Ad Networks to Monetize a Blog – My Experiences for 2016

Every now and then I gain some insights and experience with something that I feel is worth sharing with the community. So, today I wanted to chat about ad networks and advertising on your blog. I’m not talking the morality of it, but more about what works and what doesn’t work. Of course what has worked, and what hasn’t worked, is entirely subjective to this blog. That being said, I feel many fellow wargaming bloggers will experience many of the same results, as I feel our wargaming niche plays a large role.

Niche Advertising

Let me explain the wargaming niche with ad networks. The long and short of advertising with nearly any of the good ad networks – ones that are contextual, is our content isn’t what advertisers are after. Advertisers buy ad spots on sites that are relevant to what they are selling. If you had a blog/website about insurance, loans, or mortgages (exciting stuff, right?), then you would have no shortage of advertisers running ads on your site. Wargaming is a niche of gaming. Gaming is a big market to be sure, but it’s not one of the most popular markets either with advertising. When you’re a niche of a market that’s not the most popular to begin with, well you are really getting limited on who will advertise with you.

That’s in regards to contextual advertising ad networks, like how Google Adsense works. It evaluates your content and serves up ads based on your content. Advertisers will target keywords, and when those keywords come up on a site then their ad is shown. The keywords that most advertisers target are not keywords most of us have on our site.

Now, there are advertisers who do target our blogs. I see them all the time, usually the text-based ads. The thing about that though is while those advertisers are buying the keywords our sites offer, they are niche keywords, so they are paying very little for them, pennies often.

There are ad networks out there who don’t do contextual advertising. While this may sound good, since our niche isn’t picking up high paying contextual advertisers, but it isn’t. This means you often end up with ads showing on your site that don’t suit your readers, and in turn they aren’t going to click on them. Also, the people who advertise on ad networks like that are paying very little per-click, less than what you would see from a contextual ad network in most cases. These ad networks, in my experience, are just not worth it.

The other major factor for advertising is traffic. People do still click ads, but it’s a very small percentage. If you can manage a 1% click rate then you are doing well. Odds are you will be lower than that because so many people use ad blockers. The more traffic you have, the more ads are shown, the more people will click them, the more money you make. Pretty simple. Most of us wargaming blogs don’t get a ton of traffic, not by any measure outside our niche anyway. I have seen it said that you want at least 200 visits a day to your site before you even consider using Google Adsense. That’s just the ground floor. If you want to actually make money from Google Adsense, I’ve seen it said you want at least 1,000 visits a day. Some of us may manage the 200 a day, but very few are likely hitting that 1,000 a day mark. The ones who are in that range tend to make it pretty obvious on their site by slamming in 10 ads per-page, but that’s another article entirely.

Now, I know this sounds pretty bleak, but it isn’t all bad. I simply wanted to lay out some groundwork, so that when I explain my experiences with particular ad networks that we all understand where I’m coming from.

Ad Networks with Big Requirements

Buy Sell Ads, Blogads, Revcontent, Taboola, Outbrain, etc.

BuySellAds - Ad NetworkI’m starting with these ad networks, and there’s more I’ve forgotten about that I’ve tried for, because these ad networks have traffic requirements. Some of these networks will tell you the traffic requirement, some won’t. I’ve seen some of these require 500,000 views a year. Some times you need a certain Alexa ranking as well. If you don’t know what an Alexa ranking is, don’t worry.

The point is that very few of us can even get an approval for these ad networks. These types of networks are often seen as the Holy Grail. Very few sites get accepted for them because they are very particular in who they accept, so that they can charge their advertisers a premium for delivering them high quality sites to advertise on. This of course means that you, the publisher, can make good money too. That is if you can meet their hefty requirements for acceptance.

Direct Sales Neworks & Non-contextual

PublicityClerks

PublicityClerks - Ad NetworkPublicityClerks seemed promising. The network is like Buy Sell Ads, for those familiar. For those not familiar, it’s a network where you sell ad space directly to advertisers. Well, the site is the interface, and a broker, but you put up a spot on your site and say you want $X for someone to advertise on. With PublicityClerks you are selling an ad spot for 30 days.

PublcityClerks has a traffic requirement, but it’s only around 1,000 views a month. This makes it a much easier network to get into compared to Buy Sell Ads. You need a site that’s routinely updated and looks good for approval.

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I did get an approval and tried the network, but I had no luck. I tried selling my ad spots for cheap, $5 a month, and I got no bites. In looking around at other sites selling space, it seems that only people around the 50,000 views a month range were even selling some of their spots, and then very few. I even looked at sites with 200,000+ views a month, and many of them are barely selling any space. It’s a new network, and I get the impression that there’s just too few advertisers on it right now, and the ones who are advertising are only going after the really big sites on there.

Chitika

Chitika - Ad NetworkI gave Chitika a shot because it was touted as a great alternative to Google Adsense. It isn’t. It works very similar to Google Adsense, but it pays a few cents, if you’re lucky, per-click on ads. It also isn’t contextual, so the ads that show are irrelevant to your site usually. This was easily one of the worst ad networks I’ve tried.

WordAds

WordAds - Ad NetworkThis one is only applicable to WordPress sites. The setup and concept of WordAds is simple. They pay based on impressions, not clicks. Getting paid by impressions tends to be ideal in a niche like this where the readers don’t often click on ads.

The problem I ran into with WordAds is that you very little control over the ads. They automatically appear at the bottom of each article, and the bottom of the first article in your blog index/archive. The size of the ad is static, you can’t change it. The ad, I believe, was shown at 300 x 250 px, or right around there at least. That size ad just looked out-of-place at the end of my content here.

Secondly, and more aggravating with WordAds, was that the ad delivery was horrendously slow. The ad is delivered asynchronously, so it doesn’t slow down the loading of your site, but the ad itself was taking a solid 10-20 seconds to load in once the ad location became visible to the reader. The problem here is you’re being paid on impressions for ads that the reader will never see, meaning your impressions will be far lower than they should be.

I just found the whole setup clunky and cumbersome. It’s a new service though, so in time I’ll check it out again and see if they’ve learned and improved their service.

ayboll

aybollThe ayboll network is a lot like Outbrain and Taboola. It serves native ads, which is to say that the ads fit in more with your blog and it’s content than the old fashioned banner ads. Unlike Outbrain and Taboola, ayboll doesn’t have a traffic requirement, though it does have an approval process.

I tried this one for a while, but I never had any luck with it. I think the ads look great, and they really blend in well with your site. Native advertising like this is becoming more and more popular to avoid the ad blindness of traditional networks. I was really hoping it would work out, but of the thousands of impressions I served up, one person clicked. That one click didn’t pay either. See, they validate the clicks to ensure the traffic they send is of value to their advertiser. If it is then you get paid, if not then you get nothing. I can understand that, and I heard that they do pay very well when you get those value clicks, but if nobody is clicking the ads then the rate doesn’t matter.

That was my one gripe with the ads from ayboll, they were always the same ones. The ads didn’t rotate, and it showed ads nobody cared about, so in turn it just wasn’t working.

Project Wonderful

Project Wonderful - Ad NetworkI once did a review of Project Wonderful years ago. Everything I said then still remains true, so I won’t get too deep here with it.

Project Wonderful is the ad network I’ve had the most on and off relationship with. I go through periods of time here on the blog where I feel I could/should be making more money off advertising than I am. In those times I will ditch Project Wonderful and try replacing it with one of the other networks listed above, those with more potential. Once I realize that the other networks aren’t doing any better, I then usually put Project Wonderful back on the site.

It’s a network that pays less than others, but it does have a good potential. I often go back to it because it’s a more grassroots type of network. The people who are advertising on there are like us, smaller blogs and sites who just want more traffic at an affordable rate. Hell, I advertise through the network because you can do so very cheaply. So, at the end of the day I go back to using the service because I feel like I’m helping out others in the same position as me. I may only make a few cents a day with it, but I don’t feel dirty doing it.

Affiliate Sales

eBay Partner Network

eBay Partner NetworkAffiliate networks are those where you run ads, and you get paid on sales that come from your site. A big one is Amazon, but I live in the state of Maine where we can’t use the Amazon Affiliate Network (don’t ask).

Overall I have found that affiliate networks work better in our wargaming niche than traditional advertising. The one I have had the most luck with, and the most experience, is the eBay Partner Network. eBay is kind of a no-brainer for us wargamers seeing as many of us are frequenters of the site, so at least I’m showing interesting and relevant stuff. I show auctions for 40K items, since most of my readers are 40K players, and have had some success, but I’m not getting rich off it. My best month so far has been $12, and I average about $5 a month. Still, this has been a pretty consistent method of advertising here, and one I will continue to use, especially because I feel less like I’m advertising and more like I’m helping people out.

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Wayland Games and Element Games

There are some other relevant affiliate networks I have tried, like Wayland Games and Element Games. Both of those are online wargaming stores. The only one I got any sales on was Wayland Games. Even then it was two sales I had managed over the course of around 6 months of trying it, so not great. Element Games I’m still trying, but it doesn’t look all that promising.

Most of the readers here are from the US, and both of those sites are UK based. I do get a lot of UK readers here, second only to the US traffic. Country doesn’t technically matter for this, anyone can buy from them, however I find that US readers prefer to buy from US sites when possible. Seeing as the US readers are my biggest demographic, that means less were clicking through and considering purchases. I am sure that those where the UK readers are their largest market will do much better with these than I was.

Still, I’d recommend something like this, Wayland Games and Element Games, because it’s advertising your control. Not only that, it’s perfectly suited for a wargaming niche since you’re promoting the things we all buy to play our wargames.

Contextual Ad Networks

Media.Net

Media.net - Ad NetworkThis is a network from Bing and Yahoo!. It’s a contextual network, but the problem with Media.net I ran into is that there are too few advertisers in the wargaming niche. Every time the ads were shown, it was the same advertisers over and over. So, the ads were barely rotating through anything new, and the ones that did show were very loosely related to the blog anyway. Nobody seemed to care about the ads, for obvious reasons, and so Media.net has not worked for me.

I have tried using Media.net off and on for over a year. The potential is there with a network like this, but they never get any advertisers that will entice my readers.

Google Adsense

Google Adsense - Ad NetworkThe most commonly known ad network, and in turn sought after, is easily Google Adsense. There is no other network out there that will pay you per-click what Adsense does. The potential, and I’ve seen some amazing success stories, for income with Google Adsense is amazing. It’s easy to see why people can get so caught up in making money off ads once they do some research into Google Adsense.

The big thing with Google Adsense that makes money is that it’s contextual advertising. It does a great job recognizing what your blog/site is about, and then delivering ads relevant to your reader. The other thing Google does, which should come as no surprise to anyone, is they track your searches on google.com. When you do a search on their site, then click to view a site about what you searched for, that site (if using Google Adsense of course), will deliver to you an ad about the topic you searched for. You’ve probably seen this happen to you a number of times. As a publisher it means the ads being shown to the readers are relevant to them, which is always great.

Of all the networks I have tried, Google Adsense is easily the most reliable, and best paying, that I have used, and continue to use. That being said, my best month was only ever $20, and my average month is about $10. It’s nothing to write home about. However, one of the best things with Google Adsense is their responsive ads. Responsive ads are ads that adjust in size to meet the space available to them. This means they work great on a site when shown on a desktop, or a mobile phone. No other ad network offers responsive ads, and in this time in technology, responsiveness is a requirement for success.

Conclusion

Hopefully you got some useful information from that. The big thing to bear in mind is that your mileage may vary. No two sites are the same. Services that I listed above where I had no luck with, you might find work amazingly well for you. It ultimately comes down to your readers for what will work and what won’t. It takes a lot of experimenting too. You can’t try something out for a few days and truly judge it. I try to give things a month, a few solid weeks at least, to get a gauge.

 

 

 

  • A lot of great info there chief. Sadly for me it does point to AdSense being the best and they kicked me off it for some reason.

    • I’ve seen a lot of people who have been booted off Adsense, but I figured most of them were trying to scam the system. You, however, I can’t imagine were trying to cheat with it. I wonder what they took issue with? Not that you know, but I can’t see why they’d remove it for you.

      • I doubt there would ever be any point in trying to scam the system, they have very complicated safe guards I’d imagine.
        Part of the problem as you say is they don’t let you know what actually went wrong.
        I have made a whole 22cent off eBay though…

        • As I said above, the big thing with making any advertising work is traffic. The best ad network in the world won’t do anyone any good if nobody is visiting. That’s the thing I’ve been working on, getting more traffic, but having it be quality traffic. Not an easy thing to accomplish.

        • I forgot to mention. The trick I’ve found with eBay is to show the items ending soonest. This does two things. One, gives you listings that routinely change, so people aren’t seeing the same listings over and over. Two, it creates impulse buys. They click the listing, see it’s ending in 10 minutes, so they have to decide quickly.

          • Good tip. I will have to look into how I actually do that next :)

            • It’s in settings when creating a widget. I programmed my own widget for this site, but I know you can do it with the ones they give you.

              • Gotcha, I will have a look into it. Cheers man.

  • Good info. I click the eBay ads quite a lot when I see something that catches my interest.

    • Thanks.

      That’s exactly what I’m after with those. The eBay stuff is one of the few ways I can make some money without serving useless crap nobody cares about.

  • Great article. The ebay one is probably my favorite out of the available ones you listed. It just seems to fit our crew the best!

    • Thank you, and I absolutely agree.

  • nicklinc

    Info overload! Great write up, I wish the folks over at BoLS had a just a sliver of your empathy/honor, they use control ads, that try to auto DL “flash updates”, the flat out scamalicious “Mac Cleaner”, and even going to their forum now prompts a full screen control “classmates.com” add. It’s really sickening.

    • Ah, BoLS, the site I love to hate. That site epitomizes everything that’s wrong with a blogging site/community. It gets the traffic, a huge amount of traffic, and no doubt makes money on ads. So, more ads, and more annoying ads, equals more money, right? Well, it doesn’t, though BoLS thinks it does, and at some point you alienate your community. You do that then nobody visits and the money train is gone. I stopped going to BoLS over a year ago now, and I haven’t looked back once.

      • A few years ago, I sent an email to one of the big 40k blogs (I think it was BoLS) because one of their ad columns was consistently loading NSFW ads. Not the “Russian brides” banners, but full on sexchat/erotica stuff. Totally nude nudes splashed down the right side of the blog. Obviously cut down on my visits because I couldn’t access it from work during lunch.
        The response I got was “we have no control, but no one else has complained so we’re not changing. Access someplace else, thanks.”
        Just an anecdote regarding content and viewers.

        • Not surprised. Of course they have control, but those ads get clicked and they pay well. Cash over community with those guys.

  • This is a great writeup of the options out there. I’ll share a few of my own experiences:

    Google Adsense is the site I’m happiest with. It’s not much, but it’s something and generally consistent. I had to do some tweaks off the bat to remove categories I didn’t want shown on my site and I think I see more ads for my google searches than stuff relevant to Wargaming Tradecraft, but I’m ok with that. I’m not sure why Rory ran into problems, though Google is usually pretty clear about why.. that said, I had ads turned off briefly once because they said I had some kind of malicious code, which was gone when they checked a few hours later.. the only dynamic content I have is their ads, but they’d hear none of it, denied any possibility their ads could be compromised.

    Project Wonderful I dumped. Harshly. There were too many ads that were categorized incorrectly and I was getting ads outside the “safe” parameters I had set. I got into it with their support on a few occasions and they had ZERO interest in making sure adult content wasn’t being targeted to younger audiences.

    I tried setting up an Amazon store, but being Canadian, I can only sell to Canadians… which meant if any of my audience wanted to buy any of my recommended products, they couldn’t. And Amazon doesn’t give referral money if they jump onto another Amazon country to buy their product after I’ve recommended it to them. Despite it not costing them anything to have that little site, they shut me down after 3 (or 4?) months of no sales.

    I tried Patreon.. that went nowhere. So Wargaming Tradecraft remains a hobby blog. I’ll update as I can, though the creativity isn’t flowing much these days, so when it does, I try to paint for myself. As you know, I have something else cooking.. placed the prototype orders yesterday and we’ll see in a few weeks how that turns out.

    I’m really fed up with ad blockers. People don’t appreciate the amount of content they get for free from the internet. I’ll actually spend the time to watch YouTube ads on channels I subscribe to because these people are putting effort into something that I’m enjoying.

    • Great response!

      I go through spurts with Adsense where I block categories to try and refine ads being shown, and in turn increase earnings, and then I turn them all back on. I’m at that point again where I need to turn off some stuff, it’s all on right now, as I found culling categories had a really positive impact on earnings.

      As you know, I’m doing Patreon for Command Center, and so far I really can’t complain. There seems to be two camps with Patreon. You need to either be offering a service, IE: roster builder, or have a community site that’s loved by the community. The community sites that do well with Patreon tend to have a VERY large following.

      I’m with you on ad blockers. I get more traffic today then I did when I first started running Adsense. However, my best earnings were when I had less traffic because ad blockers weren’t so prolific. I agree that people don’t seem to understand the amount of time we put into our sites, and that everything we put out there is indeed free. It’s not out of the question to want some sort of return on that, but people just want everything for free without having to make any sort of contribution to the creators of the content they enjoy.

      • Yeah, Patreon does seem to be a site where you need to have a following and offer a real service through it. Like a perpetual Kickstarter.

        I’ve heard people make the argument for ad blockers by saying it prevents the really annoying ads that take over. As someone who doesn’t use an ad blocker, sure I might have to sometimes close the occasional pop open type ad, but nothing that justifies the movement of people wanting everything for nothing. The fallout of which is the reason we see services like YouTube investigating subscription models. It’s not just because they’re money grubbing companies (Notice I said “not just”.) but because the free models are being circumvented and forcing companies to investigate other forms of generating revenue. (Which causes the people used to “free” to throw up their arms and call these companies evil.)

        Hmmm… I think some of this discussion has helped me figure out where I want a post on all this to go. (Which is sitting in draft atm.)

        • Glad to get the gears churning on something you’re working on :)

  • Wow some great research done there Thor. Really informative. Alas I am old school Brit who hates adverts of any form so I won’t be adding any to my blog :)

    • Thanks.

      I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to run ads, especially Brits ;)

  • Castigator

    I’m with NafNaf on this, it must be a Brit thing ;-)
    I’m just happy for people to read my Blog and I want my blog to load up as quickly and cleanly as possible. I toyed with adding Element Games (mainly because that’s where I buy most of my stuff from) but figured for the pennies I’d earn it wouldn’t be worth it.
    I’ve nothing against adverts…..in moderation, but sites like Bols and Faeit 212 literally freeze my old laptop with all the guff on them.
    Thankfully you’ve resisted going overboard with the ads, so your blog loads up very smoothly on my laptop. I don’t even notice they are there, which is probably not what you want to hear but it’s meant as a compliment.
    Thanks for sharing your insights anyway.

    • Yeah, those sites go overboard, no question about it. The idea with ads, which seems counter-intuitive, is to blend them into your site design. That way your content remains the focus, which is good since people are at your site for the content. Also, when it looks like it’s part of your site then people are more inclined to click on the ads. Nothing proves this more than those annoying popup/full screen ads. Everyone IMMEDIATELY closes those. It’s the same concept with the normal ads. The more you put it in front of someone, the more they will ignore it.

      So, unlike those other sites, I know the value of proper ad placement strategy. Hell, I’m reading up on it once a month. To hear my site loads smooth, and the ads blend in, is exactly what I want to hear actually :)

  • Turkadactyl

    Great read. Thanks for the research. I have an Element Games banner at the Roost. I think there has only been a couple of clicks. I’m probably going to move that banner to the bottom. WordPress makes it a wee bit difficult for ads. To get Adsense I have to go to a third party and I am not willing to do that. I’m going to look into the Ebay partner program. I am not expecting to make a living but if ad revenue brings in a few bucks a month that covers my paint, which I don’t mind.

    • Yeah, WordPress can be a bit of a chore with ads unless the theme you’re using has some really good sidebar regions defined.

      Exactly, a few bucks is a few bucks you didn’t have before.

  • Very nice article. I have been thinking about looking in to it before but never got around to it so this article is really helpful.

    • There’s a lot of options out there, and I’m glad you found the info useful. Hopefully it saves you from the struggles I’ve encountered.

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