My Adsense Challenge: How to Earn $10,000 per Month in Adsense Revenue

adsense challenge

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Quick – how would you like to put up a simple website and earn advertising income from it for years to come? And then replicate that process over and over to build a huge (passive) monthly income?

I’ll bet you would – and so would a lot of other internet marketers, judging by the number of “make money from Google Adsense” ebooks out there (and the popularity of my own post on how I went from $0 to $2,000 per month in Adsense revenue).

This post is the first in a series I’m calling the “Adsense Challenge”. My goal is to reach $10,000 in monthly Adsense earnings within the next twelve months.

In this post I describe:

– How I got started in Adsense
–  What I’ve learned over the past  12 months in terms of how to rank websites quickly
–  The strategy I’m going to implement to achieve my $10k/month goal.

And in upcoming blog posts I’ll describe – in detail – the steps I’m taking to achieve that goal.

But first, how my love affair with Adsense came about…

Why Adsense is The Ultimate Passive Income Stream

In September of 2007 I launched my first website. At the time I was fixated on the “advertising revenue” model of making money online, as opposed to making money through affiliate marketing, e-commerce, etc. My simple-minded expectation was to put up one site, get some traffic, and retire off the advertising revenue. Then reality set in…

That one site – which is in the home improvement niche – took some time to get its first visitors, because I knew nothing about SEO. So, like most IMers, I lost interest in the site and moved on to building another site, based on another business model (this is a disease I call “affiliate pinball”).

After about six months I checked the traffic for that first site and noticed it was getting around 50 visits per day. Not huge traffic, but given that I had set up the site then left it alone, I was pretty happy! In retrospect, I realized that the site was getting traffic (despite me doing no SEO) for two reasons:

1. The keywords that Google associated my site’s pages with were very low-competition, so many of my pages ranked #1 in Google.

On many pages I had content related to government rebates for home improvements. And in many cases I ranked higher than the government website that the rebate belonged to! (Yes, I know SEO gurus always talk about the power of getting backlinks from government websites. In my experience, though, many government sites are not optimized at all for the search engines, and can be outranked fairly easily.)

2. Because my site had a lot of pages (I set it up to be an “authority” site from the beginning), a lot of other sites were starting to link to it. Most of those sites weren’t of great quality, but there were enough of them to give some “link diversity” to my inbound links.

Now, that would be a pretty unremarkable story, if not for the fact that my site still ranks #1 for many keywords – and I haven’t touched the site in over two years!

I haven’t added a single word of content to the site, and have NEVER done any backlinking to the site.

And yet I’ve consistently made up to $1,000 per month in Adsense earnings from that one site. Here’s a graph of my earnings going back to February 2009:

Adsense

That site has contributed to total Adsense earnings for me that have touched $2,500 some months…before coming down significantly in recent months.

My Nosedive in Adsense Earnings…And What I’ve Learned From It

In the past 12 months, my monthly Adsense earnings have dropped from $2,500 per month to $1,000 per month. It’s been a pretty steep decline from the summer of 2011, as you can see in the graph below:

Adsense

The decline is the result of a significant decrease in the organic traffic coming to my sites from Google. Basically, my traffic has dropped 50% over the past few months.

I’ve read a lot of blog posts on Google’s recent algorithm changes (the “Panda” update) to try to figure out what caused the drop in traffic. And I’ve also talked to friends who run high-traffic sites. Here’s my theory as to why my sites took a hit:

Lack of fresh content.

Most of my sites are in health niches, which means the content is “evergreen”. In other words, the content on my sites doesn’t change much, because the diagnosis and treatment of the health conditions remains pretty consistent over time.

You can contrast this with a news or sports site, where events change all the time, so websites need to constantly refresh their content. For some reason, with this latest algorithm update Google seems to have swept all sites with the same brush.

Low-quality backlinks.

While I have a few “authority” websites in my portfolio that are linked to from high-profile sites like eHow.com, the majority of the links to my sites are probably of medium- to low-quality.

Back in the good old days, it was possible to rank high by simply building tons of links to a site – but now it seems that Google is placing even more emphasis on the quality of backlinks.

High-competition keywords.

I’ve always believed that keyword research is a skill that every internet marketer must master – even if they eventually outsource that task to someone else. Choosing the right keywords can absolutely make or break a new website.

The past few months has only deepened this belief. My sites that were dropped down the rankings are ALL in high-competition niches, and all target very competitive keywords. Conversely, my sites that are still at the top of the rankings are focused on keywords with relatively little competition.

What I’ve Learned from Losing 50% of My Organic Traffic

Before you slot this blog post into the “sorry loser” category, please understand that I don’t see my drop in rankings as a bad thing.

On the contrary – it’s been a great learning experience, as well as a wake-up call. Prior to the Panda update I didn’t pay much attention to Google’s requirements. Now I’ve become a student of the search engines, and will be keeping a much closer eye on how the changes I make to my sites affects their rankings.

One other thing: from what I’ve read, the Panda update cleared a lot of junky sites from the SERPs (search engine results pages). And I think it probably cleared out a lot of lazy IMers, too – the ones who aren’t willing to put in the effort necessary to succeed. Higher barriers to entry mean less competition for those of us willing to jump higher!

I expect that by focusing on what Google wants, I’ll be able to get my organic traffic back up pretty quickly. And I’m aiming for even higher revenues from Adsense for this year.

My Adsense Goal for 2012

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, my Adsense goal for 2012 is to attain $10,000 in monthly earnings by December 31st, 2012.

Now, I’m not necessarily expecting all of that revenue to come from clicks on Adsense ads. In 2012 I’m also planning to get into website “flipping”, which involves building sites for the express purpose of selling them.

Why focus on revenue from Adsense ad clicks AND sales of niche Adsense sites?

Simple: because it diversifies my business. One of the other lessons I’ve learned from getting slapped by Google is don’t rely on one source of traffic or income for your online business.

How my Adsense income is split over the coming months (i.e. what proportion comes from ad clicks versus the sale of niche Adsense sites) is anyone’s guess.  But it’s still important to break down the possible scenarios for my $10,000 goal, so I know how much traffic and clicks are necessary. That, in turn, will drive which keywords I target.

Here’s how the numbers might break down in reaching my $10,000 per month goal:

Scenario #1: 50-50 Split in Adsense Earnings and Niche Site Sales

How to make $5,000 per month in Adsense revenue

In this scenario, I would earn $5,000 per month from ad clicks (up from the ~$1,000 I’m earning now), and another $5,000 from selling niche Adsense sites.

Here are my assumptions underpinning the $5,000 in ad clicks. I’m assuming that:

  • My sites will earn $0.75 per click (which is the current average CPC I get on my sites now)
  • At an average CPC of $0.75, it will take 6,667 clicks to earn $5,000 per month
  • Assuming a clickthrough rate (CTR) on my sites’ ads of 5% (again, this is the CTR I currently get on my sites), it will take 133,333 monthly visits (4,444 daily visits) to achieve 6,667 clicks

So the bottom line is this: assuming I earn $0.75 per click, and assuming that 5% of visitors to my sites will click on an ad, I will need 4,444 visits per day to my sites.

Sound like a tall order? It does to me, too! That’s a lot of traffic. But there are ways I can get around the traffic problem, by (a) increasing the average CPC above $0.75, or (b) increasing the CTR above 5%.

But that’s only the first half of my target income. Let’s move on to the second half:

How to make $5,000 per month from flipping niche Adsense sites

For the past couple of years I’ve had a casual addiction to a site called Flippa (previously known as Sitepoint Marketplace).

You probably know about it. It’s the site that you say to yourself “I’ll just pop onto Flippa for a couple of minutes to see if there’re any interesting sites for sale today.” Then an hour later you’re still stuck in the marketplace – because it’s so interesting to learn how much Adsense revenue a site in the cure-acne-with-watermelon-treatment niche is making!

The flip side to Flippa (I’m so punny today) is that some people are making a killing selling sites there. What’s so appealing about Flippa – and flipping websites in general – is that it’s possible to sell a website for up to 25 times monthly earnings (although the average seems to be 12 times monthly earnings). So if your site is making $100 in monthly Adsense revenue, it’s possible to sell it on Flippa for $1,200 to $2,500.

This is how I plan to add to my monthly Adsense earnings – by selling some of the new sites that my team will be building and optimizing for the search engines.

So assuming I’ll be able to get 12 times earnings, making $5,000 in website sales per month would require a site to be making $416.67 in monthly Adsense earnings – or around $14 per day. At 25 times earnings, the site would only need $200 in monthly earnings ($6.67 per day).

Interesting!

Of course, this is the theory. Who knows how it will turn out in realty? But that’s what’s so exciting about planning (did I just say that planning is exciting?) – you never know how things are actually going to turn out.

Best Niches for Adsense Sites

So which niches will I be focusing on for my Adsense sites? Health niches. The reason for that is straightforward

– On average, health niches get a pretty good cost-per-click (in other words, the amount a website owner is paid every time someone clicks on an ad on their site).

I have a handful of sites dedicated to specific types of surgeries, and have been paid up to $10.00 per click on those sites (getting that much per click doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s pretty sweet!)

– Related to the CPC, health websites also get the highest price at website auctions.

Take a look at this awesome infographic produced by Flippa.com on which niches sell at a premium:

Adsense

Here’s the bottom line of Flippa’s research:

Websites in health and sports niches command the highest multiple. Health websites sold for 19.9 times monthly earnings, while sports website sold for 23.2 times monthly earnings.

This means that if you have a health website that’s earning $100 per month, you can expect to sell it for approximately $2,000 on Flippa.com

- Websites that primarily earn their income from advertising (as opposed to physical product sales, memberships, or affiliate commissions) also command the highest multiple: 17 times monthly earnings.

The takeaway from this research: if you’re thinking about getting into website flipping, focus on building websites in health niches that are monetized through advertising.

That’s what I’m going to be focusing on in 2012!

My Adsense Plan for 2012, in a Nutshell

Based on what I’ve learned over the past year about ranking sites (and keeping them ranked!), here is my Adsense plan for 2012:

1. Launch as many new sites each month as my team can handle. Internet marketing (like many things in life) is a numbers game. The more things you can throw against the wall, the more likely it is that at least one thing will stick.

2.  Quickly separate out the sites that look like winners (i.e. the sites that rank relatively quickly, and maintain those rankings) and regularly add new content to those sites, so they become authority sites. My past experience has been that once Google anoints a site a “good” site, it continues to sprinkle pixie dust on every new page added to the site. New pages get good rankings, which of course increases traffic.

3. Sell off some of the winners, and keep the rest. I might package one winner with a handful of other sites that are taking longer to rank, and put the package on Flippa.com for sale.

Here are some other concepts I’ll be testing out in coming months:

- Does focusing on country top-level domains make sense (in other words, domains that end in a country extension, such as .us for the United States, .ca for Canada, or .com.au for Australia)?My suspicion is that this is an area that is ripe for making money. Last year I had an interesting discussion with an Australian affiliate marketer who recently moved to Canada. He was dumbfounded that most Canadian internet marketers focus on .com domains, and ignore .ca domains.

I mentioned to him that we focus on .com because those domains get a lot of U.S. traffic, which is a huge market. But he sensibly pointed out that even though it’s a big market, it’s also often much harder to rank for a .com domain, because there’s so much more competition.

He explained that he makes a full-time income from ONE “freebies” website that targets only Australia. And Australia is a country of only 22 million people! His points really got my attention, and I’m going to experiment with some .ca domains this year.

Which ad placements and site layouts make the biggest difference to the clickthrough rate on a site’s ads? I already know that where an ad is placed on a web page can make a huge difference in the CTR on that ad. My question is: what are the best spots to put ads?

Which specific health niches pay the highest per click? My experience with Adsense over the past couple of years suggests that there’s variation within niches in terms of the cost per click.

For example, I’ve consistently had the highest payout on my surgery sites (but those sites have also consistently had the lowest clickthrough rate on ads – which might be because people find the content on the sites good, and don’t feel the need to click away from the site. A backhanded compliment!) So, I’ll be examining which sub-niches get the highest cost-per-click.

Next Up in the Adsense Challenge Blog Series

In the coming months I’ll post my Adsense earnings on a regular basis, and will be writing posts on many aspects of setting up and ranking niche Adsense sites. The topics will include:

  • How to find keywords with low-competition but high search volume
  • The best website layouts and advertisement placement for Adsense
  • Simple SEO tactics for getting niche Adsense sites ranked
  • Outsourcing niche site development and SEO
  • Monthly earnings reports where I also describe any lessons I’ve learned over the past 30 days

Wrapping Up

There are few truly “passive” income models online. E-commerce, affiliate, and info product websites require product research, customer service, and other work that is time- and labour-intensive.

Setting up niche Adsense sites does require work – but the barriers to entry are much lower than in other online money-making models. And if you do your keyword research right, there’s often little (or no) maintenance work required to keep the advertising revenue coming in for months or years.

Do you have any questions about setting up niche Adsense sites? Please leave them below, and I’ll do my best to answer them in future posts.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great post, great goal, great plan! Looking forward to updates.

    A thought: You wrote “I already know that where an ad is placed on a web page can make a huge difference in the CTR on that ad.” Are you also considering the effect that ad placement can have on SEO? I’ve heard in a few places (such as here: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/guide-to-ads) that since Panda, ad placement has a higher SEO weighting, so it might be harder to rank sites with high-CTR ad placements…?

    • Moe says

      Hey Justin,

      Thanks for commenting, and for the excellent point. I’ve also read that ad placement is a new factor that Google considers in ranking sites. Testing that will take some time (given how long it can take for rankings to change), so I’ll have to give some thought on how to test and report on this.

      Moe

      P.S. As part of the Adsense Challenge series, I’ll be writing a post on the SEO steps I’m following to get sites ranked.

  2. says

    Really looking forward to your challenge and progress Moe and hoping to learn something from you. Being a beginner, I have no interesting questions to ask, but hope to have some at a later stage.

    • Moe says

      Thanks, Wendy! I’m planning to share a lot of information as I learn and experiment, so it should be a good learning experience for all involved.

      Moe

  3. says

    Sounds like a very good plan, and I like your reasoning for how you will divide your efforts between Adsense and site flipping.
    I’d be interested to know if you will be experimenting with different “Adsense themes” that are out there or do you already have a highly converting one that you will stick with.
    I’ll also be very interested to watch your monthly earnings that you will share with us to see how you are growing your income.
    Thank you for sharing all of this with us, Moe. We’ll be watching…! :)

  4. says

    Sounds like a great challenge Moe.

    There is a lot to learn when it comes to Adsense and SEO. I think if anyone wants to be successful at it they have focus on learning…testing…acting…and more testing.

    I’m glad your open to sharing your experiences with us.

    I know if anyone can be successful at Adsense you can.

    Jared

  5. says

    Very nice sharing here.. I hope I could grow my Adsense income to $1K a month.

    It would be nice if you share your blueprint, step-by-step, and how your team builds and ranks yours. I look forward to your update on regular basis. Just subscribed your RSS.

  6. says

    Hi Moe
    ‘The Adsense Challenge’ – that was a very detailed post!
    I was surprised at your plan for Adsense income because I was led to believe that generally Adsense income was so small that it wasn’t worth going after, and to concentrate on Affiliate income or physical product sales.
    But if I was earning $5K per month from Adsense, I would be really pleased!
    But doesn’t Adsense income rely on a large number of sites and massive traffic?
    Look forward to monthy updates – thanks for sharing.

    • Moe says

      Graham, that’s a good question. I think it’s a widely-held belief that massive traffic is needed for good Adsense income. But as mentioned, I was up to $2,500 a month last year – and I certainly wasn’t getting massive traffic.

      Stay tuned for deep Adsense learning!

      Moe

  7. says

    I love that Idea. That’s what makes me open your email and read the rest. I would like to know more on this topic adsense and the experiences. Thanks alot for the challenge. God bless us all.

  8. says

    Hey Moe,

    Wow man, I have never wanted to use my Adsense account before because of all the horror stories that are spread online about losing your account forever, getting your sites penalized and all that blah blah.

    Checking the story about that site of yours certainly made me have second thoughts on creating a few sites to test this out.

    Just yesterday I heard about “lateral keywords” or something like that, which the trick is to target keywords that are NOT high competitive but highly related to the ones you want to target.

    I think this could be a good start to get my hands dirty on this niche and Adsense thing.

    Thanks for the great article man!

    Sergio

    • Moe says

      Hi Sergio,

      There seem to be a lot of misconceptions out there about Adsense. The bottom line is that Google wants their ads to be on good-quality websites, and they’re willing to ban people who have crappy, spammy sites with no useful, original content.

      Moe

      P.S. I checked out your blog. Nice “2012 goals” post!

  9. says

    Hey Moe,

    I think this is a great challenge! I have a few niche sites up and running myself. They are no where near 10K but I would like to have that goal also. I’ll also share what i’m doing as you make your posts and updates.

    Question for you. Will you create social media profiles to your authority sites to drive more traffic outside of Google? I know the expectations when it comes to relying solely on Google for traffic. I started creating social media profiles for my niche sites to get social media traffic and make my site more of an authority in the eyes of Google. Do you think it is a little too much for a niche site? Would like to know your thoughts.

    Thanks!

    • Moe says

      Hi Samuel,

      Thanks for offering to share info from your sites as we go along. Much appreciated!

      My team has set up Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube accounts for my health websites, but it’s not a big source of traffic. I’m not really into social media (but probably should be), so if you have any insight to share please do!

      Moe

  10. says

    Moe money Moe money (and Luther here we go!)

    G’day mate, just wanted to stop by and say hi as well as wish you well for this endeavour, (notice I said well and not luck – you my friend do not need luck :) )

    I’ll be back but just finished a holiday and now finalising the membership site of mine (which I will no doubt be emailing you for help with)

    Stay awesome and keep the quality posts coming, I do love the fact that I ALWAYS need to bookmark your stuff as its too much for one sitting!

    • Moe says

      Too much for one sitting! Guess I need to stop writing so much…

      Let me know when your membership site is ready to go, Alex. The market really needs a good step-by-step SEO course for beginners (and I mean a COMPLETE step-by-step course, not one with big chunks of info missing). I’d be happy to do a review post if your course fits that bill.

      Moe

  11. Alwyn says

    Hey Senor Moe,

    Passive income IS the dream here. It is why I chose IM in the first place since most aspects of this business are “passive” once you get a working system in place. What’s not to love about making legit cash at 3am!

    As far as Adsense goes, it would appear to me that the two biggest hurdles are (1) selecting the right niche with the right keywords and (2) then getting TRUCK LOADS of traffic driven for free to the site.

    I will wait with bated breath to see how you “pull one out of the hat” and pull this off. If anyone can do it, it is certainly you!

    And I am in full agreement with Alex re: wishing one “good luck”, as this is such a silly phrase. Luck has very little to do with success – maybe less than 3% – and you have no control over it anyhow.

    Mr. Alwyn

  12. says

    Your blog is inspiring and great. Really cashing a monthly cheque of a thousand dollar on adsense cheque is not easy to come by i would say wish you success on your 10 thousand goal.

  13. says

    Moe, a quick follow-up, did you find any luck with the automotive, health, and sport niches? I think those are pretty competitive.. I am more into health niche and found some gems. Any insight about working on those niche keywords to share here? Thanks!

    • Moe Muise says

      Most of my sites are in one specific health niche. Not sure what you mean by “insight about working on those niche keywords” – what do you want to know, exactly?

      Moe

  14. says

    This post was so informative!! Panda has definitely swept over many sites but it will just put the hard workers the ranking they deserve. Based on the great content you have here it seems more than possible! Thanks for the tips

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