The Whole Enchilada on Blog Revenue

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Back in April I put my first ad on the site. It’s over on the right, a network of revolving ads from BlogHer. Now that I’ve brought it up, you’re wondering whether I’ve made any money, and whether it was worth it.

To the first question, yes, a check finally arrived recently. But it was only enough to cover a Mexican dinner for two. I was disappointed, but I don’t hold it against BlogHer. The model for online advertising stinks compared to print.

Let me explain. In the past I was the executive editor of an international magazine. I felt proud when I realized recently that its annual readership was once the same as the number of annual unique page views on my site. To buy an ad in the magazine cost hundreds to thousands of dollars for just one issue, however. Here on my website, it costs pennies to reach the same number of eyeballs.

At the magazine, the money from advertising supported a staff of around 20 people. Here, I can get a few enchiladas.

Still, it’s been a good experiment, despite ads for Coffeemate and Crystal Light (not classified as junk food, which I banned.) My relationship with BlogHer has grown. I got paid to syndicate a post on recipe writing on the BlogHer website. Last week BlogHer’s syndication deal with She Writes duplicated my post on the site’s home page, with a photo of my new book. I got no additional pay, but seeing the cover of Will Write For Food on the home page of a social media site for women writers is terrific exposure. I’ll be speaking at the BlogHer conference in New York later this week, and spoke at BlogHer Food last year. Could all this have happened without my ad? Of course. But I like the association with the company.

During the same period I’ve made about the same money from Amazon by putting links to books in my copy. I try to be careful about which and how many, because I’m not trying to make a living here. I’ve just added an Amazon list of what I’ve been reading lately, over there on the lower right, inspired by the one on 101 Cookbooks.

Other bloggers have tried selling their own ads versus using an ad network. Jacqueline Church told me the most she made from Foodbuzz was $12, so she started her own advertising department and puts ads on her entire website, not just her blog.  She has a rate card, just like magazines do. It explains what advertisers pay for which size ad at what frequency, whether 3 months, 6 months or a year. She takes ads for her newsletter and factors that into the equation. Sometimes she has used  used the online ad space for a public service announcement, such as announcing a canning class.

“Ad networks don’t make any sense to me,” she said. “I tried Google Ads and Foodbuzz and made pennies. I just thought, if I take that same 100 x 200 pixel ad and find one person to buy an ad for one month, then it suits me better. My readers get a new product in my mix and the company gets exposure to my readers.

Her website is written in Joomla. She does all he posting and maintenance, but pays someone to code. She asks people for jpeg image files and creates hot links to the companies. “It’s not the path that everybody’s going to take, mostly because it does require a little more work,” Church admitted. “But I feel better about having people I support. As long as I’m being transparent and honest, I feel okay about it. I don’t want readers to be annoyed about me taking an ad for Kraft Singles when I am writing about raw milk. Everybody draws lines in different places.”

Church says she makes enough to cover her hosting service and her Constant Contact newsletter bill. Maybe I’ll get there one day. I expect my blog income will creep up slowly, along with my readership. And I’m okay with that.


  1. says

    I hate the model of advertising revenue from blogs. It is a difficult model. I have seen such swings in revenue that I don’t think I could calculate the variances, they can be large. I will say that in the last several years they have become more stable. The bottom isn’t 10 cents per remnant CPM. There are things you can do to help mitigate that income, such as putting Google search toolbar as your search engine, when it comes to searchings the best out there, and it brings in additional revenue without hammering your viewers with unwanted ads. Affiliate programs like Amazon bring in some revenue, but more if you actually have your own book to sell.

    It is a difficult model, and I wished there was a different one, but I bet if you asked readers to subscribe for a fee, you would lose a great deal of your readership. Who knows what the answer will be in years to come.

    • diannejacob says

      Absolutely. I was just in touch with the magazine’s former circulation manager, who said that at its height, our little mag brought in $2 million in revenue just from subscriptions. The mag was purchased and changed to controlled (free to qualified readers) circulation and it died! That model would work a whole lot better on the web, where everything (including the writing we do) is free.

      Will investigate your Google search toolbar comment with Owen, my tech support guy. I’m sure he would want me to say Hi.

    • diannejacob says

      Absolutely. I was just in touch with the magazine’s former circulation manager, who said that at its height, our little mag brought in $2 million in revenue just from subscriptions. The mag was purchased and changed to controlled (free to qualified readers) circulation and it died! Maybe that model would have worked on the web, where it seems like everything we read (including our own work) is free.

      Will investigate your Google search toolbar comment with Owen, my tech support guy. I’m sure he would want me to say Hi, Stephanie!

  2. says

    This is an extremely timely post for me as I’ve started to wonder whether or not I should think about incorporating ads into my blog. Sounds like there’s no rush. Thanks a ton for the information. This is not something I see bloggers write about that often. All you hear about are the runaway success stories.

  3. says

    This is why I love reading your site. You are open and honest about the experience. Breaking it down for the rest of us, such a mentor for the world of food writers. Thanks.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh thank you Cheryl. That is so kind.

      Now, if you would please click through on the Amazon links…just kidding.

  4. says

    It’s heartbreaking, and the product of a squandered opportunity. When old media finally jumped on the online bandwagon, all too often they were not charging for online advertising at all, tacking on web impressions (or worse, custom development) as value-add. This set a precedent that the perceived value of online ad impressions was effectively zero. We’ve spent the last 15 years building it up from there. Imagine if old media had sold online impressions on par with print. Imagine what it would mean not only to the modern advertising landscape, but the sustainability of the print industry. Would we have more of our newspapers intact today?

  5. says

    Thanks for the honest post. I ended up leaving BlogHer — even after a couple syndicated posts — because the Mexican dinner, for me, wasn’t worth the real estate. But it was a tough decision — motivated in part by my own desire to host my own ads (still hasn’t happened — there’s something to say for automated ad scripts!)

    Wish I could hear you speak next weekend — will have to settle for the new chapter in the latest edition of WWFF.

    • diannejacob says

      Yeah, I am not sure if I’m doing the right thing sometimes, so I hear you.

      I hope the new chapter is a good enough substitute!

  6. says

    Hi Dianne,
    I just wanted to thank you for WWFF. I’m barely half way through your book and it has made a significant impact on how I look at blogging (which I’m new at) and writing (which I’m out of practice). Your work and your words are an inspiration.
    I LOVE the fact that you have an Amazon “Currently Reading” widget. When I come across a writer I admire, I want to know what’s on their nightstand! Kudos to you if you make a little dough on it.
    Thanks again.

  7. says

    Forget about living off of online ad revenue. It’s important to have a mix of revenue streams – you can’t earn enough on ads alone. Having a book or an e-book to sell can generate more income than ads. I assume that the bulk of your income comes from offline things like consultations and speaking engagements?

    • diannejacob says

      Actually the most profitable thing I do is edit books for publishers. Most speaking engagements don’t pay. The rest is from coaching, teaching, and editing — a mix of revenue streams, as you astutely point out.

  8. says

    Thanks for the reality check, Dianne. I’m also part of BlogHer and have been wondering if I’ve been doing something wrong since my ad revenue is about enough to buy me a NYC burrito (at least you’re up to dinner for two :-)
    One thing that might help your pennies/impressions add up is this little widget from Facebook – It lets people ‘like’ your posts without leaving your site and is another way for your posts to go viral.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh yes, I have seen this on other people’s sites. Good idea. Thanks Layne! I’ll see you at BlogHer if you’re going.

  9. says

    Very interesting subject indeed.
    I’ve been considering having my ads rather than using an outside source..I’m still pondering.
    On the other hand Amazon associates has worked well for me. Blog readers buy the books I feature in a post and buy a lot of other stuff through my links. Someone even bought an air conditioner last month! I get all my cameras with the Amazon points so I couldn’t be more pleased.

    • diannejacob says

      Wow! You are doing very well indeed, Carol, with these readers who buy big budget items. Congratulations!

  10. says

    Great post. I have not attempted to do any advertising on my site yet. I make my money in so many different areas, and my site is just an extension of that. It has given me part of a platform for many book publishers to want me as well as created so many other great business opportunities.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, I have the same structure. Just wanted to see what would happen if I did it.

    • diannejacob says

      Good one, Lisa! I like Picante in Berkeley for a quick bite. One day I’ll do a taco truck tour in Fruitvale.

  11. says

    For my blog, I really haven’t done much ad work as of yet, and need to work on that. For my main website though, I do use Joomla and do specific ads like Jacqueline. It works well and my customers are happy.

  12. says

    Fabulous timing with this post. We too are considering ads on our site. Although tempted, we realize we have neither the time nor fortitude to search for ads ourselves and are thinking of joining a network.

    If you haven’t already read it, there is an interesting article by Daniel Lyons in Aug. 2nd’s NEWSWEEK. He says that the average CPM is $2.43 per 1,000 impressions, and it is NEVER expected to go up.

    I have a feeling we may be lucky to eat from a food cart.


  13. says

    I agree that online ads are underpriced, but page views are just not equivalent to print magazine readership.

    When readers pay for a print copy, that shows they value the content; they’re a self-selected targeted market. Online visitors are likely to have come upon a site by accident, or with only a passing interest in its content. Even if a reader didn’t pay for a copy, it was probably passed along by a live person who endorsed it. Social media and bookmarking can give web sites something like that endorsement, but it’s not as effective as my mom saving copies of Good Housekeeping to pass on to her best friend. For better or worse, print readers treat the ads as another source of information, and not just the ads in the September issue of Vogue–ask any editor who’s received letters complaining that an ad isn’t relevant, or assuming that we endorse everything in the ads. I’m not sure online viewers feel the same way about online ads, perhaps because the ads change every time a page is loaded, so there’s no sense they’re curated (for lack of a better word).

    • diannejacob says

      You make good points. I was rethinking my argument yesterday when a former colleague sent an email to say that a 2-page color spread cost $5000 in the mid-80s at that magazine. That color spread made a much bigger impact than the little BlogHer ad. It took over the whole magazine for a moment, where it was all you could see. And it was likely to stick around through the “pass-along” rate of subscription.

      Maybe a better comparison is the ads that take over the screen when you go to some news sites like Salon. Mercifully, you can turn the page by clicking on “skip this advertisement.”

  14. says

    I’ve also done well with Amazon. I have a book review section on another website I do and I haven’t so much as touched it in years. Never had much up there anyway but it must get search engine hits since I’m making about $10 every 3 months or so in Amazon credits. That doesn’t sound like much but when I was doing it actively (and the net was a much smaller place) I was making maybe $50 in credits every 2-3 months (for only a couple hours of work).

    I’ve been trying to use WordPress plugins for Amazon on my blog. They require a lot of work to setup then typically die when WP gets updated, if not before. Could you share the best plugin for this? one that is popular so likely to stay updated? I’ve had no luck searching WP for this as there are a bunch of choices.

    I see you have one in your middle column, that goes to Amazon and two other book sites. But it appears to be done by hand (you are, after all, promoting one book). The plugins I’ve found before just take the ISBN and then give you a picture, a link with your affiliate code, and, optionally, things like price, editions, availability, all kept uptodate.


    • diannejacob says

      Not bad, Cyndi. Thanks for sharing how your book reviews are doing.

      For the Amazon book list, just go to the bottom and click on “Get Widget.” My techie husband says to tell you he copied the code into a blind text widget on WordPress. It worked perfectly.

  15. says

    Dianne – thanks for including me here. I love the suggestions of other commenters and now have some ideas to explore. I wanted to make a plug for the independent bookstores. Powell’s Books in Portland has an affiliate program and I don’t think they undercut the profits of authors the way that Amazon does. Maybe I’m wrong on that but I do like to support the independents. Again, it’s all about where we draw lines. I updated my Powell’s Bookshelf logo and moved it to the front page.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed and for your candor, Jacqueline.

      I agree about Powell’s and added them to my links for my books. I feel so torn about Amazon, since independents are now down to 10 percent of all book sales. Certainly apps are not going to make it any better. Maybe I should see if Powell’s has a similar widget to the Amazon one. However no one is going to go on to buy an air conditioner at Powell’s. Am I a bad person for saying that?

  16. says

    Great article, THANKS! I always feel like I am swimming in a fog when it comes to choosing how to use ads on my blog. I do use Google ads and that brings in about $150 a month, but I also place my own banner ads from companies I do promotions with and have a relationship with, and although I charge WAY less than most sites with my traffic to run banners, these ads more than cover my operating costs plus pay for my web developer to oversee my three websites each month. I do not post that these ads are paid advertisers, but I am assuming anyone with any sense would realize that I am not placing these ads for free. I’ll never become rich at this point and have many folks involved in marketing tell me that with my stats I am losing a ton of revenue but at this point I choose my ads, they are companies I like, and my costs are more than covered.

    If I ever figure out a way to actually make money from my 8 year old blog I will be happy, but covering my costs for the heavy traffic I get is good too!

    • diannejacob says

      Sounds like you’re doing pretty well, Deborah. You must get a ton of traffic to get that much from Google Ads.

      Each of us has to decide what works. Sounds like you are mostly content with how it’s turned out, and if you went to an ad network you would have less control.

  17. says

    I have had the same feeling. I wish I had known, as a newbie blogger, to do my homework and not sign up with the first ad network that would have me. I’m a member of FoodBuzz and while I do appreciate what they are trying to do, it kills me knowing I could make more selling my own ads. Unfortunately they have a 2 year contract.

    • diannejacob says

      I looked into signing up with Food Buzz, but they said they would have to be the only ad on my blog. For that kind of money, forget it!

      Look at it this way, Wendy: You have time to figure out an ad strategy for the next reincarnation of ads on your blog.