In this post, we’re making a big list of ways that people make money on the web. If I missed anything (and I probably did on the first few tries), I’d love to add your ideas as well.
Ads are a huge part of making money on the web and probably why you’re here in the first place. Banner ads have been around since the earliest days of the public internet. However, newer types of ads have been replacing the banner in recent years. These include native ads, content recommendation widgets, video ads, sponsored posts, header scripts, mobile ads, interstitials and many others.
Affiliate Marketing involves linking to products and services and receiving a referral fee. For example, if your website is about books, you could have links to each book on Amazon. The specifics are different between programs, but basically, whenever someone either clicks the link or when someone actually buys a book, you get paid. There are blog plugins, such as Viglink that can do this for you automatically (however, they take a cut of the revenue).
Sponsored Content is similar to regular display advertising, but involves writing an article that is heavily branded. Usually the sponsor will purchase all the advertising space on that article and the words “sponsored content” or “this article present by so-and-so” are likely to appear. In some cases, the advertiser will request editorial approval of the content. In other cases, the website maintains this control.
Subscription Content sits behind a pay-wall. For example, you might be an expert in a particular subject. Your subscribers pay a monthly fee to access your expertise. I’ve worked on two of these sites. The first was for a lawyer who provided an expert opinion to investors on the likely outcome of major lawsuits. The second was for a person who speculated on the likely outcome of professional MLB baseball games. Instead of a paywall, this could also take other forms, such as an email newsletter. The beautiful thing about subscription content is that, like regular content, it scales. It costs you the same amount of money to handle 1 subscriber as it costs to handle 1000 subscribers.
Syndicated Content involves selling your content to other services. For example, you might publish articles directly to your blog. A syndication service would automatically post your articles to their site as well, paying you a fee.
Writing Content involves writing for other websites rather than your own. You write a story and get paid (usually) a fixed fee or possibly a revenue share.
Selling Services is a bit less “of the web”. It’s also what I’m doing here and I will still count it as “working on the web”.
Selling Products is also a bit less “of the web”. This means running an online store that sells physical goods and services. Taken to an extreme, it’s possible to operate a store without holding inventory by using a fulfillment service. More about this in a future article.
Ebay and similar auction sites are great for buying unique items. Plenty of individuals and full-scale businesses operate on eBay. I once worked for a company that had an entire department dedicated to buying and (mostly) selling used equipment on eBay. For the bold, it’s possible to conduct eBay arbitrage. You could theoretically buy a rare item on eBay and either wait for it to appreciate, or sell it immediately to the next highest bidder. You can decide for yourself whether this is bad behavior and unfairly raises the price for everybody. For the extremely bold, it’s possible to mix several services. You could buy something on Craigslist and sell it on eBay. Or you could hook into the Amazon fulfillment services API to sell things on eBay that you don’t even own (as soon as it sells, you buy it and ship it directly from Amazon’s warehouse, very tricky!). Be careful with this one. You could easily end up on the wrong end of a scam.
Spam is an awful way to make money on the web, but apparently it works. See this article about Facebook spam from The Guardian about spammers making $200M. Please don’t spam.
Selling apps can be very profitable, but it’s also a Winner Take All marketplace. There are over 2 million apps now (source), however, only a tiny fraction of these are profitable. Check out this article from the Harvard Business Review for the grim reality.
Reselling web hosting is typically where you buy a large account from a major service provider and resell it in smaller pieces to individuals, possibly with add-on services or better customer service. Challenges here include a huge amount of competition and narrow margins. If you have the technical knowledge needed to do this well, you can probably make more money doing something else rather than entering this market.
Selling virtual goods such as in-game gold, weapons or real-estate in an MMORPG or other online game.
This is not even close to a complete list. I will be expanding this list from time to and would love to hear your suggestions!