How Much Can a Blogger Earn?

I saw an interesting article via Slashdot today on how much bloggers make. Couldn’t resist throwing in my two cents. The numbers below are based on a wide range of websites that I’ve either run myself, or helped in the creation thereof.

To reiterate something that Evan Carmichael frequently talks about, the amount earned from Google Adwords is equal to the number of click-throughs, multiplied by the dollarvalue of a click-through. Sounds obvious enough, but there’s a huge divergence in the quality of ads, and that is somewhat dependant on the blogger themselves, since Google tries to place ads topically. You’ll see what I mean below.

Let’s talk about traffic quickly first. Building traffic to a website takes a lot of hard work and tremendous patience, which is why many website owners simple throw up their hands and accept whatever comes their way (or try to drive revenue by paying for traffic themselves – which is a tricky proposition for a blog). I’ve seen many websites that have built up to the low thousands of unique visitors per day though, through a ton of sweat equity. Anything beyond that may be a black swan event, so let’s set that as the upper bar of what the average individual can achieve through hard labour.

The value of an ad on a website is largely driven by topic and industry. There are people making higher than average rates using other ad placement systems (or by selling ad space themselves), but Google AdSense is the most accessible system to the average blogger, so let’s use some examples from there. The majority of click-throughs that I get on this site (and others I’ve run in the past) varies between $0.10 and $2.00. In one extreme example, I think I once received $5 for a single click-through. I know of specific topics that pay significantly higher (life insurance being one such).

Click-through rates tend to depend a lot on where people place ads on a page. Having high quality ads can help as well, but since Google tries to tie ads into the contents of a page, bloggers have some control over the sorts of things that generally appear. Spending some time experimenting with placement can have a large payoff. Editor’s Note: I’m guilty here; I do have ads, but I really can’t be bothered where they show up, since ad revenue isn’t what I’m after.

Therefore, the expected average earnings for a statistically significant number of hard-working bloggers could be calculated as being in the following range:

Low End: Assume 1000 visitors per day, 3% click-through rate and $0.10 per click = $3/day or $90/month.

High End: Assume 5% click-through rate and $1 per click = $50/day or $1500/month.

Bear in mind that the above figures are for somebody with average knowledge of how search engines work, a good work ethic, a willingness to experiment, and the patience to build things up over time. I don’t know how many people this covers.

Like I said before though, there’s a black swan or power law effect that’s at work here. What will typically happen is that the vast majority of bloggers will earn next to nothing through ad revenue, a small but well defined set will make enough to make it worthwhile to do full time, and a tiny (and exceptionally well-known) group will make a fortune. Similar to other kinds of creative efforts right? Think authors or musicians.

Disclaimers (I think they’re needed here):

a) I use Google AdWords on this site. I’ve made $10 in the past 6 months. I’m too busy with other things to care too much. I’ve run sites that made $50 to $100 per month in the past, with minimal effort on my part.

b) I know of several people who make a decent living blogging (by decent I mean more than I make!). There are some interesting differentiators between them and other bloggers. They all approach it as a business. Most of them seem to have found ways to make other people do the hard work for them. They also all find real-world outlets (i.e. seminars, consulting, selling product) that neatly tie in to their blogs, in such a way as to create a reinforcing upward spiral of activity. Believe it or not, only a few of the ones I know are “famous” or are active mainstream journalists. The people I know aren’t a big enough set to be statistically significant.

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8 responses on “How Much Can a Blogger Earn?

  1. sol

    So I guess the advice to hopeful professional bloggers (“professional bloggers”? I feel dirty for typing that… I need to go wash up now) is:
    “Don’t quit your day job yet”?

    1. Jeremy Lichtman Post author

      Actually I think my advice is somewhat different: if you’re going to quit your day job to become a full-time blogger,

      a) make sure you have a business model that makes sense (i.e. not just ads), and
      b) make sure you have some money saved up to help you through the lengthy build-up process.

  2. Elie

    Your article seems to focus specifically on ad-related earnings. There are a couple of other ways to make money from a blog.

    1. Get paid to write reviews of products or services (I think we talked about this before, and the ethics of doing this).
    2. Publish some of your blog entries as a book (I’m in the middle of reading “Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain” by Scott Adams, which is essentially his blog in book form).

  3. sol

    Successfully publishing cartoons in a book makes you a cartoonist, not a blogger. Unless you want a really broad definition of “blogger”…

    Making a living writing reviews makes you a professional reviewer.
    Making a living by blathering writing genreal interest articles would probably have been called an essayist or writer in the world before easy Web publising. I think they made money by publishing their essays in collections or in journals and magazines. I guess REALLY popular bloggers could still make money by selling hard copies of their essays blog entries, but I don’t think most will ever actually do it. And they probably won’t care.

  4. Elie

    Granted that a cartoonist who first publishes his/her work on a website and then converts it into a book is a cartoonist, not a successful writer. The book I mentioned, however, is a collection of blog articles which were then collated into book form. That would make this person an essayist, or, in modern terms, a blogger.

    A blog can provide the means for an amateur writer to publish their first works, and can ultimately make them money once they have written sufficient quantity to publish in a book format. Whether you want to call this person an essayist, or a writer, or a blogger is irrelevant – they used their blog to make money.

  5. sol

    True, but your point is that the blog content produced money, not the ad-clicks, which is what Jeremy was talking about. Producing content good enough to actually make money by its own virtue (without ad-clicks) is probably even harder.

    1. Jeremy Lichtman Post author

      FYI I know of several bloggers who have successfully turned their blogs into books. This is most comment when their blog documents something of great human interest, such as a war zone.

      Most “pro” bloggers make money from adjunct services or products that they promote from the platform of their blog. That includes the vast majority of bloggers that we would call “successful” (i.e. they make a decent salary, primarily from blogging).

      I don’t think Sol is totally wrong – blogging isn’t really something new at all. My first “blog” (back in 1995) was a website on the York U Computer Club server that I referred to as my “web diary”. The only thing that has changed from one of the ancient Roman diarists to today is the platform that the web can provide for the aforementioned blathering.

  6. Elie

    I don’t disagree with Sol in that blogging as a concept has existed for much longer than the internet. My original point, which I still stand by, is that your article focused on a single means of making money from a blog, while it did not address making money from the content of the blog, either by publishing, or by being paid to write. Both of those are still valid income models.