Thoughts on Website Monetization And Affiliate Links
I’ve been tinkering with this website pretty consistently over the last three-and-a-half years. Throughout that time, I have maintained interest in ways I could make the website pay for itself. Portrait art and web development are hobbies for me, so I have never really sought to monetize them heavily, but I have long believed it would be nice if web hosting and other expenses could at least be revenue neutral. I’ve tried quite a few different solutions, including traditional ads, an online store, affiliate links, and some other things – I thought it might be useful to share some of what I’ve learned. In this post, I’ll go through the methods I’ve tried and discuss how effective I thought they were. At the end, I’ve also included a brief FAQ section summing things up.
Note: The opportunity to try any of these revenue-generating ideas is dependent on 1) which WordPress.com plan you’re signed up for, or 2) if you’re using a hosted (or self-hosted) WordPress.org site.
Traditional Web Advertisements
Early in the site’s history, I tried using WordPress’s built-in advertisement platform called WordAds. Essentially how it works is, dozens of entities (like Google Adsense, Amazon A9, Yahoo, etc.) bid to serve their clients’ ads through WordAds, bolstered by cookies from websites you visit and your computer’s IP address. I used WordAds for about a year, with ads in three places on the site; at the bottom of posts, the end of the sidebar, and the bottom of the site. In that year, I made just under $30 total…basically a couple bucks a month.
Eventually, I decided it wasn’t worth it. Although I always use an ad-blocker, I know not everyone does. When looking over the site with the ad-blocker turned off, I found the experience jarring and aesthetically disruptive to have random ad images intermixed with my artwork. The last straw for me was that, one day when I was checking out the ads looked, I experienced a pop-up ad. I didn’t think that was supposed to happen, but it was extremely annoying, so I disabled them for good.
Online Store and E-Commerce
Eventually, for my next attempt at generating some site revenue, I decided to try opening an online store. I had no clue what I would even sell, but as with many website projects, part of my motivation was just the fun of experimenting. I used WordPress’s built-in store functionality called “WooCommerce” to set it up. It was pretty easy, but to be totally honest, it hasn’t gained much traction. I have sold some books, but haven’t done any commissions or sold other physical merchandise.
I started building the online store by adding a product for art commissions, then explored other options like printing shirts. I’m sure there are many options, but I linked up this store with a plugin for a company called Printful. I didn’t want to buy anything myself, and Printful does “print on demand” gear that works well for someone like me who doesn’t want to spend more money upfront. Eventually, I also linked some art related items to Amazon through affiliate links (which I’ll discuss in more detail) and to books I wrote.
I’ve included some examples from the store above. The e-commerce experiment didn’t really provide any traction towards making my website self-sustaining, but I am pretty happy with how it looks and the basic functionality. I also messed around with some of WordPress’s more basic payment functionality outside of WooCommerce; I placed a “donate” page that I essentially abandoned. You can even set up premium or subscription content within WordPress (or linked to Patreon), but I’ve never been a huge fan of that style of walled-off information. That’s not something I’ve really explored much, but I have heard it works well for some.
I think the lack of success with e-commerce stuff is less about the tools and more about my lack of effort in promoting it. I had fun building it, but sort of lost interest after I was done! That’s not really a recipe for success. I would probably call this realm of monetization my least successful.
Affiliate Link Programs
On to the last revenue-generation method I’ve attempted – affiliate links. I guess I have to thank Google’s news algorithms for this, because I first read about this from an article in my Google Discover Feed. If you aren’t familiar with affiliate programs, the idea is actually pretty simple: Some companies will pay a small commission if you refer traffic to them. You are assigned a unique identifier and links from your website are tracked, expiring after a set time frame. The amounts very, but in my experience it amounts to a few cents here and there. But those small amounts do add up, and in the short time I’ve tried embedding affiliate links, I’ve already matched my earnings from traditional ads!
In my opinion, this has been the most promising path towards a financially self-sustaining website. I’m not there yet, as commissions haven’t really come close to my total costs for web hosting. But it’s very interesting. And my favorite aspect of affiliate linking is that it’s very unobtrusive – I don’t need advertisements popping up all over my site to make it happen. When your blog is primarily about artwork, I think the visual presentation is fairly important. It’s not entirely without downsides though. In my experience, the most useful affiliate program (Amazon) is somewhat difficult to obtain permanent status with if you run a low-to-medium traffic website. This is because you have to have several qualified (i.e. visitors who aren’t you) purchases within a set time frame, and if you don’t achieve that, you need to apply again. It actually took me a couple of tries to finally get it. There are other programs too – I’ve also tried CJ Affiliates, which is a collection of a bunch of companies you can choose from.
As I mentioned, the aesthetics of affiliate links are much better than traditional web ads. You can use simple hyperlinks, embed clickable buttons, or even your own ad widgets that are more under your control. I’ve included some examples below for reference showing some of the styles available (disable your ad-blocker temporarily if you are having trouble seeing them). I just like this solution much better – with the old school ads, content is at the discretion of whatever company wins the bid. With affiliate stuff, it’s up to you!
Hyperlink affiliate link example:
If I’m writing about this book Pencils and Process, I just added an affiliate link! This is the most unobtrusive option, as it’s just a regular old hyperlink.
Clickable affiliate button example:
If you can’t see the buttons due to an ad-blocker, it’s basically just a cluster of fairly basic clickable images. I’ve included one for Amazon, Fanatical, and CDKeys. Clicking on the button links the user right to the website, with your referral code tied to their purchase if they decide to buy something.
Custom affiliate embedded ad example:
Again, if you use an ad-blocker, you probably won’t be able to see the example below. Essentially, this is a very basic banner ad. This is getting a bit closer to traditional ads, but as I mentioned previously, you have control over what is showing up here. So, instead of being at the mercy of someone else, you get to decide what’s shown on your site.
So, that pretty well covers what I’ve tried to make this website “revenue neutral” and pay for itself. As I mentioned, I am still not really close to achieving that goal. But I feel like combining occasional affiliate link commissions with some book sales may help me inch closer. I even started another website dedicated to product reviews to see if I can give myself a boost in Amazon clicking. I hope this post has provided some useful information to someone!
I’m going to wrap this post up by including a FAQ section for what I’ve covered so far. Sort of a general summary of questions on this topic. I’m not sure that it’s necessarily that valuable, but I’ve never used this widget so I thought it would be fun to try. So, Frequently Asked Questions about what we’ve already covered:
How does WordPress WordAds program work?
Essentially how it works is, dozens of entities (like Google Adsense, Amazon A9, Yahoo, etc.) bid to serve their clients’ ads through WordAds, bolstered by cookies from websites you visit and your computer’s IP address. WordAds then provides ads to the locations you’ve designated on your website.
Does WordPress WordAds program earn decent money?
Not in my experience. But maybe if you have a very high traffic website. I used WordAds for about a year, with ads in three places on the site; at the bottom of posts, the end of the sidebar, and the bottom of the site. In that year, I made just under $30 total…basically a couple bucks a month. My site averaged just over 1,000 visitors and 1,800 views per month during that time.
Is WooCommerce on WordPress good for an online store?
It was pretty easy to set up products, but my store is not exactly a powerhouse, so I can’t speak to high volume/transaction situations. The interface itself looks nice though, and there are a ton of options for customization. I think the structure and tools available work well, and it’s a good e-commerce path to take. But it was definitely my least successful attempt at website monetization.
How do you add products to a WordPress WooCommerce store?
I started by building a product for art commissions, then explored other options like printing shirt and hat designs. I’m sure there are many options, but I linked up my store with a plugin for a company called Printful. I didn’t want to buy anything myself, and Printful does “print on demand” gear that works well for someone like me who doesn’t want to spend more money upfront. I also set up some affiliate links to Amazon for art supplies I use most frequently.
How do affiliate link programs work?
The idea is some companies will pay a small commission if you refer traffic to them. You are assigned a unique identifier and links from your website are tracked, expiring after a set time frame. The amounts very, but in my experience it amounts to a few cents here and there. But those small amounts do add up and I’ve had decent success compared to other site revenue methods.
What is the best affiliate program to use for linking and referrals?
I’ve had the most success with Amazon’s program, probably due in large part to Amazon’s domination of consumer goods markets in the U.S. Some other affiliate programs have higher commission rates, but they lack Amazon’s massive reach.
Do affiliate links have different styles? Are they customizable?
Yes to both! Programs have different formatting options, but generally you can utilize a simple hyperlink, a small clickable button, or even a more robust custom banner ad.