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WidgetBucks to Stop Monetizing Non North American Traffic – Interview with Matt Hulett from WidgetBucks

Logo-1-1Over the last couple of months there’s been a lot written about new ad network – WidgetBucks. As with any new player in this market there has a lot of varied opinions shared about them with some publishers reporting quite amazing conversion and others finding the system frustrating as the team at WidgetBucks hones their system into one that works both for publishers and advertisers.

In this interview with Matt Hulett (CEO of WidgetBucks – note: I previously had this as being an interview with Dean Jutilla – but didn’t realize that it was Matt who had actually written the answers – aaah email intervews) I ask him about the journey so far, get him to give us some tips on how to make more money with WidgetBucks and we get a glimpse at the future for this emerging ad network.

Also in this interview Matt announces a significant change to WidgetBucks which is going to significantly alter the performance of the network for some publishers – particularly those with non US traffic. I’ve included my opinions on this change at the bottom of this interview.

There are a real array of ad network options available to bloggers these days – why should bloggers consider WidgetBucks?

In a very short time, we seem to have struck a chord with bloggers who have been looking for both money-making widgets and a better, more lucrative option compared to traditional ad networks. WidgetBucks offers both to publishers, bloggers and affiliates who want to make money online.

I’m not sure if people recognize this but ours is the only ad network that uses eBay as a barometer of popularity within our widget. We also show best prices on products from at branded merchants. So your site visitors not only see what’s hot and popular based trends of over 100 million online shoppers, they also are offered the lowest prices on those products.

We’ve also showed we do listen to suggestions from our publishers — everything from real-time reporting to monthly account summaries to more widget categories and more.

Who is behind WidgetBucks? What did you do before this venture?

WidgetBucks was created by Mpire.com , the online meta-shopping service that brings together all the most popular online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Shopping.com, Wal-Mart, Target, Gap, and thousands more — into one single site. We blend all that historical pricing information with our pricing analytics and other proprietary technologies to create what we like to call the “Kelly Blue Book” for online products. We are able to tell people what they can expect to pay for that product they are interested in — and then help them take the next step in buying it. Mpire has been around since 2005 — and after originally focusing on offering eBay selling tools, we turned buyer-focused just over a year ago. Today, Mpire.com is getting between 800,000 – 900,000 unique visitors a month. So WidgetBucks fits into our strategy of distributing our pricing analytics across the Web, almost like thousands of little mini-Mpire’s being hosted on publishers’ sites.

We’ve seen a lot of people calling WidgetBucks a scam and really questioning our legitimacy. Naturally, new services draw suspicion, so it’s not terribly surprising.

What I’m hoping comes across here is that we are a real company, backed by real investors, and around me is a talented and dedicated team. I suppose mob mentality and grabbing pitch forks makes for a better, more clickable headline than learning the facts sometimes. But people should know that Mpire and WidgetBucks are both legit, and publishers who have followed our terms of service (which I guess means they’ve actually read them) will get paid — in fact, likely to be paid sooner than our 45-day term.

Publishers are talking about a drop in RPC. What’s the latest on that?

Right now, the team’s sole focus is improving network quality and maintaining our competitive RPC, which we have seen drop over the last 4-5 days. We are taking steps to get the RPC recover, and should see an impact on that over the next seven days.

What I mean by improving network quality is raising the lead “value” for merchants, who will be willing to pay a strong RPC. The key factor is non-converting clicks from outside of U.S. and Canada, because the reality is that this traffic is dragging down RPC across the board. International users who click-through to a U.S. merchant’s site and highly unlikely to purchase from that merchant for various reasons, such as language barrier or shipping cost.

You mentioned taking steps to help raise the RPC. What are you planning?

Publishers will be seeing two things, primarily. First, merchants are no longer being charged for clicks from outside the U.S. and Canada on WidgetBucks widgets, and as a result, publishers will no longer receive credit for those clicks. While this may seem extreme, it will ultimately have a positive impact on RPC levels. This change does not affect earnings from October (just posted) or the first half of November, by the way.

So the next natural question is, where do these users get sent? International site visitors will be redirected to mpire.com, which was mentioned earlier in the interview and was on TIME magazine’s list of the 50 Best Sites for 2007.

Second, early next week, WidgetBucks will become a “gated” ad network that will require approval to join. For current publishers, this does not change much for you. You are “grandfathered” into the network; however, we will continue to review sites for Terms violations. By raising the bar of entry, we anticipate this will help eliminate a number of issues we’re facing.

Just to clarify – when people are redirected to mpire.com – will they earn anything for that traffic at all?

No. Merchants are not being charged for that traffic, and therefore publishers will not be credited for it. And to be really clear, Mpire/WidgetBucks does not get the credit either. We will likely evaluate re-adding specific countries over time and evaluate their conversions, but we want to take a position over the next few weeks to be very tight on click traffic to restore our RPC numbers.

What are you suggesting that publishers with a lot of non US traffic do?
We suggest implementing a geo-based ad placement service to determine when to display a WidgetBucks ad widget versus an Internationally applicable ad. Some examples include MaxMind, IP2Location, etc, and there are solutions available for OpenAds that do this as well.

What do you wish you did differently in the launch of WidgetBucks?

We may have underestimated how fraudulent accounts and non-converting traffic would impact our RPC levels in certain categories. As a result, starting later this week, we are moving to a “gated” ad network that will require publishers to get approval before they can join WidgetBucks. Should we have done this in the beginning? Perhaps. But we felt the low barrier to entry was important to offer from the beginning.

What types of blogs does WidgetBucks seem to be working on best?

As you’ve mentioned a number of times on Problogger, product-focused blogs are ideal for WidgetBucks. We completely agree. By nature, our categories are geared toward products, so a mom blogging about baby gear or a camera buff reviewing the latest point-and-shoot can use our widgets to enhance their editorial with relevant offers. This is also true when using MerchSense, our contextual algorithm. Some affiliates have complained that MerchSense isn’t returning the right products — and this isn’t surprising for that type of blog. It’s currently set up to snap to product buckets (i.e. product blog), but we’re making improvements to the system to expand the buckets.

Have you got any tips for bloggers wanting to maximize their WidgetBucks earnings? What do the best earners do that the rest could improve upon?

We’re finding there are a few universal practices that can help publishers maximize their earnings. These include:

  • placing your widgets above the fold, as well as varying your sizes depending on the content around it.
  • also, make sure the ads are relevant to the content, either through MerchSense or by hand-picking the category
  • we’ve also heard from publishers that unusual shaped ads, not the standard sized ads, actually convert better because they appear more as content.
  • others are integrating a 300 x 250 widget into their relevant content.
  • finally, with today’s news of the international traffic credit change, we’d suggest publishers adjust their geographic-coding for U.S. and Canada where WidgetBucks widgets appear.

Do you have any new features planned that you can tell us about?

Be on the look out for new widget creative — it’s currently being tested right now. We’ll also be creating more affinity-oriented creative, meaning a fantasy sports blogger or fashion blogger will have relevant skins to place on their widgets. Be looking for more interactive widgets as well. I know that seems vague but these new versions will let users engage more with the widget itself.

We’ve also already rolled out a few other features that have been lost in the shuffle of October earnings being posted and other buzz:

  • Real-time referral tracking. We’ve had a lot of publishers ask for rolled up referral totals so we’re looking to add that. Also, within the referral table, referred accounts are only listed by ID, not by email, unless the referred publisher proactively selects the “Share Referrer Information.” Otherwise, it will default to the ID only.
  • Show Deleted Widgets. This let’s publishers look at earnings from inactive widgets.
  • Hexcode colors. Publishers now have more control over the color of the WidgetBucks widgets on their site by using a 6-digit hexcode 0-F or go from the color palette.
  • Publishers can now determine the interval speed of how products are displayed on their widgets. It’s currently defaulted to three seconds, but can be adjusted between 1-10 seconds.

A Note from Darren

There’s lots of information in this post. My own personal opinion with the changes that were announced in it regarding non US and Canadian traffic – I’m not surprised (other publishers have done this), but it sucks. As a publisher who is running WidgetBucks on a blog which gets 70-80% Australian traffic (a country that I know buys extensively online from around the world) I’m very disappointed that yet again an ad network is changing the rules mid stream.

On a head level I understand the need for balancing the needs of publishers and advertisers and don’t envy the position that they are in – but as a publisher this will hit the hip pocket.

This happened with Chitika also (although they only limited some Asian countries and moved quickly to make partnerships with European advertisers to monetize that traffic better) and was one of the main reasons that publishers revolted against them. YPN have also excluded sites with non US traffic (although at least they did this from the start).

Even publishers with good traffic from the US will be impacted by this. For example I run the ads at DPS, a blog with it’s largest readership in the USA. However US and Canadian traffic only make up just over 65% of my traffic on that blog. So while on my Aussie blogs I’m looking at 80-90% less earnings – on my blog with good US traffic I’m still looking at a 35% cut in earnings.

One thing that confuses me about this is that when someone is redirected to the mpire.com site for not being situated in the US they are being redirected to store where that person can make a purchase – at least with some merchants. For example I just went to Mpire and did a search for the latest Harry Potter book – ended up at Amazon (which will ship that book to me here in Australia). I’m a bit unsure about whether Mpire earns either a commission or a CPC payment for that. I know that I do when I send an Aussie to Amazon and they buy something.

Matt advises above that bloggers geotarget and serve ads only to US traffic. The problem is that most bloggers don’t have the ability or resources to do this type of thing. It’ll be easier just to stop using WB altogether.

Perhaps one solution would be that WidgetBucks allows publishers to suggest an ‘alternate ad’ that they want to appear instead of the WB one when someone is viewing a page from a place outside of North America (in a similar way that AdSense allows ‘alternative ads’ to be shown when they can’t serve an ad.

Until they come up with an alternative I guess those of us with significant non North American traffic will be going back to other options to make money from our blogs. I’ll monitor WidgetBucks performance on my blogs for 24 hours but if the conversion drops by what I’m expected I’ll be switching all my units back to Chitika and AdSense pretty quickly (although with the AdSense changes revealed yesterday it’s not been a good week for publishers). For the slightly higher CPM earnings I was getting with WidgetBucks I’m not sure it’s worth my time to have to invest in geotargeting all my ads.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Grant says:

    are they freaking crazy?

    Even on my blog with the most US traffic this will mean 25% of my traffic can’t be monetized with this. I can’t afford a 25% hit in income and I definitely can’t afford to invest the time needed into changing my ad serving system over to one that supports geo targeting.

    The extra 10% cpm that Widgetbucks earned me over what Chitika was earning me isn’t worth the trouble. Bye Bye Widgetbucks.

  2. Rick Blythe says:

    Thanks for this post Darren – very useful indeed!
    I too am watching the situation very carefully as widgetbucks presently are doing very well for me.

  3. Well yes Darren, I agree with your note.

    We need somehow to make people realize that internet exists outside the US and Canada.

    You can add me to the list of unsatisfied people, should we raise a petition ? (kidding)

  4. The author of the “Who Sees Ads” WordPress plugin:

    http://planetozh.com/blog/my-projects/wordpress-plugin-who-sees-ads-control-adsense-display/

    also has a plugin called ip2nation:

    http://planetozh.com/blog/2004/08/ip-to-nation-plugin/

    that makes geo-targeting ads a relative snap in WordPress. Took me five minutes to set things up so that WidgetBucks will only show up for US and Canadian visitors, and to configure a replacement AdSense block that will show up for everyone except US and Canadian visitors.

    But I will watch my WidgetBucks earnings carefully. If the number of clicks drops, and the RPC doesn’t rise to compensate, then I’ll probably replace it after I hit my next $50 payment threshold.

  5. One thing remained unclear. If publisher is not in the North America, does system works at all? It should, but I am asking because, this morning, I checked my settings and there were only two countries in the drop-down menu for my location. You guess: USA and Canada.

  6. Alpesh Nakar says:

    Duh! Change of plans, not good. I missed the real reason behind this move! First Google and now WidgetBucks.

    I do use phpads on my blog – been playing with for a while now, so ads get rotated and can use geo targeting, but is that a solution for all?

    I have an offer for your readers. First 3 to contact me will get an account on my ad server for 6 months, beginning Dec 1 2007 :-)

    Thanks Darren for your insight.

  7. Dom says:

    That’s shockingly bad. I’m wondering at what point an “ad network” becomes a “total scam” now.

  8. pablopabla says:

    They relied on bloggers around the world to give their business a buzz and got them to sign up with attractive propositions on how much they could earn. Now that they are well known, they decide unilaterally to slash away all non-North American clicks.

    I may be over-generalizing but if this is not unfair business practice, I don’t know what is. It speaks much about the credibility of the company, doesn’t it?

  9. Amit says:

    I have got 2 gadgets blogs and the traffic is mainly from US, but cannot know from which countries specifically and its not worth to keep checking these things, i will better go for the geo target option and get something coded that way, so adsense appears when a Non-US visitor visitors the site.

    Though i already expected this here – Widget Bucks not allowed on bollywood, hollywood, adult websites?

    Amit

  10. Sergei Kozak says:

    Do you think this will ‘kill’ WidgetBucks now? Why is Google ok with this and they are not? I think WidgetBucks need some supper fast thinking and development now not to be left behind and kill the buzz they created to date.

    I do understand the reason, but cant they let the advertisers decide were their stuff will be shown? Publishers would have to have some sort of knowledge of this also.

  11. Wayne Liew says:

    Looks like Asian countries and Australasia countries will need to come out with some advertising platforms which enables publishers from these countries to earn money with a more geo-targeted traffic.

    The change might have made many publishers outside US to dump WB. If a blogger tends to be a Singapore blogger, the traffic from Singapore will mainly be higher unless he/she is making the blog more targeted to US visitors which I am trying to do now.

  12. LiveCrunch says:

    I just hope that their CPC stay’s the same because I still want to make money from them and do business with them.

  13. Etienne Teo says:

    Talk about being scammed by the widgetbucks, the next month round, they will be saying that they will only target on those sites that are helping them make money through sales, those small venture sites can go back to adsense and suck on the cents you earn.

    Widgetbucks is going down, one of the worst ad network i have ever since.

  14. Clement says:

    Darren, I understand your disappointment. But these guys must dance to the tune of their advertisers or else they die.

    On my part, I am glad because more than 40% of my visitors are based in USA and Canada. At least, I have beaten the problogger on that one :)

  15. Clement says:

    But I am based in Sub Saharan Africa

  16. CashQuests says:

    I assume they’ll be paying people in bananas next because WidgetBucks is being run by monkeys!

  17. Low says:

    So Widgetbucks is definitely not an option. Wish they decrease the payouts to $25.50 (25 for sign up bonus + 50 outside US clicks).

    Lol.

  18. NSpeaks says:

    This was already guessed since last few days. Now will widgetbucks care to explain since they had removed other countries from existing publisher accounts, will they pay them via Check or even paypal?

  19. marhgil says:

    it is really a bad news for us, non-US publishers. Your alternate-ad suggestion is good. Widgetbucks should consider it.

  20. Darren,

    This is disappointing news. But we need to look beyond it to see how best we can maximize returns.

    Geo-targeting is not that difficult as you make it sound. I spent 30minutes doing some research and a further 10 minutes later had a very simple solution up and running that works like a charm.

    Read my post about it at:
    http://onlinepresence.blogsailor.com/2007/11/15/geo-target-your-ads-for-maximum-returns/

  21. YC says:

    They’d be better advised to try to source for partnerships with European and Asian advertisers. While the US is a big market, but the other 2 are just as big combined, if not bigger. Restricting themselves to just US traffic does not make good business sense.
    If nothing more, they made a mistake of poor planning.

  22. Hello Darren… I really believe that widget bucks is completely a fraud, they can not change their policies from one night to the other, or cancel accounts just because they did not tell those users that non English blogs or webs were out of the service…

    I think they have to replant the way they are acting and the structure of the web, because is fully made of holes and non specific information…

    A lot of friends of mine, tried widget bucks and they have won more than 100 dlls at the time, but just in a wink their accounts were suspended, NO REASON EXPLAINED, just canceled because widget bucks is a company with no structure and no principals…

    Great blog by the way… :)

  23. So thats the reason why they suspended my account and suspected me of fraudulent clicks. The sites where I placed the widgets have almost 50% US and Canada traffic and the majority are local (Manila). They have a good way of attracting publishers…..$25 bonus! wow! There is a saying: Not all that glitter is gold. So there goes my earnings. Bye bye WidgetBucks.

  24. Adrian says:

    That is really a shame what is happening. I hate companies which suspend user accounts only on the basis of suspecting them of something. Innocent until proven guilty was a principle user by people hundreds/thousands of years ago and it is sad to see that some people are getting less and less intelligent when time passes by compared to their ancestors.

  25. widgetsucks says:

    Oh… the biggest scammer of the year.

  26. Amber says:

    Ah well, looks like Widgetbucks is coming off my blogs then… It’s a real shame that this has happened: as Antoine says, there’s a whole big world outside of North America, and we have the Internet here, too. I’m based in the UK and would love to see some good Ad Networks here that wouldn’t penalise me for not being American. I think I might have a long wait, though…

  27. Michael Woo says:

    I never use these sort of programs :D Past experience tell me that it won’t work on my sites… someone asked me to register, i did but didn’t use it even a bit…

  28. James says:

    They can really lose all their members, me I’ll never join their network, I never liked it, first it was too slow, then it was simply too lame, and now this.. They will be something I’ll never try, just like Agloco and I’m glad I didn’t lose any time with them.

  29. Wakish says:

    IMHO Widgetbucks is a no no now! They started with a creamy good $25 bonus for ALL people around the world.
    After 1 or 2 months, they opted only for people in US & Canada? What the heck? What will be done to the money earned by people outside those 2 countries? Are their effort not valued? This is a lack of respect and a lack of professional commitment!
    Clearly, for me Widgetbucks has used people internationally.. it’s not a serious program and it’s a big shame to see their new bias policy!

    Widgetbucks 5 thumbs down! *Buried!*

    - Wakish -

  30. 66tx says:

    Thanks Darren for your insight.

  31. Mark Avey says:

    Farewell WidgetBucks! It was fun whilst it lasted, but with more than 80% of my traffic not coming from the US or Canada, I shan’t be wasting my sites real estate.

    Mark

  32. Dave says:

    Like many have stated above, it looks like widgetbucks is about to be removed from my site. I’ve been using a medium sized ad in rotation with adsense for the last month, to check out its performance to see if it was worth using exclusively.

    Initial results indicated that it wasn’t performing as well as adsense – and this latest change of excluding non-US traffic and not allowing the publisher to specify a replacement ad means I’m likely to ditch it in the near future.

    While I understand the concerns of non-US traffic not buying products, not giving us an option other than for users to be be directed (without commission) to a site where they can buy goods is just a joke.

    I assume this information will be made obvious on the widgetbucks site, so that non-US publishers are made fully awware of the changes they are making.

  33. Gizmo says:

    I don’t get it. I ran WB on three of my blogs, two are WordPress one is blogger. The widget was so slow I had to remove it. Then i got an email from them that performance had improved. I put it back. It still took way too long to load. By the time it loaded I was at the end of the page. In my blogger blog, it froze the page until it was completed loading. TERRIBLE.

  34. GettyCash says:

    I just removed their widgets. I will use them again when my new blog up and running.

  35. Mido says:

    Hi

    I am using widgetbucks from a time. but i am really disappointment. It take long time to load and most people don’t care about it and i am not from north america so this move will let me think about them once more.

    Thanks,
    Mido

  36. Chris Knight says:

    First off, that is probably by far the most retarded thing I’ve ever heard.

    - Widgetbucks needs to wear a helmet and start drooling at the mouth.

    Do they know of the billions of people in the world? If they can go to an ENGLISH WEBSITE then they can probably speak ENGLISH in the first place.

    I very seldomly come across a Japanese website, Chinese website – and sometimes I come across German porn by accident….but that’s about it.

    - no i don’t watch porn. lol.

    widgetbucks is finished, I’ve heard too many horror stories. DO NOT USE WIDGETBUCKS!!!!

  37. Good report, Darren. Sad answers from Widget Bucks. As an American their “ostrich” attitude makes me sad. Google badly needs viable competition and it looks like WB has joined the cadre of those who still think the US is the only country in the world where there are people who earn money and spend it … they obviously don’t live overseas as I do and suffer as you and many online pros do from the weak and ever weaker US dollar.

    As you correctly point out with Amazon, “with it” US merchants are clever enough to make money from international customers … other’s sit back and watch as the Wall Street Journal starts a Chinese edition, as China’s petro giant becomes the largest corporation in the world and as AirBus moves to dominate the world aviation market. It’s my country and I’m still proud of it but that doesn’t mean I don’t hurt when they do dumb things.

    Kumiko over at Cashquests did a nice financial analysis of WB’s nonsensical business approach. Said it better than I, although I don’t know if I’d agree with her assessment of WB’s management species ;-)

    For Mr. Hulett’s info, IP discrimination isn’t smart either. I have a Philippine IP becuase choose to live there … I earn in dollars, buy a great deal of everything I consume from the US and my US-based Visa and Master Cards seem to work just dandy for buying from forward-thinking merchants. I wish WB the joy of their short-sighted flat world attitude …. I wonde rhow Google makes money on all those non-US IP shoppers? Hmmm …..

  38. geomark says:

    Maybe they are busy dodging all the crap being thrown at them right now, and can’t get around to approving the stats from 3 days ago. I had high hopes for them. Sorry to see them crash and burn like so many other recent attempts.

  39. markowe says:

    They should really have gradually built their reputation and system from the bottom up, instead of going for a massive amount of hype and then letting loads of people down. Not a good business model if you ask me, but then we all want to make a quick buck, right…?

  40. ArahMan7 says:

    After what has been said and done, bye bye, Widget Sucks!

    Thanks for the post, Mr. Rowse. It just confirmed my suspicion about them.

    Greetings and lotta loves from Malaysia – a very non-North American traffic!

  41. I really understand about this situation, Thanks for this one darren

  42. Luis M says:

    I wonder why do Google, WB and others send checks instead of doing an electronic transfer? What about Paypal? What could be their reasons?

  43. Luis M says:

    It’s not exact to say that this is restricted to North American traffic, since Mexico is a Northamerican country (geographically and economically) and it is not included in WB plans. They should note that mexicans buy a lot of goods from the US and Canada.

    I’m against this measure.

  44. Arham says:

    Thanks darren, it’s so usefull interview article.

    This is disappointing news. But we need to optimistic. beside of we’ll that WB is scamm or Not ?
    the biggest disappointing news is so many people got suspended without explanation..

  45. markowe says:

    Luis, there are probably a number of good reasons why Google doesn’t use PayPal, but I am sure a good one is that Google does not want to share a slice of the MASSIVE Adwords pie with anyone, especially not PayPal, who are a competitor of sorts, not only because of eBay (to which PayPal belongs), but also probably because Google will want to get into online payment systems sometime in the future (Google Checkout seems like a first step).

    Obviously there is no reason for Google to hand millions in commissions over to a huge potential or actual competitor!

  46. Woobie says:

    Widgetbucks got what they needed, publicity and buzz. Now it’s time for them to do business. Their sign up bonus and referral programs are attractive and the early birds really got the cream of that. But that referral campaign got them the thing they want: a buzzy name in the biz.

  47. nadzal says:

    By the way. we need to see if WB will paying us or not in December. So, lets see..

  48. David Mackey says:

    Ouch. Seems like they should have included at least a few more countries in that list – e.g. English speaking countries which don’t have the language barrier factor, just the shipping.

  49. A few of the commenter’s get the pint that the langaye and location of the country don’t make much difference in their viability as customers. Others seem to think that someone has to meet some standard of fluency in English to buy things … perhaps but the standard is significantly lower than you might think.

    As for shipping … I’ve live doutside teh US for years and shipped and received all sorts of things all overe the world .. it just is not that difficult … this idea of shipping being such a problem has me on a rant, see: http://retiredpay.com/income/the-world-is-not-flat/
    if you are ignoring business because of borders.

  50. gomdori says:

    widgetBucks suck too.
    phaaaa~~~~~