As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!
     

How I Earn Side Income From (Mostly) Blogging

This article was written by in Best Of, Career and Work. 29 comments.


Subscribe to Consumerism Commentary by adding our RSS feed to your favorite reading software.

As you know I’ve been writing for Consumerism Commentary since 2003. I’ve been blogging, or chronologically updating websites, since 1994 or 1995, at that time running a web server called “Winhttpd” from the computer in my dorm room. My university did not yet offer web server space to students, but every dorm room was wired for cable television and Ethernet. I soon convinced the university to let me use space on the main web server normally reserved for the college’s formative central web site and the few collegiate departments whose department chairs were wise enough to create their own web pages.

I’ve been building online communities before the World Wide Web was wide, since 1991 or so, starting with a local dial-up bulletin board system. It’s only recently that I began earning money from these types of activity, and most of that income is generated by advertising.

A few months ago, I stopped sharing my income reports alongside my net worth reports. There are many reasons I shouldn’t be publicly sharing my specific income numbers, but most importantly, my accountant thought it would be a bad idea. Even when I did publish my income reports, I did so without much detail. I reported my “other income” as one number, grouping together a variety of income sources without drilling down to the specifics.

I receive many questions each month about how I earn money outside of my day job. Without sharing specific numbers, here are the major sources of my “side business” income, including each source’s percentage of the total income. The figures are based on January through April 2010.

Income Source Pct.
Various Affiliates 41.6%
Google AdSense 35.4%
Direct Advertising 15.7%
Miscellaneous 7.3%

Various affiliates

If I write about a product or service on Consumerism Commentary, whether it’s an ING Direct savings account or a movie that can be purchased on Amazon.com, I check to see if the company pays publishers for sending visitors to their website. I’d rather keep readers on Consumerism Commentary, and so would most publications. If you look at major newspapers’ online presences, you’ll see that they rarely link to other websites from within their articles. In most cases, these companies do not pay publishers.

A few companies do, however. Most will only pay a publisher if a visitor completes a certain action, like opening a bank account or buying a DVD. Furthermore, most visitors who click on these links do not take any action. Therefore, very few of these links actually generate income.

I do not write articles based on affiliate relationships, and I’m very careful to avoid as much as possible any outside influence. I always share my opinions, whether good or bad, regardless of affiliate relationship.

Google AdSense

This was the first type of advertising I ran on Consumerism Commentary, beginning in November 2004. It continues to perform satisfactorily, though Google is temperamental. Performance fluctuates significantly, and if Google for some reason decides that this blog deserves a lower “ranking,” I could lose significant cash flow. This pressures me — in a good way — to keep writing quality articles, but it can be frustrating at times because Google’s algorithm is beyond my control.

Google has a broader effect than the effect on AdSense income. Despite competitors’ efforts, Google is the primary gateway people use to find information on the internet. Just about all of this web site’s traffic aside from regular and occasional Consumerism Commentary readers comes from Google. Without visitors from Google, I’d be unable to attract most advertisers.

Direct advertising

Google is a third party when it comes to advertising. Working directly with advertisers can be more profitable. I speak with a number of advertisers directly who are interested in buying advertising space on Consumerism Commentary, on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, or on other websites I maintain.

Direct advertising is currently a smaller piece of the income picture than it was a year or 18 months ago. While the economy is beginning to recover, it recently has been difficult finding high quality advertisers.

Miscellaneous income

Additional income each month comes from syndication rights, academic database listings, producing podcasts for other websites, freelance writing, and website memberships like the Friends of pfblogs.org. I haven’t had as much time to nurture these income sources as I would like.

Managing and growing the side income is a full-time job in itself. Add this to the full-time job of writing for and managing Consumerism Commentary, a few hours each week managing other projects, as well as my full-time day job and managing a career (such as it is), it’s easy to understand how I’ve been spreading myself thin. This could be the reason I haven’t seen the kind of growth I would have liked over the past year.

Perhaps the key to this growth is leaving my day job. I had planned to do just that at about this time. As I hinted yesterday, the lack of growth over the past year has made that decision more difficult. This is despite earning a side income large enough to make a living, in many months expressible in multiples of my day-job income.

You can do it, too, perhaps

Part of my success must be attributable to the fact that I’ve been doing this for a long time. Often, people start blogging — particularly about personal finance, which is seen as a lucrative niche — with the sole purpose of making money. Before you set out to earn a living from blogging, I suggest you examine realistic expectations for earning money.

Updated February 6, 2012 and originally published May 6, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

Email Email Print Print
avatar
Points: ♦127,480
Rank: Platinum
About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Peter

Thanks for sharing.. In my own experience Adsense is still the top performer, bringing in about 60% of the income in any given month. After that come affiliates, direct advertising and other miscellaneous 3rd part ad networks.

If others are considering jumping in, I’d encourage them to expect long hours, not a lot of money at first, and lots of hard work. If you stick to it and do things the right way you might be able to make enough income to make it worth your while. For many it can even be a full time gig, but it isn’t a “get rich quick” scheme, it takes time.

I sympathize with your quandry in balancing a full time job and your online endeavors. It’s tough sometimes when you’re spending so much time blogging, working,etc – it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. :)

Reply to this comment

avatar Financial Samurai

Flexo, I’m impressed Adsense accounts for such a high percentage of your revenue. The good thing is you don’t have to do anything on that front.

Would it be correct to say your preferred method would be to negotiate “high quality” direct ads with product you know and endorse?

I really get a sense from your past two articles you should find another position in your full-time endeavors, be it in the same industry, company, or elsewhere. I don’t sense satisfaction, let alone happiness. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Best,

Sam

Reply to this comment

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

Sure, I prefer to work directly with advertisers representing products I truly like. ING Direct stands out in my mind as a good match-up.

Reply to this comment

avatar Craig/FFB

Very interesting to see what a top site like yours does for income!

As Peter above says, its a lot of long hours and work to get things going. And there are more and more sites every day. Still, if you can create quality then you can find your place.

I’ve found its tough to juggle the blog with other endeavors. There’s just not enough time in the day to get everything you want done and implemented.

Thanks for sharing.

Reply to this comment

avatar Lakita | Personal Finance Journey

Interesting stuff ~ thanks for sharing. One take away I noticed right away was the need for diversification. If one source fails, there are still other streams. I think that is very important.

Reply to this comment

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

Diversification is harder to achieve than it seems. You would think that by diversifying away from Google AdSense by developing relationships directly with advertisers, you can protect yourself better from Google’s algorithm changes, but everything seems to rely on Google.

Reply to this comment

avatar J. Money

Pretty interesting indeed…I’ve thought about taking down my specific #’s too from my net worth updates and the like, but man i just think it helps people so much. Or at least me when I can just do a quick search on the site to see my progress (or lack there of)..but yeah, prob best not to do that – esp as you continue to grow and what not.

Thanks for sharing all this with us! I know the bloggers of the group will eat this up ;)

Reply to this comment

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

I’m continuing to share my net worth numbers, just not income numbers.

Reply to this comment

avatar Investor Junkie

My personal opinion is giving out any income/expenses is asking for trouble… specifically from the government. I’m not saying you (or anyone else) is lying or trying to advoid taxes. The issue is more related to errors: errors in statements, accounting, tax deductions, tips/recommendations etc. By having your personal info out in the public view opens up a can of worms should you get audited. They could use anything listed on this web site.

I suspect your accountant told you something along these lines.

Oh and congrats on your blog’s performance.

Reply to this comment

avatar Mike Collins

Thanks for sharing. I like the way you use different sources of income. If AdSense takes a sudden dive you can make it up elsewhere.

My blog still isn’t making anything worth mentioning, but I do have a few smaller sites that make money with AdSense and affiliate offers.

Reply to this comment

avatar ChrisFM

Thanks for sharing this, Flexo. I’m still a rookie in this game, so I appreciate learning how to properly build a blog from folk like you, Samurai and Peter (who’s eBook was the push over the edge for me).

As it is, I’m already experiencing what you’re talking about, with regards to the amount of work that must be put it. I can’t say I hate it; the exact opposite, matter of fact. At the end of the day, I’m doing something I want to do.

Cheers,
Chris

Reply to this comment

avatar FB @ Fabulouslybroke.com

Curious — What did your accountant cite as the reasons for not posting?

Is it security.. or for some other reason?

I am wondering if I SHOULD post my income (going forward) or not. I do post my expenses in detail, but even that might be oversharing.

Would just like an opinion. Thanks!

Reply to this comment

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

Posting your financial information can generate unwanted attention from a variety of sources that one would prefer not dealing with.

Reply to this comment

avatar Monevator

Nothing much to add except to say thanks for this second insight. I seem to have plateaued again in the past couple of months, but like everyone in the Yakezie and beyond I look at the efforts of the handful like yourself with hopeful eyes. :)

Regarding the job, could you possibly go part-time or negotiate some other kind of flexible arrangement? People often underestimate how flexible companies will be if they’re only used to working as full-time employees.

All the best.

Reply to this comment

avatar Money Funk

I know what you mean about spreading yourself thin by managing blogs/communities, working full-time… its a lot of work. I think if you plan to jump off your f/t career, you might also want to think how you plan on expanding CC and your other communties; perhaps developing a product.

I am in the process of looking at my own roadmap and how I can accomplish doing what I love full-time. With the internet there are so many ways that it can often be confusing, but now I am looking internally and working with factors that best represent me/strong suits. And I was pleasantly surprised last night when I logged into an affiliate account last night to found I made some passive income from one of my post/page links. So, it gave me hope and a sign for how to go about things.

Best of luck to you Flexo (luck comes to those who make it happen). And thank you for sharing. Look forward to your future endeavors.

Reply to this comment

avatar Jackie

Thanks for sharing this kind of information. I bet you’re right that what would help you get to where you want to be is taking the leap of faith and quitting the day job.

Reply to this comment

avatar Investor Junkie

Regarding going F/T with this business, you have to have a leap of faith. You have to take action on doing it. When I did it in 1999, I was scared as hell. I look at how I’ve grown since this and would have done it in a heartbeat. What was at the time the hardest decision I made (the company I worked for was going to go public), but I wasn’t happy. You have to do what makes you happy. If you have enough savings (which it appears you do) why not do it? What’s the worst case that can happen? You go back to work for someone else???

Reply to this comment

avatar SavingEverything

Can you let us know what category goes for referrals, such as ING direct savings or brokerages’ friend bonuses? The ads to the right of your homepage; are they pay-per-click, pay-per-action, both, or what? Also, what’s your affiliation with exclusive offers net, and tkqlhce because right clicking your links and ads sometimes has those sites in properties? I’m scared to go there. Is Google adsense based solely on clicks or is it also click and action? -thanks for sharing this post.

Reply to this comment

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

I don’t have any “refer-a-friend” links, so that’s not represented anywhere. Most of those “refer-a-friend” programs provide referral fees as “interest income,” so I wouldn’t consider it business income if I had them.

Some ads are pay-per-action, some are pay-per-impression. Exclusive-offers.net is a domain I own used as a clearinghouse for some affiliate links. Tkqlhce and other domain names that don’t sound like words are domains used by Commission Junction, an affiliate clearinghouse, and there’s no reason to be scared. If you were curious, a simple Google search would provide that information, though I suppose that would be less confrontational.

Google AdSense is almost all on per-click basis.

These questions are all pretty technical, so I suggest emailing me if you have any further questions. It’s beyond the scope of the article.

Reply to this comment

avatar Josh B.

Maybe I am missing something: why do your percentages add up to 119.7% ?

Reply to this comment

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

The curse of copy-and-paste at 2:30 am. (Thanks!)

Reply to this comment

avatar Financial Uproar

I don’t even post my net worth numbers on my blog, let alone my income. I do this for a few reasons:

1. Honestly, how interesting is it to read about someone’s net worth? I skim over those posts and I suspect most readers do too.

2. While online income is much more interesting to read about, I do plan to tell people I know about my blog at some point and really don’t want friends of friends knowing how much I make. Ditto for net worth.

3. I don’t want an over zealous commenter (like me!) criticizing my choices.

As for the online income, I’ve made all of about $7 so far on my blog. I don’t really care for adsense because I can’t control which ads appear. Sometimes ads appear for payday loan companies and the like, and I obviously don’t want people finding payday loans via my blog.

You should leave your real job. It sounds like the reason online income is flat is because you don’t have the time to really ramp it up. Removing your day job will give you that extra time. Saying that, I know how scary it is to quit a steady paying job for the uncertainty of going out on your own.

Reply to this comment

avatar Luke Landes ♦127,480 (Platinum)

Net worth updates aren’t the most popular posts, but readers who like them *really* like them, and it often inspires some good conversations. But I never posted my net worth *for* readers. It has always been for me, to keep myself accountable. I was doing this before I had any readers. And I like when people criticize my choices because it will give either an opportunity to look at something from a different perspective or an opportunity for me to tell them why they are wrong. :-)

Reply to this comment

avatar J. Money

Haha…I’ve been catching myself looking forward to the same thing too! The other day someone told me I was an idiot for maxing out my 401(k) (which gets 100% matching up to 100% of my contributions – up to legal limit) and that I should invest in stocks instead. Said I had no concept in how to increase my wealth….very interesting considering it’s gone up $30k in 2 months….jackals ;)

Reply to this comment

avatar Investor Junkie

You would be a fool NOT to take you employer up on that offer. Most employers only do 3-4%. 100% is the best free money you can get.

Reply to this comment

avatar J. Money

exactly. and the sad part is i’m one of maybe 3 people in the entire company that maxes…not that we’re all that big (we’re a startup) but still – that’s doubling your money asap! no vesting either ;)

on the other hand, we can close up shop or get sold at any time so gotta milk it while i can!

avatar Investor Junkie

No vesting… I’m jealous. Max it now before they remove the 100% matching and no vesting. I can assume that won’t last forever, especially if more people within the company do it ;-)

avatar Andy

Great post (for pf bloggers anyway). I am in a similar boat to you – but at some point you need to choose a “career” and take a risk. I find that having a foot in both camps limits opportunities in both spheres. I am thinking of quitting my job for 6 months and giving blogging full time a real go. If I can’t grow it substantially (espically in the slow months of summer) I can always return to my career and focus on that 100% – with blogging taking a more passive back seat. I have yet to make the move, but am yet to decide. It’ll be interesting to see how you go beacuse you are in a much more advanced position than me.

Reply to this comment

avatar 4hendricks ♦248 (Cent)

My problem is, I don’t know how to blog for money, I would love to make extra money this way. Are there any books available on this?

Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment

Connect with Facebook

Note: Use your name or a unique handle, not the name of a website or business. No deep links or business URLs are allowed. Spam, including promotional linking to a company website, will be deleted. By submitting your comment you are agreeing to these terms and conditions.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Previous post:

Next post: