One of my favorite sites is Problogger, a blog on blogging. Alas, I’m guilty of not visiting often enough: I rarely do subscriptions because there’s too little time to keep up with them all, and when it comes to proactively visiting various sites, I get distracted easily. No doubt, though, if a person read the thing every day and blogged every day and studied other blogs carefully, before long the person would become expert at the blogging game and even make some money at it.
This morning, feeling a bit annoyed at Google AdSense, I dropped over to Problogger to see if Proprietor Darren Rowse had any clues to improve one’s relationship with that outfit. And lo! Up popped this article by Todd Fratzl, holding forth on two basic ideas: 1) that you should experiment with ad size and placement, and 2) that with AdSense, less is more.
The first is fairly self-evident: since no two blogs are the same and no two sets of readers are identical, it makes sense that placement, color, and frequency would yield different results for every individual blog. In fact, given the Internet’s fluid nature, it’s also reasonable to expect that blog readership will change as blog content evolves. So it’s probably a good idea not only to try different sizes and placements for your blog’s advertising, but to test new patterns at regular intervals—say, at least once a year.
Personally, I was far more taken by the less-is-more concept. Much as I’d like to see FaM make a few shekels, I wasn’t happy about having to mothball its original WordPress design (White as Milk, the most exquisitely minimalist design WordPress.com offered) in favor of a three-column theme that lends itself to ad clutter. The idea of having only one or two ad blocks appeals…and it appeals a lot if Todd is right, that more readers will click on a site’s advertising if fewer ads are offered.
I’m certainly not getting rich off Funny about Money. Nor did I expect to: from what I can see, PF bloggers whose sites earn enough to let them quit their day jobs are very techie, work at it six to eight hours a day at least five days a week, and are strong marketers. None of those applies to moi. In theory, it’s making a little more than other part-time bloggers claim to earn: as a paying hobby, it’s OK.
In reality, though, it’s not paying anything. None of the on-paper revenues that AdSense shows the site has earned have ever been paid, and I’m beginning to suspect I’ll never see a cent of that money.
AdSense is extremely frustrating to deal with. It has exactly zero customer support. Literally: you can not reach a human being. The entire operation is designed to frustrate attempts to get answers to questions beyond the “frequently asked.” The only live people you can reach are equally frustrated fellow customers, who gather at forums whose e-conversations are so diffuse you could spend days trying to find someone addressing your issue and still not get an answer that pertains to your circumstances.
And then we have its bizarre payment policies. No money is disgorged until you reach a certain threshold (just now, $100). After your site has accrued that much, you then have to wait upwards of two months for payment. Thus, when FaM became eligible for a payment in June, the payment was not scheduled to arrive at my mailbox until the end of August.
“Mailbox” is the operative word: the direct deposit function doesn’t work. Because there’s no human responsible for addressing customer problems, there’s no way to find out what the problem is or how to get AdSense to deposit funds directly to your account. The forums? Full of other people bitching that the direct deposit function doesn’t work.
So the August check didn’t arrive. In that case, your only option is to ask that Google cancel the check it allegedly has issued and cut a new check. Do that, and you delay payment another entire month! So, the soonest I can expect to see money earned last June is sometime near the end of September.
It’s not a huge rip, but it is a rip. What it means is that AdSense is piggybacking free ad space on the blogger’s work. Effectively, I’ve been providing AdSense free space for the past three months, and will continue to do so for at least another month. Multiply that by the 87 gerjillion bloggers who publish ads, and you get a clue how much Google profits by taking advantage of customers who can’t get in the front gate because there is no gate-keeper. The longer AdSense delays paying its ad publishers and the more publishers it stiff-arms, the more interest Google earns on ad revenues!
How much is Funny earning in never-paid revenues? Not much! Just now it’s generating a modest amount each month (or would be, if I could ever get paid). It’s paid for the server space. Otherwise, you could say it earns enough to buy a bag or two of groceries each month.
Considering that I would probably blog anyway, the 30 cents an hour that AdSense revenue boils down to amounts to a spoonful of gravy. However, I could do without the hassle, and I could do without the frustration entailed in dealing with a megalithic corporation that sets up impermeable barricades between its employees and the unwashed customers. I’m beginning to feel that despite the passive nature of AdSense—after all, once you’ve accomplished the initial set-up you don’t have to do much to earn that 30 cents an hour—it’s probably not worth the page clutter.
It appears to me that advertising may be the least of the effective ways to monetize a blog. Probably creating a product, such as an e-book or (depending on your blog’s topic) some physical object that’s related to your blog’s content, will generate more profit. Trent Hamm, for example, is selling a book spun off The Simple Dollar plus four downloadable e-books, also spin-offs. He has to split his print book’s $7.95 retail price with the publisher and the middlemen, but every cent of the $2.00 downloads goes direct to his bank account. Since his readership is huge, he likely sells a fair number of those. Trent runs plenty of ads, too; but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he puts most of his effort into generating content and traffic.
Regular blogging by its nature generates a salable product: copy. If the site is focused on a specific topic—or even covers two or three topics regularly—the blogger should have no trouble coming up with at least one publishable book and a number of DIY e-books. But there again, it’s a matter of marketing: books don’t sell themselves any more than blogs do!
Postscript: Dave Taylor at Ask Dave Taylor provides an e-mail address for AdSense support and swears they respond promptly: firstname.lastname@example.org. In my experience, the answer bounced me right back to the page where the instructions didn’t work and no troubleshooting clue was anywhere to be found. Sending you straight back to reperform the function that doesn’t work without giving you some idea how to make it work is…well, circular is the kindest term I can think of.