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Either way, you'll be looking for strategies on how to monetize your website. This guide will go through some of the most popular methods and help you find out which will apply best to your situation.
The Basics/Monetization FAQ
Why would you monetize a site? “For the money” is the obvious answer. It's simple but overlooks the reasons why someone would want this kind of income stream.
Many view the monetized website as a method for escaping the rat race. They long for an opportunity to work from home, be their own boss, create their own schedule.
A website that brings in money could provide a crucial first step, or be the entirety of the solution if it is successful enough.
Others are serial entrepreneurs. To these individuals, there is little other reason for having a site than turning it into a successful business.
They might be acquiring a site that they will “flip” into a money-making venture. They may be building it from the ground up to bring in the cash.
Either way, they see business as the primary goal and the website as a tool for achieving that aim.
Can you monetize any website? The short answer is “yes.” It's important to remember that the site isn't what makes money. The website is a tool to promote your business model. Your business idea is what will attract people and earn your money.
Can you monetize websites without ads? It is possible, but it takes some dedication. There will be an even greater focus on creating loyal visitors, as they will become your primary supporters.
Some schools of thought even see ads as detrimental to a monetization mindset, especially if the focus of the site is blogging. More on that later.
Can you make money by selling sites? Yes. There's a whole website trade, complete with brokers, centered around this concept. If you have lots of ideas for businesses, this method may be ideal for you. We'll touch on how to use the website trade to generate income in this guide.
How does site traffic play a role? No matter how you want to monetize your site, you're going to need traffic. With no visitors to “convert,” your business model, whatever it is, will be stuck in the water.
We'll go into some specific strategies for generating traffic. Generally speaking, though, it involves engaging your audience and adding a personal touch to the site (along with a generous helping of self-promotion).
What about web content? Content is essential. You'll also need to make sure any content you have on the site is good enough to keep visitors coming back. Learning strategies for trimming the fat, keeping your ideas straightforward, and connecting with visitors is a must.
Part 1: Building Content & Generating Traffic
Your content will vary based on your specific business interests. No matter what the enterprise, though, no one will care if the meat of your site is boring.
There's no shortage of guides on creating great content. Some for blogs, some for video, others for podcasts and the like. In all of these mediums, the core component is caring about what you're doing.
Passion, you will find, is the top motivator for creating content that captivates. Without it, you will experience setbacks and quit. With it, you will falter, learn, then grow.
Make sure that your content is of a high standard of quality. Make sure that the subject matter is something that will interest viewers/readers/listeners. Make sure that visitors can easily digest and share the content, and hold yourself to a regular schedule for releasing it.
Once you've built a solid foundation, you will need to lead people to it. You will need to employ careful analysis, marketing, and networking.
For example, using word of mouth to extend your reach. People come to your site, see the great content, then tell their friends to visit as well. You speed this process along by giving out free content that is easy to share. A newsletter, free e-book, tip-of-the-day, etc.
You might try getting your site mentioned by other sites in your wheelhouse. Do some guest posts. Trade with another site for links. Establish an expert presence on newsgroups and forums so that people will want to check you out.
You'll also want to take advantage of the “tried-and-true” methods of traffic generation. These include:
Email Marketing — Reaching out to potential visitors directly through email. It isn't as fashionable as some other methods, but it works. A successful email campaign should be simple, engaging, and include a strong call-to-action.
Social Media Marketing — Email marketings sexier cousin. By building a following on popular social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you create an audience that you can then get to visit your main site. Social is highly valued because it allows users to share popular content quickly.
Search Engine Optimization — The proverbial “pink elephant.” A concept so all-encompassing that every website takes heed. This is the practice of tailoring your site and content so that it will produce a higher ranking in search engine results.
There's no one way to approach it, but finding what works for your site will go a long way in earning you traffic.
A word to the wise: No one strategy will secure you steady traffic. The takeaway here should be that you need a base of great content and a combination of strategies to get visitors to your site.
It may take some trial and error, but with perseverance, you can build a consistent user base that you can then use to aid your monetization efforts.
Part 2-A: How To Monetize A Website With Ads
Selling Ad Space Directly
One of the oldest methods for generating money. You have the site, you have the traffic, and you have all that free space to subtly insert ads from sponsors.
These could take the form of a sidebar banner, small pop-ins, or the occasional link at the bottom of the page. Pricing for each can vary.
The direct approach is time-consuming, but it allows you to cut out the middle man and maximize the amount of ad dollars you can earn.
You might charge a flat fee for a month of running an ad. It's direct, and you'll know what you're getting every month. You might be limiting your potential, however.
The alternative is a pay-per-visitor or pay-per-click model. Here, you get paid based on the number of people that come to the site and see/click the ads. You have the chance to strike big with lots of traffic but could get very little if your number of visitors starts to trail off.
These figures are often measured as something called “CPM,” the revenue generated from 1,000 impressions. It's difficult to calculate an across-the-board average, but for display ads, you should try to shoot for $2-3 for best results.
Next, you'll have to let advertisers know that you're looking to sell space. You'll need a media kit, a summary of your site designed to entice potential advertisers.
Within your kit, you'll need to present upfront information on your website's audience. This means the total number of visitors, their ages, and a gender breakdown.
You'll want to include detailed info, like their marital status, number of children, etc. If you have a niche site, then information showing that your audience fits the niche is also vital.
To obtain this information, you can use online tools like Quantcast, Alexa, or Similar Web. These tools analyze who is coming to your site and will provide basic details about who they are. The drawback is that you don't have much customization over the information you get.
For that, you'll have to ask your users to self-identify through surveys. You can put these on your site or email them directly to your visitors. You should try to keep the questions simple and make them fun so that visitors are more likely to respond.
The problem is that it can take a while to get a “statistically significant” number of respondents. There's also no way of knowing if respondents are answering your questions truthfully.
You may want to experiment with both methods to see which gets you the best data. When you've made a determination, the information you gain will be a large part of the pitch that you make to potential advertisers.
Now that you can prove that your site has the numbers to make it a worthwhile, you have to show off your real estate. These are the spots on your site that are prime for advertisements. They should be prominent and convey to advertisers that their product or service will get noticed.
When the media kit is complete, you'll then need to identify potential sponsors, find the appropriate contact, and send your package off with a solid proposal explaining why they should pay attention to you.
If you don't already have direct relationships with companies, this could be a tricky step. You can get a leg up by checking out who is advertising with your competitors. You can also make use of resources like LinkedIn and SellerCrowd to find out who to contact.
Once you've tracked down your targets, be direct, be upfront, and back up your claims with the data you gained while doing research on your site.
Selling Ads With Google AdSense
This method allows brands to make use of Google to display ads on “publisher sites” like yours. You get a code from Google, then place it on your site in the location you want ads to go.
Google handles the rest. They find relevant ads. They run an auction so that the highest paying ones get to your site. They'll even take care of the “money stuff” behind the scenes. You get paid whenever someone clicks on an ad.
It's a straightforward procedure, but you have to give Google a piece of the action. If you're willing to take that trade, though, you stand to make hundreds or even thousands of extra dollars a month with a large enough audience.
Just make sure you review the Terms Of Service carefully. They're sticklers about what they allow, so you'll have to stay on your best behavior to remain in their good graces.
Affiliate Marketing, Paid Posts, And Native Advertising
If neither of those options grabs you, you can try affiliate marketing, paid posts, or native advertising to generate cash flow.
When you become an affiliate, you find products and services that you enjoy. You promote these products/services on your website or blog, slipping an “affiliate link” into posts where you talk about them. When visitors click the affiliate link and make a purchase, you get a kickback.
Paid posts and “native advertising” usually take the form of “sponsored content” that an advertiser has paid you to feature on your site. Often, these will be akin advertorials plugging their products or services.
Done properly, this method can supplement your normal content with a little “extra” that falls in line with what you're already doing. For example, a positive review of a product that you already that was worth getting.
Done poorly, native ads can come across as cheap, insulting, and tarnish the reputation that you worked hard to obtain. This could range from content written in whole by the advertiser that you allow on the site unchallenged, to blatant “shill posts” promoting something that is widely panned by your audience.
By law, you'll have to disclose which posts are bought-and-paid-for. If you're upfront with your audience, they may see it as a way to enhance the site (rather than you selling out for cash).
If you're looking to get started with the native ad method, you can try the direct route. This would involve reaching out to your contacts at advertisers you already know.
Part 2-B: How To Monetize A Website Without Ads
You might find the concept of making money through ads distasteful or counterproductive. You aren't alone in that respect. There are several drawbacks to ads that detractors readily point out.
- Searching for advertisers eats up time
- Ads don't always pay that much
- The income stream is unreliable
- Sometimes advertisers will refuse to pay you
- Ads can be creepy and intrusive
- They also slow down site performance
- You'll have to forfeit some control to please your sponsors
To make money from your site without giving in to “the man” you have to build value and an audience. Once you've established your value, you have several methods of turning that into cash.
Start Selling Something
We touched on this earlier. You might have a product or merchandise of your own that you can market. A book, T-shirts, or something else physical in nature.
You might be offering a skill or consulting services. You could use your site to build yourself up as an authority on a topic. Then you charge for people to hire you for your expertise. You could even start doing classes and charge others to learn your unique talents.
As an expert, you can parlay a massive online following into an offline one. Set up a speaking tour, seminars, or day-long lectures. If your followers like what you do, they're likely to attend.
If you're an entertainer, the website becomes a similar means for getting people interested in your art. Then you direct them to your live shows, where you earn money from people that want to see you perform.
Somewhat related to the earlier concept of “selling something” is the paywall. In this case, you'll be selling your content rather than a physical product.
You can block off segments of your site to “members” who pay a fee to access it. You could deliver individual portions of content as “drip” with each content block costing a small fee. You might even try a subscription service so that users pay a monthly fee to access your content.
Portions of your site can remain free to all, to entice new visitors. The “premium content,” however, is only available to your “premium membership.” If your content is that compelling, you can gain a fair number of members who will gladly pay.
There are several approaches to setting this up. Quicksprout has an awesome guide that lays it all out in plain terms. The short of it, though, is making sure that you are providing value to your visitors, and they feel that the value is enhanced by paying extra.
Value For Value
The third option involves creating incredible content, then leaving it all free to access.
Politely ask your audience to donate to the cause, reminding them that their patronage will allow you to continue bringing them what they love about your site.
You provide value in the form of your content. The audience reciprocates, offering value in the form of monetary compensation.
You won't get everybody to donate. You might not even get half of your audience to donate. If you have a good amount of traffic and strong content, though, you'll receive enough support from contributing visitors to finance your operations quite nicely.
You could set up a donation button on your page to allow users to contribute directly through options like PayPal. You might even try setting up a page on a service like Patreon. It allows audiences to browse content creators and finance the ones they like best.
Part 3: How To Monetize Your Site By Selling It
There are also tons of resources for selling a site. In particular, website brokers who can get your site in front of interested buyers and handle all the tedious paperwork.
To sell a site right, though, you can't simply slap WordPress onto an existing domain, bill it as “having potential,” and then call it a day. You have to turn it into a worthwhile investment.
This means going back to the two fundamentals that we've harped on this entire guide. Create good content, then build up your site traffic.
Those two building blocks are the foundation from which all website monetization strategies grow. If you remember nothing else, remember this: get your site in order first. The money will follow shortly after.
Once your site has great content and lots of visitors, it doesn't matter whether you want to sell ads, sell T-shirts, or sell the content itself. You'll be able to do it because you have the audience in place to support your efforts.
You may also do well by employing more than one monetization strategy at a time. Different audiences will react to different approaches.
A thorough analysis of your audience (along with some trial-and-error) will reveal what methods will work best for turning your web presence into a steady source of extra income.