by Durant Imboden, Europe for Visitors
Without revenue, your Web site will be a "hobby site" or a labor of love. There's nothing wrong with hobby sites if the owners are trust-fund babies or surgeons' spouses, but professional Web publishers--like professional freelance writers--need to get paid.
Here are some of the ways that an editorial travel-planning site or "content site" can earn revenue:
1. Contextual text ads
Google AdSense owns the contextual text-ad "space" (to use a much-loved term from the tech and Internet industries).
Unless you're a U.S. or Canadian publisher with an exclusively U.S. and Canadian audience, you're likely to earn more--and display more relevant ads to your readers--with Google AdSense.
What is a contextual text ad?
Assuming that you haven't spent the last decade on Mars, you've been exposed to Google AdSense ads every day on sites ranging from Mom & Pop's Poughkeepsie Blog to NYTimes.com.
The ubiquity of Google's AdSense ads can present challenges for publishers: Most would say that clickthrough rates have been dropping in the last few years, due in part to "AdSense ad blindness." Still, even new or small publishers can join Google's AdSense network and earn money in two ways:
- From CPC ("cost per click") ads that generate a payment whenever a reader clicks on an ad, and...
- From CPM ("cost per thousand impressions") ads that don't require clicks to earn revenue.
How much can you earn with Google AdSense?
The answer to that question depends on your topic, your audience, how much advertisers are willing to bid for ads on a keyphrase like "New Orleans hotels" or "Bali surf shops," and how many ads you display on each page.
I know a writer who earns more than US $100,000 per year from Google AdSense ads on a travel site, but you'll be lucky to hit five figures unless your site is generating several hundred thousand page views per month.
- Note: Google AdSense also gives publishers the option of showing display ads ("image ads," in Googlespeak), which can be useful for sites that don't have enough traffic to attract display ads by other means (see below).
2. Display ads
"Banners," "leaderboards," "wide skyscrapers," "rich media ads," and other graphical ads fall under the heading of "display advertising," which is typically used for "branding" (building awareness or conveying an image) as opposed to "direct response" selling.
Display ads normally are sold as CPM ads, which means that advertisers are buying impressions, not paying for clicks.
Unless your site is about a local topic and you're selling ads to local businesses, your opportunities for display advertising will be limited until you reach a fairly substantial level of traffic. For example, our ad network and rep firm, Travel Ad Network (TAN), requires a minimum of 500,000 page views per month.
A few generalist "banner networks" like BurstMedia and Casale Media have lower entry requirements, and Google's AdSense network has a display-ad option, but--at least in my experience--the CPMs from generalist networks can't compete with those of a selective "vertical ad network" like TAN.
- My advice: Stick with Google AdSense in the beginning, and experiment to see what works best for you: Google text ads only, or Google text ads plus Google "image ads" or display ads.
3. Affiliate programs
Affiliate programs from companies like Venere (hotels), Auto Europe (car rentals), Viator (sightseeing tours and transfers), Kayak (airline and hotel bookings), and Magellan's (travel supplies) generate revenue for publishers in either of two ways:
- Commissions on bookings and sales, or...
- "Pay per lead" referral fees (i.e., the referring publisher gets a small fee when a prospective customer makes an inquiry, whether or not the inquiry leads to a sale).
Such affiliate programs are also known as "cost per action" (CPA) advertisers, and you'll see their links, banners, or buttons on many travel-planning, magazine, and newspaper sites.
Which programs work best?
There's no simple answer. Our site earns quite a bit of money from hotel bookings, but we know another successful Web travel publisher who's had poor luck with hotels. Amazon.com has always been nearly worthless for us, but some publishers do well with Amazon. Fortunately, it's easy to test and see which programs work or don't work on your site.
4. Direct sales
Some Web publishers sell e-books, smartphone apps, podcasts, driving or walking itineraries in PDF format, and other products.
Others market escorted tours, personal trip planning, or travel-writing and photography courses.
We prefer advertising networks and affiliate programs, which are passive sources of revenue that don't distract us from travel writing and publishing, but to each his own.
Next article: "When to seek revenue"