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.
Note: I wrote this in 2016, but this article is continually updated as I try out new networks. It has already been updated for 2017.
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
These are the big guns. Requirements so high that you likely won’t qualify.
Buy Sell Ads, Blogads, Revcontent, Taboola, Outbrain, etc.
I’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
Direct sales is a great concept. It allows you to set your inventory and what you want for it. Non-contextual is just that, ads that appear regardless of the content of your site.
Formerly PublicityClerks, AdClerks seemed promising. The network is like BuySellAds, 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 AdClerks you are selling an ad spot for 30 days.
AdClerks 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.
I did get an approval with AdClerks 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.
I 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. Also, it 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.
I 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.
This 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.
Native advertising takes a few forms, but most commonly they are ads that appear like related articles at the end of a post, or maybe in the sidebar. The idea, as the name suggests, is to deliver ads that appear native to the site.
The 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.
If you’re a WordPress user then you may be familiar with Shareaholic. They offer a social media plugin so that people can share your articles. Well, they are also in the game of native advertising.
What I found interesting with Shareaholic is that you can serve the native ads mixed in with your related content. So, at the end of your article you might show 10 related articles, of which 5 may be ads mixed in. You can control how many ads are mixed in with your related content, including none if you just like their related content widget.
I had tried Shareaholic a few times, but it never worked out for me. I’d see a penny or two a day from the ads. I also found it to be a bit bloated. There was a fair amount of overhead to use the service, so things slowed down a bit on the site, which I can’t have.
Spoutable is interesting, and something I may revisit at some point. This network gives you ways to monetize that’s unique. For example, the big draw for me with Spoutable was that you can monetize exit intent. So, when someone is going to leave your site (detected by mouse movement), an ad appears on your site to draw their attention. I figured if they’re leaving the site anyway, what’s the harm?
Spoutable offers some other methods too, like a top bar ad, bottom bar, and interstitial.
I tried the network for about a week, but the revenue wasn’t all that great. That being said, I was only using the exit intent ad. If you turn all the ad options on then the monetization chances increases, but that wasn’t what I was after.
Affiliate networks are those where you run ads, or link to products, and you get paid on sales that come from your site.
Overall I have found that affiliate networks work better in our wargaming niche than traditional advertising.
For the longest time I was unable to use Amazon Associates because of politics with the state I live in – literally. However, that’s since changed and I jumped on the Amazon bandwagon.
I have had some really good luck with Amazon. At the moment, Amazon is my biggest source of income from the blog. The trick is simple – be honest. I link to products I’ve bought and used. If I write a tutorial then I’ll link to the supplies on Amazon. If I’m talking about 40K then I might link to the rulebook. I’m not pushing the products on people.
That approach has been working very well for me. Definitely check it out if Amazon Associates is available where you live.
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.
Wayland Games and Element Games
There are some other relevant affiliate networks I have tried, like Wayland Games (they no longer offer it) 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
This 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.
The 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 $23, 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.
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.