Building a website is a significant achievement, but if you want to be an online entrepreneur, that website needs to be profitable, meaning it takes in more money than it costs to maintain. Though the premise is simple, the execution eludes many inexperienced online entrepreneurs; after all, generating money from nothing can seem frustratingly challenging. Fortunately, there are a few strategies and steps you can follow to ensure that your website becomes and remains profitable.
How to Monetize Your Website
Your first job is to monetize your website in other words, decide how you want your site to make money. There are four main options here:
- Advertising: Your first option is to make money through advertising, such as with a platform like Google AdSense. As described by QuickSprout's Brian Dean, "Basically how AdSense works is that you get a special code to put on your site, that code reads the content of the page and also knows the user's browsing history, and then displays a target ad for them. When someone clicks on the ad you get paid." It's a pretty simple strategy, and one that doesn't require much input or management from you. The only catch is that since you get paid based on how many clicks you get, you'll need a decent amount of traffic headed to your site. Accordingly, your site needs to offer something valuable for users, such as informative or entertaining content, and you need to make sure all those users keep wanting to come back.
- Affiliate links: Many online businesses offer affiliate programs, in which they pay other sites and entrepreneurs in exchange for sending traffic to their sites. In the words of blogger Melissa Culbertson: "For example, if you were an Amazon affiliate and linked to some of your favorite books with affiliate links, if someone clicked on a link and purchased that book, you'd get a small commission. Even cooler is that some affiliates have 30-day cookies, meaning that if someone didn't buy right then but bought 20 days later (and bought other stuff too), you get a commission for all of that. While most affiliates pay per sale, some pay per lead as well." The idea is similar to advertising; you'll attract as much traffic as you can naturally, then forward that traffic to specific links, and make money based on how much traffic you're able to send.
- E-commerce sales: A more straightforward way to make money online is to set up an e-commerce store, basically selling products and/or services to your audience. If you're producing something, this is a no-brainer. If you're a popular blogger, you may consider selling things like eBooks, merchandise, or anything else you can think of. Again, you'll need a decent amount of traffic, but you'll also need to make efforts to improve your conversion rates, showing off your best items, convincing your audience of their value, and designing your site to maximize purchases.
- Lead generation: If you're interested in selling more services, or can make money by closing big-ticket sales, your best monetization strategy is lead generation. The idea here is to get people interested in your brand, then convince them to contact you or leave behind their personal information, so you can get in touch or forward them to your sales team for a shot at closing. In the words of lawyer Rowdy G. Williams, "Conversion should be your biggest priority. You want people genuinely interested in your services after just a few minutes on your site. That means you need to forge a strong connection, preferably within the first 60 seconds, and demonstrate your credibility at the same time." You can use the design of your site, the content you offer, and the credentials you showcase to make connections with potential customers and don't forget to have plenty of enticing calls-to-action.
You can use one or more of these strategies simultaneously to monetize your site.
How to Build an Audience
All of these potential monetization strategies depend on having enough recurring traffic going to your site. To do that, you need to make sure your site targets a specific audience, has a strong brand, and offers something valuable. It also helps to use marketing and advertising strategies to achieve faster growth:
- Content marketing and SEO: Writing content and building backlinks to your site can help you become more visible in online searches (and build a loyal audience).
- Guest posting and referral links: Guest posting on external sites, with links pointed back to yours, can forward more traffic your way and build your credibility.
- Social media marketing: Syndicating your content and building an audience on social media can be a source of thousands of new fans.
- Paid advertising: If you have the budget for it, paid advertising on search engines, social media, and even other websites can give you a stream of new traffic.
- Referrals and organic growth: You can also grow through word-of-mouth, so long as your customers are passionate about your brand and are willing to spread the word.
How to Manage Your Revenue and Expenses
Once you have a strong monetization method and a decent stream of traffic, the last ingredient for profitability is the careful management of your revenue and expenses.
- Measure everything: Keep track of everything you spend on the site, including hosting, and any marketing and advertising tactics you use. Also, keep track of the results of your efforts (including how much traffic you're generating), and of course, how much money you make.
- Keep your costs in check: At the beginning of your strategy, try to keep your costs down. You'll want to invest in high-quality products and services, but don't go overboard. Profitability should be your main goal.
- Scrap what isn't generating a positive ROI: If a strategy isn't actively contributing to your revenue stream, don't be afraid to cut it loose in favor of a stronger one.
You have many options in front of you, and not all of them will work equally. You have to find the right niche, experiment with enough choices, and ultimately, put in enough effort to achieve profitability (and make that profitability stick). With the right tools and enough experience, anyone can turn a profit with a website.