A good friend contacted me this week and said that he had a relative that had a site that was getting significant traffic and they wanted to see if there were a means of monetizing the audience. The short answer is yes… but I don’t believe the majority of small publishers recognize the opportunity or how to maximize the profitability of the property they own.
I want to start with the pennies… then work into the big bucks. Keep in mind that this isn’t all about monetizing a blog. It could be any digital property – like a large email subscriber list, a very large YouTube subscriber-base, or digital publication. Social channels don’t fair as well as they’re mainly seen as owned by the platform rather than the account that collected the following.
- Pay Per Click Advertising – many years ago, a presentation I watched at an event called these publisher solutions webmaster welfare. It’s the easiest system to implement – just putting some scripts in your page with some ad slots. The slots are then bid on and then the highest bid ads are displayed. You don’t make any money, though, unless that advertisement is clicked. Because of ad-blocking and a general malaise to ads in general, click-through rates on ads continue to plummet… as does your income.
- Custom Ad Networks – advertising networks often reach out to us because they’d love to have the ad inventory that a site this size could provide. If I were a general consumer site, I might jump at this opportunity. The ads are rife with click-bait and terrible ads (I recently noticed a toe fungus ad on another site). I turn these networks down all of the time because they often don’t have relevant advertisers that are complimentary to our content and audience. Am I giving up funds? Sure… but I continue to grow an incredible audience that’s engaged and responsive to our advertising.
- Affiliate Ads – platforms like Commission Junction and shareasale.com have tons of advertisers willing to pay you to promote them through textual links or advertisements on your site. In fact, the Share-A-Sale link I just shared is an affiliate link. Be sure to always disclose using them in your content – not disclosing can violate federal regulations in the United States and beyond. I like these systems because I’m often writing about a particular topic – then I figure out that they have an affiliate program that I can apply for. Why wouldn’t I use an affiliate link instead of a direct one?
- D-I-Y Ad Networks and Management – by managing your advertising inventory and optimizing your own pricing, you can utilize a marketplace platform where you can have a direct relationship with your advertisers and work to ensure their success while maximizing your revenue. We can set flat monthly pricing, a cost per impression, or a cost per click on this platform. These systems also allow you backup advertisements – we utilize Google Adsense for that. And they allow house ads where we can use affiliate ads as a backup as well.
- Native Advertising – I have to tell you that this one makes me cringe a bit. Getting paid to publish an entire article, podcast, presentation, to make it appear like other content you’re producing just seems downright dishonest. As you’re growing your influence, authority, and trust, you’re growing the value of your digital property. When you disguise that property and trick businesses or consumers into a purchase – you’re putting everything you worked so hard to create at risk.
- Paid Links – As your content gains search engine prominence, you’re going to be targeted by SEO companies who wish to backlink on your site. They may flat out ask you how much to place a link. Or they may tell you that they just want to write an article and they’re big fans of your site. They’re lying, and they’re putting you at huge risk. They’re asking you to violate the Search Engine’s terms of service and may even be asking you to violate federal regulations by not disclosing the monetary relationship. As an alternative, you can monetize your links through a link monetization engine like VigLink. They offer the opportunity to fully disclose the relationship.
- Influence – If you’re a well-known individual in your industry, you may be sought out by influencer platforms and public relations companies to help them pitch their products and services via articles, social media updates, webinars, public speeches, podcasts, and more. Influencer marketing can be quite lucrative but keep in mind that it only lasts as long as you can influence sales – not just reach. And again, be sure to disclose those relationships. I see many influencers in my own industry that don’t tell folks they’re getting paid to pitch other company’s products and services. I think it’s dishonest and they’re putting their reputation at risk.
- Sponsorship – Our marketplace platform also allows us to place house ads and bill our clients directly. We often work with companies to develop ongoing campaigns that may include webinars, podcasts, infographics, and whitepapers in addition to CTAs that we publish through the house ad slots. The advantage here is that we can maximize the impact to the advertiser and use every tool we have to drive value for the cost of the sponsorship.
- Referrals – All of the methods thus far can be fixed or low pricing. Imagine sending a visitor to a site, and they purchase a $50,000 item, and you made $100 for displaying the call-to-action or $5 for the click-through. If instead, you negotiated a 15% commission for the purchase, you could have made $7,500 for that single purchase. Referrals are difficult because you need to track the lead through to a conversion – typically requiring a landing page with source reference that pushes the record to a CRM on to a conversion. If it’s a large engagement, it may also take months to close… but still worthwhile.
- Consulting – If you’re an influencer and have a large content following, you’re probably also a sought out expert in your field. The vast majority of our revenue over the years has been in consulting sales, marketing, and technology companies on how to grow their authority and trust online to keep and grow their business.
- Events – You’ve built an engaged audience that is receptive to your offerings… so why not develop world-class events that turn your avid audience into a raving community! Events offer much larger opportunities to monetize your audience as well as drive significant sponsorship opportunities.
- Your Own Products – While advertising can produce some revenue and consulting can produce significant revenue, both are only there as long as the client is. This can be a roller coaster of ups and downs as advertisers, sponsors, and clients come and go. It’s why many publishers turn to selling their own products. We actually have several products in development right now to offer our audience (look for some launches this year!). The advantage of selling some kind of subscription-based product is you can grow your revenue much in the same way as you grew your audience… one at a time and, with momentum, you can get to some significant revenue with no middleman taking their cut.
- For Sale – More and more viable digital properties are being purchased outright by digital publishers. Purchasing your property enables the buyers to increase their reach and get more network share for their advertisers. To do this, you need to grow your readership, your retention, your email subscription list, and your organic search traffic. Buying traffic may be an option for you via search or social – as long as you’re retaining a good portion of that traffic.
We’ve done all of the above and are now looking to really ramp up our revenue through #11 and #12. Both of those will position us for prospective buyers once we get all of them up and running. It’s been over a decade since we started and may take another decade to get there, but we have no doubt we’re on the way. Our digital properties support more than a dozen people – and that continues to grow.