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Earning Revenue From a Content Website
June 28th, 2019
This is a question often pondered by people who know they have a lot to share, but wonder how they can monetize it: Today, we will look into an overview of doing exactly that. This is not an article about advertising your site: That is a completely separate, but related, topic.
Competing with the rest of the world is not easy
This may sound a little corny, but the fact of the matter is that it is true: You really are competing with all of the rest of the Internet for your readers' attention. It takes literally a click of a mouse for your reader to disappear from your site and never to return, taking their precious eyeballs away from your site and the revenue you could be earning by them being engaged.
I point this out first because it is amongst the most important points about a content site:
But if you don't have the content that is not only engaging to read, but enough to keep people coming back: You have a personal blog and not an income earning website.
This means you need to have content that is regularly created and served to your website. For many people, especially newer sites: This content is created by you, the website owner. As your site grows, or your ability to network with other content creators increases, it is created by other, contributing creators.
In a perfect world: This means new content every single day. After all: There is a reason you go back to CNN.com or CBC.ca: There is "new stuff" every day (heck: There is "new stuff" every hour) While this may not be possible for you in the beginning: It is something you will want to be aiming for.
At the very least: Aim for new content every three days. For some: This means sitting down every three days and writing a new article, creating a new web comic or drawing a new piece. For others, this is a once per week or once per month process, where they spend half to a full day creating content that will then be posted every three days or more often. Many find this method more convenient: For example: A Saturday spent creating ten articles means that, for the next month, once every three days, you can spend about five minutes linking your content and updating your site and going back to your regular day, rather than the time to create the content and update the site.
Spelling, grammar and punctuation MATTER!
If your content is primarily the written word, proper writing matters. A LOT. I have heard the specious argument that "spelling, grammar and punctuation is for old people: Smart people GET what I mean!"
That simply is not true: There is a vast, vast difference between your close circle of friends, who may be used to your quirky method of writing and the broad, general public, who rely on a common understanding of our language to reach a common understanding of what the writer meant.
A humorous, and somewhat extreme example is this:
"Let's eat, Grandpa!" is a simple sentence that suggests the grandchildren are asking their grandfather to eat a meal with them.
"Let's eat Grandpa!" is an equally simple sentence that suggests the grandchildren are about to cannibalize their grandfather.
A single, solitary comma changes the entire meaning of what you were trying to convey.
Equally: Proper spelling matters: While a person of average intelligence can and will most likely understand the meaning of your words when misspelled: It gets annoying, really quickly, when those mistakes are constant and said meanings can be confused by multiple possibilities of what you intended to say. When you write well, the chance of that misunderstanding is removed and - more importantly - you are not annoying the very people you wish to not only keep reading your words, but to come back to read more of your words.
Monetization: How do I make MONEY from this ?
There are two, primary, methods to doing this:
I will cover number two, first: Membership fees: If you are new to this: DO NOT DO THIS. The FIRST thing you need to accomplish in creating a content-based website and business is to create a demand for what you create: Telling the general public to pay money for a completely new (to them) content creator is the height of hubris. They have no reason to trust that your content is worth money, so the overwhelming majority will not part with their cash to read your writings or look at your drawings.
There is another form of membership, but I'll explain that after this:
Advertising: This is, by far, the most common method of monetizing your website. Many use an ad-serving service, such as Google, to select and display the ads on your website. This is convenient, because they take care of payment collection, content selection and so forth. The downside to this is that Google and other ad networks are very, VERY large. They also serve an incredibly vast array of websites, from the very new to those that serve millions of visitors per day.
Now: Your situation, location and abilities may take some of this choice away from you: If you are not the best of salespeople, not comfortable with it, or live in a rural/low density area, you may want to start off with an ad network; It is easier, but the ramp-up to earning a decent income will definitely be longer.
It is, however, more profitable, if a little more time consuming, to solicit your own ads for your own website. Even if you are in a rural or remote area, being able to contact businesses that are related to your content to solicit ads for your site will give you greater control over what goes up on your site, as well as the revenue that you earn.
There are two important factors for your own ads on your site:
When you do start taking money for ads: Start low: It is better to start with "introductory rates", with the knowledge that those rates will go up, as your site grows, as opposed to pricing yourself so high that there is zero interest. (In the interests of full disclosure: I made this exact mistake, when I started CanadianISP: A year of advertising was priced at $50,000 because, at the time, you could get about a single day's full-page ad coverage from Toronto newspapers for that price, so a whole YEAR at that price was a great deal, right ?
Nowadays, the average customer on CanadianISP is anywhere from $2,000 - $5,000 per year, with a couple that are higher and a few that are lower. In my case: My traffic is highly targeted (visitors come for only a single purpose, not for general advice or viewing) and the market for my customers (Internet Service Providers in Canada) is very small. I have been running my site for seventeen years, at the time of this writing (June, 2019 - CanadianISP founded in August, 2002)
Keep your content relevant
This involves not only staying current in your industry, but also asking your readers what they want to hear about. If you are talking about apples, but your visitors really want to hear about oranges: They will soon cease to keep coming back.
Pay attention to how often your content is shared in social media and how often people comment on your content - More interaction = More interest. Less = Less. It's not rocket science, but is amazing how often people will continue to create content that receives little to no interaction and they wonder why success is always out of reach.
Membership fees - the third option
I mentioned earlier about the third option for membership fees:
Unless you have become the next Martha Stewart, where people are clamoring to read what you have to write, the chances are low that people will spend a lot of money to read your articles. After all: Google shows there are literally thousands of other websites offering similar, or somewhat similar, content to your own, all at no cost to the reader.
Your primary source of revenue will most likely be advertising on your site. What you CAN do is to offer an ad-free "premium membership" - BUT: Keep this price low. There is only so much people would be willing to pay for what is essentially a convenience, and potentially a nod towards supporting further content from you.
One of my favourite technical news sites, ARSTechnica.com, does this perfectly: You can view their site and all of it's content absolutely free: They have ads on their site to pay the bills and those ads are not overly intrusive. For $50 a year - which I do pay - I can read the site completely ad free. For me, anyway: I don't pay that for the ad-free experience: I do it to help contribute towards more of their content. This is a GREAT way to do it. Realistically: The number of readers who will choose this option will be relatively low and will not contribute significantly towards your financial success - You really do want those eyeballs on both your content AND your advertisers' ads.
Remember this: When you put up a "paywall" - A barrier to entry to your site that says "Pay me money or you can't read my content" - you are shooting yourself in the foot. In this day of exponentially-increasing content on the 'net: The chances that you are offering something so unique that people MUST pay to see it are vanishingly small. If you need an example of this: Think of the local newspaper you used to read, when you were younger. The chances are that it is no longer in existence, anymore, because, primarily, of the Internet.
Can local news still succeed, today ? Absolutely - But not in the same manner as even twenty years ago: There is simply too much competition from sources like Facebook, Twitter, Google, personal blogs and such. You need to write engaging content - Give people reasons to come back - Support the local businesses that advertise with you - And STAY RELEVANT to what your readers are looking to consume. If you put up a paywall to prevent those readers from coming to you - You are not relevant, because they simply will not give you the chance to prove whether you are or are not.
Finally: We all love to be able to contact our readers, usually through an email list. The days of getting everyone's email address are long, long gone, thanks to spammers. I have heard the reasoning "But it is just a simple email address for access to immeasurable content!" - And yet, those who think that way forget that thousands of other websites demand the same. Here is the problem with that:
Assuming you are getting valid email addresses in the first place (fatal assumption) - The very fact that those thousands of other websites are asking the same means that whatever you are emailing your general readership is being lost in the spam, entirely. And it will be considered spam, if you make giving you their email address a condition of accessing the site.
Can you use email lists to communicate with your users ? ABSOLUTELY - But only if they willingly give you their address - Because then, the chances of them spending the extra few seconds to white-list you are exponentially higher. For me, whenever I see primitive efforts to enforce giving up my email address: Well: I run my own domain and web server: I create a temporary email address: Subscribe to the site, confirm via the temporary email address and then delete the address from my server. You didn't earn my email address: You forced it. You can't say you earned it by giving me access to your content, because I have to be able to see said content before the judgment of earning is made.
Respect your readers and they will return that respect.