Are you running a content site and monetizing off ads or affiliate revenue?
Then listen closely because this guide is for you. I’m speaking from years of experience running my own content sites, as well as overseeing content networks for clients. The sites I managed had anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000,000 hits/month.
And they are all subject to these inevitable truths…
How the fairy tale begins…
STEP #1 – finding a niche
It’s hard as heck to compete against giant content networks that “have everything”. So you carve your little space out by establishing yourself as “just for cars” or “only flower stuff”. And it goes good for a while because the little people trust you. They trust a person that does only what they do.
STEP #2 – growing visitor traffic
Not long after, you grow a following. The people read more and so you write more. All seems well. Google Analytics traffic says you’re growing. People are leaving comments. Oh joy…some other giant site has linked back to you. You are a now a come-from-nothing success story!
STEP #3 – ads and affiliates
Literally, the most played out content monetization model in the book. It’s been this way for what…30 years now? You slap on some ads, and spit affiliate links all over posts. People click and you make money. Sweet geezus, you’ve just stumbled upon life’s secret to being rich!
STEP #4 – outsourcing the labor
Oh boy, writing all these posts is hard work (you say to yourself). How about if I just hire other people to do it for me? After blowing a year’s worth of time with lazy or crappy writers, you establish your “content formula” system at last. You’ll make a simple post outine for them to follow, SEO research for trending titles, and let them fill in the rest!
STEP #5 – duplicating the success
Oh yeah, you’re the f**ken genius now! If you’re not busy coaching friends to quit their jobs, then you’re sending your writer army to take over new topic niches. Your path to world dominance has just revealed itself.
Reveling in all your success, and twiddling your thumbs over “all-expense-paid” fancy dinners…what shall you do now?
WHAT happens next?
STEP #6 – Google algorithm penalties
WTF?! Rankings dropped overnight. SEO traffic chopped by 2/3rds. Those mother-bastards! You ask around online if it’s happened to anyone else. When you find others with content sites as big as yours, the answer is almost always “yes, me too”. Boo hoo hoo, you all cry foul together. Maybe you start ramping up other social networks (like FB, IG, YT, and TW) to diversify your “organic traffic”.
STEP #7 – ad & affiliate revenue decrease
WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON?! Google Adsense rates dropped again. Amazon affiliate rates dropped again. You search around for higher-paying ad networks to join or reach out directly to companies. But these plummeting revenues have you doubting yourself now. You realize ad revenues have always been decreasing. It’s been happening years before you started and will only get worse.
STEP #8 – plummeting conversion rates
Your brand just isn’t as hot as it once was. It doesn’t have the same soul it did when you wrote everything yourself. People don’t open your emails as much any more. The ads keep getting more annoying while being clicked even less. Even the people you PAY to visit your site (Facebook ads) don’t want to be there. Your exhausting social network attempts (Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest) aren’t panning out either.
STEP #9 – fight or flight
Some people try to reverse the effects by changing things up. Faster hosting, recoding, new design, speed optimization. They try all those SEO tips they’ve stashed in their bookmarks. Others scheme to write more, or to write differently. You used to dream of growth…now you’re begging to keep the same traffic.
STEP #10 – the search for new money
You didn’t want to, but now considering a new endeavor altogether. Managing all the content, marketing, and technical issues is draining. Is it even worth all this work to be competing against Amazon and other giant sites? This beautiful lifestyle you built to escape the office…has now brought the office into your home. A 24/7 promotion into more responsibilities and less pay.
ROUTE #1 – online consultant
You start a side gig coaching others how to grow an online business. It’s a natural progression for bloggers who originally wrote guides to teach others. Now you get paid to help people directly. Using your extensive knowledge to help other people build their brands online. All those skills of how to create content, growing traffic, and brand marketing…feel useful again.
ROUTE #2 – direct advertisers
Reaching out directly to companies pays off. You’ve made contact with the big companies that want to reach exactly your reader demographic. They shower you with big money, free products, and brand exposure that a content site could only dream of. In return…they ask for your soul. Your site now looks like a grocery store magazine full of ads and no longer the independent column it once was.
ROUTE #3 – content paywall
You take matters into your own hands and come up with your own digital merchandise. Maybe you sell online courses, guides, or hey…a membership! (That’s all the rage nowadays.) You put a ton of effort reorganizing your digital real estate to feature your products instead of annoying ads (sending your traffic elsewhere).
ROUTE #4 – niche product
You create a competing product for your niche. After all, you did spend years reviewing every brand. You know what users want and you still have the niche authority to leverage. Going into the cut-throat product manufacturing business is its own can of worms, but it’s really not a bad idea. You’ll have fun for sure.
ROUTE #5 – sell the site
You jump on Flippa. Or maybe give it away to the first conglomerate that emails you. Most times, you’re ditching it as fast as you can before its value drops any further. Other times, you set an exit strategy a year ahead while you push hard to make its numbers more attractive. (Yes, it’s a lot like flipping real estate.)
ROUTE #6 – new business
Screw it, you say. The content business has so much grind and not much real money. So you jump into an entirely new business…with hopes of using your proven online-skills to grow this brand instead. Once again, you get to use what you know and find better ROI for it. Being much wiser now…you start a new brand with profitability built into it from the very start.