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Four conversations or my Google Adsense journey

My first introduction to using Google to make money was Zafar Khan and Sofizar at MITBAP. About a year ago I asked Zafar the inevitable SEO optimization question and got a few answers; up went a few pages at our home page business domain, representing the little I actually understood of the entire process around a higher page rank.

Then during Obaid’s visit to Karachi, Obaid made a comment that hit me post his departure to Canada. Something about generating desi traffic on organic desi domains to create value for desi sites. It fit right in with Rabia’s desire and explanation to not host CIO Web Studio on youtube. Side by side with this track in my life I kept stumbling on these totally unbelievable stories about 15 year olds generating thousands of dollars in blogging related revenues across their domains. While I never really wrote for money, I had still been waiting for the same thousands of dollars to show up in my account all these years and but had failed miserably (so what else is new) at generating traffic and any associated advertising revenues.

At the beginning of this year, in quick succession a few things happened. First a long conversation on a fateful Saturday afternoon with a new friend who explained for the first time how the entire racket worked. The game was content, geographic location of readers and page views. If you understood and optimized that you had a shot at something (we will cover that a little later). Pick a topic on which you have content or can generate content, evaluate the relative “richness” of keywords within the universe of your topics and pick the priciest. Pick related domains and build a farm of niches that you can cover side by side. Then do the needful to start generating traffic.

I wish I could say sit back, relax and watch the dollars roll into your bank account but that would be classified as being economical with the truth. Within the month, it was obvious that while I enjoyed the writing bit, the traffic generating piece was really hard work. In theory everything worked. In practice it was a lot more painful.

The friendly Saturday conversation happened mid January. Early February the first domain went up – I liked oil and gold better than risk management and actuarial science. Mid Feb we had rolled out domain number 2 – the dedicated corporate finance education blog, late Feb the Google Adsense approval came through courtesy of Badar Khushnood and on the last day of March we rolled out Startup Insights.

In between I had one more conversation with Zafar about traffic, users and conversions and he said something that completely changed our approach. He said if you want to sell content, you are looking at a completely different model, if you are doing adsense, it is a different movie. Pick one, you can’t do both. Then Badar jumped up about the relative merits of geographies and traffic. I didn’t understand the comment then but a month later when I looked through my adsense revenue report it was obvious. In dollar terms 10,000 page views of US traffic with the same click through rate is worth about 250,000 page views of desi traffic.

In early Feb I thought I would run an experiment. In two months I have learnt an enormous amount about the entire SEO process as well as making money with adsense (notice the focus on learning and not making money). Just enough for me to be dangerous to everyone around me! It has been a very addictive and painful experience – like playing a grand strategy game with four hours of sleep every night where the winner is the one with the most traffic, the most page views and the most ads served. Compared to the word press wimp that Moti left behind when he moved to Canada, I am now a word press gorilla (long way from a guru but about 200 lbs). I can now do sidebars with adsense, custom html and I eat widgets and plugins for breakfast, dinner and lunch.

In traffic terms the payoff has been decent – nothing to write home about but decent… On the core alchemy domain it has doubled in two months. On the Oil Trader and Crude Oil Insight domain we are at 30% of traffic. The learning corporate finance blog is also picking up steam. In April 2010, three month after launch we should break the 10,000 page view number across these three blogs. In adsense terms that is worth about 3 dollars a month in gross revenue, right now, up 300% from the dollar we made in March 2010. The trick has been relevance. Once you crack that bullet, most of the pain (other than the 4 hour nights) goes away. But you still can’t relax, sit back and watch the dollars roll in.

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