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|Confessions Of An Adsense Survivor|
I make a living off Adsense. It is not a huge living, but a really comfortable one and that is actually intentional, but more on that later. I read alot on here about different people's opinions about how to succeed (or not) with AdSense and sometimes I agree and sometimes I do not. But I thought I would post about how I make it work. As they say with all those diet products that they advertise on Adsense - "results may vary". What works for me may not work for others, but I think getting different perspectives is a good way to figure out what will work for you.
#1 Confession - I love what I do, and that makes it great
I have several websites, but I make the lion's share of my income from one site. I have tried and had moderate success making money off things I could not care less about but thought the niche was profitable. But they just don't work as well as my main site, which is my passion. I strive and enjoy making my main site awesome. For the other sites, I have a "to-do" chore list to make them passable.
I truly believe that reflects in the income from Adsense. I think visitors can tell when things are genuine and are more likely to stick around and come back, which makes them a more desirable ad target. I think advertisers see a site that is loved and will be more likely to float money that way (though I doubt they would define it that way - but that is essentially what they want).
#2 Confession - I got Pandalized and it took me a month to realize it
Not because I am stupid, but because I simply did not notice the drop in search traffic. Actually, this is the second time I have been Pandalized (Trust me, I noticed the first time). I know what caused it (I got lazy blocking thin pages) and I fixed it eventually and I am confident that traffic will come back (because this has happened before). But the fact is that I lost 60% of my Google traffic and failed to notice... for awhile.
Why is that? Well, because I spent the last year building up traffic from other sources, mostly social sites. My niche is highly cyclical and when I got hit with the latest Panda issue was just when things were on the upswing. The social media work I had put in over the previous year mostly made up for the significant loss in Google traffic.
And my income never took a hit. Despite the search traffic drop, earnings remained steady. It was not till I did my monthly review of Analytics that I noticed the traffic from Google was gone. (Bonus tip - monthly in-depth reviews of your Analytics is a great idea - weekly cursory reviews are good too)
#3 Confession - I love my visitors more than I love Adsense - and Adsense loves me for it
I only have ads above the fold on my LEAST visited pages. Everywhere else, there are no ads above the fold. When I make design changes, I always keep my visitor in mind. And that means when I create content, when I display content and when I consider user interface. When I make a significant change, I do user testing (super cheap - costs like $30 per trained, demographically accurate tester - if you are not doing it, you are missing out) and adjust to make them happy. I place my ads in logical exit locations - and big hint - the top of your page should not be a logical exit location.
And despite not being pushy with my ads, Adsense advisors have told me repeatedly that my RPM is VERY healthy and I am policy compliant. Plus, before anyone says it, I am not in a lucrative niche.
Test, test, test for a better user experience is a mantra I always follow. The money will follow after that.
#4 Confession - I don't do traditional SEO
Don't take this the wrong way. I do SEO. I just don't do "traditional" SEO. I do not link build (and have not for a good 7 years). I do not worry or care about how I rank for any one keyword. As a matter of fact I doubt you could find me in the top 1,000 for my niche's main keyword, despite the fact that I am probably in the top 10 most trafficked sites in my niche (or I am really close).
I do pay attention to what the search engines representatives and pundits say. Annnnd I don't often take what they say at face value. I believe in my own ability to decipher in my niche what is the business goal of the search engines (hint - it has to do with my visitors) and I translate that to an SEO strategy. It works really well.
#5 Confession - Adsense is a golden goose and you should not kill it
I meet WAY TOO MANY people who think that Adsense is some kind of magical golden goose. And they take, take, take from it until it dries up and then they wonder what the heck happened.
When I made the decision to live off Adsense, my hubby and I figured out what kind of life we wanted and we have stuck to that. I live in a small house in a working class neighborhood. My car is 8 years old (though it is a convertible) and I shop at the thrift store for clothes. But, my hubby is a stay-at-home dad, I cook gourmet meals nearly every night and when amazing travel or experience opportunities present themselves, we have the money to do it. I set my daily standard of living bar pretty low and, when the money is there, we take advantage by enhancing our lives in other ways.
This doesn't happen because that is all the money the site makes. I have a self imposed salary. I know how much it takes to maintain my lifestyle and, beyond that, the money from Adsense goes back into the website. Whether that be in the form of developers, designers, writers, hosting or contractors for other work on the site, the money gets put back in.
This also insulates my family. If income were to catastrophically drop, I can let every contractor go and we can do without the family extras. We keep the house and the cars - though my hubby may have to get a job. Important thing is, the kids won't notice much. Because while Adsense is a golden goose, I don't try to get more from it than I need.
I have met publishers who take home $100K from Adsense but refuse to put more than $500 back into their site design or pay more than $50 a month for hosting. Attitudes like that are how you kill the golden goose.
Again, I just want to state again that this is just what works for me. It may not work for you. But I think it helps to know what works for different people.
|did EXHAUSTIVE blind taste tests and people preferred the taste of new coke by a huge margin ( I think it was something like 2 to 1). |
You are correct in this. This is what I read as well, but their downfall was in the fact that they did a one sip test originally. When "full can" tests were done later, it was found that people hit a taste threshold... that new (sweeter) Coke only beat Classic Coke (and Pepsi) in the short term, one sip taste. If they finished a whole can, the overall taste at the end was too cloying, too sweet.
There is a lot to be taken away from that in terms of making changes to any business. Make changes too fast and you can do serious damage. (been there, almost did that)
Then you have the case of Red Bull, who came out of nowhere as far as soda companies were concerned. The taste is far inferior to both Coke and Pepsi, but they drew off a significant chunk of the market because they offered something (beyond taste) different.
I think these are important lessons to study for any business, internet or otherwise.
I'd share my own experience hoping it will add something to this discussion:
My opinion on my Internet business is that I should accept whatever money come in and spend the time working towards something new.
That's what I am doing right now. I have never been focused on web content businesses solely and always look for any opportunity.
As for my web business, I've never wrote my content because I am a very poor English writer and always went to find good writers.
But nevertheless, I managed to develop very good sites that are still making lots of money from Adsense and other premium ad networks.
My idea on Google is very simple- Google knows exactly what they are doing, making the world safe for Adwords. You only have to look at their annual reports to see that.
They cannot make changes that hurt advertising, they can only make changes that help. By promoting the biggest "information" sites (which aside from Wikipedia are 100% ad dependent), they get the results they want without having to look if they are running Adsense. It's automatic. Small sites can exist for many reason, many small sites are a person or business that is promoting itself, no ads. They want ads, that's the whole story.
Google is not a search engine anymore. Google is a reputation-management system which gives an edge to brands-like organizations. That's it.
So, accept it or not, our time as small publishers on the Internet is limited. It's like "take the money and run" IMO :-)
Good luck to all of us.
|our time as small publishers on the Internet is limited |
Perhaps if you rely too much on Search Traffic. If you want to create a profitable niche for yourself work on email subscribers and social. You don't have to spend a fortune to start out with a reputable Email Service Provider to begin sending emails promoting your site.
Zurish, that explanation does not really convince me.
Lots of small information sites run adsense.
Lots of big sites use other ad networks, or sell ads directly. Even if they use adsense they can extract better terms than small advertisers can.
I think its driven by fear of web spam. Google have lost the batter to such an extent that they are trying to send people to known safe sites.
Been there and still there :-)
On one site I have 15k Facebook page funs, 25k twitter followers and 10k email subscribers. They contribute to site traffic but not as much as G organic traffic.
I know it's my weakness that I don't know how to sell scam products to them or activate them in ways others do (if at all).
Think as an advertiser.
Which site would you want to see your ads appear? A small, forgotten site or a big brand site?
Now think from G point of view. Which sites Google will want to give you an option to show ads. Legitimate or unknown?
Better/easy for them to sell X times 10$ RPM ads than 10X times 1$ RPM.
When big money involves, it becomes a market of sharks. We, small publishers, are too small to compete big sites in terms of reputation. Google strategy follows where the money leads them.
hannamyluv, thank you so much for this thread. Whether or not we all agree, there's a lot to take away from it.
The most crucial thing you said here may be the part about not relying on search. Any engine can suddenly go wrong for anybody, no matter what a great job they're doing, but if they have other traffic streams, they'll be able to scrape by and eventually thrive again.
Putting money back into the business and/or saving it for lean times is also crucial. Always have a plan for lean times because ad rates fall, recessions happen, etc. Even if you're totally awesome, outside factors can drop your income like a stone temporarily.
For anyone fretting about relying on Adsense - then don't. There are other terrific CPM/CPC providers out there. I maintain relationships with as many CPM providers as are worth my time - and many of them pay better than Adsense, at least in some niches - so that if any of them suddenly stop doing so well, or go out of business, I have others to work with and my income stream is uninterrupted.
But whether you work with Adsense or other CPM providers, what hannamyluv is saying here still applies. You do NOT break their rules. You do NOT assume the income will always be at this level. You DO reinvest as needed, you DO conduct user testing (if you really can't afford $30, have some friends from various demographics use the site in front of you - very revealing), and you DO have backup plans for all sorts of eventualities.
What you do NOT do is party like a rock star and assume you're golden no matter what you do from here on out. Even rock stars have to keep at it because there's always someone else trying to outshine them.
|You do NOT assume the income will always be at this level |
For what it's worth, that was a common discussion here at least seven years ago. There were Adsense publishers that had the rug pulled from under them when their CPC rates dropped. Others making 10k a month through one or more niche sites/blogs, only to have their account disabled for whatever reason. Anyone who has taken the time to read up on Adsense should know that you never gamble your livelihood on it.
^^ Between the uncertainty companies feel about the recession and the uncertainty about how they can get the most out of mobile ads (and the big shift over to mobile traffic), my CPM/CPC rates are hitting all time lows this year. Nothing I can do about that. Because I had diversified my income, traffic, and even made the choice to run multiple sites in case one of them ever went south on me, I'm not doing all that terribly.
Also, despite this being a lean year, I'm reinvesting more than ever in a major design/functionality upgrade to my sites. The goal is to make my sites load fast, work even more intuitively for users, have even cleaner code for bots to read, and have more functions that users will keep coming back for. If I could have done this a year or so ago, maybe this year of horrible CPM rates would have been balanced out by an increase in traffic.
|diberry: hannamyluv, thank you so much for this thread. Whether or not we all agree, there's a lot to take away from it. |
Reinvest, hire someone, change the design from time to time or stick with the one you have that's already working, you know don't fix what's not broken, etc. It's all valid, A & B because every case is different and every website is different.
Some of us have a small or big network of sites, this mean some of us already know (and can tell) how some things work, and some... won't because you can't always replicate the success from A on B. Not always... Not for the visitors and sometimes not for the income.
Most are focusing on the websites only and Adsense, what to do and what not to do, it's all fine, but the most important part that I would focus on in son the following:
|hannamyluv: When I made the decision to live off Adsense, my hubby and I figured out what kind of life we wanted and we have stuck to that.I live in a small house in a working class neighborhood. My car is 8 years old (though it is a convertible) and I shop at the thrift store for clothes. But, my hubby is a stay-at-home dad, I cook gourmet meals nearly every night and when amazing travel or experience opportunities present themselves, we have the money to do it. I set my daily standard of living bar pretty low and, when the money is there, we take advantage by enhancing our lives in other ways. |
Not a single thing will last forever so the key is to adapt in many ways, specially lifestyle.
I have tried several of the things discussed here, many didn't work except on the original case. The redesign, hiring someone, reinvesting, etc. I would be careful with reinvesting as there were testimonials here making thousands and also spending thousands, they were working for the sites with little money free from that circle. It's too expensive to maintain a giant.
|It's too expensive to maintain a giant. |
This is something I struggle with. I mean who does not what to become the biggest badass on the block? But then I think what I would have to give up to be there.
On one hand, I like my life. The site is a pretty good size, but it does not have a spark on its biggest competitors. I could scale up and quickly. But then there is a lot (work, responsibility, headaches, stress, money) that comes with that. I left the corporate world so that I could have a relaxing life.
On the other hand, I dream sometimes of becoming the biggest site in my niche. But then I would not have the lifestyle that makes all this so much fun. We keep production at a very consistent level and it is no where near the level of production the giants have, so I doubt I will ever be the largest. And I am ok with that.
I am only posting this, because often when someone is successful with a website, there is this impression that if you aren't the biggest, you are nothing. We all can't be and/or don't want to be Facebook and people need to know that success is what you define it as, not what others define it as.
If you are making enough to pay for an awesome vacation/gadget/car/whatever and you are happy about that, then you rock. You are successful. You have accomplished far more than many others.
And if you are not there yet, you know we are out there. We are waiting for you to join us. ;) (gawds, that sounds so culty hehe)
And (I promise I will stop with the cheerleading after this), you don't have to do it with AdSense. That is just what I did. Remember, results may vary, you have to find what works for you.
|The redesign, hiring someone, reinvesting, etc. I would be careful with reinvesting as there were testimonials here making thousands and also spending thousands, they were working for the sites with little money free from that circle. |
You've got to constantly ask yourself, "What did I spend, and what did I get for it?" Over the years, you'll discover how to make the most money for the least expense. Also, if you're doing most or all of the work yourself, track your time investment because time spent on A is time you couldn't spend on B.
Which brings to mind another tip: know when to walk away. Some sites plod along for YEARS and then suddenly take off. Others are just losers - a bad idea, a niche you got into too late, etc. Working hard is great, but not on something that just doesn't have the right stuff in the first place. Better to acknowledge you made a mistake and start on something else than keep banging your head against a wall.
Interesting post, Hannmyluv. It is always fun to read about other people's business models.
I really don't reinvest anything in my sites at all, except for my time. I have cheap hosting and I write content. I invest the money from my sites into traditional investments - stocks, bonds, CDs, treasuries, etc.
I appreciate this post. When I read something like that I think to myself I wish that was me. I can't think of a better way of living. Every job or occupation has risks. This is no different. I need to hear of success just to remind myself that I can get through this brutal period of my online business.
Big thanks for posting that.
|I can't think of a better way of living. |
I agree. It's freedom.
I would say web publishing beats a megacorp job hand down, but it is not total financial freedom until one has enough invested in a low risk portfolio to be financially independent.
|I invest the money from my sites into traditional investments - stocks, bonds, CDs, treasuries, etc. |
I do this too, though maybe not to your level (again, different plans, models and what works). But, we all have to retire someday. Helps to have money to do that.
I just have a low risk tolerance so instead of investing money back into my sites I put it somewhere else to earn a more predictable rate of return and to try to develop a different income stream not dependent on search rankings.
I have had too many sites lose their rankings overnight with one algo change to want to invest much money into any one of them. To spread the risk I invest offline, and online I have multiple sites. Usually with every big algorithm change if some sites get less traffic others might get more and my income tends to even out over time. I will never have a super star site this way because my time is split among sites and I rarely pay anyone to help.
I have been lazy for years, not adding much new content and not updating the sites. Now that is catching up with me. I have a lot of retrofitting for Panda, Penguin and mobile to do this year.
I am late to the game. Love to read successful cases. I believe that successful cases are the ones where they enable you to live the life that you want.
I have been creating sites on and off for the past 2.5 years. Took the plunge last year in August to quit my day to day job. (I worked for my mother-in-law for a good 2.5 years after losing my real-estate development related job prior). I create sites and publish my own content, in a niche that I absolutely love and cannot get enough of.
Been living off online money only for the past year and wife working too. Although I do not have super star site, from time to time I do score a super star content.
I cut down my life cost, paying down my debt. And now working at home with the wife and newborn child. Although I do get stressed about updates and traffic and stuff, but that kind of stress comes with any job. I do enjoy the amount of time that I get to see my family on a daily basis (24/7?!?). You simply cannot get that kind of freedom when you work for someone else.
I am still a long way from achieving my true dream lifestyle. I still have tons of debt (mortgage and student loan). But I am aiming for no debt and have enough residual income to live off (off-line), so I do not have to worry about things outside of my control.
I do believe that I will get there, online revenue or not, it's just one of the path.
I do agree putting money back into the infrastructure to make it running smoothly. Running multiple websites with servers that can break down anytime is not worth the stress and constant monitoring. It is...a business after all.
|I do agree putting money back into the infrastructure to make it running smoothly. Running multiple websites with servers that can break down anytime is not worth the stress and constant monitoring. It is...a business after all. |
I just have content sites, so even with a site with millions of page views a month I have never needed more than an inexpensive standard hosting package and I don't monitor anything. The web hosting companies do that and the better ones have close to 100% up time.
Maybe you have some special needs or more specific requirements? I don't know what anything beyond a cheap hosting package would do for me except cost more money. Maybe I am missing something?
I have learned to avoid the smaller web companies as some have gone under and I have had to change hosts with hardly any notice. Plus, I don't think the smaller hosts have the same level of dedicated security expertise of the larger hosts.
|Maybe I am missing something? |
No you don't. That's my case too. I have some millions pageviews per month. Most of my sites are info sites.
|I don't think the smaller hosts have the same level of dedicated security expertise of the larger hosts. |
I took an advice and went with HostGator since day 1. They are one of biggest. Their technical support is super.
Another advice: Don't think SEO, think about the user.
Never add content to the Internet unless you absolutely sure that it is unique, helpful and better than anything out there.
If it's not good for the reader, it definitely won't be good for you SE ranking.
Info sites can do just fine, even with millions of visitors, on a good shared hosting plan. But if you're running processor-hogging scripts, sometimes you really need at least a VPS.
|I have some millions pageviews per month. |
I am not familiar directly with hostgator, but I know other hosting companies I have used will throttle your site if you get this kind of usage. I actually had to move an old site (blog, actually) that was on a bare bones hosting package yesterday because the host informed me that it was throttling things and would shut it down if I did not move it. And that site is only getting maybe 30,000 views a month. I did not personally care about the speed as I don't maintain the site, but many of the old posts are still popular so I did not want it shut down completely.
It was how I ended up moving my main site to a VPS (and eventually a dedicated server). Before the VPS, it was on a shared server but with enterprise level hosting, so not even bottom barrel. The host started to throttle the site when traffic started to get significant. It cost me thousands.
You might be getting a million visitors, but it is entirely possible that with a better hosting package, you could be 2 million, because you would not be throttled.
Like I said, I am not familiar with hostgator, but I do know that many hosting companies operate like this. Otherwise, what would be the point of offering anything but the bare bones package?
|You might be getting a million visitors, but it is entirely possible that with a better hosting package, you could be 2 million, because you would not be throttled. |
Okay, thank you very much for the explanation. I am checking into throttling with my host now for my one high traffic site.
Update: They say they will send out a warning before doing any visitor throttling, and I have so far never received a warning. I have had my account shut down with a different host before for too much traffic, but in that case they took my site offline, which was actually clearer cut that just possibly throttling the traffic.
The cpanel has CPU usage and memory usage and despite the visitor counts, mine is next to nothing. I don't have any video or scripts or anything that takes a lot of processing.
Are there tools to independently verify site traffic isn't getting throttled? Maybe that is something I would need to worry about in the future.
I don't know of any tools, but it sounds like you have multiple sites. You could try just moving one to better hosting and see what the results are. Most places offer 3 or 6 month packages.
If you don't see a difference, you can just move it back after the test. Relatively short test with relatively low cost.
Or, if you have different sites on different hosting accounts, you may want to look at something like a VPS, where you can host them all. Sometimes placing them all on one better place is actually cheaper (on a pure what you get billed) than spreading them out across multiple cheap hosts. Worth looking at anyway.
|Or, if you have different sites on different hosting accounts, you may want to look at something like a VPS, where you can host them all. Sometimes placing them all on one better place is actually cheaper (on a pure what you get billed) than spreading them out across multiple cheap hosts. Worth looking at anyway. |
I keep them on different hosts and take other measures to keep groups of them unconnected to each other as a part of my personal low risk tolerance program. I have had a site banned in the past because of a programming error in the Google algo, not my code, and I wouldn't want to risk having all my sites getting deindexed.
It got sorted out after a few months but apparently patching the algo code to reindex a single mom and pop type site isn't always at the top of the priority list for the Google engineers.
I have also had sites hacked. It just feels safer to me to have them spread around and unconnected.
A good post and good advice I believe.
|wa desert rat|
hannamyluv: Your original post and the subsequent discussion has been the best read on this site - at least for me - since I joined. I had, in fact, quit reading this site because so many posts were either complaints about how good it was in the old days or self-promoting posts designed to make the poster look good without actually contributing anything to the discussion or original question. Nice job. Thanks. :)
Some really good advice in your post hannamyluv
I do think you are very brave in having taken away most of your above the fold ads - It is a step that I have always thought should be right for visitors but on the other hand my stats always indicate that above the fold ads perform better than below the fold.
I had moved above the fold ads to the right of the page, out of the main reading line, as I thought this was better for my visitors - but am now going to try some experiments with moving some below the fold to see what happens.
Position depends on how interested the visitors are.
If they are really,really interested, they won;t go away on an ad until they're done (in that case the end of the doc maked sense.
If you have visitors that are only slightly interested or are dropping in and actually looking for something else, they might use an ad to get to something instead of pressing the back button.
-> above the fold and very visible works better.
In other words: know your visitors! (as hard as that is)
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