Every now and then I gain some insights and experience with something that I feel is worth sharing with the community. So, today I wanted to chat about ad networks for blogs as a publisher, IE: trying to make money. I’m not talking the morality of it, but more about what works and what doesn’t work.
Of course what has worked, and what hasn’t worked with ad networks is entirely subjective to my experiences. Something that doesn’t work for me might work amazingly well for you. That being said, I feel many fellow small bloggers will experience many of the same results.
Included are a lot of Adsense alternatives as well for those of you after something like that.
Ad Networks with BIG Requirements
These are the big guns. Requirements so high that you likely won’t qualify for these ad networks.
Buy Sell Ads, Blogads, Revcontent, Taboola, Outbrain, etc.
I’m starting with these ad networks, and there’s more I’ve forgotten about that I’ve tried for, because these ad networks have traffic requirements. Some of these networks will tell you the traffic requirement, some won’t. I’ve seen some of these require 500,000 views a year.
Sometimes you need a certain Alexa ranking as well. If you don’t know what an Alexa ranking is, don’t worry.
The point is that very few of us can even get an approval for these ad networks. These types of networks for bloggers are often seen as the Holy Grail. Very few sites get accepted for them because they are very particular in who they accept, so that they can charge their advertisers a premium for delivering them high quality sites to advertise on.
This of course means that you, the publisher, can make good money too. That is if you can meet their hefty requirements for acceptance.
Contextual Ad Networks for Blogs
These can be a mix of display ads, text ads, pop ups, etc. What sets these ad networks apart is they are contextual, so what you’re writing about impacts the ads shown.
This is an ad network from Bing and Yahoo!. It’s a contextual network, but the problem with Media.net I ran into is that there are too few advertisers in certain niches. Every time the ads were shown, it was the same advertisers over and over.
So, the ads were barely rotating through anything new, and the ones that did show were very loosely related to the blog anyway. Nobody seemed to care about the ads, for obvious reasons, and so Media.net has not worked for me.
I have tried using Media.net off and on for over a year. The potential is there with a network like this, but they never get any advertisers that will entice my readers.
It’s worth noting that out of the box Media.net does not work on sites with SSL. You have to request they deliver the ads compatible with SSL.
The most commonly known ad network for blogs, and in turn sought after, is easily Google Adsense. Of all the ad networks out there, no one will pay you per-click what Adsense does. The potential, and I’ve seen some awesome success stories, for income with Google Adsense is amazing. It’s easy to see why people can get so caught up in making money off ads once they do some research into Google Adsense.
How it Works
The big thing with Google Adsense that makes money is that it’s contextual advertising. It does a great job recognizing what your blog/site is about, and then delivering ads relevant to your reader.
The other thing Google does, which should come as no surprise to anyone, is they track your searches on google.com. When you do a search on their site, then click to view a site about what you searched for, that site (if using Google Adsense of course), will deliver to you an ad about the topic you searched for. You’ve probably seen this happen to you a number of times. As a publisher it means the ads being shown to the readers are relevant to them, which is always great.
One of the best things with Google Adsense is their responsive ads. Responsive ads are ads that adjust in size to meet the space available to them. This means they work great on a site when shown on a desktop, or a mobile phone. No other ad network for blogs offers responsive ads, and in this time in technology, responsiveness is a requirement for success.
Of all the display ad networks I have tried, Google Adsense is easily the most reliable, and best paying. However, while generally it’s easy to get setup with Adsense, and it’s the first stop for many new bloggers, it’s not easy making money with it. My best month was only ever $23, and my average month lately is around $6 a month.
The biggest impact on how much, or little you’ll earn with Adsense is your blogging niche. My sites where I’ve tried Adsense are wargaming sites. They are sites focused on games I play. That’s not exactly something advertisers are after. So, I would often see micro-pennies (less than 1 cent) per-click on ads. It was sad really…
These are your traditional ad networks – images placed on your site to promote/sell something.
Formerly PublicityClerks, AdClerks seemed promising. The network is like BuySellAds, for those familiar. For those not familiar, it’s a network where you sell ad space directly to advertisers. Well, the site is the interface, and a broker, but you put up a spot on your site and say you want $X for someone to advertise on. With AdClerks you are selling an ad spot for 30 days, or you can sell it at a rate per-thousand impressions (CPM).
AdClerks has a traffic requirement, but it’s only around 1,000 views a month. This makes it a much easier network to get into compared to Buy Sell Ads. You need a site that’s routinely updated and looks good for approval.
I did get an approval with AdClerks and tried the network, but I had no luck. I tried selling my ad spots for cheap, $5 a month, and I got no bites. In looking around at other sites selling space, it seems that only people around the 50,000 views a month range were even selling some of their spots, and then very few. I even looked at sites with 200,000+ views a month, and many of them are barely selling any space.
It’s a new network, and I get the impression that there’s just too few advertisers on it right now, and the ones who are advertising are only going after the really big sites on there.
I gave Chitika a shot because it was touted as a great alternative to Google Adsense. It isn’t. It works very similar to Google Adsense, but it pays a few cents, if you’re lucky, per-click on ads.
Also, it isn’t contextual, so the ads that show are irrelevant to your site usually. This was easily one of the worst ad networks I’ve tried on my blog. Seriously. Don’t use it.
I did a review of Project Wonderful. Everything I said then still remains true, so I won’t get too deep here with it.
Project Wonderful is the ad network for my blog that I’ve had the most on and off relationship with. I go through periods of time here on the blog where I feel I could/should be making more money off advertising than I am. In those times I will ditch Project Wonderful and try replacing it with one of the other networks listed here, those with more potential. Once I realize that the other networks aren’t doing any better, I then usually put Project Wonderful back on the site.
It’s a network that pays less than others, but it does have a good potential. I often go back to it because it’s a more grassroots type of network. The people who are advertising on there are like us, smaller blogs and sites who just want more traffic at an affordable rate. Hell, I advertise through the network because you can do so very cheaply.
So, at the end of the day I go back to using the service because I feel like I’m helping out others in the same position as me. I may only make a few cents a day with it, but I don’t feel dirty doing it.
SmartyAds is a direct sales network like AdClerks. You set up the space you have for sale on your site, determine a price for it, and wait for people to buy it. Of course the problem I had was getting anyone to buy my ad space.
I was running this on my wargaming site, and while it’s not taking in 10,000 people a day (I wish!), it’s still a well trafficked site. During my test run of SmartyAds I had 1 impression I sold. Thousands of impressions during that time and I sold 1 impression.
I did reach out to the support team, who were responsive, to ask about nobody buying my ad space. It was suggested by placing my rate down to $0 per-ad space, instead of what I had set, it would mean people would buy space for at least 1 cent. Well, that got some buyers, however after a week of trying this I had made 2 cents.
I’m guessing that part of my problem was my restrictions. Basically, you can say the category of ads shown, and there’s a very large list that gets really specific. I picked probably 30 categories that were relevant to my site. I also disallowed intrusive ad types like pop-ups, auto-playing videos, etc. I’m sure if I let anything through (all categories, all ad types) then I might have made a few more cents, but it’s not worth pissing off my readers for it.
I did like how it’s set up and the interface though. It’s a good looking site.
This one is only applicable to WordPress sites. The setup and concept of WordAds is simple. They pay based on impressions, not clicks. Getting paid by impressions tends to be ideal in a niche like this where the readers don’t often click on ads.
The problem I ran into with WordAds is that you very little control over the ads. They automatically appear at the bottom of each article, and the bottom of the first article in your blog index/archive. The size of the ad is static, you can’t change it. The ad, I believe, was shown at 300 x 250 px, or right around there at least. The ad just looked out-of-place at the end of my content.
Secondly, and more aggravating with WordAds, was that the ad delivery was horrendously slow. The ad is delivered asynchronously, so it doesn’t slow down the loading of your site, but the ad itself was taking a solid 10-20 seconds to load in once the ad location became visible to the reader. The problem here is you’re being paid on impressions for ads that the reader will never see, meaning your impressions will be far lower than they should be.
I just found the whole setup clunky and cumbersome. It’s a new service though, so in time I’ll check it out again and see if they’ve learned and improved their service.
Native advertising takes a few forms, but most commonly they are ads that appear like related articles at the end of a post, or maybe in the sidebar. The idea, as the name suggests, is to deliver ads that appear native to the site.
These type of ad networks have become increasingly popular with bloggers because the ads blend in with the site. Also, it should be noted that Google Adsense has native ad options as well.
The ayboll network is a lot like Outbrain and Taboola. It serves native ads, which is to say that the ads fit in more with your blog and it’s content than the old fashioned banner ads. Unlike Outbrain and Taboola, ayboll doesn’t have a traffic requirement, though it does have an approval process.
I tried this one for a while, but I never had any luck with it. I think the ads look great, and they really blend in well with your site. Native advertising like this is becoming more and more popular to avoid the ad blindness of traditional ad networks.
I was really hoping it would work out, but of the thousands of impressions I served up, one person clicked. That one click didn’t pay either. See, they validate the clicks to ensure the traffic they send is of value to their advertiser. If it is then you get paid, if not then you get nothing. I can understand that, and I heard that they do pay very well when you get those value clicks, but if nobody is clicking the ads then the rate doesn’t matter.
That was my one gripe with the ads from ayboll, they were always the same ones. The ads didn’t rotate, and it showed ads nobody cared about, so in turn it just wasn’t working.
If you’re a WordPress user then you may be familiar with Shareaholic. They offer a social media plugin so that people can share your articles. Well, they are also in the game of native advertising.
What I found interesting with Shareaholic is that you can serve the native ads mixed in with your related content. So, at the end of your article you might show 10 related articles, of which 5 may be ads mixed in. You can control how many ads are mixed in with your related content, including none if you just like their related content widget.
I had tried Shareaholic a few times, but it never worked out for me. I’d see a penny or two a day from the ads. I also found it to be a bit bloated. There was a fair amount of overhead to use the service, so things slowed down a bit on the site, which I can’t have.
Spoutable is interesting, and something I may revisit at some point. This network gives you ways to monetize that’s unique. For example, the big draw for me with Spoutable was that you can monetize exit intent. So, when someone is going to leave your site (detected by mouse movement), an ad appears on your site to draw their attention. I figured if they’re leaving the site anyway, what’s the harm?
Spoutable offers some other methods too, like a top bar ad, bottom bar, and interstitial.
I tried the network for about a week, but the revenue wasn’t all that great. That being said, I was only using the exit intent ad. If you turn all the ad options on then the monetization chances increases, but that wasn’t what I was after.
Affiliate networks are those where you run ads, or link to products, and you get paid on sales that come from your site.
Overall I have found that affiliate networks work better in our wargaming niche than traditional advertising.
For the longest time I was unable to use Amazon Associates because of politics with the state I live in – literally. However, that’s since changed and I jumped on the Amazon bandwagon.
I have had some really good luck with Amazon. At the moment, Amazon is my biggest source of income on my wargaming blog.
The trick is simple – be honest. I link to products I’ve bought and used. If I write a tutorial then I’ll link to the supplies on Amazon. If I’m talking about a game then I might link to the rulebook. I’m not pushing the products on people.
That approach has been working very well for me. Definitely check it out if Amazon Associates is available where you live.
CJ Affiliate, formerly Commission Junction, is one of the largest affiliate sales networks in the business. It’s a network that businesses utilize who do not want to set up their own affiliate networking. Instead, they go to CJ to set up the affiliate sales and reach a larger publisher network.
The type of advertisers on CJ is pretty broad. You can sell things from comic books to electronics.
Basically, you search for advertisers that fit your niche, request to join their affiliate program, and if approved you start placing ads, or links to products, etc.
The entire concept is great, but I never had any success with it. As is often the case with most of these networks, the niche of site I tried this on just didn’t pair up well. That’s not to say you won’t be successful with it; it just depends what you write about.
eBay Partner Network
I ran this for a while on Creative Twilight, my wargaming blog.
eBay is kind of a no-brainer for us wargamers seeing as many of us are frequenters of the site, so at least I’m showing interesting and relevant stuff. I show auctions for 40K items (a game), since most of my readers are 40K players, and have had some success, but I’m not getting rich off it. My best month so far has been $40, and I averaged about $5 a month.
Still, this has been a pretty consistent method of advertising here, and one I will continue to use, especially because I feel less like I’m advertising and more like I’m helping people out.
It’s worth checking out if you are blogging in a niche where buying used product is common, like wargaming, photography, maybe even clothing.
This is very much like CJ Affiliate. The biggest difference, in my opinion, is the advertisers they work with. I find that CJ has bigger, more recognizable advertisers. ShareASale, however, tends to have more regional and local type of businesses.
The smaller businesses with ShareASale can be beneficial depending on what your site is about. For example, there wasn’t a lot related to blogging for this site (Blog Playground) that I saw with CJ. However, there are some options that could work with ShareASale. The same is true of my wargaming blog; nothing useful on CJ, but there is on ShareASale.
It’s definitely worth looking into if you want a non-display ads type of approach.
Hopefully you got some useful information from that. The big thing to bear in mind is that your mileage may vary with these ad networks on your blog. No two sites are the same. Ad networks that I listed above where I had no luck with, you might find work amazingly well for you. It ultimately comes down to your readers for what will work and what won’t.
It takes a lot of experimenting too. You can’t try something out for a few days and truly judge it. I try to give things a month, a few solid weeks at least, to get a gauge.
I’m also always after new ad networks to try, so if you know of any not listed then please let me know in the comments.