Blogging (short for “web logging”), born from the Internet age, is one of the newer venues for freelance writing. The Internet has generated a lot of news about the financial possibilities open to bloggers: an audience of potentially millions — along with possible corporate sponsorship, a byline, and infinite creative control — captures the imagination of many prospective bloggers, and makes blogging seem like an infinitely desirable, lucrative field.
The truth is it is much more difficult to become a successful freelance blogger. A good knowledge of marketing, web design, and being consistent are skills you need to make a living (or a comfortable extra income) from this new form of media.
The reason for this is the low barrier of entry. Anyone with access to web space can start a blog. Sites like Blogger, Livejournal and even MySpace offer free web space to anyone willing to sign up. This has resulted in millions of blogs in existence today, many of them literate, many of them wildly popular, and nearly all of them free to read and browse.
That variety of free content makes it difficult to charge for access to your writing, no matter how good it is. You could be the greatest expert on foreign policy or nutrition known to man, and few people would be willing to pay $5 — or $1, or one cent — to read a blog post by you, the expert, when there are thousands of semi-qualified (but bright and engaging) writers giving away similar material.
So your main sources of revenue are going to come from advertising and from whatever paid content you can fit into the site. Luckily, web advertising is becoming less dicey than it was a year ago. Google’s “AdSense” program is a good baseline for a page, providing targeted advertising based on your content and paying you, directly, per click-through (although the pay rate per click is low.) You can supplement that amount with other forms of web advertising, from the comparatively unobtrusive banner to pop-up animations that “float over” the text.
This brings us to the “double-edged sword” problem in web advertising. The most effective advertising is obtrusive advertising; that is, advertising that blocks valuable content until the user clicks on it either to make it disappear or to take you to a different website. However, obtrusive advertising also irritates your readers, which can lead to a lower reputation for your blog overall. On the Internet, reputation is the single best determinant of your web traffic. Using obtrusive advertising can significantly lower your traffic and make your blog that much less attractive to potential advertisers.
So you’ll need to find a happy medium between heavy advertising (and light traffic) and little to no advertising (and high traffic, but little revenue.) Luckily, the instant responsiveness of the Internet, along with the commenting features available on nearly all blogging software, make it easy to ask your readers about exactly what level of advertising they’d be willing to accept. Reader connectivity is one of the most important features of any good blog: not only does it allow you to fine-tune your blog over time, eliminating features that readers find irritating or off-putting, but it also allows you to develop personal connections with your readers, the kind of connections that build loyal audiences.
There are other ways to make money by blogging, such as the following:
1) It’s possible to sidestep advertising altogether by making some of your content unavailable, except to subscribers. For example, you might only keep your most recent five or six blog entries unlocked, and require a monthly subscription fee to read the rest of the archives;
2) Or you might keep your current posts and your entire regular archives active, but produce some longer or specialized entries or other content and charge a set fee for these;
3) You could even compile some of your best entries into a physical book, along with some new content, and offer it for sale. Even if all the entries are available online, you’d be surprised how many people are willing to pay to have something they can hold in their hands;
4) Additionally, you could go the Salon.com route — make all of your archives available to anyone willing to watch a short full-screen advertisement — or you could rely on readers’ willingness to support content that they find worthwhile by asking for donations outright.
Many prominent blogs and online content providers have done this and found themselves able to make rent and pay all of their bills every month on donations alone.
No matter how much advertising or subscription services your blog has, it’s all worthless if people don’t want to read you in the first place. And there are three simple rules to make your blog popular:
1) Write on something you care about
2) Write consistently and thoughtfully on a regular schedule (daily is best)
3) Read and comment on other blogs
People read blogs because they provide a source of information and analysis on topics that traditional media sources only cover sketchily and hastily, or don’t cover at all. Don’t try to figure out an ideal money-making blog topic and proceed from there. People care about blogs because blogs are about personal, in-depth viewpoints and thoughts.
If you can provide those to your audience regularly, and you can set up a minimally-intrusive but still worthwhile revenue system through advertising or subscriptions, there’s no reason why you can’t become a successful blogger.