Monetizing a Website Without Alienating Your Visitors
One of the goals of most websites and blogs is to make money. Whether the intention is to build a profitable business or just to cover the costs to operate the site, most website owners need to get something back from their work monetarily to justify the effort that is going into the website.
Unfortunately, sometimes monetizing a website comes at the expense of its readers and visitors. Obviously, in order to maintain a successful web presence, the site must be monetized in a way that is acceptable to visitors.
As this blog has grown in recent months this is something that I am dealing with and thinking about. This article is really just my thoughts about the issue at this time. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on blog monetization since this blog currently only produces income through the services that it promotes. I am hoping to get some valuable feedback from others who are in a similar situation or have gone through the same thing.
I see these issues as being keys to monetizing a website without turning off your visitors (in no particular order):
1. Keep Advertisements On-Topic and Relevant
Advertisements will be the most successful for everyone involved and will be the least distracting/annoying if they are related to the topics covered by the website/blog and relevant to visitors. Of course the value for advertisers will be higher, but the ads may also be more useful and beneficial to visitors. Personally, I don’t like being on a site and seeing an ad for something that is completely unrelated to what I reading. For some reason these types of ads feel more invasive and annoying. If I’m going to see ads I’d prefer that they be for something that I might actually want or need.
Along the same lines as being on-topic and relevant, they should also be non-offensive and professional (assuming that’s the image that your website or blog hopes to portray). You will quickly loose visitors if they expect your site to have higher standards than the ads are displaying.
2. Keep the Focus On the Content. Don’t Make Readers Feel Secondary.
Your visitors don’t want to feel like they are less important to you than ad revenue. You can keep the focus on the content by not going overboard with ads and by keeping them in places that will not interfere with the content. Many bloggers effectively use a sidebar to contain ads.
I’m not a big fan of AdSense ads within the body of a blog post (especially at the top), but a lot of bloggers use them this way. Maybe I’m in the minority on this issue. It’s not something that will keep me from reading a blog, but I do see it as an obstacle to reading the article, and I’m never going to click on any of the links.
3. Mark Affiliate Links as Such
One of my early blog posts contained a few unmarked affiliate links. They were only to products that I had confidence in, but I got a few questions about why I used them. While I don’t think there’s anything unethical with this approach, I decided that whenever I use them I should mark them as affiliate links. It’s just not worth losing readers for the chance at an affiliate commission. If people want to buy the product, I think in most cases they’ll still use my affiliate link. This situation varies for different audiences, but in my situation visitors were aware that they were affiliate links, and a few of them felt that I was trying to hide something by not marking them as such. If your audience won’t even no what an affiliate link is, I probably wouldn’t bother trying to explain it as they are not likely to care.
4. Stand Behind the Products and Services that You Promote
The best way to do this is by promoting only products and services that you have personally used and that have satisfied you. If you sell ad space this doesn’t mean that you will need to have experience with everyone who pays to advertise on your site. However, some bloggers actually provide recommendations for their advertisers, and I think this is where it’s good to have experience with them. Anytime you’re telling your readers how great something is and why they should use it, they are likely to assume that you’re speaking from experience. It all comes back to trust.
When I’m reading about advertisers on other blogs I appreciate hearing some of the details of the blogger’s personal experience with the advertiser. The details make a reader feel a little bit more comfortable that the blogger has a good reason to promote something, aside from the money. An example of this is Daniel’s recommendation on Daily Blog Tips of Doreo Hosting. Daniel shares his personal experience with them and how their service has handled large volumes of traffic with no problem. This goes a lot further than just telling people they should use Doreo Hosting.
5. Don’t Let Ads Drastically Hinder the Performance of the Site
Most advertisements are going to include images (such as banner ads), which can slow down the load time of your pages. While this is natural and understandable to a certain extent, you don’t want your visitors to be leaving before the page even loads because they are tired of waiting. This is typically not a problem if you don’t go overboard with the ads.
6. Don’t Use Too Many Sponsored Posts
As a reader, I don’t have a problem with paid posts. If it’s something I don’t have an interest in I can just skip over it in my feed reader. In fact, sometimes it’s nice to know that the blogger is getting some money for their effort. But some readers don’t really appreciate them. Paid posts should be done in moderation. Don’t let them overpower the regular content that you provide for your readers. As with any other type of ad, it’s best if the subject is relevant to your readers.
7. Avoid Flashy Ads
I think we all know the impression we get from a website that has one of those huge banners that flashes in very bright colors. I always wonder who actually clicks on them. They obviously annoy visitors, and in the long run they probably cost you more money in lost potential than they make for you. Ads don’t have to be that flashy to be a distraction for visitors. Before placing an ad on your site try to put yourself in the position of the visitor and decide if it would be a distraction to you.
Of course, with some pay-per-click ads the website owner may want them to distract readers to draw a click and earn some money. My opinion is that this is a good or a bad idea depending on your ultimate goals for the website. If the website or blog is set up primarily to draw income from ads, it’s probably a good thing. For a blog like mine that aims to develop long-term readers and promote a business, I think it’s a bad option.
8. Avoid Pop-Ups and Pop-Unders
Modern pop-up blockers have really reduced the amount of these types of ads that are used, but many websites still use them. They are probably the #1 most annoying ad for visitors. Some websites use pop-ups very effectively for things like opt-in email subscriptions. If you are contemplating using a pop-up, make sure you consider the hidden costs of lost traffic. In some cases it may be worth it, in most cases it won’t.
Ok, so like I said earlier, those are just my thoughts. Now I’d like to hear yours.