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January 29, 2007

Blogging for Money - A Passive Income?

Posted in: Miscellaneous Blog Tips

Last week two posts popped up in my RSS feeds with the words ‘passive income’ in their headings.

BJ asked - So Where’s the Passive Income? and Dave writes about Growing a blog or blogs as a source of passive income.

The idea of passive income is obviously one that many people strive for - and it’s a term that I’ve heard used many times to describe online income streams - including blogging.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t use the term passive income to describe blogging for money.

While there are a few aspects which could be described as passive - the overall experience that I’ve had is anything but passive.

Where is Blogging for Money ‘Passive’?

Archives - Perhaps the main area of where blogging has an element of ‘passivity’ to it in how it can earn an income is when it comes to your archives.

I’ve been blogging now for close to 4 years and in that time would have published over 20,000 posts across my own blogs. While the writing of these posts is anything but passive (more on that later) the great thing about it is that even after those posts drop off the front page of a blog they continue to have earning potential.

In fact as I look at the most popular pages of my blogs (and the ones that earn the most) - the vast majority of my income comes from my archives - posts I’ve not thought twice about for months, if not years.

In that regard - that income has a passive element to it - old posts are like an investment that continues to earn an income into the future.

Set and Forget Income Streams - One of the great advances from the last few years in generating an online income has come from the improvement of advertising networks like AdSense which allow publishers to add a snippet of code to their blogs that will automatically run ads on the blog over time.

While you can (and should) definitely work on your ad optimization - many bloggers get to a point with their ads that they are able to largely set and forget them. The ads will earn an income and the cheques (or direct deposits) will appear each month. There is no searching for or negotiation with advertisers - the system handles it all for you. This takes a load off many publishers minds and allows them to concentrate on other activities of running a good blog.

Put the idea of Archives and set and forget income streams together and there is an element of passivity to blogging for money. Add to it that money made from blogging doesn’t depend upon you being ‘open for business’ to make money (ie I make more money during the hours that I’m asleep than when I’m awake due to my time zone) and I can understand why people might describe it as a passive income.

However in my mind - that’s where the passivity in blogging as an income generator ends (feel free to suggest more ways if you can).

Where is Blogging for Money ‘Active’?

While there are these elements of passivity in blogging for money - there is also a lot of hard work.

Running a successful and profitable blog (or blogs) takes a consistent amount of work over the long term. This work needs to happen throughout the life of a blog - from the early days when you’re trying to establish yourself in a niche - through to those times when your blog ‘matures’ and you’re hit with a whole load of new responsibilities and pressures.

Some of the many tasks bloggers need to engage in include:

Writing Content - 20,000 posts in 4 years = 13 posts a day (7 days a week). My posting frequency isn’t that high these days and I do have others working for me these days to help out - but there’s a lot of work in those archives and producing quality, useful, well thought out and stimulating content takes time.

Monitoring Conversations - As your archives build so too does the number of potential conversations happening on your blog. Many of these conversations happen with little need for your involvement (although good bloggers are Active in the conversations on their own blogs) but as a blog gets older the need for moderation of spam comments can increase.

Engaging in your Niche - Conversations happen outside of your blog also and most successful bloggers have systems in place to monitor what is happening in their wider niches. This lets them know what is being said about them elsewhere but also helps raise their profile and become valued members of the wider community. Monitoring the niche via RSS and news alert services are half of this equation - engaging in the conversations on other’s blogs is the other half. It all takes time.

Design - Different bloggers will put a different emphasis on the design of their blogs - but over time it will be one of the areas that you either need to invest time of your own into or to pay for someone else to look after for you.

Managing Others - Many bloggers eventually move their blogs to a multi-author environment to help them spread the load of running their blogs. This striving for a little more passivity brings it’s own work. Recruiting, motivating, paying, inspiring and setting boundaries for those that you engage the services of takes time also - sometimes more than it is worth!

Negotiating Private Ad Deals - once a blog gets to a certain size it’s fairly normal to be approached by advertisers wanting to buy space on your blog. This might be anything from a text link through to a larger banner ad campaign. This can be a very time consuming proces.

Other Tasks
I could go on about the other tasks that bloggers engage in in a lot of details - but here’s a list of other tasks that many good bloggers get into:

  • Search Engine Optimization - many bloggers spend a lot of time on this
  • Ad Optimization - while it can eventually be passive - to really get the most out of it you need to track results and keep tweaking
  • Multiple Blogs - many successful bloggers expand into new niches
  • Researching Blog Tools/Platforms - the industry is constantly changing and there are so many potential things to add to a blog
  • Researching Ad Programs - there are an ever increasing number of ad networks being launched.
  • Email Correspondence - answering reader questions, fielding interviews, responding to partnership inquiries
  • Monitoring Metrics - keeping a track on what people are reading, where they come from, where they go, what they click on etc

Of course not all bloggers do all of these things - and some have their own routines and tasks that they would probably add to the list. But all in all I’ve found that while there are some bloggers who make good money from blogging that the majority of them do so as a result of a fair bit of work.

Can Blogging Become More Passive over Time?

Lastly - I’ve heard a number of newer bloggers hypothesizing that they’ll work hard in the short term of their blogging and then be able to slow down and live off the ongoing earnings from their archives.

It’s a nice image isn’t it - sort of going off to work hard in the ‘blog mines’ for big money for a few years and then retiring to the Bahamas to allow the investment you’ve made by building up your archives to keep earning you an income.

Unfortunately there’s a problem with the theory. Blogs that become inActive will usually have a decreasing income level over time. I’ve seen this happen to a number of blogs over the last year (including a few of my own).

For archives to earn an ongoing income they need to rank well in search engines. The problem is that one of the factors that Google (and other SE’s) use to work out how highly to rank a blog is how often they update. If your site is constantly changing and being updated they tend to rank you more highly. They also seem to look at freshness of content. The older a piece is the more competition it will have for it’s keywords and the more out of date it will be seen as.

So - what generally happens is that a few months after the ending of a blog search engine traffic will begin to slide. It may never completely disappear - but over time the income will diminish significantly.

The key to maintaining a good level of SE traffic is ongoing frequent posting - keep putting deposits in your archives over time and you should maintain (and even grow) your ranking. Stop posting and you’ll start to see a drop off.

The only way that the ‘blog mines’ analogy really works with regards to passive income is if you work hard to build up a blog and then sell it to invest what you earn in a truly passive income.


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