Based on the reader survey, website monetization ideas are a hot topic. So you have some traffic – now how do you go about monetizing it (and without selling your soul)?
Affiliate programs are obviously my top choice for monetizing. Being a direct affiliate for a merchant and driving traffic to their website via ads, reviews and other methods is the revenue stream I've always found to be the most profitable when it comes to my sites. But, there are other things you can do in addition to direct affiliate marketing to help your blog generate more revenue. I'll talk about a few that are mainstream (meaning not specific to a single niche) below.
Master Affiliate Networks
I've written about master affiliate networks before. The master affiliate signs up with every affiliate program they can possibly find (most are partnered with over 10,000 merchants) and then recruits sub affiliates to use their master affiliate network links. They do all the work of joining the programs, getting approval from programs, maintaining the links to ensure they're working, and even inserting the links on your website for you if you want (this is done by adding a piece of their code to your site header).
Because of the sales volume done by the master affiliate network with all their sub affiliates combined as a whole, they are able to negotiate higher commissions than you would be able to as an individual affiliate. The affiliate ends up making about the same amount as they would as an individual affiliate (in most cases) or a little less, but without having to do all of the above work. Master affiliate networks aren't actually affiliates. They simply manage the co-op so to speak and take a cut of everyone's commissions. That's how they make THEIR revenue.
So let's say you do a blog post and mention that you bought a new Canon Powershot and link to the page on Target's website that features the item. Because Target is a merchant covered by the master affiliate network, they will automatically affiliate that link so that if anyone clicks thru and makes a purchase on Target as a result of you linking to them, you get commission on the sale.
I wouldn't use a master affiliate network for products you regularly feature or advertise (I'd join the affiliate program directly if at all possible) but they can be extremely helpful in monetizing one off links to websites you'd never even check for an affiliate program otherwise.
While there may be multiple master affiliate networks out there, I only personally have experience with two: Viglink and Skimlinks. After testing it out on multiple sites, I've honestly found Viglink to be the better option for MY sites. However, I'd recommend you test out both for a month and then stick with the one that works the best for YOUR site.
No, I'm not talking about selling links in your posts or content. In-text ad companies give you a piece of code to put on your site and then links any words within your content that it has an advertiser paying to appear on. The links aren't direct, give no search engine credit and have double underlines that will pop-up a small (and obviously labeled) advertisement when moused over. The company that I use for In-text advertising is Kontera.
If you go the In-text advertising route, be sure to keep an eye on your link density (meaning how many words in each post are linked). In my opinion, you want to be careful not to make the amount of In-text ads on the page to be obnoxious. With Kontera, you can increase or decrease the link density as you see fit. (P.S. if you have experience with alternate In-text ad networks, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.)
Ad networks work to sell advertising on your website and then deliver the advertising to your site via you placing their code on the site. They handle all reporting to (and collecting payment from) the advertiser and reporting to and (payment to) you as well. In return, you pay them a commission – usually in the range of 30-40% or more in my experience. They usually require you to designate them as the exclusive way to advertise on your site (meaning if someone comes to you wishing to advertise directly, you are required to make them go through the ad network anyway) and require a contract term of about a year. Again, based on my experience.
Typically, most ad networks only work with heavily trafficked sites with a mega amount of impressions to sell. Ad networks like Tribal Fusion aren't even going to TALK to you unless you're getting 500K uniques per month. However, there are a few ad networks that will work with smaller publishers. BuySellAds (BSA – which I recently started using) is one of them.
They support 6 mediums – web, mobile web, RSS, Tweets, apps (desktop, iOS, Android) and email. If you've got 100K pageviews a month and don't violate any of their guidelines, then they definitely want to work with you. Publishers that have less than 100K pageviews per month are “evaluated” to see if BSA wants to work with them.
They put you in front a large network of advertisers and take a 25% cut of any ad sales you make for doing so. You set the ad prices and get to approve all advertisers before an ad goes live.
If you're able to get in with BSA, I'd suggest you set some realistic ad prices. If you're not making 1000 dollars per month on your blog through all other advertising methods, then you shouldn't be charging 1000 dollars a month for a below the fold ad slot. Check out what other sites similar to yours are SUCCESSFULLY selling ad slots for.
As with everything else, your experience may vary. I've yet to find an ad company I'm really happy with (thus why I recently signed up for BSA). (P.S. if you have experience with alternate ad networks, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.)
I'm sure you know what Google AdSense is and how it works. You put Google's code on your website and they show graphical or text based ads “relevant” to your content. The reason I don't always use it is that you can't control what's shown (except for via an “exclude” list that is limited and means you have to constantly be checking your ads to add sites to it). Whether or not I use AdSense on a site has a lot to do with the site topic.
For instance, we chose not to use AdSense on our work at home mom site. Why? Because the site topic would draw nothing but those scammy “get paid to do surveys” type ads and we don't want to advertise people stuff we know is basically crap. On our sites themed around cell phone use, the ads tend to be much more relevant.
Bottom line is that if I can find a way to get a CPM higher than the one I get with AdSense, I'll gladly replace it. CPMs vary a LOT based on the site and topic. In some industries, it pays paltry compared to what you could make with affiliate programs and the above options. In others, it's very tough to beat, especially when using custom channels.
You'll need to test it to know which side of the fence your site is going to fall on in terms of relevancy, quality ads and CPM.
I've written before about the various reasons why you should cloak your affiliate links and that fact that I personally use PLP Link Cloaker to do it. The reason I'm saying that using link cloaker can help make you more money is simple…
First, I can set certain words to auto link whenever I mention them (and limit the number of times it occurs, etc) – this means I don't have to go and find an affiliate link every time I mention a product. This decreases the chances of me being too lazy to do so and ensures I always have every product I directly affiliate for linked.
Second, if an affiliate link changes, I only need to update it in one place (the PLP dashboard) to change the affiliate link sitewide. This reduces the chances of me having dead affiliate links in past posts when a merchant updates their linking methods or changes networks, etc.
Tackle Making More Revenue with Your Blog SMARTLY
Remember that you need SOME traffic to make any significant revenue. You don't need 100,000 pageviews a month, but none of the above is going to make you cash if you're only getting 20 visitors a day. Be sure you actually HAVE an audience to make money with (I typically don't worry much about advertising, in most niches, until the site hits 10K pageviews per month – but your experience will vary depending on the topic and following).
Additionally, always monetize SMARTLY. I have a few ground rules when it comes to monetizing my websites…
- I always try to “incorporate” advertising vs. shoving it down peoples throats… if I can see three large Adsense ads on your site before I see any content, you're doing it wrong – and Google might smack you for doing it wrong as well. You might make a little less money, but you'll end up making more money overall by not alienating readers and increasing your overall following.
- I never sell text links. Ever. And trust me, I've been tempted. Especially in industries where tons of other people do it and don't see any negative ramifications from doing it. But it's against Google law. I think it's a BS “law”. But if you depend on Google for traffic, know that selling links is a high risk monetization tactic.
- I always do my best to ensure my audience is served with legitimate ads from legitimate companies… for instance, I get tons of companies who want to advertise services that I know are BS here on Sugarrae. And I say no. Whatever fee they're paying me to advertise won't recoup the loss of a reader who was disappointed by their offerings and feels “I” am who led them to it. I'm not saying you have to use products by every advertiser who buys a 300×250 ad slot. I'm merely saying that if you KNOW something is crap, don't advertise it to people.
- Same goes for reviews. I will never sell my reputation for an affiliate commission. You shouldn't either. Always be honest. If a friend or colleague asks you to review a product and you find upon doing so that you can't recommend it and don't want to post a negative review, then I'd simply decline doing the review. But don't sing the praises of anything you don't personally believe in or like for any reason.