Making money with sponsored content



How do publishers make money online?

If you frequent the average WordPress news-y property, it goes like this:

  • Paid/Network ads
  • Sponsored reviews
  • Affiliate links

Few WordPress publishers have an actual product for sale to generate their revenue. The alternative? Pump out content littered with affiliate links and network ads — even if it conflicts with the content a visitor is currently reading. From what I’ve gathered (no, I haven’t fully investigated this) the latter does quite well. Good on them — you’ve got a nice cash machine.

However, at the end of the day, this content is exhausting.

I can only read so many listicals and top free themes for the <month><year>. A place where sponsored reviews are quickly becoming just a thin overview of what happens next when clicking ‘activate’ more than a full-on review for the curious reader. Oh, also, your recommendation? It always ends with: maybe.

I get it. Supply and demand. We’re not playing with big money. Passive income.

…but, we can do better.


Can we make it here?
Can we make it here?

Can everyone win with sponsored content?

There must be a way:

  • Writers – Need to make make money.
  • Creators – Want great content.
  • Readers – Want trustworthy information.

When the Writers make a monetary transaction with the Creators, there’s a level of distrust baked into the content.

  • Is this accurate?
  • Are they being paid to say this?
  • Is this just BS promotion?

When the Writers create content for the Reader, it causes issue with the Creator:

  • That’s not how we see our product.”
  • “Yes, but…”
  • “You’ve interpreted it wrong.”

When the Writer, who writes great content for the Creator AND the Reader, but struggles to make an income – there’s a hitch:

  • The writer goes broke.
  • The content ceases to exist.

How do we solve for all? (Writer + Creator) + (Reader + Great content) = Everyone happy.

Let me cut to the chase: I don’t have the answer.

However, my gut tells me that it is possible — especially in our space. Content doesn’t have to be a boring review, it can (and should) offer positives & negatives views of the product, it should offer a definitive use case.

At the end of the day, I don’t mind your affiliate links, I use them to keep the lights on here  too (like, one 8W LED light, really.) I also REALLY trust the products I recommend. Take Siteground for instance, their support is like Tesla ‘Ludicrous Mode’. Just stop serving us hollow, thinned out, repurposed content for the new month. Give us something to really sink our teeth into. Innovate and prove us all wrong. Make something where we can all win.

Or don’t and keep making more money than this blog does.


5 responses to “Making money with sponsored content”

  1. As one of the sites that you mentioned that use affiliate links and such I feel I have to chime in.

    I agree with you on each and every point, it’s a sad state of affairs granted.

    As a blogger I tend to write WordPress posts aimed at those taking their first steps. Mines not a coding blog, I can’t code so why write about things you know nothing about.

    It’s a tough market and I believe you need to separate yourself form the others by offering content that’s informative and worth a share.

    I detest the round up post with a passion, being truthful sure I’ve written such posts in the post. Why? It’s a numbers game people will share 24 awesome plugins for xyz because it’s got a number in it and the higher the number the more people share it so it must be good right?

    Reviews wise you have to be honest, brutally honest. If you recommend something to your readership you have a duty to be truthful and not mislead them.

    That’s why I’ve probably lost affiliate income, being too truthful however I’d rather that then people be stuck with a product that’s not fit for purpose.

    Until these blogs die off that publish Top WordPress themes for nuns etc they will unfortunately frequent the web as much as the people who share them to gain gravitas in their twitter / facebook circles.

    I think they key in all of this is to have fun with writing a review. Creators need to understand that if they submit their theme or plugin to me I will test it. By testing I mean a real world installation along with all the pitfalls and good points. Having fun with the content injecting some humour and building trust is what it’s all about.

    As a creator your theme or plugin will at some point come up for scrutiny be it in a support forum or indeed in a review. If you don’t have confidence in your product don’t submit it for reviews.

    If you get a review that shows pitfalls work with the writer to see if it can be patched or indeed turned it to a feature.

    I write reviews from the viewpoint what would I like to see mentioned about the product. Will it do this? Will it do that?

    P.s. I make enough to power a small table lamp which is also the source of my heating.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Ben. It’s great to have your opinions posted here.

      I can’t code so why write about things you know nothing about.

      Wish others took this same approach! Keep on doing what you’re doing, by the time next year, you’ll have two lamps!

  2. Hey Matt,

    Good for you for writing this post. Monetizing blogs is a hard nut to crack… and something I think about constantly. But, like you, I don’t have any good answers. I keep coming back to the origins of blogging: that it is about sharing personal experience and having a conversation about it. I think that listicles and repurposed content are a departure from that, and maybe help make a little bit of money through the usual channels… but the true monetary value of a blog cannot be realized through them.

    It may be about creating a blog which serves to create a halo effect for your primary products and services. If you are a speaker, blog about things that will get you more gigs. A developer, blog about current platforms, techniques.. etc. Then use your blog to sell yourself. That’s my current direction for my imaginary blog 🙂


  3. Hey Matt, great article and I know we have talked about this a lot 🙂

    I just recently started paid reviews on my site, first one was today. And people who know me know I am going to be straight-out honest as that is how I have always rolled. If I can see an improvement, I will mention it. If I love it, I will write it from that approach. And creating a podcast from each review… spelling out more about ways to use it, especially creative ways, will be the most fun thing about them.

    Having written about themes and plugins for years, this approach of paid reviews is new for me but I’m hoping it all pans out. Cheers!

    1. You and me both, Bob! 🙂

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