You've probably seen information online that makes it sound like there are bloggers making $1000 a month or more starting from their first month and going up from there, and you're (quite correctly) suspicious. Otherwise everyone would be blogging instead of doing other jobs, right?
To answer your questions, based on my experience, yes it is difficult to make money blogging, and yes I suspect there are a few bloggers out there who are lying on their income reports. I'll provide reasoning for this here and let you know the red flags to watch for.
But before you get all sad about this, the news isn't all bad. While blogging is hard to start making money from, there are some rays of hope for you which I'll get to below.
I certainly think that it is possible to earn money as a blogger, it's just harder than you think. Reaching your blog's first hundred dollars in income is a big deal, and it is much harder work for longer than you think to get there. There are also other ways of earning money online besides blogging - and these may be easier or harder than blogging, depending on your skills and personality. I'll talk about all of that further along.
First though, let's go into why I suspect there are some bloggers who lie on their income reports.
The central problem: Blogger income reports can't be independently verified
First of all, I want to point out that in no way do I think all bloggers who publish income reports are lying in them! If I could venture a guess, I'd say at least more than half are telling the truth. I don't know if I'm talking 60% or 95% here, and part of the reason for that uncertainty is that blogger income reports can't be independently verified.
This is not at all the fault of the blogger, this is their private financial information and indeed it would be a crazy security problem for bloggers to provide everyone viewable access to their business bank account.
But the issue remains that you cannot independently verify a blogger income report. Even those who publish evidence such as screenshots of their Adsense revenue and so on, could theoretically still be lying if they really wanted to. They could have Photoshopped their screenshots, for example, to make their blogging income look bigger. I think it's unlikely that someone would go to all that effort, but it is still theoretically possible. There is nothing physically stopping a dishonest blogger from lying.
By contrast, if a blogger says their Domain Authority (DA) is a particular number, that is something you could independently verify using an online DA checker.
So you can't be certain about the monthly income of a blogger in the same way that you can be certain of the DA of their blog. The first one you can't verify yourself; the second one you can.
Having gotten that out of the way, how do you know who is lying and who isn't? Are there some red flags? The answer is yes there are red flags that you can learn to be aware of, and we'll move onto that in a minute. But first, we'll look at reasons why it looks like it's easy to make money blogging, when in reality it's quite hard and there are still so many bloggers out there who don't even make a profit.
Reasons why it looks easier to make money from blogging than it really is
1. Survivorship bias
Survivorship bias is a major reason for the dichotomy between the (relatively few) highly successful bloggers and those who never make enough to generate even a tiny profit from blogging.
Survivorship bias refers to the idea that those providing income reports tend to be the successful bloggers. Those making a loss are typically not publishing their income reports so we don't get to hear about them. And when they decide to close down their site, then even if they did publish income reports these are no longer visible to the world.
On the flip side of the coin, there are plenty of established bloggers who publish case studies of new starter sites in real time - and these side-experiments don't always work out as planned. It's encouraging to see people being honest about these.
To sum up this section, the best analogy I can think of for success in blogging is success in Hollywood. So many people are trying to become successful actors in Hollywood, yet only a small proportion are ever able to attain success to the point that they can support themselves entirely by their acting career. It's the same for blogging. But again, don't lose hope! There are still a few positives, it's not all doom and gloom if you're looking to start a blog. I'll get to those hopeful things further along. For now, we'll continue with the reasons that blogging looks easier than it really is.
2. Outdated income reports
Did you look at the date of the income reports? The blogging landscape changes fairly rapidly, and any blogger monthly income reports more than a few years old simply are not going to be relevant any more. Some income streams simply might not be around anymore, or may be paying out far less now than in even the recent past. I would recommend completely ignoring income reports older than 2 years ago.
3. Income reports which don't include expenses
A blogger might be making $5000 a month - that sounds great, right?! But if his or her expenses are $6000 a month then they are making a $1000 loss every month. Yikes! Nowhere near as good as it first sounded, right?
I'm not saying that all income reports which don't include expenses are making a loss, but they certainly could be. Basically, you have zero clue how much profit or loss that blogger is making, even if there was some magical way to know they are telling the truth about their income.
4. Bloggers getting lucky with 1 site and thinking their approach extrapolates to other sites (it usually doesn't)
I own multiple sites right now, and have owned even more over years past. I can attest that you might get lucky and have success on 1 site, but the literal exact same approach to blogging may not have success on another site.
5. Remember that it took most bloggers years to gain even a part-time income
As the saying goes, don't compare your start to someone else's middle. A blogger income report might look impressive, but be aware that along with the income was years and years of building up the blog first.
Don't worry - this is actually a wonderful and hopeful thing for you because it means that perseverance and hard work are helpful in blogging. While luck might play a role, you do have control over how much hard work you will put in and for how long. So this part of blogging is something that you can actually do something about. There are more hopeful things further along too.
6. Bloggers not talking about everything that didn't work
Before having success with a blog, some bloggers might have plenty of previous blogs that failed for no obvious reason (i.e. not due to lack of effort, research, or work ethic) before finding something that worked. These are also not talked about often, so it's easy to get the impression that the first blog you make is going to be a big success.
There is some hope here - as mentioned above, persistence and work ethic and simply carrying on writing can take you far in any blog.
7. A blogger already having a massive email list or social reach before starting their blog
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with a blogger making use of a massive social reach to launch their new blog. This is wonderful and it's a great way to market your new site and get traffic to it. But if by contrast you're starting with a tiny social following like most people, you simply can't expect to see the results they did in an even vaguely similar timeframe.
On the flip side of that, a hopeful point for you is that if you're adept at social media, you already have an advantage over bloggers who aren't.
Why it's still a good idea to start a blog
Before you think there's no hope and no point, yes there is definitely hope for earning money online by blogging, and it's worth a try. This is because it's extremely low risk financially compared with setting up almost any other type of business because your most basic expenses are so low. So by all means give it a go. I'm saying, don't quit your day job. Don't expect to earn much if anything in your first month blogging.
But it's such a low-risk and low cost venture to get started that it's worth a go! Your main costs are quite small and come from buying your domain name and web hosting. I've put together a list of reliable yet super-cheap web hosts here for you - most of these are around the cost of a cup of coffee a month, so you have very little to lose by trying out blogging. You can really make money blogging - it's just not not easy.
Alternative online projects if you don't like writing
Blogging is not easy unless you like to write. I love to write, but if you hate writing then you might want to try an alternative to blogging. There are indeed other ways to have a site that is not a blog. It doesn't automatically make it any easier or harder to earn money other ways (e.g. selling a product, setting up a different type of site where you don't have to write articles, and selling your own course or other service), but don't assume blogging is the only way to make money online.
I've written an article on how to make a social network on a shoestring budget even if you don't know any coding. This is perfect if you don't want to write - let the users write! Income can be from display ads, such as Adsense, or affiliate product banners and links.
It's best to center your social network around a hobby or interest: you don't want to fight the losing battle of competing with established networks such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Also you're more likely to be able to easily moderate it if the network is supposed to be on-topic for something like cars (or whatever niche your network is in).
Red flags to watch for on blogger income reports
As promised above, here are some red flags you should watch for on blogger income reports. One red flag does not automatically mean the blogger is lying to you, just that the more red flags a blogger has, the more skeptical you should be of their information.
- People making one blog and then telling people that their approach will work for you (the n=1 problem). There's absolutely nothing wrong with publishing the income reports from just one blog, but if the person then tells you to follow their approach, this is a red flag. Be aware that with just 1 blog they don't have enough experience to expect that this will work across multiple niches and styles of blog.
- Bloggers publishing only income and not expenses. If the blogger doesn't publish expenses, it means they could be making a loss instead of a profit and you'd never know. You can't assume they're making a profit if they're not publishing expenses.
- Bloggers who claim to have made $1000 in their first month blogging. Unless they have a massive social reach (or paid out more than $1000 out for ads or promotions and are therefore making a loss), they're almost certainly lying to you. Sure, there may be a few bloggers in this category who are telling the truth and have achieved such success, but in that case they are such an outlier, SUCH an exception to the rule, that you should not assume that this will happen to you, even if you emulate all the steps of what they're doing.
- Bloggers who make most of their income from blogging about blogging, or from blogging courses. If you see that the blogger started a blog (say in cooking for example), had success, then switched to blogging about blogging, be careful. If most of their income comes from the blogging courses or "how to start a blog", and they're not blogging about cooking anymore, does this mean that you too need to start a blog about whatever (fashion, home improvement, cooking, etc) and then pivot to blogging about blogging?
- Bloggers who try to convince you that to make decent money right out of the starting gate, you need to pay for some course, product or service other than the purchase of a domain name or web hosting. Beware of this. You won't suddenly earn $3000 in your second month if you pay $500 for a course, product or service in your first month. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't part easily with your hard-earned money. Buy only your domain name (how-to guide here) and web hosting (super-cheap yet reliable host list here). Then wait until your blog is making money before adding on any extra products and services that you want besides your hosting and domain name.
The bottom line on blogging
Blogging is harder than you think when it comes to earning money, but it's still worth doing. This is because it has the advantage of being a cheap and low-risk business. It's a great side gig but don't quit your day job unless your blog is making a profit equivalent to a full time income!
Finally, beware of the red flags that I mentioned above - I strongly suspect there are some bloggers out there who are lying to you.