In this final part, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and how I got into the whole making money online thing.
I’ll also show you what happened when I got an AdSense smack-down, and what I did to save my own sites!
Given my academic background, I was pretty much there when the WWW began. My first web browser was Mosaic. I created my first web page in 1995. My brettb.com domain dates back to 1999.
I’ve been monetising my sites since 1999. Most of my online earnings have come from my software business. In 2002 I released some software tools for software developers. At $49.95 a go ($249.95 for a site license) I did reasonably well.
In 2003 I also applied for a Google Adsense account. I was actually one of the very first people in the UK to get approved! In those days AdSense was new and people used to go click crazy on those ads. Needless to say Google’s anti-fraud measures were also very limited back then!
I did well for a year or so, but then my earnings crashed down, mainly because my sites were IT-related, and geeks learnt to stop clicking on AdSense ads way back in 2004.
Fast forward to 2010, and I was desperate to find a new source of income online...
The first thing I did was to write an eBook. I put it up for sale through ClickBank. For 2-3 years it sold 1-2 copies a month, but it was hardly a major seller.
While trying to get some backlinks for my eBook site, I stumbled across a place called HubPages. If you don't know it, it's a sort of article directory that anyone can post articles to and you earn around 60% of the revenue from your pages on there. I did very well from this site. However, they’ve since cracked down on what you can write about, and they were hit hard by the first Google Panda update.
I'm fortunate that I could see the writing on the wall for HubPages earnings, so in mid-2010 I started a series of niche sites. All of the newer ones were started on the back of writing a few HubPages and realising that some niches are quite good for earning money.
Fast forward again to 2012. A few sites had been hit by Google's Panda/Penguin updates, but I didn't fare as badly as some other niche site builders. I didn't tend to do a lot of link building, and that helped.
My sites that have been hit hardest are to be totally honest full of low quality content and deserved everything they had coming to them. One good thing though is that although Google have only effectively delisted one of my sites, it actually gets a stack of traffic from Bing and Yahoo. In fact due to this traffic I didn't even notice that the site was no longer ranking in Google!
Most of my sites were monetised with AdSense. It's easy to add to your sites and there are enough advertisers to ensure that even the most obscure niches can earn you money.
At the peak, I was earning over $1000 a month from AdSense. Good money, but not job-quitting money by any means.
In August 2012 I got the dreaded Google AdSense: You have 3 working days to make changes to your site email! The email gave me an example of a page with the violation, and which violation of the terms and conditions I had violated.
A couple of minutes later a much more serious email appeared: Google AdSense ad serving has been disabled to your site. OMG!!! This time the violation was much the same as the previous one for the other site, but the homepage was listed this time.
What was my violation? This was related to my content, which fell outside the terms and conditions of the AdSense programme. It’s not the only violation you can get – I’ve heard of people (including Pat from SmartPassiveIncome) getting warnings for ad placements and color schemes.
So what did I do about my warnings?
The first and obvious thing was that I took AdSense off the sites in question. If you ever get an AdSense violation, then I strongly recommend that you do this, and do it immediately!
I did contemplate just removing the offending article on the first site. The problem is that I couldn’t be too sure that the other pages weren’t going to be a problem as well.
The second site seemed to be beyond saving. So I just removed the AdSense and looked around for other ways of monetising it.
At no time did I ask for a manual review of my sites. I could have done this, but since my sites were so easy to monetise with other methods, I chose not to do this. In fact, since my AdSense warning, I’ve actually added MORE of the content they didn’t like. The cold, hard facts were that on the first site, the page they took exception to was pulling in 20% of the site’s traffic. So my Google Analytics stats were screaming out to me that my site visitors wanted more of this content!
I’ve since learnt that this Google warning was an automated review of my sites. One of my friends got exactly the same warning. The good news is that he actually appealed and after cleaning up his site he got his AdSense ad serving re-enabled on his site.
If you get an AdSense violation warning, or a ban, then the priority is fire-fighting (i.e. taking AdSense off your sites). After that, then you can switch your focus to monetising your sites.
After the dust settled, I had two sites which no longer had advertising on them.
Wary of angering the Google god further, I chose to take Adsense off three further sites. One site got a lot of traffic, but the AdSense CTR was so low that there didn’t seem much point having it on there. Another site had a couple of pages of questionable content. Another third site had a whole load of questionable content. In fact in the Spring of 2012 only around 25% of the pages were actually showing Google AdSense ads, so clearly Google knew this site’s content was suspect. In fact I took AdSense off of it in June 2012 while I cleaned it up, because I knew that sooner or later they’d pick me up on it. Funnily enough, they never warned me about this site.
The biggest loss as far as I was concerned was a site I started in May 2011. It had around 120 pages and was pulling in around $8 a day, all on auto-pilot. This was a passive income cash cow. However, I decided to take AdSense off. Not because of the content, but because the domain name could fall outside the accepted content policy.
I was fortunate enough to see this coming. Back in July 2011 I signed up to the affiliate programme from one of the best known names in my niche. They’re a big company, and they run their own affiliate programme. Assuming you’ve hit the payment threshold, they’ll pay you monthly via PayPal.
So this was the first advertiser I turned to. Their sites are slick and polished, and they convert well. The downside? Well they’re so well known, that, like Amazon they don’t need to pay big money to attract affiliates or grow their market.
At the same time I signed up to every affiliate scheme I could find. Most are with the merchants themselves. I also added in a few related ClickBank eBooks.
Remember the content that got me into trouble in the first place? Well it turns out that this content was actually very lucrative in terms of monetising it through CPA offers. The nice thing about this sub-niche is that because writing about it will get you an AdSense slap, it’s not very competitive, and traffic is really easy to come by.
So how have I faired since removing AdSense from many of my sites?
I went AdSense-Lite at the beginning of August 2012.
August 2012 was a great month for me. I comfortably earnt more that month from AdSense + CPA offers than I was from AdSense alone. I made around 20% more than I’d have made from AdSense alone.
September 2012 was a bit of a disappointment. Two major things happened. Firstly my remaining AdSense income took a nose-dive. I went from $24 a day in August to $16 in September. That’s a pretty significant 33% drop. Another setback was that my former CPA star performer failed to earn a single cent.
Why the setbacks?
Since my traffic levels remained constant, I think this fall in revenue simply came down to September being a poor month for my main niche generally. I guess my main advertisers must know it – maybe they reduce their AdWords bids this month so my resulting AdSense revenue would be lower.
In fact I’ve found that ever since I started my software business back in 2002, September has been a slow month for online sales, regardless of the niche.
However, I want to stress that these ups and downs are much more likely once you switch to promoting CPA offers. AdSense is very steady. In fact, in September 2012 my AdSense income was remarkably consistent. I’ll tell you though that with affiliate earnings it’s a different story. I’ve been selling my own software products since 2002. In 2008 I sold $875 worth of software one week, and nothing the next! I would regularly go for three days without a sale, then I would get two in the same hour (to different customers!).
Most vendors and affiliates will experience the same. With AdSense you can chart your income on a daily basis. With CPA offers you’re better off adding things up at the end of the month. Finally, to see if your income is rising or falling, plot charts with moving averages on them. Stock chartists use these when trading stock. Plot 6 and 12 month moving averages. If the 6 month line crosses the 12 month line in an upward direction, then your income is in an upward trend. Keep doing what you’re doing!
If the 6 month line dives below the 12 month line then something is wrong. Change direction, and do some soul-searching!
I’ve found that this system is incredibly valuable. In fact, when my software site earnings nosedived in 2009, it gave me the incentive to search for other ways of making money online.
All in all though, I’ve done fairly well since I had to cut back my AdSense empire. Earnings are satisfactory. The main thing is that I’ve been able to continue to monetise my existing sites. So my existing effort hasn’t gone to waste.
New sites I’m less worried about – I can simply ask myself “how do I monetise this site” before I actually write any new content.
One nice thing is that my online income is now much more diversified. Not one income source is more than 30% of my total online income.
My next plan is to find even more affiliate products to market. And I also want to move away from niche sites, as there are just so many other good ways of making money online.
So I hope I have demonstrated to you that there is indeed life beyond AdSense.
So as you can see, it’s not the end of the World should you lose your AdSense account, or have to take the ads off your site. In fact, you might find you could earn a lot more without AdSense.
Here’s my advice to you:
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide. If you have any comments or suggestions, then please get in touch via the Niche Laboratory Facebook page.
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Stuck for niche ideas? Try writing down everything you've done in the last year, then narrowing down that list to 2-3 things you'd enjoy blogging about. You don't even need to be an expert in these things, but it is useful if you have a desire to learn more about them.