Here's how I do it...
I build websites. However, instead of focusing on writing content, I decided to be different and find problems people have and solve them. I build unique websites that others can't (easily) copy. Which is why I don't mind sharing my formula.
My First Big Success - $150/month
I took some public government records that were only available by ordering a DVD, and made them available online. As well, I added about 5 pages of content with some information on the topic (FAQ, About, etc.). It is a very simple PHP script (100 lines) that lets people do a search. Then I put Adsense on the site, and did some minimal SEO, such as submitting it to directories.
From 2001 to 2010, this simple site was #1 for a pretty popular keyword and outranked even the government site! It consistently earned $150/month from Adsense, and required zero work after it was setup. Recently, I changed hosting and I couldn't be troubled to move it. Also, the data was from 2001 and getting pretty out of date, so I decided to shut it down (even though it was still making $150/month). Honestly, it wasn't worth the effort to update it.
Next Success - $12,500/month
I found a niche where there was a lack of good information for people. There were lots of websites on the topic with articles, but very little about people's real experiences. The niche also has high CPC for ads. I realized that a user review site would be perfect since people were already posting reviews in some forums about the topic. None of the WordPress plugins or scripts would do what people wanted. So I created a simple review site specifically for the niche. Then I mentioned it on the related forums and it took off like wild fire! I had good on-site SEO to make sure Google would be happy, and I did some minimal link building to get ranked (submitted to directories).
This site now earns $12,500/month (average, it's been as high as $15,000 some months) from affiliate commissions and a bit of Adsense. I was able to quit my day job, and then do a lot of traveling. Because the site solved the exact problem people were having, they naturally linked to it and talked about it. It just keeps on going. All traffic is organic and it ranks well for a lot of keywords. It requires 2-3 hours/month of work.
Why it worked...
Looking back, in both cases I created custom websites with a bit of programming. Marketing was easy, because it solved a problem or provided information people needed. In the first case, I used technology to make the information available. In the second case, I used technology to create a platform where people could exchange information, a review site in this case. Neither was particularly innovative or technically ground-breaking. In fact, the web programming is extremely basic in both cases.
I didn't even realize it until now, but the first case is similar to Google where you create a tool to make information available. The second website is the same model as Facebook, where you create the platform and let people use it to share information.
If you think about all the most successful businesses today, one thing they have in common is that they provide and use technology to their advantage. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, eBay, Amazon, Netflixs, etc.
Now, I like WordPress (and similar web scripts) as much as the next person and use it for blogs and in a lot of other situations. It's a great tool and I could have used it to solve 70-80% of what people needed. But a solution that solves the problem 100% (and just that one specific problem) is what makes it remarkable.
1. Find a problem that people have. This is the hard part, since there isn't a keyword search tool you can use. You have to keep your eyes open. It's best if the niche is one where people spend lots of money. Both of the problems I found were something I wanted solutions to for myself.
2. Build a custom site that solves the problem and give it away for free. You don't have to be a programmer or tech geek to do this, since it's easy to outsource programming these days. Caution: don't take on crazy challenging problems like building a search engine when no one has ever done it. Find easy problems, but something that WordPress or a cheap script can't solve.
3. Monitize with Adsense or affiliate offers. A different model is to charge a fee instead of giving it away for free, but I tried that with my first site and it was a lot of work (dealing with customers) and made just as much money when it was free using Adsense.
I really like creating passive businesses so that I don't have to "work." Both of my successful sites have been almost completely passive, letting me do fun things like travel and learn to fly small airplanes.
The hardest part is finding the right type of problem to solve. Building the solution can be outsourced.
Looking back I realize now that I also use technology a lot to build systems and tools to automate my businesses. I'm lazy and don't like working. This is the same reason why email auto-responders are so amazing; you set them up once and they automate your sales process.
The Internet is today's killer "technology" and while I agree that you don't have to know how to program or write HTML, I believe you have a major advantage if you understand the basics and know how to create custom websites/software by outsourcing. You can use technology to build a solution to a problem. You can also use it in your business to automate processes like sales, marketing, follow-up, support, etc. putting you way ahead of your competition.
That's it. Just knowing how to build custom programmed websites and tools is why I've been successful. I think most people can learn how to do this, although it's probably not for everyone.
That's what's worked for me. I hope you found this helpful. I'll do my best to respond to any questions in this thread.