A few years ago we trialed using advertising on the site to see how good internet advertising is at making a supplemental income to fund the site costs. One often hears, or sees, claims on the internet that serious money is being made by website owners simply by allowing advertising companies to place a few links, or inventory as they call it, on your site.
We started with Google's Adsense but were uncomfortable with the whole experience as adsense seems to be designed on the basis of taking visitors away from your site rather than complimenting your site and your visitors experience. In money terms we made enough for 2 cups of coffee a month and then, to my surprise Google just banned us. Turns out one of us had clicked on one of our own adverts, someone must have been thirsting for a third cup of coffee! Anyway 2 cups of coffee a month was not enough for us to warrant an argument over. We packed our proverbial publishers bags and headed over to a competitor, Adbrite.
We then tried using Adbrite for both listings and banners for quite while. We did try their interstitial method that would put up an advertisers website to each of our visitors after their 3rd click on my site but we found that it was annoying the hell out of viewers so we presumed it was actually bad for web traffic and visitors experience rather then beneficial so we stopped using Adbrite Interstitials. We are currently running Adbrite for banners and text ads but to be honest our traffic level is just over 100,000 pageviews per month so the result is an income that would pay for one cup of coffee a month. Ah, we look back longingly at those heady days of 2 cups a month with Google.
Our usage of Adbrite had been nearly caffeine free but the problems have not really been Adbrite's but our own. The site does 100,000+ pageviews a month on 2000 unique vistors and this is not enough traffic to make Adbrite pay well for a publisher. Adbrite protect their advertisers (and rightly so!) so as long as you are selling direct text ads you are OK, but with CPM and CPC the ad does not show up every time a page loads so say you have an CPM running at $2.00 per thousand, then you would think the payout would be 100,000/1000 = 100 therefore $2.00 x 100 = $200 BUT in reality the ad is only going to show a few times and you would be lucky to make a dollar off those 100,000 pages served.
So we decided to drop Adbrite and have a try with Text Link Ads instead. The Text Ad Links system is similar to Adbrite but the monthly price is higher (and more realistic we think) and only advertisers who wish to specifically place an advert on the site can, at a cost. We liked this because it means any ads can be kept very relevant to the site's visitors. Saying that we didn't witness many ads to be forthcoming and soon got bored with this.
We also started to trial affiliate marketing on the site. The first venture was with Amazon but we have decided to go a very unobtrusive route and use CJ (commission junction) and Kolimbo. This allows us to post banners and links on the site that compliment the users experience and do not take way from the site. We get paid nothing if you follow one these links or click on one of the banners. But if you decide to purchase from the site within 30 days (normally) and the computer memory gods shine in our favor we get a miniscule percentage of your purchase price (normally 1% to 3%). So in essence, its paying for leads if the lead results in sale. That's not good odds for website owners but a) we think it fits in with our morals more and b) we have not been making any money through CPC and CPM advertising to speak of.
So what is the conclusion with web based advertising and publishing so far. Well you really need a lot more traffic that we are generating. 2000 unique visitors a month (or 70 a day) is not enough to even bother with CPC or CPM. Additionally we think cost per click, cost per impression and cost per thousand are really detracting from the visitors experience IOHO as the ads are largely irrelevant to the subject of the site and also the income generated is laughably small.
The conclusion after the experiment was that it was a complete waste of time and as you can see there are no remnants of it left on the site. our advice - don't waste your time. .........WAIT A MINUTE...........
Addendum : 3 years on
Its time to revisit the contextual advertising arena, with a good cause in mind. So we recently started running contextual ads on the site again, to see if we can raise a small amount of steady money for conservation. This was fueled by a few things: the constant need to raise seed funds for conservation; the web technology to show Ads only to visitors and guests - site/forum members cannot see them so it does not detract from their experience of the site; a new major player in the contextual ad market to rival google that has ads that are actually relevant to the content of our site; and a freind mentioning that that videos could now be monetized through Youtube.
We had a four fold approach.
The first was contextual ads on the site and forum, "Media.net Yahoo/Bing" have been chosen for this and so far they have been very helpful at helping (yes they actually help you!) me set up the ads. The thing that attracted me to them was a) their wealth of advertisers compared to many other providers and b) the fact that they fine tune the adverts for you - with a real person working to make sure things are set up correctly and the right advertisers are used. This was very important to me as we do not want the adverts to detract from the site experience, they must compliment the user experience of the site and be useful to visitors/guests. The system only pays for UK, US and Canada traffic so thats something we will have to keep in mind. So far its been a breeze.
The second was to use Google (YouTube) and their Adsense program to add monetization to the site's videos - well that was the usual google experience of offering no help whatsoever and not allowing the system to run for Thailand based sites (or many other countries for that matter). We could have set up an account with an non-Thai address but this just seemed wrong so we gave up on the idea of google and their complicated system. The videos will not be monetized.
The third to just post a page offering our own direct space rental, at a reasonable fee, and with the proceeds donated to charity.
The fourth was to place ads for a local tour company, who had very direct and positive links to our site's content (adventure travel and trekking in Thailand) . We used their preffered banner delivery and tracking system of shareAsale.
So lets see what will transpire 3 years on, will we change our advice?
.........And the results are...........
In first place. But the total income over a 4 month period has been about 2.5 USD (two dollars fifty cents)!!! The quality of the ads and not been very relevant but we are going to stick with them for a while as we like the fact their system has no "trickery" for the "clickers" as its a two stage system and is integrated well into the site. We only show these ads to visitors, registered members dont see them at all which has limited our traffic opportunities. We think its important not to cause any issues for members enjoyment of the site (i.e. excessive advertising) - unless of course we would be making substantial income (i.e. 20 USD per month minimum) for our charities. UPDATE 6 months gave us 5 USD so we have stopped these also.
2. Direct Space Rental
In second place, because even though our income was 0 USD, we also did not put any work into it - so it was "no pain - no gain". We will continue to offer this option at what we think is a reasonable fee to directly support conservation in Thailand.
3. Local Travel Company advertising
In last place, we have now removed it from the site. Our total income over 4 months was 0 USD. But the company got free advertising and association with our "brand" which irked me a little. They got a lot of free exposure, our charities got nothing. This is/was a pay per action system and the action was to sign up a form on the companies site. If you clicked on a banner you were sent to that form on the companies site. I did'nt think the whole system was really well thought out from an advertising publishers perspective (i.e. our site) but was well thought out to benefit the advertiser with a minimal chance of payout. Hence we are now not delivering these ads.
So if you are considering implementing advertising - our advice based on our own experience is "Don't Bother". Its still as bad as it was 3 years ago, and the internet is full of misleading articles, videos and opinions telling you fibs that you can earn a lot of money with advertising using "your" website.