At the risk of stating the obvious, nobody likes spam.
In fact, the Internet’s collective hatred of all things spam has given birth what Wired recently called “a veritable cottage industry of ad blockers.”
If you’re trying to make money online … that’s not exactly good news. In fact, global ad blocking is estimated to cost online publishers nearly $41.48 billion this year alone.
And that’s not even the worst of it: display ads that do make it through blocking software now earn an average click-through rate of just 0.19%.
These stark realities are especially painful for non-ecommerce websites whose monetization strategies operate independently of traditional products and services.
The good news is outliers exist. Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income, for example, made a whopping $94,841.32 from non-ecommerce activities on his blog in February. Naturally, Pat sells products – like books and courses – but those ecommerce sales actually account for less than half his total revenue. In other words, the dream of making money without selling a product or service is still very much alive.
The question is, “How can you monetize your non-ecommerce site without becoming a spam lord or creating something new?”
Turns out there are a handful of proven methods for monetization that rely on making the most of your existing content. Now, we’re going to start with some basic monetization methods first and the best will be saved for last :).
Make every word count
It’s safe to assume that the vast majority non-ecommerce sites are blogs. This means your site lives and dies by the written word.
Unfortunately, you can’t deposit words into a bank account. Even if you’re producing massively popular content, the traffic your words generate – along with a host of other engagement benefits like shares, email subscriptions, and followers – can all be classified under the ominous title “vanity metrics.”
Thankfully, two tools stand out to help you make every word count.
CodeFuel, for instance, scans your existing content for relevant keywords and adds tags to your articles which — when clicked — display monetized content links in the form of video, text, graphics, and related products.
Rather than the traditional one-size-fits-all model most display networks adopt, this means three things. First, the tags are unobtrusive, thereby preserving your site’s appearance and user experience. Second, they appear in the natural flow of your text, rather than within the dreaded “dead zones” banner blindness affects most. And third, the tags are correlated to what your article is actually about. In other words, CodeFuel prioritizes intent-based ads built on the focus and flow of each page.
Another great option is Infolinks’ Intext feature. Much like CodeFuel, Infolinks scans your content to detect meaningful mentions of related articles or specific products. Instead of adding tags, however, Infolinks turns those keywords themselves into links, which readers can hover over to display a brief preview and call to action.
Image Source: Blogger’s Passion
The point of both tools is to monetize your words as natively as possible. This increases user engagement and leaves your pages free of spammy overload.
Give financial life to your images
If you look at the social networks that have grown significantly in the past three years, you’ll notice they all have one thing in common: visuals. From images on Pinterest and Instagram to quick videos on Vine and Snapchat, the world is quickly adopting a new norm, where the “picture is worth a thousand words” adage has never been truer.
So, of course it makes sense to go visual on your website. But what if you could make your image tell an even bigger story, one that actually helps your site’s bottom line?
While the previous tools focus on monetizing words, imonomy operates by adding image-based ads to your content. Though the myFlip or myTips (featured below) options, you can automatically supplement your existing images with ads that appear whenever a user hovers over them. Alternatively, their myCover or myStrips options insert overlays that automatically “pop up” within your images. With each option, however, you again avoid getting spammy by limiting the placement of the ad within the images themselves.
Image Source: TechCrunch
Image-based monetization is especially helpful for lifestyle websites like fashion and tech. Images in review and list posts could easily be used to advertise for the brands and styles being worn or to showcase special offers to immediately download an app.
Image Source: Money Home Blog
Another great tool that’s re-inventing advertising through images is GumGum. Similar to imonomy, GumGum’s In-Image Ads overlay photos where your user’s attention is actively focused. As a result, In-Image boasts 81% higher visibility per post across the board.
Image Source: GumGum
The moment a page loads, the image captivates you with animation that pulls in, then shows you an ad for further information or content. But words can’t do it justice, to truly see the capabilities of GumGum, you have to see it in action.
Take advantage of other people’s content
Curation – the practice of collecting, sharing, and reviewing other people’s content – has exploded over the past seven years. In fact, according to Google Trends, it’s an official “breakout” search term:
Why this massive growth?
Because, as curation platform Pressly points out, “in the world of online marketing, the problem for you and your audience is not lack of content. It isn’t even lack of great content.” The fundamental problem is content overload:
As your audience faces this sea of information, what they’re looking for isn’t more.
Instead, they’re looking for trusted and knowledgeable guides who can navigate them through the stormy, unorganized mess.
In other words, showcasing other people’s content cements your own website as an authoritative voice. Not only that, but curation is one of the most effective ways to build relationships and generate influence within your industry.
Unfortunately, just like traffic, you can’t deposit “thought leadership” into the bank.
Both applications automatically populate personalized content recommendations based on what your visitor is currently reading. Monetizing related-content links in the form of “You might also like” ads dramatically increases click through rates while (once again) avoiding spam.
When a visitor clicks on sponsored content from Taboola’s or Outbrain’s advertisers, you get a share of the ad revenue, just like a regular publisher would.
Image Source: Taboola
And just in case you’re worried these recommendations will come off as what Copyhackers recently called “scumboxes” — a form of native advertising “that elicits a purely neurological brain stem response in its target consumer” by leaning hard on negative emotions like “fear, shame, disgust, or shock” — both tools have been implemented on a variety of thoroughly non-spammy sites. Taboola includes clients like the BBC, USA Today, and Huffington Post and Outbrain has been used by CNN, NBC News, and Fast Company.
Don’t be afraid to ask … and repurpose
If there’s one thing crowdfunding sites have taught us, it’s that sometimes all you have to do is ask.
For instance, if Zack “Danger” Brown can raise $55,492 through a potato-salad hoax, your valuable website content is certainly worth something too. That’s why asking visitors who find your content helpful or entertaining to support you shouldn’t be as rare as it is.
The easiest way to start asking is through a service like Paymentwall. Originally created as a traditional ecommerce payment platform, Paymentwall’s Donation feature provides websites with custom landing pages or inline calls to action. This is great a standalone option, especially for non-profit causes or organization.
Image Source: Paymentwall
However, the real genius comes in tying these “donations” to repurposed content like blog posts, lead magnets, email campaigns, or content upgrades. A great example of simply asking comes from Sujan Patel’s ebook 100 Days of Growth:
Image Credit: Sujan Patel
Notice that Sujan’s first call to action is a standard “Buy Now” button. However, he also offers less committed visitors the opportunity to “Preview 25 Chapters.” Once someone clicks the preview button, a popup appears that allows them to “Name a fair price: $”:
This approach – known as the Pay-What-You-Want (PWYW) pricing strategy – made huge waves in 2007 when Radiohead released In Rainbows using it. As Thom York told Wired, “In terms of digital income, we’ve made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together.”
However, I know what you’re thinking, “Wasn’t the whole point of this post to monetize non-ecommerce sites? I don’t have an eBook, album, or anything else to sell.”
Exactly … and that’s where our final tool comes in.
In Sujan’s case, the 100 Days of Growth preview is powered by Gumroad. Gumroad allows you to monetize non-ecommerce content that already exists on your site by easily transforming it into a host of different products like videos, courses, and eBooks. The eBook route is by far the fastest approach. In fact, Gumroad takes care of the heavy lifting for you. This includes design work, monetization plug-ins, and even guides to help you turn everything from food and cooking blogs to app development posts into your first eBook using the very content you already have.
Monetize what you already have
While ad blocking software and dismal click-through rates on display ads might discourage you, the good news is, you can monetize your non-ecommerce website … without being spammy and without creating anything new.
It all comes down to four approaches:
- Make every word count.
- Give financial life to your images.
- Take advantage of other people’s content.
- Don’t be afraid to ask … and repurpose.
The best part about these tools is that they can all be used in conjunction, or you can simply select the ones you think will be more effective for your site and audience.
The next time you think you’ll have to start selling something directly to make some decent money from your website, just remember the stories of Pat Flynn and other great content blogs out there, and remember that there are tons of native, unobtrusive ways to monetize your existing site.
You just have to find the right combination of techniques and tools that work for you.