What It Takes to Build a Successful Money-Making Blog

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Is it possible to make a comfortable living from blogging? Steve Pavlina launched his blog on October 2004. Within six months, he made $120/month from it. A year and a half later, the revenues increased to $30k/month. It cost him only $9/year on domain, $149/month on hosting, and $0 on marketing or promoting. So, he is making a pretty good living from it.

Photo by aubergene.

He wrote a long 7000+ words article on how to build a blog capable of generating such income, added with some reality-check scenarios to caution some overly-optimistic minds of what to expect: only 1% will succeed. I've summarized the main points from the article into a much shorter post (62% less) for a lighter read.

Commit Yourself
The first question to ask yourself before diving down a blogger's path to monetizing is 'Do you want to do this?'. It's a simple question and the straight answer is simple too, but the reality isn't obvious. What people see is that making money from blogging is straight-forward and think that it can be done effortlessly with great result.

But what's not told are the challenges you'll be facing. To really achieve real success, you need to commit yourself fully to it. Do it or don't do it. There's no 'just try it and see what happens' approach. It's not gonna work that way and will just waste your time down the drain.

Decent Income from Blogging?
It's definitely doable to make great money from it and many bloggers have done so superbly. If it's done right, you can achieve 5 or 6 figures annual income from blogging. The difference is in how long it takes you to get there. Doing it part time will take you a while longer than if it's done full time.

The fact is that not everybody can achieve success doing it. 99 out of 100 people will fail generating any reasonable amount of income from blogging. Only 1% will make a healthy and even great living out of it. And the recipe for this success is very simple - you have to be smart in the web-savvy kind of way.

Know Enough About Web Technologies
If you are web-savvy, or can learn to become web-savvy, then you have a great chance of making a real amount of money from blogging. Web-savviness doesn't mean that you have to be a hardcore programmer. You just have to have a decent functional understanding of web technologies, particularly the ones related to blogging and monetizing blogs.

Some examples of these web technologies that matter are blog publishing software (e.g. Wordpress), HTML/XML/CSS, full or partial RSS feed + feedreaders, pings, comments & trackbacks, blog or post directories, search engine ranking and optimization (SEO), page rangking, social media & bookmarking, contextual advertising (e.g. Adsense), affiliate programs, and traffic statistics - just to name a few.

Being web-savvy in these areas doesn't necessarily mean that you are an expert or have an in-depth knowledge, but enough knowledge to understand the basics and apply their functionalities efficiently where needed. Even if you're hiring somebody to do the grunt work, you need to have enough savviness to make any strategic decisions.

If you don't know much about web technologies, then either blogging for money is not for you, or you need to spend some time first learning those things. It's not worth an effort to drag yourself into trying to make big bucks if you're not ready to pick up the skills required. Having no knowledge at all in, say SEO, will put you at a disadvantage to the bloggers who know better what SEO is and how to use it to get their blogs to rank much much higher than yours. But knowing just SEO is not enough. Other areas are important as well and must not be left behind.

What makes things more delicate is that monetized blogging is not just about being web-savvy but also about optimizing your effort to fulfill the needs of so many: you, your readers, advertisers, search engines, etc. Each of these entities may have the same but sometimes differing needs. For example, when giving a post its title, its best to give a title that reflects the whole content and easily and directly captured by your readers. Sometimes you'll want to give it a catchy title that best reflect your ingenuity and wittiness. But, to get the best from SEO or advertising, the title may have to be re-thought to incorporate some critical keywords in it that may skew your original title in the first place.

The whole process is a balancing act, to find what works for everybody. And you can only do this well if you have the functional understanding and skills of the right web technologies.

It may be great to be an expert, but in the case of maximizing your revenue from blogging, this isn't so. Time is better spent if you learn five things just enough to apply them than if you concentrate on one thing to become an expert of it (unless of course this is the topic that you want to blog about). You need to strategize yourself to learn as many things as you can within a short period of time.

Keeping Up with Web's Fast Pace
Web technologies evolve and grow at such a fast pace that it's challenging to keep up with it. New tools keep popping up, that if used, can put you at a serious advantage ahead of your competitors. New opportunities to monetize your blog keep showing up as well. What's hard is the decision to either spend some time learning these new opportunities and use them or forget about them and just focusing on building content. The growth is so rapid that to really learn the new things needs a full-time commitment.

When it comes to decide what's better to do, the ground rule is that you'll be taking a huge risk not to update yourself on what's new. Your success is measured on how well you compete with others (that's what Alexa ranking basically is). To do this well means to keep up with changes in the web and to take advantage of it while you still can. Making mistake isn't the one that will cost you, but missing opportunities is. Each missing opportunities means a lost chance of growing your traffic, audience, and revenues. A good practice is to subscribe to others who are consistently updating their blogs with new opportunities. Darren Rowse's Problogger is a great place to start subscribing as he keeps an update of new monetizing and blogging-related opportunities.

Strategize How to Generate Income
Monetizing blog isn't just about setting up Adsense and affiliate programs and then have a go at it, blindly, hoping you'll cash out in the end. You must have a strategy of how best to generate income from your blog, depending on your overall philosophy and goal of your blog. Blogs that focus more on building long term readerships may have less ads compared to blogs that provide infos on products with lots of ads to help readers choose the best offers.

It's not only the amount of ads that needs careful thinking but also the source of income. You have to think what's the best revenue source for your blog. Is it advertising, affiliate programs, product sales, donations, or any combinations of those? Decide which one is the most important and optimize your dentent, design, and layout around that. Each monetizing platform is unique and require different approaches. it's important that you recognize the differences.

Strategizing also means that you have to create concrete goals, or targets, that you want to achieve within a certain period of time. Once you've set your target, you have to work at it to achieve it. It may sound trivial but will keep you focused on achieving your targets, and know when to say no to new opportunities that doesn't match your blogging strategy. Here's a more detailed account on why creating concrete goals leads to successful blogs.

Learn from other established bloggers (that have similar niche to you) on how they strategize their site and monetization methods. Their technique must have worked well so it's a good hint for you to start there and even imitate their style. Of course, copying the template and content exactly as it is is wrong and will get you in trouble later on.

Traffic
Without doubt, traffic is the most important factor to monetize blogs. Stevepavlina.com's blog, for example, receives over 1.1 million visitors and 2.4 million pageviews a month (on April 2006). Traffic is important simply because it's a direct function of traffic: more traffic = more money (i.e. more clicks, more affiliate sales, more product sales, more donations, more consulting opportunities). It also means simply that your content do gives values to your many visitors.

The main focus of any beginners must be building traffic. Until you've got significantly large traffic levels, monetizing your blogs doesn't make much sense. It's even better not to work on putting ads at all on your blog for the first few months, so that you can focus a 100% on building traffic.

As your traffic level increases, your chances of monetizing your site gets easier. Why? traffic doesn't just mean there are more people coming to your blog, but also more links to your site, more votes to your articles, and more exposure to you and your blog at many levels, both online and offline. All this synergizes to bring so much more, even in terms of monetizing revenues, and it all starts from just building traffic. As the saying goes, 'the whole is greater than the sum of the parts'.

Here are 15 tips on how to build traffic to your site. In addition to this, Steve added that he uses the free service of Blog Carnivals, a kind of post directory, to submit his best posts, which eventually brings more links and visitors to his blog.

Blogging Facilities
In terms of what software to use to publish your blog, Steve highly recommends Wordpress. The reason being that it's free and has lots of features and a solid interface. The hosting and domain fees are relatively cheap, but the hosting needs to be upgraded to a dedicated server or a virtual private server (VPS) once the traffic grows that it's not capable to be hosted on shared accounts. The added benefit of running it under these types of server is that you can publish multiple sites under it without being charged extras.

To add more values to your blog, strategize to build a website from it. Stevepavlina.com gives the example that it's more than a blog. It has other sections as well: article section, audio content, forum section, etc. Many free blogging platforms, such as Blogger, don't provide this option.

Testing and Optimization
It goes without saying that the technique to know what works best is by testing trial and error. Do this when you want to know what monetizing programs (Adsense, Text Link Ads, Chitika eMiniMall, Amazon, Kontera, etc) work best for you. Do this also when you want to know the best layout for your blog (site design, colors, sidebars, ads position and configuration, etc). But, if you search well, you'll find some good tips already available on what people have experimented and what are their results. It's worth reading before you do some testing from scratch yourself. Here are some tips on the testing and optimization on Adsense.

Picking the Right Niche
Picking a niche is critical. For one, you have to have a sense that you can build a significantly large traffic from it. Choosing a niche too specific or too uncommon to have large followers would mean that in the end you can only build your traffic to a certain level only, no bigger than that. Basically, the target market is just too small. It maybe true that the number of competitors isn't large too, which is an advantage initially, but the opportunities to grow is already limited by its market size.

So, make sure that the niche you choose is broad enough to draw large traffic in. You surely have to compete with more sites and blogs, but if developed well, you have a chance to capitalize on its larger market. Broad enough topic also provide a larger pool of advertisers and advertisement to be served on your site.

When you have picked a niche, be clear up front to your visitors what your blog is about. There are blogs that worry too much on putting clever titles and description, but aren't direct and clear enough to provide meaning to visitors on a first glance. It's even worst if your title and description suggest to your visitors that your blog is just a personal blog, which is a drawback, when it's clearly not. Personal blog, while great on personal basis, aren't typically consistent on topics written, do not target specific readers, don't always provide valuable and meaningful content to others, and most of all, aren't capable of monetizing large income. But, as with anything in life, there's always an exception to this.

Picking a niche isn't just about capitalizing on its traffic size. The most fundamental issue of all is whether you are able to provide a quality content on it. Writing on something you're passionate or love will automatically be a driving force for you to be consistent, compared to writing on something that you don't have any feel for but want to write because you think you can make big money from it. A quick example, if you're familiar with high paying keywords, is writing on mesothelioma. It's by far is on the top list of highly paid keywords of cost-per-click ads, but how well can you write on that? Unless you're confident that you can pick up on the subject quickly, then by all means go for it.

Motivation
One of the biggest question during the early days of blogging when money doesn't come by quickly to drive you, is whether you can sustain your effort to write quality content for a long time. It's most sustainable if the topics are the ones you're most interested and passionate about. If your main motivation is money, then it'll be quite dragging for the first few months when money isn't big, yet. It might put you back even to a point of quitting. So, be realistic when choosing what topics to write about, and think whether it is something that you will have the heart and energy to write about for a long period of time.

Posting Frequency and Length
Which is better: long articles posted 3-5 times a week or short articles posted 10-20 times a week? Even top bloggers have different opinion on this. The basic rule is it depends on your type of information in your content. What you want is to give content of value and meaning to others. If short posts are sufficient to do it, e.g. specification on products which are preferred in short forms for quick reference, then by all means that's the best. But in other niches long posts are required for better explanation and in-depth scope of the subject, such as in the topics of personal development. If thought hard enough, frequency and length of posting are quite self-explanatory. If not, then experimentation with short and long posts are the way to go to figure them out.

Perks of Blogging
Given that your blog is successful, blogging is simply a great way to earn an income. For one, it's extremely cheap. you can work wherever you want, even from your home, which can be anywhere you want it to be. You can do it any time any day any hours you want. All that is within reach only if you put your energy in it and smart enough to learn and keep up with all the technologies that the web has to offer.

My Comments
I totally subscribe to his fundamental principle that to find success in blogging you need to be absolutely clear that you're in it for serious and need to commit to it. The fact that only a small percentage of people makes it through beautifully says that it's full of challenges but not often realized.

One thing that's clear here is that monetizing is not just about setting up blogs, putting some Adsense, and boom boom boom posting and posting. There's a definite philosophy and strategy to be thought out carefully, readiness to learn and absorb all old and new web technologies that keep popping up faster than a mushroom bloom. It's a whole new game, but a serious game notwithstanding. The fact that millions are doing it and millions more are just jumping in doesn't make it an easy toy to play with.

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This article is an adaptation and summarized version from the original post by Steve Pavlina at Stevepavlina.com (Alexa ranking: 10,159). The original article is extremely long with a length of 7425 words. This adapted version has a much shorter length of 2815 (62% less) with most of the main points remain intact, added with some new insights based on other authentic tips.

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