Canadian Magazine Industry News
24 June 2009,     VANCOUVER
How one online publication built a business around Google Ads

In the mid-'90s, a website called Suite101 was launched without a business model. The Vancouver-based site had a wide array of writers covering more than 400 topics, but it wasn’t making any money. Today, Suite101 is a multi-million dollar, multi-national business with an office in Berlin and staff overseas. What happened? Google Ads.

Suite 101 derives 90% of its revenues from Google Ads.
The Ad Sense program allows online publications to put Google ads on their sites and to earn money based on the number of clicks the ads get. Last year Google Ad Sense paid out $4.64 billion to publishers and has dispersed more than $14 billion since 2005. Suite101 signed up in 2006 and has built a business model that revolves around the program: 90% of the site's annual revenues come from Google Ads. 

How it works 

Ad Sense is free to join. Publishers can choose the size and placement of the ads, which could appear as text or image. Google then sets up an index that looks for keywords on the Web page and matches them up with its own database in order to place “contextually targeted ads.” If, for example, a page shows an article about cars, Google ads about the automotive business will be placed on the same URL. If the content changes, so do the ads.

Wendy Rozeluk, communications employee for Google Canada, says, “It works really well for the person reading the article because it’s relevant to the information you are looking at.” Once an ad is clicked, publications share the earnings with Google. 

How Suite101 capitalized

Suite101 aims to maximize the potential of the Ad Sense program by educating its contributors on how to write articles that will place high in search engine results. Suite101's twelve editors also work with freelancers to help them place keywords in their stories that will garner more page visits. “We’re very much ahead in Web writing,” says editor-in-chief Colin Smith.

The online magazine also gives a portion of the ad revenue earnings to its writers: Freelancers are paid an undisclosed percentage of advertising revenue generated from Suite101.com's websites. “It’s a wonderful way to share revenue with the writers, ” Smith says. “It’s a great system and it’s equitable for both parties.” And because Suite 101 archives more than 170,000 articles, writers continuously get paid for ad clicks as long their pieces stay up on the site. 

Smith believes Google Ads have revolutionized ad revenue opportunities on the web. He thinks it’s only inevitable that more online publications will rely on it in the future. “It’s a big win for the publisher and the writer.”

On the other hand...

Google Ad Sense is not without its flaws. Alison Bauman, advertising director at The Tyee, an online news magazine for British Columbians, recalls an incident where anti-union ads appeared on pages with articles in support of unions. “You could end up with advertisers that don’t necessarily suit the demographic of your site or what you support," Bauman says. "You can always turn it off, but its reactive versus proactive.” Publishers don’t have full control on which ads appear on the page; they can only filter the ads by blocking the root URLs. 

There is also no guarantee that Google can bring in fast cash. The Tyee attributes a mere 5 per cent of its revenue from Google Ads, while another online publication contacted by Masthead for this story, MondoMagazine, claims it has only earned $120 from the program since October.

— Christal Gardiola
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