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The information on this page stems from a variety of sources, including personal experience, research, and feedback from other folks. Though I've experimented with a variety of online opportunities (and continue to do so today), some of the items below may include courses I'm still in process of investigating, or planning to delve more deeply into at a later date. Online business models today are still undergoing lots of flux too, with new ones emerging on practically a weekly basis. For these reasons where possible I include other information sources for you to check out as well.
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First of all, nothing else matters if you don't have the traffic; this has been the central truth of the internet since its inception. You MUST have TONS of daily visits to your site to bring in significant money from virtually any plausible revenue source. Many more visits than most site authors might expect to be necessary for success. Basically, if you have enough site traffic virtually any other money-making problem can be overcome. But building such a mountain of regular traffic is mostly based on luck-- much like winning a lottery. Sure, hard work and creativity in a wildly diverse field of related endeavors can help a bit-- but maybe 70-80% of your consistent traffic success will likely stem from pure luck. AGH! That's a terrible fact. One which most site authors will never be able to overcome in any reliable manner. Too much like physical reality, and thus depressing to anyone hoping the internet might be overwhelmingly better than the real world in such respects.
Selling advertising space on your web site can (at first glance) appear to be the fastest, simplest, and easiest way to make money online.
As significant revenues from advertising spots on web sites require gargantuan amounts of traffic to produce decent results, 99% of legitimate and honest sites will NEVER break even with advertising revenues alone-- never mind turn a profit-- even if they do everything right, and the authors literally work themselves to death.
Therefore, you MUST have another revenue channel besides advertising sales in mind, to have a real shot at e-commerce success with your site.
And NO: donations/contributions from site visitors WON'T qualify as a substantial secondary revenue channel for 99% of real world sites (although it certainly doesn't hurt to include them).
Therefore, you MUST have another revenue channel besides advertising sales in mind, to have a real shot at e-commerce success with your site.
And NO: donations/contributions from site visitors WON'T qualify as a substantial secondary revenue channel for 99% of real world sites (although it certainly doesn't hurt to include them).
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All the above being said, even the most obscure sites might occasionally get struck by 'web lightning'-- brief but intense spikes in traffic. Having your site configured to fully exploit these rare and mostly unpredictable spikes will likely be essential to making your site self-supporting or better.
You may have heard of the rule of thumb about most brick and mortar retailers getting a huge chunk of their annual income from Christmas sales alone. That Xmas sales all by themselves can thus make or break many retailers-- especially in a lean year.
For most web site authors EVERY year will be a 'lean year'. And their random traffic spikes will be the closest thing to xmas sales they ever have. So if they can't milk the spikes, they can't bring in meaningful amounts of money.
But that's a problem in itself. Most site authors will labor mightily over their content, but do little to build in potential revenue channels for the project. Then when a spike hits, the author may see pleasing stats and get much more email feedback than usual-- but no money. A few days or weeks later the spike has faded completely away again, and the author has nothing to show for it-- except perhaps a slightly better ranking in Google-- IF any decent permanent links to their site from others are one consequence of the spike (no guarantee there, as many such links evaporate within days or weeks).
I know all this is true because I've had many spikes myself since I first began posting online in mid-1996. But for 80% of my web history I had little or no revenue channels installed on my site, and so got very little revenue from the spikes.
(I DID get various job offers, but as these are more like regular work for which my site simply acts as a sort of resume, I'm not counting those)
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It's easy to find the basic rule of traffic generation on the net: get other sites to link to you.
What's not so easy is to achieve that. No matter how great your content. It's largely a crapshoot.
And even having thousands of sites link to you won't necessarily mean much traffic-wise. Why? Those sites may not have any traffic themselves to send your way. Those other sites themselves might not be linked from any sites indexed by the top search engine-- and so are utterly invisible to virtually all web surfers.
Or, all those thousands of sites linking to you could be deemed worthless by the top search engine, ratings-wise. Which means your site is considered worthless, too.
But there's not a whole lot you can do about that. Heck, often-times a site which looks perfectly respectable to you will be considered worthless by the top search engine. So obtaining a link there will do nothing for you.
You can of course study up on what sites the search engine does consider worthy, and try pleading with those sites for a link. But usually the writers for those sites are already under seige by thousands much like you, with similar requests. And so maybe even having email filters automatically delete your email before they ever see it.
The big traffic sites also don't usually help their competition by giving them links. And YOU are their competition, in a great many cases.
You can of course buy advertising for your site to get traffic. If, that is, you have quite a bit of extra cash just laying around. Buying visits to your site can be expensive. And so pretty much unjustifiable for anyone not running a business which can benefit from such a web presence.
So what's a starving web author to do? What many seemed to be doing circa 2008 was joining a social bookmarking site like digg.com or reddit.com, and posting their own site links there, sort of in the form of a quickie online press release. At least maybe a handful of times-- before they got banned without warning.
For reddit and digg did NOT usually want web authors posting their own links. Instead, they wanted links mainly to mainstream news sites-- or basically, wanted their members to cherry-pick from the mainstream news.
So this route too differs little from the crap-shoot variety.
Sure, on occasion someone strikes it "rich" traffic-wise on reddit or Digg. Enough even to get their site national attention and a write-up in hard copy media, or mention on TV.
Or, basically, the same thing happens through reddit/digg as might happen through any of the older media in years past, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV.
Or at least it does to a handful of sites-- assuming of course that THE-SITE-SURVIVES-THE-STRIKE. Many do not, and immediately fade back into obscurity again, sometimes with the added insult of gargantuan and unexpected bandwidth bills from their site hosting companies, to help encourage them to never, ever try getting ahead online that way again.
But should your site actually survive such a massive traffic spike, that doesn't mean you've finally made it. Only a handful of people or enterprises who survive the spikes actually benefit from them in substantial ways. For instance, let's say you get paid for text ads on your site. Huge traffic spikes should also make for huge revenue spikes-- right? Wrong. The traffic you get from sites like Digg or Reddit typically avoids clicking on ads like the plague. So you get all the bandwidth costs without any accompanying ad revenues. Or in other words, bigger bills, and smaller checks. Ouch!
But wait: there's more bad news!
From my own experience it appears the top net search engine notices your link on these sites within minutes, and briefly ratchets up your web rank slightly for the few hours your link might be riding that particular wave. Which leads to you also getting extra engine traffic in addition to the social site traffic. This double-effect, methinks, may be why so many sites instantly melt-down: it's not just due to the 'digg effect'. But also to the piling-on the search engine adds to the event.
So how is this bad news? Beyond your likely site meltdown?
It's bad because what the search engine gives, it also takes away.
That is, once your link's time in the spotlight has passed from the social site, the engine demotes you rank-wise again. But to LOWER than you were before the social site linked to you(!).
So you actually get PENALIZED for being dugg or reddited!
Of course, I'm only basing this on hard empirical evidence from my own site stats. Surely other site authors have seen similar results too.
The bottomline here seems to be that-- if you include the search engine rank changes effect-- being dugg basically robs your future traffic of hours or days or weeks ahead, to pile it all up on you in just a few hours in the here and now.
At least this seems the case with spikes of magnitudes less than meltdown scale.
(As I don't subscribe to the fads of specialty blogging software or cutting edge AJAX utilities (which are so often touted on Digg and Reddit), my sites don't melt down quite so easily as many others)
And in other bad social bookmarking spike news...
There may well be no lasting benefits of such a social site spike at all. That is, few if any third party sites create new links to your site in the aftermath. Perhaps because they figure if your site was 'dugg', then everyone knows about you already, and so it'd be pointless to blog about you. Ouch, again!
Plus, this also seems to indicate that the real 'movers and shakers' of the web do NOT often surf Digg or Reddit themselves. Or if they do, they rarely write about or link to anything they see there.
So if you're looking to connect with the true powers on the net, Digg and Reddit are not the places to do it.
But the bad news just keeps on coming. For there's such a thing as gangs on Digg and Reddit. Self-organized groups of members who may do little more but vote up their own member submissions, while voting down everyone else's. And most of that down-voting of other submissions takes place with no examination of the site they're down-voting, whatsoever. They shoot down virtually everybody that's not one of their own members.
So to get even a few measely thousand visits from Digg or Reddit in 2008, your post had to somehow pass through that gang gauntlet first.
Ergo, for most web authors, Digg and Reddit aren't truly social networking sites where links are voted upon meritocratically. They're more like neighborhoods terrorized by organized crime, where primarily the gang members themselves flourish.
Now for the good news.
Some lesser-known social bookmarking sites may not offer huge traffic spikes to your site like digg, etc., but they're also much gentler on your bandwidth, and tend to provide a stream of steady additional traffic for months to come, once they choose you for a link. And the visitors you get from them may click on ads more frequently than Digg users, too-- meaning you actually get paid.
Want an example? stumbleupon.com.
Unfortunately, as social sites with possibly much greater potential than Digg or Reddit are necessarily more complex (in order to foil mafia-like takeovers), they tend to be more difficult to use, too. With steeper learning curves. And again, stumbleupon.com in mid-2007 was a good example of this.
Lots of nuts-and-bolts how-tos and basics for building your site traffic can be found in the links listed in this page's REFERENCES.
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Well, maybe the third fastest and easiest-- as peddling pornographic content or enticing visitors in some way so that you may afterwards rob them, are likely the top two techniques profit-wise, most of the time.
For those of us wishing to generate revenue in other ways the fastest and easiest method for a few years now may have been selling on ebay.
If you sell on ebay you may not need to set up your own web site at all. You're also able to bypass much of the pain and cost of setting up your own full-fledged e-commerce operation. And you've got a decent chance at reasonable traffic as ebay is a major destination site online, with maybe millions of visitors a day.
But you may have to possess some specialized knowledge to succeed on ebay. Or else have unusual access to somewhat prized items at lower-than-market prices. Or both.
When I say succeed here, I mean succeed over the long term. Years and years and years. One-time windfalls via ebay might be brought about a little easier and more frequently than long term successes. Indeed, some ebay scams may involve some sellers building up good reputations over months with small change sales in order to locate some deep-pocketed victims for one really big priced scam down the road.
Legitimate long term ebay success looks to often include a wide or deep (or both) knowledge in some field of collectibles, as well as computer-literate presentation and marketing skills.
As ebay usually functions on the auction principle, a seller need not possess really great negotiating skills (unless they frequently engage in email or off-site transactions). But acquiring the items you sell may still require old-fashioned bargaining acumen. So ebay won't get you entirely off the hook there.
I've read about folks who once were regular vendors at flea markets and swap meets switching to ebay and sometimes making much more money with little or no changes in expertise or product sources from before.
At the moment that's about all I have to say about the ebay route. For though I dabbled a bit in flea market/swap meet sales at one time-- plus collectibles of various sorts--I much prefer those as serendipitous sources for various items, than as my own sales venues of choice. So pretty much all my knowledge of ebay itself is second or even third-hand here. But there's likely plenty of books about ebay available in stores, and web sites covering the topic too.
Try this pre-fab Google search to see what I mean.
The remainder of this page will deal with possible business models NOT necessarily related to ebay-type ventures.
In some cases collectibles knowledge can be garnered from various books on the subject: so long as you get the correct books. I once sold collector comics. In that biz I found there were lots of books touting wildly inaccurate comic values. If you had the wrong book, you might as well have been in a different business entirely.
But if basic knowledge can be derived from the proper book, the sharp business edge to same can only be obtained through experience-- and perhaps some outright predatory thinking. That's one reason lots of honest and hard working folk will never get rich even in their own businesses: for they cannot or will not cop a sufficiently predatory attitude towards their customers.
So if you find you can't seem to do much more than earn a bare subsistance wage even from your own self-employment or small business, that may well just be a byproduct of you being a good person. Yeah, it's a shame that modern society and legally enshrined economic practices don't reward ethical business or government behavior nearly as much or often as the unethical-- but it's a fact of life, unlikely to change any time soon in places like the USA.
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Content is most decidedly NOT king on the internet-- unless you're talking some sort of pornographic content maybe. There's literally thousands of superb web sites out there unmatched anywhere in terms of their specific content regarding a particular subject, but languishing in possibly permanent obscurity. Unfound and therefore unknown even to those people who'd most appreciate them. Simply because today's search engines still don't use a reasonably good criteria for judging a site's true value to web visitors. But as such criteria would likely be anathema to big business because of the new competition which might be unleashed it's unlikely such a working system will be created by a major commercial enterprise. Ever. For they'd make far too many powerful enemies, virtually overnight.
Someday more enlightened folks might get into government positions where they can create a reasonably robust and regularly updated public service search engine totally independent of corporate influence (or the political party currently in power), and level the playing field for the rest of us. Let's hope our children get to live in such a world.
Another reason content isn't king is because it's easily stolen and presented by the thieves as their own. At least for brief periods. But those brief periods are often all the thieves want, as they go from stealing the traffic of one site to another, gaming the search engines, pay-per-click advertising programs, and web surfers.
Governments and corporations don't care that much about all this as they can well protect themselves with vast armies of lawyers-- and even the guns of the police or military if need be. Plus lax regulation in regards to protecting individual authors makes it easier for corporations to raid the content generation efforts of individuals and small businesses if they find something promising there.
But usually it's plain old crooks stealing you blind. It's not that difficult for them to hit and run. Kids can do it. And new tricks pop up in this regard all the time.
So even if government was doing its job to protect web authors, it'd usually be stuck trying to do it with outdated expertise.
All this leaves most honest small site authors in the lurch traffic-wise, as they either can't or won't game the web search engines and directories as effectively as corporations, vandals, and criminals. And don't really have many practical measures by which to stop rampant copying and reposting of their content.
But there are a few tricks available.
Protecting your online content via 'branding' or stamping it in multiple ways.
First off always apply a copyright notice to every content page, both in the user visible text and in the meta tags of the page.
Second, formally copyright your material by regularly sending significantly updated fresh copies to the government copyright office. This action puts teeth in your ability to sue someone for damages from infringement.
You can also send yourself copies of the new content through snail mail and leave it unopened once delivered, for revealing in a court of law later if necessary. Just be sure to tag or label the sealed envelopes regarding their content after they've been run through the system.
But all that legal stuff basically helps you as a matter of last resort. In internet time tens of billions of web sites can be born and die long before the wheels of justice would settle many matters of this kind.
So what more immediate measures can you take?
Dividing your content over more than one or two separate domains may be helpful, by making it a bit harder and more complex for a thief to fully duplicate your site functionality on his own servers.
Using absolute URLs rather than relatives ("http://www.jmooneyham.com/wnew.html" rather than "wnew.html") for all your internal links is recommended by some. Although I'm personally unsure how much it'll help in regards to piracy. Absolute URLs should definitely help you redirect visitors to your actual site from clicked links in a cached page though (compared to relative URLs). Another tip from the same folks is to always insert the "www." before your domain name in an URL, else a certain number one search engine may penalize you for it, page-rank-wise (again, I'm unsure if this one is accurate; for surely search engines know www.jmooneyham.com and jmooneyham.com are one and same domain).
Pushing the expiration date forward on your domain names may help. But thieves know this too and are ramping up their pirate domains to five years and longer as well. After all, it doesn't cost much if you get them at deep discounts.
Placing visible notices on your pages to visitors about the true source of the material might help. You should do this with both text and graphics. Randomly placed where quick checks by thieves might not catch them. And sized so that indepth readers are more likely to notice them than fast skimmers. And use both jpeg and gif formats.
Embedding other signs of ownership in comments in the page HTML may be wise.
It might also be possible to have the script notify you via email when it detected itself with an improper URL. But that could easily deluge you with zillions of emails if it happened in a high traffic event.
And whatever you do, keep in mind you DO NOT want to unduly hamper or burden visitors to your real site with whatever anti-theft script you might concoct. So you'd be wise to test your solution every possible way you can before implementing it online, such as in different browsers and on both PCs (at minimum Internet Explorer and FireFox there) and Macs (Internet Explorer, Safari, and FireFox), and from whatever important search engine caches which might be relevant.
To see some of these methods in action you can browse my own site. I don't want to direct you straight to examples and details because the bad guys can read too.
Use much more than a single technique to protect your pages. For your goal should be to make it too much of a headache for would-be thieves to try locating and deleting all your protections.
And yet if they miss a single technique, it could hang them in any eventual court proceeding.
Keep in mind if they make any effort at all to overcome your defenses it'll likely consist of searches and replaces of items they expect you to use, like your domain name and other elements. Don't make it easy for them. Sure, use your most important terms there. But use others too which offer the same or similar info. And use tricks like people do for defeating bots from harvesting their email addresses off pages, as well as others.
If you use graphics, avoid using terms which spell out their purpose as part of your defense system in their file names, or any associated alternative text.
Lastly, you can simply try out-surviving the thieves' sites. That is, it's often surprisingly difficult to get into search engines and directories in the first place, and linked from other sites, and even to keep your site up and running. All sorts of things go wrong pretty regularly. If you have the time and money and motivation to maintain your site throughout all that kind of stuff you may be able to watch those sites which would injure you via theft of content simply fall off the web due to those factors, if no other.
-- lyrics from Little Lies, by Fleetwood Mac
Truth and accuracy are definitely not kings of the net in terms of traffic and financial success either. Indeed, the way things are set up circa 2011, the more high quality references a site lists for its content, the lower their traffic will likely be, for reasons ranging from ongoing search engine failings to plain old human nature (which more often seeks salacious rumors and tribalistic propaganda than verifiable facts and news).
So don't fool yourself into thinking you can attract attention solely with great content or relentless fact-checking on the net.
Just as in real life, connections are king on the internet. Celebrity endorsements of your site; links to your site from major corporate sites; huge advertising expenditures which drive people to your site; all these represent the ruling class on the net today.
Great strokes of good luck help on the net too, just as in every day life. But are just as rare and random there as in the real world. If you have that kind of luck you've probably already inherited $35 million or won it in a lottery and don't need or want the hassle of a high traffic web site.
The huge surplus of honestly fictional content versus the itty-bitty demand for it.
You might get the impression from previous text that outright or obvious fiction is in great demand by the public-at-large. But that's false.
Sure, many folks crave lies which might make them feel better about themselves by various means, both laudable and not. Or lies which might exploit the placebo effect to make them feel better about the crap they buy on a daily basis, like a certain shampoo or toothpaste. But they want these lies in convenient, easy to understand, black and white bite-size quantities, which rarely if ever challenge their own beliefs or current understanding of the world.
And they also don't want to know the lies are lies: they want lies presented as truth.
This means anything branded as fiction is usually ignored-- unless the author is already a widely known quantity, like Stephen King. Or otherwise familiar through a massive media campaign or Oprah Winfrey show episode.
This also means most people have no stomach for actual stories (fiction or not) of significant length or complexity. No, what they really want is a sound-bite or video clip or cartoon which either entertains them or helps them compress a pre-existing idea into an ever smaller and more easily expressed unit-- hopefully with a new and novel and/or entertaining spin or anecdote-- suitable for water cooler jokes or challenges or quotes.
In other words, the equivalent of a verbal or visual bumper sticker.
Of course, creating snappy cartoons, or catchy sound-bites or video clips is major under-employment where a full-fledged writer (like a novelist) is concerned.
All the above is why only some 500 or so folks among a population of 300 million people can earn a living exclusively from writing fiction today in America....(ouch!)
So if you hope to earn a living online through content basically consisting of fiction, you're in for one hell of a blast of coffee aroma some early morning a few years from now...
But there's yet another problem in regards to content-creation...
Most internet money is currently being squeezed out of a few hundred top traffic sites, and millions of basically outlaw sites at the bottom of the traffic range. With both the commercial heavyweights and the outlaws feeding off the hapless individual content creators in the middle.
No, creating content isn't where either the big or mid-range money is: those wads of cash instead typically go to middle-men sites like aggregators and filters. In other words, major search engines, indexes, and the top gross (144) blogs, and the like.
So what of the 'little money'? Most of that is said to exist in the 'long tail' of site popularity. That is, pretty much all the sites with traffic considerably below that of the 'big boys'.
But that notion is pretty misleading in itself. For in reality virtually all the small web sites with traffic well below that of the big corporate sites are wrung out money-wise from both above and below in the traffic spectrum, simultaneously. With both the several hundred major traffic sites above them, and untold millions of itty-bitty traffic sites below them all milking the content creators in the middle. Or bleeding them, you might say.
How can this be? Big sites often lift quotes or info from the mid-range authors with no link at all to the original site-- or even the domain name in non-clickable, visitor readable text. It's been done to me numerous times. They call this making their own site 'sticky'. I.e., leaving fewer opportunities for visitors to leave their own site for others-- or for visitors to check for themselves just how fair or accurate the big site is being in regards to the smaller one. On occasion though a major site in such circumstances will at least mention your name in passing. Many famous sites don't even do that much.
But primarily the bigger sites bend over backwards never to point to you or mention you at all, even where your site may be the top authoritative source on the internet today for the subject at hand. Complete silence regarding your existence is the top way to minimize the risk of you someday becoming a future competitor to them, you see. As well as keep you weak and open to possible cheap buy out later, if they decide they must deal with you more directly at some point. 'Never give an inch to a possible competitor' is a major pillar of most modern business philosophies. And online today, anyone is a potential competitor. Hence, the fear of even the big sites currently rolling in dough, towards the zillions of pip squeak sites out there surrounding them.
So if you ever get a substantial traffic boost from such guys, it's likely an accident or mistake on their part. Like the case of a newly hired writer there not yet being aware of the rules.
Something else bigger sites might do to you is 'hot link' to your images in order to ride free on your own bandwidth dollar, in addition to and on top of using your original photos or artwork created by the sweat of your brow. Without warning too. So if the hot linker has sufficient traffic, they can suddenly cause your own site a meltdown. Without any notice at all. And with no one but you ever knowing the big site was displaying your own work to their visitors with no credit to you whatsoever. Agh!
Then there's the sites which basically get their multitudes of users to act as unpaid journalists for them, searching for interesting links and then posting them at that centralized location-- adding to the bottomline of the one site completely without pay or even signficant attribution in many cases. I myself contribute to some such sites-- but the ones I favor tend to be non-profit shoestring operations run by folks with good hearts and great intentions that I've known for a while.
On the other end of the spectrum, sites with lower traffic than yours can do all the same things to you as the bigger sites, and more. Although they might be ants in traffic terms compared to the big guys, they can more than make up for that in sheer numbers.
That is, dozens or hundreds of small fry sites all acting as parasites on your content and bandwidth can look and feel on your end much like the burden of a single major site feeding off you.
Well-branding your imagery and HTML files with copyright notices and your domain name can help you maybe exploit such actions for free advertising purposes-- so long as it doesn't prove prohibitively expensive bandwidth-wise. Tips for this are offered elsewhere on this page.
So on the low end you face possible content parasites ranging from no-harm-intended students writing blogs with negligible traffic and hot linking to a picture or two from you, to outright planned theft arranged through entire site cloning at multiple imposter domains across the world. All this stuff can dilute or subtract from your own site's life-giving traffic.
But for all the scary scenarios which can be derived from such parasites, the parasites which are most likely to drain your site of its long term financial potential for you personally may be the middle-men aggregators and filter entities mentioned before. The very search engines, indexes, and blogs on which you depend to get major chunks of traffic from in the first place. Yikes!
Perhaps the biggest problem with such bodies is their still primitive methods for judging the true value of individual sites to searchers. There's all sorts of ways it can go wrong, and the problem is only exacerbated by con-men and hackers all over the world constantly striving to fool and trick the engines and others with all sorts of schemes. Literally dozens of new ones are likely cooked up daily. And were I to hazard a guess, I'd say the most famous engine is currently successfully fending off near 100% of such schemes-- which were first put to wide use maybe a couple years ago. Agh! So maybe most or all the hundreds or thousands of schemes first implemented within the past couple years are still going strong, and robbing honest site authors of much needed traffic each and every day.
If you want to know why your site traffic stays stubbornly low, no matter what you do or how well you do it, even with you faithfully following all the advice and recommendations available out there for being a successful, honest site-keeper, this may be one important reason.
But the above is merely the biggest problem. There are others. Some of them quite tempting for engines and indexes themselves to become complicit in, or contribute to, in order to make bigger profits for themselves.
One such scheme today is domain kiting, explained possibly nowhere else or better than by Bob Parsons, CEO of Godaddy.com, a domain name registrar, in 35 million names registered in April. 32 million were part of a kiting scheme. A serious problem gets worse. May 10. 2006
I'd guess many see this as a victimless crime, but it's surely not. Not only does it keep huge numbers of domain names unavailable to individuals and small businesses who'd likely make more legitimate uses of such names, but it also diverts traffic away from already existing legitimate sites. Like yours and mine. All because of a current gigantic loophole in domain name regulation which allows a tiny minority to basically skim traffic off everyone but the big guys. It may be impossible to estimate what the average amount of lost traffic is to the typical small site owner out there. But I wouldn't be surprised if it worked out to several times what many of us are getting today as a result. If the authorities ever get around to cracking down on the practice in a timely fashion, we might find out how much damage it's doing by the resulting changes in traffic afterwards. But until then, we might only see our traffic stay low or trend even lower still...Yikes!
After all this, if you still think your path to web success will primarily be via content, here's the priorities of what to try:
1: Video or animation of any kind (people much prefer pictures over text-- and moving video over stills).
2. Interactive games, puzzles, questionnares, etc. Some people like to play, others like to divulge personal info to gain new perspectives on themselves, etc.
3: Still imagery of any kind. Note that for both pure image categories the closer to outright pornography you get the more likely you'll achieve increases in traffic as a result of posting.
4: Topics related to the most popular current celebrities, scandals, on-going major class action lawsuits, or current contagious disease or food scares and the like.
5: Maintain an incredibly specialized (near autistic-level focus) web site on a single subject or topic or idea; then present all your content in small bite-size pages of HTML sizes no bigger than 60 K, and preferably only a third that or less. Make all your HTML filenames highly descriptive of their particular content, in maybe something like 70 characters or less, in a format similar to "ceramic-shoes-too-small-to-be-worn-by-people.html". If your site domain name itself can be that specialized, that's still better.
For all other matters of content you'd best look to other methods for increasing your site traffic-- for your content likely won't be a significant help to you there. Sorry!
Yes, the above constraints are pretty limiting. Especially the insect-like specialization part. But as of 2011 that's the most straightforward and honest manner in which to try persuading the number one search engine to send visitors your way.
No wonder some say cockroaches will eventually rule the Earth.
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As you examine the options below, keep in mind this isn't a complete or comprehensive list. By all means seek out more and different opportunities, and let me know when you run across some really neat ones.
Another thing to consider: Most web masters will need more than one revenue channel on their site to make significant headway towards paying the bills. So figure right from the start on implementing at minimum two channels in your quest for a financially self-sufficient web site or better. The more channels you open up, the better your chances of success.
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For 99.999% of web site authors seeking to make an honest living online (never mind getting rich), one other item might be as important as site traffic to their success.
Namely, how enthusiastic they are about the core subject or operation of their site. Or alternatively, how desperate they are to earn monies from it.
Why? Because the actual achievement will be much too close for comfort to performing one of the legendary labors of Hercules. And require years or even decades of sustained effort to have even a chance of success. Oww!
For more than 99 out of every 100 aspiring web entrepreneurs, merely breaking even with their site costs will be horrendously difficult. And require expenditures of time, money, and effort many times far afield of initial expectations.
So to truly have your own shot at success you'd best be downright fanatical about your subject matter, as well as regarding learning the geeky ins and outs of web site management and maintenance.
So am I basically warning most web author hopefuls to look elsewhere for achieving their own American dream? Yes. At least until and unless a whole slew of elements come together to level the playing field for small-timers. Such as a major overhaul of search engine ranking measures to neutralize the unfair traffic advantages of corporations and criminals over honest small sites, much cheaper and easier to use software, hardware, and services, and stronger legal protections for individual web authors/small domain name owners being enacted worldwide. Of course, many might feel they have little choice but to take the plunge anyway. Hopefully the information on this page will help them in their fight with the status quo to earn a living online-- or at least get a site to pay its own way, costs-wise.
On the brighter side, the miniscule micropayments currently available from running text ads on small-time sites can sometimes be enough to be worthwhile for many third world country authors, already.
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So how do you set up revenue channels on your site? The easiest, fastest, and least strings-attached way is via a 'tip jar' or clickable donation graphic. I say easy and fast because there's at least a handful of various formal ways already set up for this, allowing you to simply complete some forms online and add a bit of HTML to your pages to make the process functional within days or even hours.
Of course, these canned donation mechanisms typically take a hefty cut of the proceeds, while sometimes also limiting to small sums whatever a contributor can give you in a single transaction. And at least in some cases donors have up to 30 days to change their minds (a circumstance which could theoretically wreak havoc with your accounts in rare or conspiratorial cases). But on the other hand, you're under no real obligation to the donors for their gifts, unless you say so yourself in whatever text you offer on-site asking for such largess. Ideally, you'll get substantial and regular donations simply for doing what you'd be doing anyway on your web site, finances permitting.
But these donation mechanisms aren't necessarily for everyone. For instance, they require much less set up for someone with just a single page (or few major pages) web site, and much more for anyone with larger, more complex sites. Page formats have to be changed, etc.
And not everyone may be comfortable asking for donations this way. Especially since tipping is usually something sought from richer customers by non-wealthy working class folk like waiters, waitresses, taxi drivers, etc. Especially in America, where we all prefer to think of ourselves as middle or even higher middle-class folks, even if we're nowhere near it. So for lots of folks such behavior smacking of low financial status is often irksome, and to be avoided where possible. Me, I have no problem with it, but know LOTS of folks who would. If you personally are uncomfortable with it, consider that historically it's not that unusual for wealthier 'patrons' to support artists or others of talent they admire or wish to encourage. I believe Leonardo da Vinci enjoyed such patronage.
Some reasons why people tip others include an attempt to garner better service than the circumstances might otherwise encourage. Tipping is a way to provide extra incentive to someone with whom you have no formal contractual relationship or other means to persuade them towards your aims.
Tipping is also done for reasons of status. It's practiced considerably more by men than women. It's done much more often within a group. Women are more likely to tip men than women, especially where the man appears to qualify as an eligible bachelor.
I include these tidbits to help authors brainstorm ways to better encourage tipping on their sites. For example, it appears offering contributors a choice between anonymity or posting of their name on a contributors list might be helpful. If you can post a photo or other indication of your bachelor eligibility it might help encourage tips from the female gender.
4-1-03 UPDATE: Unfortunately, installing a donation button on your web site is SO easy and tempting, just about everyone has already done it by early 2003. This means the novelty has worn off it for site visitors, and anyone asking for donations now has a tremendous amount of competition out there. From my own experience and that of others I've talked to, this sudden flood of donation requests from zillions of web sites has really cut down on the donations many sites were getting before the onslaught. END UPDATE.
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The presently available donation systems also have another downside: they're all like Apple Macintosh computers, in that only a small subset of your potential contributors may be 'compatible' with any of the systems. This means maybe only five to ten percent of those folks who'd like to donate to you can do so hassle-free (i.e., without detouring through some virtual paperwork to join a payment system). And this is in regards to the biggest, most popular donation systems online today. Your donation compatibility will drop to virtually zero if you sign up for a system that's not among the top two or three in the market.
On the other hand, you can widen your donation compatibility considerably by signing up for two or more of the most widely used systems, so if a contributor can't use one, they can use another. Of course, this makes for more set up and maintenance work for you, too.
As for the big cut the system middlemen will take from your donations, you may be able to reduce that somewhat by doing without some of the niceties comprehensive donation systems offer nowadays, but in practical terms there's no way to keep 100% of your donations, and your donation system set up and maintenance requirements may go up dramatically for the small sum of money you save.
You can get more direct in terms of donations with a general purpose merchant account (accept credit cards directly), and possibly save your donors some hassle while greatly expanding your potential pool of contributors to anyone with a credit card, but you'll still have to give some middlemen a cut of the proceeds, and there'll be considerably more work and overhead involved in the process for you personally. A small-time web site likely won't get sufficient traffic to make having a merchant account worthwhile-- unless you've got a pretty hefty inventory of in-demand products or services to sell, and are pretty slick at getting search engine placements, fast. There's also the apparent fact that merchant accounts for small sites comprise a still-developing service industry, with costs, set up hassles, and various other related matters all over the map in terms of quality, reliability, affordability, etc.-- much like the web hosting biz itself.
Bottomline: In a lot of ways you can't beat the existing online donation/payment systems for setting up a potential revenue channel on your site fast and easy. You might consider setting up a bona fide merchant account later, if your site becomes a rip roaring success.
Want to contact one of the top online donation/tipping services available today? Then just click the donation button you'll find on the page you get by clicking here. That button will take you to pages listing links where you can examine and join the services yourself. And no, you won't have to donate anything to me along the way, unless you really really want to. :-)
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Another possibility for paying your site bills (and maybe even increasing your chances of making a living off it as well) is getting a sponsor for your site and/or its related activities. Sponsorship will likely include an exclusive or nearly so advertising arrangement with the sponsor, but could also present other demands on your site efforts, such as a high profile testimonial from you about your satisfaction with their service, etc., etc.
Perhaps the very best sponsor arrangement would be one where all or most of the e-commerce and user-management 'back-end' configuration and maintenance required by your site would be performed by the sponsor themselves or experts in their employ, thereby relieving you of that burden. However, keep in mind such services are pretty valuable, and so often difficult to come by and costly when they are available. I.e., such help may preclude the possibility of the sponsor actually paying you a net income related to your site, leaving such income generation dependent upon your own direct efforts with the tools they provide. It may be that circa early 2003 such arrangements would be most easily obtained from web hosting companies themselves. But your main leverage in negotiations will spring from the quality and subject matter of your content, and previous traffic stats. Few companies may be willing to sponsor a site with little original content, poor quality content, and/or pathetic site traffic.
Notice anything about this sponsorship alternative? If you could locate an existing organization considerably better funded than yourself, that subscribes to the same themes, politics, philosophies (or whatever) that you do, and your web site efforts mesh well with their own, maybe you should approach them about letting you join them. On the low end, maybe they'd be willing to absorb the bandwidth and maintenance costs of your site in some fashion. On the high end, you might even get them to pay you something to regularly update your site, or let you share in the profits they make overall, based on the traffic, sales, or donations your contribution brings to their bigger and grander projects. There's lots of different deals which might be put together here, depending on lots of variables. But it'll help your negotiations if you've already made something of a name for yourself online, or in some other fashion.
A different way to exploit sponsorship might be to sell sponsorship 'subscriptions' for particular pages on your web site. You figure out how you'd acknowledge a page sponsor on that page, figure out how much a single month's sponsorship should be money-wise (to set a price), and implement it in a generic way on that page to make it obvious such sponsorships are available, and how to buy them.
You don't necessarily have to seek out a big corporate sponsor or whatever for your site. You can alternatively just make it easier for them (as well as lots of smaller parties or organizations) to find and sponsor you with their own efforts.
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Another way to set up a site revenue channel is by becoming an affiliate to some online store. Maybe several. The process is relatively straightforward, and the store will typically do all the heavy lifting e-commerce-wise for you (please refer to How to make real money for leads on affiliate opportunities).
But still there are problems with this. Some formidable.
One is context. Your site content usually has to be relevant in some way to what you're selling, else it's unlikely many of your visitors will buy what you're offering. Thus, many site authors can encounter huge contextual problems in regards to the wares they can realistically move.
There's also the sometimes awkward manner by which a site author makes the transition from opinion-editorial to commercial advertising-retail in their work. You want to make sure you don't mislead readers about which is which. When in doubt, put a plainly worded, hard to miss disclaimer on your page about the matter.
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Commissions are another potential pitfall here. Because you'll typically get a pretty small commission from each sale you make-- especially where a customer can choose a used version alternative of an item over a new one, as is increasingly the case in many online retail venues. Combined with the work necessary to set up e-commerce links and maintain them, the commissions you'll often get from sales of small ticket items (under $50) won't usually be worth the trouble, in terms of personal profit realized. Indeed, you may only want to implement such links for the convenience of your site visitors rather than any significant compensation hopes for yourself (commissions of twelve cents on an individual small ticket item sale are not unusual).
So as of 2003, the commissions available from many online sales venues for your site basically amount to micropayments-- and pretty infrequent micropayments at that. Very few sites will enjoy sufficient volume in such sales to make such commissions worthwhile from a purely financial perspective.
Big ticket items however ($50 plus) might be more of a winner. At least if you can, again, find products or services which match well to the thrust of your site.
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But there's still more to consider. For instance, you'll often get a cut of the proceeds from a customer you send to a remote store only once-- and after that the store keeps everything. Yikes! No repeat business there! And no repeat business can be a major bummer where income generation is concerned. In practice this reality will mean a typical small site owner will be thrilled to see a significant check or two roll in after the first few months in a given program, but then the revenue will fall off a cliff after all the site's regular visitors who are willing to buy have already been converted into repeat customers for the large store, thereby cutting you out of the loop. After this, the only way you can keep revenue up is by continually increasing your site traffic in terms of fresh new visitors, in a never ending upward spiral. Of course, ultimately you will reach some point where you're starved for cash even if you have a million visitors a day-- because of the no repeat business clause. Then again, in the long run we're all dead, and so worrying too much about what happens years from now may not be especially useful to us. Every form of business is temporary, and you shouldn't expect to be able to make money off the exact same thing forever. But getting the benefits of repeat business on your site sales sure would be more helpful than not.
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There's also the competition problem. If you're selling hum drum stuff that's identical to what a site visitor can find at their local discount store, or what a million other affiliates like yourself are selling all over the web, it's almost a foregone conclusion that most of your potential customers will buy elsewhere rather than at your place. Even if you add value for them in the form of extra info about the item they won't easily find anywhere else. YIKES!
So it's better to sell something people absolutely cannot get off-line or locally, than stuff they can. And selling stuff they can get nowhere else BUT your site, may be your ultimate meal ticket (if it can be done).
Thus, whatever you sell, you want it to be as tightly tied to your site as possible in theme or extra services or other ways. And you'll want it to be different from what's available elsewhere. If it's better or cheaper, it may have to be a LOT better or cheaper, for you to successfully compete with better known brand names from better known vendors. So different will likely be easier and more profitable for you to manage.
This is one of the secrets to success for many self-employed sellers on eBay-- they're essentially selling relatively UN-common items rather than commodities, and so face little competition compared to other marketers.
So the very best and most profitable products/services a small-time site operator can offer are 'one-of-a-kind' items. If you know some aspect of the collectibles market, you could focus on that-- although with eBay available you may not need to set up your own independent site for operations.
Selling the gadgets of someone else can be good-- IF the gadgets are new on the market and/or unusual in some way and largely unavailable anywhere else.
11-30-03 UPDATE: Egads! Turns out it's much tougher to get commissions selling cutting edge, hard-to-find items on the internet than I thought-- at least through an affiliate sort of channel. For such channels tend to act more like Wal-Mart, by carrying only mainstream items, and even then may restrict their affiliate sales still further, so that affiliates can't even sell the full range of products the retailer themselves do online or elsewhere(!). I discovered this over time in my investigations and experiments. I guess this means that the vendors are still keeping this competition minimizing aspect of potential sales to themselves, and thereby greatly reducing the chances of their affiliates to utilize the strategy. Bummer! Of course, another potential roadblock here is selection. That is, even if you find a vendor that carries cutting edge items, AND allows affiliates to sell them, their inventory will likely include merely one or a handful of the items you wish to sell on-site, forcing you to sign up as an affiliate with LOTS of different vendors to get the entire selection of products desired. The more different vendors you're signed up with though, the more paperwork and link maintenance headaches, and the more diluted your commissions are over your full range of suppliers, which will delay you getting paid (as you must often meet minimum pay out quantities), and you'll also look like a much smaller seller to each of your vendors, and so less valuable if and when they decide to cull their affiliate links. YIKES!. END UPDATE
If you produce some sort of handicrafts or perform small manufacturing, you may be able to market that output on your site.
Basically branding means raising your profile online and possibly in the physical world as well, so that LOTS of potential customers both recognize you as a significant and credible player in your chosen field, and are willing to pay for the information or other items you might be able to offer them. Building site traffic and/or a customer base is a subset of the branding endeavor.
At the very least you may want to copyright text and imagery you wish to make a part of any branding effort. Otherwise it'd be easy for someone else to come in and copy and paste your brand identity onto their own site or products. Trademarking such content would make it safer still from copycat efforts.
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Here I'm speaking of something related to the topic of multiple revenue channels covered before, but still worthy of some discussion in its own right.
Some folks will be able to get by and even prosper touting but a single product or service on their site. But I doubt this will be the case for most.
No, small traffic sites will rarely attract that homogeneous an audience in their crowd. And even if they did, many single products/services don't easily lend themselves to repeat sales to the same customers. So small sites may require some diversity in their offerings. Diversity to help them possibly sell a second and even third item to the same customer over time. Diversity allowing an inventory sufficiently eclectic so that several kinds of people-- not merely one-- may be persuaded to buy. Diversity which may help a site sell one kind of item in good times or summer months, and another in bad times or the winter season. Diversity which might allow the sales of one item to make up for unexpected problems or extra costs with another.
Diversity which helps you ramp up and maintain a healthy cash flow no matter the circumstances or type of crowd surfing through your site.
In this way might you maximize the revenues you generate even with relatively small traffic numbers.
uncommonbusiness.blogspot.com/ looked to be a good spot to see new and functioning business ideas, last time I checked.
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Web site advertising for 99.99% of small, individual web sites may always face the same problem fiction writers have. Namely, too much supply chasing too little demand. Practically everyone with a web site would love to make a living just selling screen real estate. But site visitors tend to tune out most advertising even when times are good. And so those all-important user clicks tend not to take place. And any time the economy sneezes, many advertising buyers slam their wallets completely shut.
Internet ad sales where others advertise their wares on your site-- though possessing some value for small site authors-- don't represent a substantial revenue stream for the vast majority of site authors, circa 2011. Most will be lucky to make enough via that channel to pay for their site's hosting and other related costs.
And that's if a site author doesn't consider the amount of time and energy required to install and maintain and improve such ad space, which frequently demands major reformatting of site pages, maybe changes in content (including voluntary censorship), and much worrying over unexpected changes in presentation rules, and search engine optimization.
So the main potential profit from advertising on your site (for most authors) will not be found in mainstream web ad brokers' wares and systems, but in using your space yourself to boost your general site traffic via cross-promotion of your pages, and to market your own products and services to visitors directly.
Of course, to do that requires that you have some sort of highly exclusive product or service visitors are unlikely to find elsewhere, or unable to create on their own. And that's a whole other can of worms, as discussed elsewhere on this page...
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Free e-mail newsletters/mailing lists may be pretty much the same as web logs, only with less editing and formatting required. And make you money too. How? You sell space in your e-mails to advertisers. TidBITS is one example of a successful such enterprise that's been around since before the internet became mainstream.
Your mailing list is 'opt-in' for subscribers, which means you only send it to people who signed up to get it. The bigger your subscriber list gets, the more you can charge for ads. You can also do mailing lists where folks don't sign up for them, but those are technically spam, and likely worth much less in terms of what you could charge for the ad space inside. In most cases I can think of, using the opt-in method would seem most advisable.
Once you have a big fat list of subscriber email addresses, you can also send them other items of note-- such as carefully selected product or service offers from other companies (companies which pay you to do this). Or even sell one-time or multiple-uses of your subscriber list to businesses which want to email them. This is basically what many businesses do amongst themselves nowadays. But it'd be easy to go too far with such things, and anger your subscriber base: so be wary of abusing your privileges in regards to your subscriber addresses.
Personally I'd prefer not to ever sell my subscriber list to potential spammers. Hopefully I could get by just selling ad space or various products and services embedded in the text of my own email newsletters.
One way to limit the possible abuse you might wreak upon your subscribers and yourself in this manner (without closing down various other profit options) is to make the occasional third party offers sent to your subscribers a separate opt-in process of its own. That is, when your subscriber first signs up, offer a checkbox and explanation for this on the form, where the subscriber can uncheck it if they want.
Already have an existing log or newsletter on the web, and hate to give up its own drawing power? Fine! Keep it. Just let the e-mail version carry the latest content some weeks or months ahead of the web version. That way you don't disrupt your web traffic that much, and can let the older web-posted archives serve as samples to sell the newsletter.
So what about newsletter content? Much or all of it can come from your own email. That is, you can take the answers you provide to folks emailing you queries for advice, and publish them in your newsletter, thereby allowing lots of folks to benefit from the original two-party dialogue. Naturally, it'll usually be advisable to simply provide the gist of the emailer's query, sans their address or name, for reasons of privacy and intellectual property.
Naturally you'll offer up to your readers useful web site URLs you discover on your own, or receive tips about in email.
You can also write about personal experiences you have both off-line and online, where they are relevant to your newsletter's/web site's theme.
Speaking of the theme and topic of your site and/or newsletter-- this is a critically important element to such enterprises.
As of late 2003, it appears such projects may require a laser-like focus on a tiny specialty niche to have the best chances of success.
Hopefully such a requirement would work well for many folks, such as hobbyists, etc., who enjoy a lifelong interest in a highly specialized field of some kind.
So what about publishing frequency? For a variety of reasons, biweekly (once every two weeks) might be the highest frequency you'll want to consider, if this is to be primarily a one-person operation. Monthly may be even better for many authors.
I've concluded as of late 2003 that I personally am not well suited to maintaining a specialty newsletter. My interests are too wide-ranging and eclectic to be squeezed into such a work. Plus, the sort of update schedule I've been forced to follow in regards to site updates for years now is haphazard at best-- another big negative for newsletter publishing and related ad sales.
Maintaining a general purpose web log like that at jrm&aFLUX newz&viewz seems the closest I can come to this model. And even maintaining that is sometimes difficult.
Of course, there remains one type of mini-newsletter which might work reasonably well for someone like me: a site update alert for those of my site visitors who'd like a heads up every time I post a revision to one or more site pages. Such an alert letter could also advise subscribers on various matters, web sites, or current events I consider especially important or useful for some reason, and might not get around to integrating into my actual web site for weeks or months to come. By its very nature, such a letter's publishing frequency would be highly random. The question is, could such a newsletter regimen be substantial enough to attract a decent size subscriber base, and after that advertising buys?
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You may also be able to market personal services via your web site. For instance, if you live in a ritzy area you might promote yourself as a personal shopper or errand runner for rich folks. If you're a programmer, you may be able to market your custom services worldwide. Lots of other opportunities could also be created or dug up.
Customizing work seems a perpetual source of potential income for many self-employed folks. For example, in the distant past I airbrushed T-shirts for folks with pictures of their cars, or just their names, etc., on the cloth. Something along these lines would probably work on the web today, if properly set up and managed.
Indeed, this may be the easiest and most direct way to create some relatively unique products to sell yourself online. For instance, you might have certain quotes or images from your site put onto T-shirts or coffee mugs for sale.
An added advantage is these things can do double-duty as promotional items too, for your web site or brand.
The downside? Such items must by necessity usually be relatively low priced, and so you'd have to sell lots of them to amount to a reasonable chunk of profit.
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3-11-07 UPDATE: As mentioned elsewhere on this page, there's a de facto micropayments system already operating on the web, in the form of many affiliate programs-- as the commissions on sales through these programs can amount to just pennies per sale in many cases. Another type of existing micropayments system is brokered text-based ads.
Unfortunately, neither of these systems are sufficient to sustain 99% of legitimate web sites-- even in combined use. END UPDATE.
Micropayments is so far a potentially wonderous, world-changing idea which has yet to find a practical business model for the real world. And perhaps never will-- due to the 'micro' part.
Maybe today some small number of third worlders somewhere might earn enough US dollars that way to make a difference in their lives-- but it's unlikely anyone in America or other developed nations could.
One obstacle to micropayments may be many existing businesses of all sizes, but especially large and politically active corporations-- as well as the governments of developed nations. For a working micropayment system might wreak havoc on the status quo in many present-day industries by opening up a flood of innovation and competition the likes of which the world has never seen before. The global economy could be rapidly transformed, perhaps even turned upside down in many ways. So there could be lots of incentive to prevent such a system from emerging. And if it did appear, to try to severely limit its impact on existing organizations and economies.
In theory, a fair and fully functioning micropayments system could spawn perhaps tens to hundreds of millions of newborn entrepreneurs worldwide, offering innovative products and services which simply could not exist within the older market systems. This would greatly increase consumer options and global competition, while also offering an explosion in entrepreneurial and self-employment opportunities for just about anyone and everyone.
Thus, an ideal micropayments system is something of an internet 'Holy Grail' as of 2008. There's been quite a few attempts in past years to create a practical system. Unfortunately, all have so far failed (but possibly for helping certain third-world inhabitants, who can survive on far less money than most other world citizens).
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Some lessons I'm learning (or re-learning) lately about business:
#1: Keep it simple! Make it easy for folks to buy from you, and simple to understand what something costs and what they'll get for their money.
#2: Take things one step at a time where new offerings are concerned.
Unfortunately for a small business person like myself keeping product or service offerings simple and straightforward often runs counter to other needs, such as maintaining scalability in your operations (easily ramping up if demand shoots through the roof), and nipping potential liabilities and Gotchas! in the bud.
So adhering to this particular rule can be tough-- especially in a still new field like internet-based services.
Even with the easiest to use e-commerce services around there still exists considerable virtual paperwork to do in regards to every single offering you make. Ergo, if you try to open up a full-blown inventory of many items at once the initial workload and testing phase is going to grind you into the ground.
So when you have a new possible offering, consider it experimental, and only offer it up in its lowest cost, shortest duration, and easiest to implement form first. Then give it a matter of weeks or months to see how it does. After that you should have a good indication as to how or whether you should expand upon the offering with additional pricing points, or move on to other matters entirely.
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One big problem about coping with spikes can be bandwidth. 99% of the time you may get so few visitors you could host your site on an old 16 MHz 1990 Mac SE with a 20 MB hard disk and single 56k modem, and rarely have anyone notice a slow response from your site. But when a spike comes, you may well need as much capacity as a relatively good sized company; otherwise your site will simply crash and you'll miss out on 99% of the money you might have brought in otherwise.
In one case documented in early 2003, a web site which had its URL posted on slashdot.org experienced requests for 250,000 page views in a single 24 hour period. YIKES!
But having reliable bandwidth which can scale up to meet potentially huge traffic spikes on demand, at low cost in terms of money and man-hours, can be a challenge in itself.
Monthly or annual costs of your total site operation MUST be kept to a minimum, since most of the time the site will essentially languish as a subsistence concern (or worse). The only way you have a hope to get your site to pay for itself or better is to maniacally keep costs down. Unfortunately, this also limits your options in terms of being prepared if and when traffic spikes occur.
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Some general purpose ways to prepare for traffic spikes include:
* Keep the use of graphics-- especially large graphics-- to a minimum. Note that a page can be spruced up in several ways totally without the use of graphics. For instance, use of tables and varying background colors in your formatting. And where you do use graphics, you can often 'cheat' by using a single graphic repeatedly, such as one small ball icon is used for many 'bullets' on my WebFLUX page. That same page also makes use of a pretty small background graphic. CLICK HERE to see the actual background graphic alone.
* Keep individual page sizes small where possible. This tack offers several advantages beyond improving your bandwidth effectiveness. For instance, smaller pages will allow a larger portion of internet users to actually view them. For keep in mind many readers are still using older machines with little memory and relatively slow CPUs and modems. Smaller pages require less memory on the readers' PCs, and so will be less prone to crash them. Splitting up pages increases the total page count on your site too, which may help your ranking in some search engine formulas, thereby moving your site nearer the top in certain search results pages. Smaller pages also make it easier and faster for readers to locate what they're looking for, as by their very nature smaller pages will tend to be more focused than larger ones.
Smaller pages translate to less content, including fewer links, per page-- which means a reduced number of links to maintain, as in fixing or repairing broken links. Etc., etc., etc.
* Maintain a highly optimized, easy-to-use site search and navigation system so visitors will be able to find what they're looking for as quickly as possible, with the fewer wrong turns, the better. Besides upping visitor convenience and satisfaction with your site, these measures will also reduce the load on your servers.
* Maintain some redundancy in your navigation system-- more than one way to find stuff or get around. But also maintain as much consistency as possible. For example, offering users a site map is nice, but also offering them a local search function is better. Adding a straightforward bar of navigational aids near the top and bottom of every page too is better still. Offering several different ways to access your content makes your site more user-friendly.
* Maintain an email newsletter. The existence of this newsletter can help mitigate traffic spikes by reducing the visits made by your regular subscribers to your web site, thereby making more room for the newcomers. This spike contingency is practiced by sites like CNN.com.
Don't forget to examine my own site for details regarding implementation of some of these measures. For example, you can discover what local site search service I use. Unfortunately, I don't yet follow every one of my own guidelines, for a variety of reasons. I discuss elsewhere why I don't currently maintain an email newsletter. I'm also guilty of not splitting up lots of large pages into lots more smaller ones, as yet. The primary reasons for my own failings in such areas are time constraints and personal priorities. For instance, I often consider it more important to get new information and links posted that I think others will find useful, ASAP (as soon as possible), than cutting up existing pages to make them more bandwidth-friendly. But in an ideal world I'd do both.
For a small operation, one strategy of spike management might be to carefully supplement a primary paid domain with one or more separately hosted, even free domains, with critical content spread across all the domains in a redundant fashion to reduce the potential load on all.
Note that the actual page(s) presenting the e-commerce links themselves may have to be on the primary domain and none of the others, for reasons of both practicality and contract legality.
But virtually all the other content meant to pique user interest and draw in visitors from search engines may be mirrored on all your different domains, and cross-linked to one another in such a way as to encourage visitors themselves to take alternate paths if the primary appears overloaded.
3-24-07 UPDATE: Unfortunately, the top net search engine has decreed that only big corporate sites are allowed to mirror their content for reasons of reliability. Small sites may be penalized ranking-wise for doing it. Damn! END UPDATE.
Due to the prejudice of top search engines against small sites using mirrors for greater reliability-- plus other potential pitfalls of early 21st century web authoring-- I now maintain multiple paid domains, using different web hosting services.
I split my content across the different domains in a way which seems logical to me, thereby splitting my traffic over different servers too. So it's almost impossible for my entire site to go down in an outage. Plus I can manually divert traffic from the strained server to others, under some circumstances.
Besides this I also maintain some links on all domains to Google indexes of my sites-- and so to Google's own cache of same. For worst case scenarios where the caches are the only places a surfer might see my site.
In some cases actively managing a traffic spike as it's occurring can help. For example, if the spike continues for hours or days, your referer logs will show you which pages are getting the most traffic, and you can update the various 'gateway' pages on your site to redirect some of that traffic to get some relief. For example, my own gateway pages include An Illustrated Speculative Timeline of Future Technology and Social Change and The Rise and Fall of Star Faring Civilizations in Our Own Galaxy (among others), both of which I can update rather quickly to divert traffic from one set of servers to another.
If things get too bad, you can replace the worst hit pages with a tiny HTML file which basically tells folks your site is getting overwhelmed at the moment, so please BOOKMARK the URL to try it again later. Replacing a web page that normally serves up 250 K of combined HTML and jpeg or gif graphics with a 2K file immediately reduces the traffic load of that page by nearly 100%. Replacing a group of hard hit pages this way should help alleviate the traffic load enormously, and fast.
Your host may also be able to help, if it offers the option of "managed hosting" for domains. In such a case you could request they apply a mirror server as well as a load balancer to your traffic. This may require several hours to set up (and will usually add significantly to your hosting costs).
It appears static compression of HTML files would basically involve uploading them to your server in pre-compressed form as binaries. The compression would be done beforehand by a standard file compression utility (I've personally compressed software for uploading/downloading before, but not HTML files as yet; it's an interesting notion though).
Apparently most modern browsers can digest compressed HTML files just fine (image files on the internet are already transferred in compressed form as the norm). But in some cases you'd need to check with your host to see if your servers need additional configuration to distribute such files (And you might also have to buy a file compression program, for your end).
5-18-06 NET NEUTRALITY UPDATE:
Little folks like us may not have to worry about traffic spikes in the future-- or maybe any traffic at all-- as a few corporate giants in the USA during 2006 were bribing politicians to force web sites to pay extra for being speedy and responsive to visitor clicks. Every site which doesn't pay will apparently be locked into slow mode. As every internet user knows, we all give up on unresponding sites almost immediately, and seek one that will respond. After this legislation goes through, only web sites with deep pockets will be responsive, and presto-chango! 99% of competition on the internet will be eliminated! Billion dollar companies will have the status quo locked down, but good. Opportunities for the little guy will be for all intents and purposes dead.
What's the name of this general topic? Net neutrality. Net neutrality is GOOD for BOTH internet surfers and authors/small-time entrepreneurs, but big government and big business don't like it because it makes it tougher to censor dissent or reduce competition. END UPDATE.
11-10-07 BLOGGING SOFTWARE UPDATE:
One major way to make your web site a better bandwidth spike survivor is to use 'obsolete technology' for it. That is, plain HTML and gif and jpeg files for all your content, with little or no Java scripts, databases, or fancy server coding. This also means NOT using contemporary blogging content management systems and the like. Why? Because servers under heavy loads frequently choke on the fancy, newer stuff. Largely because the newer stuff is still awfully buggy, and sometimes because of its embedded proprietary code, which may itself be dependent upon other servers outside of your control(!)
Heck: another reason the CMS or blogging software may crap out so easily might be because it's also got you and your visitors under secret surveillance, tracking everything both of you do, and sending the info either to the government or various corporations(!).
Such spying might be unnoticeable under normal traffic conditions. But crash the system when too many people come through.
Sure, it's nice to have a content management system for some of those bells and whistles. But for many of us, the whole point of our sites is getting popular and attracting lots of traffic. What good is a content management system which melts down the very moment you begin to succeed at your goal? And if the reason it crashes is because it's secretly spying on you and your visitors, that's even worse! END UPDATE.
Making it Contents
Is attempting to make money online worth it today for the average person?
NO. Resoundingly, unequivocably, NO.
Blogging, or doing other types of online authorship 'just for fun' is fine, and can be very rewarding in itself at times. And also serve as a 'lottery ticket' of sorts-- in that one out of a million such authors will find themselves suddenly catapulted into traffic and revenue wonderland, for no discernible reason at all (pure luck of the draw: somebody has to get it).
But most any typical person striving to earn a living online is going to be badly disappointed with the results. At least unless and until some major changes occur regarding the internet and national business policies.
At present, those average folks with the best chance to earn meaningful amounts of money online are overwhelmingly third-worlders. For making $10-$30 a month in many third world countries can be the equivalent of $hundreds a month in America and other developed nations.
Of course, your chances of internet success can improve dramatically if you're already successful in other ways, such as being a celebrity, having great connections, or possessing sufficient funds to 'buy' your way into the high end of internet traffic via advertising or other means.
Your chances can also improve if you have some sort of easily marketable product or service you can sell through your web site.
But for 99% of us, our best shot at significant e-commerce monies likely exist in scrounging around our local neighborhoods for items we can buy low and then sell high on ebay.
If you'd like to change things so 'little guys' have a better shot at making a living online, you'll have to focus your efforts on the ballot box. That is, try to get politicians elected who will work to mitigate somewhat the overwhelming advantage giant corporations presently hold over everyone else online.
But if you're a programmer or other sort of innovator, you may be able to aid the process in other ways. Via 'hacking', basically.
I'm talking 'white-hat' escapades here, where maybe you write some open source content management systems that allow individuals to run web sites of the same caliber as corporations-- only without the need for $3000 software and a team of coders to keep it going.
Or maybe you find a neat way to expose hidden records of criminal wrongdoing or negligence on the part of corporations or government (whistle-blowing). Or even create a way to make it easy for lots of people worldwide to do this across-the-board! Yeah!
Or perhaps you devise a new search engine paradigm that outdoes the current corporate leader of the pack in pin point results-- while at the same time leveling the playing field for smaller web sites of sufficient merit to give the big boys a run for their money.
Yeah: we badly need a Steve Wozniak for the web, these days (the one of the two Steves who actually created the first Apple computer kit, thereby unleashing the personal computer revolution).