Building and Monetizing an ESL Website (General Advice)

In this post, I will share some of my experience building this website. I will touch on building traffic, making money, and share some general advice. I hope this post will be useful for other English teachers who are thinking of trying to make money off an ESL blog/website.

Quick Facts about Englishcurrent.com

  • Englishcurrent.com has been online since March, 2011.
  • As of November, 2016, the site averages approximately 4,600 visitors a day.
  • It uses the WordPress content management system (CMS)
  • It is hosted on Dreamhost, which is a low-cost shared hosting service.

Building Traffic: An Overview

Monthly sessions since summer, 2011 (A session is essentially a visit and roughly equates to the number of visitors)

traffic information for an ESL website for English students and teachers

This data is monthly, so if you look at the 75,000 mark in December 2015, that means 75,000 sessions per month / 31 days = 2,400 sessions per day. At the site’s peak last month (October 2016), it received roughly 140,000 sessions, which is about 4,600 sessions a day.

As you can see, it has taken years for the site to gain rank in the search engines and traffic as a result. In the beginning, I would spend an entire evening writing a lesson, then I would wait a day or so for the post to be indexed by Google, and afterward feel disappointed because it received virtually no views as it was burried on the 5th page of search results. There were already plenty of ESL websites, and we were all competing for the same keywords. My little site with few posts was lost among them. Before I could rank highly in the search engines, I needed to build some authority in my field. To do this, content comes first (and then hopefully rank will follow).

To illustrate: one of the most profitable segments on the web is auto insurance. A site like mine can’t post a page on auto insurance and expect to rank for that keyword because I have not built a reputation in that segment (none of my other pages/keywords/phrases are related to it, my domain name is not related, among a myriad of other things.)

For my site, the first breakthrough was a post I wrote on May 2, 2011. What happened on that day? Bin Laden died. I knew this was big news, so I rushed to post the first lesson plan about it. As no other site was competing for the keywords of ‘Bin Laden Lesson Plan’, I succeeded and I attracted 114 visitors that day.

Terrorist Leader Osama Bin Laden Dead (Intermediate News Lesson)

This post helped put my site on the map for English teachers at least. After that, by adding new pages/posts every week, my site slowly grew and became more visible in the search engines.

Monetization through Google AdSense

Before your site gets at least 100 visitors a day, don’t worry about monetization. Content comes first, then traffic, and then possibly some money. Google AdSense is the main source of revenue for this site. I tried being an Amazon Affiliate, but my earnings were measly. This article will focus on AdSense.

About the ESL Market:  4,500 Visitors a Day – You Must be Rich!

No.

Earnings come from clicks on ads that Google serves on your pages. How much per click? Well, the CPC (Cost-Per-Click) depends on your segment/niche. Again, in a profitable industry like insurance, advertisers might pay big bucks (e.g. $15) for a click on their ads, but for other niches, it could be ten cents.

The ESL market is cheap. Users generally aren’t looking to spend money. The ads that show on my site are usually for other ESL resources, grammar-checking tools, etc. These aren’t advertisers with big budgets who can spend a lot to outbid someone for a keyword. Also, (in my case) a lot of my traffic comes from countries like India or the Philippines, where clicks are worth even less. While I cannot disclose my CPC, but I can say that it is on the low end of the spectrum.

You make money by getting clicks, which is reflected in your CTR (Click-Through-Rate).  This CTR is basically the percentage of users that click on an ad when its shown. While some people on forums might brag about a 2% CTR, in my experience, this is high. A website’s CTR is affected by ad location and a few other design-related factors, but generally speaking, if you post your ads according to their guidelines (as you should), your CTR will be much lower.

So… Is it Worth It?

Not unless you’re in it for the long run.

You might earn a few dollars a day based on 1,000 visits. But it took me 17 months to reach 1,000 visits and in that period I wrote 75 posts and 47 pages (essentially 122 lessons). In other words, it takes a lot of work to earn a monthly income that would equate to two or three hours of your teaching wage.

You’ll need to be in it for the long haul, and for any endeavour to last the long haul, you have to derive some enjoyment from it, i.e. you must like writing lesson plans and publishing on the web. Monetizing an ESL website is the opposite of a get-rich-quick scheme.

Some General Advice on Publishing on the Web

#1 – Obey the Google

This adherence to Google comes in two forms.

A) Knowing basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

If you’re going to spend hours writing lesson plans, then take some time to review basic principles of SEO, or at least get a plug-in that will optimize your posts so they have a shot at ranking. Some general principles are writing at least 300 words per post, paying attention to keywords in your writing, applying correct headings, and so on.

B) Following the AdSense Rules

If you are going to monetize your site through AdSense, then be darn sure to follow the Terms of Service (TOS – aka the rules). If you are caught in violation by doing something dodgy like encouraging people to click on your ads or placing your ads deceptively on your site, then you can be unindexed and banned from the program. A site that has been un-indexed from Google is not worth much.

#2 – Content is King

This is an adage used on the web and it’s true. There’s no better way to build traffic then to write some posts. Don’t even worry about money until you’ve got the traffic, which comes from building rank by establishing yourself in your segment of the market.


An Important Afterword

Many of the ideas I’ve written about building traffic or ranking on Google are essentially based on speculation. Google’s search engine algorithm is a secret, which is a good thing. In the past, people could write spammy posts full of keywords to trick search engines into ranking the page higher. As the algorithm evolves, it gets better at identifying legitimate posts that have unique content to bring value to the web. Aim to consistently write content like that and your labour will bear fruit eventually.

I hope this post has been helpful. Feel free to write a comment below. All the best in your classes and personal projects.

– Matthew Barton / Creator of Englishcurrent.com and the North American Idioms Android App

 

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