One of my favorite occupations as I stroll the streets of the city is to tear down notices that promise make hundreds of $$$ a day working from home! -- theyre generally placed by pyramid schemers and the only money thats likely to be changing hands is from you to them.
The truth is that there are far more people trying to make money from you than those who want to help you make a living. Perhaps thats obvious but the guys who write the books on How to Become a Millionaire are still doing a good business. What you do is you publish a book for $20 on how to get rich and then sell 50,000 copies
Still, today I jumped out of bed at the crack of noon, made some coffee and then pulled out my laptop while still in bed to check my website income from the day before. I was on course to make $1,000 for the month. I went back to sleep for a while and then hit the beach. Another productive working day.
In the future well probably divide people between those who remember life before the Internet and those who have a hard time believing that people used to walk down to the post office to send mail. Generations to come will laugh at the idea that people used to pay to talk to each other on the phone and will be revolted by the idea that all media was once in the hands of greedy publishing, music and television companies.
Just wants to be free
The Internet has made information free. Naturally, it took the world a long time to wake up to this new paradigm and in the beginning there were a lot of people trying to charge for access to websites. Surfers just shrugged and hit the back button and moved on to a site that didnt ask for a credit card. Information is still the most valuable commodity in the world but the economic model changed.
Dig it, youre not paying to read this article but that doesnt mean theres no money being made here
Last summer I decided to take a six-month-long holiday and hung around camp fires at some hippie festivals with not a cell phone -- much less an electric socket -- in sight. In between banging out hopelessly off-key Bob Dylan songs on my guitar, I explained to my incredulous dreadlocked friends that Id made $30 that day before waking up. Okay, it was no fortune but the cash was coming in without me lifting a finger and kept me in a good supply of guitar strings and patchouli oil.
Running your own niche website is like cultivating a money tree. You plant the seed of a good idea, tend and cultivate the sapling for a year or so without any reward and then, as your website comes into maturity, you sit back and collect the fruit as it drops, just doing a bit of pruning here or there.
Unless youre a really driven type and want to plant a whole orchard of niche websites and secure a long-term revenue stream that will beat most pension plans
By now your eyes are probably rolling. Thats all very well, you say but youre not a computer geek. The web is already full of millions of sites on every conceivable topic and anyway, how can anyone make money by giving information away for free?
I used to say the same things. Then an old friend told me that his collection of niche websites were bringing in 500,000 people a month. That was more than many magazines that I could think of. I checked out his sites and saw that far from using any complicated programs hed made them all in Notepad. Hed learnt about 10 little symbols that he needed to make the pages and although there was no design to speak of, the information was clear and accessible.
If you already send email and watch videos on YouTube then youre probably capable of learning how to set up and code your own website in a day. Just do a Google search for html tutorials and youll be on your way. Use a program like Dreamweaver that does the code for you and it gets even easier. And if you plan to make a more complicated site that needs some tricky code, you can find an Indian tech wizard though www.elance.com who will do all the hard work for you.
And although there are a BILLION WEBSITES in existence now, the web is still in its infancy.
After the first dotcom crash, many people seemed to think the internet would just fade away. Instead peoples ideas about it changed. The biggest names in the internet like Youtube, Myspace and Facebook are all recent ideas, evolving in the last 4 years as peoples imaginations have begun to catch up with the potential of the most important medium the world has ever seen.
A good way to think up ideas for niche websites is in your own search experience. I started my main website, www.roadjunky.com because I was bored sick of all the inane travel stories and guides out there. I was sure that there were hundreds of thousands of people out there who also wanted to read alternative articles with attitude. Today, around 50,000 people a day visit the site and its developed a following within the niche that I identified.
But it can be even simpler than that. Maybe you have a hard time doing a web search to find out what live music is playing in your town? So you buy and set up www.gothamcityconcerts.com and fill the niche yourself. If there are others who also want to learn about all the latest concerts then youve got traffic and an income in the making.
Or perhaps youre a devoted fan of Johnny Depp? If you can put together an authoritative site of all roles hes ever played, a list of all his interviews, trivia and photos available, then maybe you can create a resource for all the other millions who play at being pirates in front of the bathroom mirror.
Grains of sand
But with a web full of professional writing and photos, established sites and a million ego-fueled blogs, how will anyone ever find your little website?
Finding information on the web is the biggest challenge the internet faces today. Like free speech, it doesnt matter if the info you want is out there if theres so much crap in the way that you can never find it. Try to search for information about trips to Moscow, for instance, without being inundated with Russian bride sites.
Most sites depend upon search engines for their traffic, Google in particular. Google only got so big in the first place because they came up with the best way to sort through millions of sites in a second and most search engines soon copied their model. Their revolutionary concept was simple: one link = one vote. So sites that get lots of inbound links are more likely to featured on the first page of any search query.
But it doesnt end there. Google also reasoned that not all links are equal a link coming in from a CNN feature, for instance, scores way more points than a link from www.mymomswebsite.com.
So to bring traffic to your site you need links but who on earth will link to you?
For many webmasters, about 20% of their time is spent in begging, trading and even buying links. The bottom line, however, is that if you provide a cool, comprehensive resource or a useful service then people will link to you as a matter of course. People might link to this page as a guide to making money at home, for instance (hint, hint).
How to make it pay?
Now, assuming you manage to get some traffic, how do you make money out of it? Man cannot live on hits alone
Again, we have Google to thank. Their think tank looked at the internet and saw the greatest potential for advertising in history. They invented Adsense and became the middlemen between the advertisers and the publishers and made the whole process automatic so you dont have to waste your time trying to sell ad space.
It works like this: you install a bit of code on your site, Google spiders your pages, decides what theyre about and then inserts a relevant ad. So if youve written an article about vacations in Brazil you might well see ads about Flights to Brazil or Carnival Packages showing up.
But unlike traditional advertising where publishers get paid for placing the ad, you only get paid when someone actually clicks on it. The amount varies depending on the advertisers bid but if youre getting decent traffic the clicks soon add up and Google sends you a check each month. And yes, they will know if youre clicking on your own ads
You can also make money with affiliate deals where you get a small percentage of every flight, hotel reservation or book sold from your site, for example. Do a web search for affiliates and youll find enormous lists of them by subject. Just dont overburden your site with ads or affiliates or youll lose traffic in droves.
Okay, okay but what if you cant write or take photos to save your life and have no budget to pay others?
One of the pages I visit the most is an article that lists the best bit torrent sites on the web. I keep forgetting the name of the torrent sites that I use and so I return to the list about 5 times a week. Apparently many other people also found the list handy as it has a bunch of inbound links and sits at the top of Googles top ten when you search for best torrent sites. The point is that if you can find some way to sort and order the information out there then youre fulfilling a need and traffic will come your way.
For instance, if you reckon you have a great sense of humor (and who doesnt but they cant all be right..) then you could buy www.youtubelaughs.com and embed 5 hilarious YouTube videos each day to save your audience the trouble of hunting them down themselves. If people know they can arrive at your site and be guaranteed a good laugh its likely theyll return again and again.
Learning how to build a niche website can be as shallow or deep as you like. All the tips and tricks you need to know are available via any Google search and www.webmasterworld.com is a great place to ask all your dumb questions and get patient answers.
A catchy name for your website helps and you can search for domain names at www.domaintools.com .coms sell for about $10 each and hosting will cost you another $100+ a year, depending on how big your site gets.
But thats the last money you need ever spend on building your niche site and beware anyone who tries to sell you their services to bring traffic remember the rule in the second paragraph and stick to the straight and narrow. There are ways to manipulate search engines into sending you traffic but rather intelligent people work at Google and theyre likely to find you out and blacklist your site sooner rather than later.
Oh, by the way, don't think you can copy entire articles from other web sites and post them on yours. This is illegal and most large web sites -- and not a few small ones -- will track you down and their lawyers will make you wish you had opened a bait shop instead.
Most people wont get rich by building a niche website. And you probably wont see any return from it for the first year or more. But after that your site stays open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and the dollars will keep rolling in by themselves. Maybe enough to keep you on the beach in Mexico for the winter.
At school they told me that there was no such thing as a free lunch. Now that I sit under an orchard of niche websites, gathering the fruit that falls each day, I beg to differ.
Tom Glaister is the founder and editor of www.roadjunky.com - The Online Travel Guide for the Free and Funky Traveller.