How to Monetize Your Blog

One of my favorite blogging idea starters is to take audience questions you’ve received from speaking engagements and answer them with a post (feel free to steal this — I’m sure I stole it from somewhere). In going though my speaking notes, a question that’s come up many times is “how do you monetize your blog?” This is a great question that I have a somewhat shocking answer for. 

I don’t make any money off of this blog. There’s not a shopping cart here or anything for you to buy. Does that mean I’ve not monetized this content? Not at all. It simply means that this holy grail of blog monetization is something much more complex than a quick ding of the cash register with each post.

Let’s take a look at the various models and methods you can use to derive some monetary value from your blog.

Setting the Stage

First, let me make it clear that there are many different types of bloggers, from hobbyists to entrepreneurs and corporate bloggers. As the focus of this blog is on building better brands online, let’s assume that our brand-building activities are focused on making a buck or two in some capacity. This is nothing against hobbyist bloggers, but monetization is simply not a question they need answered as readily as ROI-hungry small businesses and corporate marketing types.

Direct vs. In-Direct Monetization

Many assume that new money will come in directly from the blog itself. In some cases, if you have something that can be sold on-site — products, online trainings, eBooks — then direct sales from your blog are something you could see. What’s more likely, especially in the B2B space, is that your company blog can drive in-direct sales.

Case in point, earlier I noted that I don’t make money off of this blog. That’s not to say this blog doesn’t lead to money for our business. Rather, the money made from this content comes in the form of in-direct sales for items we promote here via ads in the sidebar. Events such as our Social Strategy Boot Camp and other services that we link to but aren’t actually on-site.

Our number one source of registrations from last fall’s Social Brand Forum was this blog. People consumed content here and bought something else from us off-site. Without the blog, our event registrations would’ve been a fraction of what they were.

Lead Generation

Like many in the professional services space, we also offer consulting, coaching, and creative services. These are anything but tangible much less something you can toss in an online shopping cart and check-out. That’s where in-direct sales become a larger part of an inbound marketing strategy and lead generation process. Your blog represents that rich, expert content that pulls prospects toward you through marketing gravity. From here, if you carefully articulate your process, they can enter your sales funnel and become a lead.

Inbound marketing solutions provider Hubspot notes in their State of Inbound Marketing Report that 57% of companies blogging are reporting that they acquired customers from leads generated directly from their blog and 85% rate their blog as useful and valuable to business. That’s a pretty overwhelming sales endorsement for a channel.

Sponsorships & Ads

What about other forms of direct sales? There are any number of paid ad spaces you can sell to the highest bidder but even this demands a strategy. While you could allow some harmless AdSense promos on your blog, some (including me) would argue that this could diminish your blog’s brand as well as your own positioning as an expert. Instead, consider an approach like Social Media Explorer. Before their list of sidebar ads they carry a simple line of copy — Curated for relevance and quality. See that? It’s not just an ad. It’s a curated recommendation tailored to your needs from an expert in the field.

Instead of cheap ads and random affiliate pitches for anyone, why not target key industry partners who might be looking to get in front of your audience or a targeted segment of it? Not only is this a better fit for your viewers, it also allows you to command a premium fee for the ad space.

Top Line vs. Bottom Line

Another monetization angle centers around the top line/bottom line dynamic. If your company’s blog isn’t adding heaps of money to the top line of your revenue statement, is it saving you money? By and large the act of blogging — outside of initial development and the employee time investment — is pretty cost effective when compared with other forms of media used to get in touch with the masses. Does blogging allow you to reduce your spend on other channels, thus enhancing your bottom line?

Longer Tails for Bigger Stories

At the end of the day, as Chris Brogan notes in The Impact Equation we are really building something bigger online — platform. Blogs aren’t merely lead generation tools, they’re your very own channel. Something you control that you can create all of the content for. It’s your voice and it can be very big and impactful.

Wait — what’s this “everyone’s a publisher” talk have to do with making money from my blog?! It has to do with setting a realistic expectation. For nearly decades now the false assumption has run rampant that the digital channel, whether through e-commerce or social media marketing, was a magical money-printing machine waiting for you to start it up. When many launched sites and blogs they cried foul when they weren’t Jeff Bezos or Robert Scoble in a few weeks, months, or even years. It’s all about expectations.

Again, some businesses are simple and transactional, making immediate sales from blog content a breeze. However, in complex industries — especially those that are service based — we need to understand that much of our blog content is indirectly or directly feeding the top of the funnel rather than processing the sale at the bottom of it, impacting the top and/or bottom line of your business along the way.

How Do You Monetize Your Blog?

That’s my take on the crazy yet often-inquired-about topic of blog monetization. What’s yours? How does your blog impact your top or bottom line?

Photo via Flickr user Tracy O