Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Um. Yeah, right.

For some reason the subject of "seats parts that may be used as flotation devices" has come up in conversation a number of times lately. Maybe it's because a number of the flights I've been on recently have been over-water, so the portion of the safety briefing that admonishes you to follow crewmember instructions and whatnot just stands out a bit more: "In the event of a water landing, your seat bottom cushion may be used as a flotation device."

Water landing?

Let's be honest. There's no such thing.

I mean, it's nice that this ultra-comfortable seat has a couple straps and that I can take it with me as I leave my carry-on luggage behind, and the emergency exit slides that convert to rafts are pretty cool as well. But if the airplane I'm on right now (as I type this) "lands" on the water, what's likely to happen, really?

Water weighs a little more than eight pounds per gallon. By the time you put an airliner into the water at somewhere around 200 miles an hour and displace thousands of gallons of water with just the engines, and when the wings make contact (assuming a flat, relatively gradual contact with the surface), the plane might as well have hit a mountainside covered in heavy, wet snow. Airplanes break when too much stress is applied, and if they happen to float, it's not likely to be for long.

But it sounds nice to remind us that in the event of a water landing (like it's a perfectly normal, happens-occasionally, hey-what-the-heck kind of thing) that the seat bottom is there for you. It will make exiting the gaping hole right behind you where the rest of the aircraft used to be that much more memorable and safe.

It's called a crash. Not a landing.

Kind of funny, the level of ridiculousness that gets injected into our little world nowadays. Avian flu pandemic contingency planning, seat bottom cushions... All for edge-case scenarios. Not that those are bad things to do, but when you can't get your freakin' luggage from one place to another reliably, it seem as if there are perhaps a few other things that could also use some attention.

However, if my plane ever lands on water, I promise you I'll be glad for the floaties. And they have a heater built in, too - right? Oh.



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Tuesday, 27 March 2007 19:54:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 23 March 2007

I'm not a programmer (a fact that for some reason sometimes surprises people when I tell then), and I used to be a hands-on IT guy, configuring and setting up complex systems and troubleshooting. All that respectable, "real" work is - for the most part - in the past. Now I supervise teams that do all that legitimate work.

But now and then I have to do things myself. In setting up a dedicated server for this blog, I found I needed to run applications with multiple versions of the .NET framework - in my case v1.1 and v2 both. I know how to assign the versions of .NET to the applications, but what I did not realize (because I had never had to worry about it on a single server myself) was that there's a bit more to the game than just assigning a framework version to your app and web server instance.

Luckily for me, Scott Forsyth covers just this on his blog in a post entitled "Running Multiple Versions of the Framework in .NET," which I found most useful. Thanks to Scott for the easy to follow post. Apparently it's a IIS v6 thing. I don't remember this behavior in IIS v5.



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Tech
Friday, 23 March 2007 15:56:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 20 March 2007

We all have tell-tale signs that the level of difficulty, stress, work or just plain old "stuff" is too high. Maybe we spout off, maybe we forget things - It's different for all of us.

For me it happened on Sunday: I got in my truck, drove down the driveway, turned right and headed for town. A few minutes into the drive something just didn't seem right, and after trying for several seconds to put my brain on what was amiss, I realized I was still wearing my slippers. Luckily I had fresh socks on and shoes in the car. Heh.

Ever done funny or crazy things thanks to the amount of active clutter going on in your brain and life? Here's your chance to admit it. :)



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Tuesday, 20 March 2007 12:12:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 15 March 2007
Hosting & Servers at GoDaddy.com

Let me start by saying I really like GoDaddy.

A while back, I migrated this blog from a shared web hosting environment to a virtual dedicated server at GoDaddy. Now, before I gripe a bit about the performance, let me say one thing. What I bought from GoDaddy is exactly what I got. They guarantee something like 384MB of RAM for their Windows VDS's, and my blog plus mail server regularly exceeds that amount. My fault.

What that means is that when the host that houses my virtual server is under heavy load from the various virtual machines it's managing, the available RAM allocated to my virtual machine could drop as low as the guaranteed 384MB level. Needless to say, if that happens and my apps need more, things might crash. Especially those apps that are already running in RAM at the time the allocation changes.

And that's what has been happening on my server. Plus, I have discovered it's getting quite expensive.

As I mentioned in my last entry, my blog typically pulls in around $80 a day or so from ad clicks. Well, this afternoon I had a few minutes to breathe at work and I discovered my server had been offline most of the day. My ad revenue for today is less than $30 as a result. Do that a few times a month and adds up pretty quickly.

So, I've decided that I will once again be moving, this time to a GoDaddy physical dedicated server on its own hardware - an Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.13 GHz, with 2GB RAM, dual 120GB drive in a RAID array, a Cisco PIX 501 firewall and the works. The reliability and uptime of dedicated hardware is easily justified by saving all the lost revenue from the current system, so it just makes good sense to do this. It's true what they say: You get what you pay for.

At any rate, the downtime during the transition will probably be far less than the downtime each time the current server fails. Maybe I should install this copy of Exchange I have lying around here and really get things humming. Hmm....



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Thursday, 15 March 2007 20:18:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 06 March 2007

Over at problogger, I recently (well, actually it was several weeks ago - I am just now using a long flight from Chicago to finish this post) ran across a post entitled "Does AdSense Suck for Bloggers?" where Darren Rowse points to Guy Kawasaki (who started a popular blog called "How to Change the World" in 2006) and the New Web Order blog, which editorializes a bit further on Guy's experiences.

A bit of a high-profile slam on AdSense was taking place in these venues, which is unfortunate because Guy's experiences are not the same as everyone's. I'd venture to say that his experience may in fact be similar to the majority of people who just "give AdSense a try" without putting any serious effort into it. But Guy's blog was never optimized in terms of layout for AdSense advertising and his page content is not exactly optimal for context-sensitive advertising either. Now, he writes about many things (and quite well, by the way) and I truly enjoy his blog, but the fact of the matter is that there are a few things he could have done to improve his click-through rate and revenue. Not to mention the fact that his blog is still relatively new - it's only a year old. These things take time, the creation of contextual content and careful design. And the kinds of changes I am referring to would not necessarily have required trashing the layout or skimping/compromising on the author's writing style.

Go read Guy's post about his experience, and then take a look below at mine, to illustrate that it's not just about being famous or high up in technorati's listings when it comes to having a successful experience with AdSense. Being famous or well-known can help, of course, but it's really about how many web site visitors you get, whether the ads are contextually relevant, and how many of the people who visit your site actually click the ads to reach to the content they provide. I'm far from famous, and I am certainly not too well-known (thank goodness). But my revenues from AdSense on one single web site continues to amaze me.

Note: I am providing some information here that other people may not feel comfortable sharing about their own sites and experiences. That's fine, but I have no reason to hide any of this information. My point is to illustrate that AdSense can and does work, and to provide some evidence as well as a little balance to the "AdSense sucks" argument.

In mid-2006, my page views numbers were somewhere in the 8,000 per day range. Later in the year,  it's climbed to well over 10,000 a day, and is now well over 15,000 page views a day on most days - often in the 20-30,000 range.

So - for posterity's sake and for conversational comparison, here are some stats for the year 2006 on greghughes.net, per Google's system counters (which vary from and are slightly lower than my own internal stats counters, but I think being conservative is a good thing when looking at these values). Note that I cannot post publicly my account's actual click-though rate or other numbers due to Google's AdSense terms of service, which I respect. Also, I ran this article (pre-edits) by the AdSense support team before posting, just to make sure I am not crossing any lines. I have no desire to fall victim to the rather terse and stern terms of service that Google rightfully has on its program. They said I was good to go.

What I can tell you is that my click-though rate is relatively high compared to typical site averages, and that through testing I have proven to myself and others that the high rate is a direct result of effective placement and design of the ads themselves, in combination with site layout and design tweaks.

The 2006 stats for this site (greghughes.net):

  • 2,355,059 page views for an average of approximately 6,450/day average (using some very conservative counters to be sure). Note that today I average more than 20,000 per day - a significant difference. As you'd expect, that difference is reflected in the total number of clicks per day and the daily revenue numbers.
  • 264 posts for the year generated significantly less comments and trackbacks than Guy's blog did - and that's one difference in being famous and high-profile - people link and talk back to you more if you have some celebrity following like many of the A-listers do. Note that perhaps more important than how many posts and comments I had in 2006 are the other 1,107 posts that I made between this blog's inaugural post in 2003 and the end of 2005. Those posts still generate a significant amount of interest and traffic from search engines - many thousands of visits a day.
  • Again speaking conservatively, several hundred people regularly grab the RSS feeds. Again, this is a huge difference from Guy's RSS subscription count (I'm on the low end of the spectrum). His subscriber count via RSS is in the thousands - and this is also an indicator of why his traffic may not be driving much revenue. It's been proven that RSS feeds are not the better advertising medium. People just don't click as much. However, I should say that my friend Scott has seen some good results in his RSS advertising.
  • Total advertising revenue for 2006: approximately $8,700.00, which is significantly higher than Guy's revenue, and let's face, it - no one really knows me from a hole in the ground. It's also worth pointing out that the 2006 amount is for the full year, which includes a good six to seven months of significantly lower monthly revenue before I made some critical design changes to the page layout in about August. In fact, $1800.00 of the year's total came in December alone and my revenue values have been increasing consistently over time. Only time will tell, though. You never know what might drop or raise your numbers. Hopefully not this post, heh. For comparison purposes, my January 2007 revenue was over $2000.00 and it looks like February will close out at about $1700.00.
  • Again, I have intentionally left out any mention of metrics other than how many page views occur and the total payment amounts, because Google is pretty strict about not sharing other metrics like click-though ratios, cpm, etc.
  • As an aside, it's worth saying that for those who are not yet familiar with the process of IRS Form 1099 income, this is not all free money. You do have to pay taxes on it, and it's treated as income for an individual, so be prepared to set a large chunk aside for tax time each month. Keep that in mind and be sure to evaluate whether you should be running AdSense as an individual or as a business entity. Depending on your situation, there may be one option that's better than the other. you may want to consult a good CPA on an hourly basis to give you some advice. That tax hit, ouch!

There's a lot more that goes into making AdSense work than just dropping ads on the page and getting a few (or a lot of) people to look at your site. Sure, you have to drive traffic to your site content in order to get clicks. But ad positioning, relevance of the ads, the actual content of your site, and a number of other critical design and configuration elements play a major role in the failure or success of your advertising. The fact of the matter is, if you have a lot of distracting, flashy, graphical stuff on your pages, the ads will not get clicked nearly as much. Why? People just won't look at them nearly as much. It's that simple. 

For example, I used to have a picture of myself in the header of every page on my site, but one day I decided to remove it just to see what impact that would have on my ad clicks (specifically the click-through rate). I suspected that the picture was competing visually with the ads, resulting in less clicks. Sure enough, click-through nearly doubled as soon as I removed my mug-shot from the page template. Visual competition with your ads equates to distraction (you can think of it as visual aerobics - like watching a tennis game from side court), which means less clicks, which in turn means less revenue. Not a very complicated formula.

So, let me leave you with this - Despite the occasional popular, cliche rant in the blogosphere, AdSense most certainly and definitely does not suck for bloggers if you have patience, use it thoughtfully and apply it well. If you don't believe me, ask Joel Comm, the AdSense guru. If his AdSense Secrets is the bible of AdSense, then he is the prophet who can lead you to the promised land (forgive the analogy, sorry), but only if you actually follow his suggestions - all of them, even the ones you don't really want to. Remember - it's just a web site, so you can always put it back the way it was if you don't like the changes you make. You will have to experiment and try new things. Joel can tell you pretty much everything you need to know and a whole lot more. If I was to put some real and substantial time applying even more of his suggestions and those of others to this blog and maybe another one or two topical sites, I could quite possibly quit my day job.

But hey, I am certainly not planning to do that. I like my work and blogging is more of a passion for me than a vocation. I consider myself lucky: I'm certainly glad to have a revenue stream that makes it easy for me to justify using a dedicated host server and which pays for itself quite well (and then some). I'm also financially able to do more charitable giving in my community and in the world, which is important to me. It's a pretty darned good deal, no doubt about it. And I don't even have to do all that much to make it work - the content I've already written over the past few years seems to appeal to a wide audience, so they come here to find what they're looking for. Because the ads are relevant to what they're researching they sometimes click. All I really have to do is continue to write about the things that interest me and hope that others will remain interested, too.

By the way, I am certainly not the only beneficiary of my advertising success. It's a good deal for Google and it's advertisers, too: The better the ad performance on my site, the more effective their customer's ad campaigns. We all win.

Here are a few resources for learning about AdSense and making it work. These are the ones I used, in addition to a few acquaintances who made suggestions here and there:



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Tuesday, 06 March 2007 21:14:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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