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Is it hard to build a web app that makes at least $1000 a month? (quora.com)
264 points by ljdk on May 14, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 121 comments



Define "hard." It is an eminently achievable goal to build a business which makes $1,000 a month. That isn't a "get into the NFL then win the Superbowl" goal, that is a "get into college" goal on the relative-risk-of-total-failure continuum. The process of doing it is fairly well understood and focused application of effort towards it makes it quite likely that you will succeed.

It does require a bit of a mindset change. You have to stop thinking of yourself as a "skilled developer", for one, since development skill leads to success in software businesses like the ability to cook amazing waffles leads to successfully running a bed and breakfast.


You have to stop thinking of yourself as a "skilled developer", for one, since development skill leads to success in software businesses like the ability to cook amazing waffles leads to successfully running a bed and breakfast.

A few years ago I was part of a small company, and one day we had a meeting to discuss our future (and yes, porn was one of the things we discussed, though we ended up not pursuing it). The question we asked was, "What was the goal of the company?" If the answer was "To make money", then was writing code the proper way to do it? Each of us, being coders, had come to think so.

I sometimes think that having a skill or a passion for some hands-on activity is a detriment because it leads you think you can and should be doing that as the path to success. The whole "do what you love and the money will follow" nonsense.

OTOH, if you believe you have no tangible skill, but think you can recognize or anticipate a market, then you don't bother trying to implement the solution yourself; you go hire people. (Of course pulling that off is a skill in itself, but it's a different sort from the "make things with your hands" realm where coding lives.)

From a business point of view it may make more sense to take a high-paying but soul-sucking Rails contract job and use the money to pay other developers to implement you MVP.

(BTW, the book The E-Myth covers some of this.)


since development skill leads to success in software businesses like the ability to cook amazing waffles leads to successfully running a bed and breakfast.

Well put.


Yes, a very important point. This is the central idea of The E-Myth (i.e. doing a thing and running a business that does that thing require very different skill sets).

ref: http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Revisited-Small-Businesses-About/...


It is certainly achievable. My worry is being able to do it once (along with a full-time job) but not being able to sustain multiple such projects.


Break down exactly why you think that that isn't sustainable, then engineer those worries away.

Do you think your project will need new features regularly? Pick a project whose problem domain changes rarely, and get out of the features = value mindset because it is outrageously false.

Do you think you will have to be constantly selling? Don't pick something with high touch sales processes for a side project.

Do you think your project will require support regularly? Do something less critical, so you have less time pressure on support. Do something simpler. Give people self-help resources and push them. Automate as much of your support burden as reasonably possible. (e.g. "Hey Patrick I need a receipt" takes me about 10 seconds to answer. It used to take a few minutes, but I get asked it frequently enough to justify 30 minutes of dev to make it quick.)

Do you think you will need to play sysadmin frequently? Become a better engineer. (I have a couple articles about this.)

I am not the sharpest knife in the HN drawer by a long shot. Currently I'm travelling internationally doing some networking at a Silicon Valley startup and, on the weekdays, consulting in NYC. I profoundly hate flying right now. I also have two software businesses and, from their perspective, this state of affairs is exactly identical to me just sleeping in back at my house. It is rather unlikely the businesses will cause significant work for me.


Patrick, yes it's a regular selling problem as my membership peaked a couple of months ago and I'm trying to keep current members during this plateau.

Perhaps I have fallen for the features mistake to make more value for those members, but I've not implemented much to start with.

Doing email marketing, email replies to customers, adding testimonials, adding features, creating new info products... this one project takes all the time, but it's multiple times too small to sustain me.


Maybe email marketing isn't the right choice? I know personally I never purchase products emailed to me, if I spend 3 seconds scanning the email you're lucky. Granted I may not be your target audience.


Except that web development is more akin to microwaving Eggo waffles.


From what I've seen, it's very easy to do poorly, but not so easy to do well.

One might say graphic design is easy because you are simply drawing colored shapes, yet many of us suck at this easy job.


Applying your startup skills to projects in the adult space will certainly help you wing your way to $1000/m v easily.

Big data/machine learning of all the meta data associated on tube sites, repurposing content for tablets, recommendation engines, social layers that are delineated/firewalled from the mainstream social graph, hosting/live streaming services for adult content -- are all opportunity spaces that come to mind.

Many of these projects can be kept on "life-support" and still bring in a healthy profit if set up correctly.

Please don't down-vote because it's porn - it's a legal and legitimate space


Many of these projects can be kept on "life-support" and still bring in a healthy profit if set up correctly.

How do you know this? I'm genuinely curious; is this reasonable speculation (but still speculation) or do you have some concrete evidence of this working for people?

What I've read lately about porn sites suggests that the days of easy money are gone, modulo a few outliers.


What I've read lately about porn sites suggests that the days of easy money are gone

What has disappeared are the "gallery sites" that were easy to make - often by hand - or using basic CMS's like wordpress.

Most of the people who say it is over are the "old skool" industry folks who hate the Tube sites because they represent a level of technical expertise that they cannot match (but most HN'ers can)

What is happening is real technology is disrupting the space and those without skills are getting pushed out.

People are still paying for porn, and content sites need to find the distribution and new leads.

I know this because my partner has a lot of projects in this space. I also know many people - from owners of some of the biggest content houses here in SF thru to engineers who work on startups and supplement their income at night through this kinds of projects.

It's actually more common then you think, most people just don't want to put their names to it.


Thanks very much for the detail. I think the next step might be to identify some under-served niche. Though, given the Internet, I have a hard time thinking any interest is under-served, at least for long.


I know a guy who built a "tube site" software in PHP when tubes were still fairly new and he was making ~10,000$/month within a few weeks. He didn't spend a dime on advertising, just word of mouth and posting on adult boards with a link to his site in his signature.


I've been wanting to build a niche video/picture site for a while (to deal with all the CDN/scaling issues involved myself), and I've also been looking for a project I can use this Programming Collective Intelligence book on.

Adult seems to be a good next project for me. The only initial unknown I can think of would be where content would come from unless it's user-supplied. Any other links/info/thoughts?


Several years ago I thought about building something in the adult market (never got to it). Your best bet is to go to the adult webmaster's board: http://gfy.com If you're looking for affiliate programs, if I recall correctly, they gave you tons of content for free.

Anyway... hope this helps - good luck!


Thanks for the link and suggestions!


Content is licensable. If you join affiliate programs you get sample content to use for free, too.

Don't get into user-generated - too many legal and ethical issues.


> Don't get into user-generated - too many legal and ethical issues.

I've seen some pretty disturbing content uploaded to even sites about video games... this is definitely good advice. Thanks for the tips.


aren't all the niches filled?


Is this a play on words?


Ask there: http://www.gfy.com. It's the largest adult industry board. A lot of content producers do business there.


Great, thanks for the link!


For a good discussion on this subject check out roythunder's AMA over at reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/gt0l1/i_have_a_cs_degr...

He runs one of the slickest sites tube sites out there.


Where does the money actually come from? Other adult businesses advertising on your site?


Affiliate deals with content sites - which are more than just advertising because they tend to have insane revenue sharing deals for the lifetime of the lead - often 50% split of membership fees for the life of the subscription.

So from just a single user signing up for a $30/month subscription, you would make over $180/year.

My partner enjoys a healthy secondary income (way way above the monthly figure mentioned in the original question) from such activity.

If you do big-data analysis and/or curation of content you can probably sell this to other sites too as many in this space are cash rich and tech-ability poor.


Hey Ben, I would like to read more on this topic. Have you written something about it?

What are the needs and the problems that they are facing. How to identify the possible customers. Common affilate scheme in the industry, etc ...


I've not because I don't actually have any projects in this space - my partner (Violet Blue) does and I help her with the technical side of her sites and as someone with a media/tech background I find a lot of it quite interesting.


Kuro5hin had a good post way back on making money from thumbnail galleries

http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/10/29/9314/1484


Legal - yes, but for a lot of us not really justifiable. I'd rather flip burgers.


And a lot of people would rather consume porn rather than those burgers. It's all subjective and down to personal taste. He makes a good point about not being downvoted simply for the market he's chosen.


Because lot of people would rather consume porn rather than burger, and those same people would rather flip burgers rather than produce porn, is why porn is so profitable.

If that was not the case, porn would have been as cheap as dozons of say, ERP applications.


Not sure why you're getting downvoted. You didn't pass any judgment on others, just saying that for you and others it's not justifiable. I 100% agree with you - I had many opportunities to go into that space, but had to decline all of them because I wouldn't feel right doing it, and would have a hard time explaining it to my parents.


Which would also not be justifiable for a lot of people. Well, unless they were veggie burgers ;-)


Questions like this, "what should I build", and "which language should I use", and etc make me cringe when I read them. Asking questions is awesome, but these just don't seem to be productive. His question isn't related to building a web app at all, he just wants to know if he built that app, could it make $1k+ per month. Plus, any answer(s) given will likely just fuel his planning, and not execution.


In his defense I know lots of developers doing small webapps they intend to keep on life support and not actively work at growing in an attempt to hit their magic mark for what their monthly budget / expenses are. This may not be the attitude of the majority of HNers but lots of people would be happy with a way to make 2500$ a month for themselves... Just enough to maintain a modest quality of life in the midwest.


Agree whole-heartedly. Entreporn at its most annoying levels.


Both the question and the answer are all kinds of silly. You can't start a project with the end goal of making $1000 a month, or you will surely fail. Instead, you've gotta motivated to solve a problem you've identified and then you need to execute on it.

Coding isn't everything either. You may be a fine developer, but you're forgetting about design, marketing, customer support, dealing with crisis when your project does good, dealing when depression when it doesn't…

Don't make a plan to get to $1000. Rather, build something cool, and when $1000 does or does not show up at the door, be thankful and learn from the experience. And try again. Iterate.


I have an eBook for sale for $39.00 that will show you how in ten easy steps, it includes: 1) how to market yourself and use the power of social networking to do the marketing for you 2) how to unlock the power of referrals 3) how you can grow from making $1000 a month, to over $10,000 a month in three more months of work.

"I never thought I could own my own business, but it is just so easy" - happy customer

</satire>


How much do those ebooks make? How hard is it to make $1000/month selling ebooks?


$37 would be more common for that sort of book, BTW ;-) (Coincidentally just yesterday I noted there are 10x the results for "$37 ebook" than for "$39 ebook" on Google.)


Funnily enough, those ads would be MUCH closer to the truth if they would just state: "1. <insert some catchy phrase> " 2. ??? 3. profit!"


I have many products that make more than $1000 a month. Tip - use the app stores to cut away the pain of having to market to users through vague means. App stores are a godsend if you are a good developer but bad marketer.


Would you care to elaborate on which app stores. I can see how people can make money developing mobile apps, but is it possible to get a decent revenue from say Chrome Webstore.


Mac app store, android app store. Windows App store is coming soon, but till then, locations like download.com


For download.com, are you suggesting shareware?


Could you give examples?


But that wouldn't be a web app. How about a web app? Anything else other than AppSumo?


Why must it be a web app? To me web apps are only useful for a specific sort of software, not for all types of software. People who want everything to be web apps are just mentally inflexible.

The app store for web apps is twitter and facebook.


> Why must it be a web app?

Because that was the original question asked, as well as the topic here. Stay on topic, stay on topic.


I might be wrong but you might be splitting hair here. What I read was:

"Is it hard to write a small piece of software and sell it over the web so I can make 1k per month to pay my bills"


I don't know where you read that. Here is the question:

"Is it hard to build, market and maintain a web app that makes at least $1000 a month? For a single, skilled web developer."

You might consider that splitting hairs, but I think the question was quite clear, and very precise. Basically, he's interested in capitalizing on an existing skill set and wondering about the business side of things.


You could go the Google Chrome Web Store route.


Give my new store a try - http://laughingcomputer.com


Offtopic I know, but this comment is exactly the type where seeing points on comments would be really useful. As it stands, I won't click this link because I have no idea if it's worth it, or worse some kind of scam.


You can look at my profile, other comments and submissions to know im not spamming.


For what it's worth, it's "an online retail store for digial goods" and it says "WARNING: If you don't like profits, this is not for you!!!"


"Its hard, but not THAT hard!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY

6 years into building web-apps and finally I am just now seeing a few bucks rolling in (still <$1000 month).

I wasted lots of time, primarily pursuing the wrong kinds of business models (free!!!) or putting effort into the wrong areas of a business, ultimately burning out because things weren't working.

But, even if you've picked a good product with a good market, for the un-initiated engineer there's this mysterious delta between being able to build something (anything!), and making that something successful. My recommendation (because its working for me), is to find a co-founder who is a business guy employed at a successful small software company. Painting with broad strokes here, but try to pick a sales or marketing guy over a biz dev guy, I think they are connected better with the product.

You've heard this advice before. Its true. Engineers think of the world as meritocratic. But good product != success. You need someone to help you get past this way of thinking.


I would not take business advice from anyone attributing all of Apple's success to their image and none to their products.


Indeed. How does the poster figure Apple got their image? It was pretty bad, their image I mean, in the 90s. It surely couldn't be something crazy like they make great products :)


That's exactly where I stopped reading.


It can't be that easy otherwise everyone would build 10 or 20 of them and retire.


If it takes you one year to get that product to $1K/month, then you'll need 20 years... But you have to consider that in 20 years, some of your apps will die and also managing 20 apps and customers is a headache.


Good point. Although I think there a big difference between building 1 and building 20. A service that earns $1000 will probably not run by it self.


Sorry, but that is nonsense. Most people don't even try to think about it. Others, like the poster don't dare to make the step yet and ask.

And of course not everyone can retire at the same time as longs as we don't have a more advanced economy ;-)


Yes, yes; it's very easy! Now, just step this way and let me show you my excellent range of pick axes and mining equipment ;)


I think saying, however sarcastically, that if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it is kinda pointless. The most important step is to get started in the first place.

Even if you don't make huge amounts of money (disclaimer: that's my blog post linked at the bottom of the answer), there's a huge gulf between those that spend their days thinking about possibilities, and those that get up and start their projects. If you're in the latter group, you stand a much greater chance :)


Confirmation bias overload: this is Quora.


"The first 3 years of any startup is very hard. After 3 years you just get used to it".


I think it is harder to go from zero to $1000/month than from $1000/month to 100,000$/month.

What is sad is that instead to create a spam engine, adsense powered, doing $1000/month is pretty straightforward.


OK I've done the first part, but I've been a bit stuck on the easier second part for a long time. :)


Is it hard to write a story or make a film that people will watch? Same thing, just a bit different. "Everyone" seems to know the answer, but the truth is nobody knows. Because everyone would do it then.


I agree in part with your cimment but even if everybody knew how to do it, not everybody would. Compare: basic healthy habits.


What does a "recurring billing system" do? I'm new to this, but all I did for now was to store PayPal's (actually the clone that exists in my country) transactions in my database, and bump the "good_until" timestamp when a new payment is received (via POST in my case).


it's so simpo' why not everyone does it?

and I mean it in the most sarcastic way.


Because $1000 a month is less than a developer's salary?


Need I point out that (your salary + $1000/month) > your salary?


A mobile web app mashup having a social layer+LBS on top could be quite good to earn revenue which you are looking for.


It's not hard at all. Here's what you need to do:

1. Pick a tool you can build which will make money for people.

2. Build it for people who will pay.

3. Market to them.

4. Build it.

5. Ship it.

6. Market to them. (Over and over. It's not a one-time thing.)

I've done it, and I teach other people to do it. (But the thing is - once you reach $1000, you might as well go further since the first $100 is the hardest, once you get that, you have proof and you begin to have leverage for word of mouth and client success stories and yadda yadda yadda.)


Easy to describe is not the same as easy to do.

You should hack off 2-6 and describe step 1 in 7 steps.


This is Hacker News, not "Write A Business Book For Me For Free Then Hold My Hand" News. There's a lot out there on how to do each one of those steps, in books mostly and some of the better software-biz blogs. The fact that I didn't write a 30,000-word essay doesn't make what I'm saying any less true.

So few people even say that the first step exists, or that it should come first, that alone is worth stating. Then go look for resources for how-to.


I'm not asking you to do it, but honestly, I really haven't ever found any of these places that contain much more info about step 1 than was contained in your rough outline (but I have found lots of places that contain roughly the same amount of actionable info in longer form).

If a piece of writing does go further, it typically just advises the reader to do something like "Talk to people and find out," which is frustratingly circular. Talking to people is something most of us do every day without any profit, and "find out" just restates the problem.

It may be that this has been written about well somewhere, but I have never seen it. I figure it must be one of those things where you just have to figure it out for yourself, and for those who have figured it out, these vague platitudes look like actionable advice because they're able to mentally fill in the blanks.


There are plenty of books on market research, customer development, and internet marketing (real books and serious ebooks/classes) that go much deeper into the topic. Have you been reading those, or just blog posts?

Blog posts are by nature superficial, and more importantly, if you're reading blog posts by people in the tech world about marketing, you're probably picking the wrong teachers to learn from.

As a biz book nerd, who reads probably 30 biz books a year (for the last 12 years), I've never found one or even two resources that are end-to-end adequate. What I've learned, I've pieced together from hundreds of sources, including some meant for enterprise (and adapted for my needs), like _Pricing with Confidence_, and taking vague hand-wavy inspiration (_Purple Cow_) and looking for specific, real-world actions to make it concrete.

That's why I created my "30x500" course: to be a super-concise, super-specific crash course for nerd types (like me) who want to create their first product and want to do it with as little risk of failure as possible. I teach systems. I'm not gonna really pitch it here, cuz it's neither the time nor the place, but to say that I know what you're talking about -- and the stuff IS out there.

It either takes digging and work to piece it together into a strategy, or a willingness to shell out for something accelerated. My course is not the only one where you can learn how to do market research -- but you're going to be hard pressed to find it in one book, or two books, or 10 books, because the strategies and techniques to reduce risk are very valuable. And they take a LOT of work to create… I've spent hundreds of hours on building my course, doing research, tweaking the teaching methods & order, the metaphors, the workbooks, the homework, the supporting materials.

You'll rarely find that level of energy and diligence put into a business book, unless it's a byproduct of "workshopping" (like the GTD system was a workshop long before it was a book). Teaching workshops is vastly more profitable, and in a lot of ways more emotionally rewarding, than selling a book. So as blog posts are to books, books are to live classes & workshops. There's no equivalent reward for selling a $20 - $30 book with that kind of information in it... unless you can turn around and sell something more expensive, and leverage fame, like David Allen did.

That aside, there are courses & workshops where you can learn a lot more about step #1 -- other than mine! I've found these two to be excellent at the "figuring out what to sell" side of things: Presell Formula by Clay Collins, and Product Launch Formula by Jeff Walker.

Laugh if you must, yep it's internet marketer slumming, but they're really good at what they do. A person who wants to succeed won't sneer at any source of workable knowledge.


Can you list some of your favorite books?


If it's that easy, why haven't you done it 10 or 100 times by now?


Here are the products I've planned & designed, which sell well:

1. Freckle

2. JavaScript Performance Rocks

3. Various JavaScript workshops

4. my entrepreneurship class (30x500)

And, by the end of June, we'll be launching our 2nd SaaS, Charm, which is much larger & took a longer time to develop (while I was fighting undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome), and we've already got people chomping at the bit to sign up and pay us for it. After that, we're creating self-study versions of our JS workshops.

If you're going to employ snarky skepticism, you might as well do your research first!


1. SaaS 2. Books 3. Workshops 4. Classes

Great, I'm strong believer in diversification. But you haven't launched 4 successful SaaS, and whilst I wish you luck with Charm, it's a bit cheeky to suggest success before success has been achieved!


We have big companies just chomping at the bit to pay us - their words, "when can we pay you?" and our beta testers are ecstatic. We have 2000 people on our advance notice list. I think it's safe to say that it is going to go very well for us indeed.

(That's not to say we won't have technical or growing pains. I'm sure we will. That's part of the reason we haven't launched yet -- that, and my chronic fatigue making me useless for weeks on end without warning.)


you missed out the steps: ??? and Profit!


the building not so. the marketing and pr needed to reach that goal on the other hand is a little more work :)


>"Is it hard to build a web app that makes at least $1000 a month?"

Yes.


A person asking such a question shouldnt be building stuff for profit in the first place.


What are better questions to be asking?

(Serious question. I suck at asking questions that get me useful answers. I have some websites that have been around a while and make next to nothing in spite of having something of value to offer. I want to make $2000-$3000/mo. How on earth do I get there from here?)


You can start by being specific. There's no generic answer here. You can't really try to understand "succeeding at businesses" in the abstract. You have to do things on a case-by-case basis. So if you ask about one of your _specific_ sites, people can help you.


Okay. How would one get more quality traffic with this specific challenge: It's a health site where I talk about getting myself well when doctors claim it cannot be done. The rest of the world thinks it cannot be done either so it's a hard sell.

So far, I have been working on building an audience painfully slowly. Since I am also working on getting myself well, content does not go up as regularly as I would like. My feeling has been this is probably a good thing for now because the first thing I have to do is win over my audience and the world just does not believe this can be done. Maybe I am completely wrong (about needing to build the audience this way)? But without participating in email lists and hearing what other people are asking, I also don't really know what to talk about -- I don't just psychically know what is different about what I am doing compared to other people. So for me that relationship to the audience is important and there has been a huge barrier for a long time. It is gradually coming down. Maybe I do know exactly what I am doing and it just takes time. Or maybe I am an idiot and someone else would have no problem slapping some content onto the site and generating an income.

Thoughts?


Some thoughts:

It's a health site where I talk about getting myself well when doctors claim it cannot be done.

Besides your Mom, no one cares about getting you well.

Since I am also working on getting myself well...

Supposing I were sick, I'd care mainly about getting myself well. It sounds like you don't have the answers, so why am I bothering?

It sounds like you aren't selling solutions. So your best bet is to sell sympathy and motivation. My suggestion: make it more of a forum, allow other people to tell their stories as well. Focus on sharing emotions as much as sharing solutions.

Monetization will probably come from ads selling snake oil. Near as I can tell, that's the primary method of monetization in health related sites - selling homeopathy and herbs to desperate people.


Besides your Mom, no one cares about getting you well.

As noted elsewhere: The site exists because there are people who are interested in what I did to get well, not because I had any plans to create such a site. It gives them clues as to how to get themselves healthier when all else has failed. I talk about what worked for me in large part because I have zero interest in giving advice per se. I think that is part of what is wrong with conventional medicine: Doctors routinely prescribe treatments with short term benefits and long term costs, which is not so bad if you are basically healthy and can take the hit for an acute problem. But it's deadly if you have a chronic health issue. And the fact that they take this basic approach is no secret. It's done quite openly: We all know about the huge fold-outs detailing the negative side effects that come with most prescription drugs and the waivers that have to be signed before they will perform surgery. Since getting myself healthier relied heavily on trading short term costs for long term gains, I have zero interest in replicating a system that I am convinced is part of the problem.

So your best bet is to sell sympathy and motivation. My suggestion: make it more of a forum, allow other people to tell their stories as well. Focus on sharing emotions as much as sharing solutions.

I own several email lists. I cannot for the life of me get conversations going on them. I also briefly had a forum for the site. It was overrun with spam and had maybe three members (myself included). So I've tried that route and failed, quite consistently and miserably. It works better for me to try to get people sharing info when someone else owns/runs the discussion space. And that is a piece I am working on elsewhere, for the purpose of helping people help themselves. I'm also not interested in selling sympathy or motivation per se. There is a saying that "an example is the best lecture" and I have found that to be true. So I do offer myself as an example in hopes that it inspires people to feel "If she can do it, I can do it". But I have zero interest in being some cheerleader.

Again, I was not asking about monetizing the site. Only about getting traffic, a question you have not addressed. As stated earlier: I have several websites. I really don't expect this site to be where the money is. But it is the most mature/developed of the sites I own and it basically serves as a proving ground for me to learn stuff.


You didn't ask about getting traffic, you asked about getting "quality traffic". Since you didn't define "quality", I assumed you were going with the standard definition of quality - traffic that earns you money. Hence, a discussion of monetization.

Anyway, I was going to list the ways your site is an SEO and navigation disaster.

But then I saw that your content is a deceptive mix of good advice, snake oil, and stuff I don't know enough to evaluate. It would be unethical of me to give you any tips on directing more people to it. You should take your site down. You are clearly unable to evaluate scientific evidence, and your anecdotes of how the placebo effect helped you are not providing any benefit to others.


I am curious what you view as good advice, what you view as snake oil, and what you don't know enough about to evaluate.

Thanks for the feedback.


Honestly this is like trying to sell pages off your own personal diary. Im going to say from my POV there is no way you can make serious money of of this.Google adsense yes but we all know how that goes if you have low traffic. BUT if you can gather an Audience and after that write a book about this..your blog audience could spread the word about ''the guy who defied the odds''


In regards to both this reply and the other one where I wrote a lengthier response, please note I have not asked "how do I monetize this?" I have asked "How do I get quality traffic for the site?"

My expectation is that at some point there will be an app and that will have more potential for being monetized. For now, I only want to know how to get more traffic. Can anyone address that specific question and leave out your opinions that I am crazy to try to monetize this?

Thanks.


You might try Tumblr for audience building.

The caveats to this advice are that this worked for me a couple of years ago (so I'm not sure if the same community exists there now) and that my thing was much more about fat loss.

Still, I was shocked at how quickly I felt like I had been embraced by a community, especially since I had only started out with the intention of using Tumblr as a free place to host a diary (I was quite ignorant of the community features at the time).

Another caveat is that Tumblr tends to favor short form content rather than longer blog posts. However, this could actually be seen as a positive since it's a lot easier to do shorter, more frequent updates.

Aside from that, finding forums where people are talking about these issues and then getting actively involved could be one of the best ways to indirectly build an audience.

A few thoughts on your website:

* I'd either make your blog the main page or automatically pull in at least the latest blog onto your main page. Otherwise, I get the impression that the site was last updated in 2009.

* I'd write a one paragraph summary of who you are and what you're trying to accomplish, the "elevator pitch" if you will. I feel that a lot of what is on your current main page would be more appropriate on a longer form "About" page. I'd put the elevator pitch front and center so that new visitors can know exactly why they should care and keep browsing your site.

* I'd consider coming up with a short timeline - as a new visitor, I might be interested in quickly knowing things like how far along you are in your journey. Like were you just diagnosed? Have you just recently decided to turn your life around or have you been working on this for awhile? As a new visitor, it helps me more quickly identify with your story and what I can expect to get from you.

To sum up, I think there's an audience out there for this. Plenty of people are going to be interested in the everyday perspective of someone who's down in the trenches battling an illness.

So if keeping the site going makes you happy, don't give up!


I'd either make your blog the main page or automatically pull in at least the latest blog onto your main page. Otherwise, I get the impression that the site was last updated in 2009.

I have considered making the blog the main site and the main site an "archive", because the information there is mostly pretty outdated but makes for a good intro/overview. It would involve a lot of work and I'm not sure how to tackle some of the technical issues.

Any idea how I could easily make the blog more visible?

I'd write a one paragraph summary of who you are and what you're trying to accomplish, the "elevator pitch" if you will. I feel that a lot of what is on your current main page would be more appropriate on a longer form "About" page. I'd put the elevator pitch front and center so that new visitors can know exactly why they should care and keep browsing your site.

I actually started working on redoing the main page. This past year has been very hard in terms of my physical healing process. It's been enormously eventful (like I have had way too many Saturdays where I threw up all day). There are plans to redo the main page, there really are. But I really don't want to put the focus on me (re your comment about explaining "who I am"). I have struggled a lot with the fact that information on the site is so personal -- not because I care about sharing such info (I spent years in therapy for sexual abuse endured as a child and both my therapists were ministers -- I'm perfectly comfortable blathering on about crap that makes other people desperately want to tape my mouth shut) but because of the negative fall-out that occurs and that it takes the spotlight off the information per se, which is where I want it to be. So I wrestle a lot with that and I very much want to work on making the site more about "this is good info and helped me" and less about "me, me, me", which just causes all kinds of problems in all kinds of ways.

I'd consider coming up with a short timeline - as a new visitor, I might be interested in quickly knowing things like how far along you are in your journey. Like were you just diagnosed? Have you just recently decided to turn your life around or have you been working on this for awhile? As a new visitor, it helps me more quickly identify with your story and what I can expect to get from you.

Thanks. I did start a time-line. I never finished it or published it.

So if keeping the site going makes you happy, don't give up!

Oh, it doesn't really make me happy. I would much rather be in the entertainment space. But you can't separate this dramatic piece of my life experience from who I am and I don't think it's possible for me to entirely walk away from it. I think if I shut down the site and made a fortune doing something else entirely, then years down the road reporters would hound me for info on how I got well. I would rather just leave the site up and say "here's that info -- now back on topic, it's so not that interesting, thanks". As I noted elsewhere, the site grew out of an off-the-cuff remark I made on an email list I belonged to and the strong reactions people had to the information I casually commented on as a normal part of my everyday existence (a list, btw, that had nothing to do with health issues at all).


Without even getting into the ethics of selling health advice before the experiments are complete, consider the probability that it's just a terrible idea to try to monetize your personal health site, no matter how you do it.

The point of your health regimen is to get yourself well. The point of your health site should be to help you get yourself well -- by motivating you to stick to your plan, by helping you keep records of your own plans and thinking and data, and by recruiting folks to help encourage and coach you and share advice and conduct experiments along with you.

Don't screw up your own priorities and motivations by introducing an additional profit motive. When your health is at stake, you need to do what you need to do, not what your audience wants to pay for. If, after all your experiments, it turns out that the healthiest path for you is the most boring thing ever, something that nobody wants to read about and that can't be sold for money but that is nonetheless effective for you... great! Mission accomplished, you're healthy. Don't bias your judgement by asking a market to vote with its money. They'll end up (e.g.) steering you to the latest fad, whether it's healthy for you or not.


I'm guessing you didn't look at the site.

A) I am well on my way to being well. Although I continue to learn, the site does not exist to get me well. It exists because I made some off-the-cuff remark on an email list where I was held in high esteem, got attacked for it, was politely asked to "prove" what I had said and I said "give me a day or two to get back to you so I can put together the information". The response to the next email where I backed up my remark was stuff like "Can I forward it to someone I know who has a child with the same condition?". So I began working on putting the information on a website so people can share the links without asking to forward my emails.

B) It turns out that there is actually research that backs up some of what I kind of stumbled across. But it doesn't get much press because it won't make any drug companies rich.

C) I don't mind helping people but 1) I have bills to pay myself 2) if it benefits others and has value, why shouldn't I get something in return? and 3) people don't take it seriously when it isn't "for profit". Just being some nice person who got well and is willing to share what I know is very unconvincing for helping others.

D) I often contemplate just taking the site down. I am okay with just getting on with my life now that I am healthy enough to do that. But other people have made it clear they don't want it to come down. Both this year and in a previous year, donations paid my hosting service renewal when I couldn't afford it (this year: Thank you HN!).

As for the ethics question, I have had that thrown in my face before. People are dying from what I have and doctors can't really help them. Is it possible for people to misuse the information on my site and wind up with a problem because of it? Yes. Is it likely that doing nothing is worse? Very much so. My approach is much more conservative than what doctors do and much safer.

Thanks very much for responding.


You are 100% incorrect about C-3. I don't take sites that want you to pay for information seriously. Information and knowledge should be free. Charging for information makes you "them" instead of "us" and totally leads people to not trust you.

Examples: - Get rich selling stuff on ebay! (internet treasure chest) - Save your marriage! (google "save your marriage ebook") - Penis enlargement! (...) - How one mom found a cheap way to whiten her kids teeth! (in ads everywhere, usually leads to a site where you pay for an ebook).

Also, people will pirate it if it's any good.


You don't take academic sites with paywalls seriously? You don't take O'Reilly subscription eBooks seriously? You don't take curated commercial data feeds seriously? You don't take licensed film/Netflix style sites seriously?

You do value free "get rich selling stuff on eBay" and "save your marriage" sites?

People want free information, but people don't act like free information has any value.

If I tell you about the feeling elimination technique, which is useful where you imagine a situation and feel a sudden physical feeling (e.g. imagine a being in an aircraft and feel your stomach tense up and you get anxious, or imagine eating fish and your face screws up in disgust, or imagine confronting someone and wanting to curl up and hide, that kind of thing).

That the technique involves imagining one situation hard, noticing the physical reaction in your body, focusing on what you're imagining to intensify the physical response - like grasping a nettle hard - then holding that state while counting backwards from your age to 0 (start in 5 year increments to age 5, then 1 year increments to age 1, then month increments to -9 months) and each time pause a couple of seconds and ask yourself if you still feel this way.

That's it. It exists, it works, if you practise doing it you can get rid of some kinds of automatic fears which have been a deep set part of your life for decades, and you can do so in minutes. This is free, potentially life changing information. I would bet money that you wont even try it, and think it probable that you wont even take seriously the idea to try it and plan to do so "one day" and never do. That nobody who reads this will give it a second thought.

But if you'd paid good money to meet a consultant about some fear you have, and they told you about it, you would think hard about it, try it, and when you fail the first time, you would try again. And if you can't do it, you would try a different fear assuming it was you at fault not the idea. But if it's free, you're much more likely to try it once and if you can't get it to work first time on one fear, assume it's bunk.


Information and knowledge should be free.

I completely agree. And the site is free for use. Still, how does one monetize an informational site? If I know something of value that was hard-won knowledge, how do I share that without feeling like I am cutting my own throat for the benefit of others?

(Please note that I have said elsewhere in this discussion that I don't expect this site to be where the money is. But problem solving for this site is intended to be a learning experience for me.)

Also, people will pirate it if it's any good.

In this case: Yay!


How would one get more quality traffic with this specific challenge: It's a health site where I talk about getting myself well when doctors claim it cannot be done.

The first thing to define is "quality traffic". Let's say the health condition is a painful nose wart. If only 14 people in the U.S. have this condition you're never going to get significant traffic. If the condition is indeed widespread you have to ask how people would search for it. Would they type "painful nose warts" or maybe something else like "nose bumps"? If you have been assuming people use the same keyword phrasing you do to describe the same thing you need to investigate what is the actual case. Google's keyword tool can help by showing what people are searching for. (I recommend comparing broad and exact match versions too.) Make a list of all possible phrasing. This can help you identify long tail keywords which there is little competition for, and sometimes strong keywords nobody targets well at all.

After you've confirmed that there is indeed significant traffic to be had for your topic, and you're armed with your keyword list the next step is to set up your site to be successful when aligned with those things. Probably the quickest and easiest thing to do is start a Wordpress blog, since there are many theme possibilities and it's already going to have many SEO basics built in. Next, go to Google and type in: SEO site: news.ycombinator.com. Take a day or two to read through many of the results. Pay extra attention to comments by patio11. Now, consider how you can follow as much of that advice as possible with your site. Be prepared to work and improve on this for days or weeks. The time consuming part of receiving free traffic from search engines really boils down to: creating quality content (keep your phrasing list in mind here!) on the topic, and receiving links to that content. If your content is good enough, links will start appearing naturally. This can take time, but it will happen. To help things along be proactive by reaching out to sites, communities, writers, organizations which have anything at all to do with your topic. Ask them directly for links back, or possibly if you can write a guest post on their site referencing your site. If you follow these steps correctly, over time you will see results.

Now that you've established traffic you need to monetize it. There are a couple ways to do that. If the traffic is significant enough, and depending on the topic, simply putting up ads may be enough. If there are complimentary products to aid in getting healthy, like a special measurement machine, see if you can position yourself to earn a commission whenever it's sold through your site as an affiliate (start contacting suppliers directly if you need to and pitch them).

The other way to monetize your traffic is by selling access to the information itself. You hold valuable information. You want to monetize it. And here I disagree with mechanical_fish. There is nothing wrong with asking people to pay for you taking the time to show them a way to improve their life. Doctors and drug companies don't work free. They are usually quite expensive, and they don't have all the answers as they are literally "practicing" medicine. Providing alternatives which may be more effective and likely less costly as well is certainly worth something.

The approach I would use when taking this route is freely offering about 80-90% of the solution and trying to monetize the remaining 10%. As you say you will probably face skepticism about any proposed solution, whether it's true or not. Talking openly and candidly about the first 90% is a way to address that skepticism. People can detect when you are probably being genuine, and they will respond to that. I would tell my story as genuinely and matter-of-factly as possible on my blog, and interact with readers. Next, I would offer one of two options which could be monetized. My favorite thing to do would be adding a premium membership forum to my site. I'd make it known that in this forum participants shared and progressed together, as well as having access to me. Even if you gave away 100% of your solution, coaching members along is still likely to be a needed and valuable product.

The other option is to package up the remaining 10% in an eBook format where you essentially re-tell your entire story, but with 100% of the information. Show your site visitors that you have taken time to put together a more in depth look at the topic, and you hope they will pay the modest < $5 cost to receive it.

Last, be sure to have a legal disclaimer stipulating that you're not a doctor, you're only telling your story, and people should consult their doctor before beginning any form of treatment for anything.


Thank you!

I will briefly note that my best audience has proven to be people interested in alternative health stuff rather than people with my diagnosis per se.


I actually just looked into your site healthgazelle.com. I'm afraid I would recommend pursuing another avenue to reach $2,000-3000 per month. One area you seem to be good at is writing. I'd pick another area you're an expert in or passionate about which is far more popular, then build up a blog audience writing about it.

There are two problems. The first, good traffic quality, can't be changed. The second, your site not being optimized for search engines can, but without the traffic there isn't much point.

It took me several seconds to find out that the topic of your site seems to be cystic fibrosis. You actually have a decent store of content about your topic, but right now it's practically invisible to search engines (for example, you refer to it as "CF", and you're not implementing good page title tags, or effective headers, urls, etc.). As I said, that can be fixed. The bigger problem is that Google's keyword tool for "cystic fibrosis" (exact match phrasing) shows not many are searching for what you're offering.

The general term "cystic fibrosis" has decent numbers, but that can include everything from people checking what it is to students doing reports on it. You are interested in people looking for treatment for it, and those numbers are very, very low. Perhaps people don't think to look for a treatment for it. Whatever the case, you would need to be near the #1 result for the keyword "cystic fibrosis treatment", beating out sites like mayoclinic.com and nlm.nih.gov, and you still wouldn't have more than a few thousand clicks per month. Maybe that's enough for you, but I'd pick a more popular traffic topic.

Also, please note I have a typo in my recommendation above to learn more about effective SEO. You need to type into Google "seo site:news.ycombinator.com" with no space after "site:" to see only results from HN.


I have no plans of making $2000-$3000 off that one site. I have other things in the works. They need a great deal more fleshing out (one project has exactly zero actual content). Nor is the site intended to be about cystic fibrosis per se. I advocate eating right, exercise, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and so on. Those things are more broadly applicable than just treating my specific condition. And I am quite well aware that very few people go looking for info on how to get well while living with CF. Still, I want to use this site to learn about building traffic as it is the most developed site I have. So thank you very much for your suggestions and for correcting the typo.

One area you seem to be good at is writing. I'd pick another area you're an expert in or passionate about which is far more popular, then build up a blog audience writing about it.

:-)

That's kind of the long term goal. Only I am thinking webcomic. Time will tell.


Still, I want to use this site to learn about building traffic as it is the most developed site I have.

Okay, if you want to learn about building traffic you need to learn either SEO (learning best practices for Google's model), or how to write content people want to read and feel compelled to refer others to read. That site appears primarily about cystic fibrosis, which isn't a very popular topic. It's fine to have the idea of talking about other things, but if you're taking the SEO route your goal is to be seen as an authority on some specific area of information. Also, having a fully developed site which is set up incorrectly by SEO standards means very little when it comes to SEO. For example, it's sometimes advisable to start from scratch building out page structures, title tags, content, etc. correctly (for example, as I mentioned using a Wordpress structure), and you can often get better results faster by doing this.

That's kind of the long term goal. Only I am thinking webcomic. Time will tell.

A webcomic sounds fantastic! Are you any good? If you can put out something like xkcd.com, then simply add Twitter/Facebook share buttons to it, that can be a quick way to build an audience right there.


For example, it's sometimes advisable to start from scratch building out page structures, title tags, content, etc. correctly (for example, as I mentioned using a Wordpress structure), and you can often get better results faster by doing this.

I added a blog at some point. It's done in WordPress. The plan is that most new content will go up there, in part just to make my life easier since the old part of the site is such a pain in the butt from so many perspectives.

A webcomic sounds fantastic! Are you any good?

I have no idea. It's still in the concept stage. My 23 year old son thinks in pictures, like Temple Grandin. I did the full-time mom thing and homeschooled both my sons for some years as well, so spent lots of time with my kids. I developed an image-rich speaking style without really thinking about it because that is the most effective means to speak with my oldest. This style of communicating with him has impacted my online writing and I think it is part of why my writing is praised as much as it is. My hope is that this will lend itself well to developing a web comic. I am encouraged that the artwork for XKCD is so simple and that the artwork for a couple of other web comics I know developed enormously over time. My drawing is not that great but I did pursue art as a hobby somewhat as a kid and did have an art class in high school, so I am aware that there are certainly worse artists out there. :-D

I also have a history of being "fascinating" to people (and controversial) and I am hoping this will be a much more positive experience for me as someone in the entertainment space than as someone attempting to share helpful info. The degree to which the focus gets put on me rather than on "these are good ideas to try" has been a huge thorn in my side for many years.

If you can put out something like xkcd.com, then simply add Twitter/Facebook share buttons to it, that can be a quick way to build an audience right there.

Oh, that's awesome. Thank you for that.

I remain frustrated with comic press software and similar. Any ideas on that? I don't really want to grow my own. My coding/web-mastering skills are not that great and, hey, you see what that got me for Health Gazelle. Not really keen to repeat that experience.

Thanks.


Yes, I saw the link to the blog, but that's not what I mean. In terms of SEO you want to think of your site as a house, or library. You don't want to have people be presented with distractions or have to enter through some back door to get to the main goods. You want to offer your best right up front and be clear about it. That means the Wordpress structure should be the main site. Now, if you know what you're doing for SEO, and your main site focus is not the blog content, then that's when you can have a different site upfront and the blog attached with a link.

I have absolutely no idea about producing comics. If it were me I'd just start with blank white paper, draw out my comics then scan them in as JPEGs to post online. If the comic content is good, like Garfield, for instance, people are going to like it, and I'd say that's fine starting out.


Yeah, I kind of know that. I have been told by someone who knows way more than I do to just leave the main site in place to preserve the URLs for pages that have been around a while. I have debated making the domain point to the blog portion but then I don't know what to do with the main site. I have debated making it an archive. One technical issue I have is that the blog is a subfolder of the main site, so changing the name of that upper folder breaks the blog and I don't want to migrate it and lose the dates and ...yadda yadda. I am stumped as to how to change the spotlight to the blog, where more current content is, and leave the existing site intact as an archive, so people who do know of it can still find it and so it can serve as background info/introductory info.

Thanks for all your feedback.


...to just leave the main site in place to preserve the URLs for pages that have been around a while.

Google shows about 4 links pointing to healthgazelle.com (http://www.google.com/search?hl=&q=link%3Ahealthgazelle....) ... all from healthgazelle.com. There is nothing to preserve, and if there was the way to do it and preserve search engine rank is by using a 301 redirect (http://www.webconfs.com/how-to-redirect-a-webpage.php).

You seem to be holding on to your established site, almost with nostalgia, and I can understand that, but that's not the way to be effective when it comes to building traffic. You have to be prepared to start out on the right course, even if it's new.

Healthgazelle.com says it's been around for about 7 years, and it has 4 links pointing to it, all from itself. If you follow the steps I outlined above I guarantee you will see significant results in less than 12 months.

If I were you the first thing I'd do is ask myself what I want to be known for, in terms of traffic. I'd choose something far more popular than cystic fibrosis, but using that as an example I might buy a domain like howibeatcysticfibrosis.com. Next, point that to a newly set up Wordpress blog. Now, you need content for your new site. You have existing content at healthgazelle.com, but Google doesn't like duplicate content, so you have to make a choice. You can either plan on producing all new unique content for your new site and leave the old site, or cut the content from healthgazelle.com and redirect it to the new location.

If you want to use the name healthgazelle.com you can do that too. Although it's not a very good name in terms of informing search engines or people what the site is about it does at least have some age on it. If that's the case I would download all the content from healthgazelle.com, delete the current site, set up the wordpress blog on the server, then start reposting the content you want to use.


You seem to be holding on to your established site, almost with nostalgia, and I can understand that, but that's not the way to be effective when it comes to building traffic. You have to be prepared to start out on the right course, even if it's new.

Try "inertia" and "lack of time/energy". I don't think nostalgia has any significant positive part of this. (I have lots of negative feelings about the kind of negative attention the site has gotten me, which is the primary reason I frequently consider abandoning it altogether.)

Again, thank you very, very much. I am working on some of these issues. This has all been extremely good feedback.


Inertia and lack of time/energy are understandable, but unfortunately that's a sure fire way to have another 7 years of non-results.

You mentioned not having great web skills, but you don't need to in order to make money online. You just need to first find out what you should be doing, then stay the course actually doing it. Good luck!


Sorry, all I meant was "I am not intentionally holding on to something". It wasn't intended to "defend" doing it this way.

Thanks for all the bits!




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