29 March 2012 ~ 29 Comments

My First Passive Income Project, One Year Later

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.

Congrats! You made it until the end. You can follow me on Twitter.

29 Responses to “My First Passive Income Project, One Year Later”

  1. Johnathan 29 March 2012 at 1:27 pm Permalink

    It takes allot of elements to do well. I’m doing very well in a much shorter time, only started few weeks ago. I’m an affiliate with RemoveMugshots.com, work in reputation management sector.

  2. Thomas 29 March 2012 at 1:52 pm Permalink

    How much did getting tweeted by HackerNewsBot earn you? ^^

  3. Jason B 29 March 2012 at 2:09 pm Permalink

    Hi Tommy, interesting reading. I agree with you about the presence of ads, but then we all have to realise that the web is a fickle place and it’s not done for the art or the love but because it’s our living. I think the previous commenter demonstrates that admirably by not leaving a real comment with actual content but more a plug for their own business. Ho hum.

    Of course we want to be proud of our achievements. I would say in fact that given your web site receives so few orders, that you should be commended for attracting so much AdSense revenue.

    Best of luck with future projects.

  4. Tomer 29 March 2012 at 2:15 pm Permalink

    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing!

  5. tommy 29 March 2012 at 2:24 pm Permalink

    @Thomas: probably not that much. This website does not have ads, the one that does has not been retweeted (well there’s some ripple effect of people checking out my gift certificate template website, but it’s not really meaningful amount).

  6. tommy 29 March 2012 at 2:24 pm Permalink

    @Johnathan good for you. Maybe you can share your findings as well?

  7. tommy 29 March 2012 at 2:25 pm Permalink

    @Jason thanks for the comment! I’m doing my best :-)

  8. Telmo 29 March 2012 at 2:46 pm Permalink

    @Johnathan “reputation management sector” is the best euphemism for blackmail that I ever heard. Well done!

  9. Patrick Dobson 29 March 2012 at 3:01 pm Permalink

    Soldier on, Tommy!

    Remember, there is market penetration, and market expansion. If one passive website supplies 20% of your expenses, than 5 will cover them all.

    You also may have more luck or insight into a different product, so one of those 5 could take off and meet your income goals on its own.

    This is how you diversify your investment when your investment is you.

  10. tommy 29 March 2012 at 3:09 pm Permalink

    Hey Patrick – indeed. I find it hard to focus on many different websites at the same time though. I’ve been trying a few ideas, the real time sunk is when I don’t go all the way with an idea (for example, I spent a few weeks on a travel insurance review website in French – with almost no results so far and not much enthusiasm to go further). But it definitely is educational to throw a couple quick ideas and see how the market responds.

  11. George 29 March 2012 at 3:42 pm Permalink

    Thanks for this post. It’s nice to read something from a real person having a real experience.

    Frankly I was surprised you are making that much in adsense revenue. I have never known anyone personally who made more than pennies. If I may be so bold to ask – how many unique visitors a month do you get on average.
    Basically I’m wondering how many visitors does it take to clear $200 a month in actual commission. Also are you getting the $$ per impressions, click throughs, or actual percentage of sales?

    Thanks again for the REAL post.

  12. joel 29 March 2012 at 4:28 pm Permalink

    How did you market your site to get people to come to it? I have a couple websites but I don’t really know how to do the initial promotion to launch the site. Is all your traffic from search engines?

  13. tommy 29 March 2012 at 5:25 pm Permalink

    Hey George, thanks for the comment. Many people make truckloads of money with adsense – check Adsense Flippers for example.

    To answer your question, here are the traffic stats for February:

    • 16.391 visits
    • 14.579 unique visitors
    • 67.485 pageviews
    • 3.99 pages/visit
    • 3:00 average visit duration
    • 33% bounce rate
  14. tommy 29 March 2012 at 5:27 pm Permalink

    @Joel Create content that people are looking for, make your pages SEO-perfect, build backlinks. Repeat.

  15. Justin 29 March 2012 at 7:16 pm Permalink

    Hey, Tommy, thanks for the mention! I was watching Real-Time Analytics and saw a bunch of people just shoot over to our site, hehe.

    I really like your “7 Lessons” post…excellent content there. Best of luck with both your freelancing and passive income journey!

  16. Steve Klebanoff 29 March 2012 at 9:32 pm Permalink

    Thanks for the article, was interesting to follow your path to monetization.

    Your SEO stats for this site are impressive. I saw you had one case study on SEO for another site, but I’d be quite interested to know how you got such great rankings for this site in particular.

  17. oldguywithabeard 29 March 2012 at 10:31 pm Permalink

    You don’t have much choice in ways of making money on internet: porn pills poker and privacy.

    Ads fall in the privacy category as gathering personal data is what the selling ads market is about. It’s a sad choice between not making money and participating in the corruption of the non commercial internet into a surveillance tool.

  18. adam 30 March 2012 at 7:00 am Permalink

    your website does look spammy. and the pages itself seem to be very ill designed.

    are you using a template? or did you write the site from scratch?

  19. Finn Espen 30 March 2012 at 10:11 am Permalink

    I have almost the exact same statistics for my site boardword.com. The lasat 30 days 15 311 uniques, 2min 57sec visit time, 70 524 pageviews. I got an adsense income of EUR 330 USD 430 from this.

  20. Scott 30 March 2012 at 10:47 am Permalink

    Hey – great post and thanks for sharing. I wonder if you could share your SEO / traffic generation methods for the site?

  21. Maurine Joans 30 March 2012 at 2:54 pm Permalink

    Outstanding debate. I like it I extremely enjoy the way you address this matter Hardly any people are inclined to put in this much effort and hard work to determine a realistic choice.

  22. JP 30 March 2012 at 5:11 pm Permalink

    Hey Tommy,

    Those are nice traffic and performance stats for a site monetized with adsense. In my experience I’ve always found a good way to make money via affiliates using content based sites is to find high performing/high paying niches that are tangential to your site content. IE putting auto insurance ads on car related sites or weight loss products on healthy/green living sites.

    Write a few articles on the easily monetizable topic, include them on pages in your site with a bit of promotion to them in the sidebar and then add the affiliate ads to those pages. Even if only a small percentage of your audience is interested in this stuff you’ll see that as your site traffic continues to grow you’ll get more and more more conversions. Now all you have to do is find out what the right high performing affiliate products will work for you. Good Luck

  23. Max 1 April 2012 at 7:35 pm Permalink

    I’m curios. At what price did you tried to sell the certificates, in the first place?

  24. Walid 8 April 2012 at 3:37 pm Permalink

    If I had your Adsens earning ,I’ll be rich in my country ,seriously you encouraged me realise my startup ,we don’t have a business model for the startup yet ,but we will use Adsens I think its a good revenue

  25. Alex 23 January 2013 at 1:23 pm Permalink

    Closely related to this wonderful article I have developed a website worth estimation algorithm that you can try here:
    Keep up the good work!

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