It’s OK to make an extra $2k per month if you’re a programmer. Here’s how.

This quote, which went viral 2 months ago and that Steinbeck probably never said, has stuck with me:

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” ~Maybe not Steinbeck, but it’s cool and it’s true.

As temporarily embarrassed millionaire programmers I feel we sometimes don’t pursue projects that could be buying awesome toys every month, making up for that underwater mortgage or adding valuable incremental income. Projects in this space aren’t the next Facebook or Twitter so they don’t pass the knock-it-out-the-park test.

There are so many ideas in this neglected space that have worked and continue to work. Here’s a start:

  1. Do a search on Google for downloadable government data.
  2. Come up with a range of data that you can republish in directory form. Spend a good few hours doing this and create a healthy collection of options.
  3. You might try a search too and see if universities have anything interesting.
  4. – you get the idea.
  5. Experiment with Google’s Keyword Tool.
  6. Make sure you’re signed in.
  7. Click Traffic Estimator on the left.
  8. Enter keywords that describe the data sets you’ve come up with. Enter a few to get a good indication each category or sector’s potential
  9. Look at search volume to find sectors that are getting high search volumes.
  10. Look at CPC to find busy sectors that also have advertisers that are paying top dollar for clicks.
  11. Finally, look at the Competition column to get an idea of how many advertisers are competing in the sector.
  12. First prize is high search volume, high CPC, high competition. Sometimes you can’t have it all, but get as close as you can.
  13. Now that you’ve chosen a lucrative sector with lots of spendy advertisers and have government or academic data you can republish, figure out a way to generate thousands of pages of content out of that data and solve someone’s problem. The problem could be “Why can’t I find a good site about XYZ when I google for such-and-such.”
  14. Give the site a good solid SEO link structure with breadcrumbs and cross-linking. Emphasize relevant keywords with the correct html tags and avoid duplicate content. Make sure the site performance is wicked fast or you’ll get penalized. Nginx reverse-proxying Apache is always a good bet.
  15. Tell the right people about your site and tell them regularly via great blog entries, insightful tweets, and networking in your site’s category.
  16. Keep monitoring Googlebot crawl activity, how your site is being indexed and tweak it for 6 months until it’s all indexed, ranking and getting around 50K visits per month (1666 visits per day).
  17. That’s 150,000 page views per month at 3 pages per visit average.
  18. At a 1.6% CTR with 0.85c CPC from Adsense you’re earning $2040 per month.

Update: To clarify, “competition” above refers to competition among advertisers paying for clicks in a sector. More competition is a good thing for publishers because it means higher CPC and more ad inventory i.e. a higher likelihood an ad will be available for a specific page with specific subject matter in your space. [Thanks Bill!]

Update2: My very good mate Joe Heitzeberg runs MediaPiston which is a great way to connect with high quality authors of original content. If you do have a moderate budget and are looking for useful and unique content to get started, give Joe and his crew a shout! They have great authors and have really nailed the QA and feedback process with their platform.

32 thoughts on “It’s OK to make an extra $2k per month if you’re a programmer. Here’s how.

  1. Excellent article. I currently face a situation wherein my work/life balance is not. I’m quickly becoming the person I used to always mock in the “how do you get to that point” sort of way, the one who can’t relax when he’s not working, who talks about work all the time, even when at the beach. I’ve decided to get an expensive hobby. My theory is that, if I can get myself into a state where the sunk cost fallacy kicks in and I feel guilty for not using expensive toy Y, I’ll be able to excuse myself from work much more often. But, my side-project and work do indeed rule my life, at least for now.

    I do believe that every developer/programmer should have side projects. It should not be about making them rich either! If you do something you love, it should not be a problem. Because the programmer is employed, there will be a need to hire a virtual assistant to assist with the administrative tasks of the side project. Some VAs are very knowledgeable in software and programming technology. One website that software developers can hire VAs is It is one of best that I know has certified, skilled VAs.

  2. Can we elaborate a bit on “… figure out a way to generate thousands of pages of content out of that data… “. What tools are available for this stage? Do I have to write my own parsing/formatting application to do this?

  3. Basically what you are saying is true (except a little bit optimistic on CTR/CPM/Page per visit – but not too far away from the real world figures) – but I just wonder if you can have this result in only 6 months.

  4. “America not socialist? So how do you call a country that uses people’s money to help banks?”

    an oligarchy.

  5. Thank you so much.

    That site gov FTP search tip is worth the price of admission! Actually, much more.

    Okay, off to build more niche sites…

  6. I am a developer and SEO is something which usually I don’t like or say, its not my cup of tea. Though your post has encouraged me to think about it again. Can you please tell me sample sites and how to use Ads on them?


  7. Thanks for the info – I think its also a little agressive but certainly really interesting. I would love to get in touch with the MediaPiston guys if you want to put us in touch.

  8. Yes it’s true.

    “A 1.6% CTR sounds VERY optimistic.”

    If you read some webmaster forums, this is below average.

    If you seriously think this is high CTR, email me. I can probably help you. With basic changes you can double your CTR very easily.

    5 random reasons your CTR is low:

    1. Too many blog posts on your homepage. People scroll to the bottom of the page and there’s no ads down there. Or they read one or two posts and close the tab. People have limited attention. CTR is all about visual attention.

    2. Too many Facebook widgets. Send people to Facebook: Mark Z. gets rich and you get “like” nothing.

    3. Design your own theme to capitalize on what you know about web metrics and visual attention. Take this blog for example, how many people click the “Lucian E. Marin” link at the bottom here? I’m sure Lucian is a nice guy but does he deserve a link worth $100s per month? Probably not!

    4. Don’t feel like every page on your website needs a link to everything else. Looks like this blog here has links to his ENTIRE archive on EVERY page. Is that really necessary? The reality is, nobody is going to read all those archives, not even his mom–they are 1000x more likely to search Google with “site:” so why waste space, visual attention, bandwith, CPU time? If you had an ad unit there instead of archives back to 2007, maybe now you can afford health insurance for your family.

    5. Same as #4, seriously consider what’s necessary–not just links. For example, you have 18 comments here so far. With some simple design changes you could fit those 18 comments into half the number of pixels. (Drop the Atari icons?) That 50% reduction could translate to a 50% increase in visibility of an opt-in form, advertisement, etc.

  9. What a load of nonsense. You’ve not mentioned how to get links so google trusts your domain and get your pages indexed. Nevermind your joke ctr. Sorry man, this is not reality; take it from an adsense farmer.

  10. Well… interesting. But honestly, even though this seems do-able ‘on the side’ of a full time job and side projects, it sounds like a lot of very unfulfilling work that I would be embarrassed to tell people about. Feels unsettlingly like a spam-ring/content-farm scheme. So, pass :/

  11. Good stuff. Can you give us an idea on
    >figure out a way to generate thousands of pages of content out of that data…
    Because that’s the donkey work of any online presence.

  12. Nice ideas, thank you. I’m going to throw my cards in with @brmore and say this is a lot of work, but if you’re really into this kind of stuff it’s not a full time job.

    Also, what’s with the kids these days? Socialism isn’t a trade-off with individual freedom? I guess we really do need to educate people better about how social and political constructs operate. One approach: move to a socialist country and see for yourself… send us a postcard :)

  13. Hi Mark,

    Great article, though there is one mistake.

    > First prize is high search volume, high CPC, high competition. Sometimes you can’t have it all, but get as close as you can.

    That should be LOW competition.

    Aside from that, excellent!


  14. Jon: “Socialism is an economic system where the means of production are publicly held (e.g.: by the people. sometimes by the government).”

    You then go on to say that individual freedom need not be penalized for socialism. Please explain. If my business is manufacturing or production or farming of some sort, how are you not impacting my freedom to do so if you’re forcing my service/production/business to be owned by “the people” or the government?

    • Because it is not YOUR busines.. It is the people’s business and you are running it.

      Your mentality is exactly what is wrong with people.

  15. You should meet Eli Alosi if you haven’t already — he used to really be into this kind of stuff but now he runs an affiliate network. Check in with him.

  16. @daniel:

    You’re confusing an economic system with a governmental system. Like most Americans. Socialism is an economic system where the means of production are publicly held (e.g.: by the people. sometimes by the government).

    Individual freedom need not be penalized for socialism. See: all of the western European countries that have better education and healthcare than the US. Which is.. almost all of them.

  17. socialism never took root in america because America is founded as a Republic … how about that instead?

    A republic where individuals are sovereign entities and where individual freedom is valued more than anything else. Socialism is a form of collectivism where individual freedom is much less important.

  18. If it was easy, everyone would/could do it … and FWIW, a lot of work yes, but nowhere NEAR a full time job if you’re really hustling (or a startup).

  19. Great post. However, what you just described is a full-time job (including maintenance)… Most FT programming jobs pay more than $2k per month…

    • I disagree. If you believe this is a FT job then you may not have been in web development that long (or at all). After finding the government site that you would like to replicate, then it should take around 5 hours (splitting the content, conceptual design/site layout, etc) to put together a page. The initial SEO setup shouldn’t take that much time. This is a weekend project that would require weekly maintenance which isn’t hard for an extra $2k.

      Yes developers can make a lot of money, but trust me, you can blow through $8-9k/month really quick. I am definitely not use to a salary. Anything that I can do to make extra money through cause of my own will, I am happy with.

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