Making Money Online (and a living?)

What no one ever tells you about blogging
Creative Commons License photo: andyp uk

Much has been written about people who’ve quit the day job and taken up blogging or maintaining web sites full time. The claim is that you can spend a bit of time setting it all up and updating it with new content every so often and earn a lot of money very easily. In this post, I want to analyse whether this is true in practice. Further on in this post are also a couple of bits of advice to anyone who wants to monetise their website.

How much do you want to earn?

The most important question regarding making money online is how much you want to make and whether you can make it.

If you wanted to make a living from websites or blogging, the absolute minimum income you’ll want would be to have income equal to the level of “relative poverty”. This is how much money you’ll need just for the basic neccessities. In the US, its $10,787 a year. In the UK, it’s £11,326 a year ($21,900).

For my fellow Brits: you can already see how the exchange rate is stacked against us and the high costs of living don’t help. It’s always recommended that your primary sources of income and expenditure are in the same currency so you aren’t at risk from exchange rates volatility. It’s a source of worry if you want to become a full-time blogger and you live outside the USA.

Anyway, that means earning £215 a week just for the basic essentials. As the current exchange rate, that means a minimum income of $420 per week.

Let’s say your primary source of income is advertising. And let’s assume an eCPM (Earnings from 1,000 page impressions) of $1. So you’ll need 420,000 page impressions per week, or 60,000 per day. And if you want to earn a decent living, you’ll need at least 100,000 impressions per day.

It’s just a rough back of the envelope calculation. Of course, eCPM depends on all kinds of factors such as the subject of your site, the source of visitors (e.g. Digg traffic gives poor eCPM) and the number of advertisers.

Blogging tools, at Nerja Parador...
Creative Commons License photo: Ben30

Hopefully, I’ve quickly demonstrated that making a living online isn’t easy. Perhaps the exchange rate will become more favourable to website publishers in the future. Perhaps by redesigning your site you can increase your eCPM. But you’ll need close to a six-digit number of page impressions every day if you’re going to stand a chance.

What skills do I need?

If you want to be a professional blogger or webmaster, there are a whole range of skills you’ll need.

First and foremost, you’ll need to be able to write and to enjoy writing. After all, people come to your site for content and you’ll need to be able to write good, coherent content regularly.

You’ll need all the technical skills: web design, HTML, some CSS. You’ll need to know how to use a CMS or blog software. You’ll need to be able to optimise your pages for search engines.

Running a webpage professionally means you’re running a business. You’ll have to know how to communicate with advertisers and readers, manage cashflow…

It’s certainly possible to have all these skills, but making money online certainly is not easy or a “lazy” way of making money as it is often claimed on sites across the internet.

But if you do want to give it a go, a few bits of advice:

  • Make sure you find the topic of your blog/website interesting – otherwise it won’t be fun!
  • Think supply and demand. If you can supply something that is scarce (not many other people supply it) and high in demand (lots of people want it), you’re onto a winner. The fact that you need technical skills to run a blog means that blogging attracts the technical types. That means there are billions of blogs on computers and technology. If you do want to make a living, you probably won’t make it as a technology blogger. Sorry!
  • Keep experimenting with different ad programmes, placements and formats to maximise your earnings. Sometimes, rather surprisingly, fewer ads will give higher earnings.
  • You’ll probably find AdSense earning reports very addictive and check them many times every day… don’t.

Anyway… I hope this isn’t too demoralising for anybody! I write this blog entry as a technology analyst and an economist rather than somebody who has expertise or experience trying to make a living online. But I think people do need to know that it’s not the easy and lazy way of making money that people make it out to be.

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