and offer them for sale on a wide range of products. And because they’re made with POD technology, there’s nothing to pay upfront.
The most important consideration when designing merch is building your brand. Nobody realistically purchases mugs or T-shirts with the name of a random blogger on them, however interesting they find their posts. (Would you ever wear a Neil Patel or Learning Revolution T-shirt?) To appeal to buyers, your merch must speak to a wider audience that doesn’t know who you are. Blogger Allie Brosh, who writes Hyperbole and a Half, has successfully transitioned from writing (and drawing) on her blog, to creating a wide range of merchandise that has universal appeal.
Instead of using your name or logo on merchandise, you can always use the products or promotional images that you create. If you teach an art class, create merch with your finished paintings. Create funny slogans based on your field, be it data science or teaching a language.
Who is selling merch for? In order for any merch you create to appeal to your readers, you have to have a recognizable brand. That doesn’t mean you need to turn yourself into a celebrity, but be honest about what is likely to sell and what is a waste of time.
What kind of revenue does selling merch generate? Most edupreneurs can make a small amount of additional income from selling merchandise. Some can turn merch into an extremely profitable revenue stream. Think outside the box and test your ideas on friends and family who’ll give you honest feedback about your designs.
If merch isn’t your thing, you can make additional money from your blog by selling digital products instead. Any downloadable or streamable file can be sold through your blog, from ebooks and mp3 audio to podcast episodes and videos. You’ll likely create some or all of these anyway as part of your online teaching business, so offering them for sale directly from you is a logical next step.
The Shopify Digital Downloads app makes selling and distributing digital products a breeze. The Single Music app also allows you to ticket and stream live events, and Thinkifc is one among a range of platforms that will deliver your online courses through ecommerce plugins. Whatever digital products you can create and sell, there is plenty of choice when it comes to ways to distribute your content and collect revenue.
Who is selling digital products for? If you’ve got a blog, you can package digital products and sell them. This is a great way for even small or new bloggers to earn extra cash from their website.
What kind of revenue do digital products generate? As with the other examples of revenue builders, some edupreneurs make very little from digital products, while others make the majority of their income this way. Remember to offer value and to give your readers great reasons to want to purchase additional content.
While ecommerce sites are generally separate entities to the blogs of expertise-based businesses, you can combine your expertise with selling products in order to earn more money. The best way to do this is to find a product or line of products that are relevant to your niche and that you can put your name behind. A music teacher might find a great guitar pick supplier, or if you teach meteorology you could select a particular brand of home weather station.
Once you’ve sourced your product, you can set up a storefront on your website and use drop-shipping to handle sales and delivery. That way you only keep the profits from each sale, without having to worry about holding inventory or handling returns. Services like Oberlo enable you to create a drop-shipping storefront and source suppliers in minutes.
Who is ecommerce for? Anyone can start an ecommerce site. For edupreneurs, partnering with a manufacturer can be a lucrative way to increase your revenue by putting your expertise behind a product in order to sell more units.
What kind of revenue does ecommerce generate? Ecommerce is big business. Typically, expertise-based businesses don’t make the majority of their income from selling products, but partnering with a supplier can create a sizable secondary revenue stream.
Content marketing and cross-promotions
Why do most expertise-based entrepreneurs blog? Primarily, your blog will be a vehicle for promoting your business and improving your organic reach. By making a conscious choice to use your blog for content marketing, you can reduce ad reliance and increase the sales of your courses, books, seminars, and other products.
Following this model, the income your blog generates is measured by increased sales of your online courses or other products, rather than through creating an additional revenue stream. Although it’s a less direct and less certain way of making money through blogging, it can generate the most goodwill among readers, because they don’t feel like they’re being sold to while reading or asked to pay for access to every post.
Who is content market for? Everybody who has a website and does business online should be doing some content marketing. While it might not be the primary driver of your income, it’s the best way to increase your organic reach, boost inbound traffic, and reduce your reliance on paid advertising.
What kind of revenue does content marketing generate? Done well, content marketing will be the driving force behind most of the income your online teaching business generates. That’s because content marketing targets and attracts your ideal learners, and convinces them of your authority and expertise.
Flip your blog
What if your blog really takes off? If you stumble onto a winning formula and enjoy thousands, or even millions of page views each month, then your blog itself is worth money. There’s no shortage of entrepreneurs willing to buy popular blogs, and yours could be worth more than you realize. At minimum, websites are valued at 12x their monthly revenue (a year’s income). If you’ve named your blog after yourself it might be a tougher sell than if it has a high-value domain (JohnSmithBlogs.com is worth less than LearnEnglishOnline.com), but it isn’t a dealbreaker.
While some entrepreneurs make their whole living by building and selling websites, as an online educator that’s probably not part of your business model. However if you want to pivot to a new career or business opportunity, flipping your successful blog is a great exit strategy – and there are entire business, like Empire Flippers – that exist to help you do this.
Who is blog flipping for? Website flipping is its own industry, and entrepreneurs can become highly successful by building and selling popular sites and blogs. Expertise-based entrepreneurs don’t typically sell their blogs — the point of them is to promote their businesses, after all! — but if you’re looking for an exit strategy, or just want to pursue something else, it’s worth considering if your existing blog holds value.
What kind of revenue does selling your blog generate? The value of your blog ultimately depends on the revenue it generates. If you’ve partnered with a drop-shipping business to add a successful ecommerce line to your website, your blog will be worth far more than if it’s only making a modest income through ad networks. However, if you own a high-value domain and your site has the potential to be monetized, even if you haven’t attempted to do so yourself, there’s no reason not to pitch it to an investor if you’re looking to pivot your career.
Make Money Blogging: Final Thoughts
Making money through blogging is possible, and can help expertise-based businesses diversify their income and reduce over-reliance on one particular revenue stream. While most monetization methods won’t make you rich on their own, cumulatively they can make a significant difference to your overall income. And then there’s always the outliers that provide real value at the same level as your other products or services income, or even more.
The best part about making money from your blog is if you’re already writing, you’ve already done the hard part. Including affiliate links or building ad spaces into your site takes very little time, so any income you generate from taking those steps is basically free money. Just beware trying to do everything at once, because your blog should primarily look like a blog, not a billboard.