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Ads are a typical way to monetize a blog. After all, you aren’t doing all this work for free, right?
In the early times of blogging and digital content creation, ads were one of the first and easiest ways to monetize your site. It still remains a popular way to create revenue for bloggers.
But, how much is it helping your business grow versus hurting it? At what point does running ads cross the line into driving away visitors rather than allowing you to grow your business?
This post is part of a series I’m writing looking at the 20 questions Google suggests for digital content creators to ask themselves when optimizing for SEO, and they all focus on delivering great content to your reader.
Here is the question Google posed about ads on your site:
Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
The key terms here are:
- Distract from the main content.
- Interfere with the main content.
I’ll unpack this below, but you’ll see that based on actual studies, these are the types of ads that bother your reader the most.
Kinds of ads users hate
The correlation between ads that disrupt the main content and users hating them is high. And, that makes sense.
The more an ad thwarts the progress of your reader trying to read content or find a recipe, the more frustrated they will get.
In a study done by the Nielsen Norman Group, they found that the most intrusive ads are the most hated. The top two types are:
- Modal (ads or pop-ups that cover content)
- Auto-play video (doesn’t specify sound on or off)
And this 2019 study from eMarketer.com reports similar findings. It shows video ads, both with and without sound, as at the top.
The Coalition for Better Ads, of which many large companies like Facebook, and many ad management companies, are a part of, lists seven types of ads that don’t meet their standards on mobile.
Here is a summary:
- Pop-up ads.
- Flashing animation.
- Ads that cover all your content. (Three types.)
- Auto-play video with sound.
- Large sticky ads.
The other item they list is that ad content should not be at a higher density than 30%. Meaning, that even if your site doesn’t have annoying ads, it’s possible to have too many ads.
To read the full details and analysis, check out the Coalition for Better Ads resource page.
What’s the full picture
That’s a good deal of data, and one issue is that no research covers all ad types.
That’s one reason all of that info is slightly different. All of the research asks about slightly different types of ads.
But, we can tell based on the answers, and based on the original question Google posed, that anything disruptive is not going to sit well with your readers or with SEO.
I’ve noticed some of the ad management companies that participate in the Coalition for Better Ads have found ways to skirt the rules.
For instance, they run video ads without sound, which is approved, but then make them pop-up and follow you around on the screen, which covers tons of content.
But based on everything we’ve seen in the research, we should know this is a type of ad that users will hate. Since it’s not specifically listed as a “no” though, the companies are pushing it.
Types of ads users don’t mind
Contrary to how it may seem, most blog users do understand the purpose of ads, and don’t really mind ones that are less intrusive.
Frankly, most users have what’s called “Banner Blindness” and have trained themselves to skip over actually viewing unintrusive ads.
That said, the ads users find least annoying are (based on the Norman Nielson Group study again):
- Right sidebar
- Related links
- Persistent banner on the bottom (mobile)
And if you look at the data from the Coalition for Better Ads, you see similar results.
However, their tests are often more specific. For instance, their data shows that the larger the banners are, the more annoying it is. So it isn’t only about placement, but also about size.
Why use ads people hate?
So the question is, why do we so often see bloggers using ad types that users hate?
Intrusive ads, are often the best performing. The instrusive nature of them forces the reader to interact, whether they want to or not.
Hopefully, you can see the inherent problem here. The way ads make the most money is to be super intrusive and annoying, yet the trade-off is that you deliver your users a bad experience and lower your SEO potential.
Ad optimization companies often only tell you part of the story. They tell you that their ads do really well, and they have optimized them as best they can.
They say how they are part of something like the Colation for Better Ads, and would never run pop-up ads because they’re too intrusive.
But then they also tell you how they love video pop-ups because that somehow serves your readers valuable content. (Users still hate it.)
Too small to run ads
The advice that if you haven’t hit a certain level, usually around 25k sessions per month, you are too small to run ads.
Let’s unpack that whole train of thought.
First, how much money do you need to make on ads to make it worth it? I mean, $20 is still $20, and that can buy a week’s worth of lattes.
Second, the argument is usually that you should focus solely on growing your audience, and that if you put ads on your site, it will likely slow down that growth.
Perhaps. But let me tell you a secret: that also will happen whenever you decide to start running ads. This somehow gets forgotten once you hit numbers to get on with a large ad network.
Yes, your ad revenue is larger because you are (likely) serving intrusive ads*, but your growth will also slow down, too. Or at the very least, you will then be creating unsatisfied readers, and no one wants that.
(*Okay, ad revenue with companies like Mediavine and AdThrive is typically higher for three reasons. 1) They find ways to serve more intrusive ads, 2) They often serve more ads and have your ads more backfilled than “lesser” networks, and 3) they are able to get better advertisers that pay more because they have a screening process for their networks.)
I think it’s fine to start using non-intrusive ads as soon as you want. (But, even networks like AdSense want you to show signs of an established blog.)
So, I’d work on getting your blog off the ground first, but once you feel like you’ve come out of the gate running, go right ahead.
Keep in mind you won’t make very much, possibly a few dollars per thousand visitors. This is why I think ads aren’t the best way to monetize your site, at any level.
Keep reading for ideas on other ways to make money on your blog.
Should I use ads on my site
I support showing ads on your site if they are less intrusive. Users are used to them, and it is an easy way to monetize your blog.
I don’t believe ads are the best way to make money on your food blog, but they can play a part. Ads are an easy way to get a passive revenue stream going.
Don’t worry about how many views or sessions you have. Use something like AdSense. Spend some time learning about it, and best practices.
For instance, creating a backup ad (possibly for your email list or for a product you have) is a great way to make sure your ad space is always filled when using AdSense.
But, whether you place ads yourself, or work with an ad network, always keep in mind the tradeoffs, especially if you start using ones that are intrusive.
How else can I make money as a food blogger
When people think, “I’ll start a blog and monetize it”, the main way they think that happens is by displaying ads on their site. But, there are many (better) options.
My belief is that ads should work as a basic, passive catch-all, but should be just one part of your overall monetization strategy.
Ad revenue is based on views or clicks, and that is often very finicky based on the time of year or trends. It also leaves you in the lurch if Google has an algorithm change that doesn’t favor you, or if Pinterest doesn’t show your pins as often.
You should have two overall goals regarding how to make money on your blog.
- Diversify your revenue streams.
- Build an unbelievably loyal customer base.
Easy enough? Do those two things, and you will be golden.
Affiliate marketing is a gold-mine for many bloggers, especially food bloggers, if done well.
This is where you sign up with a company and then get a certain amount of money back for any referrals that end in a purchase.
Often companies that offer classes or products will also offer affiliate programs for referrals.
The key to being an affiliate is actively promoting and talking about the products on your affiliate network.
For example, simply setting up a “Shop” page on your site is not going to bring in the revenue you want.
You need to link products throughout your blog posts, and push on social when appropriate and as allowed by the affiliate program.
For instance, when making a slow cooker recipe, link to the slow cooker you used. When you bake muffins, link to that muffin tin.
This is why affiliate marketing is so powerful for food bloggers. These links naturally fit into your blog post, and many readers will actually find the links beneficial and not the least bit distracting.
Your Own Products
A variety of options exist for products you can create and sell.
With nothing but your time and Canva, you can create an awesome digital download.
This is a great way to start monetizing early on. Come up with an idea that will connect with your readers. Perhaps a holiday guide, or an ebook with 25 of your recipes, and sell it.
You can also produce products like t-shirts, mugs, pens and so on, with your logo or a catchy saying. The sky’s the limit.
Many bloggers also have success in creating in-depth guides or courses around their expertise. This is a great option, but expect it to take a large amount of your time to create, and a decent amount of followers to make it successful.
Posts that sponsors pay for are becoming increasingly popular. These posts might be just on your blog, on social, or for any sort of combination.
It is a different type of ad, and one that some of your readers may be put off by. But if you thoughtfully work with brands you actually admire, it will be a win-win-win for you, your readers, and the brand.
Brands are increasingly seeing the value of food bloggers and influencers and are willing to pay good money for you to help promote their products.
Many will work with you well before you have a huge amount of website views or social followers, so it’s something to look into once you’ve established yourself at any level.
If you have ads disrupting your reader’s experience, you are likely hurting your SEO and limiting the number of readers you can convert into committed followers.
Focus on delivering a great user experience. That can (and maybe should) include non-intrusive ads.
Instead of focusing on just the acquisition of eyeballs through SEO, focus on the whole picture. Get readers to your site, convert them to followers, and monetize through different revenue streams.
Looking for more in-depth help with your blog? Check out my site audit offering just for bloggers!