Update, 23/01/2013: After submitting an appeal, Adsense re-enabled ad serving to this site. I’m not sure if I’m going to put the ads back up, please read this article and tell me your opinion in the comments below.
I received the proverbial pink slip from Google’s Adsense program a few days ago. They notified me that their ads will no longer run on VagabondJourney.com. For a moment I was rendered speechless, then a sense of despair overtook me as it sunk in that my main source of income and the economic lifeblood of this blog has expired. But these feelings quickly turned to exasperation when I read the reason why the site was given the boot:
“As stated in our program policies, sites displaying Google ads should provide substantial and useful information to the user. Users should be able to easily navigate through the site to find what products, goods, or services are promised. While reviewing your site, our team of specialists determined that it does not comply with the spirit of these guidelines.”
Now, I’m more than a little subjective on this matter, but it seems to me that this just isn’t true. There is a good deal of empirical evidence which speaks to the contrary of Adsense’s claim:
1) VagabondJourney.com has consistently been covered by major websites and news networks. In the past week alone I had articles covered by Mail Online (one of the most popular websites on the planet), Jyllands Posten (Denmark’s biggest news source), and BBC’s The World requested an interview. Either myself or Vagabond Journey has also been featured on CBS Phoenix TV news, covered by MSNBC, NBC LA, interviewed by the Des Moines Register, Calgary’s AM 770, De Pers Magazine (Netherlands), Mint.com, AOL’s Shelterpop, cited by Smithsonian.com, Scienceblogs.com, Global Voices Online, The Bangor Daily News, was named one of the top 40 travel websites in the world by Wisebread.com, and has won numerous top blog awards and accolades. Major media sources do not give airtime to websites that don’t “provide substantial and useful information to the user.”
2) VagabondJourney.com is one of the highest trafficked (90,000 monthly visitors) and longest lasting (since 2005) travel related blogs on the planet.
3) . . . This is stupid, I know that I don’t need to prove myself to you. I’m confident that the large community of readers here wouldn’t waste their time reading a website that lacked quality.
There is something wrong here.
Though I will say this: it’s real poor form for Google as a company to flip a switch and cut off the livelihoods of living, breathing humans for vague and mysterious reasons with no advanced warning at all. It is also a little irritating to receive a highbrow message from them acting as if you intentionally violated their terms of service and deserve to be punished, when in fact you’ve done nothing wrong other than partner with a company that has a reputation for such arrogance.
Though I know that I did not get shafted as hard as many others. I did not quit a good job to run my website, I don’t have house, a car, or educations expenses for my child to pay, and the amount of income that has been cut off from me — though the bulk of my earnings — was relatively nominal. There are many testimonies from webmasters who were making thousands of dollars per month who were recently dropped from Adsense for no fault of their own.
The fact of the matter is that the Adsense program keeps roughly 40% of all earnings that are made through running ads on my site, and if they don’t want the thousands and thousands of dollars this site makes them per year all I can do is wonder why and move on.
The new Vagabond Journey
It was time for a change here anyway. Advertisement financed media is altered media. That’s the fact of the matter: you don’t bite the hand that feeds, you err towards building content that suits the entities that provide your revenue. This is the same with huge sites like the NY Times as it is with independent blogs like Vagabond Journey. Though an editor or writer may not always directly censor themselves in the name of appeasing advertisers, a certain set of parameters always keeps them hemmed in.
In the amount of time that it took to read an email, these parameters were lifted from this site. Amid the anger, confusion, and despair from momentarily losing my livelihood, came a sense of liberation:
We are now outside of the bounds of advertising. We’ve declared our independence, we’ve been liberated from the bounds of pay per click advertising. We’re free — free and poor.
The main problem with pay per click (PPC) advertising is that it comes with an inherent irony: these types of ads perform better on low quality pages.
It’s simple: visitors who are reading a high-quality article or blog post that they’re enjoying are generally less likely to click away on an advertisement than they would be from a page that is so crappy that they are looking for a way to escape.
Under a monetization system based on PPC advertising, the content — the articles, blog posts, etc . . . — is merely a bridge between potential customers and companies selling products. For each person who crosses over to the other side via your pontoon, you get paid a small sum of money. A website funded by the PPC method makes money from visitors clicking away from their content rather than reading it. Generally speaking, the higher quality a website, the lower the click through rate its ads will have.
When you’ve found what you’re looking for on a website your search is over. This is the irony of high-quality sites trying to support themselves through automated advertising programs like Adsense.
Enter Google’s inherent problem with their ad program: poor content makes them money. With a recent spate of lawsuits and loads of press about this conundrum Google has been forced to clean shop. It seems as if each time a university or special interest group study comes out and demonstrates how Adsense finances poor quality websites, the company strikes back with figures of how many sites and accounts they’ve torched from this program.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of collateral damage in these purges, and many well-meaning webmasters with good sites are getting caught in the crossfire.
The fact of the matter is that all web publishers who rely on Google for their sustenance have to be ready for the plug to be pulled at any time. What Google giveth Google can taketh away.
What am I going to do now?
Is this the end of Vagabond Journey?
This is the end of an era for Vagabond Journey, I have to admit this, but each ending just leads to a new beginning. Though our financial foundation has been cut out from under us, though this site no longer even makes enough money to pay for itself (server expense alone is nearly $200 per month), we will keep on publishing daily. Our team of correspondents will remain intact and employed. Expect no changes as far as our production goes.
Though moving away from advertising platforms means a whole new strategy for content creation and community cultivation. Where before it was essential to produce articles that would bring in the organic search traffic (the most monetizable type of traffic), our focus is now totally on our readership. This is where it should be. There are no longer any contending interests at work here, this site is about you and me and the community of readers that gather here.
We will now do everything in our power to cultivate community. We now have a new social commenting system in place and we encourage everybody to use it. The more comments, the more reader participation, the better. I will also answer more questions from readers and post more letters and submissions from the community.
In the coming days I will put a form in the sidebar so that readers can easily ask questions or submit messages to the community. Now more than ever this site needs to be a project, a publication not only made for but made by its users. The internet is a bottom-up medium of publication, and this needs to be embraced more on this site.
Google Adsense stopped giving me money but they have not taken anything away from me. We still have our site, all our content, our team of correspondents, our knowledge of how to run a big blog in the web 2.0 era. We still have all of our email and RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and Google+ whatever-you-call-them. We still bring in 90,000 unique visitors per month.
We’re still in a good place.
With a little restructuring I think we can twist this setback into a turning point for future success.
When I was a teenager my father lost his job at Kodak. He worked there for nearly 20 years and one day they notified him (and tens of thousands of others) that his services would no longer be needed. I remember how he took a week or two off and fixed up some things around the house, then he went out and got a job as a temp employee with a contracting agency. Two months later he was taken on as a temp at a university. A few months after that he was hired. He then worked his way up to being a foreman, and he is now way better off than he ever was before he was laid off.
He says that he was lucky, but I know that luck was a negligible factor here. The fact of the matter was that he was smart enough to have previously prepared himself with a trade, driven enough to excel in it, and adaptable enough to meet a change of circumstance. The situation that I’m in now pales in comparison, but I know that if I follow this model we can turn this situation around and make this project better than it ever was before.
Thank you for your continued support.