Project Wonderful

 By Shamus Jan 16, 2012 114 comments

Last week I mentioned that I was changing advertising providers. I tried Project Wonderful, and ran one of their ads on top of my site for several days. I don’t expect most of you to care, but for those of you considering running ads on your own site or who are curious about how this all works, here is what I’ve learned:

Disclaimer

I am not an expert and most of this analysis is conjecture based on my own experience as a purveyor of entertainment on a medium-sized website.


Google Adsense

For years I’ve had a single Google “skyscraper” ad running in the sidebar. Google ads are very hands-off for the publisher. You don’t have a way to see what ads are running. If people complain about an ad (“since when does your blog support obvious scams, Shamus?!?”) you have no way of perusing the active ads to find what company is causing the problem. If you’re lucky enough to see the ad yourself, you can only block it by clicking on the ad itself, (which is technically a TOS violation for me to do, but hell if I’m not going to protect my site) seeing what domain it goes to, and then navigating around in the Google adsense interface and copy & paste the offending domain into the clunky block list. Then several hours later that ad will stop showing up. I can’t block by company, which means domain-hoppers need to be blocked again and again.

Ads can be region-locked, so there are often ads running that I will never see. I get angry emails from people asking me how I could, as a [Christian / programmer / father of daughters / decent person] ever allow such [smut / scams / misogyny / trash] on my website. They don’t realize that I’m not seeing the same thing they are. People naturally hold me accountable for what they see on my site, which wouldn’t be a problem for me if I had the proper tools to know what was appearing on my site.

Google Adsense makes it impossible for me to see everything appearing on my site, and hard for me to police. Google says that advertisers prefer prominent ad space, but there aren’t any discernible incentives for me to give them that space. As far as I can tell, I get paid the same for ads on top as ads on the bottom.

Project Wonderful

On project Wonderful, your site enters a gigantic, organic, ongoing, chaotic auction where advertisers pay for time on your site. It works like this:

Aardvark Games decides they like the look of your site, and decides to advertise on it. They bid to pay $1 a day to have their ad on your site. Because they are the ONLY bidder, they don’t actually have to pay anything yet. Their ad runs for free.

Bison Publishing comes along and decides they want in. They offer a nickel a day to be on your site. Aardvark Games now automatically moves to beating this bid by one penny. So now ads running on your site make you six cents a day. $0.06.

Caribou Marketing joins in. They offer fifty cents. Again, the Aardvark bid moves to beating the second-highest bidder by a penny. Your site is now making fifty-one cents. $0.51.

Donkey Entertainment offers $2 for your site. Aardvark is now the #2 bidder, so Donkey ads replace the Aardvark ads and Donkey begins paying you one dollar and one cent. $1.01.

So at any given time, your site is worth as much as the second-highest bid plus one cent.

You can always get a listing of who has open bids on your site, how much they’re paying, and how long the offer will last. You can view the ad. You can visit the site being advertised. You can block it. You can set filters for your site that range from “safe for kids” to “safe for work” to “anything goes”. I can decide if I want animated ads or not. This is all handled in an interface that’s actually kind of fun to use.

You can set a minimum bid on your site, or you can let the market have its way with you. People bidding can see your site traffic and get a sense of where their ad will appear before they bid.

This is, like it says on the tin, a wonderful system. It’s friendly to use, it’s transparent about where ads are coming from, and it gives you a robust toolbox for dealing with people who abuse your hospitality.

In Comparison

Project Wonderful would be the better service by far, if not for the fact that you’ll make about an order of magnitude less money. Actually, even a single order of magnitude is an optimistic projection. My site brings in not less than $4 a day through Google. That’s not enough to feed a family or anything crazy like that, but that’s over a hundred bucks a month, minimum, for a site my size. Through Project Wonderful, I have yet to earn even twenty cents a day. That works out to six dollars a month.

Now, maybe my income would go up if I stuck around in Project Wonderful and became a popular site among advertisers. However, I’ve searched through the auctions, and even the top-level earners (among similar sized sites) don’t make anywhere near what I’m bringing in with a single Google ad. And that’s for the special few at the very top of the curve. (Which is another strange thing about Project Wonderful. I can search for sites and see exactly how much they make per day. Was kind of interesting to see how much something like Girl Genius brings in. Short answer: WAY more than me, but probably still not enough to live on.) The vast majority of sites in my range bring in just over a dime a day for one ad. So, 1/40th of what I make through Google?

Because of this, it’s generally not worth it for a lot of publishers to bother claiming their six bucks at the end of the month. Instead they seem to turn around and sink this cash into advertising their own site. (A lot of these sites are webcomics.) So, maybe webcomic X is making $0.12 a day running ads and then paying a couple of smaller sites $0.06 a day to run an ad for Webcomic X. What we end up with is a convoluted link exchange.

This is not actually the fault of Project Wonderful. They have a brilliant system, and it seems like this is how advertising should work. The only problem is that big advertisers aren’t interested.

I’ve never been an industry insider and I’m not privy to the direct deals that are brokered between your average gaming site and your typical publisher. By a very rough but very conservative guess, I’d say that a big gaming site can make about ten times as much as I do for the same traffic. Of course, it takes them half an hour to hit the traffic that I’ll do in a day, but on a cost-per-exposure basis, they make at least ten times what I do. (And really, those sites support an entire STAFF of writers, so I’m sure my figure is on the far low side.)

So the big dogs like IGN make ten times as much as I do for every pageview. And I make forty times as much per pageview as your average Project Wonderful site. Which means advertising on Project Wonderful is (conservatively) 400 times cheaper than advertising on (say) Gamespot. For the cost of one banner at at the top of a big site for one day, you could occupy the banner space of 1,000 different blogs and webcomics. For weeks. To my knowledge, this has never even been attempted. I suddenly feel a lot less sorry for publishers and their complaints about how expensive advertising is.

I think part of the problem is the Project Wonderful model of paying for days. Advertisers care about exposure. They care about having their rectangle.jpg files in front of as many eyeballs as possible. This model is like going to the deli and paying for meat by how much is cut in ten seconds instead of going by weight. It’s an abstraction for advertisers, and puts more work on them. It also makes the exchange a lot less certain. You could bid on my site on a Friday, seeing that the metrics are saying I’ve averaged 35k pageviews a day for the last five days. Then your bid goes through on Saturday when I never post and my traffic drops by 40%. Or maybe I get a spike of traffic from Reddit that inflates my averages for the next five days. Suddenly you feel ripped off, because you paid for a day on my site and got a fraction of the exposure you expected..

It’s not reasonable to expect an advertiser to be able to follow the traffic patterns of all of the dozens or hundreds of websites they might advertise on. It might be cheaper this way, but it’s not how the industry has evolved and it’s not how people are used to buying advertising.

I see where the Project Wonderful mindset comes from. A lot of scummy sites really poisoned the well in the late 90′s and early 2000′s. There were auto-refreshing sites and scams that goaded visitors into clicking on ads they didn’t care about. There were sites that promised content (I vividly remember being a big user of no-CD cracks when I was in my twenties, because I had a horrible habit of leaving discs on my desk until they got scratched) but were really just traps to lead frustrated visitors through circular links that showed wall after wall of banner ads. A small number of creeps polluted the entire business model for both parties, for years. Advertisers flocked to big, reputable brokers like Google, and websurfers invented adblock. It fostered an adversarial relationship between producer and prospective customer.

In world with less jerks… well, a lot of things would be better, including this.

The upshot is that producers don’t want to advertise on small sites, because they can’t babysit a thousand small sites to make sure none of them have “PLEASE CLICK ON MY ADS” in big flashing letters.

Project Wonderful sidesteps this problem by having you pay for time on a site instead of clicks or pageviews. Now there’s no longer an incentive for publishers like me to goad you into refreshing the page or clicking on the ads. The stuff is just there, and will garner your attention based on its own merits.

It’s an interesting idea, but the results speak for themselves: Despite the rock-bottom pricing, there still aren’t many interested advertisers. You could argue that advertisers are dumb to pay 20 or even 400 times as much for the same exposure elsewhere. You could be right. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for an industry this large to change direction.

I’d love to see a system exactly like Project Wonderful, but based on the price of pageviews. Maybe advertisers would show up because it’s a pricing model they understand, or maybe the well would again be poisoned by people trying to game the system.

A lot of this is a problem because the system is so asymmetrical. On TV, a big advertiser comes to a big TV station. Both parties are large enough to have lawyers and contracts and a lot of long-term incentives to avoid cheating. When the campaign is over, there’s no ambiguity over how much advertising was done because it was all done in public where anyone could measure it. On the web, you have a big producers and tens of thousands of bloggers. There are no lawyers, and the “contract” basically boils down to a terms of service agreement. The bloggers have little accountability and the advertisers don’t have a good way to keep tabs on everyone.

It’s an interesting problem.

I liked Project Wonderful, but at this point I’m going to take my accumulated $0.53 and buy myself a pack of gum. The PW ads are gone. I hope some advertisers show up soon and give the rest of these sites some much-deserved love. And by love I mean cash.

A Hundred!14114 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


  1. Sucal says:

    Alas, and now the indie experiment appears to be over. It was a shame, and rather fun while it lasted. Have you considered trying to get one of those partnership thing with Youtube, seeing if you can catch a slice of all that video spam gold?

    Or perhaps you can earn your cash the same way ign does. “Here today, 2011 reasons why Duke Nukem Forever is the game of the year.” or “SOPA, best policy every, or best policy ever?” Or perhaps you can earn some sympathy and hate views, with an article like “DRM, WHY WE NEED MORE OF IT.”

  2. Narida says:

    Aardvark Games should be bidding $1 for your calculation to add up, if I’m not mistaken…

  3. Moriarty says:

    It’s really interesting to see the project wonderful bids for bigger sites. Questionable Content had 300$ a day a month ago, and even on weekends where the site doesn’t update it’s still over 40$.

  4. Uscias says:

    I rather liked the Project Wonderful ads while it lasted, but with a 40x difference I can’t say I blame you. :P

  5. Adversarial is certainly a way to describe how I (and I’d venture most people) react to ads on the internet. I don’t think I’ve ever clicked a banner ad, and very enthusiastically use adblock for 99.9% of sites I visit (usually unless they specifically ask me not to). I’m not really sure what It’d take to make me more amenable to clicking ads, but its a situation I’m sure can be improved.

    There’s lots of interesting things on the internet, but I’ve never found them through advertising, even before I started blocking them. The situation’s quite interesting because as time goes by, the number of people wanting to advertise online is only going to increase, but people like me are always going to see them as more noise.

    • Tizzy says:

      I don’t block Shamus, I made a point not to, but I don’t even pay attention to ads any more. We’re so saturated with those things, it’s the only way to keep sane!

      • Atarlost says:

        I don’t addblock anymore in general for much this reason. If I’m eating someone’s bandwidth they deserve credit for the pageview.

        It also helps that advertisers seem to have realized that popups and the really horrible flashing adds were self defeating.

        I occasionally laugh at an ad, but I think the only add I’ve ever deliberately clicked on was one of those project wonderful glorified link exchange ones for a webcomic.

    • Ragnar says:

      I think the only ads I have ever clicked (voluntarily I might add, I have a few times clicked in the wrong place) are Project Wonderful ones. The thing with PW ads are that they mostly seem to be about something I might be interested in (even if a lot still are not).

  6. Specter says:

    Nevermind, fixed already ;)

  7. Primogenitor says:

    Sounds like there needs to be two price models – one for the advertiser in views and one for the site in days – with the broker being a buffer in-between and setting prices based on some calculated prediction.

  8. rofltehcat says:

    Nice to learn about it. Quite sad because in theory, Project Wonderful is a great system and its only fault is that the demand for ad space on it is too low.

    Yesterday or so I clicked one of those ads which led to a webcomic. I can understand that they use their little income to advertise for themselves. In theory this is a great way to increase demand for ad space, which the system is lacking. But even this way, it doesn’t seem to be nearly enough to create proper pricing (although I think the whole internet ads thing, especially google, is a bit inflated).

    The thing about clicks/views vs. time is that a company has not really any numbers to show how their ad worked. Someone who works in advertising has a much better time saying “Google selected 20000 visitors of websites to be interested in our product and showed them the banner” as opposed to “we rented 1 months on X minor websites that kind of overlap with our customer base”.
    I think if Project Wonderful were to change everything around a little, it could work pretty well. Maybe also make an alternative pricing model where you pay for 20000 views on websites with the entered tags and every click is worth 20 views… or something like that.

    Ah, one other thing: The suggestion already came up in a discussion some days back, but your side bar fits two vertical banner ads. You could put a second one (maybe Project Wonderful) next to the already existing ad (if it is allowed by the ad providers).
    I found the PW ads to be much less intrusive and much more fun (well, got mainly webcomics) so having one of them would provide ad space for the people who
    -don’t like sign-up browser games (this is what I mainly get)
    -blinking stuff (got one from Neckermann at the top atm, though having ads from them is generally ok)
    -aren’t interested in stock trades
    -came here for your webcomics

    Though I really don’t know about the amount of work involved implementing and managing the ad-systems.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Now that you mention it I did stumble upon a few fine webomics through this kind of cross-advertisement, I think it started when I noticed ads for some of the comics I knew on other comics I read. Something along the lines “hey, this ad actually leads to something pretty cool, let’s make a small mental note to pay at least a little attention to this space.” As for other stuff I remember exactly one MMO game I got into through ads, and it was actually pretty fun for the few years it lasted.

  9. Bluespike5 says:

    I guess I don’t want to be nitpicky, is this categorised incorrectly? It’s coming under Let’s Play.

  10. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Okay, I’m visiting the site daily, usually more than once a day, I don’t use adblock on principle and only when you mentioned it I reacted “huh? there was an ad at the top of the page?” scrolled up and “Oh there’s actually one now!”

    I know it’s unlikely to attract more ads to your site but banner blindness for the win.

  11. Mike says:

    I realize I might sound a bit like that guys who game the system, but…

    I don’t get why “clicking on your own ad”, “asking users to refresh the page” or “asking users to click on ad” is a violation of some agreement or policy, but asking users to “turn off adblock” is not.

    On one hand, you get more “refreshes” from people who genuinely hate ads (and prove it to you by having adblock in the first place!), poisoning their experience and forcing them to tolerate noise and annoyance, which can’t be a good thing for anyone.

    On the other hand, you ASK people basically to do equivalent to “refreshing” the ads section, which they won’t use anyway, and you acknowledge that yourself by saying “even when you don’t click on them”.
    So how is that different from just asking to refresh the page, and if you ask to pay attention to ads anyway (again, it’s not just pointing out “hey, there are ads, if you didn’t notice”, adblock user knows that, that’s why (s)he installed adblock, making his/her position on ads fairly clear and totally explicit), why not just straight-up ask to click on them a few times? Looks fairly similar.

    And if “even when you don’t click on them” holds true, why not just modify adblock to load ads straight up into /dev/null and why don’t suggest using THAT extension instead of adblock in the first place, thus leaving user experience of the site unmolested?

    I don’t seem to get it, but it looks fairly close to some digital insanity schemas like DRM or idea patents, where clearly no one benefits but everyone has to suffer because whynot.

    • Shamus says:

      Advertisers don’t just want your clicks, they want your attention. Or rather, the CHANCE at your attention. Once you’ve seen their ad, they’re done with you for a while. You either want the thing or you don’t, you either click on the ad or you don’t. Subsequent refreshes follow a pattern of VASTLY diminishing returns. Remeber that their goal is to sell you something. They want to reach as many people as possible, because only 1 in X people will actually want their product.

      With adblock, they can’t reach you. Without it, they have the chance to grab your attention. With extra re-loads, they’re paying me for attention they aren’t really getting. If you click just to be nice to ME, they’re paying me extra and not getting what they want. (An interested customer.)

      If you reload over and over, seeing the same ad, then you’re not another person. It’s not a different day. You seeing the ad twice in thirty seconds is of no benefit to them.

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for clearing that up a bit, guess I interpreted “even when you don’t click on them” in too black-and-white fashion, while you probably meant “even if you don’t click on almost all of them, except that one in a million you might eventually find interesting”.

        Also, that “either you interested or not” model you outlined doesn’t seem to account for brand or product visibility – you may not need it now but that may change at some later point, company/site may produce something you need or when someone asks you “hey, buy/suggest me X” you’ll pick that brand on auto, due to that visibility.

        That should not directly benefit the site owner (apart from placement, which is mostly irrelevant to adblock), but advertisers seem to have more chance to get that only with clicks counter – if ad would’ve been paid for N days or M pageviews, not X clicks, there would be no incentive (apart from good will on part of the owner and users) to advocate disabling adblock in any (including “hidden but loaded ads”) form.

        One more point in favor of click-based system from advertisers’ perspective, I guess.

        • decius says:

          Advertisers aren’t just paying for clicks. They are also paying for the subliminal effects that advertising has on people who claim banner-blindness (like me).

          The equivalent would be saying “Don’t fast-forward through the commercials, even if you don’t buy the products.”

  12. Alan says:

    That is a shame. I was actually interested in, and clicked on, several adverts on the project wonderful, whereas I don’t think that I have clicked on any of the Google adwords ones.

    I don’t know how many page views you are getting on a daily basis, but there are other providers which offer payment based on page views. Last time I looked it was about $1 per 1000 views, dependong on site content, and the company that you are dealing with. Many of them have a minimum monthly views requirement, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

    • Shamus says:

      That’s the number I’ve been hearing about: $1 for 1,000 views. I think that’s probably the rate that the big sites (IGN, Gamespot) command. I haven’t found anything that will deal with a mid-size site like mine on those terms.

      I get about 35k views a day, so that kind of money would be pretty sweet if I could get it.

      • Alan says:

        Just did a look around, here are three options for CPM:

        federatedmedia.net – advertising network specialising in blogs

        tribalfusion.com – general advertising, minimum 500 000 views per month

        burstmedia.com – another site to investigate

        I think that you will start with a lower CPM, and then it will increase as you go on.

        Hope that helps.

      • Jonathan says:

        Dang, I didn’t realize D20 got that many hits.

        I’m a bit surprised you don’t get more comments.

        When I said this, my wife said:
        “Cool! Makes you think you’re not alone.”

        • Ian says:

          As a relatively new blogger myself I can say I’m surprised how much traffic I can see coming compared to comments.

          Each post I make attracts 10 to 20 views from sites that are not apparently spam but very few people bother to comment.

          Most people are happy to come and see what you have put there and slip away again. They only comment if you somehow manage to inflame their passions for better or for worse. It’s the silent majority rule.

  13. albval says:

    A bit of OT, but does anyone know how to allow Ghostery to whitelist only Google AdSense and only on Shamus’ site?

    The only options that I see are either whitelist whole shamusyoung.com, which allows also the annoying Facebook and Google+ buttons which I don’t want – or to whitelist Google AdSense on every domain.

    I’d really like to see the ads here, but only the ads and only here.

    • Specter says:

      I figured out how to turn off the “please turn off adblock” and how to allow the custom font to load with adblock/noscript, but I couldn’t figure out a solution to your question… and I’d also like to support mr young while at the same time prevent social networks to track my every move…

      €dit: nevermind, adblock let’s you restrict the whitelist to a specific domain. so now I get the ad, but not the face+ stuff

      • Shamus says:

        Don’t sweat it too much, of course. I mean, I appreciate the support, but once you’re dealing with juggling javascript across multiple domains and selectively whitelisting obscure stuff you’ll very quickly pass the “cost to you” vs. “benefit to me” threshold of wasting your time.

        Google does themselves no favors by spreading their stuff across multiple sub-domains, increasing the effort required for people to whitelist all of their crap.

      • A Different Dan says:

        Would you be willing to share the secret?

        • Specter says:

          actually no…

          not that I wouldn’t want to share the secret, but I did something wrong, so now it allows googleads on other pages as well.

          what I did was to allow googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js on shamusyoung.com (you can limit the domain in the advanced settings for new filter rules). that triggered a couple of other blocked elements to show up which I unblocked to see if it made a difference. what I saw just now trying to retrace my steps was a filter to allow googleads on the domain googleads… so it’s everywhere…
          sorry

    • Mike says:

      If you’re looking for a simple solution, you can go for just disabling the “social” buttons, like “Share Me Not” firefox plugin which has much more effective and targeted blacklist against these, not ads.

      Since tracking via ads is just as common (and initially most valuable for advertisers) as tracking through these buttons (which presumably track you for the same ad-reason), I’d question the value of that approach though – it all feeds the same database for targeted ads, shady commercial scams and social discrimination (like prices on amazon).
      Maybe just for sites which have social buttons but not the ads.

  14. SolkaTruesilver says:

    53 cents for a pack of gum?

    Man, things in the US are so cheap.

  15. swenson says:

    Well, it’s unfortunate Project Wonderful didn’t work out, as I really do think it’s a pretty cool concept in theory, but I’ve never minded the other ads all that much. A banner ad to the side and another at the top just aren’t all that intrusive.

    But consider yourself in an elite group, Shamus. I have AdBlock disabled on your site. I just went and counted, and this is one of only 15 places I’ve done that for!

  16. Abnaxis says:

    “It’s not reasonable to expect an advertiser to be able to follow the traffic patterns of all of the dozens or hundreds of websites they might advertise on. It might be cheaper this way, but it’s not how the industry has evolved and it’s not how people are used to buying advertising.”

    By that logic, the New York Stock Exchange shouldn’t exist, and if you trade stocks, you should lump everything you have into one great big investment because it takes less work to keep track of.

    Having a multitude of hosts to choose from should make it safer to invest in, because you’re looking at the average effect of many small sites versus the bulk effect of one huge page. Averages are a lot easier to predict than a single entity that may or may not be a dick to you.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s a matter of scale. It’s worth it to hire someone to keep track of my $50,000 holdings. It’s NOT worth it to hire someone to keep track of a site where I do $0.50 worth of advertising.

      • Daimbert says:

        It’s also harder to monitor a larger number of smaller sites than it is to monitor a smaller number of larger ones, presuming that you want to do the same sort of research into each. If I want to track demographics to see if the readers of my sites are the sorts of readers that I am trying to appeal to, having (say) 10 large sites makes that sort of analysis easier than trying to do it for, say, 1000 smaller ones. If doing it for the smaller sites was easier, then it might balance out, but bigger sites have bigger footprints and often more tools to do all sorts of analysis, meaning that not only would you need less sites the information you want is likely easier to get.

        The model works when you know what sites you want. Then you can get it cheaper and direct your money where you know it will do the most good. It doesn’t work so well when you don’t, and advertisers often don’t know what they want, at least not right away.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I’ll grant that, as a poor college student, I have little experience with long term investment (at least, voluntary long term investment…). However, isn’t the whole point of diversifying a portfolio that you take $50,000 worth of cash and divvy it up into many, many smaller single- and double- digit dollar figures, safe in the knowledge that as long as the overall trend of the market is upward, the individual stocks don’t matter?

        By the same token, if I have $10,000 for advertizing, smart money says to go to Project Wonderful, and spread that out in little chunks all over the place. All the information you need to do this is readily available, and you’re protected by the Law of Large Numbers–as long as the general trend is positive, you’re golden. While you could, you don’t have to look at every single site in massive depth, since PW already has mechanisms in place to prevent jack-assery

        • Kdansky says:

          While that is the general consensus, it doesn’t actually work. If you diversify, you (by definition) become closer to the average. Which means that A: you won’t win much any more and could have just ignored the whole thing to begin with and B: you are still very susceptible to a crash like Lehmann Brothers. And if you want to invest for longer periods than 6 months, you will hit a crash at some point, because they are abundant. In essence, if you go maximum diversity, you get low ROI, while suffering risk of total loss (due to crash). If you don’t diversify, you get high ROI, and suffer risk of total loss (due to crash OR bad investment). It’s like gambling: The dealer always wins. The only way you can win is if there is no crash. I recommend Talib’s The Black Swan (nothing to do with Natalie Portman, it’s a book about statistics).

          I hope economics are not a topic resulting in flame wars?

          • Abnaxis says:

            Bear in mind, I am using the stock market as a metaphor here, where “money invested in stocks” equates roughly to “money spent on advertizing” and “money returned from investment” equate to “exposure gleaned from money spent.” My point is, the would-be advertiser doesn’t have to meticulously scrutinize bloggers as much when they spread their advertizing evenly among a large number of small blogs; similarly, I will pay more attention to what exactly my money is doing if I invest seed money in a new start-up web company versus handing my money to an investment firm that specializes in online businesses. As long as there aren’t systemic disasters (Stock market crash for the market, people gaming the system for advertisers), you’re safer doing the latter. And I don’t think online advertising is going to “crash” as it were–it might decline, but no one advertiser holds enough power to completely and suddenly destroy the “market”.

            • Hitch says:

              The problem with your analogy is with stocks and hundreds of small investments your money gets eaten up quickly with transaction fees. The same thing can be applied to internet advertising. Say you have $50,000 to invest in internet advertising. Someone has to spend that. On one hand they can simply find the top 5 biggest sites and spend $5,000 on each and be done in less that an hour. On the other hand finding 500 Shamus size blogs and spending $100 advertising on each of them could be a job for a full-time employee. Obviously, the solution here is the equivalent of a managed fund of small stocks. One purchase covers a whole bunch of them. Simple to buy, and all the little guys get a bit of benefit. And that’s pretty much what Google AdSense is. It’s not ideal, but it does get some money to Shamus where it would be unlikely otherwise.

              • Abnaxis says:

                Hmm….I guess this is where my analogy falls apart. If you want to manage 200 sites completely by hand, the overhead would become restrictive, true. But you don’t have to–while it isn’t a trivial problem, you should be able to apply data mining procedures to gather sites which are likely to cater to your target audience (using search tags), and flag any which are suspicious (high ratio of clicks vs. uniques, low ratio of buys vs. clicks, low ratio of uniques vs. page-views, etc). The only sites you need to worry about evaluating are the ones performing exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly, in order to better refine your mining heuristic. And as we all know, advertizing companies are no strangers to data mining…

                I don’t really know how or if this fits within my stock market analogy. I guess the software is like a mutual fund? You just shovel money in, and let the software do most of the micromanaging.

          • TheMerricat says:

            Actually most ‘savy’ investors will tell you that if you are doing long term investing in the stock market, the best strategy anyone has come up with is investing in the index funds. Historically NO ONE has ever beat them in the long term.

            Crashes only matter if you have to bail in the middle of one.

          • Jarenth says:

            I don’t think economics leads to flame wars, but it can lead to rap wars.

        • SolkaTruesilver says:

          You would not be immune to the market’s systematic risk. Even then, if you want to diversify into either multiple asset class (gold, bonds, mortgages, derivatives, etc…) or multiple regions (EAFE, Emerging Markets, etc..) you can still be affected by world-class events.

          Plus, the transaction fees will be a bitch if you go into investing 100$ per security/funds. You can potentially lose about 7% of your portfolio just to buy and sell immediately. Even moreso in exotic asset classes.

          If you really want to diversify into every asset classes possible, you’d need millions to begin with. And even then, it’s a bit inneficient compared to people who can actually build you a balanced risk portfolio.

    • krellen says:

      By that logic, the New York Stock Exchange shouldn’t exist, and if you trade stocks, you should lump everything you have into one great big investment because it takes less work to keep track of.

      A lot of stock holders – perhaps even the majority of them – treat stocks this way. They buy mutual funds, and only the fund managers worry about the individual stocks within.

  17. Tizzy says:

    FYI, the auction used by Project Wonderful is known as a Vickrey auction .

  18. rrgg says:

    Another problem I see with the Project Wonderful model you described is that it the value of the ads is based on demand but demand in this instance means exactly one person bidding for as low as zero dollars.

    If Aardvark games has a maximum bid of $1.00 on your adspace but at the moment is only paying 40 cents, what is stopping the clearly not affiliated with your site “Samuel Younger” from bidding 99 cents a day to drive up ad prices at no cost to himself?

    Essentially the Vickrey auction model here seems well and good but most likely I wouldn’t be surprised if most advertisers were still manually increasing their bids pennies at a time. Something that is bound to take a lot of effort on their part for a $1 a day investment.

    • Shamus says:

      Wow. I hadn’t considered that. The interface even tells you their bid and how long it will last, so it seems like this would be easy to do.

      Although, people DON’T seem to do it. I mean, I rarely see two bids close to each other like that.

      • Kdansky says:

        Surely, this can’t be true? There must be a catch of some sort. Even if you needed a credit card and ID, you could just get a friend to do it. It’s not like we all know someone in another country by now?

        Also: Isn’t there an issue with people not having bought any ad space yet because it was only up for a few days? I’m also in favour of trying to run both (one top, one side).

    • Abnaxis says:

      Does it tell you their maximum bid, or their current one?

      If you exceed their maximum bid, doesn’t that mean you just paid their maximum bid for ad space on your own site? i.e. just went from making a few cents to making none?

    • ooli says:

      I suppose Bider should pay a fees to Project Wonderful to earn the right to bid…Something along the line, to avoid false bidder and for PW to actually make money.

  19. guy says:

    Ouch, that is not very much money.

    Still, maybe you could stick in another ad in one of the blank spaces and make it a PW ad. The more sites which use it, the more likely it is to attract big advertisers.

  20. zootie says:

    If I understand correctly, the only problem with Project Wonderful’s model is that they don’t have an a feature that lets advertisers specify how many page views they want to buy with their bid? So if they did, instead of using price per view in a certain time frame, the bid would be price x # of views requested in the time frame, and then PW would be competitive with Google in terms of satisfying advertiser’s campaign needs?

    • guy says:

      Actually, it sounds like people buy time slots irrespective of page views, which is the major problem because it’s unclear how much a given time slot will actually be worth to the advertiser.

      • zootie says:

        Yes, that’s what I was saying – their current formula is price over time with no consideration for page views. An advertising campaign has a set goal of reaching x number of people in x amount of time, and the price is the variable there. So if PW just adds the # of views to their system, all of the needs of the advertiser will be satisfied.

  21. Falcon says:

    Two brief things. First I find it funny that the first ad I see from switching back to google is one for PRsensr, which promises to help build online visibility and increase web revenues. Just made me chuckle a bit.

    Second I appreciate the HTML tag description you’ve added above the posting box. They are second nature on a keyboard, but on a smartphone I have to look for them. More than once I’ve screwed up an ahref because I wasn’t paying attention.

  22. TehShrike says:

    Just so you know, your ads need at least a week’s worth of traffic data before you start seeing realistic bids.

    Until you’ve been running PW ads for 5 days, you haven’t given them a fair shot yet. Bids are generally based on the number of visits and unique visitors you’ve had over the last week or so (though people can search for you based on your traffic over a longer period of time, too).

    For comparison: a single rectangle ad on this site of mine makes ~5 cents/day. That site gets ~400 page views per day (~200 unique visitors).

    I think a lot of sites around your size will roll with multiple ads (2-4) and usually end up seeing a nearly linear increase in income with PW.

    • Shamus says:

      I did a search for same-size sites, and I found that the top earners in my range earned near the bottom of what I make with Google ads.

      So, after getting settled in I could look forward to earning on my best days what Google used to give me on my worst ones. :(

  23. I don’t adblock this site, but some bizarre malware has stopped a lot of Google pages from working. So I get a little 404 on the side.* So I’m not sure if you’re getting any money for you money place from me.

    *This sounds like a drug reference.

  24. James Schend says:

    It’s worth noting here that Project Wonderful isn’t anything new– it’s just the Atlas/DoubleClick ad exchange re-done on a smaller scale, and with less manual effort involved. If you’re a giant like Microsoft or Disney or what-not, you already have all those features. The thing is, it’s not profitable to Microsoft (owns Atlas) or Google (owns DoubleClick) to run those features for sites making less than about a grand a day, so they don’t. Google offers AdWords/AdSense to fill in the gap.

    (Oh: Another difference, Atlas/DoubleClick would never let you see someone else’s earnings. WTF!?)

    That’s not to say anything against Ryan North, he’s definitely built something great. It’s just… not as innovative as you think.

  25. HeadHunter says:

    So, if I’m understanding correctly: Google AdSense content is generated for each visitor, based on that viewer’s previous browsing habits?

    And some of these people have the nerve to ask you how your site could sponsor smut? Sounds a lot like the stuff I had to deal with on helpdesk for Microsoft.

    • Tse says:

      Not exactly, it depends on things like site content and nationality, as well. Sometimes, ads don’t match your browsing habits. Even if they do, porno is watched alone, sites like this aren’t always.

      • rofltehcat says:

        Well, for this page for example I get a lot of stock trade ads because Shamus is talking about money, revenue etc. in the article and some people also talk about it in the comments.

        For other posts and the main site, I get mainly ads for sign-up browser games, some of which feature huge cleavage. I reported those a few times because Shamus has already done posts about how he hates those evony-people. Evony is renown for this but many others do it, too and as far as I know, Shamus doesn’t want those on the site.
        Personally I don’t mind them but I can understand it if people don’t want to see those.

        And I have never seen any porn-related ads here… and I wouldn’t be surprise if google ads gave me some of those.

        So the “it only shows filth if you have been to filthy places” argument doesn’t really work.

        • Shamus says:

          For the record:

          My heuristics for “this ad shows too much sexy” is really sloppy. It’s not really linked to how much skin is shown. I mean, if there was an ad over there with a bare-chested guy or a girl in a bikini, I wouldn’t necessarily move to ban. I always look at it and think, “Would I be embarrassed if someone at an office looked over my should and saw this? Is it crass, clumsy, sleazy, or cheap?” Those are pretty vague and the cutoff points will be different for everyone.

          It isn’t just how much skin is showing or how big the boobs are, but also the context, the view angle, the accompanying text, and the product being advertised. If Aion put up an ad with lots of legs and cleavage I might let it slide, but an equivalent image from (say) a graphics card company would probably get the ax.

          I admit my system is probably arbitrary and unfair, but I’m not obligated to carry anyone’s ads. I like to keep the line blurry. It encourages people to stay away from it. :)

        • Chuck Henebry says:

          I get Adobe ads, I think because I recently purchased Photoshop.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not so.If it were only that,I would never get an ad for a mmo,since I dont like those.Ive seen maybe 2,3 ads for webcomics,something I do read often,and a shitload of browser games and mmos,something Ive tried out a couple of times when it was starting,to see if it is my shtick.It wasnt.Heck,I cannot even count the times Ive seen farmvile and zynga poker ads,despite me having no facebook.

  26. For the ~20k pageview range, and making an average of $5 a day, you’re pretty much competing with AxeCop. That’s a pretty stiff fight. He’ll chop your head off.

    If you get back on the Project Wonderful bandwagon, I would be interested in dueling other regulars for advertising space. Forget leaving a comment in the thread! Leave a comment on the banner!

    • Bubble181 says:

      I could see this working as an alternate donor option. Could be fun to put up “Happy Birthday Paul Spooner! From Abnaxis and the whole Gang!” or such :-P

  27. Ragnar says:

    Sorry, Shamus, I won’t enable ads that involve javascript och flash. That’s my real problem really, that there is a lot of things done on my computer that neither I or the site owner (you in this case) has any control over. If AdSense support some sort of ads where there is only a static image without any javascript or flash, then I will enable ads on your site. I actually have adblock turned off, but the ads don’t display anyway since I have noscript to block the relevant sites.

    In contrast I have enabled Project Wonderful globally, so I see all their ads. They are even interesting sometimes.

  28. Sho says:

    …This site has ads? Crap, now I feel imperceptive.

    …Uh, to clarify, I’m not just a moron. I grew up in the lousy-ads phase of ~2000 but rather than download a program like normal people I just learned to… fail to perceive ads entirely. Selective non-perception, I guess?

    • Knight of Fools says:

      I’ve got the same deal. I’ve been so overexposed to Ads I’ve developed an immunity.

      Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I run Adblock, but I’ve got Shamus’ site as an exception.

  29. Slothful says:

    I actually disabled my adblock for this website last time you talked about ads, but I still never saw any ads. Turns out that I had blocked google adsense with Ghostery.

    I’m just really creeped out by the idea of google collecting all this data on me with cookies and these background processes and such. One of these days google’s going to start abusing its hold on the internet, if it hasn’t happened yet.

  30. cavalier says:

    I love your blog because, even on comparatively mundane topics like this, you bring knowledge and insight to the issue. Most people throw out a few sentences about the change in advertisements. Very few can and would turn it in to an insightful look at how the internet works.

    And yes, I feel like a fan-boy. Shamus deserves them, tho.

  31. silver Harloe says:

    While clicking into this article to read the comments, the two Google AdWords ads I rolled were: one for Google AdWords, and one for a company to help you manage your PPC advertising through Google AdWords. It’s So Meta, Even This Acronym.

  32. Bubble181 says:

    One problem with paying on many smaller sites, which is *especially* true for Project Wonderful, is that you’re not getting the same amount of actual views. Paying Gamespot for 1.000.000 unique views is 1.000.000 people who’ve seen your ad (well, not entirely, but you know). Paying 20 sites for 50.000 unique views each may get you 20 times the same 50.000 views. PW is especially sensitive to this because practically all buyers are webcomics: I know I used to have some 50 on my daily follow list and another 20 on my weekly list. I stopped following most, but I still read about a dozen of them regularly and another dozen occassionally.

  33. Adam F says:

    Ironically my current ad is advertising google adwords.

  34. Domochevsky says:

    Another note in favor of Project Wonderful: Adblock+ has adopted a policy of allowing non-intrusive PW ads, meaning that people actually get to see them instead of blocking everything by default, like with google ads. :)

  35. Ed Healy says:

    I might be able to help, Shamus. I just shot you an email about how…

  36. SlowShootinPete says:

    Can you use Google ads and Project Wonderful?

    You could do the thing where you use the revenue from the PW ads to buy adspace on other sites, which in theory could bring in even more traffic, which would help you earn more from the Google ads for getting more page views. Would that work?

  37. Nikos Saripoulos says:

    Wow… i really appreciate this article… very useful information.

    While reading about it, i had an interesting idea… if you used a counter in your script about who uses or not adblock… you could have some stats about it (i’m not sure if this is easy to develop)

    I would be very curious to watch at the bottom of the page a percentage of how many people are using adblock… and i’d be interested to see this number change for your site (declining of course)

    This would be an incentive for people to turn off their adblocks given that most frequent visitors here have the mutual feeling of community (that’s what i believe anyway) and want to support your site

  38. Shamus, why don’t you reach out to some brands/companies that you respect/know/had contact with or would like to have contact with and see about renting out adspace to them.

    These would be rectangles put up on the site by you for them for x amount of days.
    Some might even be regular (pretty much a sponsor) of your site.

    And google allows other ads like that on the same site without issues.

    Also, “manually” put up ads usually don’t get caught nearly as much in adblock filters either.

    • Meredith says:

      I was going to suggest this as well. I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t come up before. (Or maybe I just didn’t see it?) It seems to me that this would solve all of the advertising problems and there must be games related companies that would sponsor this site.

  39. Amarsir says:

    If I understand Project Wonderful’s mechanic, I think they make a mistake by granting 1 ad 100% display for a day. Or at least they limit their targets.

    Maybe it’s moot at TwentySided where presumably the default behavior is 2-3 page loads. (Some of which don’t even start at the top of the page.) But for forums, say GiantITP’s for example, there are a lot of reloads. One user could easily view an ad 20-30 times per visit. And there’s a severe diminishing returns for that advertiser. If a few advertisers rotated so there were fewer total views but about the same unique views, it could add up to lower costs for them and higher revenues for the content provider.

    (The drawback of this is that sometimes I want to go back to an ad I’ve seen and I can’t when they rotate. But I don’t think that negates the benefits of a smart rotation.)

  40. Thomas says:

    I imagine the Wonderful model is just too fiddly and insecure for major buyers, than it being a page view issue. I’m sure they’d rather pay something and get guaranteed ad coverage than pay less and maybe get knocked off spot by a competitor. And if you’re going for a crud load of little sites it’s time consuming and even harder to make sure you’re not knocked off.

    Never mind the unique issue. If you buy for the Escapist you’ll get x uniques and y exposure. If you go for Project Wonderful, well a lot of their uniques are going to overlap. People who read webcomics read other webcomics

  41. Dev Null says:

    I’d love to see a system exactly like Project Wonderful, but based on the price of pageviews. Maybe advertisers would show up because it’s a pricing model they understand, or maybe the well would again be poisoned by people trying to game the system.

    Honestly? What are the chances that it wouldn’t end up being B?

    I’m not seeing any ads on your site at all at the moment, and I’m fairly certain that I’ve whitelisted you everywhere relevant… I know I used to see them.

    Edit: Nevermind; fixed weird google cross-reference blockage. Ads are back.

  42. DaMunky89 says:

    As someone who just launched his own small website, here’s my take on your post:

    (1) Project Wonderful sounds like a terrible way to profit by putting banner ads on my site.
    (2) Project Wonderful sounds like a great way to advertize my services on other sites.

    So, THANKS FOR THE HEADS UP. I’ll probably be giving them business on account of you sometime soon.

  43. Kalil says:

    It’s kind of funny to me. The biggest difference in my mind, as a consumer, between Project Wonderful and Google Ads, is that I’ve actually clicked Project Wonderful ads a few times. Despite all Google’s claims to tailor their content to the site and the user, I’ve yet to see Google ad content that’s relevant to my interests.

  44. Jeysie says:

    Mrr. Well, I’m sad PW didn’t work out for you. I use a HOSTS file, so I can’t whitelist per site, and PW is one of the very few third-party sites that I both actually click on sometimes and trust to not be annoying or screw up my browsing and/or computer somehow.

    I need to throw some donation money your way once my new job has actually thrown some money my way.

    The TFWiki I edit does pretty well using PW, but they also have… slightly more pageviews than you do, admittedly. …and the server is owned by a webcomic artist.

  45. Zak McKracken says:

    Always a shame to see something that avoids so many mistakes do worse than it should :(

    I disabled adblock for Project wonerful. I won’t do the same for Google ads, sorry, they’re everywhere. So one viewer more for PW, one less for GA.

    I could imagine the prices are like this also because site owners prefer PW, while advertisers for some reason like (or just know?) GA better. Since the relation of advertisers to publishers determines the price …

    Anyway: I do find it curious that PW would let people see what others are making.. shouldn’t do that.

  46. Solf says:

    Maybe this is somewhat useless comment — but since I’m related to web advertising industry…

    Basically advertising efficiency (result gained vs. impressions spent) depends heavily on tailoring (for user, for device, for site, etc.). So I’m reasonably sure that either you let others to select ads that are showing (and hence lose control as they will probably show stuff that they also take from somewhere, not their own — i.e. aggregators) and thus earn significantly more or you sell to people who show specific ads only and thus earn much much less.

    Now I really don’t know anything about Project Wonderful, but if it is indeed selling spots to show specific ads only — then I wouldn’t expect it to earn good money ever.

  47. Ricky says:

    We’ll for me the Adsense is better than the Project Wonderful but what about joining both of them in your site? I did it in my website especially in PW, we are allowed 5 adbox that means we can have 5 rectangular adbox, which I believed and based on experienced received higher bids per day. In PW I am earning atleast $ 0.50 /day and thats quite fine.

    At present, I am enjoying PW and Adsense which both of them have added few dollars in my acct.

  48. Kneon says:

    Being that we have a fairly well trafficked webcomic, we do pretty OK with Project Wonderful. I average $5-10/day. By comparison, I only make $15 a month off contextual ads.

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