Considering AdSense

I’ve been thinking how to generate passive income, so I’m finally going to give Google AdSense a try. However, I’d rather not have them show up on the main page; there are a few specific posts that get considerable search traffic that I’d like to limit them to. The idea of actually making money from something I wrote is very cool…that would be a first! At the same time, I want to strike a tasteful balance between advertising and content. But just what is that balance? And what is the relation between advertising, readers, and content?

As I was researching AdSense, I stumbled upon several ebooks that supposedly told all the secrets about increasing your AdSense revenue. I was intrigued despite the formulaic prose and $100 pricetag.

Still…I looked around and found a review that lists the table of contents. Scanning the Table of Contents is one of my favorite bookstore tricks; it helps you evaluate the quality of a book before you buy it. For example, do the chapter titles make sense? How much filler material is there? What’s in the appendices? Is there a clear arc of reason behind the chapter order? I sometimes learn enough from scanning TOCs at Barnes and Noble that I don’t have to buy anything…I can go home and do targeted keyword searches to compile a list of good references. But I digress—the gist of the review was that it was a decent compilation of concrete techniques that will lead to an increase in your AdSense revenue. The key elements appear to be original content, placement of ads for visibility, styling ads for integration into your site, and using analysis tools to figure out where the optimum revenue streams are. For $100, it might not be a bad deal, saving a lot of time that would be spent building the system from scratch.

But where’s the challenge in that? Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Eyeballs go where content is fresh, interesting, and easily accessible. These are very broad terms, and entirely subjective to both you and the potential audience.

  • Once you have an eyeball, there are certain things you can do to manipulate it into looking at something. There is a pretty reliable hierarchy of visual tricks that can be used guide an eyeball wherever you want before the viewer is even conscious of it. Visual designers use these tricks to make legible and beautiful displays, laying invisible tracks across the page that anticipate the needs of the viewer.

  • Visual tricks can be used to attract attention to your ad, but we’re pretty good at tuning out the overuse of visual tricks (remember the blink tag?) . There are two ways you can deal with that: (1) The ad person actually makes original content that is interesting in itself. I can’ t help but look at some of those “Punch the Monkey” style ads, for example. They’re different. They move. They catch my eye long enough to read the message. Damn it! (2) If you’re the pushy type, you go for intervention: get in the user’s face and scream at them unexpectedly. LOOK AT ME! You have no choice to do so, but it’s super annoying.

  • If you’re sneaky, you can catch people as they’re transitioning from one thing to another: pop-under ads are an example of this, as is timing a visit to the restroom to “coincidentally” meet with some important muckety-much and present your business card. It’s a little less annoying, but it comes across as underhanded.

  • The real secret to advertising, I think, is to slide into the psychological perspective of your target audience. Then you can apply any number of techniques: effectively planting concepts, playing off emotions, offering solutions to a problem, etc. In my case, I’d want people to click on the ads because I’ve convinced them that they really would like to buy something to make life better, or at least more interesting for a few minutes. Thus, I need to place them in such a way that by the time a reader comes across them, they’re already thinking “yeah, I want to buy that.” The idea needs to be planted, and the expectation of gratification set. Clicking on the ad completes the cycle. This is how people fundamentally work; I learned from studying game design and teaching. I don’t really know anything about advertising, though, but I believe it’s the same principle. Take with a grain of salt :-)

Taking it from the top: where do the eyeballs come from? Google Analytics says that 16% are from Google itself, and the rest are probably links to The Printable CEO Series. There are also people who read the blog regularly…thanks readers! You are the people I don’t want to tick off :-) And, I don’t want the homepage to have ads on it. Do magazines put ads on the cover? No! Now, let’s assume that I know enough about graphic design to know where I should place ads. Graphic design is about controlling space and attention, making connections between ideas, emotions, text, and image in a way that errupts spontaneously through the mere act of looking. The placement of an ad should coincide with the reader’s state of mind. What are they reading? What are they thinking? Is it a natural stopping point for them to look and ponder the ad? This is psychology. Just like teaching, mentoring, coaching, and any form of narrative media. Since I’m writing the content and placing the ads, this should be pretty straightforward. If I want to optimize further, I need to know who the readers are. There appears to be three main categories of visitors on my site: Google/Search Engines, Productivity/GTDers, and Regular Readers. Each set of eyeballs has different reasons for coming to the site, and I would think my AdSense strategy should take that into account.

  1. For Search Engine visitors, I can place AdSense ads on popular posts. The Fleas post, for example. There’s also a popular Harry Potter entry that’s just a link to the Potter Puppet Pals. They’re looking for information, informed opinion, or guidance to something else. They’re more likely to be in the mood to buy something. I can also put ads on posts that are specifically about buying things or using products. That seems like a good idea.

  2. For the Productivity/GTDers, I’m not sure how interested in ads they would be. Where would they go anyway? I suspect most of the ads would be irrelevant; my sense is that the GTDers overlap with the DIYers, but I might be projecting my own tendencies.

  3. For Regular Readers, there might be appropriate advertising, but blog readers tend not to be looking for ads to click on. Would the annoyance of ads outweigh the meager click-through rate? There is also some overlap with the Productivity/GTD audience, as many people found the site through The Printable CEO links on Lifehacker and 43Folders.

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p>My gut tells me I need more data from actual use, so I might as well stop worrying about it and just implement it to see what happens. Then I can look systematically at the entire cycle, from eyeballs to click-through, to see what parts can be optimized without compromising the focus of this site.

Another option: I could also create content specifically for AdSense. Not crap, but entries that are designed to say something original and insightful about a product or service that people are paying for. Sort of like being a copywriter without an actual ad agency telling you to do it. That could be fun! Then I could write a concise ebook about the “formula” and sell it :-)

I also know I need to get over the idea of self-promotion and selling. It’s tough…I don’t want to sully what I’ve done here. Writing this blog is the best, most personally satisfying thing I’ve ever done.

Just sent in my AdSense application. The wait begins!

UPDATE: I came across a great article, No More AdSense, over on Yaro Starak’s website. Yaro doesn’t using AdSense for his own website; his approach was to get his own advertising sponsors. He makes the observation that you can make more money if you own the system, and details how he went about doing just that. Make sure you read the comments too…many interesting perspectives.