Creating a lucrative website that people like and visit without pushing them is already not that easy, but creating one that generates income without much work seems like a unicorn. I had luck this one time and created something people liked and really wanted.
I spent maybe 48 hours creating it and earn up to $1’600 a month to this day. Just with ads.
People sometimes ask me How I did it, and for the most part I don’t know. As the blog suggests I am rather lazy. I want to get as close to the How as possible. So in the following I am walking you trough the whole story.
Attention: This is no complete walk-through. There is no full concept to copy in here. Rather small details that may or may not help you in your future projects!
About the Website
Before you get over excited, I will not mention the site. I am pretty sure I am not allowed to do that next to the analytics and Adsense numbers, and honestly I am not exactly proud about the niche (and I don’t want you to steal it ?). But over 3 million monthly visits from half a million sessions agree with me that the site can be considered somewhat successful. I get even more agreement when I open up my Adsense account. It generated $1’600 in March, without me doing anything at all. If that is not lazy, I don’t know.
A little more than a year after I released it, it is ranked on Alexa as one of the 40k most important Websites of our time. While Alexa is not the most accurate measurement for smaller sites, it works pretty well to compare bigger sites. Whatever in the Google results or the Alexa rankings, my competitors are all behind me.
The site also ranks #1 in pretty much any relevant keyword.
It was a day like any other day. No actually that is wrong, my dog died that day. It was a day unlike any other. She was a good dog so i naturally was sad. The only thing I was able to do that way was brainless gaming (so I thought). So i started up a game I like to play every once in a while and explored the world. It did not take very long until the game got boring, so I decided to try a few in-game hacks. While on it, I was writing commands like a stupid fish into my text editor just to copy paste it into the game and learn that it, once again, had some strange syntax error.
There was my idea. Those commands are basically malformed JSON, why not throw them into a simple HTML form.
So naturally I took a Bootstrap layout and build up some code to proof it worked, and well it did. Just a few clicks and I had the exact command I wanted, finally without Syntax errors.
I then realized that this could be useful for others and just proceeded to build a few specific generators for the rest of the day and gave it a web space and domain in the end.
The next day I had no Design (Well Bootstrap if that counts), no real content except a few titles for the form fields, a single language and no dynamic user interaction. But I had a few generators that I was sure at least someone would appreciate.
So I posted it on the relevant game Subreddit.
Not only was the feedback overwhelmingly good but people really liked what I have created. So I reposted it on friday in hope to gain more traction, and well it did. That initial spike you see here? Over 3000 daily sessions, for 3 days.
Needless to say this motivated me a lot to go ahead. Hell I was proud af about that!
At this point all I know was that people liked my site. So I needed to find out what they dislike about the others (similar ones) to make mine perfect. To my surprise they were all well done, some did even offer much more features than mine does to this day.
They all shared some issues tho. None of them was created by someone who knows a bit about SEO.
It was clear what my next step would be. Extend the site to something not only awesome, but also easily found with all the major search engines and by all the relevant keywords.
The next weekend
Now that I knew what I had to do I spent the next weekend on extending the site. Incorporating all I’ve learned about SEO and UX in the past years. On the other side I was aware that my time is rare (full-time job + spring incoming) so I tried to scope it down to something that I was also able to build within a weekend.
I think this section needs to be broken up in the different features I built-in:
The original site was english but i am a native german speaker, so I thought its a good idea to add an additional language. Rails and I18n made this incredible easy. I think it is important that both get properly indexed so I made sure to add some extra pointers for search engines (and humans, probably)
Adding the multi language functionality is one thing, linking it in a way that search engines and social media can pick it up is another:
I like to tell people “everything needs a blog” mostly to annoy them when they are far from needing one. But in terms of SEO it actually makes sense. A blog is a great way to merge dynamic and keyword heavy text into an otherwise relatively static and focused website. You can easily try new keywords to reach a new set of people.
I did not go for WordPress, I just build a “Blog” from scratch within a single database table (yay, Postgres arrays <3) and using Disqus as comment platform. Which was a very good idea because they already include a spam filter and make moderation relatively easy.
I started it with a relatively short article about why I created the site.
Social Media Accounts
This did not work to well for this site. (not even 1000 followers, but I never really put a dominant follow me button on it) But I think any bigger site needs Social Media accounts. Also if just a Twitter account. I answer some questions here and then on these platforms now, but nothing to complicated. Some questions are even answered by other users before I even see them.
Social Media Tags
Honestly in one way I hate them. They pollute my upper section of the HTML source, that is not a nice thing to do. But on the other side I understand that the web is not structured enough to get the full amount of information out of a website. Facebook designed the Open Graphic Protocol which is used by several networks today, including Google. Twitter uses their own format, called Twitter cards.
Both are almost always worth it. At some point you or someone else will share your site on social media. And you don’t get those fancy big picture posts with relevant metadata without these tags.
User generated content
If I have to find one argument why my site ranks better than the competitors it is most likely the user-generated content. I mentioned that my site allows to generate commands for a game. What I implemented was saving and publishing them. Clearly this came with user management but devise makes this super easy on Ruby on Rails.
Now users were able to publish whatever they have created, not only things from my website. I made this incredible easy for by just making a simple form with a field for the title, a description and the actual code. This opened the door for others who already created cool commands to post them as well.
Clearly I also needed a Search, Top lists, Categories and so on. But by itself those are all simple tasks for a experienced coder.
I also threw some Adsense into the mix. I had my Adsense account for a few years but only reached $30 so far and was never able to cash out. But I figured it is worth a try, even thought at this point I thought earning money with ads is pretty much dead anyway. I also wrote about how I think Adsense can make sense.
The next weeks
This is where reality kicked in and I probably learned the most valuable lesson of this experience.
Nothing happens over night. The first 6 weeks looked like this:
I still was proud as never before. There were over 1000!!1!! people visiting my site daily. I mean how great is that? But where is the growth? People posted content every other hour, wrote a few comments on the better content. So everything seemed to work out. But no growth.
I wrote a blog article. A really good one that still converts well. Then I wrote another one, a really boring one. But still not much happened. At least it appeared that the traffic did not get less, and the more user-generated commands I had the more time people spent on my site.
But then it happened. After over 2 months I finally could see it
I started to visit the live tab in Google Analytics and got super satisfied when there were like 5 people on it at once. It felt like it finally paid out. I may added about 3-4 generators over the next few months and wrote another blog post. Users started to talk about my website on other places, some even made YouTube videos about it.
And this is it. This is my whole traffic until last month. >23’000’000 views by >1’500’000 users. Resulting in over $13’000 in Adsense.
I had Adsense in there from beginning and that worked well. Clearly I tried other things too. I offered related affiliate articles from clickbank and Amazon but nothing really worked. My guess is that most of my visitors are kids who are not really into that, plus they are currently busy doing something, else they wouldn’t visit my site.
Amazon worked partly, but my users are very international and a lot of the clicks gone wasted.
Hence I even tried selling them stuff in a newsletter. The open rate was not bad, my site visits increased but the ad was ignored professionally.
I gave up on that.
The Entrepreneurs Dilemma
I am sure some of you wondered why I did not write more blog articles over the time. Mostly because I don’t know about what. I barely play games, even rarer this specific game. I try to keep up to date as much as possible but the site already loses relevance because of changes within the game and its annoying and hard work to keep up.
I started to rewrite the whole site in an even more perfect (and way less lazy) way and well, I am still doing that, somehow.
The point is that I started something that I am not really passionate about anymore what makes this whole thing also a little a burden. I don’t want to sell it because I enjoy the additional income at this point, but I barely find the time and motivation to work on the new version that would potentially attract even more users.
- Creating something that you can be passionate about is the key. Losing the passion sucks.
- Natural growth takes a while, and there is no reason to stress it.
- SEO is not dead. (~80% of my traffic comes from search engines)
- Passive income is possible but needs dedication and luck.
- User generated content is King.
I hope you could take away the one or the other thing.
Maybe you have a suggestion?
Thank you for reading <3
For the next 10 comments mentioning the site in question. We know it thanks 😉