7 Successful Publisher Business Models with 7-Figure Ad Revenues

7 Successful Publisher Business Models with 7-Figure Ad Revenues

There are many ways to monetize traffic online these days, but one of the most effective ways is through advertising.  Publisher monetization via advertising has grown over the years beyond display and text ads to native, video, rich media, in-game, in-app, and mobile advertising. MonetizeMore has identified 7 of the most successful advertising business models used by online publishers today.  These models vary greatly, as do the ad monetization strategies from which they profit.  Below is a list of these 7 models and their characteristics.

Related Read: Top 7 Predictions for Publisher Monetization in 2015

1. Organic User Generated Content

Kijiji.com, HTML.net, FunnyorDie.com, Reddit.com, Ezinearticles.com

User-generated content has proven to be one of the most scalable business models to grow traffic and recurring ad revenues. With a dedicated moderation policy, a user-generated content strategy can be very powerful. The largest websites in this category balance large volumes of user-generated content from their distinct communities with a moderation policy that keeps advertisers happy. Below are some examples of this type of site:

  • Online classifieds
  • Online forums
  • Video posting sites
  • Social media platforms
  • Content farms
  • Directory sites

User-generated content sites may be quite varied. However, they do share the following traits:

  • A high percentage of organic search traffic
  • At risk of being banned by ad networks like Google AdSense and Ad Exchange without strong moderation policy and execution
  • Strong and engaged communities
  • A high percentage of return usage
  • High page view per visit
  • Low bounce rate
  • Potential for successful email/mobile notification pull model
  • Majority of impressions are on pages with the user logged in
  • The wealth of personally identifiable information via user profiles
  • Need to keep a close eye on duplicate content via automated feeds or scrapers from competitors
  • Lower than average organic RPMs
  • High-profit margins
  • Impact of expert ad optimization: Very high ad revenue increase potential
  • Loyal audience

User-generated content sites have some of the highest potential across different business models. They also face the greatest risks from inappropriate content making it through moderation filters, duplicate content, fleeting communities, and stolen content. The user-generated content business model is high risk, high reward.

Related Read: Prevent Prohibited Content by Controlling User-Generated Content

2. Organic In-house Media

Jpost.com, NewYorkTimes.com, DesignSponge.com

Organic in-house media sites, when successful, tend to be the most premium sites on the web. With top-quality content and the right marketing push, in-house media sites can generate large communities that are quite loyal. Below are the type of in-house media sites you’ll see around the net:

  • News columns
  • Blogs
  • Vlogs
  • Podcasts
  • Online magazines

It’s the in-house content creators that are the key to this business model’s success. Each successful type of in-house media site shares the following traits:

  • Premium brands that advertisers pay high CPMs for
  • High percentage of staff costs.
  • High organic RPMs
  • High sell through rate for premium sales
  • Medium pageviews per visit
  • High overhead costs
  • Traffic growth is contingent on success of social media campaigns
  • Impact of expert ad optimization: Medium ad revenue increase potential
  • Medium organic traffic levels
  • High percentage of traffic from referral and direct
  • High page rank
  • More preferential treatment from ad networks
  • High engagement in the comment sections

In-house media sites benefit from strong brands, high organic RPMs, attention from premium advertisers which results in preferential treatment from ad networks. However, they also face high overhead costs, content quantity bottlenecked by the size of their content team and a brand they always have to protect. Some of the most successful in-house media sites are household names, however, not nearly as profitable as some of the other business models.

Related Read: Top 5 Ad Networks for the News Vertical

3. Curated and Aggregated Content

Mashable.com, Oodle.com

Curated content sites take full advantage of the wealth of content on the web and highlight the best content in one place. Aggregated content sites tend to consolidate all the user-generated content across many sources into one site. Each business model seems to be within the two extremes of the spectrum: Curated <-> Aggregated. Below are the type of sites you’ll find on the web that uses this business model:

  • Curated news
  • Curated media
  • Curated deals
  • Aggregated online classifieds
  • Aggregated reviews
  • Aggregated product listings
  • Niche search engines

Although curated and aggregated sites are on the opposite ends of a spectrum, they do share the below traits within this spectrum:

  • At risk of not enough unique content
  • Curated content needs to include feedback from the curator
  • Aggregated content can only display ads on the listing pages but not on the detail pages. Usually, the list items will link to detail pages on other sites to avoid duplicate content issues
  • Encourages user submissions related to the content that is aggregated and/or curated.
  • Internal search pages receive a high percentage of traffic for sites that are closer to the aggregated end of the spectrum.
  • Low organic search traffic.
  • XML ads get high CPMs and a large percentage of total ad revenues on list pages for aggregator sites.
  • Higher bounce rate
  • Lower pageviews per visit
  • Impact of expert ad optimization: Medium to low ad revenue increase potential
  • Ad networks can reject because of low unique content even if the site has high traffic levels

Curated and aggregated content sites are a great way to take advantage of content that is already popular and plentiful. It also allows the publisher to take advantage of trending topics. However, with the lack of unique content and search traffic, ad networks and advertisers can be wary about running ads on these sites. The key value is very apparent though: The best or all content in one place for users to find. There will always be a place for curated and aggregated sites especially with content across the web exponentially growing. However, there will always be a ceiling to the success of this type of business model unless the site is able to generate a significant amount of organic content from the community that they develop which has been the case in some success stories.

4. Social Viral Sites

  1. Buzzfeed.com, Boredpanda.com

Since the first real success of social viral sites, Buzzfeed.com, there have been many other sites that have copied this model and experienced a similar level of success. Listicles are the main form of content for this type of business model. Listicles are articles that list out the top X. These listicles entice clicks and have even evolved into lists of videos (Listivids?). Social media sites have been the backbone of this business model because users love sharing listicle content. These are perfect examples of the type of sites that achieve “K- factor” virality. Below are examples of sites that use this business model:

  • Listicles
  • Top X videos
  • Personality tests
  • Fun quizzes

The main goals of social viral sites are to have a high percentage of shares per visit, and high CTRs after the content is shared on social media sites. If both goals are achieved, the site will achieve high “K- factor” virality levels and a huge influx of traffic. Many of these types of sites have made a name for themselves thanks to their viral content and return users continuing to share that content. These type of sites tend to share the following traits:

  • Large percentage of social traffic
  • Low percentage of organic search traffic
  • High page views per visit for gallery posts
  • High bounce rate
  • Traffic is very dependent on shared traffic levels
  • Huge fluctuations in traffic
  • Large fluctuations in RPMs
  • Branding and social media strategy is key to drive return traffic
  • High to medium organic RPMs
  • Advertisers aren’t interested in buying premium direct display ads until the site reaches top 500 in the world.
  • Impact of expert ad optimization: Medium to high ad revenue increase potential.
  • Large percentage of revenues come from native discovery ads
  • Vulnerable to organic levels of fraudulent traffic
  • High percentage of mobile traffic

Social viral sites business models are great once you have a loyal audience. However, building that loyal audience is very difficult. With the handful of household names of social viral sites, there is a large graveyard of social viral sites that died. If you do develop a loyal audience, that audience will constantly share content to their friends and your traffic will show strong organic increases. To be successful the content must be unique, emotionally engaging and authentic. The social viral site business model has incredible upside, but reaching that upside is one of the toughest amongst the seven business models.

Related Read: How to Monetize Social Networking Sites

5. Social Monetization Platforms

  1. ViralNova.com, ChaCha.com

The social monetization platform business model is the most hidden of all seven business models. It’s this business model that has the potential to grow traffic and revenues the quickest and to the greatest heights. Social monetization platforms partner with social influencers on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and several other significant social media sites. These social influencers have huge audiences of 1 million+ subscribers and this is one of their strategies to monetize their audience. Essentially, the social monetization platform partners with these social influencers via revenue share, flat RPMs based on referred visits or even equity deals to get traffic sent from the social influencer to the social monetization platform. The content tends to be listicles similar to social viral sites. Social monetization sites tend to share the following traits:

  • Huge fluctuations in traffic
  • Large percentage of social traffic
  • Greatest potential for growth
  • Low percentage of organic search traffic
  • High page views per visit for gallery posts
  • High bounce rate
  • Traffic is very dependent on shared traffic levels
  • Large fluctuations in RPMs
  • Lower profit margins
  • Branding and social media strategy is key to drive return traffic
  • Most dependent on high RPMs and revenue per visit (RPV)
  • High organic RPMs
  • Advertisers aren’t interested in buying premium direct display ads until the site reaches top 500
  • Impact of expert ad optimization: Medium to high ad revenue increase potential
  • Large percentage of revenues come from native discovery ads
  • Vulnerable to organic levels of fraudulent traffic. Should run a fraud detection and suppression software
  • Also tends to leverage paid traffic to get an arbitrage profit. The traffic is usually bought from Taboola, Outbrain, Revcontent and several other native ad companies.
  • High percentage of mobile traffic

Social monetization platform business models have the greatest potential to grow fast. Some of the largest websites in the world are social monetization platforms. However, it is a very competitive space. The social influencers only work with the social monetization platforms that offer the highest payouts which are dependent on their RPM performance. Only the best performing and reliable social monetization platforms survive in this space. Usually paid traffic is leveraged to earn the arbitrage profit. This combined with traffic from social influencers results in huge traffic increases quickly.

6. Online Applications & Games

  1. Bored.com, MrPoll.com

The online app and game business model are the most scalable of the seven business models. Once the game or app is built, there is very little additional work needed to be done other than maintenance and upgrades. There isn’t a need to consistently build new content because the value has already been built and can deliver this value automatically. The key to success within this business model is to find your audience. Once you find your audience and if the site is sticky enough, the site will grow organically. Online app and game sites tend to share the following traits:

  • Very loyal audience
  • High shareability
  • Some issues with a lack of unique content
  • Games need to specifically use AdSense for Games to monetize within the game
  • Low organic traffic
  • Mobile apps are a complimentary offering
  • Low organic RPMs
  • Low bounce rate
  • Medium pageviews per visit
  • High time on site
  • High return traffic
  • Impact of expert ad optimization: High ad revenue increase potential.
  • High profit margins
  • Medium mobile traffic

Online app and game sites tend to be the most profitable of the seven business models. However, hitting critical traffic levels can be quite difficult. The value offered by the apps or games must be very high and unique. Every effort to cultivate a loyal audience and to increase shareability must be made. These type of sites live and die by the organic growth coming from their audiences’ referrals.

Related Read: Top 5 Ad Networks for the Gaming Vertical

7. Downloadable Content

  1. FileHippo.com, Download.com

Downloadable content is one of the business models with the highest potential. Unique downloadable content can drive huge levels of search traffic. If the downloadable content is submitted by users, then the content strategy is automated and can grow quite quickly. It’s absolutely key to have a strong moderation policy though. Any downloadable content with copyright issues, viruses/malware or inappropriate content can get you banned by Google AdSense/Ad Exchange and other ad networks. Downloadable content sites tend to share the following traits:

  • High return traffic
  • High page views per visit
  • Medium organic RPMs
  • High desktop traffic
  • Low bounce rate
  • Low shareability
  • High time on site
  • Impact of expert ad optimization: High ad revenue increase potential
  • High-profit margins
  • High risk of compliance issues
  • Strong moderation policy is essential
  • High server costs
  • Potential for download manager and referral revenue stream
  • High-profit margins

Downloadable content sites have great potential to hit critical mass at high-profit levels, however, the quality of downloadable content needs to be high and unique. Publishers must be vigilant to ensure that each piece of downloadable content has no copyright violations, viruses/malware or inappropriate content. It could take one piece of downloadable content that could get you banned by Google AdSense/AdX and other ad networks and could mean revoked ad revenues. Quality is always important but especially for downloadable content sites.

Related Read: How to Know if You Might Have Copyright Issues

Bottomline for Publishers

There you have it. If you are looking to employ one of these business models, choose the model that best fits your skills. Regardless of whether a business model has high potential, it’s important that it suits your skillset in order to achieve success. We’ve worked with every type of business model that we identified here and have seen 7 and 8 figure ad revenues for each. There is great potential for each model, and the current successful sites in each model aren’t the last ones to be successful with each model.

Stay tuned as we’ll present individual case studies for each publisher model in the coming series of blogs.

If you’d like to learn how MonetizeMore could help you achieve 7-figure ad revenues via one of these business models, please contact us here.

You can also sign-up free to Ad Exchange, or become our premium publisher.

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Kean Graham

CEO and Founder at MonetizeMore

Kean is the resident expert in Ad Optimization covering areas like Adsense Optimization, DFP Management, and third-party ad network partnerships. Kean believes in the supremacy of direct publisher deals and holistic optimization as keys to effective and consistent ad revenue increases.

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