Successful Blog Monetization Strategies
My longtime blogger buddy, Liv at Simply Liv recently wrote a blog post in which she shared her thoughts on blog monetization, sponsored posts, and affiliate strategies.
While I agree with much of what she suggests – especially the idea that influencers should be monetarily compensated for their work – our strategies differ considerably when it comes to how we actually monetize our content.
First, it is helpful to compare and contrast our platforms. I stopped using Instagram as a source of income in 2018, instead focusing almost exclusively on blog-based content. Liv currently has 14.5K followers, and Instagram is her most active platform.
This is an important consideration, because strategy is very dependent on where you focus your time.
Liv suggests that affiliate marketing can be exploitative to influencers and one-off brand collaborations don’t convert customers. Instead, she promotes a long-term partnership strategy in which she will promote a brand over several months or a year.
While I think she hits the nail on the head regarding what works for social media partnerships, I would suggest that affiliate marketing and one-time partnerships are key strategies for blog-centered or blog-only monetization. This post is meant as a companion piece to Liv’s and I let her know that I was writing it before I began.
But first off, let me define terms:
- Influencer: a person who promotes products, initiative, and brands, normally in exchange for some form of compensation. This term originated on Instagram, but now describes a broad range of strategies and platforms.
- Affiliate Marketing: the process by which an influencer makes commission on sales generated from sharing promotional content. Typically, affiliate commissions range from 8-15%.
- Sponsored Post/Collaboration: a piece of paid content (photo, blog post, tweet, etc.) that is shared with followers to promote a particular brand or initiative. Both this and affiliate-based content are considered advertising according to Federal Trade Commission guidelines, and should be marked as such.
- Conversion: when an advertisement achieves its desired end. In most cases, a conversion is the sale of a product.
- Passive Income: income generated over the long term from posts and advertising content that are considered timeless, aka “evergreen.”
The Downsides of Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is very rarely a good idea as the only strategy for monetization. As Rachel Faller of ethical affiliate network, Reclaim Collaborative, recently pointed out, unless the influencer has a gigantic following, they will simply never see a fair return on investment for the work they put in to promote the brand.
This is because affiliate commissions hover around 10% of the total sale, and a link can be clicked on thousands of times before it converts.
Example: If I was offered 10% commission in exchange for writing a dedicated post for a brand, I could spend 4-5 hours photographing, researching, and writing that post. I would also need to factor in the years of marketing and expertise that made my platform a desirable place to advertise. After all of this work, I could very easily end up making less than $100 in commissions from the post even though a fair market value for my work could be in the $400-1,000 range (compared to rates in traditional advertising).
Some argue that affiliate marketing is inherently “fair” because you make money in tandem with real sales. But this ignores the fact that advertising works over time: creating brand awareness that may eventually lead to a sale, even if that sale wasn’t directly generated by the post itself. A brand should have a multi-media strategy for advertising so that their intended customers learn about their product in multiple contexts.
How to Use Affiliate Marketing Correctly
However, for all of its ills, affiliate marketing can be an important component of monetization because of its ability to generate passive income. Passive income is income generated from posts and advertising content that are considered timeless, aka “evergreen.” These posts, if optimized correctly, will continue to get hits for months or years after the content is initially created.
If most of your strategy is based on Instagram or other social media platforms, it is very hard to build evergreen content. Social media is less searchable and more time-sensitive than blogs. But if you have the advantage of a blog platform, you can easily generate passive income by making shopping guides and other resources that offer immediate value to your reader without requiring constant work for you.
I would argue that affiliate marketing should be considered the backbone of a monetization strategy, because you control the content and you will continually make money even during lulls in sponsored posts. (Successful evergreen content means knowing how to get good SEO – search engine optimization – on your posts. I recommend WordPress’ Yoast plugin.)
Why Sponsored Posts Can Be Ineffective
Liv also suggests that one-time sponsored content is simply bad strategy, for both the brand and the influencer. The argument is predicated on an idea that a blogger will spend hours creating content only to have it disappear off of newsfeeds and Google searches within a few weeks.
Liv’s solution is to promote long-term partnerships instead. This makes sense, because it creates growing brand awareness over time and it also ensures that the work an influencer puts in results in a greater likelihood of conversion.
Why Sponsored Posts Can Work Well
But I would argue that one-off content can be a very effective tool when the focus is on creating:
- unique content that responds to readers’ needs or questions
- evergreen content
- a well-optimized post that will retain a high Google search ranking
This Everlane review (unique content): I did a Google search for reviews of this product and realized no one in my size range had written a post on it. By anticipating a need, I created desirable content.
This Hemp post (evergreen): While this post was sponsored by a shoe company, the content is extensively researched and relevant to a broad swath of readers. It continues to get good hits on Google and Pinterest.
In both cases, I also extensively optimized these posts to rank high in Google listings.
Of course, working with the same brand over time is preferable to one-time partnerships because it’s more efficient, more relational, and more aligned with a slow fashion philosophy. This is simply to say that it isn’t essential for building an effective campaign.
My Strategies for Monetization
I deeply respect Liv’s position, and think that she is absolutely right to highlight the downsides of these strategies.
That being said, they are the two strategies I would advocate for the most. Affiliate marketing, once set in motion, has offered me a reliable cushion each month, while sponsored posts allow me to provide in-depth content with long-term value for my partners.
These two strategies can be used together to offer a more workable budget for small brands. If they have an affiliate network, I am happy to reduce my sponsorship rate to accommodate potential sales generated from their links.
Most importantly, I want to reiterate what she talks about regarding the importance of being paid for our work. While I think there are always circumstances in which working for free is warranted, people who “work” in the influencer space without requiring monetary compensation (e.g. people who advertise a company in exchange for free products) are harming others in their niche by suppressing wages. This is ultimately an equity issue, because data shows that BIPOC and women are underpaid and undervalued in the influencer industry.
Influencers should be kind, understanding, and realistic about our value. We should make room for the humanity and financial circumstances of the brand owners we work with. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to be compensated. We work hard – work being the operative word.
If you’re interested in the nitty gritty of affiliate marketing or blog monetization in general, I have written guides on blog monetization, which are available for purchase below.
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Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.
Thursday 25th of February 2021
Hey Leah, this is really well done, thanks so much for responding with this important perspective! I hope my post made it clear that I don't think there should be a "death to affiliate or one-off collaborations", but I do think that many new creators (especially on social media) are being taken advantage of in an effort to "make it". For me, one-off collaborations became unsustainable because I just couldn't keep up anymore...a long-term approach helps me stay more organized, know exactly how much I'm going to make each month (roughly), and consume less overall, which was getting out of hand before. Again, to each their own and I think it takes a good deal of trial and error to learn what works best for each of us in this weird internet land.
Thursday 25th of February 2021
Thanks for your post. I think you've nailed it when it comes to your particular strategy, and I certainly agree that long term collaborations are preferred. For me, I have needed to raise my rates so substantially to achieve something close to fair market value that most brands can't afford to work with me on a longer term basis without it impacting my value. But it also works because I'm only taking on one sponsor a month (which is relatively easy because so many want to work on social media these days, and I don't offer that).