Note: This post was originally published on happytowander.com in 2016. For a more up-to-date guide on travel blog monetization, check out this post here.
Figuring out how to properly monetize your blog is like trying to solve a Rubix cube after 10 martinis.
It makes you dizzy, confused and odds are, you will vomit at some point.
But hey, I’m going to let you in on some secrets today that I think will ease the pain just a bit because ahhh yes, we are finally tackling the great monetization beast.
Now, as we all know, one of the first goals of a travel blogger is to secure sponsored travel (here’s my guide on how to do that), but after the initial high of those deals wear off, you get hungry for more. You begin to think, “well, I’m clearly the greatest blogger in the universe now, so how can I make some actual money from this?”
And yes, I’m talking about real actual cash money. Any travel blogger who has stayed in a luxury 5 star hotel while nibbling McDonalds for dinner knows that there’s a profound difference between sponsored travel and getting paid.
But the sad truth is, breaking through into the realm of travel blog monetization isn’t easy. Trust me. It’s a code I’ve tried to crack for ages, but the difference is, literally in the past 30 days, I’ve actually been able to make it happen. I’m not writing this post because I’m a 6 figure success story (maybe one day, but not yet). I’m writing this because monetization is a crazy frustrating process, littered with secrets that bloggers seem to guard like their first born children… and now that I’ve had my first taste of success, I want to share it with you so that we can all grow and be badasses together. How does that sound?
I’m back, Blogtoberfest babies… and today your blogger sugar mama’s gonna make it raiiiiin (information). Get ready for your crash course in travel blog monetization, with tried and tested methods I’ve used to net my first $2000 from travel blogging.
Note that as a travel blogger, I get paid in a very odd combination of currencies (longwinded email exchanges being one), so these numbers are approximated based on conversion rates and throughout the post, any $$$ signs will mean Canadian dollars.
Method #1 – Affiliate Marketing
In short, affiliate marketing is when publishers (aka bloggers like you and me) earn a commission off of products that they recommend to their readers. This means if I fall in love with an amazing wafflemaker and praise its incredible waffleyness to all of you, I’ll make a percentage of any sales generated through my link.
To illustrate its power… Before mid-October, the only (feeble) attempt I had ever made at affiliate marketing was a few random Amazon links here and there, my grand total revenue coming in at a very glamorous $1.86. This past month, I decided to make affiliate marketing a priority and guess how much I’ve earned?
Holy #$%^. Math nerds, that’s literally a growth rate of 71,438%.
OKAY, I recognize that this kind of growth is abnormal… but can you see the amount of potential that affiliate marketing has?? And yes, I did work hard at it, but I did it while juggling school, other blogging duties and even 10 days of travelling. You’re probably hurling tomatoes at the screen right now while shouting “HOW, WOMAN?”.
So let’s all calm down and allow me to explain. Here’s what I did to create that growth.
1) I enrolled in a course
After struggling with affiliate marketing on my own, I finally caved and bought my first eCourse ever. The Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner completely changed the way I thought about monetizing my blog. While it’s geared towards beginners and much of the info wasn’t new to me, it forced me to get into the mindset of an affiliate marketer and helped me create a strategy to follow, based on the success of the course creator (who nets over 70k a month in affiliate income). You can read my full review of the course here.
2. I applied for more affiliate programs
Before taking Michelle’s course, I only knew about Amazon… but what a wild world we live in, guys. The reality is you can become an affiliate for pretty much everything! Some very good affiliate networks are Affiliate Window, ShareASale, CJ Affiliate and Rakuten LinkShare. Each claim to be the best one, but they all have a different selection of advertisers so it depends on what products you want to sell.
3. I began to retool old posts and strategized new content to work better with affiliate links
There’s a common misconception out there that affiliate marketing is just dropping links to products you love, hoping desperately that someone in this lonely world cares…
But I’ve come to realize, that’s not at all how it works.
The reason why many travel bloggers struggle with affiliate marketing is they don’t realize there’s a proper strategy involved. It’s not just about adding links to existing content, it’s about understanding the buying mentality of your readers, where they are in their buying cycle, what kind of content drives sales, and a million other considerations that will make your brain explode a teeny bit. There are loads of bloggers out there in the travel niche specifically who continue to struggle with this form of monetization, even when they have stellar page views and an engaged social media audience… so why is that?
I blame it on a lack of understanding around the specific struggles that travel bloggers face in affiliate marketing, and also a lack of resources out there for our niche. There’s not many courses or eBooks available that address the unique problems that travel bloggers face in affiliate marketing. THIS is what makes it so difficult for us to attain the insane 6 figure success seen in many other blog niches. We have to face it – the travel blogging audience is a pretty tough crowd to sell to… mostly because travel is such a huge commitment (that is tough to simply impulse buy) and also it’s a luxury that fewer people can afford (relative to general lifestyle goods). If you’re a blogger enthusiastically nodding yes at these words (possibly crying a little bit?) then I’m very happy to announce that I’ve created a resource to fill this gap!
Michelle’s course is incredible for beginners to jumpstart their efforts in affiliate marketing, but for those of you who know the basics and still struggle to make monetization a reality, I believe my eBook would be a great fit. In it, I detail advice specifically tailored to travel blogs, providing resources like a list of good programs to join, a breakdown of what posts are profitable, a step by step blueprint for affiliate marketing success and so. much. more. I’ve poured my soul into this thing for the past little while, and if it sounds like something up your alley, you can check out my No BS Guide to Affiliate Marketing for Travel Bloggers here.
Alright, now I’m really done my spiel! Let’s continue onwards with our crash course in monetization.
Method #2 – Advertisements
Many big time bloggers scoff at ads, and dismiss them as a waste of time. Their logic is that they’re spammy, distracting and encourage readers to leave your site. While I don’t disagree, I feel like advertising is still a nice way to get a bit of income from your blog, especially since it’s 100% passive. Plus, I think the criticism of advertising is rather overstated. The truth is, ads are so ubiquitous these days that (so long as you’re not obnoxious about them), people don’t tend to mind their presence.
Through Google Adsense in the past 30 days, I’ve made $34.19. Yes, this number isn’t huge (especially compared to other income streams) but I still believe in having these ads up. Why? 1) This number is small but is enough to help me cover hosting and some subscriptions, which means it’s helping subsidize most of my blog expenses. 2) My ads aren’t all that distracting, and I don’t think they take away from the reader experience. I personally limit my ads to the sidebar and the bottom of posts, which is less invasive than other locations (e.g. within posts, at the top of the site, etc.)
Because my experience with ads is restricted solely to Adsense, I can’t advise as to which other ad networks might be better, though I hear that many others pay more. I stick with Google because I know it and like most children masquerading as adults, I very much fear change. This article featuring the 24 best ad networks for publishers might help you out though.
How to get set up with Adsense
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to hand it over to the masters at Google to show you how. Here’s where you can sign up for Adsense today and get some ads running on your page! I’ve heard that they sometimes reject sites that don’t seem complete or are clearly new, so make sure your site is established and ready before applying.
Method #3 – Sponsored posts
Sponsored posts are when a company asks you to write about their product or brand in exchange for compensation. When it comes to monetization, of course we’re talking about compensation of the dolla dolla bill variety. In the past month, I was able to secure about $440 worth of sponsored content. In these cases, the brands approached me (at which point I busted into the ugliest Happy Dance known to man)… but here are some tips or landing sponsored gigs of your own.
Beef up your traffic and social media presence.
It sucks, but unless you have decent traffic and social media numbers, most brands won’t approach you for sponsored content. Now before you begin to ugly-cry all over my blog, I’m here to help! You can read about how I quadrupled my traffic in 9 months here, and access my social media guide for detailed tips on a variety of platforms.
Get into the mind of a marketer. Know the audience that you can “sell to”.
When brands are looking for bloggers to work with, they’re trying to establish a fit between their audience and yours. If you don’t have a clear audience, that makes it very hard for a brand to find a fit, which means no sponsored deals. Let’s say I’m a juice company that sells organic juice boxes for kids and I’m scoping out bloggers to partner with. Blogger A has very high traffic, but they’re a general lifestyle blog for women in their 30s-40s. Blogger B has less traffic but is a niche healthy living/parenting blog. Which would I be more likely to partner with? Blogger B, probably, because they have a clear audience that I’m trying to reach. So make sure you have a specific “main” audience, and make sure that information is explicit on your website (either in your About Me or Work With Me page).
Join some influencer networks.
I’m a bit hesitant to include this one because they haven’t been particularly helpful for me, but there are a variety of influencer networks that you can sign up for. These are platforms that connect influencers with brands who are creating marketing campaigns. Typically, you link up your social media accounts/numbers so that brands can look at your profile and then offer you sponsored work if they identify a good fit.
I think many of these networks are more geared towards fashion and lifestyle bloggers, hence why I haven’t had much luck with them (or maybe I just suck). Regardless, one network I really like and can recommend is Buzzoole. It’s free, and has a very easy interface to work with. Note, most of their campaigns are invite-only, but it’s the only network that has gotten me sponsored work, so of course they’re my #1!
I also like the InfluenceHer Collective by Her Campus, mostly because their staff are nice and the Facebook group is super supportive and friendly. Sorry fellas, this one is reserved for young women only.
If you do a quick Google search for ‘Blogger Influencer Networks’ (lazy people you can click here), you will find tons more. I’m not going to recommend any others just because I haven’t had experience with them, but again, many of them don’t seem to be geared towards the travel niche. Let me know in the comments though if you’ve ever had success with an influencer network!
Method #4 – Selling knowledge and expertise
Many bloggers make supplementary income through selling their skillful knowledge and expertise, whether it’s through producing eBooks, courses or consulting for other bloggers/brands. And you might think “that’s a bit out of my league” but let me promptly shake you like a maraca and tell you why you’re wrong.
It took me a really long time to realize this, so hopefully the following sentence will help nudge you to an epiphany as well:
We, as bloggers, are all experts in random crap.
We take this for granted because we are bloggers. Genuinely, there’s a lot of knowledge and expertise to be found in our caffeinated brains. And I’m not saying that to be conceited… I’m saying that to remind you of your value and worth. Every day we surround ourselves online with people who are smarter than us, and we forget just how well we stack up relative to the regular population. It’s not until you speak to someone who doesn’t know what an AirBNB or hostel is that you realize: “holy smokes, I’m a travel expert.”
The same can be applied to a lot of different subjects. You might be an expert in budgeting, in scoping out epic deals, in saving money, in dressing well, etc. etc. The point is, you’re an expert in something, and so long as you have incredible skills and value to offer, people will pay you for them.
In the past 30 days, I’ve made about $100 from selling my expertise, under a vague umbrella term called “consulting”. This number could have been much higher, but here’s why it wasn’t: In October, I launched a coaching service for aspiring bloggers. In hindsight, I was biting off a bit more than I could chew, and with the heavy workload of my Blogtoberfest Series on my shoulders, marketing for these services was at pretty much zero… After that semi-fail, I realized coaching wasn’t the best use of my time, and I’ve been putting those hours towards developing other resources instead. Coaching has been a successful revenue stream for other bloggers, but there’s plenty of other alternatives too.
How can you get started in selling your expertise?
- Decide what you’re good at. Some pro blogger skills include excellent writing/photography, strong understanding of social media, video editing, etc.
- Decide who you will sell your skills to. You could try catering to your readers, other bloggers (e.g. set up coaching services, sell courses/eBooks, etc.), or you could reach out to companies (e.g. do social media consulting for a small business). Alternatively, you can become a freelancer and apply for gigs through websites like UpWork and Freelancer.
I’ll try to develop more detailed guides in the future about these topics, but how you go about selling your expertise will greatly depend on which method you’re using (e.g. selling resources, freelancing, etc.) What’s important to remember though is that you can’t sell expertise without… having expertise, so focus on building your skills and knowledge first before pursuing this monetization stream.
Method #5 – Writing for other publications
Last but not least, as a blogger, one skill you will undoubtedly have is an ability to spin magic with your words. So why not monetize and generate an income by writing for other publications? I’m not talking about guest blogging for exposure, I’m talking getting paid to be a legit travel writer. Sounds pretty dope right?
This past month, I was commissioned to write a piece for another website (it hasn’t been published yet so I have to be a secret ninja – sorry!), which will bring me 80 euros (approximately $114). This gig kind of landed in my lap after I emailed a blog post of mine to the company (one of the strategies I discuss in my Guide to Building Traffic)… I’m also in talks with another company to become a regular content writer on their blog as well.
SO, of course, from those two examples, you can see that I didn’t proactively pitch to any publications. BUT that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. A big part of this monetization puzzle is hustling and working your butt off to get results. To help you out, here’s a list of publications that pay newbie travel writers.
*pops a bottle of champagne*
Whoo! I am SO excited that I was finally able to publish this post. After hearing questions through Facebook groups and email for the past few weeks about monetization, it was absolutely brutal to keep my lips shut the entire time. I hope you found this resource helpful and that it inspires you to take your blog to the next level through monetization. If a dummy like me could make it happen, I promise that you can too.
So, do you have any burning questions about monetization? I’m suuuure you do. Let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!