The ways I have made Sites Pay for Themselves
Some things I've done to allow sites to pay for themselves
If you read my previous post on working out how much you currently spend on your website, I can imagine one of two things running through your head;
The first is that the number is way higher than you imagined it would be. Don’t be disheartened, there are a lot of people on the internet and a lot of different ways you can get them to part with a little bit of cash. The potential of the internet is almost limitless for making money, your monthly spend is well within its remit.
The second is that the number is way smaller than you imagined it would be. If this is the case you might be tempted to set your goal amount for double or triple what it currently is. Please don’t do that for now. The massive benefit of this number you have calculated is that it means something. I have found arbitrary goals are very hard to stick to in the past.
Whatever you are thinking, for now lets focus on the number you have in front of you and let me discuss things that I have done in the past to help me reach my number.
The most well known way people make money on their website is through ads, I wish this wasn’t the case because nobody likes looking at them but the fact is they are an excellent way to make money.
Ads are normally very easy to incorporate into your website, you sign up with the company you want to use to host your ads and you insert their code wherever you want the ad to appear.
Avoid Generic Ads
I have found that generic ads almost never work unless you are getting 10,000 unique folk hitting your site a day minimum, the reason for this is nobody clicks on generic ads so you are only really making money because people have viewed the ad.
The other issue with generic ads is that it is almost always a race to the bottom in terms of content, which means you are more likely to get the overly sexist ‘racy’ ads or the laughably insane ‘one weird trick to lose weight fast’.
Honestly, just avoid them.
Research Your Niche
Find similar websites to yours, they might be competitors or friends, it doesn’t matter, what matters is working out what ads they are using. Find out if they are using one company to host all their ads and research that company to see if they cater for the type of niche that suits your website perfectly.
The more niche you get the better in terms of targeted ads but there is of course a certain level when the topic becomes too niche for there to be an ad agency covering it. My experience has always been that you should drill down as much as possible but settle at the least generic level that an ad agency can cover.
Dealing with Advertisers is a Pain
Why do I say that you should use an ad agency? Because dealing with advertisers is a pain! Don’t get me wrong you are normally dealing with lovely people but finding people to advertise manually doesn’t scale particularly well, I would tend to avoid it for most sites.
My Experience with Google Adsense
I do not recommend using Google Adsense.
Google Adsense is very good at matching up adverts with content on your site, there is no doubt about it, but no matter how good they get at doing that I will not be recommending them to anyone or using them myself for the simple reason that many years ago they effectively stole money from me and to this day refuse to say why.
Without going on a massive tangent, Google is well known for its automated customer support, which most of the time works probably works perfectly well but not all of the time. One day about 8 years ago they blocked me from accessing my Google Ads account and stopped me from withdrawing my money from it. They did not tell me why and as far as I could see I had broken no rules. For this reason I am going to say avoid!
Examples of Good Ad Networks
I currently use the following Ad Networks;
- http://fusionads.net - Really great and relevant ads for tech related websites.
- https://buysellads.com - Good general ad network for when you can't find something niche.
Setting up Ad Networks
Here is the standard process for getting set up with an Ad Network.
After researching your niche and finding what you think is the best network for your site you will normally have a form to fill in that will be basic personal information and some basic information about the main site you want to advertise.
If you have several sites that you are considering using, always lead with the site that is currently generating the most money for you or at least has the most amount of traffic. It is way easier to get other sites approved once you are in the network and if you list several sites with small amounts of traffic they may not let you in.
Affiliate Programs are were you recommend a product or a service via a unique affiliate link and if someone buys that product or service via your link you get a cut of their money.
I love making money this way for a variety of reasons;
Affiliate Programs are Easy to Set Up
They are incredibly easy to setup, normally you just sign up as an affiliate at your selected service and you are good to start making money.
Affiliate Programs are Everywhere
Lots of companies have affiliate programs. I particularly love Amazon’s one where you can promote pretty much anything on their site. There are very few niches I have ever come across that don’t have at least the major sellers in that niche using some sort of affiliate program.
You have Complete Control over what You Promote
You have complete control over the product you are selling and how you decide to market it, I tend to do a couple of different things;
If I personally love a service or product I might write a review about it and use the affiliate code in any outbound links to them.
If the product is something that a lot of people in my niche might be interested in I will maybe include it as a generic advert somewhere on my site.
Examples of Good Affiliate Programs
This is a hard one for me to give good examples for because generally you want to advertise things well within your niche, which is obviously very specific to you. I could list of all the football betting sites I use but I am sure that won’t help 99% of you good people reading this!
One general affiliate program I can highly recommend is Amazon, we all know it and most of us use it, you can promote almost all of their products for a cut of anything sold.
Setting up an Affiliate Program
The process is very similar to what I wrote for signing up to an ad platform, essentially you fill in a form stating some basic information about yourself and your site and you will get approved or denied.
The major difference is that once approved you generally have a selection of items to promote and ways to promote them. Amazon for example will give you the option of promoting certain items or groups of items or even promote some of the other services they offer.
Once you have picked all of that you will be given a link or a bit of code that you can use to drive traffic to the site and you earn commission on anything sold. Pay attention to the rules of the affiliate program, for example some places do not let you use their code in email shots out to people.
Normally your website needs to hit a certain critical mass before this avenue would open up to you, Sponsored Slots are where someone maybe writes a guest post for your blog or gets some prime mention somewhere on your website.
You might be thinking, woah there, isn’t this just like going after single advertisers? and didn’t you say that was a massive pain?
It is kind of similar, the main difference is I don’t think you should go looking for people to pay you to advertise them, if you focus on creating a great website people will inevitably come to you and ask to be featured in someway, when that happens you are in a much better position to ask for some money in order to promote them.
My one major bit of advice here would be make sure anything that is sponsored is pretty clearly labelled as sponsored. I have been bitten before by the community of folks that use one of my sites getting annoyed because I was inserting sponsored posts into their normal feed and making it look like it was my own work.
Getting a Sponsored Slot
The ideal process for getting a sponsored slot is that you have an excellent site and people come to you. If you have an excellent site but no one is coming to you then the easiest way to find people that might be interested in paying for such a thing is to search for blogs in your niche that have put up their own sponsored posts before.
I would contact the company who wrote the post with an email that went something like this;
I noticed you had a really great article on **blogname** advertising your services and I wanted to ask if that helped you at all?
I run **my awesome blog url** and I know my readers would love your product, if ever you wanted to set up something similar on my site I would love to chat.
**your awesome name**
This is the first method that doesn’t actually get you more cash in the bank but is certainly a great way of making your website [pay for itself](/backup-making-website-pay/).
There are thousands of companies that have a massive stock of product but a small advertising budget. These companies are never going to actively seek out paid sponsorship or anything like that but they may be willing to part with some of their stock in return for reviews.
Examples of free stuff I have got before that you might consider going after would be;
- Books you want to read in your niche - if you offer to write a review many publishers would be more than happy to send you one.
- Paid websites you want free access to - again for the purposes of reviewing them for your website.
- Conferences or events in your niche - writing a report, live tweeting the event or if you are lucky enough to be well known in your niche just your presence can often be enough for folk to want to give you a free pass.
If you want to reconcile a figure I would take the retail value of the thing you are getting and add it as a one off payment for that month.
How to Get Some Free Stuff.
The easiest way to go about this is to ask, I would send an email to the company that went something like this;
My name is **name** and I run **my awesome site url**, I know my readers would love to read a review of **their specific product or service** and I for one would love to do the review.
I wanted to ask what is the best way for me to go about getting **access to or a copy of the product or service** along with any extra relevant information I could use to do a full writeup.
Hopefully hear from you soon,
**your awesome name**
Lead Generation is when you might not make any money from an interaction but you get someones details for a later date that are potentially interested in hearing more.
Examples of this could be;
Collecting email addresses to let people know that you are working on a new book, exactly like what I did for this book!
Cross promoting your other websites, especially if they are in the same niche.
It Doesn’t have to be for a Product in Your Niche
I always make sure in any ‘About Me’ section on a website I am included on that it says I am a developer and how to contact me. The site could be a million miles away from the topic of development but that doesn’t mean a reader of that site isn’t going to have a development problem they need fixed.
Putting a Price on Lead Generation
To reconcile this against money made in the month we need to attribute a value to each lead generated, this can be very hard to do but here is what I have done in the past.
With my analytics I know that for every 100 people on my site 2 of them will convert to a paying customer.
If a paying customer has a lifetime value of £10 that means that roughly one person hitting my site is worth £0.20 (10 / 100 * 2)
Because I like to be ultra conservative with anything like this I will then half the number and say each visit is actually worth about £0.10.
In my analytics then I would track any interaction would leads someone onto that site as having the value of £0.10.
How to set up lead generation
This really depends on what leads you want to generate but the main take away should be to make the thing prominent on any page you feel is appropriate. If this is the core way a page could potentially make you money you should be doing your best to get as many eyes on it as possible.
As I mentioned above you really need to be tracking leads as early as possible, there is a section later in the book dealing with analytics that you should read if you don’t already have something set up on your site.
Selling Items or Content
I have split this section into two, because for some websites your core business model is selling stuff, in which case it is a bit of a no brainer that you should be selling stuff!
But I do have some valuable advice if you do, and if you don’t well you should read the second section where I talk about why you maybe should!
If Your Core Business is Selling Stuff
There are always more things to sell and always more ways to keep the conversation going with your audience.
What I mean by this is if you have a website selling items you may think that the only way for you to make more money is to sell more items and that a customer is the final stage one of your users can be at. That isn’t the case at all.
If we think about what it means to be a paid customer is means that the user has had enough faith in your website or product that they are going to part ways with their hard earned money, assuming you deliver the product in a timely fashion and it meets or exceeds the users expectations then we are left with a happy paid customer
Selling to a happy paid customer is orders of magnitude easier than selling to someone who hasn’t interacted with you before, think about it, the paid customer is;
- Aware of your brand
- Used to navigated your website
- Has a previous positive experience with your site
- Is clearly someone who has an interest in your niche (for whatever reason)
- Has and can spend money online.
So the question becomes, what can you sell to them? Amazon do an amazing job of recommending related items and things like that, so that is certainly one path.
Another path would be to go down the writing path and maybe create an eBook to sell them, or perhaps you have another website in the same niche that would be of interest to them?
You can always sell yourself to them and ask them to follow you on social sites, this is of very low cost to them but makes them one step closer to being free advertising for your website, a happy customer is very likely going to share/retweet/whatever your content.
If Your Core Business is not Selling Stuff
Most of my websites aren’t aimed at selling stuff directly, personally I go down the membership route (more on that later) or using affiliate programs, however I will often create something to sell if I feel there is a need.
If there is a lack of information about your particular niche then I would recommend writing a short eBook, it really isn’t that hard, think of it like 5 or 6 really good blog posts tied together.
If your website has generated a group of fans then definitely consider getting some merchandise made that you can sell. Sites like Github and StackOverflow have done this, why not your site?
I haven’t looked into doing this for a few years so wouldn’t feel comfortable in recommending one service over another, but there are plenty of places you can go to get merchandise made.
Selling Stuff Online.
First things first, depending on your country you might have various laws or regulations you need to abide by. Abide by them! Believe me I know it is tempting especially when you are starting out to cut corners because you are only making a couple of quid from your site, but it will bite you.
Now we have that out of the way lets talk about the technical details.
If you are using a Content Management System like WordPress or Drupal to run your site then there are several plugins you can quickly install and setup that add basic shopping cart functionality to your site.
For most people that will work perfectly and get you up and running.
If your website doesn’t have access to such plugins then your two options are generally install an e-commerce solution along with your site or use a third party service such as Shopify.com
Getting People to Add You to Social Media.
Like Lead Generation, this doesn’t actively generate any money, and unlike Lead Generation this has the potential to never make any money no matter how many times someone does it.
There is method to my madness though, so please continue reading!
Asking someone to follow you on twitter is very low risk for the user, it requires minimal effort and they can change their mind anytime they want. Them following you does two very powerful things;
The first and most obvious is that it expands your social reach.
The second is that you have asked the user to do something and they have done it. If someone has done something you have asked them to do once my experience is that they are way more likely to do a second thing you ask them. It maybe sounds silly but you have removed a barrier to them clicking buy now or clicking on something else on your site because they are already forming a habit of doing things that you ask them to do.
Putting a Value on Your Followers
I don’t have anything to back me up on this but I attribute £0.001 as a value to followers, simply for the purposes of reconciling a value at the end of the month.
Of course if you follow me on Twitter then ignore the above, you are priceless ;-)
The Best Way to get People to Add You to Social Media
As I mention this is kind of like Lead Generation so the same rules apply, if you want people to follow you from your site you need have those options prominent.
A good place to add it is at the end of content pages as a possible next action.
Memberships / Recurring Payments
This is my preferred way of making money online when at all possible.
Selling items to people (be that directly or through affiliates) is tough going, selling five things today is no guarantee that you will sell five tomorrow, also for things that you only ever need one of selling one today means that you cannot sell the same thing to that person tomorrow.
Selling recurring memberships to people though means that so long as you keep them happy and the solution you offer is still relevant selling one membership could give you several years worth of income.
There are two ways you can do this, which I will describe in turn.
Sell Someone Else’s Recurring Membership
This is the easier of the two to get up and running but will return a smaller reward.
I actually have a really good example of why this is a great way to make money online, about six years ago I had a website that focused on selling memberships to other websites. It was making pretty good money but for a variety of reasons I decided to shut it down. One year after I had killed the site, I was still getting a cheque every month from one of the companies I have referred some folk to.
How amazing is that?
Essentially what you would want to be looking for here are affiliate programs that offer recurring revenue potential so that anytime the person renews you make a small amount of money.
This isn’t always possible depending on your niche, and if it isn’t you might want to consider creating your own membership site and having people promote it for a cut of recurring revenue.
Sell Your Own Recurring Membership
Do you have a source of content that people want to consume on a regular basis? If so then you might want to consider charging a recurring fee for access to it.
This technique gets a bad rap from a lot of folks because a lot of people want content to be free but luckily not everyone thinks like this.
What I have found works well is to provide free content regularly and then premium content that only members can see. The free content works as your way of getting people onto the site and giving value to people for free, and then your paid content is for people that see the value and just want more.