How to Go Ad-Free and Still Make Money on Your Website

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Many website owners and bloggers are going completely ad-free with their websites and blogs. That’s right- these individuals are saying NO to making money with AdSense, affiliate product sales and/or banner ads. Examples of such individuals include Codrut Turcanu of Start A Blog How To, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, Andrew Sullivan of The Dish and of course, Steve Razinski of our very own I’ve Tried That.

Despite going ad-free, however, these individuals earn quite well from their websites and blogs. For example, within hours of Andrew Sullivan starting his own blog, subscription rates were “well into the six figures.” On a similar note, Jon Morrow of Boost Blog Traffic  reports how he made $500,000 from his blog in 2012.

Of course, we’re not all well-known political commentators with thousands upon thousands of followers ready to fork over $19.99 per year to hear our online shpeel. We’re also not all Internet marketing gurus who can command big bucks with consulting deals. However, when even “small time” bloggers like Johnny B. Truant ditch advertising, it’s time to take a closer look at the methods behind their “madness”.

Why go ad-free?

I was able to snag Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income and ask him why he chose to not use Google AdSense on his site. Pat does run a few small ads on his site, such as for Bluehost, but the majority of his website is ad-free and filled with lots of useful content. Here’s what Pat had to say:

I tried Adsense on SPI back in 2010 and the ads were not up to par. My primary goal is to help my audience and each of the ads were for things that were too good to be true, such as “work at home and earn $2000 in your first week” type of stuff. It’s not helpful to my audience so I was happy to take them down.

I also had Adsense on GreenExamAcademy.com. It was making decent money and the ads were completely relevant; however, I was sending people away to my competitors. When I came out with my own products, it was more profitable to keep people on my own website so they would purchase my products rather than someone else’s.

Because your reputation is everything

Exaggerated claims and loss of potential customers are just some of the criticisms that have been made about online advertising. Andrew Sullivan had a slightly more agressive explanation as to why he chose to keep his site ad-free, stating that the pusuit of ad revenue results in “blatant ‘whoring’ for pageviews” and “gussied-up vehicles for advertising.” Many readers can relate to that- When was the last time you opened up a web page that made an explosive declaration in the title to bring in traffic? Alternatively, how many web “articles” have you read that were nothing but thinly-veiled promotions for an affiliate product?

At best, such tactics are annoying to readers. At worst, they result in a loss of audience trust and a serious hit to your online reputation.

Even a website owner who starts using AdSense or other ads with competely objective intentions can see these good intentions backfire. Steve mentioned the following about using Adsense on I’ve Tried That in the past:

When I’ve Tried That was founded, a sizable portion of our income did come from Google Adsense ads but we were never thrilled to have them on the site. Adsense puts up ads based on the content of your site. We would give out warnings for programs and then have the same exact program featured as an advertiser. That didn’t sit right with us so we dropped outside advertising altogether. We never wanted money to shape the outcome of our reviews.

With all this bad user experience, it’s understandable that many website owners and bloggers are ditching ad revenue vehicles like AdSense. However, without these revenue generators, how can one make money online?

Taking the high road yet still making money

Codrut Turcanu had this to say when I asked him why many websites and blogs go ad-free and how they still make money online:

There are two trends… newbie bloggers go the AdSense route (they’ll always do it that way) — while veterans or bloggers with a strategy in mind (freelancers, book authors and niche passionate individuals) will create their own tribe and pre-sell their own products/affiliate offers.

So, as a website/blog matures over time, there is a kind of “realization” on the part of the owner that there are bigger and better ways to monetize besides just running mindless ads. Those ways need not alienate the audience and thus damage one’s online reputation. Furthermore, ad-free approaches may also be more lucrative.

Codrut elaborated on several of his online money-generators, none of which involve placing more banner ads on his site or doing additional keyword research through Google AdSense (which is really a pay-per-click advertising and not a keyword tool, by the way):

 I offered a 3-month long affiliate marketing program that made about $7K in 4 days back in 2005 and a 12-month long (recurring income) affiliate marketing program that earned $3K in its first month back in 2007. Both programs were offered via my email list and blog (during the pre-launch phase) — no ads!

Not bad! Steve noted the following successes with ITT products and programs:

Positive recommendations on programs or products do make up the majority of ITT’s income. It’s just too bad there are so few programs out there actually worth recommending.  We do have an e-book of our own as well. It’s a list of 121 hidden online jobs that provides information on companies offering real telecommuting positions. It only costs $7 and comes with free lifetime updates. It’s quite the bargain!

Going ad-free and loving it

Choosing to go ad-free can certainly seem intimidating if you are generating a steady income from Google AdSense or have monthly/yearly contracts running with outside advertisers. Over time, however, the disadvantages of maintaining such advertising programs do appear; reader dissatisfaction and annoyance with ads, especially pop-up ads, are well-noted. Likewise, there is the danger that those pop-up and other ads might alienate your audience and cause it to distrust you. This is disastrous if you are hoping to eventually offer products, consultations or to set up a forum through your site.

Your best option, therefore, is to take the high road and go ad-free. It’s also something that successful website owners like Pat, Codrut and our very own Steve realized quite some time ago. Sure, taking the next step is always scary. However, as the above testimonials have shown, the risk is well worth the reward.

Photo credit by Kelly*Elizabeth

3 Comments

  1. yea im going to remove Google Adsense from my sites….not sure yet what I am going to do, but I don’t want ads, javascript, etc because it slows my sites down bad.

    Reply
  2. Halina Zakowicz says:

    Hi Laria,
    Thanks much for your comment. I took a look through your website and it doesn’t even seem like you have that much advertising even on the beauty section. Otherwise, I just saw some Amazon ads.
    Do you have a product of your own that you could sell through your website? Maybe an e-book, like a beauty guide? Would you have any beauty products that you could develop and sell? There are many possibilities for monetizing your website that go beyond just posting third party ads. And you stand to earn a much higher commission too.
    Otherwise, because you don’t have too much advertising in place, you could just keep your ads as they are.

    Reply
  3. Hey Steve,

    I’m a huge fan and just wanted to say this post really is an eye opener. I’m also someone who has a very small amount of banner ads on my blog. Only in the beauty section though since I’m a Target affiliate.

    I may even take those down after reading this post. What do you think? Category specific banners within the posts? Or simply deep links and text links?

    Reply

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