Many people complain that online communities can’t make money – they are wrong, though. In this article I will briefly cover ten ways you can make money from your online community.
1. Interstitials & Popups
Let’s get these out of the way first. Avoid them – simple as that.
- Hate your site’s visitors? Drive them away AND make money!
- You annoy your visitors
- You drive visitors away from your website
- They distract from your content
- Many companies and networks will refuse to work with sites that contain popups or interstitials
- Nobody likes them, everyone hates them, use them only if you want to show your visitors just how little respect you have for them
2. Banner Advertising
The old staple of online advertising comes in the form of banners. You can run banners on your site on a cost per click (CPC) basis, a cost per thousand impressions (CPM) basis, or a cost per action (CPA) basis. From a forum owner’s point of view, very often CPM deals are the most profitable as forums generate a proportionately large number of pageviews per visitor. However, most big advertisers shy away from advertising on forums and this is one reason why.
You will likely sell banner advertising privately through your site. Alternatively you may find an advertising network that wants to run targeted banners on your community. Just ensure that you change graphical banners regularly to avoid ad burnout.
- Easy to implement
- Wide range of sizes
- Freedom to position banners anywhere on your site
- Some visitors may be ‘ad blind’
- Need to ensure banners are regularly updated and replaced
- Ads may be blocked by certain browsers
3. Affiliate Programs
If you have a highly targeted niche audience, you are almost certainly losing out on revenue if you are not advertising affiliate programs. Simply sign up directly with a merchant, or through an intermediary such as TradeDoubler and you will earn money for each visitor, lead or sale you send to the site you are partnering with.
- Huge number of different affiliate programs to choose from
- Easy to find potential affiliate partners
- Potential to negotiate better rates if you send quality traffic
- If you send poorly converting traffic, you may earn nothing
- Potential for merchant to reject or decline portions of your earnings
- Merchant may end the relationship at any time
4. Text Links
Selling text links in your online community can be profitable – especially if you have a highly targeted audience. Some sites will also want to advertise on highly-trafficked sites or those that are popular with the search engines in an attempt to boost their own rankings.
If you decide to sell text links on your site, you need to consider whether to disclose the fact that the links are paid placements. You also need to be aware that Google may punish you by lowering your site in the search engine results if you sell text links without adding the ‘nofollow’ tag.
If you don’t want to sell text links privately, you may like to take a look at sites such as Text Link Ads.
- Paid revenue for text placement rather than ad performance
- Once you add the text link you can forget about it until the end of the advertising period
- Can be relatively unintrusive yet profitable
- Ethical questions are raised – should you publicise the fact the links are paid placements?
- Possible ‘punishment’ from Google
5. Contextual Advertising
Perhaps the easiest of all the options to implement, Google AdSense is seen on almost every online community. I used to run AdSense on the Just Chat message boards but soon removed it as it was only making a couple of pounds each day. Depending on your niche and the placement of your ads, you can make good money with AdSense, though – I still use it on the chat room pages at Just Chat as most of the ads served there are for dating sites which offer a pretty good amount of revenue per click.
If advertisers are keen to gain exposure amongst your community’s audience, you stand to make good revenue. Just make sure you always experiment with the placement of your AdSense blocks, as well as their appearance.
Another form of contextual advertising is offered by companies such as Kontera – when you add their code to your pages, certain words will link to advertiser websites and you earn money for each click. This kind of advertising can distract from your content though, and if used in forums you may upset members who see you directly profiting from ‘their’ content.
- Easy to implement
- Easy to apply for
- Automatic ad serving means you don’t have to worry about changing banners or ad code
- Contextual advertising doesn’t always work
- Some niches and keywords earn pitiful amounts
- In-text advertising can be distracting from content
6. Sponsored Posts
This is so straightforward I am surprised more forums are not doing it. Upon paying a fee to you, advertisers can write a sponsored post in your forum. For example, let’s say you have a forum dedicated to pets. A dog food company may be looking to advertise on your site – upon payment of a fee, you allow them to make a post in your ‘Dog Care’ forum, advertising their product or service.
Alternatively, you could get them to email you the ad copy and you can post it in the forum yourself. Make the post ‘Sticky’ so that it stays at the top of the forum for the designated advertising period.
- No messing around with your website’s code
- Fast and easy setup
- Location within forum will result in good exposure for the advertiser
- Members may resent advertiser intrusion into forums
- Members may not be aware of what posts are ‘genuine’ and which are ads
7. Email Marketing
All websites should be building an email list of their visitors. An opt-in subscriber list is a valuable marketing tool. You can use your email list to build relationships with your visitors, and also to market to them. Make sure you only send advertising messages to those that have given you explicit permission to do so. Many companies will be interested in using your subscriber database to send promotional emails – mainly through affiliate networks, but also through private channels.
- Quick and easy – send the email and the campaign is over
- Very little effort required once you have a sizeable subscriber base
- You need explicit permission from every person you wish to email
- You need a sizeable subscriber list to interest advertisers
- Excessive emails may result in people unsubscribing from your list
8. Paid Memberships
If your community offers fantastic content and highly passionate members, you could introduce paid memberships. Members that pay a weekly/monthly/annual fee can access restricted areas of your community, or enjoy additional features.
I have never made sections of my online communities exclusively for paid members, but that is not to say I won’t in the future. I do allow people to register their choice of chat name for an annual fee, though.
- Subscriptions should create predictable, regular income
- Create members who are even more loyal (if they pay, they’ll want to stay)
- Your content or additional features must be worth at least the price you are asking
- If you let down a paying member of your community, your reputation will suffer
- You need to ensure free members still feel valued
Type ‘co-registration’ into Google and see how many results are returned. If people need to register to use your site, then you can potentially make money from every single member through co-registration. Basically, you share information contained within your registration form (and sometimes add additional fields) with advertisers who will pay you for the information.
Just make sure that registrants know what information you are sharing, and make it optional – you do not want to put off genuine members for the sake of a few dollars.
- Once the co-reg form is up, no further effort required
- Passive way of generating income
- The more members register, the more you earn
- You may loose potential new members
- If advertisers misuse the information you share, your reputation will suffer
10. Sell your own products
Online communities are a fantastic way for brands to build relationships with their customers. If you have a product or service to sell, you can develop an online community in order to learn more about your customers and build customer loyalty.
- You are retaining your site traffic
- You are not promoting potential competitors
- You build relationships with your customers
- If you sell bad products or services, your online community will suffer
- Your online community should complement your products or services
- More effort may be needed to maintain a community based around a single product or service
There are a number of ways you can make money with an online community – I have only covered ten methods in this article. I am sure I have missed some, and I know there is a lot of additional detail I have excluded (this article is already over 1,500 words in length!). I merely wanted to show that there are more ways of making money with your online community than just slapping up some Google AdSense code.
How does your online community make money? Do you use any of the methods I have mentioned? What have I missed out? Feel free to name the companies you work with (but please no affiliate links).