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When Should I Start Putting Ads on My Site?

Whenever you want.

Whether you have 10 visitors a day or 100,000, there is no “right” time to put advertising on your site.

A better question is whether you should advertise in the first place and to answer that question you need to think about why you created the site in the first place. Do you want to give another company the ability to entice your visitors away?

Should You Sell Ad Space?

When I started Bargaineering, I was just trying to understand personal finance better. WordPress was new, looked like a fun way for me to write down my notes, and putting it out on the internet didn’t intimidate me. I didn’t think it would make any money but I wasn’t against it. I don’t remember when I started using Google Adsense, one of the best and only drop in advertising methods available at the time, but it wasn’t more than a couple months into the life of the blog.

In the years since, I’ve seen this debate of “when to start advertising” repeat itself over and over again. Bloggers are worried that their readers will abandon their site because of advertising. Bloggers are worried new visitors will see the ads and get turned off. Bloggers are worried that they’ll start catering to certain advertisers because they perceive themselves as being paid by those advertisers.

All of these are valid concerns but it ignores the bigger question of why. Bargaineering wasn’t started as a business but it became one that (hopefully) educated its readers. In that educational process, as someone would need services or products, we were there to offer up suggestions. Most, but not all, resulted in some sort of commission. I was likely biased towards our advertisers but it didn’t seem biased because those advertisers tended to be the biggest companies out there. Citi, American Express, Discover, Capital One, etc. To this day, I have two credit cards in my wallet – a Citi card and an American Express card (and a Capital One card we use on international travel).

I was OK with that because Bargaineering was a business that educated and entertained while earning commissions on products people applied for or bought.

Why did you start your blog? Did you start it to increase your stature and reputation in your business community? If so, you probably don’t want to put advertisements on your site. For you, the answer is never! Take a peek at Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Absolutely zero third-party ads. Everything is for something he produces either as a free download or a paid program. Ramit’s site is there to cement his credibility as a financial expert and there are pages after pages in his archives that solidify his reputation. No third party ads because IWTYTBR doesn’t exist to generate ad revenue.

Take a look at Wise Bread – beautiful site with a team of strong writers and advertisements everywhere. There’s a banner above the header. There are ads all throughout the right sidebar. The primary goal of Wise Bread isn’t to build up the reputations of Will, Greg, and Lynn as personal finance experts – it’s essentially an online personal finance magazine. They may do consulting with financial brands but Wise Bread itself exists to generate income through advertising.

Both are great sites with two different goals and third party advertising is only right for one of them (Ramit has advertising on his blog, it’s all for his courses and products).

If your site is one where advertising doesn’t undermine your broader business goals, then put on some ads. You can always take them down if you don’t like them!

When Is Too Early?

While it’s never too early to advertise, it does take time to set those things up. You need to apply into the programs, which usually rubber stamp you in, understand the backend, set up tracking, get the ad code, put the ad code, then check progress.

When you consider ad clicks will likely be in the low single digit percentages, you have to think about the cost in terms of time, not lost income. If you get 100 visits a day and expect 1-2 clicks, how much will that put in your pocket? If 1-2 clicks in your niche is worth 25 cents, is it worth setting it up? What if they’re worth $25? That’s for you to decide.

That said, if you have very little traffic, now’s not the time to think about ads. It’s time to focus on creating content people want to read and marketing the heck out of it. Don’t waste time messing with advertising when no one will see it.

When Is Too Late?

People are used to seeing ads on the internet and if they really hate them, they’ll have installed an ad blocker. Either way, there is never a time when it’s too late. If you’re truly worried about someone leaving because you put up an ad, I hope they email you to complain so you can explain your decision.

Most people understand that the world isn’t a charity and that by putting up ads, you are charging advertisers and not readers. You are collecting from advertisers so you can continue to write or produce the content your readers keep coming back for.

How Many Ads is Too Many?

You know the answer to this. People don’t mind ads but if they visit your site and it’s plastered with ads, they’ll get turned off. A few banner ads here or there is expected. Here’s Kiplinger’s homepage, put your mouse over it to see it with the ads covered by red boxes:

(The area underneath the Market Update to the right with the the market rates is also an ad but it doesn’t “look” like an ad so I didn’t include it)

What’s tricky is that Google has also warned that advertisement heavy sites may be penalized. How do you define ad-heavy? Just load up a page and see if it’s hard to find the content above the fold. Now look at your site through Google’s Browser Size tool (this tool is going away, it’ll be in Google Analytics soon) and see what most of your visitors will see. If a lot of people will see a lot of ads when they first load up your site, that’s too many ads. Or they need to be moved around.

Five Second Guide to Ad Placement

If you’ve decided that you want to put ads on your site right now, here’s a five second guide that almost everyone adheres to. We read from left to right, top to bottom, and every eye tracking heat map ever created will confirm this. We are drawn towards images, especially eyes, and can be stopped by lines and other visual barriers.

In the coming weeks we’ll have more detailed posts on the subject, but that’s a start. Get that paper!

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

16 responses to “When Should I Start Putting Ads on My Site?”

  1. Glen Craig says:

    I think you covered the bases Jim. It depends on your long-term goal. If you may have something you want to sell later on then holding off on ads makes sense. I’d also be concerned about the quality of ads that show. But otherwise so long as you don’t go crazy it’s OK to ads have on your site from the beginning.

    • Jim Wang says:

      You do have to continually monitor the ads, sometimes they’re not a good fit and sometimes they’re potentially offensive.

      On my scotch blog, all the Adsense ads were for scotch tape. As you can imagine, that converted *never* and I took it down.

  2. Good guidance– I like the Kiplinger example.

    I signed up for Google AdSense as soon as I left WordPress.com for self-hosting. I’d spent two years building an audience (both readers and search rankings) so it was
    immediately profitable.

    Reasons? I shouldn’t even care about ads– I give all my revenue to military charities. However I was curious and I’ve learned a new skill. It also helps me understand what keywords really resonate with readers, not just pageviews. Reader behavior around ads helps me do a better job of designing the blog’s layout. Finally, I think humans are motivated by competition. Advertising gives me another reason to try to produce my best writing, even if it’s just gamification.

    Here’s a pragmatic reason to run ads right away: revenue growth. I can sell the blog or partner with someone who’ll run the infrastructure in exchange for the ad revenue. It’ll let me get back to what I enjoy the most: writing.

    I’ve had only one reader complaint about ads, and the other readers told her she’s out of line. I’ve had no new complaints, which is probably a sign that I need to put in more ads.

    • Jim Wang says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and you mention some excellent points about how advertising might not even be about the money.

      For many not for profit bloggers out there, they could take a page out of your playbook with regards to using the funds in support of the site. Great insight.

  3. Joe says:

    Man, Kiplinger has a lot of ads, but they have a lot of expenses and share holder to pay (I guess.) I have two banners above fold and two more ads way below. That’s already plenty of advertising.
    I don’t really like credit card affiliate. It doesn’t work well for my audience. I’m anti credit card anyway so it’s hard to write those articles. I need to find more affiliate products that fit my site.

  4. Forest Parks says:

    I’ve been not worried about putting ads on EverydayNomad.com but more just biding my time about the types of ads so for now I have very few. I put the odd affiliate link in.

    It may be that affiliates end up the only links I have but I will likely test adsense when traffic is a bit higher too.

  5. Tony O. says:

    Thanks, Jim. As a someone starting out I’m using WordPress to host. Is there any ad limitation or disadvantage using WordPress vs. another host or self-hosting?

    • Jim Wang says:

      Are you using WordPress.com or are you just using WordPress as your content management system? I prefer to get hosting and then install WordPress on that platform, over using a WordPress.com or similar solution. A lot of hosting companies now have one-click installs and upgrades so the management of WP is near trivial.

      • Tony O. says:

        I’m using WordPress.com. Didn’t fully realize that I could get hosted elsewhere and then install WordPress.

        • Jim Wang says:

          Yeah, WordPress.com is convenient but I always prefer to host it myself (ie. get hosting).

          • Tony O. says:

            Ok, so Workpress.ORG is the CMS program, whereas WordPress.COM is the WordPress’s own hosting service with their built-in CMS. Very confusing, had no idea there was a difference.

            When registering a domain, any opinion on whether you should pay the extra fee to get Domain Privacy so that your name, address, email and phone number show up, or is this just another way the hosting companies try to upsell you?

          • Jim Wang says:

            Some people like the privacy and it is a way to upsell you. I have a common name and I have a PO Box so I didn’t do it. On some domains I have put it on though, because people can find your sites given just your WHOIS info if it’s not private.

          • Derek Chamberlain says:

            Tony,

            I did a post that can walk you through the whole process of how to do this for yourself. Check it out here How to Setup a Blog for Fun or Profit.

            Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions!

  6. Michael @ Financial Ramblings says:

    I say go for it from the start. That way people won’t be disillusioned if/when you add them later.

    • Jim Wang says:

      Yeah I’m torn on that one, especially for first time bloggers who may not know their way around some ad networks. If you’re familiar with it, by all means spend the extra few minutes and your readers will never know you were once without ads!

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