How much money do bloggers make?
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How much money do bloggers make?

(Or more specifically, how much do I make?)

A couple of months ago, I explained how and why I blog   TL;DR - I do it because I enjoy it.

Most pages on my site host a single skyscraper advert (Look, there’s one on the right -> just over there!) I exclusively use Google Adsense to provide the advertising content. Today I’m going to share a few stats about the revenue I earn from these adverts. But first a little soap-box.

How much money can you make from blogging?

How much money can you make from blogging? If you search the web you’ll find out there is a whole spectrum of answers. The top of the search results on this topic are the super positive, “I make six figures a year from my blog. You can too!”

I’ll stop short of calling these people snake-oil sellers, but many share a common theme. They all say yes, you can make lots of money, they quote either massive page volumes, or infeasibly high CPM rates, and give pretty boiler plate advice (“Keep at it and traffic will materialize”, “Write what interests your readers”, “Publish regularly”). They all say things along the lines “If I can do it, so can you!”

All of these top results pages sell the dream, but they all seem to stop short of showing actual figures. (But, credit to them, they certainly understand a lot about SEO techniques, and they appear top of the list!)

It’s easy to find sites that tell fairy tale stories of earning many “thousands of dollars a week” by blogging, and how the owners “quit their day job” to make blogging their only source of income. Coincidentally, many of the people who claim to be making a fortune by blogging just happen to be selling a product/service you can purchase which tells you how to make a fortune by blogging …

Doesn't it seems a little weird that the people who say you can make a lot of money are all people who claim to be experts on this and derive all their traffic from people asking this question?

Outside of flashy pages telling you how much money you can make, or how they can sell you the secrets to be successful, their blogs don’t really have any content other than the pages that tell you how successful they are at blogging! (and remember, if you visit these sites you are generating revenue for them even if you don’t take up one of the affiliate offers on their site). It’s like watching those late night TV infomercials about how to start a business and make money, and self referentially, they make money by selling the system about how to make money!

The entire business for some people is a site that makes money by selling (or talking about) a system that tells you about a system to make money. I’m not saying these few people don’t make money, maybe some do, but these self-referential sites are anomaly outliers and don’t give guidance to ‘average’ bloggers.

What most people seem to be looking for is an estimate for how much money an ‘average’ blogger with a moderate amount of traffic could expect to generate. From there it’s possible to scale up to see how much traffic would be needed to get to the self-sustaining dream of full-time blogging.

Opposite end of the spectrum

Dive a little deeper into the search results and you find postings from the opposite end of the spectrum. There are postings for people who are making no money, and their comments are desperate pleas for help. They’ve either read about the blogging gold-rush, drunk the Koolaide, or are just bewildered as to why they are not making the money that the dream sites’ claim is there for harvesting.

Articles from this latter group of people are subdivided into two types: Those that have no traffic, and those that have traffic, but just aren’t making much money. Are the people not making a lot of money the minority or the majority?

You can read the pain and disappointment in the first sub-category of posters. They explain how they’ve tried really hard and have passed over the 100 PVs (Page Views) threshold a day, but can’t seem to grow their site more. They’ve been creating content consistently and are following all the rules that the “how-to” experts claim are the secrets, but they’ve never earned more than a few pennies with adverts and are far short of the $100k/year the dreams promise.

In the words of Tolstoy:

“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

There are no generic answers as to why any one particular blog is not successful; there’s a huge collection of possible causes (all mixed up in different concentrations), and each unhappy blog is unhappy in its own way. It could be: Lack of visibility, poor content, poor navigation, lack of posting cadence, stale content, uninteresting content, irrelevant content, bad spelling, bad grammar, bad writing style, spammy, boring, no images, too many images, lack of promotion, zero visibility, too congested and competitive an arena, poor quality, too specific, pointless, uninteresting to anyone but the author, the list goes on and on …

Blogging is writing. Blogging is content creation. In today’s knowledge economy it’s like the writing of books/magazines in the last century (but even easier to do, as the barrier to entry to blog is so low; today anyone can publish to the internet. In the past there were other hurdles to cross to get published). Not everyone will be a JK Rowling and make millions with their writing. For every successful author who makes a living with their craft, there are tens (hundreds?) of thousands of vanity book authors who never make a dime. It just doesn’t scale that way (and it can’t). It, mathematically, does not make sense that every one of the 100 million+ bloggers on the internet can make a living from their writing!

Not every author is going to write a Harry Potter series. Not every blogger is going to create a Huffington Post.

Truth

OK, enough of the doom a gloom. As promised, here are some authentic stats about my blog.

I’m sharing these openly so you can have an honest reference point for what my blog earns. Maybe you can approximate how larger/smaller your blog site is on a pro-rata scale. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m not trying to promote my services as a blogging/SEO expert. I’m not trying to boast. I’m simply sharing my experiences as a blogging hobbyist.

As a Data Scientist I also realize that, with just this one data point, it’s a pathetically useless sample to draw any conclusions from. Take what you can from my data, but understand it is just one drop in the internet ocean. I’ll not put my email address directly in this article, but if you are a warm-body you’ll probably be able to find a way to contact me. If you want to email me and share your blog sites’ traffic/earnings, I’ll working on compiling them for a future article where I can aggregate lots of data points to produce a more detailed report. I must admit I’m a little curious as to where my site earnings fit in the constellation of other blogs.

Am I average, ahead of the curve, or behind the curve?

My blog: 3 million Page Views/year

Over that last couple of years, I’ve slowly built up my blog traffic. Traffic can be very spikey. If I get an article discussed on a site like Hacker News, Reddit, Popular Science, or one of the larger news portals, I can get 10x-100x increase in page views for a couple of days. If a sample window contains one of these ‘supernova like’ event it distorts things, but as an order of magnitude my blog is currently receiving approximately 3 Million Page Views/year.

Here is a Google Analytics screen capture for the first quarter of 2015. In the first three months of 2015, I was blessed with 529,432 Page Views. (You can see a headline spike in mid-February*, and couple of smaller ones in March)

*The primary spike was caused by the the Impossible Escape article which got picked up by many sites.

CPM

All of my revenue comes from advertising. (Some other bloggers generate additional revenue from affiliate marketing, or generate money from sales, commissions, referrals and other network schemes. I don’t do any of these. All my revenue comes from my Google Adsense account).

Typically advertisers like to quote something called CPM. Confusingly this acronym stands for “Cost Per Mille”, which means cost per thousand (In Latin, Mille means thousand, not Million).

An advertiser who wants to put an advert on your site will bid on a price for 1,000 impressions. This is the CPM. However, this is not the money you receive because Google has to take their cut of the transaction. It would have been easier if everyone could have standardized on a term like RPM (revenue per thousand) for the money the site owner receives per impression, but instead the term used is eCPM (for ‘effective’ CPM). This is confusingly close to CPM that often the terms get co-mingled and/or the ‘e’ dropped. Bottom line – If you are talking about these numbers with people make sure you clarify what it is they understand them to mean so you are on the same page. Worry about what the figures represent, not what they are called.

It officially gets a little more complex on the purchasing side as adverts are bought depending on if they are charged per impression, per end-user click, per acquisition … Read more on the web if you want to know about things from the other side of the fence. eCPM, however, is still pretty easy. It’s one thing divided by another. If you site hosts 5,000 advert impressions and you earn $1.25 from this, your eCPM is $1.25 ÷ 5 = $0.25.

eCPM really is a useful and easy to understand metric: If you know the number of page views you got, and you know the eCPM, you can simply multiply them to get your earnings.

LTV, PV, eCPM

I’ve only recently put adverts on my site (I held out for a long while). For this article I ran a query of the lifetime earnings (LTV) for every page on my site with more than 1,000 page views (PV) in the last 24 months.

LTV is the best metric to measure because you have no idea when one of your articles is going to get trendy. Sure, I publish with regular frequency (typically about once a week), and yes, I have a core of subscribers/followers who consume/share/post/tweet/like each new post as soon as it comes out, but it’s not uncommon for an article I’ve written quite a while ago to suddenly get featured or referenced and it gets a second wind, or a third … (sometimes these later ‘echoes’ generate significantly more traffic than the initial release of the page. My site is not a ‘news’ site and articles I write are typically not time sensitive: they are just as relevant at any future time).

Average eCPM

Across my entire site, my average eCPM is approximately $0.76

For every 1,000 page views, I’m earning about three quarters of a dollar.

Horses for Courses

Not all pages are equal.

It’s in everyone’s interest to target adverts. The more targeted an advert, the better the chance of conversion. The advertiser is happier; he receives more click-through. The broker is happier; he can charge a higher premium for each impression. The blogger is happier; she receives more money for the space carved out for adverts. The end user is happier; she receives more appropriate adverts that better mesh for her interests.

To help with this targeting, Google (in my case), parses through my pages and examines the content of each page. It makes a guess as to what the topic of the page is and, combined with demographics of the browsing user (and other meta data), and past performance, and lots of other secret sauce, determines what the type of content is best displayed in the advert slot. It then brokers my page to advertisers who bid of how much they are willing to pay for the privilege of having their advert displayed on my page.

The bottom line is that different articles I write have different earning potentials. If I write about a topic that is of interest to advertisers, an advertising slot on that page could, in the massive auctions that occur behind the scenes, result in a higher eCPM for that page. Each potential advertisers determines what that are willing to pay, and the auctions balance these needs out.

As I blog for fun, I never bother to chase these different eCPM, but if maximizing is your goal, you might want to take this into account. The risk you run is that pages that are of interest to advertisers might not be the pages that are of interest to your readers.

Different Strokes

Each of my pages has a different eCPM. Some of this is rounding, and some is down to the fact that I’m a relatively small site and just the variance in bidding over a few thousand page views will make a difference. However, the range, even within my site, is pretty broad (Remember to be in this report there must be at least 1,000 PV).

eCPM Range $0.10 – $6.17

That's almost two orders of magnitude difference.

Revenue

So, which pages on my site generate the most absolute revenue? Remember, revenue for each page is the product of PV × eCPM. We’re looking for the geometric maximum.

Let’s take a look

Below is a graph showing the 188 pages on my blog (at the time of writing) with >1,000 Page Views. (I’m only examining data from the date I inserted adverts onwards; the last 24 months. So the graphs represents Total Page Views over the last 24 months, and the corresponding revenues).

The x-axis shows Page Views (I’m using a log scale). The y-axis shows LTV (lifetime value) in dollars.

The graph is interactive, and if you hover over a prominent point you will get the title of that page. If you click on graph point, a link will appear underneath which can be used to open that page in a new tab. Readers on tablets and other touch devices will not get hover over tips. (The graphs are busy, so not every point has meta data).

 CLICK ON GRAPH ABOVE FOR DETAILS

The red line depicts the average eCPM of $0.76 (which on a linear graph would be a straight line with that gradient but, because I’m using a log scale, this average line is rendered as a curve).

A couple of quick take aways:

Below is a different way of graphing this data. It plots the LTV (lifetime revenue generated by the page), against the eCPM; It doesn’t care how many PVs there were, it simply plots the value of each page against the eCPM.

 CLICK ON GRAPH ABOVE FOR DETAILS

The super high performing eCPM pages aren’t the largest revenue generators. Pages on my site that appear to be appealing to dating site advertisers, car advertisers, Consumer electronic manufacturers, and credit card companies command some of the higher eCPM rates.

Finally, here is a plot of the eCPM against the Page Views. Very generally, for my site, the pages that have the higher eCPMs are some of the lower viewed sites. This might make some sense, as these smaller viewed pages might be more niche in nature, appealing to a more specific demographic, from which Google is able to command a premium from advertisers. There are also a couple of obvious outliers.

 CLICK ON GRAPH ABOVE FOR DETAILS

Summary

It's great that I have a good day job because, unless I can increase my readership by at least two orders of magnitude, then there is no way I could earn enough money to sustain my family by blogging!

Having said that, my blog generates enough revenue to pay for all my internet hosting costs, and there's enough left over for a few steak dinners every year. Plus, I enjoy doing it!

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