Building Passive Income with AdSense Sites

Three months ago, I posted a review of Cary Bergeron’s AdSense Recipe and noted in the forums that I was going to start building some niche AdSense sites.  I’m not new to AdSense by any means, but in the past I had never really given it a serious go as the primary monetization method of a site — it was always kind of an afterthought on my sites.  That changed after reading Cary’s guide and doing some in-depth analysis on past Flippa sales… there’s a ton of opportunity to make money holding or selling AdSense-monetized sites.

Getting Quick AdSense Results

I finally got around to launching a few sites in early December.  I knew I wanted to get quick results from my sites so that they could start funding more niche sites.  As a result, I tried to pick some lower competition niches where I could acquire exact match domains.  I also decided to “launch” a bunch of sites at once.

I put launch in quotes, because all I did was throw some unique keyword-rich content on them, point a few links at them, then track to see where they landed in the search engines.  I didn’t do much link building right away.

The idea here was to see where they naturally fell, pick the two best ranking sites and start building links for them.  For me, this proved to be a great strategy, as it enabled me to start generating some profit in my first month.  In December, my newly launched sites made $45 — not a huge sum, but it all came towards the end of the month when they started ranking organically.  In January, they made over $150, and in February a single one of those sites cleared over $250.  In four of the past seven days, that site has cleared over $20 per day — if it can stabilize at that number, it’s going to be a $500-600 per month earner.  I also launched several other niche sites in February that have started earning.

How I Built My Sites

A good AdSense site needs three things:

  1. Unique, keyword-rich content
  2. A design that caters to your ads (allows good ad placement for high CTR)
  3. Organic search traffic

Here’s how I tackled each of these concerns:

Unique, Keyword-Rich Content

For one of my sites, I wrote the initial content (only 5 pages worth).  For the other, I outsourced content creation, splitting between a writer hired at oDesk (for only $5 per article), and (around $9 per article for the length I requested).  At oDesk, you have a little more control over who you get as a writer, since individual candidates apply and you hire them specifically.  TextBroker handles the writer assignment for you — you just specify the quality level you want (I used 4 stars).

For these types of sites, writing is a commodity.  You want good, accurate information, but it doesn’t need to be the quality of a doctoral dissertation.  I was quite pleased with what I got back from both services.  Note that you should run your content through Copyscape to make sure it’s not plagiarized if you hire someone to do the writing for you — you need unique content if you want to rank organically.

Getting Ad Clicks – High CTR Designs

I decided to build my sites on WordPress, since it’s super easy to setup and get running.  Beyond that, it’s a great choice if you ever decide to sell the sites, since nearly everyone looking to buy a website is familiar with WordPress.

I started looking around for high CTR (click-through rate) AdSense templates and a good ad management plugin that would do everything I wanted… and I found myself pretty underwhelmed.  So I built a theme that would do everything I wanted, namely:

  • Let me enter my AdSense code via WordPress’ admin panel
  • Automatically color match my ads to the theme I’m using
  • Rotate my ad placements between several high-CTR options
  • Let me easily track ad channel performance
  • Hide ads from editors at specific human-edited directories

The coolest part about having this theme is that it makes it SUPER easy for me to roll out new sites.  I just order (or write) some content, install WP and my theme on the domain, paste in my ad code in the admin section, and start building links (via automated tools).

As a quick aside, I’ve made CTR Theme (that’s what I’m calling it) available for sale in case you’re interested (I’ll write another post about launching CTR Theme as its own product later).  With that out of the way, that leads us to:

Getting Organic Traffic – Building Links to AdSense Sites

So, I’ve got good content and a high-performance theme in place that will turn traffic into clicks… now I just needed to get the traffic.  Easier said than done, right?

Actually, it is.  The keys for me are that I:

  • didn’t choose overly-competitive niches
  • used automated tools to “place” links, instead of trying to build them “naturally”

Google wants you to think that the only proper way to get links is to write amazing content that will *somehow* get discovered, linked to, and they’ll pick it up and rank it in their search results.  Then you’ll have a magical stream of high-quality traffic making you money forever and ever.  It just doesn’t work that way.

The bottom line is that with AdSense niche sites, you’re not writing about stuff people will naturally want to link to like crazy.  Especially if you slap ads all over the place — haters love to hate, and people get REAL stingy with their link juice when they know you’re going to make a buck from it.

So forget them.  Let’s do it all ourselves.

The core of my strategy was to create unique content (or grab existing content from my niche site), spin it using The Best Spinner, post it to ezine articles, then use Article Marketing Robot to blast unique versions of the article out to hundreds (sometimes thousands) of websites.  Then, I used Bookmarking Demon to social bookmark my money site, the ezine article, and the secondary articles.  For more difficult terms, I also do some other stuff (blog commenting, link wheels, etc).

I’ll be adding some tutorial videos about how I use these tools in the near future.  Keep in mind that everything I use a tool for, you can do manually… it just sucks a lot and takes loads of time.  But if you’ve got way more time than money right now, you’re not out of luck.  You’ll just have to work harder.

I’ve also written a 40-page ebook outlining my entire link-building strategy in greater detail that I include as a bonus with CTR Theme.

So, does this strategy work?

For low to medium competition keywords, it works like a charm.  Here are the results after a single article blast (and bookmarking run) for a low competition term:

That same blast also had a great impact on a secondary term, even though I hadn’t targeted that term with anchor text:

I’ve also got a site that I’m building that is in a MUCH more competitive (and profitable) niche.  I haven’t focused on it much, but this month I ran 2 blasts to see what they would do.  The first blast took me from ranking 222 to 83.  The rankings dropped a bit to around 125, then I ran the second blast, which shot the site up to 48.  It may still move up some from that blast, since I just ran it.  Here’s the chart showing that movement:

The site is ranked high enough now that I feel like it’s worth devoting some more time and energy to it.  I’ve got a bunch of other sites in lower competition niches that I launched in the last month or so where this strategy got first page rankings after 1 or 2 blasts.

I’m going to put a lot more attention into building links for this site and I’ll try to add updates as things develop with this site.  It’s worth noting that this site was already making over $20 per month in January and February with really minimal traffic (none from its primary keyword), so the extra effort could really pay off well.

What’s the Bottom Line?

AdSense is still a really viable option for monetizing niche sites, and I love how hands-off the income is.  It’s awesome to wake up every morning and see these sites earning for me without having to do any additional work (after they start ranking well).

Whether you intend to flip them or hold them, AdSense niche sites can be very profitable.

  • Rod

    Thanks. What tool did you use to track the rankings in the charts above, and do you recommend it?

    • Google Analytics, plus there are paid tools such as SEO Power Suite – I use this one a lot.

  • wp

    Hi Eppie, may i know what your traffic is like to get $20 a day? thanks.

  • Hi Eppie, 

    I was wondering, how is your experiment going? Have your sites adsense income increased month after money since this post ? I have been following your blog and just wanted to say thank you for the great content. 

  • Hi Eppie,

    Your ideas are really interesting. In fact, I am also in the niche marketing field where I used various types of monetization techniques.

    In my previous niche websites, I used to monetized my mini-sites by promoting affiliate products in which investing money for email marketing software (aweber) is necessary for the reason of building trust to my readers and also make them back to your website when the time they forgot your website URL.

    Anyway, when you are on this field, you need some of these skills:

    1. Market Research
    2. Keyword Research.
    3. Market Profitability Research
    4. SEO
    5. Article Writing (if you don’t want to outsource it)
    6. Link Building (You can build it manually or use some tools).
    7. Good WP Theme (In my case, I use the Ultimate Blogging Theme which also has a good adsense ad placements for high CTR).

    But above all those processes, Keyword Research and Link Building is the most critical thing to do and for that, you need to be careful in choosing your niche market and build your links.

    – Felix

  • Jack

    And now Panda will slap the sh*t out of all your silly adsense sites… Build a real business fools.

    • The Panda / Farmer update has definitely had a huge impact on the SERPs. I see lots of fluctuation going on behind me while I sit pretty at number 1 for the sites I launched in December. March has easily been the best month yet and I expect April to be even bigger.

      As for “real businesses,” there’s no need to knock the model of selling ad space. It’s been successfully used in radio, television, newspapers and magazines for years. Attract readers, show them ads, make money.

      It’s not my only revenue stream, but it’s definitely the most passive. Now, continue hating — I’ll be over here scaling up what works.

    • It’s always fascinating to see hordes of Google engineers showing to us, mortal internauts, what Google will or will not to do….

  • Very helpful article. Thanks also for listing down the tools available for making the process easier! Do you know of any tool that tracks your google ranks for a set of keywords?

  • You opened my eyes to many possibilities in blogging and making money out of the endeavor…

  • Jeremy

    I believe the content farm penalized by Google is mostly on autoblogging.. copy others people content 100% without adding value it. While MFA sites are not 100% penalized by Google, as long as the contents are high quality and provides value, it still worth in the eye of visitors and Google.

    I’ve noticed site with 100% adsense ads only and contents but Google loved it! There is even Google representative contact the owner to advertise for adsense.

    My 2 cents.

  • Mgr

    wow, that sounds great. I expected a huge drop not only for the big farms, but also for all these mfa sites.

  • @Mgr — these sites are performing better than ever. My organic traffic is up and so are my ad clicks. The algorithm update impacted content farms’ abilities to rank but not to pass link juice. As far as I can tell, the losses experienced by sites like ezinearticles, hubpages, wisegeek, and others were for pages they had with very few inbound links. Google was previously giving them credit based upon their domain authority. Now they’re saying that those sites need the content validated by external sources before they’ll rank them. I’m actually writing a post about it right now.

    • This was a great article. I would like to read this article that you are writing now since I have articles on ezinearticles and others and am writing more. But this shows that your strategy of putting up artilces that link to other articles is a good idea. But I was counting on the domain authority to help me.

  • Mgr

    Eppie, please post a comment to the most important question i guess eberybody has now:

    how are these adsense-sites are doing after the google content farm update?

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  • Nice experiment Eppie.