Will putting ads on your site hurt your traffic?
Here’s a common fear I hear from people who are considering monetizing their web sites:
Putting ads on my site will cripple my traffic. The ads will drive people away, and they’ll never come back.
Well, in my experience this is absolutely, positively, and otherwise completely and totally… FALSE. It’s just not true. Guess what happened to my traffic when I put ads on my site. Nothing. Guess what happened to my traffic when I put up more ads and donation links. Nothing. I could detect no net effect on my traffic whatsoever. Traffic continued increasing at the same rate it did before there were ads on my site. In fact, it might have even helped me a little, since some bloggers actually linked to my site just to point out that they didn’t like my ad layout. I’ll leave it up to you to form your own theories about this. It’s probably because there’s so much advertising online already that even though some people will complain when a free site puts up ads, if they value the content, they’ll still come back, regardless of what they say publicly.
Most mature people understand it’s reasonable for a blogger to earn income from his/her work. I think I’m lucky in that my audience tends to be very mature — immature people generally aren’t interested in personal development. To create an article like this takes serious effort, not to mention the hard-earned experience that’s required to write it. This article alone took me over 15 hours of writing and editing. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to earn an income from such work. If you get no value from it, you don’t pay anything. What could be more fair than that? The more income this blog generates, the more I can put into it. For example, I used some of the income to buy podcasting equipment and added a podcast to the site. I’ve recorded 13 episodes so far. The podcasts are all ad-free. I’m also planning to add some additional services to this site in the years ahead. More income = better service.
At the time of this writing, my site is very ad-heavy. Some people point this out to me as if I’m not aware of it: “You know, Steve. Your web site seems to contain an awful lot of ads.” Of course I’m aware of it. I’m the one who put the ads there. There’s a reason I have this configuration of ads. They’re effective! People keep clicking on them. If they weren’t effective, I’d remove them right away and try something else.
I do avoid putting up ads that I personally find annoying when I see them on other sites, including pop-ups and interstitials (stuff that flies across your screen). Even though they’d make me more money, in my opinion they degrade the visitor experience too much.
I also provide two ad-free outlets, so if you really don’t like ads, you can actually read my content without ads. First, I provide a full-text RSS feed, and at least for now it’s ad-free. I do, however, include a donation request in the bottom of my feeds.
If you want to see some actual traffic data, take a look at the 2005 traffic growth chart. I first put ads on the site in February 2005, and although the chart doesn’t cover pre-February traffic growth, the growth rate was very similar before then. For an independent source, you can also look at my traffic chart on Alexa. You can select different Range options to go further back in time.
Multiple streams of income
You don’t need to put all your eggs in one basket. Think multiple streams of income. On this site I actually have six different streams of income. Can you count them all? Here’s a list:
- Google Adsense ads (pay per click and pay per impression advertising)
- Donations (via PayPal or snail mail — yes, some people do mail a check)
- Text Link Ads (sold for a fixed amount per month)
- Chitika eMiniMalls ads (pay per click)
- Affiliate programs like Amazon and LinkShare (commission on products sold, mostly books)
- Advertising sold to individual advertisers (three-month campaigns or longer)
Note: If you’re reading this article a while after its original publication date, then this list is likely to change. I frequently experiment with different streams.
Adsense is my biggest single source of income, but some of the others do pretty well too. Every stream generates more than $100/month.
My second biggest income stream is actually donations. My average donation is about $10, and I’ve received a number of $100 donations too. It only took me about an hour to set this up via PayPal. So even if your content is free like mine, give your visitors a means to voluntarily contribute if they wish. It’s win-win. I’m very grateful for the visitor support. It’s a nice form of feedback too, since I notice that certain articles produced a surge in donations — this tells me I’m hitting the mark and giving people genuine value.
These aren’t my only streams of income though. I’ve been earning income online since 1995. With my computer games business, I have direct sales, royalty income, some advertising income, affiliate income, and donations (from the free articles). And if you throw in my wife’s streams of income, it gets really ridiculous: advertising, direct book sales, book sales through distributors, web consulting, affiliate income, more Adsense income, and probably a few sources I forgot. Suffice it to say we receive a lot of paychecks. Some of them are small, but they add up. It’s also extremely low risk — if one source of income dries up, we just expand existing sources or create new ones. I encourage you to think of your blog as a potential outlet for multiple streams of income too.
With the exception of #6, all of these income sources are fully automated. I don’t have to do anything to maintain them except deposit checks, and in most cases I don’t even have to do that because the money is automatically deposited to my bank account.
I love automated income. With this blog I currently have no sales, no employees, no products, no inventory, no credit card processing, no fraud, and no customers. And yet I’m still able to generate a reasonable (and growing) income.
Why get a regular job and trade your time for money when you can let technology do all that work for you? Imagine how it would feel to wake up each morning, go to your computer, and check how much money you made while you were sleeping. It’s a really nice situation to be in.
Blogging software and hardware
I use WordPress for this blog, and I highly recommend it. Wordpress has lots of features and a solid interface. And you can’t beat its price — free.
The rest of this site is custom-coded HTML, CSS, PHP, and MySQL. I’m a programmer, so I coded it all myself. I could have just as easily used an existing template, but I wanted a simple straightforward design for this site, and I wanted the look of the blog to match the rest of the site. Plus I use PHP and MySQL to do some creative things outside the blog, like the Million Dollar Experiment.
I don’t recommend using a hosted service like Blogger if you want to seriously monetize your blog. You don’t get enough control. If you don’t have your own URL, you’re tying yourself to a service you don’t own and building up someone else’s asset. You want to build page rank and links for your own URL, not someone else’s. Plus you want sufficient control over the layout and design of your site, so you can jump on any opportunities that require low-level changes. If you use a hosted blog, you’re at the mercy of the hosting service, and that puts the future of any income streams you create with them at risk. It’s a bit more work up front to self-host, but it’s less risky in the long run.
Web hosting is cheap, and there are plenty of good hosts to choose from. I recommend Pair.com for a starter hosting account. They aren’t the cheapest, but they’re very reliable and have decent support. I know many online businesses that host with them, and my wife refers most of her clients there.
As your traffic grows you may need to upgrade to a dedicated server or a virtual private server (VPS). This web site is hosted by ServInt. I’ve hosted this site with them since day one, and they’ve been a truly awesome host. What I like most about them is that they have a smooth upgrade path as my traffic keeps growing. I’ve gone through several upgrades with them already, and all have been seamless. The nice thing about having your own server is that you can put as many sites on it as the server can handle. I have several sites running on my server, and it doesn’t cost me any additional hosting fees to add another site.
Comments or no comments
When I began this blog, I started out with comments enabled. As traffic grew, so did the level of commenting. Some days there were more than 100 comments. I noticed I was spending more and more time managing comments, and I began to question whether it was worth the effort. It became clear that with continued traffic growth, I was going to have to change my approach or die in comment hell. The personal development topics I write about can easily generate lots of questions and discussion. Just imagine how many follow-up questions an article like this could generate. With tens of thousands of readers, it would be insane.
Also, nuking comment spam was chewing up more and more of my time as well.
But after looking through my stats, I soon realized that only a tiny fraction of visitors ever look at comments at all, and an even smaller fraction ever post a comment (well below 1% of total visitors). That made my decision a lot easier, and in October 2005, I turned blog comments off. In retrospect that was one of my best decisions. I wish I had done it sooner.
If you’d like to read the full details of how I came to this decision, I’ve written about it previously: Blog Comments and More on Blog Comments.
Do you need comments to build traffic? Obviously not. Just like when I put up ads, I saw no decline in traffic when I turned off comments. In fact, I think it actually helped me. Although I turned off comments, I kept trackbacks enabled, so I started getting more trackbacks. If people wanted to publicly comment on something I’d written, they had to do so on their own blogs and post a link. So turning off comments didn’t kill the discussion — it just took it off site. The volume of trackbacks is far more reasonable, and I can easily keep up with it. I even pop onto other people’s sites and post comments now and then, but I don’t feel obligated to participate because the discussion isn’t on my own site.
I realize people have very strong feelings about blog comments and community building. Many people hold the opinion that a blog without comments just isn’t a blog. Personally I think that’s utter nonsense — the data just doesn’t support it. The vast majority of blog readers neither read nor post comments. Only a very tiny and very vocal group even care about comments. Some bloggers say that having comments helps build traffic, but I saw no evidence of that. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. Managing comments detracts from writing new posts, and it’s far better to get a trackback and a link from someone else’s blog vs. a comment on your own blog. As long-term readers of my blog know, when faced with ambiguity, my preference is to try both alternatives and compare real results with real results. After doing that my conclusion is this: No comment.
Now if you want to support comments for non-traffic-building reasons like socializing or making new contacts, I say go for it. Just don’t assume that comments are necessary or even helpful in building traffic unless you directly test this assumption yourself.
Build a complete web site, not just a blog
Don’t limit your web site to just a blog. Feel free to build it out. Although most of my traffic goes straight to this blog, there’s a whole site built around it. For example, the home page of this site presents an overview of all the sections of the site, including the blog, article section, audio content, etc. A lot of people still don’t know what a blog is, so if your whole site is your blog, those people may be a little confused.