Recently, we had the chance to work with a new client who had a large, user-driven website containing over 8 million different pages. The content was unique and focused, and as a result the client was attracting thousands of visits from searchers every month. In order to monetize that traffic, they had installed Google's AdSense tool, earning a few cents for each click generated through the ads (earning thousands of dollars per month).
Does making good money through those ads sound like a good deal to you?
You'd think so... until we show you how they were actually being shortchanged by this setup.
In a short discussion on Google Plus, Ammon Johns referred to AdSense as "webmaster welfare," and we think that phrase isn't far from the truth. That's because, as Ammon explained, even when website owners make money through the advertising program, revenue is rarely as strong or consistent as it could be.
To explain why, here are a few things you have to know about Google AdSense from a content provider's point of view:
AdSense Campaigns Aren't Targeted, At Least Not The Way Your Own Contact Can Be
Google is great at a lot of things, and its advertising platforms, just like its search algorithms, are the best in the business. But that doesn't necessarily mean things are good enough, or that they couldn't get better.
The main weakness about AdSense, from a website owner's point of view, is that it just isn't targeted enough. In most cases, the ads you're "fed" aren't going to be the best match for the content you're providing. That means click-through rates are going to be subdued, readers are going to be annoyed, and (most importantly) you aren't going to get the kind of revenue you are expecting.
In order for online advertising to work, there has to be an almost perfect match between the content that's provided and the ads that are displayed. Under the current AdSense system, finding that pairing is almost impossible.
You Get Diminishing Returns From AdSense
If you could boil AdSense down into one simple idea, it would be this: trading your content and search engine positioning for a few cents a click. That's reasonable enough, until you consider how much time, effort, and money it takes to achieve and maintain a top search ranking and attract all those visitors.
As any veteran web marketer can tell you, holding on to a prime spot atop Google search listings is almost as difficult as earning one in the first place. In other words, it takes a lot of effort and activity - and a great deal of fresh content - to stay on top. Skip that, and your traffic will drop or even disappear.
Why would traffic drop you ask? If you think about it, the purpose of the ad is to take the visitor to that other website. Yes, away from your site. Away from your content. Away from spending real money with you.
This matters a great deal in terms of AdSense because it means that returns are going to erode. Maybe not overnight, but over time? The only way to keep your site relevant, and keep ad revenue coming in, is to keep adding page after page of content. And if you're going to do that, shouldn't you be getting more out of it than a few pennies for every click?
There are Bigger, Better Ways to Earn Real Ad Revenue
What I've been hinting at for the first two points should be obvious by now: targeted traffic is an immensely valuable commodity that relevant advertisers will want access to. By lining up your own targeted advertisers (companies that are great match for your content), you can charge much higher advertising rates and connect with more valuable partners at the same time.
To put things another way - you can get a much better deal by finding and negotiating advertising contracts on your own. There's no reason to settle for whatever penny-pincher options AdSense provides, because there are always going to be buyers when you have a strong flow of traffic to your site. It only makes sense to investigate your choices and search for a higher, more consistent payout system.
To recap, using Google AdSense to put money in your account every month based on content you already have seems like a good idea until you start doing the math and considering alternatives. Targeted web traffic is a valuable thing - too valuable, in fact, to waste on an AdSense scheme that isn't targeted enough and provides diminishing returns over time.
This post originally appeared on the Kayak Online Marketing blog