Dr. Dobbs is an iconic publication for programmers. Yesterday they announced that they’d be shutting down after 38 years of operation. Despite its growing audience, the site has failed to monetize those eyeballs to a degree that satisfies their parent company.
Sadness aside, what’s remarkable here is that their number of page views grew while revenue went down. That means that their RPM (Revenue Per Mille, so per thousand impressions) has gone down.
In fact, here is the motivation behind their decision:
Why would a well-known site, dearly loved by its readers and coming off a year of record page views, be sunset by its owner?
In one word, revenue. Four years ago, when I came to Dr. Dobb’s, we had healthy profits and revenue, almost all of it from advertising. Despite our excellent growth on the editorial side, our revenue declined such that today it’s barely 30% of what it was when I started. […] This is because in the last 18 months, there has been a marked shift in how vendors value website advertising. They’ve come to realize that website ads tend to be less effective than they once were. Given that I’ve never bought a single item by clicking on an ad on a website, this conclusion seems correct in the small.
What does this mean for much smaller online publications like bloggers? Ads have historically been the easiest way for bloggers to earn some income from their blogs. You’d embed some code obtained from a network like Google Adsense, and collect royalties at the end of the month. 
Google doesn’t allow disclosure of specific numbers about their program’s RPM so that’s not a conversation we can have. Nevertheless, if you Google it (boy have we come to depend on them) you’ll find that it’s not uncommon for blogs to sit somewhere between $1–4 per impression, depending on subject matter, ad position, ad network, etc. 
In general you’re allowed up to three ad placements on a page, so you could in theory have an RPM per page between $3 and $12. That means that a blog achieving 100,000 page views per month could be earning between $300-$1,200 solely from a single ad network.
Now, 100,000 page views per month are far from easy, but entirely possible after a while. And $300-$1,200 is a nice amount of extra pocket change for the occasional or even dedicated blogger. That’s not however the case if blogging is your day job or if you are a larger company with staff and writers to support.
Ads are not dead as far as bloggers are concerned, but those interested in maximizing their revenue must realize that advertising on the web has its limits. They are part of a healthy meal, but not the whole meal.
The reason for that was explained by the Dr. Dobb’s quote above. Advertisers have found web ads to not be as lucrative as other options. Ask anyone who’s tried their hand at Google Adwords and they will all tell you how easy it is to lose your shirt if you are not extremely careful, and how hard it is to make a profit.
People have learned to ignore ads. Banner blindness is as real as it ever was. For technical audiences, AdBlock plugins are also something to contend with.  The truth is that what’s good for advertisers is good for publishers, and ads have not been serving advertisers too well. 
Your blog revenue strategy shouldn’t count on ads alone. Sponsorship, directly negotiated with the right companies, are already more rewarding. However, I contend that affiliate marketing, done through genuine reviews, recommendations, and mentions is far superior both in terms of revenue and service offered to advertisers. Furthermore, if the recommendations are authentic and not done just for a quick buck, they serve your audience as well. It’s a win-win-win situation all around.
You’ll also want to consider being your own advertiser. Selling your own products and services through your blog can be extremely lucrative and doesn’t generally come across as disgraceful to your audience in the way that excessive advertisement can.
Finally, remember that a lot of value can be extracted from your blog in ways that are not directly translated into a dollar figure. As I stress in my book, blogging can open the door to new job opportunities, partnerships, the ability to promote your own projects or startup, increase your authority within your field, and many other indirect benefits.
- That is if Google didn’t randomly decide to accuse you of some form of fraudulent clicking and lock your account without paying you what you’ve already earned. ↩
- People who create sites and blogs specifically made for Adsense, will often have much higher RPM because they target the most rewarding keywords and niches on purpose. For example, they may launch sites about insurance and law firms. ↩
- While AdBlock cannot be blamed for Dr. Dobb’s demise, it surely didn’t help that the audience of programmers, as a whole, has a large percentage of AdBlock users. ↩
- To fight against banner blindness, unscrupulous advertisers and publishers have created increasingly obnoxious or misleading ads, such as the common “One trick to a…” campaigns with hand drawn graphics. They are hand drawn because it makes them look less like ads (this won’t last forever). Likewise, some site’s templates have begun embedding ads that look like related articles at the bottom of the page, thus tricking you into believing that an ad is genuine content. ↩