The Complete Writer: Blogging for Dollars

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 20. Blogging for Dollars

The Complete Writer
Part IV: Blogging

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 Blogging for Dollars

One of my favorite sites is Problogger,[1] a blog on blogging. Alas, I’m guilty of not visiting often enough: I rarely do subscriptions because there’s too little time to keep up with them all, and when it comes to proactively visiting various sites, I get distracted easily. No doubt, though, if a person read the thing every day and blogged every day and studied other blogs carefully, before long the person would become expert at the blogging game and even make some money at it.

One morning, feeling a bit annoyed at Google AdSense, I dropped over to Problogger to see if Proprietor Darren Rowse had any clues to improve one’s relationship with that outfit. And lo! Up popped an article[2] by Todd Fratzl, holding forth on two basic ideas: 1) that you should experiment with ad size and placement, and 2) that with AdSense, less is more.

The first is fairly self-evident: since no two blogs are the same and no two sets of readers are identical, it makes sense that placement, color, and frequency would yield different results for each individual blog. In fact, given the Internet’s fluid nature, it’s also reasonable to expect that blog readership will change as blog content evolves. So it’s probably a good idea not only to try different sizes and placements for your blog’s advertising, but to test new patterns at regular intervals—say, at least once a year.

Personally, I was far more taken by the less-is-more concept. Much as I craved to see Funny about Money make a few shekels, I wasn’t happy about having to mothball its original WordPress design (White as Milk, the most exquisitely minimalist design WordPress.com offered at the time) in favor of a three-column theme that lends itself to ad clutter. The idea of having only one or two ad blocks appealed . . . and it would appeal a lot if Todd was right, that more readers will click on a site’s advertising if fewer ads are offered.

I surely never could claim I was getting rich off Funny about Money. Nor did I expect to: from what I can see, PF bloggers whose sites earn enough to let them quit their day jobs are technologically adept, work at it six to eight hours a day at least five days a week, and are strong marketers. None of those applies in my case. In theory, AdSense caused FaM to earn a little more than other part-time bloggers claim to earn: as a paying hobby, the revenue was just OK.

In reality, though, it was paying nothing. Often the on-paper revenues that AdSense showed the site had earned were not paid, and I began to suspect I’d never see a cent of that money.

AdSense is extremely frustrating to deal with. It has exactly zero customer support. You can not reach a human being. The entire operation is designed to frustrate attempts to get answers to questions beyond the “frequently asked.” The only live people you can reach are equally frustrated fellow customers, who gather at forums so diffuse that you could spend days trying to find someone addressing your issue and still not get an answer that pertains to your circumstances.

And then we have its bizarre payment policies. No money is disgorged until you reach a certain threshold (just now, $100). After your site has accrued that much, you then have to wait upwards of two months for payment. Thus, when FaM became eligible for a payment in June, the payment was not scheduled to arrive at my mailbox until the end of August.

“Mailbox” is the operative word: the direct deposit function wouldn’t work for me. Because there’s no human responsible for addressing customer problems, there’s no way to find out what the problem is or how to get AdSense to deposit funds directly to my bank account. The “help” forums? Full of other people bitching that the direct deposit function doesn’t work.

So the August check didn’t arrive. In that case, your only option is to ask that Google cancel the check it allegedly has issued and cut a new check. Do that, and you delay payment another entire month! So, the soonest I could expect to see money earned in June was sometime near the end of September.

It’s not a huge rip, but it is a rip. What it means is that AdSense is piggybacking free ad space on the blogger’s work. Effectively, I had been providing AdSense free space for the three months (June, July, August), and would continue to do so for at least another month (assuming payment arrived sometime in September). Multiply that by the 87 gerjillion bloggers who publish ads, and you get a clue how much Google profits by taking advantage of customers who can’t get in the front gate because there is no gate-keeper. The longer AdSense delays paying its ad publishers and the more publishers it stiff-arms, the more interest Google earns on ad revenues!

How much was Funny earning in never-paid revenues? Not much. It generated a modest amount each month (or would have, if I could ever get paid). It paid for the server space, more or less. Otherwise, you could say it earned enough to buy a bag or two of groceries each month.

Considering that I would probably blog anyway, the 30 cents an hour that AdSense revenue boils down to amounted to a spoonful of gravy. However, I could do without the hassle, and I could do without the frustration entailed in dealing with a megalithic corporation that sets up impermeable barricades between its employees and the unwashed customers. I began to realize that despite the passive nature of AdSense—after all, once you’ve accomplished the initial set-up you don’t have to do much to earn that 30 cents an hour—it’s probably not worth the page clutter.

Advertising may be the least of the effective ways to monetize a blog. Probably creating a product, such as an e-book or (depending on your blog’s topic) or some physical object that’s related to your content, will generate more profit. Trent Hamm, for example, sold Amazon books spun off The Simple Dollar and offered short spurts of advice, also spinoffs, downloadable from his site. He had to split his print book’s $7.95 retail price with the publisher and the middlemen, but every cent of those $2.00 PDF downloads went direct to his bank account. Since his readership was huge, he probably sold a fair number of self-published e-books and PDFs.

Regular blogging by its nature generates a salable product: copy. If the site is focused on a specific topic—or even covers two or three topics regularly—the blogger should have no trouble coming up with at least one publishable book and a number of DIY e-books. But there again, it’s a matter of marketing: books don’t sell themselves any more than blogs do!

[1] http://www.problogger.net/

[2] http://www.problogger.net/simple-changes-doubled-my-adsense-revenue/