How to make money with a news website

For centuries, newspapers and magazines have dominated the world of publishing and journalism. Before the creation of the internet, print media was the primary way for publishers to reach out to the masses, and for the everyday person to keep up with the latest news both locally and internationally.

Back in the day, newspapers and magazines were revolutionary. But everything has changed now, and is still changing – journalism has undergone a dramatic shift led by technology and the net. Today, most news publishers are focusing their attention on building digital and online presences

Consumers want to access news stories straight away, and they can do that through the internet. However, while there’s certainly an opportunity for digital-first journalism outfits to attract new readers, there are still challenges. Monetisation is one of them. 

Unsurprisingly, news publishers are trying a range of different techniques and mechanisms to bring in the big bucks. Here are some of the ways news websites are making money both online and offline.

Online, on the site

While there are still plenty of print publications around, the main focus of most publishers is the online domain. Not only is it cheaper and more sustainable to have online operations, but it’s also a better way to reach out to readers. And when it comes to advertising, every new or returning visitor is a potential source of revenue.

Visit any free online publication, and you’ll no doubt find a plethora of different advertisements. From banners to sponsored hyperlinks, advertising is the main source of revenue for most news websites. Companies can pay a straight fee to publishers to place adverts on their websites, although pay-per-click (PPC) is also popular.

In the case of the latter, an advertiser pays the news company whenever an on-site ad is clicked. The likes of Google Ads and Microsoft Bing Ads are commonly associated with PPC, and they’ve made huge profits by placing adverts on websites. 

Companies may be able to make big bucks through advertising, but there are challenges. Not all readers are happy to be inundated with adverts on a website, so they resort to using ad blockers. These are pieces of software that automatically block advertising content on websites and apps.

There are other on-site sources of revenue, though. Some large news organisations have resorted to using paywalls with their websites, which require readers to sign up for a subscription so that they can access premium content (or any content at all, in some cases). These have been met with mixed responses, but the basic idea is that all online content should come at a premium. Companies also pay publishers to run sponsored advertorial content.

A site’s web ranking can impact revenues, too. Increasingly, publishers are investing in SEO experts and practices to help get their sites at the top of search engine listings. As an integral part of internet marketing, SEO plays on the mechanisms of how search engines work, using things like optimal keywords to increase the website’s ranking. (Incidentally, we’ve got some tips on how to improve your website’s Google ranking here).

Online, off the site

Of course, publishers have other online real-estate to consider as well. In particular, social media is a big part of the puzzle when it comes to success in online journalism. By having a presence on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, news sites can gain more readers. And the more followers a media brand has, the bigger the opportunity to make money.

As well as running sponsored content online, news publishers have been known to run advertisements and promotions on their social media feeds. This works well for publications that have amassed a significant amount of organic followers over the years. Although there are question marks about ethics in this area at times, such activity is typically clearly labelled as ‘sponsored’. 

Using social media is a way for publishers to market their own content and get links clicked as well. Many of the big social networks offer companies the ability to promote their content, which is a quick and easy way to target the right audience. Using special sponsor tools, publishing professionals and journalists can push out content to the most relevant people, something that works well for publications covering specialist niches.

Offline, on-brand

To succeed in 21st century journalism, publishers need to be digital-savvy, but that’s not to say they shouldn’t do anything to make money in the offline arena. There are a range of organisations out there that want to connect with their readers and build brand understanding in real-life scenarios.

Events and conferences are a popular way to do just that. You’ll find lots of publications out there that run their own specialist events. Whether they are a regular or one-off occurrence, events give publishers a way to seriously up their profile, and to sign up top companies as sponsors. 

Some websites run their own award events, and these can happen in both B2B and B2C contexts. A website covering consumer goods may recognise the best products of the year, while a typical business news website may hand out awards to the most promising entrepreneurs and startups. Whatever the case, companies usually come on board as corporate sponsors.

Offline, off-brand

Although there’s an emphasis placed on news organisations and publishers promoting their own brands and building up readership, some outsource their services to third-party companies. Usually, publishers that take on consultancy work have substantial resources available. 

Publishers often undertake consultancy work in specialist departments and keep it separate from their own content. Third-party brands will pay proven publishers to create original content to promote products and services. Brand content can be anything from feature-length articles to advertising campaigns. 

By going with the consultancy arm of a respected publisher, companies have access to journalists and other media professionals who are at the top of their game. That said, content doesn’t always come down to the written word. In a bid to boost revenue, firms can also offer expertise in fields such as photography, filmography and online marketing. 

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about how online publications are killing journalism as we know it. The big question is: how do tech-savvy publishers monetise content if consumers are unwilling to pay for it? Despite the challenges here, publishers are certainly finding ways to do this, and there’s no doubt that we’ll see new tactics emerge in the future as the industry continues to change.

Nicholas Fearn is a freelance technology journalist and copywriter from the Welsh valleys. His work has appeared in publications such as the FT, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, The Next Web, T3, Android Central, Computer Weekly, and many others. He also happens to be a diehard Mariah Carey fan!