How do blogs make money? Or, rather, how do you make money by blogging?
More people make money online, today, than ever before. Every day new sites go online that offer new goods and services to an increasingly digital-dependent world. Sellers like Amazon and AliBaba dominate the marketplace and offer every good under the sun. Major brick-and-mortar brands build websites to inform and connect customers with their services and their corporate identity. Even freelancers collaborate on personal and work sites to sell their individual skills.
But how does blogging make money?
Before we address how blogs can help generate income, let's define blogging.
What is a blog?
A blog is an online collection of articles, often used as a journal or news stream, either by an individual or group of individuals, to discuss an overall topic to an online audience.
Many blogs began as mere online journals where people shared their personal experiences in a diary-style format, writing out in article form and often posting accompanying photos and videos.
Boiled down, however, a blog is "a collection of knowledge."
A user who generates a blog as a diary will discuss their own life as a primary topic. For infamous characters like Kim Kardashian, this can generate a rather large audience. Most bloggers, however, don't gather large audiences by talking (solely) about themselves.
Successful blogs -- in terms of drawing audiences -- revolve around a single overarching topic or theme. Blogs exist about the art of making medieval chain mail and how to use ancient techniques to make modern jewelry and attire, online digital security, painting styles from around the world, Civil War history, how to budget effectively, training exotic house pets and so much more. The list is endless because the human mind and the things which interest it are endless.
What makes the blog successful is how well it covers a given topic. For example, a blog on medieval chain mail might have numerous articles discussing each type of chain ail found across cultures and periods of history, how it evolved, the metallurgy behind ancient and modern chain mail, how to make chain mail, other chain mail websites and dealers, chain mail enthusiast events and communities, and more. The more a blog consistently discusses the topic in clear language, the more it proves to the internet the quality of its content and, thus, the blogger's expertise in its given subject.
But how does the mere presence of good information draw people on the huge, endless internet? This is where search engines come in.
How do websites get ranked on Google?
Internet search engines are in one business: validating the quality of information on websites. How trustworthy is a website in its give topic? Aside from entities like Wikipedia or Britannica, no website attempts to talk about "everything." Websites specialize in data, ranging from just the goods and services of a small store down the road to an informational resource on flying tiny aircraft to remote airstrips around the globe.
Search engines like Google, Bing and, yes, even throwbacks like AltaVista and Dogpile, perform web crawling. Unlike your friendly neighborhood SpiderMan, web crawling is a regular scan of all websites across the internet to validate their information before ranking its content quality. In the beginning of the world wide web in the mid to late 90's, that was performed by looking for similar keywords on a website.
How often did "chain mail" appear on www.chainmailmama.com? The web crawler would rank up that site as the expert on chain mail when terms like "chain mail," "chainmail" and "ancient armor" appeared regularly. In an ideal world, this might indicate how much a site discusses chain mail and prove its a resource worth visiting. Soon, however, smart web developers would overload their website's code with these keywords to drive up the supposed "trustworthiness" of their websites. Websites would rise to higher positions on search engine results but not actually have better content.
Search engines have struggled ever since to build web crawlers that were smarter about what made website content "trustworthy." Today, web crawlers search websites with complex algorithms that analyze the actual language and grammar of content, the broadness of content coverage, how photos are used and tagged, the cleanliness of the code -- which indicates the professionalism of its developers and, thus, how seriously content creators (like you) take the site and the content therein, and more.
How do I make my blog (or other website) rank higher on Google?
Known as Search Engine Optimization, SEO is the practice of optimizing your website for web crawlers to validate your expertise in your given topic. SEO, however, changes regularly, as web crawlers fight to get smarter about what really makes your content superior for given search terms. We will not address how to do that here, but users can research and learn how to perform SEO, themselves, or hire agencies to do it for them on their websites.
What does all this have to do with making money on a blog?
Use your blog to built trust to your expertise
A blog is about a specific topic. People who search for a topic are looking for experts or communities of experts so they can learn and grow about that given topic. People who search "chain mail" are looking for a website that can teach them the most about chain mail, whether the content is about how to make it themselves, how to buy it from others, or its history for their school report. Even people who search for "Burger King" are looking for the experts at a specific restaurant called "Burger King" so they can find out how to get the topic "Burger King" is best at: the Whopper, Whopper Jr., etc.
Blogs are a well of knowledge. When generated properly, that well of knowledge produces a high-quality SEO footprint, which proves the "trustworthiness" of its content to web crawlers like Google and Bing and, thus, draws more users to your site.
What you do with that audience, however, determines how you make money.
Generate money through connecting an audience to your goods and services
Bloggers make money by connecting interested users to content-related goods and services. A user who employs a search engine like Google to find websites about chain mail might arrive at chainmailmama.com, a blog about chain mail, read the content and discover a few things the website offers for a fee, such as:
- Chain mail products available for purchase and shipping
- Chain mail do-it-yourself training videos
- Personal coaching on chain mail crafting by experts either in-person or remotely via Skype
- Affiliate links to other chain mail experts and their offerings, of which the blogger earns a small portion if the user clicks the link AND buys from that other expert
Technically speaking, the blog doesn't make any money -- the blog validates the blogger's expertise to potential customers. The blogger can then connect users with something more convenient than the free knowledge of blog content by offering products that can improve a user's life, hobby or other interest.
The blogger's job is to prove themselves a subject matter expert by building a great well of knowledge and, ideally, a community of regular users interested in that subject.
Get Your Blog Started
If you want to blog but don't know how to start, read my article How to Start a Blog about Your Passion. If you're unsure if you'd like to blog, read Passion is Why You Should Start and Maintain a Blog.