Right around a year ago now, I made my first cent online. It was literally a cent — $0.01 — and it showed up in my Google AdSense account after a certain number of people had viewed an ad for dog food or a shiatsu massager or whatever on my old humor blog.
That first cent was exciting, because it proved that you really could make money online in the way it seemed that everyone said you could — by creating sites populated with ads, and then sitting back and letting the earnings pile up. Then, if the gurus were to be believed, it was only a matter of time before I would be living in Hawaii, while bikini girls used the Mona Lisa to wax my Lamborghini.
So I read a ton about how to use AdSense, took a few courses, and built a bunch of little search-engine-optimized niche websites. I worked and worked and built and built, and eventually I amassed a couple dozen of these little moneymakers.
Slowly, visitors began to come to my sites, click on the expensive Google ads for lawyers and insurance, and make me some money. Then, reasonably content with my Google army, I put those sites on “set it and forget it” mode (like a Ronco Rotisserie) and started something new.
A different way to do it
Specifically, in April of last year, I started the Johnny B. Truant biz. The business model basically consisted of trying to write funny blog posts and generally just hanging out online, and then parlaying that good will into its logical succession, which is, of course, technology services.
I worked very hard, but it didn’t feel like work — especially compared to what I had been doing on the niche sites. It felt like being an amiable jackass in the right places, and meeting people, and kind of screwing around. Eventually it also started to feel like building a business, but that happened slowly and by degrees.
Nine months passed, with both venues making me money in their own unique way.
At the end of 2009, I recorded my second five-figure month in the JBT technology biz, after building between eighty and a hundred blogs for clients in December.
And at around the same time, I got my first ever AdSense check from Google. It was for $111.
The best way to “make money online” is probably not what you think.
Spend a few minutes Googling around for ways to make money online. Go ahead; I’ll wait.
If you didn’t do that search just now, it’s probably because you’ve tried it before and already knew what you would find. Almost every site, course, and guru out there will tell you that to make money online, you should sign up for AdSense (or maybe for a large advertiser’s affiliate program), rustle up some long-tail keywords, and start gaming Google traffic.
I’m not going to tell you that doesn’t work . . . but I am going to tell you that it didn’t work for me, and that it’s unlikely to work for you if you’re even one iota like me.
Here’s why I don’t like the AdSense strategy as a business model:
- It’s not a business model. Any time you can talk about “monetization,” you’re probably not talking about a real business because “monetizing” a business is redundant. “Monetizing” is slapping a moneymaker on top of something that doesn’t naturally produce income. The way that 99.99% of people dive into AdSense, they’re simply putting something out there and waiting for the dollars to roll in. There is no real planning, no accounting forecasts, no intention down the road to improve workflow or expand offerings or enlarge the sales funnel, no exploiting the best abilities of yourself and partners to create benefit for others.
- It doesn’t add value. Technicalities aside, there is no real product or service in the way most AdSense “make money online” campaigns are run. There is simply arbitrage. You’re not increasing widget sales; you’re trying to make sure more of the existing sales will occur through your ads. I learned my lesson trying to play the stock market (and failing) and then investing in real estate (and failing at an epic level): Sustainable incomes come from using your talents to create value for others, not from gambling and playing the numbers.
- It contradicts the way the Net is supposed to work. Yes, yes, I know . . . some people blog in a heartfelt manner about cabinetry and run cabinetry ads, and visitors click them to buy cabinets and the site owner makes money. But most AdSense strategies are all about gaming the system. When I was creating insurance niche sites, I couldn’t have cared less about insurance. I was simply trying to draw traffic away from the legit insurance sites so that people would click on my ads instead of finding an insurance company a different way. That’s not the way that the Web is supposed to work . . . which is to efficiently connect the searcher and what she’s searching for.
- It’s anonymous. Few “make money online” strategies will tell you to blog under your own name, include your own picture, and make a big deal about being the guy or gal who created this site. In fact, I spent a lot of my time trying to obscure who I was. Many courses even tell you to use hosting that will generate random, non-sequential IP addresses for each site, so that even Google won’t know that one person owns them all. Anonymity conflicts directly with what I consider to be the most important reasons for my success, which are honesty, authenticity, trust-building, and transparency.
You can do better, no matter who you are
I worked really, really, really hard on those AdSense sites. I worked 15-hour days; I wrote keyword-laced post after keyword-laced post; I entered them in article directories and put them through social media bulk submitters; I launched site after site, tweaked, customized, and researched.
And by doing that, I made $111 in a year.
Maybe I didn’t work hard enough. Maybe I used the wrong system. Maybe, if someone else had done it, they might have done it twice as well. And maybe that same person would have done it for three times as long as I did, building sites for the whole year instead of only doing it for four months.
So yeah, maybe that super-ambitious person might have made $888.
Now, stop and think about that for a second.
Anyone who doesn’t believe that they could start a business today, being themselves, playing to their own strengths, and creating value for others, and not make more than $888 in a year should . . . well, those people should really just stop reading about business right now.
Am I saying that you can’t use AdSense to make money online? No. Am I saying that every “system” for striking it rich on the Net — like creating anonymous niche sites that use AdWords ads to draw traffic to affiliate products — is an impossible scam? No.
I’m just saying that the average person is probably going to have better luck building a real business. Meaning:
- One that you can stand behind publicly.
- One that’s based on helping others in exchange for pay.
- One that benefits from being a real, authentic person.
- One that matches your best abilities to the needs of others.
This Third Tribe thing? This new internet era of being real and honest and open in business and marketing rather than relying on tricks, games, yellow-highlighted text, and the hard sell? It’s real, folks. And at least for me, using that approach turned my Google earnings into an afterthought.
If the “Third Tribe” style of doing business appeals to you, subscribe to the free Copyblogger newsletter, Internet Marketing for Smart People. We’re within a few days of announcing a brand-new tribe for online entrepreneurs. And our newsletter subscribers will be the very first to learn about it.
About the Author: Johnny B. Truant is an amiable jackass who may or may not have invented Post-It Notes. You can hire him to tell you how to do better than AdSense, or, failing that, you should at least follow him on Twitter because sometimes he tweets about zombies.