If you’re thinking about starting a blog or website, but you don’t have an online store, you might wonder how you can actually make money online. Entrepreneur.com has a shop where readers can buy merchandise like hats and hoodies, but this article isn’t about moving merchandise. It’s about what how you can make money online through content — like Entrepreneur.com does — whether you’re a social media influencer, subject or industry expert or blogger.
The first step, of course, is to build an audience. Your brand should attract readers that other businesses want as customers. That’s why TV networks spend so much time focused on attracting the 18-to-49 demographic — that age range are more likely to buy products based on advertisements. For you or your online content, you might be more concerned with attracting an audience based on industry than age range.
For instance, Entrepreneur.com wants to reach people trying to start their own business, so a 60-year-old who has decided to stop working for others and try something new is a valuable member of the Entrepreneur community, even if that person might not be between the ages of 18 and 49.
Or, you might target your audience by geographic location, interests or another niche. Whatever you decide, it’s important to carve out a corner and develop meaningful content to cultivate a loyal audience.
One of the most common ways to make money through your online content is to partner with businesses who value your audience. Just like you might turn on filters when targeting a Facebook audience through paid marketing, businesses want to know who they can expect to reach through your platform.
You won’t need millions of monthly pageviews like Entrepreneur.com to make money through partnerships, but if you want to make money online, you can do it through three different types of business partnerships.
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This is the most common way to make money online through your digital content. You’ve definitely seen ads on all your favorite websites, and Entrepreneur.com is no different from the rest. If you come to the homepage, you might see an ad for Sprint. On this story page, you have probably already seen one for Dell — if you haven’t, and you don’t have an ad blocker on, you probably will. You might also see the ads that play before some of our videos. Here’s an example:
Now, no one loves having ads as part of their digital experience, but ads can provide value for your business partner in reaching a desired audience, as well as help you make money.
If you want to make money through online advertisements, you need to decide what the right balance is for you, your business and your audience. What combination of ads can provide the most financial reward for your partner while maintaining a positive user experience?
Make it a point to learn about different types of advertisements you can use on your website. For example, video ads tend to convert at a higher rate than many advertisements placed on the side of a story, where readers can just ignore them. That’s why video ads also tend to cost businesses more — and why so many publishing companies are pivoting to video of late. They want the conversions and increased profits that come with video ads.
But, making video ads also means that you need to have video content, and it has to be good enough and long enough to make it worth your audience’s while. If you make viewers watch a 30-second ad, and you give them 15 seconds of bad content, you won’t have many repeat viewers.
By contrast, banner ads or ad boxes within online content usually convert at lower rates, because readers can just scroll past them, but you can put several of them on a page without affecting your audience’s experience too much.
In fact, if you’re clever, you can actually improve the user experience while serving ads. IMDB is a good example of this: If you go to the movie reviewing website’s page for new movies, you can see a nice background image for Solo: A Star Wars Story.
The image looks great and complements the content, which lists Solo as the top movie coming out this week. However, that background image also serves as an ad for Fandango. Clicking on the image activates an affiliate link, which sends readers to the Fandango page to buy tickets for the film while giving IMDB credit for directing them there.
This helps Fandango, because one of the biggest websites in the world is sending targeted members to its page to buy tickets. It helps IMDB, because Fandango pays for that partnership. And it also helps the readers easily find a theater where they can watch a movie they want to see.
It’s a win-win-win.
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Native advertisements are less intrusive than banner or video ads. In fact, if not for the fact that all native or sponsored ads legally must be labeled as such, your audience should barely be able to tell the difference between native ad content and editorial content.
For example, here is a native ad on our site. It has a headline and a hero image, like a typical story does. It can even live beside other stories on the homepage. Plus, the ad is formatted to tell a story or relate information about investing in an interesting way. When audience members read the native ad, they, at least, should come away more educated on an important topic.
However, it’s also clear that this story was not written by an Entrepreneur.com staff member or contributor, because the story is marked as “Sponsored Content” at the top of the page. Also, the author is just the name of the company that paid for the advertisement –in this case, Morgan Stanley.
One key to successful native advertising is to make sure the sponsored content actually fits your site. Finding partners who actually complement your site and what you want to do can provide value to your readers and partners at the same time.
You can often see these sorts of native advertisement labels on Instagram posts or tweets from social media influencers. You might see a hashtag “#sponsored” or some other label to show the source of the native advertisement.
For example, here’s a recent post by NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo:
Great day giving back to the kids from @bgcmilwaukee. Huge thanks to the City of Milwaukee for all the support you’ve shown me since day 1 and for my Top 10 ranking on @DICKS #JerseyReport #sponsored pic.twitter.com/2OuMIXPFUh
It might not seem out of the ordinary for an NBA player to take a picture with kids wearing his jersey, but Antetokounmpo also seems to be inside a Dick’s Sporting Goods store while wearing Dick’s merchandise in the image.
Even though the post maintains the Greek basketball star’s voice and brand, it’s clear Dick’s paid Antetokoumnpo to appear in the tweet so it could sell more jerseys, raise brand awareness and tap into his fan base.
Or, here’s an example of a native ad on Instagram:
I’m so over watery almond milk! Meet my new kitchen staple @vitacoco #coconutmilk
A post shared by chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) on Jan 26, 2018 at 3:34pm PST
This post appears on Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram account, and it taps into her 17 million-plus followers, but labeled just below her name reads, “Paid partnership with Vitacoco.” Teigen is a model who often talks about lifestyle and food, so it might seem normal for her to post something like this. However, she makes it clear that this post is also financially incentivized.
If you are going to do sponsored content, make sure you do the same. It’s illegal to fail to disclose that you are being paid to endorse a product or idea.
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A typical advertisement is where a business partner pays for space on your site. A native advertisement is similar, but you have more agency on the content — sometimes, brands even want you to write the native ad yourself, to make sure it fits with your platform.
In either case, these advertisements involve a business paying you to display content they want to see. Sometimes, though, you can create content partnerships who will fund the sort of content you want to put on your site.
A great example of this is Entrepreneur.com’s Elevator Pitch series. Entrepreneur.com is all about telling the stories of budding business people and entrepreneurs, so creating a show for those people to pitch investors and make their dreams reality is an engaging and awesome way to do that.
Sprint Business understood that vision and partnered with Entrepreneur.com to create the show. As a result, Elevator Pitch had enough funding to make a first season — and then a second and a third — so Entrepreneur.com could create the valuable content its audience wanted, and its content partner, Sprint, earned prominent placement within the show. The Sprint logo appears prominently within each episode, as well as, in the beginning credits.
The ideal content partnership is one where the business partner is able to be part of the content without disrupting or directing the editorial vision. Again, it’s all about finding a balance so everyone wins.
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Entrepreneur.com makes money through a variety of sources, but three ways it earns cash through its content include:
You can use these three strategies to make money online yourself, but remember: No brand is going to be interested in you unless you have an audience. So, with whatever you choose to do, make sure you don’t alienate the people who love you. They might not be writing the checks, but they’re the ones who make you valuable.
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