How I made a website with Google AdSense to earn passive income
- Created and monetized by Avi Wilensky Hail, an app that compares taxi and ridesharing prices.
- He says that placing ads on his site was easy and now he receives payouts every month.
- Wilensky says infrastructure costs need to be kept down and new technologies can drive costs down further.
This essay is based on a conversation with Avi Wilensky, a web developer from New York City, about how he created and monetized this High. hail internet application. It has been edited for length and clarity.
In a weekend in 2014, I created a simple website that compares taxi and ridesharing prices. The place called “Up Hail” is described as “the kayak of ground transportation”. It helps users compare prices between Uber, Lyft, taxis, and other modes of transportation.
Up Hail never had any intention of making money or becoming a company – it was not intended to be anything more than a weekend side project and free resource on the internet. But by luck and coincidence, Mashable named it after her List of the best web tools this year. This motivated me to add some new features and optimize the site for search engines.
Thousands of people are now coming from organic search and earned media every day, and traffic monetization ads placed on the site have resulted in steady earnings in the six figures and upwards.
For the most part, through automation, the site runs on its own and is a passive source of income. The only operational costs are for AWS, which is less than $100 per month.
The idea for Up Hail came to me the same year I started the website, in the early days of ride-hailing and ride-sharing
The big players in this space expanded quickly but were not yet widespread. I was planning a trip outside of New York City and wasn’t sure if there was service in that area. I couldn’t find any good resources with the information I was looking for either on the internet or in Google search results.
My research uncovered the trend of other people searching for the same information. When a lot of people are searching for something and there aren’t many resources that fulfill those searches, there’s potential for a new niche opportunity. To fill the niche, I created a simple directory listing the services available and prices in each city.
I started creating the website by sketching a rough draft on paper in the waiting room of a doctor’s office
I find that designing on paper eliminates the distractions of a software application and allows me to focus on core functionality. Also, my background in web development gave me the opportunity to create the first version of the app without having to hire external resources or invest anything other than my time.
I then used my hand-drawn sketches to create some low-fidelity wireframes on the computer using Balsamiq software, eliminating the distractions of color and design and allowing you to focus on the layout. It’s easy to use and I recommend it to anyone who wants to create an app or website.
For other types of projects I would normally leave the wireframes to a professional designer – but since I initially thought of Up Hail as a tedious side project with no budget, I took matters into my own hands. I used some off-the-shelf Twitter front-end components called Bootstrap to create a basic front-end UI based on the wireframes. I then created a simple backend by setting up an inexpensive virtual server, database, and Python-based web framework with the business logic.
I bought the domain name (uphail.com) for $12 and pointed it to the new server. This was the origin of the first version. The site has been announced on several websites and forums that publicize the launch of new products. After that I didn’t do anything else on the site for several months as my customer service business kept me busy.
Months later, I randomly poked around in Google Analytics to check the progress of this site I almost forgot
I noticed a huge spike in traffic in a single day and kept clicking to investigate. It turned out to be lucky that Mashable included the site in its annual list of the best web products.
I was shocked to see that this shabby website that I cobbled together over a few days had taken off. That gave me the validation I needed to do better. I came up with some new features and added them to the site. I gave the site a new design and optimized the pages for search engines.
The efforts soon paid off and users discovered the site through organic searches. Other major media companies also featured the site, and this deserved media helped boost search visibility. It wasn’t long before several thousand users were visiting the site every day.
The next step was to monetize those eyeballs by embedding ads on the website
To get the ads up and running, all it took was signing up for a Google AdSense account, getting approval, and copying and pasting code into the pages. From then on, Google pays a lump sum into my account every month – even if I’m not working on the site or making any changes to it.
Here are four tips I recommend for setting up a passive income web application:
1. Automate your infrastructure
One of my favorite quotes comes from Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon: “Everything breaks all the time.” My website used to experience frequent outages. Downtime is not only embarrassing, it also results in an inability to serve ads, resulting in lost revenue for the business. Outages can also affect a website’s performance in search engines.
For this reason, it is imperative that websites are well structured for high availability. Automation keeps a website running smoothly and makes it more resilient to failures, resulting in less infrastructure time and revenue disruption. If your website goes down while you’re asleep or on vacation and isn’t able to repair itself, your passive revenue stream will evaporate until you step in and fix the problem.
I wasted countless hours manually testing to keep the servers running. Lesson learned: Focus on the product, not the web infrastructure. As new updates are made to the site code, automated checks take place before the code can be sent to production. Automation alerts you when there are problems in production that need to be fixed.
2. Monetize your website with advertising networks
When I first started monetizing the Up Hail site through ads, my approach to keeping revenue passive was that I didn’t have to waste time selling ad space directly to advertisers, collecting payments, validating clicks, etc.
This is where an ad network came in – using a network to sell ad space keeps the whole process passive. I chose Google’s AdSense, which is a leader in this area, but there are others.
The way ad networks work is to auction off website properties to the highest bidder. The network is also responsible for providing users with the most relevant ads that maximize profits. The network takes a significant portion of the revenue for these services, but also does all the work. Once a month they transfer the earnings straight to my bank account.
Signing up and getting started is self-service, free, and open to almost anyone. In the past, creating and placing ad units on web pages required a significant amount of manual configuration. Today, however, the entire process is fully automated.
3. Keep user acquisition costs low
For many publishers who make money from advertising, the economics of buying traffic—and then monetizing that traffic through ads—won’t work. If you have a website and all of your traffic comes from Google Ads and Facebook Ads and your only monetization opportunity is through display advertising, you’re probably deep in the red.
My approach was to find cheaper ways to acquire traffic, such as through organic channels. Most of Up Hail’s traffic comes from organic search, and I put a lot of emphasis on SEO during the website development phase.
There are tens of thousands of pages on the site and each page is optimized for different unique keywords. This “long-tail” approach allowed my website to be visible in search right from the start.
New websites usually take some time to rank for highly competitive terms. However, with non-competitive niche terms, you can see results almost immediately. Mentions in the press and media coverage are another good source of unpaid traffic that improves search visibility, but takes some work and persistence.
4. Keep infrastructure costs down
The economics of this type of passive income business is due to the minimal cost of running it online. The largest monthly recurring expense is incurred by the cloud provider, which correlates with usage and data traffic. For a small web publishing business, net monthly income can be as simple as advertising revenue minus hosting costs.
All major public cloud providers such as AWS or Microsoft Azure have a utility pricing model with free plans for most services. If you don’t have visitors, the hosting cost should be zero or close to zero.
With this democratization of infrastructure, everyone has access to the same enterprise products as the largest corporations, and you only pay for what you use. This allows you to take risks and deploy applications and websites without being tied to fixed, recurring overheads.
New technologies have further reduced my costs. Since moving from servers to a serverless architecture, my hosting costs have dropped from a few hundred dollars a month to around $100.
If I had to pay a significant amount each month to keep the machines running, I probably would have abandoned the project after the first few months and the company would never have realized its potential.
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