How to Make Money as a Blogger

by Bruno Bornsztein

We're letting the secrets out! Here's how we make money as bloggers

The other day I bumped into someone who told me she was working on a novel about a lifestyle blogger, and it occurred to me that 'blogger' has now become a real, legitimate job title. You can even write a novel about it! But it wasn't always that way; for years I had to explain what blogging was before I could get to talking about my job as a blogger. Still, it's not a profession most people know a lot about, or understand well, so I decided...

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Editorial Calendar Planning Is Hard - Here's How We Do It

by Bruno Bornsztein

Editorial Calendar Planning Is Hard - Here's How We Do It

Coordinating all the content on a blog like Curbly is no small feat. We have four full-time employees, plus a cast of incredible freelance contributors from all over the country (and the world!). We want our content to be relevant, focused, and thoughtful - so how do we do it? Today I want to share all the behind-the-scenes stuff that happens here at Curbly, every month, in order to get more than 30 blog posts pitched, written, edited, and published. Read on for the grisly details!

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Bloggers: You Need a Contract. Here's How To Make One

by Bruno Bornsztein
Why contracts are essential for bloggers
Me speaking at Altitude Summit 2017. Photo: Justin Hackworth

If you're a blogger doing sponsored content, it's important to remember that what you provide to brands is not a product, but a service. That's what they're paying you for, and unless you go into each project with a very clear understanding of what they expect in return, you could have some problems.

This can be a little scary if you're new to doing it. Most people aren't used...

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What Do You Want to Know About Blogging?

by Bruno Bornsztein

Altitude Summit 2017 - Blogging, lifestyle, fashion and DIY conference

Next week I'm speaking at Altitude Summit, a conference for design, DIY and lifestyle bloggers. I'm really excited to be sharing the stage with Jordan Ferney, boss-lady at Oh Happy Day; I've admired her blog/business for years, and can't wait to learn a lot from her.

Our session is titled "Monetizing Facts & Figures - All the Numbers You've Been Dying To Hear", and we'll be speaking about our experiences with making money as bloggers. I'll be focusing on sponsored posts and display advertising, Jordan will be talking mostly about how to monetize an engaged social media following.

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I'm Terrified of Public Speaking: Here's How I Cope

by Bruno Bornsztein

public speaking tips for nervous people

Here's the first thing I want to know: how am I going to keep my teeth from chattering once I get up on stage? Later this month, Alicia and I will be flying to sunny Palm Springs, California, for Altitude Summit (a conference for lifestyle and design bloggers). And on the morning of the first day I'll be giving a talk about how Curbly runs a blogging business.

The question I get most often about my job is, "Yeah, but how do you make any...

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What It's Like to Earn Your Income Through Blogging

by Bruno Bornsztein

That's us at Curbly, pretending to work

Type 'how to make money blogging' into Google and you'll choke on a pile of spammy-sounding search results telling you how, if you'd only give up your e-mail address or credit card number, you'd learn the secret to living like a billionaire on your pajama-based blogging income.

I've been making a living publishing a blog (my full-time income, supporting a family of four) since 2008, and as a supplemental income since 2006, and blogging as a hobby since 2003, so I guess I'm as qualified to speak on the subject as anyone else. Plus, I don't want your credit card number.

The bottom line: there's no secret to making money on a blog. It's the same as making money from anything. It's mostly perseverance, hustle, and the willingness to keep trying. 

Starting a DIY/Design Blog

When I started Curbly in 2006, my background was in journalism, public relations, and web development. In other words, I could write and make computers do things for me.

I'll be honest: it's mostly just crosswords. Those damned rebuses!

The blogging landscape was much different then. For one thing, Facebook was still only open to people with .edu addresses. There was no Pinterest. Digg was the largest news aggregator, and usually the surest source of a traffic spike.

There also weren't really that many other blogs out there. Most of the big media networks had online presences that were pretty half-assed. The TV networks (i.e. DIY, HGTV) would just take screenshots of episodes they had aired and republish them as blog posts.

For people to find your blog, you either had to rank really well in Google, or you had to get referral links from other, more established blogs. We managed to do both, but not with any great degree of purpose or foresight. We just got lucky.

How Content Gets Distributed Today

Now, content distribution (the means by which most people hear about a news item or blog post) has become much more consolidated. Today people get to their online reading material from a small handful of sources: Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, NYT.com, and other social networks (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat).

What this means, for publishers, is that there are new gatekeepers to your content. People don't type in Curbly.com anymore, they just go to Facebook to see what's new. So we're at the mercy of Facebook's algorithm, or Pinterest's search index, or whatever distribution channel happens to command the most power with respect to our readership.

This has been a bit of a double-edged sword. In many ways, the online media landscape these days is more friendly to publishers, not less. There's a lot of more advertising money out there, there are more people (readers) online in general, and the complete explosion of garbage content (see first paragraph) has meant anyone creating solid, decent, reasonably high-quality content has an easy way to stand out from the crowd (i.e. your content doesn't suck).

The technical constraints have also loosened. When we started, we had to rent a server that costs hundreds of dollars a month and could barely handle traffic spikes that, today, we see on a daily basis. Today, it's almost trivial to deploy a site that handles tens or hundreds of thousands of visits per day. There are literally one-click solutions that will have a site running in five minutes. Scaling up to handle large amounts of traffic is a question of paying for a little more capacity.

 

Must have: plenty of Sharpies, and golden scissors.

 

The Mobile-first Challenge

But there are challenges. The shift from desktop to mobile is almost complete. More than sixty percent of our traffic now comes from mobile devices, and that number is growing. The mobile format imposes some hard constraints; lower bandwidth, less real estate, and (for now), lower advertising value.

Lower bandwidth means decreased tolerance for slow loading pages. For a site that relies on showing lots of images, that's a hurdle.

Less screen real estate means less space for our content, navigation, branding, and of course, advertising. Those last two, branding and advertising, are important.

Branding is the little design and content details that make the reader know which site they're on, and (hopefully) makes them develop an affinity for that site over others. The constrained mobile format makes it a lot harder to implement good, clear branding, and effectively makes lots of mobile sites look the same. Notice how almost all mobile sites have that little three-line "hamburger" icon for the navigation menu (yes, we have it too)? Weaker branding is a big blow to publishers in an age when there's no shortage of options, and (as I said before) distribution is consolidated among major players.

Advertising is the way publishers make money, and mobile sites can't show as much of it. So publishers have fewer monetization opportunities in a mobile environment. Fewer options means less control, less flexibility, less leverage.

And for now, advertisers are valuing mobile inventory at a lower rate (probably because it's not as well understood, or because people don't buy things on their phones – yet – as readily as they do on a desktop).

Monetization (i.e. How do I make Money?)

Today, it's much easier than it was ten years ago to make money from a blog. The overall trend (economy-wide) is that more ad dollars are moving online, so that's good for anyone who runs a web site. But the way those dollars are moving isn't predictable.

Advertising

Let's talk more about advertising. It sucks, right? Everyone has known this for a long time, but it appears that we are finally starting to do something about it. What are we doing? Well, pricing, for one thing. Ad prices, expressed as CPM (cost per thousand ad impressions, impressions=times an ad is shown), have been going down for decades (crazy that you can say decades at this point, but it's true).

In a very broad sense, if the price of ads depends on the supply of ad space, it's logical that the price has been ever-trending toward zero, because the supply is always going up. Online advertising is inherently deflationary. The number of web pages on which ads can appear is always going to grow, to infinity and beyond (well, no, just to infinity).

Obviously, all of that ad supply can't be high quality (porn, spam sites, eHow, etc.). So publishers who can offer ad space on high quality content, which is served to a legitimate, targeted audience, will still have something of value. But the overall trend dominates.

Ad Blockers

What else are people doing about sucky ads? Blocking them! Ad blockers are becoming way more common, and it's only a matter of time before major browsers and mobile platforms build in some form of ad blocking by default. Publishers can respond by trying to outmaneuver the blockers, or by trying to charge for content, or hiding content from ad-blocked users, but those aren't great solutions.

Outmaneuvering ad blockers will never work - it's just an arms race on which publishers will waste money not winning. Charging for content might work for some, but not most. And if you're a publisher who could make money charging for content, you'd have been doing it years ago, regardless of blockers. And hiding content from a chunk of your audience, just because they don't want to see stupid, annoying ads you yourself find annoying and stupid ... well that's just dumb.

 

Sponsored Content

So publishers look for other ways to make money. One is sponsored content: when brands pay publishers to write stuff about them. But while sponsored content can be lucrative, legitimate, and even interesting to readers (in its best forms), it's also dangerous.

When a publisher gets paid to write content for someone else, they're changing the nature of what they do. Historically publishers have paid other people (y'know, writers? freelancers? photographers?) to make content for our readers. By letting a brand pay us to create content for them, we're transforming ourselves into the freelancers. We become (to some extent) a content studio, or a pseudo-marketing agency.

And anyway, I don't think sponsored content scales very well. All your content can't be sponsored (or you'd just be a full-time spokesperson). Can it be fifty percent? Thirty percent? There's a limit, obviously, after which you can't (or shouldn't) make any more money doing sponsored posts.

Want to learn more about sponsored content revenue for bloggers, Instagram influencers, and other online creatives? I'm now offering a free, seven-day sponsored content crash course featuring everything I know based on more than ten years in the business.

 

Affiliate Links

Then there's affiliate revenue. This is when a publisher puts links to products on their content, and gets a cut of the sale when readers click through and buy stuff. Some publishers are making a huge amount of money this way. Just look at The Wirecutter, which just got bought by the New York Times for a reported 30 million dollars; obviously there was a lot of value there. 

Trust me, almost every product photo or product link you see on blogs these days is there so the publisher can make a little money if you click it and buy (don't believe me? Look for things like rstyle.me, anrdoezrs.com, shareasale.com, etc. in blog post link URLs). Amazon is probably the biggest of these. I dare you to find an Amazon link on any reasonably-sized site that isn't tagged with an affiliate link.

Which is OK! I actually don't have a problem with this. In a way, it's a better way for publishers to make money than sponsored posts, because it's more scalable and (done right) more useful to readers. By making a legitimate, well-thought-out product recommendation, you're helping the reader out, and a product link is way less intrusive and annoying than a display ad.

 

Products

A lot of the 'how to make money from blogging' sites out there will suggest that you make and sell a product, like they do, and then all will be golden, money will come pouring in, and you will just be rubbing in your armpits to pass the time.

But most of those sites make money selling products about how to make money blogging. In other words, if you're not going to be writing a blog about how to make money blogging, it's not actually all that simple. Coming up with a content-based product that is actually monetizable is really hard.

I should know: we've tried. Several times. I've explored eBooks, printed book, paid downloads, software, and more. That's not to say selling products isn't smart, or that it won't ever work (trust me: we're still working on it). Only that IT. IS. VERY. HARD. You can expect your armpits to remain un-moneyed for some time.

 

The Future

These are uncertain times for content producers, but there's also great opportunity. Great content still matters, and it's still really hard to produce it. That's a good thing! That means if you're willing to work hard, find a new angle, make something unusual, it will be worth something.

That's what we're doing at Curbly: creating content that makes us stand out. The way that content is packaged and distributed will definitely change. It might not be a blog post on our website anymore; it might be a 360 VR video distributed on Facebook. Or maybe it'll be an in-person event at our studio, or even a (gasp) product that we try to sell.

But the actual content is still the same: DIY design & decor for people who love where they live. And we're more committed than ever to making it awesome.

 

Thanks to our friend (and now studio-mate) Melissa Oholendt for the photos in this post! She's an amazing Minneapolis-based photographer (weddings, portraits, and Curbly studio photos. 

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Wanna Learn How to Be a Better, More Organized Blogger? Start with an Editorial Calendar!

by Chris Gardner

Editorial Planning for bloggers

Perhaps you've got your own design, craft, or lifestyle blog and would like to see it grow. Or maybe, you're interested in starting your own and you'd like to do things well from the get go. Or maybe, you really just love Curbly and would like to know a little more about how things work behind the scenes. 

Whatever the reason, check out Bruno's post about how we create an editorial calendar for Curbly every month. And see how we use a...

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Behind the Scenes of Curbly.com: Capree's Whole-Home Office

by Capree K

Behind the Scenes of Curbly.com: Capree's Whole-Home Office

In the final days of our "Work_____" series, we thought it was only fair to give you a tour of the offices, studios, and desks of the folks that make Curbly happen. So, have a peek at the spaces where our articles are researched and written, photos shot and edited, mistakes made, things learned, and the DIY community built.

created at: 01/30/2011
Name: Capree Kimball
Location: Salt Lake City, UT

What sort of activities or projects do you work on in this space?

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