There’s nary a blogger alive who hasn’t considered monetizing their WordPress site at some point. Sure, a lot of us do it for love not money, writing blogs on the side while we pay the bills with a regular job. But there’s a growing demographic of aspirational bloggers who see online publishing as more than a hobby.
So how should one go about pulling in a few bucks from their WordPress blog? What are the best strategies? The answer today is different to what the answer would have been ten years ago.
The old way of making money with your WordPress blog
When Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising was first introduced in the late 1990s, a lot of bloggers thought they had struck e-gold. If you were getting any sort of traffic on your site, all you had to do was throw up a few text-link and banner ads, and watch the money start rolling in.
Hosting PPC ads was some of the easiest money you could make on the web, and programs like Google’s AdSense took off like a rocket.
The glory days of PPC are over
A fair bit has changed since then. It’s not 1999 anymore – web users today are smart, sharp-minded and cynical. Your average Joe Internet won’t click blindly on every flashing banner or Google ad that pops up on his screen. In fact, at the first hint that you’re trying to cram advertising down his throat, he’ll probably leave your site and never come back.
The Click-Through Rate (CTR) for textual and banner advertisements has steadily declined over the last five or six years. In the old wild west days of the interwebs, banner and text advertisements could quite easily reap a 5% CTR. (Meaning that five percent of the people who viewed the ad would click on it, and you got paid for every click). These days, you’re lucky to see 0.2%. Which makes PPC ads a much less profitable use of your website space than they once were.
Don’t be mistaken, there are still websites out there today that make big money with text and banner ads. In fact Google earns 28% of its revenue from the AdSense program. But the heyday of PPC advertising has well and truly passed. These days, unless you have huge readership in a very commercial niche, you’re unlikely to see much bacon from standard PPC ads.
WordPress monetization 2.0
In 2011, if you want to earn a buck or two from your WordPress site, you need to get a little more creative. Instead of throwing blatant advertising in the face of every visitor to your site, offer them something unique and rewarding instead.
These are three ethical and non-offensive strategies for generating revenue with your WordPress blog.
#1: Offer premium ‘members only’ content for a fee
Provided that you’re giving most of your blog content away for free, and you have a sufficiently loyal reader base who dig your work, you could potentially offer some top-notch ‘premium’ content on a members only basis. Charging a one-off or recurring membership fee can be a lucrative income stream if there’s enough demand for the stuff you’re writing.
To get away with this, you’ll need to be offering something of real value, not just more of your regular blog posts. If people will pay money to read your blog, you should take that as an enormous compliment and do everything you can to reward them. Some good ideas for premium content could include:
- Detailed multi-part tutorials that show people how to achieve something difficult and rewarding.
- Video/audio recordings of your interviews with experts in a given field.
- Access to YOU: make yourself available for chat sessions with your paying members, or hold little video webinars that only members can watch. The WordPress Chat plugin is perfect for this.
- If you’re selling physical products or e-books on your site, offer a reduced ‘members only’ price.
Before you try to sell anything as premium content on your blog, make sure that the same thing isn’t available somewhere else for free. Be honest with yourself and ask if the content you’re offering is really worth paying for.
So how do you do it?
The Membership plugin is a simple solution for dividing your WordPress site into free and premium content, and letting your readers sign up as paying members via an integrated PayPal gateway.
#2: Include a classifieds directory on your WordPress blog
With the addition of a simple plugin like Classifieds from WPMU Dev, you can set up a listings directory on your WordPress site, and charge people to advertise there. Items for sale, services offered, whatever.
You can see a very successful example of the classifieds system over at the ProBlogger Job Board. Darren Rowse and his gang charge people $50 a month to post ‘blogger wanted’ jobs on their site. Because ProBlogger gets huge traffic and is widely respected as an authoritative source of information, it seems like a pretty good place to advertise blogging jobs.
It’s very easy to replicate this system on your own WordPress site. Got a blog about cars? Charge people to advertise vehicles for sale, or mechanic’s services or whatever. Blogging about classical music? People can advertise piano lessons or violin repairs.
You get the picture. If your WordPress blog is respected and pulling a decent amount of targeted traffic, there’s a good chance that people will pay money to rent space on your site.
#3: Create a paid access blogging network
Of the three ideas suggested here, this monetization method will probably require the highest levels of blog traffic and recognition to be successful.
If you’re running a high-traffic blog with a recognizable brand identity, you can capitalize on this by converting your WordPress site to a multisite network, and charging people to set up their own blog on your property.
Here’s a hypothetical example:
- You’re the editor and chief blogger at F1central.com, one of the internet’s most widely read blogs about Formula One racing.
- You have a tonne of readers and everyone loves your content.
- You convert your single WordPress installation into a Multisite network, which can now host multiple blogs at the same time, and you call it the F1 Central Community or something like that.
For a fee, Formula One racing fans with an opinion to share can sign up for their own blog on your network. It’s worth the money for them, because they get to associate with your blogging brand and reach an established audience right from the get go.
So how’s it done?
First things first – to create a network of blogs, you need to enable Multisite on your WordPress installation. It’s a fairly technical process, but this visual tutorial walks you through it step-by-step. For more general information about WordPress Multisite and how it can be used, check out these WPMU articles.
Now for the cash. If you want to charge people money to start a blog on your network, you’ll need a plugin like Pay to Blog, which integrates with PayPal and directs your users to a payment screen before they can set up their blog.
The key to success is mutual value
The common theme in all these monetization strategies is that you make money by giving something valuable to your readers, and treating them like intelligent human beings rather than mindless consumers. The future of website revenue lies in developing genuine communities that both you and your followers can benefit from.
Thanks to Andrew Magill for the feature picture.