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Blogging Pitfalls: Advertising Overload

Given that my previous two posts, on the need to create backups and the perils of choosing a bad Web host were followed by a period of unplanned downtime, which saw BloggingPro rescued by a good backup strategy, I briefly debated making this post about the danger of being hit over the head with a bag of unmarked bills.

Realizing that was silly, the decision was made to return to our regularly scheduled programming. Still, I’ve decided not to tempt fate on this one and talk about an issue that is a bit easier to avoid, advertising and the perils of turning your site into a giant billboard available to the highest bidder.

While every blog that isn’t solely meant as a hobby site needs to earn money to stay alive, slathering a site with ads in hopes of generating ad views and clicks is rarely the best strategy. In fact, it may do irreparable harm to your site and even sink it for good..

The Pitfall

Nearly every blogger, large and small, has faced the temptation. Dollars for clickthroughs and money for nothing. With dozens of advertising companies all looking to place ads on blogger sites and many of them promising huge rewards and returns for almost no investment, it’s easy to get lost in the lust for cash. Furthermore, with a few quick guides, you can be up and running and an overnight advertising success.

Unfortunately, the dollars in advertising are, almost always, an illusion. Though every site is different, unless you have a large visitor base and an advertising-friendly topic, the odds of making serious money are slim to none.

But where many bloggers either drop ads or decide to be happy with their few pennies or dollars, others decide to take it to 11, slathering their sites in ads hoping to gain more clickthroughs and more revenue.

This, in turn, often does raise revenue and gives many bloggers a new zest for advertising. However, it is a zeal that can quickly become very dangerous and taken to an unfortunate extreme.

The Danger

Though ramping up the ad count or being more aggressive with advertising does bring some initial rewards, it rarely lasts.

On sites with aggressive advertising, traffic and clickthrough rates begin to wane and a vicious cycle often begins where the blogger has to keep ramping up their advertising, adding more blocks or more annoying ads, just to maintain the same level of revenue.

Eventually, the entire operation simply collapses. Advertisers often begin to back out of such sites and, due to the overloading of ads, many visitors begin to confuse the site with a spam blog and respond accordingly. This, in turn, hurts rankings in the search engines as inbound links dry up and visitors bounce back to the results pages.

In short, an unsustainable model eventually dies out, unable to carry its own weight.

How to Avoid It

The simplest solution is to simply say “Don’t overload your site with ads” but that hardly seems to solve the problem. Though bloggers are usually aware, at least acutely, of the danger of overloading their sites with ads, that doesn’t stop some from falling into the temptation.

Instead, it is more important to avoid a situation where such an overloading might seem like a good idea and, instead, focus on solutions that can reach the same intended goals as ad overloading, without the vicious self-feeding cycle.

On that note, it is important to recognize what advertising is. It is a way for you, the blogger, to trade on the attention of your readers in order to earn money. If done well this is not necessarily a bad thing and a small price for the reader to pay. If done poorly, it can be worse than asking for a monetary subscription.

Consider the following:

  1. Build Audience, Then Ads: Wait until you have a sizable enough blog to consider running ads. How big is determined by your niche, but wait until you’ve grown enough to have a chance at sustaining an ad model before, slowly, introducing ads.
  2. Look at Other Business Models First: Could another business model work? You can earn more money off of smaller audiences through consulting, selling Ebooks or other models than you can ads. They may be worth trying.
  3. Introduce Ads Carefully: If you do decide to go with ads, focus on keeping them to a minimum and work on finding the correct location for them on the page. A place that is noticeable and above the fold, but not in the way to create a good balance. Then experiment with that location by moving it, not adding new ads.
  4. Sell Your Own Ads: Though using Adsense or other automated ad systems can help, the best approach for both yourself and readers is to sell your own ads. Not only can you earn more money and eliminate middle men, but your readers will get better-targeted ads.
  5. More is Not Better: Finally, if you are struggling with making money from ads, more advertising is almost never the solution. Quality over quantity is usually the best approach.

In short, when you’re using advertising on your site, remember that it is your reader’s attention you are trading on and treat it with the responsibility and weight that comes with demanding such an intrusion of your readers.

If you do that, you might not find advertising riches, but you won’t sink your site while looking for them.

Bottom Line

Though advertising can be a great business model for a blog, it can also be a great way to kill a good site.

In order for advertising to work, you need to have a blog of adequate size and audience but, more importantly, treat advertising as a necessary evil that makes an unwanted demand of your reader. It’s impact should be minimized as much as possible, but balanced against the need to earn revenue.

There is no magic solution for this and no guide can tell you 100% definitively what is right for your site, but what is clear is that there are very unfortunate dangers that lay down this path that you need to be careful of.

For proof of that, just think of your own reaction when you see a site that is bathed in an excess of ads. How likely are you to stay?

Though good content can survive a bad layout, including a deluge of ads, it is best to not wound your efforts in such a way. There’s no guarantee your site is among those that can.

Categories: Advertising
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Comments

  1. Lou Belcher ) says: 6/9/2010

    Valuable advice. We all devised our blogs initially to write. It’s good to be reminded of that.

    Reply

  2. Franky Branckaute ) says: 6/9/2010

    Great post, Jonathan. It is a really difficult call to make and one we deal with on a daily basis here at Splashpress. One think everyone has to remember, as you said: blogs are made of content. Content has to be central.

    Ads can be around content but should not be the prime focus. If I land on a page and 70% or more of the fold is filled with ads (I use a browser window with 995px by 650px view port), I leave the page.

    Reply

  3. brad ) says: 6/10/2010

    Having a history of going back and forth with ads (initially dismissing them because i felt they were tacky and weren’t worth the few dollars i was paying out of pocket for my then-shared webhost), i eventually found a happy place with them, mostly adsense, especially since I moved to a managed VPS and starting investing in the site in other ways, I think I’ve managed to learn a few dos and don’ts along the way and I’m still learning.

    First, I agree — and I think it’s understated — that the temptation of ad revenue is much greater than the real world rewards. A site with low traffic and ads is more likely to drive away a potential base (unless the content really is there). It was only when my traffic became more and more substantial that I decided to experiment with ads again and still, a very small proportion of visitors actually click-through on the ads, but fortunately that small %age is enough for me to generate enough revenue to more than pay for the site’s cost. But what really provoked me into starting with ads wasn’t that I had a loyal base (which I do), but that much of my traffic comes from search engines anyway, so I wasn’t too concerned if someone never returned. I’m actually considering introducing a subscription/donation system to hide all ads for those that do frequent the site.

    Something else worth noting is that most ad providers, including adsense, allow you to set up advertising zones so they can be individually monitored so a site that has an ad in the article and an ad in the sidebar should be two different zones, even if they’re the same size. That way their impact can be measured individually and you can evaluate which ads are working where. For example, I have an adsense links block above the article and it doesn’t really perform that well, so the logical step is simply to remove it which in effect will make the site more attractive to visitors.

    Another thing I’ve learned is that text links and referrals in articles go much further than ad blocks. This is easily viewed through a site like commission junction which lets you sort the EPC on the ads and the top performing ones are almost exclusively text ads.

    (sorry it’s a bit convoluted, just wanted to toss in some of my own experience)

    Reply

  4. Federo says: 6/11/2010

    “Quality over quantity is usually the best approach”.I can’t agree with it any more.A good essay should highly focus on the main tehme insted of the ads.

    Reply

  5. Business Bags says: 11/19/2010

    Valuable advice. We all devised our blogs initially to write. It’s good to be reminded of that.A good essay should highly focus on the main tehme insted of the ads.

    Reply

  6. lancaster pa laser hair says: 2/25/2012

    Awesome job on this post.

    Reply