How I make — and don’t make — money from my blogs through advertising.
I’ve been making money off of my blogs since 2005 and blogging has been my full time job and main source of income since 2009. To put it bluntly, I’ve been through the gauntlet of advertising programs, as this is the main way I generate revenue from my sites. I do not sell ebooks, I do not sell products directly, I do not hide any content behind paywalls — I show my cards upfront, provide everything for free and hope that advertising will bring in the revenue that I need to continue publishing. I say “hope” here because relying on advertising is seriously a very slippery financial lifeline to keep a hold of.
During this time I’ve pretty much tried all forms of advertising — except for pop up and pop under ads — dozens and dozens of different programs, and just about every day I’m trying something new or tweaking something in my perpetual hunt for higher returns.
That said, publishing information based websites — as oppose to ones where you sell things or produce content that’s supposed to lead to sales — is one of the least lucrative, most tumultuous, and most time consuming ways of making a living as a digital nomad. The amount of money that you can make per hour of this work doing is pretty much lower than any other way of making money online that you will find mentioned on this site. Blogging had never been a get rich quick scheme, and anyone who sells it as such is selling something.
To put it bluntly, I do not recommend that you emulate my model here, as trying to become a “problogger” is a recipe for frustration with only the slightest likelihood of success. And the worst part is that you will never even be afforded even a brief glimpse at this potential success until you’ve already invested thousands of hours and years of work into your blogs.
Unless you truly love blogging and want to spend 40 – 70 hours per week blogging then don’t depend on it for income.
I’m publishing this article for the boneheads out there like myself who are bound and determined to make a living from writing online for themselves, who refuse to quit or even be reasonable — for those who love this work. Without a shear passion for this form of publishing there is little reason to pursue it.
I will also preface this article by saying that you should not expect to make any real money from advertising on your blogs until traffic is up to at least 3 – 5,000 page views per day, minimum. 99% of blogs don’t get anywhere near this amount of traffic, so have realistic parameters at the onset. I don’t mean to scare or intimidate you here, as blogging can be a very enjoyable and lucrative profession, I just must make it known that it’s not a road paved with shiny shit and snake oil. It’s a road lined with boulders, screen, and thorns: to get anywhere you’re going to have to bleed and endure.
If you are still reading, this is how I make money from my blogs:
There are about a zillion advertising programs out there, many trying to lure any blogger or webmaster they can get with promises of sturdy earnings and a good return on the webpage real estate they take up and the clicks they take away. Unfortunately, most of these programs are crap — they just don’t pay out. Even with excessive amounts of traffic most ad programs do not provide adequate earnings to justify clogging up your pages with their adverts.
I want at least an average of 40+ cents per click and 30+ cents per 1000 page impressions per ad unit for an ad program to be worth running on my blogs. These amounts are my minimums, I generally make more than this.
PPC – Pay per click advertising
Pay per click is a form of advertising where earnings are derived from your visitors clicking on ads. Each time one of these clicks occur the advertiser is charged and you earn a little money. The amount of money that generated from each click varies, but is measured by CPC (cost per click) which is an average of earnings divided by total number of clicks (ex: if I get two clicks on an ad unit that make $.25 and $.75 respectively, the CPC would be $.50). CTR (click through rate) is the percentage of page views that generate clicks. eCPM is the metric that shows how much money you make on average per 1,000 page views, which is a simplified way of demonstrating the earning potential of a particular ad program or unit.
The problem with CPC advertising is that bloggers only gets paid when a visitor clicks away from their sites. This creates a direct conflict of interest for publishers, as your content only becomes valuable when a lot of people want to get away from it. The people who really enjoy your site — your audience — are the least monetizable traffic you have. In point, real readers tend not to click on ads.
CPC advertising essentially rewards webmasters for making crappy sites with poor navigational structures that visitors want to leave ASAP by any means necessary — many of whom will click on an advert to meet this end.
As a webmaster, I want to be rewarded monetarily for creating quality content that people want to read and sites that visitors don’t want to click away from. Though I inherently don’t like PPC advertising, this model is my biggest income earner.
My main PPC earner is Google Adsense. In my experience, this is truly the best advertising program out there. They have a huge advertiser inventory and the bidding for their ad space is generally more competitive than that of pretty much all other ad networks. If Adsense allowed me to run enough units to fill all of my available advertising slots, then I probably wouldn’t have much of a reason to use most of the other CPC/ CPM ad programs listed on this page. Though it’s against their terms of service to publish how much you earn through them, lets just say that the rate is more than double any other advertising program I work with.
Chitika is an advertiser’s market, not a publishers. Their payouts are almost criminally low. They once had Darren Rowse – the Problogger guy – promoting them, saying that he makes all kinds of money with their ads, but then us mortals try them and find that they don’t pay chicken shit — a true bait and switch scenario. Chitika has different tiers of advertisers, and if you can get into their gold tier it may be worth it, but if you’re wallowing in their silver or bronze tiers you’re looking at making next to nothing, so don’t even bother with these goons.
Chitika ads can be positioned to have an amazing CTR but the cost per click is so incredibly low that you don’t nearly make enough money to justify the stream of visitors leaving your site. When I was giving this ad program a lot of attention I only made a little over one cent per click on average, and had a $.04 eCPM, which is EXTREMELY LOW and definitely not worth slowing down page load time, taking up page real estate, and having visitors leaving my site for.
I once ran my eCPM numbers base on my Chitika earnings and found that I would need over two and a half million page views to make a hundred bucks. This is by far the worst advertising program I’ve ever worked with.
I’ve spend literally years looking for a good PPC airfare booking widget and I have yet to find one. Booking Wiz was paying out around 10 cents per search some years ago, but today the earnings are only around 5 cents. Not very good, and I have pretty much removed their widgets from my blogs.
I use Disqus for comments, and their system really can’t be beat. In addition to curating comments they also have an option to run a row of text link ads that you can make a little money from. When I say a little money here I mean it literally.
Other PPC programs
There are literally masses of players in the CPC game. I’m talking hundreds of programs, and I’ve tried too many to list them all here. Most tend to fall between the extremes of Adsense and Chitika, though almost all fail to live up to my minimum CPC requirements — think in the ballpark of 3, 4, 5 cents per click. Way too low to run.
But I’m still trying new ad programs all the time, and if I find others that are worth mentioning I will ad them here.
CPM – Cost per thousand advertising
Cost per thousand is a form of advertising where webmasters are paid based on how many times ads are viewed on their pages. The rate is generally calculated as average earnings per thousand times an ad unit appears on their sites. So if I run a CPM banner that pays out at $.50 per thousand impressions and it’s viewed 3,000 times during a day, then I would make $1.50. CPM — the “M” in the acronym is a Roman numeral — is pretty much old school print newspaper or magazine style advertising adapted for the web. Though CPM banners can be clicked on and the visitor will go to the advertisers’ sites, the main goal of this kind of advertising is putting a brand/ logo/ content/ message in front of an audience. CPM advertising pays for eyeballs, not traffic.
I love CPM advertising. It reward webmaster for publishing good content and making sticky pages and sites that attract readers and keep them reading. A website’s audience should be its prime income base, and it just seems right that I will make money from readers viewing my pages rather than clicking away.
The problem with CPM advertising is that it is not really a feasible revenue generating option for blogs that don’t attract massive amounts of traffic. If you’re not racking up thousands and thousands of page views daily you’re just not going to make much of anything. Then again, if you’re getting high amounts of traffic no form of advertising is really going to earn much.
Federated Media/ Lijit
The Liit arm of Federated Media contacted me via email around a year ago to see if I would be interested in trying out their ads. They promised acceptable payouts, I gave them a go. I now make on average $.50 CPM, which isn’t bad. I run three Lijit units per page, so this means that I make around $1.50 CPM with them in total per thousand page views.
The problem with Lijit is that they often only fill 50% of requests for ads, which means that you need to use another ad program to passback to or risk running blank spaces where their ads should be. The good thing about this is that they make it very easy to setup backup ads to passback to when they don’t have any inventory.
I recently started using Sonobi’s CPM banners, and though the payouts are not as high as Lijit they still fall within my range of what’s acceptable. I generally make around $.30 per thousand impressions with Sonobi ads. This is enough to keep running them, though not enough to run them above the fold. I generally put Sonobi ads in the shrublands of my blogs. If they paid more, they would get better real estate — but they don’t.
Adsense is also a CPM program, but it’s not clear to me how much they really pay out as far as impressions sans clicks are concerned. On their reports they only have CPC stats and RPM (real pay per thousand views) which combines both CPC and CPM together.
Other CPM programs
Like with CPC advertising, there are hundreds of CPM programs to chose from. I’ve tried a bunch in the past and will continue trying them out as my perpetual search for the ultimate ad set up continues. Ideally, I want to get my CPM ads to pay $1 per thousand impressions, but I’m having difficulty finding programs that can do this based on the type of content that I publish.
CPA – Cost per action advertising
Cost per action is a form of advertising where webmasters are paid a commission on sales they refer. So when a visitor clicks on a CPA banner, link, or widget, goes to the advertiser’s site, and then purchases something the webmaster gets a cut of the sale. Affiliate programs generally work on the CPA model.
I loathe CPA advertising. In principle, it sucks. In action, it had never produced adequate results for me. Now if you run a blog about going on cruises — or something else where the content leads directly to selling shit — CPA advertising works wonderfully. But on blogs that are not essentially bridges designed to convert readers into customers it is extremely difficult to make much money with this advertising system. In point, unless you really push it and become a salesperson, if you’re running a blog about your travels/ culture/ or another non-commercial topic you’re probably not going to refer enough sales to benefit much from CPA.
My biggest qualm with CPA is that, as a webmaster, I feel that it’s my job to refer traffic to an advertiser’s site and it is the job of that advertiser to make the sale. I don’t want to be penalized because someone else doesn’t do their job. On top of this, CPA advertising generally does not pay for clicks or impressions, so if you run these ads you are giving advertisers a ton of free brand marketing as well as some free traffic to boot.
Truly, CPA is a win/ win/ win scenario for advertisers: they don’t pay for the audience viewing their banners, they don’t pay for traffic, and they only pay after customers pay them first.
Even though I don’t particularly like CPA advertising I still run non-invasive forms of this advertising for residual income.
Commission Junction is probably the largest affiliate marketing network out there. You can join hundreds of affiliate programs for hundreds of companies through their platform, get the ad tags, and start earning money. In theory anyway.
I never had much success with Commission Junction. I don’t feel as if their tracking system credits all sales and they once absorbed my earnings just because I took a hiatus from using their system for around six months or so. Maybe I’m old school, but I feel that money earned is money that should be paid, no matter what.
Viglink is a non-invasive affiliate marketing system that automatically turns relevant keywords on your pages into affiliate links that point to their partners’ sites. When visitors click on these links and make a purchase, your account is credited. They have partnerships with 30,000 retailers — including Amazon and Ebay — so their coverage is pretty good.
The downside of Viglink is the bane of pretty much all CPA programs: when you mitigate earnings against clicks you don’t come up with much. Honestly, when it’s all averaged out I only make around 7 cents per click with Viglink. But as this program takes about zero effort to continue running and the ads don’t take up much space I keep using them. They are a real “you never know” type of ad program, as there is always potential for someone to click on one of their links and make a big purchase.
Note: Viglink is also financially backed by Google, so there should be no fear of penalties for using them.
Amazon’s affiliate program is pretty cool because you can link to any product on their site (pretty much anything for sale in the world) and make money off the sales you refer. They are also very clear about what percentage of the sale you take, and the percentage goes up in accordance with how many sales you generate per month. Ex: you start out making 4% per sale but if you sell 7 items in a month this amount jumps to 6%; if you sell 31 items earnings rise to 6.5%.
This truly isn’t a bad program if you run blogs with a direct content to sales correlation, but it does take a decent amount of work to run properly, as you need to go to Amazon.com and find the products you want to link to every time you want to link to them. I make around $20 to $50 per month via Amazon, but I could probably easily double this amount if I pushed this program a little more.
Amazon also has banner ads that you can run, and while I will sometimes use them as passbacks for other programs, I’ve never really benefited much from them.
There is one major form of advertising that I left out here: private ads. These are where a webmaster make deals with advertisers directly. This is a topic that truly deserves it’s own series of articles, so look for this coming up on Digital Nomad Travel.
So while I say that it’s difficult to fund a blog (and a lifestyle!) via advertising it’s clearly not impossible. Many people do it, but these people almost invariably work their asses of doing it. Effort and perseverance are key here as well as running blogs with monetizable topics.
I will discus the topics raised in this article in more detail throughout the upcoming weeks on Digital Nomad Travel. While you’re here, why not subscribe?
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About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
October 17, 2013, 4:28 am
Congratzzz to you for writing on such a topic with a good content!
btw can u please write a list of cpc(ppc) ad networks. That are trusted.
mean a list of ad networks that lie between adsense and chitika!
October 29, 2013, 6:58 pm
Any minimum requirements for Fijit?
December 15, 2013, 7:25 am
Well written article. I use Adversal and Infolinks on my website. I just started using them less than a month ago. Their eCPM rates seem decent.
eDomz also looks pretty well
I you have been using these ad networks, kindly share your experience.
My site was just approved for Chitika, and after reading your article, I must rethink to rent my site’s real-estate to them
December 16, 2013, 4:10 pm
I am totally with you in reference to Commission Junction. I have been using them for 2 months now and not earned a single cent. They have received 444 clicks from my website and made 230,333 impressions on my page and I have not earned a single cent from them. Their ads are slowly being removed….
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