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Joanna Witt
December 2016.
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What kind of website should I set up if I want to make money from digital trends?
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A lot of people try to set up websites to make money and the majority of them fail. It’s easy to set up a blog or vlog or even an e-commerce store, but it’s hard to make it a sustainable success. Vloggers and online personalities who have tens of millions of followers have natural, organic relationships with their viewers, but more than that are technically savvy enough to know how to maintain and monetise their reach. It’s not luck, they plan their content, they have commercial relationships with external companies, they test what works, they analyse their stats and have a real data-driven approach.

As a simple rule of thumb – if something looks easy, someone has probably worked hard to make it look easy. For that type of online megastar, it’s all down to content. To be successful as a brand yourself, you either need to be an authority or expert on a subject or have a personality that really connects with people. Most people who launch their own websites overestimate their charisma and/or the value of their knowledge.

Perhaps a better starting point is not personality, but productivity.

Many industries work with affiliates to drive business for them. An affiliate relationship is typically based on an established provider of goods or services rewarding sites who provide paying customers to them. Price comparison sites are essentially affiliate sites but there is significant scope to operate on a much smaller (but profitable scale) by providing valuable traffic to sites in industries as diverse as travel, technology, sports, and betting, among others.

It all depends on being able to win a substantial amount of traffic that you can meaningfully point towards the service/product provider. In the travel sector for example, you could launch a travel site offering advice to people travelling to a specific region and build up a trusted audience that can be invited to click through to a travel provider site with a sensible and logical on-page call to action. Of course, this approach relies on the quality of your own content and SEO. If people can’t find your site, you’re never going to make any money through advertising or affiliate relationships.

Becoming an online service provider is something that many entrepreneurs are tempted to have a go at. After all, they're smart, professional people, overheads are low, and people need their insight, right? 

“If your motivation is money, it can be hard to compete with someone driven purely by passion.”

In the majority of cases this approach will have limited success. Consumers are reluctant to buy information that they can find online for free, and in this era of content marketing, plenty of people are giving away their insights for free. This is before we even get to industry leaders like Lynda which is owned by LinkedIn and offers online courses on every topic under the sun, and the presence of individuals who share their expertise out of the sheer enjoyment of having an audience. If your motivation is money, it can be hard to compete with someone driven purely by passion.

It’s still possible to make money through e-commerce sites but you need to ensure your margins are correct and that your product is better or more interesting than anyone else. But having the best product is not enough. It’s all about discoverability and ensuring customers know you exist, which is back to SEO.

Being the best (or even cheapest) hairdresser, lawyer, dentist, plumber or tree surgeon doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be found online and win business. In today’s online arena, the most visible brand gets the business. Being first isn't enough either, as the founders of companies similar to Airbnb, Facebook and Uber have found out.

To capitalise on digital marketing trends it's important to be understand the art of the possible and where you can make a significant impact. Whether it's as an affiliate or other type of supporting player in an established industry or indeed going it alone with your own initiative, being realistic, energetic and customer-focused is key.

More than this – following the trends that you know you can monetise is more important than following trends in general. New technologies and approaches are only as valuable as the use they are put to – so be clear about what you want to do and why.