As a digital publisher, you can’t expect most people to pay for access to a news website or online magazine if they don’t know what they’re getting. Free content is what brings people to your website and encourages them to stick around for a while. It may seem counterintuitive, but publishing content for free is actually the first step as you look for ways to monetize your website.
If the first thing people see when they arrive at a website from a search engine or social media post is a paywall, they probably won’t hang around for long. That’s why most of the publishers we know give away some type of “free” content. In most cases, that means posting some articles in front of a paywall and other articles behind a paywall. Other news publishers, including The New York Times, give readers access to a certain number of free articles each month before requiring a subscription to proceed.
If you’re publishing free daily news stories, using a metered paywall, or giving away freebies like ebooks and podcast downloads, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to monetize that same content. Nobody expects you to give away everything for free.
While we talk a lot about selling subscriptions here at Web Publisher PRO, subscriptions aren’t the only way that publishers generate revenue in 2020 — especially not those publishers who are still giving away some of their content for free. The more free content publishers give away, the harder they should be working on building up outside streams of revenue.
In this blog post, you’ll discover how local news publishers and online magazines are monetizing their websites while giving away content for “free.” Let’s get going.
How to Monetize Free Content – 5 Strategies for Success
1. Display Advertising
One of the easiest ways to monetize free content is to run display advertising. Display ads that run along alongside free editorial content are generally easy to manage, which means there is minimal work on the publisher’s end.
Local news publishers can work with large ad networks like Google or they can sell ads to local businesses directly and place those ads using a specialized ad management tool. Display advertising actually works better when it’s run alongside free articles than when it’s run alongside articles behind a paywall, since free articles will usually see more traffic (and clicks).
If you are looking for the best ways to monetize free content, then display advertising is the easiest option to implement.
2. Metered Paywalls
Publishers who have subscription programs in place will often use free content as a sales tool. People who read and enjoy an article are more likely to subscribe than people who hit a hard paywall when they click on an article link in Google or on social media. For this reason, metered paywalls tend to be most lucrative for digital news publishers.
Metered paywalls give publishers a way to limit the number of articles that readers can consume for free in a given week or month, before cutting those readers off and requiring them to subscribe in order to see more. In this scenario, the free content is the bait that gets readers hooked and wanting more.
If you are looking to grow your subscription program, and you already generate a substantial amount of search engine traffic, then metered paywalls are one of the best ways to do it.
3. Affiliate Links
What if you don’t have a subscription program in place, and you don’t care to run display advertising on your website? The next option that many publishers will explore is affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing. Publishers who post product guides or similar content can link the products they mention using special URLs provided by ecommerce retailers. When readers click on those links and purchase those items, the publisher earns a small commission on the sale.
Affiliate linking is incredibly popular among social media influencers and bloggers, but it is also catching on within the local news and online publishing communities. The key to success in affiliate linking as a media publisher is transparency. Professional publishers should always disclose the use of affiliate links in their content, so readers are aware of the potential for bias.
Do you love this content? Do you want to see more of it? Then why not donate? Publications that operate on a non-profit basis will often use free content to solicit donations from readers online.
Pop-ups, overlays, in-house display ads, and links placed prominently at the bottom of article pages can be designed in a way to encourage people to pay to support the publication — even when that payment is not technically required. The savviest non-profit publishers will use A/B testing to determine which calls-to-action (CTA) are most effective and which types of content readers are most likely to consume immediately before pulling the trigger and deciding to donate.
5. Cross-Selling Opportunities
If you aren’t charging readers to access content on your website, then what are you charging for? Whether you’ve got a Patreon account, an ad-free podcast, or a members-only Facebook Group, there are plenty of opportunities to use free content to promote your revenue-generating initiatives. Just like with donations, the key to success with this strategy is to design a CTA that elicits emotion and encourages people to immediately pull the trigger. Publishing free content on a regular basis is your best opportunity for bringing in traffic from search engines and social media platforms. With the right strategy in place, you can take better advantage of that traffic and convert first-time website visitors in paying readers.
To learn more about any of the strategies outlined above, contact Web Publisher PRO today.