Last Updated on January 28, 2018 by Dave Farquhar
I first started using Google Adsense sometime in 2003 or 2004. But using Adsense with WordPress isn’t completely straightforward. So here’s an easy, concise guide to using Adsense with WordPress, including within your content.
I’m not a full-time blogger. I’m a computer security analyst by day, and blog part time. I went to journalism school in the ’90s in hopes of landing a job that doesn’t exist anymore. Some of what I learned about printing magazines applies to modern blogging. Some of it is subtly different. I don’t need to make a ton of money blogging, but I don’t blog to lose money either. There are an awful lot of bad people with bad motives making a lot of money online off sketchy or downright dishonest content. I’m writing this so the good guys can learn what the bad guys know, and make a little money too.
The plugin to use
You don’t need any special themes to use Adsense with WordPress. You just need a plugin. Unfortunately some plugins are worse than others. I found the free Ad Inserter plugin works very well, with no funny business. Critically, Ad Inserter lets you add Adsense code within your WordPress content, and it lets you control the ad density.
Ad density and placement
Stuffing your blog too full of ads alienates your readers and the search engines. Yes, search engines will penalize you if your site looks too spammy. To some extent, the advertisers penalize you too. Advertisers seem to pay more for ads surrounded by content than they pay for an ad next to another ad.
Most professional bloggers, at least those who will talk, seem to agree that an ad every 11-12 paragraphs is ideal. Place your first ad after paragraph 2 to avoid violating Adsense’s terms of service. Then you can place a second ad at paragraph 11 or 12, and a third ad after paragraph 22, 23, or 24. Or you can place up to two ads in the content and a skyscraper-type ad in your sidebar. If you have a lot of short content like I do, that can work better. My account manager also recommends one ad after the content. Advice on that varies but I found I got about a 15% boost from that ad.
Without a plugin, you can’t do much of anything besides sidebar ads, which give you very mediocre results on their own.
Post length and ad density
I’ve seen a lot of talk about why people won’t read news articles longer than 600 words anymore, and ad density seems to have something to do with it. The same bloggers who advocate ads placed every 11-12 paragraphs also advocate writing blog posts at least 2,000 words long. I’m not sure how many people will actually read a 2,000-word post in its entirety, but I find people will skim the content and at least read the headings and the text below the images, and if nothing else, they’ll use the browser’s search functionality to find the content they need the most.
People are still willing to visit long-form content, and they certainly read some of it, as long as the ad density isn’t too high. The ad density online doesn’t have to be as high as it is on print. You can get more pixels for free, which isn’t the case with paper. You go bankrupt in print with an ad density of 10 percent, but 10 percent is about optimal online.
Getting more ad units
Google allows three ad units per page, so if you write long-form content, you might hit your limit halfway into your content. You can sign up with Media.net to get more ad units. As long as you keep your ad density to an ad every 11-12 paragraphs, you won’t violate either network’s terms of service.
Running the right sized ad is critical. The ad size that got me spectacular results in 2004 makes you very little in 2017. Why? Screen sizes are completely different today than they were back then. Google recommends specific ad sizes. I recommend you stick with those. One of the sizes Google recommends is 336×280. This size works well within content and the pro bloggers who will talk say this size gets them better results than the others.
If you run a sidebar ad, use the 300×600 large skyscraper format.
It’s usually best to center your ads. I found that trying to align my ads to the left and flow the content around them interfered with images too much. All too often I ended up with an ad on the left side of the screen, an image on the right, and a block of text about 2-3 words wide in the middle. Centering the ads airs things out a bit and works better overall. You can override the global settings on a per-post basis, but I didn’t want to go through 2,000 posts and do that. That might be worth doing for my 10 highest-traffic posts, but not for all 2,000 of my posts that get traffic.
Time I spend thinking about advertising is time I’m not spending creating content. I want to set up my advertising, tweak it about once a year based on any changes in the market, then get back to creating content.
There is a percentage of your readership who objects to advertising in any form. From comparing my server logs to Google’s logs, it’s about 8.33% of my readership. Your numbers may vary. It’s not worth getting worked up about. You can make up some of the difference with affiliate links, which is a more productive use of your time.
I block ads from objectionable categories. Several years ago I found out one of my biggest advertisers was a site that helped married people have affairs, and I didn’t like that. So I blocked ads from dating sites to make that stop. I also block political ads, because I don’t want extreme candidates running ads on my site.
By the same token, journalism ethics require keeping advertising and content separate. Ad networks only allow you to block categories of ads, which forces you to abide by that. In old-line journalism, writers and editors don’t sit on the same floor with the ad department and sometimes aren’t even allowed to use the same elevators, to keep one department from trying to influence the other. Bloggers can mimic that behavior by setting up an ad network. Outsourcing to an ad network keeps you from becoming a shill for a particular advertiser or group of advertisers.
How much you can expect to make
Frequently the terms of service keep you from disclosing revenue figures. Again, the pro bloggers who will talk say they make a little over $1.75 per 1,000 page impressions. I make a little less than that, probably because I’m blocking certain ad categories. I’m pretty sure I’m OK with saying that, because I didn’t say how many impressions I get.
If 1,000 page impressions sounds like a lot, it should. It is. And $1.75 isn’t a huge amount of money. The way you get thousands of page impressions per day is to write about things people type into search engines. My highest-traffic content comes from those times I type something into a search engine and find nobody’s really written about that. So I piece together the answer or figure it out myself, then I write. This blog post itself is an example of this. There are still millions of unanswered questions out there.
Don’t expect to make six figures the way people who write clickbait do. But writing honestly doesn’t have to condemn you to a life of being broke, either.
Getting more traffic
Ultimately, the best way to get more revenue is to get more traffic. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a huge topic. One of the best things I ever did from an SEO standpoint was remove the dates from WordPress URLs. It took a few months for that change to take effect, but once it did, I saw about a 20 percent bump in traffic. Enabling SSL gave me a bump in traffic and a bigger bump in ad revenue.
And nothing messes up your SEO and ruins all your hard work like your site getting hacked. So here are some WordPress security tips, and my writeup on using the plugin All-in-One WP Security. Like I said before, my day job is computer security analysis, so that’s another thing near and dear to me.
And finally, here’s a post specific to getting more blog traffic. There’s one other tip in there that increased my traffic another 20 percent, along with some others whose effect was a bit harder to measure.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.