Tuesday May 2, 2006

To Ad or Not To Ad?

I've recently been mulling over a significant change to this blog, and I figured I'd write a bit about it and see if anyone had any thoughts or advice.  The short version is, I've been thinking of adding Google ads.  Now don't panic yet—they're not going to be in your face and all over the place.  In fact, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll almost certainly never see them.

Let me give you a little background.  Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about my search for desktop wallpaper images for my snazzy new 1920 x 1200 monitor.  Through the miracle of Google, that single post consistently receives about half of my daily traffic—for months, in fact, it's been the number one hit for the query 1920 1200 and a number of variations on it.  Take today for example: even though I'm experiencing the later stages of a medium-sized Pournellealanche, 31 of the last 100 visitors arrived via that post.

This isn't bad news—I'll take visitors any way they come.  Who knows, some of them have probably stuck around and become regular readers.  The fact is, though, this blog isn't free to run and I wouldn't turn up my nose at a little bit of income (or a lot of income, now that you mention it).  I'm a little hesitant to add advertisements, though, for two reasons.  First, could there be any ethical or professional downside?  One of my possible career paths is to run the college professor tenure gauntlet, and I'd hate to find out six years from now in a tenure review that running a commercial web site (not to mention a pseudonymous blog) is considered poor form.  Anyone have any experience with this?

The second reason is more mundane.  Are ads going to drive people away?  If I added them, it would be only to that single post, but I'd still run the risk of having the steady flow of potential readers who visit that page getting turned off on the whole site.  Do you think you make unconscious snap judgments based on the presence of ads on a site?

I'm curious to hear about any related experiences you've had, good or bad.  I'm also curious to know just how much money we're talking about here—Google is very tight-lipped about how much Google AdSense publishers make.  If the revenue from putting ads on just one page would be tiny, there's no point in doing it, after all.  So, if any of you have ever run a site with Google ads, I'd appreciate it if you could give me a clue (by email, if you like)—are we talking low two-figures, here?

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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I tried google ads for about six weeks, but in the end I removed them because I didn't like the way they affected the look of my site. Personally I have never clicked a web ad and have no intention of ever doing so. That was also part of my decision to not use them.

I didn't make any money mostly because they weren't on my site for long so I can't help you there. Anyhow I'm interested in what your other readers have to say on this.

My final verdict is that this is your space on the net and you should do what feels right for you.

Posted by: EFL Geek at May 2, 2006 4:14:07 AM

I went through the same thought process when I first added ads to my site last year. I hated doing it. But there were two factors that convinced me.

One, my traffic was growing so greatly that I was soon going to have to move to a more expensive hosting plan. It would go from a monthly cost of a meal for two at a cheap restaurant to a monthly cost equal to about two weeks of groceries.

Two, I spend 15 to 20 hours (or more) a week on my web site. It's part of my career. It assists my day job, the books I publish on the side, the articles I write, the media questions I answer, everything. But it's never been anything but an indirect filler of my wallet. This was a problem because the time I spent on the site, while good for my career, meant that I had to forgo other tasks that would add to my bottom line. In order justify doing the site, I really needed to find a way to monetize it.

Just last week I made the ads more prominent and added more of them. Ad fatigue with Google ads is very high. People are so used to seeing them their eyes pass right over them without stopping. The ads weren't doing as much as they did six months ago. And yet my conditions hadn't changed. I still needed the site to pay for itself--the traffic was still growing, with more than one million page views in February. And I still wanted it to justify itself financially, to make up for the higher-paying gigs that I was forgoing in order to do the web site. So I changed the ads around and made the layout more amenable to their presence. The click-through rate and pay-per-click has more than doubled. I'm nowhere near rent-paying range, but it will definitely pay for hosting costs. It also comes nowhere near equalling the payment for a single article in a newspaper, but it's enough, for now, that I don't feel I'm cheating my bank account to an absurd degree.

Looking at your traffic, I'd say you can expect about $10 to $15 a month in advertising revenue at most. Be warned, though: sites that tend to do well with Google AdSense are about one common thing. While your site is about language, you'll find that the advertisers in that niche are rather general and most of the Google ads that will appear on your site are rather bad. Many of them will be those stupid out-of-context Ebay, Yahoo, and Drugstore.com ads where they say things like, "Find phonetics on Ebay!" or "Shaftoe on sale at Drugstore.com!" Or worse, you'll get these dreadful ads from Starwave.com and Whitesmoke.com which are purportedly language-related, but they push crappy product with the worst-written ads I've ever seen. Then, of course, there are also the stupid ads for ringtones. Make sure you take full advantage of the contextual commenting that Google allows you to put in your copy so that you can tell it which parts of an entry are the ones to use when calculating which ads to show.

Regarding the unappeal of advertising: Before I made the recent ad changes to my site, I turned off all the ad filters in my browsers to see what others were doing. I was amazed. Really and truly, I had no idea just how many ads my filters were removing while I was browsing. There are so many sites that are so laden with advertising--ugly, barfariffic ads that nobody but an utter moron would ever click on--that the Internet changed overnight for me. It went from a pleasant information-rich environment to a constant struggle to find the actual content on pages.

So you can take from that two things: Your visitors who hate ads could be motivated enough to get ad filters, so their displeasure might not matter. Those visitors who do not have ad filters, whether they hate the ads or not, will be used to seeing a lot more crap on web pages than a column of Google ads.

If you want more info, drop me a line.

Posted by: Grant Barrett at May 2, 2006 6:57:51 AM

I reluctantly put text ads up last fall because I was worried about money; I'm less worried now, but they bring in enough to pay for my hosting, and I've gotten used to the look, so I'm letting them stay. They certainly haven't driven away visitors -- in fact, I'm getting record numbers these days.

Posted by: language hat at May 2, 2006 8:59:50 AM

I like the ads, because there actually occasionally is something worth looking at. When that isn't true, I can easily ignore them. The way LH, for example, has them set up is not at all disruptive.

I say go for them with a clear conscience.

Posted by: Erkki at May 3, 2006 3:48:11 AM

I visit several blogs daily that have ads. Language Hat's are so unobtrusive that I was actually surprised to be reminded by Erkki that they were there. Bad Astronomy's are less felicitously placed, but I cheefully scroll past them to get to the meat; I wouldn't even dream of not going there just because of the ads.

Others may differ, but if you need the revenue, go for it!

Posted by: The Ridger at May 4, 2006 11:10:27 AM

I enjoy browsing this site from time to time for random bits and bytes and I'll say that a few google searches are not going to drive me away. Especially if they can be as gentlte as the Hat's.

Posted by: TimV at May 9, 2006 1:39:41 PM

Although, I would have to suggest an "edit" function for those of us who shame themselves with grammar and spelling mistakes. And here for that matter...

Posted by: TimV at May 9, 2006 1:43:04 PM

I think that most reasonable people don't mind the author of something they enjoy reading getting a little monetary reward for his or her hard work, and will come back regardless of the ads.

Posted by: John B at May 9, 2006 3:00:09 PM