Make money online, part 1: Introduction to Google AdSense

Summary:Google AdSense provides arguably the easiest avenue to make money online. Learn about it here in the first post of my making money online series!

Make money online: Part 1

Make money online: Part 1

If you've found your way to this post without having first read my introduction to this series, please read it before carrying forward. It's not a necessity for you to read, but I wrote it to help cast away the understandable skepticism and doubt that posts like this are typically met with.

Welcome to part one of my make money onlineseries! I'm going to cover a lot of new territory for many of you, so bookmark this post for continual reference. If you're familiar with implementing AdSense on your Website, then this is most likely an article that's safe for you to skip. The main audience I'm looking to reach are those who aren't currently familiar with AdSense or implementing ads in general. Each part in this series will build on the previous part before it, so although this part may not be news to some of you, I need to build a foundation for those who are completely new to this. To start, I know that some of you reading this may feel skeptical, overwhelmed, anxious, or doubt that you can even do this -- especially if you have absolutely no idea what "Google AdSense" is. Well, please bear with me and give this post -- and yourself(!) -- a chance. I will do my absolute best to give you a solid foundation of how ads work and how you can easily implement them on your very own site via Google AdSense. With that said, let's get started with building your online money-making foundation with ads.

The Nuts and Bolts of Ads

Prior to this point, you may or may not have heard of Google AdSense. If you haven't, it's an ad network that Google has set up to allow Web site owners, bloggers, and others to place ads on their site and make money. Put simply, an ad network is essentially a place that contains ads from companies who are looking to advertise on Web sites. Companies approach ad networks and they ask them to run their ads on sites that are signed up on the ad network (i.e. if you had a Google AdSense account). Simple concept, right? The quick 'n dirty breakdown goes something like this (don't worry if you don't understand any of this yet; I break it all down on page 2 for you):

  • 1 - Begin with a Web site or a blog.
  • 2 - Sign up for a Google AdSense account (it's free).
  • 3 - Prepare an ad unit to be posted on your site (color, size, and content you would like to filter).
  • 4 - Place your ad unit on your Web site/blog.
  • 5 - Populate your Web site/blog with content.
  • 6 - Promote your Web site/blog and make money from ad clicks/ad views.

Now, it's not so simple to just follow 6 steps and profit, but that's the essential framework of how it works. There is a great deal that you need to do with each step to help #6 along and I will cover the essentials later in the post. But for all intents and purposes, it really comes down to having a site, signing up for AdSense, creating an ad unit (basically, a placeholder you put on your Web site that runs ads from Google AdSense), then placing it on your site and hopefully making money as you populate your site with content and grow its popularity. Now, if you're like me, you need almost granular detail about how something works to feel like you've got a solid understanding of it.

In order for you to really understand how this all works -- I mean, for you to get a FIRM grasp -- you have to understand the ad ecosystem a bit. In other words, how do these ads -- seemingly EVERYWHERE you go these days online -- actually help make a person money? How do these ads make Google BILLIONS of dollars? How does Google pay you when you place these ads on your site? How do the companies that these ads are created for profit? By the way, if you have any specific questions you would like to ask after reading this article, feel free to fire them away in the comments below, okay? But PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE FIRST! Despite my initial attempt to make this article flow as easily as possible, I will inevitably touch on various points at different times and leave a number of you confused.

First, it's important to understand what happens when someone clicks an AdSense ad. The site that runs the ad makes money AND Google makes money. In fact, Google earns more than you do by a wide margin, so that's how Google can afford to do this. So, to take you to the top of the chain of how it works, companies go to Google and they say, "Hey, Google! I'll pay X amount of dollars/cents to you for every ad click and/or ad impression if you run my ad on relevant sites that people have AdSense installed on." Google then takes that ad (which must first go through a strict acceptance process), pops it on their AdSense network, then -- if your site is deemed relevant to the content of the ad -- Google will give you a percentage of what they earn from every click on that ad if it displays to a visitor on your site.

The only grab to the whole thing is that you don't see any of that money hit your bank account until you earn $100 worth of clicks/impressions (impressions are simply the ad being displayed. A small amount is usually paid per X number of impressions, but clicks are always worth far more). That's okay, though, because seeing even one cent show up in your AdSense account is a huge motivator if you've never messed with it before. Once you see that it really works, it motivates you. To note, it took me 11 months to hit $100 when I first started running AdSense ads, primarily due to me not having a good understanding of it, but for as long as that may seem, time flew by and I was enjoying watching the numbers rise (even if it was at a snail's pace). It can get frustrating sometimes when you don't see the numbers rise quickly, but always remind yourself that you have PLENTY OF TIME to work on this!

Don't let your desire to make money override sound perspective. Even if it takes you a year to hit $100.00, that will be an extra $100.00 you didn't have before! Plus, the learning experience makes it worth it. With that said, I will be giving you many options to choose from throughout this series, such that you will undoubtedly find a way to monetize something you're passionate about; thus, the effort you put into things will be fun more times than not. I promise. :) Back to AdSense, when you sign up, they require your Social Security number (SSN), address, name, and additional personal information. This is because you're essentially starting your own little freelance business. And because Google are the ones who pay you, they have to report all of these things when it comes tax time.

So, if you're a Google conspiracy theorist or reserved about Google having that information, then you will just have to wait until future parts of this series to find something to delve into. Now, where taxes are concerned, it is very important for you to understand that you have to report your earnings (here in the U.S. at least). With earning money online comes a certain level of responsibility. Don't dig your own grave by earning a lot and then spending it all! If you remember taxes and integrate that into your earning process, you will not have to worry about shelling money out-of-pocket to cover them if you don't have enough write-offs to balance your earnings. A good rule I recommend is to put away 50% of what you earn every time you get paid. That will ensure that you have more than enough come tax time.

So, are you overwhelmed or confused? Are you ready to not even consider doing this because I'm talking about Web sites and blogs and ads and taxes and social security numbers and the likes? Yes, there is an education that has to happen here, but trust me when I say it's really not as big of a deal as it seems right now. Yes, you may have some things to learn -- potentially a lot -- but so did I! Heck, to this day, I'm stilllearning, but that process never really ends. If you stick with it, you'll get the basics down with no problem. From there, it's all about monitoring ad performance, trying new spots for your ads if one spot doesn't seem to be performing well, and more advanced things that will help you earn *more*. You will already be earning, but the quest then becomes earning *more* than you're already earning. Still with me? I hope so. :) If so, then let's head on over to page two where I'll delve into the aforementioned 6 steps in more detail for you. Then, I'll discuss some AdSense no-nos and conclude the first part of this series!

Down to Specifics

Alright. So now I'm going to take those 6 steps on the previous page and explain them in more granular detail. But before I do that, let me once again stress that you need to give yourself time to learn! For many of you, I recommend giving yourself at least3-6 months to gain a solid understanding of everything I cover and link to in this article. And if you have any questions or if you're confused about something by the time you reach the end of the article, I encourage you to please ask questions. I will answer them as best I can! And now on to the 6 steps:

  • 1 - Start a Web site or a blog: If you've never started your own Web site or blog, then your journey to implementing ads to make money probably feels like an impossibility to you right now. Fear not, though. If you're unsure how to purchase a domain name, a hosting plan, and put up your own Web site, there are plenty of places out there on the Web where you can simply sign up for a free blog! I recommend WordPress or Blogger. Both sites have great guides for walking you through sign-up and quickly choosing a look to get you off-and-running quickly. Again, it's completely free to sign up for a WordPress or Blogger blog, so right off the bat with this process, you're out absolutely nothing monetarily.
  • 2 - Sign up for a Google AdSense account: Signing up for AdSense isn't difficult, but it does involve a process. Once you provide Google with the information they need, they will mail you a card (not email, but snail mail) which contains a code you will need to enter to activate your account. This is so they can verify your address. Now, I'm a big fan of utilizing well-crafted resources, so just about all of your questions about signing up for -- and utilzing -- AdSense are answered on Google's AdSense Newbie Central or on their AdSense Support site. Look in the left-hand sidebar of either of those sites to find links that will take you to AdSense videos, webinars, and more! I expect you to spend some time around there and really get your learn on.
  • 3 - Prepare an ad unit to be posted on your site (color, size, and content you would like to filter): Once again, referring to Google's very own help section will allow you to make fast work of this. Here is a link to Google's help section regarding the preparation and utilization of ad units. When doing this step, take into consideration the types of content that are most related to the content of your site. You can filter out specific categories of content not related to your site, thus eliminating pointless ads from being shown to your users! Unfortunately, for the time being, filtering out content affects all of your ad units. So if you have two completely different Web sites, since you can only have one AdSense account, you will need to have all applicable categories of content made available. Luckily, though, if your site's content is targeted enough, Google will be smart enough to apply applicable ads to your individual sites! Remember, no clicks for you means no clicks for them. They make money when you make money, so it's in their best interests to display the most relevant ads to your site. Lastly, you can create as many ad units as you'd like, but only 3 will display on any one page, so take that into consideration as well.
  • 4 - Place your ad unit on your Web site: Once you follow the steps above, you will have an ad unit ready to be placed on your Web site. Where you place it is up to you, but there are people out there who swear by particular placements. It seems individuals have their own unique success with placements, though most I have run across claim that the right side of the page works best for them. If you would like, you could just stick with what Google recommends for your type of site by using their ad location best practices optimizer. While there are ways to monitor individual ad performance and placement, I will cover that and more advanced facets in a later post.
  • 5 - Populate your Web site or blog with content: The easiest and most fun of the steps, this is where you fill your site with whatever content you want! If you run a photo blog, post photos. If you run a journalism site, post articles. If you run a game site, post links to games. Whatever you do, definitely get text on your page that's related to the topic of your site. If you run a photo blog and only post photos, Google isn't going to have a freakin' clue as to what types of ads to run for you. Their spider understands text, not images. So, if you have a picture of a blue flower, make sure you get the words "blue flower" on the page! If need be, take a look at the steps in my SEO for images blog post to get a good idea for ways to get text in with your images!
  • 6 - Promote your Web site or blog and make money from ad clicks/ad views: Promotion is incredibly important, because you can't obtain ad clicks or page views if you don't have visitors! Create a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and maybe even a LinkedIn account. These are very popular social networks that will allow like-minded people to find you much quicker than if you simply create a site, post to the site, and leave it at that. And if you look at my signature at the bottom of this post, you will see where I have linked out to all three of those sites! Another idea is to go out and find some forums or other blogs that post content related to yours. Visit Google, type in a search related to your content and add the word "blog" or "forum" to it. You can establish mutual friendships with individuals who run similar sites and engage in facets like guest-posting. If someone has a much more popular blog than you, why not see if you can do a guest post on their blog with a link back to your page? If people enjoy what you post there, they will certainly check you out! But you want to have content on your site for people to see if they go there, so make sure you spend some time populating your site before you spend time promoting it heavily.

I will dive much deeper into some of the methods above in a later post. Believe me when I say there is A LOT to discuss yet in terms of monitoring ad performance, ways to promote your site, and more. People have whole blogs dedicated to just those topics alone, so if I didn't cover something in particular that comes to mind for you, feel free to ask and I'll either give you an answer myself or link you to somewhere that has information I think you will find useful.

AdSense No-Nos

No introduction to Google AdSense is complete without a naughty list. An extensive list of Google's AdSense program policies can be found here, but I'm going to list Google's brief overviewof them here for faster reference:

1. Don't click on your own ads. 2. Don't ask others to click on your ads. 3. Don't include any prohibited site content, including adult content, violence or excessive profanity, drugs (including alcohol and tobacco), or copyrighted material. 4. Don't modify the AdSense code. 5. Do follow our Webmaster Quality Guidelines. 6. Do provide a good user experience. 7. Don't place more than 3 ad units, 3 link units, and 2 search boxes on any page. 8. Don't place images near ads in a way that may mislead users into thinking that the images are associated with the ads.

And with that, I will go ahead and wrap up this introduction to Google AdSense. As you can see, it's free to sign up and the only cost is your time and effort. There is certainly a learning curve, but if you're already running a Web site that sees any number of visitors, you need to get on the ball and start running AdSense if you're seeking out avenues for earning residual income! If you're lucky enough, you may end up like one of the few who earn tens-of-thousands of dollars a month on AdSense. The most I've ever made in a month is ~$400, and you had better believe that while it didn't make me rich, it made me unbelievably happy. An extra $400 a month can do a lot of good for someone -- especially in this economy (speaking as someone who lives in the U.S.)!

In future posts, I will be covering specific manners in which you can utilize AdSense and give you ideas for creating sites if you're not sure what to do with the information in this post. Plus, I will be covering online money-making ideas that don't involve ads whatsoever, so if all of this is just too much for you, perhaps a future part in the series will appeal to you. Thank you for reading, I hope you found this post informative, and please do not hesitate to ask me any questions you may have. I know for a fact I didn't cover certain things as thoroughly as some of you may need, so feel free to ask me questions and I'll be glad to help however I can!

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Topics: Google

About

Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.

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