There are many guides on how to make money by blogging, but here is the difference:
I do three different blogs worth over $1 million a year. In fact, the blog you’re reading has made a total of $6.7 million.
And in this post, I’ll give you a step-by-step case study that shows you exactly how I did this starting from scratch and my step-by-step guide for beginners trying to get started.
7 Ways to Make Money Blogging
Online Courses and Workshops
Books and Ebooks
Selling Freelance Services
In a moment, I’m going to show you a general framework you can follow to start a profitable blog from scratch.
But first, let’s get into the details of how you can make real money blogging, including real-world examples to work and learn.
1. Online Courses and Workshops
At Smart Blogger, we generate most of our revenue from online courses and workshops — over $1 million a year — but we’re far from the only successful blog doing so. Most people who make a lot of money from their blogs do it through online courses.
Ramit Sethi reportedly generates over $10 million in annual revenue from his premium courses:
Online courses and workshops can bring in one-time payments or, depending on your model, recurring income via subscriptions.
2. Books and Ebooks
Many authors have turned their blogging success into a major publishing deal. For example, Mark Manson published a blog post in 2015 titled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Later, millions of readers struck a book deal with Harper Collins, selling over 3,000,000 copies in the US alone.
Self-published books were also successful. Perhaps the most notable success story among bloggers is James Altucher’s Select Yourself, which has now sold over 500,000 copies:
3. Affiliate Marketing
If you want to generate passive income streams from your blog, one of the best ways is affiliate marketing – recommending other companies’ services, digital products and physical products for commission.
At Smart Blogger, we make over $100,000 a year promoting affiliate products. Much of this comes from haphazardly recommending products we love, like SiteGround (affiliate link) and Elementor (affiliate link).
Editor’s Note: Read our in-depth review of SiteGround here: SiteGround Review: Still the Best (or Not So Good) in 2023? And for an in-depth review of Elementor, read: Elementor Review: Is It REALLY The Best Landing Page Builder?
But there are many other examples as well. For example, John Lee Dumas of EOFire generated $710,835 in affiliate revenue last year. The School of Digital Photography reportedly earned over $500,000 in commissions by promoting photography equipment as an Amazon Partner:
Typically, we’re not a big fan of selling ads on your site as a monetization strategy. For the major ad networks to take you seriously, you need about a million visitors a year, and affiliate marketing is almost always more profitable and just as passive.
However, some niches like recipes, fashion, and news are difficult to monetize using many of the other methods mentioned here and get LOTS of page views. In this case, it can make sense to place some advertising banners on your website as an additional source of income.
5. Speaking Appearances
If your blog thrives and you are recognized as an authority in your field, you might be surprised at the number of invitations to speak at conferences you receive. And it’s amazingly profitable. I typically make at least $10,000 per speech, and it can go up to $100,000 if you count the product sales that result from the speech.
Not bad for a 60-90 minute conversation.
While it certainly isn’t for everyone, a little coaching or consulting is an online business that can earn you a surprising amount of money, even if your target audience is small. I rarely consult anymore, but the last time I did it regularly, I was getting $1,000 an hour and a six-month waiting list.
But it’s not just me. Back to Maria, she’s pretty innovative in developing ways to provide design consulting via photography and email, and currently charges $1,275 per room:
7. Selling Freelance Services
The next step in counseling is actually doing this for them.
Usually, freelancing makes more money than anything else, but it’s also the most tiring and time-consuming. However, I’ve seen bloggers generate six-figure sales without having more than a few thousand readers on their blogs, and essentially use their blogs as a lead mechanism to acquire customers.
It’s very profitable even if successful bloggers keep doing it. For example, Elna Cain continues to sell her freelance writing services:
If you’re a freelance writer, designer, photographer, programmer, or any other service provider where your skills can be sold digitally without you needing to be there in person, consider this revenue stream from day one. All you really need to get started is a contact form for customers to get in touch with you.
Ok, now for the fun part. Let me show you the framework I use to become a true millionaire…
1. Choose the Right Blogging Niche (a Profitable One)
Let’s start with a brutal truth, shall we?
Passion is not synonymous with profit.
There is no expertise.
Hard work doesn’t guarantee anything either.
You can be the world’s leading expert on the square tomato, wake up every morning with great passion and get the public talking about the superiority of the tomato over the regular tomato, and work until your fingers bleed and your eyes go blind. Follow the right tactics to get the word out about your new blog and…
You will never get a chance to win any amount of money in hell.
No one cares about square tomatoes but you
They don't spend money, even if it is important to them
In other words, you need a large audience who will buy things. Without them, nothing else matters. It's a requirement for everything else.
When it came to smart bloggers, I noticed early on that bloggers buy a lot of different things:
The only problem?
Many competitors. Whether it’s my previous employers Brian Clark or Neil Patel, my good friends at Problogger, or the swarm of other “bloggers” populating the social media space, everyone was determined to get a slice of the pie. They also started a few years ahead of me.
2. Improve Your Content Skills
If that’s hard to understand, think of it like this:
Many bloggers sit down and ask, “What am I going to write today?” They jot down some thoughts and do their best to be helpful, original, and entertaining. If disciplined, they can last for several months.
But it almost never works. Here are some reasons:
No, grasshopper. NO.
The truth is that having good ideas and strong words is not enough. You should create the best content ever published on blog topics that many people want to learn more about. This brings us to three levels of content creation:
You know what blog content is popular in your niche and you only write about those topics
You master frameworks that are proven to make your content more popular (listing posts, how to post, etc.)
Your content provides more value to the reader than any other post on the subject.
You’re probably thinking, “God. sounds tough. And you are right,
Personally, I spent about three years honing my skills by writing for other websites before starting my own blog. It doesn’t need to take that long – I’m just a perfectionist, so I wanted to learn from the best people in my field.
Nevertheless it worked. Today, my posts get millions of views, not because I know any particular “secret,” but because I’m really good at what I do.
Blogging really is like nothing else. The more problematic you are, the easier it is for you to make money online.
So you want to know how to make money blogging?
Become a great writer.
3. Choose a Traffic Source (Google Search or Facebook)
Getting traffic is confusing if you’re a beginner.
Should you focus on optimizing your keywords? Are you growing your Facebook page? Leave comments on blogs? Want to answer questions on Quora? Be active in Facebook groups? Do you create videos for your YouTube channel? Starting a popular podcast?
There are tons of traffic tactics. Everyone says theirs is the best.
But here is the data:
Almost all traffic to written content comes from either Google or Facebook. The rest of the traffic sources combined can’t even remotely compete with these two goliaths.
So how do you get them to send you tons of traffic?
One possibility is that you can pay for it. They liked it.
But you’re probably reading about how to make money blogging because you don’t want to pay for the traffic. You want it for free, right?
Well, imagine this:
There is an arena where all bloggers in your field compete for traffic. The number of other competitors you beat determines the amount of traffic you get.
In other words, getting traffic is a sport.
There are winners, there are losers
You have to train to be good
You should examine your competitors
There are actually two sports, and I bet you’ve heard of both: search engine optimization (SEO) and going viral on Facebook. Both take years to master (yes, I said years), but after just a few months of work and practice, you can start getting some pretty good traffic.
Which should you focus on?
Well, here are two questions to guide you:
Is your topic something your friends and family talk about regularly on Facebook? Examples: pets, parenting, personal growth and health. If so, focus on the viral traffic sport.
Is your topic something people are actively searching on Google for information about? Examples: product reviews, specific questions to ask an expert, how-to information. If so, focus on SEO.
For most problems you can do both, but one or the other will dominate. In this case, focus on the dominant factor.
For example, in the blogosphere, things about writing and grammar occasionally go viral on Facebook, as we like to criticize our relatives for their lousy English. On the other hand, you rarely talk to your family about blogging platforms, WordPress plugins, affiliate marketing, digital marketing, keyword research, or any other blog topic.
The truth is that we pretty much ignore Facebook. The traffic volume available there cannot come close to the traffic volume of search engines. That’s why we focus on Google.
Also, I spend WAY more time updating on SEO topics than I do on social topics. I’m a geek at this. Put me in a room full of Google engineers, I probably know more than half of them.
But that doesn’t mean I’m the best. I also compete against the likes of Darren Rowse, Amy Lynn Andrews and Neil Patel. They’re pretty good too.
I think I can get better with time, but who knows? That’s why sports are fun. You never know who will win.
However, if you’re good, you’ll always be in the “playoffs” for your domain and get a lot of traffic. Maybe not the most, but still plenty.
4. Grow Your Email List with Pop Ups
They are disturbing while reading. You will be asked to provide sensitive information such as your name, email address and phone number. Sometimes you have to deal with multiple pop-ups on the same website, which leaves you feeling uncomfortable and unappreciated.
And they all suck. I think you are right to be upset.
But the thing is…
The money comes from there. The best indicator of revenue for a monetized blog is the size of its email list. Here’s a breakdown of our earnings on Smart Blogger by earnings from email and other sources.
As a general rule, you can expect to earn $1 per subscriber per month. So if you have 10,000 email subscribers, you should be able to earn around $10,000 per month.
So, of course, growing your email list is a top priority. However, you may have concerns about using popups. What should you do
Here is another perspective:
If a visitor visits your website and doesn’t give you their email address, the chances of them coming back are almost nil. You will never have the opportunity to help them again.
If you think your content is the best and you can help them over time, I think you owe it to them to be as persistent as possible to stay in touch. In other words, not using popups is unethical. A minor annoyance is a small price to pay for change.
And remember, that doesn’t mean you have to be overly persistent or spammy. You can use popups in an absolutely authentic way.
But you should definitely use it. Assuming you still want to make money
5. Begin Monetizing with Affiliate Programs
So you operate in a profitable niche and you have traffic and an email list. What’s next?
Many new bloggers start building an online course, book, or some kind of community, but I think that’s a mistake. Before you start selling things, you need concrete proof that people want to buy those things. Otherwise, you risk wasting months or even years of your life pushing for a product nobody wants.
The easiest way to get this proof is:
By seeing what your target audience is buying from other people, you can get a much better idea of what they might want to buy from you. If you are promoting an affiliate product and it is getting good conversions, you should consider developing a similar product. If things aren’t going well, you should probably move on.
In other words, affiliate program offerings are a form of market research. As a bonus, you get a commission on the products your customers buy through it. This not only tells you what your audience wants to buy, but also monetizes your blog. Pretty sweet deal.
I tried many different offers on Smart Blogger. WordPress blog hosting, landing page tools, email marketing software, links to Amazon affiliate content, WordPress themes, and half a dozen different types of quality courses. Because we sell courses, I pay close attention to the results of those programs, and here are some lessons:
End-to-end solutions sell best. Courses that promised to go from not knowing to making money far outperformed the others. For example, here’s a screenshot from Danny Iny’s Course Builder Lab showing that we’re the #1 member.