Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is turn to my left side, pick up my iPhone, and quickly scan my new e-mail that came in since I went to bed the night before. It’s a pretty mindless task that I can do while I’m still half asleep.
But not this past Friday morning. Nope. I sprung out of bed as you might do when a fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night, or maybe on Christmas morning when you’re 8 years old. I woke up to this little gem in my e-mail box:
Keep reading, and I’ll give you the full story.
The Initial Panic
Panic was probably the best word to describe my initial reaction when I read this e-mail:
This was no joke – I tried to open my AdSense account only to find a similar message, and nowhere to navigate. This was one of the things we all fear – having one of our primary online income sources cut off completely. I was having a great month too – it probably would have been my best AdSense month so far. Of course, they will be taking away from me what I earned so far this month ($100+) and I’m not sure if my amounts accrued through last month (~$200) will be paid out.
Over a year of hard work, countless hours, thousands of dollars spent – diminished with a simple flip of the switch. Yes, my sites are still ranking as they were and still receiving traffic as usual, but the primary means of monetization – the one source of income that was destined to keep growing each month – gone.
Sure, there are a lot of ways to monetize a site in general, but micro-niche sites by their very nature have a narrow focus, and therefore, limited means of monetization. No other ad network has so many advertisers competing for all of the long-tail keywords that we target with these sites. Sure, that doesn’t stop you from using one of them, but ads that are less relevant are sure to experience a lower click through rate and lower cost per click.
This was my initial panic. Everything was over – my sites were worthless. Even worse, I didn’t understand how or why this happened to me. I’ve followed all of Google’s rules. My traffic was all organic. And my ad placements, although on the aggressive side, were well within what’s “allowed” and in no way were set up to wrongfully entice clicks (“invalid” clicks).
So What the Hell Happened?
As I mentioned above, Google is accusing me of having invalid clicks. What this basically means is that they believe people were clicking my ads for reasons other than general interest in the ad’s content.
For example, if you click your own ad or tell a friend to click your ad, these are invalid clicks. If you put an image or text next to the ad block that says “CLICK HERE >>>> “, any clicks generated would be considered invalid clicks. You get the idea.
This of course leaves me baffled because I absolutely did not do any of that. I know the rules and I know Google is very strict about enforcing them. I’m not about to risk the status of my account for a $0.68 click. I’m not an idiot.
Here’s what I think could have happened: Someone who reads this blog decided to visit one of the niche sites that I’ve made public here in the past, and decided to click an ad – maybe they did it several times in one visit (also known as “click bombing”), or maybe it was spread over a longer period of time…or it was multiple people who did it one time. Whether it was to screw me over or “help” me, I have no idea. I never noticed any irregular activity, so it never crossed my mind.
I can’t say with any certainty that this was the cause, but it’s very possible. Something similar to this happened to Chris Ducker awhile back, and he suspected the same thing.
I guess the bottom line is, sometimes, transparency comes at cost. If you read Pat Flynn’s site, you know that after he reported all of his success with his site from the “Niche Site Duel,” copycats started popping up, and probably affected his earnings somewhat (although they are still amazing).
Apparently, I’m Not the Only One
Naturally, when I found out my account was disabled, I wanted to take a look around and see if there was some kind big wave of account disabling by Google – although I suspect they disable lots of accounts on a daily basis.
I came across this thread on the Warrior Forum, and it sounds like there were a lot of people disabled around the same time I was. Here’s an interesting quote from someone in that thread:
Based on this quote and what others in the thread wrote, it does sound like Google recently disabled a lot of accounts for invalid click activity. I guess I’m not alone, though that doesn’t make me feel any better.
What’s the Plan Going Forward?
First of all, I appealed Google’s decision to disable my account. This probably won’t do anything for me, but I’ve read some success stories, so it’s worth a try. I don’t want to try anything drastic until I know for sure that I can’t get my account back.
New Monetization for High Traffic Sites
Although none of my micro-niche sites were clear winners (yet), I am going to take my top sites and find a way to monetize them (how ironic is it that I blogged about my top AdSense sites just days before getting my account disabled?).
I have a few ideas in mind for alternatives to AdSense, and perhaps if people here are interested, I’ll do a whole blog post about AdSense alternatives. For my top sites, I want to look at each site on a case-by-case basis – some sites may only benefit from another display advertising network, while certain ones may be better off promoting affiliate products or CPA (cost-per-action) offers.
Overall, Take an 80/20 Approach for My Current Niche Sites
Because AdSense is no longer a viable monetization method for my existing niche sites, some of the sites simply won’t be worth putting any more effort into. The 20% of my sites that account for 80% of my income will receive most of my focus. The other 80% won’t be worth the time. Sites that were only earning $1-5/month with AdSense (which I consider to be profitable) may only earn less than $1/month with another ad network (no longer profitable).
Now, I still have 8+ months left before I have to renew a lot of these domains, so I don’t want to “waste” any traffic that they are currently receiving. What I will probably do is pick one ad network to apply to all of these sites (such as Chitika, which I already have some experience using).
More Focus on Amazon Sites
For me, Amazon is still a perfectly viable way to monetize my sites, and I still have a handful of sites that had regularly been earning more from Amazon than AdSense each month. I’ll put more focus on converting traffic for my current Amazon sites, and for any new sites I build, I’ll probably look toward niches where I can easily integrate Amazon affiliate links.
Create an LLC
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and it seems like now is the perfect time to do it. Because an LLC would be a separate legal entity, I’ll be able to apply for a new AdSense account under the business name (this is perfectly legal/in line with Google’s terms of service). Unfortunately, I will only be able to use this account for new sites. I don’t want to risk associating the new account with older sites, in case they are somehow “flagged” now.
My micro-niche site plan is not over yet, but I will need to invest the time to create new sites and build them up all over again, for the new AdSense account. Once I go through the process of setting up the LLC, I’ll probably do a post on it here in case any of you are interested in doing something similar.
Diversification is Key
You can follow all the rules, have the most amazing content, and have a 2+ year solid track record (as I did)…but if your income all comes from one source (or mostly one source), you are at risk of having it vanish overnight. People will always make the argument that as long as your sites are getting traffic, losing AdSense isn’t a big deal because there other ways to monetize. It’s true that there are other ways to monetize, but I don’t think you can say that it’s easy to replace the income, especially with sites that were designed to make money with AdSense.
Google will always act in the best interest of their advertisers, NOT their publishers – this is Google’s key income source. What this means is, if they have any doubt that you’re not good for their advertisers, they won’t hesitate to get rid of you – even if it doesn’t make sense. You can’t blame them for trying to protect their business.
If you can diversify your income streams, both by having multiple projects (e.g. different websites) and within those projects, multiple methods of monetizing, you are in a much better position to survive the elimination of one of your projects or income sources.
Authority Sites are Better? Not Necessarily.
I bring this up because I don’t think you or I can conclude that micro-niche sites are specifically targeted by Google, in terms of deciding whether or not to disable an account. Remember, the Google AdSense team is only concerned with their advertisers receiving quality, targeted traffic. If your micro-niche site is very focused, and receives very targeted organic traffic, Google AdSense likes this.
Keep in mind, Google AdSense is a separate “team” than the team that handles Google’s search results and ranking algorithm. Pleasing one doesn’t always mean you please the other.
With all of this said, I think authority sites will always be “safer” in that they have a stronger foundation and are easier to diversify with various monetization methods (ads, affiliate links, e-mail marketing, etc.) compared to micro-niche sites. So if your site gets “click bombed” and you lose your AdSense account, the site itself will still continue making money from other sources.
While I know this post began in a state of panic, hopefully you’ve seen that I’m actually optimistic overall. While all of this means I’ll need to do a lot more work, and it may be a little while until I can get my niche site earnings back to where they were (it’ll have to be after tax season), I honestly believe I will look back one day and conclude that losing my AdSense account was one of the best things to happen to my online business.
I feel refreshed, in some kind of sick and twisted way – I feel more inspired to think “outside the box” and work smarter with my internet marketing projects.
What do you think? Has this happened to any of you, and how have you handled it? Also, if you have any good suggestions for alternatives to AdSense, I’d love to hear about them.