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 site:.gov 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 site:.edu search too and see if universities have anything interesting.
  4. site:.ac.uk site:.ac.za – 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.