1. Banners hurt unless they are relevant
2. Filtering for banners that are relevant tends to reduce revenue rather than increase as there is a smaller pool of highly relevant advertisers
3. Removing all banner adverts significantly increased engagement by every metric
4. Some revenue is possible using affiliate links within the content (re-writing existing links rather than inserting awful links on a word match basis)
That last one is what I now do. Is it as profitable as running banners everywhere? No. But it is the highest possible engagement with some revenue, and if one focuses energy on reducing costs instead it can work well.
Sometime in the past month or two Amazon got rid of that feature and so I was only getting a generic Amazon sales banner. I'm not sure why they changed, but they did, and I removed the banner. Thanks Amazon.
One of my favorite channels is this super niche thing that only gets about 1000-2000 views per video and makes 2 vids a month. That adds up to maybe $4-8 in ad revenue using some rough estimates of youtube's payout rate. On patreon he's making over $500 a month. Which is really respectable for such a small audience.
Online ads have never generated that much money per user and were only profitable in large quantities. Given how scummy they are and this evidence that they repel users, they should be eliminated.
But then we have to consider that 95% of the costs/fees for running ad networks would still be needed for cost-sharing models too. You still need third-party JS.
I'm more of a fan for direct payments, though I think a lot of sites would struggle with just that.
How many people will subscribe to Android Authority directly? Lots of sites basically get views from searches , but little long term engagement. Those sites are still useful, but only have ads as a revenue model that's "viable"
And that's just not realistic. One-off purchases, maybe. Sustained 1k/hh/mth avg - I'd love to see a proof of that.
To a rough approximation, that's footed by the 1 billion wealthy inhabitants of the EU, US, Japan, Canada, Australian, and New Zealand. (I said rough, roll with me.)
That means that the per person costs of advertising are pretty much $100 annually online and $600 annually for all content (mostly TV). Keep in mind, those are real expenses expressed through household purchases.
(This means, by the way, that online content isn't free, you are paying for it, only, you're doing so indirectly, through advertisers.)
By contrast, total direct expenditures on print media run about $125/person in the US. (Audio/video may add to that.)
If you look at what is advertised, an awful lot is very high-ticket items. The FIRE industries (finance, insurance, real estate) were the largest chunk of spend as of a couple-three years ago. Electronics is another large segment.
The notion of some sort of universal content payments scheme, preferably indexed to wealth and income, has a great deal of economic justification. I've been exploring that for the past few years.
But yes, the dynamics are a tad bent.
There's no implication that every dollar they spend on marketing directly translates into $10 of new spending "that they would otherwise not get at all".
Much of it is brand spending. Procter & Gamble is the world's largest advertiser, and the goal of their ads is to make sure you keep picking up Tide every time you're in the detergent aisle. Coca-Cola's ads aren't trying to get you to buy $10 more of soda than last week, just to keep soda on your shopping list every week. Those ad dollars would need to be replaced by the subscription if you're going to remove the ads but keep compensation for the websites the same.
Many low-quality news papers, TV channels, and magazines died when ad revenue shifted online - consumers did not see enough value to justify the unsubsidized rate. Others survived because consumers saw enough value to pay the higher rates. The internet isn't any different... a large chunk of the internet is spam surviving off of wasteful advertising revenue. Soon, the cruft will die off.
None of us need unlimited access to everything out there, and I don't think it's a sustainable expectation.
And is probably precisely how this should work, indexed to wealth / income.
One line of thinking has a Neilsen or Arbitron-like rating system that pays based on readership. I think that is ultimately a false lead as it simply rewards popularity.
Another is to employ a basic income approach. Given the number of writers I know who write largely because they can't not, this might work, though it might not be fully sufficient. The prospect of a UBI and some achievements-based revenue might make this more viable: electronic distruibution is gratis, but live performances and physical media might generate additional revenue, as might various services or other arrangements, all on top of a UBI base.
A third way might be to treat creation something like research: it's an activity, and it's funded as a certain overall percent of national income. Divide that by what's seen as a livable wage, and designate that there are so many positions open, and so many to be filled in a given year, that will be paid. Sorting out how to filter out those who really aren't suited to it is the next challenge, though there are various models: guilds, professional recognition (see the Emmy's, Grammy's, Oscars, Pulizter, Peabody, Nobel, Royal Society, AAS, and similar recognitions).
One thing I don't think should happen is for there to be some sort of quarterly or annual "rank and yank", or the general fight over scientific grants funding we now have. There's an article I'd recently seen about productivity of scientists over their careers, and the distribution is ... almost perfectly random. That is, a given scientist might produce some great work early, late, or in the middle of their career, once only or possibly several times. But there's not much rhyme or reason to it.
Creative work generally is something that evolves over time, and takes time. Days, weeks, or months even for a good piece of journalism. Years for a story, play, or film. A lifetime for works of science or philosophy. Take Wittgenstein, who wrote one book and then spent the rest of his life writing another refuting the first.
(And yes, there are prolific examples as well, though often they are best known only for a handful of works. Attention is a zero-sum game. Alexandre Dumas. Isaac Asimov. There's a large literature on Gresham's Law effects in literature, painting, music, drama, and television as well.)
The inputs to writing are information, sources, and investigations. Otherwise, generally, a quite space and not having to worry too much about room, board, heat, water, and light. Excessive remuneration doesn't much seem to help in its production, and a certain frisson may actually help, but only to a point.
https://thenextweb.com/tech/2017/10/24/flattr-now-lets-pay-c... may be of interest too.
Patreon is also a good idea.
Sponsoring is also possible if you can find something relevant and willing: a lot of the podcast and YouTube channels that I follow have audiobook platforms sponsor them.
Apparently that model was a huge flop and people just didn't want it. The new version requires publishers to remove all ads (not just AdSense), which helps since many newspapers seem to have dropped AdSense & switched to Taboola & other ad networks. Which might be one reason Google is trying it again.
(I expect the new Contributor will fail too, though. I think the majority of people just don't want to pay for online content.)
We actually now survive more on donations from forum users than any advertising. About 2/3 revenue is donations, 1/3 from affiliates.
Affiliates work really well, but the rise of cash back sites mean that the revenue per sale is dropping. Affiliates work well for delivering new customers, but cash back is leading to retailers paying out for retaining customers which means the cost is shifting from acquisition to retention, which is traditionally where they make their profit. Hence cash back is leading retailers to make the terms far more strict, shorter cookie periods, lower %, etc.
Donations have been the saviour. As I'm running the sites as a platform, the larger sites effectively subsidise the young and growing sites.
Also, as a platform: 1 volunteer (me) runs all of the sites. Moderation is by communities, and has proven very effective whilst not requiring any additional cost. Though I did invest in some good lawyers for the T&Cs to make sure that approach kept the platform free of liability from individual sites on the platform.
Since I deal mostly in niche/local advertising, I might have a unique perspective. It turns out that the more relatable a banner ad is, the less offended the reader is.
That may sound obvious, and it probably is. But the general effect is that users engage with and are sometimes genuinely interested in banner ads for their favorite restaurants, venues, and other spots. Local and niche advertisers are part of the community. A Ford or Chevy ad is generally much less relatable.
So my overall point is that the nature of the publication and its advertising clients is going to impact whether some readers are turned off - so it's difficult to derive a rule of thumb for banner advertising as a whole.
Small ad networks or sites that organize their adverts themselves sometimes have great ads. But I am not sure if the reputation of online ads isn't already damaged beyond repair.
Add to that the small revenue from ads (the author makes $30/month from ads and $700/month from patreon)
I run Adsense on https://arcade.ly. The pages are heavy anyway because they implement games, and much of the payload is music and, to a lesser extent, sound effects. As an experiment I tried loading the pages without music and was nothing short of appalled by the amount of crap Adsense downloads.
The creepiness infuriates me, but it's the overall shittiness of the development practice that produces so much bloat for so little value I find most offensive. I mean these people go in to work, half-ass throwing together a bunch of code and assets in the worst way imaginable, and then carelessly spooge their effluent all over the web... and then they have the audacity to start whingeing about people running ad-blockers. What do they expect?
My site gets next to no traffic at the moment but if/when it's grown a bit I'm going to start looking at non-ad ways to earn money from it. I'm even considering ditching them at the moment to see if that might help grown traffic in itself.
They could fix this by:
1. Just showing blanks if they can't get something targeted to my preferences
2. Not allowing advertisers to be too general in their targeting if they are doing performance campaigns(CPC and CPA). Only allow CPM advertisers to target broad categories.
1. Reserve pricing - if no ad is 'good enough', e.g. no advertiser is willing to bid above a certain threshold for you, then no ad is shown
2. ePCM pricing - Adsense predicts what the likelihood of clickthrough/conversion is for a given ad and user, and includes that in its auction algorithm. Roughly, eCPM bid = cost per click / probability of click. This addresses the typical problem of high CPC/CPA bid but low engagement probability ads crowding out otherwise good CPM-based ads.
In general responsible advertisers have aligned incentives with viewers. Intrusive or obnoxious (or malicious) advertisements hurt viewers, who are less likely to return.
I wonder if part of the reason that never happened is simply that ads are in a sense "reserved" layout space that need to be filled consistently and cannot be filled later on (due to layout jumpiness).
ReadTheDocs and sites like BikeRadar are my favourite examples: If I go to a bike site, I expect the ads I see to be about bike stuff. If I'm on a technical site (like Stack Overflow or ReadTheDocs) I expect to see ads about related technical topics.
Unfortunately the advertising industry has gone down the route of hyper-invasive, user-data focused advertising, for what I consider to be very little benefit to either publishers or users. The only people who benefit are those who pedal the tech that enables this market.
With all the ML tools available to us now, I'm not sure why we couldn't build tools that accurately match ad content to site content. You don't need to invasively track users users this way either, because you only ever need to be concerned with the topic of the site/article and not who's seeing it.
It's much easier to target the publication than the individual user.
Even if advertisers analysed the page content on seeing it, rather than the publisher, it would still be net faster than doing lookups/analysis per adserve (as you would when you target a user).
I don't think it would be hard at all to build something which analysed a page and made an adserving decision with a lower "time to ad display" than a similar process that used user data.
New media just outsources all the hard work to Google and other big ad placers. Easier but you lose editorial control over your work.
Advertising, in the modern sense, is, well, modern. You pretty much simply did not have goods to advertise (or the means to advertise them) other than for very specific items -- think classifieds rather than bulk and mass advertising.
The rise of the factory system, of transport networks, and the capacity to create far more of a good than local demand could absorb created the first modern-style advertising in about 1860. The first prominently-featured adverts were the 19th century equivalents of Viagra ads: mostly-ineffective patent medicines.
Hamilton Holt has a delightful contemporary account of this, written (and presented as a lecture, it's short) in 1909, looking back on the previous 50 years or so of publishing history. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I don’t know what happened along the road to lead us to the current tracking and spying mess.
Tracking and microtargeting just seem too attractive for advertisers to pass up. Same goes for large size, autoplay, multimedia ads.
These mechanisms would have to fail to perform in obvious ways (not long-term, subtle, whole-market ways) before people will stop using them.
- advertising for something shameful (underwear and dildo are my go-to examples) or that you otherwise want be kept secret (engagement rings);
- repeat ads for specific and unusual big-ticket items. I have told friends working at Amazon that no one I know ever started a vacuum cleaner collection, but they only response is “You would be surprised…” to which I can only assume the world is either weirder than I thought, or their analytics function has missed something.
What you (and most people) probably would prefer is the ability to edit what the ad engine knows or assumes about you: gone are dildos, rings and vacuum cleaners; come books about programming patterns!
I keep telling anyone close to any of those recommendation engines to allow me to do that, but they mumble things about design, feasibility and hacking that genuinely don’t add up to me.
For that reason, it's better to remind you about that Amazon product still in your cart while you're browsing for random stuff.
Whether or not one agrees with the outcome, if you have a large site you definitely should be doing independent testing. Google's ad reps, much less reps from other networks, will tell you to do things that harm your site.
This is of course true, and kinda obvious, but I am not sure this is workable as business model. I mean, here are not a lot of ads that are immediately relevant for me. Maybe once or twice per month there's something that I buy that ad could sway my decision at least potentially (i.e. expose me to some provider I wasn't aware of, or some brand I haven't considered). The rest is basically wasted on me. How much 2 clicks per month (with unknown conversion rate) are worth to advertisers? I have no idea, but I wonder whether it is possible to support a site on that revenue?
I, of course, could be wildly atypical case (for one, I use adblockers and rarely impulse-buy) and maybe typical visitor would be much more engaged with ads.
Or it could be that ad buyer industry (not ones that make the ads, but ones that order them - Fords and Chevys of the world) do not have proper tools to see how effective their ads are and just throw a chunk of budget to the wind, get some traffic from it and feel good about it.
But sometimes as a business owner you're also campaigning for visibility / mindshare. At the minimum you want to distribute a message and let people know you exist. That's why people still buy billboards. It's a type of advertising that will probably never go away - especially because it's relatively low cost to implement for all sides - just need a designer to create the ad and you're good to go.
It doesn't seem like the most dependable business model but it's pretty timeless even in the digital age. The advertiser has an ego and instinct and is ultimately going to buy what they feel is going to work for their business.
So when I read a ~10% difference in traffic, I'm not surprised. Art, in absolutely any form, is always about focusing on your theme. And ads, by their very nature, blur that focus.
> My website is important to me because it is what I have accomplished & is my livelihood, and if people are not reading it, that is bad. How bad? In lieu of advertising it’s hard to directly quantify the value of a page-view, so I can instead ask myself hypothetically, would I trade ~1 week of traffic for $360 (~$0.02/view, or to put it the other way, $18720/year)? Probably; that’s about the right number - with my current parlous income, I cannot casually throw away hundreds or thousands of dollars for some additional traffic and so I feel comfortable valuing page-views at ~$0.02 or a bit less.
If your income is as parlous as you say, then it seems bizarre to value any amount of unmonetized traffic over cash flow.
People call page views a "vanity metric" with good reason. You can't put food on your plate with page views. By valuing a single page view at $0.02, you're literally doing work for free, "for exposure."
We all make fun of businesses who ask professionals to work for $0 for exposure. It's no better when you're making yourself work for unfair terms!
To put this another way, I think the author can probably arrange to buy relevant traffic via Google AdWords at or less than $0.02 per page view. If traffic ("exposure") is that valuable, then, yes, stop running ads on your site, and instead buy ads of your own.
But if that sounds outrageous to you, if you would never reach into your pocket to pay Google $360 for a week's worth of website traffic, then you should rethink whether unmonetized page views are really as valuable as you think they are.
> it seems bizarre to value any amount of ad-free traffic over cash flow.
Also, while I do not know for certain how much each page-view is worth, I do know for certain that it is not exactly $0! Errors made on the assumption it is a cent or two are surely less than errors made on the assumption it is literally worthless.
(As it happens, the introspection was pointless because the effect came nowhere near the threshold, and if it had, I would've had to reintrospect anyway since my Patreon has been working better and I have more money since I began the A/B test in January. There's no reason to not revisit thresholds if circumstances have changed, after all.)
If you have very little money, then every cent counts, including AdSense cents. Page views count only to the extent that they convert into something: Patreon patrons, consulting gigs, or what have you.
And I'm not saying your page views convert at $0 to those things, but I think it's plausible that you're off by an order of magnitude, e.g. that an ad-free page view is worth only a tenth of a cent.
I do think this test could have been done without banner ads involved. Looking at page load speed per user and how that effects traffic would likely have the same results.
From my link below:
> A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
We massively reduced load time on the all the key pages from 4 secs to roughly <400 ms avg. No 25% bump in sales for us. At the time the client sold about 50-80 things a day on thousands of daily visits. A month later, they sold about 50-80 things a day. This was a fairly standard website similar to booking.com or any search/book site, basically location aware searches with a landing page for each venue and a "book" CTA.
I did a similar thing with their mobile site a year or two later, massively reducing the page-weight and reducing loading times on the devices I tested from seconds to again sub-second load times. Again no discernible bump.
For niche equipment you're either gonna buy it or you aren't. If it isn't Amazon, Google, Wal-Mart, or places where you are preying on impulse buys (Woot, LowEndBox/VPS, etc), then the page load times matter a hell of a lot less than something like user design.
- people who don’t know and enjoy the browsing and don’t mind the delay; didn’t then, don’t now and have kept on using your competitors’ website.
At a large scale page load time would have a discernible impact on your bottom line, but for most it is a premature optimization (as long as you aren't trying to deliver 10mb webpages).
Adsense is usually a script loaded from googlesyndication.com which is not in the source here.
Maybe archive.org rewrote the html so much that it is not there anymore?
I checked some other site and the Adsense code is not changed by archive.org. So something is strange.
Maybe Gwern experimented with different types of ads and on that page at that time did not use adsense?
I do see the adsense code in a snapshot from a year later:
(What did you mean with "look ... in terms of complexity"? You mean how-complicated-it-is-to-install?)
Maybe you would instead like the looks of EffectiveDiscussions — it's a new commenting system I'm developing. See my other comment nearby (or, if you didn't find it, go to: https://www.effectivediscussions.org/blog-comments ).
(That's a static website built with Gatsby.)
Read more about it: https://www.effectivediscussions.org/blog-comments (landing page, not finished)
Since it's new, it's a bit risky: maybe some bugs. & has some novel features, inspired by HackerNews actually: https://www.effectivediscussions.org/-32/how-hacker-news-can... (but that's not totally ported to embedded-comments yet). Currently implementing single-sign-on.
That’s like saying “Marlboro cigarettes are harmful, here’s proof, let’s grab a pack of Lucky Strikes and discuss”.
This is just whataboutism. AdSense should be judged on its own merits, and it fails badly: it does nothing I want (aside from delivering quite small amounts of money) at an unacceptable cost. Maybe Disqus is also bad but I would have to ponder how much I want commenting and how to deal with the extant corpus of comments and in any case, at the moment I am gearing up for another ad test to try to figure out what about AdSense is so harmful (and help convince the doubters that there is an effect at all), so I can't test Disqus without complicating things a lot.
If I saw an ad like that in a banner at the top of the page, it's going to cause an immediate, visceral reaction: the site is sketchy, maybe trying to scam me, and any content is going to have a big conflict of interest. To be fair, since I use an ad-blocker, I'm probably more ad-sensitive than the sample set... but who hasn't gotten their fair share of similar email spam before?
The CSVs don't have page information, unfortunately, but I'd expect most of the harmful effect comes from the drug-related pages.
During the experiment, roughly, the most popular pages were a mix: https://www.gwern.net/About#january-2017---july-2017 The top 5 were modafinil (excluded from AdSense), spaced repetition (psychology), LSD microdosing, DNB FAQ (also psychology), and "Story Of Your Life" (physics/literary criticism).
The mechanism that makes the most sense to me is via influence in social media resharing. This requires affecting only a few people (power users/the '1%') but can plausibly deliver the necessary effect size. The logical next step in the analysis would be to go back into Google Analytics and pull out another set of time-series and try to split between search engine, direct, and referrals; the decrease should be concentrated as search engine < direct < referrals. I'm not looking forward to figuring out how to code that up as a time-series model, though...
> Or the mechanism for the autocorrelation of pageviews?
Well, some of the mechanisms there are obvious just from the referring URLs. Many people don't read HN via the front page, they use a third-party interface or a daily newsletter; so while OP is getting substantial traffic today, it'll also get traffic tomorrow from people catching up with today's 'best of HN' etc. And from HN it gets auto-posted to Twiter, and of course many people will only see the tweets later when they log into Twitter the next morning or evening. Then you have timezones - perhaps someone is asleep now even if they do read the HN frontpage directly. It might get included in blogger link roundups or sites like The Browser weeks or months from now - more autocorrelation. What about search engines? They'll notice, and will update. No one has mentioned any comparable experiments so right now my A/B test appears to be _sui generis_, so people debating the costs and benefits of advertising might link it over the next few months. And so on. Lots of possible ways.
This is much higher than I'd expect. Of course, it is a special kind of site, but still. Can we say a model is in serious trouble yet?
I also wonder if some of the drop off could be explained by the use of Patreon and ads. For instance, I would never pay for Hulu because they still show ads. Did you receive any Patreon cancellations or negative feedback from pledged users?
 US ad block usage as of Feb 2017 https://pagefair.com/blog/2017/adblockreport/
There are myriad contributing factors that I can't isolate out. People don't like ads, but many of the people who loudly complain about ads will also very aggressively tell you that they will not tip, will not be a Patreon supporter and expect high quality content for free. They will aggressively say that your business model is your problem, not theirs, while actively shooting down any way to monetize content.
These are often people who make good money as, for example, programmers. Another thing such people have told me is to get a real job, like they have, and write for free. It is a kind of classism in a sense: Writers who provide good quality web content aren't seen as valuable or serious contributors the way programmers are. Yet, at the same time, people decry both the lack of good content and the trend towards content done as content marketing.
I get paid to write content done as content marketing. I rarely write anything I feel bad about. I work on projects I can believe in. But I find it frustrating because I would rather spend more of my time producing high quality, independent content for my own projects. These are projects intended to put out useful information and/or to be entertaining.
I am doing some unique things that add value to the world. I run a homeless site with useful information for homeless Americans. Most homeless services have terrible websites. They are almost always donor facing, not client facing. It is very challenging for a homeless person to find useful information online. I had a college class on internet search and I had a hard time finding information I needed.
The other thing is that a lot of homeless services are a very negative experience and can help keep you trapped. Services are often designed with the idea that homeless people are incompetent losers who can't be trusted to make good decisions. They often come with strings attached that can help keep a person trapped in poverty.
I want to promote market based solutions that can work for homeless individuals, but can lead to a future because they continue to be viable after you get off the street. Programs to help the homeless or help poor people often actively encourage failure.
I think I have worked out a couple of models that work, but I am not finding a path forward. I continually come up against the idea that I should just stop caring about marginalized people because there is no money in it. I should just go where the money is, and never mind that the world is going to hell.
And I can't quite bring myself to do that because there is scary stuff happening and I feel like if I don't do something, no one will. Because rich people aren't going to solve it. The attitudes of so many of them that poor people just need a handout (UBI), not earning opportunities, is part of the problem.
We have the technology to allow people with disabilities, like me and my sons, to work in a way that works for us. But I don't know how to overcome the attitudes that we shouldn't bother to try, we should just accept that we are losers unworthy of any respect.
The inability to get taken seriously is a big barrier to getting engagement and traction and that is a big barrier to turning it into money. The whole thing makes me crazy. It is a case of the key is in the safe.
You should write these up in detail and post it to HN. I would read it!
1. Flexible online means to earn money.
2. Genuinely affordable market based housing, such as SROs.
I have several blogs where I talk about such things, like Mic Digs, Project: SRO and Write Pay. They don't get much attention.
Edit: just to prove my point, here is a recent piece on working for pay while homeless. I have submitted it to HN. You can go watch it be ignored:
I'd also be curious to see his user to patreon donator conversion rate, and if removed ads and 'gaining' 10% of traffic would be worth it from a revenue stand point.
But if you did it on a per-day or per-week or per-month basis, then you could see effects like that: "on ad-free weeks, there are twice as many submissions to Reddit which drives +100 hits per day" etc. Then you don't need to try to track each individual user's activities or reshares - whatever the effects are, they'll show up at the population level.
That's the tradeoff here: it lets you look at the totals, but it takes a lot longer than if you randomize per visitor in which case you could finish the test in a few days, often.
I can tolerate ads that target the page content or random ads just fine.
That used to be my position. I think I still don't mind honest-to-goodness advertising: this product/vendor exists and has these features. I actually do still see this kind of ad on sites connected to electrical engineering; presumably other competitive technical product areas like photography or scientific/industrial equipment have it too. But the more I've experienced the dissonance of being hit with bursts of mainstream advertising after moving to a generally lower-advertising lifestyle (ad blockers/NoScript, cord-cutting, more judicious selection of news sources, etc.), the more distinctly I've felt the reality that we're almost a century into the general trend of "advertising" being a euphemism for psychosocial manipulation. In other words, modern advertising is for-profit propaganda. In my view, it's not enough for the media of advertising to be more passive. The technology is amplifying it, but the overall strategy is what's fundamentally exploitative. Many people think that merely by being cynical about this, they're immunizing themselves. It's tempting to think that if you study the techniques and make snarky remarks like, say, "oh, look how cool this Lexus is; if I buy it that means I'm powerful and important", then you've somehow defeated it. Make no mistake: that's just another strand in the web. The idea that the advertiser wants to push is still being normalized in your mind, even through the filter of irony.
I don't intend to be alarmist here. Humanity has just about survived a century of this crap, after all. Life goes on. Revolutions, both figurative and literal, haven't been rendered obsolete by the sheer marketing budgets of incumbents. But I think we have evolved a warped view of what qualifies as normal, honest communication.
Was all that math worth your time, or would you have made more money selling tamales on the corner?