From December 2016 to February 2017 I ran Google Adwords on this site. At that time jdmoyer.com was getting about 12,000 views per week. I was curious if I could bring in significant ad revenue with a minimal approach, only running ads on a small percentage of the posts on this site.
I didn’t exactly need the money–I had (and still have) plenty of freelance work to pay the bills, and some additional income from music royalties and investments. But passive income is nice. I considered the pros and cons:
- passive income up to several hundred dollars a month
- easy to set up and manage
- easy to turn off if I didn’t like it
- the main purpose of this site is not to make money
- might annoy existing readers
- might make readers suspicious of advice or information I was sharing
I decided to give it a trial run, see how much money the ads could generate, and see if I got any complaints from readers and/or noticed any difference in site traffic.
This was relatively easy, but still harder than expected. Setting up the ads on the AdWords site was easy enough. Basically I chose some sizing options, and chose which types of ads I wanted to exclude. Then, to get those ads to show up on my posts, I used a plugin called AdSense In-Post Ads that allowed me to insert ads with a shortcode, something like [put Ad #1 here].
The tricky part was configuring my site for Google AdWord syndication. There was a short snippet of code I needed to insert, but where? Finally I figured out I needed to insert the code in the header.php file of my WordPress theme.
Off and running …
Ad Quality, Ad Income
Right off I noticed that about half of the ads Google ran on my site were terrible. Just awful clickbaity stuff for weight loss e-books or dubitable health cures … that kind of stuff. Maybe not outright scams, but definitely not products or services I would use myself or recommend to anyone.
The rest of the ads were for boring normal stuff like car insurance and ocean cruises, that type of thing.
So that made me feel bad. But no way was I going to end the experiment before I got at least a couple data points. And nobody had complained. So I left the ads up and checked my AdWords account page daily to see how much money was rolling in.
The first few days, hardly anything. Then ad income leapt to over $20/day. Hmm … for $600-1000 passive income each month, maybe my readers could endure a few sleazy ads. Especially since my regular readers had read most of those posts ad-free a long time ago.
But then the daily ad income dropped, averaging out to only $5-10/day. My first Google “paycheck” was only $142 (from running one or two ads on most of my ten or so most popular posts). I added some filters to remove the most noxious ads, and my second month of ad income was only $108.
I didn’t like the feeling of running ads on my site for a few reasons:
- Web ads are annoying. Also, most of the ads were crappy. I didn’t want to look at them, and I didn’t want my readers to have to look at them.
- I found the variable income to be really distracting, even though the amounts were small. It was too much of my attention to low stakes.
- It made me start to think in terms of “high traffic posts” that might generate more income. And that really isn’t the way I like to think about blogging (see “About This Blog” for the real reasons I maintain this site).
- I worried that new readers might trust my content less, and trust me less, because of the ads on my site.
So it was pretty clear that I needed to turn the ads off, even though no readers had complained.
One Last Experiment
I kept running AdWords for about a week after the decision, to test one more thing. How much income would the ads bring in if I ONLY allowed ads that were for products or services (or categories of products and services) I had actually used, or at least might conceivably use in the future. I set up the filters accordingly.
Ad income dropped to almost zero.
The Future of Advertising on This Site
Probably none. I’ve tried both WordAds and AdWords, and was happy with neither.
But if the right offer came along, I would consider it. I might join an affiliate program for a particular rewards credit card I use almost daily, if they were ever to offer one.
But there are easier ways to make money. A few months ago I licensed this post to McGraw Hill for quite a bit more than my total ad income from all sources. And if this blog doesn’t make any money, that’s fine too. Any blog income is gravy, and I’m not willing to run crappy ads to squeeze every possible dime from the internet.
The Big Picture
Some argue that bad web ads are destroying the online experience. Others, including Charlie Stross (though I can’t find the particular post on his blog), have argued that online advertising is destroying the world. The argument goes something like this.
- Advertisers want to make money.
- Advertisers run click-baity content to drive traffic and make more money.
- A big part of that click-baity content is fake news. Which actually influences elections.
- World-destroying fools and tyrants are elected, and rapidly proceed to destroy the world.
Your political views may differ, but I find the above argument persuasive. It’s one reason I’m happier not running ads on this site.