Keys to Success: Making Money on the Internet

I was thinking about a problem just the other day... How the hell does a creative person make money on the internet? It really isn't complicated, is it? I think the general plan looks something like this:

Step 1: Create Content
Step 2: ???
Step 3: Big Profit!

Easy, right? Oh crap... I seem to be missing something there.

Seriously though, the best way to attack a problem is to break it down. Let's start with the easiest, clearest, down-right stupidest version of the equation:

They've got money.

We want money.

If we can produce something they want, they might just be willing to trade.

Alright, simple enough. Let's step it up. Who are they?

Group 1: Viewers
There's a vast audience out there that's starved for good entertainment. It's almost mind-numbing just how many people are out there. The bad news is that, by and large, they really don't want to pay for said entertainment. The good news is that there's also...

Group 2: Advertisers
There's a massive, slavering mob of companies out there trying to sell products. They desperately want mindshare and they're willing to pay handsomely for it. There's bad news here, too: You've gotta have traffic before you can start selling ad space.

Which brings us to the next part of this little seminar.

Building Web Traffic Part 1
Work Ethic

If you build it, they will come.

Well, it's not quite that easy, but it's a start. In this business model, you must have product before you can start building traffic, and the more disciplined you are, the better your chances of succeding are.

It's not hard to find role-models, either. Take a look at Penny Arcade. When they started out, the comic wasn't particularly great. It was worth a couple chuckles, and the art was (no offense) sort of crude. Take a gander their first comic to see what I mean.

What did they do right? They're consistent. If you visit Penny Arcade today, you find 3 new strips every week like clockwork. Sometimes they're friggin' hilarious, and sometimes they're simply a "meh". What matters is that there's something new to see when you go there. Guess what else... They've got traffic like a downtown expressway at rush hour.

Let's scribble some more notes in here:

What do we know about the viewing audience?
  1. They want stuff for free.

  2. They want new stuff.

  3. They've got a damn short attention span.

  4. They, much like monkeys, are impressed by shiny things.

If someone comes to your site and sees something they like, there's a pretty good chance they'll come back. You only get one chance at a second impression, though. If they come back and all you've got is the same old shit, you can bet they're going to forget about you with astonishing speed. Not only have you lost a customer, but you've also lost the friends they would tell. Gone.

We can start drawing a little mental picture of what a successful website is. Simple, easy to navigate, with new content every other day (or more). It better damn look professional. If you can do that, you're more than half way to the goal... Those big fat, juicy green dollars.

One last thing. Put banners up. Make sure you've got one that says "Place Your Ad Here", and is just a mailto pointing to whoever's in charge of your advertising. If you wanna be really wiley, snag some big advertiser's banner and just put it up. Chevrolet might not actually be advertising on your site, but nobody else has to know that.

So, you've got the product. Now what?

Building Web Traffic Part 2
You gotta have traffic to get traffic...

Look at that line right above this one. Kind of like "You gotta spend money to make money." Sounds like a god damn trick, or an oxymoron, or something. I like to think it's a puzzle.

Let's imagine, just for a second, that you've got your site built. It's sharp, well designed, and (we'll start easy here) you're putting up new content once a week. The problem is that no one's reading it. It's like shouting down a long empty hall... Great, if you like the sound of your own voice. It isn't going to make any money, though.

So, where does traffic come from? Traffic, paradoxically, comes from traffic.

The answer is aggressive marketing. You've got to find places that already have traffic and tap into their stream. The absolute gold mine would be a mention on a major news aggregator (the MSNBC's of the world). That's probably not going to happen, so start smaller.

You're reading a webcomic and enjoying it. Drop an e-mail to the author with a link to your site. You're reading an article. Do the same. If you've got a couple bucks, buy some advertising space. Get yourself Slashdotted if you can. Spray paint your URL on the side of the god damn street. Announce every time you sneeze in every forum you can join. Make sure people see your address every way you can. It's war.

So, you've got a site, you've got some traffic. Now, how do you get that fat and dirty dollar?

Step 3: Big Profit!

Your primary source of revenue is advertising. The more traffic you've got, the more your space is worth. In order to sell that ad space, you're going to have to do some marketing... You gotta advertise yourself to advertisers.

Keep track of (or make up) the following:

  • Who your readers are (age, sex, income, location)

  • How many readers you get (daily, weekly, monthly)

  • What your ad click-through rate is

And you can't just wait for them to come to you. Be aggressive. Come up with a list of companies that you think should advertise on your site, and contact their marketing department directly. Let them know why it would be good for their business to advertise on your site. Find out who their competitors are and contact them too. Do their sites have ads on them? Contact their advertisers.

Always contact individuals. Find specific people and address them directly.

Don't let advertising be the end of your revenue either. It's great to entertain for free, but there's no reason you can't sell merchandise while you're at it. Sell print collections of your comic. Sell t-shirts. Sell stuffed freaking animals. Sell every bloody thing you can get your hands on, including the kitchen sink.

I know this is a pretty simplistic break-down, but it's a start. Once you've got a handle on the foundation, it's a lot easier to start working on the rest.
And This Concludes Today's Seminar...


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