I wanted to write a quick post about why we use ads on our websites.

We use MediaVine (an ad network) on some of our websites and Google Adsense on others. They net us something between $5 and $15 per 1,000 page views, which means we (currently) make about lunch money on ads.

But why use ads at all? After all, ads are annoying! They make the website-reading experience worse with interrupting colours and animations, they make pages longer to load, and they alert people that they're being tracked.

Other website owners answer the question of "why use ads" with a number of answers:

  • Reminding people that the website is low-value: "Ads help me make money, which helps me provide this information that you wouldn't pay for."
  • Defensiveness: "If you don't like ads, don't visit my website (or use an ad-blocker)."
  • Circuitous pitch: "You, too, could be making bank like me!"

But our reasons are different. Here's why we use ads: Ads mean we can write whatever we want, which means we can focus on whatever is most useful for you, the reader.

Why Using Ads Gives us Editorial Freedom

By using ads, we can write whatever we want — we have complete editorial freedom. This means we can also write whatever YOU want (and that's what we try to do).

To explain this, here's a quick overview of the main ways that websites make money.

  1. Ad networks. Yes, that's why we're here. A company puts ads on our website wherever it likes. The ads that you see are things that are relevant to you based on your web activity.
  2. Sponsorships. These are exclusive ads. Someone (or a few companies) pays a website owner $1000 a month to put a big banner on top of their page that says.
  3. Affiliate marketing. Websites have relationships with companies and get commission on sales. The customer never pays more for this.
  4. Sales of products/services. Websites sell something directly to you and pocket all the money.

Currently we don't do sponsorships or sell our own products/services.

But you should know something: as soon as we do have sponsorships or sell our own products/services, it'll bias our writing towards selling that product.

For example, I googled "best bicycles under $500". Below is a screenshot of the post. It does have good bicycles, but doesn't list their prices, and every one has a link to Amazon.com. Not a coincidence — they're all affiliate links.

So that means that post ignores every other good deal available direct from distributors and from bike stores. I can't trust it — unless I was only willing to buy a bicycle from Amazon.

Right now, because we use ads, I can write whatever I like that I know people will read, and it'll be helpful to you and it'll make me money.

Say for example I figure out that people are interested in Colombian cheese (are they? I don't think they are). I write an article about quesito, cuajada, and a couple of other kinds of cheese, and then sit back as I get around 35 page-views a day, making me about $20 a month. You're happy because you get to learn about cheese, and I'm happy because I get lunch money from a blog post (or about $500 over the course of two years, nice!).

But let's say I had a relationship with one particular manufacturer of quesito.

Suddenly, I'd have bias in a number of areas:

  1. Topic bias: I'd be heavily incentivised to write about quesito rather than anything else you might be interested in. You want to know about milk, but too bad! You're learning about cheese.
  2. Subject bias: I'd be incentivised to write about that brand of quesito and not mention any others.
  3. Qualitative bias: I'd of course recommend that brand of quesito even though others might be better.

All that might make me money and might not make your life any worse off. You might actually enjoy that brand of cheese. But you'll never know.

By using ads rather than relying on affiliate or product sales, we can instead write an article about cheese. And in that content you'll see ads for whatever our ad networks think you're interested in — usually something completely unrelated to cheese.

Do you have any bias when you write articles for ad revenue?

We still have two kinds of bias when we write ads, and it's important to acknowledge these.

Audience bias: We get the most ad revenue when we write for a European/American audience. This means our content will mostly be in English (our best language) and it'll try to serve the needs of Europeans, Americans, and Australians.

Content bias: Certain kinds of content make us the most money from ads. This usually is long-form content (2,000+ words) with videos inside them. So we're more inclined to write fewer, longer articles, rather than many short ones.

We could for example write travel guides for Indians or Africans who want to explore other parts of the world. But this would result in very little advertising money for us which is a disincentive from doing so.

There is the chance that we're leaving future money on the table, but we don't have the resources to invest in that future just yet.

Why not just have a totally free website?

Simply put, we have an agenda in creating a website, and that's to continue existing as humans by eating. To eat, we need money.

Secondly, writing articles takes a long time. Even though I'm a fast typist and have become very quick at writing long articles (this one took me an hour and has 1,000 words or so), it still takes up a lot of my day. Publishing one article often takes several hours to several days, when you include all the time spent researching, typing, laying it out, revising and maintaining.

As background, there are very few websites that are totally "free".

There are loosely three kinds of free websites that provide information without asking for something in return:

  • Government sponsored websites, e.g. the US travel advisory website travel.gov
  • NGO-sponsored websites, e.g. anything UN-related
  • Hobby websites, e.g. personal blogs, things done for no reason other than entertainment or self-promotion with zero agenda (is this possible?)

Even non-profit websites still make money through advertising, and even Wikipedia collects money through donations.

So your perception that information is "free" needs to be narrowed down to those websites above, and you have to realise that the money for those websites comes from somewhere.

Hate ads anyway? This is what you can do.

I don't think anyone should be forced to see ads.

Here are two options for you.

  1. Don't visit this website. Harsh, but it'll stop you from seeing ads. I'll be sad. I promise I wouldn't have ads on here if I didn't have to.
  2. Use an ad blocker. I won't mind. In fact, I probably won't even notice. My favourite one is uBlock. You can't block ads on mobile so easily, but there are ways you can do that, too.

But really, I'd appreciate it if you just ignored the ads. Every page you visit pays me about 1c. That 1c goes a long way!

Enjoy reading this website with ads, without ads, or not at all.