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An AdSense Publisher's Story: Returning to 9-to-5

 12:03 am on Jul 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Though I'm not a frequent poster here, I'm a frequent reader and have been very appreciative of all the thoughts, lessons learned and advice that you all share here on this board. It's in that spirit that I thought I'd share with you a recent decision I made to return to the regular workaday world, and some lessons I learned along the way.

I started building my site about 6 years ago after reading about AdSense in an article in the Washington Post, which detailed the success that publishers like SeatGuru.com and Podcast-Directory.com had had with their sites, as well as the well-known sites we all know, like Ask the Builder and Plenty of Fish.

It took several years -- and many months of days making in the single digits, I can remember the first day I made double digits with AdSense, woo-hoo! -- but eventually I was able to make enough money through my site to be comfortable. No details of course, but the site at its peak has made a six-figure income a couple of years.

Naturally, with success like that, I like many of you dreamed of quitting the day job to pursue working on the site full-time. I felt like I just couldn't give it enough of my time fitting it into the cracks here and there, that it wasn't all it could be if I had the time to focus on it every day. So, once it seemed to be making enough consistently every month for me to comfortably make the leap, I did.

I quit the 9-to-5 and plunged headfirst into working only on my site. Which was great, for a while at least. And then, I experienced the first of two site outages, one which lasted only a few hours but the other lasted more than 24 hours. It really rattled me, and woke me up to the fact that there are factors beyond my control that can totally wipe out my income from the site. Things got back on track after that, but that really gave my confidence a jolt.

The other, of course, is the Panda and Penguin updates Google has been making to their algorithms. Like (I suspect) many of you guys, I get probably 90% of my site traffic from visits from search. Yes, I know I should be developing an email list with a newsletter that would then be generating traffic, and yes I know I should be developing a blog that can get a wide subscription/RSS feed following, but honestly it takes all of my time just to update the content on the site. That's what I've been focused on, just building and improving the site's content over the years.

Well, to date (cross my fingers) I haven't been affected by the algorithm changes, but I no longer see them as something that would never affect me. After reading of Tim Carter's experience with his Ask the Builder site, that was yet another wake-up call.

The other big wake-up call has been the shift to mobile that's really undeniable at this point. Over the past year, traffic from desktop PCs to my site has grown around 4-5%; traffic from mobile devices, meanwhile, has grown 150%. It now accounts for virtually all of the traffic growth year-over-year from 2011. Trying to deny that a big fundamental shift is going on is like standing on the beach when a tidal wave is coming in, and thinking that refusing to acknowledge it will somehow make it go away.

I did a lot of soul-searching over the past few months and realized that, to ride the mobile wave, I was going to have to invest many hundreds of hours and perhaps thousands of dollars into re-designing my site for the mobile experience. I know that many of you are already on this path. But to me, I think I just found myself burned out on it after working on it already for several years, and I just decided that wasn't a path I wanted to go down anymore.

The other thing was that staying home all the time to work on my site, I really found that I'd narrowed my world in a BIG way. I really failed to appreciate how small my circle would become when I was no longer out circulating in the world every day -- it was a non-financial cost, but it's a very real one. After a while, because the site's been so successful, I've just been doing the same thing over and over with it, updating pages and adding new ones, but not really stretching or expanding my skills and knowledge. Because the site drove so much revenue, there wasn't the incentive to grow the way I should have been growing.

I know that to many of you this will sound like sour grapes. I hope it doesn't. I'm tremendously grateful to a company like Google for making something like AdSense possible -- it has truly changed my life, by enabling me to take great vacations, buy a new home, and take a chance on something I (thought, for a while) really wanted to do. But, life has changed and my priorities have changed with time, and so I think it's best if the site goes back to being a fun hobby and pastime, rather than the "main event" in my professional life.

I read a great quote in a book a while back, something to the effect that turning your hobby into your job is like marrying your mistress -- it creates an immediate vacancy in your life, and a big one. That, more or less, is what happened for me. So now I've returned to the working world and I'm really glad to be back. I'm among colleagues and am stimulated by the environment, plus I have the AdSense hobby on the side that I hope will continue for at least another 2 to 3 years.

If not, or if it all ends tomorrow thanks to an algo update, that's fine -- it's been a great ride. There are other mountains to climb.



 7:45 am on Aug 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

The last six months have been a disaster for me.

I was already working on new sites (with different revenue and traffic streams) to diversify, so this is an incentive to get them off the ground.

I have looked at selling my site (good quality content means it has some value), and at entering into a partnership with someone who is better at marketing and SEO and at investing in SEO to get it back up.

I have little debt and some saving so I have some time to manoeuvre in. I would hate to go back to 9-5.


 8:27 am on Aug 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Google Adsense probably accounts for about 50% of my monthly income, but that is only because the other side of my business (totally non related to advertising) has plummeted this past year. My focus is primarily on the latter, and not on Adsense, because whilst I can't count on either, I feel Adsense alone would be too many eggs in one basket.
I think for anyone planning to give up the day job, have a plan B already implemented. If Adsense fails, at least you'll have a bit of a cushion to soften the blow.


 9:01 pm on Aug 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Wow, had no idea my post would spark such a great discussion. It's been fascinating to read about your experiences, and the decisions you've made to stick with your sites or make other career/job moves.

One lesson I think I've learned from all of this is, especially if I try to build another site or perhaps even an app someday, is to come up with an idea that works no matter what platform it's on -- browser-based web, mobile phone or tablet. Or whatever new device they come up with in the future. ;)

Because the user experience on my site is tied so closely to the desktop web -- delivering information largely in text article format, clicking on text links to move around the site, navigation bars and landing pages and the like -- it would require a lot of re-thinking for a platform on which the user experience involves swiping, pinching and zooming like the more visual smartphone/tablet platform.

It sounds like netmeg at least has made significant headway into generating revenue from mobile traffic, which is encouraging to hear. I share your concerns about mobile ads, though; they're not tied as directly into the experience of consuming the content as web browser-based display and text ads are, and so I would predict that they'd get far fewer clicks, and more accidental ones as well. Like the story of the Zen master from "Charlie Wilson's War," however, we'll just have to wait and see how that plays out.

My hope is that the big guys don't forget that it's the little guys who write and create all of the content that gets shared on the large social networks and sites, and unless we can make a meaningful return on the time we spend to create it, there won't be any content to share on their platforms. I'm not saying I expect to hit the jackpot, but I'd like to make it worth my while to continue investing my time and energy into my site projects (and so far, I've been very happy with what I've been able to make). AdSense has its flaws, as we all know, but it's also funded an amazing amount of creativity on the web. Hopefully something new will come along to help content producers in whatever the mobile web becomes.


 2:26 am on Aug 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

The answer is this... Find a job that pays fairly well and has a supervisor who doesn't watch you closely. Spend most of your day working your sites while getting paid a steady check from a job and Adsense.

travelin cat

 1:51 pm on Aug 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

SirTox, are you actually advocating fraud? Because that's pretty much what you are suggesting. Try looking at it like this, how would you feel if you ran a successful company that had the ability to hire others and provide them with benefits and a steady salary only to have them not actually do any work other than personal side projects?

Wouldn't you fire their ignorant butts and proceed with criminal actions against them? I would.


 2:40 pm on Aug 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

Travelin Cat, it's not fraud if you always put your employer's work first and only work on your stuff after you've gotten all your work tasks done, and done well. I once had an employer who was quite happy to let me bring in my laptop and work on my sites, because I got his work done so efficiently and so well he didn't care what I did when I had downtime. Which I did, because it was service industry, and just because we were available to clients from 9 to 5 didn't actually mean we had a steady stream of them needing stuff from us every minute of that time.

travelin cat

 2:49 pm on Aug 3, 2012 (gmt 0)


a supervisor who doesn't watch you closely.

I respectfully disagree. If you purposefully take a job to get paid while you work on your projects, that is fraud.

It would be one thing to have an employer ok this practice, but to do it under the radar is not only fraudulent, but unethical.


 3:11 pm on Aug 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

^^^ what he said..


 9:24 pm on Aug 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

It would be one thing to have an employer ok this practice, but to do it under the radar is not only fraudulent, but unethical.

I think we're talking at cross-purposes. I'm not condoning doing it in a sneaky manner. I thought SirTox was being slightly facetious: before you take a job, you don't normally know if there will be downtime or what your boss or company policies will be like. So you take the job because you need to earn a living, and you do their work, but then you find your have downtime.

Most companies actually have a policy stating that you can use the net for recreational or personal purposes during your downtime, so working on sites comes under that header.


 12:25 am on Aug 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Why do I always think forum lurkers will not assume the worst in people?

I'm saying work a job like graveyard shift call center, on-call tech, or anywhere that you might be a body just for times when there is work and a supervisor who doesn't care very much about what you're doing when there's nothing to do.

On another note, I recently went back to the 9 to 5 deal after 2 years off. Adsense gave me time to grieve when I lost somebody close to me. This new job leaves me no time to do anything but legit work, which I actually like. I love working with people and getting out of the house again. However, I'm starting to rediscover the office politics that seem to exist in every workplace. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.


 3:45 am on Aug 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

atladsenser - Terrible story! You're giving up! You said you made six figures for 6 whole years. Never dawned on you to hire someone to create those things you knew you needed to create for your site. Never thought of spending some on that money not on trips, cars, house, but to first make sure your business was secure? Never dawned on you to diversify your traffic sources, and your income sources?

Sound like you made a lot of bad mistake with your business. Don't blame Adsense or Google, or the Online business model, you wasted your opportunity.

Also don't claim Sour Grapes about being back around people at a job, tons of ways to be around people outside of a job.

I'm sorry but i can't join the Bad ole Google/Adsense blame game and accept this Cop out!

If you treat your business like a free money hobby, it will be just that, a short term free money hobby! and once the ride is over you get forced back into the work-force because you failed as a business owner.

Instead of growing a sustainable Assets, like a few internet successes, you road the easy automatic money train blowing it all, not investing, not being responsible, and the market changed and you didn't prepare, and now you're out and dry.

This should be a learning lesson to all webmaster. Treat your business like a business. Diversity and reinvest into your business!

Watch the market and adjust for it!


 5:18 am on Aug 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Don't blame Adsense or Google, or the Online business model...

The OP is not blaming Google or the business model.

Also don't claim Sour Grapes about being back around people at a job, tons of ways to be around people outside of a job.

The OP is relating their own experience. There is nothing sour about it. Everyone's experience of life is different. We ALL come from different starting points. We all experience life in different ways. Your experience and my experience are not the only ways to experience it. Step back, see the larger picture, then you will be able to understand that what is right for the OP is right for the OP and in no way contradicts or negates what is right for you.

There is no right way. There is only what is right for you, me, and others. We all live in different countries, have different expenses, have different living conditions. What is right for each individual is a matter for each individual to decide. One cannot impose their own experience, experiences, backgrounds, expectations, needs and specific situation on another person and then judge them on criteria that are right for you, but not for them.

I'm sorry but i can't join the Bad ole Google/Adsense blame game and accept this Cop out!

No one is blaming google. No one is copping out. The OP is doing what is right for their specific situation, which no doubt is very different from yours. Step back to see the larger view.

Visit Thailand

 5:47 am on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

This is a very interesting thread and I must admit that I have not yet read all the posts across the 5 or so pages (but I will), I just wanted to say I have been having very similar sentiments and thank you atladsenser for sharing your thoughts. I will get back to reading now.

Visit Thailand

 9:47 am on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

I was unable to edit my previous post as too much time had passed.

I have read all the posts, and like I said earlier you and I are in very similar situations, as it seems are quite a few others.

Fact is though that you can normally make more working for yourself, and have a better time than not.

1- Working at home. You have the option of solving this by working from serviced office space where you are just one company among many. If there aren't any, perhaps that could be a new business venture, even go into it with people in your area that also currently work from home.

2- I think you are right, everything is going mobile. And if you have 20,000 pages built over years of different coding techniques (so not every page is identical in code at least) that is a VERY daunting task to try and convert it to mobile friendly quality content.

Maybe there is someone here that knows of a programme or an easier way than doing that manually.

3- Hire some sales staff. Some people work on commission only basis if you have not got the cash to do that.

4- Slash ad rates if necessary, so you can afford to hire the staff.

I wonder that if you solved those issues wouldn't your outlook be resolved?

In fact I think the mobile issue is the main one. You are right, if you do not have quality mobile content then I think the site won't be as successful as it could be. Even if you get a job you will still need to convert to mobile anyway, you'll just have less time. Or you could sell but then that seems like a shame after you have put so much sweat into the site.

After reading all the posts, I sent out ad proposals. One cannot rely on AdSense, and doing so even in part is too stressful. Much better to have quality advertisers that you can go out for a meal with, help out from time to time as you would in any business.

Good luck, and thanks for starting this thread.


 10:17 am on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

God and I thought this topic had died and gone to heaven.

Can anyone seriously say they have learned valuable "long term" lessons?

As always, I'm open to correction.


 12:10 pm on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

I feel this requires more discussion since some/many seem to be affected by it.

I think you are right, everything is going mobile.

Some niches are clearly not totally going that way yet however it is difficult to get absolutely accurate statistics since even Google are not collating them correctly and differ greatly to my own logs.

Why do I write that? I have tested my sites with both 7" and 10" tablets and a high-end mobile, Nokia E7, and the fact is that Google cannot identify a 2.1 Android as a tablet and for my E7 it doesn't even display any ads.

Nevertheless Google will be influenced by their own metrics which for 2012 so far show that of all pages views 6.8% are tablets and high-end mobile whereas my logs show less than 1%.

Amazingly my CTR v Desktop average is 150% for tablets and 173.9% for high-end mobile with page views and earnings staying fairly consistent all year however they're nothing anyone could retire on, yet. Tablet EPC v Desktop is 88.5% and Mobile 65.4%

THE single most significant factor, for me, in all of this is that hardly anyone uses my responsive mobile sites, insofar as AdSense is concerned these sites have earned ZERO in 2012!

All my regular sites display perfectly on both 7" and 10" tablets and are usable with pinching etc on mobiles therefore I'm not changing anything whatsoever unless I see a significant user change.

How do these metrics compare to others? Wildy I bet however it would be interesting to see.

Visit Thailand

 12:18 pm on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

God and I thought this topic had died and gone to heaven.

Can anyone seriously say they have learned valuable "long term" lessons?

As always, I'm open to correction.

IanCP, what I do not understand is how your comment helps in any way. I am not trying to be argumentative but if you think the topic has been beaten to death then just ignore it.

I only read it today and think it is a very interesting topic. At least it is better than the PIP, Received payment threads etc.

Sometimes it is not about "long term" lessons sometimes it is just about sharing thoughts and ideas with others that may be in a similar situation.

And the thread is not that old anyway!


 12:37 pm on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

THE single most significant factor, for me, in all of this is that hardly anyone uses my responsive mobile sites, insofar as AdSense is concerned these sites have earned ZERO in 2012!

I'm confused, are you assuming that nobody uses the responsive mobile sites BECAUSE they don't click on ads? Or am I reading that wrong?


 1:09 pm on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

Or am I reading that wrong?

Oh no I'm not suggesting that at all, I just find it amazing that my mobile sites get no clicks whatsoever whereas my regular sites have a better CTR with both tables and mobiles, mind you I am only using one 468 x 60 at the bottom of the page since it just didn't look right at the top.

I'm going to change that for a bigger rectangular ad today and see what happens.


 2:10 pm on Aug 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

My mobile stuff all gets WAY lower CTR than desktop visits; only thing that makes it worth while at the moment is the extraordinarily high EPC.

I'm toying with selling/serving my own mobile ads.

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