“Display ads are stupid. You need a ton of traffic to make it worthwhile, not to mention they’re ugly.”
“Affiliate marketing is dead. Amazon is only paying 1-3%; it’s impossible to make a living income.”
“There are too many free communities out there to get anyone to want to pay for a private community.”
If you’re new to blogging, niche sites, content marketing – whatever you want to call it – there’s a good chance you’ve heard statements like these.
You’ve also probably heard the exact opposite:
“Display ads are great!”
“Affiliate marketing is the ultimate passive income business!”
“Membership communities are where the money is!”
Everyone has an opinion about how to build an online business. That’s why deciding which direction to steer your new content site seems really confusing.
Here’s a secret: there’s no “right” way.
I’ve been a full-time blogger since October 2009.
My first business, Location Rebel, helps new online entrepreneurs get to the point where they’re making their first $3,000/month.
$3k a month gives you plenty of options.
My second content site, Breaking Eighty, concentrates on golf course and golf product reviews.
And my third site is a cocktail and luxury travel site called “Slightly Pretentious.”
Over the last 13 years, I’ve learned a lot about monetizing content sites. I’ve tested numerous different strategies.
But there’s one in particular that works better than anything else.
I call it the “Golden Trifecta” of niche site monetization.
I’m about to tell you what that is, explain my rationale, and, hopefully, give you some direction for your content site.
The most essential component of a successful content site
First off, if you’re looking to get rich quickly or make money as fast as possible, I wouldn’t recommend blogging.
Blogging is a long play. It’ll take you a year or two (if you’re lucky) to build and monetize a content site that makes you a living wage.
If you need to make money right now, consider freelance writing. It’s easier to get paid quickly and it teaches you skills that will translate well to a content site down the road.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, there’s one thing that is more important than anything else when it comes to the success of your niche site.
What is it?
The simplest way to build a money-making website is to create content that, among other things, helps people decide which products in your industry they should buy.
And how do you get someone to take your recommendation on which products to buy?
They must trust you.
If your site is littered with display ads, affiliate links, and pop-ups from day one, guess what is almost impossible?
Yeah; building trust.
For any of the monetization strategies I mention below, you’re going to need your audience to trust you.
So for the first 3-6 months of your new content site, you know what you should do?
Don’t worry about making money.
Prove why you’re different from anyone else in your niche.
I promise you, if you show some restraint early on, you’ll make 10 times the money down the line.
The Golden Trifecta of Monetization
There’s no single “best” way to monetize a blog. Rather, I’ve found that leveraging multiple different revenue streams over time provides some security against changing algorithms, a recession or increased competition.
But the order in which you do these matters.
Again, this isn’t the right way or the only way, but it’s the way I’ve found works best to diversify your income while maintaining trust with your audience.
What three forms of monetization make up this “golden trifecta?”
You may have already guessed:
- Affiliate Marketing
- Membership Community/Recurring Digital Product
- Display Advertising
In that order.
Because, in this case, the order matters.
1. Affiliate Marketing: the easiest way to make your first dollar online
Ideally, you’ll have 10-20 pieces of high-quality content before you include a single affiliate link on your site.
Early on, it’s all about building an audience and building trust.
Building an audience goes outside the scope of this post, but always remember this…
Trust over everything.
Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. As you implement these strategies, always consider what effect they will have on your relationship with your audience.
The first thing I do when monetizing sites is to slowly introduce affiliate links.
Because it allows you to make money while being as helpful as possible.
Specifically, I’d choose one narrow niche.
For instance, I’ve become an expert in golf rangefinders.
I’ve done dedicated reviews on dozens of them.
When you dedicate time to reviewing all of the most popular products in a niche, you inevitably become the “expert” in that industry.
What happens? You build trust.
And better yet, you can add affiliate links to each one of those products and start earning commissions on your recommendations.
One little SEO tip I’ve learned is that, when you’ve reviewed a lot of products within an industry and then you do a “Best of” roundup, Google will smile down on you.
All of those reviews don’t just build trust with your audience, they also build trust in the eyes of Google.
So, not only will future reviews in that niche tend to rank better, but if there’s a high-traffic “Best” keyword, you’ll also get a nice bump. This can lead to a lot of additional affiliate revenue.
Once you’ve established yourself in one niche, begin adding content in another related product niche. And then another.
Over time, you’ll have not only built trust but also built a significant stream of revenue in the process.
If you do it right — and remain as unbiased as possible in your reviews — you’ll find people not only trust you, they’ll want to buy through your links and support you for all your hard work.
Once you’ve hit that point, you know you’re ready to move to the second level of monetization.
2. Creating a (very) niche community
Affiliate marketing is great, but it can leave you vulnerable.
I’ve seen entire businesses crash overnight due to one Google algorithm change.
I’ve had affiliate revenue streams worth thousands of dollars a month disappear simply because a company decided to close its affiliate program.
So, how do you hedge against that?
Create a membership community.
Specifically, a tiny, extremely-niche community.
There is a ton of free information on the internet.
There are millions of free communities.
The question is, how do you get someone to pay to be part of a community or buy a digital product with recurring revenue?
You go small. Exceedingly small.
I call this a “Niche Within a Niche.”
For my golf site, I created a golf society for private club members.
It’s $500 a year and targets people who:
- Are members of a private club and enjoy hosting other golfers who will appreciate the history and tradition of their course.
- Like to travel and experience new golf courses around the world.
- Enjoy geeking out about golf on the internet.
Less than 5% of my total audience fits this definition. But for the small percentage that it is a good fit for, it’s a no-brainer — and an incredibly easy sell.
By creating a community that is highly cultivated and so niche, you’ll find people that are more than happy to pay to be a part of it.
This leads to a group of people who have “bought-in” to the vision and who will create more activity and trust within the community as it grows.
And, since you’ve already built trust with your audience through your content, it’s far smoother to get a community like this off the ground.
When I launched The Eighty Club, we had over 50 applications within 48 hours. We achieved that with 2 Instagram posts.
So, while a community like this may be more work to manage than affiliate revenue, it’s also much more predictable. Plus, you’re insulated from outside changes beyond your control.
3. The ultimate passive income strategy
Now you’ve got the trust and you’ve got a community.
What’s the third level in the Golden Trifecta of blog monetization?
For a decade, I detested display ads.
They ruin the user experience.
And, up until relatively recently, they simply didn’t pay enough to make them worthwhile.
But 3 years ago, I decided to run an experiment on Breaking Eighty.
For 90 days, I’d add display ads to the site through Mediavine.
My thinking was that, if I got bombarded with complaints or my search traffic suffered, I’d simply remove them and chalk it up to a learning experience.
Three years later, I haven’t had a single complaint about the ads.
Yes, they’re ugly.
In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have them there.
But, as traffic grows on your site, the revenue from display ads becomes free money.
You do nothing except wait for the cash to roll in.
This year, I’ve averaged over $200/day in display ads on one of my sites.
The trust of my audience is there.
The community is there.
If I’d showered the site with ads at the start, I don’t believe that I’d ever have built that audience and trust.
Once your audience and trust are established, and you continue to provide value week in and week out, people overlook the ads.
In return, you receive the most passive form of income.
Tying it all together
Are there other ways to make money with a content website?
Are there shady blackhat ways to make money on a content site faster?
But there’s a reason I’m still blogging full-time — 13 years after I began.
I put my audience first.
I create content specifically for them.
I’m open and vulnerable at times which helps cement my relationship with them.
I don’t do any shady link building or anything else that could have an adverse effect down the line.
Does it take longer to do it this way?
But the peace of mind it gives you, and the diversification of your revenue streams, make it totally worth it (for me, at least).
Some people have become wildly successful by only focusing on one of the three strategies I mentioned above – and you could do the same.
But, being thoughtful about how all three can work together to create a stable business gives you the best chance of growing a brand that gives you passive income, plenty of free time, and the lifestyle you were searching for when you first decided to build an online business.
Are you willing to try?