A couple of years ago, when I was still firmly in the ‘advertising is not a revenue model’ camp I had a pretty heated discussion about what you could achieve with income sources like adsense.
I always was of the opinion that advertising should be treated like the icing on top of the cake, and that it never should be your primary source of income.
There are several reasons for this. For one, the advertising market is very unstable, advertising tends to follow the market pretty closely and advertisers can - and do - sometimes decide to reduce or even stop spending for a long enough period that it can cause you real trouble. If your website is consumer goods oriented January and February each year are simply painful. But I have allowed myself to be swayed to looking at advertising as a valid model to support a business and over the years we have launched several initiatives that had advertising as a source of revenue to make things work.
Now I’ve found the second reason why advertising as a primary source of income is a problem, and I’m back on my starting position.
This is because advertising networks are notoriously fickle and absolutely suck at customer service on the ‘inventory’ side. It is almost impossible to get any kind of clarity as to why your advertising tags suddenly stop working, transparency about the rates the advertiser is paying and other details like that.
I’ve been through this with google adsense on a number of sites now and for the life of me I can’t seem to be able to determine what is happening. The first time it happened was on daz.com, which was a pretty good site until google decided for no apparent reason to disable the ads.
We’ve had no success in getting them to explain why daz.com can’t have google ads on it, what we should change to get the ads re-instated and how we can get in to a more direct way of communication with anybody on the adsense team that does not just know how to cut-and-paste absolutely not relevant answers. Daz.com is a wiki-like site that contains a graph of how musicians and bands relate and a bunch of background around that theme, all of it put together by the visitors of the site, not exactly ‘controversial material’.
And today, it happened again. This time on reocities.com, my rescue attempt for geocities where it helped to pay for the hosting. After serving up the ads for a while suddenly I’m shown a nice blank rectangle where the ads were before. No explanation, no way to contact some account representative why this decision was taken, the only kind of communication you get from the ‘adsense team’ is non-sensical optimization advice, which usually boils down to ‘we want more space on your pages’.
It’s a huge problem, because there are not a whole lot of alternatives for google adsense out there that actually
(1) work (2) pay out (3) have enough ads that there is some variety (4) don't have weird terms of service / acceptance
I tried to analyze a bunch of them a while back and essentially it came to nothing, not a single ad network outside of adsense made it worth the trouble of setting up.
If google had even the slightest serious competition then I think that they would do a better job of handling their inventory side for the adsense network. As it is it seems as though they really couldn’t care less, customer service is not a word that google seems to understand.
So, if you’re thinking of using adsense as a part of your income stream, be prepared to have it cut without any explanation or recourse at any time, and make sure that your business plan does not depend on having that income.
It’s sad, but that seems to be the state of affairs, adsense, for a business, simply sucks, and if it does work the ECPMs are dreadful.
If you were thinking of using adsense to generate some income for your website and you intend to rely on it, think again.