Why doesn’t this blog have ads? Well, the answer’s simple: at my current view count, it isn’t worth it. And I don’t mean that it’s not worth the time to set it up. I mean that if someone offered to do it for free, I would still turn them down.
Let’s do a very rough Fermi estimation of how much revenue I could get. Google Analytics says I get about 5000 sessions per month. According to this blog, the clickthrough rate of display ads is 0.05%, but is 8.8x higher for native ads. I don’t want to do native ads, but let’s get an upper bound by assuming I did use native ads, and they have 10x clickthrough, so 0.5%. Average cost per click is $0.58. In total, the optimistic estimate is:\[5000 \times 0.5\% \times \$0.58 = \$14.50\]
Sure, that’s some money. However, ads also come at a cost to readership. Based on analysis by Gwern, running ads drops views by about 10%, and a drop of that size has been replicated independently across several organizations.
So really, the question is, would I rather earn at most $14.50 a month (likely much less), or would I rather have 500 more readers? Seems pretty clearly in favor of the readers side to me.
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If finance has taught me anything, it’s that you can always take the inverse of a bet. If I value readers more than money, why don’t I pay money to run ads to direct people to my site?
At first, I thought it was dumb and stupid, but when I thought about it more I realized I didn’t have a good argument for why it was dumb, and I needed to take it seriously. I have free unclaimed AdWords credit, which Google offers to new accounts. Ads would increase viewership. They wouldn’t even affect the reader experience, because the ads would be on other people’s sites, not my own.
I think the main problem is that ads don’t really work for a personal blog. If your blog has a specific focus, you can advertise towards that specific form of content. My blog deliberately has no focus besides the things I want to write about, and I have no interest in changing that. There’s no clear search queries I’d want to sponsor. If someone searches my name, they find this site with ease (the benefits of having a novel last name), so it’s not like I need to pay for better placement. As for a banner ad, I don’t even know what image I would use. It’s like asking me to come up with a picture that summarizes my entire life.
There also could be follow-on effects, where someone views my blog differently if they clicked a sponsored link to get there. For example, I lost all trust in mattress recommendation websites after learning how online mattress advertising works. Most importantly, you can pay for views, but the rate isn’t great. At the previously mentioned price of $0.58 per click, a budget of $14.50/month only leads to 25 clicks per month. Much worse than the 500 views sacrificed if I did it the other way around! In retrospect, given how ads work, the price per click has to be based on the revenue of the products people advertise, and if I don’t sell anything, I’m priced out by everyone who does.
Given that I’ve never ever seen an ad for a personal blog, it probably doesn’t make sense to do so. Still, fun exercise to think through.