It’s hard. There, I said it. It’s hard to make money blogging… in the beginning.
Once you “crack the code” it’s easy.
It took me around 18 months to earn my first nickel from blogging (aside from blogging for a brick-and-mortar biz I had at the time).
I have to tell ya that when I started I thought it would be a whole lot easier than it was. When I learned about affiliate marketing I thought I’d clean up money-wise in no time. By that point, I understood SEO and was okay at it. I had built up a high-traffic, successful local client-getting blog for my brick-and-mortar business. With that success under my belt, I figured I could make a fortune in affiliate marketing fast.
I was years away at that time from switching from affiliate marketing to earning with display ads. However, it was the monetization method that was the issue. Traffic was and is the issue.
It took time for me to figure out how to publish content that attracted search traffic.
Once you’re a traffic-getting hound, making money blogging is easy.
So it’s not blogging that’s hard. It’s getting website traffic that is hard; at least enough of it to make a decent living.
Why is getting website traffic so dang hard?
It doesn’t matter what your preferred traffic source is, none of it is easy. Let’s explore your main traffic options and learn why each are so hard.
Google organic search traffic
Google traffic is a zero-sum game. Okay, not quite but close. You can get traffic with 2nd and 3rd place rankings but the lion’s share of traffic for any search goes to the 1st place ranking. There’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to Google traffic.
Why is it so hard? Because there’s so much money in it. There are keywords where a first-place Google ranking can earn a blogger or company tens of thousands of dollars per month. I suspect there are keywords that can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars per month.
I don’t go for the more lucrative keywords for search traffic. My approach is to go after lower competition keywords. While they aren’t terribly lucrative, because I rank for so many (thousands and thousands of them), the traffic and ad revenue adds up.
That said, I do have some decent earning pages. Here are the top earners across my portfolio for the past 30 days:
No free lunch with SEO
There are two main ways to do SEO. Yes, you can use both. I typically focus on the first method set out below:
Crank n’ bank SEO: This approach focuses on targeting easy-to-rank keywords. While no individual keyword is all that lucrative, by publishing lots and lots of content, the aggregate keywords ranked adds up. This is my main approach across my portfolio of websites.
Rank n’ bank SEO: This approach focuses on going after lucrative keywords. If they rank in the top three, they earn piles of money. A blogger or any website owner puts more time, effort and money in promoting and ranking fewer URLs. The focus is off-site SEO (link building and promotion).
Hybrid: There’s no reason you can’t do both crank n’ bank and rank n’ bank SEO. You can mass-publish as well and put time and money into ranking for lucrative keywords.
No matter what you do, SEO takes time and is a lot of work. I prefer crank n’ bank because I prefer publishing new content. Many folks prefer link building and promotion so rank n’ bank is a good fit for them. Both approaches work. Both are hard work.
It gets easier over time
It’s not fair but established sites with traffic have an easier time of getting more traffic. Sites with inbound links and traffic will more quickly rank for new keywords. That’s how it is and that’s partly why it’s hard and seemingly takes forever for new sites to start getting traffic and making money.
If you can hang in there for the 12 to 24 months it takes to get some serious traction (assuming you go all out with either crank n’ bank or rank n’ bank strategies), you will reach a point where your site will gain some serious momentum. That’s when it starts getting easier. You’ll also have learned so much about SEO generally and your niche and what works. The pieces all start coming together and your site will start soaring if you keep up the growth momentum.
Here are some organic Google traffic screenshots from some of my sites (last 30 days):
For the above-established sites, traffic getting is pretty easy now.
Even though I’ve been doing this for years, every new site I launch starts at zero and takes a while to start growing no matter how much content I throw at it or how good my keyword research is. Here are examples of newer sites I’ve launched. Notice the pretty much zero traffic for many months in the beginning. That’s normal. It’s painful working hard on a site or spending money on a site and getting no traffic for so long.
Yes, Facebook traffic is still possible. I have a blogging colleague who is a Facebook maestro. He gets millions of monthly visitors from Facebook for free. He knows how to work Facebook; more importantly he knows what kind of content works on Facebook.
Once again, there’s no free lunch. In order to make Facebook organic traffic work, you need fans who have liked your FB page so that they’ll see your posts. You can grow this organically but it can take years. The only viable way to do it is it to invest in Facebook ads to attract fans of your page. Trying to do this organically is slower than Google SEO.
I actually do get traffic from Facebook but it’s not a focus. Here’s my Facebook traffic chart for the last 30 days for my biggest site. The total amount is 170,000 visitors which isn’t bad but that’s from a page with 280,000 fans.
Buying traffic is super easy to do. Feed the proverbial meter and you get traffic. Anyone can do it. You can buy traffic from Google Ads, Facebook, Outbrain, Quora and others.
If it’s so easy, why doesn’t every blogger and publisher do it?
The hard part, and it’s very hard, is making sure your website or blog is making more than what you spend. That’s the tricky part. If you perfect that process, you can buy traffic until you’re obscenely rich.
Do I buy traffic?
No, I currently don’t buy traffic. I did years ago when Facebook and Outbrain traffic was super cheap but those days are over. I would take the time learning how to profit from paid traffic but my big problem with paid traffic sources is the rates are never the same. You no sooner get a successful campaign going, increase the spend and then the cost per click goes up. That really annoys me. The inconsistency makes buying traffic to a blog too much of a hassle.
It’s also very difficult tracking which campaigns are making you money. Most websites don’t make money from first-time visitors. The money is usually made in the backend via email. Ecommerce websites capture their visitors’ email and then profit via email marketing. It’s pretty much the same with bloggers, course sellers, etc. The money is made down the road.
Of course, there are exceptions. There are landing pages geared to sell and sell they do. But even they capture their buyers’ emails and make even more money down the road.
Sounds easy, but it’s not. Like SEO, paid traffic is zero-sum. You bid against many other traffic buyers so you will end up paying precisely what that keyword is worth. If your sales page and funnel isn’t fine-tuned to perfection, you will lose money.
Other traffic sources
There are other traffic sources but they’re not really worth focusing on. They’re fine for secondary traffic but not worth putting time into optimizing for them. Here they are with some brief comments.
Pinterest: Pinterest used to be an amazing source of traffic. It’s high quality and scalable. Some publishers focused on Pinterest traffic and did really well. Sometime in 2021 Pinterest tweaked its algo so that it doesn’t send much traffic to pubs. I have no idea what they did but many pubs lost huge amounts of Pinterest traffic including me. Check out the following Pinterest traffic screenshot for one of my niche sites:
YouTube, TikTok and Instagram: All three viral platforms can be an okay traffic source but IMO, you’re better off working those platforms as a self-contained business because you can directly monetize all three.
Youtube: you can earn from YouTube ads, affiliate links in the description and by referring views to an email sign up page.
With TikTok and Instagram, you can sell sponsored posts to brands which can be ridiculously lucrative. You can also refer your audience to an email sign-up page.
So while you can grow huge audiences on TikTok, Instragram and YouTube, don’t do so solely as a traffic source to your blog. In my experience, only a very small percentage will actually go to your blog. They prefer staying on the platfom.
Is making money from website traffic hard?
Not really but it depends on how you want to make money.
Display ads: Easiest
My main method of making money from blogs is with ads. It’s simple. It’s ridiculously simple. I do nothing. I installed a plugin and activated. That’s it. I monetize with Mediavine ad network which handles everything. Note that you do need 50,000 monthly sessions to get on with Mediavine. If you don’t have that much traffic, use Ezoic. Ezoic is easy too. Any ad revenue is easy.
Affiliate marketing: Can be more lucrative than ads and still somewhat easy
If you prefer monetizing with affiliate links, that’s a bit more complicated but still falls in the fairly easy realm. You apply to be an affiliate. Get the links. Link to merchants and products with those links. When visitors click those links and buy, you earn a percentage of the sale.
This is an affiliate link to Skimlinks (a great affiliate network I use on many niche sites).
Email marketing: Can be ridiculously lucrative but more difficult
Email marketing can be a great way to monetize a blog but it’s not all that passive and there are many moving parts. You must write and send emails. If you want them to earn money, they must be good emails. You also need something to sell or promote. There’s some tech involved. It takes time to “crack the email marketing code” but once you do, it can be a very, very good way to make a lot of money with your blog.
E-commerce as in selling stuff: the most work up front but potentially the most lucrative
The final option for monetizing I’ll mention is e-commerce which is selling stuff directly to visitors / email subscribers. It could be a course, services, physical products… that’s all e-commerce. It’s the most work upfront but if you have something your readers want, you’ll make the most money (usually).
For example, I sell a course. It took years to really get the earnings to grow to very high levels but now it sells very, very well. I’ve honed my email marketing. I’ve built out the course over years constantly updating and refining it. Most importantly, Fat Stacks as a brand has grown over time so people learn of me from others and are often pre-sold on the course. I don’t really have to sell it.
Traffic is still the hardest part of blogging
Monetizing is easy compared to getting traffic so don’t worry too much about how you’ll monetize your website. I always say that lots of quality traffic will solve your money problems. It really will. Notice I said “quality” traffic which is USA traffic for the most part. If you get 2 million visitors who reside in India or similar, your revenue won’t be good. Remember, you can always slap up ads to make money. Assuming USA traffic, if you get 500K monthly visitors, that’s usually a full-time living. It really is. In many cases, that’s a very good full-time living.
The hard part is getting that 500,000 monthly visitors. Once you can do that, you’re pretty much set.
Actually scratch that. The hardest part is being patient. When starting out it will take many months and up to two years to see any real results. It is nearly impossible having the patience to endure while working so hard. I know from firsthand experience. Been there and done that.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.