3 Reasons Why You’re Not a Top-Earning Blogger

Carol Tice

Climb The Freelance Writing Ladder of SuccessI’m getting a lot more questions about blogging since winning the Top 10 Blogs for Writers last month. Everybody wants to know how they can take their personal blog and turn it into a full-time living. It’s a dream, right — write short, quick posts about stuff you love, and the money just rolls in on autopilot.

Or that’s what new bloggers think. The reality, I’ve learned, is usually different.

What are the top bloggers doing that you’re not? Having built my blog to where it is earning its keep, and having spent some time now hanging out with — and guest-posting for — some very successful bloggers, here are three things I find top bloggers have in common, that most wannabe bloggers aren’t doing:

1. Invest time. Every big-earning blogger I’ve spoken to speaks wearily of the huge amount of time they invested in their blog in the first couple years. Watch some of Leo Babauta’s training videos in A-List Blogger Club, and you’ll see him sigh deeply just to recall how he guest-posted often five times a week as he struggled to get exposure for his blog, Zen Habits. Many top bloggers continue to work long hours, even when they’re outsourcing coding and moderating and everything under the sun. Maybe you’ll eventually work that short week we all hear about, but for most it won’t happen right away.

Copyblogger associate editor Jon Morrow, for instance, told me he often spends 8-10 hours on a single post. Then sometimes, he links it to a paid product on one of his websites and makes like $30,000. I find most bloggers aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to craft something that compelling.

By contrast, I find plenty of bloggers bragging about how they only spend 10 minutes on each post. Yeah, and readers only spend one second clicking away from your site forever, because what you’re delivering isn’t highly useful and well-written.

2. Build relationships. Big bloggers made a lot of effort to meet influential people who could help them, whether that meant going to SOBCon or BlogWorld to meet folks in person, or reaching out on Twitter.

Remember, the next wave of hot bloggers isn’t made, they’re appointed — by the current crop of top bloggers. Start circulating and getting connected to people with the power to point tens of thousands of readers to your blog.

3. Focus on their readers’ needs. Most bloggers I meet or read on writer-chat forums seem to have similar stories. They tend to go like this: “Oh, I like to blog about gluten-free recipes…and yoga…and being an expatriate living in Italy…and anything else I find interesting.” This is blog-cum-diary.

Blogs like this are very difficult to make money from, either by monetizing your audience or by using the blog as an audition piece to get paying gigs. Read any successful blog, and it’s entirely about one thing. You’ll also see the author frequently soliciting feedback from readers about what they want to know, so that they can keep making their content ever more useful to their audience.

If your blog is all about you, and it bounces all over the place, readers are confused. Yoga devotees are bored by your expat posts, and vice versa. You can’t pull an audience together that likes the same stuff, so you can’t sell them stuff. Businesses looking for a blogger are also turned off by your blog, because they will want you to blog about their specific niche, and you’re not showing you know how to do that. In general, many bloggers seem to be blogging without a clear objective in mind of what they hope to accomplish with their blog.

What are your goals for your blog? Tell us about what you’re trying, and how it’s going, in the comments.

Notice: Free teleclass on blogging! Want to know more about how to succeed with blogging? I’m giving a free, one-hour teleclass for NAIWE members only at 3:30 pm EST/12:30 pm PST on Wednesday, June 26. Our topic: 20 Secrets of Blogging Success. If you’ve been thinking about joining NAIWE — maybe for the free, instant blog you get? — join now, and you’ll get to participate in this call. If you can’t tune in at that time, you’ll be able to listen to the recording later.

Update! I just learned nonmembers CAN attend this call for $27 (click on “member teleclasses) — and then if you like, apply that fee toward membership later.

Photo via stock.xchng user svilen001


  1. Hajra

    With just 6 months into blogging, I still have to learn a lot…I still don’t find enough time to spend on my blog. I am getting to know people around…especially those of my niche (humor).
    Still polishing myself…
    My goals for 5 months have been achieved (Yippee!!) but I still have a long way to go…Thanks for chalking out the details…your posts always helps!

    And yes…I followed your footsteps…got Wibiya….totally understand the love for it!!!

    • Carol Tice

      Wibiya toolbar…so beautiful! I’d do Sexy bookmarks but it doesn’t work with my theme, and now I love this.

    • Sinea Pies

      I am about 6 months into it, as well. Needed a second income fast…and as you know blogging doesn’t do it “fast”…so I’ve added some freelancing but it’s made it all the slower get the blog to monetize. I have faith, though, that with consistency I will see success.

  2. John Soares

    Carol, you provide a very important reality check here, and I really like your inside stories from Leo and others.

    I think all bloggers, and especially beginners, need to make a realistic assessment of what they want to gain from blogging, and this includes creating a business plan with measurable goals.

    For many people, blogging does not give a good return on the time invested. And if someone is going to blog, they need to be smart about it and follow your advice here and the advice of other top bloggers.

    • Carol Tice

      I read a lot of blogger comments where they’re all excited because 12 people subscribed. Obviously, their goals are different from mine! But often people don’t seem to know what their goals are. So they’re blogging along wasting a lot of energy creating posts without knowing their purpose. If it’s just to have fun, that’s terrific, but if you want it to earn you have to be more focused and responsive to your audience, rather than having it all be about me-me-me and whatever whim I’m having today.

  3. Brian

    My blog posts seem to be either homeruns or sleepers. I want those reading my posts to enroll in my new membership program but I still lack that ability to convert prospects into paying clients.

    I know there’s a lot more that I need to learn and do consistently but that is my main objective.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Brian —

      Mary Jaksch of A-List Blogger Club just did a great post about setting up a membership program to be successful over on Problogger…you should check it out.

      I personally still kinda suck at conversion…I find it’s a question of learning just hundreds of tiny tweaks to your website that make it more and more inviting. For instance I just finally wrote my first real landing page, for the How to Break in and Earn Big as a Freelance Writer Webinar coming up…it’ll be unveiled tomorrow. ‘Bout time, eh? I just keep talking to pros and learning more…mostly in A-List, but also from other places where I’m guest posting.

  4. Jenn Crowell

    I think your advice about honing focus and niche is SO important. Though I could see where having multiple blogs for multiple platforms/interests could get really time-consuming, too. And I’ve read some articles that suggest that, for novelists, for instance, readers are craving a strong sense of that author’s “persona” (which could include a diverse array of interests). It’s hard to know what sort of balance to strike sometimes.

    • Carol Tice

      Agreed Jenn — but then maybe that’s the purpose of the blog. If all the posts help me know the author’s personality and make me feel close to them and want to buy their next book, I could see that it could encompass many topics, but the real topic is sharing myself with you, which unifies it.

  5. Alan Kravitz

    These are great tips, Carol. I admit that I’ve been guilty of the “blog cum diary” type post in the past. The key for me is to try and balance personal experiences with what the reader really wants to know.

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly — obviously I’m always talking about stuff in my personal writer’s life…but in service of helping people earn more…always. That’s what my readers want to know, so that’s where each post needs to go.

  6. Laurie Boris

    This is great advice. I started as a casual, diary-type blogger, but over the last year I’ve been refocusing into two blogs: one about language, one about health. Both need focus. My goal is to attract, engage, inform, and entertain readers. But still, I think I’m trying to do too much.

  7. Jeff Johnston

    Great article! I really enjoyed it. Love friendly reminders that getting a blog up and running takes a lot of time and effort. It does, it’s the reality for almost every single one of us, but it’s nice to be reminded that a slow start is not abnormal. It takes a lot of work! But it’s worth it right? … it IS worth it, right? 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Worth it if you have strategies for monetizing it, in my view… 🙂 But then, that’s my goal — to earn from blogging myself, and teach others how to do it, too.

      I see a lot of problems with bloggers who don’t have clarity about why they’re doing it. They’ve just heard blogging — it’s great, and you’ll make a fortune! And they just start slapping up posts, but they’ve no idea how it really works. They put up a bunch of Google ad boxes and then can’t figure out why they’re not making money. It’s because they’re not delivering any value and don’t have a big enough audience to monetize, and they’re turning everyone off with their hard sell attitude.

  8. Oscar

    Great points.
    The pro blogger David Risley says most bloggers get on what he calls the “hamster wheel” of blogging thinking that all they have to do is post regularly and set up an RSS feed and readers will flock to their site. He says if your goal is to monetize your blog, you need to approach blogging from the perspective of a marketer who uses a blog as part of the marketing arsenal.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Oscar. I blog for a lot of small business clients, and many of them don’t get it either. They hire me to post, I ask them what their strategy is for promoting the posts, and just get a blank look. They think it’ll get found by magic. Then 6 weeks into the project they want to pull the plug because they’re “not getting any traffic.” When it takes months of actively promoting it to build an audience. I keep saying I’m going to do a free ebook for prospects about how it all works to save me the time of explaining it over and over…

  9. Ahlam Yassin

    Yes, finding a defined niche, staying focused and consistent is essential. It really does take so much hard work to build a readership momentum and keep it going. No secret formula to it, just a lot of energy and hard work. Thanks for the post, and the kick forward so many writers need to hear.

    • Carol Tice

      To that I’d add — a willingness to learn continuously about design and usability. That was definitely my weak point starting out. Hey, I’m a word person here! But I learned you really can’t ignore look and functionality — they’re absolutely critical to making people want to stay, and buy things.

  10. Justin P Lambert

    Thanks very much for three key points, and for asking for input from my baby blog.
    I’ve set up my blog, Words That Begin With You, as a case study in what I call “Uber-generalism”, meaning spreading the information as widely as I can while trying to maintain enough focus to avoid the ex-pat-yoga issues you describe. I’m a freelance writer who refuses to specialize on a particular genre, format or subject matter based on my own boredom-issues, so I blog about copywriting, ghostwriting, speechwriting, fiction and poetry, and I also throw in what I call Timeless Principles which I think lay a solid foundation on which the rest of my creativity is built.
    Whether or not this non-niche approach is or will be successful is debatable. There are a lot of things I’ve learned over the 7 months I’ve been blogging, so my toes are barely wet. I’d love anyone’s feedback, btw. 🙂
    Thanks again!

    • Carol Tice

      Well, to me that’s still a niche — it’s about writing. How narrow we make our niche is a subject for debate, but I don’t see any problem with keeping it that inclusive. I do see people having great success with even more niche-y sites such as Virgin Blogger Notes…but I’ve stayed more broad myself.

  11. Laura F

    I’m just getting started out as a blogger, so just getting a comment is a big achievement for me.

    Even though I originally wanted to use blogging as a tool to grow my sales as a print writer, I’m really getting into blogging. And like Carol, design is my weak point. I’ve spent days sitting around trying to figure out how to customize even the simplest WordPress theme.

    I know that poor design is dragging me down, but I honestly don’t know what to do. Now I’m starting to wonder if just giving A-List Blogging wouldn’t be worth it to see how much it would help me with my blog design.

    • Carol Tice

      You know it would be! It’s a big $20 a month and you can quit anytime. Don’t know if you’ve seen this post about what I learned in the club…but it’s been GREAT for picking up design and usability tips. It’s not just the expert course material, but the ability to ask things in the forum, with all their experienced moderators, that keeps me a member.

  12. k.t.

    Hi, Carol – uber useful, as usual! (isn’t “uber” supposed to have the little dots over something – sorry, can’t do on my keyboard!)
    Anyway, was wondering exactly how the blogger you spoke of “links it to a paid product on one of his websites and makes like $30,000.”
    I’m sure this caused many ears to stand up. Does he happen to mention an Amazon product and then links to it in mid-post? Does he have a million subscribers? I’m am Amazon affiliate, for example. I already picked products I that I think might make good Valentine’s Day presents and put them in a little pink box (http://www.glutenfreesafari.com). . do I do posts about them?
    If I Twitter re them people would probably unfollow . . !!
    Thanks, as usual! Should I do a post re your site, even if it doesn’t follow my “brand??”


    • Carol Tice

      Hi KT — can’t advise you on whether to post about my site — don’t know if your audience would find MALW of interest.

      As far as making $30,000 — it’s because he’s created a bootcamp or learning event or something that he’s made his byline link go to, and he sells that much in signups. Anyone who’s making a lot that I know is creating their own products and services they sell. That’s where the big money is. It’s nothing to do with being an Amazon affiliate.

      I can’t really give you advice on being a successful Amazon affiliate. I didn’t find it worked for me. What works is finding high-ticket products you can affiliate sell. For instance, I have the URL http://www.familygeocaching.com reserved, which if I could ever get it up and rolling, could sell $300 GPS units. Now THAT’s a sale worth getting an affiliate commission on!

      You can read here about the affiliate-sales strategy that’s worked for me. I’m really thrilled with it — it allows me to sell with integrity, and it’s working.

      • k.t.

        Thanks so much, Carol. Will read pronto. Was going to suggest to Ula that I link to her article re cancer/herbs from my site — Ula; please get in touch; you can leave a quick comment on any blog post and I’ll get it; they’re moderated!

        Carol, re affiliate — my niche (gluten free) fairly specific, so I think may work, but aside from tips in article, seeking other affiliate merchant deals that are also lucrative. My site also re health.




        Twitter: @gfsafari; @glutenfreesnob

  13. Junelle

    Once again, another insightful post! Although I had already prepared myself for the challenges of #1 and #2, #3 was pretty confusing for me, until you straightened it out. I used to think having a niche wasn’t all that important, as long as I wrote well, enough for people to get entertained.

    Really don’t wish to sound naive, but I’m just starting out, so bear with me. 😀

    • Carol Tice

      Well, #3 isn’t about having a niche. It’s about delivering exactly what your readers want to know. I think the vast majority of bloggers are writing about what they’d like to say…not what readers have indicated they need to learn. That’s a huge mindset change, but once you make it, things start to happen on your blog…take it from me. I definitely started out in the first camp. Once I started polling readers and writing to the subjects they wanted, things took off.

  14. Ula

    I blog about health issues. I spent a couple of hours (6-7 I think) on a post about cooking with herbs to decrease risk of cancer. The results (as far as comments go) exceeded my expectations. I only recently started the blog but learnt that time invested is worth every minute. I still have a way to go as far as connecting with other bloggers is concerned. Thanks for the post. It’s very good and I’m going to spend more time looking into these points.

  15. Sierra

    I think my biggest issue with my blog is that I started out with a “I’m gonna lose all this weight and you’re gonna read it about it!” mindset.. and now I’m not losing anymore. When I blog, I get readers. I just don’t have it in me anymore. Health and fitness is still my passion, but..eh. I feel like a big ol’ failure.

    My goal for my blog is to be more specific. Like you said, there needs to be a specific topic. I do bounce around a lot and it’s become more of my diary than my blog. I also need to write more and be more consistent.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Sierra —

      I say keep on blogging. People love fail stories. Why do you think they watch The Biggest Loser — just to see who wins? I’d say it’s in large part to see who gives up.

      I’m sure your readers will relate to your setback — and they might just give you the impetus to get with the program again.

      Think about Oprah and the recent cover she did on her magazine where she talked about how she let her weight balloon again and how bummed she was about it. Think it was one of their best-sellers.

  16. Rebecca

    I agree that it takes time to build an online presence. It took my travel client about one to two years to build a strong online presence.

    I’ve stepped up my game and have been blogging three times a week on my Savvy-Writer website. I’ve also committed to writing more for my parent/teen coaching website. In between this, I devouted time to finishing my non-fiction book for teens and writing articles for a couple of online magazines. Now I’m seeking an agent for my book. I may self-publish it.

    I signed up for Ezine Articles #6HAHD contest and have seen an increase in traffic to my Ezine site. I don’t have that many articles compared to others but my traffic has jump significantly. And, I can re-purpose the articles for my websites. It’s a win-win situation!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Rebecca — great to see you over here!

      Can you explain how having more traffic to your Ezines site does anything for you monetarily, or what kind of ROI for the time you put in you get out of that? I’ve never met a writer where doing a free-article site like that penciled out. Business consultants where it sells their $300-an-hour services or something, yes, but writers, where the writing IS your product, I don’t know.

  17. I Write

    Hi Carol, first of all, congratulations on winning the Top 10 Blog for Writers Award. I guess that in itself is a great marketing feature for the A-List Blogging Club. 🙂

    Your post certainly speaks to many of us as I see from the comments before mine. I think one of the biggest challenges for newbies is definitely figuring out what to focus on.

    And I also think many people use blogging as a journalling exercise and not as a way to make money. Over time, though, some discover they can make money and decide that is the route they want to go. And then the blog needs refocused, redesigned, restructured,…. reborn!

    So to all the pros out there, have patience with the learners…. I’m one of them. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      I KNOW I would not have won Top 10 without the just dozens of tips I got in A-List on how to improve my blog and how I marketed my blog.

  18. Lea

    Hi Carol. Congratulations for winning the Top 10 Blog for Writers! Thanks for the emails choc full of great tips. Concerning NAIWE – can anybody join? I was concerned about the ‘National’ part in the name as I am not in the USA.

    • Carol Tice

      Interesting question! Let me ding the head of it and respond shortly.

      • Carol Tice

        Lea —

        You are free to join — NAIWE chief Janice Campbell reports they have members all over the world, despite the “national” tag. Hope to see you on the call later today!


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