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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