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Learn From My Mistake – Don’t Leave Money on the Table!

Have you ever found that you’ve been leaving money on the table? It’s a frustrating feeling and one that many of us can relate to. I discovered that I’ve been doing it for the last few months – here’s my story.

I run Chitika Premium ad units on some parts of my blogs – particularly at my photography site on single pages. One ad unit that I’d had running for a while now was one that appeared above posts whenever anyone from the US arrives at my site from a search engine.

I like these ads because they don’t appear to regular readers arriving from RSS feeds, newsletters or other sites – just those people coming in from Google – PLUS the ads that show are contextual ads to the search that the person has just performed.

I’ve always found that the ads convert pretty well – but this week I realised that for months now they could have been converted ALOT better.

I made this realisation by making one simple change to one ad unit – here’s what happened to my earnings on that ad unit when I made the change.

chitika-ad-1-earnings.png

Yep – the ad unit had been averaging around $37 a day – but in the few since making the change it’s earned around $108 a day on average – around 3 times as much!

Considering I’ve had the ad running for quite a few months now – I’ve been leaving money on the table.

OK before I tell you what change I made (and it’s so simple that I’ve been kicking myself for a week now) I want to really emphasise the take home message here – even though it is so very obviously – test your ad units!

Here’s the thing – the chitika ad that I did have in this ad position used to perform to the best of its ability. I’d previously tested it and made sure it was working well. However Chitika added a new option to their premium ads – an option that I ignored. In actual fact someone from Chitika told me to make this change months back – I got distracted (life’s busy) and never got around to doing it.

While I feel pretty stupid and am completely aware that I’ve cost myself thousands by not making this change earlier – I know I’m not alone.

Many bloggers are in the same boat. We put ads on our blogs, get them to a point where we think they’re well optimised and then move on to work on other aspects of our blog without ever coming back to make sure things are still performing at their highest potential. Ad networks change their offerings, add features and sometimes blogs just change and things that used to work well no longer do.

The lesson here is to revisit your ad units and to test if there might be someway to increase their performance. You might not see the tweaks you make bring in $70 a day like my one did – but over time the small tweaks add up!

What was the change I made?

The change was so simple – I just made the Chitika ad unit bigger. The ad unit I used to have on there was a 468×180 pixel sized ad. The new one is a 550×250 pixel ad unit. It’s considerably wider (it now takes up almost the whole width of my content area) and a little deeper.

It does push the content down the page a little but as it’s only impacting search refferal traffic and the content is still above the fold user experience isn’t impacted that much – but the ad performance is so much better (with 3-4 times the click through rate depending upon the day).

Chitika Mega Units – Publishers Reporting Massive Increases in Earnings

Chitika (the #2 way that I make money blogging) have come out with a handy new ad unit option for publishers wanting to monetize traffic arriving on their blog from search engines – the ‘mega unit’ premium ad unit.

This ad unit is a 550×255 pixel sized ad – it’s not small but their testing has shown some pretty impressive results with publishers reporting big increases in earnings as a result of using this rather than their smaller ad units.

Here’s how the mega ad unit looks:

megaunit.png

How do Chitika Premium Ad Units Work?

  • As with all of Chitika’s ‘Premium’ ad unit range these ads only show to US/Canadian readers arriving on your site as a result of a search on Google or one of the other search engines.
  • If the reader is a loyal reader that is coming from your RSS feed or another site OR they are a reader from outside the US/Canada they won’t see them (note: there is an option to have an alternative ad shown for non search traffic if you wish but I don’t choose this option and have the ad collapse and not show at all).
  • The ads showing on the unit relate to the search that the person arriving on your site is doing – this significantly increases the chance that they’ll find the ad relevant to them and click the ad.
  • The ads can be customized to have different colors and fonts.
  • Chitika’s testing finds that this ad unit is converting best if you slot it above your content (as you’d expect) or below content (above or below comments would work). Remember this is only showing to search engine visitors so an aggressive ad placement won’t annoy loyal readers.
  • If this mega ad unit is too big or the wrong shape for you – Chitika’s premium ad units come in a large range of other sizes. You can see the add unit size options here (you can also check out what kinds of ads will show for different search terms on that page also).

How do they perform?

I have only started testing this new mega unit sized ad on my blog but have had a lot of success with other sizes of premium ad units for a long time now – I fully expect to see some great results with the larger ad unit.

I have a smaller ad unit showing on my photography blog above posts and have added a mega unit below posts to see how they perform.

What I particularly like about the premium ad units is that unlike previous Chitika ad units these convert on sites of all kinds of topics. Their previous ad units were very much suited to product/gadget related sites – but these ad units are converting for all kinds of sites and topics.

In a newsletter that Chitika sent to their publishers today they are reporting some fairly amazing results from other publishers who have been testing this ad unit. Here’s a screenshot (my highlighting):

chitika-mega-units.png

I’m sure results will vary from site to site but at the very least I think they’re an option to be testing if you’re looking to make money from your blog.

If you’re not a part of the Chitika ad network yet – sign up here today and give them a go for yourself.

Chitika Interactive Premium Listing Units

One of my biggest blog money makers is Chitika. I’ve reviewed and written about them many times. They’ve always done very well for me on product related sites – however on sites that don’t have a product focus they have never performed.

I’ve been nagging the Chitika team to get them to produce ads for non product related sites and they’ve been hinting at a new ad unit for a while that will meet this need. In the last week or so they’ve released it – Interactive Premium Listing Units.

They look like this:

Chitika-Premium-Interactive-1

The ads are quite like their other units but they are ads for all kinds of other products. I’ve included a live one lower on this post (although not all of you will be able to see it – read on to find out why).

The ads are getting good reviews from publishers that I’ve been chatting with who have tested them although at this stage they will only be served to US readers (some of them). At this stage the ads target at US readers and even then they are ‘behavioral’ and not all US readers will see them. If Chitika feels it’s more profitable to you they show other ads.

The ads pay on a CPC basis and you can specify different keywords when generating your code for the ad. On the following ad I’ve chosen ‘Search Engine Optimization’ as the keyword.

To test out these new ad units Apply to Join Chitika Today.


Chitika’s Response to CPM Ads Concerns

Ryan Travis from Chitika was kind enough to respond to some of the concerns mentioned in my previous post (and it’s comments) about their CPM ads:

“We have seen that there are a LOT of times and situations where a publisher’s ads simply will not get clicked on. In these situations, it makes the most sense to show graphic ads in order to bring in the most revenue possible.

Right now we have rolled out graphic ads to countries where our publishers are currently NOT making revenue. We have done this because we want to ensure that when we fully launch this in the US (and other revenue-generating countries), that we are bringing in the highest-quality ads that are paying the highest rates.

Our only goal here is to make our publishers the maximum amount of revenue possible. As we move forward, we are fully-focuesed on working out the kinks (and filtering out all of the low-quality, “spammy” ads) in order for this program to be a major success and at the end of the day, our publishers will be receiving bigger checks because of this.”

I’ve already seen a few improvements in the CPM ads. It seems that they have a system in place to weed out the lower quality flashing ringtone ads. I’m hoping it’ll continue to improve to the point where we’ll start seeing brand ads that will not only earn more but ‘fit’ more on most blogs.

Chitika Roll Out CPM Filler Ads for Unsupported Countries

Chitika have been rolling out their new CPM ads over the last few days. These impression based ads will appear mainly on sites with a lot of traffic from non supported countries (they only serve their own ads to traffic from USA, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, UK).

In a sense these CPM ads are ‘alternative ads’ – so if a reader comes from Japan for instance they see the new CPM ad instead of a default ad or a Public Service Announcement. The theory is that at least you’ll earn something from the ad.

I can understand why Chitika are doing this and why it’d be attractive to many publishers. Most sites get at least some decent traffic from the countries that Chitika (and other ad networks) don’t support and to not monetize it is a pity. However….

What concerns me a little about these ads is that the announcement post says that it’s not just when someone from a non supported country visits your site but rather they say they serve them ‘when it makes sense’ to do so and give this example:

“if you are in Canada, and viewing a page with a Chitika ad on it, we will most likely show you a CPM Graphic banner because we are seeing more revenue from graphic ads for Canadian traffic.”

This is all well and good if you’re just looking at the bottom line (who wouldn’t want the most profitable ad served?) but the banner ads that I’ve seen so far are not what I’d consider to be of a high quality. They’re not relevant to sites (ie they are not contextual) and they look cheap and nasty. I hope that Chitika will work to attract premium brand advertisers – but in the mean time I’m considering opting out of the CPM ads at this point. Steve from UMPCPortal tells me he saw cheesy Ringtone ads on his blog and other bloggers are reporting similar low grade ads.

Opting out of the program (it is set to ‘ON’ by default) means you’re likely to take a hit financially so don’t do it without thinking it through but if you have a site where you don’t want banner ads appearing then you might want to consider this.

Chitika Add Interactive Premium Listing Ads Into the Mix

Here’s a piece of news that slipped through without me noticing while I was traveling last month – Chitika have announce a program to serve ‘graphic ads’ in your Chitika ad units when they feel that a CPM would earn you more than a CPC ad.

The announced it back in March here and here:

“This new graphic ads service has one goal: maximize your revenue. The Chitika ad on your page will display a relevant and targeted banner/graphic ad on your page only when it makes sense – when it will earn you more revenue.

Graphic ads will pay per impression (CPM) and will be shown only when they can earn you more revenue than a CPC-based ad. Our ad targeting system will intelligently find and display relevant graphic (CPM) ads for your pages when appropriate.”

I wouldn’t mind seeing these ads in action before I pass comment on them. For me it’ll all come down to the relevancy of ads as to whether I’d opt out of this program (they are giving publishers a choice to opt out). While the ads will definitely increase revenue on pages that are not generating clicks if the ads are ugly/irrelevant then they could hurt the look and feel of the page and reader experience.

Also today I received an email from Chitika announcing another ad unit - Interactive Premium Listing ads. Here’s how they look:

Chitika-Premium-Interactive

These ad units are not focused upon any one specific product and Chitika say that they work best when you ‘have mostly US traffic and are looking for a Chitika ad unit that is NOT product centric!’

Once again – these ads are going to be rotated in through all publishers ad units when Chitika feel that this ad unit will pay more than regular ad units. The exception is when you opt out of the program. What is displayed in the ads seems to be dependent upon what a reader searched for in a search engine when arriving on your site – so in a sense the are still targeted/contextually relevant but to the search terms of your reader and not necessarily your content.

It’s a good concept and one to watch to see how they perform.

Not yet a Chitika Publisher? Sign Up here.

Chitika Updates it’s LINX Ad Unit

Linx-In-ActionChitika have today announced changes to their Chitika LINX ad unit. Now instead of it just being a text based ad unit they’ve added an image and styling (it’s much better than the old one).

I’m not sure that I’ve really featured this ad unit here before on ProBlogger – so let me give you an introduction to it if you’ve not seen it.

Chitika LINX is a PPC (you get paid if someone clicks them) in text ad. If you activate it on your site you’ll see some words on your posts become links with little double underlines under them.

If your readers put their mouse over these links a little popup appears that shows a Chitika ad unit (pictured left). If your reader clicks on the ad unit you get paid.

These in text links have been offered by other ad networks for some time and publishers are generally in two camps on them.

On the one hand the ads do tend to convert reasonably well because they are in your content contextually and as a result in the line of site of your readers. So some publishers love them.

On the other hand some publishers see them as intrusive and disruptive (due to the pop up element) and other don’t like them because they like to keep their content area free of advertising.

I’ve text this type of advertising (using other networks) on a couple of my blogs at different times and did find them to convert well. I was also surprised that I didn’t hear any negative feedback from readers. Having said this – apart from the odd testing of them I’ve decided not to use them on my blogs.

Other options if you’re looking for in text ad link alternatives like Chitika LINX:

• Kontera

• Amazon Associates offer Context Links

• IntelliTXT – from Vibrant Media

Chitika Launch Premium Publishers Program

Chitika-PremiumChitika have launched a premium publisher program in the last week.

Chitika publishers will now fit one of three categories – Silver – Gold and Premium.

Each level has it’s own privileges – from what I can tell most publishers are Gold publishers (I’m not sure why there’s a Silver category) with premium publishers qualifying by fitting this criteria:

You have used Chitika ads consistently and made at least $1000 over the past 90 days

AND / OR

You have a proven high-quality of traffic based on the feedback of our advertisers.

What do premium publishers get?

Get Chitika eMiniMalls

  • Higher Rev Share (no details on what this actually is)
  • CPM and PPC ads (get paid for impressions as well as clicks)
  • Real time Auditing (no more waiting til the end of the month)
  • Dedicated Account Manager
  • Custom Ad Units (Chitikas designers can create something to suit your blog)
  • Instant Chat with your account Rep (if you’re in the same time zone – I’ve never seen mine online)
  • Account Overview Reports (monthly)
  • Customized backup categories (tailor a category specifically for your blog with specific products)
  • Chitika Premium Publisher Badge (pictured right)
  • Spots as a guest blogger on Chtiika’s blog

As a publisher who has been put in this program my own attraction to it is the higher rev share (although I’ve not really seen any marked improvement), the CPM ads (my CPM income is about 10% of the click revenue – a nice jump!) and the possibility of custom ads.

I do think it’s interesting that Chitika have gone public with announcing what premium publishers get. AdSense are public about the fact that they have a premium publishers program and have mentioned at different times what number of page views is needed to get into it – but they’ve always been more vague on what those publishers get. In doing so I wonder if they’ve created less of an ‘us and them’ feeling with their program.

My worry is that perhaps by giving everyone a category and telling everyone what they are missing out by not being premium publishers is that they might frustrate their middle and lower tier of publishers. Time will tell.

How Not Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water Earned me Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

Today I want to tell you a story – a story of how not throwing the baby out with the bath water has earned me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Just under two years ago a controversy erupted in the the ‘make money online’ segment of the blogosphere that involved a lot of hype, anger and attack.

Chitika-1It involved the launch of a new advertising network product called – Chitika eMiniMalls.

I had been beta testing this new ad unit for a few weeks and was one of a small group of bloggers who blogged about my experience of it and how it had significantly increased my earnings. I wrote my first review of Chitika here.

A couple of weeks later after continuing to experiment with the ad unit my earnings with Chitika continued to grow and I revealed that I was earning over $700 per day with them – they’d become my biggest earner.

The result of me (and others) reporting my success with Chitika caused a real stir around the blogosphere and when Chitika announced an affiliate program which paid 10% commission the ‘stir’ quickly became ‘hype’ as many bloggers pumped Chitika up as being an AdSense killer and the answer to all problems of bloggers struggling to make money online.

I attempted to communicate a more balanced review of the ad unit (they work well on some blogs but not others) but the frenzy and buzz that surrounded Chitika for a few weeks was like nothing I’d ever seen around a product launch before.

Of course the positive buzz around Chitika didn’t last for too long. Chitika made a few mistakes in their launch (I suspect overwhelmed by the numbers of those signing up) and in getting the mix between serving publishers and advertisers they had to make some tough decisions which saw some publishers see decreases in earnings. This of course didn’t go over terribly well with many.

At the same time some publishers found that Chitika didn’t work on every blog (as they’d read some promoting the affiliate program promising) and became disillusioned by Chitika and anyone who had promoted them.

The resulting backlash against Chitika was as strong and vicious as the previous weeks of positive buzz had been – the pendulum has swung to the opposite end of it’s trajectory. Many bloggers expressed real anger, quite a few vowed never to use Chitika again, accusations of fraud and scrupulous behavior flew left right and centre. I took a lot of flak for my positive (yet in my opinion balanced) reviews of Chitika (in fact the attacks on me in those months were the most vicious I’ve ever experienced and escalated to a point where my property was physically assaulted).

While many many bloggers jumped off the Chitika ship as the popularity pendulum swung away from them – I felt that while Chitika had issues and had made some mistakes that they were a company with potential. They needed to improve their service – but the basics that they had put in place were good and in time I felt that they’d improve.

Rather than jumping ship (or throwing the baby out with the bath water) as many were doing I decided to do two things:

  1. give constructive and encouraging feedback to Chitika - While much of the blogosphere descended into snark and attack I decided to attempt to help Chitika improve. I did this in part because I felt it was the right thing to do and that they didn’t deserve all of the hits that they were taking – but also because I knew that if they improved what they offered – that it’d enhance my own business. I told them what I liked about their product, what I didn’t like, what I wished they’d change and what I wished that they’d add.
  2. experiment with the use of their service to see how it worked best - I spent significant time in those early months really tweaking and tracking the use of Chitika’s ad units. I saw from my own experience and the reports of others that it didn’t work on some blogs yet did on others – so I decided to work out where it did work best and how to improve it’s performance. This resulted in a series of tips posts including Chitika eMiniMalls Tips.

A few other bloggers quietly took a similar approach in the midst of the Chitika bashing that went on around us. The results were quite amazing.

Firstly – Chitika improved. Since that time the company as grown and offered a variety of new ad units. They have had their ups and downs but what they offer now benefits many bloggers. While these ads still don’t work on every blog – many bloggers have found ways to make them work for them. I know a few who make more than I do from Chitika each day.

Secondly – My own experience of Chitika and what they contribute to my business has confirmed to me my hunch that it wasn’t something to jump ship on. I revealed in a post 4 months ago that I’d earned just under a quarter of a million dollars using Chitika – of that figure is now well in excess of the quarter of a million dollar mark and continues to confirm to me the value of taking a different approach than being swayed by popular opinion and doing something positive instead of being caught up in the pendulum swings that the blogosphere can become distracted by.

Is the Pendulum Swinging Again?

In the last week we’ve seen a pendulum swing over the launch of BlogRush service that reminds me a little of the Chitika fiasco. The service launched in a frenzy of praise and hype as bloggers jostled to benefit from referring others. While many posted about it advising caution and trying to paint realistic expectations – some posts that I read painted this new and untested service as though it was the Messiah!

Yes – BlogRush needs to take some responsibility for the way they presented themselves (they talked themselves up as you’d expect – and gave bloggers an incentive to talk them up) but many bloggers took it to another level and promised the world from the service.

In the last 24 hours – since the release of BlogRush stats – the pendulum has swung and I’ve seen quite a few bloggers painting the service as ‘evil’. Once again bloggers are jumping ship left right and center and accusations are beginning to fly.

While I don’t know if BlogRush will ultimately be as successful for bloggers as Chitika has been for those who remained on board – I found myself wondering how many bloggers are in danger of prematurely throwing a potentially good thing away simply because it didn’t work for them in the in the first day or two.

  • What would happen if rather than dismissing or attacking BlogRush bloggers looked the service over and compiled some constructive feedback for it’s creators?
  • What would happen if bloggers took the time to analyze how it works and to experiment with different ways of using it?
  • What if bloggers pressed pause on their judgement and allowed the creators of this product to improve it?

I’m not saying bloggers should blindly accept every new service that comes along as ‘the answer’ – there may come a time to ‘jump ship’ from BlogRush if it doesn’t work (either for anyone or in individual circumstances) – however I wonder if we all need to take a chill pill and let things run their course a little.

Yes – it may be a big flop – but perhaps if we give it (and other services that emerge) a chance we might just see things grow into something worthwhile that enhances our blogging.

Just my two cents worth.