This post topic has the ability to quickly get me steamrolled and a lot of hate, but I think advertisement clickthrough rate is something well worth considering before creating any website that is monetized via pay per click ads. I have recently launched a number of AdSense monetized sites and these are some of my early thoughts on factors affecting monetization and CTR.
Are there Any Ads? Are the Ads Relevant? Is There Any Search Volume?
If you search for Google and nobody is advertising for your targeted industry or phrase sets the opportunities to make money are going to be rather limited. The same holds true if the traffic volume is low or the bid prices are dirt. The Google Traffic Estimator Tool makes it pretty easy to get an estimate of the bid prices and AdWords click volume while the Google Keyword Tool lets you check the depth of competition quickly. You can also use Shawn's Google AdSense Sandbox to see how compelling and relevant ad offers are for a specific topic.
Signs of Desperation, Ignorance, or Stupidity
I am sure this category might get me a bit of heat, but I own one website that was getting about 400 pageviews a day about a specific topic. Adding a single page catering to some ignorant people in that vertical (one could assume a certain level of ignorance by their search queries - sorry but I can't give that term away) added 50 pageviews a day and doubled the ad clicks and earnings for the site.
Dumb or naive people are less likely to realize they are clicking paid ads when they land on your page.
What are some common signs of intelligence or lack of intelligence? Or signs of naiveness?
topics for kids - they clearly are going to be operating on limited business experience and limited financial and business understanding, and thus may click click click without thinking anything of it. I have a site that caters to a broad field, but the page most focused on kid friendly searches has a 50% ad clickthrough rate, whereas the next best page is coming in at 18%, and the site averages around 10%.
searching for things that do not exist - these are going to be easier to rank for than their official alternatives. These searches may be an indication of intelligence or lack of intelligence depending on vertical and query. From my limited experience, more frequently they will likely indicate a lack of intelligence, but it really depends on the reason WHY the market has yet to fill the demand.
misspellings and misuse of language - I am a bad speller so I offer no hate here, but on average most misspelled queries come from people who are below average on the intelligence scale
poor credit or lack of financial planning - sure we all go through ruts, but the average person looking for a payday loan is going to be less intelligent than the average person looking for a mortgage loan
general topic - the average person searching for scientific information is going to be smarter than the average person searching for a personality on Fox News or American Idol.
demographics - old and young people may not be clued into how the web works. Some other demographics may be more or less clued in. Many search queries may do a great deal to identify the gender, age group, or ethnicity of the searcher.
traffic source - On average the average Google user is going to be smarter than the average MSN Search user, who is going to be smarter than the average free spyware download search accelerator searcher.
query length and syntax - advanced search queries and specific long tail searches are most likely going to be from smarter searchers or searchers closer to purchasing.
The more ads look like content the more they get clicked on. Default blue is a beautiful link color. Some people do well by placing images near their AdSense ads.
Quality and Quantity of Ad Alternatives
Content that is of amazing quality that solves the visitor's problems may make the ads look less appealing, although if it allows you to become the industry standard resource that additional distribution can more than pay for the added cost of creating real quality content.
If a page is a resource link list or has many alternative paths to leave the site outside of an ad click many people will take those paths.
Are the top SERPs dominated by real resources?
If the top results are quality informational PR7 .edu pages best of luck on the rankings front. You are going to need it ;)
If the top sites are cloaked pages or other sites that do not look like real resources it is easier to get your listing clicked on by crafting a quality page title and meta description.
Does Your Site Have Enough Authority? As recently posted by Quadzilla, if you have authority it seems you can extend it out cross topic. If you lack link authority and age related trust it is an uphill battle to compete in Google.
How Much Commitment is Required to Buy?
Buying a home is a much more extensive and expensive process than buying a treadmill.
How Web Friendly is Your Product Offering?
Ads for physical books, heavy commodities or things like diamonds (which perhaps require some amount of trust to purchase) are going to go for far less than they are worth when compared to ads for items that fit the web nearly perfectly (take software or ebooks as examples).
As an SEO I think there are 3 main types of content. That which would not pass a human review, that which would pass a human review but is just ok, and content which is linkworthy. When building a site you need to consider what you are targeting. Do you want to quick spam Yahoo! and MSN? Or are you looking to create something that is more longterm in hopes of an eventual Google ranking?
Content which is crap and content which would pass a human review but is still of low quality can dominate Yahoo! or MSN, but if you want to do well in Google you need to target ultra niche terms, work from an old domain, or try to create linkworthy content.
I guess the three types of content could be broken down into 5 main types if you wanted to:
that which would not pass a human review
that which would pass a human review but may cause people to trust you less, unsubscribe from your site, and pull links
that which would pass a human review but is just ok
that which would pass a human review and is pretty good. may build a bit of trust and gain a few subscribers.
citation worthy content
Even if you made some articles nearly perfect, based on their niche and topic they may not be citation worth, whereas content that is targeted around linking opportunities (or intentionally biased against a product or service that is easy to hate, for example) may be more citation worthy even if the amount of effort needed to create it was minimal.
When you start a website you have to know what your targeting and what type of content to use to fulfill that goal. If you mix and match your goals and content quality you kill your efficiency and profitability.
Once you become well known in forums or write enough on your own site it may be easy to forget how well or bad you answer questions. A cool feature with Yahoo!'s Answer service is that it is large enough to have a huge userbase interested in just about any topic without you being known there. And it probably is easy to sign up for secondary usernames to start from scratch if you needed to. They show you what percent of your answers are chose as the best, which makes it easy to practice answering questions to see how clearly you are communicating without the bias built around your current social relationships. Obviously there will be some biases to the system (nepotistic behavior, spam, and biases based on score level), but if you can see past that Yahoo! Answers offers a great avenue to practice answering questions.
A friend of mine recently said in an instant message "The Dumber My Content the More Money I Make". Once you think about how much of the market is completely new to your topic it makes sense that people who aim to make content accessible and easy to understand often are far more successful than people who know more but do not express what they know well.
I think it is important to offer a few things that go above and beyond the normal day to day stuff (to create well cited industry resources), but most blog posts are probably maximally effective if the writer puts being easy to understand ahead of going in great depth.
I'd propose replacing the ideal of objectivity with some principles that may be easier to achieve.
The principles that collectively go beyond objectivity are thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence and transparency. Of course, they tend to bleed into each other, and in a several cases can even conflict or at least be somewhat orthogonal. I put this problem into the category of "Life is messy."
I think that we'll find in some ways that this is the real secret of the relationship between free and non-free content. There will be so much free content that it's going to be hard to find and those who can help you find what you want will be able to charge for it - in one way or the other, whether it's through advertising or through subscription or something else. It's about managing to find "the best", and "the best" is a kind of metadata.
I still think there are many overlooked creative ways to add value to the publishing value chain. More on that in about a month ;)
In all honesty, in many ways, an ebook was probably not the most profitable way to format my knowledge. In the long run I could probably make more money by making that free and coming up with other miniature information products in other formats that are easier to sell and consume. I could create a new video every week for about a year straight, and always have new products to sell.
This example also shows the ease of distribution on vertical search and the importance of having oars in many lakes. While few people have watched that video so far (about 5 people a day), that has given me another channel to reach people and helps reinforce my brand. Also look at the economics of it - the distribution on Google Video is free. The only cost is time, but for a one time hour of work I get at least $1 worth of free exposure a day.
In many ways, for many content creators and small publishers, the Google brand, reach, and growing feedback mechanisms will make amateur or non-traditionally published content far easier to sell.
The web is also more about information than it is about shopping or selling. Google realizes the limits of content quality of free content in many verticals and they are eventually going to start pushing more people to pay for it (via micro payments, subscriptions, or other non straight ad models).
Content quality is probably the #1 limiting factor in search technology right now. The only way they are going to encourage more high quality content production is if they can create a framework that helps make it more profitable.
AdSense can only go so far until Google has a database of information products and purchase streams to recommend further products and information consumption habbits. And oddly enough, Eric Schmidt was recently talking about that.
"The quickest way to improve the quality of an ad is to have the ad instantaneously turn into a purchase that is 100 percent perfect," [Eric Schmidt] said. "We now have a solution that we believe enables advertisers to offer a digital product on the Web so that when people click on it, through a credit-card mechanism, it is automatically taken care of."
Hehehe. So I know nothing about the stock market, but I recently revived the ads on a low profit site that is in a general and low profit category.
What ad unit that provided the most value per unit space? My AdSense search box. BY A LOT!
Moderate to high traffic publishers are probably screwing up if they litter their sites with ads and don't have a profit share search relationship with a major engine.
As search eats more of the web many publishing models are getting chewed up. Those who are good at monetizing usually do one or more of the following:
create content late in the buy cycle;
find uncovered niches that are easy to compete in;
leverage viral non commercial ideas to give their site an unfair authority advantage over competing sites;
are good at mixing in a few affiliate advertorials (if you can spend 12 hours creating a page that makes a few hundred a month for years on end that is a nice ROI and passive income stream);
use their market position to make money in other ways; or
negotiate strong ad prices directly.
Those who lack every piece of that skill set may still make a decent living off the web by just making it easy for their visitors to search for more information.
If the next major OS and browser release gets people to view the web differently (ie: search is ALWAYS done from the browser) that may change, but for now the search box is the easiest loose money waiting to be collected by most content publishers. (Millions of dollars a day are waiting to be collected).
Also when advertisers opt out of contextual AdSense ads their ads usually still show up in publisher partner search ads, so that advertiser depth can still be rather appealing to publishers that do not fear losing their visitors (and typically the feel for the need to keep visitors misses what the web is about).
Another nice benefit of the Google search box on your site is that most people view it as a service instead of an ad, so it is an effective way of cramming another ad or two on your site without your site looking any spammier or ad cluttered. People also sense that THEY are in control when they search, so they find the ads there more acceptable. Provide search inline with content and you will be surprised at how many people use it.
The problem with media censorship is that most forms of consumer driven media are largely based on mainstream media.
Telling half of the story is not honest. Having half of the story doesn't help anything other than corruption. But maybe that is what we want.
The nanny media, even more prudish since 9/11, covers our millions of eyes to protect us from our own icky deeds. In Afghanistan in 2001, while covering a war that had officially killed 12 civilians, I watched a colleague from a major television network collate footage of a B-52 bombing indiscriminately obliterating a civilian neighborhood. "If people saw what bombing looks like here on the ground," he observed as body parts and burning houses and screaming children filled the screen, "they would demand an end to it. Which is why this will never air on American television."
If you go to Alexa and Blogpulse to see how the article is spreading. You can help it spread by mentioning it on your site.
The hollowness of the whole US pro free speech stuff shows well when you notice that almost nobody is searching for it, and a dime a click is enough to be one of the top ads on the issue. It is an issue the media would rather not talk about, at least not honestly.
Today there's the explosion of choice brought on by the Internet. All entertainments are approximately one click away. The search-cost of finding another artist whose music or books or movies are as interesting as yours is dropping through the floor, thanks to recommendation systems, search engines, and innumerable fan-recommendation sites like blogs and MySpaces. Your virtuosity is matched by someone else's, somewhere, and if you're to compete successfully with her, you need something more than charisma and virtuosity.
You need conversation. In practically every field of artistic endeavor, we see success stories grounded in artists who engage in some form of conversation with their audience.
It doesn't matter whether or not something is fair, it really only matters how the trends are changing and if you can adopt with how they change.
I sell a download-able ebook for $79. Is that too much to pay for a book? Maybe. It really depends on what you get out of it, but over the long haul the value is easier to justify and the sale is easier to make because there is topical engagement and conversation.
At times I absolutely screw things up, but mistakes usually teach me more than the things I do correctly. You have to try new things, and the more ways you allow your personality to be seen and connected with the easier it is to be successful being yourself.
Many people and companies fight the potential openness associated with some web based business models because they don't want the feedback or want to protect their rights and current business models.
My opinion is that if you consider markets as conversations and piracy a progressive taxation the way to have influence and create wealth is to spend far more time learning how to create additional value and distribution instead of focusing on how you are not getting your fair share.
Without a doubt the most interesting blog on search engine optimization I've found. His book is excellent, and his writing is clear and transparent. You feel like you know Aaron when you read his posts.
Of course there will be readers of various skill levels and knowledge levels. You really don't want to read too much into your own reviews because you are more likely to get feedback from the biased edges while the people in the middle sit quietly.
Recently I started posting a few Q and As to create more content for the beginer level SEOs, but I will likely need to balance that with other types of post to keep the blog interesting to more advanced readers.
My mom has recently started blogging and reading some of my sites as well, so she should keep me on the straight and narrow if I am posting things that confuse her. My mom thinks we encrypt Threadwatch, but she thinks my blog about blogging makes good sense. I believe this site is typically somewhere in between the two. As far as making marketing concepts simple and easy I think Seth does a great job of posting things beginners can understand. To some extent I think I would rather post original beginner level stuff than posting about the same thing be posted about everywhere. If you can relate other old ideas and concepts to what everyone else is talking about right now then you are at least one step ahead of the me too posting crowd I frequently find myself falling into when I am bored and uninspired.
It is rather amazing how well this blog has done because when I originally created it I did not define a specific market audience or skill level I was writing for and I still have not. It may not matter if 90% of the readers are bored by 90% of the posts so long as they can identify with the remaining ones.
It wasn't until Knight Ridder Inc.'s largest stockholder, Private Capital Management LP, called for the newspaper chain's breakup that the creative destruction of market forces turned on Google and began its rout.