Do you want to learn how to start a money making blog?
Today, I am sharing a great interview with Kristin Hanes from The Wayward Home. Kristin earns $280,000 a year from her alternative living blog where she talks about RVs, van life, tiny homes, boats, and more.
Kristin is a journalist and former radio news reporter who founded The Wayward Home and The Wayward Home Podcast as a place to learn about alternative living.
She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Sprinter van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Kristin’s also been featured in Business Insider, SF Gate, KPIX TV, Fodors and Lonely Planet, among others.
In today’s interview, questions answered include:
- How much have you earned blogging over the years?
- How do you earn money on your blog?
- Where do you get your ideas for new blog posts?
- How do you get readers and traffic to your blog?
- How do you manage traveling and working? What tips do you have for digital nomads?
Today’s interview will help you get started and perhaps even introduce you to a new way to make money from home. Or, maybe you’ll learn how to start making more money with the blog that you already have.
Kristin shares many great tips on how to grow a money making blog in this interview.
If you want to start your own blog and learn how to become a blogger and get paid, this is a great article to help you get started.
How I Make $280,000 Each Year Working Just 20 Hours A Week
1. Please give us a little background on yourself and how you got started. How long have you been blogging for?
Hi, I’m Kristin, and I’ve been blogging since 2017, so about five years now!
Before I started my site, The Wayward Home, I knew nothing about profitable blogging. I had worked as a radio news reporter for 15 years in cities up and down the west coast, from Seattle to San Francisco. For a couple years, I had a small “hobby blog” on the side, which shared my stories, photos and insights. Only close friends and family read it.
In 2016, I was suddenly let go from my full-time position at KGO radio in San Francisco. Being a news reporter was the only thing I knew how to do! With radio jobs drying up across the country, I had no idea what type of job to get.
But I did know that I really wanted to figure out how to make a remote income. My partner Tom had recently purchased a sailboat, with dreams of traveling around the world.
I was browsing the internet one day when I stumbled upon a website called TheWhereverWriter, and she’d profiled Michelle Schroeder-Gardner of Making Sense of Cents, the blog you are reading right now! I was completely floored to learn Michelle earned $100,000 PER MONTH blogging. I had no idea a blog could be a business and make good money.
After I read Michelle’s story, I decided I wanted to try to start a profitable blog. I signed up for Michelle’s free How to Start a Blog email course, purchased hosting, set up WordPress, and had my new site up and running.
2. How did you learn about blogging?
After taking Michelle’s very informative free email course, I knew I had tons more to learn about blogging. Two months after creating The Wayward Home, I signed up for a course called Elite Blog Academy. The course was $800 at the time and felt very scary to purchase, especially because I was living on unemployment.
Luckily, I had no rent to pay as I’d moved aboard Tom’s sailboat, which was undergoing a complete overhaul. We had no running water, no stove, no bathroom, no nothing. But it gave me freedom and flexibility to purchase courses and work on my fledgling business.
Elite Blog Academy gave me some good success strategies, and I ended up making my first $500 on a private display ad just six months after starting my site. I also got into Mediavine! These were all huge goals that I accomplished fairly rapidly due to my investing in courses and training to learn about blogging.
When I took Stupid Simple SEO and learned about keywords everything changed. My traffic skyrocketed, and I was able to hire writers and a virtual assistant to help me scale my site.
Now, my site averages 300,000 to 500,000 monthly pageviews depending on the time of year. It regularly reaches 2.5 million readers annually.
I’m really proud of its success, and attribute it to hard work, determination, investing in courses and having a certain level of grit.
3. How much do you earn as a blogger?
In 2022, I earned $280,000 blogging, my highest income year yet!
I’ve kept detailed records of my income over the years, and it’s exciting to go back and look at how much I’ve grown.
Here are some fun stats. Keep in mind that I primarily monetize through display ads, which is why traffic is so important:
- In my first year of blogging, I made $7,000. I got 400,000 pageviews, 60% which came from Pinterest and 21% from Google
- In my second year blogging, I made $65,000, with 44% from Pinterest and 44% from Google. My organic traffic went up after I took Stupid Simple SEO
- In this past year of blogging, I made $280,000, with 18% from Pinterest and over 60% from Google
This goes to show that ranking on Google is definitely key to making good money as a blogger, especially if you’re monetized with display ads.
It took me months of hard work to make a decent income as a blogger. My first “big purchase” was a Chevy Astro van for $6,000 in 2018. I’d been spending the night on our sailboat, but we weren’t technically allowed to live on it due to San Francisco liveaboard rules, so we’d spend some nights in Tom’s Prius, and I kept all my clothes and personal items in a little red sedan.
Just imagine how elated I was to be able to buy a real van to use as my daytime home. I put a fridge in there and a solar system, and was able to sit inside my Astro and work during the day. It felt private, comfortable and VERY roomy compared to living out of and sleeping in a car.
We lived out of that Chevy Astro part-time for three years, until I was able to afford a 2021 Mercedes Sprinter with my blogging income, which we are currently building out ourselves.
4. How do you make money as a blogger? Sponsored posts? Display ads? Affiliate marketing? Can you go in-depth on this?
My biggest source of revenue are display ads from Mediavine, which is an ad management company. You need to have at least 50,000 sessions per month to apply to Mediavine. Back when I applied, that was only 25,000 sessions and much easier to reach.
Mediavine puts high-paying display ads on my site and works with huge companies to get those ads. My income really shot up when I was able to get on Mediavine. I remember making just a few cents per day from Google Adsense, and that went up to $20 my first day on Mediavine.
Now, in a typical month, I make anywhere from $13,000 in winter (slow season) to $25,000 in summer with display ads alone. I really wanted to monetize with display ads as I was creating mostly informational content for my readers. I didn’t want to write product review posts or anything like that, at least in the beginning. Now my strategy has changed as I look to diversify my income. It’s never good to have all your eggs in one basket!
I am working hard on getting my affiliate revenue up. In 2022, I increased my affiliate income by $30,000, which is pretty good, but it hasn’t gotten near my ad revenue. For those who don’t know, affiliate revenue is when you place a tracking link for a product or service on your site. When someone clicks and buys, you get a small commission from their purchase. On my site, I mostly include reviews of camping gear, van and RVing gear, and sailboat gear. I’ve found that affiliate articles do much better when it’s a product I actually use and love.
I do a very small number of sponsored posts every year but this isn’t my main monetization strategy. I don’t particularly love working with brands, but it’s okay once in a while depending on the brand. I charge $1,500 for an SEO-optimized sponsored post which also gets shared to my Facebook page, Pinterest and email list. I did about 4-5 of these in 2022.
My next project to increase and diversify my income is to create products. I am working on a course called Niche Sites Made Easy: The Nomad’s Guide to Making Money Online. My goal is to teach nomads on how to make passive income while they travel, which has been completely-life changing for me. I hope to inspire others to create profitable blogs and niche websites, too!
5. What do you like about being a blogger?
So many things! Blogging has literally changed my life. Here are some of the main reasons I love blogging.
I can write about what I want
Before becoming a blogger and after my KGO layoff, I did freelance writing for a variety of sources. I didn’t love many of the topics, and found myself really slogging through the writing. With my own site, I get to write about whatever I want, and one of my main passions: van life and alternative living. I can’t imagine writing for someone else now.
I’m my own boss
I just LOVE being my own boss, and determining when and where I want to work, and how many hours per week. I also get to decide on which type of work I’ll be doing. One day I’ll be writing blog posts, on another, I’ll be going email marketing, working on product creation, or doing keyword research. The flexibility is amazing.
I work very few hours
I worked tons of hours in the beginning making very little money. But as I learned how to outsource the work with writers and a virtual assistant, I started working less and less. I typically work between 10-20 hours per week, sometimes less, sometimes more. I’ll often go through periods of time where I’m barely working at all and mostly traveling for months on end, and then I’ll work a couple months of 40+ hour weeks.
I have freedom to travel
Since I spend half the year in a campervan and half on my sailboat, being a full-time blogger allows me to travel ALL OVER. We spend the summer months in the United States and winters down in Mexico. I just love that blogging is the type of work that can be done from any country or any setting. Plus, with my team of writers and a VA, I can actually go off-grid for weeks at a time without having to check in on my business. I know it will be running smoothly! This hasn’t happened yet, but will happen when I cross the Pacific Ocean in my sailboat in the next couple years.
I connect with others in my niche
One thing I just LOVE about blogging is that I get to interact with other people who either live or want to live an alternative lifestyle. I love helping and inspiring these people to achieve their dreams of living in a van, RV, sailboat or tiny home.
The constant learning
Running an online business requires constant learning. Even five years later, I am STILL taking courses, listening to podcasts and reading articles. I just recently signed up for a business coaching program to take my business to yet another level through course-creation.
6. Where do you get your ideas for new blog posts?
I get almost 100% of my ideas for blog posts through keyword research. I use a variety of tools, but mostly Ahrefs and Surfer SEO’s Topic Clusters to find long-tail, low competition keywords within my niche. Now that my site has a DA of 50, I could go for higher competition keywords but I love finding keywords nobody is writing about yet.
Once I find a list of keywords in the van life, RVing or tiny home niche, I assign them out to my writers. My writers are very well-versed in their subject matter. For example, I have van lifers who write my van life posts, an RVer who writes my RV-related posts, and a woman who lives in a tiny house writes all my tiny house posts. It’s important to me that my writers are actually living what they are writing about. I also love supporting people who are in the alternative living space!
When selecting topics, I try to choose ones that will help my readers in some way. I don’t just pick random ideas that wouldn’t do anyone any good. I like content that is inspiring, fun to read or teaches somebody something.
At this point, I don’t do much of the writing myself anymore. I only write about topics that pertain to me, like van build blog posts while we build out our new Sprinter van, and product review posts that have to do with a product I love and use. My writers take care of the rest of the blog posts.
Having a team of writers has freed up my time to work on other things, like creating a couple of new niche sites and my new course.
7. How do you get readers and traffic to your blog?
60-70-% of readers come from Google search! The other readers come via Pinterest. I get about 30,000-40,000 pageviews per month from Pinterest, which is currently managed by my Pinterest manager and his team.
However, I love Google organic traffic because I understand that platform better than I understand Pinterest or other forms of social media. Ranking for Google is almost like following a formula or recipe. If I can get that formula down, I will rank for keywords and get traffic.
However, Google traffic comes with its own inherent risks, like if you are hit with a Google update. I was hit with an algorithm update in 2019 that demolished tons of my traffic, but I just kept working and trying and my traffic is even higher than it was before.
8. What tools or equipment do you use?
I spend the most money on online tools that help me run my site. I currently split subscriptions to both Ahrefs and SemRush with a few other bloggers. These are powerful keyword research tools that I can’t do without.
I also invest in SurferSEO, which is great for writing blog posts and ensuring my writers hit the right keywords and word count. SurferSEO also offers keyword and topic clusters, which are GOLD for keyword research.
Aside from keyword research tools, I also pay for website hosting with Big Scoots, which runs about $100 per month due to my website size.
And of course, I am in love with my Macbook Pro computer, earbuds and mouse.
Since I work remotely from my campervan and sailboat, I also pay quite a bit for internet. I have two internet devices with me. The first is an Unlimited AT&T hotspot from Reliable Internet Services, and the second is Starlink satellite internet. Since I depend on internet for so much of my work, staying connected is key for me, and I can write off both internet plans!
9. What do you think makes a blog successful?
There are a few factors that are keys to a blog’s success, in my opinion.
If your goal is to make money with your blog through search engine optimization (SEO), then niche selection is a huge part of this process. You want to select a niche that isn’t too competitive, but competitive enough that you can land good search traffic. For instance, you don’t want to create a blog on a topic so obscure that nobody is searching for any terms related to that topic!
You’ll want to analyze the competition and make sure other lower authority websites are ranking on the first page of Google, check out the keywords those sites are ranking for, and make sure there are enough low competition keywords to go for. A niche like email marketing, for example, is very high competition and hard to rank for. A niche site about sourdough bread baking or hiking, on the other hand, would have way more low-competition, long-tail keywords to choose from. (long tail keywords have between 3-5 words in them, and are typically easier to rank for).
Aside from the niche, I think that pure determination and grit are also important. You need to have the mindset that you are growing a business from scratch and it will most likely take a lot of time and effort before you even see a penny. It can take Google 6-9 months to even start ranking a website so you appear in search results. This wait can be very difficult for many, and that’s why so many people give up on blogging. If you stay the course, keep trying and keep investing in yourself and your education, you’ll most likely be able to make this business work.
10. How do you manage traveling and working? What tips do you have for digital nomads?
I’m actually glad I wasn’t traveling when I first started The Wayward Home.
We were living on our sailboat and fixing it up in the San Francisco Bay area, and while Tom worked his day job in San Francisco, I sat at my gym and worked on my blog.
Yes, a gym!! My gym at the time had a cafe area with free WiFi, and sometimes I’d spend 8-10 hours there, working on my website, exercising, showering and eating my lunch. That stability was one of the main keys to my success as I was really able to focus on my site without worrying about paying rent.
We didn’t start traveling full-time until 2020, three years into my blogging journey. Sadly, my income took a hit due to COVID so I started freelance writing again for about six months, but then switched to full-time blogging and haven’t looked back ever since.
Traveling while running a business can be challenging, which is why I wanted to automate my business as much as possible. This happened when I hired my writers and virtual assistant. All my writers have their topics assigned out several months in advance, so I know there will be a constant stream of SEO-optimized, new content going up on my site.
I still struggle with working and traveling at times. There are so many fun things to do like hike, cycle, windsurf and paddle board that I am easily distracted. Sometimes I just need to park the campervan somewhere and not move for several weeks so I can actually get work done. Or, when Tom’s working on the sailboat, I’ll spend that time working many hours per day on my business. We spent four months in a boatyard in 2021, and I worked that entire time!
The opposite side of working too little is working too much. Sometimes I get SO focused on work that I don’t want to do anything else. Yes, I love working on The Wayward Home that much.
The tricky part about being a digital nomad is finding balance. When I’m in “work mode”, I try to stop working between 3-5pm every day so my Tom and I can go on a hike, have happy hour and cook dinner together. It helps that I have a partner encouraging me to get offline, haha.
I’d definitely recommend coming up with some sort of work schedule, possibly using time blocks to block out your time, and knowing when to turn off your computer and get out into nature.
11. What other tips do you have for starting a blog?
First of all, choose a topic you are passionate about. I know some people, especially niche site creators, will laugh at that opinion, saying you should pick a niche that will do well on Google.
Doing well on Google is important, but so is staying the course with your site until it makes money. I think the only way to get traffic to your site is to be passionate about it! You’ll love the keyword research and writing blog posts. Imagine writing blog posts for a topic you weren’t interested in. What drudgery that would be and you would most likely quit.
Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. This is a real business you are starting, and you’ll want to treat it like one. When I first started blogging I thought of it as getting a degree in online business. So far, I’ve taken courses in SEO, email marketing, affiliate marketing, Pinterest marketing, and more! I’ve spent thousands of dollars on courses and haven’t regretted any of it except maybe ONE course out of all I’ve chosen.
And lastly, stick with it. Find a support system of other bloggers online in blogger Facebook groups. There are so many out there that will help lift you up when you’re down, and will answer your questions. A couple I love are Blogging Like We Mean It and the Blogger Education Network.
12. What are you currently working on in 2023? Any big plans?
I have tons of goals in 2023. The first item on the agenda is to finish my new course, Niche Sites Made Easy: The Nomad’s Guide to Making Money Online. This will be finished in January!
Michelle’s note: Her course is now live – check it out!
Then I’m going to work on publishing my book about how to live the van life, which will include both tips and stories from my journey. This includes writing a book proposal and shopping for agents and publishers.
I’d also like to create a course on van life, and am toying around with the idea of a membership for those interested in alternative living.
I’m also going to refocus on my podcast, The Wayward Home Podcast, in 2023. As I come from a radio background, I love interviewing people living an alternative lifestyle. Recently, I’ve interviewed people living in RVs, vans and sailboats, and they all have interesting stories and tips to share.
What I love about online business is that the sky’s the limit in terms of what you create. There are so many options out there, and I’m super passionate about creating products and services that will help people achieve their dreams of nomadic living.
Are you interested in starting a blog, working remotely, and/or living in a van or sailboat?