New Experiment: Slight Adjustment to the Ads

This is a minor announcement to say that we are making a slight adjustment to existing ad structures. Some users won’t notice a difference.

Advertisements. I hate them. In fact, I’m happy to criticize sites that have them in obnoxious ways. One example that drives me nuts are the sites that show those “your site is loading, here, have a full screen ad while it is loading”. The only thing worse are sites that go full pay wall: “Thank you for reading, for [insert money here], you can actually read the article you’ve been wanting to read!” That’s when I close the site and say, “Not having any of that.”

It’s funny how you look at things differently when you are on the other side of the screen, though. You’re not really hoping to be ultra rich or anything. Heck, if you have a good enough grip on reality like I do, the idea of breaking even is more of the ultimate goal more than anything else. So, when I started this site, my goal was to keep ads to a minimum. So, two or three ads on each page is it. After that, I wanted to just keep giving readers reasons to come back to the site.

In fact, the ultimate goal is to gradually reduce the number of ads on the site as I went along. How do I do that? That’s what the Patreon is for. As long as I got enough contributors to make up for the loss of ad revenue from ad reduction, I could just throw up some fun little pictures to thank readers for keeping the site afloat. It’s a cool idea that, in theory, would work quite well.

In the years since, I’ve been pretty much busting my rear end to provide even better content. By pretty much all accounts, I’ve been succeeding in ways that some have considered defying normal human capabilities. Whether it is constantly dropping hundreds of of hours worth of listening content on the Wiki, reporting on news in impressive ways, producing reviews, making videos, and still maintaining the site, even a fraction of this list is, according to feedback, is impressive.

Indeed, even the data I pull in suggests that I’m heading in the right direction. More people are reading articles, taking a look at the Wiki, and checking out the vast array of content I have to offer. Save for those with an ulterior motive (which is a VERY small minority and they seem to have gone away for now), the feedback continues to be overwhelmingly positive.

Despite overcoming so much to get here at this point, the Ad revenue continues to trail behind what I consider to be minimal. Server costs continue to be partly paid out of pocket and no one ever subscribed to the Patreon. So, what’s the problem? Not really the server and domain costs. I actually still got a heck of a deal on that. That leaves the revenue stream which is, well, brutal to put it mildly. Despite the Herculean effort on my part, the gradual increase in new viewers, and volunteer opportunities on offer (no one applied) the Adsense account continues to roll its eyes and say, “Cute effort, but not enough.”

As a general rule, average readers tend to over-estimate how much ads actually pull in. Unless you are some major website or big brand company, chances are, you are one of the countless websites fighting over the remaining ad revenue scraps left over.

Of course, in the last number of years, I’ve been getting countless notifications saying that there are ways of “optimizing” the ad revenue. I can’t recall how long it’s been, but it has felt like I’ve been getting them for at least two years now. I’ve resisted this because I know what “optimization” really means, “more ads”.

So, today, I finally gave Google the benefit of a doubt and looked at what “optimizations” they are talking about specifically. If you want an idea of what I’m seeing, it’s all about this. You can be forgiven into thinking that it’s just making existing ads more efficient because that was my first impression when I got the notifications too. Really, the “innovation” being talked about is that you don’t have to add any additional line of code to make it work.

What I ended up finding is how Google can pretty much pump your site completely full of ads depending on the settings you have (if you run a site, try turning on all the monkey bars on the preview pane to see what I mean). The ads I had as options were “vignette” ads (those ads pop up between loading pages), in-content ads (ads that appear in the content itself which seems to be heavily pushed by Google), and anchor ads (appears on the top of the page and can be dismissed). A fourth option is “matched content” ads which are only available for in-content ads.

For me, the vignette ads are an absolute non-starter, so that got switched off (seriously, is this still 2001 where people are still on dial-up?). Meanwhile, the in-content ads while turned on can place up to three additional ads in the content itself just based on the settings I had left on by default. While it didn’t look terrible on the main page (one ad after a few headlines), the articles themselves became unreadable in my opinion. You have one paragraph, an ad, two more paragraphs, another ad, etc. Yeah, if I turned that on, I might as well just close the site down at that point because I’ve basically committed suicide with you, the readers.

This leaves the anchor ad. For mobile users, you can see an ad slide over the top tiny part of the screen and a button to dismiss the ad. That… seemed to be the least offensive ad concept of all. So, if you are on desktop, according to all the preview screens I got, you won’t notice a difference because you won’t even see the ad at all.

So, if this is what is touted by Google, I’m going to see how well this really performs. I’ve worked some general math to determine what is and isn’t a success, so I’m going to see how this new ad concept performs.

As traffic continues to grow, should things work out even better than things are now, I’m still not giving up on the goal of removing ads. A setback for now? Sure, I can admit that. As far as number of ads are concerned, this is not the direction I want to see this site going. Personally, I hope this is the only time I feel the need to increase the number of ads. In the mean time, I plan on continuing to offer more content on the site as that is my real focus.

Anyway, I hope this gives you a good picture of what my rationale is in all of this. This was by no means an easy decision as I had to think about this one for a couple of months now. The practical benefit in all of this is that I’ll at least know how these “auto-ads” can really perform. This will help me figure out future decisions on ads.

Plus, even with the decision to add another ad, this still leaves Freezenet amongst the list of news sites that I’m aware of that carries the fewest ads (Techdirt, for example, has 4 ads by my count – 5 if you include the “Deal” article ad). Additionally, at least you know now more than ever that there is at least one administrator out there that is focused on keeping the number of ads on the site down. We got that going for us which is nice.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



1 Comment

  • Matt says:

    Honestly, you’ve done pretty much all you could have. Damn shame that no one offered to help you out there. If others are like me, they probably don’t want to add another commitment because their lives are so busy.

    I think I know what you are talking about when you say people with ulterior motives. Until that article, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you unfairly treated on this site until I saw that. The one guy had his own website and he closed it down in under a year if I remember right. Probably why he reacted the way he did. As others said, jealousy.

    Don’t like the decision to add another ad, but I respect the decision. Won’t stop me from reading your site. Keep up the good work and don’t let others get you down!

    Matt

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