I recently had the opportunity to read Enough with the Adsense!, a pretty provocative response to a rather provocative Simple Dollar post about “pay per post” schemes. In that post, the mercurial Dimes refers to me as logorrheic (guilty as charged) and also makes the astute observation that my site and many others shamefully use AdSense to gain a bit of revenue from our blogs.
The problem is that Dimes is forgetting one big thing: the real enemy here isn’t AdSense. It just catches the blame because quite often a strong AdSense presence (or the presence of other affiliate programs) is a symptom of any number of much worse problems. Let’s look at some of these potential enemies.
The enemy is terrible content. So often, Google searches take you to sites with abysmal content, often little more than a collection of AdSense ads and a bunch of keywords. When you see sites like this, it’s clear that someone is obviously trying to “game” AdSense and make a quick buck. As bad as that is, I’m often more disgusted when I find scraped content stolen from other sites (often stolen from someone who works hard to make an awesome site), as All Financial Matters recently discovered. Another time in which ad banners show up and are unwelcome is when they appear on poor content to begin with – things such as “Hey click this link” followed by a crummy ad.
The enemy is terrible web design. Some sites have no idea when enough is enough and you find yourself clicking through two screenfuls of ads simply to find a small nugget of content. In this case, it’s not the fault of the content itself, but the fault of the web design. If an advertisement ever feels intrusive, then there’s a problem somewhere. I get a pretty low clickthrough rate here at The Simple Dollar because I want what little ads I have to be as unobtrusive as possible. Others may design in a different fashion.
The enemy is terrible ad providers. As Dimes mentions, many of the provided ads are for services of questionable repute. Quite right – there’s little difference between the banner ads and the classified section of your local newspaper. The problem is a matter of leverage – very few sites have the leverage to pick and choose among potential advertisers. I would love to have the traffic leverage to be able to join an advertising collective like The Deck, but The Simple Dollar is pretty new and thus that leverage doesn’t exist – yet. Once I reach a point where I can control who my advertisers are, you’d better believe that I will switch to such a plan. For now, I have to use what little leverage I have, and that means classified-level ads.
The enemy is terrible web service providers. The Simple Dollar started on BlogSpot/Blogger. If I felt that BlogSpot and Blogger were providing good service to people who would want to read my content, I would still happily be there without an ad to be seen. However, weeks would go by with less than 50% uptime and it was very difficult for me to manage posts and comments from my readers with their interface. Blogger wasn’t good enough for what I wanted for my readers. So I shelled out some cash from my own wallet and moved to another provider. I now use WordPress; I love it, and I’ll never go back. GolbGuru went through the exact same process recently; he moved because his free host wasn’t cutting the mustard for his readers any more. Ads exist on our site not to build up a huge profit, but simply to recoup that loss. These are personal finance sites; should we not be attempting to recoup our losses?
In the end, you have to ask yourself whether you’re actually mad that a content provider is providing ads, or whether the problem is something else entirely. If you are claiming that ads are the scourge of the internet, then you’re missing out on what makes the internet great: nearly infinite quality free content. Much as in the print media, advertising has a role here in supporting the people that provide the content. My thesis is that as long as the advertising does not interfere with the content, then advertising has a welcome home on the internet.