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The FREE and BEST business model

Who can afford it?

     
6:29 pm on Jun 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Almost all changes that millions of webmasters and Internet corporations work on every day have one thing in common: 'to make user experience better.' If we consider the fact that the ultimate user experience is:

FREE and BEST

then aren't we shooting ourselves in the foot? Because the end game of 'making user experience better' is: FREE and BEST.

It's now clear it's not a sustainable business model - even for the biggest corporations like Google which tries hard to find ways to unblocking ad blockers. At the same time it's probably too late to reverse this trend because Internet users got used to this 'free and best model' and they will be very aggressive in protecting their 'rights to free' (see adblockers). To keep this going, there are still plenty of new companies that attract new users by offering them 'free and best.'

So who can afford to work for free and provide the best?
9:18 pm on June 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If we consider the fact that the ultimate user experience is:

FREE and BEST


That would be an incorrect assumption..it is not a "fact"..

The ultimate user experience is the one that delivers the maximum endorphin reaction..

There are many ways to deliver ( even via an informational website or legal products sold from a website ) various degrees of an endorphine reaction..

You need to look at what underlies ( think "lizard brain" ) what you think drives people..
8:54 pm on June 20, 2015 (gmt 0)

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i agree with leosghost absolutely ... free is not what everyone is looking for, infact depending on what your site is about/for then free is often considered the worst.

for instance off line, london had an superb evening paper called the evening standard, i bought it often ... it changed to a free model and many like me never bother to read it any more, the standard has slipped considerably
1:01 am on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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The endorphin reaction dramatically increases when there is the FREE tag available. And the concept of "lizard brain" actually proves my point.

topr8.. ok so I assume you are a premium WW subscriber then.
1:43 am on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Interesting thought. But I do believe that what users expect to be free (and open) is access to any where, any time (after expected costs to access the internet in the first place). Any expectation after that is tempered by what is being offered and how ("free", subscription, paywall, etc.)

Most users know advertising is part of the deal and most have no problem if the advertising is not excessive. When it is, ad blockers (or third party denials) are installed.

If the ad is served frm the site itself, it won't be blocked.

Webmasters need look at their offering and how to monetize it as there is no one single way to accomplish that, though some webmaster think otherwise (see google only, for example).

Free is how you get folks to your site. What you do after that is where you can make your income.
3:43 pm on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If the ad is served frm the site itself, it won't be blocked.

Actually, that's not the case any more. Look how aggressive the adblock 'volunteers' are - they target ALL sites that feature any type of advertising, even simple links to external sites: [adblockplus.org...]

All you have to do is to report the site and it's on the 'black list.'

Then, once the domain is on their list, it is active by default so users would have to manually opt-out to see ads on the site.
5:10 pm on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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ok so I assume you are a premium WW subscriber then.


@Selen, ouch that's a bit personal ... although as it happens yes i am, and i also donated to WebmasterWorld before the premium subscription even existed, as did others.

i like how tangor put it ... (although i do believe that a paywall is appropriate and perhaps viable for some sites)

Free is how you get folks to your site. What you do after that is where you can make your income.


if your primary income is from serving ads on your site, the ad blockers are an issue which may be getting bigger.
i notice the link to the site that Selen mentioned says you can allow unobtrusive ads, i also notice of course that you can block everything.
naturally as a webmaster you need to decide wether to repond by blocking users who use adblockers.

ultimately though the techniques used to advertise will change just as they already have over the years.
just as, i believe, much of the success of adsense and other text ad companies, was due to the fact that a great many people didn't realise they were ads - hard to conceive that now as text ads are so ubiquitous. but when they started text ads were very much less common and users thought of ads purely in terms of banners.

you only need to think of the alcohol and tobacco industries to see how both tried to get around (in their case) government bans and restrictions... by sponsoring sporting events, paying to have racing cars painted in certain colours, product placement in tv and films, etc. etc

my point being that they found ways to circumvent the fact that their (conventional) ads were no longer allowed.

if the adblocking software industry really began to cause too many ads from being blocked then websites will have to serve ads in different ways.

obviously sites will have to fight back against the blockers ... perhaps important parts of the article will be blocked out if ads are blocked; perhaps you will not be able to click through to page 2 if ads were not served; perhaps if you have a 'funny photo' site, the pictures would all be blurred if ads were blocked; a video could stop before the punchline or twist if ads are blocked.

in fact the concept of 'serving' ads could change completely, they will have to become more subtle: for instance to use the race car analogy, perhaps a web page article could be rendered using the colours and fonts of a well known soda; perhaps photos used in articles will display brand logo's in their background; articles will have more product placement in them.

if your model is serving 'free' content which is paid for by ads there will always be a way
8:18 pm on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Good points.. well, in the end to make ads work they will have to as deceitful as possible (maybe using psychological aspects too). Big brands will always find a way but small companies cannot afford to create a 'Marlboro' brand and then be creative enough to keep the brand awareness high enough to produce sales.
9:00 pm on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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but small companies cannot afford to create a 'Marlboro' brand and then be creative enough to keep the brand awareness high enough to produce sales.


sadly too true...

ironically those people that use ad blockers tend to be the same kind of people who want freedom, choice and who dislike big corporations (sweeping generalisation, obviously) ... yet they are blocking ads that the small guys can afford to run. and the big corps will always find a way, aka marlboro as selen pointed out, meaning that by blocking ads you are actually helping the really big corporate players!
10:38 pm on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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people that use ad blockers tend to be the same kind of people who want freedom, choice and who dislike big corporations (sweeping generalisation, obviously)

A more accurately sweeping generalisation is that people who use adblockers were never going to click on the ads anyway.

So PPC advertisers lose nothing.

And PPV advertisers presumably lose nothing if the ad blocker is detectable.

Do people expect to be paid to show ads to consumers who have already stated plainly that they are not interested?

"Half my advertising is wasted; I just don't know which half"

...
11:14 pm on June 21, 2015 (gmt 0)

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i think that's a well made point Samizdata.
however for some businesses ads are not about clickthroughs but about making people see the brand name - like who's going to click an ad for Ford and actually buy a car online, or, visual ads for movies don't require a click through, just seeing the movie name and a suitably seductive picture could be enough.

and while the advertiser doesn't care if they don't pay for that non-impression, the website owner does care.
i think that the original sense of this thread was that providing free content that is paid for by ads is being killed by adblockers.

Do people expect to be paid to show ads to consumers who have already stated plainly that they are not interested?


my point was kind of that we have to come up with better ways of serving ads, so that they do not appear to be ads at all. i don't think the average user of ad blockers is not interested in ads, because virtually everything ever published is promoting products of one kind or another (i'm talking in an abstract sense), i think they are fed up with sites that are top heavy with ads.
12:41 am on June 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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ads are not about clickthroughs but about making people see the brand name

Y'know, I'd be perfectly content with an ad blocker that reduced ads to a little box that said concisely "Ad for Ford", "Ad for Star Wars Episode 73", "Ad for Best Foods" etcetera. Win win?
11:10 am on June 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I don't think the presence of the ads is the big problem. It has more to do with tracking, deceptive ads, deceptive placement of ads and ads that take you to a place where you have a hard time getting away from and back to your original location. Combine some or all of these factors and the user experience rapidly deteriorates.

Very few advertisers and publishers use these techniques, but enough do use them to cause a backlash. A backlash that will grow if something is not done about it, especially as browsers jump in and try to solve the problem on the front end.

[edited by: toidi at 11:13 am (utc) on Jun 22, 2015]

2:16 pm on June 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In one of my first attempts at site building I tried using icons for internal links rather than text. Then I installed one of these fancy new ad blockers (this was a long time ago) and hey presto all my site navigation vanished!
3:44 pm on June 22, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Once while using someone else's computer to read a forum, I was mystified that three particular smileys --of dozens-- wouldn't display. It took a tech geek at the site to figure out the simple issue: those three smileys were named "sad" "glad" and "mad". (This is really true.) Around the same time I learned while doing ebooks that using simple descriptive terms like "div class = 'ads'" (for publisher's advertising at the beginning/end of a printed book) had unintended consequences in some browsers. I had to go to a longer name.
5:29 pm on June 23, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Something that is "free" is often seen by some as poor value for money, but it's also seen by the Net generation as being a right to something. For example, Facebook is free to use. Most people understand that it's an advertising-supported "free" and are happy to see ads knowing it's the ads that are paying. Would people pay for Facebook ad-free? I doubt the vast majority would pay, but that doesn't mean others wouldn't.

You can't easily put a price on a subscription model for Facebook because, i'm sure they are making more on ads than they'd get in subscriptions.

Perhaps Facebook is a bad example. What about a newspaper. There are lots of free newspapers, but they are supported by ads. There's a famous newspaper that keeps just about everything behind a paywall, but, it's perceived value is high, relative to the free, ad-supported newspapers.

Defining the best is difficult, too, as it's subjective.

Free and Best are not mutually exclusive or inclusive.

Ads are a great way to bring income, but it's not the only way. Subscriptions and sponsorship are two more. Some may class sponsorship as ads, but it need not be.

I'm sure a great deal depends on the market sector, too.

I started a thread the other day asking a simple question, "Ad-Supported Products and Services: Has it Had its Day" [webmasterworld.com...]
I'm not convinced it's over, but it's only going to become tougher for those advertisers and merchants.
5:01 pm on June 24, 2015 (gmt 0)

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"Free" works for TV and radio. The Web is merely following in that tradition.

Ad blocking isn't a major issue yet (if we're to judge from Google's revenues), but in any case, affiliate links can be much more profitable than advertising if:

- Your topic lends itself to purchases (for example, if readers are researching what to buy or where to go), and...

- The affiliate links solve a problem for the reader ("I need a toaster that won't burn my bagels," "I need RV insurance," or "I need a honeymoon hotel near Widgetberg's Castle of Romance").
7:12 pm on June 24, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Selen wrote: If we consider the fact that the ultimate user experience is: FREE and BEST

The discussion makes sense at some levels but it's not going well. Your initial post mentions ads, the discussion is in the general area of the forum and doesn't make sense it's suddenly becoming only about advertising (I don't get this is your intention, to talk only about advertising, did I get that right?

Engine wrote: Defining the best is difficult, too, as it's subjective.
Free and Best are not mutually exclusive or inclusive.

I'll go with that. Best means different concepts for many diff individuals, free sure means free.

Still, it's not a fact, and mostly, years and years of experience keep reinforcing what I consider a reality: there is no such thing as free, there is always something involved: advertising, selling a product or feeding a site with user personal data (becoming the product), traffic is a product, databases of users become a product, constructing a tool to analyze the user data and make predictions on trends, demographics or user preferences is also a product. A lot of people are giving away for free their data, something later becomes a product someone else sells. I guess that covers what we could consider "free" while in reality there is always someone paying. Even the web browsers seem free but there is someone paying for that and we might not be giving money perhaps but sure we provide something back. On such things it starts to become blurry.

Best and Free doesn't sound real considering mobile apps. Stats and developer experiences show it's usually better to develop for iOS, the pay is better, people buy the apps even more than on the android - free market experience (sure this is subject to discussion) but users spend more money on apps that provide a better experience and use.

As for websites is very difficult to get paid for posting info, BUT for some products on subscription basis it does makes sense. A lot of newspapers learned the hard way they can't just charge for people to read the news, but in some cases it makes sense to receive only the data and not the whole bunch of ads.

The whole thing of advertising cannot (I believe) be discussed lightly, there are lots of factors including bad content, heavy and slow advertising-code-programs-options, sites filled with ads, the ads themselves making everything a terrible experience and even hurting website speed, validation, display or ranking. Not to mention the ABUSE some of us have seen: too many ads.

I believe I get what you are talking but it gets tricky, considering the old internet, there were A LOT of awesome websites with good quality being not precisely pretty but had the best information, and were hosted and paid by their founders. Now anyone can make a website free and this turned the web into a giant trashcan, who would have thought.
2:06 am on June 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In general, I also meant that Internet users will always find a way to get what they want for free. If the most popular newspaper makes its content available to paid subscribers only, there will be a dozen of new websites that would summarize the news and are available for free. Imagine gmail or hotmail asks all users to pay a monthly fee to have an email account - within a year half of the users would move to a free email provider (which would catch up with the most useful features and would offer them for free).

Internet users aren't 'loyal' - the first barrier to the majority of them is FREE; then, if this condition is met, they are willing to give it a try. Otherwise, they would look elsewhere. I don't believe a paid subscription model for information/news websites is going to be profitable considering maybe 2-5% of users would become long-term paid subscribers. Just like 2-5% of visitors (in a very optimistic scenario) clicks on ads.
8:02 am on June 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Going back to the OP assertion that building to "Free and Best" is counterproductive (or shooing oneself in the foot), that's an argument without distinction.\

As I noted above, Free is how you get folks to your site. Much like a highway can take you to a park or museum or emergency room for free (most countries). And travelers along the way can see the other sights (sites) and sounds along the way, some of which allow full entry on the premises at no fee, others with a slight parking charge (ads), or those requiring admission fees (paywall, subscription), yet the road is still there and the traffic continues to pass....

What your site needs to be is Free to get there, and good enough to make the traveler stop to see the sights. What level of Good Enough gets to Best is up to the site owner/business model, and how many billboards you hang up on the landscape of your location. (And we all know there's dang few billboards along highways these days, keep that in mind)

Boils down to you need the FREE to get them there (that's what folks call G or Bing or Yahoo.... the free traffic ... note, it is NOT free as you well know, but that's a different topic) and the BEST is whatever you are willing to trade for that traveler to stop at your site.

Example: a tech site with tips.... a front end with lots of general stuff with value for the newbies. Ranks well. But the MEAT (the Best of the Best) is behind a subscription or paywall). The front side has ads, the back side does not (usually, or at least minimal). That's one way of doing it...

Until the scrapers, who are not above paying once, ripping it all, then putting it up a thousand times over. Which is yest Another Topic!

But it all comes down to this:

You do the Best for what you consider Free. If you want more than that, you have to earn it by having something Better that the user will WANT by either suffering more ads or paying for it,.. or your products/pricing is compelling beyond others. Anything else is simply giving up and throwing hands in the air running around in circles shouting "It's not fair! It's not Fair!" and I think we all know where that will get you. :)
2:37 pm on June 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Example: a tech site with tips.... a front end with lots of general stuff with value for the newbies. Ranks well. But the MEAT (the Best of the Best) is behind a subscription or paywall). The front side has ads, the back side does not (usually, or at least minimal). That's one way of doing it...

Yes, but that approach doesn't necessarily work for all topics and audiences. If you've got the world's best site about refrigerators and the average person is researching refrigerators only once every 15 or 20 years, a subscription model isn't the way to go. Ditto for a travel site about Patagonia, since few people (except possibly Argentinians) are likely to visit Patagonia more than once or twice in a lifetime.

Speaking of ads, I wonder how long the "Let's stick 10 ads on the page" publishing model will be sustainable. Ad rates have been plunging in recent years. Programmatic ad buying may be one reason, but the massive excess of inventory from greedy or desperate publishers is likely to be another.
4:12 pm on June 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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And we all know there's dang few billboards along highways these days, keep that in mind.

Right, but the highway-billboards analogy doesn't apply any more. Drivers cannot block the view of the billboards with paint or sheet; if they tried, they would be taken to jail and charged for vandalism. People who use ad-blockers are free and sometimes encouraged to do so ;).
5:39 pm on June 25, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It gets tricky, you have to show to sell, showing has to be free, nobody will pay for a "let's see what's there". The PRESSURE over what's free has increased, it has to be good quality to build preference over other sources, and it has to be fast: usability. Usability involves fast, intuitive, useful and also long lasting battery life on mobile devices. Coming back to the pressure point: see what's been happening? good quality -> here they come to copy it and build a mirror site with YOUR content.

Speaking of ads, I wonder how long the "Let's stick 10 ads on the page" publishing model will be sustainable
That's something I was pointing at, a lot on the company I worked for, it's a big media company with a large newspaper (the largest on the country), problem is when you get to the website-portal you don't know what are you doing there: seeing ads? or trying to read the news? the website is slow, not useful, free yes but the ads make it a pain in the butt. They just redesigned the site with a "new magic thing", a bit faster but the ads make it terrible again and now we see ADS everywhere on paper and magazines trying to convince people to visit the site, that's not working.
6:29 am on June 26, 2015 (gmt 0)

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"There is no such thing as free lunch." Free and Best is always used as a bait and switch in to basic and enterprise. This method has been used in the last 100 years and I do not believe it will go away any time soon, nor it should.

As for ads, I believe that in the future(read next 10 years maybe), ads will not be the same thing we see now due to the ever growing adblocker services offered on the market. There will become less in volume and better in quality. Think of the way ads evolved on TV. In-movie brand positioning with bottom animations, that is what works nowadays, because when the commercials come, everyone switches the channel, which is no different than using ad blocking tools.
7:44 am on June 26, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Yes, but that approach doesn't necessarily work for all topics and audiences. If you've got the world's best site about refrigerators and the average person is researching refrigerators only once every 15 or 20 years, a subscription model isn't the way to go.


And that's back to what is Best, forget the Free part. :)

Seriously, there's 85 sites out of each 100 that have no useful purpose, much less REASON to be on the web... other than handing ads for nickles a day.

Not every site can be monetized. Some folks don't get that and keep trying (and crying) that they are the BEST and its FREE and why can't I ... or must be those nasty adblockers....

I did say earlier "business model" and that remains true.

I don't expect a site on university study level paleontology to have much traction for Adsense, much less Adwords. Market pressure/audience determines the advertising income success of many sites and if you're not "popular" (think entertainment, travel, hard goods/sales, etc.), your market share diminished by that much immediately.

What the internet does, these days, is allow every site to be located on Main Street (think B&M terminology: Location, Location, Location!), and that's it. Getting the "customer" to enter the store depends entirely on the offering. We all live on Main Street these days, so what sets us apart is the offer and....

Wait for it...

The Brand.

And even the Brands these days are falling into the race to the bottom add more ads for more nickles a day paradigm and... at some point the riders of the highway will vote to take down the billboards littering the landscape (adblockers). This happened to the earlier publishers (Farmers along Route 66 with a billboard in a cow pasture that needed no tending) and local folks having to drive by them to legislate billboards out of business. Will that happen on the net? No... but don't expect the thought process to have changed, or that ad blockers will go away.

What's the solution? I don't have an answer, I just know that the sites I manage that keep the ads to three or less PER PAGE do significantly better than the sites where the owners fallaciously think that "If I make this with three, then six will double the income". Usually in six months (or less) that decision is reversed because of bounce and lost traffic.

Free is how they get there. Best is what you're willing to give. Income is a balance between both sides.... Unless there is a hard and firm wall of some kind.... pay or ad.

One site I manage (think entertainment) offers a grand front end with lots of free stuff. But to get to what some want to download and keep for themselves, they have to accept a 30 second video advertisement they cannot bypass. Oddly enough, over 70% accept the challenge and of that number about 8% actually convert. This will not work for every site, and the video ads are NOT from the "usual" sources, but does illustrate there is more than one way to skin a cat (no animals were harmed in this process). I should note that these ads as described above, can't be blocked as they were served from the client site... though some ad blockers might be programmed to do so. In which case that customer is not wanted---and they get nothing. :)

It's not about defeating adblockers, kiddies, its about marketing and sales that makes sense to the public.... and how to do it RIGHT in the first place.

Disclaimer: I am a NoScript enabled web user (personal) and see many ads on sites doing it right.... and have the peace of mind on other sites that do it wrong.
10:41 am on June 26, 2015 (gmt 0)

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It's not about defeating adblockers, kiddies, its about marketing and sales that makes sense to the public.... and how to do it RIGHT in the first place. 



And so many are doing it wrong. I am sure there are people posting in this thread that push the envelope because "it converts" without giving any thought to the long term consequences.
5:07 am on June 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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toidi wrote: And so many are doing it wrong. I am sure there are people posting in this thread that push the envelope because "it converts" without giving any thought to the long term consequences.

that holds a lot of true. Been a WebmasterWorld member for years and it's becoming more common to find here and everywhere, people posting about concepts that don't last or just will destroy a site, and they say it and swear is the ultimate truth! sure as the internet becomes more massive we see lower quality in more fields: sites, ads, comments, forums, etc. There are tons of comments all around drawing the shape of "I don't know what long term means"

also, the web gave the wrong idea of things should be free, or it's just that many users got that (and wrong), some of us worked on some fields like photography were good was a product, then lot's of sites came out giving things away really for free, or just providing tools like flicker that allowed a lot of non pros to post things for free, sure with "licenses types" that nobody cared for and just downloaded and used their stuff, it's a case study, some couldn't survive the market change because while their product was good, a lot of "alternatives" were free

a lot of people still think many things should be free, totally out of focus. I posted a while ago how the quality of comments on websites changed, I receive a lot of emails per day on some websites, at first "thank you, congrats" then it became almost a demand on free info to plan this and that (sure nobody answers, not me not the competition), there is no conversion on that but people still push
5:58 am on June 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Sad thing is it's always about the "low-hanging fruit" and those who "hunt and gather" that way. Most times that's not the best or most succulent and to get the best, you have to work harder to reach the top.

Couldn't resist the analogy. :)

Relying on SE traffic, backed by hanging ads (any kind, but specifically third party) and minimal content. That's low-hanging fruit --- and all too many webmasters are putting up those kind of sites. Old days that was MFA... but recent algo changes at G has changed the face of that type of "least effort" website. So that begs the question of how "best" is that "free" site to begin with? And how many such similar sites that webmaster has unleashed for that nickles a day income.

Do need to say that the "nickles per day" I keep saying is quite accurate, though SOME sites can achieve phenomenal success (for a very short period).

I fear that BEST has diminished significantly, as @explorador commented above, and it will only get worse for the webmasters whose only reason for being is hanging ads. In the long run these kinds of sites will go the way of the old Pulp Fiction magazines of the 1920s-1940s. The utter saturation of "publishers" will break the ad market to the ext4reme fractions of a cent per 1000 level.

SO.... look to other alternatives for income. Other methods of achieving cost recovery for work. Other strategies for long-term survival. And do the BEST in that regard.

And be damn glad that your Main Street (web address) is still FREE for folks to find and arrive!

And once again, none of this "free" stuff is actually free!
6:26 am on July 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Actually people respond very VERY well to premium. It`s just harder to sell and involves way bigger commitment to do. I`d give you example with the latest company I do work for, they _increased_ their prices and stoped showing low quality "properties/listings" - and the public responded with almost 15% lower bounce rate, which in turn resulted in higher across the boards SERP increase of ~0.7 positions for general and more than 5 positions in longtail - talk about UX being a factor for Google.

To pull off Free and Best is to have a big war chest to fund the project. Most people don`t, then proceed making crappy sites, stuffed with ads and pops, then come here and start whining. Sorry but I can offer only pity or charge per hour.
11:05 am on July 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I recently realized i am one of those who push the limits. I have a search feature on all my sites that use a forced registration. It is the most profitable feature i have.
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