Over the years that I have run thesitewizard.com, I've had some visitors writing to me to ask what sort of website they should create in order to earn money. I hate to say it, but this sort of question has got the cart before the horse.
To put it bluntly, if a person were to take this attitude when creating a website, unless he/she is a seasoned webmaster with lots of know-how (in which case he/she won't be asking me this question), chances are that the site won't earn very much, if at all.
The question to ask is not whether people will give you money but whether you have anything original and useful to offer them. In a sense, cyberspace is an reflection of the real physical world. And no wonder, since the same real physical people surf it. Like things in the real world, if you have nothing to offer, others will have nothing to give you in return.
I know that there are a lot of misconceptions going on about what you can earn from a website. Some people read the (very) few success stories of people who have made it big, and think, "Gee, I want to quit my day job, work from home and make a fortune."
To put things in perspective, so that you don't get fooled by others' bragging, here are some things you should know about the people who have succeeded on the Internet:
There are very few people among the millions of websites and webmasters who have actually made it big. The majority of websites on the Internet don't really make their owners any useful money, if at all. I have new webmasters who tell me that they make less than $50 (much less) in their best months. I say this not to discourage you, but so that you can be realistic in your expectations.
Those who have succeeded have worked very hard and persevered over a period of time, usually years. They may pretend they can relax now, but they have probably slaved away at their sites over the years.
Those who have succeeded had talent, skills, knowledge and abilities in their areas of specialization. As a result they could create original content, and not a stale rehash of existing information. Their experience in their field also gave them insight into their users' needs and they could adjust and cater to it.
The successful webmasters love their work. They enjoy the things that their website dealt with, and thus are enthusiastic when working on it. This is one of the reasons why these successful webmasters don't seem to realize that they are working like dogs on their sites. They enjoy the work and so don't define it as work. When you ask them how many hours a day they work, they think hard and say, "oh, maybe one or two hours", because those were the hours they actually spent directly updating the website. But they forget to count the umpteen hours every day they spent learning, researching, experimenting and planning before it culminated in those "one or two hours" of actual updating.
A website is not a shortcut to fame and fortune. If you work on one long enough, you'll realize that it's exactly like the real world.
A website that is successful has these characteristics:
There are thousands, if not millions, of websites on the web rehashing the same old content or selling the same old things. This is probably even more so today with blogs being so easy to create. Those sites more or less talk about the same old stuff everywhere, or sell the same old things in the same old way. A reputable and successful website is one that creates original and new content, or provides some outstanding service, or sells something unique, and thus stands out from the crowd.
Original and unique content in and of itself is pointless if it is of no use to anyone. Note that "use" does not necessarily mean that others need to be able to take direct action based on your content. Even blogs that tell of (say) your struggle with some particular issue in your life (be it office politics or relationship problems) can be considered useful to others because it helps them understand or cope with their own problems. So when I say "useful" I mean it in the broadest possible sense.
Basically, in order for you to be able to create an original website of value to others, you must know something about the field on which your site will focus. You should also be interested in that area, because you're going to have to slave away at it for a long time before it even begins to show signs of bearing fruit. A site on something you only have a superficial interest in will wither away as your own interest fades.
In other words:
Create a website in an area you have interest and experience in. A website in the same field as your day job is one possibility.
Even if you think that you're a hopeless good-for-nothing who only knows how to play games, all is not lost. Create a website about games. If you like games so much, chances are that you will know a lot of stuff about games and what gamers want. In fact, you may be a better person to create such a site than someone who does it solely because it's his/her job, since you will not only have intimate knowledge about the subject, your heart will be in it.
Think about what you do most of the time in your day or free time. What are your professional qualifications? What are the things that interest you? What are the things on which you are an authority among your friends? What are your hobbies? These are the things that you will be able to create a website about.
Even if your skills relate only to the real world, for example, you are good at (say) flower arrangement, you can create a website about that. In such cases, you might want to invest in things like a digital camera, if you don't already have one, a webcam or a digicam, so that your site can have pictures or videos about your hobby.
At the very worst, if you really feel that you have absolutely no education, no interests and no talents, consider starting a personal blog.
I'm sure some experienced webmasters will probably be very annoyed at me for giving such advice, since it means that there will be another pointless blog polluting the web. But I see this way: after blogging for a while, some people are able to discover areas in which they are interested or good at. Look at all your blog entries after a few months. Do the majority of them fall into some particular category? If so, the topics you tend to talk about are an indication of your interest (or obsession). In any case, whether or not you discover your area of expertise this way, you will still have a website in the end, since a blog is a website.
Or is writing a blog too hard as well? I'm not kidding as I say this, since I know that not everyone is a Shakespeare wannabe just bursting to put their latest sonnet on the web. If you are the visual kind of person, prefering to paint or draw, or the photography-loving sort of person, put your pictures on your site. Or perhaps you speak better than you write. Use a microphone and record your spoken words, and put it on a blog as a sort of audio blog or web radio broadcast. If you have a good on-camera presence, you can use your webcam and create a video blog, which is a blog consisting of videos instead of written words. There are people who have had great success doing this.
Generally, if you really want your site to be successful or at least earn you some sort of useful income, consider the following.
Don't go for areas with lots of competition.
Go for some niche where there are fewer websites. If you can create a site in such an area, you will thrive. After all, you will be one of the few sites that deal with that topic. Anyone looking for information on that area will end up on your site sooner or later. You will effectively have a captive audience. More accurately, you will have all the audience.
How do you figure out where competition is thickest?
Look at the spam topics in your mailbox. If possible, don't create sites on topics that spammers love — chances are that the Internet is rife with such websites so any new site you create will not even appear on the radar. There are so many sites on pharmaceuticals, gambling and the like with many seasoned players that getting ahead in the industry is difficult.
Avoid making websites for webmasters, if you can, since such sites are also overwhelmingly plentiful. Maintaining a site in this field is a never-ending uphill climb. I speak from painful, first-hand experience on this, since thesitewizard.com operates in that field.
(Another thing that I can tell you from experience is that webmaster sites tend to have lousy income from advertising. I'm sure you've heard the saying that doctors make the worst patients. Well, webmasters make the worst targets for web ads. They have seen so many banners in their life that they have a tendency not to notice them.)
Areas that are only recently developing on the web are good places to explore.
Take the music and movie-making industry for example. Not long ago, you needed a recording company to make your own music and get it distributed. Nowadays, you can just use a microphone, and record and edit your own music. You don't need EMI or some television talent show to help you on your way. You can put your music on the web and draw fans without the help of a single recording contract. All your income is your own.
Similarly, movie-making used to be the provenance of companies with huge budgets. Not any more. Advances in digital technology make capturing and editing videos doable on the average desktop PC. The easy availability of free movie distribution sites and the ease of creating your own site, means that you don't need Hollywood anymore to distribute your own blockbusters. For those who don't believe me, check out The Guild and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog for two such examples. Both of them are independent productions that have become hits on the Internet.
But of course, while these areas are fast-growing, if you want to get on the bandwagon, you should get on it soon. Although the old gigantic industry players still haven't got their act together (at the time I write this), they will eventually wake up, stop fighting the Internet and start taking advantage of it.
Note that I'm not saying that you should go into the music or movie-making industry if that's not your area of expertise (unless you plan to put your bathroom-singing onto the web). I'm saying that if you cannot find an area where you are a total monopoly (the dream of every webmaster), you should look for areas that are only just growing but have not yet come into full bloom.
Once you've figured out your niche, get started. If you don't know what to do, start by reading my comprehensive step by step guide on making your website.
The rest, as they say, is history. But for now, it's future history (until you get going).
All the best for your site!
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