As someone who has been running an online business for the last 5 years, I have gained some perspective on what its like to make money on the web. Since it is my livelihood, it’s something I think about constantly. But you might be surprised to know I am rarely thinking about ways to make MORE money. Instead, I find myself wading through the available options and opportunities, trying to decide which methods are acceptable for me, my business, and my audience. The end result is typically significant amounts of money being left on the table. Most times, I simply ask myself, “Would I want to be advertised to in that way?” If I’m not sure, a quick conversation with Nicole usually closes the deal.
Once you have a website with a decent and consistent flow of traffic, opportunities abound! While capitalizing on all those opportunities may line your pockets in the short term, it will no doubt jeopardize your relationship with your audience in the long term. So you really do have to be careful about your choices in monetization options. Now I’m no expert in this area, but I do know what works for me.
I believe a content-producer has the right to monetize till they’re blue in the face and I would never begrudge someone for doing so. But when it comes to my audience, I have a certain level of respect and friendship (if you can imagine such a thing happening with thousands of strangers), that I don’t want to jeopardize. So ultimately, I’d rather lose money and gain respect. After all, if I am smart about my monetization methods, that long-term respect can lead to even greater earnings potential in the future.
It is becoming a habit of mine on this personal blog to let loose some fairly personal details, so let’s keep that theme going by reviewing a few of the monetization opportunities I routinely turn down and why. Again, this in no way meant to be advice or a “how-to”. Most of the time I’m just “winging’ it” anyway! These are just personal opinions, gut feelings, and general principles that I feel make The Wood Whisperer the company that many folks know and love.
First off, here are my three rules concerning advertising:
1. Respect the content!
2. Never mix content and advertising in a deceptive way.
3. Always keep the reader’s/viewer’s experience in mind.
With those in mind, here are the dirty rascals…
Text Link Ads
This monetization method involves partnering with a 3rd party company that combs your site for keywords. If they find a keyword that matches up to an ad they have in the database, the word is hyperlinked. Every time the link is clicked the site owner gets a small amount of revenue. This breaks rule #1 and #2 in a very deceptive way. When I click on a link in an article, I expect this is an item the author is linking to as an extra resource or even a product they specifically recommend. But that is not the case. These links populate based on whatever keywords are in the database and the author has little to no control over them. Fortunately, text link ads are pretty easy to spot as they are typically double-underlined.
I like to think of my articles as mini conversations with my readers. Imagine talking to someone and saying, “So I went into my shop (CHECK OUT SHOP.COM!!) yesterday and used my iPhone (BUY iPHONES HERE FOR CHEAP!) to take pictures of a beautiful maple board (MAPLE FLOORING AT DEEP DISCOUNT PRICES)”. Not only is that annoying and irrelevant, it’s counter-productive to my ultimate goal: keeping people engaged and on my site for as long as possible. It just isn’t worth the $0.15/click to send you away from my site in the middle of our conversation.
Breaking Articles into Multiple Pages
About.com, I’m talking to you! This drives me nuts as a reader. I have a scroll bar on my mouse and I enjoy using it. There is really no need for a small article to be broken up into 4 pages. The only logic I can see behind this is the fact that it boosts page views. If every article takes up 2-3 pages, that’s 2-3 times more page views than if the article appeared on one single page. So its a great way to inflate your numbers to please advertisers. Unfortunately, the reader is on the losing end, having to click through multiple pages to read a very short article.
This is a fairly new one for me. I was recently offered $50 to do nothing more than say, “Check out Website XYZ” on my Facebook page. Much like my Twitter account, every post is coming directly from me. If I post a link, I see it as a genuine recommendation about something I think my audience will enjoy. My reputation is attached to that recommendation. Dropping a meaningless ad in there just feels…..icky. My status updates on social media sites are essentially my words. And at this stage of the game, I just don’t feel the need to monetize my words in that way.
YouTube Description Ads
This is also a fairly new development. I have to routinely turn down offers to insert links into my video descriptions on YouTube. Frankly, these just piss me off so I usually don’t even grace them with a response. YouTube’s linking rules are so stringent that I’m lucky to have my own link in there, let alone someone else’s!
Excerpts in RSS Feeds
When you run a blog, you usually have a choice as to how your RSS feeds appear in readers. You can set it to “Full Article” or “Excerpts”. In my opinion, excerpts are completely counter-productive for the reader and possibly even for the author. They are nothing more than teaser content used to hopefully drive the reader to the source website in the hopes of increasing traffic. But for people who read hundreds of blogs in a reader, its a good way to find yourself booted off their reading list. The way I see it, I want as many eyeballs to see my content as possible. Half of the battle when you produce content online is awareness. Why limit your potential by gimping the technology? This is one of those trade-offs again, right? Is the minor increase in traffic worth the cost of convenience to my readers? For me, the answer is no.
Pre-Roll Video Ads
Now this is the one that will most likely boggle your mind. I know it certainly boggles mine. A few years ago, Blip.tv (my video host) started implementing a robust ad program. You can turn on pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll ads by simply checking a little box. In order to entice you into opting in, they display a little message at the top of your dashboard telling you how much money you COULD be making based on the past performance of your videos. As you can see, I have $1900/month just sitting there, looking all sexy sporting that “come hither” look. Truth is, I have toyed with these ads in the past. And while I will defend my right to turn those ads on, I just can’t get myself to do it. Every time I press play on one of my videos and see an ad for Trojan Condoms, or Febreeze, or Best Buy, a little woodworking gnome dies. It just doesn’t feel right to me. As much video as I consume online, I am completely jaded to pre-roll ads and I think most folks are in the same boat. But as long as we have sponsors on our site, I just can’t justify extending the distance between my viewers and my videos by 30 seconds. Believe me, it’s incredibly difficult looking at what essentially amounts to my mortgage payment sitting there just waiting for me every month. But I honestly feel that providing a more enjoyable experience on my site leads to more positive juju and more time spent exploring what my site has to offer. Monetization will have to come in other ways.
The Wood Whisperer Guild has become, hands down, the largest source of revenue for my business. For those who aren’t familiar, this is the paid membership portion of my website. Having a membership site coupled with a popular free website means I have near constant opportunities to slip in a plug for the Guild. But most times, I just don’t. I will occasionally mention an upcoming build or send out a video featuring a segment from a Guild video. But I make sure the segments are always complete thoughts. No cliff hangers, no teasers, no up-sells. In fact, if you go to the home page now and you don’t know what the Guild is, you’d have a hard time knowing the option even exists! FYI, this will change to some extent with a future iteration of the website. I do plan to make the Guild’s presence a little more obvious.
But despite this lack of a hard sell, the Guild is thriving! Why? I have to believe it is because of some of the things mentioned above. Of course we have great woodworking content and I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into my videos, but I like to think we helped foster a culture of woodworkers that folks just want to be a part of. An honest to goodness grassroots effort where all are welcome to participate and attitudes are checked at the door. Dropping $199 on an online membership takes a lot of trust on the part of the user. And this is where I feel I am getting the most payoff from all of my previous “lofty” views and policies toward advertising and dealing with people. I have established a trusting relationship with my readers and as a result people know what to expect from me. They either think the membership is worth it, or they don’t. There is very little suspicion or debate about whether I will deliver on my promises; only questions about whether what I promise is worth the asking price. When someone does approach me with a sense of doubt about the program, I simply tell them to wait. Enjoy the free site for a few months and make a decision at that time. In the end, they usually wind up joining after a few days. So when asked why I don’t push the Guild more aggressively, the simple answer is (thankfully) because I don’t yet need to.
Sometimes these posts just become a stream of consciousness and I don’t really even know what I expect to accomplish with them. I suppose mostly its a form of therapy for me. I enjoy sitting in my recliner letting the words flow out. The fact that people actually read them is pretty freakin’ awesome. So hopefully this provides something useful to someone. And if not, at least it gives you a little more insight into what makes The Wood Whisperer tick. Perhaps in the future, I’ll talk a little bit about the monetization methods I find fruitful and why.