On blogging and money

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: adsense-support@google.com. 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.

BTW, if you haven’t come across Taylor’s site, you should pay a visit: he demystifies technopuzzlements and describes a lot of cool gadgetry.

Be Sociable, Share!
Carrie September 4, 2009 at 9:58 am

I’ve not had much luck with AdSense either, in 8 months now I’ve made at total of about $40. I’ve had a lot more success with Amazon affiliates and Chitika (Chitika is kind of like adsense but only shows your ads to people who arrived via google search so that your “friends” don’t have to see the ads).

frugalscholar September 5, 2009 at 7:46 am

Actually, I think the personal finance bloggers who got started earlier (i.e. only about 3 years ago) and attracted a big audience make plenty from ads. I don’t read Get Rich Slowly regularly any more, but when he quit his job around 1 year ago, he was making $5000/month from his blog. I’m sure it’s more now. But I think his PF blog was only around 2 years old at that time.

You are one of the best writers around! I think the early start makes a big difference–a la Gladwell’s Outliers: combo of talent with a large dose of luck.

funny September 5, 2009 at 11:01 am

Yeah, I think it’s a matter of time for most of the successful blogs, although some of them succeed quickly because the proprietor has an original, truly interesting, useful, or fun idea.

@ frugalscholar: I do enjoy Get Rich Slowly. J.D. Roth is a wonderful writer with a distinctive, likable voice. You can’t read GRS without connecting with the guy. If you read very much of his stuff, though, you come to realize that not only is he a very good writer, he also is sophisticated with things technical. It’s clear that he does very much know what he’s doing. In his case, I think it’s a combination of native talent, technical expertise, and hard work. The same appears to be true of Trent Hamm: personally, I enjoy J.D.’s writing style a bit more, but Trent also is a strongly competent writer, technically knowledgeable, and an extremely hard worker. Neither one of those two lets any grass grow under his feet. Which may go to prove the old saw about 98 percent of genius…

Revanche September 5, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I’ve long passed my three year anniversary and STILL haven’t cracked the $100 mark on the Adsense account so you’re still ahead of me in the real life experience. :) I’m flirting with the idea of just going with text links if any of the contacts I’ve received are legitimate. Assessing THAT, however, is another bit of time I’ve not yet invested.

funny September 5, 2009 at 11:02 pm

@ Revanche: Holy mackerel! So they’ve been running ads for free on your site for the past three years? Now THAT’s a rip-off.

Have you looked into affiliate advertising? Some people seem to have better luck with that. Also, both ProBlogger and Dave Taylor have a lot of information and ideas about generating revenues, including leads to Adsense alternatives.

Revanche September 6, 2009 at 10:45 am

Yep, you’re telling me. But to be honest, I experience a whole lot less traffic than most PF blogs, so it’s not surprising. I’m sort of determined to get that d@&$ed check before I jump ship, but I will have to spend some time looking into affiliate advertising while I’m a free bird.

Mrs. Accountability September 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Wow, Funny, you’re doing pretty darned great with Adsense!! $100 for just three months? Whoa. I’ve had Adsense on my site since July 2008, and I’m barely at $23.56 for all time. Why, just today I made TWO CENTS, and yesterday FOUR. I’ll be able to retire in no time. I guess Adsense pays me about 1 penny for every ten hours I’ve put into my blog. LOL.

Funny September 9, 2009 at 9:05 pm

@ Revanche & Mrs. Accountability: I don’t understand where the traffic is coming from, but I’m not arguing. ;-) One or two posts achieved great popularity (notoriety??) and stayed popular for a long time, and one post hit LifeHacker, which briefly jacked up the traffic. Apparently a fair number of folks read my maunderings, and (since I have no spies out there madly punching at advertising) some of them must be interested in some of the ads they see. It’s an interesting phenomenon, this whole Web business.

One thing you have to say for Adsense is that it does seem to generate relevant graphics. A lot of the ads fit the content surprisingly well (some of it’s a little strange, but hey…you can’t be 100 percent all the time).

I’d like to try buying one of those ads, to see if it would generate readership. But am a little cautious about spending on that…it feels a lot like buying a lottery ticket.

s jensen May 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I have been reading PF blogs for sometime now – and I am still not sure how the money part works. Tell us! what can I do to help you get paid for the great articles? I usually read articles just in my email, rarely click and go to the blog page – mostly just if I want to comment. Do you get anything if I read you article in email? Do you get anything if I click and go to your page? Tell us (your loyal readers!) where/how you get paid so we can make those choices when we can!

thanks, funny – I love your writing!

funny May 29, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Thanks for the offer!

AdSense’s terms of service explicitly prohibit me from telling readers what they can do to increase revenues on the site. If you’re subscribing through e-mail, presumably your presence is being registered by Google, which helps life a bit. If you don’t see ads, I think you can see them if instead you subscribe through FeedBurner’s RSS feed…but of course, I don’t know because I don’t subscribe to my own blog. ;-)

About the only thing I can safely suggest is to get all your friends to read FaM and to subscribe to it. When you like a post, plug it on Twitter, plug it on Facebook, Stumble it, Digg it, bookmark it on del.icio.us and reddit. Each post has links to those services; if they don’t appear in your e-mail feed, by all means drop by the site itself, click on the post you enjoyed, and use those links at the bottom of the article to tell the world about it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: