This is a written post by Marc. Marc has been blogging full-time since 2008. He currently runs a personal finance blog Vital Dollar where he writes about money management, saving money, and making extra money. If you want to learn more about making money with a blog please see his free 7-day Blogging Fundamentals email course.
Earning a living from a blog is a dream job for a lot of people. When I started my first blog I was looking to make a little extra money, but it wasn’t until a few months later that I really got hooked and started thinking about what it would be like to leave my job and become a full-time blogger.
As I started to read stories of other people making money with their blogs I was inspired and motivated to make it happen for myself with my web design blog.
About a year and a half after I launched my blog I was fortunate enough to be able to leave my full-time job and focus on my own business. A few years later I was able to sell that blog for $500,000, an amount that seemed surreal to me just a few years earlier.
Since then I’ve continued to work as a blogger (if you’re interested, you can read my article How I’ve Made Over $1 Million Blogging at my personal finance blog Vital Dollar).
In this article, I want to share the details of how it all happened with my blog. As I mentioned, when I was getting started I was encouraged and motivated by reading stories from other people. I’m hoping that this story can inspire others who are in the early stages of blogging.
Here is a quick rundown of a few details related to this blog that I built and sold.
- This was my first blog. When I launched it I had no idea what I was doing. I had never heard of WordPress, and I actually tried two other blogging platforms before installing WordPress. The first two I tried were hard to figure out, but fortunately WordPress was a good fit for me. (Read Allan’s article to see how easy it is to start a WordPress blog.)
- I worked on this blog for six years before selling it. The first 1.5 years I worked on it as a side hustle while I had a full-time job. After leaving my job this blog was my main focus for the next 4.5 years until I sold it.
- At its peak, the blog attracted 1 million visitors per month. The traffic was around 800,000 visitors per month when I sold it.
- The blog was monetized with banner ads, the sales of my own digital products, and affiliate earnings. By the time I sold the blog it was consistently making $20,000+ in profit each month, and the revenue was split pretty evenly between those three sources.
- I sold the blog for $500,000 to someone in my personal network. I spoke to a few other potential buyers but never listed the site with a broker or a marketplace. The market today is better for sellers than it was a few years ago, so with a similar blog you could almost certainly sell it for more today.
Getting Started: Building the Blog’s Audience
When I first launched the blog I was still trying to figure out what I was doing. I posted at inconsistent frequencies, the quality of the articles was not very good, and most significantly I didn’t have a clear idea of what audience I was targeting. Initially, I wanted to use the blog to land web design clients, so I was writing articles that might attract business owners looking for a web designer. But I also tried some posts that were written for other web designers, and those were the posts that did well. So I shifted my focus and only wrote posts that would be of interest to designers and marketers, not potential clients.
Since I had a full-time job, in the beginning I was working evenings and weekends on my blog. Although it was a part-time thing, I took it very seriously and worked on it every chance I got.
Looking back, probably the biggest key and what helped me to initially attract traffic to the blog was networking. I networked like crazy with other bloggers in niches like design, development, marketing, and blogging.
I did several different things to connect with other bloggers:
I left comments on other blogs – Every blogger likes to get comments, and this is an extremely effective way to get others to notice you. Some of them will click through and check out your blog. If you’re looking to start some connections with other blogs this is a great place to begin.
I sent cold emails – I wanted to build connections with other bloggers, so sometimes I would just fill out a contact form or send an email to introduce myself. I didn’t ask for anything in these emails, I just wanted to let them know that I liked their blog. A lot of times I would also tell them to let me know if they ever needed some social media shares for a post.
I almost always got a great response from these cold emails, and a few of these bloggers became good friends as we both worked to grow our blogs. Don’t be scared to reach out to other bloggers.
I should point out that this approach is much more effective if you’re not emailing A-list bloggers that get thousands of emails every day. If you reach out to smaller blogs you’ll have a much better chance of getting your email noticed.
I wrote a ton of guest posts – Although I was publishing a lot of content at my own blog, I also made it a priority to write for other blogs. Although this can be a link building strategy, I actually did it more for the networking aspect and to establish my name in the niche (I was using a pen name at the time, which was a bad decision, but that’s a topic for another day). These guest posts helped me to build my own audience and also led to several paid recurring freelance writing gigs, which really helped me while I was still not making much money from my own blog.
I linked to other bloggers as much as possible – Just like every blogger likes to get comments, they also like when other bloggers link to them. I would include links in the content of my posts where relevant, and I would look for opportunities to link to the bloggers in my network. I wanted to give more than I got, and this was one way to do it. And of course, since bloggers appreciate it, a lot of times they would reciprocate and link back to my blog.
For a long time I also published a weekly roundup of quality posts that I came across during the week. I would link to anyone who had a great article, but I especially used this to link to people who actively commented on my blog, shared my posts on social media, linked to me, or helped me in some way. I would also sometimes link to bloggers that I wanted to connect with, as a way to show that I respected their work.
Networking is one of those things that is difficult to measure. It’s hard to know exactly what results can be attributed to networking, but I know that it was one of the biggest keys to the growth of my blog.
Networking helped me in many ways, including:
More links to my website – Just like I linked to my friends, most of those people also linked back to me. It was never an official link exchange, but simply friends looking to help each other when possible.
More social media shares – A lot of people in my network would share my posts through social media, which was my biggest source of traffic in the beginning.
Led to paid writing opportunities – My very first guest post led to a paid weekly gig as a freelance writer. I submitted the guest post and the blog owner asked if I was interested in writing once a week for pay. I almost said “no” because I wanted to focus on my own blog, but I thought the $50 per week would be pretty nice. I wound up liking that arrangement so much that I looked for other weekly and monthly gigs. More on this later in the article.
Help and advice – I had 3 or 4 blogging friends in the niche that I knew pretty well. We would email each other with questions and get advice from each other. This was extremely valuable and we all learned and grew faster because of it.
In the early days I wasn’t making much money from the blog. I did get some web design clients as a result of the blog, but I quickly realized that I liked blogging more than the client work, and so I de-emphasized that.
About 6 months after I started the blog I was getting 100,000 visitors per month. Up until I hit the 100,000 visitor mark I hadn’t monetized the blog. I intentionally waited so I could focus on growing the blog without having ads that would distract readers.
Once I hit 100,000 visitors per month I thought I would be able to start selling banner ads. At the time there weren’t nearly as many good ad networks as there are now, so I was actually selling and managing the ads on my own. I contacted a couple of companies that were advertising on other blogs like mine and I sold my first few ads in no time. Once I had some ads on the site I started getting contacted by other companies who wanted to advertise. After several months I did switch to BuySellAds, which was especially popular in my niche.
As I mentioned in the previous section, I did some freelance writing for other blogs. By the time I left my full-time job I was making about $2,000 per month from a handful of weekly and monthly gigs, and that’s really what made it possible for me to leave my job safely. At that time my income was from freelance writing and ads on my site, and the occasional design project for a client. I continued to write for other blogs for a year or so until the income from my own blog was high enough that I didn’t need the writing income.
The freelance writing was great not only for the money that it provided, but also for name recognition in the niche. Since I was writing for a few different sites consistently I think it helped me to be viewed as an expert.
As I was working to grow the blog I was continually publishing new content. The frequency changed at times, but it was always somewhere between 2-5 posts per week. Adding a lot of new content to the site was important because after the first year I was getting most of my traffic from Google searches. Not every post ranked well, but some did. More posts meant more opportunities to rank. So as I grew the site, the traffic continued to increase for a few years.
One of the keys to growing traffic on the site was that I focused on my strengths. In the world of web design blogs there were a lot of different types of posts: detailed coding tutorials, detailed design tutorials, showcases/inspiration, lists and roundups, interviews, freebies and resources, and opinion articles. I found a few types of content that I was good at and that’s what I focused on.
After a few years of running the blog I was making a pretty decent income, but it was almost all from ad revenue. I was typically making $10,000+ per month, but I knew that I needed to diversify my income streams. Plus, I didn’t like the constant pressure to increase traffic in order to increase my ad revenue.
In order to diversify the income I started selling digital products on my site. At the time I had a very high traffic website and I thought I could throw some products up on the site and the sales would start coming in. In reality, it wasn’t quite that easy. I did start making some money right away from the products, but it wasn’t as much as I was hoping for. The digital products did ultimately wind up becoming pretty successful, but it took a lot of work and some patience.
One of the most popular ways to monetize a blog is through affiliate links. However, I didn’t do anything with affiliate links, aside from the occasional web hosting commission, for several years. At the time most of the leading blogs in the niche were not using affiliate links, and there was kind of a negative stigma attached to using that as a monetization method. So I always avoided affiliate links. The last year that I owned the site I knew I wanted to sell it at some point, so I decided to try some affiliate links as a way to maximize what I was making from the site (and increase the selling price).
To get started with affiliate revenue I went through the archives and added affiliate links to a lot of posts. The first step was simply to use affiliate links where I had been using a standard link to a website that had an affiliate program. After that, I also looked for some opportunities to add affiliate links in the existing content, especially the posts that got the most traffic.
Also, I made an effort to write at least a few new posts each month that would give me the opportunity to include affiliate links. Within 6 months my affiliate revenue passed $10,000 per month. Not using affiliate links earlier was a huge mistake, and I definitely missed out on a lot of money.
After focusing on affiliate commissions I now had 3 solid sources of income: ads, digital products, and affiliate programs.
Selling the Blog
After working on the blog for 6 years I was ready to move on and do something different, so I decided it was time to sell. The diversity of income streams made the blog more appealing to potential buyers, because it was more secure than relying strictly on ad revenue or any other single income source.
I considered hiring a broker to sell the blog, but I really didn’t want to pay $50,000 or more in broker fees. So to sell the site I reached out to people in my network to let them know I was looking to sell. I wound up selling the blog to a friend that I had known for a few years. Selling to someone you know and trust makes the process a lot easier, but it’s not always possible. I may have been able to get a higher price if I had gone through a broker, but the brokers I talked to seemed to think that $500,000 was a pretty good price.
Today, it’s more of a seller’s market and you should be able to get a higher price for a comparable website or blog. For a site making a consistent $20,000+ per month profit I would hope to get at least $600,000 now.
Keys to the Blog’s Growth
To sum up the story I’d like to present what I believe were the keys to having some success with this blog:
- Networking. Building connections with other bloggers was absolutely huge for me, especially during the first year or two when I was really working to grow the blog. If you are building your own blog I would highly encourage you to prioritize networking with others in your niche.
- Focused on Content. Although I was networking a lot, I always made it a priority to publish the best content I was capable of. Looking back, some of that content wasn’t very good, but I was learning. It doesn’t matter how much you network or promote your blog, you need good content in order to have success.
- Waited to Monetize. In the first year I was really focused on growing the blog and not on the money it was making (or wasn’t making). I was trying to build an audience, and I knew that once I had traffic and had established the blog I would be able to make money. It takes some patience, but if you can focus on growth before money you’ll be in good shape.
- Consistent Effort. This one is really important. While I was working on this blog I got to know a lot of other bloggers. Some of them had success, and some didn’t. All of the ones who had success put in the time and effort to make it happen. The most common problem I saw from bloggers who weren’t successful was that they gave up too soon. Don’t expect instant results.
- Focused on My Strengths. I did some things well, and other things not so well. But I was able to minimize some of my weaknesses by simply focusing on the things that I did well. I had a networking approach that worked. I also had specific types of content that worked.
Failures and Missed Opportunities
Although I consider this blog to have been pretty successful, there were still plenty of ways that I failed. Since I was a new blogger I failed all the time, and that was the best way to learn. But there were a few key failures and missed opportunities that I want to point out.
- Relied on Ad Revenue for too Long. Before I started selling digital products and using affiliate links almost all of my income was from ads. Fortunately, traffic to the site was pretty high so I was able to make a decent amount from ads, but I could have done a lot better by adding some other revenue streams earlier. When ad revenue is all you’ve got you’re forced to increase traffic or put more ads on your site if you want to make more money. If traffic drops, your income drops too. That’s a lot of pressure.
- Waited too Long to Use Affiliate Links. This goes along with the previous point, but I want to emphasize it because it’s important. I missed out on at least $100,000, and probably a lot more, by not using affiliate links earlier. I didn’t want to turn some readers off by using affiliate links and I thought I would come across as more neutral. But once I gave affiliate links a chance the revenue was great, and it didn’t impact the readers’ experience at all.
I missed out on income for several years. Also, I would have been able to sell the site for more because it would have had a stronger income history. And to top it off, the affiliate revenue had climbed every month for 6 months when I sold the site, and I’m pretty sure I could have continued that upward trend for a while. If I had started earlier, who knows how much I would have been making by the time I sold it.
- I Sold too Early. Since I only started using affiliate links the last 6 months I owned the blog, and since it was increasing each month, I should have held on to the blog for another 6-12 months. The sale price that you get for a blog is usually based on the past 12 months of profit. Since my profit was increasing fast, I should have been able to sell it for more if I had held on to it and continued to grow for even a few more months.
Although I made plenty of blogging mistakes, I still was able to sell my first blog for $500,000. I hope this story gives you some inspiration and motivation when you’re working on your own blog. There are so many people making much more with their blogs than I ever did, but I hope this story shows that blogging can be a great way to earn a living.
Marc has been blogging full-time since 2008. He currently runs a personal finance blog Vital Dollar where he writes about money management, saving money, and making extra money. If you want to learn more about making money with a blog please see his free 7-day Blogging Fundamentals email course.
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