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|An AdSense Publisher's Story: Returning to 9-to-5|
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.
Thanks for sharing your experience! There's a lot to consider in what you write.
I can certainly see myself uttering those words sometimes...
Great post atladsenser and good luck back in the cubicle:-)
I'm interested in this:
|Over the past year, traffic from desktop PCs to my site has grown around 4-5%; traffic from mobile devices, meanwhile, has grown 150%. |
I know netmeg has seen an enormous growth in mobile plus I have had both .mobi and .com/m sites for several years however the traffic is still way less than 1%.
In which general niche are you?
I just get the feeling that some niches are just not mobile friendly owing to the product complexity that requires the minimum of a netbook/tabletpc to view and understand.
For example whilst I use a smart phone to access the BBC/Wikipedia etc I never use it for viewing my construction industry sites.
<apologies if off-topic>
I'm sure you're correct re mobile - some of my own niches, and pretty much all of my client niches (most of which are B2B) have seen very little mobile growth, other than iPad.
I guess it's human nature to try and seek out what makes us the most content. I like the aspect of working from home, and would never look to change that. I think once you have the house with mortgage paid off, car and some savings in the bank it's so much easier to re-evaluate the important things in life, rather than becomes slaves to commerce.
I guess it's also human nature to never really be content with what we have, regardless of how good things may, or may not, be.
Glad you saw the bigger picture, hope things continue to work out well.
The grass is always greener.
Good luck to you!
|After reading of Tim Carter's experience with his Ask the Builder site... |
Tim Carter is a building contractor and a journalist. Not an Internet marketing expert.
Random anecdote: I was at the first Google Zeitgeist conference waiting for Malcolm Gladwell to speak and Tim Carter was sitting behind me giddily bragging loudly to the stranger seated beside him that he was making ten thousand dollars per month from AdSense, then telling him the name of the site. I turned around to look at him and wanted to tell him to STFU but decided to leave him be.
My impression of Tim Carter at that time was that he was a newb, a lucky newb, that didn't know jack. Personally I'm weary of seeing his name invoked as an example of an innocent guy who got hosed for unknown reasons. No one gets hosed for unknown reasons. There is always a reason.
On the AdSense side it relates to the type of content, who the site visitors are, nuances in the way the ads are displayed and where. On the traffic side it relates to the ways a site was promoted. No one gets hosed without a reason. Even if it's a false positive, you can still go back and point at the reason for the false positive.
Regarding mobile, fifty percent or more of traffic for many sites are coming from devices other than desktops and laptops. It's like back in the old days when web publishers had to decide how much effort to devote to Netscape 4.7.
|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. |
That's a quality of life issue and I support you 100% on that. It is tough to stay at home with limited contact with people. I have to make an effort to create social circles that are not based around work, as well as social circles related to work. Back in San Francisco I even put together dinners for local web workers.
[edited by: martinibuster at 5:52 am (utc) on Jul 26, 2012]
|bragging loudly to the stranger seated beside him that he was making ten thousand dollars per month from AdSense |
Back in the day, and possibly still the case, that's peanuts. If you have a killer concept that can bring tons of traffic, like PlentyOfFish, you can make millions.
The issue has always been search engine ranking/placement and not AdSense itself IMO, and I was able to prove that over and over with a few sites, but nothing that ever scored like PlentyOfFish.
Then I got sick and all bets were off while I've been festering for the last few years but I'm better now and planning my next step.
What was really sick was when I couldn't really manage the situation I had a site with millions of visitors a month drop to 1/3 of that traffic which is thanks to my niche being in Google's crosshairs but caca occurs.
SAVE YOUR MONEY WHEN YOU MAKE IT!
I know people that are house poor, car poor, etc. because they buy like idiots on the way up, don't pay off their bills, and never see the possibility of being back to ground zero. I paid off all the debts, bought cars with cash, reduced the mortgage to half the local rents and banked as much as possible including SEP IRAs.
When AdSense pays, you keep as much as possible and siphon it off for a rainy day.
When AdSense sucks, you buy a beer and smile :)
Good luck OP and perhaps one day Webmaster Welfare will shine on you again.
I wish I saved my money when I made it. Looking back, I suck. :( But I had fun.
Went back to 9-5 about 2 years ago. Adsense is now just a small bonus each month. Granted, I no longer work on the sites they just generate what they do.
Lack of motivation after working 9 to 5 to build them back up to the glory days. Doubt those days could be returned even if I did re-focus on them.
Welcome back to the daily grind. :D
Good luck going back to a regular job atladsenser. I hope you end up with something you enjoy.
I understand what you are saying being burned out working on the same pages over and over again and the lack of socialization. Those are couple of the downsides to this line of work.
To get over the possible money loss I have just always kept multiple sites going and so far that has worked out well. Usually with each algo update there are some winners and some losers in my set of sites and usually they tend to balance each other out.
Great post atladsenser with lots in it to think about. Everyone's situation is different and I'm sure the whole mobile issue is as important as you say. It sounds like it was maybe the final nail in the coffin for you.
Good luck with your new job and the increased social life just don't get drawn into office politics too much. For me that the politics was the biggest downside of a normal job. It seemed to me that there was always some idiot trying to score a few points by bringing down guys who just wanted to do an honest day's work.
|My impression of Tim Carter at that time was that he was a newb, a lucky newb, that didn't know jack. Personally I'm weary of seeing his name invoked as an example of an innocent guy who got hosed for unknown reasons. No one gets hosed for unknown reasons. There is always a reason |
Excellent point, martinibuster. I was using him just as an example of how a site that's high-flying one day can come crashing to the ground very quickly, and that nothing lasts forever. I think you and other posters in different threads have made great points that probably pushed the limits way too far on what was acceptable in terms of ad-to-content ratio on his pages, which may have played a role in his traffic drop.
For me, it's just about balance. I have no intention of giving up or turning off my site; I'm just no longer going to rely solely on it for my income. In a way, I feel much more secure having the FT gig plus the income from the site, rather than relying only on one or the other. It's just what works for me, and I was just wondering if any of you guys had been having the same thoughts with all that's changed in this world of online publishing over the past year.
in my mind, real world jobs are no more secure than relying on website income. they can both disappear in a month. but at least with website income you can't get sacked. whether you suceed or fail is up to you... people blame panda and stuff like that, but panda is not indescriminate. if you put the work and research in, then you will be okay.
some people (not you) talk as if one day all your income will disappear, overnight, through no fault of your own, and that is why you shouldn't rely on website income. but that is nonsense - there is always a reason.
given a choice between a real world job and this, i will stick with my site. i don't like the idea of being made redundant in my fifties, with a mortgage and payments to make, and me down the job centre again starting afresh. at least with website income its all in your own hands.
If you get sacked, you can find another job. It may take a while, and you may have to change your skill set, but even in this economy, there are always opportunities for people with the right skills.
But there aren't a lot of opportunities for second chances with AdSense.
So I don't think it's nonsense to advise people not to count on AdSense. You ultimately do control if and where you work. You don't control much of anything having to do with AdSense (and it's less every year)
Of course, if you diversify on your web income, you're back in control. That's why I'm working on my direct ads. And I have a couple affiliate sites (and ideas for a couple more)
i wasnt talking about relying on just adsense. i was talking about relying on website income... even i wouldnt just rely on adsense
I have a lot of sites that have had 90% or more changes in income (up and down) over the years but overall they even out. If I only had one site I would probably have less ADD but my income would have been much more variable.
I looked at the Ask The Builder site and it seems to have less ads these days and a decent Alexa ranking (top 100K). I do not know what ranking the site had at its peak. For awhile there it was mostly ads, plus the owner probably invited a lot of competition by being an Adsense success story.
Wow, excellent post. I never made enough through AdSense to quit my job. The thing is, I love my job, which has nothing to do with my main site. So I find the flop from one to the other quite enjoyable.
|I feel much more secure having the FT gig plus the income from the site, rather than relying only on one or the other. |
That's yet another excellent reason to not rely on a single revenue stream. Diversifying, as JaneDoe pointed out, is a good strategy. What you are doing is similar, diversifying your income. As you pointed out, rejoining the workforce is probably good for your mental health, too. It gives you the opportunity to socialize with more people on a daily basis.
Great post! :)
(I feel compelled to mention that the one upside to working from home without the social interaction was that for the entire two years that I did it, I never ONCE got sick. I don't get colds, I get monster killer death colds. So that was nice.)
I wish you well. These are tough choices for anybody.
I've worked alone at home for nearly 20 years now. The isolation can be daunting if one doesn't like being alone all that much. I've made a habit out of getting out of the place and away from work by just going out for coffee, etc., and chatting up the weather or whatever with whoever happens to be at the coffee shop.
Fortunately for me, the nature of my niche also dragged me joyfully out of the house and around the country to niche events where I got to hang out with others with similar interests.
But after 12 years with the website I'm beginning to look longingly at the grass on the other side of the fence and pretending it actually looks greener (just back from a road trip through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, the fields are pretty much toasted).
Anyhow, it sounds like you've thought this through pretty well, so I hope it all works out as well as can be for you.
Yes it seems that the grass is always greener on the other side. I myself after 35 years working in the business world would like to try the other side. Just having the freedom to do what you want and when would be a great change. I can see where the isolation and responsiblity for everything would wear on you but alot of us in the business world have that everyday unless you work for someone else. Good luck and hope the "blend" of the two work better for you.
atladsenser - A thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing and good luck.
Great post. Can anyone point me to a post about how to make a full time living as a webmaster (the other side of the story)? (I searched for it but to no avail; maybe I'm missing the right keywords).
|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. |
...and it can even increase your waistline a little! good luck to you. I sincerely hope Google realizes in time that they need to work with webmasters and not gobble them up so voraciously or it may be the end of Google too.
Thank you for sharing your experience! I am in the process of shifting my career from 9 to 5 office job to work on my web site full time. While AdSense makes up only a small fraction of the site income, I am going into this knowing that it probably won't last and I should have a backup plan (and savings) in place for when the party ends.
Good luck, DaLoco! If I were in your shoes and getting started today, I'd really give a lot of thought to building something that has a dual experience -- one for the desktop web and one for mobile.
Here's a few articles that I've come across that have really shaped my thinking on the mobile revolution. They're by a guy named Keith Teare, who helped found TechCrunch and is now involved in some sort of incubator/VC fund.
The Mobile Paradox - [techcrunch.com...]
It's Not About Instagram, It's About Mobile - [techcrunch.com...]
Mobile: Facebook and Google Can't Live With It, and Can't Live Without It - [techcrunch.com...]
I think how serious you want to be about building something that serves both experiences depends on how long you want to do it. If you want to build a site as a hobby or a side business, maybe you don't necessarily have to think about it for now. If you want to build a business that can last 5 or 10 years, however, I'd give it a LOT of thought.
One of the challenges I have with my site is that I didn't build it with any sort of CMS. I never imagined it would become as successful as it has, and it was always something I did in my spare time until last year, so I never really had the time to implement a CMS or make the changes I'd need to make to bring one online. So now I have literally thousands of pages on my site, which makes upgrading to a new layout or implementing media queries for mobile extremely daunting, to say the least.
If I were getting started today, I'd be sure to choose a CMS and a site design/layout that accommodated both audiences, and plan for the mobile audience to eventually outgrow (perhaps far outgrow) the desktop audience. In that case, you'll need to think about what users will want to see in a small screen -- what kinds of content work for it? Instagram has certainly figured that out with photos. How can a more article/text-focused site (which is what mine is) work in that environment?
Those are questions I'm not sure I have an answer to at this point, but they're things we'll all need to figure out in the next couple of years, I think.
It sounds like there's a real mix here of site owners & publishers who are experiencing big growth in their mobile traffic like I am, while others aren't seeing it in a big way. Personally from my own experience, browsing and reading is shifting to something I do on my iPhone and iPad, while I'm beginning to mainly use the desktop and laptop for working.
I'm not sure what that means for online ads -- right now, what I hear and read is that mobile ads pay less than desktop ads, but I don't have any data of my own to back that up (other than what I see in the AdSense control panel, which breaks down ad performance by screen), as my site isn't "mobile-ized." That's another reason that's driving my decision -- I'm not sure there's going to be a worthwhile return on the investment I'd need to make to create a mobile-friendly site for me, given the technical specifics of my site.
What are you guys experiencing? Do you have mobile versions of your site, running mobile-specific ads? How do they perform?
|No one gets hosed for unknown reasons. There is always a reason. |
I am constantly baffled at pronouncements of this sort, especially when they originate from people with supposed much experience, i.e. from people that "should know better".
Fundamental fallacy of this argument is, of course:
- who is entitled to establish these "reasons"
- wherefrom the "right" of establishing these "reasons" emanates from
- wherefrom the "right" of enforcing these "reasons" emanates from
- what is the true agenda behind these "reasons"
- what is the broader agenda of whomever establishes these "reasons"
In a democratic society, only *elected* officials have the right to determine such "reasons", not individual corporations.
This is not the case, thus all the problems, including this sad "farewell".
google's algo doesn't act on a whim. it's an algo. if a site gets demoted then there is a reason for it. the tough bit is working out what the reason is. if you put in the time (and maybe a little money) then you can get yourself back.
|google's algo doesn't act on a whim. it's an algo. if a site gets demoted then there is a reason for it. the tough bit is working out what the reason is. if you put in the time (and maybe a little money) then you can get yourself back. |
That's true. But if you get your AdSense account deactivated, as netmeg pointed out, there's almost never a second chance to get back in.
There's also the Google+ effect to deal with as well. A competitor in my site's niche has been very successful in moving up the SERPs, I've noticed, not (admittedly, in my judgement) by creating lots of unique, useful content for their site, but by playing the social media game.
This person has amassed tens of thousands of Twitter followers and thousands of Facebook fans and Google+ fans by playing the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" game of following each other back and forth. I'm here to tell you, apparently it's working, as this site is being rewarded by Google with big moves up in its rankings, despite the fact that they don't offer much original content at all on their site. I think if you want to be successful with attracting traffic in the future, you're just going to have to play that game.
I've got a few thousand Twitter followers as well, in addition to several thousand Facebook fans and a small number of Google+ followers, but they've all been organic follows/fans -- I haven't spammed anyone's email list to get them, they've all signed up one by one b/c they've liked my site and the content I provide.
I don't think that's going to be enough in the future, though -- you're just going to have to play the game and get as many thousands of followers as you can in order to rank well in the SERPs, and especially play the Google+ game. For me, there's only so many things you can give your attention to, however -- and spending hours searching for people to follow on Twitter or Google+ just so they'll follow me back... it makes my head hurt just thinking about it!
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