Turn Your Blogging Hobby Into Cash

Features Bankrate.com

It's the ultimate 21st century new media dream job: A self-published blog that creates a steady income and allows you to quit your day job.

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But how do you turn your blogging hobby into cash? Despite the obvious appeal, it's not an easy path and requires a disciplined approach.

An estimated 70 million blogs exist today, and the vast majority don't make squat. In fact, 95% of blogs are abandoned, according to the blog search engine Technorati's state of the blogosphere 2008.

Granted, there are success stories, such as Julie Powell's blog that became a book that became the movie "Julie and Julia," but the more common tale is of folks with day jobs earning some extra cash. Bloggers who do make money -- even if it's just a little -- seem to write on a consistent basis, have a passion for the blogging topic and in some cases, a willingness to embrace "sponsored" blogging.

Even so, if you want to blog for cash, keep in mind the following words of advice from experts and bloggers.

Blogging isn't easy

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As with any moneymaking venture, there are the confounding cases of success -- the Amway millionaires of blogging.

Case in point: Elise Bauer of Carmichael, Calif., started a blog called Simply Recipes in 2003. As a Silicon Valley consultant, she had little time to cook, "let alone learn how to cook beyond what I had learned growing up," she says in her blog.

Three years later, Bauer's blog was ranked by Time magazine as one of the 50 "coolest" Web sites and won "best food blog overall" by the Well Fed Network, a Web compilation of food and wine blogs at Wellfed.net.

"She just wanted to show people you don't have to be a gourmet cook to make great meals, and now she's one of the biggest food bloggers in the world. She was an early ad network member with BlogHer, and she's ... able to focus on it full-time," says BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page of Palo Alto, Calif.

BlogHer is a blogging community for women that boasts 2,500 bloggers, including Bauer. It reaches 15 million unique visitors per month, and its bloggers were eagerly courted by top marketers at BlogHer's recent annual conference in Chicago. Bloggers who attended wrote about the abundant corporate freebies in their postings.

Camahort Page wouldn't disclose specific revenue figures for top earners, but says, "The average income is about $300 a month, but there are the outliers earning a living in each of our topic verticals. It's that whole 80-20 rule. In each vertical, there's a top 10 (percent) or 20% who are the biggest earners."

By choosing to team up with blogging networks like BlogHer, bloggers outsource the time-consuming work of promoting their blogs to advertisers. On BlogHer, they agree to a 10%, fixed-cost monthly fee and the ad revenue generated is split between the blogger and BlogHer, Camahort Page says.

Blogs can be created quickly and for free using online templates, such as WordPress or Blogger, and can host their blogs on affiliated sites, also for free.

The no-brainer source of income for many blogs is Google's AdSense program, which pays bloggers each time a reader clicks on an ad from their blog.

If you're a blogger consumed by a day job, AdSense makes sense. With just a few minutes to sign up, you can access a vast network of advertisers through Google. Google automatically matches ads that suit your audience's interests.

"If you can specialize in one sector, like pizza, and can become a celebrity of the pizza-eating world, that's when Google will pick you up," says Craig Agranoff, a Florida-based Web producer who writes three blogs including WorstPizza, where he reviews pizza joints.

Bloggers can also make money directly by tapping into the money-generating power of affiliate advertising, such as Amazon's affiliate advertising program, which pays bloggers if a reader buys a book reviewed on a blog.

While driving reader traffic remains the lifeblood of any blog, not all bloggers make money directly from blogs. Instead, they make money because of blogging, either through consulting gigs, business connections or book contracts.

Still, it's tough to make money. "My three blogs make money off of Google Ads and '125 ads,'" Agranoff says, referring to small Web ads that are 125 pixels by 125 pixels in size.

"At the end of the month, the money is very nice. You could definitely make money off of blogs," he says. "What they don't tell you at these tech conferences, where guys who are making $100,000 off blogs (are speakers), is that you couldn't do it without an (income) cushion."

A passion or diversion

Alabama-based Melissa King started her blog in 2005 to post copies from her writing as a journalist. But soon after starting her "writechic" blog, she realized she could pull in a little income and "ramped up and regulated my writing for informative and entertainment purposes," covering politics and taking an irreverent tone.

"I discovered I could make money writing on a blog while scrounging through want ads for freelance writing gigs," King says.

But income is erratic and it has yet to replace her regular writing work. "I can pull in $50 and $650 a month depending on how much I want to work," she says. "Regardless of how much or how little is written, the actual writing has to be good, error-free, interesting. That's the most important thing."

And passionate, if you're Jan Norris. A former food-page editor for a newspaper in West Palm Beach, Fla., she launched her blog about "food, restaurants, recipes and pre-Disney Florida" in August 2008. She had left the paper but wasn't ready to give up her love of food writing.

Norris spends 20 hours a week on the blog, producing content, managing comments and answering e-mails, but continues to supplement her income as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers.

"I would really like to get to the point where (the blog) is all I do," she added. To drive traffic to her blog, she's joined Twitter, the micro-blogging service, and she boasts 500 followers.

She has relied on name recognition in her local market to sell ads to businesses there, such as the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, which runs banner ads on her blog.

It's a strategy that is gaining traction on the Internet, Agranoff says. "Hyperlocal blogs have become very popular, like one blogger who writes about things that are only happening in Coconut Grove (Fla.)," he says. "Local advertisers want to be there."

Sponsored blogging drives cash flow

Another route for money-minded bloggers is to team up with sites that pay bloggers directly, mostly to do product reviews. For example, sites like Bloggerwave and PayPerPost team bloggers up with companies seeking online consumers.

At PayPerPost, lists of "jobs" from companies looking to generate buzz online are available to bloggers. As part of its arrangement, PayPerPost requires bloggers to disclose sponsored posts.

Most of these sites have a simple sign-up process, including basic contact information, a short profile and links to your blog.

This form of blogging is controversial and can bring boos from the bloggerati, which sometimes refer to it as "commercial blogging." Additionally, it's questionable how long this practice will remain the norm, with the Federal Trade Commission considering whether to require disclosure of these practices, according to recent news reports.

Andrew Bennett of North Attleboro, Mass., started his blog Benspark.com in December 2003. He uploads a photo each day and often blogs about camera equipment, in addition to personal musings. Now he counts 1,767 Twitter followers and 1,000 Web page views a day.

Bennett began making money from his blog in 2006, when he started with PayPerPost, writing reviews of camera equipment. Since then, he has averaged $5,500 in extra income annually. Bennett also relies on cost-per-click programs with advertisers, running ads at the bottom of his blog that put 11 cents to 18 cents into his pocket when the link is clicked.

But turning posts into cash can be spotty. Bennett made $3.90 from SocialSpark, another site that connects bloggers with companies, for taking the "job" to review the XShot, a camera extender. Then, he made an additional $23 from ads on his blog from Santa Barbara, Calif.-based XShot LLC when six of his readers clicked through those ads and bought the product.

"When I first started, it was like, 'Wow, free money,'" Bennett says. "For me, blogging is a hobby that I'd like to turn into full time eventually."

Copyright 2009, Bankrate Inc.

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