Have you ever wished you could blog about one of your personal interests -- and that blog would attract a huge audience and allow you to earn in your living while you sleep? It's a great way to supplement your freelance income or even replace it entirely.
It's the dream of many bloggers. But few succeed.
Recently, however, I had a chance to talk to two bloggers who are living that dream. They built blogs about their passions and now earn hefty incomes from blog ad revenue.
First off, I saw Bill Belew present at NMX recently about how he built his six-figure business, which earns mostly from ad-clicks -- sending customers to advertisers' websites from his sites.
He operates a network of a dozen different niche websites, which together have seen more than 100 million visitors. He reports he makes a solid five-figure income from each site.
The sites cover interests of his including Asia, Christianity, and blogging. Several are on the Examiner platform, while others are independently hosted.
Belew says there were four steps to building his successful blog-based business:
Belew has stuffed his network of sites with over 20,000 articles.
"If you want more readers," he says, "you have to write more stuff. You write until you see exponential growth."
While initially Belew wrote many posts himself, he soon began to rely on contract writers, whom he says he paid on a revenue-share basis.
In Belew's experience, it took about seven months or so and 1,000 short articles for each site to begin to build substantial traffic and start generating meaningful ad-revenue income.
It's not enough to slap up any old thing, Belew says. Each post needs to contain useful information, have strong headlines, and use keywords that are popular for searches on that topic.
He says most bloggers go wrong by writing unfocused posts that don't have a strong headline or search engine optimization (SEO) focus.
"Ask yourself, 'What am I writing about, in 10 words or less?'" he says. "If you cannot articulate that, you don't have the focus you need. And if you can't get the title right, you will never get found."
The sweet spot is to find a balance in your posts between what appeals to people and what appeals to search engines.
His post checklist for driving traffic includes these key points:
- Tagline (or SEO line)
- Images with alt-tag descriptions
- Internal links within the post (not just at the bottom with LinkWithin or similar tools)
- Authority (sound like an expert)
- External links (ideally, to other experts in your niche subject)
- Timely, news-focused posts (or)
- Timeless, evergreen posts
"Contribute to the discussion on your topic," Belew says, rather than merely recycling what's already out there.
The more often your site is updated, the more often search-engines come back to see what's new. That helps drive up your rankings in search -- and send more readers to your blog.
"Remember that search engines interpret updates as relevance," he notes.
Belew's habit is to post fresh content multiple times a day on each of his sites. Many of his sites have multiple subtopics that he'll add to regularly. For instance, PanAsianBiz covers everything from Bollywood to Cricket to technology, all from an Asian point of view.
Most bloggers who fail give up too early, Belew says. It takes more than merely wanting it.
When he started, Belew says he had a driving hunger to feed his wife and small daughter and to make sure the business didn't fail. You have to keep going long enough to see your blog start to catch on and generate real income.
Bloggers who want to build a huge audience can't get easily discouraged. Blog success is a little bit like the flight of bumblebees -- they're too heavy to fly with their tiny wings, but somehow, they do it. Ignore the naysayers and keep going.
"Don't let people tell you you can't do it," he says.
Another way to get big traffic
Pat Flynn of the Smart Passive Income blog has also built a huge audience since starting up in 2008, to discuss his first success, building a site about green architecture and selling practice exams. Now, he earns big primarily with the Smart Passive Income blog, which boasts more than 61,000 regular readers. The site is ranked in the top 4,000 websites in the U.S.
In an interview, he told me he usually earns between $30,000 and $40,000 a month off his ads, including $20,000 a month for his top seller: affiliate commissions for sending readers to sign up for Bluehost web hosting.
What made his blog take off, where so many flounder? Flynn attributes his success to three main factors:
1. High-value blog posts
Rather than many short posts, Flynn built his audience by delivering, long, detailed posts.
Think of writing a short ebook -- and then giving it away to your readers as a blog post.
"I wrote high-value content that would usually require payment," he says.
2. No hard-selling
Flynn says he makes no sales pitches on his blog. Instead, he simply discloses that links and ads on the site earn him a commission. That's it.
He also spells out that clicking his links won't cost readers anything extra, a point that he thinks confuses many Internet newbies.
"I reveal I have affiliate links," he says, "and people go out of their way to use them."
Why? That's Flynn's other secret of success:
3. Build relationships with transparency
Flynn is an open book about how he's building his blog and how he earns money. He posts regular earnings reports on the blog.
He also talks about his personal life, sharing about his experiences as a young, married father of two.
Then, Flynn looks to learn about his audience -- and to present sales offers that meet their needs, that he's used himself and can recommend.
"My goal is to get thank-you notes," he says.
Have you tried earning from blog ads? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience.