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Mirco-Charging For Your Content

by Jason M. DesRoches

It's not exactly news that Internet ad spending has taken a hit on the nose over the past year. Many webmasters still cling to the hope that the average banner CPMs for mass reach banner networks will crawl out of their current rut, and at least start hitting whole numbers again. New ad gimmicks such as pop-up pages, and tower ads are being rolled out by these “mass reach value networks” to help supplement revenues. Websites that once made their money solely on CPMs are now seeking out CPC and CPA programs. It's getting rough out there, and it will take more than wishful thinking to turn around one's revenue stream. Some of these methods may indeed help to keep your revenue afloat for some time, but how much longer can these creative new ad methods last, before they too go the way of the banner? A more long-term method of securing your revenue might just very well be micro-charging your visitors.

Just what is a micro-charge? Well, basically a micro-charge is just another way of saying “charge your visitors a very small amount of money”. If you were to charge your visitors a small monthly fee to view your content, or supply an additional benefit to your web site's paying members, then they might be willing to pay a small fee. A $1.00 monthly membership fee could go a very long way towards supplementing your website's banner revenue. If the average visitor to your website views only 100 pages a month, and your website's CPM is under $1.00, then a $1.00 monthly access fee would earn you 10x more per visitor then by running advertising banners.

Understandably, not everyone is willing to pay to view a website. There are several factors that can directly contribute to your visitor's comfort level. Possibly they don't feel safe handing their credit card information to a web database, or maybe they just don't like the idea of paying for something that they feel should be free. However, there are a few things that you can do to help improve your visitor's comfort level with purchasing a membership to your site.

1. Create a Visible Privacy Policy.
It is important to have an official privacy policy for your website if you plan on charging for a membership. A privacy policy will inform your visitors of your billing practices, and what happens to the information that they submit to you. Be sure that your privacy policy is always viewable, especially on the page of purchase. If you do not already have one, you can create one for free at: http://www.truste.org/wizard/

2. Own a Domain Name.
If you are attempting to sell a product or service on the web, and you're still operating from a free server without a domain name, your chances of success are low. Domain names can be purchased for as low as $10 per year and are an absolute must for survival. It's true that it is much more difficult to find a good domain name then it was a few years ago, however a slew of tools have been released that aid in creating unique name combinations. You can find several of these domain generators at: http://www.123webmaster.com/Online_Tools/Domain_Lookups/

3. Maintain a Professional Appearance.
Ok, this should be obvious. If your font faces are all over the place, your site takes a very long time to load, or if any part of your page just looks sloppy, it will be hard to win your visitor's trust, and to gain a purchase, there must absolutely be trust. If you don't have the budget to hire a professional designer, you might want to look into the free template scene. Bigresources.com's own Freewebtemplates offers a variety of free business templates that needs only your content to complete it. You can check out the business category of Freewebtemplates at: http://freewebtemplates.com/templates/business/

4. Have Content Worth Buying.
Once all of the above is achieved, you need to give your visitors a reason to want to buy a membership. If you are offering information that can basically be found just about anywhere else, your visitors probably won't buy from you. You're going to need a large collection of unique information, which will need to be updated frequently (why would your visitors pay monthly for information that never changes?) It's always a good idea to offer some of your content for free as an appetite wetter, and also to give your non-members a reason to come back a few times, and give them the opportunity to become comfortable and familiar enough with your site to want more.

We've now discussed why you would want to micro-charge your visitors, and how to get them interested, but one important thing remains, how do you process your visitor's charges? One solution would be to open up a merchant account, and coordinate billing with your bank. However this solution obviously isn't for everyone. For those of you that want a simpler solution, you might want to look at http://www.webcredit.com, http://www.paypal.com, http://www.ccbill.com, or check out http://www.123webmaster.com/Commerce_Center/Online_Billing/ for more billing providers.

A sharp decline in banner CPMs has been felt by a large number of Internet companies, and many of the former “big spenders” have gone belly up. While you're free to take your chances on the recovery of banner CPMs, or try to look for new opportunities such as pop-up advertisements, tower ads, and affiliate programs, I would strongly suggest evaluating your site's content and ask yourself “is this something my visitors would pay a small monthly fee to access”? If you find the answer to be a resounding yes, you should then ask yourself “how much more of my page should I sacrifice to flashy ads if my visitors are willing to pay”?

Discussion - Affiliate & Ad Programs