January 02, 2002

The Secret to My Success

NOTE: Although this post appears as having been made on 1/2/2002, I actually posted this on 2/12/2010, for reasons of my own.

As anyone who has read my blog since 2005 knows, I've hosted contextual ads in one form or another for a good half decade. I became aware of the capability of blogs to host contextual ads while reading a TIME magazine on an airplane trip home from Christmas in Maui in 2004.

For well over a year, my experimental toe dip into the world of contextual ads was a monumental flop, which really wasn't all that surprising since my blog at that time didn't get more than 100 visits or so a day. I was lucky to make a penny, at most, and the idea of actually surpassing the $100 mark and receiving a check seemed laughable.

And then my Mom asked me to buy her some panties in the spring of 2006, which kicked off a curious string of events.

In that post about buying my Mom panties, specifically OLGA panties, I made some disparaging remarks about women named Olga, to which a couple blog commenters chided me and told me to do a Google Image Search (GIS) on "Olga." I did so, and a couple of the top results yielded (1) a topless woman being all seductive on a bed and (2) a sillouette of a naked guy squatting down so far that his testicles rested on a rock. I updated that post and linked to both images. Sadly, the topless woman link is now dead, but you can still view Mr. Teabag, should you wish.

Well, a few weeks passed after that post. My wife (then girlfriend) and I visited my parents in Tokyo, I gave my mother her requested panties, and a fine vacation was had by all.

A couple months passed, and then in July I noticed my blog traffic was unusually high. Like, hundreds and hundreds of people a day. Curiousity finally got the better of me, so I dug deeper into my SiteMeter stats and discovered lots and lots of people were coming to my blog after doing GIS searches on "Olga." For some reason that still baffles me to this day, even though I never actually hosted the image of the topless Olga, the mere fact that I linked to the image confused search engines into thinking the image actually appeared on my blog.

It was at that point it occured to me to check my contextual ad earnings. To my surprise, instead of making a penny every five days or so, I was earning as much as five to ten cents a day.

That's when the gears in my dusty little mind started to grind and clank. If a single link to a picture of a topless woman could increase my traffic like that, imagine if I linked to dozens, if not hundreds of women in various stages of undress.

And so began an experiment, of sorts.

I started seeding my old blog archives with links to images of scantily clad and not clad ladies. There was no real rhyme or reason to my process. I just picked random words and turned them into hyperlinks to images.

My general thinking was, since contextual ads paid by the click, my business model would be based on the premise that, if you get enough people coming to your blog looking for naked women, the law of general human stupidity dictates at least SOME of them will click the ads, most likely by accident.

It eventually proved to be a most excellent business model.

It wasn't until a couple of months later that I started to see the results of my experiment. And the results, I should say, were remarkable. My blog traffic started to climb, and I mean it started to climb like the space shuttle.

In October of 2006, I received my first ever check for contextual ads. It was only a slight taste; about $160, but I was all in.

Over the next several months, I went hog wild through my archives. I bombed old posts with image after image. I discovered PhotoShopped images of celebrities were particularly sought after, so I made extensive celebrity lists all linked to images of PhotoShopped celebrities, or I just made a list and linked to random naked women. It didn't matter; all that mattered was that the images showed up in GIS searches and led to my blog. I continued blogging as normal, but my early archives started to look the the deranged linking of a madman.

Which got me to thinking. . .

I started studying up a bit more on HTML and Web design, until I figured out how to make hotlinks just look like normal text. After all, I didn't want anybody to figure out what I was up to. I figured, if I really wanted somebody to see a hyperlink, I could just bold the damned thing.

By February of 2007, I was getting over 150k visitors a month, and checks were arriving regularly, and those checks were really increasing in value.

And then I discovered the world of "High Value Keywords," at which point I embarked on the zenith of my experiment. "High Value Keywords," as the term implies, are search engine terms that are considered of exceptional value, for a variety of reasons. Typically, insurance terms, credit terms and a variety of health terms generate fairly valuable returns in terms of search engine optimization (SEO).

Back to my archives I went, tailoring page after page to optimize the content so the contextual ads would start sporting content that generated valuable results. And it didn't take long for healthcare and credit card advertisements to start popping up, either.

On March 31, 2007, my blog made $29.08 in a single day. While that may not be much for professional Webmasters, for a guy linking to naughty images on a free hosted blog, it was the equivalent of dollars from Heaven.

By April and May of 2007, my blog traffic was exceeding 250k visitors a month, and I started to get kind of skittish about the kind of numbers I was seeing. So it was I started to pseudonymize my blog by rotating the title, as well as embarking on other measures that would make my blog not quite as discoverable by potential employers.

On June 12, 2007, my blog made $40.94 on a single day.

At this point, my wife (then girlfriend) and I had made it a point to celebrate every time I hit a monetary milestone. We had gone out to eat after my first $10 day, my first $20 day, my first $30 day, and now, my first $40 day. At that point, I was starting to envision a life of eating out practically every day of the week.

On Aug. 7, 2007, my blog made $62.45 on a single day.

Although I didn't know it at the time, that August day would be the most my blog would earn in a solitary day. The month of August, however, would go down as the month during which my blog cleared 450k visitors and earned just over $1,200.

It's been all downhill from there. At some point, whether because the search engines tweaked their algorithms, or because the Web is just becoming so chock full of Web pages and content, my blog traffic just started to taper off, and the people who make the unknown rules governing contextual ad earnings, apparently sniffed out that something wasn't "quite right" about my blog. Subsequent checks were worth about $800, $600, $500, $300 and so on, until May/June of 2008, my blog failed to generate the $100 necessary to warrant a check.

I still received checks, intermittently, since then, but the halcyon days of August 2007 are but a distant memory.

So, why do I bring up this story now? There are a few reasons. First off, in my mind it's one ridiculously hilarious story: an online blog business model spawned by my mother asking me to buy her panties. Secondly, why not? I'm back to making a nickel a day, so it's not like I'm paying the mortgage with my earnings (any more). But, thirdly, and most important, I think this story illustrates the fundamental shortcomings of the contextual ad business model.

I mean, I'm just a hack blogger who happened to notice a weird hiccup in the way search engines operate that allowed me to freakishly distort my number of monthly visitors and, by extension, rely on the stupidity of horny men to accidentally click my hosted ads. I don't imagine that's exactly what companies are hoping for when they agree to buy a contextual ad.

Imagine what actual, Web-savvy content publishers can cook up to inflate their earnings and game the system? I'm a mere piker by comparison, I would imagine.

That's not to say there aren't legitimate Web sites out there hosting contextual ads as a means to make money. But the opportunity to exploit a Web system practically no one seems to fully understand and that's perpetually changing, creating more avenues for exploit, seems like a recipe for all out fraud. It's not something I'd want to dedicate my advertising dollars toward, if I were to run a company.

Business experts of all stripes have declared the death of print advertising and the eventual triumph of online advertising.

They may want to rethink that, at least a little bit. I mean, at least with print ads, people don't absentmindedly click them while ogling a random pair of breasts.

Posted by Ryan at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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