Last week, we talked about why advertising sucks as a business model for the majority of bloggers. Fundamentally, it came down to a numbers game, unless you have a site that targets ultra-high-paying keywords or an extremely large audience, you’re unlikely to ever see a check.
However, that raises a tough question: What business models can work for a small-to-medium sized blog?
There are actually many that can work, they just aren’t as easy as slapping a bunch of Adsense ads on your site and calling it a day. In order to make money from your visitors, you need to be prepared to extract more value from them and that’s going to mean putting in more effort.
But that doesn’t mean it’s difficult or even time-consuming, just that you have to take an extra step or two to make it happen.
That being said, here are 5 business models for bloggers that have a lot better potential for revenue than basic advertising.
Sponsorship is advertising’s cousin but, instead of putting up a large number of ads in hopes that visitors will click on them, you put up a smaller number (perhaps even just one or two) and sell that space directly to buyers for a flat fee per week or per month.
Sponsorship isn’t right for every site, but those that get some level of prominence in a smaller niche may find it to be useful as they can trade more on their expertise and reputation than their traffic and keywords.
So, if you have a well-established and well-respected site that you can pitch for sponsorship deals, you’ll likely make more money than with vanilla Adsense ads as advertisers will pay a premium to know exactly where their ads will be displayed and for how long.
2. Selling Virtual Goods
eBooks have become extremely popular in recent years and it’s not just because of the rise of the Kindle, iPad and other eBook readers, it’s also because they are popular among their sellers.
Once you take the time to create an eBook, there are no costs (other than transaction costs) related to selling it. If you sell an eBook for $10, ever sale nets you about $10 in profit.
Look at it this way, if you’re earning $.25 cents per click and getting a CTR of about 1%, you would need 40 clicks to make the $10 through ads and about 4000 pageviews to get those clicks.
However, in that same time, you only need to sell one eBook.
You can also sell other electronic goods such as photographs, music files, movies and more. Be warned that there are other issues with selling electronic goods, such as potential piracy problems and dealing with the (hopefully rare) dissatisfied customers.
3. Selling Physical Goods
If you have a brand that does well on T-shirts, mugs or other items, you may want to consider selling physical goods. You can also sell physical books, CDs, prints of photos and printed copies of your work as well.
Physical goods usually cost more and make less of a profit. The reason is the added costs of materials, shipping and so forth. They are also more of a hassle to create and send for the same reason. However, you can partner with sites like CafePress to handle most of the production and shipping for you, at a cost.
Physical goods can be great, especially around this time of year when people are looking for gifts, but it’s not right for every site and is either much riskier (having to buy up stock to sell) or less profitable (partnering with 3rd parties).
4. Referral Links
Many online retailers have referral or affiliate programs where you, after signing up, get a specially formatted link to direct visitors to their site. Anything they buy after clicking your link, you get a percentage of.
Referral links are sometimes controversial because visitors feel that they are tricked into using them or that bloggers tint their reviews differently based on whether or not they can earn money from referrals.
However, if you do them right, namely disclosing them directly or using them in a way that makes it clear, they can be a good source of revenue.
The beauty is that, in many cases, you earn a percentage of whatever your visitor buys. If you use a referral link to a DVD, your visitor might skip that and, instead, click around and buy an expensive camera, giving you a cut of that sale instead.
Once again, referral links are similar to advertising, many retailers even offer ad-sized widgets, but with a lot more earning potential per click. Just be careful to keep everything above the boards.
Finally, if you can’t sell your visitors, you may be able to sell yourself. If you’ve obtained a certain level of expertise in a field and there are businesses who are interested in your knowledge, you may be able to make a living doing consulting work and using your blog more as a promotional tool for that.
Considering that you can get thousands of dollars from a modest consulting client, it could literally take millions of pageviews to get that kind of money from traditional advertising.
Though it’s not a solution that’s right for everyone, especially if you don’t want to take on yet another job, for many bloggers it is by far the most lucrative way to earn an income and even a living from their site.
Are any of these methods of earning revenue perfect? No. Though some are easier than others, all require extra work beyond just adding advertising code to your HTML. Even affiliate links require you to write content that enables its use and proper disclosure.
Furthermore, none of these are the “one true path” to riches for all bloggers. If you don’t have a strong reputation for being an expert, consulting is not for you and if you don’t have a brand that will sell well, physical goods sales are not for you either.
You have to be honest about yourself, your site and what you bring to the table to find a business model that’s right for you. Your site has value, it’s just a matter of finding what that value is.
Bear in mind that part of finding that value may be experimenting with business models and trying out multiple at the same time. After all, nothing says you can’t offer consulting services and an eBook, if the two go together well.
Simply put, the more you try, the more you learn and the more you learn, the more money you can eventually make.