Because I run my own Internet company, I often get asked the best way to make money online. Oddly enough, I have no good answer for that question. I was able to be successful mostly because I got in on the ground floor (back in 1995). I started by creating web pages for small businesses for $50-$100 each, plus I offered hosting for them. Although being a web designer allowed me to run my own business from home, I still was being paid hourly and had the pressure of constantly trying to get new customers. For a few weeks I even hired somebody to do telemarketing for me for $10/hour. He did not own a computer and had never even been on the Internet, but he would randomly call local companies from the Yellow Pages for me and ask them if they were interested in putting their business online. If they expressed an interest, I would then call them back and close the deal. This actually worked pretty well, but back then most small businesses did not want to spend much money on building a site as they would now. So I decided it was not worth the time and effort to convince people to create websites, just for the small amount of money I would make from it.
I also ran several online directories (this was before Yahoo and Google were around), where I charged people $20/month to advertise their website. One directory was for inventors (at inventing.com) and the other was for multi-level marketers (at cashflow.com). Most inventors and multi-level marketers did not have websites, so to get listed in my directory, they paid me an additional fee to build and host a web page for them. I was able to get a steady flow of customers from this, but the problem was that most inventors and multi-level marketers were very cheap, so it was a big task for me each month to try to collect the $20/month, even though I was generating lots of leads for them. Only around half of them ended up paying, although it cost me nothing to run the sites so it was all profit for me.
After a few years of being a web designer and web host, I saw all the sales my clients were getting from the pages I made for them and I decided I would be better off creating sites for myself instead. By then I had built up a portfolio of several hundred domain names, all of which were sitting there unused, so I decided to develop them. Domain names used to cost $35/year from Network Solutions, so I could only afford so many of them. I bought some by doing what is now known as drop catching, which is where you buy domains right after they expire (when the owner does not pay the bill). There was no exact science to doing this, but I used to sit around and type really good domains into my browser, and then if I saw the domain did not work, I would assume it was because the bill was unpaid. I would then lookup the domain in the whois system and see if it was past due. If it was, I would add it to my list. Each morning I would then check all the domains on my list to see if they were suddenly available, and if one was, I would grab it. Network Solutions used to take the domains back around 4am-5am (Eastern Time) each morning, so I would make sure to get up by then and frantically keep typing in my list of domains one by one to try to buy them. That is how I bought Bored.com. I would also sometimes find good domains that nobody ever registered before. For example, I remember trying to decide between buying MtEverest.com and MountEverest.com. I choose the shorter version, but I of course should have bought both.
Domain parking companies did not exist at that time, so I setup my own parking type pages, where I basically found a bunch of relevant links for a domain and listed them on a one page. It was like a page of Google search results, but before Google was around. So, people going to MtEverest.com would be presented with lots of great Mt Everest related sites they probably did not know anything about. I then would add a few affiliate links to the top of each page, if I could fine any related to that topic. The domains did well in the search engines, but there were so few affiliate programs back then it was hard to make much money from it.
I decided to try something a little different with Bored.com. People were always asking me for links to good sites, so I decided make a list of them on Bored.com, and that way I could just tell people to go there to find links they would like. I started with only 5-10 links, but once Bored.com started getting popular I would add 1-2 new links every month. You can click here to see a version of Bored.com from 1998. The site did not make any significant money though, because there were no ad networks back then that I could use, and I didn’t want to deal with selling ads myself. In the early 2000’s I was able to find some affiliate programs that were a good fit for the site (like free offers and contests, since bored people tend be interested in things like that), and Bored.com began making a few thousand dollars a month.
As the Internet grew in the early 2000’s, so did the number of visitors to Bored.com, and I was able to run ads from major ad networks such as DoubleClick. That increased income significantly, and I decided that instead of linking to other sites and giving them all the free traffic and ad income, I would be better off creating my own sites to link to instead. This also solved another problem I had, which was that sites I linked to would frequently go out of business, be offline temporarily due to server problems, or change their content so it would no longer be appropriate for me to link to. The only downside was that I had previously only spent a few hours a month running Bored.com, and it cost me nothing to run it. Building my own sites took a lot of time and I had to hire programmers for it. I started off paying a programmer in Texas $65/hr to do the work for me, and he was great, but over the years I was able to find overseas programmers in places like Romania and India to do the same exact work for $5-$10/hr, and even some college students in the USA for that price, so eventually I had around 5 programmers working for me, a full time web designer, plus a few other people doing various projects. This allowed me to come out with 5-10 new sites every month to add to Bored.com, and each of these sites earned additional money because they had the built-in traffic from Bored.com. The sites also would get their own search engines listings, bringing more traffic to Bored.com. By 2007, Bored.com was getting around 70,000 visitors per day and making a profit of around $35,000/month.
The only problem with all of this was that in addition to running Bored.com, I also had dozens of other sites to run, I had to manage all the workers, and deal with constant hassles of running a business (paying bills, payroll, insurance, phone calls, emails, servers, customer service, contracts, taxes, etc.). After 10 years of doing this 7 days a week, I decided to sell Bored.com. I ended up selling it, along with 170 related sites, for $4.5 million ($3 million after the broker’s commission and income taxes).
So, that is the story of how I made money online. But, other than sites that were related to Bored.com, almost none of the sites I created or bought in the past few years made any significant money. This might be my fault, in that I didn’t promote them well, but I think it is much harder to get a good site noticed nowadays. That is not to say that there is not money to be made online though, because of course there are plenty of people who recently started sites that became successful. The good thing though that is is much easier, faster, and cheaper to start a website than it used to be. It is certainly worth trying any ideas you have, because you never know what will catch on.