Blogging Behind the Scenes: How to Make Money From Your Blog (Without Huge Traffic!)

how to make money blogging

Remember this series? You guys seemed to really enjoy it, so today I’m happy to delve into a topic that I think will be relevant and interesting to both bloggers and non-bloggers alike: how to make money from a blog! I find this is something many non-bloggers are curious about – in fact, people at work ask me all the time if I make money from my blog. While for bloggers, it feels completely obvious and natural to know that blogging can lead to income (in fact, very large income for many!), for “laypeople,” it can be a bit of a shock – and even more so, a mystery, as to how it happens. So today I’m going to share my personal experiences and strategies. Make sure you read through to the end where I’m sharing the details of the affiliate network I use – it’s worked great for me and it’s one that not a lot of bloggers seem to know about.

The Basic Ways to Make Money

Here are some quick basics on how blogs make money, for anyone who doesn’t know…feel free to skip this if you’re a blogger because it’s probably old news. I’ll get into more detail on my own experiences afterwards:

  1. Sidebar ads. These are traditional banner ads, which used to be a big income stream for many, but as of late the tide has shifted towards more “native advertising,” i.e., sponsored posts.
  2. Sponsored posts are how most full-time bloggers make a large chunk of their income. Basically you work with a brand to create content around their product, which you then share on your blog. It’s almost like how a marketer creates an ad campaign, except instead of putting it on TV or in a magazine, you’re sharing it on your blog, and ostensibly it should be much more personal and sort of integrated into your life and your normal content.
  3. Perhaps the biggest income stream for bloggers: affiliate links. So simple. I wear a sweater on my blog, I write a post saying I love this sweater, you click on the link, and I make money from the click or from a purchase you make after clicking.

Those are the basic revenue streams. While bloggers also make money from things like appearances, hosting events, meet-and-greets, consulting, etc, I’d say the above three are probably the biggest. Now I’ll share my experiences with all of the above and more.

Ads and Sponsored Posts

I had ads on my site for a while and I made such little money from them that I decided to just do away with them because they’re kind of ugly and it didn’t seem worth it for the piddling amount of income I earned from them. However, I have heard of bloggers making a lot on them – if your traffic is particularly large, especially. The amount you’ll make depends on “impressions” – how many eyes are going to see the ad on your site. Who knows, I might bring them back. I’d be curious to know, do sidebar ads bother any of you? The only time they bug me is when they expand or dance in my face or whatever when I’m trying to read the content – oh, the best is when there are so many ads popping up when you land on a site that it completely blocks the content…or the content takes forever to load because the server is so busy generating the ads. Uy, yuy yuy.

As far as sponsored posts go, I’ve had a few and some have turned out to be posts that I loved as much as (or more than) my regular content. I especially enjoyed doing my sister’s bedroom makeover in collaboration with Garnet Hill, and without the partnership sparking the idea, I might not have ever done it.

Here are some things to know about sponsored posts:

Gifted Products

A lot of brands don’t want to pay. No big shock there! The majority of the time when brands or people reach out to me, it’s to offer free product in return for a post or Instagram mention. This is a slippery slope. If you really like the product, sure. Why not. But realize that essentially you’ll be doing work (by creating content around the product), and you’re getting paid not in dollars, but in product. Which can be fine if it’s something you would have spent your dollars on anyway, but that’s not always the case. It can be exciting when brands offer you product, and you might find yourself saying yes, but then being left with an apartment full of products you don’t really love, and doing work basically for free – which can make you feel resentful. Also, gifted items need to be declared as income when you do your taxes – so think if that product is worth enough to you that you’re okay with declaring it as income. It can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth to accept gifted products.

What to Charge for Sponsored Posts?

There aren’t any hard and fast rules in this arena, and it can cause a lot of confusion for both bloggers and brands. When it comes to pricing for sponsored posts, some brands base it on traffic and pay accordingly. Others don’t even ask for stats. Maybe they just like your style and photography – or maybe they are actually looking for bloggers with lower traffic, because they feel it may reach a different audience than, say, a Cup of Jo or Cupcakes and Cashmere.

I heard someone say recently that if your following is below 50k, don’t even try to get paid. Work for free and just focus on growing your following. I have to respectfully disagree with that, because I’ve done collaborations that paid handsomely (and fairly), and my following isn’t particularly huge. And I worked hard on those collabs – I feel I deserve to be paid for that work even though my traffic isn’t super high. So I would recommend that you negotiate with brands, especially if they reach out to you about collaborating. And remember: he who names his price first loses. So if they ask you for your rates, ask them what their budget is. Try to get them to tell you what the budget is, not the other way around.

I’ll tell you a little story. I had a spokesperson from a startup reach out to me about collaborating a few years ago. She wanted me to write a post about her business in exchange for trying the business, something that at the time I wasn’t doing. I wrote back and included a price for what a sponsored post would cost (this was before I learned the rule above). She responded saying that she was curious how I came up with that number because it was a lot higher than other bloggers in my “sphere,” and they had much higher followings on social media than me. Now, granted, I do see her point, but I also thought it was kind of rude. I wrote back informing her that I was basing the number on a variety of factors, such as the quality of the post I would produce and the time it would take to do so, and also letting her know that I had been paid that much for posts in the past, so I didn’t think the number was anything unreasonable or out of the ordinary.

Anyway, my point to that story is this. Some brands are basing their prices on traffic, but guess what. Some actually aren’t. I can attest to that because of my own experience. That girl clearly thought my price was unreasonable relative to my traffic, but I’ve gotten paid four times as much by other brands without all that much of a difference in my traffic. So take everything on a case by case basis, try not to name a number first, and honestly, shoot for a higher price! If you’re proud of the work you produce and it takes you a significant amount of time to put it together, well, then you have something to offer that brand, even if it may not reach as many eyes as it will on other blogs. Making quality content with original photography and posting consistently will all help when it comes to working with brands.

The Affiliate Network I Use

As far as affiliate networks go (for affiliate links), there are several options. RewardStyle is one that many bloggers use, along with Shopstyle, which pays per click and also per purchase, but as far as I can tell rates vary based on your traffic and conversion rates. I tried Shopstyle but didn’t ever make much money from it. Instead, I use Skimlinks, which I absolutely love and which has brought me a significant amount of income – granted, it’s not like a full-time salary, but more like a very welcome monthly bonus for blogging (which I would have been doing anyway regardless) – and in fact, I blogged for years before implementing affiliate links (mainly because I was too clueless to really know anything about them).

The best thing about Skimlinks is that you only have to implement code into your site once, and after that all eligible links are automatically converted to affiliates. Set it and forget it, basically! This is different from other networks – for example, Shopstyle (and I think rewardStyle too), where you have to convert each link that you want to put in your post. It’s not terrible, but it’s an extra step. With Skimlinks I don’t even have to think about it – I just blog as usual. Half the time I forget I even have it, until I get that email each month telling me that I have money coming to my Paypal account!

Also, with Shopstyle when someone clicks on the link it takes the reader to a little “in-between” page that quickly disappears before they get to the actual site they were clicking through to – again, not the end of the world, but with Skimlinks it’s totally seamless. Readers just click the link and there’s no interruption or anything.

They have over 20,000 major retailers on there including Amazon, Nordstrom, Origins, Anthropologie…I mean, basically everyone. You can go to their site too to see the full list and the commission rates, or search for a retailer to see if they’re on there. The commission rates seem pretty good as far as I can tell – right now it’s 10% for Sephora, 12% for Saks, 25% for Warby Parker, $30 for Blue Apron referrals…the list goes on!

What I Made Last Year

Last year I made $3,685 with Skimlinks – I know that’s nothing compared to what bigger bloggers make, but compared to what I made before using it (um, that would be $0), it’s pretty awesome! And I don’t even write about products that often, so I can only imagine what a fashion blogger or someone who does focus more on shopping/products would make.

Overall it’s a great affiliate and I’m always surprised that more bloggers don’t seem to use it. I hear a lot about Amazon Affiliates, Shopstyle, and rewardStyle, but not much about Skimlinks. As far as I know you can use it in conjunction with these other networks too – for a while I used both Skimlinks and Shopstyle (I still have some Shopstyle links in old posts and still make an extremely small amount of money from them).

Phew, that was a lot! If you want to ask any questions or would like to share your own experience, please do so in the comments! Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic or requests for anything else you’d like me to cover on blogging or this topic in particular.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Jackie, thank you for this post! I’m definitely going to check out SkimLinks and keep that rule in mind (don’t name the price first!). This was so helpful + I so appreciate you being transparent!

    Published 2.21.17 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      You’re welcome! I appreciate others being transparent and wanted to do the same. Glad it was helpful!

      Published 2.21.17 · Reply
  2. Erica wrote:

    Such great information in your post! I was not familiar with SkimLinks and will look into them. As a small blogger, I tend to think I’m not big enough to do some of these things. Your experience is making me think differently. Have a great day!

    Published 2.21.17 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      Good! That’s exactly what I was hoping to convey. I’m sure people have strategic reasons for saying to focus on growth and not try to make money when your stats are at certain numbers, but my experience has been different so I’m just not sure about that advice…in fact, I might write to that person and ask them about it! I will report back if I do 🙂

      Published 2.21.17 · Reply
  3. I’ve never heard of SkimLinks before. I’ve been using Shopstyle for a while now but SkimLinks sounds like it may be way better.

    Published 2.21.17 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      Yeah, it took me like, a year to reach the payment threshold on ShopStyle (100 dollars), and Skimlinks I make over (sometimes way over) $100 per month! Much, much better, in my experience.

      Published 2.21.17 · Reply
  4. Thank you for sharing! I’m still in such the early stages of having a blog (pretty sure only my friends read it) but I’m still trying to figure out how to get other people to my blog in general. I don’t know if you’ve already written about that – I’ll have to go back and check! 🙂

    Published 2.22.17 · Reply