5 Ways to Make Money with Email Without Selling Anything

New revenue stream with ads in email newsletters

“The money is in the list!”

If you’ve been in the internet marketing sphere for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt read this before.

But is the money in the list?

Not in every niche.

That does NOT mean it’s not worth building an email list in those niches.  You just have to adjust your expectations and do the best you can with alternatives to selling/affiliate promotion.  You also need to embrace your list for purposes other than generating revenue directly.

Yes, in some niches email marketing is incredibly lucrative.  But sadly, email marketing is not the most lucrative in many niches such as News type sites (celebrity news, sports news, etc.).  The fact is, people don’t visit those types of sites to solve a problem.  Instead they’re looking to be informed and/or entertained.

In other words, niches that largely entertain are not ripe for hyper lucrative email marketing because the audience isn’t looking to buy anything.  Sure you might get lucky here and there, but it’s too inconsistent to count on.

That said, in my experience, it’s still worth building a list because as I’ve discovered there are ways to monetize that type of list without trying to sell/promote products.

In other words, promoting/selling to some lists is futile.  Which means you need to find other ways to make money from those lists.

Fortunately you have options.  Here they are.

1. Native Ads in Email Newsletter

With one of my niche sites, after building up a decent sized list, I tried like crazy to make decent revenue promoting products as an affiliate.  Nothing worked.  It was frustrating.

At that point I was resigned to just send readers back to the website, which is a viable reason alone for building a list, but I really wanted to generate more revenue from the email newsletter.

During one consultation call I was doing helping out with on-site monetization, the person I was working with explained they made most of their money with email newsletter ads (they had a monster email list).  I thought that was really cool.  I had never considered email newsletter ads.  The person I was consulting was cool enough to tell me which email newsletter ad network they were using.  I immediately contacted them.

Which Email Newsletter Ad Network?

The email newsletter ad network I was referred to and still use is powerinbox.  There are others, but I’ve been very happy with powerinbox.  They don’t require millions of subscribers, which is good because I only had around 23,000 subscribers at that point.

It didn’t take long to get approved and get the ad codes.

Example Email Ad by powerinbox

Example PowerInbox Ad for Email Newsletters

As you can see, the ads are similar to native ads you see online such as ads by Taboola and Outbrain.

Ad Formats:

You can have horizontal and/or vertical ad strips. I use both.  I publish fairly long email newsletters in which I place 2 to 3 ad strips.

What RPM do I Earn with powerinbox?

Overall, I’m pleased with my RPM.  It fluctuates for sure, but I’ve had $10+ RPM days.  Here’s a screenshot for the first part of September 2016:

powerinbox ad RPM and revenue

A quick note about the above screenshot… in the latter part of September, I’ve ramped up my newsletter production which has increased daily revenue.  That said, powerinbox isn’t a tremendous source of revenue, but it does add up over the course of a month and will grow.  Most important is it’s a very easy, passive source of revenue (my favorite kind).

The following is a revenue/RPM screenshot after sending out a new newsletter:

Powerinbox RPM and Revenue Screenshot

My highest RPM and revenue days are when I add a new email newsletter to my sequence which then goes out to the lion’s share of my subscribers.  In the above screenshot you can see $14 and $15 days.  That’s from sending one newsletter to the entire list.  Therefore, I’ve endeavored to ramp up frequency ensuring I grow this revenue source.  If I can average $12 per day going forward, that’s $360 per month, which is not bad.

Inserting ads into an email newsletter

powerinbox provides you ad code. You just have to insert that ad code into your email newsletter.  The process may vary according to your email autoresponder service.

I use AWeber and found the process really easy.  I created a new email newsletter template with dedicated ad zones.  I then input the ad code in the template in the ad zones so whenever I create a new email newsletter, the ads are there and ready to go.  I just add the e-newsletter content.

Should you use email ads?

I like using them.  I did have one email reader complain about it and I don’t really blame them.

However, since I’ve found it very difficult to sell anything in the email newsletter, ads are the next best thing other than sending readers back to my website, which has excellent benefits that I set out below.

If I could sell stuff more effectively, I would.  Believe me, I would.  On the other hand I accept that some niches just aren’t going to work well with promoting products and that’s okay.  There are many advantages of being in such niches.

As for whether you should, it’s always worth testing.   You never know if it will be worth it until you try it.

2. Sell Ad Space & Solo Ads

I would love to sell ad space and solo ads in my email newsletter; however, my list is too small to really go after this revenue source.  Selling ad space requires networking and reaching out, negotiating a deal and so on.  The size of the transaction isn’t worth my time and it certainly isn’t worth the time of large merchants who do such advertising.  Most large merchants don’t want to invest the time it takes to set up a deal like this for 1,000 visitors.  Instead, they want 10,000 to 100,000 visitors or more.

That said, in some niches, merchants will work with much smaller lists if it’s the right list and high-value sales where one or a handful of sales make the entire process worth it.  Like anything online, all of this depends so much on the niche.

However, once I have 100,000 or more subscribers and assuming I continue getting a 15% open rate, selling ad slots and/or solo ads to merchants in the industry will be worth the effort.  If you have a massive list this can be very lucrative.

For example, and I’m merely speculating here, but if merchants are spending $1.00 per click for AdWords clicks, there’s potentially a terrific win/win situation for you and merchants.

Let’s crunch some numbers:

  • Subscribers:  200,000
  • CTR:  5% (that’s 10,000 visitors sent to the merchant)
  • Cost per click: $.25 (you give a good rate to get the deal done)
  • Revenue:  200,000 x .05 x $.30 = $2,500.

I think getting a 5% CTR would require a well written solo ad, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.  Imagine selling 2 to 4 of those each month.  That’s not bad.  The downside is you have to reach out to get the sales.

Also, please keep in mind the above numbers are merely hypothetical.  In some niches, the revenue would be much, much higher and in other niches lower.

I also think ad banners/slots would not fetch anywhere near that much.  If you preferred to just sell ad banner spots, you’d need far more than 100,000 subscribers to make that worth it.

Finally, selling solo ads and ad spots successfully again depends on the niche.

Do I sell ad space in my email newsletter?

No, not yet.  If someone contacted me to buy space, I would if the rate was worth my time and the merchant is a reasonable fit with my audience.

I plan to explore this option more fully once I hit 200,000 subscribers.

I love the concept because with a large readership, it’s such a scalable business.  By this I mean for very little effort you can generate tremendous revenue.  The downside is it can take a long time to build up a huge email list.

3. Send traffic to your website every day (regular intervals)

This is my number one reason for building a list in niches even where it’s difficult to sell anything.  There are big benefits to sending traffic to your website consistently.

In fact this serves 2 major benefits:  On-site ad revenue and SEO benefit (I think).

i. Ad revenue:

If you monetize your website with display ads, every visitor counts for revenue.  With an email list, you have instant traffic.  Let’s do some simple math:

  • Number of subscribers: 10,000
  • Click through rate:  15% (I average about 15% to 20% for my general niches).
  • Number of Email Newsletters per month:  15 (I send one almost every 2 days).
  • Traffic to website per month:  10,000 x .15 x 15 = 22,500 visitors


  • RPM: $8
  • Pages per visitor: 2
  • Revenue per 1,000 visitors = $16
  • Revenue via email newsletter:  $16 x 22.5 = $360 per month.

$360 per month isn’t life changing money.  However, imagine the revenue with 1 million subscribers (which can happen reasonably fast if your site takes off):

1 million subscribers would be $360 x 100 = $36,000 per month on almost autopilot without selling a thing.  That’s not counting the potential fortune to be made with in-email ads and of course selling ad space.

ii. SEO benefit

Search engines like web pages with consistent traffic.  By sending your readers to established posts over and over plus sending them to new posts as they’re published, you trickle traffic to much of your website regularly.

This is great for your overall website health, especially keeping traffic going to older post on a daily basis.

4. Sell your list

ONLY sell your list if you never promised to keep email information private or you’re selling the entire niche site as an asset sale which includes the email list.  If you plan on keeping your niche going, you’ll probably want to think twice about this.  People don’t like their private information sold despite the fact it’s done all the time.

I sold a fairly large list before when bailing on a niche.  I priced it low for a quick sale, but it still netted me $5,000 ($.25 per subscriber).

Accordingly, it’s not unreasonable to consider the sale price when costing in the cost of subscriber acquisition.

5. Promote social channels

If you’re having tremendous success with a particular social media channel, you should definitely promote that channel to your email newsletters.

For example, if you’re still able to drive a lot of traffic from Facebook, you should definitely encourage your email readers to like your Facebook page. Same thing with Pinterest.

What else can you do?

Promote amazing deals

Of course, if you get wind of some really good deals that appeal to a broad email audience, you can promote those deals to general audiences and it could generate some sales.  Again, conversion won’t be great, but it can be worth doing now and then.

I’ve done a few of these that worked out well.  The only problem is they don’t arise as often as I’d like to make it a recurring revenue stream.

What should you NOT do?

1. Do not send email readers directly to Amazon with an Amazon affiliate linke.  

This violates Amazon Associates TOS.

I sure wish we could send email readers directly to Amazon, but sadly, we can’t.  We’re restricted to promoting Amazon via a web page or social media channel.

2. Do NOT stick AdSense ads in your email newsletter

AdSense prohibits sticking their ads in emails.  Do not do this.  Like Amazon, I sure wish we could, but sadly we can’t.

What do I do?  Case Study

I focus on using in-email native ads (powerinbox) and sending readers back to my site over and over.

I have 27,500 subscribers with a 15% CTR.  I send 10 to 15 email newsletters per month.  Let’s call is 12 for this analysis.  This means each month I’m able to send 49,500 visitors to my website on almost autopilot each month.

That plus the in-email ads results in very low four figures revenue from my email newsletter.

I know I should make more from my email newsletter.  Talented email marketers could probably do much better, but since email is not my focus and I don’t spend any time on it (I outsource the email newsletter creation), the money it does make is not bad.  It’s another revenue stream that takes up almost none of my time.

And that’s the point with being a niche website publisher… being able to develop revenue streams that do not take up much time leveraging the growth of the website itself.  That’s why I love this business so much.



14 thoughts on “5 Ways to Make Money with Email Without Selling Anything”

  1. Hi John – good post as usual.
    One metric you mention seems REALLY good: the 15% CTR.

    Average open rates for emails seem to be around 20%, and CTR 5-6%. How do you achieve 15% CTR?

    1. Hey Ruggero,

      My email newsletter subject is the exact same as the lead item that links to my site. I then offer 3 other fairly enticing articles to my website. Since I don’t promote anything, it’s all content.

    1. Hi Cathy,

      Sorry I don’t. I’d ask them. They look at it from a potential number of opens per month so if you send out a lot of emails with a good open rate, that may help even if you have a small list.

  2. What amount do you pay to the email provider to maintain 27K subscriber list?
    I tried this with #3 method above, and revenue generated from CPM banner Ads, can’t cover that Getresponse or similar provider cost. So I stopped.

    1. I think right now I pay about $400 per month with AWeber. I use AWeber for several sites but it is more per month because of the 27,000 subscribers. Fortunately my email list generates around $1,000 per month (sometimes more and sometimes less) so it’s worth doing. I think the real value is once you get a lot of subscribers because then there are much better monetization options available.

      That said, in some niches no matter what you try, the email thing won’t pay off. It happens.

  3. John, some great tips. I never even tried to build an email list with my news sites because of the very reasons you mentioned. But now you have got me thinking. A couple of questions:

    – Do you offer anything to your readers to get them to subscribe?
    – What kind of conversion rates are you getting for general news traffic to email sign-ups?


    1. Hey Paul,

      In my niche I offer access to some free software relevant to the niche. I get the software as an embed from a 3rd party. It’s a really good incentive and has worked great. As for a news site, that’s a tough one. Is your site all news or sports news or celebrity news?

      As for my conversion rate, it’s low. I don’t focus on building the list but I have the option peppered throughout the site.

  4. You inspired me to try content marketing again. However, what worries me is the huge competition. How do you solve it?

  5. I’m extremely grateful for this post. Why don’t you pay for a one time fee autoresponder? You could invite your subscribers to your new autoresponder for a few times, and you could save $400 every month. They are one time fee of $147 or $247… You can also get a landing page done for $5 in Fiverr.com.

  6. Great post. I think this post will inspired most of marketers. I also found one more website (www.elexiontutor.info). They also write well about affiliate marketing, email marketing etc. like you. good luck and go ahead.

  7. Hi Jon,

    I found this post rather interesting. I’ve been in the e-commerce space for about 2 years now, so I have hundreds of thousands of emails, but have never took advantage of them. Maybe we could work together. Let me know your thoughts.

    Best regards,


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