Friday, June 10, 2005

Haughey's Hints for AdSense Bloggers

Tips for a successful Adsense site
I know that a lot of the PVRblog's luck with adsense was just that: accidental luck. I had no idea so many people would like the idea of a blog about DVR technology. I didn't know TiVo was such a sought after keyword at Google. I had no idea my previous projects' Google ranking would help my site out when I first linked to the site from my blog. The whole thing was one big happy accident, but I've noticed some trends between what I did and what others have tried. What follows are things I've noticed worked to my advantage.
1. Pick a topic
Blogs are about anything and everything and it isn't every day that you find a good blog focused on a topic. In order to have any remote chance of success gaining an interested audience and getting good on-topic ads showing up, pick a narrow topic you are passionate about and run with it. I would guess that I do just as good or better than Gizmodo on textads (Gizmodo certainly covers the same area of PVRblog, just not as in-depth) even though I probably have 1/10th the traffic because my site is more tightly focused.
If there's anything in this list that requires a drastic change on the part of website authors, this is it. Focused blogging isn't that popular but I'm convinced it's the only way to have a chance to carve out a niche on the web. If you want to proclaim yourself as an expert on a topic to both an audience and search engines so that people will know you're the one site to go to for information, you'll have to focus. Focus and be as specific as you can.
2. Consider your topic as it relates to the web
If what you are aiming for is ad revenue, it helps if your topic is something you can buy products related to it. It also helps if those products can be bought online and people are comfortable with it. One of my favorite topic sites (arguably slightly blog-like) is Kicksology. Professor K knows everything and anything about basketball shoes and about once a week I drop into the site to see what's new in cutting edge shoe design. Often when I see a rave review on a cool looking shoe, I want to know how much it costs and if I can buy them. It's an impulse buying thing, but if you notice Kicksology recently added Google's ads to the site, but they're not super-focused. Ideally, if I was reading about a new shoe, I'd want ads offering the same shoe for purchase right now. I've checked out a few dozen of the reviews, but the new air jordan review is the only one that carries with it targetted ads. Generally speaking, Kicksology is about something not normally ordered or sold online and the ads are often a poor fit for the content (no one's fault really, people just don't buy that many shoes online).
TiVos are very close to the web. People buy them online, they look up tips and hacks for them, and resellers have tons of TiVos to move. I didn't really think about it when I started the site, but thanks to the mass availability and customers looking for deals on them, the web's a natural place to shop for a new TiVo.
If you're really interested in knowing how well a topic might work out, try going through the process of placing a Google Adwords ad. During the process they'll tell you how much a keyword will cost you, and you can use that to determine if writing a blog about goldfish is going to be more lucrative than the one you could be writing about golden retrievers.
3. Be passionate and write your ass off
Don't start a blog just to turn a buck, because it's going to be clear to your audience that you don't really care about the topic if you don't offer much beyond press releases from companies. If you want to have a site that ranks highly at Google, write how-to article after how-to article and offer content no one could find anywhere else. I love this guide to ranking higher in google because it doesn't focus exclusively on HTML tricks or stoop to tips on gaming the system, it simply says: write the most useful website on earth and everyone will link to you, which will make you #1.
I started PVRblog because I've been following the space for the past three years and I have dozens of in-depth tutorials I've written and want to write about the subject. I'm enthusiastic about the topic and I look forward to spending a few downtime hours writing articles, conducting interviews, or reviewing books and hardware for the site.
4. Designing for Google and your audience
Don't underestimate the power of Google and google-ability of your site. About half of all the traffic to PVRblog is from a Google search. If people are looking for information on how to upgrade a tivo, they might find my articles about it, and alongside every article are four links to upgrade kits at various prices. I wouldn't be surprised if the click-thrus are crazy high on those links, for those users. I do the same thing myself, often looking up reviews on cellphones and following ad links to help find the best prices I can.
On the technical side of things, having an accessible, valid XHTML site, with good semantics, good page titles, and good filenames helps Google index your site. Typepad does all these things extremely well right out of the box. After I launched PVRblog, Google indexed the entire site within hours and reindexes it often. The site shows up in the top ten for many common TiVo hacking or TiVo feature searches. Searchers are often looking for info to help a purchase, and are likely to click an ad, so it's worth thinking about them.
Nick Denton recently wrote about the design of a weblog may change based on Adsense, and I'd say he's got a lot of good points, but be careful that you don't go too far, forcing people to make extra clicks just so you can stream more ads at them. Your audience will pick up on this eventually and bail.
What not to do
Of course now that I've given you a few tips, it's important to reiterate what you shouldn't do. Don't just slap ads on your blog and expect to get rich the next day. If every blog about anything on earth is going to carry adsense boxes, their utility is going to go down and people won't be likely to click on them. Don't be disappointed if you're not pulling down big bucks on your topic-focused, well-googled site. It takes time to build an audience and gain links from people that find your content useful. If you follow these guidelines, it's quite possible you'll be able to pay for your own hosting. Eventually, you might make more.
The downsides
Like anything, it's not all roses and Adsense is far from absolutely perfect. It's got two big drawbacks: the approval system and the terms of service.
The approval system is evidently run by humans, and they state upfront they won't accept personal sites. I would guess that's likely because most personal sites aren't focused on much of anything besides a specific person, and hence would be hard to advertise to. For even focused sites, some people have had real trouble convincing the Adsense folks to approve them, even when their sites could potentially produce great on-target ads. The decisions are sometimes arbitrary and will likely work against Google if it continues to mistakenly deny legitimate sites.
The other big problem is the terms of service for Adsense which have received a lot of scorn recently after a few people were booted from the program without any recourse. Google took it a step farther and beefed up the legalese to even prohibit the discussion of the TOS, which is kinda nuts. Of course, I've benefited greatly from Adsense, and it's probably no surprise that the TOS issues weren't a dealbreaker for me personally.
Google's between a rock and a hard place on this issue. If they were more transparent, like they have been with their search results, people would no doubt spend their lives gaming the system. What Google hasn't stated upfront about how pagerank works, people have reverse-engineered to great effort. There are whole sites and thousands of people that dedicate their lives to getting their sites as high as possible in Google, whether or not their site has good information or helps out web surfers. These folks see no problem in making Google less useful for searchers if it means their clients are happy with their rank. Google's spent every day since their launch in a cat-and-mouse race to beat those that seek to game the system. If Adsense were transparent, say if they told you how many clicks were allowed per hour from a page or an IP, you can bet that within a couple hours people would produce adsense link clicking bots and bot farms that carried hundreds of IPs solely to produce fake click-thrus for cash. So it looks like they are trying to keep a lid on this, keep their methods as secret as possible and went as far as to put a gag order on the entire subject. I don't know what's going to work out for them in the end, but I think they could potentially lose a lot of money whether or not they tell everyone how Adsense works exactly. The future will tell us if they made the right move here.
Areas for improvement
The tools offered for authors using Adsense are pretty paltry. It's a new service and I expect it to change, but it'd be nice if the results were more granular so you could compare which pages produced the highest click-thrus, and tailor your content to that. It'd be nice if you could see a breakdown of each domain/site you were using the ads on. The new custom colors and layouts are great, but it'd be nice if you could track how different sizes/colors were performing to enhance your design. Currently you just see a number for views, a click-thru total, and a dollar value assigned to that.
Conclusions
A long-ago promise of the web was that people could share their expert opinions and thoughts on anything, and others in the world would find them. Search engines have helped the web live up to that promise and it works well today. Google's Adsense goes one further, in that someone writing passionately and expertly on a topic can now also make some money doing it. Nick Denton has been saying niche blogs could turn a profit for a while now, and after my experiences I'd have to say he was right.
The opportunity is now there — if you've ever wanted to write a topic-focused blog and wondered if you could get paid for it, Adsense could make it all work for you.

source: here

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