There are few feelings as great as when you make your first $1 online. It psychologically opens up an entire world of possibilities once you see that first dollar (or euro or pound or dogecoin).
But how do you actually monetize your website? How does it all work and what do you need to know?
Like my other guides, I want to cut out as much confusion as possible. I’m going to give you the simplest effective strategy that I’ve used for nearly two decades. The one that you can easily sleep at night knowing you’re not leaving money on the table and you’re not making your readers hate you.
At this point, the assumption is your site is not getting significant traffic yet, and you’re still in the beginning stages of building out your content. Later in the guide, I will tell you what to do when you’re at that point.
This is the 5th guide in my series on how to build a profitable website, so be sure to check out the first four in the Guides section if you haven’t already.
Let’s get into monetization.
Table of Contents
- The Power Of Advertising
- The Basics Of Internet Advertising
- Which Ad Network Should You Use?
- How To Set Your Ads Up
- Other Ad Networks To Consider
- More Ways To Monetize
- Recapping How To Monetize Your Website
The Power Of Advertising
Let me rewind for a minute and tell you quite possibly the most pivotal moment of my life. This is important for context. In 2004, I built a website about the video game Halo 2. I was anticipating this game’s release for months, so I registered halo2source.com, started adding content, and quickly became one of the premiere places to get the latest information on the game.
Back then, it was actually much more difficult to know how many visitors were landing on your site, but I know it was around 1,000 per day. I signed up for Google Adsense (a lot more on that in this article), then put one ad unit in the header.
I thought, “NICE. I have ads.”
Because that’s it, right? A website gets traffic and you put ads on it. Done…money incoming.
After a few months of making $1 per day, which I was actually very proud of, a colleague of mine showed me an e-book by someone named Joel Comm. I have no idea if he’s still around, but the e-book was about tweaking your Adsense ads to increase revenue. Sounded good, so I devoured the book while remaining skeptical.
After implementing one of his book’s recommendations that took me literally 5 minutes, I woke up the next day and looked at my earnings. $5! I actually 5x’d my earnings with one quick change.
For someone fresh out of college making $17,000/year working full time, it was perhaps the most eye-opening moment imaginable. One tweak increased my revenue 5x. It made me hungry – starving – to learn more. What else could I change that might make even more money? I became obsessed with figuring out the most effective way to show ads on my site that brought in the most revenue while not completely obliterating the user experience. Because a whole lot of high-earning ads mean nothing if nobody can find your content and they leave in anger.
My Halo 2 site ended up getting to $30 per day after tweaking and moving things around, testing, and monitoring. This was not only impactful to my life immediately, but I couldn’t shake the thought of, “If I can make $30 per day, why can’t I make $300 per day?” After all, I already scaled $1 to $30 without doing any additional work.
Once you fully understand the power of advertisements on your site, you’ll also see the opportunity. There are very few feelings as satisfying as seeing your first dollar earned.
It truly becomes addicting and, more importantly, motivating. But first things first.
The Basics Of Internet Advertising
There are a few important terms you’ll hear and will want to understand as you dive into monetizing your site.
- RPM: this stands for revenue per mille, which means revenue per thousand. For example, if you’re site gets 2000 visits and makes $100, you made $50 per 1000 visits. $50 is your RPM.
- CTR: click through rate. This is the percentage of people who click on one of your ads. If your site gets 2000 visits and 100 people click an ad, your ad CTR is 5%.
- CPC: cost per click or, for your purpose, revenue per click. Straightforward, it’s the amount you make per click on an ad.
Understanding these three simple terms is about all you need to know right now.
How Ads Monetize Your Website
It has always surprised me how many people outside of the industry ask, “So how does your site actually make money?” Simply put, advertisers pay an ad network to reach an audience. You have an audience on your website. When a reader clicks an ad on your website, that advertiser pays the ad network who takes a cut and then pays you the rest.
User Experience And Monetization
The balance of your content and advertisements is more important than ever. I will be writing an article on the horrific current state of ad-content balance, but basically the key here is to implement effective ads without making the user’s reading experience terrible. Have you ever been to a site where you have to close 3 ads and scroll for 10 seconds before you even get to the content? Yeah, we’re going to avoid that.
Additionally, Google and Facebook algorithms care about how many ad units are on your site. As I’ve said repeatedly, they want to surface high quality content with a clean experience. Advertisements covering all of the content is not a high quality experience.
Seamless, Natural Blending
In a later guide, I’ll get into how to do this but the key is to blend your advertisements into your content in a natural way. You want to find that sweet spot where you maximize RPM but the user still enjoys your content. Just think about advertisements on any other platform… TV for example. If there are a natural amount of commercials, it’s expected and you’re fine because you know they need to run them in order to afford the show you’re watching. But if the commercials are every 8 minutes and last 5 minutes, you’ll notice and it’ll ruin your experience.
What To Avoid
The main thing you must avoid is clicking your own ads. Don’t get tempted and think you can trick the ad network and make extra money. First of all, the revenue from your own clicks will be negligible. Second, you’ll probably get banned and won’t make any money.
Certainly don’t tell any friends to click either. We’re trying to create a win-win-win situation between you, the advertiser, and the reader. The best ad is one that actually works and solves someone’s problem. Try to view it that way rather than an annoying evil you must use in order to pay the bills. Like content, treating your ads with a quality-first approach will pay off.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how it works, let’s actually get into monetizing.
Which Ad Network Should You Use?
This is going to be simple: use Google Adsense. There will be plenty of people who brag up a random network or otherwise tell you Adsense is limiting your RPM. Generally, these are people who didn’t know what they were doing when implementing their own ads, so some flashy network came along and blew their minds.
For your first year (minimum), just stick with Google Adsense. The ad quality control is high, it’s fast, you have more control, and your RPM is going to be comparable (or better) than an ad network who does it all for you. Also, many ad networks won’t accept you when you’re small, but it’s all good… we don’t need them.
How To Set Your Ads Up
Apply For Adsense Monetization
The first thing you need is a Google Adsense account. They have a great guide on how to do everything. I can’t sign up for another account to take screenshots here, but if you follow their guide, it’s pretty straightforward.
Once you get accepted, you have two options for implementing ads. If you’re not overly worried about full monetization, simply use the automatic placement. But the manual placement, which is derived from years of my experience, will generally outperform it.
Automatic Placement Of Google Adsense
So, there’s actually a way to just put one line of code on your site and let Google put ads where ever they want. I’ve tried this, and it never makes as much money as my manual placements, but it’s not terrible, particularly if you’re just beginning and don’t want to think about this too much right now.
Using Google Site Kit
Assuming you set up the Google Site Kit plugin as recommended in my previous guide, this is extremely easy. Just go to your WordPress dashboard –> Site Kit –> Monetization. You’ll see something like this and you can turn it on.
Simply make sure the switch is toggled and hit continue. It should connect, but if not, it’ll walk you through the steps to make sure you’re all set up. Google also has a support page for Site Kit and Adsense.
Using A Different Plugin
If you didn’t install Site Kit, you’ll have a few extra steps. When you’re logged into Adsense, on the left, go to “Ads.” Very clearly, it will say “Let Google place ads for you” followed by a button that says Get Code.
From here, you’ll simply need to add that code to the header of your site using a plugin such as Insert Headers and Footers. All you need to do is go to Plugins -> Add New and search “Insert Headers and Footers.” This is the one you want:
Install and Activate the plugin, then go to it in your dashboard and paste the aforementioned Adsense code into the Head section.
Back in your Adsense account, click the edit button beside your domain and turn Auto Ads on. It’s the button on the right here:
If you don’t see your ads right away, fear not. It usually takes an hour or so for them to fully show up. Now let’s get into the more complex, manual method that I generally always use.
Manual Placement: Use The Ad Inserter Pro Plugin
To quote grandpas everywhere, “back in my day” you had to manually edit your theme to insert advertisements in specific places. Now, there are several great plugins but the best one is Ad Inserter.
Set Up Ad Inserter
In your WordPress dashboard, go to Plugins -> Add New and search “Ad Inserter.” It will be the first one that comes up.
After you install and activate it, go to Settings on the left side of your dash and click Ad Inserter. You’ll see a screen that looks like this:
Simply put, this is a spot to paste a specific ad code and then tell your site exactly where you want it to appear. First, you need to know how to manually create an ad in Adsense. I’ll try to simplify this as much as possible.
Create 3 Adsense Units
Back in your Adsense account, go to Ads on the left. Then click “by ad unit” and then the block that says “display ads.” Once that loads, you can name the ad at the top of the page. For this first one, let’s name it “After First Paragraph.” Leave the Ad size as “responsive” and click Create. An ad code will come up that you’ll want to copy.
Click Done at the bottom and repeat the same steps two more times, naming your next units “Middle of Content” and “Bottom of Content.” Note: you can name these anything you want – just suggestions.
Once they’re all created, you can access the code to paste on your site by clicking the < > button.
Add The Units Via Ad Inserter
Copy the “After First Paragraph” one and go back to your Ad Inserter blank screen. Paste the code into the black box and then change the settings at the bottom to the following.
It’s self explanatory, but you’re telling the plugin to place this advertisement right after the first paragraph. Now, let’s repeat that for the other two units.
Click “2” in the tabs at the top, which will show you another blank spot. Go back to Adsense, copy the “Bottom of Content” ad code and place it into the box. Then change your Insertion setting to “After Content.”
Now click over to the “3” tab and paste your “Middle of Content” ad code into the box. For Insertion, I honestly don’t fully understand why this is how you do it, but choose “Before Paragraph” and .5 for the number. This is telling the plugin to insert this ad unit half way through the paragraphs.
You should, at this point, be monetized effectively while keeping the user in mind.
Additional help: Ad Inserter Pro Documentation
Pros And Cons To My Implementation
I can almost hear a handful of people screaming right now that this isn’t fully maximized. And they’re right, it’s not. But I stand by this implementation and have used it for over a decade successfully.
- It’s really clean. There’s not an ad in the user’s face immediately and the content will flow naturally with minimal interruption.
- It avoids ad cannibalization. When you have too many ads, it lowers the RPM of each unit because there are only so many clicks to go around. This implementation captures quality clicks.
- It doesn’t take advantage of anchor or video units, which tend to pay much higher RPMs.
- Sites with very long form content are under-monetized because there’s only one unit in the middle. If you’re consistently writing 1,000+ words per article, don’t be afraid to add another unit after paragraph 4 or 5.
As mentioned before, I want you to focus on continuing to build an incredible business. Getting caught up in every dollar right now is greedy at worst, distracting at best. But once your traffic is at a point where a 20-25% increase could be life changing, you’ll begin taking an active role in constantly tweaking, testing, and monitoring performance.
Other Ad Networks To Consider
As I mentioned at the beginning, I highly recommend sticking with Adsense for the first year. You’re focusing on quality and speed right now. Additionally, Adsense doesn’t have a traffic minimum and most other networks require a certain number of monthly visitors before you are accepted.
That said, when you’re receiving above 50,000 visits a month, you can begin looking around. While I have not worked with every ad network, here are my thoughts on some other popular options. Note: I’m not directly recommending or not recommending any of these as they all have proven effective for some site owners.
Keep in mind: when someone swears by an ad network because it improved their RPM by some astronomical percentage, it’s very likely that they were severely undermonetized previously. Establish a baseline with your own implementation (above), and then you’ll know where you truly stand.
AdThrive / Cafe Media
Sister companies, AdThrive and Cafe Media have done a great job of balancing user experience and maximum RPM. I’ve spoken with many website owners who are extremely happy with them. They take so much leg work out of the equation. That being said, they are selective so your site will need to be getting some serious traffic before they’ll consider accepting you.
AdThrive also tends to favor recipe and lifestyle websites.
Disclaimer: I’ve never used MediaVine and do not know what options they offer, but in my experience as a visitor, their ad implementation is extreme. There are ads every couple of paragraphs and a video that follows you all along the way.
That being said, the RPMs I’ve seen reported are out of this world. It’s to be expected considering the ad implementation. It’s my belief that eventually this degree of advertisement overload will be punished by the algorithms. Just my two cents.
Treat Taboola as supplemental income. Their bread and butter lies below the content. One major con is that the ads tend to be some of the lowest quality on the web, but the pro is that it does generally add more income to your site without taking away from your above-content monetization.
I’m currently using Ezoic on one site. They seem to really care about their publishers and also provide tools beyond simply monetization. I believe their goal is to make your site better so that everyone does better. While it’s an admirable effort, I just have not seen the increased revenue yet the ads are far more intrusive.
I’ll write an entire article on this in the future. I think Ezoic has a lot of potential, but I’m not sold on it *if* you have an understanding of how to implement ads on your own.
More Ways To Monetize
In this guide, I’ve only talked about display advertisements. There are other ways to monetize and the best websites generally are taking advantage of multiple revenue streams. Here’s a high level look at the other methods you should keep in mind, then dive into them deeper when the time comes.
Regardless of what you’re covering, there are products related to it that you can sell. For example, if you are writing an article about how to build a chicken coop on a budget, you can use Amazon’s affiliate program and include links to every product you use in your process.
Sell A Digital Product
Even better than affiliate sales is if you’re selling your own product. For example, I will probably eventually launch a video course covering everything you’ve read in my guides. That course will be for sale. In the example above about the chicken coop, perhaps the creator sells blueprints to the build.
Don’t worry too much about this now, but at a certain point if you’re an expert in a field, companies may be willing to sponsor the post. If you’re the absolute authority on building budget chicken coops, for example, and your content is getting massive traffic, Home Depot may sponsor the content.
Recapping How To Monetize Your Website
When I started writing this guide, I thought it would be the easiest one. It turned out to be the most difficult because, as I attempted to write it for beginners, I realized it’s a much more complicated process. Hopefully I covered things thoroughly and included enough resources to get you started.
My two most important factors here are:
- Less can be more. In online advertising, more ads don’t always mean more money. You will cost yourself traffic along with experiencing ad cannibalization. You should strive for a clean site that people want to share and algorithms embrace. More traffic will make you more money.
- Always do your research before working with a new ad network. Be in tune with your current performance and always ask for a test month where the new network can prove they’re better. If they turn your site into an advertisement disaster, that’s not a win even if the RPM is higher.
Stick with quality and try not to get greedy! If you have any questions at all, leave a comment below and I’ll answer you.
Now that you’ve built a fully functional, incredible website that’s actually monetized, let’s get into the final guide: taking your site to the next level.