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These Minnesota bloggers are making money (but not much)

The search engine ads make it seem so appealing, don't they?

"Make thousands by starting a blog." Quit your day job, start a blog." And my personal favorite: "Blog your way to fabulous riches!"

Shame on you if you think the hidden road to fortune is as easy as signing into Wordpress or Blogspot. But there are several crafty Minnesotans are using their blogs to increase their income.

"Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint," explained Christina Brown, who runs The Northern Cheapskate blog. "It took me over a year before I started making any money from blogging, despite the hundreds of hours I had poured into it."

I chatted recently with Brown and several other independent Minnesota bloggers, all making money online. A few themes emerged from our conversations about blogging for dollars:

• None of them is getting rich or even making a living.
• They all reap the non-monetary benefits of blogging.

• It's hard work, for very low pay.
• They are all passionate about their chosen topic.
• There's no magic formula

They spoke candidly about their successes, failures and earnings. Here's a quick glimpse into the tough-love, low-paying world of blogging for money, Minnesota-style.

Google AdSense
Most bloggers at one time or another have tried putting Google AdSense ads on their site. They are extremely simple to set up and require little to no maintenance.

But dismal earnings, especially in the first few months when traffic is low, often discourage bloggers from attempting to make significant money.

Social media expert David Erickson, who runs e-Strategyblog.com and Videolicious.tv, said he has made more than $500 in the last year with Google AdSense. He believes the Google ads can be fruitful if you use them strategically.

"I alternate the color schemes of the AdSense ads that rotate throughout the site to prevent visitors from becoming accustom to once color and begin to ignore the ads," he explained.

He also stressed the importance of growing your page views in through search to bump up the number of Google AdSense impressions that run through your site.

"Use Google Insights for Search to research what search phrases people are using to find your content, and use those phrases in your posts," he explained. "Pay close attention to your analytics to see how people are finding your site, where they're coming from and what search phrases they are using."

Share the revenue
Melissa Berggren — aka the Marketing Mama — didn't even consider trying to make money off of her blog until she had built a considerable following. (She blogs about being a working parent.)

She eventually signed on with the BlogHer network, which posts ads on her site and pays her back 40 percent as the creator of the content. With BlogHer, she has made nearly $50, averaging about 6,000 page views per month.

Berggren also brings in a 10 percent cut off of the revenue from product referrals for a baby carrier and blanket, products she believes are relevant to her audience. She drives people to them through tile ads and links within her content when she feels it's appropriate.

She also receives free products from marketers asking her for reviews. Berggren estimates the value of those products at around $250 per month, though the Federal Trade Commission is now asking for more transparency from bloggers who are given gifts or money for writing about products.

"With a full-time career and a family to juggle, I don't have the time or the patience to sell directly to advertisers," Berggren explained. "That said, I could make a lot more money if I did."

Go directly at the advertiser
Like any business, if you cut out the middleman, you get to keep more of the money. Social Networking expert Robert Stanke is developing a process for his site where he calls people and businesses directly and asks them to buy banner ads on his site. The key here is that he has to find the right client and then do all of the work for them.

"I cold call a lot," he said. "If I will be blogging about a certain product or topic, I will seek out related advertisers and pitch them to buy some space on my site."

The most difficult part about selling directly to an advertiser is the process, according to Stanke.

To make the sale you need to tell the client what you'll be blogging about, how many page views you expect and when the ads will run. You then need to help the advertiser decide on a call to action for the ad. Then you have to work with a designer to get the right look.

When done correctly, a direct sale of a banner ad campaign can bring in 10 times more ad revenue per 1,000 page views than a Google AdSense ad, he said.

"Most people don't take web adverting as far as I do ... but I am interested in building a substantial second source of reliable income," he explained. "So building this base is important."

It's about variety
The Northern Cheapskate's Christina Brown does not believe the answer to making money on her blog lies in on single stream of income or specific program. She uses several approaches at the same time and monitors their effectiveness.

Brown has tried everything from affiliate programs to advertising networks to referral programs and sponsored posts. She is especially fond of giving people the ability to print coupons off her site because, she says, it's relevant to why they come to a blog called "The Northern Cheapskate" in the first place.

"I've had good experiences with Amazon [affiliates], Lifetime Moms, AdSense, MySavings, Logical Media, Commission Junction, Coupons.com, Swagbucks and Ebates," she said, noting that she was disappointed with Project Wonderful and Linkshare.

Brown said she brings in "a couple hundred bucks" per month by rotating through these programs.

"I could easily double that amount, but I quit my day job to be a stay-at-home mom, not a blogger, so the kids come first."

The self-proclaimed frugal-living guru believes you shouldn't even attempt to make money on your blog until you've created a rock-solid bond with your audience.

"Making money from your blog relies on your connection to readers," she said. "You need to build trust and you need to offer readers something they can use."

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Comments (3)

A few months ago, I installed a "tip jar", a paypal "Donate" button on my blog Barataria. I've made a total of $375 off of it so far. That is far less intrusive and far less work than chasing google or other forms of advertising.

Besides, with a tip jar, you can pretend you're Billy Joel every time you get a little something:

"As they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, 'Man, what are you doing here?'"

It feels a bit more like art that what, for what it's worth (which is not enough to pay the mortgage).

I have been using Google AdSense exclusively since 2007. I make significantly more than what is quoted above (more than enough to pay taxes on--the only downside to it all) and honestly wouldn't think it was worthwhile otherwise.

Following a suggestion on TheDeets back in 2008 [ http://www.thedeets.com/2008/09/14/increasing-google-adsense-revenue-per... ], I began using the WhyDoWork Adsense plugin with my Wordpress installation.

Using this plugin I disable ads on highly trafficked pages that have referrers from places where the users generally are using adblocking software or I know won't click. I also keep the ads off my front page and off any post newer than 4 days old. With most of my ad revenue being generated from Google searches, it doesn't make any sense to inundate my regular readership with ads that they aren't likely to click anyway.

I have tried to get local businesses to advertise as I have much more accurate metrics to measure success than traditional outlets, but they want to pay such low numbers that it's not worth my time and effort compared to the return I get from AdSense.

Justin, I think that there are several unwritten "rules" about the blog world, at least one of which you violated here. Some of the rules that I understand are:

1) Never report real traffic stats, lest people understand that many otherwise influential blogs are actually not well read,

2) Never talk about financial matters, lest people come to understand that this is only a hobby for people who are "into it", and

3) Attention comes from zingers, one-liners, and overheated prose, not reasonable thought.

You may find yourself on the outside of the local blog world after this post, especially now that I see how it has gone without any comments at all. I was really hoping that people would confront the dire lack of income directly, but I was dreaming again. Oh well. Thanks for your honesty and reality-based blogging, but you may find there is a price for it!

Just remember: Quality counts, because that drives traffic. Inbound links and other measures of popularity in the blog world are not a measure of your skill, influence, or relevance. Clearly, very few people are making any money at this, quality or not, so that's not even a consideration.