Can you really make money with your website? The short answer is, “Yes!” Just maybe not the way you’d expect.
For years, the internet has been abuzz with articles dispensing advice on how to monetize your blog. And it read very much like the “if you build it, they will come” mantra from Field of Dreams. But you wouldn’t open a new storefront expecting only street visibility to gain you customers, right? The same is even more true with a website or blog. Online traffic is much more dense than any store on Rodeo Drive or the Magnificent Mile would see, and yet it’s so easy to believe that just building a website is enough to start building an income stream. If only it were that simple.
So where do you begin?
Who Are You?
I’m going to blame Star Wars for keeping that little phrase stuck in my head, but it’s a pertinent question. You can’t sell yourself until you understand yourself, and that starts with a close examination of who you are and how you project your identity online. Start by distilling your brand or identity down to its simplest essence, in order to facilitate a clean, quick description of who you are and what you do. It’s the infamous “elevator pitch”, and it should be at the center of your website’s purpose.
What Are You Doing Here?
If your answer to that question is, “making money, duh” (or worse, “NOT making money, ugh”) then it may be time to reassess your strategy. Step back from your daily grind now and then and really look at what you’re trying to accomplish with your website.
- Selling products? Do you offer a mix that makes sense? One that encourages add-ons or repeat purchases?
- Selling services? Are you reaching the people who need your help? Are you finding enough people to keep your business viable?
- Got a blog? What makes yours stand out as unique? Do you post frequently enough to encourage visitors to come back?
Who Are You Looking For?
Knowing your audience is vital to running a successful business website. As much as you might try to deny it, the fact remains that not everyone in the world wants what you have to offer. A bit of market research will tell you who loves cooking as much as you do, or who is more likely to go see a horror movie rather than a romcom, who’s in the dating pool and who’s heading toward retirement. Which groups apply to you? Don’t waste time trying to attract the wrong people; go find your tribe!
What Do You Have To Offer?
This is where we start digging into the details of how to make money online. You’ve probably heard that you can make money through online advertising — that is, you get ad revenue from placing online advertising on your website. But what if your website doesn’t get enough traffic to make that a viable option? You need to realize that a website all on its own isn’t going to make money. It doesn’t matter how beautiful it is, or how great the content is. Your website is the first step to making money, not the last step. It’s your front door, as we like to say.
What happens when people get in the door? You need to have something else to offer them. That could be physical products, or special services, or digital items like ebooks. But when you realize that the true purpose of your website is simply to introduce the world to That Thing You Have To Offer (remember, your website itself is not that thing!), then you’re on the right path toward making money online.
Now, I’m going to backtrack just a little bit. I want to make it clear that I’m not disparaging online advertising. Ads do power the internet. And there are people earning decent income from that. But it’s not happening for as many people as you might think. Could it work well for you? Certainly. Should that be your main focus? No, I don’t believe it should. Online advertising is a great tool. But on its own, it’s not enough to be the primary money-making focus of your website. (Unless you sell advertising services, of course.)
So, what is that special Thing you have for the people visiting your website? If you don’t know yet, I suggest you drop everything relating to your website until you figure that out. I’ve seen businesses rise and fall for lack of focus and a clear vision. Don’t let yours be one of them.
The last thing I’ll mention here is the definition of “You”. You may be an independent blogger or a sole-proprietor business owner. Or you may be trying to figure out why your corporate leadership is pushing you toward an expanded online presence. Or maybe your boss has charged you with this task and you don’t quite understand why. What’s true for the blogging mom is just as true for the CEO of Target; the principles above apply across the board. The main difference is how easy it might be to get that ever-coveted traffic over to your website.
You’ve gone through your identity crisis. You’ve found your tribe. You know exactly what special Thing you bring to the table (er, internet), whether that’s Halloween costumes or entertainment experiences or digital booklets. You probably also have a website already, which may or may not be bringing in the money you’re looking for, which is why you’re still reading, right? (Click here if you don’t have a website yet.) So what’s next?
The most important thing to remember about making money is that it’s a process. It takes time. It takes determination and focused energy. And it takes intent. Once you’ve identified the people who could benefit from the Thing you have to offer, you need to find them and connect with them. You need to gain their trust, and build a relationship, even if you only ever get one ad click from them or one sale. This is how reputations are built and how businesses grow.
Keep these points in mind while preparing or updating your website:
- The website itself: Is it clean, or too cluttered? Can people find their way around easily? Does it tell your story effectively? Read more about healthy websites here.
- Your content: Thoughtful, pertinent content on your website is like the holy grail of the internet. It’s what helps search engines find you, which brings more people to your site. Take the time and do it right. Old tricks like keyword stuffing and link farming are getting penalized by most search engines now. Be authentic. Get our tips for creating authentic content here.
- Social media: Do you have a presence on at least two social media outlets? These are like calling cards for your website. Don’t neglect them! Learn more about the benefits of social media here.
- Making a list: Notice I didn’t say “getting” a list, or “buying” a list. Grow your own list of real people who have actually interacted with your website. Don’t count on their boredom (or Facebook) to lead them back to you. Get a way to contact them again, and then do it. Get all the ins and outs of email marketing here.
Above all, be persistent. Studies have shown that it takes the average website visitor around seven interactions (or “touches”) before they’re ready to buy. Don’t give up after number five! Even before a sale ever happens, relationship-building is already underway. Your website is, and will continue to be, a great way to keep people aware of you and that magical Thing You Have To Offer.
So, can you REALLY make money with a website? Absolutely! We do. And so can you.