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On The Bookshelf: Monetizing Online Forums By Patrick O’Keefe

By September 12, 2012June 26th, 2015From The Bookshelf
On The Bookshelf: Monetizing Online Forums By Patrick O'Keefe

Just this summer I had the opportunity to interview Patrick O’Keefe, an energetic and inspirational entrepreneur who knows a thing or two about running a successful business. His passion is for managing online forums, which he’s been doing for 12 years. Recently he published an eBook called Monetizing Online Forums that’s free for the downloading.

But like you, I’m busy, and I can’t download and read every freebie that comes my way. I bet you know how it works… you hear something is free, you go grab it, then it sits on your desktop or in a “to read” folder for the next six months until you get crazy and overwhelmed and go on a clean sweep, toss everything into the recycle bin and start over.

Good news: not only did I not toss this book in the recycle bin, but I read it and I’ll tell you, this is no “freebie” – you know the kind – some marketing gimmick to get you to join a list that has maybe one or two good sentences in it and the rest is just a bit of happy fluff. In fact, there is no opt-in at all required for this book. You can download it free and clear without a worry that someone’s going to bombard your inbox with the next greatest offer.

But even that’s probably not enough to inspire you, because – I get it – you’re busy! And you just know you’ll never read this thing.

More good news: I’m about to give you the highlights. Just a little taste to see if this book speaks to you. Because if it does, I highly recommend it. It’s 80-ish pages of usable, actionable and thorough information about making money with your website.

But wait! It’s called monetizing forums, not websites. And that’s the other awesome thing among awesome things about this book. You can apply many of these principles to your business site or blog, too.

What This Book Is Not

Marketing hype. Every suggestion in this book comes with concrete steps you can take and resources you can use.

For people who want to make easy money. There’s plenty of info about selling ad space and using affiliate marketing but it’s balanced with a lot of discussion about user experience, profit margin and risk.

Dumbed down. This book assumes you have a forum or site that you love and maintain. To that end, it also assumes you understand concepts like “user experience” and “revenue model”.

A 5-minute read. It’s an easy read – no big, fancy-sounding words that will baffle you with marketing BS – but it’s not for Sunday afternoon scanning while you watch the football game. You’ll find yourself making notes, highlighting, and doing research to check out the plethora of resources and options at your fingertips.

The Setup

Patrick hits the nail on the head when he starts with this opening line: “For some people, if they hear that you are considering how you can generate revenue, or more revenue, from your community, they leap to the worst possible conclusion.”

It’s true. In the last few years we’ve been so conditioned to “provide value” (read: free stuff) that the minute someone talks money it’s practically taboo.

But to stay in business you have to make money.

Whether you sell products or services or advertising, it’s about making money. But, as Patrick also points out, it’s not about “milking people” for all they’re worth.

What You’ll Learn

The book is broken down into several clearly delineated sections, each of which details one specific way of generating revenue. Here are a few highlights.

Display Advertising

With advice for establishing a Privacy Policy and a resource for a free online privacy policy generator, this section goes into depth about the types of ad models available, from CPM to CPC to CPA. Even if you don’t know CPM from CPR, you’ll learn about the different ad types and walk away feeling pretty confident.

You’ll also find advice for sizing your ads (along with guidelines for standard display sizes), placing your ads, optimizing your ads and pricing your ad space. Yes, it’s that detailed.

Not for the faint of heart, there is also quite a bit of detail about how to put together a media kit to attract advertisers along with resources for ad networks that you may want to check out, and a mind-bogglingly thorough example of how to calculate revenue.

In-Text Monetization

This can include the straight-up affiliate links that so many of us are already familiar with (and may already use) or the commonly seen “hover” ads that pop up when you mouse over a double-underscored word on a page.

I don’t know about you but I find those hover ads particularly annoying. Patrick also warns that many people feel the same way and talks at length about how to preserve the integrity of your site with appropriate formatting, link density and disclosures.

Classified And Thread Based Advertising

This can be summed up best in Patrick’s own words: “Instead of thinking about how you can sell a few ads for a high price, think about how you can sell a lot of small ads at a more affordable price.”

He goes on to give examples of these, with advice for how to price ads and how to add the proper disclosures on your site.

Product Sales

Even if you don’t sell a product… you could. Fan communities and passionate followers are often willing to support a community by purchasing branded merchandise.

From pens to t-shirts to just about anything you can dream up, there’s advice for printing and producing materials (with resources that you can use), setting up a shopping cart (from the simple to the complex), handling shipping, managing inventory (whether one-offs or stocked items), calculating risk and determining your potential profit. All before you produce or sell a single widget.

This was probably my favorite section because I do love to support communities that I believe in and I have shelves and closets full of kitsch… er, branded merchandise… from mugs to shirts to posters, stickers and bookends.

And the great thing is that you can sell products like these whether you have a lot of money to invest – or almost none at all. I admit this one got my gears turning about fun stuff that we can offer right here on this blog. Stick around, you never know when the first Web.Search.Social t-shirt will be coming your way!

Premium Memberships

This is a great option for blogs as well as forums. Again, Patrick goes into detail about pricing, what you can offer as part of your membership and how to maintain the integrity of your site without alienating non-members.

There’s also discussion about the option of a members-only community if you’re considering a private community.


Yes, there’s more, but hey, I’m not rewriting the book! You’ll have to check it out if you want the rest. Suffice it to say that you can use one or more or all of these ideas. There are ideas to get you started and making a few bucks and ideas to keep you going making a whole lot more. You can scale these ideas to your skill level, time constraints, budget and site needs.

The Verdict

One of the things that impressed me throughout the book was that Patrick was clear about the pros and cons of each option. You never get the sense that he’s trying to sell you on a particular path because he isn’t. He’s simply giving you the best information he can about how to monetize your forum or site based on his extensive experience.

As you may know from reading his interview, he wrote this book at the request of Skimlinks, a provider in the affiliate space. But you’d never know it, apart from the introduction where he mentions it and the paragraph about Skimlinks in the affiliate section (right alongside their competitor, mind you). This is not a sales pitch. It just goes to show the integrity of both Patrick and Skimlinks in putting together this resource.

Finally, one thing that Patrick never neglects to discuss is consideration for your audience. He makes a distinction between your active community, “lurkers” and those who stop by once or once in a while (and the different profit potentials they have – you might be surprised!)

First and foremost, he stresses the importance of maintaining the quality of their experience no matter what kind of monetization you do. But better than that, he has extensive advice for how to do it. You won’t feel left in the dark or wondering what to do next. You’ll probably have questions, but you’ll also have resources that you can go to online and enough explanations and advice that you can get started right away.

So get out your highlighter, download your copy and take a peek inside the world of monetization. It’s not as scary as it sounds and getting started turns out to be a whole lot easier than you’d think. Yes, it will take work to do it right, to grow and to get good at it. But you don’t need to spend a year writing up a business plan to take action. Even if you start with a simple affiliate link, you’re monetizing. Then go from there.

But start here. And know that it’s your lucky day because this book is easily worth a $20 price tag.

And if you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your opinion, too!

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • Wow. Thank you so much, Carol. I really appreciate you taking the time to read the book and to offer such a detailed, thorough review.

    One of the aims of this project was to create something that people would pay for and then offer it for free. I want people to look at it and review it as if they paid for it because, even if you didn’t buy it, you still invest time in reading it. So, I am glad that you did so.

    Thanks again for all of your support.



  • Andi-Roo says:

    Just downloaded this puppy & have it on my “To read FOR REALZ” list… moved up close to the top to ensure I hit it up pronto. Thanks for bringing this to our attention – can’t wait to see what kinds of goodies I can apply to my fun little bloggy-blog.

    PS – I will order two t-shirts when you get your store set up. Don’t go stingy on the glitter, lmao!!! 🙂

    • Read it with a highlighter, there is a lot of info! Some is going to be more complex and probably beyond what you’re ready for (if you’re just starting) but some you can use right now and trust me, even when you see a few dollars a month, it’s like Christmas and Birthdays wrapped into one. I’ll get your t-shirt with extra special glitterificness!

    • Thank you for downloading it! I appreciate it. Would love to hear your thoughts once you have had a chance to read it.


  • Adrienne says:

    What a great review Carol and I always always appreciate your honesty. I love how you approach things and there is never any fluff with you.

    I know that if you think something is worth the read then it is. I should never have to question anything else. So, I downloaded it and it’s on my “to do” list for this weekend. Yes, I finally have a free weekend to get caught up on some things so I’ll just make sure I dive into this one as well.

    Thank you for sharing this and I know Patrick appreciates it as well.


    • This is a fluff-free zone! I thought there was a lot of good info in this book. It’s probably stuff you’ve heard about – we all know about affiliate marketing and advertising etc – but we don’t always know how to do it. This has the “how to” stuff that you can use. It gets into a lot of detail so you can use it to start out and keep it around for when you want to get more advanced. I hope you enjoy it!

    • Thank you for downloading the book. I hope that it is helpful. 🙂

  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Carol
    An excellent review and it sounds like a great book. I am a big picture person so I enjoy looking at how something works. In this example the various ways to monetize online forums.

    I was momentarily taken back at the comment Patrick made in his opening sentence about people jumping to conclusions if you are going to make money. I guess though you are correct there is so much advice out there to “give value”. How did that ever get to free though? I have even met bloggers who say they do not want to make money from their blog but they say it is their business. Hmm my CPA brain does not get that one.

    I loved the review thanks to both you Carol and to Patrick. I am not going to get the book yet as I recently made a vow to myself not to buy one more book until I finish the pile next to me. It is on my “to buy” list though.


    • You know, you’re right, Sue – I don’t know exactly when or how “give value” translated to “free” but it did! Somewhere along the line “money” became a bad word and the minute you start talking about making money, people think you’re selfish or mercenary. If something is a good value then you have every right to expect people to pay you for it. But in the brave new world of online marketing, you have to give a lot away before someone is willing to believe its worth paying you for something.

      And by the way, this book is free. No need to buy it at all! But I know what you mean about finishing the pile. I have one of those too!

    • Hello Ms. Price,

      Thanks for the comment. The context of that sentence is that this is a book focused at monetizing online forums. These are community spaces where a lot of people participate, contribute and engage.

      Community spaces, and the people who participate within them, are generally going to be more sensitive to monetization efforts than blog readers. And though much of the information in the book can help anyone with a website that wants to monetize, it is focused on forums and contains information specific to those sensitive community spaces.

      I appreciate your interest in the book.



  • Hi Carol,
    Wow, I thought I was the only one downloading freebies that are still just sitting on my desktop 🙂 I always save them on my desktop, just in case I completely forget all about them all together.
    Right now, I am in the middle of two of them for a while now, and another two that I haven’t even started. Well, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one, though.
    Thank you for this review and I guess I will have to add this book to my queue, and just read it, darn it 🙂 I guess this motivates me to finish up the ones that I’ve started and start this one.

  • Sonia says:

    Great review Carol and I love how you touched on the stuff people really want: value. I don’t mind some ebooks that want you to sign up on their list, maybe because I am just use to it, but to read one without is surprising.

    I never thought about building a membership site, but its possible. Then to find an ebook that really gives you honest to god information with pros and cons also makes it more valuable. Thanks for sharing this Carol and giving your honest feedback.

  • Thanks Sonia, maybe you’ll be inspired to try a membership site of your own! I’ll join 🙂