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. . . and over $850 the second.


I really enjoy blogging. In fact, I remember saying to my wife one night before chriswondra.com was even a twinkle in my eye:

“I think I was born for this.”

Early on there were a number of things that made blogging attractive:

  • Control: you have total control over content, presentation, and deadlines (as opposed to, say, freelance writing).
  • Feedback: A blog (via comments) allows readers and writers to interact like no other media. This can lead to all kinds of possibilities, including forging relationships, collaboration and heck who knows.
  • Fans: If you’re a good writer with something interesting to say, you’ll quickly build an audience.
  • On-line credentials: Who knows where that can lead, right?
  • Money: And (if your lucky, or smart, or both) you even have the chance to make a few bucks.

This post is about that last bullet: blogging for money.

But be warned:

  • I’m no expert (hell, I’m not even following the experts on this one). I’m still pretty green, in fact, but these past three months I’ve learned a few things about how to turn a blog into a buck or two . . .or thousand. So I thought I’d share–because nobody seems to be doing it quite the same way I am.
  • Despite the fact that I’m no expert–this post is long. Very long. About 4,000 words long. This article runs deep, not wide. It has a lot of specific information about how I am using AdSense to make money with this blog.

If you read other how-to’s by the real pro’s, you’ll soon come to the conclusion that I really shouldn’t be making this kind of money. Most don’t. At least not so soon. And if I’m going to be totally honest with you, I have to admit that I kind of lucked out.

But the way I figure it, if I explain what’s happening here at chriswondra.com, maybe you can luck out too.

But before I start, by way of full disclosure and all that, I took a couple screen shots of reports that Google makes up when you start using AdSense on your pages.

The first one shows a summary of how much money I made in April, my first month using AdSense:

April totals

Pretty cool, huh.

But it gets even cooler. Check out what happened in May:

May totals

This next report goes into a little more detail about exactly what happened here in May to generate $867 of revenue. I’ll explain what all that CTR and CPM gobbely-gook is in a minute:

May Earnings

Step 1: Build a little Web traffic

Now I’ve thought about it, and from here I could go in a couple of different directions:

1) Using Content to Build Traffic

or

2) Site Optimization/Advertisement Conversion

Because after you boil it all down, when it comes to turning a buck, those two are pretty much it.

What I’ve decided to do is to briefly tell my traffic story now and then post a separate how-to on that later. So the meat of this post is going to be about how I went from averaging 3.11% CTR (click through rate) and $9.08 a day the first 7 days in April . . .

1st 7 in April

. . . to averaging a 5.76% CTR and $25.11 a day the last 7 days in May:

Last 7 in May

You’ll notice that I also averaged 518 more page impressions a day in May, but the traffic gain is minuscule compared to the gain in clicks–which more than doubles (along with my revenue).

So while traffic is indeed vital, today I’m mostly writing about optimization–how I’m converting visits into dollars. There are a lot of different ways to do this by the way. So remember as you read, that this is only my story. Others have better ones.

Fair enough?

Great. Let’s get started.

But first, a few AdSense FAQs


Mom, if you’re reading this, that just means, “Frequently Asked Questions”, you know–basic stuff. If you’re already pretty AdSense savvy {no, not you mom} you might choose to skip this part.

Before I get too far, I thought now might be a good time for some quick definitions and explanations. I’m still pretty new to this so I know how confusing all these terms and abbreviations can be–not to mention the weirdness of a business model that allows you to make money without any risk, overhead, products, customers, orders, inventory, or shipping.

What is AdSense? AdSense is the program Google put together so publishers (people with web sites) can benefit from advertisements. So now, just like big newspapers and magazines make money with ads, we little guys can too.

It’s very cool.

On the flip side, for people/businesses who want to advertise, it’s pretty cool too. The program that advertisers use is called AdWords. Both of these programs work together to put quality visitors in front of e-commerce, and money in publishers pockets.

But that’s not even the coolest thing about it. When everything is working right, you will only see ads that are directly related to whatever it is you’re looking at. For example, if you’re reading a cool article about the Grand Canyon, you might see ads related to package trips, books, camping, climbing tours, places to stay, or documentaries about the Grand Canyon.

Assuming you’re interested in what you’re reading, the ads should be only about more of the same! It’s a total win win win.

So how does it work? Very simply. I write. I post. I allow Google to include advertisements. Visitors click on these ads. I get paid a small amount for each click.

How much do you get paid per click? It totally depends on the ad. Mostly, for the ads that run on this site, it’s between 3 and 10 cents a click. The highest I ever noticed was around $2.oo. The lowest was 1 cent. Like I said however, it totally depends on what you’re writing about and what ads match up with your content. Different ads pay different amounts.

What is a Click? Just what it sounds like. Whenever someone clicks on an advertisement, Google records 1 click. As I said above, each click means I’m just a tad richer.

What does CTR stand for? Click-Through-Rate. It’s simply a measure comparing the number of people who see the add to the number of people who actually click on them.

What does eCPM stand for? effective-Cost-Per-Thousand. Don’t ask me why the “e” is lower case. I think it might have something to do with it once having been only “CPM” without the “effective”, but I really have no idea. Anyway, eCPM (effective cost per thousand), is just basically a number that tells me how much money I make for every thousand page impressions.

Google puts it this way,

“It is calculated by dividing total earnings by the number of impressions in thousands. For example, if a publisher earned $180 from 45,000 impressions, the eCPM would equal $180/45, or $4.00.”

It’s confusing, I know. Don’t get too hung up on it right now.

What is a Page Impression? It’s actually possible for some people to see my web page without seeing an ad–even though I loaded the ads myself. Don’t worry about how or why right now; it’s not important. What is important is that Google keeps track of the number of people who actually see the ads (provided they are looking at their computer screen). Each time an ad is loaded onto a visitor’s screen, it’s called a Page Impression.

So you want to learn about web traffic? I’ll tell you about web traffic.

The first thing most people want to know about a web site is how many people actually go there. For a lot of people, this is a very important number. So important that there are a multitude of ways it can be counted–and reported. Kind of like with accounting.

That reminds me of a story about a business owner that went to an accountant one day to ask what she thought was a simple question:

“I’ve got one machine in the shop. I want to buy another. How many will I have if I do?” the business owner asked .

“How many would you like to have?” asked the accountant.

Anyway, to keep things simple, lets just focus on “Unique Visitors” today, okay?

A “Unique Visitor” is simple to count because it’s pretty much just what it sounds like–one person.

That person can read all kinds of pages and posts on my blog. But he’s still just one person, so today we’re only going to count him once. Agreed?

Great

This first table outlines the number of unique visitors that came to chriswondra.com in April, 2007–the first month I used Adsense:

April Traffic

The second is for May:

May Traffic

I took those two reports from my Admin page at Bluehost.com. As you can see, according to these stats, 98,404 different people visited my blog in April. That’s about 3,200 a day.

In May, this blog averaged about 3,500 a day.

In May, this blog averaged about 3,500 a day. So just a little better.

That’s why I want to talk about optimization first. Because while May’s traffic increased by about 10% over April’s, my income more than doubled. I think that’s the bigger story.

So where do all these people come from? Search engines mostly.

As far as blogging goes, however, I shouldn’t be getting this much traffic. Here’s why:

  • I often post less than once a week.
  • I go in streaks, but often I’m terrible at replying to comments people leave (sorry).
  • I don’t read many other blogs so I don’t leave many comments either.
  • Digg, and the like, hate me. Well maybe they don’t exactly hate me, they just pretty much ignore me. The highest number if Diggs I’ve ever gotten on one of my posts is (ready for this) 4. Pathetic.
  • I don’t write for a niche. As far as traffic goes, I would do better to narrow my scope to teaching, or parenting, or home improvement, or consumer reporting, or (you get the picture).

I’m a father, a husband, a homeowner and I have two real jobs . . .I’m no internet guru.

Anyway, if you have no idea what I’m talking about here, basically the above are all common tools or strategies many successful bloggers use to build an audience. I’ve messed around with them all, and I know I could really help myself out if I was more gung-ho, but here’s what I’ve learned: I just don’t have the time.

Yet.

If you’re a real person like me, you know what I’m talking about here.

I’m a father, a husband, a homeowner and I have two real jobs at which I’ll commonly put in a good 60 to 70 hours a week. As much as I’d like to play around with this, right now, I just don’t have the time–and I’m not willing to shirk any of those afore mentioned responsibilities either.So for now, this will have to remain a hobby–at least until it proves it can completely and consistently replace one of those jobs.

If you’re not a real person — great. Best of luck to ya.

So anyway, back to traffic . . .

Probably a full 95% of all traffic at this blog comes from search engines like Google.

Probably a full 95% of all traffic at this blog comes from search engines like Google. And, really most of that is being distributed to only 3 or 4 posts. I think I have a fair amount of people subscribed to my feed (maybe a thousand), but that’s kind of hard to track.

As far as I can tell, I don’t have a large and loyal readership. Most of my visitors are one stop shoppers. They come in, find what they’re looking for, and leave never to be seen again.

As far as I can tell, I don’t have a large and loyal readership. Most of my visitors are one stop shoppers. They come in, find what they’re looking for, and leave never to be seen again.

Still, some click an ad or two on their way through.

So, in a nutshell, what’s going on here, is every once in awhile, I write an article that a great number of people want to know about–like what to expect during a visit to a Direct Buy showroom, funny things students write on tests, and even how to pull a wicked cool prank on your friends. These posts are indexed by the search engines, people (other bloggers and web sites) start to link to the content, and bingo–thousands of visitors.

There’s a little more to it and some things a blogger can do to buddy up with Google and other search engines, but I’ll talk about that in more detail later. The bottom line though is I never know what article is going to be popular. Mostly it’s a total surprise. I’ve long since stopped trying to make it happen.

How to Optimize your site for adsense

Actually that subhead (How to Optimize Your Site For AdSense) is misleading, because I can’t tell you that. Like a child, each web site is unique. It has its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s own specialized content. But most importantly, its own unique audience.

So I can’t tell you how to optimize your site (you hate me now don’t you). I can only tell you what’s worked for me–so far.

So let me try that again . . .

How I Optimized my site for adsense (and made a lot more money Than I thought I would)

Here is the part where I wish I had some neat and nifty screen shots documenting the changes I’ve made to the site layout, the AdSense products I’ve experimented with, and the different places I’ve put the ads. Because almost every change I’ve made resulted in an immediate and dramatic increase in revenue.

But I’ve got to be honest with you here. I didn’t figure this all out on my own. I did a little reading, sure, but the most important thing I did–the thing that allowed me to see fast results–was to use a model.

I found someone already making a lot of money using AdSense, and I copied him.

I found someone already making a lot of money using AdSense, and I copied him. No, not his content or anything–just the look of his blog, the types of ads he ran, and (I think) most importantly the placement of those ads.

I didn’t care if it looked ugly or weird, or what people might say or think. All I cared about was that it was simple and it worked.

So now all you care about is who I copied. Am I right? Because your thinking that if I tell you that, all you have to do is go check him out and you don’t need to read any further. Am I right? Because this post is already the most ungodly long blog post you’ve ever endured. Am I right?

If you’re totally nodding your head in agreement after reading that last paragraph, I have to tell you . . . you’re right. I’m going to give you a link, and if you study his layout carefully, you won’t need to read another word.

Actually I’m going to do you one better. I’m going to link you to an article he wrote explaining how much money he’s made with AdSense.

But before you go, there are a couple of things I want you to do while you’re away. Notice where the ads are (always in the upper left hand corner), look where he put the side bar, find out if he has any ads in his sidebar. Then compare the look of his site to mine.

If you haven’t already learned from this guy, check out Steve Pavlin’s 2005 AdSense experience. Yeah, it’s an old post. But it was enough to convince me that this guy had figured it out.

Back so soon? So I totally ripped him off didn’t I. Sort of.

The fact is, if I was smart enough to get my layout here at chriswondra.com figured out sooner, I would have made a lot more money in April. My problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do, it was that I didn’t know enough about building a web page to know how to rearrange things to get them in the right spots.

Anyway, I’m not going to bore you (too late right?) with every single tweak. So here’s a list of each change I made that had a significant impact (in no particular order):

  • Shot for the upper left hand corner first. Of all the ads I’ve placed, and all the places I’ve put them, the upper left hand corner (especially within the content) is by far the highest performing placement.
  • Moved the sidebar from the right to the left and followed the same principal.
  • Changed the sidebar AdSense product from a search box to a text link box.
  • Used square text and image ads in my content. Yeah, I’ve tried banner and skyscraper ads, but nothing comes close to the square in the upper left hand spot.
  • Changed the color of the text ads from blue to red.

Got all that? Great. Pretty simple, huh? If I were to give advise about this type of thing (which I’m not), the first thing I’d tell you is to find a model that fits you’re style and try to match it as closely as you can. Then simply start experimenting. I’m still experimenting, testing and tweaking. But I’ve reached a bit of a design wall. Most changes I make to this formula now result in net losses, not gains.

Here’s a pretty good link to a Google AdSense Optimization Webinar, held in the summer of 2005. If this kind of thing really turns your crank, I highly encourage you to check it out. Also be sure to visit this index of Google Adsense optimization tips.

Now, I think I’ve given you quite a bit of specific information to chew on here, but if you’re still with me (believe me, I know how long this article is), I think you deserve something extra. So I give you . . .

Hands down The most important lesson I’ve learned about How to make money with Google AdSense

Content is King

But hang on. This isn’t the same old lecture about creating quality stuff for people to read.

This is about how to make sure your ads match the content of your article. And not only that, but if readers are finding your article through search engines (like mine are), how to make sure the ads match what your readers are seeking. Because if they don’t, nobody’s going to click on them.

Most of the time this match happens automatically. Google scans your article for keywords, links up with relevant advertisements and serves them up. For example, this article about how to keep more of the money you earn has ads related to saving money in other ways. It’s very slick.

But sometimes you have to help Google out a bit–as was the case with one of my first big traffic posts.

This was an interesting case. I was getting thousands of hits a day to this post, but nobody was clicking on any ads. If you looked at the page, the reason was obvious. While the article was about how to work a clever internet program and mystify your friends, the ads on the page were about help renewing a teaching license, offers for college masters programs, and classroom supplies.

They didn’t match the content of the article at all!

This was bad. The ads didn’t match the content at all

The reason was obvious. To that point, my site was pretty heavily geared toward education, and even this article had many keywords related to school. I first discovered the computer prank because some of my students were messing around with it, so the article basically told the story of how the prank was distracting students in my classroom.

The post was filled with keywords related to school, so the ads were school related. This was bad. Thousands of people were coming to this post searching for answers so they could either solve a mystery or pull the prank on others and have a little fun.

School stuff? Teacher stuff? Fuggetaboutit.

There had to be a way to make this a win-win.

But what could I do? It was what it was. The post did the job. People liked the article and were getting what they were looking for. The post made sense and based on the comments people were leaving, it was adding a great deal of value for such a silly little prank.

It just wasn’t adding any dollars to my pocketbook. I figured there had to be an answer. There had to be a way to make this a win-win: continue to give readers the value they were looking for, and be able to serve up some ads would be meaningful to them.

Introducing Section Targeting

Some hunting around turned up a little gem of a tool called Section Targeting. In their ultimate wisdom Google developed a little HTML code that allows me to tell the Google crawlers what is really the most important part of my post. In other words, I can tell Google to pay more attention to certain sections of my article with words like “prank” or “trick” as opposed to sections with words like “students” or “classroom”.

Google will then give more value to the parts you decide are most important and match ads related to the keywords in those sections.

Very cool!

And it worked. I started to see ads geared more toward the audience. Some were about dating, some were about chat, some were even about pranks. This was good. But still, I thought I could do better.

Using Magical Keywords to unlock great treasure

I began to wonder if I rewrote certain parts of my post to include more words related to pranks or tricks, if I could get even more relevant ads to show up.

My first step was to do a little keyword brainstorming. If I was going to do any rewriting, I had to be sure I wasn’t changing the value of the article. Ideally, the words would make the post better and help Google to serve up better ads.

Then I found another powerful tool called Google Adwords: Keword Tool.

This little humdinger really made the difference. I started typing in keywords and it began spitting back related suggestions for even more words. But not only that–it also told me what keywords were worth!

This was huge. If I played my cards right, not only could I get more relevant ads on the post, but I could also increase the amount each click would pay me.

If I played my cards right, not only could I get more relevant ads on the post, but I could also increase the amount each click would pay me. This was huge.

And it worked like magic. Literally. Because as it turns out, a lot of that post’s audience was also interested in magic. Anything to be able to trick your pals and make you the center of attention was good stuff–and once I started including a few words related to magic, the ads became much more powerful and the money started rolling in.

In conclusion (finally)

Hopefully I’ve given you something to chew on here. God knows I’ve tried. If anything at all I hope I’ve left you with a sense that (if you haven’t already) you can do this too. Four months ago I didn’t know anything I just wrote about. Things can happen really fast on the internet.

. . .I will make between $600 and $700 this month.

The way I figure it, I really lucked out here. But if I hadn’t given it a shot, if I hadn’t have thought it was at least possible, nothing would have ever happened. I wouldn’t have a blog. I wouldn’t have this new and exciting stream of income. And I wouldn’t have this little spark of excitement about what the future may bring.

Speaking of the future, you may be wondering how this blog is doing in June. As of today, it looks like things are starting to average out a bit and I will make between $600 and $700 this month.

Still, not bad for a blogger who hasn’t posted for about ten days.