How to Start a WoW Blog 4: Monetizing Your Blog

Frostheim blogs at Warcraft Hunters Union, writes the Scattered Shots column for WoW Insider and is a host at the Hunting Party Podcast. He’s been playing WoW since vanilla and been blogging about it since BC.

Okay, we’ve talked about the technical details of starting your WoW blog, we’ve given some advice on how to keep up with it and make sure it doesn’t suck, and last time we went over the various ways to promote your blog to get readers. Now we’re going to talk about how to monetize your blog.

The theory here is that you spend hours every week slaving over your blog, doing research and presenting useful information and responding to comments and emails and helping thousands of players improve their game, or at the very least entertaining them for a portion of their day. It is perfectly reasonable to want to get something in exchange for all of that work.

Unfortunately, you won’t.

You Will Not Make Much Money Blogging About WoW

The crappy truth is that there is not much money to be made blogging about WoW. You will not be able to quit your day job. You will not be able to pay your rent. You will not be able to buy a new computer. If your blog becomes popular you can, however, make about enough to pay your hosting bill and pay for your WoW subscription.

Certainly there are exceptions, but those exceptions aren’t some guy writing a WoW blog — they are entire businesses. WoW Insider makes enough from ad revenue to have a staff of paid writers, for example (and even then, none of those writers are doing this as their day job, it’s just a side gig for people who love WoW). MMO-Champion and Wowhead are positively rolling in the dough. But I’m not aware of any single WoW blog that makes significant money, unless that blog is a part of a much larger business.

The sad part of it is that this is specific to the MMO industry. If you blogged about gardening, or computers, or cooking you would make ten to one hundred times as much for the same level of popularity. So if you’re in it for the money, or expect to make money blogging, find a different topic fast.

I am absolutely trying to crush your expectations as harshly as possible. I am doing this because I’m right.

Warcraft Hunters Union is probably the most popular single class blog in WoW, and if not it’s certainly in the top few. It pays for WoW and its hosting and a nice chunk on the side, but it doesn’t pay my rent. You would need to have 10 times the traffic of the WHU at least before you’re starting to pay the bills with your blog.

Monetization Options

Now that our expectations are at a reasonable level, let’s discuss what you can do to try to squeeze out those dozens of dollars that you can make. I’m going to briefly go over the standard ways to monetize a blog with some comments on which work best. I’m going to do my best to write this from a moral vacuum — I’m just going to lay out the blog monetization options and let you decide which you feel ethically comfortable with.

  • Ads: putting ads on the side or top of your blog is probably the easiest way to monetize it. You do this by signing up for Google Adsense. Google puts the ads in and does a pretty good job of targeting the best ads for your audience. The more traffic your blog gets, the better the ads it gets. The downside is that you will end up with gold selling ads, and there’s nothing effective you can do to block them. Google ads are actually one of the most effective routes of monetization that I’ve found — be sure to use one of their recommended most popular ad sizes to ensure that you get better ads. Also don’t go crazy with the ads. If you have more than 3 on your site, Google will punish you. But even 3 looks really spammy. Personally I’d put the ad ceiling at two ads on a page max.
  • Donate Button: a classic in the WoW world is the donate button, which you can set up through PayPal. Believe it or not, relying on your loyal readers to chip in ten bucks now and then to keep the content coming is the single worst monetization I’ve seen. Incredibly few people will donate; in general your readers will hold you to an incredibly high standard, always want more, and expect it all for free. I’m not saying this is bad, it’s just the way it is in the MMO world. It’s worth noting that the donation model works better if you have periodic campaigns (I’m raising XX dollars for a new computer). You have to ride a fine line of reminding people to donate, but not doing it so often that you sound like your constantly begging.
  • Affiliates: the concept behind an affiliate is that you’re promoting someone else’s product. You get a special link code so that whenever anyone goes to that site, it flags you as the one who sent them. Then if they buy something, you get a percentage of the sale. Affiliate commissions for real products range somewhere around 5%. Affiliate commissions for PDF / video downloads tend to range from 30% to 50%. Unlike ads, you only get paid for sales, not for traffic. The danger with affiliates is that most of the affiliate content through places like Clickbank are total garbage or rehashed content that is already available for free. These are typically in the form of guides on making gold or playing the AH or leveling guides. If you find one that you feel comfortable putting your name behind, go for it. But the moment you’re an affiliate your recommendation is suddenly suspicious to even the most loyal readers. The common method of pushing WoW-related affiliate stuff is by doing a review, often coupled with some kind of “promotion” or discount. You can make good money after pushing a new affiliate product, though it comes mostly as an upfront burst. Gold sellers have affiliate programs too, I’m pretty sure, if you’re really into selling your soul.
  • Sponsors: in theory you can get some money by having a sponsor. The idea here is that you get some company to “sponsor” you for a monthly fee in exchange for you talking about that company positively, and including a banner of some sort on your site. I can’t say how profitable this is — I’ve had a few companies try to get this kind of arrangement with the WHU, and they always offer far less than the Google ads bring in. The Hunting Party Podcast has a sponsor, but I don’t know if we even get any money from that at all. But if you have an in with some giant company willing to put up some actual cash, go for it and let me know how it works!
  • Direct Advertising: similar to Google Ads, but here a company approaches you directly about paying a monthly fee for an ad on your site. In general, they all pay far less than Google Ads and I’ve never found it worth it. After all, those advertisers can target your site through Google Ads anyway — it’s only worth going direct to you if they can pay less for doing it that way. It’s worth noting that if you get at all popular, gold sellers will approach you about this fairly often — I’ve never actually asked what they pay, so I can’t say if that’s a good deal or not.
  • Blackhat Whore: I’m not really sure what else to call this. In the world of SEO, sites can rank better if they have a lot of links pointing to them. Some agencies act as brokers, paying you to put links on your blogroll to their client sites. This technique of buying & selling links is part of  Blackhat SEO and is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and could theoretically get your site banned (though the odds of that are small). The sites that are most likely to want to pay for a blogroll from you are online gambling sites, though any highly competitive niche could be interested. They’ll pay you a chunk of cash — $100 to $250 — for putting the link on your blogroll for a year. A couple of these links could easily net you far more than any other monetization methods combined. You can look for these agencies, or if your blog becomes popular they could find you. In general your site needs to be at least pagerank 3 or 4 before they’ll be interested. I figure whenever I hang up my blogging hat I’ll quickly sell out and get as many of these up as I can.
  • Subscription Model: one of the most profitable models for monetizing a blog is the subscription model. In this model you have your blog divided into a front-end promotional free content section, where you update regularly and give away occasional useful bits of information. Then you have a members area that’s available to people for a small monthly membership fee. This members area usually has a forum where users get personal attention from you, and has a bunch more information that isn’t available to the public, often including PDF downloads. While this is a profitable model in the wider world of the internet, I highly doubt it would work for a WoW blog — there’s just too much information available for free out there, there’s no reason to pay you for your time. Not to mention gamers are inherently cheap when it comes to game knowledge, as we’ve discussed earlier.
How to Start a WoW Blog Series
Part 1: Nuts & Bolts Part 2: Blogging Advice Part 3: Promoting Your Blog Part 4: Monetizing Your Blog
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