How to Make Money From Your Community/Forum Based Site

Last modified on 27th April, 2007

I recently received an email from MrBadak. His question goes something like this

we’ve been around the net around the same time but I see you took the opportunity to make an income out of it… I’ve been handling sabahrhinos.com since 1997 (this year 10 year anniversary).. all these while using my own money to fund the hosting and domain, plus my sweat.

apart from adsense, how else do you think i can make some revenue through this site ah? cuz all my members are local so not much into buying stuff but i think i do get some foreign visitors on the main page.

i appreciate your tips on this one 🙂

Lets look at several examples how much some people are making from forums.

Most people know John Chow as a blogger at JohnChow.com, probably fewer people know that he also owns a very successful tech portal at TheTechZone.com.

While TheTechZone.com has a busy forum, a first time visitor won’t realize that immediately, instead he/she will notice the more visible bargain and deals on offer on the main page. John Chow does not shy away from monetizing the site to its fullest

I read somewhere that the site is making about USD20K per month. To reach that level of income, the site gets around 30K visitors per day.

My point is, while managing a portal can be quite a profitable undertaking, having to focus on the forum alone could limit the revenue potential of the website. But of course this is just one example and it’s not a representative of all the portals/forums out there.

I am managing six forums myself but none of them is making as much money as Sabahan.com – not that this blog is making much either. The forums I manage are mostly my hobby forums that I left running without me promoting them actively.

Now back to MrBadak question, how to monetize SabahRhinos.com?

Before we can start making money, we need to identify the demographic of the communities of SabahRhinos.com. From the top of my head, I assumed most are males above 25 of age and Sabahan who support the local football club – a little rough guesstimate but you get the idea.

Armed with this info we can better serve them with relevant ads or messages that could generate income for the portal. I’ll try to answer the monetization part from SabahRhinos.com’s perspective.


1. Affiliate Program

The problem of using affiliate programs to monetize this portal is that there are not many Malaysia based companies that offer credible affiliate programs which is one thing, finding a suitable program that serves SabahRhinos.com demographic is another thing altogether.

I am sure there are some suitable programs out there but one would just have to search harder. Try joining CJ.com and look for programs that’s available for the international audience.

Forums can be profitable but only if you have a lot of members and valuable content – not to mention the correct niche that the forum should focus on.


2. Look for Local Sponsors

If you can make private arrangement with local companies and have them sponsor your site, you could be making quite a nice income or so I heard. One good example is cari.com.my – one of the most popular Malaysian portals.

I’ve tried this method myself for one of my forums but it didn’t work as well as I wish since I didn’t have a well recognized brand, and the forum was lacking the communities strength at that time. Does your site offer good value for money and a good returns on investments for potential advertisers? This is the question every portal owner should ask him/herself when looking for sponsors.


3. Seek Voluntary Donations From Members

Although this is not one of my favorite tips, others have used it and achieved some level of success.

The expenses to maintain the SabahRhinos.com have been coming out from your own pocket. Depending on your members’ loyalty, I think it’s quite fitting for them to share the burden – perhaps as a token of appreciation to you.

For larger donation you could give them something in return – a SabahRhinos.com T-shirt to encourage donations perhaps?

That said, I am not saying that you should expect something in return but this is one way to help you keep the site running.


4. Sell Text Link Ads and Sponsors for Forum sub section.

There is money to be made by selling text link ads. You can place the them on your homepage or at suitable section in the forum.

You can also find sponsors for the forum sub-section and place a sponsor ad there. I used to see such arrangement at autoworld.com.my


5. Optimize your AdSense placement.

You could probably improve your AdSense income by optimizing your AdSense placement in the forum. Check out the six AdSense optimization tips for forums.


6. Offer Paid Subscription

If you can come up with premium features, services and content for members you could offer a paid subscription model in return for an access to those premium content. You could charge them a one time fee or on a monthly basis.

This list is in no way definitive but it will point you to the right direction if you are willing to give them a try. Like everything else, making money from a community based portal is not easy. You need tons of traffic, good content and use the correct monetizing methods to succeed.

One of the most successful forums is DigitalPoint.com forum which is making $10,000 a month from Google AdSense alone. Shawn Hogan, the founder shares the revenue with users a win-win arrangement for both parties. He was featured in an article (free registration required) for the New York times last year.


An engineer by training, Victor has been working full-time online as an Internet marketer, a programmer and an app developer since 2001. He has been blogging at Sabahan.com since 2006 sharing his experience and teaching people how to make money online. Click here to join his private Facebook Group for bloggers.

  • Good ideas thank you. I haven’t hit the bricks looking for local sponsors but I do have a special section in my forum for them


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  • I think locally, it is hard to monitize site unless you are in the advertising market.

    My Malaysia Classifieds at http://www.syiok.com is getting most income from adsense which solely depends on adsense. Therefore placement is important.

    Tried emailing some developers for local sponsor, but have no luck up till now.

    Also, text link is earning some small amount.

    No luck on donation as well.

    As a result, only 4 and 5 works in Malaysia.

  • shah says:

    nice info. For me forum is hard to make money because people go there just for fun. not to find info like reading blog

  • mrBadak says:

    thx for your answer gaman.

    based on your advice, the first thing i need to do is to get to know the demographics of my loyal visitors and also the one-off visitors.

    i’ve thought of donation but i don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right. maybe i’ll try to do this later this year.

    actually i’ve done TLA on the main page but no takers since February… it doesn’t show because no sponsors yet. fyi the site has a PR4.

    your answers have trickled my brain of some ideas.. i’ll implement them soon and hopefully it will be successful.

    thanks again!

  • hongkiat says:

    IMO, there’s no way to generate revenues without a fairly good amount of traffics.

  • ehem says:

    Nice tips..but I don’t think #6 will work with local site

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