The Only Five Ways to Monetize Your Audience (Plus One Armageddon Option)


So here’s the thing…let’s say you’re on a journey creating an online business.

The tough part is building an engaged audience. In a world where more content is created than can possibly be consumed, and where we’ve somehow evolved into a species with the attention span of an overexcited puppy, getting people to stop, listen and then take action is no small feat.

(That “action” part is your most wanted response.)

Once people start showing up every day? Making money from them is relatively simple.

Though with soooooooo many monetization options to consider, it may not feel simple when you don’t even know where to begin.

If you’re at all confused by the dozens of different ways to cash in on your hard work, let’s un-confuse you by boiling it down to just five…

1. Rent Out Your Real Estate

Your online real estate is any web property that you own and control – like a blog or website using your own domain name.

Your Facebook Page doesn’t count (same goes for your other social accounts, or for any of the “free” website building platforms.) You don’t own it, you have limited control over it, and you could be evicted if you fail to comply to the terms of your “residency.”

The more visitors your real estate attracts, the more valuable it is within your niche. The more valuable it is, the more income you can generate using methods like these…

  • Display third-party  ads on your site. Add text-based or image-based ads to your site and get paid every time a user clicks on one. Google’s AdSense Program is the most popular solution for publishers. Others include Infolinks, Chitika, and
  • Sell your own ad space. Why give a chunk of your profits to Google when you can strike a deal with advertisers directly? Well, it’s a lot more work – work that could easily outweigh any increase in revenue. But if advertising is important to your business and you want to get more “hands on,” going it alone is worth investigating. Services like BuySellAds make going it alone a little less lonely.
  • Attract site sponsors. Technically, sponsors give you money to support the running of your business (in exchange for a nice shiny banner pointing back to their site). In practical terms, there’s little difference between a regular display ad and an “ad” from a sponsor. As your site grows, potential sponsors may contact you directly. Or you can reach out to them yourself once you have sufficient traffic to pique their interest.
  • Host surveys. This won’t be for everyone but may be worth trying out if you can’t find better ways to monetize. The idea? Hide the bulk of your content from users until they have completed a simple survey. Once they have, they’re free to read the article and you earn a few cents from Google. Visit Google Consumer Surveys for details.
  • Send your audience to related content on other sites. The idea is simple: display other people’s content on your site and get paid for clicks. Think of it like hosting ads, but instead of promoting products you promote other articles. See Nster for more.

Bottom line? Renting out your real estate is attractive because it’s “easy money” – no awkward customers to deal with, no products to develop, no worries about tight margins.

On the flip side, income is rarely as large as publishers hope or expect (unless they have gazillions of visitors in a commercial niche). And it’s easy to make your site look tacky if you overdo it.

2. Promote Other People’s Products

There are two essential differences between this monetization method and the last…

  1. With ads, you’re paid “per click” (or sometimes “per thousand impressions”). When you promote products as an affiliate, you normally receive a percentage of any sale (meaning if there’s no sale, you’re not compensated).
  2. Affiliate recommendations are precisely that: recommendations. With ads, you’re not endorsing the products, merely placing them in front of your audience’s eyes.

Because you put your reputation on the line with affiliate products, it’s crucial that you’re familiar with the products (and actually do recommend them!).

Familiarity also allows you to write about the product in an original and helpful way.

There are a lot of bad affiliate sites out there with product reviews copied straight from the retailer. But that doesn’t mean that all affiliate sites are bad. Be original and seek to provide tremendous value and you’ll be well on your way.

How do you find products to promote?

  • Sign up with an affiliate aggregator. Aggregators bring together smaller companies with affiliate programs. This not only makes potential partners easier to find. You’ll also get paid faster, because commissions from different partners will go into the same pot, allowing you to reach the minimum payment threshold faster. Popular aggregators include CJ Affiliate and ShareASale.
  • Be an affiliate for an online marketplace. The “Big Two” here should come as no surprise. You can make money by becoming an Amazon Associate or an eBay Partner (or both). Smaller marketplaces often have an affiliate program, too – here is Etsy’s, for example.
  • Find individual companies in your niche with affiliate programs. Many small companies use an aggregator, so you may have already found your ideal partner. If not, search for products in your niche and look for a link to an affiliate program on the website (it’s often in the footer). You can also try searching for “your niche” + “affiliate” (with the quotes).

Here are some other ways to make money by promoting other business’s products…

  • Finder’s fees. These are like the offline version of affiliate commissions. Let’s say you’re in the travel niche and you know a local boat charter company that doesn’t have an online presence to speak of. Making money is simple: talk to this company, face to face, and negotiate a percentage of any business you send their way.
  • Network marketing. Also known as multi-level marketing (or MLM), this type of marketing receives a lot of bad press. Done right, though, it can be an excellent way to monetize. In a nutshell, it involves reselling products from a supplier and recruiting salespeople to do the same. You receive compensation for the sales of everyone in your “downline.” If that sounds like it might be for you, this list of MLM companies is a good starting point.

Bottom line on being an affiliate? The more you put into it, the more you get out of it…

If you slap affiliate banners all over your site and expect to get rich, you’ll be disappointed (and you’ll make your site look spammy!) If you write engaging content and only recommend products from quality partners in appropriate places, you’ll do much better.

That said, you’ll still be a “middle man.” True, you won’t have to deal with pesky customers directly. But it also ties your success to the success of your affiliate partners (if they all go out of business, so do you).

And that’s why the best long-term business strategy is to sell products or services of your own.

Your best long-term online business strategy? Sell products or services of your own.Click To Tweet

It’s safer, it’s more profitable and it builds equity. And it’s the subject of the remainder of this article.

3. Inform, Educate or Entertain

Your free content already does all of those things, right? But there’s such a thing as giving away too much.

For starters, free content tends not to be as valued as content that a person has paid for. (If you doubt that, think of all those free reports you downloaded that you barely glanced at.)

Plus, of course, if you give everything away, there’s nothing left to turn into an information product.

A good rule of thumb? Teach people how to make money, save money or save time, in detailed steps, and you have a product that can command decent dollars.

Teach people how to make money, save money or save time, and you have a product that can command decent $$$.Click To Tweet

Once you’ve decided what information to sell, the next step is to figure out the best medium to use. Here are just some of the options…

  • A PDF ebook.
  • Other downloadables (e.g., patterns or worksheets).
  • A book for e-readers (use KDP to sell in the Kindle Store and Smashwords to distribute the book to similar outlets).
  • An audio book (if you’re not a born narrator, find someone who is at ACX).
  • A physical book (reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated; CreateSpace is a good option).
  • Audio or video files (or CDs/DVDs if your audience prefers physical media).
  • An online course.
  • A membership site.
  • A paid newsletter.
  • A digital magazine.
  • An app.

To some extent, the nature of your information will determine the best medium to use. Stock trading tips, for example, are best delivered through a membership site or a paid newsletter.

The nature of your audience counts, too. Do they prefer text, audio or video content (or a mix of all three)?

Beyond that, the medium that takes the most effort on your part will probably be the most profitable. For example, a dozen audio files will command a higher price tag than a dozen chapters in an ebook. And a dozen videos, complete with transcripts and worksheets, will command a higher price still.

4. Profit From Functional Products

If informational products allow you to learn something and are largely digital in nature (paper books and shiny plastic discs being the exception), functional products allow you to do something and are predominantly physical (the exception being software).

Software aside, functional products come in three flavors…

  • used
  • handcrafted
  • manufactured

Once you’ve cleared out your attic, making money from used goods is tough. The profit margins on common products like used books is generally tiny, meaning you’ll need to sell them in industrial quantities to make a living. The best bet, then, is to specialize – in rare first editions, say.

Read how Ashley uses vintage comic books to make an ever growing income with his website.

For handcrafted goods, you need to have skilled fingers or a strong artistic streak (or both). Even then, it’s best to keep your inner-artisan well out of the way while your inner-solopreneur identifies profitable gaps in the market.

Manufactured goods have wildly differing potentials for profit …

  • At one end of the scale sits the humble widget that is indistinguishable from all the other widgets out there.
  • At the other end? The everlasting light bulb.

Competing on price is tough, so avoid those generic widgets. Universe-denting inventions are even trickier to pull out of the hat. But somewhere between these two extremes lies the perfect product for you.

Private labeling (that is, slapping your brand on a public domain product) is a good entry point. Developing an original product from scratch is better still. In both cases, you’ll make the biggest profits by sourcing from China (or similar low-wage economies) using sites like

5. Sell Your Skills

If developing a product doesn’t get your neurons firing, why not sell your services?

How much you’re worth depends on what you do, the “going rate” for that skill and, crucially, how talented you are relative to the competition.

An exceptional copywriter can charge a much higher rate than an average one. But no one will know you’re exceptional when you start out, so you’ll have to settle for a lower hourly rate until demand for you grows.

If selling your services is your sole monetization strategy, your blog or website will be your calling card. Yes, it should offer value in its own right (with thought-leading blog posts, for example). But the underlying message should come across loud and clear…


Another option is to sell your services as part of a diversified monetization portfolio. For example…

  • If you sell high-end information products, you could offer one-to-one consulting to customers with the deepest pockets.
  • Or you could add value to an online course by making yourself available to the community for the duration of the course.

The downside to being a service provider is that it’s not scalable. There’s no ceiling on what you can earn if you sell a product. But if you sell yourself, you’re limited to your hourly rate and the number of working hours in a day.

Still, if you’re worth a small fortune per hour, you can probably live with a lack of scalability.

The Armageddon Option

Nothing lasts forever. Old passions fade and new ones take their place. Old challenges become “too easy” and new ones pull you in unexpected directions.

If and when that happens to you, you can take the granddaddy of all monetization methods and sell your business.

It’s a one-way ticket, though, so think hard before climbing on board.

How much your business is worth depends on how much equity you’ve built up…

Your biggest liabilities? A reliance on other people’s products and/or an audience that you don’t own (e.g., you don’t have a customer list, or you rely on eBay or Amazon traffic).

Equity also decreases the more the business is about you (because what’s left when the “you” is removed?)

Your biggest assets? A strong brand, a proprietary product with good margins and, most important of all, a large and engaged audience.

Which brings us back to the beginning…

The tough part is building an engaged audience in the first place. Once people start showing up every day, making money from them is relatively simple.

Hopefully, this article will set you off in the right direction. Stay tuned as we dive deeper into the hot topic of monetization. Subscribe below to the Solo Build It! Newsletter to stay in the loop.

SiteSell is a privately held Canadian-based company that helps everyday people start profitable online businesses.