Lessons Learnt from Running Google AdSense

Basically, nobody cares.

Written by Leo N.

I'm often told that I should run advertising on this site, monetising on the number of people that visit. While I appreciate the enthusiasm, I hate hate advertising, which is why any and all costs in running this site come straight out of my own wallet. I also run AdBlock, so would I not be a hypocrite for having ads?

And yet, with growing traffic, costs in bandwidth would be bound to rise, should I not have the site pay for its own hosting costs?

Can I do it?

Looking at external statistics, Google Ranks gives me a 4 and Alexa says I'm 1.2 millionth in traffic. My own stats indicate 400K+ page views and 100K+ visitors each month. Compared to some of the bigger Internet players, these stats are laughable until you consider the actual number of websites out there. And yet, on further investigating what any of these numbers meant, it turns out that they actually are laughable. If anything, the experience has been humbling. Let me explain.

Signing Up for Google AdSense

To their credit, Google AdSense is pretty straightforward. You visit the AdSense site, sign up to be considered and you wait. Depending on your site and a plethora of other factors (if you have a privacy policy, how many pages you have, your traffic according to Google, how long you've been around, your domain name, etc.) you will either be approved or rejected. I was approved in a matter of hours.

You then create your adverts based on what works best for your site and plop them, up to three per page. Once that is done, you wait to be spidered by the Google bot for further approval. If approved, ads will start showing and, once you've earned a little, Google will even go as far as verifying your address.

To be perfectly honest, Google AdSense isn't always clear at all as to what they need you to do in order to make things work. At some point I discovered some kind of "you don't live in the US" tax form, which, once filled out, made the advertising immediately work. Yes, there is a "Google AdSense Academy," but it's not written in a language that I seem to be able to understand.

Serving Advertising Makes Your Site Ugly

This looks like it was done with MS Paint.

This was done with MS Paint.

Advertising is ugly. You can go to your Google AdSense control panel and create advertising that suits your site from size, to format. You can pick pictures and/or text, you can alter the look of the text and you can even go as far as picking what kind of advertising you want to allow on your site. If you are, for example, a site helping people with gambling addictions, you can turn off ads with gambling.

As I was experimenting, I turned everything on, from regular ads, to things like diet products, dating and gambling. If Google AdSense offered it, I ran with it. I've seen, so far, controversial products appear, offers to date Asian women and stuff from this guy.

While text ads have the advantage that they can be made to look like they are part of your site, ads that show images are really ugly. No matter where or how you put them, they stand out (which, I guess, is the whole point) not because they're beautiful, but because they look like they were made by someone whose previous job experience was making Geocities websites.

Oh, and as if running ads on the site didn't make me feel like I had sold my soul or desecrated the holy, every person who saw the site with the ads, had the same reaction: "CON.CA looks really ugly now!" Yes, yes it does. The price of profitability, right?

AdSense Makes Money for Google, Not For You

Don't spend it all in one place.

I'll try not to spend it all in one place


Every time someone clicks on one of the banner ads on your site, you can make between $0.04 and $0.63. It's unclear what advertisement people have clicked on, but it is entirely possible to have had 6 clicks in one day and make $0.36 and have two clicks another day and make $1.24. I don't get it.

What I do get is that you only make most money when someone clicks on an ad. You can prostitute your website to show a thousand page views a day (with three banners per page, that's 3,000 banners served) and it is entirely possible to make exactly 3 cents because no-one clicked a single ad. On a paper magazine, advertisers pay for appearing on a specific page, regardless of whether someone buys their products. On the Internet, while "cheaper" to publish, it is significantly harder to make any revenue unless you're a top website with plenty of traffic where advertisers pay to be on. As I'm averaging a click-through-rate of 0.68% (only 0.68% of my daily visitors will click on a banner ad) you can see how skewed this is.

Yes, there are advertisers out there other than Google AdSense that pay by page impression, ensuring that whether you have people who click or not, you still earn a modicum of revenue. Even their ads look cool and professional. Unfortunately, the one I applied for very politely declined me in seconds because they want sites that have a minimum of 50k page views a month. I barely reach 38k.

Wait, But You Said 400K Page Views a Month

Yes, I did, didn't I? Here's the best part: I launch Google Analytics, which has been quietly running in the background and collecting data and I find years worth of traffic reporting. Looking at their graphs and mine, there is a correlation: traffic has been going up, we even show the same spikes when referred by a more popular site. According to them, however, my traffic peaks at 38K page views a month. That's it.

So where are the other 362k page views coming from? Are these possibly all bots that check my site? All this time, I was looking at my own charts and assuming that actual people were checking out the silly nonsense I post daily, only to discover I'm its only regular visitor.

But it gets worse: according to Google Analytic, 82% of all my traffic lands on one particular page only, a pretty shitty article written in 1998 explaining in puerile terms Why Guys Don't Call. Of the remaining 18%, most trickles down to various pages with no apparent pattern or trend. A handful visit the main page. The rest land on Crack Manual. Really, Internet, I have no words.

Don't believe me? To prove this, I've removed all the advertising from every page but the Why Guys Don't Call page: I'm making the exact same amount of revenue and the only thing amiss from the AdSense's stats is that 18% in visits that were hitting other pages.

In Other Words

Last Sunday, according to Google Analytics, the number of people that visited the main page hovered at twenty. One of them is probably me, and of the remaining 19, a good half is probably my friends. In other words, despite its Google and Alexa ranking, page views and all the rest which make this site seem highly popular, the reality is that I have more finger and toes than I have repeat visitors. Almost every single person that lands on this site visits one particular page and that one particular page, despite being decades old, is single-handedly paying for the hosting of itself and everything else under it.