Blogging may not be the sexiest side hustle of all time, but it does have its allure.
There you are, in your socks, writing something for all the world to see. And, you can use the power and weight of online advertising networks and affiliate relationships to monetize your site for a stream of consistent passive income. The holy grail? When you’ve written dozens of posts that are ranking on Google and driving thousands of dollars of passive income back to you.
Although I am not there yet, over the past year I have successfully grown my blog, Real Finance Guy, from less than 1,000 to over 20,000 pageviews a month. I’ve also been able to simultaneously grow the income the site generates from $0 per month in January of 2018, to close to $2000 a month in December of 2018.
These aren’t amazing headline figures; I won’t be retiring on my blog any time soon. What’s amazing about what I have accomplished is that I have done it with less than 10 hours per month of actual work. The math whizzes amongst you have already done the calculations: that’s around $200 an hour. As someone who has had some really crappy side hustles in the past, I am pretty happy with that figure.
What’s more, because the majority of my traffic (90%) is from Google, even if I quit tomorrow the majority of that traffic and income would continue to flow in for some time to come.
Persistence and Strategy is Key
Want to learn how to do it yourself? This post is going to delve into the specific techniques I used to build my blog income from nothing to $2000 per month in a year with less than 10 hours per month of work. Everything I’ve done is replicable. There’s nothing particularly special about me, beyond a passion and knowledge for everything with a dollar sign.
However, to build consistent organic traffic from Google, you need to consistently use the best tactics and persistently apply your skills for at least a year. Maybe two.
When I was starting the blog in 2017, I wrote and I wrote, but nothing happened. There was no traffic from Google, there was no traffic from RSS, there were no email subscribers. Finally, in July of 2017, I decided to call it quits. Although it felt good to write about the financial topics that interested me, I will be honest in that I needed the external validation of traffic to feel really good about blogging. As you can see below, that never came. So I stopped.
Ironically, after I chickened out and threw in the proverbial towel, things started to turn around. Although I wasn’t even looking at it, the blog had started to attract some traffic to a post I had written about how much it costs to remodel a condo.
One day in October I looked and I realized… it was actually a pretty decent amount of traffic, and it was continuing to grow. In fact, I was #1 for that search on Google! My original plan was working, it was just taking longer to work than I had the patience for.
I am telling you all of this before I describe the methods you can use to replicate my success because it WILL NOT MATTER if you do not keep it up. You need to be persistent.
Got it? Ready to learn how to build a $200 an hour blog? Let’s get started.
Note: I am already assuming you have a domain and a hosting provider, but if not I use Squarespace and I cannot recommend it enough. And no, I don’t have a paid relationship with them or any of the other tools I will recommend in this post.
Step 1: Start with great content
It probably won’t surprise you, but it turns out that you need amazing content for people to actually read your blog. This is especially true if you intend to build your blog largely from organic traffic (aka traffic from Google). One of the most important ranking indicators for Google is the time that people spend on your content, and their propensity to return to Google after reading it. The goal is to create something so good and so engaging that no one ever has to go back to the search results page.
So how do you make sure your content is sticky? You have to write about something that you know about AND that you’re interested in. Both of them are equally essential to great content.
Here’s what I mean: If you are writing a cooking blog but you can’t cook, it really doesn’t matter how passionate you are about food because you can’t offer anything of value to the audience. On the same token, if you are a line cook who knows everything about cooking but you absolutely hate it, then your posts will be salty as hell and unpleasant to read.
So, before you even begin, you need to find a range of topics that you are really passionate about that you also have unique and interesting insights into.
Step 2: Research Keywords
Let’s say you’re taking a trip to Vegas and all of your friends want to go to a shooting range. You walk in, sign some release forms, and they hand out guns to your whole group (presumably with some instructions on how to use them). Then, they send you into the shooting gallery and turn off all the lights. What do you do?
- Start wildly shooting as many bullets as you can in every direction
- Ask them to turn the lights on so you can see the target
Hopefully, you said B. Blogging is exactly the same way: you need to know what keywords to target -the things that people are actually searching for- before you start writing your post. So many bloggers sit down to the blank page and start wildly producing posts that will have little to no impact because no one is looking for them.
I know because that’s exactly what I did when I began my own blog. Luckily, by accident, my condo remodel post found some success. After that, I realized that I could be way more successful if I were able to identify keywords that people were actually searching for… hopefully topics with relatively little competition.
How do you do that research? Simple.
Sign up for a free Moz trial, which will get you ten free searches per month in their Keyword Explorer. That tool will enable you to type in any keyword or phrase and see how many people are searching for it, as well as how difficult it will be to rank for that term (aka the competitiveness of the keyword). You can also see similar terms along with the number of searches per month for those terms and similarity to the original term. Keep in mind that the data isn’t perfect, but it is directionally accurate and it can help you to be significantly more targeted with your posts.
For instance, I recently had an idea to write a post about how to avoid PMI. When I typed that into the Keyword Explorer, the phrase itself had a ton of traffic but it was highly competitive. There was no way I was going to get my content to rank above Forbes and Wells Fargo. When I searched in related queries (again, using Moz) I saw that “how to avoid PMI without 20% down” had a decent amount of traffic, but way less competition. The same was true for “heloc or refinance” vs “heloc or refinance”.
Even the smallest variations can have a big impact.
The other thing that is important to keep in mind is that people generally search for relevant topics in the form of a question. That is why you will see a lot of my posts take the form of a question, things like “Am I rich”, “when is the best time to buy bonds”, and “where to start remodeling a house.”
Once you have your key term or phrase, make sure that your title, URL, H1 tag, and at least 2-3 paragraphs use the term. But, you don’t want to overdo it either. It should read naturally.
Step 3: Add Multimedia
Once you have the term that you want to go after, go nuts! You can write a great post in as little as 500 words, or as many as 3000. I generally try to shoot for something that you can read in 5-15 minutes, around 1000-2000 words.
It isn’t just words that matter, though. Remember that you are looking to catch people’s attention and keep it for AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. That means you should be inserting images (that you have the right to distribute), videos, and interactive visualizations as much as possible.
Interactive visualizations? That is absolutely right. I had a secret to my success, something that I do that no one else really does, it would be the numerous Tableau Public visualizations I have created for my blog posts. The interactive and immersive nature of the visualizations and calculators I use to make my posts so much more interesting to read than something with just images or video.
Don’t believe me? Still don’t care about interactive visualizations? Get this:
My posts WITH a Tableau Public visualization are 75% more likely to rank in the first 10 positions on Google for their target keyword than the posts that don’t.
And, if I removed all of the posts on my site with an interactive visualization my traffic would drop by 90%.
If you haven’t already, download Tableau Public and start learning how to make your own today. And yes, it’s free, and no, I don’t get paid by them either.
Step 4: Make Money
Hopefully, after you have created your posts and worked for a couple of months you will start to see some traffic coming in through Google Analytics. Then, it’s time to monetize with advertising and affiliates.
By far the easiest and simplest way to monetize your site is with Google Adsense. You apply on the Adsense website, and then you can take a simple snippet of code and place it onto your site.
Then, Adsense will fill the inventory on your site with ads. You’ll get a small amount of money for each visitor (like, a tiny sub-cent amount of money), as well as money for each person that clicks on an ad on your site.
The easiest way to get started with Adsense is with auto ads: you only need to place the code once on your page and it will automatically optimize with the best placement. However, auto ads didn’t work well for me so I manually embed the Adsense code on my page.
You aren’t going to get a lot of revenue from Adsense, but once you have 5-10,000 visitors a month it is more than worth setting up because it’ll be worth $20-$50 a month to you. What’s more, Adsense is totally “set it and forget it” income. If you have a blog with at least 1000 pageviews per month, go get started with Adsense today. It’s free money you’re giving away, even if it’s not much.
The REAL money in blogging comes from affiliates, however.
Since I am a finance blogger, I have a lot of posts about money management and investing, so I have a relationship with Personal Capital. I also write about real estate, so I am also working with Lending Tree. Both of those programs can be accessed through Flexoffers, along with thousands of other affiliate programs. I am not a huge fan of Flexoffers, but it is easy to get started.
If you are unfamiliar with affiliate marketing, the easiest way to think of it is as a referral fee: I place ads on my site for Personal Capital and Lending Tree, and if people end up clicking through those ads and signing up for Personal Capital or getting a loan with Lending Tree, then I get paid. In the case of Personal Capital, it’s $100 per referral that tracks over $100k through their tool, and with Lending Tree, it’s a small commission on the total loan value, which for me averages out to be around $30 per loan, although it can vary wildly.
The only downside to affiliate links is that they need to be maintained and optimized.
Sometimes, product dies out or affiliates end their program, meaning you will have to remove or change the posts where you have promoted those products. You’ll also have to spend some time tweaking the offers and promotions you use: there are usually dozens of potential landing pages and images you can choose to promote the affiliates on your site, and some will be more effective than others.
Many bloggers also monetize with self-published books, paid posts, or even direct advertising relationships (someone pays a fixed fee to put a display ad on the blog). Beyond Adsense, there are other advertising networks like Mediavine. I’ll probably pursue all of these monetization methods in the course of the next year, but for now it’s just Adsense and affiliate revenue.
No matter what you are using to monetize your site, you need to always keep in mind that it is a numbers game. You need more eyeballs on your content to generate more clicks to get more conversions. Simple as that.
Is all of this worth it? For $200 an hour… you bet!
After reading to yourself, you might be thinking “that sounds like a ton of work for a side hustle.” But it’s easy. You can spend as much or as little time on your blog as you want to. There are no rules! I know people who do it as their full-time job, but I only spend 8-10 hours per month working on the blog and creating a post per week. I am only continuing to work on the blog because I want to see it grow, if I quit today I would still get income from the posts that are organically ranking on Google, perhaps for years to come.
How much income?
Well, in the past six months I’ve averaged around 25,000 pageviews per month, and I will generally see revenue of about $700 from Personal Capital, $600 from Lending Tree, and $200 from Adsense. That’s $1500 per month for less than 10 hours of work. My hope is to double all of those numbers this year.
Even though it is frustrating at times, blogging is by far the best side hustle because it gives you the leverage of passive income. All online jobs have the advantage of enabling you to work from home and make your own hours. But only blogging lets you leverage your past efforts even YEARS after you have put them in. For instance, my post about how much it costs to remodel a condo is still generating a ton of traffic. It’s still generating Adsense income and affiliate revenue every month, and I wrote it years ago. Yes, I’ve probably spent 30 minutes tweaking it for additional profit this year, but generally, I don’t have to do anything to keep on seeing that money.
With other jobs and side hustles, you only make money once. But, if I stopped writing today, I would be making money off of the blog for years and years to come. And if I continue to invest in the blog, the sky is the limit.
So even though I am stalled out right now, I know that blogging is worth my time investment. And even if I stay right where I am (which I won’t), I know that I am still making $200 an hour for my time.
Chris Roane is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.