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Blogging vs. Advertising

Two readers recently complained of auto-playing, non-mute-able video advertisements on these pages. As I mention over in the right column, down near the bottom, WordPress controls the number of ads, their placement, and (somewhat) their content.  They call it the “WordAds” program, which is distinct from Google’s “Adwords” program, and I have opted into the WordAds program to get a cut of the revenue.

Here’s what my advertising revenue amounted to over the last six years:

Period Earnings Ad Impr $ / 1k
2017-12 103.93 80749 1.29
2017-11 87.25 93419 0.93
2017-10 79.14 86267 0.92
2017-09 84.59 84114 1.01
2017-08 45.5 15767 2.89
2017-07 43.62 15247 2.86
2017-06 43.36 14914 2.91
2017-05 32.9 16928 1.94
2017-04 24.23 17546 1.38
2017-03 19.04 20630 0.92
2017-02 9.1 15711 0.58
2017-01 7.19 7597 0.95
2016-12 7.59 15804 0.48
2016-11 7.28 16772 0.43
2016-10 6.79 15743 0.43
2016-09 5.23 7993 0.65
2016-08 6.19 20892 0.30
2016-07 5.48 18968 0.29
2016-06 14.5 3191 4.54
2016-05 17.79 15721 1.13
2016-04 16.1 24145 0.67
2016-03 10.54 20741 0.51
2016-02 5.96 15726 0.38
2016-01 22.68 17557 1.29
2015-12 17.5 16635 1.05
2015-11 21.49 16526 1.30
2015-10 21.35 16627 1.28
2015-09 20.22 15670 1.29
2015-08 21.47 16639 1.29
2015-07 21.85 15112 1.45
2015-06 21.85 14146 1.54
2015-05 18.72 15857 1.18
2015-04 35.9 18819 1.91
2015-03 37.77 19759 1.91
2015-02 36.28 18911 1.92
2015-01 42.73 22124 1.93
2014-12 42.48 18687 2.27
2014-11 55.46 23822 2.33
2014-10 55.46 23736 2.34
2014-09 56.78 23746 2.39
2014-08 57.83 23219 2.49
2014-07 56.64 22567 2.51
2014-06 43.45 17624 2.47
2014-05 38.98 16053 2.43
2014-04 33.9 14053 2.41
2014-03 35.28 14985 2.35
2014-02 35.59 15194 2.34
2014-01 22.14 10445 2.12
2013-12 25.32 11855 2.14
2013-11 23.49 10829 2.17
2013-10 25.16 11259 2.23
2013-09 26.46 13000 2.04
2013-08 23.93 12717 1.88
2013-07 21.09 12298 1.71
2013-06 19.15 12277 1.56
2013-05 18.54 13143 1.41
2013-04 25.93 18351 1.41
2013-03 84.46 130351 0.65
2013-02 22.24 34318 0.65
2013-01 31.28 48283 0.65
2012-12 30.09 11479 2.62
2012-11 23.41 9394 2.49
2012-10 37.8 501 75.45
2012-09 22.34 8314 2.69
2012-08 34.79 N/A N/A
2012-07 22.48 N/A N/A
2012-06 30.57 N/A N/A
2012-05 19.9 N/A N/A
2012-04 3.66 N/A N/A

[Edit: Update headings, get decimals right.]

To save you the trouble, the second column adds up to $2200: I’ve been raking in $1/day.

In recent years and very round numbers, this blog gets 650 visitors and 1000 page views per day, for about 1.6 page views/visitor and 30 k views/month.

You can clearly see the collapse of online advertising starting in early 2016, where the revenue fell off a cliff.

Until the last few months, the eyeballometric average of 15 k “ad impressions” / month amounts to either half an ad per page view or half of the visitors running ad blockers. I strongly doubt the latter, so maybe WordPress showed ads only on the first page view. The month-to-month variations suggest WP tinkered with the ad quantities and placement; I have no visibility into nor control over any of those machinations.

Early last year, WP apparently began pushing video ads, because the revenue per ad doubled, tripled, then jumped to nearly 30¢/impression, all from the same number of impressions.

September seems to be when WP went from one ad per view to three, with at least one of them being an aggressive video ad. The per-ad revenue dropped by a factor of two, though, suggesting the additional (non-video?) ads have no value, video ads aren’t as hot as they used to be, or creative rearrangement of WP’s (unknown) revenue sharing ratio.

So I had a brief exchange with the WP Happiness Engineers on the subject (edited for conciseness, with additional commentary):

> Can you provide a little more detail, please?

In recent weeks, two readers have posted disturbing comments:

———-
Is there a secret to avoiding the auto-play video ad that ignores the “mute button” and refuses to let you scroll away?
I really enjoy your blog posts … but the hijacking by the video causes me to not view as often as I used to …
———-

They obviously didn’t (and surely can’t) give me the URLs for those video ads, but they’re obviously not isolated events.

My rule of thumb says one person reporting a problem means ten had a similar problem and another hundred just walked away.

I know:

1) I can pay WP to suppress all the ads. That feels a lot like blackmail from this side of the exchange, particularly with aggressive video ads.

2) I can turn off WordAds and forego the ad revenue. That neither reduces the ad load nor improves their quality. It seems to only give WP even more incentive to monetize my IP.

I’ve suggested to all my readers that they should be running an ad blocker, because the next step after WP presenting crappy video ads from sketchy ad brokers will be shoveling malware from outright thugs. If malware can happen to ads from, say, the NY Times, it can definitely happen with WP.

Kill the scummy ads!

This would be nice:

I’ve asked our team if we can disable the video ads on your site. I’ll get back to you as soon as I hear from them.

Apparently they can’t kill all the video ads.

I find it frustrating when successive help-desk contestants don’t read the actual trouble reports and ask for information I obviously can’t provide:

I wanted to get a bit of clarification from you on the ads which are causing trouble on your site so we can pinpoint them and help to remove them.

There are two different types of video ads, can you let me know which of these two you are referring to?

Standalone video ads in a big placement below posts.

In-banner video. This is your standard banner ad placement and type except that there’s some video auction in the banner.

Having already told them everything I know, there’s little more I can add:

Two readers took the time to comment about them and I must assume the ads have pissed off many more people, but I have no further information on the ads.

Frankly, if you can’t identify the ads from this description:

1) “the auto-play video ad that ignores the “mute button” and refuses to let you scroll away”

2) “hijacking by the video”

Then WP definitely has lost control over the WordAds program.

Ads like that cheapen the WP brand. Why would WP want their blogging platform associated with aggressive crap?

It seems WP has definitely lost control:

We certainly don’t want ads that hijack the browser to show up in our network, any more than you do.

Unfortunately, bad-acting advertisers manage to submit ads to our network that violate our policy on this. We do our best to block them, but no filter we can put in place is fool-proof, and they submit new ads as quickly as we can block them.

This is a problem that advertising networks are facing industry-wide, not just on WordPress.com.

There are tens of thousands of ads in our network at any given time, so in order to identify which advertiser is placing the ads, we need more information to look them up in our logs:

Your device’s browser and operating system.
Your IP address (you can go to whatismyip.com to find this)
The exact URL of the page/blog post where the ad was shown.
The URL of the page that the ad takes you to.
If possible, a screenshot of the ad that hijacked the browser.

If you’re getting reports from site visitors, they can also send us that information by filling out this form:

http://en.support.wordpress.com/about-these-ads

But I’ll say it again anyway:

> they can also send us that information

That’s expecting entirely too much effort from people, so it’ll never happen.

I’m mildly surprised anybody bothered posting a comment, but I suspect it’s because they think I’m responsible for the crappy ads.

Of course, I can pay WP to not run ads.

> a problem that advertising networks are facing industry-wide

Which is precisely why I recommend using an ad blocker.

Basically, WP has outsourced both of our reputations to untrustworthy companies. We then say we have no responsibility for any problems, because those thugs over there did it, not us.

I understand why it happens and share some of the blame: I’m using a “free” blogging service and expecting it should Just Work.

Question: would paying WP to “Remove WordPress.com Ads” eliminate all ads from my blog?

The wording of “Allow your visitors to visit and read your website without seeing any WordPress.com advertising” suggests WP can show ads from other sources, so I’d like to be sure.

Which turns out to be the case:

To clarify, that means that the advertisements that WordPress.com places on your site (including ads from other sources) will be hidden if you upgrade to a Personal, Premium, or Business plan.

Spinning up a VM somewhere, setting up a WordPress instance, adding a comment spam suppression system, keeping everything updated with the latest patches, repairing the inevitable breakage, and maintaining the infrastructure isn’t anything I want to do. Basically, all I want is a place for my shop notes and doodles, not an unpaid sysadmin job.

The least awful alternative seems to be paying WP a few bucks a month to suppress all the ads, have them (continue to) do all the maintenance, and eat the costs.

From what I read, Patreon (et. al.) funding programs don’t actually produce any revenue, so the subscription model won’t be worth the effort.

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  1. #1 by Dave Mackie on 2018-01-25 - 07:58

    Sir – maybe you can put up a “tip jar” to help. TANSTAASL after all…
    Not all your posts are grippingly interesting to me, but many are – and some of those kindle a generous impulse.

    • #2 by Ed on 2018-01-25 - 08:08

      Fair enough. Thanks for the offer!

      I’m greedily awaiting WP’s payout for the last two months, after which Changes Will Occur.

    • #3 by Jason Doege on 2018-01-25 - 09:47

      I give a buck or two per month to each of the content producers I most highly value through Patreon. I value the stuff you do more than enough to do the same. The quality and frequency of your posting fully justifies this. I highly encourage you to set up a Patreon account. You will very likely wind up doing substantially better than $1/day.

      • #4 by Ed on 2018-01-25 - 10:02

        Thanks for the vote of confidence.

        After things settle down here, I’ll give something along those lines a try and report on the results … for science!

  2. #5 by madbodger on 2018-01-25 - 09:01

    I wouldn’t be surprised if half your readers do run adblockers (I do). You do suggest it. I didn’t bother for a while, but auto-playing loud ads with sound make me jump, and pre-roll ads on youtube were the straw that broke the camel’s back. I refuse to watch a 4-minute ad to view a 22-second video. I was apparently not alone in this, as Google suddenly started whining about adblockers right after they introduced that feature. They pleaded with people to turn the adblockers off, as that particular greedy move ended up hitting them right in the wallet. However, the web is nicer (and safer) with adblockers, and Google was obviously not sorry enough to give up on the horrid pre-roll ads.

    • #6 by Ed on 2018-01-25 - 09:30

      Google wedged themselves into a no-win situation: essentially all their revenue comes from advertising, but advertising has become a nearly perfect system attack vector.

      Unblocking only “known good” ads has already degenerated, as the gatekeepers now run pay-to-play schemes. Seems entirely unsustainable to me: only big players can afford to advertise and I don’t need ads for crap I’m not going to buy.

  3. #7 by Frans on 2018-01-25 - 09:07

    It looks like you don’t get ads when you’re logged in with your WordPress account, btw. Strange but true.

    • #8 by Ed on 2018-01-25 - 09:25

      Known to be true.

      Perhaps WP wants to avoid annoying the people who provide the reason for the whole company’s existence?

      • #9 by Frans on 2018-01-25 - 09:42

        I do the “unpaid sysadmin job.” I really only have this account for the API key. Or so I thought. Out of idle curiosity I just checked and it says: “Your API key is no longer valid. Please enter a new key or contact support@akismet.com.” I wonder how long that’s been going on…

        Anyway, I’ve never made ’em any money afaik, save for perhaps the occasional accidental ad click. :-)

        (I suspect the only ads I sometimes click on purpose are those e-mailed to me, though I suppose I can’t be 100% sure.)

        • #10 by Ed on 2018-01-25 - 10:03

          Yeah, owning the whole stack means paying attention to the whole stack: bleh!

          • #11 by Vedran on 2018-01-25 - 13:55

            I have one such stack… well from cPanel up anywway… and it’s no better or worse then it was few years ago when I last touched it. I get an email every once in a while that WP was upgraded to a new version and that’s pretty much it.
            I’m not saying you should go that route just to kill the ads – you might even want to run your own to offset hosting fees, only that it’s probably significantly less work than you assume :)

  4. #12 by Jason Doege on 2018-01-25 - 09:41

    That’s a nice blog you have there. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.

    • #13 by Ed on 2018-01-25 - 10:06

      Words to live by, methinks.

      I do a monthly export / backup of The Whole Damn Thing, in the event WP decides to fold up their tent and move on, as so many online “free” services have done in the past.

  5. #14 by Block them Ads! on 2018-01-25 - 20:59

    Ed, FWIW, I view your blog in Firefox using the uBlock Origin ad blocker and I see no ads. I do see an ‘Advertisements’ pane at the top right of the page, but it’s empty. This is all under Linux if that matters. Since your readers are likely tech-savvy, perhaps encouraging them to install an ad blocker would be a better option for you than paying WP.

    • #15 by Ed on 2018-01-26 - 09:15

      Yup, uBlock Origin FTW!

      Over there in the right sidebar, down near the bottom, I explain all I know about WP’s ads & suchlike, which boils down to “Run an ad blocker. Now!”

      However, that leaves me a party to pushing intrusive ads, a position making me somewhat uncomfortable. I’m still mulling over how to get away from that, without turning my shop notes into a money or time sink …

  6. #16 by tantris on 2018-01-26 - 15:09

    Affiliate program? Reviewing products like the mom-bloggers and getting rich doing it? Reviewing by taking things apart like EEvblog?

    Seriously, you like gadgets, you like taking things apart if it is about things you like doing anyway you might as well link to the product. Like, this bike light versus my old one, and here’s an amazon link… or: trying out my new thermal underwear from Gander mountain …

    Okay, maybe not the second one.

    • #17 by Ed on 2018-01-27 - 09:33

      Usually I point out why a particular product (*) is craptastic, so maybe I’m a poor candidate for affiliate marketing. [grin]

      (*) Stipulated: bottom dollar products from the usual suspect eBay suppliers.