A Year with Adsense

As you can probably guess from the title, this article is about my experience with Google’s Adsense program, which powers all the text and sometimes image ads that you see around my site. Be advised that this is not one of those “how to make a sh*tload of money from Adsense” type of literature and I’m not one of those “experts” who writes those articles. Rather this is a summary and reflection of my past 13 month experience with the program. No, I didn’t end up making a ridiculous amount of money, but the results were encouraging and better than I had hoped initially, which goes to show that even a regular Joe (or Tony, in my case) like me can make money from the internet (without doing something illegal).

Ever since I took my first web design course in grade 10 I’ve been making and maintaining websites. The reason why I like web design is due to the fact that it integrates writing, graphic art, and technical skills into one area. For me, making websites was and still is a fun thing to do. All in all I have been making sites for around 5 years up to this day, but before April of last year (2005), I have never thought of doing more than just providing helpful information, like making money, with my websites.

What really got me interested in web advertising was a thread in a forum that I was active in. The forum was composed mostly of people like me: people who design websites as a hobby. The topic was “Do you use Adsense and why or why not?” The thread got me thinking and was the primary push I needed to join the Adsense program. Of course, as a frequent user of the internet, I’ve been aware of Google’s targeted text ads for quite some time before, but I never really thought about putting ads on my sites before I came across that forum thread. After reading the posts, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to sign up for the program. At the very worst I don’t earn anything, but I wouldn’t really be worse off than when I started, so it’s basically a situation where I had nothing to lose, but potentially some money to gain. Google was (and still is) a pretty big company with a good reputation (especially back in those days), so this is probably not some kind of scam and I’ll probably get paid, so in the middle of April, I signed up on to the Adsense program and submitted my site to Google for review.

The application process was pretty quick and painless, due the fact that I didn’t really have to bother with the tax stuff in the application, since I don’t live in the States. Google approved my account on the very next day, so I was ready to take on the world of web advertising. Google’s ad system is pretty easy to use: just paste the appropriate code in the appropriate place on the web page and the ads will automatically show up (most of the time). At first, I wasn’t really familiar with ad placement techniques like which ad types or colours worked the best, so I went with the simplest route and placed a banner above the main text of my web pages. The good thing about banners is that they didn’t change the look of my pages, but they weren’t all that noticeable either. As expected, I barely made any money during my first half month, probably due to my low traffic at the time and my ineffective ad placement, but I was still encouraged by the fact that I made a little bit of money.

In the next few weeks I decided to read some Adsense tips so I can improve my earnings. One of the best resources for beginners was Google’s own Adsense optimization page. Through reading that and other materials on the net I learned that it’s better to use big square and rectangular blocks than to use banner or thin tower ad formats. Block ads are larger so they display more ads, and their shape makes them better suited for placement right in the middle of the main text. Other than using big blocky ad formats, I also switched to using colours that sort of blended in to the main design but still bright enough to stand out from the text, as by Google’s recommendations. My income for the next month was three times the amount I made in April, thanks to my improved ad placement and also increasing traffic. Still, the amount was still pretty low, even when compared to some of the other people on forum thread that inspired me to participate in Adsense.

The main problem with my sites was that they don’t get much traffic. As most of you probably realize, more visitors mean more potential clicks, so after the second month I began a campaign to increase my traffic. The first method is to do search engine optimization and submit my sites to the major search engines and directories. I took people’s advice and added Meta tags to my pages, and submitted my sites using the variety of free submission services available. After this whole campaign, I realized that the most important place to get listed is the Open Directory, aka dmoz.org, aka Google Directory. Getting listed there pretty much guarantees a certain amount of traffic, since a lot of website link or replicate the list inside this directory and getting listed improves the chances of showing up on a Google search results page by quite a bit. When my crabbing guide and later Smash Bros. guide got listed, they both saw a significant increase in visitors. Of course, it’s not that simple getting into the Open Directory, since it usually takes several months to get your site listed, and not every submitted site gets listed. Trying to get into dmoz.org is a long and frustrating process, but the rewards are pretty good if you succeed. I’m still working to get my other sites into this prestigious directory, but still haven’t had much luck yet. Other important places to submit to are of course Google, MSN Search, and Yahoo. The Yahoo directory is also pretty important, but you need to pay to get in. It’s possible to bypass the payment by trying to get into one of Yahoo’s regional directories, but I haven’t been successful in this regard.

The second method of getting more traffic is of course by adding more content, so I started to dig up more of my old essays and other writings to add to my sites. Of course I also wrote some new articles and did some new projects, such as my dad’s badminton portal. Unfortunately the badminton portal still isn’t as successful as my crabbing or smash guide. Hopefully that will change. A lot of those expert articles claim that there’s a magical “secret” to making a lot of money on Adsense. Well, that “secret” is having lots of unique, interesting content that people can find and want to read. That’s pretty much it. Yeah, I know this is pretty obvious to a lot of people, so you can’t really call this a “secret”; it’s common sense. I also found out that it doesn’t really matter what the content is about though (as long as it complies with Google’s conditions). For example my Smash Bros. guide is about an old game on an obsolete system that’s on the verge of becoming three generations old, but that site has never been more popular. So if you can come up with something unique and interesting and do the work so that people can find it, then there probably will be some people who want to read/visit what you’ve created. Since I’m not too creative nor do I have a lot of resources and time at my exposal, I currently don’t have a lot of content in my sites, but I’ll keep working on my sites and new projects.

After the first four months of joining Adsense I gradually stopped tweaking the ads. Google has added some new features since then and I have experimented with those, but overall my ads stayed the way they were. Overall, Google provides a pretty good service for us publishers (ex people who put ads on their sites, like me), and when I had problems, the support team responded pretty quickly in all occasions. One small gripe I have about Adsense is that the statistic tracking tools are a bit on the weak side. It would be great if I was able to track which colour/ad format/web page does well. These tools will help me and other publishers understand what works and what doesn’t. Other than that, I’ve got no complaints.

When I finally received my first paycheck I was pretty happy, since it was the first bit of money that I made on my own. After the spectacular growth in the first four months (percentage-wise) my monthly earnings fluctuated up and down a bit, but they never became really high, so my daydream of living off of Adsense earnings probably won’t come true anytime soon.

By now you must be pretty curious about how much I actually earned during my first year with Adsense. Google is normally quite secretive about their Adsense statistics, but fortunately publishers are allowed to disclose their total income. In my first 13 months with Adsense, I managed to earn a little bit over $700 Canadian. I know it’s not much, as I could probably earn more by working two months part-time at minimum wage, but $700 is not a small amount by my standards. It’ll get me a term worth of textbooks plus some spending money, although I rarely spend money on anything. The results were quite a bit better than I had hoped at the beginning, and goes to show that with a bit of work, even not very popular websites like mine can make some money. My future in this web advertising venture looks pretty solid at this point. I’ll keep on improving my sites and add new content. I might even consider getting a paid web hosting account and my domain name to allow my sites to further expand. To all of you who have websites and are thinking about participating in Adsense, I say go right ahead. If a guy like me can make money, then so can you, and chances are you’ll do better than me. Looking back now, I’m pretty glad I decided to join Adsense a year ago. It’s been a good learning experience; it’s the first thing I did that actually made any money, and it sure beats doing any real work. Hopefully things will keep getting better from now on. Thanks for reading this article.

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