How to Get Started With Monetization

Site monetization is one of the biggest challenges that publishers large and small face when growing their influence. There is a plethora of monetization tactics, tools, and services to choose from, and often this overload of options is intimidating enough to scare publishers away entirely. A new Publisher Roundtable report that sovrn, VigLink, and research firm Netpop put together revealed insight into how publishers are approaching monetization and in which areas they need additional support.

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The surveyed publishers identified several barriers to monetization, but by far the biggest culprit was choosing where to begin. This is understandable, considering the continued wildfire growth of the ad-tech industry and subsequent explosion in advertising options for publishers. Then came add-in sponsored posts, in-text ads, affiliate programs – the list goes on.

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Professional (and some semi-professional) publishers have entire departments dedicated to monetization, so they are able to break this big overwhelming initiative into smaller, digestible parts. Sites with more than 50,000 unique readers per month generally utilize around four ad networks, about 1.5 networks more than sites with less than 10,000 unique readers per month. This doesn’t account for other time-consuming strategies like managing brand sponsorships, video, and affiliate tools. So with fewer resources at their disposal, how can emerging publishers effectively monetize their sites?

Research Your Peers

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and also a very efficient approach to getting started with website monetization. Choose three to five competitor sites in your vertical or other sites that you aspire to catch up to one day. Spend some time cruising their site and taking notes about their monetization strategy. Are they running advertisements? If so, how many zones do they have? Do you notice any sponsored posts, affiliate links, or subscriptions/paywalls?

Also take notice of their community by reading the comments and checking out their social media presence. For example, if they are running sponsored content posts, are those posts being shared and commented on at the same rate as native posts? If not, this may be a sign that this particular site’s readers aren’t receptive to the sponsored posts, and they may even be detracting from their readers’ experience. As a rule, you always want to go for the tactics that are most natural to the site and do not overtly dominate the real meat of your site.

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There are several tools that I use for this kind of competitive research; one of my favorites is called Ghostery. This Chrome extension acts a Web detective, revealing tags, beacons, and a roll call of ad networks, behavioral data providers, Web publishers, and more.

If you need a bit of extra help choosing which sites you should be researching, tools like SimilarSites can help you quickly identify other publishers in your vertical to look into. Also check out Buzzsumo, which aggregates online influencers for any vertical or keyword that you choose.

Enter the Matrices

Now you have a list of potential options for your site, but you still have to decide where to start. There are two different approaches to selection; I highly recommend going through both exercises quite frequently, at least once per quarter.

First, build out a feature comparison matrix for the list of monetization tactics you have complied. List all of the different approaches in the first column of the matrix, and list selection criteria along the top row. Potential selection criteria may include:

  • Input – What is the time investment?
  • Control – How much control do you have? Can you control the look and feel, placement on your site, content, etc.? Can you run A/B tests?
  • Reporting – How robust are reports? Do have to build them yourself or are they out-of-the-box? Can you calculate return on investment (ROI)?
  • User Experience – Does it add to, subtract from, or have no effect on user experience?
  • Cost – Is there an introductory, monthly, or licensing cost?
  • Revenue – How much money can you make?

You may have to do some research to fill some of the boxes, but this gives you an efficient framework for researching different strategies. Once you fill out your matrix, it will look something like this:

publisher-matrix

In this example, display ads are the most beneficial form of monetization. There is low input effort, moderate control over content, robust reporting capabilities, no initial cost, and high potential for revenue. Using this matrix, you can create a triage list of which tactics you should implement now, next, and later.

Don’t Boil the Ocean

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This next exercise helps publishers compare effort and impact of monetization strategies. On the x-axis we have the amount of implementation effort from low to high and on the y-axis we have impact from low to high. We now have four quadrants; the activities that live in the upper left quadrant are highly impactful, but easy to implement; embark on these first. Prioritize the remaining activities based on their location on this matrix.

Prioritization is essential to success in monetization. Jumping head-first into multiple tools can be detrimental to success. Start by laying out a plan for implementation, even if it’s only for the next month. Taking one baby step at a time is often the best way to escape the beginner’s paralysis. If you don’t know where to start, you aren’t alone. Just do your research, build a roadmap, and start slow.

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