Earning from Advertising Online

My new goal is to earn a living wage from this site. I’ve got a long way to go, but at least the trend is upward.

I’ve been using Google AdSense since May, 2004, to place "context-sensitive" ads on my pages. I earn money whenever a site visitor clicks on one of these ads.

The results to date have not been impressive: most months I didn’t even earn the minimum $100 required for Google to actually pay me (the earnings accumulate: you get paid the month after your total goes over $100). So I’ve been studying up, with the help of blogs like John Chow’s, applying what I’ve learned to my site, and observing the results.

Logically enough, revenues from Google AdSense seem to be linearly related to:

  • the number of ads available to be seen on the site (= number of pages x number of ads per page),
  • the number of people who actually see them, and, of course,
  • the percentage of those who actually click on an ad (yes, there are ads that pay per view, see below).

Furthermore, earnings are non-linearly related to:

  • where on the page ads are placed
  • how people arrived at your site in the first place
  • what they were looking for that got them there – in other words, what’s on the pages.

I will deal with each of these aspects in turn, in several articles, before discussing my results.

Number & Placement of Ads on a Page

Google AdSense

According to Google’s rules, on any single page you can have a maximum of:

  • three ad units (ahem – I had forgotten this rule til recently, and was flouting it on some pages where I had manually placed ads in the middle of the page – I hope I have all those cleaned out now)
  • one link unit
  • two search boxes
  • one product referral button

Right now, on most pages on this site, you’ll see Google ad units in the left and right columns and at the bottom, and a link unit in upper right corner. The search box is at the very bottom of the page – that’s been there for a long time, and was always intended to be useful rather than to earn money (which is a good thing, because it earns almost nothing). The product referral button (lower right corner on most pages) earns if someone clicks through and downloads what Google is offering. I don’t mind recommending Firefox because I’ve been using it myself for years, as do a disproportionate (to its market share) percentage of my visitors (I placed those buttons only recently – no earnings so far).

For a long time, being squeamish about bombarding people with obtrusive advertising, I had a fixed ad unit only at the bottom of the page. I doubt many people saw those ads. My web statistics show that over 80% of the people who land on my site leave within 30 seconds. Google probably registers a page "impression" for that bottom ad unit for every page viewed, because the ad was loaded on the page and, from Google’s point of view, available to be seen. However, a lot of my visitors are clearly just glancing at the top of a page and leaving again, so they never actually see those bottom ads.

Lesson: For an ad to be guaranteed to be seen, it must be "above the fold" – in the top area of the screen that is seen immediately without scrolling down.

Google’s own AdSense blog offered a case study about a site that quadrupled its revenues by placing ads in certain spots. So I added the ad unit in the left column below the section menu – the Google folks said that left columns perform better than right columns. In the case of my site, they perform very well, perhaps because the left column starts with navigation (links to other pages in the same section). Any eye scanning down the navigation list would tend continue on down to at least the first Google ad. (I would love to know if it is in fact the top ads that get clicked on, rather than those further down in the ad unit, but Google doesn’t give me this kind of detail.)

The ad unit on the right is more recent, a result of screen real estate being freed up by something else that I’ll get to in a minute.

According to John Chow, the most lucrative type of ad on his site is the "large rectangle," and it appears that he’s not the only site owner to think so. My suspicion is that its placement is more important than its format: on his and many other blogs it’s right in your face, interrupting and confusing the reading material so that sometimes I’m not even sure what’s blog and what’s advertising. I am not as much of a design purist as I used to be, but I draw the line at that (for now). For the time being, I will keep the center column of each page ad-free. (So, if ads really bother you, keep your eyes to the middle of the road.)

I have some very long pages, leaving a lot of room in the left and right columns. Google won’t let me show more than three of their ads, but I’m allowed to also show other ads, as long as these are not context-sensitive (which would put them in competition with Google).


In the left column below the Google ad unit, you’ll see an "Omakase" ad unit from Amazon. "Omakase" is a Japanese restaurant term meaning "as you like it." Each unit is generated on-the-fly by Amazon, taking its cue partly from page content, but more from Amazon links elsewhere on the site (including my own Amazon store). If you (the visitor) are already an Amazon customer, the links shown are also based on your own history with Amazon – guessing from the ads I see myself, this may even be the heaviest factor in Amazon’s decisions about what to display (though they are likely also playing with the mix to see what works best). You and I would never see the same Amazon links, even if we visited the same page at the same time.

(It did not occur to me til just now to wonder whether Google considers this competitive… Feels to me like a gray area. I guess someone will yell at me if they don’t like it.)

These links have been on my site for a few months and have indeed increased my Amazon revenues: from zero to $10 in three months. I don’t know who’s making money as an Amazon "associate," but it sure ain’t me. But any money is better than no money, and I like the look of the Amazon ads.


On the right side of most of my pages, you’ll see the result of my recent membership in BlogHer, a network of women bloggers. Adding that right column space to a site that wasn’t originally designed for it has been a bitch and a half, and the job isn’t done yet. Although I’m using DreamWeaver templates, which automate some of the changes, I’m having to touch up every page by hand, to create a center column that doesn’t run into the advertising on the right and therefore become unreadable and ugly.

But this has had two useful side effects:

  1. There’s a lot more room for ads in that right column, so I was able to put in another vertical Google ad unit.
  2. I’ve constrained my text to a column 600 pixels wide, instread of sprawling across whatever width of screen was available. This is much more comfortable to read on large monitors – when a line of text gets too long, the eye can easily get lost while reading across it.

It’s too early yet to tell how much revenue BlogHer will be worth, but it may prove useful to drum up new readers: as my site now features links to others in the BlogHer network, my site is featured on some of theirs; I get a little bit of traffic from this. And I’m finding the people at BlogHer nice to work with. Although (story of my life) I don’t fit the normal blogging mold, they have gone out of their way to work with me, and even pro-actively suggested useful changes. It’s a far more personal relationship than I could ever have with Google or Amazon, and, with me, relationships count.

Other Ad Networks

There are other ad networks out there. I tried Adify, which offers to sell advertising space, but, as far as I can tell, I never even got a sniff of a customer from them. (Google also offers a "buy advertising on this site" option – you can see it in every ad unit, but I don’t think anyone has bitten yet.)

Apparently you don’t start to make real money until you can attract the big boys, as John Chow has done. And, to do that, you have to have large numbers of visitors. Yes, I’m working on that – as I will discuss in a near-future article!

read Part 2, on increasing the number of pages on your site

links to John Chow

3 thoughts on “Earning from Advertising Online

  1. Dipankar

    I found in every case that earning money from net you have to register for $20 or something than you can start .But is it not possible that after earning you pay $20 not at the begining.

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