Many entrepreneurs and content marketers make a fatal mistake when it comes to how to monetize a website. They see dollar signs too soon and assume too much about how easy it’ll be.
That’s no way to build a self-sustaining business. And that’s really how you should be looking at your website if site monetization is the end-goal.
In the following article, we’ll be discussing the actual revenue-generators you need to be focusing on. We’ll also establish some “rules of the road” before getting started. But first things first, let’s ask an important question:
Sure, making money from a website sounds great. And it is when done right. But before moving in that direction, you’ll need to establish the reasons you’re doing it.
You’ll also need to consider what the potential loss could be to your reputation and motivation. See, customers aren’t crazy about salespeople.
They don’t mind spending, but they don’t want a transactional relationship with the seller. They want value.
If your sales desire is strong but your content is weak, that’s not good. They’ll assume you look at them and only see an open wallet.
So with that said, let’s establish the basics of where you need to be before going too far down the money-making rabbit hole. Let’s continue with:
Don’t start your website by making money as the focus. Instead, focus on creating value.
The difference is clear. The former serves your needs. The latter serves that of your audience.
If you’ve already done this, or are in the process of doing it, then a few things will be established. They are:
You’re not randomly musing about this-and-that. You cover a specific niche, industry, pastime, or hobby.
This means really good content, the kind you can’t get anywhere else. For this to exist, it’ll need a unique viewpoint, perspective, and substance.
We wouldn’t suggest giving one thought to monetization until you’ve got a true following. This will consist of people who are true fans and make your website a frequent destination in their web surfing.
Your true fans are more than site visitors. They’re leads. And you should be working hard to maximize that relationship.
If you’re having trouble establishing an engaged audience, that’s okay. You can always learn as you go. And you can start by bookmarking these 10 creative lead generation ideas for future reference.
With each of the three bullet points established, it’s time to think about money. So without further ado, here are the:
When it comes to how to make money from your website, there are two basic camps. Sales and advertising.
But how you go about setting those two things up can follow very different routes. Let’s look at each one.
There are two types of direct advertising you can do to monetize a website. Each one has its pros and cons. Here’s the rundown.
In our opinion, this is the most lucrative form of revenue generation from online ad sales. That’s because you can set your own rates instead of waiting for ad networks to pay you a share.
For example, let’s say you run a local news website. You may only bring in a thousand-or-so dedicated reader per month. But if they’re the right readers, then you can charge advertising rates more in line with a print newspaper or magazine.
When your numbers aren’t necessarily that impressive, the value of your work can still be established and sold at a premium. The only downside is that it usually will limit your pool of advertisers to a geographic location.
Google’s AdSense is the most easily-recognized advertising network. But, it isn’t the only one.
You also can sign up with a variety of advertising networks that operate on the same basic premise. They seek out advertisers for you and deliver the revenue-generating ads for your site without you doing any of the work.
The downside — and it’s a big one — is that you have to share a cut with the advertiser. Also, it takes a lot of traffic to generate the same impact that one natively-sold ad can muster on less traffic.
Ad networks are great, though, because they’re hands-off and less relationship-y than direct ad sales. Just don’t expect them to take care of all your monetization needs.
Another way to monetize website traffic is to serve as an affiliate for other products and services. Essentially, you generate an affiliate link embedded into the copy or images on your site. When a customer “clicks through” and takes a conversion action — usually a purchase — you get a cut of the sale.
Affiliates are great for building relationships and revenue with companies and individuals whose products and services you believe in. The downside: if you’re blinded by dollar signs in this billion-dollar global industry, you could end up staking your reputation and credibility on some pretty lousy products and services.
So the lesson is clear. Only endorse people, products, and services that have convinced you of their worth.
As with affiliates, you don’t want to go too overboard in this regard. Even if you can make a lot of money while getting free content for your site, you have a reputation to protect. When in doubt, always protect that over grabbing at the easy money.
When done well, sponsored posts can be effective. Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast is a great example.
The ads deal with a specific topic related to the advertiser’s business. They’re virtually indistinguishable from quality journalism and seamlessly integrate to the format of Hoffman’s show.
If you do have a sponsor interested, make sure you’re maintaining editorial control. Yes, they’re paying you. But for however long they have your audience, they are reflective of your brand and reputation, and that’s worth more than any amount of money they can toss your way.
If you don’t feel comfortable advertising, that’s understandable. It can create a layer of expectation between you and the advertiser that may not always be in the best interests of your audience.
However, that doesn’t mean your monetization options are dead. In fact, with the right product, you can make a lot more money per sale and have complete ownership of your brand and reputation.
Product sales take two forms: physical and digital. The right physical product is great because it can help your client cook better, clean better, get more out of their workout, etc. The drawback is that it requires financial overhead.
(Of course, there are ways around the headaches. See: drop-shipping.)
Digital products, on the other hand, require nothing more than time and mental energy. While those are worth something, you don’t have to continually replenish inventory and once the product’s done, it’s done!
You’ll want to come back to it for updates every now and then, just to make sure the information is still relevant. But for the most part, you create it and it does the selling for you without ever asking for another dime of investment.
Putting content behind a paywall is a model many newspapers and magazines have tried out to varying degrees of success. If you go this route, you won’t want to go all-in.
Keep a free version of good content to whet the audience’s appetite. If you’re giving them good stuff for free, they’ll be curious about how great the content is lying behind the paywall.
It’s definitely a model to consider if you frequently create content from a unique perspective. This is especially true for research-intensive content that adds value within your industry.
This may not be your first bet. But it can be a good one once you’ve established great content and a loyal audience.
In some ways, it can be a better option. It staves off detractors, who otherwise might bash you charging money for something that they perceive has no value. On the other hand, for the people who do get value out of what you’re doing, it creates a sort of guilt incentive.
(“This is so great, and he’s not even asking me for anything. I want to support that so he’ll keep doing it!”)
Thankfully, there are sites like Patreon that make it easier to solicit and process donations. Also, this isn’t mutually exclusive. It can be used in combination with any of the above monetization methods.
If you have a following and great content, then your site is valuable.
That’s good news if you need an exit strategy. Consider “flipping” the website once you’ve built it to a certain point, and reap the returns.
Before you go, we feel it necessary to say this. Manage your expectations.
It takes time to build something others find valuable. And just because you get a “no” today — from customers or advertisers — that doesn’t mean your “yes” is far from coming.
For more on how to monetize a website, stay tuned to our blog. And if you’re ready for a dependable hosting provider who’ll give your site every chance at success, contact us today.