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Confessions Of An Adsense Survivor

 7:52 pm on Aug 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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.



 8:25 pm on Aug 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

Thank you so very much for this wonderful post.

I don't rely on AdSense for a living as I work full-time at a job that I love. AdSense is basically for extras. It has more than paid for many of my wild splurges on expensive software, hardware and other fun things that can get quite pricey.

Like you, I have several sites and only one really brings in the $$. But I love having them all and have plans to really dive into building them up after I retire. You have given me reason to keep on going as there are days when I think I ought to get rid of all but the one site. Your post has given me the encouragement I needed.

Again, I thank you!


 8:49 pm on Aug 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have little to say but much to learn. I get the feeling you touched one line that Netmeg has been trying to suggest regarding Adwords and advertisers. Thanks for the contribution!


 9:13 pm on Aug 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

Thanks for sharing!

My partner and I put almost all our AdSense earnings back into the business (either the sites, or infrastructure) And this year we're going to run out of things to buy before we run out of money, so that's a good problem to have.

Can't go wrong with focusing on users and reinvest, reinvest, reinvest.

Inspector Gadget

 4:13 am on Aug 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

Nice post, but I don't necessarily agree with the following:

"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."

I assume you mean these publishers earn $100k per year. Based on that they've been in the business at least 12 months. Why would they want to change their design or their host if things are working out fine? One design change and boom, could lose their traffic and/or their revenue.


 12:33 pm on Aug 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

Because nothing stays the same.


 1:21 pm on Aug 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm on my 5th host and am now paying the most I ever have. My site is also generating the most income it ever has.


 2:54 pm on Aug 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

Because nothing stays the same.

Bingo. I concur.


 4:08 pm on Aug 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

@hannamyluv Thanks for sharing your very open, honest, and insightful perspective on the subject of Adsense and business in general. Remove the concept of Adsense from your post and much of it is still applicable to the whole concept of being in business as well as taking sensible steps to recession-proof your private economy. The whole mortgage crisis was created by people who decided to live outside their means (coupled with banking policies designed specifically to help those people hang themselves). I subscribe to a similar life strategy as you in many regards and, while it doesn't guarantee that there won't be bumps in the road, it does help keep those bumps to a manageable size. Thanks again.


 6:57 pm on Aug 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

If I may ask, are you formally trained for your niche , or is this a hobby kind of niche?

Plus , may one ask what level of monthly traffic are you experiencing

Inspector Gadget

 9:41 pm on Aug 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have a site which hasn't changed its design in probably 8 years. Traffic is incredible, people visit because of the simplicity and my AdSense revenue is the strongest its ever been. And it's significant.

So still disagree that a change is necessary simple for the sake of change.


 2:57 am on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

@scooterdude I am not professionally trained. To be honest, this site when I took it over (only had 100 articles then) I fully intended it to be a "hobby" site. But, part of making the site work well over the past many years includes 1000s of hours of research in the field, so I am certain that if I had the time and energy - and wanted to shell out the money for yet another degree, I could easily get professional certification.

My monthly stats vary widely due to the niche, but at my lowest months, I see just under million visitors a month.

@Inspector Gadget - in my niche, before Panda, there was a site that dominated but looked like it came straight out if the 90s, mainly because it had. In Panda, it got pounded and has never recovered. In my niche, looking at sites that got creamed in the original wave of Panda, looks did seem to play a role.

Add into that the very quick influx of mobile and tablet users over the past few years, design needs to keep up. If you have not updated your design in 8 years, I would challenge you to run a mobile user testing or two. Heck, even just a straight PC test. You will be shocked. Just because a design "works" does not mean it cannot work better. Working better means more money. Frankly, I am of the opinion that there is ALWAYS room for improvement.

You do not need to radically change your site, but a good designer or UI person can give you some great ideas on what to test to tweek your layout to get even more out of your visitors and Adsense. Note: great design or UI people do not cost $500. ;)

Case in point, a simple slight move of an ad on my pages recently, I am talking a couple hundred pixles, resulted in a $1 lift in RPM for the site, which already had a healthy RPM.


 8:30 am on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

I think #2 has a corollary: do not rely on search traffic. My largest site is dependent on search traffic (it has to given its nature) and I am not developing any more like that after Panda made its income evaporate (and I cannot even see why Panda should affect it).


 2:12 pm on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

Always keep an eye on new trends and adapt as necessary, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


 6:44 pm on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

My largest site is dependent on search traffic (it has to given its nature)

You might be surprised. I thought that about 2 years ago. That my site had to be dependent on search traffic (well, really Google). My content strategy is not exactly exciting or even magazine like. Then the first Panda incident had kind of spooked me. Holy cow, what if I can't fix it next time (and not just with Panda but any other animal they decide to release into the wild).

Then Pinterest exploded. I noticed in one of my in depth reviews of analytics that I was suddenly getting crazy traffic from it. And this was before I had added a "Pin It" button to the site.

It was the first time it occurred to me that there might be an actually on going, random, magazine quality like interest in what we were publishing. Prior to this, I had thought that interest was only on a "need to know" basis (as in, I need to know so I type it into a search engine).

I have found that with most social sites, interaction rather than topic is what is essential. With as many people who are out there on social sites, at any given moment there is someone who needs to know what you are publishing at any given moment. You just have to work to reach out to them so that they catch it and spread it.


 8:36 pm on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

Always keep an eye on new trends and adapt as necessary, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

That's the best advice for a long time.

Many things change but the fundamentals definitely do not and that applies to all aspects of a business.

If your site is doing well be very wary of change unless you have identified 100% what is good about it. Make changes and you risk inadvertently altering something which is fundamentally correct.


 9:51 pm on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

Make changes and you risk inadvertently altering something which is fundamentally correct.

Or risk correcting what is inadvertently wrong.

Business decisions are oddly highly personal. To not change (especially when speaking about the internet) can mean to preserve or to stagnate and the difference is razor thin.


 9:57 pm on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

Nice post.

hannamyluv, making a living off of ONE adsense account seems risky to me.

since you have multiple income websites, have you considered creating an LLC (depending on where you live) to own some of the websites and let the LLC have its own adsense account?

In my state, an LLC costs about $100 to form and $25 /year to maintain.

also, have you tested affiliate ads/links to see how they perform?


 10:43 pm on Aug 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

I am an LLC. It is a smart thing to do, just because of liability and the stupidity of the internet. All it takes is one frivolous lawsuit.

If you are saying you should have an LLC so you can have 2 AdSense accounts, I believe that is not policy compliant. I might be considered a wuss to follow the rules of Adsense, but I will state again that AdSense is a golden goose. I will not risk killing it by keeping multiple accounts just for the sake of a backup plan. If you are policy compliant, the risk of blowing up your account is minimal.

I have tested affiliate links. Way back in the day (in internet terms), I use to be quite the arbitrageur with other sites so I was very intimate with affiliate stuff.

I tested it and, again, in my niche, it just does not do as well as Adsense. I know others who have much better returns with affiliate links in other niches. But in mine, they just don't work well. But they are part of my "catastrophic income drop plan" should that occur.


 4:46 am on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

@ hannamyluv
Thanks for sharing your experience. I have red your advices with great interest since you describe a similar business to mine except that my business is a company Ltd.
I have some questions out of curiosity -
1. When have you started and when did you realize that you can make a living out of Google Adsense.
2. Do you still update your current content (improving it), Do you add content on a regular basis?
3. Isn't it be better to have one and only website, which is easy to control and develop than many.
4. Are you still depended on Google organic search (will you survive if G drop your traffic to zero)?


 1:49 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

1. When have you started and when did you realize that you can make a living out of Google Adsense.

Yes, because I knew people who were (mostly from here). But to be honest, I did not think this site would be the one to do it for me. The niche is rather saturated and I thought it would just be fun to maintain a site on it.

2. Do you still update your current content (improving it), Do you add content on a regular basis?

Yes and yes. Never stop adding content. There is always more you can write about. Way back when I first started working on my site, I thought that we would eventually run out of things to write about. But today, our to-do list is so long, I am not sure we will even finish that - and we add even more to the to-do list daily. Once you wrap your head around the sheer amount of information the world wants to consume daily, you can begin to see that no matter what your niche is, you can always write more.

We go back and improve content as well. In the beginning I was not as, um, stringent about the quality of my writers as I am now. So when we come across an old article that could be better it gets flagged to either be re-written or to be added to.

3. Isn't it be better to have one and only website, which is easy to control and develop than many.

There are varying opinions on that and both sides have valid points (one site vs. many). I think you have to do what works best for you. Like I said, what I do may not work for everyone.

4. Are you still depended on Google organic search (will you survive if G drop your traffic to zero)?

For the business to stay as it is, I am. But if I lost the G traffic completely, the business would survive. I would just be back to doing it all myself.

***apparently, the post I responded to below was removed - I will behave, martinibuster - I promise. ;)***
but can anyone tell me what we are supposed to rely on if we can no longer rely on search?

In a way, you are right. It is really hard to have any kind of internet business that does not rely heavily on Google. But, I think we are entering an era where that is not as true. I am aware of a few sites that were banned from Google (for good reasons) and now still make a good income from purely social media traffic. I think that is where you will see your scrappers and scammers more and more.

You can copy a site and it won't do well in a search engine, but that does not mean you can't promote the hell out of it on Twitter or Facebook. It is like the old days of search engines when it was easy to cheat and everybody did. Social media has been making it easy again and I doubt social media has nearly as much incentive as the search engines did to put a stop to it.

hannamyluv's perspective matches google rhetoric so closely she sounds like a google shill

I suppose in a way I am their shill. After all, they do sign my paychecks. :D But you can believe me or not. Does not affect what I do.


 5:05 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

@ hannamyluv - I too could have said that I have lived off of AdSense for many-many years; however I have other revenue sources and am not totally reliant on Google.

Relying exclusively on AdSense for your living is one step riskier than working for a corporation.

The difference is the amount of severance pay and unemployment compensation you get when your revenue source slows down or shut off.

My strong suggestion ---- diversify your revenue streams.

Oh yes, I'm not impressed...


 5:13 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)


Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience. It's really cool to read a positive story like yours, they are becoming pretty scarce in this forum.

I'm impressed and wish you much continued success.


 5:26 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

@hannamyluv--Out of curiosity, is the niche of the old-looking, 90s-style website that you mentioned got Pandalized related to history and current events? I know of a site that fits that description that lost a lot of traffic after Panda.

Great info on your experience with AdSense, by the way.


 6:02 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

My strong suggestion ---- diversify your revenue streams.

I do try to. I test other things alot. I have back up plans that involve diversifying if AdSense fails. I just have not gotten anything to work as well as AdSense. A lack in my part, I guess. But the fact is too that I have a skill set where I can get a job pretty quick. If all else fails, I can get a "normal" job. I have blown up one business, been laid off twice unexpectedly from supposedly safe jobs and walked away without firm plans from another safe job. I just don't get the idea that AdSense is any riskier than all of that was.

Oh yes, I'm not impressed...

You don't have to be. Lots of people make more money and do far better than I do with different methods. They are far more impressive. I just wanted to give a story that did not involve becoming a millionaire. You can do this without becoming uber rich and still have a pretty good life.

they are becoming pretty scarce in this forum

@ken_b Thank you. I had noticed this and that was my goal to share something positive. Way back in the day, this forum (the whole one, not just AdSense) and all the success stories I either read about or met in person inspired me to try. And even when I failed, I knew that others had succeeded so I tried again. In a way, the internet is powered by people who are not afraid to fail and failure is a whole lot less scary prospect if you know others have succeeded.

related to history and current events

No, but I hear this story all the time. Old site, not been updated, slammed by Panda, owner confused. I don't think they deserved it, but I understand why Google did it from a business perspective.

Sally Stitts

 6:18 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

Great post. No matter what your opinions, this is a really good brain tickler, to get you to reconsider your previous thoughts, which may have been a bit rigid. Now you are wondering. Perfect. Just what I need.


 8:04 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

To all those claiming both to change or to not change: there's no single answer possible.

Remember "new coke". A complete failed change, done when Coca Cola was loosing market share to Pepsi at a point where they had lost their lead in the market.
But when they found out how big a mistake the change was to their loyal customers and how much of an icon they had molested, they brought back classic coke and that eventually allowed them to retake the lead from Pepsi.
Was it real smart marketing from them? The CEO claimed they were neither that dumb nor that smart. So retaking the lead was in fact dumb luck: all the talk about it put them back in the lead. But ny company smaller than Coca Cola would probably not survive such a fiasco.

So yes, be careful what you change. But on the other hand, do change, do talk to your customers (visitors in our case), and hear them. They ARE right, always, even when they are wrong.
And yes, sometimes you do need dumb luck.


 8:16 pm on Aug 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have blown up one business, been laid off twice unexpectedly from supposedly safe jobs and walked away without firm plans from another safe job. I just don't get the idea that AdSense is any riskier than all of that was.

I have a similar story. Laid off, laid off, laid off. The last time from a job that was supposed to be very secure and very lucrative. That was 12 years ago. In my opinion, Adsense is no risker than having a "normal" job. If you play by the rules and do not depend solely on search, maybe it is even less risky.


 12:00 am on Aug 19, 2013 (gmt 0)

Obviously I can't speak for all, but many of those among us having a severe down turn with AdSense income, don't trace it back to AdSense at all, but with the Google Zoo.

Averaging out AdSense weeks, months, even recent years it is relatively constant for me. Yep daily Highs/Lows which I have always ignored, but quite satisfactory on the whole.


 1:37 am on Aug 19, 2013 (gmt 0)

funny thing about new coke versus original coke was that coca cola 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).

coca cola company thought they had the proverbial slam dunk on their hands.

This 59 message thread spans 2 pages: 59 ( [1] 2 > >
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