My Foray Into Online Media Publishing

By Justin Formentin |April 02, 2018|Time to read: 3 Min.

I can't remember what started it, but a few years ago I was reading some articles that outlined affiliate revenue for some different sites. I looked through estimated earnings for advertising revenue for some others. It seemed like everyone was making a ton of money from their websites. Some terrible quality click bait sites were making more money than I've ever seen in a single month. I wanted a piece of that. Just look at when The New York Times bought a couple years ago for $30 million dollars. "I can do that", I naively though.

So I taught myself how to build websites using WordPress. Starting on a blank Linux VPS, I taught myself how to install a LAMP stack, get an SSL certificate (anybody who's anybody uses https, you know), and install WordPress. Then I figured out the themes and plugins, taught myself HTML, CSS, PHP and (a little) Javascript.

This was a side project. I still had my day job so any work on the website was only done at night when I got home. Trying to churn out articles to populate the site, I wrote articles that ranged from garbage to great. I had a few that I thought I did a really good job on, but those took a significant time investment. Making sure all the photos, links, and formatting was correct, making sure nothing I wrote could be seen as plagiarism, making sure to use keywords effectively, etc.

It was more work than I initially thought.

To balance things out, I quickly wrote some articles that were terrible, photo heavy articles with the sole purpose of infecting the page with my affiliate links. You know the type. I looked for ways to reduce my hours, and increase views to the site. Using websites like to find people to write articles for the site. Paying for facebook ads to promote the site. All just spending money for the Hope™ of seeing a return in however many months it took.

As most will tell you, you can't just expect to slap something together and make money. Odds are it will be months before you start to see any kind of money rolling in from a website, especially one that is entirely built and written by one person in the few hours between getting home from work and going to sleep.

In the end, because I understand the sunk cost fallacy, I decided it wasn't worth continuing. There were so many other things that I wanted to do that I just had to cut my losses. I didn't want to continue to write done-to-death, mediocre articles in the hopes of a few bucks here and there for untold months.

It wasn't a waste of time, though. I'm a firm believer in the fact that every single thing you do is useful to you in varying degrees, sometimes at different points in your life. Even total failures, like my first website. Everything is an experience you can draw from down the road, a skill you can use at a later time. And making this website has ended up being an important, pivotal even, experience in so many ways. Website building, server maintenance, writing, a brief look into the advertising side of websites, and the beginning steps into programming. A lot of what I have done and what I am doing now can be traced back to the things I learned when I failed at making a successful website the first time around. It really was the initial push that got me into programming.

Over the years, WordPress has evolved into an amazing tool. But it is still limiting in some ways. It seemed like no matter what plugin or theme you tried using, everything needed a ton of work to customize and configure to match what you wanted to do. I thought there had to be a better way. So I started reading everything I could about building websites. I just tried to test everything out as I watched/read along. Hell, I built my first React app before I could even read Javascript effectively, mainly by utilizing documentation, copy-pasting, and frankenstein-ing existing projects together.

Nowadays, I try to look at all opportunities with these past experiences in mind. Most of the time, you can't image the effect that something you do today will have on what doors will be open tomorrow. If I had never failed miserably at making a website, I would have never fallen into the programming rabbit hole, and wouldn't be where I am today. Just try to say yes more often, do those things you've been putting off, and accept opportunities when they present themselves. You can always choose to do something else, but you can never know what you might have gained if you don't just go for it.

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