Friday, June 27, 2008

3 Days in a Row of $300+ Earnings!

Ok, by now it must sound like a broken record... but screw it, I can't help but get a little excited. Yesterday was my third straight $300+ day. This time it wasn't even close - with one network still left to report I'm at $324.03 in ad revenue for yesterday. By the time everything is counted I expect a total of around $332.

Incredibly, I had a mini-surge on top of the 3-day surge I've been experiencing, when one of my sites suddenly got back some Google lovin', completely out of the blue. Back for about 4 months in 2007 Google decided it just loved this site and it was sending 8, 10, sometimes even 14-15 thousand visitors a day to it. And then, literally overnight, Google dropped it like a hot potato. The site was still technically in Google - you just had to look really damned hard to find it. Over the space of 24 hours I went from 12,000 visitors a day from Google to about 600. (A 95% drop in traffic, overnight, sans explanation).

It hurt like a sumbitch when that happened, but I ended up taking it in stride. First off, it wasn't a site that I particularly spent all that much time and effort on, and secondly... well, Google giveth, and Google can taketh away, right? The site would never have been a success without Google in the first place, so I ended up looking at it more as a 4-month, transient Google blessing than a 24-hour Google curse.

Anyway, that was December 2007. Traffic on the site remained in the doldrums through all of this year, until about 2 weeks ago we had one mini-spike of about 2,600 visitors from Google. It didn't last though, and within a day we were back to our normal levels of about 900-1000/day. Then comes yesterday - a Google spike of about 4,800 visitors! I checked my keywords again this morning and lo and behold, they're still showing up at #2 and #3 on Google, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this time the Google lovin' is here to stay.

Until it isn't anymore. :-)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Ad Surge Continues

Wow - I broke $300/day two days ago for the first time in 2008, and now it looks like yesterday I might have done the same, or at least come damn near close to it. One of my ad networks doesn't report daily figures until midday so I won't know for sure, but I generally make around $9/day with this one and right now I'm at $291.97 with all my other networks. Two days in a row! Ok, ok - not getting excited yet, I know there are up time and down times and I can't go around seeing big trends in two little data points... tempting though that may be. :-)

Oh, and another one to kill this morning for Tribal Fusion Direct:

Later Update: Yep, its official - I squeaked by the $300 mark again yesterday. Final network report just came in and the grand total was $300.06. No complaints here!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Breaking through the $300/day ceiling

Bit of a milestone yesterday! My daily earnings broke through (just barely) the $300 ceiling. One of my ad networks still isn't reporting as of 9.30am EST so I don't know the exact total yet, but this was a really nice surprise. I've not broken $300 a day since the heady days of December 2007 (when ad revenues were insanely high thanks to 50-60% fills from ADSDAQ).

The revenue breakdown was roughly:

BurstMedia - 30%
ADSDAQ - 23%
TribalFusion - 19%
Adsense - 19%
Valueclick - 7%

The interesting thing is - I didn't have much of a traffic spike yesterday as far as I can tell. In terms of visitors and pageviews, it was business as usual. For whatever reason, all my adnetworks just happened to "pop" with excellent fill rates and strong CPMs. Even Adsense chipped in with the highest daily earnings of 2008.

I have single-day peaks like this every now and again, but I've learned by now not to see these as anything more than aberrations. Apart from December 2007, these big-number days generally just appear out of nowhere and then things return back to normal levels within a day or two. Its always tempting to see big increases like this as the start of a trend, but you also have to be realistic... sometimes things just click.

So far my June 2008 daily average is about $215.50, making this the first month in 2008 where I'm likely to break a $200/day average by the end of the month. Its been a steady increase most of this year (apart from February, when a server crash + short month + crappy fill rates left me with a disappointing average). Check out the results so far:

Daily Average Earnings by Month - 2008

January - $173.42/day ($5376.02 total)

February - $141.86/day ($4113.94 total)

March - $181.10/day ($5614.10 total)

April - $182.67/day ($5480.10 total)

May - $193.41/day ($5995.71 total)

June (to date) - $215.50/day ($6465.00 projected total)

Now that's a trend! :-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What kind of sites do well with CPM advertising?

I've run about twenty or so web sites over the years. Some have been (financially) successful - most haven't. There's no perfect formula for knowing whether or not a certain site will be a certified money-maker when it comes to the CPM-advertising world, but in my experience there are a certain number of characteristics that certainly help.

#1. Make sure at least 85-90% of your traffic is from the United States.

This is the big daddy, obviously. As it stands right now, all the best networks cater to American advertisers and consumers. A few of them have branched out into overseas campaigns, most often the UK, Australia, Canada, etc. but in the main, if you don't have a significant majority of your traffic coming from the United States, you just won't do all that well among the major CPM networks. My most heavily-trafficked site, for example, is one of my poorest earners, because only around 55% of the traffic actually originates from the United States.

This isn't really something you can change after the fact - its mostly advice for those who are thinking of creating new sites... try to come up with subject-matter that will be most relevant to United States visitors.

#2. Pageviews, pageviews, pageviews.

The easiest way to boost your site's earnings is to take steps to increase the average number of pageviews per visit. Its a whole helluva lot easier to get visitors you already have to click two or three more pages per visit than it is to draw in whole big batches of new visitors. How, you ask? Here's some ideas:

- Separate large content pages into sub-pages. Split them into 2, 3, 4 or even 5 smaller pages, with prominent navigation that will easily allow a reader to click "Next" to continue reading the page.

- Build interactive/sticky pages that are constantly updating. Whether these are news or blog feeds, stock quotes, latest forum posts, a private-messaging system... anything that is useful to your visitors and, more importantly, anything that constantly changes, content-wise, will cause your visitors to click back again and again to see what's new.

- Add some games. Nothing keeps a visitor on your site like diversionary time-wasters. Add a high score list, or some level of competition or awards, and folks will come back again and again to compete.

#3. Optimize your site template to allow for IAB-size ad placements.

When you design your site, be sure that your general template allows for at least 2 ad positions on every page, either:

- A 728x90 Leaderboard on top and a 160x600 Skyscraper on the right or left side
- A 728x90 Leaderboard on top and a 300x250 Box ad within the content area
- A 160x600 Skyscraper on the right side and 300x250 Box ad within the content area

These three ad types (728x90, 300x250, 160x600) are currently the best-performing, so be sure that your site can fit them in. And remember to keep it tasteful! No one wants to see a site that's just a bunch of ads hastily thrown together around minimal content.

Tribal Fusion Direct - New Domains to Exclude

Found two more domains that popped up on Tribal Fusion Direct in the past few days:

I've added them both to my domain exclusion list for ad blocking. Their combined CPM for today wasn't absolutely terrible ($0.45CPM) but its still low enough that I don't want them running amongst my other high-paying Tribal Fusion campaigns (currently at around $2.02-$2.08 CPM).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Using Ad Networks vs. Selling Your Own Ads

Most folks know that if you are able to sell your own ads directly to advertisers, you’re going to be able to make a lot more money than by just running the general Ad Network ads from Burst, Tribal Fusion, Valueclick, etc. That’s absolutely true. But that doesn’t mean its worth doing.

Ok, that may sound crazy, but trust me – I speak from experience. I have sold a lot of online advertising campaigns and have made a fair amount of money in the process. About 50% of the time, its painless and worth the effort. The other 50% however, is awful, absolutely awful. Dealing directly with the advertiser means you’re directly responsible for:

- showing up-to-date statistics on their campaign impressions
- showing relevant click-through rate percentages
- tweaking the ads, uploading new versions at client’s request
- manually inserting ads either directly into your site or into a separate ad-delivery system like OpenX (aka phpAdsNew)
- starting/stopping the campaign on time
- ensuring that the customer receives the number of impressions promised
- coming up with excuses for poor click-through rates
- chasing down the customer for payments, bounced checks, failed wire transfers, etc.
- dealing with a client directly, in general – it sucks!

So, once again, we get into the question of Active Income vs. Passive Income. Online advertising can indeed by Passive Income, but when you have to deal with all of the above on a regular basis, it is no longer Passive Income. Its work, and its taking hours out of your day.

Yes, privately-sold advertising can be lucrative, but it can also be a dreaded time-sink. This is why I generally don’t do it, and when I do offer private ads, I do so at a rate at least five times what I would otherwise get using just the run-of-the-mill ad networks. If I can make that much more money, then it becomes worth the added trouble. Otherwise, its not Passive Income, and I’m not interested.

So, as you may have guessed, the vast, vast majority of my ad inventory goes to the Ad Networks. These include BurstMedia, TribalFusion, Valueclick Media, Casale Media, ADSDAQ, Google Adsense and others. I’ll go over each of these ad networks individually in future posts, but on the whole, I like them all – but for different reasons. When it comes down to it though, once you’ve got yourself a relationship with a bunch of reliable ad networks, you’re ready to make true-blue Passive Income. With an ad network you:

- don’t need to deal directly with advertisers
- get paid automatically, on the same day every month usually, and often via direct deposit
- don’t need to worry about stats or delivery

Yes, the CPMs are way lower, and sometimes the fill-rates are terrible and parts of your inventory go unsold, and they all take a cut of your earnings… but trust me, these ad networks are a Passive Income goldmine. They do all the hard work for you, and you collect a check at the end of every month.

What’s better than that?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tribal Fusion Direct - Domain Exclusion List

I tried for years to get my sites accepted to the Tribal Fusion network. Literally, years. I was rejected time and time again, and the more rejections I got, the more I wanted in. I'd heard so many great things about the Tribal Fusion network that it became something of an obsession. Finally after my umpteenth rejection, I raised a fuss about it, called Publisher support, sent some emails, and after a long and drawn-out conversation - wouldn't you know it - they accepted me!

Never underestimate the power of persistence.

Anyway, the victory was bittersweet, because after only a few weeks on the network I began to realize that the Tribal Fusion hype was, well, just that. My numbers were ok, and it was nice to have this additional revenue stream coming in each day, but it was far from the quality and quantity of ads I'd anticipated. For a while I just let Tribal Fusion sit there at the end of my ad-chains, until lo-and-behold, I discovered a primary reason behind the poor performance: Tribal Fusion Direct.

What is Tribal Fusion Direct? It is basically a completely separate subset of ads that Tribal Fusion can run on your site, without ever actually letting you know their individual CPM rates. Worse still, Tribal Fusion Direct campaigns will actually ignore the "Minimum CPM" floor amount that you set in your publisher preferences (which currently bottoms out at $0.60CPM). Worse even still, you can't opt-out of Tribal Fusion Direct! So thousands of your hard-earned ad impressions can be (and often are) eaten up by these bottom-of-the-barrel campaigns, dragging down your overall CPM rate and throwing your daily earnings into the dumper.

While you can't actually see CPM rates for individual Tribal Fusion Direct campaigns, you are shown a summary in your Reports >> Campaign area which will show you the overall performance for all Tribal Fusion Direct campaigns currently running on your site. Don't see it? Scroll allllllllll the way down to the bottom - its dropped in as a line-item at the very end under "Tribal Fusion Direct". Oftentimes you'll see the overall TF Direct CPM rate at 40, 30, 20 cents... sometimes even as low as 10 or 12 cents. Maybe that's good enough for some folks, but not for me.

So, how can you avoid the black hole that is Tribal Fusion Direct?

Its a bit of a pain, but the only real way to avoid serving these garbage ads is to block every Tribal Fusion Direct campaign by domain name. (Yes, I know, this is ridiculous - it would be incredibly easy for Tribal Fusion to create a "TF Direct" category and then let you just opt out of that category, but alas that's not to be). So generally what I do every few days is:

1. Log in to Tribal Fusion
2. Go to Reports >> Campaigns and then click on the "Buy Type" header to order the table data between "Market" campaigns and "Tribal Fusion Direct" campaigns.
3. Open every campaign listed as "Tribal Fusion Direct" under Buy Type, and note down the ad-blocking domain for that campaign. Put them all in a list, one domain per line.
4. Once you have a complete list of domains, click your domain name in the left-hand nav bar area to get to your "Market, Manage, Reports" area.
5. Click the "Manage" tab
6. Click the "Ad Blocking" tab
7. Select "Block By Domain" in the pull down and paste your list of domains into the textarea box, then click Submit.

After a few hours, any ads from these domains will no longer display on your Tribal Fusion account. You will definitely notice an increase (often quite large) in your overall CPM rates the very next day.

Ok, so that's a pain, right? Well here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you a full list of all domains I am currently blocking in order to avoid the Tribal Fusion Direct black hole. Feel free to copy and paste it directly into your own Ad Blocking area. I'll keep my Tribal Fusion Direct Exclusion List updated and you can stop by any time to pick up the latest blacklisted domains.

Tribal Fusion Direct - Domain Exclusion List
Updated: June 26, 2008