We’ve been doing business online for many years – here’s how we make a living online with our travel blog.
What I’ll cover in the post:
- five specific ways we make money (complete with links to providers and real numbers)
- one way we will grow our business income in 2013 (it’s what you should do too)
But first, here are the two general approaches to making money online:
Two Ways To Make Money on a Travel Blog
There are two basic ways to make money:
- Direct monetization: This is what most bloggers are looking for: immediate cash for sale of a product, service or ad space. On Gringos Abroad, we’ve had good success with sales of links, ads and affiliate products. Direct monetization is truly passive income. There is no hourly billing or customer service. Just place the links and ads and everything is automatically tracked.
- Indirect monetization: This is also useful over time. Through your site, you can establish yourself in a specific industry which can lead to contracts and off-site employment. More on this at the end of the post.
5 Blog Based Passive Income Streams
We make money online with the following five sources:
- Affiliate Marketing
- Amazon Associates
- Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising
- Link Sales
- Display Advertising
See more information on each of these income sources below:
1. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is one of the most profitable ways to make money from your site.
What is affiliate marketing? Basically, it is marketing other peoples products to readers on your site. Through a set of personalized, coded links both clicks and sales are tracked and your account is credited for all transactions. Depending on the programs, you can be paid either a fixed or percentage commission. Also you can be paid for both sales and leads. Normally payouts are made every month. Affiliate marketing is popular because bloggers can earn without having to create their own products.
Ready to get started in affiliate marketing?
What you’ll need to do:
- Sign-up with the four networks below. Be sure to enter your site and payment information. Direct deposit is the best option as it will happen automatically.
- Choose specific products and services that you want to promote on your site. This can be either in display ads in your sidebar or through contextual links in your posts.
Sign-up with these affiliate networks. They are my favorites and simple to use:
- Clickbank: This is the easiest network to join. Clickbank primarily sells digital products (videos, e-books and other electronically delivered training products). Commission rates are high and it is simple to get links. Tracking / analytics are solid and deep so you can see which product links are performing best. Payment is sent either by check or direct deposit.
- ShareaSale: This is a smooth working and easy to manage affiliate network. They have a huge set of advertisers (including travel, clothing, personal development and web services) and I like their tracking analytics. Getting approved for this network can be a little more challenging. We’ve had great success with Shareasale – this is our highest producing network. Payment is sent either by check or direct deposit.
- NeverBlue: This is a new network for me – but it is very promising. They are primarily pay-per-action – meaning that you get paid when someone subscribes to a newsletter or becomes a lead. They have to do more than just click – but they generally don’t have to spend any money, in order to trigger a payout.
- Commission Junction: This is one of the oldest networks and they are good. It was a little hard getting approved at first, but now I can use the links across all of our properties. Payment is sent either by check or direct deposit.
- LinkShare: This is a fairly easy one to join and they carry many of the big companies. There is duplication between networks – so if you can’t get approved with the others you should still be able to find and promote specific advertisers with this affiliate network.
Affiliate Marketing Tip: Carefully choose the products that you will promote. Because the products are going to be marketed to your readers, you need to be sure that your readers are both 1) interested in that type of product, and 2) that the specific product you are recommending is actually useful. There is a temptation to just promote the higher profit items – even if those items are of questionable quality. Don’t do it! You will lose readers if you abuse their trust. Trust is the very reason that affiliate marketing works on blogs – because blog readers trust the recommendation of the blogger. Promote items that you can actually recommend – regardless of their commission percentage, or whether they have an affiliate program or not – and you’ll never go wrong.
While the next income stream – Amazon Affiliates – is also an affiliate program, it deserves a section all its own. It is the original online affiliate program.
2. Amazon Associates: Affiliate Program
Amazon Affiliates: This is probably the simplest and fastest way to begin making money online, although the returns are not very big at first. Simply visit Amazon.com, sign up for their affiliate program and begin placing your coded affiliate links on your site. When readers click your link and visit Amazon.com you will receive a commission for their purchase. Commissions range from 4 to 8.5%. While we primarily link to books (sometimes luggage or travel supplies) we have received commission on products such as golfing sunglasses, electronic toothbrushes and olives stuffed with blue cheese (although we have never linked to any of these items). Why? Because with Amazon Affiliates, you get credit for whatever your reader buys after following your link. Here are a few examples of posts that have generated solid monthly income on Gringos Abroad:
- 13 Books About Traveling and Living in Ecuador
- 17 Best Expat Books to Help You Plan a Successful Relocation
- 11 Books & Courses We Used to Learn Spanish
Amazon Associates Tip: Make sure that the products you are recommending actually have value. In almost every case we have personally used the item we are recommending. Only when you can share your personal experience or insight, will your readers trust your recommendation. Also, be sure that the goal of the post is 1) to provide a useful resource for your readers and then, 2) to create a way to monetize that content. As you will note in the examples above, each set of resources is directly relevant to readers looking to move abroad (books about Ecuador, being an expat and learning Spanish). Focus on your readers and, instead of being irritated with your affiliate posts, they’ll be thanking you for putting together such a great resource.
3. Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising
The most popular way to generate revenue from a blog is with pay-per-click (PPC) ads. Pay-per-click advertising is just how it sounds: you get paid for every click you generate from your site. Each link is coded so you get credit for each click. Exposures are also tracked so you can see which ads perform better. PPC ads can be simple text, images or even video. While video and moving images do catch the eye, the text ads still convert well.
Here are a few screenshots showing how pay-per-click ads look on our blog.
Here are the top PPC ad networks:
Google AdSense: Without doubt, the most popular pay-per-click ad network is Google AdSense. Revenue is measured in cost-per-click, which is the amount you earn each time a reader clicks on an ad on your site. We’ve seen cost-per-click (CPC) ranging from $0.28 to $1.91. Because the ads displayed are contextual, meaning that they fit with your content on that specific page, the click-through rate is fairly high. While we aren’t getting rich with Google AdSense we see a range of $3 to more than $30 per day. Here are some of the specifics with Google AdSense:
- RPM (Revenue per 1000 pageviews): $0.96 – $6.55
- Cost per click (CPC) ranging from $0.28 to $1.91
- Payment: Mailed check
Media.net: Recently this pay-per-click advertising network has been outperforming Google AdSense – even though it has less exposure on our site. We see earnings ranging from $1 to more than $25 per day in click revenue. Media.net is part of the Yahoo Bing Network. Here are some of the specifics with Media.net.
- RPM (Revenue per 1000 pageviews): $0.15 – $10.55
- Payment: Paypal (or check option)
Chitika: This is a very popular PPC network, one that I just started working with again. It is easier to get approved with Chitika than the with AdSense or Media.net. My recommendation is to apply for all three. You will likely be approved for at least one of them. This will get you started. As your site builds you’ll be able to get approved for others.
Pay-Per-Click Advertising Tip: Don’t just setup these ads and forget about them. Continually adjust and tweak both colors and placement of the ads. One small detail can increase revenues multiple times over. With just one ad network, I was able to increase PPC revenues from $50 per month to more than $400 per month by making one small change – and with almost identical traffic numbers. If you don’t get good results at first, don’t be discouraged. It might just be your placement or colors – and testing over time is the only way to improve results.
You might enjoy: How Much Blog Traffic is Needed Before You Monetize?
4. Selling Links
The way many bloggers begin making money is though link sales. Selling links is quite simple. Advertisers want in-bound links to help boost both their search ranking and site traffic. In order to generate new links they (or their SEO agency) buy links both on individual posts and/or on blog homepages. It takes bloggers almost no time to post links and the money is good.
What is a link worth? We’ve gotten any where from €40 ($52) for an in-post permanent link to $250 for a one year link on the home page. Others pay $45 per month. All payments are via PayPal and automatically sent. We’ve received as high as $275 for a link published in one post. We always check the link before publishing it – to ensure that there is nothing offensive. Almost all of them are travel based sites: car rentals, flights, resorts, etc – things of interest to our readers.
There are risks involved with selling links. If Google catches you (remember, this isn’t illegal – they just don’t like it. Google isn’t the government, at least not yet) they can penalize or even remove your site from their site index. This could mean a traffic nose-dive. This is why I’ll never sell links on Blogger Abroad – the risk of a Google penalty is too high. Our goals are different for each of our sites.
Purchased links almost always show as basic text. The key is that the hyperlink uses specific text as its anchor. Google weighs the number of incoming links, the quality of sites the links are on and the anchor text of each of these links. As you can see in the attached image under the subheading “Latest Posts,” the 3 links at the end of the paragraph are to client sites. The three links shown earn over $800 per year – with no work. They were published months ago and continue to earn monthly. Below the paragraph is a large Google AdSense ad.
Closely associated with link sales are sponsored posts. These are posts specifically written for the link(s) included in them. While we have accepted a number of these on Gringos Abroad, we don’t allow them to be commercial, or promotional, in nature. Maintaining the quality and integrity of the blog is critical. We’ve been paid anywhere from $95 for a supplied blog post to $250 for a post that we wrote and then added the sponsored links.
If you are looking to get started in link sales, you should check out Text Link Ads. There are hundreds of link brokers but many don’t state that they buy links on their sites – because they are afraid of Google repercussions. If you want to find them – they are almost always listed as a “SEO agency”. SEO is an acronym for search engine optimization.
Read about how your domain name can affect your SEO ranking.
Link Selling Tip: Go slow with this one. Don’t accept any links to questionable sites. If you begin linking to unrelated sites, you’ll both confuse readers and signal to Google that you are a confused blogger. If you accept too many paid links you could be penalized or even banned by Google. This is an almost certain death to a blog.
5. Display Advertising
To some bloggers, display advertising is the holy grail of making money online. To me, it is more of a headache then it is worth. Over the past few years, we’ve sold lots of display advertising space. Here’s what we’ve learned:
- Ad buyers don’t have much money
- Ad buyers don’t really know what they want
- Ad buyers expect the one ad on your site to be the savior to their lack-luster business
Of course, this isn’t true of every ad buyer – many are professional and a pleasure to deal with. But in general, we’ve found that PPC ads not only perform better (make more money) they are also less work than dealing with a set of clients. Google AdSense, for example, updates the ad copy based on the context on your site and never calls or emails asking for changes or “little tweaks”. Google always pays on-time and doesn’t complain.
If you want to sell ads, then you can certainly make money. But you’ll want to set clear parameters before you promote the space.
- Set significant minimum terms: When we first got started we accepted one month terms. Now, we require a commitment of 3 months minimum.
- Determine who designs the ad: You can include the design component as part of the price or bill it separately. Be aware that if the client provides the ad copy – it will likely look awful. If they don’t already have professionally designed ad copy – I recommend taking control and designing it for them. Either learn how to create simple ad copy yourself or hire a designer on Elance. It won’t cost much and it will preserve the professional look of your site.
- Collect payment in full and in advance: Many of your advertisers are likely going to be either start-ups or small businesses (probably both). Their intention to pay and their ability to actually do it may not coincide. If an advertiser doesn’t have the ability (or desire) to pay 100% upfront we decline the ad – no exceptions. Online advertising is not something that you can repossess if your client doesn’t pay.
- Downplay expectations: Be sure to state - in writing – that you are not responsible for campaign results. Remember: getting paid for results is something completely different than simply providing ad space. If you have solid traffic you will make more money with a PPC or affiliate ad campaign – where you get paid for the results you produce.
If you want to automate your ad sales – and access a bank of new advertisers – you might consider BuySellAds.com.
Display Advertising Tip: Don’t depend on this form of revenue for your site. And don’t start with it. The previous four lines of revenue will likely produce better – and with significantly less time on your part.
Indirect Blog Monetization
Aside from the five direct monetization method we use (as just covered) we have also received a number of indirect benefits:
- Because of the success of our travel blog we were hired to create and run a new blog for a client. This has not only generated regular monthly income but has also resulted in two trips to the Galapagos – covered by our client.
- We have been hired to do other contract marketing and design work, as a direct result of our blog.
- We frequently turn down invitations to speak at international events, interview requests (television and print) and business partnerships. It is overwhelming to see the opportunities that come as a direct result of our travel blog.
- We have been filmed for television (twice) and interviewed numerous times.
There are many opportunities available once your site becomes established as an authority in its niche. (Learn how to choose your niche.) Your blog can also serve as a lead generation tool – to generate interest, leads, and sales in your off-line business.
How We Plan To Make Money With Our Blog
Our site monetization is based on traffic – the more traffic we get, the more we make.
We have been working on a number of educational products to offer to our community – but haven’t completed them yet. In fact, we’ve had many readers contact us, asking for us to create specific products. This is on the list for 2013 – we plan to launch a number of products to help expats and travelers. We’ve already established that the market is there – we just need to complete the products.
An educational product, can refer to any of the following:
- webinar (an online seminar – either video or just audio)
- membership site (run by Wishlist Member)
- video training course
- audio programs
Successful educational products offer instant delivery to clients, answer a specific question and require no work to deliver the order. Once the product is created, everything else is 100% automated.
Fund Your Lifestyle With an Educational Product
What is the potential of a digital product? Here is one example: a fellow travel blogger, wrote an e-book a few years ago. He continues to sell an average of one per day, even years after it was written. One a day doesn’t sound so impressive, but here is how the math works:
- 30 units per month X $30 per unit = $900/monthly
- Hours of work per month: 0
And this isn’t his only book. Imagine multiplying this 2, 3 or 10 times over! Once the product is created, it will continue to sell.
Over the next six months we plan to focus on product creation. We’ve had good success at building an audience – now we need to create the products that they are asking for.
How do you make money with your blog? Is it similar or completely different to ours? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below!