Building a Web site and making money via online advertising is not just for kids anymore. Gray Googlers -- those passionate entrepreneurs in their 50s, 60s and 70s -- are generating cash even without master-level technical skills. They're tapping into the AdSense system run by the global search giant.
Contextual or content-sensitive online advertising is on the rise. Last year, Google says, it shelled out $3.1 billion to Adsense publishers, up from $1.2 billion in 2004. Contextual means the ads have a relevance to the content of the Web site on which it appears, thereby increasing the chance of visitors clicking on those ads. When visitors click, the Web site's owner gets paid.
There are four steps to get started.
Build a Web site. If you know how to send e-mails, navigate AOL or shop on eBay, then you're likely capable of building your own Web site. Select a topic that you're truly passionate about since you'll be living and breathing it.
Google offers two free tools that have their advertising program built in -- blogger.com and pages.google.com -- but you're by no means limited to using their tools. Sites such as Yahoo Publisher, GoDaddy.com and Apple's iWeb all have programs to allow users to build sites. If you already have a Web site, you're ready to go.
Register for Google ads. The reality is most of us have no interest or expertise in going out and selling ads to appear on our Web sites. But that doesn't mean you can't snag even a sliver of the online advertising bucks.
Register your site with Google's AdSense program (google.com/adsense ), which works with hundreds of thousands of Web sites and hundreds of thousands of online advertisers. Signing up is free, with no cost and no obligation. The system matches the advertiser's target audience with the content of the relevant Web sites.
For example, I might create a Web site about everything there is to know and love about beagle dogs. When I register for Google's AdSense, the ads appearing on my site will relate to that subject -- ranging from dog food and breeders to pet accessories, insurance and maybe even dog Halloween costumes.
You're not going to find ads for computers or cars; all of the ads will be relevant to my overall content. And I will receive money -- from pennies to dollars -- every time someone clicks on those ads.
To host the ads, Google provides site owners with simple code to embed on various pages of their Web sites. The location of those ads is determined and controlled by you. Google's system replaces ads daily, thereby maximizing your chances of capturing new clicks often.
Even though Google's network is the largest of its kind, there are also other ad sites you can explore before deciding who to register with. Among them: Yahoo (publisher.yahoo.com), Edgeio (edgeio.com ), Adbrite (adbrite.com), and Text Link Ads ( text-link-ads.com). You can find others online.
Add new content regularly. Since you only make money if visitors to your site click on the ads, there are two things you can do to build an audience. One of those tasks is to add fresh unique content often.
Depending on your financial goals, you might have to commit to working on your site every day by adding new content. The more pages of content you have, the more ads you can host, and the more potential you have to make money. A site with five pages won't make nearly as much money as a site with 50 or 500 pages of relevant content.
A Web site about beagle dogs might feature well-researched content on breeding, training and grooming. It may also include a section about what my puppy is up to, along with tips and tricks I've used to train him. I might post questions on my site soliciting advice from my readers to help me to get him to stop biting my kids. I might also compile a frequently updated list of famous people who have owned beagles. The possibilities are endless for refreshing the content.
If you're just looking to make a nominal amount of money, then you can add new content less frequently. Adding more content -- and not just junk -- but valuable stuff that someone who cares about your subject matter would enjoy reading, the more people you'll ultimately be able to attract. And the more traffic you have, the more likely it is for some of those visitors to click on the ads.
Promote your Web site often. It's not nearly as simple as build it and they will come. That's true with any business or resource. To make money, you must have a solid product and you must hustle to let an audience know it exists.
Some companies spend big bucks promoting their Web sites, but there are many free things anyone can do, especially if you're starting out with no budget. Contact friends and family: Send smart, engaging e-mails asking them to visit your site and to refer it to their circle of friends. This helps to build a word-of-mouth following.
Submit your site to all of the search engines so your content will be indexed. Focus on reciprocal links: I might ask beagle breeders and dog walkers to link to my Web site and I'll provide links to their sites.
Develop a PR campaign: Pitch yourself as an expert to the local media and be sure your Web site is included if you're quoted. Give speeches in your community on your topic of expertise and promote your site in the process.
In addition to numerous books and Web sites devoted to helping you monetize your Web site, Google has an extensive help center with step by step instructions (https://www.google.com/adsense/support/), as well as the AdSense blog and newsletter, which offers lots of tips (http://adsense.blogspot.com/ ).
Google also holds regular webinars for its AdSense publishers. Google won't do the work for you but a support team will respond to inquiries within 24 hours.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Connect with her at www.womenforhire.com.