How I Earned $1,500 in My First Year of Monetizing My Food Blog (Without Working That Hard)

 

Most guides on monetizing your blog emphasize one key point:

Expect to work your butt off. Expect to invest a ton of time and effort into earning money with your blog. Expect to think about and work on your blog 24/7.

….this is not that guide. This is for anyone who wants to earn *some* money with their blog (so that it doesn’t feel like a total hobby) while still having a life.

At the beginning of 2016 I decided I wanted to try making money with my blog. I had installed Google AdSense and let it run without any tweaking six months prior, and earned about $100 without any further time investment beyond the initial setup.  That’s what caused me to think that maybe I could make some money if I set up more monetization sources. Turns out I was right!

I only publish a post once a week. I don’t log into my blog everyday. I take a week off from posting if I’m busy with holidays or other work. I have a lot of things going on in my life other than my blog, and I like it that way. I would say I spent an average of 2-3 hours a week on my blog in 2016 (some weeks more, some weeks none). That equals out to about $10-$15/hour pay…for working on a hobby that I was doing anyway. I’ll take it!

If I worked harder could I earn more money? Most likely, and maybe I’ll try that eventually. For now, I like having multiple income sources and being able to focus on my blog only when I feel like it.

So how did I do it?

INCOME SOURCES


  • Amazon Associates: $408.07

  • Google AdSense: $243.13

  • Sovrn: $363.34

  • BlogHer: $474.91 (including a sponsored post that paid $250)

TOTAL: $1,489.45 (I rounded up $10.55. Sue me.)

The hardest part of utilizing these sources was the initial setup. Once I figured out how to install the ads from each source (and there are many free tutorials on how to do all of this available online), I pretty much let each of them run on autopilot. I noticed a big boost in my Amazon Associates income when I switched from text ads (like this: Carrington Farms Coconut Oil) to visual ads, like this:

…I probably should have realized that sooner 😛 The sponsored post from BlogHer was a nice surprise. I did make a point of applying for every food-related sponsored post opportunity that came my way. That took a total of about 10 minutes per opportunity, and I think I applied for 5 before I landed one.

TIPS AND TRICKS


Here are a few potentially obvious things I did (beyond the initial ad setup) that boosted my income:

  • Made custom ad-focused sidebars for my posts that get the most views. So instead of running the same sidebar with the same ad widgets on every post and page on my site (like I did for a long time), I made custom sidebars for my most popular posts and loaded them up with more ads than I would typically run on my home page.

  • Used Amazon Associates “Native Ads” widget option in my sidebar.

  • Made sure my website and ads were mobile optimized. Most ad providers have lots of information about this on their websites. I just experimented and followed tutorials until my website looked right on my smartphone.

USING SOCIAL MEDIA


Most of my traffic comes from posts that go viral on social media. But again, I don’t work that hard at this. I don’t schedule social media posts or pay for ads on Pinterest or Facebook. This is what I do:

  • Share every post on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and YouFood (a food journal app popular with the Trim Healthy Mama crowd) . I make Pinterest optimized images (AKA long, information-packed image collages) on PicMonkey (a free photo editing website).

  • I repin my own images pretty regularly and I’ve channeled my Pinterest obsession into building a semi-sizeable following (4K – still not that big but it’s grown a lot this year).

  • I try to interact with people I come in contact with on social media. Again, I don’t work that hard at this, but I do try to reply to all comments and support people I meet online whose work I like.

WHERE TO START


Here are some action steps you can implement based on my own experience.

  • Once a week over the course of a month or so, install one new ad platform (I recommend all of the ones I use, naturally, but do your own reading too).

  • Make Pinterest optimized images for each of your posts and add them to Pinterest.

  • Move your email newsletter sign-up box to the top of your sidebar.

  • Save articles regarding blog monetization to your smartphone to read when you have a moment (instead of browsing social media). I’ve learned a lot from just Googling random questions and reading about other bloggers’ experiences.

  • Figure out what posts are most popular on your site and focus on publishing similar content. I basically just threw a whole bunch of different types of posts out there until I realized that readers really connected with my Trim Healthy Mama dessert recipes, and then I ran with that.

  • Create ad-focused custom sidebars for your most popular posts.

  • Keep reading, researching, trying new things, and refining the quality of your content.

LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES


The most challenging times have come when setting up new ad programs and when my website crashed from viral posts. DON’T GO PLUGIN CRAZY! I had way too many plugins, and plugins that weren’t updated, and that most likely caused the crashes. Also, my images were way too big. I try to stick to 1200 px wide/max 120 KB images now. They don’t look as good as they did when they were 350 KB though 😛 I use ipiccy.com to edit and resize my images. It’s also free (are you sensing a theme?).

If you encounter issues like these, don’t freak out and pay through the nose for “professional” help (*cough* Bluehost *cough*). The answers are out there for free and you’ll most likely figure it out with a bit of experimentation. That’s my #1 conclusion from a year of monetization: Experiment! Read articles, try new things, don’t delete your entire media library without realizing that that deletes all the images from your posts too. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

There’s a big learning curve with blogging, but I’m here to reassure you that you don’t have to know everything about computers, post three times a week, or spend 2 hours a day on your blog to make some cash. You just have to keep trying!

MONETIZATION GOALS FOR 2017


I want to branch out in 2017 in a few ways with my blog. These are some different directions I want to pursue:

  • Write an ebook (I’m ghostwriting my second ebook for a freelance client currently and it’s making me interested in writing my own [probably free] ebook for blog readers).

  • Give social media ads a try.

  • Publish posts 2X a week and try new types of subject matter.

  • Learn more about Google Analytics and use the data it gathers to my advantage.

  • Improve my food photography.

  • Keep more detailed records of blog income and expenses.

  1. Lydia
    01/13/2017

    Wow – what a great post! I’ve often thought about creating another blog…and that’s where I’m at so far 🙂 Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned – I know that if I start blogging again I will definitely refer to this post!

    • [email protected]
      01/14/2017

      Thanks for commenting Lydia, I think you’d be great at all of this 🙂 Hope you’re doing well.

  2. Louise
    01/13/2017

    I loved reading your article, thanks for sharing! It is encouraging to read and makes me feel like “hey maybe I can do it!”.

    • [email protected]
      01/14/2017

      Thank you for sharing, that means a lot!

  3. Sheila
    02/05/2017

    Lots of great info! This would give me a one up, because I’ve been thinking of joining the blogoshpere to see if I could muster up some interest out there! Thanks again!