One of the questions that I get asked just about every day is ‘How do I make money from my website?‘ and it’s the sort of question I could spend about a week trying to answer. Just like some of my other favorites like ‘how do I get to the top of Google?’ or ‘how do I use social media to market my business’. So sticking with ‘the make money from website’ question for now, this post attempts to explore this subject in some detail.
Obviously the route for commercialization of a site depends on a hundred different things from what you are actually doing online, the market you’re in, what you are selling (if anything), who your customer or audience is and so on. However brushing over all that trivial stuff for now 🙂 this post sets out to generally explore some of the ways you can make money from your content online. Please note this is not about straight ecommerce (plenty of that elsewhere on this site) but instead an exploration of how you can make money online without directly selling anything (or website monetization as it’s often called).
So by online content I could be referring to blogs to forums, information websites, video sites and so on but for the purposes of this post I will simply refer to it as a ‘website’. The information below should hopefully be relevant if you are trying to assess the value in your website or help you determine the best way to generate income if you are planning on developing an informational site, blog or forum.
Let’s discuss the principles of what gives any web property commercial value
1) Your Market – Subject Matter, Audience Demographic & motivation of your visitors
Some markets are more valuable than others & some audiences are more valuable than others. Consider the motivation of your online visitors. If someone is browsing the web looking for celebrity gossip and you have a celebrity news blog then chances are this visitor is not particularly valuable as they are just passing time, surfing the web, looking for gossip etc. However if someone is looking for answers to problem like ‘how to lose weight quickly’ or ‘ how to use Google Adwords’ then this visitor is far more commercial and answering their questions with your content also gives you an opportunity to place a relevant advert, an affiliate product sale and so on. These commercial placements are far more likely to convert to a click-through or sale because they are relevant to your content and relevant to the motivation of the visitor. There is a reason why health & beauty are such competitive spaces on the internet. Solving people’s problems can have real commercial value even if you are not directly selling any products.
2) Size & site Authority
The tactic of building focused mini sites (or micro sites) was popular a few years ago when search engines often favored these targeted focused little sites. This is no longer the case with Google now absolutely favoring large sites with lots of quality content, regular updates, lots of user interaction etc. These sites will have better search engine rankings, more traffic and in addition these authority sites have an incredible ability to rank very quickly for any new content that is published on them. A breaking story on CNN will rank on Google within the space of minutes because that site carries such authority with Google that it is constantly trawling the site and re-indexing content.
So commercially speaking more traffic means more commercial value but more targeted traffic means more value still. Greater user engagement also contributes to site value as this suggests visitors are there for a reason and not just finding the site by mistake (advertisers pay more to get their message in front of engaged visitors because it proves they are genuinely interested in a specific subject/market). The ability for new content to rank quickly on search engines is also very commercially valuable (consider being able to rank for the next Apple product on Google on its launch day), this type of power can be used for many commercial benefits.
One of the keys to becoming an authority site is to deliver great quality content that is engaging, presented in the right way, has the ability to generate interest and discussion and provides a vehicle to capture this (e.g blog comments, Facebook integration, forums etc.)
3) Relationships, list & interactions
Site visitors are one thing but the ability to strike up a relationship and communication channel with your site visitors can give you long term commercial value (relationship return on Investment). Building an email list of subscribers for example is a great way to continue to deliver more targeted content to a number of people. Continuing to find out more about your subscribers via surveys and list segmentation etc. will allow you to target segments of your mailing list with tailored content and incorporate some very relevant commercial ads, links etc. within your communications which should convert well if you get this right.
Social media has introduced the opportunity to take this communication and interaction a stage further with Twitter and Facebook creating more dynamic and interactive ways to deliver your content, and actually begin to interact with your subscribers/followers/fans etc.
How to Build Commercial value Online
So if these all things make a site commercial then to increase the commercial value of your site you should be thinking about identifying who your target audience is and making sure you reach this target audience through the web. This comes back to creating the right sort of quality content on your site, providing expert commentary on other things going in your subject area, employing good SEO tactics to give your content the best chance of ranking on Google (for what you know your audience is searching for) and starting to engage in off-site discussions in your subject area. In other words become an authority on your subject by taking about it a lot on your own site and on other relevant sites, forums, blogs and so on (and always linking back to your site from these places).
Continuing to build and grow your site & encouraging user interaction (e.g. blog comments) and interaction with your social media presences (Facebook, Twitter etc.) can all contribute to your online growth & commercial value of your site.
How to find and access your market – content, keywords, seo, linking building referrals
See our video guide section on Digital Marketing Strategy Development to find out more about how to research your market online & target this market through best practice seo etc.
I get all this so What Next?
So assuming you have a site, a strategy and are working on all of the elements above. How do you actually plug in in the stuff that makes the money? What are the options for website monetization?
Some different ways to monetize your website
Sell Ad space on your site
You can look for companies who are willing to spend money to advertise on your site through banner ads, video ads etc. This approach can often get you better rates than the more automated routes of onsite advertising (discussed below) however it takes time, effort, management and a bit of a sales pitch.
To sell ad space you need to find advertisers who may be interested in the sort of traffic/audience your site is attracting. A few tips you can use to find these potential advertisers are as follows
- Use Google: Simply search Google for some of the words, & phrases associated with your website content/ subject area and start to look at the Google ads (ads on right hand side of the Google search results). These companies are already paying Google for adverts on a pay per click basis so they recognize the value of online advertising. These companies may be worth targeting with a sales call or email offering them an opportunity to advertise through your website.
- Another method is to use sites such as www.semrush.com and run a report on your site. It will give you back all sorts of information including a list of advertisers relevant to your site who may be prepared to buy advertising from you. www.alexa.com also has a mechanism to check for sites related to yours that you could target with your sales pitch.
You will want to create a compelling overview of the key metrics of your site in order to give potential advertisers more information on which to base a decision on. This is typically known as a rate card and it would include information such as monthly site visitors, unique site visitors, monthly page impressions and demographic information about your site visitors (you can use sites such as www.quantcast.com to get some of this data)
Monetize your site with Ad Networks
This is a massive topic I am not going to cover in any detail here. There are different tiers of ad networks but getting accepted to the more exclusive, higher paying networks requires your site to be of a certain size and authority. For this reason it’s often easier to start with some of the larger ad networks like Adbrite or Adsense.
One of the most popular ad networks is the Google ad network – Google Adsense. You can sign up as a publisher through https://www.google.com/adsense and effectively set up ad blocks within your website. By simply embedding these ad blocks within your site you can let Google do the hard work for you. Its algorithm establishes an understanding of your content and it dynamically populates these ad blocks with relevant ads from its advertisers (companies advertising through Google Adwords content network). Every time someone clicks through on these ads, Google earns revenue and shares this revenue with you.
Monetize your site with Affiliate marketing
What is Affiliate marketing? It’s basically a mechanism that allows web publishers to place links to merchants’ websites/products and get rewarded when their visitors click through these links and buy a product on the merchant’s site. Many merchants run their own affiliate program, possibly the best example of this being the massively flexible and sophisticated Amazon Affiliate Program . However the easiest way to find and manage affiliate marketing is typically to go through an Affiliate Network which is acts like a “middle man” making the links between publishers and merchants and providing a management system which handles, reporting, tracking, payments etc.
There are also new smart tools/Networks which can be used for website Monetization through Affiliate Marketing. The www.skimlinks.com network has the capability to trawl the content of your site and automatically convert relevant links to affiliate links with merchants it is associated with (and there are thousands). This can be a very smart route to quickly commercialize your content without having to find individual affiliate offers, joining different networks, placing links and so on.
CPA stand for Cost Per Action. So while an action in theory could be the sale of a product (just like affiliate marketing) CPA offers are usually about lead generation. So the ‘action’ would be something like signing up for a free trial or entering a competition. I have heard it referred to as ‘Affiliate marketing on steroids’ which isn’t a bad description. CPA offers change regularly as merchants promote new offers & deals so if you are a web publisher wishing to market CPA programmes you typically need lots of traffic, huge mailing lists or be exceptionally good at buying targeted traffic and converting the traffic to offer sign ups. It’s not for the faint hearted and very much a specialized form of online monetization.
There are lots of CPA networks around. The easiest way to get an overview of all the top networks and find CPA networks & offers relevant to your subject matter is to use the site http://www.offervault.com which allows you to search for CPA offers across multiple networks then apply directly to specific programmes.