You want to use your site's content and traffic to produce revenue, even if you don't directly sell any products or services.
Build a site that can reliably send its visitors to e-commerce sites through pay-per-click ads and affiliate programs, where the money they spend will yield a small commission or finder's fee for you.
Generating income from web site content is by no means a get-rich-quick scheme. Compared with the effort involved in running a true e-commerce site (such as the daily grind of order processing, inventory management, and fraud avoidance), web site builders might be tempted to think that selling their traffic through pay-per-click and affiliate programs offers a more efficient means of landing on dot-com Easy Street. In truth, the gains to be made by this method require a fair amount of handson tactics applied to the ongoing operation of the site.
To understand the steps involved, let's consider the hypothetical case of Walter Evans, the owner of a small construction company that specializes in ecologically friendly, energy-efficient new homes and remodels. Walter is an experienced contractor who has long been passionate about things like solar power, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and SEER ratings on air-conditioning systems. He has a web site that promotes his business and generates a few sales leads, but he'd like the site to do more to improve his bottom line.
Walter's extensive knowledge of his business is his greatest asset. Motivated by his interest in the subject matter (as well as his interest in making more money), Walter should start by adding content to the site that his visitors will find valuable. Short lists and product recommendations will be the easiest to create, since he can base them on his personal experiencesthings like "Top 10 Inexpensive Ways to Reduce Your Electric Bill" or a review of the new Renewal Resources for Dummies book. Walter also will need devote some of his time to promoting his site by participating in the community it serves by, for example, posting comments on blogs related to his area of expertise.
RSS feeds from other content providers offer another way to add valuable information to your site. See Recipe 6.7.
Content, of course, is only half the equation. Without an audience, Walter has nothing to sell to advertisers and affiliates. Call it what you wantselling your visitors, monetizing eyeballsthe revenue potential for a content-only web site is directly related to the volume of traffic it receives.
So Walter must find ways to lure web surfers to his site. A company that specializes in search engine optimization will perform this service, but at a cost that's likely to outweigh the revenue it generates. A do-it-yourself approach to increasing site traffic better fits Walter's budget, but getting results will require patience as well as compelling content. Here are some of the steps he should take:
Write a description for the site. Even a site that doesn't care a whit about its search engine ranking should have a <meta> tag description of 10 to 20 words in the <head> section of its web pages:
<meta name="description" content="Walter Evans BuildDesign is an award-winning, residential construction company that specializes in green building, solar houses, and sustainable architecture in and around Austin, Texas.">
Register the site with web directories. Next, Walter should purchase commercial listings (using his site description) on the major search portals. A few hundred dollars (often payable annually) will buy listings on Yahoo!, MSN.com, LookSmart, and the other minor directories that get their listings from the big ones.
Choose keywords that people use in searches. Keywords augment the site description and help automated search engine spiders index a site. They are listed in a <meta> tag like this:
<meta name="keywords" content="green building, solar house, sustainable architecture, home solar power, green design, green architecture, solar home, sustainable design, passive solar design, passive solar house, home solar energy, sustainable building, green building design, energy efficient building, solar design">
Keywords should be listed in decreasing order of importance, ideally as two- or three-word phrases that align with the search queries of curious web surfers. For example, Walter might be considering three similar keyword phrases (among others) that he thinks his potential visitors would use to find his site: "green design," "sustainable design," and "sustainable building." When maximizing site traffic is the goal, the decision about which one to list first can't be made by guessing. Fortunately, there are several online keyword suggestion tools that can provide guidance on the search frequency of various keyword phrases. Google's AdSense program (https://www.google.com/adsense) will estimate keyword popularity when you sign up for the program. Digital Point Solutions' keyword suggestion tool combines Wordtracker's suggestion tool and Overture's keyword bidding tool into another powerful, free online resource for measuring the popularity of certain keywords (http://www.digitalpoint.com/tools/suggestion/).
Use microcontent to increase keyword density. HTML coding details such as page titles, alt attributes for images, and title attributes for linksnot to mention the shrewd use of keyword phrases in the readable content and links of the pages themselvescan further enhance the relevance a search engine assigns to a page. For example, a picture of solar panels on Walter's site could include an alt attribute that reads:
<img src="/books/2/2/1/html/2/panels.jpg" alt="Residential solar panels are an increasingly popular option for homeowners seeking better energy efficiency.">
Keep in mind, however, that your site might suffer if you bend these page elements too far toward your own marketing goals, and away from the usability and accessibility benefits they were designed to provide. Refer to the "See Also" section for Recipes that discuss these specific techniques, as well as an online tool that will measure the keyword density of your site.
Keep tabs on search engine ranking. Tweaking his site to maintain a steady stream of new and repeat visitors will require Walter to monitor how his site measures up against others for the same keyword searches. By entering a keyword and his site's URL into RankWhere.com's web site ranking report tool (on the home page), Walter can track his site's ranking for that search term on Google, MSN, Lycos and other major search engines.
When Walter's efforts begin to bear fruit in the form of healthy and growing site traffic, he then must create ways to pass those visitors on to the sites who will pay him for his audience's attention and business. Many web site builders spend time trying to find new ways to keep visitors on their sites, but Walter's site will have a different agenda. The advertisements and affiliate links that Walter will place adjacent to his content should lead directly to the partner's site in the same browser window. Any navigational trickery, such as opening the link in a new window or in a frame below Walter's web site banner, could dilute the visitor's attention and jeopardize a potential sale.
Refrain from clicking your own ads beyond an occasional test to make sure they're working; frequent "self-clicking" could be grounds for removal from the program.
In addition to the widely used pay-per-click systems (such as Google's AdSense) and affliate programs (such as the one offered at Amazon.com), Walter might consider some home-grown revenue generators. For example, he could refer visitors to the web sites of complementary businesses (such as architects, consultants, or realtors) in exchange for a finder's fee or a link back to his site.
The number of sites that link to Walter's site can be another factor in determining its relevance in search engine rankings.
In the same vein, Walter could promote membership in related groups that represent his audience's interests, or encourage visitors to attend professional or consumer conferences in exchange for a referral fee from the organizers.
In addition to the effort involved, generating income from web site content is not without its pitfalls. In effect, doing so makes you a salesman working on commission. To succeed, you must become master of the soft sell. Web surfers are a jaded bunch, and you can easily alienate them by overselling. Work hard to match the products and services offered through your affiliate and ad links as closely as possible to your content. That way, your visitors will more naturally ease into buying mode, rather than feeling like they're being offered a great deal on a "Rolex" watch.
Also, beware of the imitators that success can bring. Since the barriers to entry for this type of business are low, when one site gets it right, others are sure to follow. Some might even be brazen enough to copy your content and keywords outright in a bid to replicate your results. Keeping ahead of the pack often becomes the lastand most importanttactic to master.
Use Search Engine World's keyword density analyzer (http://www.searchengineworld.com/cgi-bin/kwda.cgi) to measure your use of the search phrases web surfers are using to find your site. SEO Scanner (http://seoscanner.com) is a subscription-based set of online tools for monitoring the search engine optimization tactics you employ for the sites you manage.
Recipe 6.7 describes an increasingly popular method for adding third-party content to your site. Recipe 2.5 explains the importance of this often-overlooked code element. Recipe 6.3 describes how and why to use the title attribute in link tags.