In this post, I’ll be laying out how I made my first $400 blogging in the second half of 2019. It’s not a ton of money, but I’m proud that something I’ve been doing for fun for years is reaching more people and bringing some financial return.
If you’re new here, thanks for stopping by! I’m Lily, and I’m a recent college grad who blogs mostly about running, travel, and life in France.
If you’re already familiar with my blog, thanks for coming back 🙂 If the blog looks a little different, it’s because I finally migrated from Blogger to WordPress! For those who aren’t familiar with blogging lingo, Blogger and WordPress are two main platforms you can use to run your own website.
Regardless of whether you’re a new or old reader, here’s a little background on my blog and how I started making some money with it:
The Story Behind My Blog
I started blogging about 10 years ago, back when I was in middle school, trying to be a fancy ~fashion blogger~.
Since then, things have definitely changed on the blog (I’m still pretty cringey sometimes, but hopefully not as much???). I kept posting outfits throughout high school and college, but I started telling more personal stories with them (crush stories and all LOL). Back then, I wasn’t earning any income from my blog, unless you count the occasional clothing freebie (usually from a sketchy online fast fashion retailer…).
Beginning last year (Fall 2018), however, I started thinking about ways I could share my experiences from a more helpful perspective. I started writing more posts intended to help people solve a problem, like whether Couchsurfing is safe, or what French healthcare is like for American expats.
One of these posts took off–a post comparing two entry-level Garmin GPS watches. A couple months after posting, I noticed that it had started ranking within the first 3 listings on Google for related keywords. I started getting a couple thousand views from it monthly.
It was then that I realized I could monetize by blog, especially for that specific post. I’d already linked to the related products on Amazon in the post (more about my thoughts on Amazon later), so I figured I’d try using affiliate links. If you’re not sure what those are, they’re links with tracking that allow you to receive a small commission on the products people purchase.
It was just my luck, as I added those links in early July, right before Amazon Prime Day. Since then, basically all the money I’ve made with my blog is because of that specific post–whether it’s from affiliate links, or sponsorships the post has allowed me to get.
Here’s the breakdown:
How I Made My First $400 Blogging (2019 Income Report)
All from Amazon affiliate links–this was an especially good month because of Prime Day/Week, so people were using the opportunity to save a lot on electronics.
A note about Amazon/my thoughts on the ethics of blogging: I don’t love Amazon as a company, as they’re known to mistreat workers, and the platform often leads to overconsumerism and creates excess packaging waste (among other issues). That said, I know that it’s often the most affordable option, especially for electronics and certain outdoor gear. I myself will order on Amazon a few times a year because of the affordability, and because I get Amazon gift cards from an app that gives you points for taking pictures of hiring signs.
In both of my GPS watch posts, I present alternatives, but have never made any money from those links, probably because because Amazon’s prices are significantly cheaper, so people buy from them. For other affiliate programs, I’ve also never been able to make the minimum payout threshold. Basically, most programs require you to earn at least a specific amount of money ($10-20) before they will pay you. If the commission rate is 4%, you’d have to sell at least $250-500 worth of products, which is a lot of money for a small blog and lesser-known retailer.
I know people will probably be buying GPS watches from Amazon anyways, so I might as well earn some money from those sales. Maybe that’s just a fatalistic view, and maybe I am morally inconsistent, but those are my thoughts on using Amazon affiliate links.
I think being an ethical “content creator” is very difficult, because your audience almost never directly pays for the content you produce, unless you sell your own product or service. You almost always earn income through sponsorships, ads, and affiliate links, which require you to promote a product, or require your audience to buy something, for you to earn money. It’s a dilemma because you might not want to encourage consumerism, but you make money only if your audience makes a purchase. It’s something I’m still grappling with.
Amazon affiliate links (I got rich this month lol). For context, I get around $7-8 for each GPS watch someone purchases, as commission is 4% and the watches are around $200. I also get commission for any other products someone else orders through my links though, whether they’re the watches I linked to or not. In this month, someone must’ve bought other products.
Amazon affiliate links.
Amazon affiliate links (another very lucrative month haha).
Amazon affiliate links (this was mostly due to Black Friday).
Amazon affiliate links: $65.14 (mostly due to Cyber Monday)
Sponsored GPS watch post: $145.35 ($150 before PayPal fees)
Because of my first GPS watch post, I was able to pitch and secure a sponsorship with a fitness tech retailer to do a second GPS watch comparison. They sent me the watches to test for a month, and paid me to include a blurb about them with links to their online store.
This sponsored post actually went live in late November, but it can take a couple weeks to get your payment. Sponsorships might seem amazing and everything, but reality is that you might not get paid immediately, and sometimes you have to chase down your invoices. (Not complaining because of this sponsor or anything–they were quite prompt after a reminder, and I know they were busy because of Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Just wanted to share a little more about how sponsorships work).
Total Made from Blogging in 2019: $424.19
But wait, there’s more! (though not more money)
Affiliate links on Amazon account for returns. So far in January, I’ve actually made negative money because a few people returned the watches they bought during the holiday season.
So, here’s the actual total I made blogging in 6 months in 2019: $396.68 (before expenses)Blog Expenses
2019 Expenses: $263
WordPress template: $39
Website Hosting through SiteGround: $224 for 3 years
I started my Blogger to WordPress migration the day before the new year, so I’m counting them in 2019 expenses. If you’re not familiar with these terms, a template is basically the layout and visuals of your blog. Website hosting is how your site is stored and powered. I migrated to self-hosted WordPress, meaning I also have to pay monthly for hosting. I signed up at a discounted rate of $6/month, and had the option to extend it for up to 3 years (you have to pay at least one year upfront). I wanted to keep the discounted rate as long as possible, as it rises to $20/month afterwards (yikes), so I paid for 3 years.
I was hesitant to migrate at first because of the investment, but being on self-hosted WordPress allows me to back my content up more conveniently, increases site speed, and offers more SEO tools (search engine optimization). I was also worried that I may one day stop blogging, and I obviously don’t want to pay for hosting if I’m not blogging, but I think it’s not too crazy to switch to back to a free platform. I also figured that I’ve been blogging for 10 years already, so why would I stop now?
2019 Blogging Income after Expenses: $133.68
(This isn’t entirely accurate since these expenses were for upcoming years, and had nothing to do with my blog’s income in 2019. That said, I do want to be transparent, and I did spend that money in 2019, so I’m including it here).
Expected 2020 Expenses: $129
Pinterest course: $39
A lot of bloggers swear by Pinterest as their main source of traffic, and I plan to try up my Pinterest game this year. There’s a lot of strategy behind the platform, so I’ll want to take a course to learn how to use Pinterest to grow my blog.
2020 Blogging Goals
Google Analytics Glitch
Shortly before the end of the year, I noticed a few comment threads in blogging Facebook groups about super low bounce rates, which is the percentage of people who leave your site after viewing one page. A bounce rate of 80% is considered average for blogs. I consistently was getting a bounce rate lower than 1%.
Because of the comment threads, I realized I’d installed google analytics twice on my blog, so my pageviews were getting counted twice and my bounce rate was skewed as a result. My stats made way more sense after realizing this, as I get 2,000-3,900 monthly visitors, and it’s not realistic to expect everyone to visit multiple pages.
This was pretty disappointing since I thought I’d almost hit 10k pageviews in July and December, but it meant that I was actually only hitting 5,000 in those months, with an average of 3,300 per month from July to December 2019. I had to reevaluate my goals because of this, as I’d been hoping to hit 25k monthly pageviews by December 2020.
So here are my updated goals that I want to achieve by December 2020:
- 10k sessions/month (currently at ~2,800/month–sessions means each visit to a website, while pageviews means the number of times a page is loaded on a site; pageviews tend to be higher than sessions). EDIT: As of April 2020, I hit 10k pageviews with around 8,000 sessions, so I’m on my way there!
- 200 clicks/day to my blog from Pinterest (currently at ~5 clicks lol)
- Make $1000 before expenses (this one might be a little lofty because most of my money comes from affiliate links currently, and the second half of the year is when Prime Day and Black Friday occur, so my income from the second half of 2019 isn’t representative of the whole year).
- 1500 followers on instagram (currently 994; I don’t get a ton of blog traffic from insta, but I really like telling little stories on the platform, and growing enough to get the swipe-up function in stories would definitely help traffic)
- 100 email subscribers and at least one newsletter every 2 months (currently 14 subscribers, and most are people I know personally haha)
- 250 Facebook page likes (currently 162)
- Post at least once/week (have been pretty good about this, but missed a couple weeks last year)
- Make at least 2 new blogging friends! There are a couple bloggers I’ve been meaning to reach out to–I think it’s really lovely to connect with people who have similar interests and who also blog.
I think a lot of people expect blogging to be very lucrative, as there are people making six-figures. Some people even start making thousands within a few months of starting their blog!
I’m definitely not anywhere close to that level, and I’ve been blogging for 10 years. The way I see it, blogging is also kind of like training for a race (leave it to me to make a running analogy haha). If you do the same kind of run all the time, don’t challenge yourself, and don’t plan your training, you won’t improve. For most of the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve been basically doing that–just doing whatever I want, not putting in the time and effort, and not seeing results.
I do think a certain degree of blogging success does depend on luck (such as whether something goes viral), just as your performance on race day also can depend on luck (such as weather conditions). That said, there’s a whole science behind both blogging and running, and saying that you can’t control your blogging success is basically discounting the entire field of marketing.
That’s why I’m going to really invest in learning the different blog growth strategies this year, such as Pinterest and keyword research. There’s a ton of behind-the-scenes work that successful bloggers put in, and you can easily spend more time on your blog than at a 9-5 job. I’m going to try to find a good balance of strategizing while also writing about what I feel like, and we’ll see what happens!
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