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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Adsense Tips for Bloggers

How do you make money from the Google Adsense Program?

I have been asked this question so many times in the past few weeks that I thought I should write something on the topic. It seems increasingly bloggers want to try to cover their hosting and ISP costs with some revenue from their blog - and perhaps even make a few dollars on the side. Many are turning to Google’s Adsense program.

Covering costs of my Living Room and Digital Photography Blog is why I originally signed up with Google Adsense - blogging can get expensive when you have high levels of traffic and a lot of pages.

Whilst the agreement you sign with Google stresses that you are not allowed to give specific information about your earnings from the program I can say that I’m glad I’ve signed up because its well and truly covered my costs - and then some. In fact I think its quite feasible to expect that Adsense coupled with other strategies for making money from Blogging could quite easily generate a decent living. It takes time and hard work, but I think its very doable. (Update: Since writing this series I’ve revealed that I am now looking at making over a six figure income this year in 2005 from blogging).

So how do I make money from Google Adsense?

This will be the first in a series of posts on this topic. Let me say up front I’m no expert - there are a lot of people out there making a lot more money than I am using Adsense - however most of them are not telling their secrets - well not for free anyway. I’ve got no secrets to hide and am willing to share what I’ve learnt since I signed up for the program 8 months ago. If you want a REAL expert’s opinion on Adsense I’d recommend buying Joel Comm’s What Google Never Told You About Making Money with Adsense E-Book. Joel earns $15,000 per month from Adsense and has some good things to share.

I know some bloggers are put off or offended by the idea of making money from blogging so I’ll try not to let these posts dominate my blog - however if you are not interested in the topic, simply skip over these posts.
I am going to assume a few things in this series to cut down the amount of introductory comments I have to make. Here is what I am assuming:

* You have a blog. Whilst most of the following tips will apply to other types of websites I run Adsense on blogs and will speak from that experience.
* You have (or will) read a basic overview of Adsense and have some understanding of what it is.
* You have(or will) read the program policies as outlined by Google. These give details of site eligibility, ad placements and other requirements for using the system.

Is Your Blog Suitable for Adsense?


Is your blog suitable for Adsense? - Before you rush into signing up for Adsense expecting it to earn you a million dollars it is worth asking the question of whether Adsense is the right revenue strategy for your blog. By no means is it the only option - you might like to check out this tip on other ways of making money from blogging.

Whilst there are some amazing success stories about earning big dollars with Adsense out there, it is worth taking a realistic look at some cold hard truths about the Adsense program.
Google does not accept every site that applies to the Adsense program.

* Google Adsense Program Policies indicate that the content of sites must not contain things like excessive profanity, pornography, illicit drugs etc. Basically your blog needs to have content that is reasonably ‘family friendly’.
* Also in their policy document is a reference to them not normally accepting pages of a personal nature. This is the topic of discussion in many Adsense forums and is obviously open to different interpretations. Many (if not most) blogs are personal in nature - however to maximize your chances of approval by Adsense a blog should be targeted on a particular topic/s. For example whilst this blog is often personal in nature - most of my individual posts (pages) focus on very specific themes which are repeated throughout the blog. update - this may have changed recently with Blogger now allowing blogger blogs to use Adsense.
* Sites accepted into the Adsense program are also required to be easily navigable, have an adequate quantity of text based content (don’t apply if you’ve been blogging a week) and be written in English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, or Spanish. They may not to have excessive advertising or other contextual/competing advertising.
* Whilst not stated in the Adsense Policy document, many also believe that sites accepted into the program also need to have reasonable levels of traffic. If your blog is new, it may be worth waiting a few weeks or months before applying to build up traffic and content levels. Others speculate that a professionally designed, well-organized and privately hosted blog has a better chance of being accepted. The more professional and successful your blog appears the more likely it is to be accepted by Adsense.

If still in doubt after reading Google Adsense Program Policies you can email Google for clarification or just apply and see how you go.

Of course, acceptance by Google into the Adsense program does not guarantee your success. The fact remains that certain blogs will always be more successful than others at generating income.

Future posts in this series will focus upon strategies and tips for increasing your revenue but it should be stated here that the most successful sites are generally sites with very high traffic levels and/or content that is directly related to a particular product or service (the more targeted and niche-like the better).

It is also worth saying that Adsense works best on pages with lots of text content. It only reads text in determining ads, not images so make sure you have enough relevant content.

An Equation for Success


There are many factors that impact the level of revenue generated from a blog using the Google Adsense program. Books have been written explaining expert strategies for Adsense - However for the purposes of this series we’ve boiled it all down into four elements that we believe impact your Adsense earning capacity the most. Speaking in general terms here is a simple equation that illustrates how the factors each contribute to Adsense Revenue.

Adsense Revenue = Traffic Levels + High Paying Ads + Relevant Ads + Optimally Positioned and Designed Ads

Its not Rocket Science. Each of the above four elements contribute directly to the total revenue that your Adsense Ads will produce. Don’t just work on one of them though because if any one is weak it will hold your potential earnings back. Lets break each factor down….

Traffic Levels - The more people that see you Adsense Ads, the more likelihood there is that someone will click on them. As I examine the statistics provided by Adsense that report my daily earnings I notice that my earnings in the past 8 months have increased considerably as my total page impressions have increased. For example earlier in the week when Slashdot linked up to this post I had an influx of 50,000 visitors in 24 hours to my blog - it doesn’t take a genius to work out what this did to my Adsense earnings that day! Work on increasing your traffic levels and you should see an increase in your Adsense Revenue.

High Paying Ads - Once again I’m stating the obvious, but if the content you provide on your blog attracts high paying ads you’re going to do significantly better. For example it has been documented that the PVR Blog is doing pretty well when it comes to high Adsense earnings - the secret of its success is partly due to it being served with ads that are high paying. The topic of the PVR blog is, as you’d expect, PVR technology including TiVo, Replay TV etc. This is cutting edge technology and therefore advertisers are willing to pay top dollar to get their products and services out there! In comparison if a person was to start a blog on ‘toothpicks’ I suspect the ads are not likely to pay very much. It would take very high traffic levels to earn as much from a toothpick blog as it would the PVR blog.

Relevant Ads - A second reason the PVR Blog is successful is that it servers relevant ads. To put it simply people looking for information on PVR technology are confronted by Adsense ads for PVR technology. I recently visited a blog that was having trouble getting relevant ads - they had a blog on Tourist destinations in Australia - but unfortunately they were getting Adsense ads for remote control cars. You can guess what their revenue was like. Increase the relevancy of your Ads to your content and you are one step closer to increasing your Adsense revenue.

Optimally Positioned and Designed Ads - One of the coolest things about the Adsense program is that they give you freedom in choosing the best position and color scheme for your ads. Just like in the wider world of advertising - positioning is a key element to an ads success. A Billboard positioned on a road where no one drives is not likely to get the same results as one positioned on a busy intersection. The position and design of your Adsense Ads is critical - if they are out of site they’ll never get clicked on.

Bringing them Together - The above four elements are in many ways pretty obvious when spelt out like this - the challenge comes to improving each to optimize Adsense revenue.

Your revenue will only grow as high as the weakest one of these factors on your blog. For example if you have high paying, relevant, well designed and positioned ads but no traffic you’ll not do well. Likewise if you have high traffic, high paying and relevant ads but they are poorly designed an in a position where they’ll never be seen - you’ll waste all your other hard work. Its not enough to work on one element.

How do we improve each? In the next four posts we’ll examine each area in turn and suggest a number of ways that you might try tweaking them to increase your revenue.

Increasing Traffic


I have argued the case for our equation for increasing Adsense Revenue

Adsense Revenue = Traffic Levels + High Paying Ads + Relevant Ads + Optimally Positioned and Designed Ads

I now will turn my attention to each of the four elements of good Adsense revenue in turn and give some practical easy to implement tips to improve each from my experience.

Increasing Traffic Levels is a key component to increasing Adsense revenue. As I wrote previously, ‘The more people that see you Adsense Ads, the more likelihood there is that someone will click on them.’

Increasing the readership of your blog is not as simple as it sounds, it takes time, patience and hard work (and sometimes a bit of luck) Having said that there are many things you can do to get your blog in front of a wider audience and there exposing the adsense messages on your site to more potential ‘clickers’. Here are a few tips…

* Quality, Interesting, Useful and Original Content - What are the blogs that you read the most? If you’re anything like me they are blogs that have quality content that ’scratches me where I itch’. This is essential to increasing your readership unless you have a pretty amazing ‘gimmick’ to bring readers in.
* Good Blog Design is really important if you want your blog to create a good first impression. With millions of other blogs and sites out there its worth some effort to make yours stand out. Also worth a read is Good Weblog Design and Layout.
* Link to others - be generous with your links to other bloggers big and small. You’ll be surprised how many links come back your way. This not only brings traffic from their sites but doesn’t hurt your ranking in Google.
* Comment on others blogs - Some of my most loyal readers came to my blog because I genuinely interacted with them on their blogs through comments. Hear me now, I say genuinely because its easy to spam in comments, but this will have the opposite effect of generating readers to your blog.
* Update Frequently - There is nothing that turns me off a blog faster than seeing that it hasn’t been updated for a month or more. Keep it rolling over with interesting content.
* Interact with Readers - Having an interactive blog that invites the involvement of readers is one way of generating repeat visitors. I’ve written a tip on Interactive Blogging including a number of interactive tools that you can use on your blog. Also check out this tip on using comments effectively to increase interactivity on your blog.
* Optimise for Search Engines - I can’t stress enough how important Search Engines are to increasing traffic, especially traffic that will click on your ads. I find that 95% of my traffic comes from Google and have found that anecdotal evidence suggests this traffic clicks through on Adsense ads at a higher rate than traffic from links on other blogs and sites. So work hard at getting listed and highly ranked on Search Engines.
* Add a signature to your outgoing email - Learn a lesson from Hotmail who have used signatures on the bottom of their users emails for years to promote their home page and generate interest in their product. Be careful though if you don’t want your worlds to collide!
* Web Rings - There are literally thousands of webrings that you can sign up for. I’m not sure how effective they are these days, but some people still swear by them.
* Add an RSS feed to your blog - more and more people are reading blogs without ever visiting them through News Aggregators that pick up information using RSS. Whilst this does not guarantee those reading through aggregators will visit your blog (and therefore see your Adsense Ads) it certainly increases the chances of them dropping by, especially if you invite comments and have internal links on your posts.
* List your site on Portals - There are a growing number of sites which exclusively list blogs. If you want people to find you its worth submitting your blog to be listed on them. Some focus on specific topics (like Eaton Web and Globe of Blogs). Other portals like BlogShares, Blog Street and BlogTree also list a lot of blogs in different ways which might increase your blogs profile.
* Blog Search Engines and Indexes - Get yourself registered on sites like Blogdex, Popdex and Daypop (they require RSS I think). These sites have features that allow people to search for blog entries via topic and keywords. They also list the most popular recent topics and each have other interesting features which can enhance your blogging experience.
* Start a Newsletter - Offer your readers a newsletter service to keep them up to date with your latest posts. I’ve found since adding a free weekly newsletter to my digicam blog that hundreds of readers have signed up for regular updates of my latest posts. Think about this - hundreds of people have given me permission to invite them to come back to my blog - every week!
* Get Involved in Blog Projects and Memes - From time to time other bloggers will invite your participation in a blog project of theirs. Get involved, support their project and you might find it pays off. On the flip side start your own blogging project or meme. Do something that is of service to other bloggers. Rachel’s Blogger Gallery was a great example of a project that allowed others to get involved. I tried something similar with Underblogs and Blogger Idol.
* Get involved in other web forums - Genuinely participate in web forums and discussion pages on topics related to your blog. Many of these allow you to add a signature to your posts which raise your blogs profile.
* Promote your Posts - If you think you’ve written something worthwhile spend a few minutes letting others know about it. I regularly shoot other bloggers to notify them of what I’ve written if I think it will interest them. Think about it before you send the email and don’t bombard the same people constantly with every topic you write on - be selective, concise, polite and helpful with your emails but don’t be afraid to promote yourself.
* Add a ‘Email a Friend’ Option to your posts - make it easy for your readers to tell others about what you’ve written. I know this function gets used regularly on my blog and brings in new readers that I would never otherwise have been able to reach.

These are just some of the ideas that I’ve used and seen others use to increase the readership of a blog and thereby increase the exposure of Adsense ads to a wider audience.Many of the above tips were taken from my Blog Tips Series including the ‘Finding Readers’ Series.

What methods have your found to be effective at increasing the readership of your blog? What works for your and what doesn’t? What tips would you add to this collection?

Of course increasing traffic alone won’t greatly increase your Adsense revenue, but it can help! In our next Adsense Tip for Bloggers we will explore ways to generate High Paying Ads - the second component in our Adsense Revenue Equation.

High Paying Ads


Adsense Revenue = Traffic Levels + High Paying Ads + Relevant Ads + Optimally Positioned and Designed Ads

The next element of this Adsense equation to be examined is how to get high paying Adsense Ads running on your site. Obviously in any business one way to get higher profits is to charge more for your product - whilst you have no direct say in how much is charged for ads run on your site - there are ways of targeting types of ads that might bring in a higher return than others.

As we mentioned in our initial explanation of the equation, the PVR Blog is one example of a blog that targets a well paying ad type - ads for PVR technology. Whilst I do not know specifics of earnings I would suspect blogs like Gizmodo who run Adsense ads would also be generating a higher paying ad, due to their focus on technology.

The lesson we can learn from blogs such as these is that they attract specific ads (that presumably are well paying) by keeping their content targeted on the same topics. To over simplify what we’re saying - if you want ads about Camera Phones blog about Camera Phones.

Finding High Paying Ads is not as easy as it sounds (is anything?). Do a search for Google on High Paying Adsense Ads and you won’t find too many sites listing the best keywords for Adsense. The top Adsense users in Adsense discussion forums tend to be pretty secretive about not only what keywords they focus on, but also what sites they run. I don’t blame them either - its good business sense really.

Having said this there are a number of strategies and tools that you might like to employ to help find high paying keywords.

* Buy them - Finding high paying keywords for your blog is possible by yourself for free - but as with everything a few entrepreneurial types are willing to do the leg work for you to save you some time and give you a comprehensive result. One service that you might like to try to find good keywords is Top Paying Keywords.
* Trial and Error - I know this will frustrate some of you who want a nice and easy quick fix but overall it is one of the best pieces of advice I can give. Try writing on a topic - track the results - if it pays off do it again….lots. Adsense allows you to track specific pages or sections of your blog using its ‘channels’ feature - if you’re smart you’ll watch which sections of your blog are generating the highest ads by dividing your overall earnings by the number of clicks and comparing it to other channels. Keep trying new topics until you strike gold and then dig in like crazy!
* Are there Any Ads? - This is a good first question. Despite the many thousands of advertisers using Adsense there are some topics where the answer to this question is no. A simple way to check is to head to Google and do a search for the key words you’re wanting to blog about. The results page will bring up not only a list of other sites writing about that key word (they are you competitors) but on the right hand side there will be a list of ads - these are the same sorts of ads you’ll get on your site if you write on the topic. If there are ads there, it is a good sign. If there are not - maybe its worth finding another topic to write on if you’re hoping to attract ads.
* 7 Search has a list of the 100 of the top paying keywords (in their advertising program - not Adsense) at the moment. Its a bit depressing actually to see a list like this because you’d have to sell your soul somewhat in order to go with many of them. Its an interesting site to check out though.
* Also from 7 Search (and more useful) is their Keyword Suggestion Tool which gives you an idea of what people are paying per click on different tools (again this is not specifically for Adsense but it will give you an idea of what the going rates are). Find What also has a similar service.
* Google Adsense’s biggest competitor are Overture (they run the ads on Yahoo) - they offer a service where you can enter your keywords and they will not only tell you how much advertisers are paying for the words but also how many people are searching for the term. This is a very useful tool.
* Sign up for Adwords - One way of getting a feel for how much people are willing to pay per click is to sign up with Google as an advertiser yourself. It doesn’t cost much to start a mini campaign and do some research this way. You’ll get a feel for what people are bidding on different words very quickly this way.
* Word Tracker is the best tool I’ve seen to help in finding keywords that people are searching for in the major search engines. The excellent thing about Word Tracker is that they also tell you how many other sites out there are targeting the same words! This is very handy as it will stop you targeting ‘Britney Spears’ as a Keyword phrase even though its one of the most searched for keywords on the web because literally hundreds of thousands of other sites have beaten you to the punch. Word Tracker has a free version to trial it and their paying version is even better - well worth the investment.
* I’m told Keyword Sleuth is a similar program to Word Tracker however I am yet to trial it.

Targeting High Paying Adsense Ads is an important aspect of generating an income from Adsense. It is not enough in and of itself however. You can have $10 per click ads (I’ve not found any of these yet) but without generating any traffic your research into the right ads will be useless. Likewise it is one thing to identify which ads you want to target - but it is another thing to actually get these relevant ads showing on your site. It is to this topic which our next post in this series will head - Finding Relevant Adsense Ads.

Relevant Ads


Revenue = high readership + high paying ads + relevant ads + well placed and designed ads

The third element of our Adsense equation is that of relevant Adsense ads. It is all very well to rank high in search engines to generate high levels of traffic, but without relevant ads that relate to the content of your blog you are not likely to generate much in the way of click throughs.

Let me give you an example. Recently I was asked to help a fellow blogger who has struggling with his Adsense ads because whilst his content largely focused upon the topic of ‘health care’ - most of the ads being served to his blog were focused upon ‘blogging’. He was getting quite reasonable traffic levels and had a reasonably high paying topic (there are some good health care ads out there) but as you’d expect, people coming to a blog about health care did not click on ads for blogging software and services at a very high rate. The challenge was to get his ads reflecting the content of his blog.

Another fellow blogger had the problem of not getting ANY ads being served to his site. Instead of paying ads all he was getting was the public service ads that Adsense serves when they couldn’t find any relevant paying ads (these pay nothing).

How do you get relevant ads? Here are a few things to try.

Make sure there are ads available - My friend who didn’t get any paying ads served was focusing on a key word for which there was no or very few ads. A simple way of checking this is to do a search on Google for the key word you are targeting. If they don’t serve ads on their own search results page its an indication that such ads are scarce - if not non existent. They way we got ads on my friends blog was to experiment with other related keywords. He didn’t have to change the focus of his blog - just the way he described his topics. For example if there are no ads for ‘bed linen’ try ‘blankets’, ’sheets’, ‘quilts’ etc. Experiment with different combinations until you find something that works.

Increase your Keyword density - The more you use your keywords the more likely you are to get ads on those topics. Its not common knowledge exactly how the Adsense bot decides what ads suit your content best (if someone knows feel free to post it in comments below) but it’s a pretty safe bet that if you put you keyword in your title, at least once in your first paragraph and then scatter it throughout the rest of your page that you’ll convince the Adsense bot of what your topic is. It MAY also be helpful to include your keywords in the URL of your page (Moveable type can let you do this - ie look at the URL of this page - it incorporates my title and therefore some keywords). It MAY also be worth putting your keywords in outward links, bold, italics etc. All of these strategies also help optimise yor blog for search engines which won’t hurt either.

Examine your Sidebars, menus, header and footer - It is not just your main content that the Adsense bot searches to find the topic of your page, but also your other areas. When I looked at the healthcare blog that was getting ‘blogging’ ads I noticed that he had the word ‘blog’ in his title, three times on his sidebar and once in his footer. It was also in his URL and he also used the word quite often in his content. My recommendation was to remove the word from as many of those places as possible and to increase his health care keywords. The ads improved their relevancy almost immediately.

Stick to one topic per page - Obviously this may not be feasible on your front page - but attempt to keep each individual blog entry/post as highly targeted as possible. I’ve noticed that some people often include two or three topics in one entry - this will confuse Adsense’s bot so split them up into two entries.

Block irrelevant Ads - Sometimes despite your best intentions Google just gets it wrong and serves your ads that have nothing to do with what you write. If you’re getting some repeating irrelevant ads block them. Adsense lets you do this to quite a few sites and its easy to do. I have a number of ads blocked, some because they are philosophically not consistent with what I write about, but mainly because they just are not relevant to the topic of my blogs.

Ask Adsense - If all else fails notify Google Adsense of your issue. Of course they are busy people - but Google prides itself on being responsive to its users. I’ve emailed with queries a number of times, once on an issue of irrelevant ads, and every time I’ve had positive results from my query. You’ve got nothing to loose - shoot them an email!

If you do all of the above you SHOULD find Adsense serves you with relevant ads. In conjunction with the other elements in our equation this will contribute to increased click throughs and hopefully higher Adsense revenue. Next in this series on maximizing Adsense revenue is a post on Well Placed and Designed Adsense Ads.

Well Placed and Designed Ads


Revenue = high readership + high paying ads + relevant ads + well placed and designed ads

The forth element of our Adsense Equation is that of having well designed and optimally placed Adsense Ads. I’ve found that ad positioning is incredibly important. I remember shifting the ads on one of my blogs a while back and being over the moon to discover the next morning that the move had doubled the click through rates that I’d had over night! Its worth doing some tweaking.
Adsense Ad placement and design is an issue that is often hotly debated in Adsense discussion forums. It seems that each Adsense user has their own strategy - some like ads that blend in, others like ads that stand out from the rest of the page. Some like ads in banner positions, others in skyscrapers, others like to put them right in the middle of content. In my experience, different strategies work on different blogs at different times. The key tip I’ll give you is to experiment. Try new positions and design and track your results. One of the best ways you can do this is by using Adsense Tracker which is an amazing tracking package for adsense which gives you much more control over what and how you track your adsense performance. It does cost to purchase the tracker but in my experience you’ll make your money back pretty quickly by using it to adapt your Adsense strategies.

Let me also share a few other tips that you might like to experiment with.

Blend - Most successful Adsense users seem to be taking the approach of blending their ads into the overall theme of their page. This often means making the ad’s background (and often border) the same (or similar) colour to the background of the page and making the title and URL the same as links of the rest of the page. In this way the ad does not stand out as being ‘ad-like’. Having said this I know of a few bloggers who take the opposite approach and make their ads as bright and ugly as possible in the hope of attracting the attention of their readers. I don’t subscribe to this because I think it cheapens the overall feel and look of a page.

In Content - More and more bloggers (and webmasters) are putting their ads inside the main body of their posts. In this way the ads are prominent and more likely to be seen by readers as they read your content. If your text wraps around the ads this can be quite effective. On the flipside of this argument is that you may run the risk of frustrating your readers with dominant ads. People reading content online are a fickle bunch and get easily turned off by blatant advertising.

Above the Fold - it is generally accepted that your Adsense ads should be placed towards the top of your page and be visable without your reader having to scroll down. Studies show that blog visitors stay on average for only 60 or so seconds, many without scrolling down. If you ads are hidden towards the bottom of your page you decrease the likelihood of them ever being seen let alone clicked.

Placement-4Left is Best - Google has put together a ‘heat map’ which is probably the best thing that you can look at when thinking about the positioning of your ads. You’ll see from it that they have found that ads on the left hand side of the page do much better than those on the right hand side.

Too Dominent? - The position and design of your Adsense ads needs to be balanced with the overall purposes and design of your blog. What is the priority of your blog - is it to make money or is it something else. I have a number of blogs - and place ads differently on each depending upon their purposes. For example this blog is not a commercial blog - I’m more interested in building relationships, sharing and hearing others ideas and updating those interested in what I’m doing with my life. As a result my Adsense Ads are in a less prominent banner position and are designed to fit with the overall theme of the blog. However on my Digital Photography Blog there is obviously a more commercial intent (as well as it being something of a passion and hobby). As a result I experiment with more prominent Adsense ads (usually skyscraper and within content).

I cannot stress enough how useful it is to experiment. What works on one blog doesn’t always work on another. I’ve also noticed that if you have a blog with regular and loyal readers that it is good to keep things changing as your readers tend to get used to the way your blog is and become blind to things like Adsense Ads. I notice that when I move my ads around that it often creates higher click throughs for a few days - until the blindness kicks in again. Joel Comm’s What Google Never Told You About Making Money with Adsense is an excellent E-book written with lots of good tips on positioning your adsense ads if you’re wanting to get another person’s opinion on this topic.

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