Chances are, you’ve read some stories in the past about bloggers making large sums of money from their blogs. While these stories can be inspiring, they can also be frustrating. If you’ve tried blogging and have not been able to make any money, sometimes it’s discouraging to read about others who are having lots of success.
The purpose of this article is to show what’s possible in a very realistic situation. The blog that’s the subject is this article was not some massively successful blog that attracted a huge following. It was a part-time project that was modestly successful and something that many people could achieve with the right approach and by following some tips for beginner bloggers. This article will breakdown the details of that blog.
I launched a photography blog in early 2015, managed it for about 3.5 years, and sold it in late 2018. The blog was sold through a broker for $216,000, and after 10% broker fees, I was left with about $194,400. I can’t share the domain name of the site for confidentiality reasons related to the sale, but throughout the article, I’ll share a lot of details related to the site.
The entire time I was running this photography blog, I had other websites and online businesses that I was managing as well. If you have a full-time job, it’s possible to start and grow a blog in your spare time, if you’re willing to work on it consistently. I never put in a huge number of hours on this site, and it still grew pretty steadily.
Launching the Blog
As I mentioned, the blog was launched in early 2015. In the beginning, my approach to start getting some traffic to the site was to use freebies. I created some resources that photographers could use to edit their photos in Photoshop and Lightroom and distributed them from the blog. People would come to the blog and download the free resources that they could use with their own photos. These resources were not all that time consuming or complicated to create. I spent a total of a few hours on them at the most.
When I talk to people about these photo editing resources, most people assume that I created software that involved coding. That’s not the case. Photoshop and Lightroom allow you to essentially record or save the changes that you make to a photo and then apply the same changes to other photos. There is no coding involved.
In order to get people to notice the freebies, I did a few things:
- I shared links to the freebies at community-oriented sites (like DeviantArt) where other photographers would see them.
- I wrote guest posts for a few other photography blogs and linked to the freebies within the guest posts.
- I contacted a few sites that had pages listing free photography resources and requested to get a link to my site.
One valuable lesson I learned through this process is that people love freebies. It’s much easier to share a link to your site/blog when you’re giving something away for free. Promoting your blog is often seen as self-promotion, but most people look at it a little bit differently when you’re giving something away. Other sites will be quick to link out to you if they think you’re offering something that has value.
While there are many ways to grow a blog, using freebies is one option and I found that it can work very well. For plenty of ideas, see 99 Ways to Build Links by Giving Stuff Away.
If you’re looking to more details about my approach to launching and growing a blog, please see Blog Launch Breakthrough.
None of those things (sharing links at community sites, writing guest posts, and requesting links from other sites) resulted in a huge flood of traffic, but when you’re first starting a new blog, any traffic that you can get is good. From the very first day, I was getting some traffic to the site because people were interested in the free resources.
And after a few months, I started getting some unsolicited links from other sites and blogs that were sending people to my free resources. Those links led to more exposure and traffic started to slowly increase. There was a bit of a snowball effect to it. I had to create the freebies and promote them at first, but once they got some exposure, they started getting more links and traffic without additional effort on my part.
Throughout the first year, I was publishing just one post most weeks. Occasionally, two posts would be published in a week, but that wasn’t very common because my time was really limited.
Some of the articles were written by me, but I was outsourcing more than 50% of the content to freelance writers. I spent about $300 per month on those outsourced articles (about $100 per article on average), and that was being funded by what I was making from my other websites.
I definitely could have spent less on freelance writers, but I wanted good quality content, so I hired above-average writers. In order to find the writers, I read a lot of articles on other photography blogs, found writers who consistently produced good content and reached out to them about writing for me.
If you’ve never hired freelancers before, it can be a bit intimidating at first, but it’s really not complicated. If you’re looking for some help, check out this guide to hiring freelance writers by Neil Patel.
During this time I was also working on growing an email list. My approach to growing the email list was to use even more freebies. Visitors could come to the site and download a few free resources without needing to subscribe to an email list (which made it easier for me to get links to those freebies), and while they were on my blog they would get an offer for additional freebies if they signed up for the list.
You could set this up in a number of different ways, but I used OptinMonster to create a popup. A visitor would arrive at my blog to download a freebie, and while they were on the page they would see a popup that offered additional (and similar) free resources if they subscribed to the email list. More than 5% of the visitors to the site opted in to the email list, which allowed me to grow a list of 1,000+ subscribers in just a few months.
If you’re interested in doing something similar but you’re working with a limited budget and you don’t want to pay for OptinMonster, there are some free options. You could use MailerLite to start your email list for free and they have tools that will help you to create optin forms and popups at no cost.
Monetizing the Blog
Aside from a few affiliate links, the site wasn’t monetized for the first 9-10 months. Since I had other projects that were making money, I was content to focus on starting to grow an audience and it didn’t really matter to me that the site was operating at a small loss for most of the first year.
I had put about $3,000 into the site during that time and had made about $500 – $1,000 in revenue from a few affiliate programs.
I definitely could have been more aggressive trying to monetize the blog early on. If you don’t like the idea of being $2,000+ in the hole before really starting to monetize a blog, you can avoid outsourcing the work.
In the fall of 2015, I launched a digital product that I was selling on the site. The product was related to the freebies that I had been offering and would be of interest to the same people who were coming to the blog to download the freebies.
When I launched the product, I used a limited-time discounted price and sent the offer to my email list. Because of the timing, I was also able to discount the price again for a limited time about a month later for a Black Friday sale, and of course, that was promoted to the email list as well.
Between the launch and the Black Friday sale, I brought in about $5,000 in sales before the end of 2015, and at that point the blog became profitable.
One of the reasons this worked well was because throughout the year I had been building an email list, and most of the subscribers were signing up because they wanted the free resources. Those people had been getting emails from me each week with links to the new content on the blog and I hadn’t been trying to sell them anything. Then, when my product was launched, I had a product that was highly relevant to them and I had developed some trust.
Now that the blog was making some money through the sale of a product, I started to focus more on growing the site. That involved increasing to 2-3 posts per week with about ⅔ of them being written by me and about ⅓ written by freelancers. I would send new articles to the email list twice per week, and I would also include a promo for my product at the end of every email, which led to a small flow of steady sales each week.
In 2016, I added a couple of additional products. My first product was always the top-selling product, but the others generated smaller amounts and added up to a nice increase in revenue.
At that time, I also got more active with a few affiliate programs, including Amazon Associates. I would link to Amazon whenever articles mentioned cameras, lenses, or other gear. On average, I made about $2,000 – $2,500 per month from the site in 2016, the second year of the site.
In 2017 and 2018, I added a few more new products. Again, my first product was still my best-selling product, but adding more products led to higher overall sales and profits.
In 2017, I also made some changes on the blog to optimize the site for making more sales. To start with, I began using ThriveCart for eCommerce. ThriveCart is a great platform that makes it easy to create checkout pages that convert very well. You can also add order bumps, which allow customers to add additional products to their order in the cart. ThriveCart also has a robust system for upsells and one-time-offers after the sale is made. I chose not to use the upsells feature, but I did set up order bumps on every one of my products and it increased the average order amount by more than 10%, which is a really nice increase for one simple change.
The order bumps also allowed me to get some revenue for products that weren’t selling very well on their own. I could create a discount and offer it as an order bump when someone was buying one of the more popular products. I found that about 25-30% of customers accepted the order bump.
I also made changes to the site to try to get more exposure for the product sales pages. I used the Download Monitor WordPress plugin and the add-on Downloading Page plugin so that whenever a visitor downloaded one of my freebies, they would be redirected to a page that included a sales pitch for my best selling product. I also set it up so that when an email subscriber confirmed their subscription to the email list, they would be led to a very similar page with a sales pitch for the product. With many people downloading the freebies every day, this led to a lot more exposure and an increase of 10%+ in sales.
“Thank you” pages and confirmation pages can be extremely valuable when you use them effectively. Most sites just use a simple “thank you” message, but this is the perfect place to promote your product (or an affiliate product) or make some type of special offer.
In order to get more exposure, I also found a company with a very similar target audience and we collaborated to promote each other’s products to our email lists. Our products appealed to the same people but didn’t directly compete with each other, so it was a great fit. Every 2-3 months, I would send an email to my list to promote something for this partner, and they would send something to their list to promote one of my products.
During the final 12 months that I owned the site (late 2017 and most of 2018), the site averaged about $7,000 per month in revenue and a little over $6,000 per month in profit. It was attracting about 75,000 visitors and 120,000 pageviews per month. Traffic was virtually the same as it was in 2016 when I was making $2,000 – $2,500 from the site, but the increase in revenue came from a growing email list, having more products to offer, and optimizing the site to promote the products more effectively.
That’s a modestly successful website, but certainly nothing exceptional or noteworthy. With consistent effort for three years, many blogs can achieve this.
Selling the Site
In early 2018, I launched a personal finance blog and was having a hard time managing everything I had going on. The photography blog had some value, so I started to think about selling it.
The company that I had been partnering with for email promotions would have been an ideal buyer because the target audience of the two sites was aligned and the products complimented each other. I talked to them about possibly buying my site and they did have an interest. After a few discussions, they made me an offer, but it was less than I thought the site was worth (the offer was $120,000 – $150,000 depending on the performance of the site).
After that, I spoke with two different brokers about listing the site with them, and they both felt the site had significantly more value. I decided to go with one of the brokers that I felt a little more comfortable with and in June of 2018, I signed an agreement for him to represent me as my broker.
The listing went live in July with an asking price of $229,000. Within four days I had two offers in writing. The first offer was for $209,000 and the second offer from another buyer was for $216,000. Both offers were 100% cash up front, not contingent on the performance of the site. I decided to accept the second offer “as is” rather than trying to negotiate for a higher price. The buyer was looking to move very quickly and I was happy with the price.
After I accepted the offer, the settlement was scheduled a few weeks into the future. That gave the buyer time to go through the financials and perform due diligence to make sure everything was as expected.
Once the due diligence was complete, we signed the sale agreement and went through Escrow.com to manage the transfer of the money and the site. I got the money wired to my account and the sale was complete!
If you’re interested in selling a site yourself, please see me Complete Guide to Selling a Website or Online Business.
Now that I’ve told the story of the blog’s history and the sale process, here are a few things that were key in the development of this blog:
- The free resources attracted links and traffic.
- Additional free resources we used to build an email list.
- Premium products were created that were similar to the freebies, but more valuable.
- Everything on the site was optimized to maximize exposure for the products and to send visitors to the sales pages.
- The email list was continually grown and used to promote the products.
As I mentioned in the intro, this was certainly not the most lucrative blog and plenty of people have made more money with their blogs (I’ve had two other blogs that did much better). But I think this story is relevant because it’s fairly typical of what’s possible with a blog. This isn’t a one-in-a-million story that can’t be replicated. These are results that you could very realistically achieve with your own blog and some consistent effort.
The blog did fairly well and made $6,000 in profit per month, but the big payday came when it was sold. There are plenty of buyers who are looking to invest in good content-based websites, and if you can build a blog that makes money, it’s an asset that can be sold for a nice lump sum.