Part 1: How to Monetize Your Audience
If you’re like many WordPress site owners, your journey began with a real passion for something. Whatever that passion was, you probably looked for great online content to satisfy your need to learn more about this subject and to help you connect with others who shared your passion. Chances are that you weren’t happy with the content that you found, so you decided to start a site of your own.
Somehow between your day job and family life, you managed to knock out a steady stream of great content, and soon word began to spread. People found your content and really liked it. And it felt really good, except for the part where you still have a full-time job, a family to take care of, and don’t have enough hours in the day to really take your passion project to the next level.
If this sounds a lot like you, then believe it or not you’re one of the lucky ones. Most people never start a WordPress blog. And those that do rarely manage to deliver a steady stream of engaging content. Even fewer find an audience for their ideas.
Even if you’ve made it this far, it’s still easy to get discouraged. After all, you’ve put all this time and effort into something that you love to do, but you haven’t figured out how to turn what you love into a living. The good news is that with a little extra effort, you can turn all your hard work into a steady income stream.
As you’re about to learn, you’re in very good company. Many of the most successful new businesses got their start by sharing great content and attracting an engaged audience. Then they figured out a way to turn that audience interest into revenue and profit.
So get ready to learn how to turn all of your hard work creating engaging content into a steady income stream, an income stream that will, in turn, give you more time to take your passion project to the next level.
By the way, I like to call this process the Virtuous Wheel of Content Creation. It goes a little something like this:
- Create great, engaging content.
- Attract a sizeable audience that shares your passion.
- Monetize your audience to the degree that you can.
- Reinvest those earnings to take your WordPress blog to the next level.
- Repeat steps 1 – 4.
When it comes to monetizing your audience, there are several options available to you. The trick is to pick the right option given your situation. At the end of the day, though, no matter which strategy you choose, it all boils down to selling relevant products and/or services to your audience.
It’s critically important that whatever you sell aligns with your audience’s interests.
For example, if your blog is all about Star Trek, you probably shouldn’t try selling baby furniture on the site (unless, of course, your niche happens to be pregnant Star Trek fans). Now that that’s out of the way, here’s a list of the monetization strategies that we’ll cover:
- Becoming an advertising channel through a service like Google AdSense.
- Affiliate selling through a program like Amazon Associates.
- Selling your own products and/or services by enabling e-commerce on your WordPress blog with WooCommerce.
Each has their own pros and cons, so pay close attention to them before you decide on the best approach for you.
Option 1: Become an Advertising Channel with Google AdSense
Monetization Model: Pay per click.
Pros: Easy to implement, largely automated, extensive list of advertisers.
Cons: Low payouts, requires ongoing optimization.
Becoming an advertising channel through a service like Google AdSense is by far one of the most common monetization strategies on the Internet today and for good reason. Google has a ton of advertisers on their platform and they are one of the easiest methods to start generating revenue on your WordPress blog. Just insert your Google AdSense code in your blog posts and you’re good to go (there also are some nifty plugins that make this even easier, like AdSense Plugin WP QUADS and Ad Inserter). Google then displays what it thinks are relevant ads based on your content and the click history of your audience. So you never have to worry about which products or services you should sell.
Unfortunately, this ease of implementation comes at a cost, namely a typically low payout per click. Consequently, AdSense doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve ramped up to generating content every day for a sizable enough audience. It also comes with some limitations (you can’t, for example, promote AdSense products or services directly in your content) and some ongoing maintenance overhead (you have to periodically optimize your account to ensure that you’re getting the best ROI).
It’s for this reason that I typically recommend this monetization strategy for WordPress blogs with larger followings (i.e. 50K or more daily visitors) and the resources to optimize their Adsense account.
Option 2: Begin Affiliate Selling with Amazon Associates
Monetization Model: Sales commission.
Pros: Better payouts, tons of advertising options, flexible placement options.
Cons: You need to select and curate the products that you offer.
Affiliate selling is another popular monetization option. In the affiliate selling model, you establish a direct relationship with an online retailer where you are paid a commission for each sale that originates from your WordPress blog. The retailers that offer affiliate programs provide you with a special link for each product that you want to sell (this is commonly called an affiliate link), which you then insert on your WordPress blog.
Commission rates for affiliate programs vary but often range between 1% to 10% of the sales price of the item in question. It does require that your site visitor to purchase the product or service (rather than just clicking on a display ad), which explains the higher payout percentage versus becoming an advertising channel through platforms like Google AdSense (where you are paid by the click).
Affiliate programs also offer the most flexibility when it comes to advertising placement. You can, for example, weave the advertisement into the copy of your WordPress blog post pretty seamlessly. You can also create display ads and text links of your own that use your affiliate links.
Just about every major online retailer offers an affiliate program. Amazon Associates is one of the most popular and for good reason: You have a vast selection of products and services to offer on your WordPress blog — literally just about everything that Amazon sells.
There is a downside to affiliate selling, namely the need to research and curate the products that you offer on your WordPress blog. In some cases, there are more than 100,000 products to choose from, and nailing down the products that will generate the most revenue for your blog can be a time consuming and error-prone process.
Option 3: Utilize E-commerce with WooCommerce
Monetization Model: Directly sell to your visitors.
Pros: Biggest payouts, total control over user experience.
Cons: A lot more work.
The most lucrative monetization strategy is that of becoming an online retailer yourself. WordPress makes this easier than you might imagine. Through the WooCommerce e-commerce plugin, you can add an e-commerce store to your WordPress blog and sell just about anything you want.
The biggest benefit of this approach is that you get to keep all of the profit from the sales of products and services that you offer in your store. So even with a modest following, the ROI on sales through your store can be pretty lucrative. You also have complete control over the user experience, which means you have the power to improve your store to further increase sales.
Now for the downside. Running an online store is a lot of work. You have to source inventory, maintain a product catalog, manage inventory and fulfillment, create a highly converting checkout process, and more. Plus you need to learn the ins and out of WooCommerce.
This monetization strategy is definitely not for the faint of heart, which is why taking an incremental approach to your e-commerce strategy typically works best. For example, it’s very common for WordPress bloggers following this strategy to start out by selling branded merchandise, typically T-shirts, coffee mugs and the like. They’ll start with one product, say a branded coffee mug, and see how it goes. Then as they get more familiar with WooCommerce and the other ins and out of e-commerce, they begin to add more items to their product inventory. They’ll continue in this incremental fashion until they’ve mastered all the elements of e-commerce and can scale their store’s inventory with confidence.
Hybrid Monetization — Combining All Three Approaches
One other thing to consider is taking a hybrid approach to your monetization strategy. Nowhere does it say that you can’t combine these techniques with your WordPress blog, and often WordPress bloggers who are successful at monetization do just that.
So feel free to mix and match these strategies. Just be careful not overburden yourself to the point where it interferes with creating great content and growing your audience. Which leads me to my next topic, namely when you should actively monetize your audience … you can read all about that, in Part 2.