The pièce de résistance in this series of posts, this article will describe the best ways to monetize your blog. I’ll also discuss the worst techniques (a.k.a. what NOT to do) and why passive income is a pipe dream.
First, a disclaimer. These methods are certainly doable, but monetizing your blog isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme or a set-it-once-and-it-keeps-paying strategy. It’s a long-term process and it involves a ton of hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Remember: the methods that work best take a lot more work.
In this article, “membership site” simply means a site where there is protected, members-only content. The main reason many bloggers like this business model is the potential for recurring revenue. Who doesn’t want a regular stream of income?
Aside from the recurring income, you can also upsell products, services, and affiliates to members of your site. The fact that they’re members means that they trust you and your recommendations, making them more likely to buy.
The main thing here is research. First, look at your blog. Do you have enough blog traffic and engagement with your readers? Which of your posts had the most comments? Do you think your existing readers will be open to the idea?
Next, look around for any existing membership sites in your niche. Are there any? If there aren’t, don’t celebrate the lack of competition too soon; it could also mean that there’s no demand for it in your niche. Dig deeper and find out if you can create that demand.
Then, if you’re not already a member, join one or two membership sites. Ideally, they should be related to your niche, but if they’re not, that’s fine. Study how they do things. What are they getting right? What can they improve on? How much do they charge? Can you offer more content or more quality for the same price?
Lastly, check forums on your niche, or even Quora. Note the frequently asked questions in your niche so you can then plan your content around it.
If you’re using WordPress (if you aren’t, you seriously should), setting up a membership site right on your blog is as simple as installing a plugin. But before you even get to that, here are some features to consider:
Free and paid? Standard and premium? Free, standard, and premium? Whichever you choose, make sure you have the content to support all of them.
One-time? Monthly? Annually? Semi-annually?
If you allow downloadable exclusive content, you need to make sure your members don’t distribute them to just anyone.
You might want to offer other products to your members beyond the content their membership allows them to access.
Now you can get the word out. Here are some ways you can promote your membership site and convince members to sign up.
Let your email subscribers know, but don’t make it a hard sell. Inform them of this new venture and note their reactions. Take this opportunity to gauge their enthusiasm as well.
Market it as a preview of the content they can expect to get.
Place a banner or sidebar ad and target your new visitors. Because you’re advertising it on your own blog, it’s free. Have the ads redirect to a landing page that outlines the benefits of joining.
Including social media in your promotion strategy potentially reaches people who may have never heard of your blog before.
Again, don’t make it a hard sell. Just let them know. They could be interested in doing an exclusive webinar or creating an exclusive post. You might even get them as members. If your membership site offers great value, they’ll be more likely to promote it on their blogs.
A limited-time discount is a legitimate promotional tactic, right up there with free trials. But offering a discount is way different from positioning yourself as the low-cost competitor. It’s tempting to offer low rates because this might be an effective tool to get more members in the short-term.
In the long run, however, it hurts everyone. Your competitors slash their prices, their content quality goes down, your content quality goes down because the price just isn’t sustainable, readers in your niche stop joining membership sites, aaaaand you’ve ruined the niche for anyone who wants to start a membership site.
It might not be quite as apocalyptic as that, but I hope you get the picture. There’s plenty of room for everyone on the internet. Focus on producing great quality content and make it worth what your members pay.
Welcoming new members with an email containing a “getting started” guide or video, or both, will go a long way in making your members feel like they’re going to get taken care of. Plus it minimizes the time you spend answering questions like “How do I go the webinar page?” and “How do I access the members’ area?” and focus on the questions that are helpful for everyone.
Interacting with your readers is part of taking care of your community, but it’s even more important now that members of your site are parting with their hard-earned money for access. It’s not just higher quality content that they want, it’s greater access to you. They’d figure, if visitors to your blog can click “Contact Us,” commenters on posts can post their opinions, and subscribers can reply back to your emails/newsletters, then as paying members, they should have something more.
And they’d be right.
There are many ways you can set this up, but for starters, try to reply to people posting on your members-only forum. Or you can hold a regular “Ask Me Anything” for an hour every week. Or you can set up a private, members-only Facebook group where you can hold a regular Facebook Live session and reply personally to their comments and posts asking for help or leaving feedback.
Whichever method you employ, make sure your members feel your presence.
Take the time to listen to what your members have to say. You might have prepared some kick-ass content, but what if your members want to learn something more basic? Or even something more advanced? Needs evolve over time and you need to be able to evolve with your members.
Survey them every 3 to 6 months and find out if they’re still happy or they want something more or different.
I don’t have exact industry statistics, but according to this infographic by Invesp, it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. And yet you are 60–70% more likely to persuade an existing customer to buy, as opposed to 5–20% for a new prospect.
The math is clear on this one.
So how can you retain members and stop them from cancelling?
One way you can do this is to set milestones for your customers. Some sites offer bonus products or services after every 6 months of membership. Some sites offer courses with a definite timeframe (for example, three months), after which they can take up an advanced course or take up another course. Having definite milestones, even though it’s the end of a course, gives your members something to look forward to and helps them stick around.
Attrition, or people leaving your site, is one of the greatest challenges that membership site owners face. For members who’ve cancelled, ask them why. Set up some kind of exit form when they cancel their membership. That way you know why they’re leaving and you can address it.
But don’t just let them walk out that door and never look back. Chase them. Add them to a list of cancelled members and offer them incentives to come back and give it another go.
In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is promoting a product or service from another company and earning a commission for it. You can earn a commission by taking a percentage of the resulting sale, commission per lead (no purchase necessary, just a sign-up with an email address), or a fixed amount per sale.
Is it simple? Yes. Is it easy? Nope.
There is a lot to learn and a lot to do to set this up. Don’t be fooled by get-rich-quick programs that suggest that earning hundreds of thousands through affiliate marketing can be done with minimal effort.
However, affiliate marketing is not a scam. It’s a viable option, but only if you take the time to learn how to do it correctly.
Your ultimate aim in affiliate marketing should be a three-way winning situation wherein:
I’ve outlined the basics of affiliate marketing in this article, but here’s a summary of it.
There are a number of ways you can go about doing this. Danyon already wrote about how to find affiliate programs, so you might want to check that out.
If you’re using WordPress, there’s a plugin called Jetpack that can show you a list of your external links and how many people clicked on them. You now have a list of sites where you’re sending traffic. Then, you can go to these sites and check if they have affiliate programs. Most of the time, their footer would have a link that says “Affiliates,” “Affiliate Program,” or “Become an Affiliate.” You can now sign up.
Products and services that have solved your problems are more likely to excite your readers. You can check these companies’ websites to check if they have affiliate programs.
For example, if you’re running a fashion blog, you can search “fashion-related affiliate programs” on Google and see if a favorite product is pulled up.
Find out which products and services seem to be promoted frequently on their blogs. Check if they’re products and services you like as well, or at least try them out. Apply for their affiliate programs as well if they seem to be a good fit.
An affiliate network acts as a mediator between you and affiliate programs by merchants. A single affiliate network may contain thousands of affiliate programs. Some of the best affiliate networks are:
It may take a couple of days or sometimes weeks to get approved by the affiliate programs you’ve joined. Once you get approved, you get an affiliate link to track your sales. They’re normally full of letters and numbers that look like gibberish.
What you want to do is conceal its “ugliness” and mask it with a link that looks more logical and is easier to remember. Again, as with most things, there’s a plugin to do this. One of the more popular ones is Pretty Link Lite.
It’s not just a cosmetic concern; one of your affiliates may decide to change its affiliate link, like if they change affiliate networks. If you didn’t mask your affiliate link, you’ll have to go back to all posts that had the old link and edit them to show the new one. Worse, if you’ve already sent out emails with that link, there’s no way for you to correct them. With the masking plugin, you only have to update the old link once, and the “pretty” links in your blog posts and emails still work.
Review posts, list posts, and comparison posts are some of the most popular posts for affiliate marketing. Always include both the pros and cons of the products you’re mentioning, even if they’re affiliates.
You can use the tips I enumerated here to drive traffic to your blog posts. More traffic to your blog = more traffic to your affiliate links.
It’s only logical to promote products that are useful and familiar to you. Your confidence in the product is vital when you write about these products. If you don’t really believe in the product, it’s like a bad smell: no matter how hard you try to hide it, it will always come out.
You can place affiliate links in your emails to your subscribers where it makes sense. However, don’t be trigger-happy with the links. Your readers subscribed because of you and the value you give. Always include more free information in your emails than affiliate links.
Retaining your readers’ trust is key to selling to them. Be very careful not to break that trust. Being transparent is easier than weaving a web of lies. Plus, if you have loyal subscribers, they might check out the link anyway to support you. So always be honest!
Monitoring your affiliate programs will help you determine which ones are successful and which ones aren’t. It’ll also allow you to test which promotion strategies are effective and which ones aren’t. This way, you don’t get stuck doing a strategy that doesn’t work or staying with an affiliate program that doesn’t perform well.
I can’t stress this enough. Always be honest about what you like and what you DON’T like about a product. Also, products that work for you may not work for others. It’s important to mention that and explain why it might or might not work for others.
Selling other people’s products through affiliate marketing can indeed be lucrative, but selling your own product gives you absolute control over everything: quality, branding, marketing, etc. Most importantly, this gives you a higher profit margin compared to selling other people’s products.
Here are some products you might consider creating:
Information products like ebooks are common products that bloggers develop and for good reason. People on their smartphones and tablets can easily read these on the go, and they’re simple to make and distribute.
Another type of information product, ecourses are on-demand training courses, usually with multimedia components like audio and video aside from text presentations. If you have a more complicated concept you’d like to teach, ecourses may be a better fit than ebooks.
Themes, patterns, wallpapers, logos, icons, and other elements of web design are currently in demand. If you’re a graphic designer, you can take advantage of this demand and sell these elements right on your blog.
Applications and plugins have a higher perceived value than ebooks or even ecourses, because let’s face it, not everyone can make software.