Contrary to popular belief, there’s no “easy” way to make money online. However, with just a few essentials like the internet, your computer or laptop and a bit of knowledge, you can make it happen even without much experience in the matter. Whether you’re just hoping to legally make some extra cash on the side or looking to make money online while working from home full-time, we’re here to help.
If you’re only hoping to sell old vinyl on eBay or flogging knackered paperbacks on Amazon, you might want to look elsewhere. We've done our research and trawled the web to put together this list of new, exciting and innovative ways in which technology can help you make money. We'll also explore topics such as human intelligence tasks – jobs that computers and software can't do, but are vital to the functioning of an electronic business.
So find that perfect spot at home where you’re most productive, take a look at these ideas and get ready to make money online.
Computers have removed lots of boring and repetitive tasks from the workplace, but they've created a fair few, too, which gives us an opportunity to make money online quickly and reasonably easily.
For example there's Amazon's Mechanical Turk (opens in new tab) comes in. Small tasks that can't be performed by software are farmed out to its subscribers, who turn the job around for a few cents at a time.
That name? It's from an 18th century sideshow attraction. A chess-playing robot was toured around Europe, amazing audiences with its apparent skill. It was, however, controlled by a human hidden from view.
The micro-jobs that are tendered at Mechanical Turk (called HITs or human intelligence tasks) could be any quick, computer-related duty.
In a typical session, a user might do a bit of data entry or fill in a questionnaire. The more HITs you complete in the allotted time, the more you earn. With many HITs offered at just a few cents a task, it requires dedication to earn a crust – but there are advantages, too.
You can work from home doing as much or as little as you want, at any time of day you want. And tasks that require more thought and effort pay more.
If Mechanical Turk's rewards seem too paltry, there are similar, more specialised services to choose from.
MicroWorkers (opens in new tab) offers higher rates, but the tasks are in the grey marketing category, with HITs requiring that you sign up for dating sites and blogs, or review items on Amazon.
Meanwhile CloudCrowd (opens in new tab) is an unusual-looking enterprise. You sign up through Facebook and much of the work on offer is proofreading and translation-based.
Human intelligence tasks pay up to $3, though many of the jobs on offer are less. Payment is through PayPal and support is offered through Get Satisfaction.
Finally, there's Just Answer (opens in new tab). The model here is a little different, but still nestles in the same broad category as other HIT sites. Here, you get to use your expertise to answer live queries from users.
Of course, you need some qualifications in the field you choose and your credentials are displayed to users. The system works on a bidding basis. As a provider, you scan the listings for live questions you can answer.
If you can help, you set a price. It's up to the user whether they agree to pay that price or continue looking for a better deal. New providers take 25% of the fee, while more seasoned experts get a 50% cut.
1. Advertise on your website
The easiest way to start serving ads from your site, and earning money, is Google's AdSense (opens in new tab). A chunk of code is provided for you to paste into your site when you sign up.
People browsing your site see adverts that fit its content and keywords. The cash-per-click model means that every time a visitor clicks on a link, you get a share of the fee the advertiser paid.
Google doesn't publicise the exact percentage of the pie that you'll get, but some keywords offer a bigger slice than others.
Don't already have a website? Check out our guide on the best website builder software.
Some AdSense users have seen earnings over £1,000 ($1,300, AU$1,700) a month. It's hard to track which keywords are the real winners, even though there are several blogs and websites that claim to list the highest paying AdSense keywords.
Is it worth shelling out for these lists? You can use Google's own AdWords tool to suggest related keywords for free. It'll help you optimise your content for more targeted ads.
Don't click ads on your own page, and don't think asking your friends to click on them will help you either. Google considers this click fraud, and employs sophisticated tracking mechanisms to protect its revenue. You're more likely to get a swift, permanent ban than any extra income.
If you want to make money with AdSense, just make good, consistent content aimed at a small audience.
For more control over ads, try affiliate linking. You either take a percentage of all the sales you refer to the service provider, or you get simple cash for clicks.
Amazon Associates (opens in new tab) is a highly visible example. Sign up for access to tools that let you create banners, badges and text links to any item on the site – just make sure the products you choose are relevant to the content you already carry.
When someone clicks an Amazon affiliate link on your site, you'll get nine per cent of the cash they spend. Easy money.
2. Upload videos
Technically, with one of the best webcams and a couple of other crucial PC accessories, anyone can make a home video for publication online. You can upload video at HD resolutions on YouTube, for example – and the service takes care of the compression at various resolutions for you.
YouTube also accepts video in QuickTime, MPEG, Windows Media format or as an AVI file. Keep in mind that HD resolution is 1920 x 1080, so there's no point going over that. Once you've clicked the 'Upload' button, it's really straightforward.
The tough part isn't making videos – it's growing an audience. You'll need that audience to make money. It's easy to see which are YouTube's most popular videos. Go to YouTube's Charts webpage (opens in new tab), where you can pick the most viewed videos.
There are several common threads. First, cuteness. Cute kids and cute animals. If it's funny as well as cute, it's YouTube gold. The number one video of all time is the infamous 'Charlie bit my finger'.
One way to hedge your bets is to ride the slipstream. For a short time, Rebecca Black parodies and mashups were nearly as popular on YouTube as the original video. Catch the next viral smash at the beginning of its ascent, then make a video that rides its coat-tails and your efforts will benefit from the reflected glory.
It's tricky to time correctly but pays dividends if you do. Instructional videos do well, too, but that subject really deserves a separate discussion because there's an entire secondary market in tutorial videos.
Get the video views and those eyeballs on your work can be translated into cash. The YouTube Partner Program (opens in new tab) enables you to place advertising on your clips and earn money for every viewing.
Be aware, though, that it's really tough to get in. What's more, YouTube doesn't reveal hard figures but it does publish testimonials.
For more information on getting started, check out our YouTube tips and tricks for beginners guide.
3. Sell your photos
Digital photography enjoys a brilliant synergy with PCs and the web. Millions of us enjoy uploading pictures to photo sites such as Flickr (opens in new tab), or sharing images with friends on Facebook and Twitter.
That's not all you can do, though – with a little extra work, you could be earning cash with your camera taking stock photographs and selling them online.
There are two markets in stock photography. At the high end are images produced by professionals. These include shots of news events, celebrities and difficult setups. Usage rights for these sell for hundreds.
Your entry point is through microstock – where royalty-free images are licensed for commercial use at very low prices, from which you take a percentage cut.
Like many other online enterprises, this is a volume business, with pennies per sale rather than pounds. The key is to create popular images that lots of people will want to use.
Handily, several microstock sites publish guidelines revealing exactly what kinds of image they're after and what they don't want. iStockPhoto (opens in new tab) for example, reveals that seasonal themes and corporate imagery are big sellers, while shots of fruit on white backgrounds are passé.
However, the main requirement is that your shots should be well composed, at a sufficiently high resolution, well lit and in focus. Basic photography skills will serve you well here.
Other potential markets include Shutterpoint (opens in new tab). This is a community-orientated stock repository, with a 'stack 'em high, sell it low' ethos that works well if you can produce popular images that will sell in volume.
Another particularly good bet is Shutterstock (opens in new tab), a more formal and established presence that enables you to make up to $30 for each image sold – and images can be sold for use multiple times.
If you'd rather go straight for the higher end of the market, you can sell your photography direct to users from your own site. PhotoShelter (opens in new tab) offers a set of tools that enable you to do so, taking care of digital photo storage and payment systems, while you have control over what you sell. The catch is a fixed fee, from $9.99 a month.
We've got loads of photography how to articles which can help you improve your photos for a better chance of making money out of them.
4. Publish an ebook
Self-published ebooks are an ideal format for niche ideas and a good way to make money online. Secrets of mind reading and make-up techniques of the stars are ideal topics. Arcane expertise could net you a profit, too.
Perhaps you rebuilt an old car from scratch. There are probably a few hundred other people who'd tackle the same project with your guidance.
Self-publishing with ebooks is easier than ever – especially with iTunes and Kindle publication now real options. You don't even have to create a special format for Kindle books.
The Kindle Direct Publishing program (opens in new tab) accepts digital manuscripts in plain text, HTML or Microsoft Word DOC formats. That's the older Word format, by the way, not DOCX.
You can use PDF, but Amazon book publishers have reported problems with formatting.
There's a form to fill in, enabling you to categorise the book, add an ISBN and add Digital Rights Management.
Authors report that making changes to the submission after the fact is laborious, so make sure every detail is correct and your text has been proofread. Next you set a price and keep 70% of the mark-up from every sale.
Formatting books for Apple iBooks – the free book store app for the iPad – is more involved. You need to output to the ePub protocol, supported in Apple's Pages application, Adobe InDesign.
Alternatively, you can convert to ePub using the open source tool Calibre (opens in new tab). From there, the submission system is similar to KDP.
One final service that is more than worth a mention is Smashwords (opens in new tab). It makes the process of publishing to multiple formats and outlets easier – and it accepts digital manuscripts in DOC format.
With one submission to Smashwords, you can have that all-important ISBN number sorted out and publish your book to the Nook and Sony's eReader store, as well as the Smashwords site. It even publishes to Apple iBooks.
5. Peer-to-peer lending
Peer-to-peer lending, or social banking, uses the principle of crowd-sourcing. Let's say you want to borrow a couple of grand to start an online T-shirt business.
Sign up to Zopa (opens in new tab) and you can get a loan at a very attractive rate of interest, plus a flat fee.
The money comes from a network of lenders, not a bank, and it pays to be a lender, too. At Zopa, for example, the average return at the time of writing is 5.0%, which is actually a lot better than most short-term savings accounts.
What if a borrower can't pay back the money? So far, Zopa has done pretty well on that front, with a paltry 0.28 per cent default rate. But your investment doesn't go to one person – it's seeded throughout the community at no more than £10 per borrower.
If one person defaults, it'll have little impact on your return as a lender. Zopa is the frontrunner in this area, but other sites offer a similar service.
You may get a better return from Funding Circle (opens in new tab), for example. The main difference for borrowers is that there's no flat fee. Instead, a portion of the loan is paid to the service.
Funding Circle prefers business customers, while Zopa is open to anyone who has a good credit rating.
You can get a better return if you're willing to take a higher risk. That's how it works at FundingKnight (opens in new tab).
Borrowers post loan requests and you can choose who you want to lend money to. You put in a bid for that loan, setting your own interest rate. The return on investments averages at 10.8 per cent, but although all borrowers are screened, it's somewhat riskier than lending to the crowd.
If a borrower defaults, a debt collector may called in to pursue your investment.