How to Monetize Your Site Without
Causing an Audience Revolt

image of riot police

If you haven’t experienced it, you’ve seen it.

Whether you’re a blogger or a marketer — or both — you’ve seen an audience rise up in revolt the moment someone tries to make a buck.

You’ve sold out! You didn’t disclose!

Whatever the contention, one thing is clear. Something backfired and backfired hard.

Nobody likes having to tip-toe around the fact that you’re in this to make money. Many bloggers end up groveling to their readers by low-balling prices for any product they release.

It is a real shame, too, because there are so many bloggers out there with very large audiences who find themselves incapable or unwilling to monetize by launching a product.

So, this raises a few questions:

  • How do you avoid this issue altogether?
  • How do you prepare your audience for your prices?
  • How can you charge higher prices for your products?

Reciprocity — with a cap

All experienced marketers know about the power of reciprocity. Give a bunch of stuff away and the prospect feels more obliged to give back. Sounds great.

You can, however, take it too far.

As a young father, I’ve learned that you lead by example. If I go around cursing in front of my little girl, all of a sudden she’s going to think that’s normal. Then other parents look at me weird and that’s not much fun.

The same goes for our blog audience.

It’s about establishing a pattern. If your pattern is nothing but free-free-free, then the minute you try to make a buck, it’s like a rock thrown into a cool, calm pond. It disrupts the pattern.

On the flip side, no content marketer can pull off a steady diet of sell-sell-sell. We members of the Third Tribe know that we need to do both. We’re always looking for that perfect balance. We play in the middle ground.

With your blog audience, it is important to show that you’re here to sell as well as to provide valuable free content. That means getting out in front of your audience with an offer of some kind.

Establish a pattern of free-free-free-sell, free-free-free-sell.

Many bloggers have asked me when the right time to monetize is. I always tell them: early.

It doesn’t matter if your audience is small. You want to establish a pattern and you want to do it early in the game.

The Starbucks lesson

If all you ever offer are $7 e-books, you position yourself as a person with low-end products.

In other words, you’re Wal-Mart. And high-end stuff doesn’t usually do well in a Wal-Mart aisle.

So, should you just increase your prices?

Well, yeah! However, you’ll be able to give a powerful “reason why” if you get out in front of the objection and provide a point of positioning.

How does Starbucks get away with charging $3 for a cup of coffee? They did it by re-defining the coffee experience. Instead of walking into a fast-food joint, they’ve provided a nice communal atmosphere with music.

They don’t even have small, medium and large sizes. That’s too similar to fast-food chains and would defeat their positioning. So they borrowed words from the Italian language, and now we routinely ask for “venti” coffees, even at other coffee shops.

How can you change your positioning on your blog? Good design and professional graphics will help provide the right atmosphere. But you can do more.

Offer consulting. Almost anybody in any niche can offer some kind of consulting option on their blog. Even if you’re into underwater basketweaving, you can offer 1-on-1 help to pick just the right pond to dive into for your next basket.

Set your price a bit on the high side. Right now, you’re not really interested if anybody takes you up on it. You just want that offer out there so that (a) it shows people that not all of your expertise is free, and (b) it gives a point of comparison for determining prices for your other offers.

If you charge $100/hour for consulting, then offering a product for $97 starts to look like a bargain. After all, the buyer gets all that information for less than the cost of an hour of time. And the value is real.

Blogging with a strategy in mind

If you want to make money, you need to establish your value.

Many bloggers are great at building up traffic, but establishing their own value seems to fall by the wayside.

So do all the good social media stuff. Provide seriously awesome content. Help people like crazy. Connect with them. Interact.

But . . .

While you’re making all those connections, establish your value. Let them know you’re there to do business, and that you aren’t cheap. Do it with confidence and without apology.

When you do that, you set the stage for them to know, like, and trust you. And then the game is yours to win.

Looking for that balance between connection and doing business? That’s what the Third Tribe is all about. If the idea intrigues you, check it out today, because the price goes up on June 1.

About the Author: David Risley is a full-time blogger who confesses regularly on his blog, Confessions of a Six-Figure Blogger. Tech blogger turned blog marketer, David now shows other bloggers how to turn their blogs into real businesses.

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Reader Comments (35)

  1. says

    Hey David,

    This information goes right along with any business owner not just one who runs an online business. This is an issue that I see over and over from new entrepreneurs. It is all a mindset shift. Thanks for the awesome content.

    Chat with you later…

  2. says

    This was a great piece of content. Well thought out and very solid advice for anyone new to blogging. I have made the mistake of giving away far too much free content that my audience is not accustomed to me marketing things to them.

    Having said that, I have also had a number of very good leads which translated to decent business volume BECAUSE I was so transparent on my blog and willing to give away free information.

    They key, as you stated in this post, is to have a healthy balance of content and selling. No one should have a problem with you selling something if you are delivering value over and over again.

    Most of my purchases these days come after I have received value from someone. Any consulting or training I purchase is always based on free content from brilliant business people. I have no problem with them selling to me, in fact, I’m excited to buy because they are so good at what they do and I know they can help me.

  3. says

    Hey David,

    Glad to see you here. Excellent Post man.
    I think we should keep balance on free and premium stuff. Giving too much free stuff is not a great idea, bu there are many bloggers, who love to share every premium stuff as free one.
    Thanks for sharing this great Posts :) Great Job.

  4. says

    This is so true and so critical that it cannot be stated enough.

    I love your analogy about swearing in front of your daughter. It’s something that people need to reign in before they get too established on their blogs. New blogger almost seem petrified to ask their customers to buy anything and end up giving away the farm before they have to close down their site due to lack of sales.

    I like to make a small offer in every single post and email that I send out. They are not hard-sells, just a suggestion to go check out this thing if you want to know more, keeping with a multi-stage selling approach while giving a ton of free content at the
    same time.

    The rule of reciporicty works in the majority of the situations. Sure, you will have your deadbeats that only scour the net for free stuff, but they will never be successful and are not much of a concern to anyone.

    Powerful post!

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  5. says

    Here I am nodding my head with everything you have put into this post. It all has to be said and you did a great job saying it.

    Free is good and it gets you followers and popularity, but it won’t pay the bills or put food on the table. I love the example you added about Starbucks…I mean why the heck would we pay THAT much for coffee?

    As always, great stuff David.

  6. says

    Thanks David. I got out a lot of this post.

    I was scared that offering a $27 eBook was too much in the personal finance world. However, if it’s compared to coaching at $150 an hour. It is a bargain.

  7. says

    I’ve definitely experienced it a couple of times.

    Right now, I think I’m doing it the Third Tribe way really. Trying to establish a balance between the free-sell-free rhythm.

  8. says

    Not exactly an underwater basket weaver, I write posts for my midlife women to recognize the humor in their day-to-day lives.

    As I strong proponent of the Third Tribe philosophy, I have searched for a way to introduce the cycle of spending into my site. Your suggestion of consulting about which ponds… resonated with me-

    Not exact yet on the specifics, but definitely see a page forming offering my expertise in helping them see life through’ humor glasses’. Clearly this would accomplish the goal of conveying to my readers that all is not free.

    Seems very obvious now, but two hours ago it was not.
    Thank you fellow Third Triber-

  9. Andrew Billmann says

    Awesome post, and great information.

    What I would like to know, though, is how response rates differ from traditional channels. For example, in a direct mail environment, if I mail a compelling product offer at a good price to a relevant target market, I might expect a 1% to 2% response (typical for the industry). In a blogging evironment, is it similar? Or, to become financially viable (and by viable, I mean extra beer money), does that number need to be more like 5% to 8%?

    And what’s a realistic critical mass? If I have, say, 500 subscribers and 2% respond to an offer, those numbers certainly ain’t bringin’ in six figures. So does the number need to be more like 5,000 subscribers?

  10. says

    @Andrew, rather than measure percentage response, I think it makes more sense to measure ROI. What are your dollars out per dollars in? Every piece of direct mail represents a cost, while you can reach 500, 5,000, or 500,000 readers with a blog with very little incremental added expense. So to be financially viable, the conversion percentage can be much smaller than it is with direct mail.

    That said, social media marketing has more steps than direct mail. A blog combined with an email list will get much better conversions than a blog alone. Adding in social networking venues like Twitter or Facebook can improve traffic and conversions, but every scenario is different. No one can give you the rules of thumb, because it depends so much on your market, on the kind of product you’re selling, and on how good you are at creating shareable content.

    You say that a 2% response won’t bring you six figures, and in one sense you’re right, it would be very unusual to bring in six figures from 500 readers. But it depends on what you’re selling. People can and do sell $10K seminars using social media.

    Exactly like if I asked you, “how many people do I need to mail to to reach six figures,” it all depends on how responsive the list is, whether you’ve got a hot offer, and how good your copywriter is. It also depends on whether you’ve got a high-dollar topic (financial newsletters) or a low-dollar topic (coupons for a happy meal at the local fast food joint).

    As we both know, there’s no entitlement in direct response. You won’t get anything like a 1% response from a weak list, the wrong offer, and flabby copywriting — it doesn’t matter if you’re talking mail or email or carrier pigeon.

  11. says

    I normally always write something about the post but here I just found myself saying, “I needed this”. Thanks.
    I am quite new in the blogosphere but I have already started monetizing my blog. This article made me feel a little better and I could use some encouragement now because I’m in the beginning stages which sometimes can be quite tough.


  12. says

    I LOVE the Starbucks vs. Walmart analogy! I always worry about pricing my services and the products I’m developing. I do remember at one time hearing that not everyone should be able to afford you because it makes it seem like you have something really great that they will really appreciate when they are able to pay the price! Thanks for the reminder! :)

  13. says

    It’s all about positioning yourself as an expert and delivering quality content to back it up…

    I think it’s best if you monetize your blog before you build up a big audience that way they expect it

  14. says

    Hi David,
    What you discussed here is so important. But it’s hard to understand how to establish the value of a blog.

    What does one base their evaluation on?

    Is it solely based on the type of information you provide?

    Nice post,

  15. says

    Great tips here! Essentially we need to manage expectations. If your readers expect free and nothing else, then there will be revolts. I put a “hire me” page on my blog and display my rates (which are on the high side). The goal is not to attract clients this way (though I have and it’s a great bonus) but to display that I expect some money for my work under certain conditions.

    Once that expectation is set up, people are ready and willing to respond to an offer that is significantly lower than that hourly rate.

    I tested this with a low price product and got a 25% conversion. Over time the prices will increase, so no one will experience sticker shock or feel that I’m misleading them.

  16. says

    I’m not an infopreneur or teacher aspiring to be one, so I come from the opposite direction on this.

    I like giving away free info because it’s a good ice-breaker and relationship builder. It also plays a part in my differentiation strategy.

    The idea is to create “Efficient Gifts” that offer high value to many people at low overhead. They’re doing exactly that here at Copyblogger. The internet is an incredibly efficient distribution channel.

    I find people are starving for advice and guidance. But the last thing I want to do is spend all day giving it away for free on my precious time.

    The beauty of free info is that it pre-educates, pre-warms and pre-qualifies my prospects in an incredibly efficient, automated manner. They know me, like/trust me, and understand more about their needs and possibilities. They’re not cold undeveloped strangers any more.

    I find it a huge time-burden to have to move a cold undeveloped prospect into the light. I love it when someone, having read stuff on my site, arrives in my office with need in mouth, knowledge in brain, desire in heart, and money in hand. By the way, at that point they become my guest, not a prospect.

    Need – Knowledge – Desire – Means – great prospects will have all 4 of those.

  17. says


    It isn’t so much about establishing value of the blog itself as much as establishing value of you. What you’re doing is setting the expectation of value so that when you offer a product or service, you’ve framed the price with that measurement of value.

    Obviously, any actual dollar amounts is going to depend a lot on your market, etc.

  18. says

    I have made sure to disclose my intentions from the beginning. I have since been able to integrate my monetization without cluttering or messing with the content I provide. Some people just think they will grow an audience faster if they leave the ads off their blogs, but it will only have negative impact later when you decide to bring them in. It is no less easy building a great following with ads in place and only 1 post published.

  19. says

    G’Day David,
    Thanks for a most informative post. In particular, I found that your comments about having a strategy particularly pertinent.

    As you say, managing expectations is so important. I sometimes think that in marketing, creating and managing expectations may be more important than benefits. It’s certainly more important than features. Positioning is really about creating and fulfilling expectations. And that’s tied up with perception.

    But that’s another story…. Most importantly, make sure you have fun.



  20. says

    I think it all depends on perception because there are lots of financially challenged people. For example, I sell lots of health related products to financially challenged people who gladly buy from me (my affiliate link) for a high price thinking that my product is better than $6 product from Walmart. There are lots of people who will think that just because the price is high, it must be better. But in many cases lots of info can be found for free. But hey, don’t blame me just because somebody is financially challenged.

  21. says

    I learned from Dave Navarro to (at least) offer a consulting service early on when I started my blog.

    This post confirms that it is a good strategy. I’m more confident about launching my own products now.

  22. says

    I think a lot of time it’s easy to blog for short and easy, and then get traffic to the site. But I agree, if you do too many free things then people expect you to do it for for free.

    And because having any product, as I’ve realized with my own e-book is hard work. Regardless of what people say, developing a product isn’t easy. And it needs to be something people want, but having one early on is something I believe.

    People have to have the belief that what they write is worth actual money. The information they have is worth paying for, too many people I know don’t believe they’re worth 100/hour or don’t think that they are good enough to develop a product. That itself is the big shame.

  23. says

    I’m sorry, but it actually really pisses me off when an audience gets whiney about a site trying to make money. I realize “it’s all about the customer” and you want to keep your audience happy, but fuck it. I honestly don’t want an audience that would rather I give away all my smarts for free so they can look at an ad free site. No way, no how.

  24. says

    I like the idea of offering consulting. I do it on my business blog, but I’m a consultant so it’s always made sense there. I have never made the offer on either of my other two blogs, and I believe I need to rethink that.

  25. says

    I recently put together an ebook interviewing 8 top real estate agents who are rocking it with their blogs (my niche is real estate). It turned out to be a 53 page ebook all-together.

    Anyway it served as a GREAT list-building resource! Whenever I give presentations (I’m often paid to speak at associations), I offer a 10 page pdf. Always, helps re-instate the lessons we’ve covered and gives people actionable steps.

    I think that ultimately, this makes it easier for people to buy into our consulting & design services. Why? Because we’ve already positioned ourselves as the expert.

  26. says

    These are great tips if your building an expert based business (like I am) with you as the expert. The idea of having a consulting page with no intention of getting clients but to establish value for yourself and your time is a new way to frame the idea I have not heard of before.

  27. says

    Most people do not expect to get things for free for ever, although they do want to know that what they are paying for is of high value. If you don’t already have a body of work to prove that you know what your are doing you will have to give some things first. That said putting a price on yourself or product can be one of the scariest things you do, especially the first time around.
    If you don’t first value yourself, how can you expect anyone else to value you or your work. When you are selling some thing, start high, you can always negotiate the price down, but it is just about impossible to jack your price up after you start the negotiation.

  28. says

    The formula for selling has been tested and retested and it still works. Your strategy has to be “SSS”, which is Share, Show, and Sell. Another point you have to address is prospects won’t buy any of your products until they buy into the value of your personal brand.

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