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As of July 20th 2009, I’ve received over $8,500 so far from Ebay. But the beauty is I didn’t actually sell anything. That’s right, Ebay sent me the money for referring buyers to their site. Since several of my fellow bloggers have asked me how to go about making money from ebay, I’ve put together this short how-to article that I hope will help you.

How Does the Ebay Affiliate Program (EPN) Work?

Back in April I built several niche sites to that specifically targeted to specific niches like gold coins, iphones and ipod batteries. Several weeks ago, I also added an “investment store” on this site that sells cheap timeshares, real estate and income-producing websites.

Ebay pays a commission based on the final sales price of the item. It usually varies between 5-10%. For items like cars and real estate, there is a flat fee which is over $100! I just received $175 from the sale of a $4,000 rental property in Ohio and another $135 from the sale of a used car. And it wasn’t any old used car, someone sold a rolls royce on ebay!

Additionally, if someone signs up as a new user, Ebay pays up to $35 (although its typically only $25). It also gives up to 75% (although 50% is more usual) of it commissions to affiliates who refer buyers. You can get more affiliate information here.

How Do You Create A Niche Site?

The toughest part of creating a niche site is identifying the niche. Ideally, you want a well-searched for niche that doesn’t have a lot of competition. For example, “discount designer doo-dahs” is a niche. But is it a good one? Good luck figuring that out on your own. However, there are a lot of tools to help you do this. Some people recommend Keyword Elite and I have it and use it. But there are several other tools, some of which require a one-time fee and others that charge a monthly subscription to use. If you already have one and are seeing good results with it, then it should be sufficient.

The niche sites aggregate the RSS feeds from Ebay for related products and display them. Luckily, I didn’t have to do the programming. In fact, creating the site is the easiest part of the whole process. I just bought the BANS (Build-A-Niche-Site) software that does everything for me. It did cost $97 but considering that I’ve made over $8,000 from ebay so far (as of July 2009), I’d say it was a pretty good investment.

Several people have told me that they were rejected or they had accounts and got banned. While its not widely understood why a lot of people have been rejected, its not too difficult to understand. If you submit thin-sites to the EPN there is a higher likelyhood of getting rejected. (A thin site is a site with no content, just affiliate links).  Always submit your flagship blog to EPN. If you’re using BANS on another store (as this blog does) make sure you’re selling related products. Note that this blogs’ store doesn’t anything that I don’t have at least 10 posts on. (Of course, I have 800 posts so finding a related product is pretty easy!). But if you’re blogging about cooking and trying to sell bicycle parts, it just doesn’t make sense. Effectively, you’ve conveyed to the EPN team your complete lack of experience in online marketing and understanding of how online traffic conversion works. Once you’ve been approved, then you can start multiple sites on different products. But make sure each site is targeted towards a specific product and make sure you understand the marketing part (which I’ve discussed below).

So make sure you have relevant content. How do you create relevant content? Either you write it, you pay someone to write it, or you use a tool to aggregate other people’s tweets or posts. Make sure you don’t just outright steal content – that will not only result in bad karma, you will also get flagged by the search engines for duplicate content!  One tool I’ve seen been used on sites that Google has not banned (de-indexed) is WPanswers.  It’s only $29.99 and comes with a 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee. I just bought it and I’ll let you know if I see any adverse effects from it.

Buying A Cheap Domain With Cheap Hosting

I also had to pay for domain names, but Godaddy had a 99 cent sale on domains so that wasn’t much of a cost. I also use 1 & 1 for domain name registration because they sometimes have specials. I usually go with whichever is cheaper, although 1&1 does offer free domain privacy for which Godaddy charges an extra $9.99 a year. However, Godaddy’s interface is significantly easier to use and their customer service is pretty stellar, so there’s some definite value in that, especially if you’re new to the online world. ( Also,  .org sites are usually much cheaper at 1&1 than Godaddy and may have better street cred than .info sites. )

I also use my own hosting. I like Dreamhost a lot and highly recommend it. It’s incredibly easy to install and update the sites. I’ve been using them for 4 years and they also have an affiliate program which pays out 100% of the first years hosting (sometimes 175%!) for new referrals. (Use code “PassiveIncome” for a decent discount). For $120/year you get 1 free domain registration and unlimited hosting. HostGator is another well-respected hosting company and many people with BANS sites use them too. Their affiliate program is also supposed to be excellent, but I wouldn’t know!

Marketing Your Niche Site

The most important part about making money online is the online marketing of your newly created sites. If you’re like most newbies and you build several sites thinking that you’ll automatically get traffic, you’ll be very disappointed. You need to understand how to create content that attracts search engine traffic (also called organic traffic). Again, Keyword Elite will help you with this. Its a pretty good tool and the videos on the landing page are worth a watch if you don’t know anything about harnessing the power of internet traffic. Another key factor that is often overlooked is building back-links to your site. I have personally gone to hundreds of blogs and left real, relevant comments on them with links back to my site. Some of them are nofollow links, but I don’t think it really matters. I believe all links matter, its just that nofollow and links from low-quality sites matter less than than links from a top quality site.  However, a cool way to get a lot of social media love is through a Social Bookmarking Automation Tool.  I highly, highly recommend this tool and it is in fact the one I use the most often. Most of my sites rank very well on various search engines for certain keywords and I get excellent organic traffic. As you can see from the Ebay affiliate sales figures, the conversion rates are pretty high.

Here’s another tool I highly recommend. I tells you what keywords you rank for and what your position is in the search engines. Its incredibly useful, especially when you see someone new bump you from your spot on Google. You can use this (along with some other tools) to see if its a fluke or they’re actually planning to take over your position!

If you’re still floundering, you need a guide with step by step instructions. The 9 Step Make Money Online Guide is an excellent resource written by the creators of BANS software. You should definitely read it if you’re new or if you have sites that aren’t generating much income.

Here are my earnings below:

Ebay-build-a-niche-store-earnings

As you can see from the image, the traffic (in blue) and the earnings (in yellow) have been increasing over the past year. As I’ve becoming more focused in my selection of keywords and as my search engine rankings have improved, the conversion of the traffic has gotten a lot better too.

While it took some initial effort to set up the stores and market them online, I haven’t done anything for at over 6 weeks. Making nearly $1,000/month from several sites that don’t require much effort is really cool. Finally some residual income that’s really passive! So don’t give up! It might take a few months to see any fruits of your labor but it will be well worth it!

I’ll post my monthly passive income update sometime this week.

I’ve been lumping in my online income with my passive income, but it isn’t really passive. It may not be very strenuous and it gives me geographic flexibility and I don’t have to show up for work every day, but there is some effort involved. Unfortunately I’m not as clever as Courtney Tuttle, who says he has a site that makes $3,500/month with no ongoing maintance. (If you’d like to buy an existing site that generates income, check out the online businesses for sale on my business & investment store). I’ve just had some limited success with Domain Parking, buts that the extent of my truly passive online income.

Simply put, my online income isn’t really passive. It’s a lot more passive than the website and seo consulting work I do by a huge margin, but its not as passive as dividneds or royalty checks.

So what are the best ways to earn really Passive Income?

1. High Dividend Stocks
There are a lot of stocks that paying quarterly or yearly dividends. Over time, the power of compounding (with a little help from inflation) can substantially increase the value of your dividends. My mother bought the Indian subsidiary of Unilever (Ticker: UL) called Hindustan Lever about 20 years ago. She’s being reinvesting most of her dividends and today her annual dividends are larger than the value of the original stock purchase. American Capital Strategies (ticker: ACAS) has been growing its dividends approximately 10% every year. According to The Dividend Investor,

If we invested $100,000 in ACAS on December 31, 1997 we would have bought 6906 shares. Your first quarterly check would have been $1,726.50 in March 1998. If you kept reinvesting the dividends though instead of spending them, your quarterly dividend payment would have risen to $17,095 by December 2007. For a period of 10 years, the quarterly dividend has increased by 300 %. If you reinvested it though, your quarterly dividend income would have increased by 890%.

Yes, reinvesting the dividends in companies that have historically kept increasing their dividends is key. Even though you might get only 2.5% return today, eventually with the increase in stock price and rise in dividends, your annual return should be greater than 12%. This concept is very well explained in Prof. Jeremy Siegel’s excellent book, The Future for Investors, which I highly recommend.

2. Oil & Gas Royalties

While there is a lot of fraud and speculation in direct oil drilling programs, they can be very, very lucrative for investors. Charlie Munger invested about a $1,000 in such an oil drilling program in the 60s and he’s estimated that its paid out over $500,000 in royalty payments since then. Apparently it still pays out $2,000 a month. Of course, most people NEVER see these sort of returns, but for the average person, investing in Canadian Oil & Gas Royalty Funds (or Income Trusts) is the next best thing. I’ve invested quite a bit of money into both the direct oil wells and the Canadian Income Trusts (or Canroys) and the overall result has been pretty positive in both (which is in excess of 12%).

3. Royalties on Books and Patents

Royalties on Books and Intellectual Property Rights can be even more lucrative. However writing a best-selling book or creating a something thats worth patenting can extremely time consuming and expensive. For most authors and inventors, its a labor of love – something that they would pursue even if there was no monetary reward to it. But many ebook writers who sell get-rich-quick books about “making money online” are getting very wealthy. Most of these books are garbage and the only people getting rich are their authors and resellers. Not a very ethical way to make money.

4. Rental Income on Properties Bought at the Bottom of a Real Estate Cycle.

If you bought rental buy and hold property in California, Nevada, Arizona or Florida during 2005 and 2007, my heart goes out to you. A lot of smart people got suckered into buying at the top of the market and are paying for it. However, if you buy correctly, preferably at the bottom of a real estate cycle, real estate can provide excellent passive income and fantastic tax advantages as well. According to Charlie Munger at the 2008 Wesco Financial Annual Shareholder meeting, “most real estate investors don’t pay any income tax, except once every 20 years or so“. Bought correctly (that is based on value, not speculation), rental properties can provide a steady stream of cashflow that is somewhat inflation-indexed. I say somewhat, because in the short-term anything can happen, but over a long period of time, real estate is going to match the rate of inflation.

5. Investing In Timber

Similar to Canroys, there are companies that grow trees specifically for timber and pay pretty decent dividends. There are also direct tree-planting programs where you can invest a minimum of $5,000 and own a portion of a timber operation. The company does all the work for you and supposedly cuts you a check once a year after a specific time interval. The endowment funds of Harvard and Yale have apparently been investing in timber for several years now with great returns.

6. Domain Parking (or Embarking)

There are many people who buy and hold hundreds of domains (I know a guy who owns 750). They either park them with Sedo or another domain-parking service. These services stick relevant (and sometimes not-so-relevant) ads on your site. The idea is that if someone comes to the site through browser type-in traffic and clicks on an ad, you get paid a portion of this ad revenue. I had hosted several sites with Sedo and made a whopping 2 cents per month. I’ve recently been trying out a new service called Domain Embarking that is working pretty well for me.

Is it possible to earn passive income for domains? Absolutely!  It isn’t rocket science but it does involve a little bit of work. Here are the simple steps:

1. Buy a cheap domain name.

2. Decide how you’re going to monetize it. Either through ads on a niche site, affiliate sales, or domain parking.

3. Get up and actually do the work.

Buying Cheap Domains

GoDaddy currently has a great promotion on .info domains. They’re currently selling for only $0.99 instead of the usual $9 dollars. That’s about 90% off the regular price, and I spent the past several days getting about 15 domains that I think I might be able to monetize in some form or the other.

People might feel more comfortable or might more easily remember .com domains, but if you’re targeting search engine traffic it probably shouldn’t matter very much. A lot of the domains have dashes in them (example Sterling-Silver-Rings.info, but again, for visitors coming from a search engine it shouldn’t matter too much.

I also got a few domains that I think are pretty cool like Discount Ipod.info, Discount Seiko Watches.info and Cheap iPod Batteries.info.A good domain name has highly relevant keywords in it. How do you find these relevant keywords? Try using a search tool like Keyword Elite. It’ll save you a ton of time in research.


Niche Sites

The most common way of profiting from a niche site, is creating a lot of content around a keyword or an idea and putting ads around it.  If you can create a lot of unique content around a topic and attract a lot of visitors, you should be able to easily monetize it through Google Adsense or Text-Link-Ads or LinkWorth.

One way I’m thinking of profiting from them is through building a niche store (BANS). I already have an account with Dreamhost and I can host unlimited domains with them without any extra cost. You either set up an Amazon store or an Ebay store and make referral income off the sales. That’s a great way to produce residual income if you can make it work.

If you’re facing problems installing the BANS software on Dreamhost, check out this guide: How To install BANS on Dreamhost.

These are both great ways to produce residual passive income from a few hours of work. It might take a few months ramp up, but they should both add to my passive income.

If you’d like to buy a revenue generating website check out my business and investment store.

Update: September 18th 2008

Looks like my ebay-affiliate stores should pull in over $500 this month! The income has been going up every single month, while the effort has almost dropped off! That’s a pretty nice residual income stream.

However, if you’re too lazy to create content, then you might want to consider domain parking.

Affiliate Sales

This is by far the most profitable strategy and also the most work! You figure out how to drive traffic to  a site and how to get people to part with their money either by buying a 3rd-party product or something you’ve developed yourself.  I know guys who make over $100,000 a year doing this. It isn’t exactly passive but the hourly rate is insanely high if you know what you’re doing. I know of one guy who makes the equivalent ofi $5,000 an hour from his affiliate sites.

Here’s an example of an affiliate site that sells a very interesting product. Its a system that teaches to make money selling stuff! Here’s an example of a site that sells a product they developed themsleves.

Domain Parking

Another way I’m thinking of monetizing them is through Domain Parking. Many companies offer domain parking, including Sedo, GoDaddy and even Google. However, what they usually do is just put up ad links on your site. Unless people are directly typing in the address of your site into the browser you are unlikely to see any traffic or revenue.

A better way is to use a company like Why Park? They will automatically generate content for your sites and update it on a regular basis. The resulting site with fresh content is much more likely to get indexed in the search engines and get organic traffic (that’s traffic from search engines) and thus you are more likely to actually see some revenue.