I believe that the best way for most small software vendors to make money off their software is to charge for it. So I was interested to spot a post on BOS by someone who had tried ads, toolbars and charging to monetize the same piece of software. He kindly agreed to share his experience anonymously. Obviously it is only one data point, but the results are pretty unequivocal.
I developed a freeware program six or seven years ago. A piece of utility software, for either home or business use, in an extremely crowded and competitive niche. The downloads grew organically and settled into what they are now, around 30,000-40,000 per month. I’ve never used any paid advertising, but have always had a forum and been responsive to user queries. That, coupled with regular updates, built the software a fairly loyal user base.
My original idea was to make money by attracting visitors to the website and using Google Ads. This isn’t generally done on software sites, but it kind of worked for me (I still had a day job though). Eventually it was making one or two thousand dollars per month. I experimented with toolbar installer offers – Bing for the US and UK, Ask for the rest of the world. The revenue wasn’t too bad, but the ads made more.
Eventually I decided to try selling a ‘Pro’ version of the software, with even more features. I planned to keep the free version as a ‘gateway’. Note the free version still has more features than non-free competitors. It took about 6 months to write (evenings and weekends), and was finally released (with no marketing, apart from the website) in Jan 2012.
As you can see, from the first full month the sales revenue brought in ten times what the toolbar did. I wound down the site ads, and eventually removed the toolbar (you can see the revenue tail off in the chart).
I quit the day job!