5 Ways to Monetize Your Blog With Ads

Monetize Your Blog with AdsSince January I’ve been experimenting with the ads on Abby’s site. You can see from our past income reports that ad networks are an important part of our blog income. Unfortunately I have been less than systematic over the past 6 months with my ad strategy. So while I’ve done a lot of tweaking and changing, I haven’t been diligent in keeping track of what works and what doesn’t.
Ad Revenue History

March 2013 – $9
April 2013 – $21
May 2013 – $65
June 2013 – $50
July 2013 – $124
August 2013 – $88
September 2013 – $71
October 2013 – $104
November 2013 – $208
December 2013 – $239
January 2014 – $404
February
 2014 – $645
March 2014 – $589
April 2014 – $633
May 2014 – $746
June 2014- $727

Link indicates a detailed income report is available.

To me, that’s pretty disappointing ad revenue growth in 2014. Especially when I hear from other bloggers that with about 200,000 pageviews/month (Abby’s traffic) we should earn double, if not triple, the ad revenue you see above. When I hear that, of course I ask what strategy they are using. What I’ve learned is that there is no single right ad monetization strategy. There are some bad strategies (mine) but also many great strategies! Let’s look at five options.

Disclaimer – I am not an ad network expert, I just pretend to be one on the internet. If you have an opinion that differs from what is presented here, I would LOVE to hear about it in the comments.

1. AdSense Only

This is the easiest way to get started. Google’s AdSense is a huge ad network and their simple dashboard makes it easy to get started– just create the ad unit size you want and copy and paste the code into WordPress. You start earning money instantly and they pay out on the 24th of the month following your earnings once you reach the $100 threshold.

I placed my first AdSense code on Abby’s blog a little over a year ago. It took us months to get that first $100. It was an exciting day when it finally happened! I still remember a day in April of last year when we earned $5. That was a huge surge for us and was tremendously motivating!

Over the past year I’ve constantly tweaked ad placement and have learned a lot in the process. But the whole time the only network I used was Adsense.

For a detailed look at how we use AdSense and how you can too, read chapter 23 in Abby’s eBook.

If you are just starting out, remember, one of the best things about Adsense (unlike most ad networks) is that there is no specific traffic requirement. You can get approved with virtually no traffic. It’s a great way to get started.

2. Multiple Ad Networks

This is the stage Abby and I are currently in, although not for long. Because Google only allows 3 ads per page and we wanted to have more than 3 ads on our site we applied to other ad networks. If you look at Abby’s blog today you’ll see 7 ad units displayed, depending on the page and fill-rate. 3 are AdSense ads, and 4 are ads from other networks.

The performance of these “other” ad networks has varied wildly! It’s almost unbelievable. We’ll apply to and get approved for a new network only to realize a few days later that we are getting pennies for thousands and thousands of impressions. But other networks seem to do really well for us.

Despite the hit-and-miss success of additional ad networks, this is a good next step up from running only AdSense. It allows you to increase the number of ads and compare your numbers across multiple networks, but this is still an imperfect strategy. The ad space is never 100% filled and there is no way to tell what ad network will perform best in a certain location. There is too much guesswork with too many decisions to make.

For a list of some of the better ad network options see this new page on my blog.

3. Waterfall Technique with Multiple Ad Networks

I first learned about this strategy while reading the eBook How to Monetize a Food Blog. In fact, the section on advertising was the only reason I purchased the book!

One of the problems with assigning one ad network to certain location on your blog is that you run the risk of not filling the ad space 100% of the time. It’s very common to have a network with 30% to 70% ad fill rate. This is not good. You’re missing out on 30% to 70% of your ad revenue.

The waterfall technique or “ad backfill” works by assigning multiple ad networks to a single space on your blog. If one of the networks can’t fill the space, the ad tag moves on to the next network in your pre-assigned hierarchy.

An ad tag is a bit of code that instructs the web browser to retrieve an ad from a specified ad server. The idea is to give your best ad network the first shot at filling the space. If this network has no ads to serve up above your pre-defined CPM threshold, the tag directs the browser to retrieve an ad from the second best ad network at a specified CPM or higher. The process keeps going down the waterfall until it finds an ad!

A CPM is “cost per thousand” impressions. The “M” stands for “mille”, or 1,000. So the higher the CPM, the better. The top ad network in the waterfall should pay you the highest CPM and then on down from there.

The last ad network in the chain should always have a 100% fill rate. AdSense is an example of a network with 100% fill rate. But even having a 100% fill rate isn’t always a guaranteed thing. I’m looking at Abby’s blog right now and I see that all of her Adsense ads are displaying ads for other google products. If I had to guess, I would say these “house” ads don’t pay a whole a lot.

So even while Adsense has a 100% fill rate, other ad networks can potentially serve up ads with a much higher CPM, earning you more money.

Does this strategy work? Absolutely. It’s a huge improvement over strategy number two.

Take a look at this screenshot from a Pinch of Yum income report. The author of How to Monetize a Food Blog, Kiersten Frase, was a guest contributor on this particular day. You can clearly see that as she added additional ad networks her ad revenue would increase. Please note she is not tracking CPM but another metric that looks at her overall ad revenue.

how to monetize a food blog rpm increase

If you decide to buy Kiersten’s eBook, make sure you do it through one of the affiliate links on Pinch of Yum. Bjork and Lindsay put out a ton of great information and I found Kiersten’s blog and eBook through their site. I think the eBook is the best place to start if you want to implement this strategy.

The difficult part about the “waterfall” strategy is that it requires constant monitoring and tweaking. There is nothing set-it-and-forget-it about it. You have to make a conscious decision about the order of your ad networks and the CPM thresholds to use.

Some of the biggest blogs use this strategy but it’s not without its faults. In the real world, CPMs between ad networks rarely stay the same and changing the tags and order of ad networks is a manual process.

4. Managed Ads

This one is simple. You pay a person or a company to manage your ads for you.

This is a great strategy for those who don’t want to spend time messing with ads and would rather focus on content. If I wasn’t helping Abby with her blog, this is the strategy I would recommend for her. Her focus should be on creating content and connecting with other bloggers, not trying to optimize ad networks. But fortunately (or unfortunately!) she has me to mess around with all this stuff.

Besides the incredible time savings, many of these companies have access to ad networks that otherwise would not be available to you. For instance, some ad networks require 1,000,000+ pageviews/ month to participate. On your own this may be out of the question but you could gain access to these networks by working with an ad managing company. These premium networks have the chance to dramatically increase your CPM.

At this point there are only two managed ad services that I would consider. Not because these are the only two good ones, but because these are the two that I’m most familiar and comfortable with. I have no first hand experience but a lot of anecdotal evidence from other bloggers I trust that these are good and reputable companies.

1. The Blogger Network

One of Abby’s friends, Lauren, told me about this service. The Blogger Network describes themselves as “holistic ad management.” Depending on their performance you’ll pay anywhere from 5% to 20% of your ad revenue for their management services. This comes directly out of your earnings.

2. Ad Thrive

The husband of one of Abby’s blogging friends started this service. It’s similar to The Blogger Network but Ad Thrive only collects money by placing one of their ads below your footer. This is not a prime location so it’s hard to tell what percentage of an overall ad strategy this works out to.

Right now Ad Thrive requires 300,000 minimum monthly pageviews / month to work with them. There’s some talk that they may lower that number in the future.

5. Google DFP

To many this is the ultimate solution! I may or may not agree but so far it’s been a bear trying to figure out and find good resources on DFP.

What is Google DFP? It’s a free ad server. You can run all of your ad networks through this server and use it as a central location for managing all your ads. The HUGE benefit is that this allows you to have multiple ad networks targeted at a single space on your website. Just like the “waterfall” technique, this is done in order to ensure a near 100% fill rate.

It gets even better… With the right settings in DFP it’s possible to have ad networks dynamically compete against each other for impressions. So instead of a pre-defined pecking order with a waterfall, DFP can give all your ad networks an equal opportunity to serve up an ad with the highest CPM.

Sounds amazing, right? Well it is. The problem with DFP is the intimidation and lack of good resources on the subject. I mean just look at this screenshot of some “basic” DFP settings. What?!

google dfp screenshot

The problem is that it feels incredibly complicated to set this up. Documentation seems lacking and when I log into DFP I am immediately overwhelmed and just have no idea where to start.

Where to Go From Here?

That’s up to you but I’ll offer some thoughts…If you have 1,000 pageviews / day or less, I would start with Adsense. Test and tweak ad placement and get familiar with placing the code into your blog.

Some would suggest to not even bother with ads until you have a couple thousand views per day. I disagree. It can be incredibly motivating just to earn a few dollars from ads everyday. It could be just the inspiration needed to keep pushing forward.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was shocked and amazed that google was actually sending Abby money. It was the first income we ever made from her blog and it opened us up to a whole world of possibilities.

To be honest, we had the same level of excitement then as we do now earning five, six, or seven hundred a month from Adsense. Don’t begrudge a few dollars a day.

If you are getting more than 1,000 pageviews / day it’s time to start applying to other ad networks. It only takes 5 minutes to apply to most networks but make sure you keep track of networks, application date, and login information in a Google Doc spreadsheet or Evernote so you don’t lose track.

In my experience it never hurts to apply for as many ad networks as you can. Unless they have a binding contract or some exclusivity rule it never hurts to test out their network and see how they stack up.

Pick a spot on your blog to test networks. I recommend a 300×250 ad on the very bottom of your sidebar. Run a test for a few days, making sure to keep track of fill rate, CPM, earnings, and any other metrics the ad network provides to you. I use a Google Doc spreadsheet for this as well. If you decide to use the “waterfall technique” this will be valuable data when determining the hierarchy of your ad networks. Again, here’s a list of some ad networks you can start with.

Next Step for Just A Girl and Her Blog

I’ve been applying to ad networks over the past week and so far we’ve been accepted by a half dozen or so. I’m running tests ads on her site like the one you see below:

test ad

While I test these networks I’m trying to learn as much as I can about DFP. That’s route we’re taking. Every time I think I understand how to use DFP, I realize I know very little. Here are the links and resources I’ve been using to learn. If you have anything more helpful related to DFP, please let me know!

DFP Resources:

Which of the 5 ad monetization methods are you using?

 

Don’t miss a thing!

  • Charles Pobee-Mensah

    Thanks for the post, Donnie. I’m not a fan of ads. Of course, the site in question is my wife’s so if she decides that she wants ads, I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this post.

    Right now, we’re in the baby steps of a niche site. It’s a seasonal keyword, so we’re hoping to get the ground work done now so that we’re ranking high by Nov. 1st.

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      You raise a good point Charles… before someone considers an ad strategy, they first need to decide if ads are right for their blog. In some niches it’s a big no-no.

      That’s awesome about the niche site! I’d be interested to see how it goes. I’m sure you know about about http://authoritywebsiteincome.com/ and http://www.nichepursuits.com/ but those are good resources for building niche sites.

      • Kim

        Hi, I don’t read your wife’s blog, just yours. But when I read about her surgery, I felt compelled to read on and comment.
        I was diagnosed with breast cancer July 2013 and decided to treat it aggressively with a bilateral mastectomy/reconstruction/chemo. I’m doing well now! : )
        I applaud and admire Abby’s courage (and your support of her decision) as well as her great faith in this mystery.
        I will add her/your family to my prayers.
        God is good–all the time!
        Kim

        • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

          Thank you Kim for the prayers and support. It means a lot.

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      BTW – I’m on your wife’s email list… You guys do a great job with that.

      • Charles Pobee-Mensah

        Thanks Donnie! I had heard about Spencer at Niche Pursuits, but not Authority Website Income. Thanks for the resources!

  • http://www.ConfessionsOfARecoveringChocoholic.com/ Laura Jane

    I’m currently undecided on how much time and emphasis I want to place on generating ad revenue. I have a few ads up, but my performance is terrible (like a little over $100 month for 150k pageviews/month). I only have two networks going, and I even had to take some down because they really were obtrusive and were making the site a little wonky (like the mobile footer ads and the tune in bar at the top). I feel like I’m doing okay with selling my own products and hate to take the focus away from that. However, as my traffic grows, I feel like I might be missing out on some relatively easy revenue. I also hear conflicting advice. Some recommend not doing ads if you primarily sell your own products because your blog should be your advertisement for your own products and outside ads can cheapen it. Obviously, others suggest why not monetize your blog if you have the traffic. I bought the “How to Monetize a Food Blog” ebook but haven’t delved into it too much yet.

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      Those are all important considerations.

      When I look at Pinch of Yum income reports and realize how ads contribute to their bottom line I realize that I need to keep improving in that area.

      Even if we had ads designed for Abby’s eBook or even affiliates and used the space we now use for ad networks, we wouldn’t make up the income.

  • Rebecca Kennedy

    Excellent article Donnie! So much to learn!

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      Thanks Rebecca! There is a TON to learn. I’m struggling through it all right now.

  • Amy

    Great post! I just started following you. Love reading Abby’s site and now getting more behind the scene info from you!

  • http://brilliantbusinessmoms.com Sarah & Beth Anne

    Donnie, I know you’re still learning about ads, but I’m so impressed with the breadth of knowledge discussed here already! Keep up the good work! Also, have you guys considered reaching out to etsy shop owners or other smaller shops to do flat fee paid sidebar ads for some of the ad spots that maybe don’t perform as well with the ad networks? I wonder if you could do some test spots on those and see how they compare? Abby could charge a pretty decent flat fee amount for the right sidebar ad, I think – especially with home decor-focused shops.

    Keep up the great work. Still praying for Abby’s recovery and thinking about her often
    ~ Beth Anne

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      Thanks Beth Anne.

      We’ve been approached maybe a half-dozen Etsy shop owners looking to advertise. I’ve always declined them because I just don’t think it would be a good deal for them. They would have to pay $100 to $200/month for a sidebar ad and there is just no way they would recoup that fee. Abby’s readers would have click over and then purchase something for the store owner to recoup some of those advertising fees.

      With ad networks, we get paid primarily not because of clicks but because of impressions. They are usually bigger national companies just looking for brand awareness and mind-share rather than direct sales from Abby’s site.

      I have considered direct advertising through a network like buy/sell ads where it’s a market place of companies buying a spot for a fixed amount of time. We haven’t pulled the trigger on that yet.

      So many options to consider!

      • http://brilliantbusinessmoms.com Sarah & Beth Anne

        Good point, Donnie! That’s really great that you guys are considering what would be best for those shop owners. Insider info: We’ve paid $450 for a sidebar ad for a month but the blog has over 1 million uniques per month. This was worth it… but not INSANELY worth it, just “worth it”

        I think for a much smaller blog where they could sell their sidebar ads at $25, then it would make more sense, but if Abby can make $100 through the ad networks on that same spot, then of course, that makes more sense :)

        Thanks for your answer – you’re so full of insight!

        Beth Anne

  • Margaret Anne @ Natural Chow

    Once I started using Adsense AND Media.net, my income from ads doubled (from $2 a day to $4 a day). I am pretty curious about learning more about DFP, though! Thanks for this super helpful article Donnie! :)

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      Do you have it setup as a waterfall with passback tags? Or just different ad networks in different spots on your site?

      • Margaret Anne @ Natural Chow

        I just did different ad networks in different areas on my blog, but do you think it’s better to use ad tags? Are there benefits to using ad tags?

  • Sofía Santucho

    I highly recommend adtomatik. I’ve been using it for the last eight months and the results are unbelievable. Best ecpm and higher fill rates in comparison to others I’d tried.

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      Can you tell me a little about what you’re referring to? Is it an ad network?

  • Jenise

    Hi Donnie, Thanks for all the great info. Do you have any specific info on how to set up a “waterfall” for ads?

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      I do!

      Above you’ll see a link to an eBook by Kiersten Frase. It has a chapter on setting up the waterfall. It’s the best explanation I’ve seen.

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  • http://operationfamilytime.com/ Neil

    More great information here…thanks Donnie! I’m glad I read this post, as one of my favorite blogs, Pinch of Yum is mentioned. We are in the very early process of deciding which ads to use and how to set them up on our pages. Thanks again!

    • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

      Thanks Neil.

      You’ve emailed me quite a few times with questions and from what I understand you are pretty new with blogging. That’s great! You shouldn’t waste your time with ads. It will just be a distraction for you and hold you back. Start writing great posts and don’t worry about ads for awhile.