Make more money from your online community

by Martin Reed on 19 May 2008 in Articles

How to make more money from online communities

A lot of people argue that online communities can’t make money. Indeed, I wrote an article back in October of last year entitled, ‘Warning: Big advertisers hate forums‘. The fact is though, online communities can make money, you just need to ensure your advertising is targeted and focused towards your audience.

Always consider your audience

Let’s start off with the basic stuff – if your community revolves around video game discussion and reviews, then a good choice of advertisers would be video game stores or other related sites. Running untargeted ads on your site is a waste of your advertising inventory. Unless you are getting paid on a CPM basis, it is in your interests to choose advertisers that are as closely related to your site’s content as possible.

How to make money from general online communities

Online communities that have no specific focus or subject, such as Just Chat, can still make money; you just need to experiment with your ads to see which ones are the most effective. I recently moved away from as they were selling less and less of my inventory. I know from experience that dating sites work well at Just Chat, but wanted to use the opportunity to explore other effective ads for my 728×90 banner slot.

I logged into my account at TradeDoubler and applied for every single available programme. I then added the first 100 programmes I was approved on into a pool of ads that would be served on my site. Over time, I will assess which programmes are generating the best CTR (click-through rate) and eCPM (effective cost per thousand impressions). Those not performing well will be removed, and I will replace every programme that is removed from the pool with a fresh one that I have on my ‘waiting list’.

Sure, whilst I am undertaking this experiment, the main 728×90 banners on Just Chat will barely be making me any money. However, as I have mentioned before you should always consider the long term success of your online community. I may lose a few hundred pounds over the coming weeks, but I expect to make this back when I have learnt what advertising campaigns work best for my site. Even if I find that none of the programmes on offer with TradeDoubler work effectively, I have still learnt that fact – so even then, the loss of income has not been wasted.

Involve your community for financial success

You should always consult your community before making any major changes to your site. Additionally, if you are ever unsure as to what your community members want, you should simply ask. Advertising is no different. Why not ask your community what kind of adverts or offers they would like to see on the site? You could even shortlist a number of potential advertisers and ask your community to vote on what sites they would prefer to see advertising within the community.

By getting your community involved in this decision making process you will not only learn more about them, you will also engage with them, show that you value their opinion and ultimately end up serving ads for companies and services that they have already expressed an interest in. The result is more effective ads for your audience, meaning more money for you.

Your thoughts

Have you struggled to make good money from your online community? What techniques have you employed to increase your revenue? How does your online community make money? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Smiley May 20, 2008 at 1:27 am

Well, I only get 500 unique visitors per day at the moment so hardly making big money. Making enough to cover the costs though, which is important. It’s dating sites that tend to do the best, I’m really not sure what other ads to run on my site.

I have a lot of female regulars, being a ‘friendly site’ with a strict no-perv policy, it’s a really attractive site for females, so I may start experimenting with bingo ads, hair/beauty ads etc.

In the future when I have the money to cover the costs for the first few months, I hope to enable the extra features of the client and charge 4.99 p/m to enable them. Audio, video etc.

I was going to have ad slots that could be bought.. but I can’t have a Paypal account anymore.

Andreas Andreou May 20, 2008 at 8:19 am

Hi Martin,

Really good article – and thanks for mentioning TradeDoubler.

Your idea is good and I totally agree that you should think about your audience first. Why dont you give our UK Publisher Team a call (0207 798 5849) and we can have a look at some of your sites and advise which programs have the highest EPC and which creatives have good CTR’s. That way you achieve the highest eCPM possible with little waste.

We also have a few other solutions our Publisher Team can discuss with you, such as our contextual solution that works great with blogs and UGC sites.


Andy Andreou

Lisbei May 20, 2008 at 9:31 am

Good article you have here. I had similar problems like this, wherein I am generating little to none from the advertisements I have on my site. I agree on what you have said about considering your audience, knowing what their interests are and experimenting on which ads are most effective. Great advice…

Amish Made Furniture May 20, 2008 at 3:55 pm

What you say makes eminent sense and the only rider that I have is that you need a lot of patience in the tweaking of the choice of revenue streams. It will be a process of trial and error and will take time. You have to be prepared for it and as you have pointed out, you must be prepared to lose some money in the process too.

Mr Woc May 20, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Hi there

First of all I would like to say you can make money from communities, of course it isnt easy, but when has making money ever been easy lol !

I have too used tradedoubler in the past, I didnt really have much success with it to be honest (I hate those urls it gives you, you can never tell how accurate they are at tracking), although the support from their site was helpful, when i asked for help from them.

I usually make most of my mony from adsense, I once spoke to a guy who worked for one of the big ppc advertising firms, and he said dont expect to make a lot of money from adverttising until your getting 5000 hits a day, I can see why he would say that, but 5000 seems rather a lot doesnt it.


Online Furniture Store May 20, 2008 at 5:47 pm

On the face of it, i too would have thought that an online community may not be a way to make money, but having read what you say, it makes a lot of sense. Do keep us abreast of your experiments; what worked for you and what did not.

Nithya May 22, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Hi, I also run an online music community and our experiments with ads have not turned out very well.

I liked your suggestion on involving the community for knowing whats ads they would like to see.

Used Fishing Reels May 23, 2008 at 3:34 am

I’m just starting in this blogging business and community building. I’ve had several static sites for year but reading your post i’m getting more involved in what the readers input is.
Thanks for the great info

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 25, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Smiley – Why can’t you have a PayPal account?!? In any case, I think you can definitely monetise a site that receives 500 visitors per day and it is never to early to experiment with ads. Sure, some may not make you any money, but you will learn what does and doesn’t work, which is extremely valuable knowledge.

Andy – Thanks for your contribution. I don’t really have the time right now for any lengthy telephone conversations but would appreciate someone dropping me an email to discuss your suggestions in more detail.

Lisbei – Thanks for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed the article.

Ramana – Yes, I think it does take patience but the rewards can be great, so it is well worth the investment of time and money, in my opinion.

Mr Woc – I have never had any real problems with tracking at TradeDoubler, and I am surprised you can’t find any programmes with them that are suitable for your audience. The issue with forums is they generate a very high number of page impressions and consequently ads receive a lower than average click-through rate. Therefore, to get clicks up you need to attract a high number of visitors.

Reena – Sure, I plan on keeping people updated; after all, the best way of learning is by example!

Nithya – That’s a shame; what kind of ads were you running? Were they suitable for your audience? If you are receiving traffic on your site, it can make money – don’t give up!

Used – If you want your community to be successful, you have to involve and consider the thoughts and opinions of your members. If that’s all you learn from reading this blog, then I have done well!

Tony Parking May 27, 2008 at 4:25 pm

I’d be interested to hear how much time people are spending on developing their online communities. Is it something that can be achieved successfully part time (evenings and weekends) or does it require full-time dedication to make it work?

Smiley May 27, 2008 at 11:59 pm

I’m getting 800 unique visitors per day now! I’ve jumped from 10 simultaneous users to 20 simultaneous regular users! Really coming along nicely. I’m experimenting with different dating ads etc, see which ones work the best.

I can’t have a Paypal account cos someone hacked into mine and they froze the account, they won’t unfreeze it until I send them all sorts of different proof that it’s my account.

It’ll be easier just to wait until I have my new card and sign up again on a different account.. !!

Nicole Price May 31, 2008 at 6:29 am

I have never tried trade doubler. Think I’ll give it a shot the way you explained.

Smiley June 1, 2008 at 8:41 am

Thinking of going back to PaidOnResults.. I’ll give EasyDate another week first..

But, since I switched to EasyDate, my revenue has dropped? All the leads keep bloody getting ‘declined’?? I think EasyDate are having me on. Getting leads but finding a way to not have to pay out. I can’t see any explanation as to why 16 today has been declined?!

iPod Touch June 1, 2008 at 2:09 pm

That is a great idea to find out which ads will get you the most money. I’d never have thought of adding 100 or so different ads and then rotating them. Tradedoubler is a good network. Have you ever used affiliatefuture as I find that good too!.

If you want targetted ads and you are a small site then Google adsense is a good start. I’ve earnt $1.98 in 4 days! Not much I know but it will pay for my hosting, which is a start.


Smiley June 2, 2008 at 10:12 pm

I was earning 300 per month using Google.. but.. when someone clicks on a Google ad it takes them away from your site.

If you use networks, you can have the banner open in a new window.

Chat June 3, 2008 at 12:37 am

Martin I am at a crossroads with my community advertising and could use your wise opinon.

Whats your take on pay per sale and revenue share for dating affiliate programs?

I am leaning towards revenue share for the “long term success of your online community” which usually depending on the affiliate is around 50% on initial sales and rebills. But the $50.00 per sale is an attractive offer.

Whats your take on this? maybe you could do a whole article on this issue? I am not sure if anyone else will be requiring some guidance on this particular subject.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 4, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Tony – The more time you can dedicate to developing an online community, the better. It is completely possible to develop a successful community part-time though, as long as you manage your time well.

Smiley – That’s a shame about your PayPal situation. I imagine they would unfreeze your account pretty quickly if you just emailed them scans of the information they require.

I am surprised to hear your revenue has dropped with EasyDate, particularly as they offer higher commissions with their direct affiliate program. If you click on the ‘Transactions’ link you will be able to see why some commissions have been denied – often it is because of a double registration with the same IP address.

EasyDate aren’t denying your commissions to reduce the amount they pay you – rather, they are being more transparent by showing you what is being denied and why.

Nicole – Let me know how you get on.

John – I think I tried AffiliateFuture a long time ago, I may go check them out again and see what merchants they have on board. Google AdSense can be a good money maker regardless of the size of your site. I use it on Just Chat and clear a good amount of revenue each month.

Cody – Hopefully my latest article on dating affiliate revenue will be useful.

Smiley June 4, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I think I just need to get used to the system, I can’t seem to find where I can see what I’ve made up to now in total, I can only seem to find it per day. I’ll give it a month, and see how well I’ve performed.

Smiley June 4, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Summary 77.50 0
Waiting 49.00
Approved 0
Paid 0
Declined 28.50

They aren’t approving anything, declining everything. It’s kinda annoying me off actually!

Smiley June 6, 2008 at 7:06 am

Figured out the problem. It’s a all foreigners signing up, they decline foreign leads etc.

It’s all Indians, Ukrainians and such signing up. I may have to think about more international traffic ads.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Smiley – Yes. they will only pay out on UK traffic (apart from BeNaughty which now accepts US traffic, too). To be honest, I can’t blame them for this – they won’t be getting many revenue generating members from countries like India and the Ukraine. How is your revenue doing with them now?