Photo Credit: Peter Forret
I have this love-hate relationship with AdSense.
On the one hand, it’s rare to find an AdSense site that REALLY outperforms other non ad based sites, and breaks that revenue ceiling – so much so, that I’m sure you’ll remember at least one picture of someone holding up a huge AdSense cheque; it’s so rare it needs its own Kodak moment. It’s not impossible to get into six figure revenues using AdSense only, but it’s extremely tough as you need so much traffic to do it.
On the other hand though, they’re really easy to manage and you’ll always find a wide selection listed for sale. Providing you’re realistic about what you want to earn, they offer an opportunity for a simple renovate and/or flip, that done well will be the backbone of a profitable portfolio that costs relatively little to acquire.
If you’re new to buying and selling sites, the following article will give you an easy in – something you can spend relatively little to do, that results in a site which generates a profit in excess of what it did when you bought it. On the flip side, if you’re more experienced, then I hope it will make you fall in love with the simplicity of AdSense again. Providing you can reduce some of the risks that come with AdSense sites through traffic and revenue diversification, then they always make a welcome addition to any established portfolio.
1) Decide on a strategy before you do anything else
Before you even think about bidding, you need to be clear whether you’re in this for the long or short haul. I see countless numbers of buyers rush head first into improving a site’s aesthetics with the intention of turning it into an “authority site”, only to sell it some six months later.
Before writing this, I ran a report to look at look at the AdSense sites that achieved the highest RPUs (revenue per user), so in essence, the sites that manage to extract the most money from each of its visitors. This was intended to be the backbone of this article (How the best performing AdSense sites work), but it turned out the data didn’t lead to anything conclusive. There was no real pattern between the “good” sites and the “bad” ones, but what was clear was that sites with the highest RPUs all had a clear direction. They all did one thing well depending on the owner’s intentions.
If you’re doing this for a short term return, then a no frills, “made for AdSense” style site will give you the highest CTR and outperform a better designed site by a long way. This generally means
- Text only ads that often blend into the copy (be careful to stay with Google’s TOS)
- Up to three Ad Blocks per page, and one of those ad blocks in the article copy itself
- Little design and very few graphics other than the header and maybe a few article images
If you’re applying this to a site you’ve bought, taking a well designed site and making it look worse seems crazy, but if CTR is all that is important (and you do what it takes to avoid falling afoul of Penguin’s quality guidelines), you’ll often see a return that makes it worthwhile. The main downside to this approach is that besides getting low user interaction (comments, social shares etc), it’s also harder to attract links so you end up relying on long-tail search traffic. This strategy is ideal for AdSense sites built on fairly generic keyword domains that already have low engagement (time on site and pages per visitor).
If you’re looking to hold onto this as a mid – long term project, and recoup your investment from earnings rather than just the sale, then investing in design will usually pay off, by the way of making it easier to get and hold onto quality traffic.
This traffic will initially earn less, simply because there’s less likelihood of that visitors seeing your ads, but the increased volume of visits should make up for it in the long run. You also then have the option of introducing complimentary ways to monetise each visitor (that’s something we cover later on). This strategy is ideal for sites where the owner has invested time in creating original content – usually sites in niches that people have emotional connections to like hobbies, parenting or pets for example.
2) Tweak the AdSense defaults
This is the part of the AdSense interface that many sellers never bother to touch, but a few tweaks in the right places can make a huge difference. The misconception with AdSense is that it will simply show ads related to the content on a site, but this is rarely the case, especially if you’re using display ads as well as text based ones. Google runs ads from approximately 904 other networks to help maintain a good fill rate, in addition to running retargeted adverts that display content relevant to sites that visitor may have previously visited. Ultimately, it will show the best paying ads available, but this doesn’t always guarantee your visitors will click.
Log into your site’s AdSense account and pull up a report of category performance by choosing Allow and Block Ads from the menu, then General Categories from the sub menu (… as it’s technically not a report, Google have chosen not to put under the reports section which is why many people miss this one!)
You’ll see a list of the categories of adverts that currently show on the site, the percentage of this category that makes up the total ad inventory, and the percentage of revenue that this category contributes. Here’s an example of one my recent purchases in the parenting niche.
Some of the top performing categories are things like apparel (baby clothes) whilst the worst are Finance, Real Estate and Business. This makes sense if you think why people visit the site. You can use this report to block categories that you know won’t perform well, usually resulting in a small, but instant improvement in the site’s revenue.
If you really want to get this right, you can take the data from all the categories (and their subcategories), and enter it into a spreadsheet, to find out which are the bottom 10 for example. If you’re in a hurry however, or the thought of data entry makes you want to eat your own fist, then you can simply scan the list of parent categories, and turn off the ones that have the biggest negative difference between Ad Impressions and Earnings.
Google allows you to turn off a maximum of 50 categories, which is actually a good thing. Their engine is pretty smart in working out what are the best paying adverts to serve, and when you start restricting too many categories it’s unlikely you will out-perform Google. That said, turning off a few obvious losers WILL get you results, especially as you will know the visitor profile of your site better than anyone else. Remember to keep an eye on your RPM figure (earnings per 1,000 impressions) before and after the change, and keep tweaking until you’ve found what works best for your specific site.
3) Expand your Keywords
When you’re buying a site rather than building one from scratch, there’s the disadvantage that you’re stuck with all of the seller’s past decisions good or bad – the niche and domain being two things that could go either way depending on what they chose. Whilst you can’t do anything about a low paying niche, you can maximise your CPC within that niche by expanding the site’s content to areas with more advertisers and a higher $ value.
Consider this: you’ve just bought a site that teaches people how to care for and look after puppies. With a little keyword research, you realise that Chihuahua Training is a lucrative keyword (my logic is, anyone that can afford to carry a dog in their handbag will probably have a few pennies lying around). As you already rank for similar keyword terms related to dogs, Google or Bing’s semantic engine will do the maths and most likely make it easy for you to rank for chihuahua training too. As well as picking up traffic from search, you can also cross promote by placing links to your new articles with the site’s existing content.
Whether or not you’ll want to get involved with creating new content again depends on your strategy, and how long you intend to keep the site, but even you outsource creating those articles, it’s simple maths. More pages with a higher payout (track this by linking Adwords to your Analytics), will mean increased revenues, and hopefully dilute the effect the lower paying pages have on your overall income.
4) Find complimentary ways to monetise
If you take a look at the AdSense sites currently for sale, a significant proportion have both AdSense and Affiliate banners on the same page. Whilst there are cases where this is done well, it rarely is and more often than not, the owners could actually increase their earnings by removing the poorly converting affiliate programs and going AdSense only. (I ran the numbers on this a few years back).
Knowing which methods work well with AdSense can mean the difference between a ‘side income’ and a business, as the increase in profits are usually substantial when you can blend different methods of monetisation to maximise the amount you earn from every visitor.
I guess it’s like dating. With the exception of pop stars, no (sane) person would meet someone and try to kiss, marry and move in with them all on the same night, not without building some kind of relationship first. To get different methods to work together in harmony, you need multiple interactions with that visitor.
For example, a user that finds you through search is initially driven to follow you on Twitter for more updates. At some point, they click on a link in a tweet about dog training for example, and are taken back to your site where they’re shown a post with a display advert for a dog training affiliate product that you’re promoting. You also ask them to follow you on Google Plus. Eventually, they click on another of your search results (which jump to the top of their search because they’ve +1d your site), and they’re taken to a shorter article monetised via AdSense.
It’s unlikely that a visitor will click on all of your links or all of your adverts, but they’re much more likely to do so when faced with those ads several times rather than just once.
Try and see every interaction a visitor has with your site as having a goal. That goal could be an advert click, an affiliate referral or a social action so you can get them to return. They should all work together to increase your chances of at least one revenue producing goal happening.
Regardless of your skills or background, there’s nothing in this article that’s difficult to implement or requires a great deal of time. If you’ve been contemplating getting into buying a site, then this makes an effective but simple play that’s great to start out with.
Are you keen to get started but feel there’s something holding you back? Maybe you’ve bought an AdSense site but need a little guidance on where to go next? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.