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The long story short is that you can actually make money by writing.
In this post, I wanted to further dissect this topic and illustrate how you can make money writing, how much you can expect to earn, and whether it’s worthwhile to do so (obviously it’s going to depend on your motivations).
The blogging space has been active for quite a while now, and over the years we have seen platforms like Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress that all provide an easy way for bloggers to create written content and publish them online for others to read.
Now writing is easy with the tools that these platforms have built, the problem is, how do you attract people to read what you’ve posted, and how do you sustain their interest over time?
Monetising from blogging is not very easy and readership alone doesn’t pay the bills. In fact, those who expect to make a lot of money from blogging will find themselves disappointed because it is pretty difficult to make huge amounts of money blogging, and it does take some commercial and marketing experience to monetise your audience.
Let’s start with the first problem, attracting users to read your content.
It’s easy to be caught up with the “if I write well, then people will come” kind of mindset. That can’t be further from the truth.
Many content platforms rely heavily on being found – organically, inorganically (through paid advertising), through word of mouth and so on. This is the discovery phase of the journey, where you find ways to attract new readers to your blog or website.
A key part of discovery is search engine, where a potential reader searches for some keywords and discovers your website as a search result, clicks onto it, and enters your website for the first time.
For Betterspider, search traffic accounts for roughly 50% of inbound traffic onto this website.
The most popular search engine is Google, and more than 90% of the global searches pass through Google as an entry point into the web.
As such, many marketers optimise their website for Google searches, in what’s called in the industry as search engine optimisation, or SEO for short.
SEO can be a complex topic, and it’s a whole deep world to explore. It’s also always changing, based on Google’s algorithms and how your content is ranked relative to other content platforms, when it comes to factors like relevance, mobile-friendliness, number of backlinks and so-on.
However, ranking highly on Google search is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Not only does it take many months to start ranking, but it also requires content writing skill and other tweaks on your front-end that helps Google with understanding your site’s content well or removing dead links.
Thankfully, there are other ways to attract web traffic outside of search engines. For example, a writer can start sharing posts on social media to get inbound traffic, there’s also content aggregator sites or other portals that can help refer traffic to your blog or website.
Referral traffic through backlinks can help create longer-term traffic as the web is an interconnected web of links. They also help boost search rankings when many sites refer to your website, so it’s also something to take into account.
Guest blogging on other platforms or publications is also one way to get referral traffic in, usually through a backlink in the author box or in the post itself.
In many ways, writing content or blogging by itself does not bring money if there’s no marketing or content strategy to go behind it.
Funnelling users into a call-to-action
Once you’ve attracted users to your website, users will most probably just read the article that they have searched for and then leave your site without doing other actions.
That’s problematic for many websites if there’s no way to retain them or hook them into a longer term audience if these users don’t come back. Attracting users is just one part of the game here, retaining them and monetising them is another part of the game.
In many websites, you’ll tend to see pop-up boxes with call-to-actions – for example, to sign up for some offer or add your email address to a mailing list that allows the platform to continuously publish offers or content directly to your inbox.
This is a great way to engage your initial set of readers, who would have churned and never return if they didn’t have a way to stay. Obviously not many users will subscribe to your email alerts, but if 5% of them do in a monthly readership of 10,000, then you have 500 members a month added to your subscription list.
There are many other ways to create a marketing funnel, and some work better than others. For example, having eBooks or downloadable content for readers to leave their email addresses to subscribe to the mailing list is also another popular way to send new or existing readers down the funnel.
On Betterspider, I’ve replaced emails with Telegram broadcasts because nobody likes getting spammed with emails and Telegram allows the option to mute the channel to avoid getting notifications.
Some call-to-actions have a monetary value assigned to them. For example, affiliate links that share commissions with the merchant is a popular way to earn an income from blogging.
Many products and services use affiliate links to boost demand for their product as a secondary sales channel. It works because they usually only pay a commission if there’s a sale, so it’s entirely results-driven.
The problem with affiliate links is that they don’t build trust with the audience – you’re just pushing sales through tactics that some readers might find discomforting, even though it’s as simple as clicking through a link. After all, you’re pushing sales!
Bringing value to readers
The best way to build lasting and recurring income from writing is through value creation. In many cases, readers like to learn something new or have some gain out of their time.
It could also be as simple as sharing your experience through product reviews that help others avoid a bad product or service.
Aside from value, I think there’s also another important factor at play.
You’ll find that many good content blogs actually provide a lot of of value to users for free. They give out free information like good samaritans – and it works because it builds trust.
Trust is the number one factor to monetising your content platform. Some studies have shown that many readers might not buy anything from you unless you build trust with them over time!
Monetising through Ads
Ads is an easy but short-term way to monetise an existing audience base who spend time on your website. Many online advertising platforms like Google Ads pay on a per-click or per-thousand-impressions basis.
The problem is unless you have a huge audience base, you’re unlikely to see much revenue from ads, only increase in churned users, because people hate ads so much they actually pay to block them.
Writing sponsored content
Sponsored content is another avenue to start monetising your audience. For instance, some websites offer sponsored content placements or posts to monetise their audience.
There are pros and cons to sponsored content, and it really depends on your audience. For sites with a lot of new organic content, sponsored content may seamlessly blend with existing content. For sites that continuously push sponsored content, it might actually erode trust with readers because it turns your website into a sales distribution channel.
Good platforms actually combine elements above with sponsored content. For example, bringing educational value through sponsored content can potentially increase trust, driving more readers.
The last item on this non-exhaustive list is through memberships. Many content platforms have memberships to monetise readers and channel some of the revenue to publishers or writers.
For example, the rise of two popular platforms – Medium and Substack – has turned content publishing into something that anyone can work on at the sides, at home, on your bed, or on your daily commute to work, while earning an income from your readers.
Medium is an online publishing platform with a freemium subscription model while Substack is a paid newsletter that lets you generate your own community of loyal readers. In both cases, readers pay to read your content.
You could also create your own membership model on your content management platform of your choice, e.g. using WordPress or Ghost with a subscription plugin to have a similar effect. Regardless of how you do it, the membership model is rapidly growing alongside the subscription economy.
For example, in another Medium publication that I’ve been working on over the past few months, readership growth over time has led to earnings growth as well.
Writing is easy, making money is hard
When starting a blog or content platform, I think it’s important to manage expectations when it comes to earning a huge income from it. However, a successful implementation of attracting readers, building a funnel and recurring readership can bring you recurring income over time.
If making money is your primary objective from writing, then there are a lot more things you need to think about. If writing whatever you want and creating content is your priority, then it’s really quite dead simple, and limited to your own imagination and time.
Most of the time though, many writers will want to make some form of money from their website, and they will need to start thinking about the possibilities, the reader acquisition, the marketing funnels, and so on.
There are many tools out there that have been built to help you alongside this journey. WordPress, Medium and SubStack are all amazing and free writing platforms to get started.
It’s actually quite an exciting learning curve!