What do you picture when you think of a blog?
Someone's personal online diary? Pictures of the family dog?
Rants about how there aren't enough In-N-Out Burger locations? Actually, that last one might make for a good blog post. 😉
I remember when I thought of blogging as a side hobby – not a serious money-making machine.
Granted, for some people that's all blogging is: a side hobby that they like working on in their free time.
I really had no idea that you could make so much money from running a blog.
I'd like to take you on a journey. It's a journey about how I started a blog with very little experience and turned it into a money-making machine. But you know what the best part is? I get to help people with something I'm passionate about: finances. If you're curious as to how I made over $1,000,000 blogging (and continue to make money from my blog every single month), this article is for you.
Believe me, if I can do all this stuff, you can too. A few short years ago I wasn't a blogging genius. You don't have to be either.
I'll start off explaining why I wanted to start a blog in the first place (it wasn't about making money directly from blogging). Then I'll show you how I got my blog all set up.
After that I'll reveal how I found some success in reaching my goals. We'll talk about Google, WordPress, and some of the content that has produced results. Finally, I'll get into how I make money now. Fasten your seat belts, people. We're going to cover several years in one epic blog post.
Why Start the Blog?
I wanted to start a blog to get clients and educate others. I really didn't focus on the possibility that the blog could stand on its own and make money.
I'm a financial advisor who built a firm from scratch: Alliance Wealth Management. I wanted another way to bring clients into my firm, and I thought blogging would be a good way to do it. Thankfully, that turned out to be true. Several of my clients found my practice through the blog.
Education of Others
I also thought it would be an interesting and intriguing way to educate others. I never imagined the reach that I would have with my blog. At the time of this writing, my blog has surpassed over 9.3 million unique visitors. Crazy, I know. It turns out that blogging is a great way not only to reach clients for your business, but also to reach out and educate others.
The vast majority of my readers aren't clients of Alliance Wealth Management – and that's totally fine! My goal is to help as many people as possible. If they decide they'd like to hire me, awesome. If not, I'm cool with that too.
Unexpected Potential Rewards
Many unexpected opportunities came my way because of my commitment to blogging. I had no idea this would happen when I started. If I had known in the beginning, I probably would have been even more motivated (if that's even possible – I'm already a self-starter). If you're thinking about starting a blog yourself, remember that there will probably be rewards you can't even see coming right now. Let that motivate you to press on.
How I Got My Blog Set Up
Imagine knowing nothing about building a car. You don't know where to source the parts from, how the pieces go together, or which tools you'll need to build the car. What should you do to get started? Answer: Hire the right people. Since I knew nothing about blogging, I had to hire someone to help me out. There are a bunch of freelancers and businesses who can help you get started blogging. I don't recommend starting without help at first. You'll probably make several mistakes or run into roadblocks.
Hiring a Local Web Design Firm
Initially, I started working with a local web design firm. They got me set up on a platform called Joomla and I paid $500 to get the blog going. This was in 2008 and WordPress was the direction I wanted to go, but my web design company didn’t know how to use WordPress and I was too intimidated to learn how to do it on my own. For the first several months, I stuck with Joomla and absolutely hated it. Blogs, just in case you don't know, are made up of several components.
At the core of what you see on the screen is a whole bunch of binary code. This binary code is the foundation for many different computing languages. Some of these languages stack on top of each other until you have the graphical interface you see on the screen. The deeper you go in the code, the more complex the work becomes.
Heck, just trying to explain is complicated! Thankfully, there are many programs available to simplify the process of blogging. No longer do you have to know HTML or CSS to start your blog. While I still hire help for design work, there are a few blog building blocks I can use on my own. The first I started to learn was WordPress.
After getting frustrated with my web design company, I bit the bullet and bought a premium theme named Thesis for right around $67 and began my training with WordPress. Think of WordPress as the main engine for your blog. It's the thing that helps you categorize blog posts, tag blog posts, and even write blog posts.
Instead of writing HTML, I can use the included visual editor that helps me create the formatting I need for my blog posts. A WordPress theme adds structure to your blog. Thesis was a very popular theme (and still is) that allowed me to customize much of the look and feel of my website. Today, you can find a number of great themes for WordPress.
I then hired another blogger I met online to do my logo, Pete from LogosForWebsites.com, and after paying him $40 for the logo, I was set. There are number of ways to design your own logo if you want to save the money. You can use a simple word processor like Word or Pages to create your logo. You can also you presentation software like PowerPoint or Keynote.
One of my favorite places is Fiverr.com where you can purchase a variety of freelance services for $5 or more. I decided to hire out my logo work because I wanted something that looked professional. If you want the extra edge in your blogging business, have your logo professionally done like I did.
I feel comfortable with my choice. Here's how my blog looked after the switch to WordPress with my new logo:
As with anything in life, it's important to have some early successes to stay motivated. Thankfully, I had a few of them in the form of media opportunities.
I launched the blog in July of 2008 and for the first several months, I really didn’t have a lot of success. A major success included getting onto a local media station which was an ABC affiliate: WSIL-TV3.
I was able to get featured in the local regional newspaper The Southern Illinoisan. I even got a contact from CNBC about possibly being on one of their TV shows that eventually ended up going nowhere. Even though these opportunities weren't nearly as great as some of them to come, they kept me motivated and encouraged.
One way I started building the digital highways to my blog was through the use of guest posting. Guest posting involves writing an article for someone else's website. Some websites have pretty strict guidelines on the content they'd like to see, and others are more lax.
Nevertheless, I started guest posting on several websites and started to make a name for myself in the financial blogging community.
Guest posting is an important part of blogging because not only does it help get your name out there, it can be the means by which you build links to your blog. Many bloggers will allow you to link a few times to relevant content on your blog from the article you're writing for them. These are called “backlinks.” The more backlinks you have, the better.
Not only does this allow people to find your website, it can also help boost your article rankings in search engines such as Google. Read on to discover my first big success and how guest posting was an important part of it.
My First Big Success
After accomplishing a few small goals, I finally had my first big success. But it didn't come to me in a dream. I had to research and educate myself.
I asked some people in the financial blogging community what I should do to start getting clients for my business. Ryan from CashMoneyLife.com showed me exactly what to do. Remember, when you first start out blogging, it's critical that you learn from someone who has experience. Don't try to do this stuff on your own in the beginning. It can really help to find a mentor to help you navigate the online world. If you're wanting to start your own blog, and you've never worked online before, this is a must. Don't go it alone!
I was told that I needed to design a separate landing page for my blog that targeted the keywords in the URL. Here's what I chose: http://www.goodfinancialcents.com/certified-financial-planner-il-illinois/
I built the landing page with the Thesis theme, so that was pretty easy. I included a video and a little bit about myself and my services. Here's how the landing page looked in the beginning:
But now I needed to drive traffic to my landing page. How? Through guest posting, of course! You can find the list of all the guest posts I wrote for this landing page by reading my related post at SmartPassiveIncome.com.
After awhile, I started getting traffic to the landing page and converted a visitor who ended up becoming my largest client generating over $30,000 per year in fees to my firm. I hit the jackpot. And they weren't the only client that I've acquired through the blog. Dozens of people have become clients because of discovering my blog.
In addition, I've had numerous people referred to me from other clients, CPA's, attorneys and they always send them to my blog first so they check me out. Keep in mind, this was indirect business income from my blog. I also made money directly from ads on my blog, and I'd like to share with you how I did that next.
Introducing Google AdSense
When I first started my blog, I knew nothing about the capabilities of actually making money from online advertising. I was clueless. The first thing I did was start with Google AdSense.
What's Google AdSense?
For those that are not familiar, according to Google, Google AdSense is a “flexible, hassle-free way to earn revenue online.” You'll get paid for displaying targeted Google ads on your blog. You can even customize ads to match your website's design, track your success, and best of all, it's free.
There are other ad networks that pay you to display ads, but Google AdSense is probably one of the easiest to implement on your blog. Once you design your ads (color, size, type of ads displayed), you will get access to code that you can copy and paste into your blog.
Google AdSense Results
I launched Google AdSense around March of 2009 , during which I didn’t even make a couple hundred dollars, and then it grew significantly. In December 2009, I was able to make $3,118.20. In total in 2009, I made $14,870.84.
January 2010 (Plus Annual Earnings)
Google AdSense was amazing – I was able to make $4,392.74 in January of 2010. Keep in mind, I never thought I could make any money from my blog so to make that extra $4,000 was huge. In 2010, I was able to make an additional $32,592.88 “on the side” with Adsense.
Google Panda Hits
For those not familiar with the online world, Google controls just about everything – at least it seems. Not only do they have web search, but they have:
- Google Chrome (a web browser)
- Google Maps
- Google Domains
- Google Play
- Google Earth
- Google Finance (pretty cool way to track your investments)
- and a whole bunch more!
The list goes on and on, so when Google changes something, it affects a lot of people. Well, I was one of those people when they unleashed one of their notorious algorithm updates.
Every so often, Google will release what are referred to as “algorithm updates” that affect search results. What that means is, if somebody were to search for women’s dress shoes, the number one listing might be Nordstrom. If Nordstrom were doing something illegal that was making their site rank number one and Google found that out, they would be banished from the first page – otherwise known as blacklisted.
More from GFC, Below
Instead of finding Nordstrom number one, you wouldn’t find them at all. For any online business that is dependent on search, that can cripple, if not put a company completely out of business. Although I wasn’t doing anything that was “illegal” or otherwise known as “blackhat” in the online world, I got hit by one of Google’s first algorithm updates called Google Panda. Why they like zoo animals, I don’t know. But just like the kid’s film Kung Fu Panda, I felt like I got karate chopped. Prior to the Google Panda update, I was getting right around 100,000 visitors a month to my site. On April 11th, 2011, when my site got hit, my traffic dropped 70% overnight as you can see in the graph below. Yowsers! That hurt.
I remember talking to a lot of other personal finance bloggers and I wasn’t the only one that got hit. It seemed like Google went on a rampage for a lot of sites and there really was no reason explaining why. I had spent years and years writing content, building backlinks, and all for what seemed to be nothing. I can remember I even went through a slight case of depression and almost considered the thought of stopping my blog.
I Was Still Helping People Despite the Crash
After taking a bit of a hiatus, I regrouped and reminded myself why I started the blog in the first place. Yes, it was to grow my financial planning practice, but something bigger and more meaningful had emerged: I was helping people. I was getting emails such as this:
Hi Jeff, I thought I would quickly write to you after just receiving this email. I am attending SIU online for accounting and live in northern Chicago. I also happen to be a single mom of two beautiful boys. I went through some of the hardest years of my life these past seven years, trying to keep my head above water and taking care of my kids. I went from making $65k a year to making $22k with two children in tow. I lived off of food stamps and had debt of $22k to take care of as well. I bought nothing. I went dumpster diving, bought storage units, and took anything free that I could find in order to resell for money to pay my bills.
Getting a job for a few years was impossible. I had been in the restaurant industry for over 15 years and the hours are late and often go into the early morning. I couldn't find anyone to watch my kids. Other jobs paid minimum wage which barely covered the cost of what I had to pay for childcare so I opted to find other resources to pay the bills. Things have since changed. I was able to get my feet on the ground – slightly.
I am currently employed full-time and I make my own schedule, no more late nights. I am still in debt, still trying to work my way out, and after finding your blog I feel the fire lit in my life to really make things work. After living the way I had over the past seven years, and knowing other single moms go through the very same thing as I have, my desire in life is to give back to them – to help them with their finances. As I was searching ways to get hired as a financial advisor your video popped up on my screen.
I had been going from studying to searching and I think it was the grace of God that I stumbled across your video. I decided to watch. I thought it was informative and figured I should check out your blog. That's when my life and mind shifted. Your blog has educated me in so many ways. I have tools such as YNAB, Betterment, Credit Karma, and the countless others you provided that are my arsenal to attack my financial life like I've never done before. I eagerly look forward to reading your blog every day and listen to your podcasts.
Even though my financial situation is still in dire straights, I'm not contemplating bankruptcy – I'm contemplating the next step to financial freedom. I cleared out my IRA years ago in order to keep up with the bills (bad move I know but I was desperate). Now that I'm 40 I've been so depressed thinking I needed to put a lump sum into an IRA in order to have one and never having that lump sum.
After reading and listening to you, I feel free to add a small amount monthly and help it to grow over time! I honestly cannot thank you enough for your knowledge, for putting it out there for the world to read. I have done the Dave Ramsey envelope system and failed. I've read countless books on finance and have failed. For the first time, I don't feel like I can fail! There are a ton of single parents out there, often many living on low income – they are the ones that are going to be suffering during their retirement years because of the lack of planning, insufficient funds, and stress of trying to manage a family without a partner. Hopefully one day I can give to them as you have given to me.
Thank you again and again and again! I pray for God to bless you as you continue in your work and know that you are making a difference! [ – An Excited Fan ]
I got emails like this all the time so I knew I was making a difference; not to mention, I was also getting clients.
Once I got refocused and re-energized, I decided to say, “Screw Google, I’m going to get my mojo back so I did what I did when I first started my blog.” I started guest posting more and I started writing for other sites. I can’t remember exactly, but I remember I wrote for Equifax.com and USNews.com. I also started doing a lot more videos for YouTube. Furthermore, I focused on producing good content.
Prior to Google Panda, I was publishing almost once a week with your typical crappy 500-word post that really had no substance. I decided that had to change – I wanted to start putting more quality stuff in there. I started by coming up with some financial movements . . . .
Financial Movements Galore
I was also the leader in several blog movements; the Roth IRA Movement, the Life Insurance Movement, and the Debt Movement. Each of these movements involved helping others reach important financial goals like saving for retirement, protecting income, and eliminating the overwhelming burden of debt.
For example, the Roth IRA Movement involved over 140 bloggers (yep, you read that right) doing their part to promote savings. It all started when I was asked to speak at my Alma Mater.
I polled the soon-to-be graduating seniors (about 50 to 60 of them) and not one of them knew about the Roth IRA. Absolutely shocking! I knew I had to do something and the movement was born. These movements put my name even more on the map amongst those in the personal finance blogging community, and also was able to generate tons and tons of backlinks to my site.
Right this very moment, I'd like you to start thinking about your passions. How can you turn your passions into a movement to promote your cause? You can really start a movement. Really, really!
The Rebound 2.0
Relentless in not wanting to go through another Google Panda or whatever zoo animal update that they’re on now, I decided to step up my game.
I started the Good Financial Cents Podcasts. Podcasts are amazing because they allow people to consume information just about any time they want. They could be driving, working out, taking a hike – you name it!
In my podcast I cover a number of different financial topics ranging from how to protect your investments in retirement to warning signs you need to fire your financial advisor. Some podcasts, though, are just for fun. For example, I've been told that I look like The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, just in case you're not aware).
So, I did a podcast about the life lessons I learned from The Rock. Fun, fun! Another fun one included how to silence your haters. I know, how can a likable guy like me have haters? It's happened. But did I stop there? Of course not! My rebound 2.0 packed even more punches . . . .
I started writing even longer posts – sometimes between 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000 words. This article has over 4,000 words. Derek Halpern at SocialTriggers.com absolutely loves epic content. He advises creating content that is awesome, not because you have to stick to a schedule, but because you actually have something great to say.
It makes sense. Yes, it takes quite a bit of time to put together these epic posts, but boy is it worth it. Take, for example, my article on 100 ways to make $100 fast. Who wouldn't want to make $100 fast? This, my friends, is a title worthy of clicking. List posts are fantastic and scream: “There's something here for you, because there are so many tips in this one it's unfathomable that you can't get something useful out of this article.”
I focused on using quality images that were worthy enough to be on Pinterest boards. I paid very close attention to detail in my images because images are a huge factor when it comes to if a reader will click or not. There are some great websites out there for stock photography.
I buy all my images from DepositPhotos.com. They have an annual deal with AppSumo for crazy cheap. It's like $29 for 100 high resolution images. That's a killer deal. There are some websites that offer free photos but you better make sure you read the licenses.
Many of these free sites just don't have the quality that I'm after (or the licensing terms I desire) so I just stick with paid photos.
But you're probably asking how we edit our images. Good question. After I'm done finding the proper images for the website, I send them over to my wife. We've used free tools like Canva.com to edit. Today, we use free apps such as WordSwag and Phonto on our iPhones. iPhones? Yes, iPhones. Actually, we find it to be a lot of fun to create images using these apps. We can do it in our free time wherever we happen to be at the moment.
Syndicating content is an amazing way to get your voice out there – and that's exactly what I did. Syndicating means to broadcast information across many venues simultaneously. That means you write once, then you get that work published multiple times at different websites. This is huge. I started looking for websites where they offered syndication and soon found a few.
After I became a contributor for a few of these websites, more were likely to bring me on board – and they did. Pat Flynn once talked about being “everywhere.” While syndication doesn't really get you everywhere online, it sure helps!
Because of syndication, I was able to get some of my blog post contributions on sites such as Time.com, Money.com, USAToday.com, ABC.com, and a variety of others. I also became a contributor for bigger sites such as DailyFinance.com, Forbes.com, and Investopedia.com who were also contributing to USNews.com and MarketWatch.com.
How I Make Money From Blogging Now
Google AdSense, while once the majority of my online revenue, now has actually become one of my lowest sources of income. For example, Media.net is what I'm currently using in place of Adsense. Here's a look at how they have performed this year:
I also get paid for advertising on the banners of my website. Here's a screenshot of one of my affiliate partners, Commission Junction: And, I generate tons of leads from those seeking to buy term life insurance.
Occasionally, I’ll have a sponsored post that can pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. Many times, content advertisers reach out to me with an offer. It's amazing. It's important that if you're going to do a sponsored post on your website that you add a disclaimer.
You should always make readers aware that a post is a sponsored post, as sponsored posts have the potential to sway some people's opinions or lead them to make statements they otherwise wouldn't make. Now here's the thing: I never publish content that I don't believe in.
I would never recommend anything to anyone if I wouldn't actually do it of my own volition. Sponsored posts are nice because they bring in some money, but I must approve of the message before it's going up on my site. Period.
I’m able to generate speaking fees, the highest of which was $15,000. It’s amazing how many opportunities arose just because I started this blog.
Now Clients For My Firm
This was my initial goal with the blog and that hasn't changed. With over 300,000 people visiting my site each month I acquire new leads everyday (usually 20-30 that join my email list). What's beautiful with the blog is that I'm not limited to people in my local area. I've been able to talk to people all over the U.S. and the world. One of my clients is stationed in Japan!
Start Your Own Blog
Listen, I went from knowing nothing about blogging to making over $1,000,000 in far less than a decade. If I can do it, you can too. When I started my blog, I had absolutely no idea it could generate this much money. I think you'd agree this is serious money. Like I said earlier, I started the blog to get some clients.
I did that, but I also make a lot of money every month directly from my work on the blog – a huge bonus. I want you to consider something. I want you to consider starting your own blog. Whether you're a financial advisor like me or you have some other passion, try starting a blog!
Sure, it will take you some time to start making money blogging, but I know you can do it if you put in the time, energy, and passion required.