Given that the commerce market topped $8.6 billion in 2020, you could be forgiven for thinking that, no matter what your business model, you should focus on developing a website to sell something — anything. After all, what’s better than the immediate income earned from the sales of a product?
How about steadily increasing recurring revenue that allows you to hone your content marketing skills, connect with your audience and create sustainable cash flow to fund your business?
What is a content site?
A content website caters directly to a select audience of people highly interested in a specific topic by providing them with useful content that furthers that interest.
It’s one of the great things about the internet. No matter what you like, it’s absolutely certain other people somewhere like it as much as you do. Whether it’s coffee or cast iron cookware, there’s an audience excited to connect and learn more about your passion.
But whereas an ecommerce website will capitalize on that shared passion by attempting to persuade visitors to purchase a pre-seasoned saucepan or sign up for monthly delivery of specialty blends, a content site relies on traffic alone to create cash through advertising, affiliate marketing and digital product sales.
A content site might, for example, provide unbiased reviews of outdoor sports equipment based on user testing. Site visitors who find what they’re looking for could then click a link that directs them to the manufacturer’s website to purchase. In exchange, the site owner receives a “commission” in the form of a percentage of the sale price. One site operating on this exact model earned approximately $7 million in profit in 2021.
Other content sites use programs like Google‘s AdSense to generate revenue. One early adopter famously earned $132,000 in a month using AdSense alone and has since gone on to develop multiple successful digital marketing tools. How did he do it? He created a popular free tool to generate custom ringtones and added AdSense.
Notice what these two success stories have in common: quality content that meets a highly specific need.
Another common feature? Neither site relies on paid ad buys to drive traffic. They’ve spent copious time and energy on keyword research to ensure that their sites appear first in the Google results to anyone searching.
Why should I build a content site?
Passive income. Once you’ve perfected your SEO strategy, you can monetize your site traffic to create reliable income that requires only minimum engagement. A content site can serve as a steady source of internal funding that saves you the time and effort of pitching investors or the risk of taking out loans.
An ecommerce website, on the other hand, requires more intense investment. Whether it’s inventory management or customer care or marketing, ecommerce sites require significant financial and personal resources just to get off the ground, and success is far from guaranteed.
Adaptable revenue stream. Unlike an ecommerce website, which generates revenue solely by converting visitors to customers, a content site offers multiple potential income streams. Stick to one or pivot depending on what your analytics tell you about visitor behavior without worrying about how to dispose of unsold products or damaging brand reputation.
A content website might start out making small amounts of money through display ads while you focus on building out a library of useful articles and videos. As site traffic increases, you might add Amazon Associates marketing to the mix, directing visitors to useful products. Reviews of popular vendors might also include affiliate links.
Low overheads. According to one analysis, the setup costs alone for a small to medium-sized ecommerce site starts at $1,500 – and that’s before factoring in costs like payment processing, customer service and social media marketing required to generate sales, collect payments and liaise with your audience.
A content website, on the other hand, requires just a $20 domain name, a set of static pages and some good content. Market rates for freelancers vary but, in general, you can hire quality writers and designers for competitive prices, particularly if you agree to a retainer relationship or purchase blog articles in bulk.
Sustainable. Because content sites rely on SEO to drive traffic, a good strategy essentially guarantees that you’ll continue to build your audience and generate revenue even when you aren’t actively engaging with — or investing in — the site itself. Google and other search engines do tweak their algorithms periodically; however, the keywords associated with a particular niche likely won’t change much for months — or even years.
Ecommerce websites centered around a product often rely on paid ad buys to drive traffic. In addition to the risk associated with an improperly calculated purchase, any bump in traffic you achieve will dry up as soon as your ad expires, leaving you stuck in an endless cycle of “spending money to make money” as you attempt to attract visitors.
Scalable. If you decide to go all-in on content websites, you’ll find that they’re among the easiest business models to scale in a short period of time. Once you hurdle the initial development phase of honing your keyword strategy and hiring your content team, the site will largely run itself, leaving you free to devote time and resources to your next venture.
Seven years ago, I combined my interest in day trading with my digital marketing experience to create what’s become Australia‘s most popular source of information on online brokerages and trading platforms. After two years, I was able to step back from day-to-day management to focus on writing articles on topics that interested me — and co-founding two other content sites.
By contrast, scaling an ecommerce website inevitably includes significant investment in expanding your product line, your audience or your logistical reach.