I get lot of requests to become an admin for forums and unless I see a good business plan I normally don't take the next step forward. Last week an old friend wanted to meet me to discuss about an internet business idea he was working on. The idea was having a forum and wanted my honest opinion. Naturally, I accepted.
So once we met we discussed good old days but finally I asked about the business idea.
Friend: I follow you and your online forums and also want to start a forum for XXX niche because I think I can help people really well like you and I am open to take this full time few years down the line. What do you think about it?
Me: Very good idea but what is your business plan and how do you plan to grow your forum and make it a business in future?
Friend: Like you do using Google Adsense and other Ad networks.
Probably this is the business plan for majority of forum webmasters. Have a forum and add Google Adsense as soon as you can. This is not the way you should be creating a community. So I shared with him how to go about building a forum for business which I am going to share with you here.
Building a Community before building Business
Generally any business idea should have a revenue model but you should not focus on specific revenue streams like Adsense when forming the business idea. The first thing you should focus on is how you can build a community of users. Content websites especially forums can always make money from advertising network especially Adsense but any business needs to have a long-term strategy and goals of building the product.
If you know me personally you may know that the idea of Go4Expert was to make my content online and help others. After sometime I decided to even monetize it. I converted it into real internet business few years down the line. Still you can see that I monetize my other forums (MBAGuys & CFanatic) more heavily than Go4Expert because I am still building the Go4Expert community.
How to Really Profit from Forum
There are multiple ways to make money from websites and as your forum grows you can experiment on what works the best for your niche forum. I am going to tell what has worked for me over the years.
1. Google Adsense to Start with
Adsense is one of the easier ways to make money from websites especially forums because there is very little work required in getting started with Adsense and so you can concentrate on things that matter more i.e. generating content and building community.
When you start using Adsense, you can be distracted for getting your Ad placement right for maximum revenue generation. One thing you should understand here is that if you have 1000 people visiting your forum you will not make more than few dollars per day in Adsense no matter how hard you try and so instead of focusing on tweaking Ad placement you should focus more on generating more traffic. Once you have decent traffic, you can worry about increasing Adsense revenue.
I don't prefer to have an Adsense on my forums unless it has a traffic level of more than thousand visitors per day and this way I keep myself focused on building community and not on few cents here and there on Adsense.
2. Direct Advertisers and Premium CPM Advertising
CPM advertising networks require a minimum traffic level before they accept sites. Unless you have 100k visitors per month you should avoid looking for CPM advertising network for your forum. It will be nothing more than just waste of time. Remember before applying for any CPM advertising network go through their site requirements to see if they accept un-moderated content sites like forums because most CPM Ad networks don't accept forums.
One you are approved for a CPM Ad network along with Adsense, you will need to manage your ad inventory efficiently to maximize your revenue. I use the following methods to manage my ad inventory efficiently.
- Using Google Ad Manager for CPM ad network with a minimum eCPM floor value. If Adsense can better that eCPM, Ad Manager shows Adsense or else CPM Ad network ads.
- The other way to manage Ad inventory is to opt for Adsense for unsold CPM ad inventory.
3. Newsletter Sponsorships
Ideally you can start your newsletter from day 1 but at times you can have difficulties generating all the content for your forum as well as for newsletter and so once who have decent number of members to take control of the content you can work on getting the newsletter for your forum.
Newsletter helps your community grow in many ways. One of them is you can email your users with a welcome email (See how to write well targeted welcome email) detailing about what to expect in the forum. Needless to say you can email users about new areas of your site or any new product or service you come up with in the future and this way you can boost your new product or service very easily.
Once your newsletter readership grows, you can promote related products for an affiliate commission or look for advertiser to sponsor your newsletter. Remember if you work on generating good ROI for your advertiser he will sponsor your newsletter again and again.
4. Premium Membership
As your forum grows you can start premium membership where you offer some extra stuff that people actually want. Remember that you should offer things that members actually want but how do you know what people want?
Use your forum suggestion sub forum to get the idea about what members are looking for?
- Are they looking for extra PM space?
- Looking to support the forum?
- Asking for Personal Blogs/Groups ...
- Access to special private forum ...
Use those kinds of threads in your forum to bundle a premium membership package for your members.
5. Forum Sponsorship
You probably have multiple forums on your site and each forum is different from the other. Instead of offering only complete forum sponsorship, allow advertiser to sponsor a specific sub forum. You will be amazed to see how many advertisers opt for a specific forum sponsorship at premium rate than complete forum sponsorship for a cheaper rate.
You can use Adsense to backfill non-sponsored forums. To further increase bidding/revenue in Adsense, create targeted placements for each sub forum throughout your site.
As an example:
Adsense Placement for Forum A
Adsense Placement for Forum B
The aim of forum sponsorship is to Maximum advertiser's ROI so they keep coming back to your site for advertising opportunities.
Advertising earning does not move very fast, so you will not see things moving a lot in first few years of operation.
For a forum to work you have to focus more on things which is used by people because that is the real traffic tip for me -Usage rather than users. If people keep coming back to your site because of good experience and quality of your forum, advertisers will. It is just matter of time.
Be creative to monetize your forum... Some stuff might be unique to your forum, so it's impossible to say there's one right or wrong way to do it.
Share your views in comments below.