There was a time when it seemed like anyone with a wacky idea and a PowerPoint presentation could make millions with an Internet business. (Our favorite example was a start-up called Digiscents and its "ismell" appliance, which delivered odors over the Web.) Well, the dot-com boom went bust quite a while ago, but there are still plenty of legal and viable ways to earn some extra cash online.
Before you begin, it's important to three basic concepts about about online advertising, which is key to online revenue.
1. Contextual advertising programs automatically post targeted advertisements on a Web site, based on the daily content of that site. The best known of these programs is Google Adsense, which pays Webmasters a small fee every time a viewer clicks on an ad.
Google (NSDQ: GOOG) recently opened AdSense to third-party ads, which means a larger advertising inventory and the potential to earn more money through the placement of those ads.
2. Affiliate marketing programs provide monetary rewards for driving Web traffic to their sites. Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN).com has a popular affiliate program. Many others can be found here.
3. Search engine optimization is the key to making money online. If the search engines can't find you; you're sunk. Dig into SEO and learn as much as you can -- the more you understand the better your chances for generating cash.
Got it? Without further ado, here are eight ways to make money online.
1. Produce & Star In How-to Videos
Got know-how? Of the many thousands of mini-movies available on the Web, few are more popular than the instructional video, according to officials at Metacafe, a video hosting site that sees 30 million unique viewers each month. Of the top ten successful contributors in Metacafe's Producer Rewards program, seven produce how-to videos. (Topics include how to make a tomato glow and how to turn a laptop computer into a popcorn maker.)
Video contributors earn $5 for every 1,000 times that someone watches their video. Average contributors make between $250 and $500 per month, while above-average earners make upwards of $2,000 per month, according to officials at Metacafe.
Instructional videos tend to have more staying power than entertainment videos because those who use them are likely to refer to them repeatedly. "A video on how to change a diaper will hold its value longer than a comedy skit," says Jason Liebman, CEO of Howcast.com, a new how-to video site that pays freelance producers $50 per video up front, plus a 50/50 revenue share after the video crosses 40,000 views.
Metacafe's top earner, Kip Kedersha (a.k.a. Kipkay) has made more than $110,000 posting how-to videos on the site, ranging from geeky cool (how to make spy sunglasses) to highly practical (how to double your gas mileage.) He spends very little on production costs.
"I don't need a cast or crew," says Kedersha, who now makes his living producing how-to videos for Metacafe, Howcast, and several other Web sites."It's pretty much been me and the cats and the dining room table."
Kedersha's most popular video, which teaches viewers how to turn a Minimag flashlight into a laser pointer, has earned him $10,460 and counting. "People just like to burn stuff," Kedersha says.
Sites that host how-to videos include:
2. Create An Instructional Blog
Of course, video isn't for everyone. If your how-to know-how lends itself to text and pictures, you can attract a steady and determined audience -- the type who are likely to click on ads -- with an instructional blog. The quirkier the topic, the better.
Mei Mei Yap, a freelance copywriter in Kuala Lumpur, sees about 8,000 hits per day on her blog Ikeahacker (ikeahacker.blogspot.com), which is dedicated to unique uses for furniture from the popular Scandinavian furniture chain. (One entry details how a reader turned a bookshelf into a degu cage [a degu is a type of rodent]). Yap updates the site at least semiweekly, often using tips from loyal readers.
Networking with likeminded bloggers is the best way to attract initial viewers, Yap says. "When I first started, I wrote to other IKEA fan sites such as Positivefanatics.com and ikeafans.com to tell them about my site and they were so kind as to let their readers know," says Yap. "I also participated in other DIY (do-it-yourself) forums and home decor sites, commenting and contributing towards them." Now, Yap says, she pulls in about $1,000 per month on Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Adsense revenue, in addition to revenue from advertisers who seek out her site.
Of course, in order to create a how-to blog, you have to know how to create a blog in the first place. Fortunately, several Web sites offer both easy blog creation tools and blog-hosting services.
Blogging beginners should try Blogger or TypePad.
Blog To A Specific Niche
In the spring of 2004, Jay Brewer launched a blog dedicated to an extremely specific subject: coffee makers that make only one cup of coffee at a time. Within a month, traffic doubled. Within two, it doubled again, and companies were asking to advertise on the site. The advertisers knew what Brewer had suspected: Readers who care enough to read about a very particular topic are likely to click on ads about that topic.
"Blogs that are about specific topics generate traffic from people who are either really interested in the topic or doing research," says Jay Brewer, CEO of Blogpire (www.blogpire.com), which operates subject-specific blogs on topics such as shaving equipment and GPS receivers, in addition to the aforementioned single-serve coffee makers.
Some of the sites on blogpire have advertising and affiliate click through rates of up to ten percent, he says. Furthermore, the more specific the subject, the less competition it will face from other Web sites. A Google (NSDQ: GOOG) search for "dogs" yields about 278 million results. A Google search for "grooming products for Golden Retrievers" yields one result.
To bolster the revenue you receive from general advertising and affiliate programs, you can seek out individual advertisers whose products you might be featuring on your blog. While giant corporations aren't likely to advertise on your little Web site, their partners might. "Find the PR person's name and send them a note," Brewer says. "And don't dream too big. You don't have to have Philips or Sony (NYSE: SNE) as an advertiser. You can have an online site that sells products from Philips and Sony."
3. Now Sell Your Blog
After several months of daily blogging, you may develop a case of blogger's fatigue and decide you have nothing more to say about the subject at hand. In that case, don't abandon your blog. Sell it. The Sitepoint Marketplace hosts hundreds of listings of Web sites and domain names for sale via online auctions.
Recent Web site auction sales included a blog about traveling in Cyprus, which sold for $850; a site dedicated to Secure Digital camcorders, which sold for $150; and a site called puppiesforsale.org, which sold for $10,000. Sitepoint offers several sales tips on its own site. To wit: "More traffic = more money. It's that simple."
4. Stay In The Knol
If you know enough about a topic to write an encyclopedia entry, but you don't have the time to blog about it every day, consider creating a Knol. A Knol is "an authoritative article about a specific topic," according to search giant Google Inc., which launched the Knol project in July.
The concept is similar to that of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, in that all the content is created and dynamically edited by the site's users. But there's a key difference: The first person who creates a Knol is considered the "owner," a title that comes with the rights to feature Google ads and collect Google Adsense revenue from that Knol, if they so choose.
5. Sell Your Vacation Photos
If photography is your passion, you may be sitting on a pile of uncashed checks. When publishers and advertising agencies need background art for brochures, books, or billboards, they often purchase generic or "stock" photographs from a stock photo agency.
Traditionally, stock photography agencies have charged hundreds to thousands of dollars for such photographs, and only very experienced photographers have been able to sell their photos to these agencies. But the industry has changed recently. In the past decade, the Web has seen the birth of several "microstock" agencies, which are online retailers that sell royalty-free stock photographs for as little as one dollar.
If you have a digital camera and a good eye, that's where you come in. Many of the photographers who contribute pictures to microstock agencies are amateurs and hobbyists, meaning you don't have to be Annie Liebowitz to make a few bucks with your photographs.
As with most online sales, microstock photographers generally are paid on commission: 25 cents to a few dollars each time one of their photos is downloaded from the agency site. Most agencies highlight their top-selling photos on their sites, which should give you a good idea of what to submit. Black and white photographs of business people tend to sell well, as do crisp still shots that leave some white space for text, according to a microstock photographer from Slovenia who was recently in Boston, taking the opportunity to shoot the city's skyline during a family vacation.
Many agencies sell stock video and audio footage, too.
Here are a few reputable microstock agencies and their payment policies:
- Istockphoto pays a base royalty rate of 20 percent for the sale of each downloaded file, and up to 40 percent for exclusive contributors.
- Shutterstock pays 25 cents per download, increasing the rate to 30 cents once a photographer earns more than $500.
- Bigstockphoto generally pays 50 cents to $3 per download, depending on the size of the file.
6. Become A Music Producer
In the days before the Web, hopeful musicians had two basic career choices: sign with a major record label, or go broke trying. These days, though, anyone with a microphone, a PC, and a modicum of musical talent has a shot at selling songs through a slew of online music stores and distributors that cater to independent artists.
"Everything is digital now," says David Otero, an independent Reggaeton musician from Miami. "Nobody's selling just CDs."
Among the most popular and user-friendly stores and distributors is CD Baby. When a musician sends five self-produced CDs and a $35 starter fee to the CD Baby, the company digitizes the CD, creates a Web page dedicated to that musician's music, encodes the music digitally, and distributes it to popular music download sites such as Apple iTunes and Rhapsody. Musicians set their own prices for songs and CDs. CD Baby keeps $4 of each CD sold and a mere 9 percent from the sale of each digital song download.
Indy artists also favor a service from Snocap Inc., which allows musicians to sell songs directly from their Myspace pages; Myspace.com is the most popular social networking site among musicians. Setting up a store is free for unsigned artists, who can post up to one thousand songs to sell. Snocap keeps 39 cents of every download; musicians generally charge 99 cents per song.
7. Dive Into The Ring Tone Business
Once you're selling songs online, you can bolster your music sales revenue by entering the cell phone ring tone business. Sites such as Myxer and Phone Sherpa include tools that help even the most technophobe musicians create ring tones and post them for sale. (Ring tones are sent directly to a customer's Web-enabled phone.)
"Honestly, it's probably the most user-friendly site I've ever been to," says Otero.
The downside of selling ring tones, compared with selling songs, is that the cell phone carrier receives 50 percent of each ring tone sale, which can be initially frustrating.
"When people started downloading my ring tones, I was wondering where the rest of the money was," Otero says.
But even if ring tones don't make a ton of cash for the artist, they can be valuable marketing tools. A customer who hears a thirty-second snippet of a song on someone's cell phone might be tempted to buy the whole song online.
"I often tell [artists] to use ring tones as a promotional item to push digital downloads of full tracks," says Travis Acker, an artist and marketing relations director at Myxer.
"Anything to get your stuff any extra exposure is a good thing," says John Griffin, a country music artist in Nashville, who developed an innovative ring tone business of his own. Which brings us to
Personalize Your Content
Griffin is attracting customers and fans with personalized ring tones. On his Web site YourNameRingtone, he has posted hundreds of ring tones based on a catchy tune with these lyrics: "Hey, [YOUR NAME HERE], your phone is ringin'; c'mon and answer it, see who it is."
Available names range from Aalyiah to Zane, and if viewers can't find their name on the site, they can request it. People like to hear their own names, so it's not surprising that the site has garnered nearly 500,000 downloads since its launch in March.
Griffin offers the downloads for free, reaping revenue from the Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Adsense program instead. He's putting that money toward his next CD project, and "The goal is to use the name ring tones for a talking point when I go to radio stations to promote it."
Griffin doesn't mind if you make personalized ring tones with your own music. "I don't think it's a patentable idea," he says.
8. Just Ask
In June 2002, a TV producer named Karyn Bosnak set up a Web site asking strangers to donate money so she could pay off her credit card debt. "My name is Karyn, I'm really nice, and I'm asking for your help," she wrote on her site. "You see, I have this huge credit card debt and I need $20,000 to pay it off." She set up payment accounts through Paypal and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN).com, and she waited.
Lo and behold, the public responded. Bosnak got the money, not to mention a book deal. Since then, several so-called "cyberbegging" sites have popped up on the Web. Some work better than others.
Should you decide to make money through donations, make sure you follow a few key rules: Express humility, and state a specific financial goal so as not to appear infinitely greedy. And make the donation process as easy as possible by letting viewers pay either by PayPal or by snail mail.