In previous instalments of this series (1, 2, 3) we’ve talked about the technicalities of setting up a blog. This month we talk about the most important part: making money. In the lingo used online, this is called monetising.
To be blunt, it’s a complicated area that fetishizes terminology, acronyms and abbreviations. It’s frequently an incestuous end within itself, and there are people who make a living blogging about making money by blogging!
I don’t mind admitting that much of it is impenetrable, and can be a bottomless hole beyond the essentials. This instalment of Technophobia should be considered little more than a wave in the general direction of where you need to be, rather than a specific route plan. Googling will, of course, fill in the holes – or pull you deeper into them.
Money, money, money
But let’s first talk about money, and its annoyances when earning online.
If the Internet has a currency then it’s US dollars. It’s how advertisers will pay you. Combined with the fact that most bloggers are US citizens, the effective earning potential online is therefore linked to the cost of living in that country.
This matters. If a blogger in Idaho earns $60 from a blog posting then that might cover the cost of her weekly groceries. She might be happy with that, so will have no urge to refuse advertising and thereby push-up the payment rate. When her British counterpart in Ipswich earns that and converts it into pounds sterling, he’ll find buying a week’s shopping on all of £40 is a challenge. His bank will eat a chunk of that £40 through currency conversion fees, too.
Opening a US currency bank account lets you ride the exchange rate and withdraw only when it’s favourable. Most high-street banks offer them but, sadly, you’ll probably lose any gains because of the monthly charges.
Although PayPal claims not to charge fees for converting between currencies, its poor exchange rate compared to the market rate is a fee of around 3-4% in disguise. Nonetheless PayPal remains the simplest solution for accepting payment from sources outside the UK if only because it provides instant access to the money (notably, a cheque in your name from a US bank – or “check” in American lingo – can take months to clear).
PayPal lets you add separate balances for differing currencies (see https://goo.gl/TebFl2) so you can again keep your dollars safe and separate, then transfer them to your main bank account only when the conversion rate is opportune.
The fundamental and most popular type of monetising online is banner advertising. You’ll recognise these because they’re everywhere. They stretch across the top of websites, or fit in the left hand and/or right hand gutters alongside the content. Often they’re animated images, while other times they’re plain text. Some are video files that start playing automatically.
Banner ad sizes are standardised and measured in pixels – 300×300 square, for example, or 728×90. See http://goo.gl/gWS6yG for a list. It’s likely the template you’re using for your blog is designed to accommodate them.
You receive a fraction of cent each time the advert is shown, expressed as cost per mille, or CPM. Mille here is shorthand for thousand, so CPM is how much you get paid per thousand showings of the advert to your visitors.
CPM rates vary depending on the nature of the adverts are being shown, and this will be decided upon by automated analysis of the content of your blog. If you blog about cars then your viewers will see adverts from BMW and Honda, for example.
Some interest areas are more lucrative than others. A quick Google suggests the average CPM in 2015 was $2.80. Speaking personally, I struggle on my technology blogs to get a CPM above $1.60. Advertising is a marketplace and if there are a lot of blogs for ads to be spread across then the rate paid to each blogger sinks.
If a reader actually clicks on the banner then you get paid a bonus, and this is measured as a cost per click, or CPC. This is more lucrative, although it should be: how many times have you ever clicked a banner advert? Exactly. A quick glance at one of my blogs shows CPC rates for February of this year ranging from $0.06 (i.e. 6 cents) up to a whopping $1.38. The number of people who click an ad compared to those who merely view them is called the click through rate, or CTR. Sometimes this is referred to as the conversion rate because you’re converting the viewer into a customer for the advertiser.
Oh, and if any of your readers use ad-blocking software then you get not a cent because the ad won’t be shown. Just as piracy killed music in the 1980s, ad-blocking is killing blogging!
Google makes sense
There are many ad banner companies, with new ones popping-up (and disappearing) almost overnight. But by a considerable distance the most widely-used is Google AdSense: www.google.com/adsense.
To make things that little more complicated, AdSense refers to CPM as revenue per mille, or RPM. It’s the same thing, though.
Google is relatively unfussy about who signs-up to AdSense, although they will check your site to make sure it’s genuine and not filled with nonsense to trick people into viewing adverts.
With CPC/RPM in mind you might be tempted to load your blog with banner adverts in every available inch. Google is way ahead of you. Put any more than three on there and Google considers it bad practice, and may ban you from the scheme. Most people put ad advert at the top, and one at the bottom, and one in the middle!
While we’re on the subject, don’t go clicking any adverts on your own site to earn that lovely click through money. Google watches for that. Even an accidental click has the potential to get you banned. Don’t post messages asking your visitors to click on the banner ads. That’s also against the rules. All you can do is show the ads and otherwise pretend they don’t exist.
To get an ad onto your blog, regardless of the ad provider, you’ll need to start by creating an ad at their website. This will involve choosing the size of ad you want, which will be defined by where it will appear in your site’s template, and assigning the ad a channel, by which you can keep an eye on its performance. The site will then give you a chunk of HTML code that you simply insert into your blog where you want the ad to appear. They take care of the rest, and there are no further files to download. WordPress plugins like Easy Plugin for Adsense (https://goo.gl/x9v4xe) can help automate the procedure of positioning ads, but you’ll still need to provide it with that chunk of HTML code.
Advertising isn’t the only way of monetising your blog. Many online retailers offer affiliate schemes whereby you can sell their goods on your site and receive a cut of the retail price – typically around 5%.
How it works is pretty simple. You sign-up as an affiliate member and use a special page on the website to find products. You’re then given a unique web link for the product that you place on your website, either identifying it as an affiliate link, or just using it within your writing because it’s relevant to what you’re discussing.
Because the link is unique, the retailer knows that customers who click it have come from your site and that you’re therefore due a cut of any purchases made. Note the phrasing there – you don’t just get a cut of that one product you linked to, should it be bought. Because you drove the customer to the retailer, you get a cut of any and all their purchases made there and then. Not only that but some affiliate schemes remember the customer for up to 30 days and will give you a cut of anything the customer buys during that time.
You might’ve noticed in every day life that people aren’t stupid and don’t part with cash easily. Affiliate schemes only really work when you tie-in a product that’s extremely relevant, and ideally very good value. Indeed, getting your readers to buy without thinking too much is perhaps a key blogger skill! Product review postings are an obvious way forward.
The granddaddy of affiliate schemes is Amazon Associates (https://goo.gl/Du17XO), which offers fees from 1% up to 10%, depending on the item. Like Google AdWords they’re unfussy about who joins-up, but there are other schemes out there. Get used to checking any retailer you visit to see if they have a scheme, although as usual they’re nearly all US-based. Notably Amazon Associates has both US and UK schemes.