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.

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35 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Michael Martine, December 9, 2007

    Business blogs are something that I focus on quite a bit, so I hope that I can be of some help with this.

    Some concerns you need to consider:

    Are you getting enough clients and work to cover the cost of the blog? (In time, as well as money–what do you need to make per hour to cover your costs blogging as well as everything else you do in your business.)

    If you are, then you need to ask yourself why advertise? You don’t need to, so why? Do you just want more money? Nothing wrong with that, per se, but if you have plenty of design work then maybe you should just raise your rates if you want more money.

    What message are you going to give your visitors? If you’re blogging in support of a business, and you put ads on your blog, you may be sending a mixed message. What do you want people to do, hire you or click on an ad and hire someone else?

    What is the purpose of your blog? Blogs evolve, but they need to have a focus, a purpose. If the purpose of the blog is to drive business, are ads going to help that or hurt that? I think they will hurt you. In most cases, the idea behind the content strategy of a business blog is to provide highly useful information in a way that establishes your skills and authority to drive business. How are ads going to help you with that?

    If your blog is incredibly successful (and yours is doing quite well, it looks like) but your business is not doing so well, then you need to realign the purpose of the blog with the purpose of the business. You need to strengthen the connection between the business and your blog content, because you’ve got tons of readers who aren’t becoming customers.

    Generally speaking, I think advertising dilutes your focus and purpose at best, and at worst, it’s a slippery slope to having a negative effect for your business instead of a positive effect.

  • Vandelay Design, December 9, 2007

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for all of your input. Many of the points you have brought up are things that I have been thinking about. When I started the blog I had no intentions of ever selling ad space, but I also had no idea that this blog would be getting the type of traffic that it has. I enjoy writing for the blog, so I’m thinking that some income from ads might make it possible/reasonable to spend more time on it. If ads do go up on the blog it would only be on the blog itself, not on other parts of the site (such as the portfolio). I do appreciate your thoughts and value your feedback. I’ll continue to put some thought into these issues.

  • Deron Sizemroe, December 9, 2007

    Good write up. Monetizing my blog is something that I’ve thought about doing, but I really just don’t know how to approach it or if my numbers are even enticing enough to advertisers to even want to advertise on my blog.

    I would like to at least recoup the cost of hosting, and make a little something for my time though, but it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t.

    The whole disclosure of affiliate links is something that I’ve never understood. Seems to me that it’s not a big deal at all whether you disclose an affiliate link or not. I think some people need to get a life…”boo hoo, you didn’t disclose your affiliate link,” jeez, grow up.

  • Courtney, December 10, 2007

    These are excellent tips. I have been delving into monetization a bit more and I’ll keep them in mind as I start adding elements.

  • Matthew Griffin, December 10, 2007

    I agree with everything you said. You obviously have a good grasp on the concept of unobtrusive advertising. I’ve seen a lot of blogs cluttered with irrelevant ads. We need to remember that quality ads are more successful for advertisers and more agreeable to readers. Therefore, they are more profitable for the writer.

  • Ruchir, December 10, 2007

    “3. Mark Affiliate Links as Such”

    Well, I couldn’t have disagreed more. Believe me, your conversions will be lower if you mark it an affiliate link. Plus blogging is business. In a shop, do the shopkeepers go around telling the buyers that they’re profiting off the products? Nope…

    I really doubt if readers will dessert you just because you didn’t disclose an affiliate link. I mean, if they know what RSS is, I’m sure they’ll know that you get commissions for anyone who buys through your affiliate links…

  • Vandelay Design, December 10, 2007

    Deron,
    I’ve seen bloggers sell ads without having high traffic, so don’t assume that no advertisers would be interested.

    Matthew,
    Thanks for your feedback. I agree with you that relevant ads are best for everyone.

    Ruchir,
    Thanks for sharing a differing opinion. I actually don’t disagree with you. I used to think nothing of adding an affiliate link, like you said, it should be understood in my opinion. But a few readers didn’t agree. The blog audience was much smaller then and it was only 2 readers that voiced their opinion, so maybe I shouldn’t put much weight in that experience. My thoughts are more in line with yours, but I’m trying to gauge how readers will react. Still undecided I guess.

  • Andy, December 10, 2007

    You should emphasize keeping the adds in relation to the relevant niche even more, its so important. If i go to a sport site and see pop ups about love life and all that kind of thing its a big turn off. And if i go to a site with little content its another big turn off. I also thoroughly agree with your theories on not using to many sponsored posts, maybe in the ratio of 1 sponsored for every 15 normal posts is good. Nice info.

  • Dave Starr --- ROI Guy, December 10, 2007

    Some thought-provoking advice here. indeed the tips are all good but I especially like number one. Too many bloggers labor under the delusion that ads are evil and are torn between the “monetize/don’t monetize devil”. It ain’t necessarily so. I run several low-traffic deep niche blogs that are business oriented and Google Ads on those sites are a service to my readers. Many ad networks do not have thew inventory to serve relevant ads … but when a reader comes to learn abou … let’s say .. how to set up a GPS-disliplined network timing server and finds Google Ads directing him to just the very manufacturers he was looking for, he’s happy, Google’s happy, I’m happy and the guy he buys from are happy.

    Google is _not_ the “perfect” ad network … if ne exists … but the do do the best job in finding relevant ads … and if ads help peple find what they are looking for they are not evil.

  • allie, December 10, 2007

    That is EXACTLY why i refuse to advertise on my website. Also, what if people click on the other links and leave your site?????


    http://www.smellstickers.com

  • Tad Chef, December 11, 2007

    I did all that and it didn’t work! I made no money that is…

  • Dito, December 11, 2007

    Thank you for this great article. I am currently trying to ad some revenue sources to my site and I found this article helpful on the matter.

  • Vandelay Design, December 11, 2007

    Andy,
    I agree. It makes a site look a little spammy to me when ads are completely unrelated. I’ve never thought about a ratio of sponsored posts that would be appropriate, but that’s an interesting point.

    Dave,
    I don’t have much experience with PPC ads like AdSense, but it seems like it works in some industries and not in others. On my site would would expect to make nothing off of AdSense. I hear what you’re saying about their relevance. Yes, I think ads can bring some new value to visitors when they offer the right thing.

    Allie,
    If you are going to advertise you have to be willing to accept that some people will leave because of the ads. That’s certainly a decision that has to be made. You’ll loose some visitors but gain some income. It’s a different situation for everyone.

    Tad,
    Did you sell direct ads or use affiliate links, AdSense, etc? Just curious. Your site is obviously growing, so I would think you would have some monetization opportunities.

    Dito,
    Thanks for your feedback. I’m glad it helps.

  • Greg, December 11, 2007

    geographic filtering
    I sell bamboo plants in Sydney and Melbourne. Our site is meant to be useful for people wishing to grow bamboo for privacy in urban areas. I would like to run ads but not to appear to east coast australia viewers. However the site is popular in the US and elsewhere.
    Is there a way to run ads in some places but not others?
    I remember hearing this somewhere but it slipped away…

  • Tad Chef, December 12, 2007

    I had banner and text links as well as an article explaining 5 different SEO or SEO related products. Very targeted, very useful and most of them I use/d myself…

  • Vandelay Design, December 12, 2007

    Greg,
    You can do geographic filtering with most Pay Per Click programs, including Google AdWords.

    Tad,
    I would think the article you mentioned would have generated something. I’m surprised you didn’t get some sales, you seem to have a pretty active following.

  • Mark from Just Web Designers, December 15, 2007

    Your post brings up one of the most problematic issues that has arisen since the emergence of the internet and that is that content is now free.

    The change in people’s expectations about whether or not they should pay for content has not been matched by an equivalent change in expectations about advertising.

    IE: People want free content but with no ads.

    I think any content provider, whether a blogger or otherwise, has to monetize that content in someway otherwise they will not be able to continue to provide it.

  • Karen Zara, December 16, 2007

    I agree with Deron and Ruchir when it comes to affiliate links. I certainly wouldn’t hate you for trying to sell affiliate products. It’s your blog after all, you offer excellent content for free, so… why not?

    You have the right to get some sort of compensation. And you don’t have the obligation to mark each aff. link with a flashy “Hey, it’s an affiliate link, as in, it’s here to see if I earn some bucks. I hope you don’t mind!” :-P (If this was a humour blog, then I guess such a message would be all right.)

  • The Net Analyst, December 17, 2007

    I have found some success with placement of google adsense at the bottom of my posts. If you have good article and provide people with something of value, then they are more likely to click on your links. It basically comes down to a trust issue.

    I also use both Linkshare and Commission Junction to post specific advertisements on my site. I have received some negative feedback only because the links look like http://www.target.com/1927389y0siuheifuhsjkdnf=affiliateprogramajoie897655
    It’s kindof funny, but I understand the difficulty that internet savy people have with this. If only they could come up with a better add tracking system…

    On another note, I would never promote something that I did not believe in and I spend a lot of time researching the quality of products I promote, trying most of them myself. An affiliate link is better than begging for money at the bottom of your blog through paypal and most of them are through major, reputable retailers to specific product pages.

    There will always be the anti-affiliate people that will look at you as a villan whether you disclose this or not. I would recommend adding a blurb about the affiliate links to your about page, if at all.

    You may also want to let your visitors know what you do with the money. My website has recently become profitable after months of hard work and criticism. If that continues, I would like to donate a percentage of the ad revenue to a charity organization and give something back to the community.

    http://www.thenetanalyst.com

  • The Net Analyst, December 17, 2007

    On another note that is not an affiliate link, I just made up that web address and for some reason it actually goes to target /: lol

    http://www.thenetanalyst.com

  • hectril, December 18, 2007

    Nice insights about blogging and websites without pushing away your visitors. I really like your insights on ads pertaining to your content. I have my own blog i just started and tried monitizing with it but to no avail.. but when I read your article on these I found out my problems some of my ads doesn’t get along with my content maybe because I im just starting and your insights on this really help me out on what to show my readers. I’m planing on trying Google adwords if it could help me on monetizing more for my site. Really don’t want to clutter my sites with Google ads and affiliate ads though.

  • --Deb, December 22, 2007

    Great tips for a tricky subject. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately since (up until now), I primarily only read knitting blogs and they’re almost NEVER monetized unless the blogger is actually an author or store-owner, and I’ve been trying to think of ways to monetize without putting-off the entire group…. So far, the furthest I’ve gone is to use Amazon.com affiliate links….

  • Ramona Chevez, May 16, 2009

    My question is what is the best sollution for monetizing wordpress.com blogs !?

  • Kevin Quinlan, May 17, 2009

    I agree about the performance hit being an issue. Some sites really do not load in a timely fashion because they are heavy on ads. In many cases it will even lock up my browser all I do is walk away from the sites.