Make that 7 ways… I get asked this question a lot: how do you make money from blogging? Usually the person is a little sheepish, the question whispered quietly, but their genuine interest is bulging out of their eyeballs. The answer is through many ways…
This post is the cold hard truth about blogging, its ups and downs and the answer to THAT question.
I started blogging in 2006. I was paid a handsome sum to write two posts per day, five days per week for a national online travel agency in New Zealand. For three years I was disseminating travel press releases and breaking news, posting about great deals to places I’d been to, lamenting travel foibles, laughing at travel hiccups and horrors and generally learning how to grow an audience online. And this was before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any social media to actually promote my posts!
In 2006 I was quite possibly the only person in New Zealand making a full-time living out of blogging. Certainly travel blogging.
BUT (there’s always a but…)
In 2009 the company, who was the basket that all my eggs were in (lesson one), terminated the blog to do other things online, and I was encouraged to go out on my own and start this blog you see before you. Those of you with long memories will remember that 2009 was also the beginning of what we “fondly” call the Global Financial Crisis. *sigh
So, not only were businesses pulling back on their advertising/marketing spend in traditional media outlets like newspapers, magazines and radio because of the GFC, but they had no idea about how a blog (online content) could increase their sales and if they did, they didn’t have the dollars to throw at it. (It = me).
BUT (this is a happy but…)
I knew that banner ads online were not going to be the answer. Even back then, people seldom clicked on a banner ad. Today, they say it’s about 0.1% of readers of online content will actually click on an ad. I like to ask people in my Content Marketing Seminars when they last clicked on an ad that wasn’t for a sale or to be in to win a prize. Yep… You need a HUGE amount of daily traffic to make a living out of banner ads on your site. (Update: there is good money to be made by hosting ads on your blog… read on)
The topic of keywords was being bandied around and that seemed to be the holy grail. Write an article and stuff it with enough keywords so search engines would feature you up the top of their list, we all thought. However, this was soon able to be manipulated by brands and publications, so Google got smarter and if you simply wrote a bunch of keywords or hid them in your meta data or saved images, they knew. Google is bigger than Big Brother.
What’s important is audience engagement and now, to rank at the top of search results, you need to be focussing all your efforts on your community. Which is actually loads of fun, but very time consuming.
SEO is much more intuitive and you’ll hear the phrase “long tail keywords” which just means a bunch of words that people typically type into Google. An example might be: “how long should I take to visit New Zealand’s South Island”
So, how do I make money from a travel blog?
Here are 6 ways (make that 7) that I make a living, some with great results, others just a trickle at the moment…
1. Affiliate links
This is typically the first thing new bloggers hook up to make money. The problem with this income stream is that unless you have an extortionate amount of followers and page views, your stream will be a trickle. At the end of the day, this is a numbers game and while you’re building your audience and your brand, this won’t make enough to keep you in lunches. And I don’t mean long, boozy lunches!
It’s also a game about being smart about what you sell. Look for higher priced products and good commission levels.
I sell 1Cover travel insurance and CityPASS discount vouchers for cities in the US. I sell hotel bookings through Booking.com and have added affiliate text links into my most popular posts. Look for brands that offer 30-90 day cookies for your viewers to make a purchase. That means if I introduce a reader to say 1Cover but they don’t purchase right away, if they make a purchase within 3 months I still get a commission.
2. Native advertising/Sponsored content
This is my main source of income. After 17 years of travel writing including 10 years of blogging, I have put together a professional media kit to work with brands and destinations.
This is where my heart lies too. It’s where I can work with people I like on their key messages, plan the itinerary together around my interests and what I also know my audience likes, working people who understand the potential of online content and who want to share it on their own social media channels for a WIN/WIN situation. It doesn’t happen on every trip by any means, but I get commissioned to write about a destination or brand, work with them on angles and story ideas, help to shape the stories that I know my readers will want to read – and ergo do better on social media and in search results.
You can add a lot of value here too to make your proposal more enticing. Think about things like how many posts you’ll write, how many Facebook updates, Instagram images, Tweets. If you have a Youtube channel you could offer to put a short video together of your trip. You could offer to write content for their website, give them license to a few pics from the trip for their own use…
3. Outsource your writing talent
This takes longer to establish, but is a great way to add extra revenue, or strings to your bow. You can write blog posts for brands, or hook up a few outlets that will syndicate your work and thus spread your influence across more than one blog or even one platform. I had a newspaper column in the NZ Herald for three years and currently have two weekly radio travel segments on Newstalk ZB and The Mix, both broadcasting nationwide in NZ.
I also freelance for magazines and am sometimes approached by corporate clients needing website copy, but this is not a regular stream for me. However I can cobble together enough of an income if I can place stories in all the above to compensate the time away that famils require and the work involved in writing, photographing, editing images, sharing on social media, etc.
This is my latest venture. I am a big fan of ongoing learning and paying for mentoring/consulting and through the courses I have done (and am currently enrolled in) I have been working on the premise of “think once, deliver often” and now deliver various training sessions, workshops and coaching programs on how to create a great blog, how to get the most out of your website and social media channels and also for destinations and brands who host media, how to understand what the media are looking for so they can get their business “out of the fact box and into the feature”.
I developed a new website just for my training (megansingleton.co.nz) and while I have been running public blog training workshops for individuals for the past 4 years, I’ve now decided to run them for groups like corporates or businesses who want their staff to learn some blogging skills.
5. Sell stuff
I know bloggers who have written ebooks, online training courses and destination guides. I sold luggage for a while. But like point one, this is a numbers game. But the money is much better if you can sell stuff and make more than just a 5% commission, especially if you don’t have to hold any stock, but customers can pay for the goods via Paypal and you just get it shipped!
Update: in 2017 I started the TravelStore.co.nz and have spent the past year growing that and learning what people want. I want it to be the one-stop-shop for everything a person needs before they take a trip and sell beautiful luggage and clever travel accessories which I drop ship and also import and ship NZ-wide. I am LOVING it!
6. Brand ambassador
This is something I’m not (yet) involved in as I don’t want to limit myself to one brand or a small group of non-conflicting brands, but once you have the numbers (both on your website in terms of page views and unique visits and your social media reach) you can expect to be approached by brands, or approach them yourself and receive a retainer for promoting their product, attending events and generally giving them your love.
7. Sell ads via Media Vine
I can’t believe how long I’ve been leaving money on the table by not joining up with Media Vine sooner! Once you have 25,000 page views a month, you can apply to Media Vine to be one of their publishing platforms and they will place ads on your site automatically. (You will have seen them in this post!) They post between paragraphs, in the side bar and in the footer. I currently make about $600 per month and have about 40,000 page views to achieve that.
I had been putting off doing adwords as I didn’t think there was enough money in it to warrant the intrusion for the reader experience, but I think people are used to ads in their online content these days and while it’d be preferable if there was no advertising anywhere (!) alas it makes the world go round, and so far I’ve had no complaints from readers about the ads on the blog that I started running in April 2018.
I hope you found this post helpful. If you’re just starting out as a travel writer/blogger you might also like this one: How to Write a Great Travel Story >>
Feel free to leave me a comment or a question below!