How I earn $20,000/month WITHOUT an email list

How my blog allowed me turn my life around from major debt to $20,000 a month (without using email).

For those of you that don’t know me, I’ve been on a long journey these last 2.5 years. Due to some bad luck, in December 2016, I found myself $68,000 in debt without a means of income (due to a non-compete agreement) while living in a very high cost of living area (I needed $10,000/month just to pay basic expenses). My only asset was my home decor blog at  

It was fairly traumatic and I almost lost everything including my condo that I had owned for 10 years. I basically had to start my life over again.  

I was determined not to beg for money from my parents. They knew I had problems, but they did not know how bad it was. They gave $2,000 to me so that I could make sure I didn’t go into the minus figures on my bank account while I figured things out.  

In addition to the immediate $68,000 debt I had, I also had another huge long term loan ($170,000) and that loan comes due September 2022. You know…kind of a ticking time bomb.  

This is the story of how I turned my life around. And, it is all due to my blog (oh, and working my butt off like a crazy person).

*This post contains affiliate links.  

make money without an email list

Am I against email?

First, before I get started, let me say for the record that I’m not opposed to email. In fact, I just started doing email a couple of months ago (and so far, it’s gone really well). Rather, what I’m saying is that you can make it to $10,000/month or even $20,000 a month without an email list. There are multiple way to make money from your blog.  

You see, I didn’t have the luxury of using email (due to a non-compete agreement). So, I had to figure out other ways to grow and earn more income. What I’ve learned is that there are other methods that can have a more immediate impact to your traffic and income than email…during the starting phases.  

It’s kind of like if you don’t have all your senses, you compensate with the others. And, for my home decor blog, which is more of a Q&A site, email seemed like a lot of work for a low return. I just couldn’t see how I could even monetize with email…or make enough money to make to make it worth my time. So I put it off for months, even after I was allowed to do it.  

Instead, I just concentrated on 2 methods for driving traffic and engagement: 1) SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and 2) Pinterest. I believe that focus helps. When you do too many things, you lose focus and become a Jack-of-all-Trades and Master-of-None.  

It was just SEO and Pinterest for me…and I do very well in both with well over 500,000 pageviews/month (this month I am getting closer to 600,000 pageviews.) I ditched Facebook, Twitter and StumbledUpon (when it existed). I never bothered with Instagram or anything else. Focus, focus, focus.  

From Major Debt to $20,000/month

So, I already had a blog ( and it was mainly about flooring (hardwood, carpet, tile). It was for my former business, and I had learned how to do SEO when I started blogging in 2010. Back then, Pinterest wasn’t even around publicly.  

Because I knew SEO and learned how to get found on the search engines, my blog was “doing well,” with over 120,000 pageviews/month (even though I had only been doing 1 blog post per month). Of course I wasn’t monetizing (nor did I know back then it was even a possibility).

My blog was designed to drive local flooring customers to my business. And, it worked VERY WELL. Of course, I no longer had a business and I had a non-compete, so it didn’t do me much good.  

So, I had to learn how to monetize and grow…and fast…or I wouldn’t survive. Of course, I had almost no money to invest in courses or ebooks, unless I wanted to give up one of my habits…like eating. So, I had to learn most on my own. I invested in an affiliate marketing course and Tailwind and that was it. Almost everything else was self taught, gifts from friends or bartered (because I had 1 skill – SEO).  

The first month, I turned on ads and earned $1,100 for the month. Yay. Then, the next month, I earned $1,500. Yay! Then I flatlined!!! Boo!!  

I knew this blogging thing would take a while and if I didn’t find extra work, I’d be a goner and lose everything.  

So what did I do? I took on 2 part-time jobs and worked like crazy. I did painting estimates for a friend who owned a painting business (later, I was able to turn my learning into blog posts about painting and I did in home design consultations). My 2nd job was freelancing. For freelancing, I did blogging and SEO for some local businesses (a year later I began coaching bloggers on SEO. I coached 100+ bloggers over the phone).  

Then, when I finished these jobs, I worked on my own blog. It was exhausting, but I had no choice. I was constantly stressed about money (which only pushed me harder). I spent no money except for food and necessities. As things in my apartment broke (like my toaster, vacuum, AC, dishwasher and so many other things that I’ve blocked from my mind, they stayed that way). I could barely pay for coffee or gas to go to networking meetings. It was pretty sad.  

I first focused on SEO, Pinterest and Affiliate Marketing

SEO has been the real key to my success, coupled with affiliate marketing. SEO traffic is much more valuable than Pinterest traffic as:

1) customers are in buying mode and actively seeking solutions…so therefore more likely to buy

2) it is longer lasting

3) it’s more passive

4) leads to more email subscribers

5) leads to more ad revenue. So, it’s a win-win-win-win-win!  

In fact, I did some calculations and found that for my blog, every pageview from SEO is worth more than 3x each pageview from Pinterest!  

Once I was better at affiliate marketing, and could couple this with SEO, the magic began. For me, Amazon is my largest affiliate marketing partner, and you can learn more about how I earn over $7000/month from Amazon here. Note: I have been able to replicate this same process with many other affiliate partners. I have been earning around $12,000 a month on affiliate marketing with the majority in the home decor niche.  

Now, I love Pinterest, too and I get over 200,000 pageviews per month from Pinterest. (So about 60% of my traffic is SEO and probably 38% from Pinterest and a bit from other places). So that really helps with my ad revenue (I make over $7,000/month from ads).  

But, more importantly, I have found that Pinterest jump starts the SEO on my blog posts, especially when I get a viral pin that leads to a well optimized blog post. In fact, it cuts down the time it takes for my new articles to reach Page 1 by 2 to 4 months. (Yes, I’m able to get many articles to Page 1 in 1-3 months due to combo of Pinterest and strong SEO. You can check out my 2 SEO ebooks here.

By month 18, I was able to earn $10,000 net profit for the month. At this point, I started to taper down on the freelancing work and spend more time on my blog.  

Later, I developed my own products on SEO

After coaching 100+ bloggers on how to do SEO, so many were thrilled, and they suggested that I write an ebook about SEO. So I did! Then, that was so successful that I wrote a second one. You can find these 2 SEO book here.

Now, remember, my blog is about Home Decor. It is not about SEO nor blogging. And, remember, I didn’t have an email list. So what did I do? I created an affiliate program for my SEO ebooks.  

And, this worked VERY well.  

While the affiliate program means I earn less per book sold, I have many many more books sold than I would have on my own. Things vary month to month, but after I exclude affiliate earning and paypal fees, I have averaged around $4,000 net profit each month from those 2 SEO ebooks.  

Meanwhile, my pageviews and affiliate income and ad revenue continued to grow as I wrote more focused home decor blog posts.  

When I factor out all of my costs, I have now been earning $20,000+ net profit for the last 5 months. This has enabled me to pay off my immediate $68,000 in debt, pay my income taxes (phew!) and bring my long-term debt down from $170,000 to $147,000. And, I’m on track to get that remaining $147,000 paid down 1 month before the balloon payment would be due.  

So that’s my story. It’s been a journey, but I am in the home stretch now. And in May, I finally started my own email list where I share SEO and blogging tips. If you’d like to get started with it, you can do that by signing up for my FREE SEO course.  

Debbie Gartner is now a full time blogger at and She gets over 500,000 pageviews a month and is the author of 2 successful ebooks – Easy On-Page SEO and Easy Backlinks for SEO.

How I make $20,000/month on my blog WITHOUT an email list

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  • Elizabeth – Thanks so much. That means so much to me.

    Elyse – So glad to hear this. Yes, it’s been a long journey.

    Carla – yes, it has been very hard at times, as you know. Thank you so much.

    • Hi Debbie,

      I have been following your work for about 10 years, I think, on Active Rain. You were the first to understand and explain how valuable an “epic” post can be.
      Among other things !
      Your SEO expertise is amazing.
      Glad to hear that your hard work has brought you success.

  • Debbie you are an inspiration. There is so much to learn from you and I have been blogging for 12 years. I am keeping this post .

    You should teach this . You would surpass $20000 in a heartbeat/

  • Your journey is so inspiring. I learned so much from you about SEO when we did our coaching call almost a year ago. I refer back to my notes every time I write or update a post. It’s great to have all your tips in an ebook now too!

  • Debbie I am so happy for you.
    I know you went through I really rough time.
    You are such a smart women I knew you would do well again.

  • Denise – So glad it’s helpful, and thank you so much for sharing.

    Katie – OMG that is sooooo awesome. You have been doing so well and I’m so glad to hear this. I really do believe having a niche and really knowing your target is a huge asset.

    Emmy – Thank you so much. It sounds like you have your hands full, too. Yes, there are many ways to do things. Oh and I do not use FB for my main blog at all anymore. (or almost never). The 2 ways I’ve found FB to work are 1) in groups…if that is appropriate (so as an example I have a local July 4th post and I post that that in local FB groups and that works. And, for my SEO books, those do well in blogger FB groups or 2) paying for ads. I’m going to try the latter to see if I can scale up my SEO email list…something I never would have done a year or two ago, but now, I have some testing money set aside. But, for me, SEO and Pinterest have been my bread and butter.

  • You’re an inspiration, Debbie! Glad I had a chance to read this post! As one of the people you coached on SEO I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for sharing your knowledge of blogging.

  • Hi Debbie
    This is super encouraging to me as someone who also has health issues and a tricky financial situation (tho mine is due to having a child with autism and the lack of ability to do an “ordinary” job).

    Thank you for your honesty and openness as well as showing that there a number of ways to make this work, and work well! Everybody says you must have a list and you must use Facebook and you must this and that and the other… and it’s good to see that maybe it can be done without some things. I hate Facebook since it sucks the life out of me not least seeing other families with their kids developing at “normal” rates. I want to avoid it!

    And focus is such a good point. I focus to get everyday life done when I can. Washing machines and other household appliances can be too noisy for my child… so I can certainly focus for my blog too.

    Thanks again!

  • Laura – Thank you so much. Yes, it certainly does take much longer than most people think.

    Bri – Thanks so much on both counts. I really appreciate it.

    Sarah – Oh good, I’m so glad to hear that.

  • Congrats Debbie! I’ve loved following your story and have learned a bunch of new SEO tips from your ebooks. I’m sure you’ll finish paying off the long term debt faster than you expect!

  • It’s always interesting to hear your story Debbie 🙂 I’m so glad you made it through that tough time. Your SEO books are sooo helpful! I tell everyone about them!

  • I love that your story really shows that hard work can pay off with consistency and tenacity. So often we see instant success stories and it’s easy to get frustrated when our blogs don’t just “take-off” like theirs. But you show that it’s possible to work your way up and succeed. Thank you for sharing!

  • So happy for you and so proud of you! What a difficult and overwhelming journey. Congratulations on your abilities, determination, and perseverance. Love you!!