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.