The 5 Most Popular Ways to Make Money with WordPress

You might feel weird about reading this post.

Let me clear the air.

This post is not about making money fast.

And this post is not about getting rich.

This post is about the most popular ways that legitimate websites earn honest money.

I’m writing this post because a lot of my theme users are looking for ways to cover the cost of hosting, themes, and plugins. For most people, that goal is well within reach, but you have to learn how to make money with WordPress. It is a skill to be honed, and this tutorial will get you started.

Your website should pay for itself

If you’ve read my posts about customizing WordPress or speeding it up, you already know that I use and recommend lots of great products for WordPress.

Investing in your website is tough when it’s all coming “out of pocket,” but if your site earns a few bucks a month, you can quickly afford all the best plugins and hosting.

About $50/month of earnings will afford you premium hosting and a handful of new premium themes & plugins every year.

Many site owners set lofty goals for their site like making enough money to quit their job. That’s certainly possible but it’s going to take a very successful website.

Earning enough from your website to pay for itself is the perfect goal to start with because it’s so attainable and rewarding.

By the way, these are the same tactics used by websites that make millions, so you can continue to use them to grow your site’s earnings year after year.

Now, let’s get to the first money-making technique.

1. Sell a service

For new websites, this is the most profitable monetization technique.

You may not realize this, but simply having a website makes you an authority. That means there are people who want your advice and are willing to pay for your time. This is why a lot of bloggers choose to monetize their site by offering one-on-one coaching or phone consultations.

Take some time to brainstorm services your visitors would want to buy from you and I’m sure you’ll come up with a few ideas.

Why you should sell services

The reason why this is my first recommendation is for two reasons:

  1. You don’t have to build a product first to get started
  2. You can earn a lot per visitor

It might take you a long time to build a product you could charge $50 for, but you can easily charge $50+ depending on what kind of service you’re selling.

Basically, it comes down to the numbers.

A normal sales page conversion rate is 1%. That means that if you sell an eBook for $5, you’ll need 1,000 people to see the sales page to make $50.

Contrarily, if you design logos for $150 each, you would only need 100 people to see the sales page to land one customer and make $150.

The point is, selling services will allow you to make way more money from fewer visitors. Then you don’t have to spend so much time trying to get more traffic which is always a challenge for new websites.

Not to mention, it’s really easy to sell services on your site.

How to sell services

Let’s use my logo design example.

All you need is a page on your site dedicated to selling this service. You would list out everything the client will get and why they should hire you.

The only other thing you need is a contact form. In this case, you might need a more advanced form that includes fields for their phone number, budget, logo style preferences, and other information.

WPForms is a great plugin for building complex forms. I use it on this site and the conditional display option, in particular, is great for making advanced forms.

WPForms website
Visit WPForms website

With a simple sales page on your site and a contact form for collecting leads, your site will be fully prepared to sell services.

You don’t need to accept payment upfront, but that is also possible with WPForms. I cover this in my WPForms review.

2. Sell a product

Offering products is another excellent way to make money with a WordPress site.

You can sell physical products and use dropshipping or fulfillment by Amazon. Or, you can sell digital products like eBooks and software.

Selling a product on your site has two main drawbacks:

  1. You have to develop the product first (and then maintain it)
  2. You need a lot of traffic for meaningful sales

This is why services are usually better to get started with. However, there are some big advantages to selling products on your site.

Why you should sell products

First, products are a more passive form of monetization.

When you’re selling a service, you’re selling your time directly for money. Every time you make a sale it means you have a new client to work for. If you monetize your site with products, you can focus on improving your product and growing your traffic while sales come in on autopilot.

Secondly, products allow you to scale.

If you’re offering paid coaching, you can only speak to so many people each day while still working on your site (and living the rest of your life). On the other hand, there’s no limit to how many product sales you can make in a day since each one doesn’t add to your workload.

How to sell products

Selling products on your website means you’ll need an eCommerce plugin. There are two plugins that most websites use.

First, WooCommerce is the de facto eCommerce solution for WordPress. It’s used on more websites than any other eCommerce software (including Shopify). If you’re selling physical products, WooCommerce is your best option.

WooCommerce Website
Visit WooCommerce website

If you’re selling digital products like eBooks or software then Easy Digital Downloads is probably the best choice. I use EDD to sell themes here at Compete Themes.

Easy Digital Downloads
Visit Easy Digital Downloads website

Both plugins will add everything you need to sell products: product management, a shopping cart, payment processing, etc.

Do I need an eCommerce theme?

Let’s say you have a fashion blog and you’ve started making your own hats that you want to sell on your site.

Does this mean you have to switch to an eCommerce theme and ditch your blog?

Nope!

You don’t have to switch to an eCommerce theme. All you have to do is add an eCommerce plugin.

For example, all of my themes are made for content creators (like fashion bloggers), but they also have WooCommerce support. You could use Founder for your WordPress blog for years and then simply install the WooCommerce plugin when you’re ready to sell products.

So to answer the original question, no you don’t need an “eCommerce theme.” You just need a theme that is compatible with either WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads.

3. Sell advertising

Advertising is usually the first monetization technique people think of.

While I’m not against advertising, I wouldn’t recommend it as your site’s primary form of monetization because you need a ton of traffic to make it work.

Depending on your audience, location, and many other factors, the amount you earn from ads can be anywhere from $0.30 to $3 per 1,000 visitors. Using the numbers from my prior example, that same traffic would earn $50 or $1,500 from products or services respectively.

With that said, advertising does have its advantages, so here’s why you should consider it.

Why you should use advertising

First of all, putting ads on your site is easy. It’s way easier than making and selling a product.

Once the ads show up on your site, you could log out for 3 months and keep earning money without any additional work on your part. Dare I say it qualifies as the “passive income” stream so many people are after?

The other advantage of advertising is that it’s always available. Maybe you can’t think of a service or product you want to sell. Putting ads on your site is always an option no matter what niche you’re in.

Furthermore, you can use advertising in addition to other monetization tactics, so it doesn’t have to be the only way your site makes money.

How to sell advertising

To sell advertising on your site, you need a few things.

First, you need to join an ad network and the best one to get started with is Google AdSense.

Google AdSense website
Visit AdSense website

Once you’re registered with Google AdSense, you’ll get a code snippet you can add to your site to display ads. You don’t choose a single advertisement, but rather you include this code and different ads will fill the space automatically. You get paid every time someone clicks on the ad.

As for where to place the code, you’ll want to use a widget. Using widgets, you can place ads in your sidebar or wherever your theme includes widget areas.

To make things easier, try out the WP Simple AdSense Insertion plugin.

WP Simple AdSense Insertion plugin

This plugin will help you store your AdSense code snippets and output them throughout your site.

When you’re ready for a more complex implementation, you should check out the Advanced Ads plugin. It’s incredibly feature-rich which makes it amazing, but it’s sure to overwhelm anyone using AdSense for the first time.

To summarize these steps…

  1. Join AdSense
  2. Install the WP Simple AdSense Insertion plugin
  3. Use the plugin to include your AdSense ads on the site

To maximize your earnings, include more than one ad on each page of your site. Besides the sidebar, you might want to include banner ads before and after your posts.

Over time, you’ll learn how to optimize your ads, but getting your AdSense account setup and including a sidebar ad is enough to get started with.

4. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is a popular way to make money with a WordPress blog.

The concept is simple. You recommend a product and whenever someone buys it, you get a commission.

When you join an affiliate program, you get special affiliate links that have tracking built-in. When someone clicks the link, a cookie is added to their browser that notifies the affiliate system when they make a purchase so you get credit for the referral.

The main drawback of affiliate marketing is that you don’t own the customer. In other words, you get the traffic and make the sale but then the customer never pays you again because you don’t have a relationship with them. However, that is easily remedied by building an email list.

Why you should use affiliate marketing

The greatest strength of affiliate marketing is its scalability.

Since you’re not the one selling the product, you don’t have to worry about making, maintaining, and supporting it. All you have to do is refer customers. This means you can spend all of your time on getting more traffic and driving more referrals.

As I mentioned previously, the weakness of affiliate marketing is that you don’t get the customer relationship so you can’t sell to them repeatedly, but the simple solution to this problem is to build an email list. If you have a list of subscribers you share content with regularly, you can stay in touch with them and tell them about more products over time.

How to use affiliate marketing

The first thing you need to do is pick a product to promote.

To keep things simple, just come up with a list of your favorite products (related to your site’s niche) and Google the product name along with “affiliate program” to see if they have a program.

Joining affiliate programs is usually very simple. You’ll just fill out a simple form and most likely get approved instantly or within 24 hours.

Once you’re a registered affiliate, you’ll have access to your special tracking link. That’s all you need to begin earning!

If you’re not sure how to promote products on your site, some popular ways are:

  • List posts
  • Product reviews
  • Tutorials
  • Sidebar ads

You can start with one product and then join more programs over time. Since you’re mainly promoting products with content, this monetization tactic is well-suited for blogs.

If you want to get more professional, it’s important to use a click tracking program like ClickMeter. Then you can see many clicks your links are getting so you can learn what works best and optimize your promotions.

5. Sell a membership

The last popular way to make money with WordPress is with memberships.

The most popular website using a membership model is Netflix. They have a large volume of content and customers pay every month for access to it.

While you don’t need to make an app or have tens of thousands of videos on your site like Netflix, the basics of the model still apply. With a membership site, you’re charging people for access to content.

The best part about a membership site is that your members pay you every month. The biggest challenge is giving them a reason to keep paying.

Unless you have a large team, creating enough content to keep members coming back can be tough. That’s why a lot of smaller membership sites rely on discussion forums as one of their core offers.

Check out eCommerceFuel as a great example of a forum-based community membership site. Also, Scott’s Bass Lessons is a great blend of video content and community features.

Why you should use memberships

If you love creating content and want to get paid for it, this might be the perfect model for you. You can focus entirely on making video courses or writing articles and get paid month after month from your loyal audience.

While the stability and profitability of subscription payments is attractive, you have to keep in mind that people won’t stay subscribed forever. Memberships are best used when you think your audience will stay subscribed for a long time.

How to create a membership site

You’ll use a WordPress membership plugin to transform your website into a full-fledged membership site.

Mainly, you just need a way to restrict content to members only and charge members a recurring subscription. Most plugins include a ton of additional functionality for things like coupon codes, multiple membership levels, and social features too.

The only membership plugin I’ve used is Restrict Content Pro. While I liked it and think it’s the best option for developers, I think non-coding WP users would find it limiting at times.

If you want somewhere to start your plugin research then based on what I’ve seen, MemberPress looks to be the most robust option while Ultimate Member is the better choice for a social community-based membership site.

With the technical side figured out, you can then focus on making online courses and premium content for your members.

Other forms of monetization

The 5 ways to monetize your site I shared here are the most popular ways that websites make money. I recommend you choose 2-3 of these techniques and implement them on your site.

For the sake of completeness, I want to list a few other ways that websites make money. These are much less common models, but if you want some more ideas, you can make money with:

Some of the most profitable websites in the world use these alternative monetization tactics, so maybe one of them will be a good fit for your website.

How to make money with your WordPress site

Now you know all the best ways to make money online with your website.

For the best results, you’ll want to use 2-3 of the above tactics to maximize your site’s revenue potential.

If you want a quick and easy way to start making money with your site then begin with advertising. It doesn’t take long to set up AdSense and then your site will make at least a few bucks per month without much planning or maintenance.

If you have the time, selling a service is definitely the most profitable next step because you’ll earn more per visitor than any other tactic here. You can easily collect payments on your site using WPForms.

If you don’t have time to dedicate to clients or if you’re wholly uninterested in that idea, you can focus on one of the other three tactics.

Affiliate marketing is the next best choice if you want to keep things really passive. A membership site is best for webmasters who want to foster a community and publish content routinely. For anyone who wants to build a business, creating a product is the next step. You can sell your products with WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads.

You can use these same tactics to build a seven-figure business or simply pay for your hosting. It’s up to you, but now you know how other people are making money with WordPress sites.

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