Ask the Geek: How Should I Monetize my Website? Advertising And Understanding Website Conversions

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Dear Ask the Geek,

I’m beginning to get a decent amount of hits on my blog (5000 pages/3000 unique per month…not millions, I know, but they’re increasing steadily), along with lots of requests to advertise. I need to determine the best way to monetize both the blog, and/or all my sites. I use text-link-ads at the moment, but I need some advice on where to go from here.


I Work Hard for the Money

Dear I Work Hard for the Money,

Monetization is a formula that’s very specific for every site, and one that needs to be constantly evaluated based on your website’s goals and content, and perhaps your business needs at large. I think talking about the three following things will help answer your question:

  • Website conversions
  • Paid links & Transparency
  • Advertising rates and payment types

Website Conversions

Understanding your website’s main objective (and in particular, if there is a monetary correlation) is called a conversion:

Conversion is the process of successfully achieving the primary objective of a specific page or website.[1]

Focusing on defining what the conversion for your website is will make things much clearer for you regarding advertising – what kind of advertisers you’d like to host, pursue, and what type of visitors you’ll want on your site to fulfill your website’s goals. Also, it will help you further define your audience (existing or ideal) and therefore understand what type of advertising will not be intrusive or a nuisance but rather a service to them!  i.e., you have a site about Venice, but you get an offer to host an ad for part replacements – does it make sense? Does your audience want that?

Of course, conversions don’t have to be strictly monetary – perhaps you’re hoping to turn visits into writing opportunities, photos sold, or email inquiries received. Perhaps after defining your website’s conversion, you’ll find that you should actually think about BUYING advertising instead of hosting ads on your site for others, or make it available in a subscription format, etc.

Here are some questions that you should answer to help define what your website conversions might be:

  • How do you measure the success of your site currently?
  • Beyond the number of visitors and traffic in general, how are you planning to track the effectiveness of your site? What factors will be considered when examining who comes to your site and how they’re getting there? Are some sources/referrers higher-valued than others? Why?
  • Are there particular key pages on your website you want your audience to see/visit or are there particular paths the user should complete that could be considered conversions? (i.e., request information/quote, buy product, stumble, etc)
  • Is there a correlation between more traffic and an increase in “sales/conversions” in other ways? (more tours, more photos sold, more products bought, etc.) How are you measuring this?
  • Should you be focusing on better-serving your existing audience instead of looking for more traffic? How are you measuring the experience of visitors to your website?
  • How much money are you expecting to make? Do you have an actual target / fiscal need that must be met and is driving your website’s purpose?

Write the answers to these questions down along with your other brainstorming, or perhaps create a light business plan, and then you can use this to base all your other decisions regarding partnerships, revenue goals and advertising.

Tip: If you end up instead buying advertising, understanding your website conversion is essential to measure if your investment is giving a good return on investment (ROI).

Paid Links & Transparency

Google doesn’t like paid text links, or more specifically: Google doesn’t like links that are not labeled as advertising (“selling links”) because it compromises the integrity of how they calculate PageRank and therefore the influence a certain site has. I’m not sure exactly how you have configured your advertising/paid links (or what you’re getting in terms of revenue) but you might want to read this article about paid links by Google. With that being said, many have decided not to care what Google thinks and use them anyway.

I can give you some advice regarding monetizing, but I think monetizing your website is like finding the perfect pair of jeans: every site is going to have the perfect fit and mix of advertising that’s different from everyone else.

I think the best type of advertising to sell is that which respects the trust relationship you have between you and your audience. In my case, I believe graphic advertising, in designated advertising areas of one’s site and clearly labelled are best. They may affect the aesthetics of your site but the transparency is very clear to your audience.

Since your sites are quite focused, and you have the opportunity to find local/niche businesses that might want to be featured, you can probably take a pro-active approach and contact them with your rates, whether it be graphic advertising or text links. You may try to attract a quality advertiser with discounted rates if it adds then to your site’s own reputation to have them advertising there or helps you get other advertising contracts based on the reputation of your current advertiser.

Types of Ads and Payment

If you’re determined to have ads on your site, whether you’re selling them directly to the business or opting into an ad network (like Google) you’ll need to understand how your payments are calculated.

Ads, in terms of payment, can be broken down into two general categories – CPM (cost per thousand page impressions) and CPC (cost-per-click). Google AdSense, for example, pays per click. Usually CPM are offered in conjunction with several ad networks (like BlogHer, Federated Media, etc.) who sell a level of exposure to advertisers across their network of blogs, but CPM can also be inferred if you’re offering an ad space for a specific period of time, like a month.

The CPM formula can be calculated by dividing the cost by the number of thousands of page views. For example, if your blog gets 10,000 page views a month, and you’re selling an ad space for $30/month, the CPM is therefore: 30.00/(10,000/1,000) = $3.00/CPM. Alternatively, you may negotiate a CPM that is good for X number of impressions and the advertisement is removed by you after meeting this quota.

Google includes a CPM rate in their calculation, but it’s actually a post-facto calculation that is made based on the ads clicked and however much they negotiated per-click with that ad owner. They call it Effective CPM, which is why you can see different CPMs for the different advertising spaces you have on your page. It depends on how many clicks they have received.

A third type of advertisement type is called an affiliate link / ad / offer, which means that you don’t receive anything from the ad owner unless the user purchases something on the ad owner’s website, and you’ll receive a percentage of this sale. These affiliate links can be internal to your site’s content (much like text links) or an offer/link to an affiliate store in your sidebar.

Sara Rosso (aka WHT’s In-House Geek)


2 replies »

  1. Hey Sara!

    If you’re traffic isn’t at a level that CPM or CPC will make a difference then I recommend going the affiliate route. You can usually find some programs that make sense for the niche your in, whether it’s electronic gadgets, food & health, or weddings. If you’re not totally locked into your niche yet, you can start shifting your focus to go towards affiliate programs that make sense.

    Wedding bloggers should check out The Wedding Lens affiliate program as a way to monetize their blogs. We pay out 25% of the purchase price! (yeah, it’s a self-promoting link but it’s relevant!)


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Director of Product Marketing @ HubSpot. Early hire @ Automattic / Founder World Nutella Day. MBA Alumni Advisory Board @ Santa Clara University.

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