Fed up of working for the man? Want to start making your own money and be your own boss?
Creating a website for yourself, your own brand or your own company is one of the best and potentially most lucrative way of doing so.
But how exactly can you make real money from something as seemingly intangible as a website?
There are a handful of different ways, and in this guide, we’ll explain the pros and cons of each. We also explain which method of monetizing a website is likely to be the best for you and your business, to make sure don’t end up back in the rat race.
In general, there are four main ways that websites make money:
Selling Products – also called eCommerce, this is the best way to make money through a website, using it as a platform for your business to sell products or services.
Displaying Adverts – the classic way to make money online, but be warned that the ‘golden days’ are over. Unless your site pulls in hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, the gains from hosting ads are very small these days.
Hosting Sponsored Content – if your site is growing in prominence, you can make money by hosting articles or posts. A brand or business might pay you, for example, to host an article recommending a product or service of theirs.
Having a Subscription or Premium Membership – increasingly, even smaller websites and blogs are experimenting with Premium Membership. Loyal readers may pay, via a service such as Patreon, to support a site that they enjoy.
A successful website can, of course, make money from more than one of these avenues. However, not all of these methods of monetization are going to be the best choice for every business.
You’ll need to find one, or multiple, methods of monetization that will suit your business’ aims and identity. It’s important to ensure these aren’t contradictory – for example, selling products on a site covered with adverts that lead to other sites isn’t a good plan.
You can find out more about identifying and constructing a site based around core aims, identities and audience understanding in our What Makes a Good Website guide.
Here are some key considerations when deciding which monetization approaches will work best for your website:
Selling Products Online – If you make products, then you can sell them online via your own site. This is known as ecommerce, and companies large and small do it successfully. However, it can be costly to get started, and it’s often worth building the brand before you start selling online.
Hosting Adverts – Putting adverts on your site isn’t that difficult, but it is worth remembering that they make your site load more slowly, and you really need to be getting a large number of visitors to make it viable as a sole or primary income source.
Sponsored content – Brands pay you to put content about them on your site. Simple. However, you won’t be able to attract sponsorships until you have a large, or highly engaged user base. However, There are rules in the US and the rules in the UK, for example, about the responsibilities that come with hosting sponsored content.
Subscription/ Premium Membership – Services such as Patreon allow people to give monthly to their favorite online content creators and website publishers – even something as small as a blog. Typical donations are $12 per month, but can start from $1 a month. It provides these creators with a dependable revenue stream in what would typically be an unreliable and unpredictable business.
How to Sell Products Online
If you want to start selling products online, you’ll need to build a website with a dedicated ecommerce functionality. This means stock-keeping, a shopping cart mechanism, account tracking and more.
This all sounds complicated, but it’s surprisingly straightforward if you pick the right website design software to get you started.
Website builders, such as Wix, can help you build a site with all of this functionality built-in and ready to go. Of course, this functionality doesn’t come free, but it does come surprisingly cheap.
The Wix VIP plan costs just $25 per month and will give you access to a full online store.
It’s worth taking a look at the small print when picking an ecommerce website builder – they might take a percentage fee of all the sales you make, for example. Others might lack some features that could increase your chances of making a sale, such as abandoned cart recovery.
Let’s take a look at the best ecommerce website builders on the market. Scroll horizontally to view the whole table if you’re using a mobile.
The best ecommerce platform with unmatched features, great websites and a scalable platform.
Runs Shopify clsose with great sales features, but small knowledge base and weaker website design let it down.
Can’t match the scalability of the first two, but you’ll get a great-looking, easy to use sales website.
A good alternative to BigCommerce with better web design. Can be confusing to use, though.
Like Squarespace, Wix isn’t as scalable for big businesses, makes creating a sales site easy
Has some advantages over Wix when it comes to sales features, but Weebly’s overall platform isn’t as compelling
At first glance, putting adverts on your website might sound like a lengthy undertaking. However, the Google AdSense service will make displaying adverts on your site completely painless.
Most website builders will offer apps or plugins for AdSense. Once you’ve signed up to an AdSense account, these apps will apply the little advert boxes you commonly see across the internet.
You’re free to put these wherever you want on your site, as well as change the general layout. When someone views the ad, or clicks on it, you’ll get money – it really couldn’t be easier.
How Much Money Can You Make from Online Adverts?
Just to contain your expectations, AdSense isn’t particularly lucrative unless you’re using it at a large scale – at least hundreds of thousands of unique viewers per month. It’s even trickier to monetize via adverts these days, as so many people use ad blockers.
Also, adverts will slow down your website’s loading speed, meaning that you might lose out on users coming to your site, and, even if they get there, the adverts might put them off. It’s worth thinking long and hard about whether this is the right revenue stream for you.
Patreon is a service that lets an audience give money to their favorite content creators, or access premium content on an otherwise free website.
Think of it this way – your favorite podcast gives away one free episode every week to all listeners; but, it also gives another episode to its dedicated Patreon donors, as well as some behind-the-scenes video footage and a monthly Reddit AMA.
Donations are paid on a monthly basis, which gives creators a dependable, month-to-month income stream, helping them run their businesses efficiently.
Unlike a lot of the above monetization methods, having a workable income stream from Patreon doesn’t require an enormous audience. Instead, it relies more on engagement.
For example, Zach Weinersmith, who writes his own comics, has 3,401 Patreon donors, but earns nearly $7,000 per month from their donations.
Do – Consider using a website builder. They’re cheaper than you think, and you’ll be able to add online stores, adverts or sponsored content as your site grows.
Don’t – Worry that it’s too hard to start your own online store. As well as website builders such as Wix, there are other excellent template online store platforms: Shopify, for example.
Do – Remember that quality is more important than quantity. If you want to create a successful, long term business, you need to ensure that your users are happy.
Don’t – Pack your site full of low quality adverts. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t use tools such as AdSense, but be aware that they should be used sparingly. Don’t forget, you’re only ever one ad-block extension away from losing a customer.
Do – Consider starting a Patreon account, especially if you run a labor-intensive, content-driven business. It might seem a strange idea at first, but it’s becoming increasingly commonplace.
Don’t – Give up. Sure, you’ll make more money if you get more visitors, but having a highly engaged audience who know about the quality of the work you produce, can be just as beneficial.