Building alexking.org 2.0, part 11: Monetization

When I first launched alexking.org back in 2002, I didn’t plan to make any money from it or do any advertising on it. I remember friends telling me I should put up ads when I was slashdotted and I had little interest in doing so.

Much has changed since then, primarily the fact I no longer have a “day job” and this is no longer “stuff I do in my spare time”. Instead, this is “stuff I turn down paying work to do”. I have no expectations of getting fully compensated for the content, software and plugins I make freely available here, but if I can bring in a couple of bucks through ads and donations it helps me justify the time I spend on these projects.

I’ve tried a number of monetization approaches over the last 5 years, with varying degrees of success. I’ve basically viewed this as an experiment, and the results are quite interesting to me. Especially the response to the changes I’ve made recently in asking for donations. I’ve got details on this, including a spreadsheet of donations later in this post.

Google AdSense / Yahoo! Publisher Network

I’ve tried both Google AdSense and the Yahoo! Publisher Network for contextual ads. I even experimented for a while loading each half the time. Neither one was a major payday for me, but the basic results I’ve seen are:

  • Yahoo! pays a little more.
  • Google’s ads are more relevant.

I pretty much only use Google’s AdSense now because I prefer the relevance to the extra couple bucks.

I’ve mostly kept these ads in the sidebar where they aren’t too annoying, however a couple of months ago I started trying something new. I’ve started inserting a couple of ad blocks in blog the content itself if the visitor is using IE. This decision is based on the research that shows that IE users click on more ads than Firefox users. Also, since I never browse in IE, these inline ads don’t bother me. ;)

Text Link Ads

I started selling text links through Text Link Ads1 a little over a year ago. I like the service and have had good results with it. I generally make more per month from Text Link Ads than I do from all the other ad services combined.

Kontera In-Text Ads

I installed Kontera’s in-text ads at the end of last year and the response was pretty much a universal “we hate these”. I was really surprised at the reaction because I see these ads on lots of sites and they’d never bothered me.

I’ve since turned them off except for pages rendered from search engine hits. Basically, if you search for something and click a link to my site, you see these ads on the initial page you clicked through to. Subsequent page loads have these ads turned off.

I haven’t gotten any more complaints since I changed to this implementation. I still haven’t fully decided to keep these or not – I might turn them off at some point.

Amazon Sponsored Shopping

I added this to the sidebar during the holiday shopping season, and I don’t think anyone has ever used it. Or maybe it isn’t even configured right. I don’t really know why I’ve kept it on the page.

Text Links

While I use Text Link Ads to sell links on prominent pages on this site, I also offer text links on all other pages using my own system. These are fairly expensive and I haven’t sold many (perhaps I’ll drop the price a little), but it’s nice to be able refer :scare: link exchange :/scare: requests to my link purchasing page.

Sponsorships

The Text Link Ads folks offered to sponsor alexking.org for a couple of months earlier this year, and for the first time I placed banner ads in the content areas of the pages themselves. I accepted this because I use their product myself and felt comfortable recommending it on my site.

I’m glad I experimented with this, but I’m also kind of glad to have the banners removed and the ads back in the sidebar.

I like the sponsorship idea if there is a good fit, so I might try this again in the future.

Donations

I’ve always accepted donations for the free software I make available here. My experience is that people generally don’t donate, especially when you take an understated approach to asking for the donation (a small button, text in a README, etc.).

A few months ago, I decided to try a little experiment. Whenever someone clicks a download link on the site, I show them a little donation form and ask that they consider donating $1 (or more if they like).

So far this has been working wonderfully. The average amount of each donation has predictably plummeted, but that has been more than offset by the increased frequency of donations. Haivng the donation request be more prominent seems to result in more donations.

I also get the occasional purchase from my wish list – most recently I received iWoz, which I quite look forward to reading.

Because I love it when other folks share information you aren’t normally privy to, I’ve created a public Google Spreadsheet with all of the donations I’ve received since launching the alexking.org back in 2002. Have fun with it.

Ad Location and Standards

While I may not like the way it looks, “in your face” advertising definitely seems to work much better than tucking the ads away in a sidebar. Putting the ads at the top of the page seems to work a little better than in a sidebar as well, but I don’t like the way it pushes the content down.

However, this is my personal web site, so I can choose to keep the ads somewhat out of the way instead of trying to squeeze every dime I can out of the site.

I also recently turned down sponsored posts and an opportunity to put a flash banner ad on my home page. Sure it probably would have made a few bucks, but I felt it would really detract from the overall site experience. There’s definitely a “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” side of how you choose to implement advertising on your site.

Conclusion

Very few people, especially self-employed people, have the luxury to spend their time on things that don’t generate any income. By finding ways to monetize my site, I’m able to spend more time working on it and on the projects I make available here. That results in more freely available stuff for you guys. I see it as a win-win.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Building alexking.org 2.0 series. I’ve enjoyed the feedback and discussion (both in the comments and via e-mail) it has sparked, and I hope that some of the information here has been useful to folks considering similar endeavors.

  1. That link has a referrer ID in it, if you sign up I get a nice kickback. [back]