Third-Party Ad Networks Data in AdSense

For most of 2010, I wondered whether or not to allow third-party ad networks in Google AdSense on my websites. I decided to carefully ad the different ad networks a couple at a time and then determine whether or not they seemed to have an adverse effect on my AdSense earnings. That was a tricky proposition since the traffic to my websites fluctuates based on numerous factors, including having fairly substantial drops on weekends and holidays.

Finally, in May of this year, I enabled all third-party ad networks for AdSense and since disaster never struck, I just went with it.

AdSense Performance Metrics

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but Google recently added an “Ad networks” report to the Performance Reports section of the Google AdSense online tool for webmasters and publishers. The results show that it may all have been much to do about nothing.

According to my Performance Reports, Google AdWords network serves the overwhelming majority of ads across all of my websites including my freelance writing blog and personal finance blog.

The November report shows that 92.6 percent of all the Ad requests served on my websites were filled by Google AdWords. The second biggest ad network serving ads for my sites was Adnetik US, which accounted for just 2.8 percent of all ads. In third place is the Google: Invite Media ad network followed by Rocket Fuel, both with about 0.5 percent of ad requests. A partial report for the first 12 days of December shows approximately the same thing.

In other words, despite enabling all of the Google approved third-party ad networks out there, less than 8 percent of all my ads were served by ANY third-party ad network. Furthermore, no single non-Google ad-network accounts for even 1 percent of ads, so adding and removing those networks onesie-twosie really is not a good use of my time.

Unblock Third-Party AdSense Networks

As it turns out, I was blocking 163 AdSense ad networks because I did not enable new ad networks to be permitted automatically on my websites as they were approved. Based on the statistics outlined above, I have changed to allow all third-party ad networks and to automatically allow all of the new ones as they come online as well.

With the new Performance Reports “Ad networks” option, I should be able to see hard data about whether any 3rd-party ad network is showing up enough to have any effect, and if so, whether that effect is good or bad.

Ironically, Google was rather secretive and guarded with information regarding the third-party ad networks when it rolled out the program originally leaving many writers, such as myself, worried about how their inclusion in our AdSense enabled websites would affect our advertising income. Many, just like me, chose to be overly cautious despite Google’s numerous statements, both official and unofficial, that the new third-party AdSense networks would have a minimal, beneficial effect on our AdSense income. Now, with more, instead of less, disclosure, Google is getting what it wanted from web publishers like me with full implementation of the new ad networks.

They could have saved themselves, and me, a lot of hassle by being more open up front.

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Skimlinks Scam or Great Program?

A long time ago, like a year ago, I ran across some folks in a forum who warned me that Skimlinks is a scam and that I should stay away. Over time, I’ve come to depend on that forum less and, in fact, have come to trust others who are have success in a similar manner to mine, that is, that they make money writing online by producing quality content on an ongoing basis rather than using all manner of techniques to earn money without having to write so much.

Recently, a comment reference Skimlinks and using the company to get around being kicked out of Amazon’s affiliate program by California. As it turns out, California and Amazon cut a deal and California affiliates are back in. Sadly, those of us Colorado Amazon associates are still out.

What Is Skimlinks?

Skimlinks is a company that allows web publishers and writers to generate affiliate links automatically without signing up for a bunch of different programs. Basically, the company itself goes out and signs up affiliate relationships with merchants and online shopping websites. Us publishers use the company’s relationships to send affiliate links to those retailers instead of setting up our own.

Of course, the company keeps a cut of the revenue generated. Skim links keeps 25 percent of each commission generated. The publisher earns 75 percent of the commission. According to the company, a lot of website owners will come out ahead anyway by using the company. The higher volume of traffic Skimlinks offers allows the company to negotiate a higher commission percentage from the merchant. The idea is that if they get an eight percent commission where you would get a five percent commission, then you will make more money off each sale even if they keep 25 percent.

This is all according to the company’s materials. I have no first hand knowledge yet.

How Does Skimlinks Work?

Skimlinks works like Google AdSense by inserting a piece of JavaScript code on your website. Unlike AdSense the Skimlinks code doesn’t generate an ad, rather it monitors clicks on links to stores and other online retailers. If the click can be monetized, that is if Skimlinks has an affiliate relationship with where the link goes, then they redirect that click (silently) through Skimlinks to add the necessary code and make it an affiliate click. If a commission is generated, they split it 25 / 75 with the website owner.

An example, makes it easier to understand.

Suppose you really like makeup from Sephora and recommend it on your website. Without Skimlinks, you would sign up for Sephora’s affiliate program, and then manually link to Sephora products from your website. Sephora would pay you directly and you get 100 percent of your commissions. With Skimlinks, you don’t need to sign up for Sephora’s affiliate program. You link directly to the product on Sephora’s website without any sort of affiliate code, just a regular link. When someone clicks that link, the Skimlinks JavaScript intercepts the outgoing link, adds the Skimlink company affiliate code (and presumably some sort of tracking that identifies where the link came from) before sending the user on. If a commission is generated, Skimlinks keeps 25 percent and you get the rest.

This make Skimlinks a good way to get around Amazon Associate bans in your state. For example, I live in Colorado and my legislature decided to tax Amazon, so Amazon said, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” (They probably even used a Cartman voice.) So, all of my Amazon affiliate links are worthless and generate no money for me. However, if I use Skimlinks, it is their affiliate code and not mine that shows up on Amazon’s system and since they are not kicked out of the Amazon associates program, a commission is generated and I get 75 percent of it.

Is Skimlinks Worth It?

The webmaster who recommended Skimlinks did so with some reservations. Like me, he had heard negative things before but has had no trouble with them personally.

Apparently one of the common complaints was that Skimlinks had a high payout threshold. I don’t know what it used to be, but it’s $10 now. If you can’t generate $10 worth of commissions, the money sits in an account until it adds up to $10. If it takes you a long time to generate that much, your websites probably need to focus on building instead of monetizing. In the meantime, I wouldn’t complain too much that someone owes me $4.35, but if that sort of thing bothers you, look elsewhere.

Also, if you are willing and able to manage your own affiliate relationships directly, you’ll get more control, better reporting, and maybe higher payouts. If, like me, you spend enough time just writing websites and don’t have more time to do anything beyond using Google AdSense to make money, then Skimlinks might be a good alternative to signing up for a bunch of affiliate programs.

I went ahead and signed up for Skimlinks. It took one day for my site to be approved. I am added some others today, we’ll see how long that takes.

If you want to try Skimlinks too, use this referal link: Skimlinks

Keep an eye out, or grab the RSS Feed for further updates and reviews.

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Death of the 300 Word Post

One of the dumbest things the SEO world ever spawned was the 300 word blog post or the 300 word article.

Way back in the day, there was a sort of consensus among search engine researchers that followed Google and used their knowledge to instruct website owners in the practice of search engine optimization that Google only indexed the first 300 words on a webpage. More to the point, it was said that only the first 300 words were used by Google to determine a webpage ranking in its search results. Thus, anything you wrote after 300 words was "wasted."

death-300-wordsThat may have been true at one time, but it has long since ceased to be the case with Google’s determination to index more of the web. Still, this time honored SEO advice was repeated constantly over the years.

Worse, a 300 word post is seldom sufficient for covering almost any topic in enough depth to make it valuable to a reader. Most web publishers were well aware of this, but they chose optimizing for search engines over writing for their readers.

Google’s recent search ranking updates have slaughtered those who were slaves to the 300 word article rule.

Google Website Rankings Update

As more information about Google’s new search rankings algorithm has emerged, the consensus now is that a plethora of 300-word posts will actually hurt your website rather than improve your search rankings.

Google has stated that it has improved its search rankings by downgrading websites with thin or limited content. In fact, even the good webpages of a website can be penalized if they are on a domain with too much junk content. Those highly ranked, well-written articles are now dragged down by all of those keyword stuffed 300 word posts used before to prop them up.

This is all good news for writers making money online by writing. No longer is it advantageous to pay $1 for fifty 300 word articles from the cheapest freelancer you can find on elance.com. Such thin content actually hurts your website and makes your webpages rank worse. Websites looking to improve their traffic and even those looking to recover from a Panda hit that they took will be better off actually generating or commissioning worthwhile, informative, and yes, longer articles.

This website was started with the writer in mind. Instead of advice of how to make money with websites using tricks and techniques that gamed Google’s search engines, the idea is to show someone who can (and does) write well and publishes useful content how to turn that content into a way to make money writing online.

Make no mistake. The content mills and affiliate marketing scammers are hard at work on finding the next bare-minimum they can get away with.

Don’t fall into that trap. Keep writing the good stuff. Keep using the techniques to link it, index it, build it and monetize it, but keep making it good.

Google is said to be updating the Panda algorithm on a monthly basis now. Whatever garbage method the junk publishers come up with next might work for a month or two, but as soon as it becomes known, Google will be looking for a way to knock it down.

Content to Advertising Ratio

One recent metric to emerge from the AdWords / AdSense world is that of ads to content. It seems that in some cases, Google measures how much content there is relative to how much advertising there is.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that longer articles will fair better in this ratio. A 300 word article, for example, is 10 percent ads with just 30 words of advertising, versus a 1,000 word article offering up to 100 words of advertising for the same ad ratio.

In other words, if your blog is monetized with Google AdSense, those longer articles you have been writing are paying off for you right now.

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Google Panda Update 1 and 2 Shaking Out

Google pushed out a set of updates to its search ranking algorithm in the first couple months of the year. These changes affected websites and webmasters in waves, with the first update hitting one set of the so-called content mills, and the second wave hitting those who got missed the first time around. After much consternation, things are settling down with some websites and networks scrabbling to control damage, and with everyone else trying to figure out the new SERP rules.

panda-update-googleGoogle mentioned that only a small percentage of rankings were affected with each update. That’s small comfort to those website owners that go hammered. On the other hand, many web developers found themselves only minimally affected. The key questions moving forward, is what to do to help your websites rank higher and what to not do to keep from hurting your website’s search rankings.

Google Search Results Quality

Everyone always says that content is king and that quality is the way to a top Google search ranking, but everyone knows that isn’t really true. The "if you build it, they will link" theory of search engine rankings is based upon the na├»ve assumption that everyone who publishes webpages and online content link based solely on how much they value the pages and information that they are linking to. That may have been true a decade ago, but it hasn’t been true in years.

These days, website owners routinely link based upon self-interest. Content mills, for example, add the nofollow tag to any link pointing offsite. One example, eHow.com, has links to "references" at the bottom of every article it publishes. It is these references that, supposedly, validate the information provided and prove that the data within is quality information. However, every one of those links is nofollowed. If the content being linked is useful enough to be the validating reference, how can it possibly be unworthy of a full follow link?

The answer, of course, is that no one in the world uses the nofollow tag the way it is intended. Rather, websites and SEO experts use the no follow tag to enhance the links that they want to power up for their own benefit and to downgrade all other links regardless of value.

The other reason that Google search results are broken is that they over-emphasize the title tag, ranking websites of lower quality higher than better quality websites because the lower quality site matches the wording entered into the query box slightly better than the better quality article.

Content Mills Punished

It seems that neither Google, nor any of the search experts out there, seem to think that Google has changed its link counting ways or its text pattern matching algorithm. Instead, the focus is on the concept that there is a "penalty" for low-quality content that extends to the entire website.

The idea is that if there are 200 low-quality pages (that is, low-ranking pages) and 100 higher-quality (higher-ranking) pages, then the 100 good pages are dragged down by a penalty from the low pages. That is why content mills (and other websites) are now frantically pulling their "junk" content down in hopes that their rankings will improve for their better quality content. Demand Studios, publisher of eHow, for example, is decommissioning all of their unmoderated user-generated content in hopes that their better, editor approved, content will regain some of its luster in Google’s eyes.

Of course, this may all be moot as recent actions by various flower selling websites demonstrated recently. It seems that all of the major online florists were buying links in the run up to Mother’s Day to ensure that they would rank high (or not lose their high rankings) for the big flower buying holiday.

Google’s response was essentially that it is fine to break the Google Webmaster Guidelines as long as it doesn’t affect the final rankings. The stupidity of this concept is staggering considering there is no way for Google, or anyone else, to know whether or not the forbidden link buying campaigns affect EVERY search made. The link buying may not have affected the rankings for "Mother’s Day flowers" but could have made a big difference for "mothers day flower specials cleveland".

If you want to make money writing online, you can naively write quality content and hope for the best, or you can write quality content and then get out there an build some links. You’ll never outspend 1-800 flowers on a link-buying campaign for Valentine’s Day, but your top-notch article on how to pick good roses at the flower store might just make it into the Top 10 Google search results if you build out some links, and then hope for the best.

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