I set off in February 2011 with the intention to build a few websites to earn passive income, that would enable me to have more freedom to bootstrap more serious web applications without having to freelance to make end meets. It didn’t quite work out as much as expected, so I do some freelancing now
I sold one passive income project of mine a few weeks ago, but I still have my very first website (here’s a post describing how I came up with the idea and started it) up and running. This post is to analyze what I’ve done with it during this year.
The website provides gift certificate templates for businesses and individuals. Users could edit and customize the templates to their needs, and in the end download it to make it ready to print.
First monetization attempt: selling templates individually
The initial idea was to provide high-end templates that small businesses would buy. At the time, there was already one website doing this, and I thought I could out-execute them. I considered it meant there was a market for it, and I could make it better(hat tip: this is not proper market research).
I let the templates for sale for 2 months – I set up an account with FastSpring so that customers could pay. After 2 months and seeing no sale, I decided this approach was not good and I decided to try something else.
Second monetization attempt: partnering with a printing shop and getting affiliate fees
After talking with a few people (but not my potential customers, probably a mistake) I thought about another monetization idea. I partnered with a printing website (NOT an affiliate link here) in the US (the market was essentially US businesses). My visitors could have access to the template for free, edit it with their own logos and information and when all was said and done, they would download it and be sent to the partner website to order printing of this certificate.
It has been a monumental failure. I’ve earned a grand total of 24.59 EUR of affiliate fees in 8 months (it cost me way more than that just to outsource design of the affiliate page, not even counting my own time). Thanks to the 3 people who ordered printing though.
(donkey picture provided by ChubbyDog)
That’s when I decided to put Adsense on the website and monetize the site that way.
Third monetization attempt: ads on the website
I initially didn’t want to put ads on the website. Putting ads on a website cheapens it and doesn’t give a message of quality to the visitor (which is what I wanted to do in the beginning). Still, I didn’t want to waste all the effort I put on this site for nothing (you could argue I learnt a lot, but still). So I put ads on it and it gets decent revenue now. It’s mostly in autopilot (I’ve barely put more than a couple of hours since last July) so it still qualify for the “passive income” category. Income is highly seasonal but here’s the breakdown of last few months:
- November: 201 EUR ($268)
- December: 609 EUR ($812)
- January: 143 EUR ($191)
- February: 346 EUR ($462)
You can notice that Christmas is also a good time for the site – there were days that earned in excess of 40 euros. Traffic is, as I said, highly seasonal and peaks during US holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s day, Memorial Day…).
I actually increased the number of ads in February so CTR is quite high and the revenue is way up now (but also the website feels “cheaper”). It provides some decent side income but nowhere close enough to cover for my monthly expenses – I started a more serious web application business in August, which is also a bit struggling at the moment, so I’ve decided to start freelancing a couple of weeks ago to make ends meet.
What I intend to do with this website
I like the fact this website is earning a couple hundred euros per month without doing anything now – there’s potential to do a bit more with ads if the site was higher in search results. It’s currently #2 in Europe but only #3 in US for the main keyword (“gift certificate template”), which could be because the website is hosted in England. I might experiment with moving the website to a US hosting provider to see if it impacts US rankings (that would be a quick win). Other than that, there would be some SEO work to do to make it go all the way to the first position in Google – but I’m a bit wary of investing more time in this project at the moment.