At the start of this month, I launched a new theme for my website. The one feature I left behind was Google Adsense integration, and after a lot of thought, I’ve decided not to use it again.
The decision comes after using Adsense for almost three years. In that time, I’ve earned a bit under 1000 AUD, which isn’t a figure to sneeze at, particularly as it is passive income. It’s covered my hosting fees, subscription to FastMail, Ulysses, and Cove. Everything above that I’ve put in my editorial fund.
Why I started using Adsense
Adsense wasn’t my first attempt at monetising my website. Before I went to Google, I used Apple’s affiliate marketing, which made sense because I wrote many app reviews in my search for a markdown writing app that didn’t suck. I guess I was lucky, and my journey resonated with people — I was writing about iA Writer and Ulysses when Ulysses transitioned to a subscription model, causing waves among the writing community.
However, just as my affiliate revenue was taking off, Apple pulled the rug and removed iOS and macOS apps from their affiliate program. Apple arrogantly declared their improvements to the App Store were better at surfacing recommendations for users than the blogosphere. They aren’t, and search and curation is just as crap as it was when I was writing my reviews.
I faced a decline in revenue, but an increasing amount of traffic. The traffic didn’t translate into book sales. My articles appealed to writers, and I’ve learnt the hard way that selling fiction books to writers is a fool’s errand. Using Adsense was an attempt to earn income from all the visitors who weren’t interested in my books.
My reasons for leaving
1. Google’s adverts look like garbage
Having invested the time in creating a new theme for my site, I didn’t want the look and feel polluted by unsightly adverts. You can’t customise the styling of Google’s adverts, and auto-ads that attempt to mimic your site’s design can and have resulted in layout breakages.
Conversely, Affiliate marking, which I continue to use, garners passive income without the gross, performance-hogging widgets Google injects into websites, while actually earning me more.
2. Google accused me of cheating
Back in June, Google’s AI accused me of clicking my adverts on my site. What I suspected happened was an Analytics spambot targeted my site. Regardless of the culprit, what irked me is there was no right of reply, no one I could talk to, no explanation as to how they came to this conclusion.
Google’s punitive measures were to limit the number of adverts displayed on my site. Interestingly, even though I lost revenue, it had an overall positive effect. My site looked cleaner, loaded faster, and I got more subscribers. That positive effect has continued after launching my new ad-free design.
3. Google’s rate sucks
For about 100 impressions (views) I get about $0.05 Aussie cents. A click-through can get anywhere between 20c and a buck fifty, but they are much rarer events than an impression. My site’s traffic fluctuates from month to month but typically averages 60-80 thousand unique visitors a year. Though I’m hardly a top-tier blogger, that’s a decent amount of traffic, but when you do the maths, and it’s a pretty lousy return.
Speaking of payments, Google’s minimum threshold is too high at $100 AUD. I don’t know what it is in other countries, but with rates so low, even if you get a lot of traffic, it can still take several months before reaching the threshold. In truth, I’ve thought about leave Adsense for a while, but I’ve waited months to get my final payment.
4. Google adverts invade our privacy
Tim Cook said it best when he described adverts tracking us across the web as creepy. I’ve lost track of the ‘oh, yeah, I’m being tracked’ moments when I visit one site, only to see the adverts follow me into another site or my Gmail account. I can’t blame Google or advertises for their practices — business is business, and the web and most of the services we use exist on the back of advertising.
Yet, I can’t but help feel that by allowing advertising on my site, that I’ve become part of a global problem where tech companies trade our information with our privacy stripped away one byte at a time.
If I can give my readers a little more privacy and less noise while visiting my site, then surely that’s a better experience for them.
5. I have other, more reliable revenue streams
Back when I started using Google Adsense, I built my site with a static-generator, which limited me to advertising and affiliate linking. When I migrated to Ghost, I had an easy means to start a subscription business. Having done so, I can attest this is a far better and more reliable business model for a writer. Unlike advertising, my revenue is more consistent and predictable and doesn’t feel like I’m selling my soul to Google.
I also earn money through Medium’s partner program, and somewhat surprisingly I earn a lot more through their revenue share mechanism than I do from Adsense. As noted, I continue to use affiliate marketing with several vendors, chiefly Amazon but also Scrivener, Grammarly and my hosting provider DigitalOcean. Shockingly, I still sell a few copies of my books every month via Amazon and Apple Books.
With Ghost’s memberships and Medium’s partner program, I get each month through Stripe directly into my bank account — no waiting for artificial thresholds while Google earns interest on my money.
Google Adsense certainly earned me money, but more importantly, it taught me some valuable lessons on how not to monetise a website. Yes, I know that Google Adsense is essentially passive income, but the compromises in areas that are important to me (site design, performance, reader experience) are not worth the paltry amount I get even as a modestly successful blogger.
As a writer, my holy grail is to be reader-supported. My side of that contract is to make my reader’s experience on my website as enjoyable as possible. Google Adsense has become a detriment to my goal, and so it’s time to part ways.
Right, the next piece of invasive code on my website to remove… Google Analytics, but that’s a post for another way.