EPISODE 074: HOW TO MONETIZE A FREE WEBSITE WITH CHRIS PARKER OF WHATISMYIPADDRESS.COM
How do you monetize a free website? On today's episode, Chris Parker of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com shares about his affiliate marketing and display ads strategies.
Chris is the founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, a website that was created back in 2000 and now attracts over 6 million visitors a month.
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"Biggest lesson I've learned in the last couple of years is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. In realizing that there's a lot of things that I don't know and I have to learn how to get outside of, well, I like doing this. If I want my business to grow and change and evolve, I have to be able to grow and change and evolve myself."
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Topics Discussed In This Episode:
- The story behind WhatIsMyIPAddress.com and why Chris created it
- How Chris got into affiliate marketing and what you need to know about choosing the right affiliate products
- Why he chose to stop using Google AdServe
- Things you need to watch out as an affiliate
- What Chris has in mind to scale WhatIsMyIPAddress.com beyond a free site for checking IP address
Resources Discussed In This Episode:
Chrys: So today's guest is the founder of WhatIsMyIPAddress.com - a website that was created back in 2000 and now attracts over 6 million visitors a month. So we're going to talk about why he started a website and how he is able to build a growing business around a free website. So here's my guest, Chris Parker. Chris, thank you so much for jumping on this episode with me today.
Chris: Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.
Chrys: Chris, you created WhatIsMyIPAddress.com as a solution to a simple problem that you were facing at a time, which was finding your employer's office IP address. Can you tell us more about this story?
Chris: Yeah. This was back in that back in 2000 when our company had just got that wonderful T1 internet connection, which is probably slower than anybody's modem on the planet currently, or cell phone, that is.
Chrys: That is not dial up, we're not talking about dial up?
Chris: No, it wasn't dial up. It was 1.5 megabit connection, which is laughingly slow by today's standards. But we were excited about it and we were having problems connecting up with a partner's system and they were like, well, maybe it's something with our firewall. What's your IP address? And we kind of all looked at each other and went, ah, I don't know. There should be a way to figure this out, and without getting too technical, for inside your network, it's almost impossible to find out what the public facing IP address was. And so searching on AltaVista and Lycos at the time, this is pre-Google and pre-Bing and all that kind of stuff. And so I thought, gosh, I have an internet connection at home. I can put something together and that's what I did.
Chrys: You created this website and you were still working for this company. Am I right? You didn't quit your job or anything. You just like, Oh, I'm just going to put up a website right now and leave it as it is. When you created WhatIsMyIPAddress.com, did you think that it was gonna be an actual business for you?
Chris: No. In fact, I had tried a number of other businesses around that same time frame and it never even crossed my mind that WhatIsMyIPAddress.com could even be a business. It was just a solution to a problem, but I figured, well, I can just make it available to everybody. And I wasn't even thinking about is that five people, is that 500 people... it was just that this is just a solution to a problem. Just display the IP address. That's it.
Chrys: I think like most entrepreneurs who eventually found success, it was kind of accidental, wasn't it? Because you had no idea. What else were you doing at the same time? You said that you were exploring a couple of business ideas. What were they?
Chris: Around the same time, I was running a, a small bookstore for my local church and I was also at the time had started to sell bibles online. And so I had made a little website to do that and it was kind of a hassle because I was working full time. So nights and weekends, I had to order stuff and on my lunch break I was going off and shipping stuff on my lunch break, and realized it was not a very scalable business to do from home.
And I tried the alternative to that, which was the affiliate version of that with Amazon. And that worked out for a while until in the US, there was some tax sales tax issues. And at one point Amazon decided they don't want to charge sales tax to anybody in California, so they're going to get rid of every California affiliate... and that was me. So that business went bust. So I had a couple of things that I tried that were kind of fun but just didn't quite work out.
Chrys: That's funny because I think you're still doing affiliate marketing today, right? Just not for that business. So the marketing channel remained the same, the business just kinda changed along the way. And what's interesting, I think if I remember correctly and I read it online, was that you were actually laid off your job and that's kind of how you eventually had to just make WhatIsMyIPAddress.com an actual business for yourself. Because you were like, oh my gosh, now I don't have this full time job to count on and just dilly-dally with WhatIsMyIPAddress.com anymore.
Chris: Yeah. That's what happened many years later. I had learned how to monetize the website a little bit and was making a decent amount of money from it. But I was also working a daytime job, which was nice because then I had two incomes. My full time employer started struggling financially with the economic downturn in 2007, 2008 time frame, and they laid off a bunch of people... Asked some of us, "can you keep on part time"? And so I was able to work for them part time for awhile and devote a little bit more time to my business. Their business started doing well again and I started to go to work full time and then the same thing happened again.
Eventually they were like, "we can't make this work. We can't afford to keep you on". And so I was faced with the challenge - do I jump in full time and see if by devoting 40 plus hours a week to WhatIsMyIPAddress.com that I could grow the revenue or after trying it, do I just go out and get another full timegig? Luckily it worked out that I was able to grow the revenue, so now I get to enjoy the benefits of that.
Chrys: Now you've got a successful business, but let's go back because I know that back in 2000, you barely made enough from the site to cover even your internet bill. Did you at any point thought to just give up on the website and just do something else instead?
Chris: I think the answer was really no, because it was never really a business. It was just kind of a, you know, I had an internet connection at home, I had hardware cause I'm a geek, so why not keep running the website? And as time grew on, those things got more expensive. But it was always just kind of more of about it being fun and a hobby and what can I learn from the technical aspects of it. And so it wasn't like I was losing thousands of dollars or making thousands of dollars a month. As long as it was kind of close to break even, it was just kind of this fun hobby that I did.
Chrys: Yeah. And you were saying that you were actually starting to make more money, what were you doing to start making money off this free website?
Chris: So a couple of the things that originally happened was there was there still is a company called GoToMyPC which did remote access and that was kind of the first affiliate that I had. And I kind of figured, well, lots of people are wanting to know their IP address because they want to be able to connect to their machine at home where they're trying to figure out how to do that. So I put a little banner on the site and made a couple of bucks every time somebody bought their product. This is pretty good. And I went from I've got sushi money, now I've got money to go and have a dinner once in a while. This is kind of fun.
Chrys: Where did you learn about affiliate marketing? Because you said that you didn't learn marketing. You're a tech guy, you're all about the tech stuff. Where did you get the idea - let's go into affiliate marketing?
Chris: Well a little bit was the company that I was working for was making the transition from being a mail order computer catalog company to being online. And so they had spun up an affiliate program for their products and service. I was kind of watching what they were doing. They're bigger. Okay. I see who they're working with. While I wasn't working with those direct people, I kind of saw what the marketing guys were doing. I figured that's a good idea, I should be able to imitate something like that and leverage what I learned from my own marketing guys.
Chrys: That is so smart. That is so smart, getting inspired by someone else. And what I'm curious to know is you bought the domain, you create a website and then you published it. What did you do to drive traffic to your website?
Chris: For the longest time I actually didn't do anything. Like I was saying before, I didn't even put any content together. At some point I thought if people have questions and I threw an email address on there. And so people would start emailing me questions, how do I do this? How do I do that? And once I started seeing that I was getting the same question over and over and over and I kinda got tired of responding to the same question over and over and over as well, let me add some frequently asked questions to the website.
And so I threw up half a dozen more pages on the website. "How do you change your IP address", "What is an IP address?" and a couple of other things like that. As people were asking questions, it was telling me the content that they wanted and the content that they were looking for. And that's how I started building out the content on the site - I was just basically making myself available to answer questions for people.
Chrys: And once you started doing this full time, I want to talk about a turning point in this business. So can you share about an early success turning point that you've had that changed your business?
Chris: A couple interesting turning points. One I thought was... I'll come back to it for the geeky people, I'll come back to it. But I think kind of the turning point was where the business revenue started crossed that of full time job was like, okay, this really is, I think that to me that was kind of the realization that like, well this really is a viable business. It's not just a hobby, it's not just a side hustle. This really could be a full time job. And I was enjoying the benefit of having two full time incomes, which is always nice. But that was the point where, maybe a little slow to slow to figure it out, but that was the point that I really realized that like, wow, this really is a real business, not just a hobby.
Chrys: All right, now guys, before we go on, today's show is sponsored by my messenger marketing agency, Chrys Media. We work with our clients to help them get more leads and increase engagement and sales with Facebook messenger marketing. Now if you're interested to learn more about Facebook messenger marketing and how we can help your business, then go check out my free online training on how you can use this marketing channel. So go to hackyour onlinebusiness.com/messenger after today's show.
I want to talk about how you are monetizing WhatIsMyIPAddress.com because I think it's very interesting. It's a free website, right? Anyone can just go there and just find out their IP address and then they go off. What interests me to know is how are you actually making money from a free website?
And I know you gave us a few glimpse into into how you're actually making money through affiliate marketing and all. But walk us througheverything that you're doing to actually make money out of this website.
Chris: It's actually been in some sense a little difficult. Because it's a very generic website, people are not coming there to buy IP addresses. They're not looking for a monetary transaction. And then one of the other difficulties is the majority of my traffic comes from outside the United States. And so I have 10% of my traffic or 15% of my traffic is from India, so definitely sources of traffic that have traditionally been very hard to monetize.
I've worked probably over the last 15 years or so and a lot of display ads, Google AdSense was a huge boom to people who don't want to have their own in-house people trying to sell ad space. So I used AdSense for a long time. There are what they refer to as ad networks that will work in conjunction with AdSense with the various ad platforms that you can use to fill display of inventory. And again those are kind of hard to work with. I was constantly getting pitched, "Hey we can grow your revenue". And so I test them and I make like 3 cents.
So I had a number of experiences like that, and I've kind of built my own processes to look at who are these people, who are their other clients, and trying to figure out are they going to be a good fit for me?
And more recently one of the things that has been a massive change for probably a lot of publishers is what's called header bidding. And it's a new technology in advertising that allows advertisers to kind of pick and choose which impressions they want to display an ad for.
Chrys: Are you still doing the ad network or have you just stopped doing that?
Chris: I've actually moved off of the ad network, the direct relationships with the ad networks. In the last year I went to a fully managed solution. What I realized was I was spending probably 10 hours a week dealing with advertisers and dealing with people who are pitching me, and this is just not a good use of my time. And so I did a lot of research and found a company that is able to integrate a number of technologies together and fully manage it for me.
So if someone says, hey, I want to advertise on your website, I just go talk to them. I don't have to deal with it, streamline my accounting, streamline my business in terms of the amount of time I had to spend dealing with the advertising. And then the other big component which has grown a lot over the last couple of years is affiliate relationships. And so that's making pitches, promoting products and services to the users of my site, that are going to benefit the users of my site.
Recently, I think the last couple of years VPNs become extremely popular and that's one of the primary reasons people are coming to my website anyway, just to find out if their VPN is working. So it became a very natural sell and that's really helped to grow my revenue over the last couple of years.
Chrys: Do you mind sharing how much revenue you're making from the ad network and from the affiliate marketing?
Chris: Yeah. Right now it's about 60-40. So about 60% of my revenue is coming from display and about 40% is coming from affiliate marketing. Hopefully I can get that up to a nice kind of 50-50 number in the next year or so. Total for the site is doing a little bit under $1 million in revenue a year.
Chrys: Which point did the website actually start to make a significant amount of money from from display ads and affiliate marketing?
Chris: Probably probably around the time that first time my employer started struggling financially, because that was the first time that I really realized I need to make sure that there's money, that that I'm making the best use out of that display opportunity. Because I had more time available, I started to really fish through those things saying, wow, this partner's not working, let me get rid of them, let me try this company now if they're not working. So just trying to iterate my myself through a bunch of the different vendors out there to find the ones that worked best for my traffic.
Chrys: What I'm curious to learn more about is affiliate marketing, cause I've actually kind of dabbled in it for a bit when I was doing some websites. Let's just say my success wasn't like yours. I haven't had the success that you've had. And here's the thing, how do you decide which affiliate program to join? Because I know you say you realize that VPN worked really well for you, but there's so many VPN companies out there. There's Nord VPN, there's the Tunnel Bear, there is like a billion others out there. So how do you decide which company is best for your business?
Chris: Well some of it was a little bit of process of elimination of talking with the vendors, looking at their products, testing them out. I know I had one vendor from a country which will remain nameless - the theme of their website and their product was all Disney characters and they were not an authorized Disney licensee. They were totally infringing on Disney trademarks and they're like, we want to advertise on your site. I'm not gonna risk Disney coming after me because of your trademark infringement.
So some of it is really looking at the reputations of the companies and trying to choose best in class partners to work with. There's definitely been other VPNs who've come to me and said, we will pay you more than some of these other people are paying you. But I looked at the service they're offering and I know, well if you're only charging this amount of money and you're paying me this, you're losing money on every sale. Even in the long run, it's not sustainable. I kind of look at their business model. Their business model is not going to survive. How is that in the best interest of the users on my site if they buy that product?
So a lot of it is looking at: am I willing to tie my reputation to the reputation of the products and services that I'm promoting? And then it's a matter of just in terms of different verticals, trying different affiliate partners and seeing if they work. And if they work, then you can try to figure out how to massage it or look for other competitors in that space and figure out what works.
Chrys: I think a lot of people think that affiliate marketing is an easy way to make money. I just got to create a website, just put on some stuff and put on some banners and I easily make money from affiliate marketing and I never have to work a single day anymore. I want to know your thoughts on that. Is affiliate marketing an easy way to actually make money?
Chris: I don't think that there's any easy way to make money. Sure, you could make lots of money selling drugs, but that's illegal. Is it easy? If you're going to get shot, that's probably doesn't make it an easy business. Every opportunity to make money comes with its own challenges. If you're an expert in some particular market, you could definitely talk about products and services related to what you're an expert at. And while that may not guarantee you overnight revenue success, for a lot of people, an extra a hundred dollars a month or an extra $500 a month can be fairly significant for them. It doesn't have to be tens of thousands of dollars for you to be a success.
And I think it's just the persistence of testing, testing, testing, being an expert and trying to use the expertise that you have to promote products or services that are actually good products and services. I've seen lots of people try to promote stuff that is... they're just trying to make a buck and it's very obvious in their promotion of the products and services that they're trying to make a buck. You have to find the balance that you really need to serve your audience.
Chrys: Are there any watch out when it comes to affiliate marketing and things we shouldn't be doing?
Chris: Different countries have different laws and you have to be careful that you're appropriately disclosing. Some countries require that if you're promoting products and services that you have to disclose that you're making money. How you do that varies and how you interpret those laws vary. And I think you just have to watch out who you're working with - just because they claim to be a good affiliate for you to work with doesn't really mean that they are. I've definitely had people approach me, like I said before, that are just like, I just don't trust you.
Even if you're willing to claim that you're willing to give me lots of money, I don't want to risk a whole bunch of your product was sold but you never actually paid me my commission. Well that's a problem. And so that's kind of one of the things that I've always done is when I bring on a new partner, I don't jump in with both feet and I don't direct all my traffic to them. I test them, I make sure they pay their bills on time. Is their communication good?
Cause sometimes you get these companies that are eager to get you signed up and as soon as you get signed up, they stop returning your phone calls, they stop returning your emails and I don't want to deal with a company like that, no matter how good the commission is. If I can't work with him, it's not going to work for me.
Chrys: Now that you've grown WhatIsMyIPAddress.com to a much bigger business than when you first started out, do you find that it is more and more difficult to get newer people to discover your website because your website has been around for a long time? What are you doing these days to actually get new traffic coming in, people constantly coming back to check the IP address? Because I think I've probably only checked my IP address once ever in my life. I don't actively wake up and be like, what is my IP address? You know what I mean? So what are you doing to actually get people to come in?
Chris: That is a legitimate problem for me - trying to attract a new audience. And part of that has been expanding beyond just telling people what their IP address is. Of late, there's been a lot of interest in online privacy, so there's a lot of discussion and content built for the site around privacy. Online scams are just through the roof these days, so there's a lot of information on the website about how to keep yourself safe from online scams.
And so I'm trying to reach out to a wider audience and trying to make sure that the content that I'm writing is better than the content on my competitors, the tools that I'm offering are better than the tools on my competitors. I think I'm probably the biggest of the IP lookup sites, either number one or number two depending on where you look at, and so I'm always trying to make sure that I'm not relaxing and assuming, okay, I'm number one, I can take it easy now.
It's almost, I'm number one, I've got to work harder now. And so I've had to start hiring consultants to come in or contractors to come in and write code that's beyond my skill sets or writes on new tools. Just constantly looking for new tools that are similar to the theme of the site to offer people.
Chrys: That is interesting. So you started to brunch into things like privacy. Is that your forte? Did you learn a lot about privacy when you were working with companies, did you know a lot about it when you first decided to like, I'm going to go and talk about privacy right now, or did you actually have to read up a lot about it as well?
Chris: I had to read up a lot about it. It was not like I was originally this privacy advocate, let me lead the charge. I saw that there was a lot of interest in that field and I need to learn more about this field, I need to be well versed. I may not be the number one expert in the field but I don't think I need to be the number one expert. I just need to be better than 98% of the people in the world about something to be an expert in there. There's plenty of room for lots of people to be experts, we need to find it that way. So I think I've done that with a number of areas of just trying to constantly be learning and trying to see where the industries are going to make sure that I don't get left behind.
Chrys: Are you going to monetize this new part of the business with affiliate marketing and ads as well, or are you actually going to create digital products for people who might be interested to learn more about privacy and security?
Chris: If I can, if there is an appropriate affiliate relationship, I do it. I don't make a decision on whether I'm going to put content on the site, whether or not there is an affiliate business there. I think if the content is worth writing, the content is worth writing and producing and maintaining. If there happens to be an affiliate relationship that makes a good fit, even better. But I'm trying not to look at it as... I'm not trying to chase the money in that sense. I want to make sure that I'm producing benefit to my site and that's kind of... Once there's a certain revenue number for me, it's more about what more service can I provide and not necessarily how can I double or triple my income.
Chrys: What is your goal for WhatIsMyIPAddress.com? What is this big goal that you want to achieve for this website?
Chris: It was funny cause I had been thinking about this, it is kind of the Simon Sinek saying, it starts with the Why. And I think to me over the last couple of years, I've really started to get a lot of correspondence from people who have been victims of online scams and things like that. At this point I think if I can help educate people and prevent that sort of thing from happening again, again that's kind of one of those, how do you prove a negative?
If I did my job, and I'll never know about it, but I think in some sense it's like, okay, I'm established, as long as I can keep my revenue where it's at, if I can do more to keep people from becoming victims, then I'm giving back to society, I'm helping society and I'm not just trying to profit off of it. I'm trying to benefit other people. I think that's a good thing.
Chrys: Now, before we end off this episode, I'll like you to share: what is the biggest lesson that you've learned as an entrepreneur?
Chris: Biggest lesson I've learned in the last couple of years is being comfortable with being uncomfortable. In realizing that there's a lot of things that I don't know and I have to learn how to get outside of, well, I like doing this. If I want my business to grow and change and evolve, I have to be able to grow and change and evolve myself. About a year and a half ago, I was challenged to be, hey, you need to be on podcasts talking about your business. First couple of podcasts I was on, I was sweating and I was startled, and now I'm sitting across the table having a conversation with a friend about what I do.
Chrys: You're a natural right now. This is a conversation, we're just doing it digitally.
Chris: Yes. But initially it was really uncomfortable for me to do that. I have a business coach and he was really pushing me on that, saying, hey, look, let's craft a media plan for you and the goal is to get you on television. And I'm like, I don't want to be on television. And it was really cool. Last Friday, a producer for a news TV program contacted me and said, Hey, can you come on for a segment? Just a couple of days ago, I had my first television appearance - a whole nine seconds of a national TV.
If I hadn't learned to get more used to being more uncomfortable, that opportunity would just freaked me out. I would've just been, "No, that's fine, if you want me to email you a quote or two, that's fine". The thought of being on television would have just been utterly horrible. But I think that process of learning to be uncomfortable, being okay with that, has really helped me to meet people that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to meet, going to conferences and being a little more comfortable talking to people and being more involved. I think it's been a big shift for me personally.
Chrys: Now this is a perfect way to close out this episode. Guys, go check out WhatIsMyIPAddress.com after today's show to learn more about privacy, security and online safety content, and of course to find out about your IP address if you ever need to. Well thank you guys so much for spending time with me and Chris. Head on over to hackyouronlinebusiness.com. You can find the show notes, the links and everything that we just talked about today. I want to thank you so much Chris for coming on the show.
Chris: Thank you, I had a great time.
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