Still Hoping to Make Money with Your Web Site?

One of the biggest misconceptions generated by the excitement of the ever-expanding tech bubble in the mid to late 1990s was one that broadly suggested that everyone who started his or her own Web site was going to make it rich. Oh yes, many did, including the Stanford University students who founded Google and Jeff Bezos who started Amazon.com.

Yet thousands of other players – and some of them with very deep pockets like Microsoft – worked very hard and often not too successfully in finding the right model that would turn an online service, a Web site, or a portal – or gateway to other sites – into a big-time money maker. I know since I worked for many of the pioneers as well as the already-made giants. Many of the major players kept reinventing their virtual online product every three to six months to come up with something very hot only to left struggling each time up at bat.

Even with that history, and the tech bubble long ago burst (although it’s showing some signs of steady reinflation again), the myth remains that a Web site can be a very easy way to a virtually wonderful cash flow. There is and will be very decent money to be made, but you can’t simply wait for destiny to find your URL or universal resource locator, the fancy name for a Web site address to make your site the next hot thing. I can’t count the number of people I know who expected to make at least a few thousand dollars a month by signing up for Web ad programs like Google AdSense; all but a few of them have waited months, sometimes years just to make the first $100 required to receive their first check.

Sure, I also know several exceptions to this, too; a friend with virtually no Web design experience put up a site, did a little research, and was soon earning not only $1,000 from Google ads but also receiving large sponsorship checks from companies who wanted ad placement on her site. But hers is the rare Cinderella story – and please remember that Cinderella scrubbed a whole lot of her evil stepmother’s floors before she went to the ball and found her prince.

To have any hope of financial victory, you must take a proactive role in developing your site into a place everyone wants to visit. For this, you need to do your research into what your target audience wants and expects so you can provide those elements within your site. Huge corporations have teams of market researchers doing this kind of legwork for them, but you can easily familiarize yourself with the kind of material your biggest competitors offer, what appeals to their visitors, and determine how you can provide it on your site.

But first things first. Appearance can matter tremendously in a graphical medium like the World Wide Web. A great and prosperous future is probably not going to be within your reach if you create and keep your first site as a small, informal personal Web site where you just post pictures of your dog or your kids. Before you go out to market your site or even determine how much content you want to develop there, you want to make sure your site looks professional even if you’re just winging it on your own using a simple Web design and management program like Microsoft FrontPage or the more expansive Macromedia Dreamweaver. You don’t have to create a site that is super formal or corporate, but it should look polished, well organized, and interesting.

Also, understand that the value of a site is often seen largely in terms of how much traffic it generates, which means how many people visit each day. Yet sheer volume is not always quite as important as repeat business where people routinely return again and again to see what new content is available. Which is ultimately most valuable to you may depend on what your prospective advertisers are looking for.

Advertising is probably the most common way for people to make a profit from a Web site outside of selling actual products or services online, although many site operators both sell merchandise and ad space. But don’t think strictly in terms of ads because there may be other ways you can generate income with your site.

For example, let’s say you’re passionate about baking or auto repair or revving up a computer. You create a nice site that you begin to populate with great links to other resources but, more importantly, your own articles, reviews, and perhaps other content offered for free by people who visit your site. Over a few months time, especially after you get your site’s name registered with big search engines such as Google, MSN, and Yahoo, you notice your traffic is really beginning to rise.

While you could just sit back and hope that enough visitors click on your ads to bring in some money, you may want to begin to contact companies or services that are interested in the types of people who like your site. You may be able to work out a deal where they toss you some specialized advertising to see how many of your visitors become their customers or clients. Or you can offer to provide a special place on your site where you discuss that company or service which may mean more to the audience than a simple ad. Maybe they’ll offer you products you can have and use in return for a review that appears on both your site as well as theirs.

Alternatively, you could investigate your opportunities to develop custom content for a related company or otherwise create a financially beneficial relationship between you and the firm. Nor do you have to restrict your marketing to the first company that answers your voice mail; many small sites have become big ones because they developed strategic alliances with the likes of Microsoft or Amazon or one of the other behemoths of retail.

The sky doesn’t have to be the limit with the business you can turn your Web site into. But this won’t usually happen from a Google ad alone. Your success depends on your ability to do the legwork, the self marketing, develop the knowledge about your audience, as well as your willingness to think outside the box in terms of finding ways to sell different aspects of your Web site’s content to the people willing to pay you the best money to do so.

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