This post is going to get very specific… or as specific as I can without getting in trouble with Google. I am going to share my experience with their Adsense program. I’m even going to include some real numbers.
Getting Set Up
There is a certain cost associated with getting started with Google Adsense. I had to apply for an account (free). I had to spend some time to learn how to integrate their code with my site. The Google TOS (Terms of Service) says that their code can only be displayed on content pages. The reason this makes sense is their ads only work if there is content that can be matched. How much content is there on your memberlist? On your login page? Not much, and therefore displaying ads on those pages is fairly useless. For that reason I didn’t want to include their code in overall_header or overall_footer.
Without going into too much detail, here is what I did:
- Added a field to phpbb_forums table that determines whether ads are to be displayed for that forum or not
- Added code to page_tail.php that determined the calling page
I probably took about two hours to write and test the code. If I am generous and pay myself $100 per hour and I include the time it took to fill out the paperwork to get an account I will say that the total cost to get set up and running with Adsense was about $250. Of course that’s not real money out of my pocket.
At the time I started with Google I was averaging between 20K and 30K page views a day. Here are the numbers from my statistics table:
+--------------+---------------------+ | Year - Month | Average Daily Views | +--------------+---------------------+ | 2005-04 | 21397 | | 2005-05 | 23704 | | 2005-06 | 26490 | | 2005-07 | 23124 | | 2005-08 | 31129 | | 2005-09 | 28650 | | 2005-10 | 29068 | | 2005-11 | 30388 | | 2005-12 | 25713 | +--------------+---------------------+
The page views that Google measures will be lower than these totals since I don’t display their ads on pages like posting.php, profile.php, login.php, and so on. In fact, the average daily page views for May of 2005 according to Google records was 11,509.
So enough with the setup… how much money have I made? I am getting to that, but first I want to talk about ad placement.
At the time I started Google I already had a board sponsor paying for banner space at the top of my board. As a result I only displayed Google content on the bottom of the page. This, to be honest, is the worst possible place for advertising. Google wants you to put your ad code on the top of the page. If not the top, then near the top and perhaps down the side using a skyscraper format. With discussion boards they even suggest including advertising between the first and second post displayed on each page. I hate that. And since I don’t like it, and since I was only testing out Google on a whim, I displayed ads only on the bottom of the page.
Google will also suggest that you get better CTR (click through rate) if your advertisements stand out rather than blend in. Again, as a personal decision, I purposefully set up my ad format so that they use the same color scheme as the rest of my board. I didn’t want them to stand out because I didn’t want to risk driving my users away with overt advertising. In other words, I did just about everything wrong.
But how much money did I make? Wait, I’m getting to that.
While I was setting up Google Adsense for Content I also read about Google Adsense for Search. This program lets me create a custom Google search output page that includes my board logo. All I have to do is include a Google search box somewhere on my page. When people use that box to search my site, they are taken to this custom page for their search results… oh, and Google displays context-sensitive ads along with the search results.
But how much money did I make? Yes, it’s time to start looking at some numbers.
Google Revenue Numbers
In the first month I made $120.82. In the second month I made $172.14. The breakdown was $278.08 from content and $14.88 from search. After just two months I had already recovered my initial “investment” of $250 worth of my time (at a very generous $100 / hour remember). I started using Adsense for content and search in May of 2005 and have continued through to today. It’s the easiest five thousand dollars I’ve ever earned.
Yes, that number is correct. Since May of 2005 I have earned over five thousand dollars with Google Adsense. And from what I have mentioned already, those numbers represent about half (or even less) of what I could have earned if I had tried to optimize my ad placement and formatting even just a little bit. I talked with one gentleman who runs a board very similar to mine with about one quarter of my activity, and he was making over $1,000 per month with Google Adsense.
If you do the math; at the time I am writing this post I have been with Google for 41 months. If I have made over $5,000 during that time, my monthly average revenues from Google is over $100 a month. In my last post I mentioned that I only get paid when my account exceeds that limit. So far that has not been a problem for me.
Could I Improve?
Of course Google is happy that I am making money… because it’s not possible for me to make money unless they’re making money at the same time. Not too long ago I was actually approached by someone from Google offering to help me optimize my site. Were they just being neighborly? Of course not. By helping me make better decisions about ad placement and formatting, they would ultimately help themselves because any time I make more money Google makes more money as well. As I described earlier in this post, however, I have very specific reasons for displaying their ads in exactly the way I have them today, and I don’t intend to change them.
Boards with different subject matter would likely do better than me. Ads for real estate or poker / gaming sites apparently pay much higher click rates than my ads. I am not basing this on experience but on rumors, so that information is probably a bit suspect. But overall, Google has been a really decent return for a minimal amount of effort. But is it really for everyone?
Google For Everyone!
Is Google the best solution for everyone? In my opinion, no. First of all, I had a reasonable amount of board activity (20K daily page views) before I started. I had quite a bit of content (nearly 150,000 posts) on my board. If you have a brand new board, I don’t suggest that you use Google. Why not? Because first of all, you haven’t established your users yet. In one of my earlier posts about board advertising I touched on the idea of alienating your community by installing ads too soon, so I won’t repeat everything here. It’s something to think about.
Without posts you haven’t established your content yet either. Adsense works with content. If you don’t have content, you will get PSAs (Public Service Ads) that don’t pay anything until Google figures out what your site is about.
Bottom line, at least in my opinion, is that Google is not a good option for a brand new blog or board. I would suggest waiting until the site is at least two years old or has some level of content before considering Google as an option.
I shared a few monthly numbers earlier in this post. In my next post I am going to share more numbers and point out a disturbing trend that I am willing to bet is not just affecting me, but other Adsense consumers as well. See you next post.