Apr 05 2009

How to monetize a blog: ads or no ads? What alternatives do I have?

Published by at 7:55 am under Blogging

Here are a few tips about whether you should include ads on your blog.

First, I wouldn’t recommend considering ads until you have a modest audience.  If you have fewer than 1000 readers per day, the ad revenue will probably be negligible.  (Estimates range from $2-$10 for each 1000 unique readers).   More importantly, ads tend to make a site feel shady and unprofessional.  That will make it harder for you to build your audience, particularly if the ads are intrusive.

There are several ways to use a blog to make money, but almost all of them depend on having an audience.  A blog without readers cannot generate money (with or without ads).  So I’d recommend considering the forms of monetization that will help you add readers.  For example, if you make money with your blog by marketing a book, your monetization adds to the reading experience.  Getting published professionally in your field adds to your credibility.

Ads are one way to monetize a blog, but they are usually intrusive. Here are a few alternatives.

Marketing a Product or Merchandise

Books and comic books are one sort of product you can sell, but those might not work for your blogging niche.  For example, my brother sells software.  Generally, I’d rather sell a product than sell ad space because a product can increase exposure to your website.  For example, if someone writes a glowing review about my book about how to write a superhero story, that will expose new readers to my website.  In contrast, ads are more likely to scare away readers.

Alternately, you can go to Cafepress and start selling merchandise, like t-shirts and mugs.  Merchandise won’t generate as much money, credibility or visibility as a real product, but a link to your CafePress account is far less intrusive than outside ads.  A word of caution, though.  Don’t bother doing merchandise unless you are either artistically inclined or can afford artistic help.  If the merchandise looks bad, no one will buy it.  Also, it will reflect poorly on your website.

Marketing a Service

For example, a writer might market his proofreading or freelance editing services.  Someone that does a design site might offer his design services, etc.  Like a product, your services tend to increase your credibility.  Someone that’s good enough to charge for his services will probably come across as a bit more competent.

Job Opportunities/Self-Promotion

Some people use their blogs (either partially or entirely) as a way to improve their careers.  For example, let’s say you want to become an author or a comic book writer.  When you pitch your idea to a publisher, they will want to know whether you have an audience.  If your blog has tens of thousands of readers each day, that’s a major asset.  Unlike ads, this is a monetization strategy that tends to build your audience.  If you get a job with a comic book company because you have a large audience, you will probably be able to build an even bigger audience once you have the credibility provided by your job.  (A quick heads-up, though.  Run it past your boss before mentioning your company affiliation on your site).


Paypal can give you a link that makes it very easy for Paypal users to donate to you.  A donation link won’t generate much revenue unless you have a vast audience, but at least it’s less intrusive than ads.


Subscriptions are the most intrusive form of monetization.  I’d only recommend charging your readers if you have a massive audience and tons of quality articles.  For example, the Wall Street Journal and Marvel Comics can convince readers to pay for online content because they are the best in the world at what they do.  When you charge people to subscribe for some content, you are implicitly claiming that you are the best in the world at what you do.  Unless your website is that good, subscription fees will probably scare away most of your readers.

Premium Content
Premium content is a slightly friendlier way to charge your readers for your content. Most of your content is free, but you charge for a portion of it. So, for example, if you released webcomics on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, you might charge for access to the Friday release.

Sponsored Content
Ick– please stay far away from this. Sponsored content is when an outside party pays you to say something. For example, let’s say that someone is willing to pay you to do a positive review of their product. That’s really dishonest, and it will get out eventually that you’re on the take.

12 responses so far

12 Responses to “How to monetize a blog: ads or no ads? What alternatives do I have?”

  1. scribblaron 05 Apr 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I put ads on my site. I was careful about their placement to make them as unintrusive as possible. You have to scroll down to see them.

    I used my own feelings as a guide; I don’t like sites that are covered in ads, and I hate ads that pop up and stop you from seeing what you are looking at, so I won’t have them on my site.

    I have made $0.06 since I put them up, so in a few days. At that rate, I might make a dollar in a year…

  2. B. Macon 05 Apr 2009 at 3:48 pm

    I think it’s morally acceptable to add them later. Your readers should understand that a growing site may need to fund hosting upgrades.

    I agree that your ads are very unintrusive. Hopefully they won’t slow your site’s growth.

    $.06 is not very good, but it’ll get better in time. If I had had ads for our first year, I’m sure that we would not have cracked $50. If we sold ads for $4 per 1000 visitors, I project we would earn somewhere around $1500 this year. (We’re at about 600 viewers per day and I think we’ll average 1000 viewers per day for the year).

    Then the question is whether the $1500 is worth it. Personally, I would prefer to monetize by selling a book than by selling ads. If I have a substantial audience behind me, I can sell a nonfiction book for a 5-figure advance. The ad revenue pales in comparison. However, if I have ads, my audience will probably be smaller and the book will be harder to pitch. I can’t gauge how many readers will be put off by the tiniest and most subtle ads I can find, but I suspect it’ll be more than a few. I might actually end up losing more in book revenue than I make in ad revenue.

  3. ikarus619xon 17 Apr 2009 at 7:01 pm

    What about charging for a “premium” section? I’m working on a website that hosts comics, and I want the comics themselves to be free, but having a subscription service could rake in some revenue. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing. What would the Green Lantern do…?

  4. B. Macon 17 Apr 2009 at 7:07 pm

    If the comics themselves are free, what would you place in the premium section?

    For example, if you post three comic pages a week, you could start charging for access to the third. I wouldn’t recommend charging for premium content until you actually have a sizable audience, but I think it could work.

    But yeah, this would require a lot of readers. I expect that fewer than 1% of your readers will pay for the premium content, so you’d probably need thousands of readers to generate noticeable income. We haven’t charged money for anything here yet, so I’m not sure what sort of SN statistics I could draw on that might be relevant to you. Only .1% of our readers have ever left a comment here. If 99.9% of our readers don’t even care enough to leave a comment, how many would be willing to pay for content?

  5. ikarus619xon 17 Apr 2009 at 7:36 pm

    True. I was thinking about making some comics premium, but that would go against my free content philosophy. Since I probably wont get too many visitors, merchandise sales should suffice. Maybe donations, but I don’t think that works well. And it’s über tacky.

  6. B. Macon 17 Apr 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I’m not sure how much merchandise you will sell, but I’m pulling for you. So far, we’ve received about $20 in commissions. The good news is that your artistic design will hopefully be better than ours. And, once you actually have some high-quality products, you’ll probably do some high-visibility links to your merchandise. In contrast, our Zazzle account is frightfully amateurish. I don’t have the hundreds of dollars it would take to design good products. I’ll think about that after I get published, I suppose.

    I agree that donations tend to generate very little money. I’m only familiar with a few cases where the blogger gets substantial donations, and they’re usually related to political causes more than comics.

    1) The blogger asks for support after getting involved in a highly-publicized legal battle. For example, a Canadian human rights commission tried shutting down Mark Steyn, a conservative political commentator. He received generous support from conservative and libertarian blogs and their readers. This could be relevant if you get sued by Marvel or DC (it happens), but hopefully you won’t have any legal emergencies.

    2) Bloggers with lots of overhead often ask for donations to subsidize their work. For example, Michael Yon is an independent photographer/writer that has to cover expensive equipment and travel to Afghanistan and Iraq. Comic book writers and artists have major expenses, of course, but their readers are generally poorer and less willing to pay for quality. In contrast, the audience for high-quality war coverage is wealthier and more generous with its money.

  7. ikarus619xon 17 Apr 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Is zazzle better than cafepress? It seems like you make less.

  8. B. Macon 17 Apr 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Cafepress places unusual restrictions on users that won’t pay to subscribe. For example, nonpaying users can only use one version of each model of t-shirt. That’s problematic because the cheapest version of t-shirt is far cheaper than the next cheapest model. With Zazzle, you can use a few versions of that model of t-shirt.

  9. Sean Higginson 10 Nov 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I have contemplated that after a few years of posting, I would begin removing the earliest content from my site and pull it together for a print on demand book. Of course, I’m hoping by that time to have several thousand active readers and possibly a novel on the shelves. Do you think I should remove ads from my site to encourage growth?

  10. B. Macon 10 Nov 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Unless you’re generating hundreds or thousands of dollars per month, I’d personally recommend cutting the ads. That, along with some minor design changes (like using a dark-color font on a light background) might make it easier to gain readers.

    I haven’t seen any ads on Raptor City, though. If you have any, they’re probably unintrusive (either that, or my browser blocks them).

  11. Sean Higginson 19 Nov 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I actually have been thinking about it, and I like your idea of asking for donations through PayPal. Might be able to bring in a little bit of money to change the domain, ect. I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to word this and placement. I was thinking it should go after a post as to not immediately strike a reader as asking for money. Anoyone who wants to offer advice, please click my link and let me know what you think.

  12. B. Macon 20 Nov 2010 at 9:53 am

    I’d recommend wording it in a way that fits the voice/mood of your website. For example, one site that focuses on comedy with some lower-brow stuff on the side like cars and mechanics has a donate button that says “Beer Fund: pay up sucka.”

    Personally, I’d probably go with something like…

    Then, below the button, I might include a picture of a helicopter or the CIA logo or something similar.

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