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when everybody is getting less, what is the current way to go
The current way to go? The best advice I've ever heard on this forum was to ignore the stats and create good, original content and lots of it. There is no "one size fits all" but that one's pretty close. Work your SEO. Build quality link relationships with other sites in your niche, pray to the white hat gods every night before you go to sleep. Make sites that people want to visit and will tell their friends about. Update often to keep them coming back. Above all, play it clean. Do all of that and you'll make money with this program. May not be enough to retire on but it'll come.
Heck, all I wanted to do was cover hosting costs and renew a few domains when I started out. I've done that plus some.
I'm starting to diversify a bit - I've had requests for direct advertising, but most seem to be after PR passing links. Planning to put a page up that shows advertising rates and arrangements and see what happens.
Like many here, I've had very frustrating days trying to reverse the downward AdSense earnings spiral. On several occasions I had really all but given up that there was anything I could do and figured the golden days of AdSense were through. Looks like I was wrong! :-)
So far I'm earning 50% more of what I earned last year!
Even with a lower ctr and cpm numbers this year my earnings have definitely increased!
Advice to those making less: Don't worry about it, build and grow your site(s). The ads, G's algo and money are in a constant state of flux. One also should consider their niche or market area as the economic landscape is also changing.