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Managing a Business

Diversify Your Site’s Revenue Streams

In April, Amazon delivered bad news to entrepreneurs who were already reeling from the pandemic’s impact on their business: it was slashing the commissions it pays when people refer buyers to Amazon.com through the Amazon Associates program.

Amazon reduced commission by up to 80% in certain categories. It now pays 1% for grocery purchases instead of 5%. Health and personal care commissions dropped from 4.5% to 1%. And anyone referring customers to purchase furniture now earns only 3% instead of 8%.

Thousands of website owners rely on Amazon’s affiliate program for much of their revenue. They insert product links in reviews or create comparison charts to drive sales on Amazon. Losing up to 80% of that revenue overnight is a big hit.

It’s a reminder that website owners need to diversify their income. Relying on just one affiliate program or revenue source is risky.

For those site owners making money from Amazon Associates, or anyone relying on just one or two income streams, this article includes suggestions on additional ways to make money from your website. It also provides ideas for how you can move up the food chain and rely less on other companies for your revenue.

Laptop connected to store buttons

Walmart and Target Affiliate Programs

Amazon Associates is a favorite for site owners because so many people already buy from Amazon. It’s a safe bet that anyone who lands on their site has an Amazon account and is accustomed to buying from them.

Two big offline retailers also have affiliate programs for their online stores. And while not every site visitor is likely to shop at these retailers, it makes sense to include links to both Walmart and Target in addition to Amazon.

Walmart has a robust affiliate program and you can get started within 24 hours. Meanwhile, Target pays up to 8% for referrals in its program.

The recommendation here is to add links to these retailers in addition to your Amazon links. Or consider linking to the site that pays the most for each product category. Even if one program pays a higher percentage than the other, you might find that a lower-paying one converts better and generates more revenue. Do some testing to figure out what works best for you. 

Affiliate Networks 

Site owners should also look beyond single-retailer referral programs and consider affiliate networks. Networks manage affiliate programs for many different businesses, giving you access to more products and services to promote. 

CJ and Rakuten Advertising are two popular networks. They pay for referring people to buy digital and physical products, insurance, and other services.

Some of these affiliate programs pay for completed transactions, while others pay for leads.

Joining an affiliate network not tied to a single online store is a good way to diversify your site income.

search box over shipping boxes

Sell Products Yourself

Referring people to buy products on other websites is popular because it’s simple. You don’t have to set up ecommerce capabilities, collect payments, and fulfill orders.

The downside is that you’re only collecting a small percentage of a product’s price by referring someone to Amazon when you can move up the food chain to sell your own physical products.

It’s easier than ever to create an online store. Shopify lets you create an online store within minutes and connect it to your custom domain name. The service helps with inventory management, shipping, sales tax, and everything else you need to run an online store. Or set up a WordPress site and use the WooCommerce plugin to create a more flexible store. 

Here’s some helpful advice for getting started with selling online.

Ad Networks

Ad networks are another popular way to monetize a website. Google Adsense is the most popular, providing topic-targeted ads as well as retargeted ads for sites covering just about every topic imaginable. Retargeted ads are those ads you see after you visit a website. They are highly targeted and generate good revenue for site owners.

Site owners should also consider Media.net. Media.net uses Yahoo! Bing ad inventory to deliver targeted ads. It’s a good way to diversify revenue beyond Google.

Ad networks have also run into challenges during the current downturn. Certainly, sites related to travel and other hard-hit industries have noticed a drop in income. But ad networks allow these sites to still earn some revenue even if people aren’t buying the products they’re pitching right now.

Direct Ads

Ad networks are great because they are plug-and-play. Merely paste some code on your website and start earning revenue from ads.

But ad networks can change their payouts at any time. They also ban sites when they don’t approve of the content or other practices. Often times there’s a limited appeal mechanism when a site is banned and loses 100% of its ad revenue overnight. 

Site owners should consider selling ads directly to advertisers in addition to using ad networks. This one-on-one relationship results in more consistent revenue. These ads can be sold based on site traffic or as monthly sponsorships. 

Having consistent, monthly revenue from direct ad sales makes it easier to plan for the future. It also smooths over any short-term traffic drops and changes in ad network rates.

To sell ads directly, ad an advertising page on your website. Include details about who visits your site and the traffic it gets. Add a contact form so potential advertisers can reach you. 

Once you have your advertising page set up you should send emails to companies that might be interested in advertising. Look for advertisers who are trying to reach your audience’s demographics or that sell a product related to your site’s topic.

downloadable book

Sell Information

Information products usually come in two different forms.

One is a membership. This can include a forum, members-only bonus content, and/or one-on-one product support or coaching. A popular option is to create an online course to teach people how to do something. 

This type of monetization strategy can generate recurring revenue that is less susceptible to sales drops. However, it requires the site owner to create content on a regular basis.

The other option is to create a one-time download, such as an eBook that helps people understand a topic. 

Sell Consulting or Services

Another way to make money from a website is to use it to generate leads for consulting and services. Think about your expertise and how you can help other people.

Rather than just refer people to buy furniture on Amazon, offer customized home decorating consultations. Instead of just blogging about personal finance, provide one-on-one coaching sessions. 

Move Up the Food Chain

When diversifying, try to move as far up the revenue food chain as possible. Get as close to the customers as possible. 

Affiliate programs and ad networks are the very bottom of the food chain. Easy to set up, but susceptible to external forces, like the rapid changes in revenue felt by many of Amazon’s affiliates. 

So their being easy comes at a cost — you are at the mercy of other companies and never “own” the customer.

  • Selling ads directly is a step above. It can provide more consistent revenue.
  • Selling your own products and services is above this. It gives you direct relationships with customers. It doesn’t rely on fickle policies and changes. 
  • Owning your own products and customers is the best way to ensure steady income from a site.

Try some of the ideas in this article and see if you can move your way up the site monetization food chain.

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Andrew Allemann avatar

Andrew Allemann

Andrew is the founder and editor of Domain Name Wire, a publication that has been covering domain names since 2005. He has personally written over 10,000 posts covering domain name sales, policy, and strategies for domain name owners. Andrew has been quoted in stories about domain names in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times and Fortune. More articles written by Andrew.

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