A few months after I started Life As a Strawberry, I decided to throw some advertising into the mix and see if my blog could generate any kind of income. It’s been a big learning experience (there are SO MANY options when it comes to monetizing a blog!) but has also been kind of exciting. Right now, I’m working for myself full-time as a food blogger, nonprofit director, and freelance designer. Super difficult and stressful? Yes. Super awesome and worth every minute? Also yes.
There are a few different ways to generate an income with a blog. Advertisements that run in a header or sidebar are, of course, very standard, but you can also generate an income from Affiliate or Associate Programs, E-book publication, freelance writing, or product promotion (to name a few). I’ll be focusing on sponsored advertising and affiliate programs for now, because I believe those are the best and easiest options to start monetizing a blog with.
Am I Ready to Monetize My Blog?
The first thing I’ll say about monetizing your blog is that it shouldn’t be your first and only priority. No matter how long you’ve been blogging, your ABSOLUTE FIRST priority should always be generating great content that draws readers in and makes them want to come back. If you’re just getting started, give your blog some time online before you jump into advertising. Work on your writing, photography, and social media presence. You should build an audience before you begin to add income-generating content. Basically, you want to build trust with your audience before you try to sell them anything.
When you’re ready to monetize your blog, spend some time thinking about how you want to incorporate ads into your site. Do you want to have ads in the sidebar? At the top of each page? Scattered throughout your posts? It’s an important question – you want advertisements to be visible without taking away from the reader’s experience. Even if your blog has already developed a healthy following, inundating your readers with advertisements isn’t necessarily productive. I’ve found blogs on more than one occasion (some with great content!) that I will never visit again because the sheer number of ads detracted so much from the overall experience. Personally, I hate it when there’s a huge ad banner in the middle of a page that ends up cutting the post in half. For that reason, I decided to put big ads only in my sidebar, and to use text-only ads (exclusively for products that I love) within my posts.
Sponsored Ads vs. Affiliate/Associate Programs
First, let’s start with the difference between sponsored ads and associate/affiliate programs. Some sponsored ads, like Google AdSense or Sovrn, are managed by a third party. When you sign up with one of these services, you’re given code to add to your site that will link to whatever content or services those companies are currently promoting. Other sponsored ads come from individual companies and promote only that company and its products or services (Amazon does a lot of ads like this).
The good thing about sponsored ads is that they are relatively easy to implement and don’t require much involvement on your end. The only downside is that you don’t always have control over which products or companies are promoted. They can also be obtrusive for your readers and adblockers are poised to significantly reduce income from traditional advertising. For that reason, I choose to use more affiliate links than sponsored ad content.
Affiliate or Associate programs provide opportunities to contract directly with companies you like. As an affiliate, you get paid to refer readers to a company’s site. Amazon is one of the most popular affiliate programs, and I’ve had a great experience with them. You link to a product on the affiliate site from your blog, and if a reader clicks that link you receive a small commission on anything they purchase. There are also affiliate programs available at places like Le Creuset, Sur la Table, and Bed Bath & Beyond. These programs are great because they allow you complete control over the products you advertise on your site. You can also embed the advertisements right into your posts or pages as references for readers who might be interested in the products you use and love. The only downside is that it can take a lot of time to utilize an affiliate program – you have to search for the products you want to feature, create links to those products, and find appropriate places on your blog to put those links. I think the extra work is worth it, though, because I love having control over the products my blog promotes.
A note about affiliate links: Always, always, always disclose to your readers that you’re using affiliate links in a post or on your site!
How Does Life As a Strawberry Generate Income?
Here’s how I make money!
Sovrn Ad Network: I’ve been really happy with Sovrn (formerly Lijit). They’re your standard sidebar ads (you’ll see two in my sidebar and two in my footer area), but I like their publisher dashboard and customer service, as well as the level of analytics they provide. Of all the ads I run on my site, these are the most profitable for me.
BlogHer Network: Another sidebar ad, but a little bit different than Sovrn. BlogHer ads only appear once on my site, at the top of my sidebar, but I’ve actually been really pleasantly surprised at how well that single ad has been performing for me since I started using it about a year ago.
Amazon Associates – This program requires a bit of interaction on the blogger’s part, but it’s great because you only advertise products that you personally choose to endorse. If you want to feature a product on your site, you simply link to it using your Associate’s Account on the Amazon site. Whenever someone clicks over to Amazon from your site, you get a small commission (about 4%) of anything they purchase – even if it isn’t the thing you were originally advertising!
Bluehost Affiliate Program – I use Bluehost to host Life As a Strawberry, and I’ve had a great experience with them. So I signed up to be in their affiliates program! If anyone signs up with Bluehost through a link on my site, I receive a commission of whatever plan they buy.