Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman

How to Monetize a Website (47 Methods)

Exchange Square Plaza with Water buffalo sculpture by Elizabeth Frink in Hong Kong

Exchange Square Plaza in Hong Kong.

Do you remember when one of the main ways bloggers monetized their website was by asking for donations?

I do. I think I’ve donated a couple of times to Wikipedia, but that’s about it.

I’ve always wondered whether the donate button worked.  I’ve never put a donate button on any of my sites so I don’t know from personal experience.

Fortunately, we have many ways to monetize a website today so that we don’t have to beg for cash to pay the server bills.

That brings up another problem, doesn’t it?

With so many monetization options, what’s best for your site?

Sometimes you have to try a few things to pin it down.  For my highest earning niche site, I didn’t get it right out of the gates.  I intended to monetize with affiliate offers.  After a few months, I had some traffic, but it earned nothing.  I slapped up some AdSense ads and started earning within the hour.  That was 5 years ago this month.  I haven’t stopped tinkering with display ads on that site since.  On the plus side, that site also earns with affiliate offers, but not nearly as much as display ads.

Other times, you know exactly how to monetize before you launch your blog because you know exactly how the niche should be monetized.  If you’re launching a “treadmill reviews” blog, you know that sucker will be loaded with affiliate links given 5% to 10% of treadmill sales adds up to a lot of money.

Likewise, if you launch a celebrity gossip website, your best bet is monetizing with display ads.

Or, you can dive into the “how to make money online” niche and sell a course.

Those examples above are obvious.  What you may not realize is that there many, many other forms of website monetization.  I’m sure I missed a few in the monetization checklist below, but it’s as comprehensive of a list as my brain could conjure over the course of a week.

1. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is what got me into niche sites in the first place.  My brick and mortar business got me blogging for more clients; when I read about the affiliate marketing concept, I figured that could be very lucrative.  I liked the results-oriented monetization model immediately.

Affiliate marketing is an easy concept.  You become an affiliate for a merchant, they give you a custom link that tracks the traffic you send them which in turns tracks any sales your referral track generates.

As the affiliate, you get a percentage or flat rate sum of money for the sale.

These days affiliate marketing is a standard marketing channel for brands and companies.  It’s a standard monetization method for publishers.

Tens of thousands of merchants have affiliate programs.  In fact, it’s rare that big brands don’t have an affiliate option.

Brands either operate what’s called an in-house affiliate program or they are part of an affiliate network.

Software typically offers in-house affiliate programs.  Physical products are typically part of an affiliate network.

There are 2 main types of affiliate offers.  They are:

Commission-based offers

Commission-based offers provide a commission when you generate a sale.

You can find the affiliate information usually in the footer of a company’s website or Google “XYZ company affiliate program”.

The main affiliate networks these days are:

  • ShareASale
  • CJ.com
  • Amazon Associates
  • Impact Radius
  • Awin

I’m part of all those platforms, but favor ShareASale and Amazon above all others from a user-friendliness perspective.  CJ.com is good as well but a bit more clunky to use.  I don’t use Impact Radius or Awin much because I find it confusing to find offers.

CPA

CPA stands for cost per action.  While these technically include commission-based offers, colloquially they refer to earning a fee when your referrals fill out a form or provide an email.

The advantage to these offers is your referrals don’t need to spend money in order for you to get paid.  For some merchants, the commissions can still be high.

This is really a form of lead generation for brands and companies.

I’m not too big into CPA offers, but it’s big business still.

CPA networks include:

  • Peerfly
  • Panthera

There are many others, but since I don’t do much of this, I’m not familiar with the main networks.

Local affiliate marketing

I did local affiliate marketing for law firms for years.  It takes a while to set up, but once set up, it can be a great model.

What I did is approach law firms and negotiate a fee for leads or sales.  The fees were substantial for a sale (i.e. the referral retained the law firm).  I would earn $250 to $750 per referral.

The legwork also included setting up tracking, which I did with a call center that fielded calls as well as contact forms that generated added all inquiry data into a spreadsheet.

Each quarter I would send the law firms the spreadsheets (call center data and contact form inquiry data).  The firms would figure out how many referrals hired them.  I received a cheque shortly after that.

I no longer do this for two reasons:

I had the most success in the personal injury practice area which is not viable in my jurisdiction any more due new legislation that decimated the personal injury industry in British Columbia.

It was getting harder to get traffic because of the emphasis Google puts on the Google My Business pages.  Because my referral sites were not attached to a physical law firm address, I did not have a Google My Business page attached.  These days, a significant part of local SEO revolves around ranking the Google My Business pages.

2. Display Ads

CPC and CPM ads

There are two main types of ads and within those two types, many ad styles.

The types are based on how you earn revenue.

CPC ads pay you per click.

CPM ads pay you per impression (usually measured per 1,000 impressions).

Both types offer a huge variety of ad styles.

I’ve tried almost every ad style available.  Here’s the list and my experience.

I call them banner ads for lack of a better term.  These are your typical ads that have been around for years.  I’m talking the 728×90, 300×300, 300×600, 320×50 (mobile), etc.  These are probably still the most common ads on most ad-supported sites.  I use them extensively.  They earn well.

Sticky ads

Sticky ads simply makes regular banner ads float or stick to the screen so that they are displayed to visitors longer.  The two most common sticky placements are the bottom sidebar and bottom of content.

I love these ads because they pay very well.  You can’t make AdSense ads sticky via AdSense.  You must use an ad network to this for you.  I use this outfit which offers both sticky sidebar and sticky mid-content ad units.

You can also use sticky ads on mobile.  AdSense offers them.  They’re called anchor ads.

Link ads

I love link ads because they earn well. By their very nature, they insulate against accidental clicks.

Link ads are ads that look like menus.  AdSense and Media.net offer them.  I use the AdSense link ads.

I say they insulate against accidental clicks because a visitor must first click the link ad and then click an ad on the landing page for you to earn revenue.  It’s a two-click ad.

Widget ads

On some of my sites I put polls and surveys which includes a display ad.  I like these widget features because they help engagement plus earn my sites a few bucks.  I use this service for creating polls and surveys.

Gutter ads

I don’t use gutter ads.  These are ads that display on the sides outside of your website.  This outfit offers gutter ads.  I tried them and they didn’t earn much so I stopped displaying them.

Background ad

A background ad is one that takes up the entire background of the site.  Visitors only see the sections on the sides.  It’s like two large gutter ads, but they take up the entire screen.  I’ve never tried such an ad, but I see them occassionally.

Native ads

Native ads are ads that promote content or seem to promote content instead of going for the hard sell.  Taboola and Outbrain are two of the most popular native ad providers.

AdSense also has a native ad unit that it calls Matched Content Ad Units.  It’s a large grid that provides links to other articles on your site, but 3 out of 8 of the spots in the grid are ads that pay you when clicked.

I’ve tried both Outbrain and Taboola on my sites.  They never earned much so I dropped them.

AdSense’s Matched units, on the other hand, pay surprisingly well given only 3 of the 8 spots are ads.  I put two Matched Units on every page; one partway down my content and one at the bottom.

Text link ads

There aren’t many text link ad providers.  Infolinks is the best-known.  I don’t use these but did test them.  They didn’t earn all that much so I stopped using them.

What these ads do is underline various words and phrases.  When someone clicks the link, you earn money.

Pop-up ads

Some ads pop up.  When and how they popup varies.  Here are some of the options:

  • Prestitial:  Before visitors access your site, they get smacked in the face with a pop-up ad.   Media.net offers prestitial ads.
  • Interstitial:  When visitors click to another page on your site, an ad pops up.  Google AdSense offers interstitial ads on mobile.
  • Exit intent:  When visitors move their cursor close to the browser bar, an exit intent ad pops up.  Spoutable offers exit intent ads.

Currently, I do not use any pop-up ads on desktop.  I use an AdSense Vignette ad on mobile, which is an interstitial.

In-image ads

I used to run in-image ads through GumGum.  They paid quite well, but once I added the video ad and mid-content sticky ad I thought the in-image ads were a bit much.

In-image ads are those that display a banner ad on top of images.  They’re effective and can pay well.

Video ads

Video ads are video players placed on your site that runs content and/or ads.  I use this outfit for my video ad (minimum 500K monthly visitors) but you can also get a good video ad unit from here.

Did I miss any?  If so, let me know in the comments.  There are always new ad formats hitting the market and while I try to stay abreast of these developments, it’s impossible to monitor every ad network provider.

3. Sell info products

Some niches are fantastic for selling info products while it’s hopeless in others.

How do you know when a niche is good for selling info products?

The general rule of thumb is if your niche revolves around solving problems, there’s a pretty good chance selling info products will work.  The 3 big niches for selling info products include “health”, “wealth” and “relationships”.  There are others of course.  I break it down via the following 3 types of info products.

Courses

Courses can be sold in many niches including business niches, DIY, creative pursuits such as writing and graphic design, various hobbies (how to quilt).  Basically, any niche with a strong how-to component to it can result in a course.

Reports and whitepapers

Reports and whitepapers sell best in the business realm.  For example, if you collect data for a particular industry, you can package that data into a report and sell it to businesses or people that want that data for their business.

Case studies are another form of white paper that can sell because it’s really a course and how-to guide wrapped up in a real-life example.

How-to guides

While seemingly similar to a course, by how-to guide I’m referring to the usual PDF products old in the fitness and relationship industries that step you through how to achieve whatever the guide is about.  Examples include how to lose weight, build muscle, attract men, attract women, etc.

4. Sell Sponsored Posts

I’ve sold two sponsored post in my life so I’m not an expert here.  I’m considering putting more effort into this monetization option, especially after going through this course.

IMPORTANT:  A sponsored post is not selling dofollow links.  I get inquiries across all my sites every day of people asking me my rate for a sponsored post but that it needs to include a dofollow link.  This is akin to selling links.  It’s not something do because it’s against Google’s TOS.

A sponsored post links to the brand or company with nofollow links.  You need to indicated it’s a sponsored post. Beyond that, the content includes whatever the brand or company wants it to include.  It could be a review based on you giving their product it a try.  It could be an advertorial.  Basically, it’s content that promotes the brand or company.  The promotion can be subtle or explicit.

Selling sponsored posts also applies to selling promotional posts on Instagram, FB (not that effective these days), Twitter, Pinterest, email newseltter… any channel where you have influence and exposure.

I suspect individuals who have a stronger connection with their audience have more success selling sponsored posts.  They’re called influencers.  In other words, if you blog under a corporate identity (i.e. not under your name), which therefore lacks personality, it’s harder to sell sponsored posts.  I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect it’s the case.

5. Lead Generation

Lead generation is getting paid for obtaining email leads for companies.

Some lead generation companies provide you with a form that you embed on your site.  When someone fills it in, you earn a fee.  This can add up to significant revenue in some niches.

I’m not into lead generation, so I don’t know all the nuances of it.  But it is a huge business given how lucrative email marketing is.  You can integrate lead generation in many ways.  Consider the following:

  • Send referrals to another site and earn fees when those referrals fill in a form.
  • Embed a lead gen form on your site
  • Offer the opportunity for your site visitors to sign up to various 3rd party email lists after they sign up to your list.

6. Sell software

I don’t sell software.  I can only imagine how much of a headache it can be, especially since I’m not a coder.  However, if it’s a success, it can be enormously lucrative.

There are many types of software you can develop and sell.  A common list of options include:

WordPress Themes

There are many WP themes available for sale.  It’s a crowded industry because there are few barriers to entry.  However, if you end up with a hit theme on your hands or grow into a successful theme development company like StudioPress, ElegantThemes or MyThemeShop, you can end up with a great business.

WordPress Plugins

While many developers offer plugins for free in the WordPress plugin directory, many sell premium versions.  I like the idea of selling plugins more than themes because you can differentiate yourself much easier by coming up with a plugin that solves a problem.

I’ve bought dozens of plugin licenses.  I continue to pay recurring annual fees for some plugins that are important to my sites.

When selling WP plugins and themes, you need to be committed to it.  You will need to do updates as WordPress updates.  You will field a ridiculous amount of customer support questions as well.  It’s a labor-intensive business but leverages nicely when you have a hit on your hands.

Cloud software

Also known as SAAS software.  Most software developed these days is on the cloud.  What’s so great about this type of software is you charge recurring subscription fees.  You collect money each month.

The downside is the server costs can be enormous, which adds to your overhead.  You need to get to breakeven quickly or else you bleed money every month.

Again, if you develop a successful cloud software product, the potential profits can be ridiculously good.

Reseller

There are many software products for which you can become a reseller.  You get discounted access, sell it for retail price and pocket the difference.

7. Sell physical products

I also don’t sell physical products in any form.  I have a niche site that would be good for selling physical products, but I really don’t feel like getting into customer service.

You can sell on your website and/or Amazon.  There are other marketplaces you could join as well like eBay.

There are 3 main physical product e-commerce models.  They are;

Dropship

Dropshipping is the easiest but the least lucrative.  You sell products but the drop shipper handles all the warehousing and shipping.  You handle customer inquiries.  It’s a half-way model between affiliate marketing and selling your own inventory.

Another big advantage to dropshipping is you don’t have to buy inventory.

A big disadvantage is you likely can’t offer the lowest price and your margins aren’t as good compared to buying inventory yourself.

Direct to consumer

Selling direct to consumer is the purest form of selling physical products.  You either source products or manufacture them and then sell them for a profit.

Retail dropship hybrid

I wasn’t sure what to call this form of selling physical products, but it’s pretty cool if you’re a graphic designer, illustrator or come up with some clever ideas.

Basically, you join a service like Zazzle, put your designs on all kinds of product such as coffee cups, T-shirts, pens, cards, apparel, pillows and a truckload of other products and then sell them.  Zazzle and you share the profits.

Sites that offer this include:

  • Zazzle
  • CafePress
  • Lulu
  • Ponoko

8. Sell Services

Other than selling a few coaching spots here and there, I don’t sell services.

However, selling services can be a fast way to get some money rolling in because you get paid quickly.  You aren’t waiting for SEO to kick in or building up an email list or working on sourcing products to sell.

For example, if you can write, you can set up a writing services website and join various freelancer communities.  You can also apply to writing agencies and pick up an endless stream of work.

If you know SEO, you can offer SEO services.  Unless you have connections, this will take more hustle than landing writing gigs.  But, SEO gigs can be super lucrative and recurring.

There are no shortage of services you can offer.  But, you do need skills.  If you’ve never edited a video before, you wouldn’t want to hold yourself out as a video editor on Upwork or a similar site.

If freelancing doesn’t appeal to you because it’s trading time for money, you can set up a service-based business and start selling services where other people do the work.  You get the work and delegate it.

Here are a few options:

In-house

In-house means you hire people to fulfil whatever service you’re selling.  When work comes in, you delegate the work to them.

The hard work lies in putting together a skilled team and then keeping them happy with sufficient work.  In the beginning it’s tough because you can’t hire all that many people, but if a big job comes in, you may be understaffed.  It’s a bit of a juggling act until you build up your clientele and have a larger team to absorb and handle fluctuations in demand for your services.

Reseller

Like software, you can resell some services.  For example, there are SEO agencies that offer the opportunity for you to resell their services.  You pay wholesale prices and sell the services for a profit.  I suspect there are writing agencies that offer reseller opportunities as well.

If you offer services not as much in demand as SEO or writing, you may not be able to find a reseller opportunity.  These lie usually with the big market stuff.

Arbitrage

Arbitrage is one way to get your agency off the ground.  When you get an order, you hire a freelancer to handle it.  You just have to make sure that what you’re charging is more than what you pay for the work to get done.

Arbitrage is a great way to handle large orders or an influx of orders if you don’t have the staff to handle it.  You can pass on the extra work to freelancers.

9. Sell Digital Products

While I could have lumped this into selling software, in my mind, there’s a class of digital products that are unique and should have their own category within the monetization options for a website.

For a lack of a better term, I call these digital products, which includes the following:

  • Photos
  • Video footage
  • Illustrations
  • Graphics
  • Music

You can sell your digital creations on your own website and/or stock photo sites.  I’d opt for stock photo sites (which also take on video footage, illustrations and graphics) because you have a far larger audience there.

However, if you specialize in some niche and have clients who are willing to pay a premium for your work, it can be far more lucrative to sell your creative work directly off your website.

FYI, you can also monetize by putting your photos, graphics and/or illustrations on products at places like Zazzle, etc. (see Retail Dropship Hybrid section above).

10. Paywall

Few sites can make a paywall work in that enough people are willing to pay for access to premium content.

What’s the difference between a paywall and a subscription?

They’re similar, except a paywall can be set up so that visitors can pay for access to just one article.

A subscription, on the other hand, requires recurring payments.

11. Subscriptions

Selling subscriptions isn’t easy unless you have a very good membership website.

Premium Content subscription

Like paywalls, there are few sites who can successfully charge a subscription for access to premium content.  Sites like the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail can do it because they’re internationally recognized newspapers.  However, your run-of-the-mill niche site will not be able to charge subscription fees.

That said, if you publish really good analysis content and/or data within specific niches like finance, you can feasibly charge a subscription for access.  If your premium content is good and helps people make money from it, people in finance will be more than happy to pay for it.

Membership website

Another way to sell subscriptions is to create a membership website where you drip feed or add content regularly.  In order for members to access the new content, they must pay each month.

If you offer something that people are willing to pay monthly or annual fees over and over, you can build up a really great business over time.

12. Sell Listings

Broker listings

There are many successful broker style websites where one or both sides of a transaction must pay for access.  Typically, the seller side of the transaction must pay, which makes sense.  They stand to gain.  Moreover, the whole point of these sites is to attract as many buyers as possible, which won’t happen if buyers have to pay fees.  It’s the access to buyers that sellers are willing to pay for.

The fees can be a flat rate, recurring and/or a percentage of the transaction.  Examples of such sites are Flippa, AirBnB, VRBO plus many others.

Forum listings

Successful forum websites can monetize by offering various boards where people can advertise their products and services.  Like broker listing sites, the forum charges the seller a fee to list.

Listicles (premium placements)

I don’t think this is all that common, but you could monetize blog posts that are listicles featuring a group of businesses or products such as the “best bed and breakfasts in Camden Maine.”  It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that one bed and breakfast would pay to be listed at the top of the list.

Traditional directory listings

Directory websites used to be far more popular before Google My Business pages dominated local business search.  That said, there are some directory sites still alive.  Directory sites typically earn a sizable amount of revenue by selling premium listings that get a lot more exposure.

An example of a directory that seems to be doing pretty good is Spafinder.com.

13. Accept Donations

Early on in Internet history, bloggers would have a donate button on the site.  I have no idea if they made much from donations.  Wikipedia still survives on donations (I think Wikipedia should slap an ad on the site and be done with asking for donations).

Given the huge number of monetization options bloggers, niche sites and online newspapers have, the donate option is pretty rare.

14. Coaching/Consulting

If you have expertise in an area that people are willing to pay for one-on-one guidance, you can sell coaching.

Coaching isn’t just lifestyle coaching.  It applies to all kinds of areas such as e-commerce, SEO, blogging, fitness, weight loss, entrepreneurship, wellness, investing, etc.

As long as you charge enough for your time, it can be a very nice way to earn a living.  I’ve done a bit of coaching for aspiring bloggers over the years and it’s something I enjoy quite a bit.  I’ve come to know many people and it’s been fun watching some people excel and succeed as bloggers.

Test stuff

I’ve spent countless hours testing a lot of the above across my niche sites.  The thing is, sometimes something you thought would be a dud works really well.

Once you have meaningful traffic, test offers of all kinds and various ad networks and ad formats.  If you’re sticking with ads, consider spending a few months split testing ad formats and configurations with this service (helped me come up with higher earning ad configurations).

For example, if you happen to promote something successfully, there may be an opportunity for you to offer something similar which fetches you more profits.  Of course, if you’re like me, you’re happy to leave some money on the table to avoid the hassle of inventory, customer support, etc.

The point is bookmark this list and when you’re inspired to try new monetization methods, visit here and pick something to try.  If you have a photographic memory and don’t need to bookmark URLs, lucky you.

What’s my favorite way to monetize a website?

My favorite way to monetize a website is via display ads.

Yeah, I know… bottom of the food chain and all that, but it’s liberating.  Display ads allow me to focus on publishing content on any topic I like.  I don’t have to focus on buyer keywords or carrying inventory or customer support, etc.  I let my ad networks handle the bidding and I get to publish lots of content.

Affiliate marketing is a close second.

Do you know of any other ways to monetize a website?

I know there’s some gray hat stuff such as selling links, but other than that, what did I miss?  Let me know in the comments.

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