Note: I originally wrote this in June, 2020 on a different site that I've since discontinued. As I write more here about the business of content creation, I decided to transfer this article over here.
I've done a few things with monetization with my EntreCourier website. Some affiliate stuff here, sell a few things there. So far, it's seemed like nickel-and-dime work. A few dollars here, a few cents there.
I'm okay with that. This is the long game I'm playing here. I look at a lot of that revenue like I looked at visitors when I started: A few here, a few there, don't panic, it'll grow.
Okay, what about advertising?
My hesitation with advertising
I didn't exactly go kicking and screaming into this idea of advertising on my site. It was always an option, though I wasn't sure it's how I wanted to go.
I know I'm not alone: I'm annoyed by all the stuff that's shouting get your attention. I didn't want to be that guy that just added to the mix.
I'm sure you've experienced sites like I have, where the pop-ups and slide-in ads get too much in the way of what I'm there for in the first place. The worst are the ones that re constantly resizing because of some ad materializing out of nowhere, and now I have to scroll up or down to get back to what I was reading.
I don't want to make my website something that people regret visiting.
Is there nobility in NOT advertising or monetizing?
That's a question that's probably worth a lot more thought. Maybe I should jot that down as something to write about someday. I've struggled with that question.
I am far less likely to ever go the advertising route on another website I call Paradigm. (Then again, let's be real here. I felt the same way about EntreCourier.)
Maybe the answer to the nobility thing is, what are you trying to accomplish? Right now, Paradigm is about achieving a mission. It's a passion project. If I could volunteer all my time to it, I would.
But the bills have to be paid. So how do you do it?
That's kind of how my decision process went with EntreCourier. I started
this with a mission: to help gig economy workers grasp the idea they are business owners.
But does having a mission mean you have to do it for free?
That's what it all came down to: If I'm pouring all my time into passion projects and just being helpful, there's no time to pay the bills with other work.
The reality is, there's nothing ignoble about monetizing a site. In fact, if my site achieves a purpose, making a living from it is a noble thing. That's because if the site serves a purpose AND pays the bills, it gives you more time to pour into it.
That allows one to do more good.
Weighing advertising against my mission
I had to ask the questions:
Does advertising hinder what I'm accomplishing on EntreCourier? How would it help what I'm trying to do?
I realized that a lot of sites I frequent have advertising. But that advertising never prevents me from visiting the helpful sites.
Maybe it's like TV: you learn to tune the ads out.
A lot of my audience finds Entrecourier by looking for answers to specific questions. If I place ads, and they're placed tastefully, and in a way that they don't get in the way, those ads won't hinder them from finding what they're looking for.
And if the ads pay well enough, that income frees me up to put more time into other projects.
But can ads pay well enough?
That was a big question for me. I read so many opinions that ads don't pay well. Maybe you make enough to buy a cup of coffee.
Is it worth driving visitors away for a cup of coffee? To me, it didn't make sense.
Then I watched a fellow blogger in my space talk about his streams of revenue. He mentioned he was making $20 for every thousand visitors.
My first thought was, $20??? Is that all?
Then the wheels started turning. At the time, EntreCourier was already up to 40,000 visitors per month.
That's a whole lot of coffee. But is it realistic?
I learned that the ad network he used required 100,000 visitors per month to qualify. I wasn't there yet, but I knew I could be within a few months at the rate I was growing.
More math. 100k visitors at $20 per… now we're talking $2,000 per month. That's nearly $25,000 per year.
I thought that kind of income was a couple of years away.
Researching advertising options.
Okay, but how do you get that kind of money? And how do you do it without getting obnoxious?
Let's just say I did a lot of Googling. I learned that the $20 per thousand visitors was a term called CPM. Cost per Mille (or cost per thousand).
I also learned why “peanuts” and “a cup of coffee” were part of many vocabularies regarding advertising revenue.
The point of reference was always Adsense. It's easy to use, and almost anyone can slap ads on their site.
I had an option to turn ads on with a plugin I was using, so I thought I'd give that a whirl. That first full day, I had 2,000 pageviews and made 40 cents.
Instead of twenty dollars, my CPM was twenty cents. I could see why people said you can't make money with ads.
Even though those first results were disappointing, something about it was encouraging. Even though it was pennies and dimes, after long enough, it still adds up.
But did I have to wait until 100,000 visitors?
There was another encouraging thing when I started looking into advertising. I started hearing about the kind of traffic you needed to start making some decent money, and I realized, I'm almost there.
Maybe I couldn't get that $20 cpm yet, but what about other advertising options?
How do you know where to begin? I found out that some options were notorious for the most annoying ads, or perhaps their advertisers weren't as reputable. I thought of some as the online version of the inflatable dancing dude, flashing and dancing on your page to get your attention.
Let's be real: I didn't want that crap on my page.
That eliminated a lot of potential ad companies for me.
But one company kept popping up as worth checking out. This company called Mediavine was getting some good reviews. And I was right about where I needed to be to qualify.
But would they accept me? They had a lot of recipe and lifestyle bloggers. But hey, what's the worst that could happen?
They could say no.
I hadn't felt this way since my job interview days.
I filled out an application. Now, it was time to wait.
Somewhere I read that they consult with advertisers when bringing someone in from outside their normal type of blog.
Great. It's not just one company I have to impress. It's a whole lot of companies.
They're not going to like me. They'll see my audience is made up of gig economy workers who don't have that much discretionary income.
Is that part of why I wasn't making much on my WordAds? Was my site not that desirable?
Imposter syndrome is a real thing.
I don't know about you, but my self-doubt always went on steroids after a job interview. The more I wanted that job, the more I knew they wouldn't like me.
And it felt like forever that I heard nothing. Just like another submitted resume that went nowhere.
Then, boom. I got an email from Mediavine asking for my Google Analytics data.
You mean they want to see more? It was like being called back for a second interview. They're seriously looking at me?
That request had me giddy. Does that mean that they like my site? When they told me I was approved, I was over the moon.
Trying to manage expectations
My best day with my earlier ad experiment brought me two dollars. I seriously questioned whether my site could really make any money. But you know, five bucks or ten bucks a day would be pretty sweet.
At this point I've got 50,000 page views a month. It's not enough to qualify for what I thought was the gold standard. I sure wasn't getting $20 per thousand visits. But that's okay. I'd be happy with half that.
But what if it really was a pipe dream? What if I really only made a couple dollars a day?
I tried to manage my expectations. Don't hope for too much, right?
When I got the acceptance letter, I did everything they asked for to get things ready. I was on vacation at the time, but that didn't matter. I was getting this done! So, I jumped through the hoops, did all the things, and kept them in the loop along the way.
A couple more things to do? Okay, check.
Then the word. Ads will go live on Monday.
It was freaking Christmas in June. The anticipation was too much.
And we're live!
I was amazed at how easy it was to set my site up. You have no idea how often I pulled my site up to see what the ads looked like.
What was it going to look like? Was I going to hate it?
And then there they were. Five ads on one post. They were all the same ad, but… It was five ads!
This has to be good, right?
One thing that crossed my mind was that I don't hate it.
I mean, I didn't know what to expect. What kind of ads would take over my site? Would ads bounce my content around when people tried to read it? Would they have those nasty pop-ups?
I think I was most scared of the click-bait ads. Or the ones with the flashing images drawing your attention to the next great government program.
It wasn't that at all. There were ads, but it never felt like they were in the way.
But what will they pay?
Ads went live Monday.
I woke up around 4 AM Tuesday, excited to see what I made. I hadn't felt like this since I was a kid waiting to see what presents were under the Christmas tree.
Then I pulled up my dashboard…. annnnnnd…..
It was too early. Numbers hadn't posted for the previous day yet.
I refreshed that page a lot. As in, over and over and over. And then… there it was.
$4.63. I had a little over a thousand pageviews, so a bit more than $4 per thousand.
I can live with that. If you prorate that out to a full day and take that every day for a year, that's a couple grand a year. That's a nice leap from forty cents a day
Holy Cow, Mediavine
I've been a little shocked at what I saw each morning on my reports.
Today is Saturday. Monday was the first day I went live.
At the end of last year, my wife and I took a retreat to think through where we wanted to go with many things. At the time, I told her I thought EntreCourier had the potential to generate a full-time income.
You know that look someone gives you when trying to be supportive, but you're pretty sure they don't believe you?
I told her about the guy getting $20 per thousand visitors. Now she gave me the Spock look. You know, the one eyebrow raised. Intrigue.
There may be potential after all.
Fast forward to Wednesday morning. We were sitting on the patio for coffee, and I pulled up my report.
$37 isn't that much, but it IS $1,000 per month kind of money.
I showed my wife. You could see the wheels spinning in her head. The calculator was working like it was for me.
This is real, isn't it?
I was happy.
Okay, I was ecstatic. I mean, in all of my expectation management, I concluded that I'd be thrilled to make $10 per thousand. I expected it would take time to build up to more than that. And I was okay with that.
And yet, on day 2, my CPM was already over $15.
But it wasn't a holy cow moment. Yet.
Each morning, we continued the routine. I'd pull up the report, then show her.
And then I showed her this morning's report.
Those were her words.
$97. For one day?
There's got to be a mistake. I'm supposed to have a LOT more traffic than this to be anywhere NEAR that much.
Trying to process this.
I'm not sure what to expect going forward. I don't know why it's paying so well, to be honest. I don't know whether it will stay up there or drop. It's one of those “this is too good to be true” moments.”
I mentioned imposter syndrome earlier. That's hitting me hard right now. It just can't be real. I keep expecting to find out there was a math error or something or for Mediavine to say, “whoops, our bad,” and take it back.
On the one side, it helps me realize that the $35 to $50 per day isn't unrealistic, and that's exciting in and of itself. But I don't know; it has to settle down somewhere along the line. Doesn't it?
And if it doesn't, what do I do with that? Because all of a sudden, this income is far more serious than I expected. Do I double down on the site? Is this the point where I can suddenly transition to full-time or near full-time?
I'm a little blown away. Maybe overwhelmed.
I think at this point I'm expecting it to settle down a little. I'm not going to set expectations that it will continue at this pace (though to be honest, it's sure hard not to). Instead, I'll just see what happens as this advertising thing settles in. If it's still pretty steady a month from now, maybe I can start making some decisions.