Can You Still Make Money From Websites? 2017 Edition

The web never stops evolving. Hard to believe that 10 years ago I thought I could create a profit-making website that would last forever.

So much has happened since then, and so many amazing innovations lie ahead. Which begs the question: can an individual person with a laptop still make money online?

Answer: Yes and No.

Talented hard-working (and obsessive?) individuals can always find a way, but what it takes is utterly intimidating. Like Michael Pozdnev, who gained some traction writing this beast of a blog post. The blog post is about… writing blog posts. He estimates it took him over 60 hours to write it.

Honest truth: I don’t want to spend that time writing a blog post. Because once you are maintaining 5+ websites – some with over 1,000 pages – time is a scarce resource.

I want far quicker return on time investment.

What Happened in 2016

App Schmapp

It’s now 2 years since I embarked on the challenge of making my own iOS app. It was to be a learning process – with a view to building a much more powerful app to accompany my site CaffeineInformer.com.

Revenue continues to trickle in (almost 18 months later).

During the process I came to a number of conclusions:

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  • I wasn’t enjoying the complexity of coding (web is way more fun).
  • There are too many apps and we don’t need any more.

So I abandoned my idea for a caffeine tracking app. It was the right thing to do. The app landscape has matured (the novelty factor has passed). People aren’t really downloading apps anymore (49% of smartphone users downloaded ZERO apps over the last 3 months of use).

What’s really sobering is that the TOP 8 apps people use are owned by Google or Facebook.

So, for me — apps are done. Long live the web.

Advertising Revenue

Display ads

It’s a conundrum. Banner blindness + mobile revolution + lower returns + ad blocking = the bottom falling out of display ad revenue.

Here’s a brutal example:  A large sidebar ad (on desktop) currently gets about $4 RPM (which is exceptionally good btw). I can go back 10 years… the same ad used to get > $14 RPM !!!

So ad revenues across the board have dropped over 70%. On mobile, impression RPMs can hover round the $1.

Despite attempting numerous other avenues, display ads are still a mainstay revenue for my sites. Any attempts I’ve made to move away from Google (adsense or Adx) haven’t worked out that well.

On this site (sitesforprofit) I switched from Carbon Ads, to Adsense. In case you’re wondering, those ads in the sidebar get about 70 cents RPM.

Native advertising

Companies like AdBlade, Outbrain and Taboola have been appearing everywhere. It might be called “native” advertising – but in reality its a stream of clickbait headlines and tacky subject matter.

Despite some pundits predicting continued growth, I just can’t see it. I haven’t run any of these kinds of ads on any sites (at least not that I’m aware of). I think the furore around fake news will also affect perception of these ads.

Sponsored advertising

I think this can really work. Unfortunately unless you’re a publisher with a large engaged following – it’s tough work trying to find clients. This is something I would like to work with in the future, but have not found much success with yet.

Affiliate Income

Every few months someone will declare affiliate marketing as dead. However it’s now turning up as a viable business model for a number of big publishers. In all the years I’ve been making sites, Amazon Associates has been the single best program I’ve ever worked with.

The Key: The product you’re linking to must be as closely aligned to your content as possible.

Putting an affiliate ad or link for a torch on a page about Alaskan Malamute puppies will get you ZERO sales.  It just doesn’t work that way. The affiliated product has to be 100% on target for there to be any sales.

I’ve also found that sites about products will ALWAYS be the best fit for affiliate income. That makes sense. People reading about products are obviously interested in buying those products.

Selling eBooks

Over the past year or two, we’ve had a shot at writing eBooks and selling them.

Summary:  A lot of work up front, but can lead to good results. I’ve found that product sales can tend to be tightly tied into traffic levels.  If you don’t get much traffic, you won’t sell many ebooks.

That’s just what’s happened to me. My biggest weakness in what I do has always been the marketing side of things. It’s not my strength.

Other trends

Chris Coyier’s end of year data for his massively popular css-tricks.com is a great read. Of note: Forums really are dying. Little by little. As (it seems) are blog comments.

So where to next?

Create good content, spend some time incorporating well-matched affiliate links, attempt to get some sponsored advertising working.

Despite the internet being dominated by well-funded big media players, I still believe there are niches to be worked at.  Returns are nowhere near what they were 5-10 years ago, and you need a lot of patience and belief.

Hi, I'm James, and for the last decade I've made a living by making my own blogs and websites.
Updated: January 8, 2017

4 Comments

  1. I must say that’s a very depressing post, but somewhere true…

    Well, you have to be a little more clever and to analyze again what you can do.

    It is all comes to Sale or AD.

    Sale – your own product: eBook, Guides, Lecture, freemium, physical products, drop shipping, promoting products(affiliate).

    ADs – renting space, free app (with ads on the way), adf.ly.

    Eventually, there are fundamental that don’t and won’t change:
    Content is King!
    People still buy.
    People still click.

    • What’s often difficult with owning sites, is living in denial and not facing up to the facts. When to move on, when to persist, when to try something new.

      There will ALWAYS be creative ways to make an income online.

      I’ve found that ideas are easy. Implementing and following thru is a lot more difficult.

  2. Hi, you mean traditional mobile apps are done? ok, I may agree with that. What about web apps?

    • I reckon web apps will be around for a long time to come. why download yet another app when you can get what you want straight from the website itself?

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