On July 30, 2021, after 18 months of using display advertising as a source of revenue, I went ahead and deleted ads from my website. What started as a goal in early 2019 and was realized in early 2020 finally saw its natural exit by the middle of this year.
A few of my readers have asked me for the reasoning behind this decision, especially since I was generating a steady income from this business model. Turning off ads meant that I would be giving up a chunk of assured monthly income, which is especially critical for a self-employed business owner.
So, why did I finally decide to turn ads off? And how do I intend to cover the difference in revenue?
Prioritizing User Experience over Distraction
First and foremost, as a writer, my focus is always my audience – the readers who land on my website. I remember starting off as a parenting writer on Blogspot 14 years ago. Of course, I was mainly journaling my experiences, but as time went on, more people (besides my mom) actually started reading the posts.
They resonated with the content, sent me messages and lovely comments on how they could find similar parallels in their own lives.
Along the way, when I decided to move to self-hosted WordPress and then add other tools and resources, my expense outflow started piling up. I was spending a fair bit on website maintenance, hosting, scheduling tools and courses. You name it; I bought it.
Before long, I had to start thinking about making some money to cover those costs. As most established bloggers will tell you, one of the most reliable ways of doing this is to increase the footfalls to your website (aka page views) and then join a premium ad network that would manage the display advertising on your site.
So I began working towards that goal. From all of my research, I discovered that three ad networks ranked among the premier ones in the industry. They were AdThrive, Mediavine and Monumetric. AdThrive required a minim of 100,000 monthly page views, Mediavine required around 25,000 sessions (at that time; they’ve since bumped it up to 50,000 sessions) and Monumetric required 10,000 page views.
I was hovering around 6000 page views per month, so decided to try my luck with Monumetric. And as luck would have it, I managed to get 10,000 page views in January 2020. I applied for the ad network in late January, 2020 and was quickly approved within a couple of weeks.
The network was brilliant (and for anyone thinking about working with them, I’d heartily endorse them). But over time, I realized that the ads, even if they were minimal, were serving as a distraction for my audience. They were coming to the website to read my content and then being turned away by the sheer assault on their senses. Around mid 2021, I started observing the minimalist layout of sites such as Zen Habits, The Minimalists and other business owners such as Caroline Leon and Krista Bauer.
I loved and appreciated how the focus was on the reader and serving their needs, over serving our own. It was a lightbulb moment and that was the day I decided to do away with ads on my site. On June 30th, 2021, I sent an email to Monumetric and requested my removal from their program. They were supremely gracious and kind and asked me to finish out my one-month notice period and I was then free to remove the plugin from my site.
Site Loading Time
Why is this important? Site loading time is crucial to help your audience connect with your content. If your site takes too long to load, chances are your readers will bounce away and focus on other sites instead.
You’d know this by now, if you’ve joined an ad network, that one of the things you’d have to aim for is to upgrade your site to a dedicated server. Now those cost money!
I’m on a shared hosting server and I have no problems with my service provider.
However, here are the interesting before and after pictures with data showing how my site was loading when it had ads and how quickly it began loading after I removed ads. This is from Google’s Page Speed Insights.
See the difference? On both mobile and desktop, my site loads so much faster after I removed display ads!
Bonus: When I removed social sharing buttons, the site speed improved even further.
The Hamster Wheel of Page Views
I don’t think enough people talk about this, but it’s important. Page views can become a hamster wheel of their own making. We become so obsessed with more page views (because that equals more money) that we burn ourselves out while pursuing this never-ending goal.
At some point in your journey as a creator, the question you need to ask yourself is:
Why am I doing this? Why am I creating content?
When I asked myself this question a couple of months ago, the answer was clear. I no longer wanted to do it for the money. And so, bidding ad revenue goodbye became a natural side effect.
The best part is I could now focus on the metrics that actually mattered – connecting with people through my content – instead of worrying about how my next paycheck was tied to an unreliable number of page views each month.
Selling People’s Attention
I first got interested in the idea of ethical advertising when I stumbled upon Tim Wu’s book ‘The Attention Merchants’ and before that, an article in The Atlantic which had an interview with Wu on the ethics of advertising (linked at the bottom of this piece).
In essence, I had to dial back and ask myself an important question – should I be selling people’s attention to the highest bidder? Because, that’s the truth about display advertising. You’re not opening your wallet to these companies – yet. But you are opening your minds and your attention to a subliminal message that ties your interests and theirs together, usually without your permission.
At my deepest core, I just couldn’t make peace with this anymore. It didn’t sit well with me and I took the decision of turning off ads on my website.
There is an ethical way to do advertising and that’s keeping a few core principles in mind. Notably, these include being transparent, being honest and not over-selling or promising the moon. Again, a beautiful example of ethical advertising and what it means is linked at the end of this article.
Why Many Bloggers Use Advertising on their Website
Many bloggers use ads on their websites. And I don’t have anything against them. I understand that running a website costs money. All of the free content we put out on our websites? It would be nice to receive some sort of compensation from that.
So I understand the important decision that goes into placing display ads on your website. It’s somewhat similar to food writers who have to write some form of in-depth explanations and a bit of a back story in order to play nice with the SEO gods.
Most audience members get turned off by these things – ads and backstories. But they both play important roles and as someone who did have advertising on her site for 18 months, I completely understand the mindset and why people choose to do it.
How to Make Money Without Running Ads on Your Website
Can a website earn money without ads? Short answer: Yes, it can.
As a business owner and coach, I currently generate revenue through my 1-on-1 coaching calls, group sessions, courses and e-books + affiliate income from courses/products and tools that I recommend.
If you do not want to have ads on your website, you need to look at alternative sources of revenue to ensure that it will pay for the critical parts of your business such as website hosting, scheduling tools, props for photo editing and styling (especially true for food and recipe bloggers), your email service provider plus any courses you may buy to stay abreast of the latest updates.
Coaching and teaching may not necessarily be viable for everyone. For one thing, it takes time to build enough authority in a space before you can offer these as services. For another, there’s a possibility of some months’ income being more lucrative than others.
As a creator, there are some other ways you can opt for income generation.
Affiliate Marketing: In this model, you consistently and confidently recommend products in your niche and generate commissions based on the number of sales you make. I’ve explained how to get started with affiliate marketing in this article and this short video playlist.
Freelance writing: A lot of bloggers I know pitch ideas to magazines, e-zines, newspapers and get them accepted as part of the submission process. A few people also have regular monthly columns in leading newspapers such as Nandita Iyer of Saffron Trail (She has no display advertising on her site)
Sponsored Projects: You can also do projects for brands on a commission basis. This is especially useful for food writers and photographers and well worth considering.
Workshops and Webinars/ Speaking Gigs: You’ve earned all this knowledge and experience in your field. It’s a great opportunity to teach others about what you’ve learnt and also generate revenue in the process. Conducting workshops (in person) or webinars (online) are a good option. If you’re also confident about public speaking, sign up for speaking engagements where you can share your expertise.
Publishing a book: If you’re an expert, chances are people want to learn from you. Doing that through a book is a great way to get your message out there.
Again, this really works well if you’ve already got an audience of a sizable number who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
Brand collaborations/Influencer marketing: A lot of writers and bloggers I know also do conscious brand collaborations. This is where you can work with a brand whose values align with your own and then genuinely promote them to your audience. As long as you abide by the rules and also don’t mislead your audience, there’s good money to be made in the brand collaboration space. Of course, this also means you need to have a very strong social media presence coupled with an impeccable reputation and a high level of integrity.
*Fair warning: This last one can be a bit overwhelming, especially with changing social media algorithms and updates. Tread with caution.
If you do choose to stick with managed display advertising, speak to your ad network provider and figure out if you can decide the volume and positioning of the ads so that they don’t impact the reading experience. Ultimately, the person you want to to serve is not advertisers, but your audience. Keep them front and center of your decision-making process and you’d be amazed at how things evolve naturally.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution that I’m advocating. I also know that even if you agree with me, in principle, it may be hard to relinquish the idea of good money that comes in through display advertising. This is not a judgment of you or your choices.
The choice as a creator lies with you, utterly and completely.
But listen to what makes you happy and then make the decision that is right for you and your business.
Recommended Further Reading
Shailaja V- Page Views don’t matter; Here are 7 other things to focus on instead
The Atlantic – Does Avertising Ruin Everything?
Wordstream – Ethical Advertising: Five examples of companies with a conscience
Leo Babauta – How I Conduct my Business
Leo Babauta – Opt Out
Leo Babauta – Zen Habits Delcutters its Ads
Cal Newport – Rethinking the Internet Again
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