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Earn High by Playing it Clean

Google AdSense tips and tricks that aren't what you expect.

Michael David Crawford

Michael David Crawford, Consulting Software Engineer
Solving The Software Problem
mdcrawford@gmail.com

Copyright © 2005 Michael D. Crawford.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Webmaster editordude asked:

... is it possible to earn high ($1000+) by 'playing it clean'? By that I mean doing everything I can to make it a great site for visitors, all content is original, easy to navigate, ranks high, updated often etc but not go out of my way to earn, so no popups, no large square banner before content etc.

It's very common for website operators to make money - or try to anyway - through underhanded means, for example by gaming the search engines with such "search engine optimization" schemes as link farms, or by emailing mass quantities of spam.

Is all that really necessary?

I replied:

I registered my domain seven years ago to present my business to the web. I got the idea that I could attract potential clients by writing articles and posting them on my website. They were at first very focussed on what I do but eventually ended up covering a wide range of topics.

This worked very well for me, because hundreds of people who have read my articles linked either to one of them or to my homepage, and so some of my articles are now very popular. Every now and then someone who needs what I offer reads an article and then realizes I'm for hire and inquires, and maybe then I get a contract.

How to Promote Your
Business on the Internet

Post useful and interesting content on your website.

This ended up working so well for me that these days I have to turn away business. My website as a whole gets over a hundred thousand hits a month. My homepage is PageRank 6, and all my articles are either PageRank 4 or PageRank 5. My pages are in the top ten for hundreds, if not thousands of relevant queries, and many of my pages are #1 for lots of queries.

I had some health problems last year and was unable to work enough to get by, so I finally tried AdSense. I put it on all my articles, but not my homepage which still is meant for my clients to see. My first month I made over three thousand dollars. I could see from my ad performance report that this was going to happen within a few hours of publishing my first ads. It made me break down and cry.

Use the Heat Map

Experiment with the advice of Google's AdSense Optimization Tips to adjust ad presentation and positioning to yield maximum revenue.

I have not always made that much. Last month (March 2005) was only eighteen hundred, but April started up again in the last week, coming out at $2100 and I can see how I might make $3k in May.

(Section 7 of the AdSense Terms and Conditions now allows publishers to accurately report their earnings.)

It's not simply a clean, honest site, my whole reputation as a businessman depends on it. With the expenses I have, I'm not able to quit working (yet!), so I have to run a very clean operation.

I have also worked like a slave on my website on many occasions. A couple of my articles took more than a month to write.

I had this crappy old half-baked HTML design, with poor navigation, inconsistent colors, invalid HTML, formatted with nested tables and the works, but I suddenly lost a contract a couple months ago and was in a really hard way. To get back to work quickly I started paying for advertising with money that was very scarce.

My wife, who used to be a web designer before she went back to art school, had made a really nice XHTML+CSS design for my site, with easy navigation, consistent colors, a nice theme, but when she realized there were over a hundred hand-coded static HTML files on my site, most of them in ancient, invalid HTML, she was too intimidated to roll out her design across my site.

Her templates sat on her computer for over a year until I started paying for advertising. I began to fear that people would click my ads - costing me money - see my half-baked homepage, and just press the back button without even reading what I had to offer. So I spent three solid days, and nights, without sleeping, on a marathon HTML coding session to implement her design.

All I did at first was to redesign my homepage and each of the pages that were directly linked from my homepage, but there were quite a few of those.

My hard work, and advertising gamble paid off. I got back to work quickly enough that by the time I could earn a paycheck we hadn't starved or become homeless yet.

Since then I've been redesigning an article each week. I have about a third of them done now.

So yes, clean, honest hard-working webmastering pays.

I'm now paying to advertise my articles. When I have a new one redesigned, I pay for ads for it. I had AdSense on all of them at first, but have been removing it from the non-performing pages. My objective in my advertising is not to drive clicks to my ads, but to bring repeat visitors to my site, and over time build even more traffic as (hopefully) some of these people give me links.

Now, it took six years to get my site to where I was able to earn $3k in my first month of AdSense. But I didn't have the first clue about anything when I started out. It wasn't for several years that I really started to devote much time to my articles, when I realized what a difference they were making to me.

I think that if I were just starting out with a totally new website, knowing what I know now, I could get it to $3k in AdSense after a year. It would help to have an ad budget, but that's not the most important thing, it's having a site that's worth someone's time and effort to link to. It's having a site that makes people want to link it.

Use Channels...

... to measure the effect of changes to ad placement and to find nonperforming pages. In your AdSense account page, click on Ad Settings, then Channels. You can create channels by name or URL. Then click on Ad layout code and select a channel as you create new AdSense javascript.

Update the javascript code for each of your pages. You can have up to fifty channels. If you don't have many pages, you can have a separate channel for each page or even for each ad unit on a single page.

My advice, if you're just starting out, is to not post any ads on it at all. Not even one! Not for at least a year. Why? I think ads discourage linking. Once you do publish ads, test them for a week or two and then remove them from all the nonperforming pages. A page without AdSense still gets linked, drives up the PageRank of your whole site and is a gateway to your other pages.

When I'm done redesigning my articles, there will be just one AdSense unit on one web page. That single ad unit is responsible for all but about ten dollars of my monthly revenue. I think the other pages will be better at building traffic to my site if they didn't have ads, and I would have already removed their AdSense but I have so many that I just don't have the time.

I have become very well aware that I'm sitting on top of a gold mine, just beginning to tap into the vein of ore. I am very inspired to read so many posts here from people who say they were able to quit their jobs because of AdSense. I'm not there yet, but it is my objective to quit working my original job within a year and instead make a living - a good, comfortable living - writing content for my site. I've been in the same line of work for seventeen years, and have been self-employed for seven. It's not an easy way to live. I wish I could go back to my younger self and shake some sense into me. But now I see a way out.

So there you have it. Clean, hard work is indeed the key to success on the web.

-- Mike

Security for You and Your Family

I spent a couple hours thinking about how to respond to a Black Hat SEO named kiladen who responded to the original thread at Webmasterworld that he games the search engines to feed his family. He claims he makes twenty thousand dollars a month.

White Hat Search
Engine Optimization

At Mister Markup's Tips for Webmasters and Web Designers.

None of his sites last longer than a month or two before the search engines remove him from their index, but he owns eighty throwaway domains and has software that can roll out a new website with thousands of keyword-rich yet meaningless pages in twenty minutes.

He acknowledges that he's not likely to get away with even this for more than six more months before they figure out who he really is - it would be worth Google's while to hire a private detective - and shut him down permanently, because he has a high salary job to fall back on.

He just wants to make as much money as he can as quick as he can and is somehow able to justify this to himself because it enables him to provide for his loved ones.

Well, I hope he's got a good life insurance policy because he's not going to leave much of a legacy for his family if he's hit by a truck tomorrow. The money that feeds his children will dry up in a month or two once all the search engines remove the last of his sites from their index and he's kicked out of AdSense for violating the AdSense Terms and Conditions.

Even if he's not killed, if he is injured or should become too sick to operate his "business", he won't have either his ad revenue or his salary to fall back on. I hope he doesn't live in the US because the streets of America are filled with homeless people who could not afford or never thought to buy disability insurance, or whose spouses didn't buy life insurance.

The whole reason I tried AdSense at all is that I was too sick to work, and now I know that, even if I'm not getting as much money as I need to quit my job from my website, if I couldn't work for a whole month there would be enough for rent, utility bills and food.

This really got me to thinking about how my website could provide some security for my wife if something should happen to me. Even if she did nothing to maintain my site, it would provide ad revenue for years, possibly decades. Even if Google folded and she couldn't run AdSense, there would be new search engines that would still send my site a lot of traffic, and new ad networks that she could live off of with a minimum of effort.

On several occasions I haven't had the time to work on my website for several months, yet found traffic to my site increased as those who read my articles gave it links.

I realized that when I discuss this with my wife (in a few minutes, she just called from Spain and asked me to call her back), she's going to protest that she won't be able to write any new articles, so traffic likely would eventually dry up as interest faded in the old ones, or they became technically obsolete. And I thought that I would tell her she could commission writing from folks like CheeseburgerBrown.

And I thought, "Why don't I get that started right now?" so a few hours ago I emailed him a sales inquiry. You'll know when he's written something for me because I'll announce it in the What's New section of GoingWare's Bag of Programming Tricks.

Well I just spoke to her, and when I did, I started crying. "Why did you have to tell me now, when I'm away and you're home all alone?" she asked. And I said, "What if I'd thought of this today, and went out and got killed in a traffic accident before I could tell you? It might never occur to you how you could keep people coming to my site."

She made me stop talking about it before I became uncontrollable. She said I got so upset because I'm so lonely that she's away. We don't spend much time apart.

You see, right after our wedding in 2000, I bought a million dollar life insurance policy. She would have been set for life if she lost me. It was expensive, but I didn't care because I made over a hundred grand that year, the last year before the dot com crash.

Well, the dot com crash happened, and although I did everything I could to keep paying on that policy, eventually it got to be too much for me and I had to let it lapse. It was canceled.

My wife has been very worried either that I might get sick or get killed. She'd have to drop out of art school and get a job. She probably couldn't afford to rent a place where she could keep our dogs, who she loves as if they were her own children.

But now I know - and she knows - that it doesn't have to be that way.

Maybe next month I can afford to get a new life insurance policy.

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