Making Money With Communities – Part 1, Problems

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As I mentioned in my bio snippet, I’m a big fan of user generated content. Before the Internet I read somewhere that the worlds content was created by 10% of the worlds population. I think it’s obvious that with the ease of publishing all kinds of content online along with the dropping price of tools to create content that the percentage of creators has greatly increased.

Communities and Forums have always been of particular interest to me as someone who comes from the BBS days of computers. My first site was a forum. In fact, one of my earliest sites started as a forum and evolved into Lit.Org. Ironically, I later launched a companion site for Lit.Org called WritingForums.com. I don’t own them now, but they taught me about all the pitfalls of running a community.

In part 1 of this series on Making Money With Communities lets talk about some of the problems facing communities.

The main issues communities and forums face are:

  1. Fear of User Generated Content.
  2. High page views per unique visitor (frequency capping).
  3. Broad range of topics, often very general so CPC (Adwords, YPN etc.) aren’t as effective.
  4. Banner Blindness (everyone has this problem).

Lets talk about how to overcome these.

1. Fear of User Generated Content

Forum owners face the same problems as any user generated content site – advertisers are leery of putting their clients ads next to content that no one controls. Advertisers have their clients brand and image to consider and they don’t want that image associated with content that may harm that image. To make sure advertisers feel comfortable placing ads on your site you need to have some sort of editorial policy in place. Assure them that you don’t allow pornographic, hate or illegal content. Let them know that you have a review process in place to check for violations and methods for reporting and dealing with any violation that may occur. You can still have an open and free system, you just have to have the right ground rules and process to enforce them in place.

2. High page views per unique visitor

All advertisers use frequency capping, which simply means they only show a given ad to a unique user a certain number of times in a given period. Say, show user “x” the “blue widgets” ad 5 times in 12 hours. Depending on your source for ads the number may vary, but forums tend to show ten times the amount of page views per unique than other sites so you’ll hit the frequency cap a lot more than other sites will. The solution is to sign up multiple advertiser partners and chain your ads. Chaining your ads where you set your default ad for one network to the ad code from another network. ex: Tribal Fusion defaults to DoubleClick which Defaults to Azoogle which defaults to Casale which defaults to one of your own house ads. So when user “x” caps out at Tribal Fusion, they are then shown ads for Double Click and so on. I always like to put a house ad at the end of the chain, either promote something on your own site or an affiliate program or an “advertise here” type ad. It’s hard enough making money, don’t leave any on the table.

3. Broad range of topics

I learned this one the hard way that even though Lit.Org and WritingForums.com were highly targeted subjects (writing) that the sites were hardly ever about writing. Oddly, writers don’t talk that much about writing. They may discuss plot points or characters or techniques, but they talk about specific plot points, not about “plot” in general. In addition, they post stories and poems and character profiles which puts the content all over the map. Most forums won’t have as bad a problem as this example, but I think you see the point. The solution to this problem, I’m afraid, has to be solved mostly before you ever launch your community. Though general content can still do well with CPC ads, it’s never going to do as well as highly targeted content. The bottom line is don’t rely on CPC as your main source of income. I’ll talk more about alternatives in part 2.

4. Banner Blindness

Every site faces this problem. Users have become accustomed to seeing banners in the standard sizes and shapes. People are very good ad spotting advertising and “tuning out” the ad entirely. When you have any CPA (Cost Per Action) or CPC (Cost Per Click) campaigns banner blindness can really hurt. The solution is simple, think outside the “box”. Use non-standard ad sizes and non-standard ad placements. Put them as close to content as possible and make them blend in as well as you can. The goal isn’t to trick people into thinking the ad is content, it’s just to help them notice the ad. The number 1 rule I have to get ads noticed is change. Users tend to hate change, but they notice it. Every time I move my ads around, change the size or format, or make any noticeable change to their appearance my ads perform better. It takes some time, but if you shake things up once in a while you’ll get more out of your banner ads.

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about specific ways to make money from communities and forums, most of which don’t involve the traditional banner and contextual ads. As always, suggestions, comments and questions welcome. I’d love to know what some of the problems you’ve faced with your own communities.

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  • Fenrir2

    Great post & great topic!

  • http://www.mintyfresh.org kross

    Excellent article Chrispian!

  • http://anand.biz AnandC

    Very good point on #4. I actually caught myself clicking on a Circuit City Ad on ESPN.com since they blended it right with the headlines of the day. It is in our interests to plan layouts to dynamically position ads. This is a much easier issue to tackle now with CSS.

  • http://www.saumendra.com Saumendra Swain

    Chrispian!,

    A good informative article.

  • nerdfactor

    great start to a very meaningful series. question: if we use non-standard ad sizes then doesn’t that limit the ad networks we can tap into?

  • http://www.www.chrispian.com Chrispian

    nerdfactor – Yup, it does. Ad networks tend to not like forums and communities anyway. Some do, granted, but CPM rates are generally much lower. Custom ad sizes work best for direct ad sales. Ad networks can still make you money, especially if your community is targeted.

  • Shai

    very good post,
    got here accidentally and i am going to continue following you up.
    Thanks
    Shai

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