A friend asked to talk with me today about making a blog pay. I think she found I know less about it than she does, but I’ve learned from the conversation.
When I set up this WordPress blog, I had no intention of trying to make a living from it. I thought it would be fun, interesting, good writing practice, and a nice item on the resume. I set up advertising mostly to get an idea how it’s done, although I did hope the ads would someday pay my domain and hosting bills. But I had no serious interest in web marketing tools like search-engine optimization (SEO). I still hoped to find a real go-to-work job again, someday.
At about that same time, I added simple text advertising to some of my ancient hand-coded HTML pages, particularly Introducing the Dvorak Keyboard. I had started that site in 1995, initially for the sole purpose of keeping Dvorak layout files where I could get to them from anywhere I happened to be working.
But my Dvorak site grew and became popular. For years, it turned up at the top whenever I searched the web for “dvorak keyboard.” Since Wikipedia’s Dvorak entry matured, I’ve hardly touched my own Dvorak site, but Google still lists it close to the top.
The Dvorak layout is an obscure subject for which there is rarely any news, but it’s always new to someone. So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that money started trickling in almost immediately when I put ads on my Dvorak pages. In fact, the site has more or less paid for my domain and hosting since then, as I had hoped.
My Area 42 blog (this one, here) is another matter. Area 42 revenue doesn’t trickle, it drips. Some of that is to be expected, because the Dvorak site had an established audience. But I hoped Area 42′s earnings would increase with traffic.
Today I compared several statistics from 2010 to 2011. For my Dvorak ads, average earnings dropped 36%. That seemed natural because the site content is stagnant now, but its awstats visit count only dropped 6%. Area 42 was even more contrary; its earnings dropped 28% while visits seemed to increase by 211%!
This was partially explained when I compared my awstats results to the ad agency visit stats. For some reason, awstats overcounts visits to Area 42, but undercounts the HTML page visits slightly. By the agency’s count, Dvorak visits dropped 5% from 2010 to 2011, but Area 42 only increased by 120%. Still, that’s more than double the traffic with significantly less reward.
(Offhand, I think awstats is overcounting visits because the blog gets a high number of visits to the WordPress logon, and other URLs that don’t contain ads. The logon hits worry me; I see no reason for ordinary users to try to log on. I do get a lot of visits from China; maybe they’re trying to hack my corrupt capitalist enterprise!)
I then considered click-through rate (CTR), which tracks how often users actually follow an ad link. Contrary to what I expected from earnings, Area 42′s average CTR has been higher than Dvorak’s, but the Area 42 rate dropped 61 percentage points as opposed to 24 for Dvorak. My sense is that the rate change hit Area 42′s earnings harder overall, but I haven’t worked the math rigorously.
Finally, I looked at the cost-per-click (CPC), which is how much each advertiser pays when their ad is clicked. This depends entirely on the rate negotiated by the agency, so it’s out of my hands. For the years compared, this held steady for Area 42, but increased 64% for Dvorak. This certainly has a significant effect on Area 42′s relative success.
What I’ll Change (Not Much)
The Area 42 ads are getting more clicks per view than I expected, so I won’t try to tweak ad placement, which I had considered. Also, although I almost always see off topic, out-of-sync ads, I’ve noticed most users don’t load the blog’s default URL as I do. Instead, they follow an article link or use a search. For some reason these views usually have advertisements in sync with the displayed post. Since the difference mostly affects me, maybe I’ll give up trying to resolve it.
Increased revenue is something I guess I’ll just have to wait for, hoping that traffic increases enough to bring it about. As a nod to SEO, I might start tracking my more popular articles, and see if I want to write more like those.
But I guess I’ll never be a professional blogger. I don’t want to obsess over search trends and try to out-rage the latest outrage just because it’s popular. As for researching CPC values and trying to fine tune my articles to attract more lucrative advertising, well, that’s just too much like real marketing for my taste!