The 11 Most Popular Online Business Models

Greg Elfrink Updated on September 23, 2021

popular online business model

Online businesses over the last decade and a half have disrupted industries across the world and have changed the way we do commerce forever.

In addition, online businesses have changed people’s lives. For the first time, there is a real gateway for someone who wants to exit out of their cubicle or a life where they feel chained to something and actually become free.

It can happen fast, or it can happen slow.

For me, I was in the oilfield for six years and tried a bit of everything. Finally, when I got focused, I began writing articles for pennies for other entrepreneurs. Eventually, this snowballed into writing bigger pieces of content until finally, I became the content manager for Empire Flippers.

The internet changed my life.

It is easier to start an online business than an offline brick and mortar business. The startup is far less capital intensive, the barrier to entry far lower, and the return on investment can be insane for the time you put in. We help educate potential investors and buyers of profitable digital assets every day with free criteria discovery calls, and the reasons above is a big reason why so many investors approach us.

It is such a gold rush that there are even investor pools of people forming, who buy these sites and manage them by hiring effective site builders because of the high level ROIs.

If you want to join thousands of entrepreneurs that are buying and selling online businesses, register for a free account on our marketplace.

But what are the models out there that exist that people can leverage to create what they personally want in their lives?

The Most Popular Online Business Models You Can Utilize Today

For the last several months, we have been covering the several different business models that exist right now and have been proven to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for many entrepreneurs who are firmly in the thick of the digital gold rush. To view all the 11 business models in one easy to read pdf…

> Click here to download the free 111-page eBook <


Adsense is probably the simplest business model that exists online right now. Basically, you create a content site and drive traffic (typically organic search engine traffic, but there are those who have successfully ran paid traffic) to the site. The traffic clicks on the Adsense ads and Google cuts you a check for the ad exposure.

Amazon Affiliate

Amazon is among the oldest online affiliate program in existence. It is also one of the most trusted online brands around, which means it can convert highly. People will often create portfolios of these styled sites, usually where they are reviewing various products. Similar to Adsense, this is a very easy place for a newbie to start out, and an expert can make it into quite a lucrative endeavor. Click here to buy amazon affiliate websites.

Affiliate Marketing

Similar to the Amazon affiliate business model, you simply sign up to sell different products, and build sites around those products or services. Almost every product or service you can imagine under the sun has an affiliate program somewhere. There are entire businesses that have cropped up around helping other businesses create affiliate offers and attracting affiliates to those offers – called Affiliate Networks. There are even businesses that have cropped up that organize all the different Affiliate Networks in an easy to find place, such as OfferVault. Click here for affiliate sites for sale.


Dropshipping is a good place for people just starting out to experiment with the ecommerce business model. Instead of spending large upfront costs on a product, and storing that product, you instead create an entire sales funnel that the actual factory ships direct to the buyer. The margins are thinner than traditional ecommerce, but it is a great place for someone just starting out, or those who have become marketing experts, to grow significant businesses. Usually, these stores will be hosted on Shopify. You can see our Shopify stores for sale here.

Amazon FBA

Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) is closer to an ecommerce store, but it is completely hosted on Your store is actually an Amazon listing, and with that comes all the benefits that the online behemoth has to offer: built in traffic, Amazon affiliates that could end up promoting your products on their niche sites, and even Amazon promoting your products for free if they are proven to convert. This can be a lucrative business to be in, and those who are in it for the long haul will often build a brand around their products, so they can eventually leverage multichannel selling with their own ecommerce store. You can browse or a buy fba business here.


Ecommerce is like having a digital retail store. You buy a product, find a place to store and fulfill orders for that product, and promote the store through a plethora of internet marketing strategies. Many people use paid traffic that they send to their store as the #1 way to get buyers and test new items. Ecommerce works well with dropshipping too, since dropshipping will allow a store owner to test out new kinds of products without an upfront cost. The products that convert best could then be sourced, so that all the products on the store are eventually branded specifically to that online business. I recently wrote a case study on an ecommerce store we sold on the Shopify platform for over $80,000 that you can read here. You can see all of our e-commerce stores including Shopify websites for sale here.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS products are exploding right now, which makes sense, as they can be quite lucrative. Since almost every SaaS product has a rebilling feature, each customer can have a significant lifetime value that allows these companies to lose money on the initial acquisition of a customer, but still make a profit down the road due to that customer’s continuous usage of the software. SaaS products are allowing small businesses more than ever to have high level infrastructure without the high level IT costs that would be associated with them building their own software. SaaS products are everywhere, from accounting and sales CRMs to even writing solutions for fiction authors. You can read about how SaaS companies get their valuations here, or browse our marketplace for a SaaS company for sale.


Most people that are just starting out in online business were probably a customer a time or two for someone selling an ebook or video course about making money online. This market exists in many more niches than just the make money online space. People selling training, dating advice, fitness consultation, or even products about how you can appear taller are all part of this space. The great thing about infoproducts is that all the work for the most part is front loaded — once the product is created and converting, you can scale it to the moon. It costs nothing extra to sell 1,000 units instead of 1 unit, outside of the obvious marketing costs, making this business incredibly lucrative in the hands of the right person. Check here for an online business for sale.


Apps are a big business. At the time of this writing, Pokémon GO has become such a huge phenomenon that there are more active users playing Pokémon GO than there are on Twitter. That is some crazy numbers, and shows that apps can still be huge money makers, despite increased competition. The biggest thing with apps is making the app as addictive as possible, so people keep using it once they have downloaded it, rather than being pushed to some folder the mobile phone users never open again. For someone who loves to learn about user engagement, combining that skill set with useful and entertaining apps can mean big business. Click here to buy online businesses.

Productized Services

Productized services are a relatively new kid on the block for proven online business models, and they have been a godsend for many a freelancer turned full-fledged entrepreneur. It is a way to take what normally would be a one-to-one client service, such as web design and SEO, and packaging them into a more packaged service. Because of this, it can limit one of the biggest frustrations that freelancers know as a “scope creep”. Where one job slowly grows into a monstrous job that begins to eat into the freelancer’s profits. Instead, people buy packages and are sometimes upsold on more customized solutions that are still “productized”. It is an exciting opportunity, and businesses like WPCurve and Design Pickle have shown that it can work wonders, even despite early-doubters (who are now huge fans of the model). Browse all of our online businesses for sale here.

Lead Gen

Lead Gen is an amazing opportunity right now for both local markets, and on the (inter)national stage. These kinds of opportunities could consist of affiliate programs where you are sending leads to offers such as college or higher level education, or it could be on a per client basis like the local plumber who is willing to pay $20-30 bucks per a qualified lead. The nice thing about lead gen over a one-on-one client agency model is that you are usually not exclusive and you can use a full range of internet marketing strategies to generate those leads versus having to wait for approval from a client before moving forward with one. Click here to browse and buy businesses.

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What Model is Right For You?

Each of these business models can give you an opportunity to have a six-figure online career, or even seven-figures.

While some cater better to people just starting out learning about digital businesses for the first time, all of them can be scaled to incredibly lucrative businesses as you gain more and more skill.

The best advice myself or anyone can give you is to simply go out there, get your jersey dirty, play the game, and experiment. You might get roughed up a little in the start, but those lessons will help you immensely and get you moving in the right direction.

If you click on those links above, at the end of each article I talk about what kind of personality does best in those businesses. Read through them and decide what you like the most and what you really want from your online business, whether it is to be a captain of industry and a magnate thought leader or if you want to be someone hanging out on the beaches of the world while your sites work for you in the background.

The online business world has something to offer everyone.

Obviously, if you want to expand your portfolio of income streams, check out our marketplace.

Or if you want to exit in style with a big payday for your hard work, you can learn about selling your site here.

Of course, if you have a business you want to sell that needs a bit of preparation, we’re happy to help you with that too. Our team offers exit planning calls that you can schedule here to help you create a plan to get maximum value for your business.

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  • Gaurav Guru says:

    One thing which may be tougher to flip would be a personal brand. For someone who is looking at flipping, I would too recommend an affiliate based business.

    Fantastic models listed down here. No point in re-inventing the wheel!

  • MIS says:

    Which model has the “easiest” upside in terms of growing it to higher income?

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Hey Mis,

      It really depends on your skill sets and what you’re into. All of them can be “easy” depending on that, though none are a quick path to riches.

      My personal favorite business model is building out a content site. You can start off with affiliate and display ads but later down the road can introduce all the other monetizations with a good content site that has awesome branding with it. You can launch your own info products, physical products, and even software depending on the space and leverage your content site to build out all of them.

      Far harder said than done of course, and I’m a bit biased being a content marketer 🙂

  • Anwer Ashif says:

    I don’t understand! How does Amazon affiliate get separated from affiliate marketing business modal? Do you mean Amazon affiliate is different from typical affiliate marketing business?

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Hey Anwer,

      We’ve separated it mainly because Amazon affiliate so popular in its own right we thought it deserved its own post. There are some majors differences between the two as well. For example, Amazon’s affiliate program has a very short cookie (24 hours) compared to other programs. Also unlike other affiliate networks, you really have no affiliate manager to speak with or troubleshoot issues with. You also can’t negotiate with Amazon for bigger payouts like with other networks. If something goes wrong with an Amazon affiliate account, often you’ll need to troubleshoot it yourself and really find the work around on your own since Amazon rarely steps in to help the affiliate

  • It’s interesting to know that when it comes to a company wanting to take their business online that there are a lot of different opportunities out there to help them get on the right path. I like how you pointed out that when it comes to choosing the right one, they need to do research to make sure it is one they believe will help expand their portfolio of income streams. This makes sense, because they are wanting to succeed online and it is smart to use the tools that will get them there.

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Yes, people really should take stock of what their skill sets are when they go about researching these different business models. For example, if someone has zero development skills, zero desire to learn it and it’s basically witchcraft to them… then going into the Software as a Service business likely isn’t a good idea for them and probably should be avoided.

  • Terry AC says:


    Great article, was a fun read.

    I have a question, if a website chooses to adopt more than one of the models you have suggested – for example, it might be a niche blog talking about X. Some products are sourced, with the website having an online store in addition to the blog, where adsense is running. Moreover, one can become an Amazon Affiliate at the same time and post relevant items beneath each article which readers of the articles may be interested in? In general, people looking to buy will be a lot more lucrative than people looking to read stuff, but I was wondering what the problem with combining different revenue streams on the same website might be?

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Hey Terry!

      Great question!

      We see A LOT of sites with mixed monetization methods. We usually categorize the monetization method on our marketplace by the TOP earning type of monetization since usually one monetization is outearning all the others by a significant amount (i.e Adsense might be earning 5% revenue and Amazon Associates is earning 95%). We actually LOVE mixed monetization methods because it diversifies where the income is coming from and helps mitigate risks (such asn account closure with Amazon affilaite that could wreck all the profits of a website).

      The more diversified the business is, the better. Of course you got to be careful with this, try to do too much and you might end up doing very little in terms of actual earnings. I would say when first building out a site, focus on just one monetization method until you really get it going and then start expanding the site with other forms of monetization.

      This goes for traffic too. A site that is well diversified with different streams of traffic is almost always going to be more valuable and attractive to a buyer, because it again mitigates risk. The more you can get rid of any critical point of failure, the better.

  • Chethan C says:

    hey guys, i have a question.
    Which is the suitable business model in this changing trend ??
    which can be adoptable and which is having brighter future ???

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      All business models will have various ability to be adaptable and change in the future. The more you can own the pieces the better obviously, so an ecommerce store where you sourced all of your own products or a SaaS business you coded and built is going to be more defensible than say an Amazon affiliate business. It is key to remember relying too much on a single form of traffic can also be just as bad – for example if 99% of all your traffic is Google SEO or Facebook Ads and something happened where you got penalized in Google or banned off the Facebook Ad platform, your whole business could tank overnight regardless of owning the entire product (ecommerce store/SaaS).

      So every model has its pros and cons, just as every traffic method does

  • Roman says:

    Hey there interesting post.

    Lead Gen caught my eye as I read it since I heard some top entrepreneur here in Dubai doing the same thing. Just the other day he signed a multi-million contract with a multi-billion company. Sweet deals. I guess that’s the difference between me and him. He’s doing it, I just heard about it.

    Anyway I had to ask even though it’s kind of old, what do you think about viral news website – getting the cash off adsense?

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Hey Roman!

      It sounds like he understands how to make some great lead gen deals! Pretty impressive.

      As far as Adsense and viral news sites, they’re still around. I would say viral news sites are more flash in the pan rather than growing a real long term asset (for the most part that is, this isn’t always true). Adsense sites are still being sought after by buyers as like with affiliate programs, it is pretty easy to manage those styles of businesses.

  • Frances says:

    I recently attended a seminar about web hosting business and online membership business. What is that and does Empire Filppers offer courses to teach how these businesses can be set up?

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      We don’t have any courses about how to start a web hosting business or online membership business. However, we have sold both of these models before and likely will again. If you’re interested in purchasing these kind of models, you can certainly check out our marketplace for when they go live. As far as courses go, none come to mind except maybe Clickfunnels training on setting up membership businesses

  • christina says:

    This was such a great article. A real eye opener. thank you.

  • Todd D says:

    I previously owned a drop-ship auto parts business that we started up in 1996, and currently started up a digital marketing agency last year.

    I think a drop-shipping is one of the easiest and most lucrative online businesses to start up these days. There are so many vendors/wholesalers you have to work with now. Back when we started up our auto parts business, there was no such thing as drop-shipping (at least with auto parts) and we had to build our own custom software and infrastructure to support that business model.

    • Justin Cooke says:

      Interesting perspective, Todd!

      Funny enough – I was hanging out with the founder of Dropship Lifestyle today. (A guy who helps people get started with dropshipping)

      I agree with you to a point. Plenty of wholesalers looking at the model and willing to make a deal. The problem is that the lower margins can limit your customer acquisition opportunities, IMO. If you’re sourcing the products yourself and have that additional margin, you can make unprofitable paid traffic strategies profitable – can be the difference between a profitable and unprofitable business in some cases.

      Still – dropshipping can be a great model to get started with. Relatively easy compared to other physical product companies for sure! Less moving parts…

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Hey Todd!

      Dropshipping is an awesome business model for sure. We have had a lot of clients come to our marketplace that ran super successful dropshipping stores. It is a great way to break into ecommerce without getting financially loaded down on purchasing stock.

      Sounds like you were an early pioneer with your company. That is awesome. And congratulations on the digital marketing agency! Also a very lucrative business model for sure.

  • Zamasu says:

    Why i hardly seeing blog like these cover a new kind of business model that will bring you more potential profit down the road such as

    1. Creating marketplace platform
    2. Sharing Economy
    3. On Demand Economy
    4. Curated box
    5. PWYW
    6. Crowd sourcing Inventory

    and many more like it that can potential generate you 8 figure income and yes many of these business model alot of the time require alot of thinking, planning, visualization, prototyping and validation with MVP.

    To fund many of these project also require angel investor or venture capital as it will had a huge upfront cost to develop the platform or apps. But why many blog these day neglect these 21 century new business model which is responsible for disrupting the global market?.

    Are majority of people psychologically think that these type of business only for those with a brain like Bill Gate or M Zagerberg? or maybe require multi million to start the project?. I sometime wonder why alot of these powerful brand and inventor are all American Jew and hardly i see 8 – 10 figure coming from ordinary people like you and i?.

  • Janet says:

    You didn’t cover service based businesses. You can scale this into a team/virtual agency model. Add in digital courses, workshops, and retreats. Also similar to the coaching/consulting business. There is still ample opportunity in 6figures with these.

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Hey Janet!

      We covered Productized Services in the 11 business models, but you are right the agency model is missing.

      We are currently working on a piece specifically for that model, which we will likely update this article with that business model when we do.

      Agency models can bring in a ton of profit, but when it comes to buying and selling them there are extra things to watch out for as often the SOPs are not as stringent with say a productized service. There is a lot more that goes into buying an agency, especially if the agency is a “one-person show” where there really is no employees and thus potentially no real assets minus the book of clients that the solopreneur was able to collect.

      It also means that the buyer has to be extra wary that they either:

      1. Know how to do the service that the agency was providing
      2. Know how to hire someone who can do the service or is certain that they can retain the talent that is currently performing the service

      Coaching and consulting businesses are even harder to sell, since almost all of these are personally branded businesses where the consultant is the persona and the real product that the consumer is buying. Unless the company has grown large enough to have a stable of consultants, it is going to be a tougher business to sell.

      And again you have to make sure you know how to retain the talent of those consultants, or know how to provide that consultancy product before purchasing a business like that (and of course making sure it is not too much of a personal brand, but one that can grow as a overall company brand that isn’t reliant on one persona).

      While both business models are super profitable, they can be a bit trickier to buy/sell ultimately.

      Definitely can be done successfully though

  • Peter Pham says:

    For me “ONE THING” is the best of all. We can deep just only one field, we will success!

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      Absolutely Peter!

      It is super important to focus on just one business model when you’re starting out. As you become more skilled, able to scale, and understand your operations better, you can start moving into other business models.

      Or you can just deep dive into one business model and really expand upon it until it becomes an awesome gold mine for your business.

      Both routes can be really lucrative. The biggest mistake most people make though is diversifying into different business models too quickly with too little skill, definitely something you want to avoid!

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