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Torched From the Adsense Program (and Liberated from Pay Per Click Advertising)

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 [...]

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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.

Filed under: Advertising, Digital Nomad, Make Money, Traveling Webmaster

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3706 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

18 comments… add one

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  • the candy trail January 22, 2013, 3:23 am

    Damn. That is strange and shitty. Did a person from Google actually browse your site or was it a dumb ass robot – cos any blind fool can see that VJ is packed with quality reading. Maybe you should write to them to review their decision? 
    Regards – MRP – the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

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    • Vagabond Journey January 22, 2013, 4:12 am

      @the candy trail Yes, I did submit an appeal. But it seems to be one of those things where if they reverse their decision you will hear about it, if not, you’ll never hear anything. I’m not hopeful though, as from what I can tell reversals are very rarely granted. But I guess it was time for a major change on the site anyway. I can’t say that I know what I’m going to do, but I have a feeling it will work out.

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    • Jackq7a January 22, 2013, 7:36 am

      @the candy trail I agree, it’s really seems like someone at Google really lost the plot. Wade is right when he says crap sites are what google likes. Maybe this is a badge of honor for VJ?

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      • Vagabond Journey January 22, 2013, 8:51 am

        @Jackq7a  @the candy trail For sure. It seems as if they lost the plot when they started acting like it was Google vs. the rest of the internet. The big G used to be a company that helped small, independent webmasters, now they seem to be doing whatever they can to wipe us off the face of the web. What can you do? We’ll keep plowing forward.

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  • Skidrow January 22, 2013, 11:16 am

    “There is something wrong here.” I bet you ten adsense clicks that it has something to do with the Chinese government! Look at what you have been reporting on, you are writing about information the Chinese government likes to keep a lid on. Seems rather silly, but they are control freaks. Better wake up and watch your families back.
    The warnings shot has been fired. Better pack you bags and move.

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    • Vagabond Journey January 22, 2013, 7:21 pm

      I’m not so sure about this. I think they would have censored the site first before trying to remove my source of funding. Anyway, we haven’t really reported on anything too sensitive. If anything, we’re often far less critical than even the mainstream Western media. Thanks for the suggestion though.

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      • Jackq7a January 22, 2013, 9:45 pm

        @Vagabond Journey But Skidrow’s explanation still makes more sense than the official Google reason.

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        • Vagabond Journey January 22, 2013, 10:31 pm

          @Jackq7a That’s true!

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    • the candy trail January 22, 2013, 9:29 pm

      I also doubt that this is the case … I, myself, am also presently in China and what Wade is reporting is not radical politics. It’s hard to see how Google would be involved – since they’re had their spat with the govt. and have been off the mainland (and in exile on HK) for some time now. VJ would probably be hacked and/or blocked if it was a target.

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  • Vagabond Journey January 23, 2013, 3:05 am

    @the candy trail @Jackq7a My Adsense account for VagabondJourney.com was just reactivated. This is what they said:
    “Thank you for making the requested changes to your site in order to comply with our policies. After thoroughly reviewing vagabondjourney.com, we have now re-enabled ad serving to this site.”
    Don’t really know what to do now. I talked a big game above and I like the idea of finding forms of funding that are not advertisement based, but the only one that I can come up with is reader support. 
    What do you guys think?

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    • Vagabond Journey January 23, 2013, 3:58 am

      @the candy trail  @Jackq7a I brought the matter up with my wife. She said,”Of course you are going to put the ads back up, honey. The only way that you are going to be able to sit around all day on the computer is if you make money.”

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      • the candy trail January 23, 2013, 8:43 am

        @Vagabond Journey  @the candy trail  @Jackq7a  Go with the flow – put the ads back. Keep them until you can at lest find a viable replacement. However, I have no idea about monetizing websites.

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    • Jackq7a January 23, 2013, 5:38 am

      @Vagabond Journey  About the appeal, what might have happened is somebody made a complaint about your site, or more likely a bunch of people did. Google kicked you out without reviewing your site. You appealed and a real person viewed the site. A shoot first ask questions later approach. 
      Let me give some advice. Stick the ads back up their because money in your pocket is better than someone else’s pocket. That said, I’d start angling for different ways to make money from your sites. I don’t have any real ideas of how to monetize the site easily. Maybe some ancillary travel services?
      Maybe do a Wall Street Journal kind of thing, you usually put together a long article once a week or so. Make them subscription based? Your writing deserves to be supported.
      Anyways, I want to talk with you on the phone about something else so drop me your digits in an email when you see this. I’m in Beijing right now.

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  • russjstrong January 31, 2013, 7:21 pm

    If they’re going to ban you they should at least have a better reason! …”sites displaying Google ads should provide substantial and useful information to the user.” LOL, your site provides incredibly substantial and useful information, and when they say “… Users should be able to easily navigate through the site to find what products, goods, or services are promised” what they really mean, as you already know, is that users should be clicking on more ads and not enjoying your site so much!
    The takeaway point here is that you have been able to do what many sites cannot do, and that is engage your readers and get them to spend more than 3 seconds on your site finding quality information. Since people aren’t leaving your site enough to make Google happy, I’m sure you can find a way to benefit by them staying on your site longer. I’ve followed many sites who dumped Google years ago for that reason, so they can capitalize on their own success in keeping readers rather than throwing them away for a few cents a click.
    I think if you can find a way to create subscription based products or articles in addition to your free content that you will have a real winner. You create some pretty awesome content based on whatever country you are living in at the time, so maybe you could create enhanced “for pay” writings, keep most of it free as usual and then have an enhanced reader program for a few bucks a month. I’m sure the appeal of getting real, on the ground reporting from where ever you are is worth something. I don’t know of many other travel sites that put out such in depth, culturally relevant and detailed articles about places like you do.
    Something like that, play around and see what works. If you’re getting donations from readers I’m sure there are some who would pay for the real quality stuff.

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    • Vagabond Journey January 31, 2013, 10:09 pm

      @russjstrong Thanks so much for all the support and advice. Adsense actually reinstated Vagabond Journey recently. It took me a while to put the ads back up, as I would like to pursue other ways of making this site work, but the options are pretty limited. I am trying to move the site over to a reader supported format from voluntary donations, but it’s going to take some time. A reader supported blog is definitely the “purest” way to finance content in this era, but very, very, very few sites can really pull it off. I’ll try, and see where it gets us 🙂

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  • gar October 22, 2013, 6:19 pm

    “…provide substantial and useful information to the user.”

    My two cents worth (and late as usual) is this: Vagabond Journey has had a major influence in my life. It has provided me with more substantial and useful information than I can possible convey in a short comment.

    To me VJ was a life-changer. It gave me the inspiration and the nerve to do what I do now; travel the world as a retirement strategy rather than being warehoused in some government room somewhere waiting to die. I even took my alias (Senior Vagabond) from Vagabond Journey.

    Keep up the good work Wade.

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    • Wade Shepard October 23, 2013, 2:23 am

      Thanks Gar,

      Truly appreciated. The situation got cleared up pretty soon after it happened. I appealed the decision and the site was readmitted, only losing around a week or so of revenue.

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  • Ravindra December 30, 2013, 9:06 am

    Same is the case here.. adsense just doesn’t approve and the reason that they give doesn’t really make any sense, but I just continue writing my blog b’coz i love to and when ever i gain knowledge.. i just share it as a new blog post.. Let me know if you see any issues with my blog.. when I had applied..i did not have ads placed..thnx

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