If there’s one thing I’ve learned about blogging over the years, it’s to never be overly reliant on any particular monetization method.
The reality is that income sources can be volatile, algorithms can change, and what may be an extremely lucrative channel one day can easily disappear overnight.
There is honestly not a whole lot you can do when the powers that be (such as Google or YouTube) decide to change their algorithms, nor when companies change the terms of their partner programs in ways that are not your favor. (And trust me, this does happen — often when you least expect it!)
However, you can at least be prepared for unexpected situations by being highly diversified across your traffic and income streams.
Yep, you guessed it. It’s time to talk about geese.
And about ducks.
Which blogger would you rather be?
Let’s quickly consider two scenarios.
Blogger A has found a very lucrative income stream, making $1000 a month from one affiliate program… it’s their golden goose! It’s so lucrative that they’ve decided to go all in. They’re reinvesting their revenues in hiring outsourcers to create ever more content to send more clicks to this one affiliate.
Blogger B has been building their blog organically, discovering five different income streams that each contribute towards a monthly income of $800 per month. While they haven’t found that one golden goose, they do have themselves a couple of, well, let’s say they’re at least some… bronze ducks? (They’re delivering decent but steady income.)
Some would say that Blogger A is doing much better because their income is objectively higher. But Blogger B may be in a much better position once you start considering risk and future earning potential.
Look at it this way:
If Blogger A’s golden goose decides to fly off into the sunset, they’ll have nothing left.
But if one of Blogger B’s little bronze duckies waggles off never to be seen again, there are still other income streams that — quack, quack! — can pick up the slack.
My dramatic changes in income
There have been dramatic twists and turns throughout my travel blogging career that reminded me of the need to be diversified.
Affiliate income in particular can change drastically without a moment’s notice.
Here are a few examples from my travel blog:
Hostelworld’s commission structure
Hostelworld was an absolute golden goose for me in my first few years of blogging. This affiliate program alone made around $1000 a month, which was especially significant based on where my business was at the time.
Hostelworld paid a flat $3 commission on any booking — no matter the total order value. This was highly advantageous as I was focused on very cheap travel destinations at the time (such as Vietnam or Bolivia). Thanks to the flat fees the typically low order value didn’t matter.
Even if someone spent, say, just 6 bucks on a hostel booking in rural Bolivia, I was still getting 3 dollars for referring that customer. Repeat that a few hundred times and you’ve got yourself a very nice goose.
But then Hostelworld changed the commission to a percentage instead. This was honestly a sensible decision from Hostelworld’s perspective (and no hard feelings), though it happened to be highly disadvantageous given my focus on cheap destinations.
Suddenly, I was making about 5 times less in hostel affiliate income.
Honk honk! Goodbye goose.
The Airbnb debacle
Sometime in 2019, Airbnb began quietly introducing a new affiliate program. It rapidly developed into an attractive revenue stream for many bloggers, enabling them to recommend specific Airbnb properties and earn a commission.
Bloggers got excited. Times were good. I heard of one blogger who invested $20k in mass-producing Airbnb recommendation articles. It was a gold rush frenzy.
And then… Airbnb got cold feet. They changed tack completely in 2020 and abruptly closed the affiliate program, angering bloggers who had invested considerable time and money into building up this revenue stream.
I still consider this short-lived program somewhat of a betrayal on Airbnb’s part, though it teaches us to never take income streams for granted.
I had luckily not invested much in Airbnb, having created only a handful of articles, but not everyone was so fortunate. Imagine if it had been the main pillar of your monetization strategy: you’d be left with a very big gap to fill.
The Amazon apocalypse
And then there is of course the time when Amazon absolutely gutted its affiliate program. Back in 2020, it dropped affiliate commissions by up to 80% (in some categories) without warning. I wrote about this whole affair here, which completely ripped up the blog monetization playbook at the time.
This is why, even if you have a golden goose or two, you also need to get all your bronze ducks in a row. You never know when you might need them.
There are a few ways you can diversify and protect your blogging business from volatility:
- Multiple income sources. A blog can make money in a multitude of ways, including display ads, (info) product sales, affiliate programs, consulting fees, sponsorship, etc. Have at least more than one type of revenue stream and more than one client/affiliate/etc.
- Multiple traffic sources. Honestly, this is a tough one as most blogs rely heavily on Google these days. But you can still target a variety of keywords so that if one drops, you still have other ones. You can also cultivate other traffic sources such as YouTube, social, or a mailinglist.
- Multiple blogs/niches. This is the ultimate diversification; even if your finance blog might take a hit, your travel and gardening blogs might be fine. Running multiple blogs is hard though and you probably will need to have gone full-time before attempting this due to the time investment needed.
In my own business, I am well-diversified in terms of income streams. I use 35+ affiliate programs with Indie Traveller, have ads through Mediavine, and sell my own product.
On the other points, I still have some work to do. My online income is about 80% reliant on Google, which is less than ideal. That’s why I’m always looking for opportunities to reduce my dependence on one particular channel.
Ultimately, those who maintain a well-diversified basket of income sources will enjoy the most resilience and stability in their blogging business.