A Peek Under The Hood: How Bloggers Make Money

A Peek Under The Hood: How Bloggers Make Money

by Kerry Scott on 16 November 2010

I don’t know if it’s the approach of the (expensive) holiday season, a full moon, or something else, but lately I’m getting a ton of questions about the money-making side of blogging.  People seem to be very curious (and sometimes angry) about this topic, and I’m not sure why.  My theory is that part of the reason for this might be that genealogy bloggers (unlike other personal blogging niches) tend not to talk about money.  As a result, there seems to be a kind of fog of mystery.

So in the interest of burning off some of that fog (and cleaning out my inbox), here are all of the questions/comments I’ve received in the past month:

How do you make money on your blog?

There are three ways I make money:

  • Display advertising.  I run ads through the BlogHer network (who normally doesn’t have genealogy blogs on its list, but since I was with them for some time prior to relaunching Clue Wagon as a genealogy blog in February, they were nice enough to keep me).  With these ads, I’m paid based on the number of impressions (i.e. the number of times someone sees the ad by visiting my site).  Basically, when people visit, I get paid.  You can tell which ads are BlogHer ads by the fact that the BlogHer logo appears above them, and by the fact that they have nothing to do with genealogy.
  • Affiliate links.  The other ads you see here are actually affiliate links.  That means I don’t get paid anything for you to see the ad or click on it, but if you click on it and actually buy something, I get paid.  If you buy an Ancestry subscription through my link, for example, I’m paid a referral fee.  Your subscription rate is the same either way; the only difference is that some of the money goes to me instead of all of it going to Ancestry.  The sites I have affiliate agreements with are Amazon.com, Ancestry.com, Footnote.com, GenealogyBank.com, and NewspaperArchive.com.
  • Project work.  Sometimes people find me through the blog and hire me to do other things.  This keep my skills fresh (and also keep me from starving).

How do I know you didn’t get paid to recommend a product/site?

I don’t do paid reviews (in fact, haven’t done any unpaid reviews either).  I don’t know of anyone in the genealogical blogging community who is doing paid reviews; although I know it’s common in the mom-blogging world, it doesn’t seem to have made its way to our little corner of the internet.  Also, the FCC requires that US-based bloggers disclose the nature of their relationship with companies; you can read more about that here.  Since I’m kind of a crankypants, only very brave people ask me to review stuff, and so far I’ve said no to everyone.

I’ve heard that if I buy something from Amazon through your ad/link, you’ll be able to see what I bought.  That’s creepy.

That WOULD be creepy…but it’s not true.  Here’s how Amazon links work:  if you click on an Amazon ad/link, and you buy something (whether it’s the item I was talking about in a post or something else entirely), I’ll get a tiny percentage of your purchase.  For example, if I write a post about a book, and you click through to Amazon to see the book…and decide to buy it (or decide not to buy it, but buy some toilet paper or light bulbs instead), I’ll get paid.  The price you pay will be the same either way (just like all affiliate programs); the only difference is whether they send me a bit of the money or keep it.  I’ll never know it was you, though, because the blogger gets no identifying information whatsoever regarding the purchaser.  I buy a LOT of stuff from Amazon, and I try to always do it through the links of bloggers whose blogs I like.  That way, some of my purchase goes to an actual human (no knock against Amazon, because I like them…but I like actual humans even better).

I like your blog, but I hardly ever read it because the ads are so annoying.

I know.  I hate ads too.  If I won the lottery, the first thing I would do is take down the ads (well, actually, that’s not the FIRST thing I’d do…but it’s in the top 200 or so things).  I wish I could afford to blog for free, because I really enjoy it.  The problem is that my income-producing time is very limited because I have two small children at home with me.  That means that when I get time to do stuff, it has to be stuff that produces some income.  Otherwise I can’t by groceries, and that would suck.  So the ads have to stay.  One thing can do to avoid them is to subscribe via RSS or email, so you receive posts without having to visit the site (although you miss the comments that way, and in my opinion the comments are the best part).  Another option is to install an ad blocker.  I don’t use an ad blocker, because I like to see what ads other bloggers are running to avoid starvation…but Lifehacker.com is a good place to find recommendations for that sort of thing.

How do you get paid for subscriptions?

I don’t.  Subscriptions are free.  If you subscribe via Kindle, I get a percentage of that, but the RSS and email subscriptions are free.

I always support the blogs I like by clicking on the ads on their websites so they get paid.

Oh my goodness.  Stop doing that.  Seriously, stop.  Here’s what happens when you do that:

  • If the site runs affiliate ads (like me), all you’re doing is screwing up their statistics.  Bloggers are measure on how many clicks they convert (meaning how many people click through versus actually making a purchase).  You’re making it look like they have a bunch of people who click but don’t buy.  That’s not very helpful if they’re trying to sell ads, because no advertiser wants that sort of audience.
  • If the blogger is running GoogleAds (or some other pay-per-click ads), you’re fraudulently clicking.  Google and other advertisers are smart, and they have algorithms to determine when this sort of thing is going on.  You are not going to outsmart their computers.  What happens next is that the blogger you like so much gets an email saying they’re being kicked out of the program.  You’ve just cut off their paycheck.  That’s not nice.

Only click on ads/links where you’re genuinely interested in the product/service being offered.  Trying to game the system really doesn’t help anyone at all.

I love your blog!  You’ve gotten me interested in genealogy.  I just bought a subscription to Ancestry and I’m so excited!  Do you get a referral fee for that?  How do I make sure you get paid?

If you’ve already bought the subscription, it’s too late.  The only way that works is if you click on the ad/link, and then purchase the subscription (i.e. the click-through has to come first; you can’t do it after the purchase).  If you’re planning to buy a subscription or other genealogy product, I’d suggest looking for an ad or link from a blog you like.  Your price won’t change, but that blogger will get paid, and that’s a good thing.

Photo by AMagill

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ginger Smith November 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Hi Kerry,
Thanks for sharing. I think it helps us get to know you better and helps us learn what the options are out there for those of us considering doing something like this too.


Kerry Scott November 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

If you (or anyone else) wants help, let me know. Since I’ve been in a couple of different niches blog-wise, I’ve learned a few things.

One of the fun things about blogging is that it’s kind of pioneer-y…we get to build these new communities ourselves, together, and figure out how to make a living here. It’s cool.


Susan Tiner November 17, 2010 at 10:53 am

Kerry, I’m sorry I didn’t check here first before signing up for Ancestry.com Sept 13 and NewpaperArchive.com 9/25. I am hoping your affiliate links weren’t available in Sept? I didn’t use to pay attention to the ads but will from now on!


Kerry Scott November 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Oh, geez, don’t worry about it. It’s not that big of a deal. I don’t think most of my readers know about affiliate links, actually…I get a fair number of questions about them, and it’s weird how no one talks about this stuff in public in this niche (unlike others, where they talking about it nonstop).


JL November 25, 2010 at 1:47 am

Do you get email like that? No-one ever writes me questions like that. What am I? Chopped liver? And you actually make money blogging? No-one makes money from blogging unless they have like 10,000 visitors a day. Ok, I’ll go back to my pathetic little corner now.


Kerry Scott November 25, 2010 at 6:08 am

I get lots and lots of emails like that. I seem to get more emails than other bloggers. I think that because this used to be a blog about something else entirely, I have a different readership, and maybe that’s why.


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