Surprise! Making money with a blog is hard

Last month I reported my attempts to make a little money with this blog. I had some success, generating what I thought was a little more than $150 in revenue. More importantly, my little experiment showed that the income reports I was reading from some of the bigger personal finance bloggers were not out of the realm of realistic. Those folks are probably telling the truth. Today, let's look at the second month were I really upped my game. Can I make money with a blog?

Let's count the dollars, ok.

First, I have a little correction to make to last month's report. I reported revenue of $153.20, with $100 coming from an individual affiliate. It turns out, you should really only count your money when it's actually in your hands. That $100 never materialized. Oops.

Therefore, my actual earnings for last month were only $53.20. No wait, don't leave. I'm not really a lying asshole. I'm just a bit of an idiot. From now on, it's money in the bank that counts.

The following table shows for-real dollars in my bank account earned from this blog over the past two months:

This past month I was able to earn $40.24. Now, it may seem like I've dropped my money-earning potential, but the exact opposite is actually true. Even though I made less money this month, I've actually significantly upped my game.

Earlier this week we talked about my traffic getting slashed in half from March to April. However, my revenue is only down 24%. What this means is that I am now earning almost twice the dollars per page view that I was in March.

In the table, look at the values for RPM. Like I explained last month, RPM stands for Revenue Per Mille, where mille means 1,000 page views. The number represents how much money the blog earned per 1,000 page views, and if you can increase that number, then you can increase your dollars in the bank.

Right now, it looks like I'm up to about half a cent per page view, which is up from about a third of a cent per page view last month. That's not as great as the penny per page view I thought I had last month, but the size of the dollars are within the realm of one-less-beer, so it's not too depressing.

What I did to increase earning potential

I've been able to increase my RPM even in the face of decreased traffic because I've upped my game a bit. I've added some new affiliates, I'm being much less shameless with promoting those affiliates, and I've optimized the AdSense ads a bit.

I've been tracking clicks in the background to see how many people are clickity-click-clicking on those affiliates, too. Who do you guys love to give your money? Who could you give less of a crap about?

I've also played around with placement, too. You'll notice I've slid some affiliates into the content of posts, while in some cases I've just placed a little ad-y verbiage at the end of some posts. Sometimes highly relevant, sometimes not.

What I haven't done yet is specific posts about those affiliates. You know, like reviews, which are basically just ads to get you to clickity-click-click and then buyie-buy-buy. I haven't done that because it's friggin' boring as hell. Plus, how many reviews of BlueHostdo you really need to read?

I have no real data, since the click numbers are small, and the conversions are worse. There just hasn't been enough time and traffic to really analyze the situation. However, that has never stopped me from scienceing the shit out of stuff before, so why let something as trivial as lack of data keep me from drawing conclusions today?

Now, let me tell you about some of my affiliates. I will shamelessly place those same affiliate links within the text, argue why you should click though those links, while dressing the entire exercise up as a post about helping you increase blog income on your site:

  • BlueHost has been a total donkey for me. Although I was logging hundreds of clicks from my affiliate link through Beards & Money, I was only registering maybe one or two per week through their affiliate panel. More than likely, this was because those people clicking already had little cookies from other BlueHost affiliates. They are very popular in PF Bloggyland because the payout is high, so the likelihood a clicker has already clicked a BlueHost ad on another site is high.
  • HostGator has been a unicorn. Almost all of my clicks are registering, and they're paying out. Again, the data is truly non-existent, so conversions so far have probably just been luck. But at least the number of clicks I'm recording are similar to the number their affiliate panel records. Just so we're clear, it really doesn't matter which host you use. They're basically the same. I've used both for projects in the past, and as I mentioned before, I use neither for this site.
  • I really do like Acrons, and Beards & Money readers do too. The pay-out is small ($5), but I think this one works well because the reader get's something, too. They get $5 in their accountwhen they register. It's also free to set-up. Those two things make it a pretty easy sale. This has been my biggest affiliate by volume to date, though not dollars. The only way to earn for referrals is to be a user.
  • Capital One 360 has been causing me some personal problems here recently, which you would know if you followed me on Twitter. Their check deposit through image upload has been broken for about a month, and that's how I had been depositing pay checks here in the Czech Republic for the past few months. Still an awesome bank overall, and I certainly still recommend them. They charge me absolutely ZERO fees for getting my money from ATMs here abroad. This has also been a good affiliate, since they give you $25 for starting a free account. I'm seeing a trend. As with Acorns, you have to have an account to earn referrals.
  • Sofi Student Loan refinance may be a big win in the future. As an affiliate I only get paid if someone actually funds a loan with them. That takes time, and we haven't had enough to know if any of the Beards & Money readers that have registered accounts have followed through with loans. But plenty of folks have created accounts, so maybe we'll have some wins here in the future. This is another affiliate where you need an account to refer folks.
  • Google AdSense has been steady, producing revenue consistent with the number of page views. Basically, about $10-$15 per month for the crappy levels of traffic this site gets.

The big trends I've seen so far are that affiliates that offer free services and even provide a little cash for signing up are the big producers. Who would have guessed? Services that provide value for almost no cost and also pay you for signing up seem to be big winners.

I also do best with affiliates that require you to be a member to refer people. But that just might be due to the fact that most of my referrals are of that kind. I guess I really just like the idea of being required to be a user to refer others to a product.

Thank God. Now I can chillax.

Let's do a little imaginary blog-building and see what happens if Beards & Money becomes a phenomenon:

The table above shows theoretical blog income for various levels of monthly traffic based on last month's RPM. If I can get Beards & Money back to 15,000 page views per month like March, then I should be able to earn around $80 per month with the blog.

Ahhhh. That's nice. That number is small enough that not having it means absolutely nothing to my bottom line. It's just high enough that I can easily pay for the site's costs and have just enough left over to give me some small incentive to keep writing.

Basically, if I keep writing, then I'll have enough cash to spend an evening out at a fancy hipster bar each month, drinking God-awful IPAs. I like to write, and having just a tiny little incentive can keep me going.

Ultimately, my goal here is to get the site up to around 50,000 page views. At that level of traffic, and maintaining the current RPM, then I would be able to pull down a theoretical $250 per month, or a little over $3,000 per year. That's a nice little incentive to keep writing, but not too much revenue that I feel trapped.

It's enough to fund some nice bottles of wine and maybe a nice dinner, but nowhere high enough that I ever feel compelled to make this shit a job. Keep in mind, I blew up a $3,000/month side hustle because it became too much like a job.

The way I see it, any more traffic than that, and I'll have a real problem. All of the sudden, I'll feel a need to write stuff. I'll also begin to see the site as a revenue producer, which means I'll start writing shit for the sole purpose of making money.

That means more dumbass articles about cutting out lattes, or that one neat trick to pay down student loans, or the virtues of comprehensive coverage with a nice little affiliate link to eSurance, or a paid post about some new FinTech start-up, or some other horrible shit that I have no real interest in but do for money.

Good God, just shoot me.

If you haven't been able to tell, I've been more interested here recently in some of the cognitive aspects of why we think about money the way we do. As a professional in the field of educational psychology and educational cognitive science, these would be were I get my jollies.

So that's what I'm going to write about. It's kind of hard to slip in some easy-converting affiliate links into that stuff. Plus it tends to be long. This tends to drive away the mass-traffic. It's harder for content aggregators to link to these things, since they're a little more cerebral than the standard "3 ways to make your budget awesome" stuff that fellow travelers new to personal finance like to click on.

A theoretical framework for personal finance blog-land

Here's my theoretical framework for the personal finance blogosphere. There are two types of people involved: (1) bloggers, and (2) new-comers that are obsessed with getting their financial shit straight. Group 2 will either become bloggers, or they will drift away as their money obsession fades and they either go back to dumbassery or they form some new, good habits and no longer need the bloggy land to feed their obsession.

With that as my framework, who do I write for? Group 2 is where the money is. They're more likely to have never heard of Acrons, Capital One 360, or Personal Capital. There less likely to know the power of cash flow trackingthat Personal Capital can provide.

This is for whom the majority of PF blog-land writes. PF bloggers are either recent converts from Group 2, writing to stay on target, or they're old-timers that have stuck it out, got some big traffic, and now are wringing out good money from Group 2 and a little from the newbies though hosting affiliates and such. Most of the newbie bloggers like me will be gone within 6 months, because writing is fucking hard, and harder when there is little reward and our obsession subsides because we're in the boring middle.

To be clear, value is definitely being provided by everyone, to themselves and others. Granted, I see 1,000 shit PF posts per ever 1-10 really good and unique posts. But even the same-old-same-old to me is going to be new and refreshing to someone else. Remember when we've talked about framing?

What if I write for Group 1? To make money from Group 1, I'd have to keep writing shit like this post. "How to make money blogging." First, I'd need to actually know how to do that. Second, that's also boring as hell.

The only reason I'm not bored with it right now is because it's a neat little experiment I've been running. It will get boring really fast. So unless I suddenly learn that writing long posts about personal epistemologies, and prestige economies, and my coming posts on habit formations, can produce big bucks, then I'm likely to not blog about blogging too much in the future.

Where do I go from here

So maybe I'll just write for me. I'm going to write whatever the hell my little brain finds cool, and you'll either read it or not. Maybe I'll never have a big hit again like my life insurance postthat has just hella blown up. But since that really won't affect my dollars in any meaningful way, then I'm just going to fly my flag how and where I want.

It's a circle. I started with a declaration of an ad-free blog. Then, to my surprise, people started reading. So I added ads and affiliates as play-time for my little brain. Then I made a shit ton of money. Then, traffic came back to normal, and I realized I didn't make as shitty a ton of money as I thought.

Now, I can just chillax. I am back to just not giving a fuck, and that's good for folks that actually like to read some of the things I have to say.

Do you really want to read a review of Acorns? If so, then I'm sure some other blogger has one ready to go for you. What am I going to add to that?

But, what if I told you that sucking at money is actually cognitively good for you, which makes it significantly hard for you to stop sucking at money? What if I call you an idiot, but in so doing maybe push you to think outside of the Dave Ramsey box? Would you stick around?

It's back to entertaining myself. Yay!

So you know, writing the less marketable and click-baitable stuff I've been writing for the past month has gotten me back in the groove with my real career. I'm working on a post right now about developing a theoretical framework for habit formation that is grounded in the same science as why people continue to cling to misconceptions.

Working on this post brought to clarity a great idea I've been swilling around in my head on context-transfer. Basically, being good at a fundamental thing in one context, but failing to transfer that ability to other contexts. It's a great big problem that has seen little coverage in my education field. I've got a 6-figure grant idea sketched out now in my mind.

All because of a stupid money blog post.

I've also dove back into my consulting work, since my writing here has helped crystallize some of my ideas there.

While we're on the topic of consulting and making money blogging, I would like to point out that most bloggers with any size traffic do consulting work. If you look at income reports, their revenue is typically mostly coming from consulting. That's how they get bigger RPMs than I'm showing you here.

Look at this table:

As I've mentioned before, I run another professional blog. That one's not anonymous, so I won't link to it here. But it gets around 1,000 - 2,000 page views per month. There are no ads on that blog, but the whole damn thing is one big advertisement for my consulting and speaking business.

If I include my consulting work that at least partially came from my online presence, then my numbers look a lot better, don't they?

Start a blog or make money from your current blog

Anyway, all that stuff said, I still think it's a great idea for you to start your own blog. Did I mention that HostGator has easy, 1-click Wordpress installation? You can have your blog up and running in less than an hour.

If my dumbass can make $40-$50 per month, then you probably can, too. That's enough to have your blog pay for itself. Even if that is all you ever earn, blogging is a great way to stay on task with respect to your financial goals. It's even helped me generate new ideas for my career.

Also, if you want to add affiliates to your site like I've done here, then you can do two things: (1) start accounts with Acorns, Capital One 360, SoFi student loansand/or SoFi personal loans, use their products, and then refer your readers for cash; and/or (2) join an affiliate network like Flexoffers. Flexoffers has allowed me to become an affiliate for awesome services like Personal Capital and Betterment.

What do you think? Why do you blog? Would you be worried if you started making $1,000 per month blogging? I would. Is that stupid? Let me know in the comments.