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Ask HN: Anyone making passive (or not passive) income from a content site?
82 points by gillyb on Sept 10, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments
There are many posts here about people making money off side projects or businesses they manage on their own, but it seems like almost all of them are selling a product or a service. I'm wondering if anyone is making substantial money from a site that just generates content (and isn't selling a service/product) ? (Looking for examples of people doing this on their own, not big companies running news/content sites)



I wrote a semi-popular blog for a couple years as I was coming up in the advertising agency world as a digital strategist.

I knew enough about media planning to not bother trying to monetize my content; the ROI would never pay off if that were the goal, and I'd caution against it, unless you already have an active audience in the 10,000+ range who is anxiously waiting to hear your personal thoughts about a specific topic.

The likely outcome is farther below your expectations than you're likely to guess. We're talking thousands of hours before you make hundreds of dollars. And the income from this activity is the opposite of "passive". Content creation is the least scalable activity you could engage in.

The strategy that worked for me - and works for nearly everyone who sticks with it for something like 18+ months - was to use writing (or other content creation) as proof of expertise, seriousness, and passion. Proof that you're an interesting person worth listening to about something that's important to someone else.

My blog dramatically accelerated a career, led to important new business relationships, speaking opportunities, and let me do consulting projects (which often generate more revenue in a week than a site could make in a year).


> Content creation is the least scalable activity you could engage in.

Don't tell 22words.com [1] and BoredPanda (and the 370 clones) about that. They're currently riding the great Facebook junk content spam train to tens of millions in annual revenue off a very modest amount of daily low-value content. They're the new version of the Demand Media / Google content machines (except they're doing the same traffic with 1/100th the content). Facebook will smash them sooner than later as it begins to overwhelm the platform, however it's gangbusters for now.

[1] https://www.quantcast.com/twentytwowords.com


I guess where we differ is that I don't think those are content businesses. The OP was looking for alternatives to building a service or app, and those businesses are automated marketing systems. I think they're closer to apps than not.

I took the OP's question to mean s/he wanted to create content.


Been doing this for nearly a decade, mid-six figure income. No employees, no customers to deal with, just content that I update on a weekly basis, with links to high-quality affiliates that I trust and actually recommend.

Anyone who can write a decent book on a subject that consumers care about can do this, but it does take time, probably a good 3 or 4 years before you start making decent income, would need to start it as a side project while working full-time, but I'm convinced any decent writer can do this.


How did you initially build traffic to you site? I know it takes time, but how did you approach getting folks to read you content and keep coming back?


test lots of different things and different media channels. What works for one subject may not work as well for something else. Just got to be persistent.


I'm a copywriter who's trying to get into affiliate.

I've literally spent the last few weeks mulling over one niche to the next. I've read almost every post on nichehacks but still can't pick a niche.

Any advice on how to bite the bullet?


have you read /r/juststart?

My issue is when I could (hypothetically) bill out at $100 an hour is spending 3-4 years earning cents per hour worth it? (I do find the industry fascinating though as someone who used to pay affiliates millions a year.)

EDIT: also the issue of being defensible and having only one primary supplier for visibility (Google Search) and limited monetisation options which people have had issues with (Amazon Affiliates or Ads)


If you have money you can buy content. Quality content costs more money, of course.


From my experience, having a genuine interest in the topic is most helpful to longevity. But finding a nexus with this and something that is also ripe for opportunity can be a challenge.


pick a niche within a large, popular category. For example, travel is a huge category. How do you differentiate yourself? Dive deep within a niche. Example could be targeting travelers looking for deals in first-class flights. Research the hell out of this niche, do a lot of things that don't scale, find awesome deals and build an email list alerting your audience to these deals, etc, etc...


Any links to your content?


What are ways you gained traction for your content? I know there's no silver bullet and it takes time, but what are ways you approached getting people to visit your site when you started off?


I have a WP blog that I wrote about my experience becoming a licensed professional engineer, which basically entails writing up your experience and taking an ethics exam. At the time I did it to make myself accountable to follow through. It is a super niche area, but with very little content addressing it, especially for free. Years later, with hardly any work from myself, the traffic is not high (2-3k monthly) but the Adsense more than pays for the hosting and I also generate revenue through affiliate sales to someone that sells paid help with the application. That revenue has been roughly $100-200 a month with as high as almost $500, during exam season.

The site is pretty much as passive as it gets at this point. I maybe spend some time every once in a while answering questions posted the blog, but haven't written new content in years.


I'm not willing to share my sites, but I have some content websites, one of them have ~2 million pageviews/month and is enough to pay my bills. The others are small, but they improve ~10% my result.

They are 99% passive income. All of them can be improved, but I don't do anything, I have full time job and other side projects. I feel bad for not working on them, but I know it is the right decision to me.

To be honest, it was started as a SEO experiment. I have bad content in good shape (all in-page SEO tricks done). I'm sure better content can improve my results.


Can you share how much money you make? And is it all from Adsense?


They make USD 1.5-2k. In my country, it is a mid-level developer salary, enough to cover expenses.

Most part come from Criteo and Adsense. Adsense has better performance, but is not reliable, some sites were banned without reason. I always test other ad networks, but these have the best performance to me.


Can we reach out to you via email?


Sure! My websites aren't global, I'm sure people can replicate some of them in other countries.

Send me emails to my username at gmail.


Did you write your content?


The biggest site has generated content. It is more like a places database, based on third-party APIs.

The other sites I wrote the content. It is not a good content, but most part is original.


> The biggest site has generated content. It is more like a places database, based on third-party APIs.

This seems to be a great idea. Combine a bunch of api to structure information in a more richful way and display it on a website

You did it for the english market?


Exactly. Just get data from other places and make it simple, beautiful, useful. Government has a lot of interesting databases with disgusting presentation.

All my websites are focused on brazilian market (pt-br).


I have a low volume, long tail content site. It consistently pulls in $500 per month. It's built on an open data set, which was poorly exposed (government site).

I think content sites are good MVP's, but to be defensible need to be turned into something more valuable.


Any tips on how to do reasearch to find long tail keywords?


You could go browse Patreon. Questionable Content is essentially a one man show, though it started as him and his girlfriend/first wife (she apparently did tech support and marketing, he produced the content). He has apparently been making six figures for some years, even before Patreon was a thing. Girls with Slingshots is another webcomic supporting its author.

I believe they both do a certain amount of T-shirt sales and the like, but the comics themselves are the main draw. T-shirts are just a means to monetize the comics, along with Patreon, ads, etc.

There are many other Patreon supported sites out there. You could go looking for some examples of stuff similar to the kind of content you have in mind (I assume you have no plans to be a web comic artist).

I make some money from my low traffic websites where I publish all original content produced by me. I occasionally get a little ad money, but most of the income is from Patreon and tips. I have never figured out how to make money from affiliates. So people are basically straight up paying me voluntarily to produce content online. I hope to grow the traffic and improve the monetization.


I run https://officesnapshots.com --

It is a content site which publishes office design projects from around the world. We organize the projects and tag photos to make them useful for professionals in the industry.

Been running it for just over 10 years and it has been my full-time work for the last ~5.


As a learning experiment, I tried my hand at an amazon affiliate site http://nextlesson.com , but it ended up only making 67 cents. I might change the site in the future to focus more on young learning.

I have been channeling my efforts into my food side project https://bestfoodnearme.com the content is thin as it is only food dishes, and the site does not generate any revenue. Its more of a scratch my own itch.


I do NOT recommend that anyone click that first link.

Chrome warned me it was unsafe, but I clicked through anyway, and then it was a loop of redirects and popups.

I didn't click the 2nd link after that experience.


Thanks for the heads up, looks like my site was hacked. I will have to fix that later today.


No problem. I wasn't sure what to think, as I was pretty sure I knew & trusted your username.

I don't think they did any damage!


I disabled my nextlesson.com for now.

My food side project was a custom site I wrote in Go.


I am not sure if affiliate marketing count as a content site, you are always "selling" something directly or indirectly in order to make income, at http://toptalkedbooks.com, we present the best books to users from HN, stackoverflow and reddit. I think the bottom line is, give quality content to users, income will follow.


Can you share at least a ballpark figure of how much you make from the affiliates on the site? And how many monthly users you have?


It really depends on the traffic, we have launched the site for only a month, we've got about 9k users so far (mid aug til now), revenue is about $200


Interesting site but how do you drive traffic?

There's no traditional blog or long-form content. The site is literally a compilation of books. Though it's useful, useful I don't see how users will find it online organically at least.


I guess one way it posting it on HN. This is probably the 10th time I've seen the page mentioned and I guess HN people are the exact audience for the site.


Good question, we don't have an answer yet, we are still finding a better way to get more organic traffic.

Thanks for finding it useful.


Happy to see a book I linked the other day is now on that website.


Happy to hear that, we just did another update this morning. :)


I run http://patentsexpiringtoday.com which pulls its data from a government API. It's not making any money on its own, but generates some traffic to my other side projects. It gets about 2-5k visits per month.


Just curious, where do you get your data?


I curate a daily list of interesting engineering blogs at https://discoverdev.io

As of now it's a side project, not making any $ off it. But I know a bunch of folks who have been doing such stuff for a while and make some good beer money!


I'm doing something similar with http://microservicesweekly.com.

It's not that easy to earn money with these kind of newsletters. You would need to have entire network of newsletter micro-sites to make decent earnings (e.g. https://cooperpress.com/).

How many subscribers do you have?


IndieHackers was making money from advertising before it was bought by Stripe.


Why would Stripe buy a website like IndieHackers?


I think it's just because Stripe has an interest encouraging people to start side projects/small businesses. It increases their userbase.


Sounds reasonable, never had thought of this.


yeah, exactly that, and the price to buy it for them was probably so cheap (relatively) that it's almost 0 investment




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