Non-shady ways to mooooonetize your blog

This post was written in 2011, and things have changed since then… but it's still a good list of solid tools! I'll update it soon…

monetize it

First, this post needs a soundtrack. The video below is about Flash-based games (not my scene, and in fact I hate Flash), but there's a lot of relevancy to digital publishing and I catch myself singing "Let's moooonetize it" more frequently than I care to admit. So, press play and let this smooth operator serenade you as you read this post:

Ok. So, as a publisher, of course I'm always looking for ways to monetize my sites. Yes, there's the low-hanging fruit like Google AdSense, but in the four years I've been working on the Empire, I've branched out into a ton of different monetization tools and services. My theory is even if each monetization method only pulls in a $1 a day per site, it slowly adds up.

For me, the biggest challenge with monetizing has been finding legit, non-scammy tools. There's a lot of shady, gross stuff that goes down in the world of online advertising, and it's hard to trust information you find on the web. I like to feel good about the businesses I partner with, so I figure it'd be worth sharing some of the tools I use that don't feel shady to me:

A disclaimer: I may be more shady than you! Your mileage may vary with any of these tools.

Display advertising and sponsored posts:

I prefer doing ads from my own ad platform, which is why I love OIO. But third-party ad networks can be a decent solution, too. I hate banner ads, but they've made my smaller sites profitable.

  • OIOpublisherOIO Publisher (OIO is a WordPress plugin that allows you to set up your own ad platform, and it's how the Empire makes the vast majority of its money. I manage all our advertorials, vendor listings, sponsor banners, and text ads through OIO. Development on the plugin is agonizingly slow, but I love OIO until the ends of the Earth.)
  • Glam Media Network (These are semi-ugly CPM-based banners, but since they pay by view instead of by click, they make my lower-traffic sites actually profitable. Also, my account manager there is sweet and awesome.)
  • AdSense (Even with the Empire's 3 million monthly pageviews, AdSense isn't a huge money-maker for me… and if you're a lower traffic site? Bleh. AdSense pays based on number of clicks, which means lower traffic sites don't make shit.)

Affiliate programs:

These programs allow you to get a small sales commission when people purchase products after clicking your links.

  • Commission Junction (All my shoe posts feature affiliate links, and they're actually a pretty solid revenue stream, if you can believe that.)
  • Share A Sale (Similar to CJ, but appeals to smaller businesses so there are some folks who can't find on CJ who are on SAS.)
  • Amazon (Not a big money-maker for me, but I know Megan has makes a solid profit every month from all her links in heavily-trafficked posts like this)

Content-based monetization:

  • Outbrain (Despite the few issues with off-brand related links, they're solid. Monetizing content instead of products is great strategy. Outbrain's blog is great too, if you're into dorking out about content monetization.)
  • Skimlinks (Great way to make sure that products linked in comments get monetized via affiliate links. It took me a few tries to get my settings right so that shit didn't feel shady — I do NOT recommend their SkimWords product, which links phrases like "wedding dress" to weight loss programs [ICK!!] — but I've talked to these folks on the phone, and they're earnest and awesome and I like them.)

This is one those issues where I'd LOOOOVE to not be the expert — any other web publishers out there have experience with creative, NON-shady monetization tools for your websites?

  1. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU a gazillion times for this post. I just started taking blogging seriously and this is just the type of stuff I've been scouring the web for lately. I'll be watching closely and would love to read other bloggers' input as well.

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  2. What about direct sales? Seems like you could sell geo-targeted ads to larger regional retailers in the states that you have a good following. You could ditch the CPM/CPC and charge a monthly rate based off your passionate, engaged audience that is in the immediate market for local wedding items, children's items and home decorating and fixer-up supplies. Market data shows that regional/local ad sales is where there's a huge opportunity and they're looking for engaged audiences as opposed to just clicks.

    Just my two cents.

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      • Yes, definitely banners, but instead of a listing service, you have regional ads served up on the front page and throughout content according to the region where your audience member is visiting from.

        I'd wager a large portion of your audience is in to the "buy local" thing and it offers the advertiser some of the most targeted advertising available on the planet… for relatively cheap, say $200-$300 a month for exclusive access to a tailor made audience… that will add up quick.

        You could serve ads city or statewide… for your niche markets, statewide is a good fit for people who may special order regionally or just take a trip to those niche services.

        You'd have to invest in a couple of sales people or invest that money in customizing a regional ad network platform and then seek investment for the sales and since you already have great traction, you'd be in the driver seat in regards to how much equity you give away.

        OpenX allows you to geo-target by state within their open-source and free hosted versions. You could also look into Adify which basically creates an ad network for you but you'll lose a chunk in the service.

        Also, there's places that will customize a Magento system and create a service like Gilt Groupe for targeted flash sales. You could approach national boutique outlets for a partnership and you could use your email listings to ask members if they'd like to opt in to this exclusive daily deals site.

        I guess what I'm trying to say is that you have an extremely valuable, engaged audience that can be targeted… most advertiser's dream. Tap the best editors you can find to develop content that meets your standards and fosters a community and spend your time finding partners who can help you turn this into an extremely successful business… I think that's possible while adding value for your readers. Sorry so long winded.

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  3. THANK YOU! i'd like to know a little more about glam media network. couldn't find a ton about starting on their site.

    my blog is getting a pretty good amount of traffic, but the adsense is not working. for one, it takes weeks for the ads to become relevant & by then most people have already looked at it. & even then, they aren't that great.

    a series on this would be beyond amazing. i think this is a major concern of most bloggers, but when you're starting out, it's so vast & unknown.

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    • I agree, more detail about using these tools would be awesome. Also, after reading about OIO and Glam I found my blog doesn't get enough traffic to utilize them, so maybe a series on networking for us supa' n00bz.

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      • While I can definitely consider going into a bit more in-depth about some of these tools, sadly guidance for super n00bz is out of scope for the Empire blog. This is mostly a behind-the-scenes business site — I'm not going to be doing many tutorials. :( Sorry to be a bummer, but I want to be clear about expectations for what this site will be.

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        • yeah, i didn't mean tutorials but ya know, while i love seeing how things work at this level, i'd also like to know more about what you did when you were more like several thousand readers a month. some tips on how you manage at that level would be amazing. i started my blog last spring, & i've gone from nothing to several thousand a month. while i feel that's fast progress, i know that's small potatoes to your size. advertising seems to be one of the major hurdles.

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          • I think I could probably learn a few things from you? I'm at about 1,000 hits per month.

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          • @mindy ummm i just make sure to write at least one post a week & i do lots of networking (as in featuring them or interviewing) w/ other bloggers & small businesses

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  4. oh my goodness! i just saw glam media's application. the lowest page views are 100,000!!!! that's a ton even for a good blog. lol

    do you know of any other companies that base payment off of page views instead of clicks & purchases?

    0 agree

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