A Beginner’s Guide to Making Money Online

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I recently published an article describing how my wife and I paid off more than $200,000 in debt in five years. The post covered what you’d expect from an article on debt, including the importance of an emergency fund and avoiding credit card debt. But the secret weapon that really propelled us out of debt was earning extra income from blogging. And it was that aspect of the article that garnered the most comments. Here’s an example from one reader:

How to earn extra money – that is the hard part. Help us to make money online without being scammed.

The article was picked up by the MSN Smart Spending blog (thanks, Karen!) where the comments really get fun:

Good for the writer but useless article (for the most part) for everyone else. No details whatsoever and basic information. Kind of like trying to teach Business 101 to the Wharton MBA students.

And I like how he mentions “Oh yeah, I started another internet business which flows the dough while I still work my 9-5.” That is how I really paid the debt off. Why would MSN even post this bologna?

And my personal favorite:

What a bunch of whiney comments. Obviously you don’t have to earn as much money or have as much debt to pay off as these people did to take something of value from this article. Those who are focusing on those two aspects of the article are just using how it’s not EXACTLY their situation as an excuse to do nothing to improve their debt situation, probably just like they always have done.

For example, ” The only advice given is to get another job, which does not work for most people” commented by So Yeah. He never said to get another job, he said to find a way to earn more money. There are TONS of ways to do that from simply asking for a raise at your current job to selling stuff on eBay or Craigslist that’s just laying around your house or even cleaning houses on the side.

I took these comments to heart (both the good and the bad) and decided to write this Beginner’s Guide to Making Money Online. There is no way I can cover everything I’ve learned about blogging or how to make money at it in a single article. But this article will be a good start, and there will certainly be more to follow. So let’s get started.

My Blogging Story

I started the Dough Roller in May 2007. At the time I knew absolutely nothing about building a blog. I had no idea how blogs made money, and I didn’t know any bloggers. With the help of Google, I researched everything about blogging, from how to set up a blog and publish my first post to how to get traffic to my blog.

For more than two years, I was up at 5 am seven days a week to work on the Dough Roller for two hours. During the week I worked on the site on the subway into work; I worked on the site at lunch; I worked on the site on the subway ride back home. And I’d work on the site after the family went to bed. With the help of others, I’ve now been able to slow down the craziness, but the Dough Roller is still a daily labor of love.

Today, Dough Roller receives over a million visitors a year (maybe over 2 million this year), is syndicated by the likes of U.S. News and MSN Money, and provides a full-time income. In fact, I now make more money online than I do practicing law (I’m still a full time lawyer as well as a blogger). The chart below compares my income from practicing law to my income blogging, with a very conservative estimate for 2011:

Money Made Blogging

And of course, making money is only part of the blogging experience. I’ve met a lot of great bloggers, attended blogging conferences, learned a ton about the technology behind blogs and search engines, and have expanded my knowledge of personal finance and investing. It’s been great fun.

How do bloggers make money

Before you can even begin to think about earning some extra income from a blog, it’s critical to understand how blogs make money. And it’s the most frequent question I hear when folks learn that I make money online. Below I’ll cover the three high level ways bloggers make money, but first there is one extremely important thing to keep in mind. No matter how you monetize a blog or website, the key to making money is traffic. And the most profitable traffic comes from search engines. Building traffic will be the topic of an entirely different article, but it’s important to keep in mind.

So how do blogs make money? Bloggers make money in one of three ways:

  1. Contextual Advertising: Contextual ads, like Google’s Adsense, present ads that are relevant to the content on the page. These types of ads are easy to add to a blog and present products and services that are relevant to your readers. Bloggers typically receive a small fee each time a reader clicks on an ad. The fee can range from just a few cents to $20 or more. While you may hear that not much money can be made from Adsense, don’t believe it. I’ve had months where Adsense revenue has more than paid my mortgage, and I know bloggers who make 5 figures a month with contextual ads. Besides Adsense, other contextual ad networks include Chitika, Kontera, and BidVertiser.
  2. Selling products of other companies: Also known as affiliate marketing, selling the products of other companies is how many bloggers make big money. The concept is simple – companies with products or services to sell will pay blogs and websites that refer it traffic that results in a sale. For example, if you have a blog about cell phones, you can join many cell phone affiliate programs (e.g., Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Amazon Wireless). When a reader clicks a link say to Amazon Wireless in a review you’ve written about a cell phone, you get paid if your blog visitor buys the phone. Depending on what you’re selling, the fee can be less than a dollar (e.g., a $10 book from Amazon will net you $0.40 to $.60 typically) to more than $50 (e.g., a cell phone from Amazon Wireless). Now just imagine you have a targeted site with great content that gets 10,000 visitors a day. Easy to do? No. But if you succeed, the biggest problem you’ll have is what to do with all of your cash.
  3. Selling your own products or services: Some bloggers also make money selling their own products. Some write eBooks that help people solve a problem. Other bloggers build iPhone apps for sale. This is an approach I’ve given a lot of thought, but never pursued. If executed well, however, selling your own products can be lucrative.

How to get started

So we know money can be made online. And we know how bloggers make money. So now what? Getting started is the hardest part. I think we mix in a fear of the unknown (how do I build a blog? Where do I get a domain? What do I write about? Will anybody come to my site?) with a healthy fear of failure. And the result is often inaction.

The fact is that building a profitable blog is simple. Note that I said simple, not easy. There is a difference.  Profitable blogging requires “just” three things:

  1. Picking the right topic for your blog.
  2. Creating the right content for your blog.
  3. Marketing your blog.

Picking the right topic

A lot has been written about picking a blog topic. Some tell you to follow your passion. Some say to create a niche site that targets a single term that people frequently search for on Google. This approach often leads to ridiculous domain choices like best-gynecologists-in-north-toledo.us.

I do think it’s helpful to blog about something that piques your interest. If nothing else, you’re likely to know more about the subject. But beyond your interest, you’ll want to understand the revenue potential of the site and how competitive the vertical is. As a general rule, the more profitable a niche the more crowded the competition.

Some time ago I wrote an article on this subject – How to Pick a Lucrative Online Money Making Topic. In addition to my article, here are other articles that are worth perusing:

As you think about possible topics for your blog, ask yourself this question–What can I teach that others desperately want to learn? If you can answer that question and execute, you’ll have a blog with a passionate (and hopefully profitable) following.

Creating the right content

Content is the lifeblood of any blog. Some say that content is king. While great content alone is not sufficient to build a successful blog, it is absolutely necessary. Of course, the type of content will vary based on your own writing ability, personality, and the subject matter of your site.

As the sole blogger at Dough Roller when I started, it took me a lot of time to build a solid foundation of content. At my most productive, I was publishing about 15 posts a week. Considering that some personal finance blogs have thousands of pages of content, you can appreciate how slow the process can be. But as a friend often reminds me, slow and steady wins the race.

There are some sites and articles that provide useful information on writing great content. Here are a few I recommend:

Marketing

So you’ve picked a topic, built your site, and are on your way to creating compelling content. Now what?

The first thing to understand is that your site will likely receive very little traffic in its early days. Marketing a website takes time–time to get to know other webmasters, time for others to hear about your site and appreciate your work, and so on. At a minimum, you should expect to put in six months of hard work on a daily basis before seeing results. And even then it’s still a process that evolves over years of running a site.

Second, it is a big mistake to equate marketing with search engine optimization (SEO for short). SEO is the process of getting a website to rank well in search engines. While SEO is an extremely important part of marketing a website, it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Eric Ward, who is a recognized expert at getting backlinks (links from other sites that point to your site), recommends going about link building as if search engines didn’t exist. In other words, does the link you’re trying to get from a website have value apart from its potential to improve your rankings in search engines? If the answer is no, the link isn’t worth your time and likely will not carry SEO benefits.

So how do you market a website? The answer to that question depends in part on the topic of your site. You’ll market a site about chess a lot differently then you will one about investing. But there are some methods that are effective for almost all types of sites. Here are a some ideas, along with additional resources:

  1. Get to know your community: If you start a blog about chess, you should research the top chess blogs, websites, and forums. Not only will this research give you ideas about your own site, but it will also give you a list of sites and webmasters relevant to your site’s topic. Part of promoting your own site is engaging in the online discussion, and you can’t do that if you don’t know your community.
  2. Get to know relevant reporters: One of the best ways to market your blog is get a link from mainstream media. The level of difficulty depends in part on the topic of your site and your expertise in that field. Using Google News and Google Alerts, keep track of the reporters that write stories relevant to your topic. And then look for ways to help these reporters. Whether it’s information or data relevant to their field, or perhaps a story idea, you’ll find many reporters far more open than you might expect. Also, sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter). You’ll receive daily emails listing stories reporters are working on who are in need of an expert in the relevant field.
  3. Publish a guest post: A guest post is an article you write for another blog or website. In exchange for free great content, the webmaster will include at least one link back to your site. If you decide to write a guest post, keep three things in mind: (1) Seek to publish guest posts on the top sites relevant to your niche; (2) Recognize that you may get a lot of rejections before you find a site that will publish your article; and (3) when you do get your chance, make sure the article is your very best work.

The above three ideas are just a drop in the bucket. Here are some additional resources on how to market a website:

There is another article that is important for you to read – How to Survive the Affiliate Evolution. This article was written in 2007, but is as relevant today as ever. The article deals with sites that make money through affiliate marketing, and I highly recommend it.

Finally, if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to either leave a comment below or send me an email at dr [at] doughroller [dot] net. I will have follow up articles that dig deeper into this whole crazy business of blogging for dollars, so stay tuned. . . .

Published or Updated: September 11, 2012
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting such a personal story! I personally think marketing is very important and where a lot of websites and blogs fail. People just assume that others will visit their blog, but they don’t realize how much work goes into finding readers!

    • Lively Jason says:

      Most people who embarked on web marketing projects quit too early. Given time and due effort, traffic and thence income will surely increase

  2. soscod says:

    nice info….thanks for sharing…..adsense is the best way to monetize the blog…

  3. I hope one day to be where you are with my blog. Very inspirational story–thanks for sharing!

  4. I seem to be making most of my blog income from direct ads like the widgets on my sidebars at BFS, but once I get more than 1000 readers a day, I bet Adsense starts picking up as well as affiliate income. Now I just have to work on getting more than 600 more readers a day, lol. Thanks for the detailed info!

  5. Great tips! I’m definitely going to sign up for HARO in hopes that it can get me some recognition.

  6. David says:

    Hello

    This is David , from Kontera.

    This is a great article and congratulations on great success clearly driven by hard work. I also wanted to thank you for mentioning Kontera in your article, contextual marketing is a great way for bloggers to make great income from their sites. I hope you don’t mind if I share a little information about Kontera, for you and your readers.

    Kontera is the exclusive in-content analysis and engagement platform for more than 15,000 web publishers, reaching over 170 million unique users per month.

    The reason that Kontera is so effective for so many different people is thanks to our Synapse platform, an algorithm that rather than just scanning for keywords like other in-content companies do, can read your text for actual meaning. This added understanding allows us deliver relevant information and ads directly related to user intent, leading to higher CTR and better CPC.

    Another advantage of Kontera is our exclusive ad inventory from some of the biggest brand names in the world including Toyota, UPS, Verizon, Capital One, L’Oreal, HP, Kraft Foods, BlackBerry and many more. These premium, often Rich-Media ads are the most attractive to users, offer the best possible CPC, and are only available to Kontera Publishers.

    If you’d like to apply to become a Kontera Publisher, we’re currently offering new publishers a 70% revenue share and a $50 Bonus if you get at least 25,000 U.S. page views during your first 30 days on the network. Kontera also offers a low $50 minimum threshold, good across all of our payout methods.

    Thanks
    David Stein
    Kontera Community Manager
    [email protected]

  7. Herman says:

    Hi there, I loved your Article, really enjoyed reading it.

    Regards

    Herman

  8. Stacy Slagle says:

    This is a great site! I really enjoyed your information on blogging. I came across your site looking for ideas for my own sites. I am glad I found DoughRollor.net. I always learn something visiting new sites and I picked up a lot of great information here!
    Thanks
    Stacy Slagle

  9. Steve says:

    Using Blogs to Drive Red Hot Traffic into Your Sites

    One of the most effective methods for driving traffic to your sites is to use either a site blog or a small network of blogs.

    Blogs are superior to regular website pages when generating traffic for a number of reasons.

    One reason blogs are superior to normal site pages is that they are extremely easy to update.

    All you have to do is login your account, copy and paste your new post into the blog interface, and hit update.

    This allows you to post an update in a matter of minutes and move on. Search engines love this because your content stays fresh and dynamic.

    Another reason why blogs are an excellent means through which to drive traffic to your site is because they can easily be pinged to directories.

    This means that once you make a single post, you can be instanteously added to all directories and social bookmarking sites.

    This is an excellent way to get your site spidered by search engines quickly.

    If you’re listed in a number of high PR directories, your blog will get spidered – and your site, product pages, and whatever else you have linked to will get spidered with it.

    Additionally, every single time you post an update, you will be bumped to the top of your section for the tags you selected.

    If you select tags carefully, you might be able to get a quick surge of traffic – and then channel that into your product pages or main site from your blog.

    Another good way to drive traffic to your site using your blogs is to find other blogs in your network (if you use Blogger) and post comments that include a signature file.

    In that signature, include a link to your blog or your main site.

    Now, the last way in which you can generate red hot traffic with this method is to create multiple niche blogs, which are each optimized for a single keyword.

    Promote them each for that keyword only – and then find ways to funnel all of that additional traffic into your site or product page.

  10. Great post! Like Crystal, I also find that I bring in more income from advertising than affiliate sales. Right now the main goal is traffic.

  11. kingsley says:

    I agree, in my opinion With Good SEO, you’ll get good traffic and make really cool money online by displaying ads and lots more. traffic is very vital to internet wealth.

  12. James Awuah says:

    I am from Ghana in West Africa I want to become an internet marketer but I don’t have a website, I would like you to walk me through how I can own an Income generating website. I also want to know if its possible I can work from my home Accra Ghana with my new website ?
    Thank You.
    Yours
    James Awuah

  13. Erick James says:

    Great resource for the beginning blogger, or someone who wishes to dream of one day sitting on a beach while the “ca-ching” sounds over the waves… Will continue to check back and read more interesting articles from dough roller. Thanks!

  14. What else can I say, Great post Rob! As a beginner myself I know this will help me tremendously. I’ll be checking back frequently for more info. If you have time check out my new blog, I would appreciate the feedback.

  15. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for all of the tips regarding the things that you have done to become a successful blogger. As a working professional myself it is good to know that there are others out there in real life who maintain both a professional career and successful blog. Keep of the good work and keep sharing these tips!

  16. Jonathan says:

    WOW! I just made the first penny, of many to come, from my first online blog!!!

    • Rob Berger says:

      Jonathan, congrats. It’s a great feeling.

  17. Jonathan says:

    Up to four cents now, hehe!

  18. Stu says:

    The information you have provided here is both interesting and encouraging for people like myself who are relativley new to online money making and want to find out more about blogging and online income streams. You have clearly put many hours of effort into what you do and it shows.

    Stuart

    Coventry, England

  19. Shelia says:

    Thanks for sharring about blogging, I have been told by several people to do so but never have been given as much information as you have given today.

    Im very interested in additional information and have a few questions.
    Thanks Shelia

  20. Liam Grice says:

    Wait, aren’t you going to sell us something for $19.99? Wow, real information for the intelligent yet untrained in blogging for money. Thank you.

  21. Tim says:

    I love the concept of affiliate marketing. However, I’m not quite successful with it yet. Any ideas?

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