By Leo Babauta
How can you make money from your blog – and keep your readers with integrity?
It’s a common question from bloggers, especially those who are really passionate about their blog: How do you make money from your blog?
I’ve been lucky with Zen Habits: fairly early on, I discovered how to make a living by doing what I’m passionate about, and within a year of starting my blog I quit my day job.
Making money blogging seems to be a common dream, and also sounds like a bit of a scam.
It’s a dream, because you can write about what you love, interact with others who love the same thing, and be free to work from anywhere, at your own pace.
It also seems like a scam, because there are millions of bloggers, and very few make any decent money doing it. I’ll be honest: it’s not easy, and it takes talent, skill, hard work, practice, and passion.
Unfortunately, there are many marketers out there who suggest an aggressive way of making sales through one’s blog by plastering ads all over it, or by selling all sorts of stuff that the reader may not like, or using all kinds of hype. I don’t buy it: while I’m sure you can make a lot of money fast by being a marketing hype machine, a spammer and a scammer, you’ll end up with money but no integrity, and people won’t trust you.
It’s important to maintain your integrity, because after a while, people will figure out whether they trust you or not — and if they don’t trust you, they won’t listen to you.
I recommend a win-win strategy where you can earn money from your blog, but only promote things that are really useful to your readers and can help them in some way.
The Problem with Spammy Ads/Products
When I first started Zen Habits, the first thing I did to make money was to put some Google Adsense ads in several spots, because it was the easiest thing to do. Later I experimented with other ad systems, including Yahoo and Chitika ads, but they didn’t work as well.
Adsense is a really easy way to get ads onto your site and to earn a little money right from the beginning. It’s not a lot of money — you might make 30 cents in one day if you have a little traffic, or a few dollars if you have a decent amount of readers, or $10-15/day if you have a lot of traffic.
But eventually I removed Adsense (only last year actually), mostly because I got a lot of complaints from readers that the Adsense ads were either inappropriate, or spam type ads. One reader even asked me whether I had actually tried the products I was advertising (I think it was milk from cloned cows), and I had to honestly say, “No.”
The problem with Adsense, as I saw it, was that I couldn’t actually endorse the products, but here I was, putting them onto my site. And I didn’t feel good about that. It was like making money on selling products that I didn’t really want my readers to use. That wasn’t in line with my values. So, eventually I got rid of Adsense, even though it was a convenient way to get a little income from my blog.
But that’s a big problem with a lot of ways of making money — you are selling products and services you don’t believe in. Readers will do their best to ignore it, but you’re sending a message to them: you’re willing to make money no matter what. You’re spammy. You put money before the readers’ interest.
It’s more important to me to keep my integrity. I want people to trust me, not tune me out because all I’m trying to do is sell them crappy products.
How to Make Money and Still Keep that Trust
Think about how you interact with your friends: do they try to sell you crappy stuff all the time, just so they can make money off you? Or do you trust them, because they would only recommend something to you they liked, believed in? And remember that crappy friend who kept trying to sign you up for his Amway pyramid scheme? You stopped hanging out with him.
On a blog, it’s much the same: we are building relationships with our readers, and we can either do it by being a good friend, or by being the crappy friend who wants to sell Amway to all his friends.
Only recommend books and products that you really believe in, and don’t just link to them or put ads on your site to make money. Once readers buy a book you recommend and actually like, they’ll enjoy it and come back for more. People trust you if you recommend good things, but if you advertise things that aren’t good, they’ll learn not to trust you.
Some practical ways to do this:
- Sell your own 125×125 ads (or whatever format works best for you). Then you can pick and choose the ads that you actually believe in.
- Sell your own ebooks and other products. If you made them yourself, presumably you believe in them.
- Join ad networks that are careful about screening their ads. Fusion and The Deck are two good examples, but there are others that might be better suited for your blog.
- Use Amazon and other affiliate links, but only link to books & products you actually recommend.
The Importance of Integrity and Helping Your Readers
For me, integrity is very important. I want to make money from my blog in a way that is useful for my readers, in a way that I feel good about and that’s in line with my values. I want people to trust me, even after I’ve made a little money off them. But everyone is different in this respect. Some bloggers just want to make money — and they do, in any way they can.
I think it’s important to think of your readers, because if you have no integrity with your readers, your readers will know that and they’ll say, “This guy is not really trying to help us, he’s just trying to make us come to his blog in order to make a lot of money.” If you make your blog all about the readers and create a good readership experience for them, create great content for them, put up a design that’s something they enjoy coming to and looking at, and have advertising and other forms of creating income that are actually helpful to them, people will appreciate that – and they’ll keep coming back.
So, if you have a relationship with your readers, you build that with everything that you do. Every email that you send to them, every comment that you answer, every blog post you write, every design change, and every money-making decision that you make is part of the relationship that you’re forming with them.
And if you build a solid relationship, that’s based on trust and respect, good things will come from it — you’ll be able to make a living doing something you’re happy with, not just make a quick buck off unsuspecting readers.