AdSense is perhaps the most popular way to make money online but is it for real? Can you still make money with AdSense? Can you make a living out of AdSense? I will try and give you honest answers based on my experiences as an AdSense user but also examples from successful websites that are using AdSense.
What is Google AdSense?
The majority of Internet users are probably aware of Google AdSense but for the sake of keeping beginners up-to-date here is a quick overview about the program and major benefits:
- It is own by Google
- It’s a major source of income for Google (On 2012 Q3 earnings from AdSense was $3.13 billion which represents around 27% of Google’s revenue)
- It is free for publishers
- Advertisers use the Adwords program to advertise their products or services on AdSense websites. They only pay when someone clicks on their ads (PPC – Pay per click)
- Publishers receive 68% of the revenue and Google 32%. For example if an advertiser pays $1 for a click then 68 cents will go to the publisher and 32 cents to Google.
- The cost per click calculation is based on an auction type system
- It is very easy to use
- It is the most reliable advertising platform on the Internet today and can generate the most revenue for publishers (compared to other similar PPC systems)
- AdSense besides content web sites is also available for games, videos, mobiles and search products.
You can find out more details about Google AdSense in the AdSense Help Center.
What do you need to make money with AdSense?
So, AdSense is free, easy to use, you get 68% of the revenue – what else do you need to make money with AdSense?
You need a content rich website
AdSense loves content rich websites. Content can be of any kind (including text, images, videos), provided that it does not violate the AdSense content policies.
It is suggested though to have text on the pages as well so that the AdSense crawler can understand better what the website is about. AdSense is more suitable for websites that publish articles, case studies, how-to guides (like this one), but there are also success stories of other types of websites as well.
You need a high quality website
It’s not enough to publish content that does not violate AdSense content policies but you also need to provide for high quality content on a high quality web site. Google is liable to advertisers for the money the pay so they don’t want their ads to appear on low quality websites. In the past this was possible but the last couple of years they have more strict policies on the type of websites you can run AdSense.
You need a LOT of traffic
AdSense is a good way to make money online and it is perhaps the easiest method provided that you have a good amount of quality traffic coming to your website. I cannot give you an exact number because the amount of money you can make depends on the earnings per click (EPC) and click through rate (CTR), but I don’t usually advice my clients to run AdSense on websites that have less than 300-400 unique visits per day.
In general though, the more targeted traffic you have, the more money you can make with AdSense.
You need to target the right keywords
If you target the right keywords in your content then you can make more money with AdSense or with any other advertising platform. What are the right keywords? Keywords that are: (1) used by advertisers to promote their products so the competition is greater and (2) action keywords. Action keywords are more effective since the users are more likely to ‘take action’ i.e. convert after they click.
Let’s look at the following example: Assume that you have 2 websites in the weight loss niche that are running AdSense. Both websites receive the same amount of organic traffic and they have the ads in the same positions. The first one is getting visitors searching for: ‘weight loss tips’, ‘how to lose weight’, ‘lose belly fat’ and the other one is getting traffic from keywords like: ‘why drinking water is important’, ‘what to eat after dinner’, ‘how many meals to eat per day’.
The first website is likely to make more money with AdSense because more advertisers are interested for those keywords so the number of available relevant ads will be greater. Users are also likely to click the ads more often since users looking for tips or solutions to their problem are more likely to click on a relevant ad than users who are searching for general information.
This is also the reason why organic traffic is considered to be more valuable than any other form of traffic i.e. because it is highly targeted and converts better.
You need to fully comply with AdSense policies
As I said above AdSense represents 1/3 of Google’s revenue so they take the whole program very seriously. While it is relatively easy for everyone to get an AdSense account, if you don’t play by their rules 100% you risk losing your account.
Even if you are an existing or new AdSense publisher make sure that you read their policies before implementing AdSense on your website. Remove from your mind any ideas for tricking the system and always remember that they have hired the best people to make sure that nobody will be able to bypass their rules and policies.
You need to have a website with a purpose and not a MFA (made for AdSense) website
While AdSense is a great way to monetize a website, websites that are made for the sole purpose of running AdSense ads are not favorable by Google. I have mentioned this in a previous post: 5 reasons you are not making money online and what is important to understand is that you website or blog needs to have a clear purpose which goes beyond making money with AdSense.
Yes, you can use AdSense to make money from an established blog that has lots of traffic and visitors; you can use AdSense to make some extra money from you website while selling your own products and services as well, but it’s not a very good idea to make a blog and start publishing mediocre content for the sole purpose of getting organic visits and then run AdSense to make money. In the past this model may have worked, but not anymore.
Examples of websites making money with AdSense
To be more precise let me give you a couple of examples from websites that make money with AdSense. While reading the examples try to relate these websites with what I have explained above and try to understand how they have applied in practice all the guidelines.
Example 1: Digital Photography School
DPS is owned by Darren Rowse, the all famous Australian problogger. Darren was among the first people who managed to make a living online and if you read his story and income spread, AdSense played a very important role especially in the beginning. Let’s see how he is utilizing AdSense on DPS.
He is using the maximum amount of Ads per page (3 units). One of the ads is ‘above the fold’ and the other two are below the fold but in the main content area and not sidebar (as we will below, this is very important).
Example 2: Spark People
Spark people is a community based website dedicated to healthy living. According to Alexa they generate more than 1,000,000 page views per day and they use AdSense alongside their own products and services.
As you can see from the screenshot above, they are using 3 AdSense units, 2 above the fold and one below, but all 3 are in the main content area and not sidebar.
Example 3: Calorie Secrets
I also use Adsense on caloriesecrets.net. Instead of charging for the products we are offering (calorie counter, food tracker, diet plan), we decided to have the products free and use AdSense to monetize our content.
I am using 3 AdSense ads per page, 1 above the fold and 2 below.
What is common in all the above websites?
After seeing the above examples, can you tell what they have in common?
- They are content rich websites, offering top quality content
- They have lots of traffic (CalorieSecrets does not get the same amount of visits as DPS or SparkPeople but with 100,000 organic visits per month is enough to make money with AdSense).
- They fully comply with Adsense policies.
- They fully comply with webmaster guidelines
- Although they have Ads above the fold, they are not interfering or damaging the user experience
- They all have their ads in the main content are and not sidebar. The reason is simple: Click through Rate (CTR) in the main content area is greater than the sidebar and this translates to more clicks i.e. more money from AdSense.
- They all offer other services/products and are not operating for the sole purpose of running AdSense.
Can you make a living with AdSense?
I have explained above what it takes to make money with AdSense but can you also make a living? In other words can you depend 100% on AdSense for all your expenses?
The answer is NO. The reason is not that you cannot make thousands of dollars per month with AdSense and make a good living, but because you cannot rely on a single source of income.
The on-line World is more dynamic than the offline World and you cannot assume that you will always have thousands of people that will visit your website and click on Ads and you cannot assume that AdSense will exist forever. Maybe it will, but you cannot base your income on it. Diversifying your risks and spreading your revenues is always the best practice either online or offline.