After Pulling Adsense, Techdirt Unable to Find Replacement Ad Network

Techdirt has pulled all Google Ads and tracking from their site. In the process, they were unable to get a replacement ad network.

Advertising is not something people like as a general rule. Yet, we still have ads everywhere. This has been an unfortunate, yet necessary evil for many web admins. The simply truth is that server space and domain name registrations cost money. What’s more is that running a website can easily be a full time job. Having a day job eats away loads of valuable time to work on a website at night. So, paying the bills becomes a requirement as well after a while.

Some argue that if you offer something people value, people will kick money towards it. The simple reality is that this is only something that works in theory, not in practice. We know from personal experience that people overwhelmingly support the idea of truly independent high quality journalism. We know based on the thousands that visit this site. Unfortunately, after passing the hat around via Patreon and Ko-Fi, no one wants to support such an endeavour financially. What’s more is that no one has suggested support alternatives either (and no one likes the idea of volunteering either). This has blocked our ability to hire other journalists and modernize the look of our site, suppressing it down to a passion project instead. This as mainstream outlets continue to rake in millions that, in turn, sees the publication of, at best, half researched articles on the very subject we and so many other’s value so much.

Indeed, this is far from a unique experience here. Thousands of sites struggle to make ends meet. Of course, it’s not just the little guys that struggle. Some of the medium sized operations have run into difficulties. Last year, Techdirt pulled Adsense from their site after repeated demonetization threats. In the time since, they have been looking at alternative ways of funding their site. Admittedly, we were watching the situation with great interest. Can you run a site’s revenue stream without Google as the main ad network?

Well, after about a year of research, it turns out, the answer is “no” for the time being. Techdirt has openly asked if anyone has an idea of what ad network to use to replace their Adsense. From Techdirt:

After announcing that, we had a few different companies approach us with possible alternatives, and earlier this year, we tried to put ads back on the site briefly, with a promise from a provider that they could both serve better quality ads as well as “deal with” Google if it started complaining again. Here’s the unfortunate secret underpinning nearly all of the internet advertising space: there are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies which will purport to put ads on your website. And all of them will promise “quality” ads and better rates. But the unfortunate reality is that they’re all just backstopped by Google, and the ads are all the same crappy ads in the end. Only the largest websites (or highly, highly specialized ones) can really pull their own weight on advertising. And, tragically, wonky tech/legal/policy blogs don’t cut it (unless we wanted to just start running reviews of every silly tech product out there, and that’s not our thing).

So, we worked with a new partner, with promises of higher quality… and it all turned out to just be the same awful Google ads again, and with it, the same automated emails every damn day from Google threatening to cut us off for our “dangerous and derogatory” content. This time around, we just ignored those threats, because at this point, we’re so damn sick of it that if Google cuts us off, so be it.

After becoming increasingly uncomfortable with that, we switched over to a different analytics package, and are now using both Plausible and Matomo (self-hosted), to make sure that we’re much more protective of the privacy of Techdirt’s readers. We actually pulled Google Analytics off the site in late January. But then we noticed something odd. In February, Google Analytics was still showing up even though we had pulled the tags. It turned out that, via the new ad partner we had, as soon as ads via Google show up on our site Google Analytics code showed up along with it. And that really sucks.

After going through a variety of options, we eventually realized that none of this was worth it. We ended our contract with our ad provider, and then had to scrub through all our code to make sure Google Analytics was truly gone (it’s amazing how it pops up in unexpected places). We didn’t post about this immediately, in part because we were busy with other stuff, but also because I wanted to make sure Google Analytics was really gone. And it is.

Of course, that also means we’re once again without any advertising on Techdirt, which is a hit to our revenue and our ability to keep going — at a time when that’s under threat from other things as well. We are hoping to try some more creative (less intrusive, less annoying) sponsorship and advertising methods in the near future, but at the very least we’re increasingly going to rely on you, our community, to help Techdirt stick around. If you are able to, and interested, the easiest way to directly support Techdirt is via the Friend of Techdirt option (basically a way to tip us however much you’d like), but we have a wide variety of ways to support us, and any one you choose is greatly appreciated.

Naturally, there is the difficulty of hosting an ad network that isn’t terrible. Not just any ad network will do. There are problems with drive by downloads and other forms of malvertising. Additionally, there are ad networks that have obvious scams or are just click bait headlines. That alone will narrow your choices quite dramatically.

What this also raises is the question of competition in the online ad network industry. Is there a competition issue in the ad network market? With the problems Techdirt is running in to, that would certainly make some conclude that maybe there is. We’ll, of course, leave that up to others to decide.

At any rate, this is just one of numerous problems smaller sites are running in to these days. Some people out there today ask why can’t developers just make more sites to use. The unfortunate reality is that it often takes much more than an innovative idea and drive to be a fully sustainable site to begin with. It’s always easier to think about these things in theory than to actually follow through and implement it in practice. After all, why do you think that Freezenet is the only thing surviving out of the Slyck and ZeroPaid rivalry still to this day?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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