As part of my blogging series this week, I want to take some time to tackle the elephant in the room — earning an income from your blog. We’ve all heard people say that you can’t earn money blogging, but we also know that people like Dooce and Problogger make significant incomes from their blogs.
So which is it?
A blogger at BlissDom (who I don’t want to quote without her permission) estimated that as many as one-fifth of the attendees earn a full-time income from their blogs, with a much higher percentage earning a decent part-time income. I would tend to agree with her, with a few caveats:
:: Most bloggers who earn a significant amount from their blogs are niche bloggers rather than memoirists. This means they share information about a specific topic for a specific audience rather than just sharing stories and insights from their life. Dooce is an exception to this, but I think exceptions are rare.
:: Many bloggers who earn full-time incomes actually earn income from opportunities that arise as a result of their blog — consulting, being a paid spokesperson, selling ebooks, writing books etc. — and not just from their blogs.
:: If you focus on producing income too soon or too much, without first establishing your voice and rapport with your audience, it will backfire and you will end up limiting your income potential in the long run. Content is key, and if you’re not passionate about your topic, your readers will see right through you.
Advertising versus affiliate marketing
Tomorrow we’ll talk about advertising, but today we’re going to look at affiliate marketing.
Wikipedia defines affiliate marketing as the practice of using one website to drive traffic to another by rewarding the affiliate for sales or leads that occur as a result of their efforts.
What does affiliate marketing look like in practice?
Amazon.com has one of the most widely used affiliate programs on the internet. Basically, when a blogger or website shares a resource that is sold on Amazon.com, they include their affiliate tag as part of the link. Amazon tracks purchases made through that link and credits a tiny portion of the sale to the affiliate.
There are affiliate programs for thousands of companies, and affiliate marketing represents a great opportunity for bloggers to earn income by promoting products and services that they love.
But that’s the key.
As I mentioned before, you have to be true to yourself. If you start posting links or products that you don’t truly believe in — such as credit card offers on a frugal site or links to processed foods on an organic or whole foods site — you will lose your credibility. You have to make the decision to only post affiliate links for products, deals or services that you would promote anyway, even if it means turning down a lucrative opportunity.
What about disclosures?
Let me start by saying that I am not a lawyer and I am not an expert, so please take my opinion for what it’s worth.
Although there has been a lot of feedback about the FTC’s new rules for bloggers regarding the disclosure of relationships and free products received for review/giveaway, I do not believe that these rules require disclosing every single affiliate link on your site.
I have a blanket disclosure that covers my entire site and discusses the ways I earn income from my blog. I always mention freebies I’ve received as part of my review/giveaway posts, but I don’t disclose every single affiliate link in every post.
Am I trying to take advantage of my readers?
Absolutely not. Disclosing each individual affiliate link simply doesn’t fit with the tone or voice I’ve established on Organizing Your Way. Since I don’t believe the law requires it, I’m going to continue to do it the way I always have.
Update: This post from Lovell Communications talks more about affiliate links and disclosures. It specifically states that if you’re recommending a product or service, disclosure is required. Something to keep in mind.
Finding available affiliate programs
So how do you find and sign up for affiliate programs? I’ve created a list of some of my favorite programs as well as some that Tara from Deal Seeking Mom shared with me that specifically appeal to deal bloggers.
Please note that many of the companies who work with these programs approve sites on an individual basis, so you should be an established blogger and be able to explain the purpose of your blog and how you plan to promote each company when you apply.
:: Amazon Associates is a great starter program for any blogger. There are no size restrictions and you can get started linking to products on Amazon.com right away. (Update: Jen from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam shared in the comments that the program is no longer available in NC because of a new tax law.)
:: Link Share offers affiliates a chance to promote some of their favorite online stores across a wide variety of categories, including health & beauty, clothing & accessories and gifts & flowers.
:: The Share-A-Sale affiliate program features many small businesses. LobotoME, MomAgenda and The Skinny On — all companies I support here on Organizing Your Way — have affiliate programs through Share-A-Sale.
:: Connect Commerce is Google’s affiliate network. In my experience, these corporations tend to be a bit choosier in who they approve. The network includes Target, Red Envelope, Office Max and more.
:: Like LinkShare, Commission Junction includes many online retailers in a variety of categories, from photo sites and green companies to home & family businesses.
:: Pepperjam is another shopping site similar to LinkShare and Commission Junction.
The following sites often feature samples, coupons and other promotions that work well for deal bloggers:
:: Mr. Rebates
:: Big Crumbs
Is your goal to earn income from your blog? Do you use affiliate marketing? What is your favorite affiliate marketing program (ahem, no affiliate links, please!).