The explosion in branding oneself online over the past decade has led to a whole new career option that not so long ago could not even have been conceived of. The rise of fashion and lifestyle blogging—which chiefly involves young women (although there are a few men, such as Bryanboy) posting their daily outfits and interacting with followers on a range of social media platforms, including their own personal websites, in addition to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. What started out as a hobby for many of these women in the mid to late-2000s has now become an incredibly lucrative business, with top bloggers such as Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, and Leandra Medine of Man Repeller raking in millions of dollars a year thanks to sponsorships, advertising, and their own spin-off fashion lines. These bloggers have, over the past decade or so, established themselves as members in the top league of the fiercely competitive world of fashion blogging, and have forged a career for themselves where none existed before—no small feat.
So, how exactly did they do it? What magic formula enabled these individuals to captivate an audience and draw them, initially, to their websites, and then to their social media platforms? Well, to start off with, all the aforementioned bloggers entered the playing field early in the game, starting their blogs in the mid-2000s, and employed the use of social media and online growth strategies right from the start. Since then, they have managed to brand themselves into recognizable names (at least for those with even a passing interest in fashion blogging), and command annual salaries in the multi millions.
While all bloggers—be they fashion or otherwise—no doubt rely on many of the same online tactics to promote their websites and personal brand, I will be focusing on those who are primarily in the fashion and lifestyle blogosphere in this essay, highlighting the online practices they employ to reach and maintain a wide audience, which thus enables them to generate income through attracting sponsors and advertisers.
One thing all bloggers need in order to be successful is the ability to generate income through a number of diverse streams. According to Marianna Hewitt of the “Ask a Blogger” column on the Harper’s Bazaar website, fashion bloggers nowadays generate income through a combination of a few of the following six ways: affiliate links, sponsored content, collaborations, marketing campaigns, classes, and photography/other creative services (Hewitt, 2015).
However, before bloggers can reach this stage of generating an income via these streams, they need to be able to demonstrate to advertisers and sponsors that their websites receive substantial numbers of views every day; essentially, they need to have built up a significant following, and there are a number of strategies they can employ to do this.
Good SEO practice is one such element that helps provide bloggers with that key factor to success: discoverability. Every blogger who has made it big once started off as an unknown, but through strategic use of SEO was able to create an online presence. For a fashion blogger, whose posts chiefly consist of outfits, titling the post in such a way as to be discoverable via a Google search is essential. For example, a post that features the blogger wearing overalls would ideally be titled something like “How to Wear Overalls,” or “How to Style Your Overalls”—basically, a title that features the keywords someone wanting to know how to wear their overalls would search for.
In her post “Beginner SEO Tips for Fashion Bloggers,” Jennine Jacob breaks down what exactly SEO is and why it is so important for bloggers. While social media platforms bring in roughly 30 percent of new visitors to a blog, it is traffic from SEO that drives the remaining 70 percent. Citing the Beginners Guide to SEO, she notes that “[s]earch engines are answer machines” and that every time a person searches for something online, “the search engines scour the billions of documents and do two things – first, return only those results that are relevant or useful to the searcher’s query, and second, rank those results in order of perceived usefulness. It is both ‘relevance’ and ‘importance’ that the process of SEO is meant to influence” (Jacob, 2013).
In the early days, building a community with fans/followers is crucial for bloggers starting out. Discoverability is one thing, but of equal importance is hooking readers in so that they are likely to return to websites again and follow bloggers on their social media platforms. In addition to presenting an attractive and unique perspective with good photography, bloggers can also work on building a rapport with their readers—encouraging questions and responding to them in the comments section. Once bloggers—through hard work, stategic online practices, and, no doubt, a lot of good luck—have amassed a following, they can now start to focus their attention on monetizing their website.
Initially, in the earlier days of fashion blogging, banner ads proved to be quite profitable, but today, readers are for more likely to see the native advertising as described above on their favourite websites. Both bloggers and advertisers have started to realize that readers are pretty savvy and intelligent, and probably unlikely to click on a big, flashing ad at the top of a blog just because it’s there. However, native advertising—similar to an advertorial in a print magazine in that advertised content fits in seamlessly with the rest of the content being produced—seems to be more successful.
Top bloggers have the luxury of being selective about who they collaborate with for these ads, as they know that their readers have come to trust their favourite bloggers’ tastes, and can usually be able to tell when a blogger is being inauthentic in their professed love of a certain product, as opposed to when they are genuinely recommeding something. Affiliate links have long been a core part of generating income on websites—these are links to products featured by the blogger on their website. Typically how this works is that once a reader clicks on the link, and buys anything from the company’s website (not just the product in question), the blogger promoting it (the referrer) will get paid a commission (Phelan, 2013).
Many top bloggers are connected with partners via RewardStyle, the brainchild of blogger Amber Venz, who started the company in 2010. The premise is simple: the invite-only program sets up the 14,000 bloggers in the network (known as “publishers”) with its 4,000 retailers. The publishers receive up to 20 percent commission for each affiliate item sold from any of their posts. What many readers do not know is that each time they click on an affiliate link, the link stores a cookie on the reader’s computer for up to 30 days. If a purchase based off the affiliate link is made within 30 days—as long as the reader does not click on another affiliate link, as the browser can only store one cookie at a time—the blogger will make a commission off the entire purchase. While it is reported that only 1-2% of readers who click on an affiliate link will go on to make a purchase, it can be quite lucrative for top bloggers whose links receive thousands of clicks (Adams, 2014). Although readers often do not consciously realize that their purchases are helping to fund a blogger’s lifestyle, most blogs do make note of the fact that they use affiliate links.
Successful bloggers can rightfully boast that they “make money while they sleep,” as is the case with Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific—an ASOS dress she wore on her blog was bought by 83 people within a day of the post going live—and Tina Craig of Snob Essentials, who received a sale in the middle of the night from a reader in the Middle East who had purchased a $46,000 handbag (Phelan, 2013).
Another similar affiliate program is ShopStyle, formerly known as ShopSense, which launched seven years ago, and today works with over 10,000 publishers/bloggers. By the end of 2015, the site, which features 12 million products from 1,400 retailers, and receives over five million searches per week, was expected to drive $1.2 billion in retail sales, according to executive vice president Melissa Davis. Davis also noted that “people…shopping from these bloggers’ sites convert more quickly than average shoppers…[and] 76 percent will convert with two days, [buying] from trendier brands like ASOS, H&M, and J. Crew” (Strugatz, 2015).
In research conducted by ShopStyle’s parent, Popsugar, and CJ Affiliate by Conversant, the effect bloggers had on consumer behaviour online was studied, with the subjects being 2,500 Popsugar and ShopStyle visitors during the fourth quarter. It was found that three out of four people in the study “visit blogs at least once a week for inspiration” and seven out of ten said that blogs are “an essential part of their shopping experience.” Additionally, three-quarters of the sample said that they used blogs to seek out new items, while 85% reported that they “consult or read product reviews before buying an item.” Lastly, more than nine out of ten claimed that “[blogs] introduced them to products they wouldn’t have found on their own” (Strugatz, 2015).
How bloggers profit from content posted on their actual websites is one thing; there is also the strategic use of their social media platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, the latest fad among fashion bloggers, Snapchat—to consider when taking into account how these women generate revenue.
Many bloggers use Instagram in collaboration with partners; this frequently involves a company paying a certain amount to bloggers in exchange for a post or few featuring the company’s merchandise (and, of course, praising it). In an article on the Harper’s Bazaar website, blogger Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What revealed how this strategy is highly lucrative. Like many bloggers in her league, she has a “rate card” that “sets her range for the cost of a single piece of sponsored content (i.e. one Instagram shot) from $5,000 to $15,000. This rate can go up or down, depending on the terms of the deal, such as if a brand wants a long-term commitment or multiple Instagram pictures.” Bernstein also noted that (at the time of the article’s publication), her Instagram following was at 992,000—she estimated that once it hit the 1 million mark within 10-15 days, she would be able to charge “a good amount more” for sponsored content. According to Thomas Rankin, co-founder and CEO of Dash Hudson—a program that allows users to make their Instagram posts shoppable—bloggers of upwards of 6 million followers can charge anything from $20,000 to $100,000 a shot (Schaefer, 2015).
The latest craze among bloggers seems to be Snapchat—an “app that allows users to take pictures and 10 second (or less) videos and [either] send them directly to people or add them to ‘your story’ so all your friends or people that follow you wil see it…[once] the viewer sees the snap it’s gone” (Sula, 2015). With 100 million+ users, the app is growing every day, and Sula notes that while Instagram once had people skeptical (“there’s no way it’s going to be bigger than Facebook!”), Snapchat could follow a similar trend and overtake the app. For bloggers, she says, it has the potential to be a stream to collaborate with brands and advertisers on, thanks to the fact that unlike other social media platforms, it is “100% engaging.” She points out that in order for users to view a Snapchat or Snap Story, they have to be actually holding down their finger on their phone; “[unlike] just scrolling down through a feed, they are actively looking at what’s going on.”
Additionally, top bloggers are now starting to roll out their own products as another source of income. Chiara Ferragni, the Italian blogger behind The Blonde Salad, developed her own shoe brand, The Chiara Ferragni Collection, in 2013. The collection, which currently retails from $217 to $400, is estimated to rake in 10 million euros/$11 million in 2016. It’s an incredible success story for the former law student, who started posting amateur outfit shots online in 2009 and now has an online fan base in the multi millions (Lundstrom Halbert, 2015).
Similarly, Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere, who started her blog in 2008, now has added her own products into the mix: two bestselling books (published in 2012 and 2015), and a clothing line, issed by fashion brand BB Dakota and carried exclusively by Nordstrom and ShopBop, which launched last year. While Schuman doesn’t quite have Ferragni’s multi-million fan base, she is currently followed by nearly 400,000 users on Instagram, receives 6 million page visitors a month, and has had collaborations with Juicy Couture, Coach, and Estée Lauder, in addition to a clothing line she designed in partnership with Club Monaco. When asked what the key to her success was, Schuman, who left her job in advertising in AOL towards the end of 2009 to work full-time on her blog, notes that “[at] an early point, I understood the metrics necessary to generate income. It took about a million page views a month for the advertising to start sustaining the blog.” She strategically went about aiming for this monthly goal, using the strategies mentioned above—SEO, building a loyal community of followers on her various social media platforms—and was lucky enough to be able to not only reach this goal but greatly surpass it.
So, while the bloggers who have managed to make it big—the Chiara Ferragnis and Emily Schumans—are able to rake in millions of dollars in revenue each year, is there still room for fledgling bloggers entering an oversaturated market to eventually make their mark in the blogosphere? While it can be said that today’s top bloggers “got in at the right time”—a factor that may have been key to their success—there is no reason to suggest that there is no room for new voices. Advertisers are constantly on the look out for fresh voices, and with the right strategic planning, employment of social media platforms, lots of hard work, and plenty of luck, there is no reason why someone starting a blog today should not have the same success as her/his predecessors (Boyd, 2015).
Adams, Erika (2014, August 26). Gossip, Money, Bloggers: A Hard Look at RewardStyle. Retrieved from http://www.racked.com/2014/8/26/7579283/amber-venz-rewardstyle-profile
Boyd, Sarah (2015, July 1). Blogger Emily Schuman Set to Release California Inspired Clothing Line. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/sboyd/2015/07/01/blogger-emily-schuman-set-to-release-california-inspired-clothing-line/#6f23883e7a9c
Hewitt, Marianna (2015, August 18). Ask a Blogger: Exactly How Do Fashion Bloggers Make Money? Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a11902/how-do-fashion-bloggers-make-money/
Jacob, Jennine (2013, April 17). Beginner SEO Tips For Fashion Bloggers. April 17, 2013. Retrieved from http://heartifb.com/2013/04/17/build-traffic-how-to-approach-seo-like-a-human/
Lundstrom Halbert, Mosha (2015, August 13). Chiara Ferragni: From Blonde Salad Blogger to Multimillion-Dollar Shoe Designer. Retrieved from http://footwearnews.com/2015/fashion/designers/chiara-ferragni-blonde-salad-shoes-photos-51789/
Phelan, Hayley (2013, August 20). How Personal Style Bloggers Are Raking In Millions. Retrieved from http://fashionista.com/2013/08/how-personal-style-bloggers-are-raking-in-millions#1
Schaefer, Kayleen (2015, May 20). How Bloggers Make Money on Instagram. Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/trends/a10949/how-bloggers-make-money-on-instagram/
Strugatz, Rachel (2015, June 10). ShopStyle Banks on Bloggers, Relaunches Influencer Network. Retrieved from http://wwd.com/media-news/digital/shopstyle-collective-bloggers-10145965/