Have you ever been curious about how blogs make money?
Personal finance and investing is an excellent blog niche because the demand for financial advice is neverending.
It’s satisfying work, as bloggers can positively influence readers by helping them make smarter financial decisions.
Writing insightful content can lead to earning money through multiple blog income streams aligned with a blogger’s values and mission.
But creating significant income takes many months, if not years.
Bloggers that turn their websites into money making assets have one trait in common: persistence. It takes consistency and continuous improvement to build an audience, write thoughtful articles, and execute blogging best practices.
Most bloggers never make a dime because they lose motivation before becoming profitable.
Other bloggers achieve successful outcomes by using their website to amplify their voice, which can open doors for career and income opportunities.
A website is the first step to create an online presence. Once out there showcasing a point of view, the best bloggers tend to find unique ways to earn that’s best suited for their skills.
But most successful bloggers earn most of their money by creating excellent online resources and following well-established writing and marketing techniques.
In today’s post, I’ll explain how blogs make money in the personal finance space, and give you specific insight into how I make money blogging on RBD.
Why I Started my Blog
The primary reason I started Retire Before Dad was to make money. I’ve always been forthcoming about this, though many personal finance bloggers don’t like to admit it.
Writing a quality blog takes a lot of time. Bloggers who don’t earn money one way or another from all the writing and website maintenance will eventually burn out.
My blog has also served as a creative outlet as my career isn’t all that exhilarating.
Blogging makes a lot of sense as a business model.
- Low start-up costs
- Easily scalable
- Big potential audience (lots of people have money questions)
- Multiple revenue sources
At the start, my blog was part of the dividend blogging community, which was strong and growing in 2013.
But I grew to prefer writing about broader financial topics. My content and audience shifted in that direction, which opened more opportunities for growth and monetization.
Retire Before Dad doesn’t have a vast monthly reach compared to other early retirement and investing blogs. Still, if I can help a small group of people to improve their financial security, it drives me to produce more helpful articles for new readers to consume.
It turns out that providing helpful information to people looking for answers is the key to earning money with a blog.
Most bloggers use WordPress, the free and open-source blogging software that runs over 30% of the world’s websites. WordPress is user-friendly enough for anyone with fundamental computer skills to run a website.
The basic formula for bloggers is first to create content (blog posts) people want to read. Then drive traffic to the content whatever way they can. Traffic comes from search, social media, referrals, RSS feed, and an email list.
Most website visitors leave very quickly after arriving. But some visitors stay and may take action that creates an opportunity for the blogger to make money.
It all starts with a click or tap, either a link, button, or visual advertisement. Most clicks earn little to nothing. But a small percentage of clicks will end up converting, or making money.
Generally speaking, there are three primary ways personal finance bloggers make money directly from their blogs — display ads, affiliate sales, and product sales.
Display ads are the most common. These are the ads that everyone sees in sidebars or as you scroll through an article on your phone.
Affiliate sales are usually the next level of blog monetization. These are links or graphics within a blog article that lead to external sites where partners pay if the visitor becomes a customer.
Finally, experienced bloggers sometimes move onto product sales, creating premium content for direct purchase. The products can be anything, but online courses, ebooks, spreadsheets, and printables are typical in personal finance.
The income funnel goes from the easiest (lowest income potential) at the top, to the hardest (highest income potential) at the bottom.
My blog only earns from the first two rings of the funnel. I haven’t ventured into selling products.
I’ll go into a little more detail about each of these three monetization strategies in the next section. But they are just the beginning.
There are several other ways to earn money from a blog and leverage an online presence to make money in the real world.
How Blogs Make Money
The rules of online commerce are always changing, so bloggers need to adapt.
Bloggers need to find what works for them and double-down to create reliable income streams.
Then similar to investing, it’s important to diversify income streams not to become too reliant on one income source.
Mature blogs earn from multiple income streams.
Here’s a list of 11 ways how blogs make money in the personal finance and investing niche. The list includes both direct and indirect earning strategies.
Indirect earnings are ways that bloggers can leverage their online presence to earn money outside of the blog.
1. Display Advertising
Display advertising is the most logical monetization strategy to implement on a blog. Putting ads on blogs enables bloggers to earn money any time someone visits a web page.
Google dominates online advertising. Google Adsense works with almost any blog. Once signed up, just copy and paste a snippet of code to the blog, and the ads start to appear.
Every time a visitor arrives at a web page, algorithms automatically execute a mini-auction to determine which ad is displayed.
If a visitor clicks an ad, the blogger might earn anywhere from a penny to a few dollars. Clicks are relatively rare, so it takes decent traffic to earn more than a few pennies.
If the blog starts to reach certain monthly page view thresholds (25k, 100k), the blogger can upgrade to higher-paying display ad services that integrate with Google ads and other networks to get more competitive payout rates.
I use a company called Mediavine for my display ads and love it. Companies like Mediavine empower bloggers to become full-time entrepreneurs.
How much you earn is measured in RPM, or revenue per mile, which means revenue per 1,000 page views. Depending on many variables (time of year, article topics), bloggers can earn anywhere from $5-$25 per 1,000 page views. Newer blogs might start below that range.
So if you get 40,000 page views in a month, you can potentially earn $200-$1000.
These days, I consistently earn $10-$20 per 1,000 page views, even when someone visits an article I wrote six years ago.
The downside is ads can be a distraction for readers. I turn off the ads on new blog posts for the first two days, so email subscribers don’t see them as much.
I implemented display ads after six months of publishing new articles twice a week. It took three more months to earn the first $100.
2. Affiliate Marketing
Once a blogger has some search and social media traffic, and maybe some regular readers, they may explore affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is when bloggers partner with brands to mention and recommend products on the blog.
We place affiliate links on our sites. When visitors click or tap the links and buys or signs up for a service, the referring blogger may get a referral payment.
It’s one of the oldest ways to earn on the internet — like saying, RBD sent me.
The key to success in affiliate marketing is to find win-win-win partnerships — when a blogger promotes a product or service that benefits the reader, the partnering brand, and the blogger.
For example, I’m a long-time affiliate of a company called Personal Capital (← that’s an affiliate link). It’s a free net worth calculator and investing account aggregator that I look at almost every day.
Readers love it, Personal Capital gets new users, and I get a referral payment when some (not all) users sign up and link their accounts.
Most of the time, personal finance companies use third-party services that administer affiliate programs. The third parties enable URL creation, click and link tracking, payments, and handle the tax stuff.
Payouts range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on what a customer is worth to the brand.
New fintech apps and survey companies that target young folks pay the least. Credit card companies and high-net-worth investing platforms that target wealthy people compensate the most.
Here’s an article I wrote about affiliate programs and blogging resources that goes into more detail. Diversifying affiliate partners is crucial for building a sustainable business.
My first conversion was a $12 lead for the now-defunct online broker LOYAL3. It happened ten months after starting my blog.
Affiliate sales accounted for about 80% of my 2019 blog income.
Note: FCC regulations require affiliate disclosures on all web pages with affiliate links. This disclosure is at the top and bottom of every page on this site. I also indicate affiliate links in bold.
3. Product Sales
Affiliate marketing is an ever-changing endeavor. Partners come and go, and income can be unpredictable.
The next step for bloggers looking to grasp more control of their destiny is to create blog-branded electronic products for sale on their website. Instead of selling other people’s products, they’re selling their own.
Ebooks and online courses are the most common. Bloggers can use their background and knowledge to create something unique to earn good profits.
Products are a way to diversify income.
Then once you have a product to sell, you can ask other bloggers to become an affiliate for you.
I’ve never created a product because it’s a significant upfront time investment that would detract from my regular blog posts. There’s no guarantee of success. That said, it’s probably something I should consider investing time in to take my blog to the next level.
4. Sponsored Posts
A sponsored post is when a PR firm, marketer, or brand reaches out to a blogger about a specific topic for publishing on the blogger’s website.
Established bloggers receive dozens of requests a month for sponsored posts. Usually, it’s a digital marketer hoping to place URLs in the content which link back to a website (which helps websites build credibility with search engines).
Another reason to do a sponsored post is exposure to the blogger’s audience. The price range depends on the blog’s search authority, audience size, and target niche.
For example, a boutique yeast company would pay a lot to write content on the most popular sourdough bread blog.
For some bloggers, sponsored posts can be a primary income source.
In my six+ years of blogging, I’ve only done one sponsored post. A company paid me $1,000 to bring attention to the launch of a relevant but forgettable online product.
I had to consider the pros (making money) against the cons (publishing an uninteresting article and risk alienating regular readers).
$1,000 was enough to tip the scale.
5. Voluntary Donations
Some bloggers don’t want ads cluttering their blogs. Others don’t like integrating affiliate marketing into their content for fear of turning off readers.
Instead, they ask readers to donate money in support of their website.
Patreon is the primary platform to make this happen.
Patreon enables bloggers to ask readers to become monthly supporters, kind of like your local NPR station.
The blogger then creates support level tiers for different dollar amounts, and readers can decide if they want to become contributors.
For example, I could stop running ads on my site and ask readers to volunteer to pay me $5, automatically charged to your credit card every month.
If I asked 1,000 regular readers to pay me $5 per month, I suspect I’d only convince a handful to participate.
So Patreon doesn’t fit my brand and isn’t necessary for me to earn. Some prominent bloggers have built a decent income on Patreon, and it’s a candid way for talented creators to earn in hard-to-monetize niches.
6. Subscription-based Blogs
One of the holy grails of online entrepreneurship is to generate recurring revenue. That is, provide a service that users get enough value from that they subscribe and pay a monthly or annual fee.
Some examples in the investing world include the Sure Dividend Newsletter (to which I subscribe, and I’m an affiliate) and Options Alpha (listen to the founder explain the business model on the SPI podcast).
Usually, there’s a free component, but they ask for payment for premium buy or sell recommendations.
Subscription-based blogs are more like full-blown online businesses, but they often follow a typical blogging model of creating regular fresh content to keep readers engaged.
7. Freelance Writing
One of the most common ways bloggers make money indirectly is freelance writing. The writer can use the website to showcase their style and pursue paid writing gigs instead of waiting for the blog to grow large enough to generate income
When you’ve established a portfolio of writing in a certain niche, you can help other websites build their content by writing fresh articles. You’re not directly profiting from the blog, but using it as a launchpad.
Lots of writers prefer to know how much they’ll earn for the time invested in writing. Freelance writing provides good writers with a steady income and a flexible work-from-home career.
However, writing gigs don’t just appear. The writer must “pound the pavement,” reaching out to editors, attending conferences, and starting small before growing their reach.
Freelance writers in the personal finance space typically earn $40-$100 per 1000 words.
I’ve written a handful of paid articles for a few sites, but prefer to create content for RBD.
8. Become a Published Author
A blog is a portfolio of self-published online writing that helps to build an audience and showcase writing ability. Traditional book publishers love partnering with bloggers because they see their capabilities and have an established promotional platform.
Even if you can’t get a legitimate book deal, Amazon makes it straightforward to self-publish books for print and download.
One blogger I know outlines an entire book first. Then he writes the book one chapter at a time and publishes it to his blog. Once it’s all written, he creates an ebook from the blog posts and sells it on Amazon.
Amazon buyers have no idea he already published it online, so he monetizes his writing on multiple platforms.
This strategy of content sharing on multiple platforms is another strategy to increase influence, page views, and monetization opportunities.
I know a few bloggers who switched from blogs to prioritize other mediums. Podcasts are a great way to build a new audience and reuse previously written content in a spoken format.
The blog doesn’t go away, but it serves as a home base for people to learn more about the podcaster. Plus, when you send a listener to your website, it creates an opportunity to monetize the visit from an ad click, affiliate conversion, or product purchase.
On podcasts, you’ll hear the hosts recommend a URL, which is often an affiliate link. Once you type that link, it’s the same as clicking a desktop or mobile affiliate link.
Podcasters can also earn from paid sponsorships.
Similar to how podcasting works with blogs, written blog material can be converted into videos to create enhanced content. When bloggers share content on YouTube, they reach a whole new audience.
YouTubers can create visually appealing content such as screen shares and graphics that are more telling than just screenshot on a blog post. This is an area where I’ve considered supplementing specific blog posts with videos, but haven’t mustered the motivation to get started yet.
YouTube then places ads on the videos, and the content creator earns money there too.
A less common path for personal finance bloggers is to leverage their online platform to land paid speaking gigs.
Paid speaking is not for everyone. But with practice and persistence, there are always speaking opportunities in most blogging niches. It takes time and experience to earn significant income, but it can lead to a full-time income.
When pursuing speaking gigs, it helps to have a blog and a published book. One blogger I know received more than $20,000 for one 45-minute speaking gig at a large investment bank.
That’s at the high end. Most paid gigs are in the $500-$5,000 range, depending on the client.
How Personal Finance Bloggers get Website Traffic
Blogging is not a build it, and they will come activity. You have to work hard to get readers. There’s no money without traffic.
The first step is to write high-quality content that solves a reader’s problem or entertains them.
Then promote, promote, and promote.
Write again — then promote again.
Over time as the page authority and social media channels grow, bloggers can focus more on content and less on promotion.
Here’s an essential list of ways that bloggers receive traffic.
Step one in building a blog audience is to create an email list of subscribers. Creating an email list from the start is important because bloggers own the list, unlike social media followers and search traffic.
Free email marketing software is available to collect emails from day one. I use a service called ConvertKit, which covers the basics for free and provides advanced segmentation and automation features for an annual cost.
I send an email to subscribers for every new blog post. Plus, I send an automated email sequence for new subscribers to get to know my blog, and can directly email my list with special announcements or offers.
Adding thoughtful comments at the bottom of articles written by other bloggers in a similar niche is one of the most primitive but effective ways to drive early traffic to your site.
I commented almost daily for about two years on different dividend blogs. Each day, those comments would drive a handful of visitors to my site.
Early on, it was only a handful or so per day. But that was winning for me. More importantly, I developed relationships with other bloggers, which led to featured articles, links, and real-life relationships.
When someone arrives at a website from another website, it’s called referral traffic.
Commenting became an ineffective use of my time as my traffic started to grow from other sources. But it’s how I suggest new bloggers start because it’s how you develop relationships and establish an audience.
Search Traffic (SEO)
Most blog monetization comes from search traffic because those visitors are searching for something specific, often with the intent to buy.
Once a blog has been around for a few months and is creating good quality blog posts, Google and other search engines start to notice.
Search engine optimization (SEO), is a whole industry and profession dedicated to the science behind getting Google to send you free traffic based on keywords. Keywords are phrases that people search for when using search engines.
The more established and legitimate the website, the more likely Google will send it traffic. Bloggers can increase their page authority by getting link backs from other websites, ideally from high page authority sites.
Several tools are available to help bloggers target keywords.
I use a paid SEO tool called Long Tail Pro that helps me determine what topics to write about that my audience will like and might help me rank on Google.
Google and others have free tools to help frame content strategies, but I’ve found the paid versions to be worth the cost.
Bloggers can leverage social media followers to drive traffic. It may begin with friends and family. But over time, bloggers need followers who are genuinely interested in the topic and point of view.
I started building a following on Twitter first because I saw a lot of other bloggers there. But Pinterest, Facebook, and probably now Instagram are all places to promote blog posts for people to notice.
Not long after the great recession, social media became a driving force in blog traffic. Social media helps level the playing field somewhat because it takes some influence away from Google.
Bloggers now focus on building their social media brand and presence, which empowers them to share content with followers and drive traffic for free.
Having a large following helps to build a blog, but engagement is more consequential. Bloggers need to give followers a reason to visit a website, usually through a compelling title or eye-catching image.
Social media is free, so it’s another low-cost attribute for online entrepreneurship.
The dominant sites (and search engines) all offer paid advertising, which is a whole other industry. New websites with a budget can invest in ads to attract readers and customers.
I mention YouTube above and in this section because it’s a way to expand blog earnings and drive traffic to a blog. It’s a complimentary content platform.
I’ve watched fellow bloggers pivot to become primary YouTube creators, but never abandon the blog because it remains home base.
Having a home base is essential because YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all preside over your destiny, and are always at liberty to shift policies or suspend accounts.
Bloggers can also be guests on established YouTube channels to raise awareness of their website.
YouTube is the second largest search engine on the internet, and Google owns it. So it makes sense from many standpoints to focus on YouTube creation to create blog traffic and develop another income stream on its own.
Podcasting has slowly become the go-to media landscape for commuters and others who have ditched traditional radio.
Bloggers sometimes create podcasts to build a more personal relationship with their existing audience and reach a broader audience.
Another powerful tool for growing traffic and readerships is to become a guest on established podcasts. Podcasts in nearly every niche are plentiful, so if you reach out to smaller shows that have guests, there’s a chance of being featured in an interview.
In 2019, I was a guest on the ChooseFI podcast, which has a very large following. I still get reader emails telling me they first heard about my blog on that podcast.
Finally, one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to a website is mainstream media mentions. Bloggers aim to get featured in newspapers and large financial websites to build influence and backlinks. The reach is potentially thousands of readers, and links to major websites build SEO authority.
Networking in person or Facebook groups is one way to develop the relationships needed to be featured.
There’s also a service called HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which matches professional journalists and sources that meet the requested criteria (e.g., 30-somethings that still have student debt).
It’s also possible to become a contributor to a major news outlet that can increase exposure and drive traffic.
For example, I’ve written a few dozen articles for U.S. News & World Report. These articles introduced me to thousands of readers, some of whom continue as email subscribers today.
I also wrote about stocks for Seeking Alpha for a time. They paid me and sent traffic to RBD.
Here’s a list of previous articles and RBD features from the past six years.
There’s an old joke in blogging that the best way to make money blogging is to blog about blogging.
I didn’t want this post to be a “you should start a blog!” article. Blogging is not for everyone. But since I’ve used my blog to build an income stream, I figured many of you would be curious about how blogs make money.
Starting a blog is a small initial commitment that can lead to open doors. It’s changed my life and that of many other apprehensive entrepreneurs.
I wrote an article called How to Start an Online Business, which explains how to get started.
A hosting plan is needed for most plugins (WordPress software that does cool stuff) and monetization strategies.
The most important thing is to start writing and publishing your work — you’ll learn the minimum required techie stuff along the way. As you can tell from the proliferation of blogs over the years, it’s relatively straightforward to start a blog.
Building a successful one requires persistence and the ability to showcase your unique perspective on whatever topic you choose.
Did I miss anything? Do you have any questions about how blogs make money?
Photo via DepositPhotos used under license