Why I’ve stopped including ads on this blog

For those of you who actually come to my site and read my popular Intuitive Life Business Blog, you are quite familiar with the ubiquitious Google AdSense block that has been a feature of the layout and design for years. It has paid off, approx $300/month or so, but after talking with many smart bloggers at Blogworld Expo in Vegas, I came to the conclusion that the small revenue stream was not worth the cost.
What cost? Well, let’s talk about that for a sec…

(see, I still write with the intent of bringing you to the site, though since I no longer have any adverts, it’s less important. Give me time, I’ll need to break some habits here!)
The main cost of having advertising can be demonstrated by Consumer Reports, where they recognize that it’s darn hard to be impartial and have credibility when you have advertising from the very companies you’re writing about. How can you say bad things about a Toyota, for example, if you’re simultaneously accepting pay from the corporation for that new advert on the back cover of the magazine?
AdSense makes the buying and selling of advertisements much more abstract, of course, since I don’t know what ads you would see when you loaded a page that contains an ad block: it’s certainly not exactly the same as I see when I view the page, though. Nonetheless, can you talk about business and have business adverts, while remaining credible?
Certainly publications like BusinessWeek think so, but then again, that publication recently shot itself in the foot with a ghastly redesign and it was only last week I cancelled (yes, cancelled!) my print subscription. Maybe the tension between adverts and unbiased content is tougher than it appears?
Those of you that know my background are aware that I was Reviews Editor at the long-defunct Advanced Systems Magazine, an IDG publication. I spent a fair amount of time with the ad sales guys – they were great party types! – but I was always aware of the tension between them selling adverts so we could get paid versus our side writing critical, unbiased reviews. The secret truth? While we strove to be unbiased, the selection criteria for which of the many hardware and software products we had would get reviewed was unquestionably influenced by which companies were enthusiastic advertisers and which wouldn’t give us the time of day.
I hung out with the people at the Macworld test lab too (we were in the same building) and my impression was that they had a similar challenge and addressed it in a similar fashion too. You can test this: pick up any random computer magazine and see if, over the course of a few months, they tend to review more products from companies that advertise or companies that keep a lower profile?
Okay, before I sound too idealistic about advertising and bias, I should also say that many times I have wanted to blog about something interesting in the business or tech world but have skipped it because my layout required that I always write at least a few paragraphs of content so that the text flowed around the advertisement block. I know, stupid reason, but sometimes, uh, function follows form?
Anyway, sound off: I now have an advertising-free business blog here and am definitely planning on adding more snippets and shorter entries, not focusing exclusively on the novels I write (like this one, oy!) Is this a good move?

20 comments on “Why I’ve stopped including ads on this blog

  1. “Nonetheless, can you talk about business and have business adverts, while remaining credible?”
    Doesn’t this apply to every ad-supported publication on the planet? If your answer is ‘no’–and it appears to be–then isn’t your logical conclusion that every ad-supported publication on the planet is prone to corruption?

  2. While technically yes, you cannot be considered entirely impartial, but there is a practical side, namely money. People who read any ad sponsored publication for a period of time will soon figure out whether its practically impartial or not. If the only cons for a tech product are “Doesn’t come in mauve”, you know its probably not an impartial review. Also, as you mention, Adsense takes some partiality tendencies out of the mix.
    I say just write, make money from it, and let caveat emptor rule.

  3. Most of the folks I talked to at BlogWorld Expo were of the opposite mind, but their suggestions were to sell direct advertising space, rather than using Google AdSense. That way you can control the who and the what.

  4. I will answer your question Darren by saying I have never dealt with an ad supported publication that wasn’t influenced in some way by advertisers.
    Now I certainly haven’t dealt with every magazine on the planet but I have dealt with hundreds of them in many different industries. As Dave explains in his own real life experience that pressure is always there. I am sure some deal with it better than others but for some to completely resist the temptation of a little extra coverage, or not slam their largest advertiser?
    Personally I just find that hard to believe.That doesn’t mean all ad supported pubs are shills for their advertisers. I will even say most are not.
    You are also absolutely correct that in the end you need to pay the rent and historically content is supported by advertising. Very few successfully are able to support themselves via a subscription model.
    I say you should pursue whatever works for you Dave.

  5. I think the more interesting question is the influence on *how* you write, as opposed to what you write about.
    Great stuff, please follow up with how it changes your approach to writing.

  6. I think people are “ad blind” e.g. they don’t even see them any more.
    I have never bothered to add advertising, probably because I thought it would somehow detract from what I wrote, but I certainly don’t have any evidence to back that up other than personal preferece.
    Enjoy the $300, or give it to charity, like http://www.kiva.org.

  7. Dave, I always thought you were a purist at heart. I applaud your action.
    I’m tempted to play devil’s advocate and suggest you do the same at AskDaveTaylor.com. Ha, ha. Purist, though you may be, I’m sure you’re equally a pragmatist as well.
    Seriously though, in spite of my good-natured attempt to rag you, a question does beg to be answered. That is, is there a point at which economic pragmatism wins out over adherence to a philosophic or ethical ideal?
    Perhaps your decision was solely rooted in pragmatism to begin with and had nothing whatsoever to do with a philosophy. Regardless, I’d like to see you respond to that question.
    Finally, as to advertising bias in print pubs, I can say a “yes and amen” to the fact that such bias exists. When I was with Blogging Systems, we advertised in a national real estate mag. That advertising also got us editorial content we would not have received otherwise — both in the form of a monthly column and two feature articles.

  8. Interesting. I see this is not the case on the AskDaveTaylor blog, which makes sense. But, I am still curious about your decision. Granted, $300 isn’t too much money to forgo, but the veil of objectivity is always a challenge. For example, some bloggers are particularly nice/easy to their friends when they do reviews of companies that a friend is associated with — without disclosing the friendship — no money exchanged, but in the long run serves the friendship.
    Just another point to ponder in relation to your decision.

  9. Dave,
    I agree with your decision.
    The fundamental flaws I first perceived with Adsense ads, (and others) are even more relevant on a true authority site like yours,
    and with the heightened awareness among readers.
    Immediately sending people off your page, has long been the catch 22 of ads on any site.
    And the current population of browsers who would reach a superior quality site like yours,
    have become far more aware that the publisher has opted for that real estate use.
    Are visitors really worth more as a click, or a sticky, returning reader?
    To me, it is not even a conundrum to consider once a site has any gravity,
    and/or the owner is not dependent on that income to develop further.
    Blogs or sites with the elite quality of yours should have either no ads, or minimal displays highly targeted to your own products,
    or other high quality offerings in which you participate (Stomper, BlogWorldExpo, etc).

  10. Well Dave since I have met you I do understand your noble gesture of going adsense free, it is like a nicotine habit, you know it is bad for you, but it does have it’s pleasures. I believe that there must be a higher purpose to the idea though. I mean many websites before the dotcom fall were ad-free. That is why many of them failed, no revenue. If this is your hobby website now that is great, but I think of the number 275 and I believe you still do as well. Keep up the great work..

  11. Dave:
    I think it’s a pretty good idea, although, one of the by-products of this step could have equal or greater value than the increased editorial integrity you may gain.
    Businesses should [ideally] focus on the business that they’re in. In your case, is it advertising? Or, is it high-quality, unforgettable advice provided through consulting contracts, books, lectures, etc? Obviously, it’s the latter and your recent step to eliminate ads is an indicator that you’re most definitely not in the write-something-smart — sell-a-few-clicks business. 😉
    There’s nothing wrong with being in the advertising business and using good content to achieve success along that axis. But bloggers, writers, etc. should make a clear choice, because a clear business mission will lead to greater focus, and that is more likely to create a successful outcome.
    Our philosophy at MyST is to generally discourage ads on our client’s blogsites. But in most cases (the vast majority), they already know that coupling third-party ads with their domain expertise runs in the face of their business objectives. They instinctively know they’re not in the business of selling ads; they earn revenues doing other things and they use their business blogsites to create better customer service, better transparency, better feedback, better findability, increased brand visibility and equity, etc.

  12. I think your reasons are crystal clear, Dave. As soon as the ad makes you change your editorial decisions, it’s time to lose the ad.
    You’re not gonna turn into one of those trackback hounds with one-line posts, though, right? 😀

  13. Earlier this month I removed all ads from my site as well. I was nervous to do so, but I believe my site now has a higher quality “feel” about it.
    So Dave are your RSS feeds going to have full text now?

  14. My guess is that if the advertising was effective to the point that we were talking about thousands of dollars a month it would have remained. However, since the monetization from Google ads detracted from the message and did not perform, they are gone.
    However, I doubt Dave is going to stop trying to monetize the site, it just will be done from a different angle such as nifty orange email opt-in boxes on the site… 🙂

  15. I have a homeless blog and thought about using adsense to pick up donation money for the homeless. The blog is fairly popular and addresses homeless veterans and homeless youth more than anything else.
    You have influenced me not to take the ads.
    My question is this: Once you dropped adsense did the number of visitors brought by google searches go down? I’ve heard that they push some of their ad customers closer to the top of their google queue. It would make sense to me.
    Did you notice anything going in or out e.g. starting the ads, ending them?

  16. I have never run ads in the twelve years I’ve run my site, mostly for the reasons you cite above.
    I think the move will cost you visitors, not simply because of the changes in Google search results, alluded to above, but because of what might be thought of as the clustering effect of commercial weblogs – the people trying to make a dollar off their sites reinforce each other, at the expense of the ‘amateurs’.
    But the credibility you will gain, in my view, more than makes up for that.

  17. Unless you are scheming to do something on ‘a grander scale’ then I don’t see what’s wise about removing a $300 a month watershed. That’s 3K a year or 30k every ten. Sounds like there is some underlying philosophical point you might be making a bout not making money from blogging but IDon’t really know much about that.

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