Why I had Ads
If you’ve been reading my blog or shopping my store for a while, you might have noticed a big change that happened last December. And if you are new around here, first, welcome! And second, I hope you’re enjoying the ad-free user experience you get when you visit my little corner of the internet. Last fall I made the decision to remove all ads from my site. If you noticed, you might have asked yourself why or be wondering why this even a big deal. Let me explain a little bit more.
When I first started blogging waaaaaay back in 2009 (how was that 13 years ago?) third-party ads really didn’t exist on tiny blogs. Then in 2012, when my site traffic had increased and I decided to leave my part-time job to pursue blogging full time, I was approached by a few different ad networks to start displaying side bar ads. Prior to this, the only type of ads that I had were from small Etsy shops. Many of whom I reached out to directly asking if they would like to purchase a side bar ad (which I then created myself) for about $5-15 for the year. Yes, I was bringing home the big bucks.
Every week I posted new content on my blog at least 3x a week for nearly 2 years yet only a dozen of these posts made me any money at all. My blog full of posts had grown to over one thousand posts and 150k people were checking them out every month but I was doing it all for free. In 2016, I decided to join up with a very popular blogger ad network that many of my friends were also working with. Since I was still considered a “micro” blogger because I didn’t receive millions of views I was limited in which networks would work with me and this ad network offered flexibility in how many ads could be displayed and the relatively high CPM (payout based on every thousand views) offered. Finally, there was a way to make some money from the huge library of content I had posted for free!
Over the years, I then made an average of $500 per month from this ad network. The revenue each month was varied; the first year the ads were active the monthly average was $750 as some months paid more and some months paid less. Yet this never became a larger percentage than 5% of my total revenue in any year but it was still fairly significant — I could rely on my ads to cover my monthly business expenses such as design software subscriptions, site hosting, invoicing and payroll software, and newsletter services. Every year while I focused on both making content & managing clients—I’ve never had a manager, agent, project manager, or any staff other than Holly of Club Crafted (who created some really great posts for me) back in 2018.
As the ad network grew the types of ads displayed started to change, and I started to make less. For me to make the same amount of money each month I had to increase the number and type of ads displayed on my site.
Eventually I went from only having simple ads on the side bar to having in post video ads, pop-up ads, and even full page pop-up video ads. Each month the number of ads increased significantly while the payment per view dwindled. All while my blog traffic remained pretty stable through the years.
Why I Choose to Remove Ads
Like everyone else I’ve always hated the poor user experience ads create on any site. Whenever I personally visit a blog or site with ads, especially if I’m on my phone or iPad, I still always switch to reader view to hide the ads.
Last fall, while ads were going strong on my site, I got several DMs from readers who told me that the ads were annoying but they understood that in order to offer a myriad of free content online, that understood the need for them to sustain the business. I contemplated pulling the plug on ads then but decided to stick it out because I needed the income if I was going to continue offering free content online.
Last winter is when the straw broke. One late Friday night there were suddenly full screen pop-up mobile ads that were leading to spam/malicious content (think, get a free iPhone scams). And once you were on one of these scam pages you would get stuck in a loop of pop-up scams until you quit your browser. I immediately contacted my ad network and they completely denied that they were responsible for letting a spam ad slip through their filters and blamed it on an unknown plugin I had installed. I stayed up all night trying to trouble shoot the issue apart from the ad network (disabling WordPress plug-ins one at a time, speaking with my full service WordPress host, and trying out WordPress various security services which took all weekend to do) but the only thing that removed the spam ads was completely disabling and removing all the ads from my ad network.
To be clear, I’ll never be able to prove that the spam came from the ad network — it would take debugging tools beyond simple browser dev tools to detect it, plus luck that we’d come across the ad on the computer doing the debugging. I was able to replicate the reported scam redirect issue but not consistently. What I can say for certain is that since disabling the ads the redirects have stopped.
It wasn’t worth the money each month to risk visitors of my site potentially being scammed and ultimately harming my brand and it’s reputation that I have worked so hard to develop. In response, I immediately removed all ads. When I informed the ad network still of the issue and that I needed to remove them they continued to deny any responsibility for the scam ads and made me pay a penalty to terminate our agreement without a 30 day notice.
This was so out of line — the only evidence I found pointed to the ad network and it wasn’t even the first time this had happened. They were accusing me of breaking the terms of our agreement by pulling the ads. In my opinion, they were the ones breaking the agreement by failing to vet the ads they were sending my users and they had the nerve to accuse me of breaking it by stopping the ads to mitigate the damage they were causing by not doing their job!
They not only offered no solutions but demanded I keep potentially subjecting my users to the same problematic scams under threat of taking some of the money my content had earned (a threat I gladly took them up on).
So what happened?
In the end, I’m glad they were so petty and unreasonable. New ad networks are born every day, I thought, I’ll just respond to one of the many that reach out to me each month or look for new ones when I have some time, no rush. Plus, visitors were getting a better experience.
A week passed and I didn’t get to it, then a month. Then two months had passed and I hadn’t even thought about looking for an ad network. My traffic was up, but it’s always up during the holiday season so I didn’t think much of it. Then January came and traffic was up even more — I compared my 2019, 2020, and 2021 stats and noticed stats weren’t just up, they were way up.
In fact, as soon as I removed the ads my site traffic has increased. While I don’t make any money directly from the growing number of visitors to my site, I know that I’m providing the best user experience I can possibly deliver. And as I’ve learned over the years as an internet content creator, things change all the time and the future of it is all very unclear. It’s just my hope that just as I intended on day one—I find joy in creating things and helping others do the same. So if you find joy by visiting my site you can show your support by engaging and sharing any sponsored content that I create, signing up for one of my online workshop (I have a quilted wall hanging class next Saturday!), purchasing items in my store, sending a Venmo tip for a wallpaper, or buying graphics in my Creative Market shop. And soon I hope to have even more ways in which you can support Sarah Hearts so we can continue this creative journey together!
Thanks so much for supporting Sarah Hearts and I so appreciate that you take the time to come here.
Want a deeper look into my career?
I recently shared a post all about how I make money as a full-time internet content creator! If you’ve ever wondered if it’s all #sponsored and want a look behind the scenes, I recommend you give it a read.