See how easily you can make more money from your forum

by Martin Reed on 10 December 2007 in Articles

Use relevant advertisers to make more money

I often hear complaints from forum developers who say it is harder to generate revenue from forums compared to other websites. This doesn’t have to be the case – as long as you target your advertising to your audience and experiment, you can earn good revenue from a forum-based website.

Understand your audience

I have harped on before about the importance of understanding your audience. If you don’t know who your members are and what they like, you can’t be sure of delivering them the community they want – let alone serve them advertising that might be of interest.

You should already know what type of people you are targeting even before you launch your website. Once your community is live and running, you should then be taking the opportunity to get to know your members by interacting with them. If you fail to do this, the chances are your community will fail.

Over time, you will soon learn to understand your members. You will learn and understand the general atmosphere and personality of your community. You may even be able to predict their future demands and cater to these before they are asked for. Once you reach this point, you have no excuse for being unable to generate revenue from your community.

People are not objects

Sounds obvious, right? It is worth reminding ourselves though, that behind every username is a real human being. Human beings don’t like to be identified as objects, and rightly so. People want to be identified as people. If you overload them with ads and become overly corporate in your strategic thinking, you will soon alienate your members as they will feel they are being used simply to make you money.

People don’t want to feel that a monetary value is being placed on them – even if the uncomfortable truth is that every member of your community does indeed carry a financial value, you should never openly declare this to your community.

Advertising should be used to reward you for the time and effort involved in developing a successful online community and also as a way of funding improvements for the benefit of your members.

Keep your advertising relevant

The reason why so many forum developers complain about it being too difficult to monetise a forum is because they are not pursuing the correct advertising strategy for their site. Just because AdSense works for other sites, it does not mean it will work for your community. Just because a 728×90 banner at the top of the page works for other sites, it does not mean it will work for your community. You need to target your ads, and display them in a way that works for you.

AdSense provides a heatmap for forum ad placements that shows the best overall performances on their network. It is definitely worth a look, but remember – no website is average. Don’t assume that what the heatmap tells you will work for your forum.

You will find that many large advertisers hate forums. There are various reasons for this, but in the context of this article it is because forums often have a large number of page impressions but carry a low advertising click-through rate. The reason for this is because advertising is not being correctly targeted or positioned.

Once you know and understand your audience you need to be proactive and seek out relevant advertisers. Is your forum related to graphic design? Then you should try advertising design related software and hardware. Perhaps you should also advertise books relating to the design field.

Make your advertising more attractive to your members by making it relevant. As soon as you display relevant advertising, you will soon be making relevant money.

Never stop experimenting

It is important that you never, ever stop experimenting. Sure, it may have taken you months to find the right advertisers and products to push on your website and you may be pulling in some great revenue. Don’t stop there, though. Remember – ads soon become stale and old advertising banners will suffer from ad burnout.

Always try out new forms of advertising on your site. Try out new graphical sizes, try out new positions. Forget what Google says. Forget what other forum developers say. Experiment for yourself, and continue to experiment. The more effort you put into publishing relevant advertising and the more effort you put into innovation and experimentation, the more reward you will receive in the form of advertising revenue.

Forget about the whiners and the whingers. It is possible to make money from a forum – those that don’t simply aren’t trying hard enough or have the wrong strategy.

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Mike December 11, 2007 at 2:58 am

I have heard this a lot and it put me off starting a forum. After starting a forum I realize that forums can make good money. Especially forums that provide helpful advice rather than just for entertainment.

Online furniture store December 11, 2007 at 3:57 am

This a great step by step class you have going here Martin, first decide what your blog will be about, choose a domain name, then monetize it. etc etc. Thanks again.

Amish Made Furniture December 11, 2007 at 2:28 pm

My problem is precisely this. How do I define the target audience. When the blog is started, it has a particular audience in mind and the forum is built around it. For instance, let us say, the blog is addressed to Senior Citizens. You get it going slowly start getting the forum organized, and before you know what is happening, the health care blokes have taken over and the content of the blog starts to look completely different and the advertising revenue starts to taper off because the readership starts to fall. Without mentioning names, I have given a true story that happened. Broke the blogger’s heart I can tell you. By innovating, which again is part of the advise given by you, the tone and direction of the blog completely changed from what it was meant to be and what it became. It was abandoned. Though it made some money for a while.

Jessy December 14, 2007 at 12:43 am

Thank you for this step by step description! It was very helpful for me, thanks a lot!

Hirsutism December 14, 2007 at 5:07 am

Well your article really makes it sound very easy for anybody to make money out of ones forum, but I think it’s really tough to make money. I agree that if all the above steps are followed precisely in the same manner as mentioned we can make money. I think I need to really read this article over and over again so that it just fits into my mind. I am sure I lack in some places and this article should help me overcome those hurdles.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 15, 2007 at 5:28 pm

Mike – I agree. If you create good, valuable content then you will be rewarded. Forum sites are no different in this regard.

Reena – Thanks, I am glad you are enjoying the series.

Ramana – I am assuming by ‘the health care blokes’ you are referring to people placing comments on the blog that were not relevant to the direction the author wanted to take the blog in. In this case, the blog author should have taken a more pro-active role.

If he thanked these users for their comments, but wrote that he would prefer to see comments on the subject being written about things should never have progressed to the point where the blog goes completely off-direction.

At the end of the day, if a blog loses focus, it can only ever be the fault of the author. There is nothing wrong with trying new things, but if they don’t work you should always go back to what you do best and what your readers and members want.

Jessy – Thanks for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed the article. Are you planning on setting up a forum?

Hirsutism – It’s hard to make decent money from any website, not just a forum. You need to work hard to make money, and that is what many people seem to forget.

Sue @ TameBay December 16, 2007 at 5:05 pm

re. that Google heatmap:
Ads betweeen forum posts are the bane of my life. Personally I would rather be asked to pay to be a member of the forum than put up with that. It’s like trying to have a conversation with a bunch of friends and being forced to stop for a minute to listen to a bunch of ads.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 18, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Sue – It’s interesting how ad placements affect people differently. I have tried running ads as the second post in a thread but soon dropped them as they were not making enough money to justify the intrusion they made.

Advertising should never distract from the most important part of your site: its content.

chris February 8, 2008 at 6:25 pm


Speaking of forums and advertising, here’s something I do to get a higher PR (which I need to make $ posting and blogging): I go to the forums and look for very popular and somewhat old threads. Sometimes these threads will have quite a high PR. Maybe PR 4 or 5…just post something useful and constructive and you get a nice fat link out of the deal.
If you use some of your blogs to earn money writing reviews sponsored by Pay Per Post or Reviewme then you need a decent page rank. Now I know some people say the PR isn’t important but it is if your advertisers pay you more. Some advertisers wont even offer you a posting opportunity if your PR is less than 4. But on the other hand some will pay you 20$-40$ per post. That’s a nice way to earn some real money online.

Occasionally you might earn yourself a gripe or two about filling your blog up with disconnect junk. But we, as bloggers can simply educate our readers,by our example in the ways of making money online.

I have a list of 100 pr4-pr6 sites without the no follow tag listed today on my blog. If you all want to just copy and paste go for it.

I wont leave the link in this text body because I don’t know if it’s cool to do that sort of thing here (it’s my first post here) but you can just follow the link on my name or whatever.

Enjoy your day!
Chris Lees

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 15, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Chris – I would always be careful about excessive paid-for reviews on a blog. No matter what people say, I do think they affect a blogger’s credibility and should only be used rarely.

I agree that many webmasters are only interested in advertising on sites over a certain PageRank – but I believe this will change as PR becomes less influential on search engine rankings.

Using forums to attract traffic is a good idea – just as long as the posts you are making add value to the forum and are not spammy in nature. The last think you want to do is associate yourself and your site with that kind of practice.

Ryan March 9, 2008 at 5:22 pm

The issue I keep coming up against is not overwhelming my visitors with ads. I’ve read stories about people making a pretty decent living running forums and think “hey, I could do that.” But then I go to their forums and they’re so plastered with ads that I have a hard time finding the content. Personally I’d rather make less money and keep the ads from being so intrusive.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 15, 2008 at 7:47 pm

Ryan – I couldn’t agree with you more. As soon as the ads distract a visitor from your content, you are in trouble. Indeed, by cutting down on the number of ads on a page you increase the exposure (and potential earnings) for those that remain.

chris (work at home) March 16, 2008 at 2:06 am

Martin, I do agree with you that doing a lot of PPP will have a negative effect on your blog, namely you get slapped by the “GoogFather”. You end up with a PR0 or PR1 when you used to have a healthy PR4 or 5.

It all depends on which blogs your do your paid reviews on. I do it in cycles. I start 10 or 15 blogs across various niches (to be able to cover a wide variety of topics for reviews) and build them up for three months or so. Now, these aren’t my personal blogs that I don’t want to mess with. These are blogs for work.

I set up 10-15 of them, build them up and use them for PPP and other related sites until the next PR update. So for about three months I can make real money with these blogs…then they are trashed PR wise. But that’s ok, because I’m always building up another 10 blogs for the next quarter.

Finally, after a few Google updates, my initial (slapped) blogs start to recover and become useable again.

So it’s this cycle of building expendable blogs. It makes money but it takes work…then again what doesn’t?

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 17, 2008 at 7:32 pm

Chris – Ha, I like the vision of the ‘GoogFather’ handing out PR penalties! If blogging is your day job, I don’t see a real problem with developing blogs solely to milk them as places for paid posts in the future.

However, the fact you mention that you don’t do the same with your personal blogs shows that you still feel that paid posts can and do discredit a blog and its author.

If you don’t care about your blog’s perceived authority, then sure – building up a blog and milking it until it’s dead is one way of making money. It’s certainly a cycle I had never considered (and don’t have the time or inclination to try).

Good on you for reminding everyone that making money does take work, though!

bookmarking demon May 8, 2008 at 10:00 pm

When you work PPP does it really hurt your blogs reputation? I mean after all, don’t we all watch our favorite TV shows even though the host sponsored reviews? Think about it, it’ s the same thing. If a blogger wants to blog for a living then why shouldn’t they have sponsors like every other company or organization or what ever. “And now a word from our sponsors” as the old TV commercials used to start.

It’s this phony snobbery in the blogosphere that deems PPP as some sort of shameless groveling but it’s actually just like a commercial. Hey, people need to get paid right? If every day you are putting out a post or two and you offer your readers some real value then they should support you by not condemning your sponsored posts. Do your readers want you to starve? Will they respect you more if you are broke?

I say let’s put an end to this blog snobbery and let real people (who need money) blog and do sponsored reviews.

Martin Reed - Blog Author May 12, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Demon – I don’t think I have said that PPP is wholly negative, but I do believe it can negatively affect your reputation. Blogging is completely different to watching a TV show – successful bloggers build a relationship with their readers; TV shows do not. PPP can be a good way of monetising a blog, but it shouldn’t be overdone.

Yes, most readers accept that advertising will be necessary in return for the free content but you shouldn’t get too ‘ad happy’ and overwhelm your site with advertising, paid posts and paid reviews. If your readers think that all you are interested in is making money from them, you will lose authority and you will lose some of their trust.

Conor O'Driscoll July 4, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Nice post. I particularly agree with the idea of cutting down the number of ads on a page.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 17, 2008 at 1:25 am

Conor – Many people make the mistake over saturating their pages with ads. Not only does this distract a visitor from your content, it can actually result in you earning less money as you drive away visitors and serve ads that are less profitable.

Gallito October 31, 2008 at 6:25 pm

I think the biggest thing we can all take away from this article is that the number of advertisements on some sites are absolutely outrageous. As a marketer myself I always scoff at the pages that have 10+ advertisements per page, while at the same time I find myself wondering how much money they are making as I somehow did inf act navigate to that site.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Gallito – Yes, some sites do go overboard with their ads and probably don’t realise that they could actually make more money by getting rid of some of them!