As a food blogger, you are passionate about food. No matter how enthusiastic you are about the act of photographing and writing about what you eat, however, there’s a good chance that thoughts of making money with your site may have crossed your mind. Its a natural response; your blog is something you work hard on, and as your traffic continues to grow, you probably have taken a look around you and seen that blogs that don’t seem much better than yours have cookbook deals, lucrative advertising agreements, and tons of free merchandise to give away to their readers. The main question is: Can you earn a living as a food blogger? Or, can you even make any money at all?
Unless you find a creative way to hilariously combine snapshots of kittens with reviews of fast food, it’s difficult to earn a living food blogging. At least, it is at first. For most of us, or unless you get lucky with something that instantly sets the world on fire, it will take somewhere between two and five years of consistent, quality posts before you will have the opportunity to start making any kind of real money with your food blog.
We’ve been working on From Away, our food blog about cooking and eating in Maine, for a little over two years now. For most of that time, we weren’t too aggressive about trying to use the site to make money, though it’s something I’ve always dreamed could be a possibility. And why not? How cool would it be to spend your days driving around, blogging about food from quirky, out-of-the-way places, while getting paid to cook gourmet meals at home? As I spent more and more time working on our site, I began to wonder if I could turn it into my full-time job.
We’re not there yet. In my mind, I think I’ve set a monthly revenue goal of about $4,000. It’s a pretty arbitrary number, but to me, it always seemed to be the amount of money I needed the blog to generate per month in order to justify making the site my “full-time” job. We have a long way to go to reach that number. At first, the traffic simply wasn’t there; until you are receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, running advertising on your site probably isn’t worth the trouble. But now that our site consistently receives more than 100,000 unique visitors per month, I’ve been working harder to maximize the amount of money the site makes, while maintaining a good experience for the reader.
When we first began running ads on FromAway.com, the results were pretty abysmal. In our first few months, we made less than a hundred dollars per month. It’s not nothing, but it’s not exactly the payday that would justify quitting our jobs and working on the site full-time. As we learn new tricks and techniques, though, our monthly profits are going up. I wanted to start this column to share what we learn from month to month as we continue adjusting, tweaking, and trying new things, to let you know what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to making money with your food blog. At the beginning of each month, we’ll look at which programs generated the most income on From Away, as well as any adjustments we’ve made or things we’ve changed. Hopefully, we can help you make more money with your food blog, as we share what works and what doesn’t. As we go along, be sure to let us know if there are any particular stats or pieces of data you would like to have, and we’ll do our best to answer everyone’s questions.
Ready? Here’s the breakdown of the income generated by FromAway.com for the month of September, 2012:
- BlogHer: $1,003.74
- Google Adsense: $165.30
- Local Ad Sales: $120.00
- DIY Themes (Affiliate): $28.71
- Bluehost (Affiliate): $195.00
- VigLink: $138.00
- Amazon Affiliate Sales: $0.51
Total Earnings in September: $1,651.26
I wanted to take a moment to make a few notes on these items:
BlogHer and Google Adsense
Clearly, the combination of ads from BlogHer and Google Adsense were our bread and butter for this month, earning a combined $1,169.04 for the site. What’s important is the way we are using each network, since both need a little massage in order to work to their full potential. First, we use multiple placements of the BlogHer ad code to take full advantage of as many different ad sizes as possible. On every “single post” page, there are two 160×600 banners, two 300×250 banners, as well as a 728×90 ad banner. This means that even though From Away only received 130,439 visits in September, we were able to serve 717,204 banner impressions for BlogHer.
That’s a lot of banner impressions. So many, in fact, that BlogHer often doesn’t have enough banners to fill them all. BlogHer gives you a few choices here, about what to do when they don’t have a banner to fill your inventory.
The only downside here is that Google Adsense pays per click, not per impression the way BlogHer does. But because Google now seems to be tracking everything everyone is doing on the internet all the time, it has the ability to serve ads based on websites you have recently visited. This actually makes the response rate pretty good, since Google can serve hypertargeted ads that are custom-tailored to a visitor’s specific interests.
Local Ad Sales
It’s always surprising to me what a tough time we have selling local ads. For a blog that is as region-specific as ours, that delivers more visitors per month than some of the local newspapers, you’d think it would be a no-brainer for local advertisers. We want to find a way to continue to make local ad sales a factor and plan to experiment with pricing, but for now, the bulk of our income is coming from national advertisers. We use the excellent AdRotate WordPress plugin to manage our local advertisers.
From an ethical standpoint, I think it’s important to not just be a shill for any company that comes along. In our case, we use DIY Themes‘ “Thesis” theme to power From Away, and we first hosted the site on Bluehost. Both are services we feel comfortable promoting. Having this kind of experience with the products or services you are advertising is an important element of building trust with your readers.
VigLink is a new service that we are testing and having some success with. The concept is simple: you place a small snippet of code in your site’s header, and VigLink automatically scans the text of each one of your posts, looking for keywords it can turn into affiliate links. You don’t even need to have an account with the affiliate program being promoted; VigLink handles everything, and sends you one check, once per month. So far, it’s creating a fair amount of extra income, and the site hasn’t been covered in text link ads (in fact, I don’t think we’ve seen even one), so we’ll keep testing them and report again next month.
Amazon Affiliate Sales
Amazon’s affiliate program continues to be a bit of a non-performer for us. We use Amazon links every time we talk about a new cookbook (or sometimes, a new cooking gadget) but so far, those links haven’t turned into much in the way of sales. Amazon only pays 4% of the item’s cost to affiliates, so it would take a long time before this was a serious moneymaker for us. We’d like to find a new book sales affiliate partner, but it’s not a huge concern for now.
And now, here’s a quick look at From Away’s stats for the month of September:
And that’s it for this month’s food blog revenue report! I hope you found something that was useful, and I hope you’ll check back next month. We’ll talk about the changes we’ve made, as well as what worked and what didn’t for October. Of course, if you have any questions or comments, or if there is any more specific information you would like, please let me know in the comments.
Please note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you use them to make a purchase. I have used each and every one of the products or services listed above, and recommend them based on my positive experience with them, not because of the commissions that I may earn from your purchases.