A page on the English Raven site, which earns a tiny bit of income -- but at what cost?
It's the dilemma that many providers of online teaching resources have been struggling with for years: how in heck do you manage to make a reasonable income for all your hard work?
Do you try to charge for individual resources? Or offer a pay-for subscription for a period of time, granting users access to anything/everything on the site?
Or, do you offer everything for free, try to build up a colossal amount of visitation, and run with pay-per-click advertisements?
With my own resource site, which has been around since 2001, I've tried all three avenues at various times in isolation or combination. The only one that really worked and made me a modest level of income was the basic one year fee for access to everything on the site.
"But oh," I hear you say, "this can't be good because many teachers can't afford to pay for access to online materials." I somewhat agree, which is why my current model allows members to choose their own fee for a year of access, alongside unconditional free access for teachers working in non-profit and volunteer-based teaching settings, and certain professional organisations (for example: all current members of IATEFL's YLT-SIG get free access to all of my materials).
Given that I also provide a heck of a lot of freely available material and resources on the public pages of the site, I also run with Google Ads to help make up some of my costs. I see several other prominent resource sites out there that offer everything publicly for free and seek to create a revenue stream for their site through Google Ads as well.
Here's the thing: when you use pay-per-click ads on your resource site, it creates losers as well as winners.
The first question you have to ask yourself is: "is it worth it?"
Some quick figures for you:
English Raven receives, on average, 35,000 visitors and 100,000 page views per month.
The Google ads on the public pages of the site generate a monthly income of about $300 USD.
So 35,000 visitors and 100,000 page views generates $300 in revenue (per month).
Of course, I could be doing more work with the ads and settings and layout to improve this revenue stream. For example, I could be formatting more of my pages so they appear like the one presented at the top of this post. More ads "above the fold." More banner adverts done as text links so that they "appear" to be a natural part of my site menu options. More "in text" ads so that they appear to be part of my own content and commentary.
In other words, layout and selection that results in more click-thrus. Or, if you'll forgive my frankness, use of ads that creates ugly looking webpages with potentially confusing content that basically misleads site visitors into clicking on the ads, thinking this is part of my own site content.
But that's okay, right? If I'm giving free content away to teachers, it's only fair/logical that they put up with some ugly looking content which whisks them away to other sites with products they're most probably never going to purchase, with the owners of those ads then paying me money for visitors who (most probably, in my opinion) aren't actually going to buy anything from them.
And everyone wins. Right?
Personally, I don't think so. This process is starting to resemble something like 3 steps back then 2.5 steps forward. I think most people are actually losing through this approach.
First of all, on the basic visual aesthetics front, sites full of ads look crap. Even the webmasters who have found ingenious ways to blend the ads into the page format can't escape the fact that their pages are losing a certain visual appeal.
Secondly, relevance inevitably suffers, which in turn results in potential time-wasting. No matter how carefully you screen your ad settings, there will always be content presented there that is irrelevant to your site visitors. Just glancing through all of these additions to your page potentially wastes time. Clicking on them (especially by accident, thinking it is part of this reliable site's content) usually results in even more time-wasting.
Third -- and this is the one that personally bothers me the most -- there is a potentially a certain promotion or at least unstated tolerance of basic deception often going on here. At a surface level, when we 'blend in' our ads, or give them positions of priority in our basic page layout, we really need to ask ourselves an important question: Are we formatting our page to facilitate access to the resources teachers expect and have come to this site (often via recommendation) in particular to find, or are we basically trying to get as many click-thrus as possible?
Fair enough, we want to generate some income for our hard work. Many of us are also dedicated to providing good resources to teachers who don't have the sort of finances that would allow them to pay for anything. I'm just not sure that compromising the basic quality and content of our pages, creating avenues that result in potential time-wasting, potentially deceiving our site visitors and taking money from other site owners are the most positive or productive ways to go about this.
Especially when the returns from online ads, in all truth, are pretty meagre.
The only real winner and grinner in all this is the ad provider, who is laughing at our folly all the way to its very large bank...
I think there are better ways to go about this.
As I work away at a revision and relaunch of my own site (a pretty massive undertaking, I have to confess), I'm looking forward to exploring different ways to create materials and a site that generates income for me but also caters to teachers' means.
I'll let you know how it gets on!