When I first looked into how to make money online, my #1 question was that I didn't know what to sell, because I didn't actually have a business idea. I knew that people were earning money online, but I figured that I needed to start a company or invent a product in order to be able to sell it online.
What I didn't realize is that a lot of people are actually making money without selling anything at all.
In fact, I'm currently sitting in this camp. I don't actually sell anything through my websites.
Though this sounds like some kind of oddly-worded clickbait, or some kind of financial scam, like how a lot of real estate seminars teach you to use OPM (much harder than it sounds), this is actually a very easy thing to do, if you are willing to put in the work. No special kind of college degree is required, and you can learn how to do it without any previous experience. All you need is a website, and although even that fact will stop some people in their tracks, I think you should keep reading because creating a website nowadays is a lot easier than it was 10 years ago.
Two Ways To Make Money Without Selling Anything At All
As I see it, there are basically two ways to make money online without selling anything at all. I'm the type of person who does not save the best for last, so let's get into the literal one, and look at display ads.
What Are Display Ads?
You've probably seen hundreds of thousands of display ads. Those are the blocks of advertisements you see before, after, or in the middle of the content you read online. They might be a picture ad, or a video ad. You could see them in a sidebar that follows you down the page, or you might see a couple of square images at the bottom of a page.
They are the reason people use ad blockers :/
The truth is many websites overdo the ad thing, and create a poor user experience, but the ads themselves are actually a positive thing for the internet IMO. For example, I'm writing this article for free. You're reading it for free. You can read 90% of what's online totally for free.
However, those are real people-hours that go into creating this online content. How do content creators get paid? Much of the time, they get paid through display ad advertising. Each time you view or click an ad, the person who wrote the article makes a couple pennies. By itself, a penny isn't much. But when you get 10,000 page views per day, or even a million page views per day, that adds cup. Considering that your website is online 24/7/265 and available all around the world, those numbers are not unreasonable.
The most famous service you can apply for to get this type of ads on your website is called Google Adsense. It's the largest and highest paying in the world. However, there are many more, and as more of the world move online to search for information, product, and entertainment, I expect even more to crop up in the next decade. Online advertising is a growth industry.
How To Make Money With Display Ads
The reason display ads are exciting is because you basically have one job to focus on: grow your website traffic. Beyond that, you don't really have much responsibility.
- no need to invent something new
- no product inventory or shipping required
- no customer service
- no communication with advertisers
- no promotional content
As long as you what you write generates traffic, then you're good to go. You can get that traffic by writing articles about stuff people search for, or you can rock social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc and leverage those platforms to drive traffic to your website.
When you sign up for an advertising network, they'll usually vet your site, have you place one bit of code in it, and then they'll take care of the rest.
You'll probably start with something basic like Adsense, and as you gain expertise on how to run your website, you may want to play around with positions of the ads to optimize your revenue. Once you start gaining enough page views to your site, you can join an exclusive ad network such as Mediavine, where they optimize ad positions for you and take a percentage of your revenue for the effort. This relationship works out because they'll get you paid a lot more money with higher quality ads (they work with a bidding system for advertisers), and a better user experience (they have millions of websites to check data points and improve UX over time).
From the image above, you can see how the earnings and traffic track over the course of a year. More traffic results in more earnings, but also advertising spending may change over the course of a year as well. Advertisers pay more during the holidays because more people are shopping online, so getting ads in front of eyeballs is more competitive.
Monetizing your website with display ads is extremely attractive for many people who feel like they just don't want to write any promotional content. They have something they want to talk about, and that's it.
What To Avoid When Using This Strategy
To avoid confusion, I want to also include this one caveat: Just because you aren't selling anything on your website, doesn't mean you can go about building a business without a strategy. Nobody cares about your cat or what you ate for breakfast. “Blogging” as it was known in the late 90's will get you nowhere. You need a strategy to write things people want to read, and you need to provide value to people who read your articles.
The best example of this is free tutorials. Teach people how to do something.
- guitar lessons for beginners
- how to build a fence
- how to diy repair home appliances
- how to budget and save money
- learning about cryptocurrencies
- local sports news
- tech troubleshooting
- mobile game reviews
There are millions of potential ways you could help people. Anything anyone search online is a potential view for your website.
- When is Taylor Swifts new album coming out?
- Can I feed my dog a grape?
- What's a unique home color that's not overly weird?
- Should I invest in Tesla?
- Why is my iPhone slow?
The list goes on. Each query into a search engine is a potential view, and each view is a couple pennies for you.
You could also go the social media route. Interact with people online who also like the stuff you do, and build a following. Then you can publish content on your website, and send people to your site.
- I just published a new slow cooker recipe for busy moms this week. Check it out!
- Do you want to do your nails just like me? I just published a tutorial here!
- I just got a big dividend check from my Ford investment. Learn how I do dividend investing with my free guide!
- Going to Thailand was awesome. Here are my top 10 beaches to visit in Thailand!
Build up your audience over time. As people share and link to your website, rankings will increase. Traffic will grow. A few posts may go viral on social media. Get a little better each year. Although you first year earnings will probably be just a few hundred dollars, you could be easily earning $1000's in a year or two.
Scenario #2: Start An Affiliate Blog
I'm not going to go into a ton of detail here because I've covered this topic in depth in my posts about how to start an affiliate website and how to do affiliate marketing. Tens of thousands of words. Great words. The best words.
Broadly speaking though, you're still not “selling” anything at all. You're promoting products from other companies.
- you don't need an new product idea
- no shipping or customer service
- no payment processing
- no employees
You produce content, whether that be through images, written words, videos, or some other medium. You send traffic to the seller, and get a commission for each sale.
This is actually a little closer to selling than display ads, because you are producing commercial content. One of the best ways to convert a website visitor to a purchaser of a product is through a product review. That's why you'll see a lot of people writing product reviews online. 99% of those articles you read have affiliate links in them, and the website owner gets credit for each sale.
Pros & Cons of Affiliate Marketing
The good thing about affiliate marketing is that you get paid a lot more. Instead of making a penny per view, you get paid a couple dollars per sale. Some companies may pay hundreds, or even thousands per sale. It depends on the value of the product. Even with just a couple bucks for each conversion, you can still make great money promoting everyday products people buy through Amazon, Walmart, and smaller online retailers.
Another good thing is that technically, you don't have to do “promotional content” at all. That's just the easiest way to get the job done. You can casually link to stuff that people want to buy anyway. For example, if I do a fence building tutorial and use a nail gun, I could just say, “This is tool I'm using, you can get it from Home Depot online (which currently has an affiliate program)
The downside is that the “easy” stuff like product reviews is definitely competitive, and you do need to have a little more strategy and finesse than with display ads. Affiliate marketing can be a study of human nature as well as an art form. It's marketing. You can't just say “buy this because I want to make money”. You need to write content in such a way that makes a product sounds compelling to purchase.
If you blog about something you are passionate about, that will come out naturally. People will follow your advice and buy what you recommend.
If you are not a great writer, and blogging about something relatively new to you, then you will have to learn, practice, and develop these skills. It can be done, for sure. I didn't go to college for writing, marketing, or computer science. I learned everything I know with trial and error, and lots of practice. It is an uphill battle though, and you need to enjoy the learning process or you'll quit halfway through.
The good news is that ANY niche can make money, so if you have any passion or interest at all, you can probably turn that idea into a profitable affiliate website. Even if you just wish you were an expert in something, now would be a great time to start learning, then turn your knowledge journey into a blog. I see that all the time with personal finance bloggers budgeting and saving to pay off student debt or retire early.
Combine Both Strategy For Incredible Earnings
Honestly, the best strategy is to combine a bit of both. You can do affiliate content, plus non-promotional content. This is not only good for diversification of earnings, but also for increasing earnings. You can turn off display ads on your affiliate reviews to optimize for clicks and sales, but then use display ads on your informational content to monetize those pages even if people don't click through to your affiliate pages.
Best of both worlds, right?
Blogs Are A Great Side Hustle That Can Turn Into A Full Time Job
Starting a blog is a great way to begin your first business because it's very newbie friendly. Mistakes are cheap. There's no rent to pay. You can pause, then come back to it. You can tinker around for a year, then get serious later. You can run two at one time. You can do it from your home with climate control while you watch the kids or listen to music. You can do it at your local Starbucks, or take your laptop across the world.
Anywhere. Anybody. Anything. It's a very versatile way to run a business.
In fact, I think the reason it's not exploding in popularity right now is because nobody believes it's really a legit way to make money, or they assume it's “not for them”. The truth is, anyone can do this and make money because it's really just writing down your ideas and publishing them to the internet. Everyone has ideas. Everyone likes stuff. Everyone buys stuff online. You have the necessary skills to make this success, and you don't even have to sell anything at all!
Here's the exact formula I used to build three different six-figure blogs over the past 10 years, and I'm busy working my way up to a million dollars in yearly earnings. Wish me luck, and I hope you decide to join me on this journey!