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How to Attract Enough Visitors to Your Website to Earn a Living From It

How to Attract Enough Visitors to Your Website to Earn a Living From It

How much is enough? How many visitors, subscribers, comments, tweets and Facebook fans do you need to achieve your goals for your website?

I know we all have different specific goals, but many of us share at least one thing in common. We aspire (whether secretly or openly) to earn a respectable living from our websites and blogs.

If you’re planning to make enough money from your site/blog to support yourself or build a business around, you’re probably wondering what it will take to get there. I get questions from readers on a regular basis about how much time and effort and how many visitors are needed to start earning a living. It’s a common thing to want to know.

The good news is, it’s partially up to you how much traffic you’ll need to reach your income goals. There are many ways to go about supporting yourself online, and we’ll cover a few options here.

A Little Background

If you’ve read much of this blog, you probably know I’m a big fan of startups and lifestyle businesses. You’re not crazy for wanting to support yourself through an online business.

I’ve been working online myself over the past four years and absolutely love both the challenges and satisfaction that come from helping people through a web-based business and being rewarded for it.

However, I’ve learned that there are many different ways to earn revenue online, and the model you choose will affect how many visitors you need to earn enough to support yourself or your business.

“How many visitors do I need” is a question that can only be answered when we know how much revenue your site will earn per visitor, how many visitors will become customers, and how much revenue you’re trying to earn.

Different Approaches for Earning a Living from Your Website

Approach 1: build a site so massive you can attract advertisers

When people first start thinking about earning a living online, advertising is usually the revenue source that comes to mind first. “I’ll just build a really popular site and then slap some ads on it” is the type of thing newbie entrepreneurs might think.

But here is the reality of online advertising. Advertising won’t pay you anything significant unless you attract massive traffic. And even when you have that massive traffic, the payout is probably much lower than you can earn through other revenue models.

Typical CPM rates (the amount an advertiser will pay you per thousand page views) might be around $5 or less, depending on the size of your site, your topic and your visitor’s demographics.

That means if you’re trying to earn just $5,000 per month, you would need over 1 million page views. Can you build your site’s traffic to that level? Sure, but it will take significant effort, and I’d say $5k/month a pretty awful return for that effort.

Another thing to note about advertising is that it generally isn’t even an option for smaller sites. Advertisers want to reach a large audience, and they don’t deal much with sites which have less than 100k page views per month. Google Adsense and some other advertising networks will work with smaller sites, but the CPM rates tend to be lower.

Approach 2: forget about advertisers and maximize your value per visitor

Let’s compare our $5k/month advertising example to other revenue models.

The three other most common revenue models online are: selling products, selling services and affiliate marketing. I assume you know what selling products and services is about, but maybe you’re new to the concept of affiliate marketing. Essentially, affiliate marketing is when another business pays you a commission for referring customers.

If you’re working to earn $5k/month, we also need to know how much revenue you’ll earn from each customer, and how many of your visitors will become customers.

Let’s take affiliate marketing as an example. Let’s say you represent an affiliate offer that meshes well with your site’s purpose, and that if you refer a customer to purchase that product you’ll earn a 50% commission on the $50 sale price. That’s $25 for every customer you refer. (this would be a common situation in affiliate marketing, btw)

So, you’ll need to make 5,000 / 25 = 200 sales per month to reach your $5k goal.

Next, you need to know how many visitors will end up purchasing the product you’re representing. This will depend largely on how you offer the product, and how relevant/helpful it is to your visitors.

For example, if you just slap up a 125×125 banner ad in your sidebar, you won’t get many sales per visitor. If you write a blog post about the offer, however, and include some useful information and a compelling reason why your visitors should buy the product, you’ll make a whole lot more sales.

So, let’s say you write a great post about your affiliate product, and that 25% of your visitors click through to the affiliate product’s page. Then, 1% of those visitors end up purchasing the product.

Are you with me here? Sorry for all the calculations, but this is the type of thing you want to think about when planning a revenue model.

Anyway, 1 / (1% x 25%) = 400. That means 1 out of 400 of your visitors will purchase the product, resulting in a $25 commission. To reach your goal of 200 sales, you would need 200 sales * 400 visitors per sale, or 80,000 visitors to view your offer.

Your “CPM” (or revenue per 1000 visitors, just to compare to our advertising example) is 25 / 400 * 1000 = $62.50 earned per 1000 visitors. If each visitor views 2 pages on your site on average, we need to further divide by 2 for comparison (CPM is measured in terms of page views, not visitors). That would make your “comparative CPM” $31.25. That’s more than 6 times better than our advertising example.

These are simple back-of-the envelope calculations, and your actual results could be better or worse. In my experience with affiliate marketing, I’ve had results as good as $500 per 1000 visitors for a well-targeted product to a very specific audience.

A More Realistic Example

In reality, your revenue model will probably be more sophisticated than offering one single affiliate product to your audience. Instead, you might mix a combination of affiliate marketing, selling your own products and offering some services. You could even mix in some advertising if it makes sense.

In that case, you should be able to improve further on our affiliate marketing example by a significant margin. A freelancer might be able to earn $5k per month from inbound marketing on their website with just 10,000 visitors per month, for example. That would be a return of $500 per 1000 visitors. Mix in some products and affiliate offers and that number could be higher.

Targeting is Key

The big wildcard in all of this is how interested your visitors are in what your site offers. This is known as targeting. Essentially, the more interest a visitor has in your topic, the more likely they will be to purchase something from you or perform other actions you want them to.

You may have seen the effects of targeting in your own promotions already. An easy way to see this in action is with guest posting on other blogs.

If the topic of the blog you guest post on is very related to your own blog, you’ll find that visitors from that other blog are likely to subscribe to your blog. Those visitors would be said to be “well targeted.” If your site is about dog training, and you guest post on a site about mountain biking, those poorly targeted visitors would be unlikely to care much about your site.

Got all that? Good, now stop thinking in terms of “visitors” and “traffic.”

Which ever approach you’re contemplating, this type of revenue modeling exercise is useful just to know how many people you’re probably going to have to reach. Beyond that, however, thinking in terms of “visitors” and “traffic” will actually hinder your progress.

Instead, you need to be thinking in terms of “people” and “relationships” and your “audience.”

Your visitors won’t buy anything from you unless you help them out, provide value and think of them as individual people. To really maximize the revenue you earn per visitor, you first have to maximize the value you provide to them through your content, products and services.

I hope this discussion helps put some bounds around just how big your site will need to be to earn a living from it. If any of you have different experiences, please share with us in the comments.

photo by Haags Uitburo

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  • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

    Hey Corbett,

    I do want to make a full-time income from my blog, and I have never thought of it like you did. Lol.

    Thanx for enlightening me with your math. But yeah, think of your audience as relationships and REAL people instead of numbers you have to convert. I want everyone to have the best experience possible on my blog – quality and entertainment wise ! But don’t forget about partnerships – you don`t have to do everything by yourself – a small mastermind group can help you cross-promote your stuff. And if you get to have the right connections, it becomes even easier.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      I think there’s a balance that has to happen. Definitely think of your audience as people and work towards real relationships, but also be sure to think of your blog as a business. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but you have to make sure to focus on generating revenue. It doesn’t happen magically just because you provide an excellent experience for your readers.

  • http://www.seo-optimization-experts.com Nevil Darukhanawala

    Nice post – my favorite part “Instead, you need to be thinking in terms of “people” and “relationships” and your “audience.”

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Whew, glad that part made it in there ;)

  • Chris

    “… if you’re trying to earn just $5,000 per month, you would need over 5 million page views.”

    Where did you get those figures from? I’ve built up a site with 1m page views after 18 months and it makes almost exactly US$5,000 a month.

    If you’re running yet another website about running websites, it’s probably hard to make that sort of money—you’re in a very crowded niche full of self-proclaimed experts.

    But if you’re running a real-world site, good figures are entirely achievable.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Hey Chris, that’s awesome! All of that revenue comes from advertising? That means you’re making a $5 CPM, just like our example.

      Thanks for catching my miscalculation. I’ve since corrected it in the article. You’re absolutely right, at a $5 CPM, you would need 1 million page views (not 5) to earn $5,000 per month from the advertising.

      The rates you can earn are definitely dependent on niche and demographics. What topic is your site on? I’d love to hear more.

  • http://www.adrianswinscoe.com/blog/ Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Corbett,
    I agree with Mars that relationships extend to partners too and if you have developed a product to sell (CDs, DVDs, book, ebook etc) then haveing your products available for sale and well as being available on an affiliate basis with your partners could make the income goal more achievable. I think the real point for me is that you have to have more than one way of marketing yourself and your or others products if you are to make a living from your website.

    Adrian

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of using affiliate partners. It can make a huge difference in sales, and it helps you reach customers you wouldn’t have found yourself.

  • http://www.blogcastfm.com Srinivas Rao

    Corbett,

    Thanks for breaking this down for us. I think that it’s easy to get caught in the trap of just building massive numbers(i.e, traffic, followers, etc) with no idea of how to monetize them. I think one of the mistakes that people make is thinking that you need thousands of visitors a month to get to generating revenue. Most of the revenue I get is an indirect byproduct of my blog. But you’ve definitely given me some ways to start thinking about how to start generating passive income.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Good point, Srinivas. It can definitely be helpful to start understanding how your blog will earn revenue long before you attract those “massive numbers.”

  • http://www.dumblittleblogger.com Vishal Sanjay @ Dumb Little Blogger

    Thanks for such a great post Corbett, being stuck within all these page ranks followers, and traffic, I think we forgot the main aim of our blogs. But you see the method you’ve described above is for those bloggers who have at least 1000 daily visitors, but for those who don’t monetizing their will be very tough due to the lack of proper ad networks, I alone had to shift from wordpress to blogger because I couldn’t pa for my hosting and bought it back after 6 months.

    Affiliate marketing works for a lot of people these days, but still I cannot call this something which small publishers can depend on.

    All I meant to ask you is for a way for small publishers to monetize their sites.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      You’re asking how small publishers can monetize their sites? Any of the methods I mentioned above could work (advertising, services, products, affiliate marketing). The point I was making is that some methods will earn you a better return on your efforts than others. Selling services or products is a good way for smaller publishers to start generating revenue, as is affiliate marketing, in certain niches.

  • http://www.topbusinesswriter.com Stacey Abler

    For me, I find that setting up multiple websites is the key. Each website has a different group of readers that respond to different tactics and offers. Offering affiliate products on my top site would turn off most of my readers whereas on another site, they visit it specifically to see what is being recommended.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      That’s a great approach, Stacey. In my oversimplified example, I neglected to mention that many people end up having multiple sites on different topics, which can be a great path to reaching certain income goals. Not everyone wants to or can build one single site to sufficient size to reach their goals.

  • http://www.modenasolutions.net.tc/ Brad

    thanks for the helpful tips for earning a living from your site, thanks again!

  • http://www.getinthehotspot.com/ Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    Great clear summary of the potential financial benefits of blogging. I’ll add one more word to this: Instead, you need to be thinking in terms of “people” and “relationships” and your “audience.” Community:) You’re doing it well. Thanks Corbett:)

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Great addition, Annabel. You’ve been really rockin’ it lately when it comes to community! Your readers are really engaged.

  • http://www.howtomingle.com/blog/ Parker Lee | howtomingle.com

    Hey Corbett, Good stuff.

    Wish I heard this advice from your 1 year ago when I tried to go all out on the “advertising” model.

    As you may have imagined, I couldn’t sustain it too long as I needed to make some type of income in the mean time.

    Cheers!

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Well, I hope things are going better for you now Parker.

  • http://www.nunomad.com/blog Carmen

    Thanks Corbett. I always appreciate people who give actual figures and good explanations. What do you think is the best indicator of relationships? Comments, subscribers, pages visited?

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Hmm, I think relationships are measured better by two-way conversations and mutual benefit. Comments could be a good measure, but Twitter / Facebook / email conversations are probably even better for measuring relationships. Also, how much do you know about individual people who are part of your audience?

  • http://blogjunkie.net blogjunkie

    Thanks for the great math. I’ve always been skeptical about earning a living online through my blog but lately through guys like you and Copyblogger it’s made me reconsider my position and I believe I can do it too :)

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Cool, good luck.

  • http://getyourbizsavvy.com Alex Monroe

    I am always thinking of traffic and visitors. I guess its because like you said about getting advertisers, you need massive traffic. I have been searching for creative ways to make money. You’ve got some awesome tips here Corbett

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Yeah, trying to attract advertisers has that way of making your marginalize your audience. And when you do that, ironically, you never get the traffic you need.

  • Stefan Jacholke

    Nice post.

    But you didn’t actually cover methods or ways on how to attract these visitors.

    But you cover a lot of things that are important to keep in mind when monetizing your blog.

    Currently I am trying my hand at affiliate marketing.

    Anyway keep up the good work

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Hey Stefan, I’ll cover some methods for attracting those visitors in a future post. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  • http://scriptsnest.co.cc mayank

    hey thats a reaally good post i have just started the site ..so its a booster for me ..

  • Rudy

    Hi, I really enjoyed reading about how to build traffic and friendships, I am in the process of having a site built to sale a mix of products for women and men and yes I will need traffic like everyone else here. I understand some what about bloging but my question is what do you keep saying to the blogers and you need to get people bloging to make things work. I was reading from some other post on another web site that it was saying don’t speak so much about your business it bores people and it makes them say well all you want to do is sell product, well yes that is true in many ways. However, I am the kind of person that I have no problem in sharing what I make by giving back to some charitys, so I will try it for 6 months and see if i make any sells, I really like what everyone is saying here on your site as well as what you had to say, good stuff.
    All the best to all,
    Rudy

  • http://yogafireyogaflame.com Ben

    Great ideas!

    Certainly traffic is a part of any online business. However, building trust is an important part of any relationship.

    Thanks again for the great ideas.

  • Briton Rabe

    Hi Corbett Barr,

    Nice advise bro, I’m also new to affiliate marketing, is it fine if I’ll create a web store? is it also effective where I can let people review the products?

  • http://www.aimsoiree.co.uk AIM Soiree

    Lots of good info in there – thanks Corbett.

  • http://yourhappystuff.com Deana Ward

    Hey there Corbett,

    I just watched your “3 Compelling Content Types” video in the Traffic Toolkit and have a question:

    Within the tip regarding Roundup Posts, you suggested to come up with a question that your audience might be interested in and post that question to several industry experts. But what if you have no audience (I’m still in prelaunch mode). At what point do you have enough of an audience to use a technique like a Roundup Post? I’m new here…glad I stumbled upon this great community:) I will also check around in some of your other start-up guides.

    Thanks so much!

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Hey Deana,

      If you don’t have a question from your audience, you can just come up with one on your own.

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  • http://www.theREALmeMAGAZINE.com Dawn Goggin

    Hey Corbett! Great article that got me really thinking… Just started publishing theREALmeMAGAZINE.com in February & am at the point where I’m realizing I need help in this area. Would you mind taking a look at my site and then emailing me some suggestions? I would really appreciate your time & expertise!
    Thanks!
    Dawn

  • brady thomas

    I was hired as a columnist for a political/policy style blog that has never done ads or marketing and asked if I would help. Are the sites claiming to drive lots of traffic just scams? My first job will be getting the numbers (currently only about 5000/month) up. Great stuff here. Thanks!

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