The subtle art of monetizing website content

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The Internet is full of weird and wacky ways to coax money from people. Everything from downright chicanery to ethically compelling non-profit donation based websites abound.

The problem, at least from my perspective, is that often money making is all too transparent. I personally hate the feeling that I am reading something for someone else's profit. I can't stand reading with the sense that a sales pitch is just around the corner.

No, No, No...

On the other end of the scale, interspersed here and there, are websites that are written and maintained for no other reason than the owner has a love for the subject matter and genuinely wants to share.

Perfect, we can enjoy some peace and quiet, safe from flashing banner ads and pushy sales pitches.

But, for the website owner, being genuinely passionate about a subject is no excuse not to jump on the bandwagon and earn a bit of cash - provided that said monetization is completely unobtrusive and doesn't detract from the charm or authenticity of the website.

I'd like to talk about one way to generate revenue from websites that is entirely inconspicuous. It will work for just about any website type, ranging from a basic webpage, to an author promotion website, to a social networking site, to a full blown commercial retail or service website - anything.

It relies on three main principles:

  1. Affiliate relationships
  2. Valuable content
  3. Self discipline

To explain briefly: An affiliate (as applies in the online sense) is someone who refers visitors from their webpages to a commercial enterprise for a share of the profit.

Valuable content is any content that draws visitors (For example, Perez Hilton managed to convert content about Paris Hilton into huge amounts of cash).

Self discipline... we'll come back to this.

Let's put all three together by exploring the example of an author promotion page.

Said author has one book out and has dutifully plastered a big picture of the front cover on the landing page. He's got a couple of positive reviews down one side, a picture of himself looking quixotic and relaxed by a typewriter, and a couple of blog posts lower down the page. You know the scene...

So he's getting a couple of thousand visits to his site each month and people are, every now and then, clicking on the "buy this book" link that takes visitors to the publisher's site to purchase a copy. For argument's sake, let's say he makes $3 per book sold. What he should do, is this:

  1. Go to Amazon.com (Note: there are many affiliate programs, you might find something else more suitable) and set up an affiliate account
  2. Change the "buy this book" link to his amazon affiliate link
  3. Use his affiliate links to recommend other books he reviews or discusses

Now, instead of making $3 per book sale, he is making $3.30 because he gets his affiliate share. He also make extra revenue from linking to other books he discusses.

Because there is now a financial reward attached to writing reviews and generating other content, he writes more, which brings in more traffic, which in turn helps him generate more revenue. So where does the discipline come in?

Here's the hard part: you can only use the affiliate links where they naturally fit into the content. It may be that an entire article doesn't come close to discussing anything that can be naturally linked to, in which case:

you need to be able to resist the temptation to artificially introduce linkable content

Don't, under any circumstances, write content solely for profit. First and foremost, write because what you have to say is valuable. Then proof the content to see if there is anywhere that naturally lends itself to a link (i.e. think about whether the link would genuinely be helpful) and add it there.

Remember, if your content has value, it will be copied all around the Internet - taking your affiliate link with it.