I wanted to talk with you about ads because ads are pretty much the same place every food blogger starts.
Ads get a real bad rap, and generally for valid reasons - they are pretty distracting to your readers and they often don't pay that well. But they definitely can be a solid part of any monetization strategy, even though they don't serve your readers and I think the biggest mistake food bloggers make is only focusing on them.
Note: Want to read more about if you can, or should, make money from ads?
Ads can take many forms including:
An ad network is basically a company that acts as the middleman between your blog and companies that want to advertise. There are a whole lot of ad networks, but the most common are probably Google AdSense, Mediavine, and AdThrive.
I personally use AdThrive, and it accounts for about $1,000 to $1,500 a month of income. It's one of my biggest earners, so I don't want you to think that you can't use ad networks as part of your overall strategy. That said:
I think trying to maximize your value out of an ad network is not a great use of your time, especially at the beginning. It's better to build compelling content, create a product, or find brands to work with.
I highly recommend getting into a more advanced ad network when you can, as they tend to pay much more than Google AdSense or the other entry level ad networks. I believe MediaVine requires about 50,000 monthly visitors and AdThrive is at 100,000. There are also a few with smaller numbers to get in.
But if you don't have the numbers yet, don't stress out. It's really hard to make money from ad networks unless you have a whole lot of traffic. They usually pay about $7 to $10 per thousand views, so unless you have at least 10,000-20,000 monthly visitors you're not really looking at much money at all. If you could sell 1% of those visitors a $10 cookbook, you'd be making a ton more money. So just focus on your content and other income sources until you have enough views to qualify.
Affiliate links are often the second things bloggers turn to, behind only ad networks. And because they are often implemented so early, and by new bloggers, many times they aren't used as effectively as they could be (here are my tips for where to place affiliate links).
For those of you who don't know, an affiliate link is basically a "buy this item" link to a different website like Amazon or a company's store. If a reader follows your link and buys something, then you get a cut of the sales. The cut ranges from like 3% to 5% for most things on Amazon, up to maybe 50% for some items, like my Sous Vide Video Courses.
The easiest way to sign up is to become an Amazon Affiliate, or go through a major affiliate company like ShareASale or Commission Junction. Then you'll have a list of products or companies you can work with.
I know when I got started I would throw in a bunch of "You can buy this now!" links in random places on my website and hope for sales. I definitely had some success, but I've found much more effective ways to do it now. My affiliate payouts have gone from a few hundred dollars a month, to often breaking a thousand or more.
I had two main changes in mindset. The first was to create pages that centered around affiliate links. Either a single product, or multiple products, that would discuss the features of the product, how it works, and I do or do not recommend it.
The second was to add affiliate links directly within the content of certain articles, including recipes. I do this a lot with equipment, and also meats.
Both these methods allowed me to increase my affiliate sales while helping my readers out as well.
Affiliate sales are currently about 10% of my income. I only focus on them a little bit, mainly since I struggle to spend a lot of time and energy selling a $50 product so I can make $3. I'd rather create my own product that I get to keep all the money from. That said, they are a good way to supplement your income.
Another ad type is a sponsored post. This can be on your website or social media accounts. It's when a company pays you to put out a specific piece of content about their product. I've done this several times, and it can be effective if you have relationships with companies in your niche.
An overlooked aspect of ads is selling your own ads. AdThrive and MediaVine are great, but often you can complement their ads by selling directly to companies that are in your niche. For almost 2 years, PolyScience - the largest sous vide manufacturer - paid $500 a month to advertise on my site, and this was back when I was making less than a hundred dollars a month from ad networks. For the last 2 years, LIPAVI has been paying me $800 a month for a banner ad.
So if you have connections at companies, or you don't mind contacting some, then this can be a good way to supplement your ad income. Some ad networks do make you sign an exclusivity agreement, so just make sure you wouldn't be in violation of that.
Also, many of these companies are the same ones that may want a sponsored post from you, to license some recipes or work with you in other ways, so it's important to create some of these relationships.
And like most things we will discuss, this is much easier and more effective if you are in a smaller niche. PolyScience advertised with me because I was the #1 or #2 sous vide blog, despite having less than 5,000 monthly readers. So having a tight focus allows you to tap into this much earlier than an ad network.
As I stated at the start, ads are a great way to supplement your income and help it grow, but don't make the mistake that many food bloggers make and stop serving your Fans. Take a hard look at products and services food bloggers can create and you'll be able to grow your income even more.
What ads have you found to be most effective for your blog? Let me know in the comments below.