May 12 2010

Some More Mathematical Navel-Gazing

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I’m actually surprised at how interested folks seem to be in the business end of things at — I’m told that a few readers see me as a kind of trailblazer in directions they’re interested in going themselves, and as such they’re watching my career with interest. So, as a public service to those folks, let’s talk about some of the grittier aspects of the nitty-gritty, in particular, banner ads.

Many people who publish “Get rich with your blog!”-type materials recommend that you handle your ad buying and selling yourself as a way of cutting out the middleman. And if I had more of a head for business (or more time to spend on it), I might consider it. But as it is, my priority is writing, not “monetizing the website.” So I get my ads served up by Project Wonderful, which has a pretty neat “price set by demand” system. People bid on ad placements on my site for a given period of time, and whoever bids the highest wins; it’s sorta like outsourcing my banner ads to eBay. Right now, I have ads running in three places, Suburban Jungle, NeverNever, and And among other things, the metrics provided by those banner ads are a pretty clear indicator of what kind of viewership those sites are getting. Not that every view of an ad indicates a unique visitor to the website, but it is at least a page loaded and looked at. (I don’t know if web crawlers trigger banner ad hits … I’ll have to look into that.) Some of the hits, I know, are coming from myself performing regular site maintenance (previewing posts, doing format tweaks, etc.), but those are a relatively small factor. Looking at that, I see that Suburban Jungle, despite the fact that the story is not currently running, is still by far my most popular website. It breaks down roughly like this:

So what does this tell me? First off, I need to put another banner or two up on Suburban Jungle. ;) Second, a smallish but real number of people are actually looking at, which is gratifying. Nobody wants to talk to an empty room! Third, it implies that I’m more widely known for SJ than anything else, and that people are still interested in it, so I shouldn’t be averse to continuing to build on it when I have the opportunity.

At this point, however, there’s the question of how LiveJournal and Facebook feature into this. See, there’s a dirty little secret those sites don’t tell you: you’re basically providing content to them for free, giving them the chance to run banner ads to everyone who’s interested in what you have to say (or in the case of LJ, get money in the form of paid accounts so people don’t have to see banner ads). In short, every person who reads this post on LJ or Facebook is a revenue stream that’s paying them instead of me.

Well, I’m not upset about that; after all, I’m taking advantage of the “externalities” provided by LJ and Facebook, i.e., a lot of readers collected in one place instead of having to hunt down each of you individually and convince you to come to my page. But over time, and as my audience goes up, it does become more and more in my interest to try to get you to come here directly and cut out the social media middleman. Some blogs do this by requiring you to comment on the blog directly instead of out there where you found it; the WordPress plugin I use to send this to LJ has an option like that. But as an avid reader myself, I know that tactic always irritates me, and that’s the last thing I want to do to my readers, so I don’t do that. It might cost me ad hits in the short term, but it helps me keep readers in the long term, which I think is more important.

Another technique, and one which absolutely irritates the heck out of me, is to include banner ads in the post itself. For example, people reading this on LJ would then get a banner ad tacked on to the bottom. Frankly, I can’t stand it when other people do this, and there are feeds that I stopped following for just that reason. So it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever see me doing that.

A third technique, a popular one and and one I’m much more inclined to use, is to provide content that only exists on the site and send out links to that in my regular posts. A good example of this is when I set up the Risk a Verse section of the website and made a post announcing its existence to the world. The downside of this is what’s often referred to in interface design as “friction.” The more steps between the user and the desired result, the higher the dropoff. Usability studies have shown this again and again, which is why Amazon is all about the “1-click buy!” option. If I shove a post under your nose, you’re likely to read it (or at least glance at it, which is the main thing that matters to the banner ad gods). If I shove a link under your nose, you might or might not click it — and if that link goes to another link, only a handful of the small number of people who clicked on the first link will ever bother with the second one.

Friction or no, this is a much more “polite” method of connecting with your readers, and one which I hope will result in a more cordial relationship. If I just wanted to make a buck, there are lots of easier ways of doing that than writing blog posts. I want you to be interested in what I have to say, not feeling like you’ve been tricked into providing just another eyeball to the advertising machine.

-The Gneech

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