If you don't like the ads on my site, and on millions of other sites, Google has a new solution for you called Google Contributor.
Google Contributor has been in pilot might for quite some time, but it was rolled out more broadly within the last month or so.
In short, you can effectively agree to pay a website a small amount of money, between $2 and $10, to avoid seeing what is often an amazingly high number of ads on any given site.
How Google Contributor Works and Its Pro and Cons
It's an interesting concept. Ads can certainly be distracting and they slow down website load times. Many folks visiting websites find ads to be completely annoying, and those who work in web publishing would also love it if they didn't have to clutter up their website with ads in order to pay the bills.
So wouldn't it be nice if I (and other web publishers) could just ask people to donate money to our sites to make us less reliant on ad revenues? Of course, we could do this without Google Contributor but it would be yet another intrusion -- another ask -- that would further clutter up websites. It's also moderately tough to write the code to turn off ads based on somebody's having made a site donation, if that's to be part of the bargain as well.
Google Contributor makes it simple by handling everything for us. If somebody opts in to Google Contribute and they go to a website that has opted in to Google Contribute, then the site gets a little revenue from the Contributor, and Google clears out the ads from the ad space that has been allocated to Google advertisers (e.g., via AdSense). (In fact, according to many smart folks out there, it appears that Google may be opting in its advertisers for this program.)
It's fairly low risk for Google and it certainly is a nice countermeasure against the growing use of ad blocking software. If ad blocking software becomes the norm, Google is outside of that loop and loses control.
Billions of dollars of Google ad revenue could vanish in a second if we all decided to block ads on websites. If you work in the Strategy group at Google, that one will be an actionable threat item from your SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). In effect, Google is saying "Listen people, if anybody is going to block my ads, it's going to be me! And, by the way, I want to handle the money side of this as well."
Will It Work?
Now, you might be wondering. Why would a website publisher sign up for Google Contributor? Can't they make more money from ads than from donations? Might they not lose money if they activate Google Contributor?
Great question. Google answers this one by noting that Contributor users are effectively buyers in the ad auction for any given ad space. The ad will only not be displayed if they contributor is willing to pay more not to see the ad than the advertiser is willing to pay to have the ad not be shown. It sounds good, but it's a bit baffling to me. Most of us don't have the deep pockets of big brands like BMW or Fidelity. Could we really outbid them for ad space? More importantly, would we want to use our own money, which is not limitless, to outbid them for ad space?
Maybe I'm missing something but my intuition is that Google Contributor dollars will only be able to outbid advertisers who are offering cheap goods with low ad bids and who are running ads on sites with not-so-great content that doesn't command a high ad price. Could a Google Contributor donation displace ads on a very-costly-for-advertisers, premium website? I highly doubt it.
While the promise of Google Contributor is nice -- it's mission is ostensibly to "fund the people who create the sites you enjoy" -- it has a few kinks to work through. For starters, it doesn't eliminate the ads altogether. The extent to which you see ad reductions depends on your contribution levels. For a small deduction, you might just see a 5% reduction in ads. It's also difficult for the contributor to explicitly target sites to give to. It can be done but it currently requires some changes to Google Contributor's advanced settings.
And then there is the fundamental premise that there are enough do-gooder contributors out there who will donate. Site visitors can already easily add an ad blocker as a browser plug-in for free. What then might motivate them to pay money to not see ads, rather than just using free ad-blocking software? We can only assume that Google Contributor would be used by people who truly want to reward content creators for a job well done. That's great but how many people will do that? We know that crowdfunding and crowd donating is growing bigger every year, but will it eventually trickle down to every niche website getting donations from the crowd? That would be fantastic.
Despite the Challenges, We All Really Need Google Contributor
The reality is that it's become very difficult for small web publishers to make a living. Google algorithm changes have largely favored bigger publishing companies and big brands, making it much tougher for the little guy to survive.
Indeed, I often think that about this site: if only I could make more money from it, I would invest more back into it and create better content. As the market currently stands, it's not nearly as profitable as it used to be to create content, which creates a disincentive for quality.
Mind you, loads of folks would jump on me for what I've just said. They'd quickly say (while starting to strangle me, no doubt) that if I'd only focus on creating higher quality content, then I would in fact make more money. This may in fact be true, and it's an experiment I hope to undertake one day, when time permits, with a massive refresh on this site, but I still have this feeling that, despite the effort, I'll find that good and even great content is no longer compensated at a rate that makes its creation worth pursuing -- which, if that's the case, is a bit sad, isn't it?
Given the daunting and growing challenges for small websites like this one and thousands of other good sites that aim to be useful, I'm hopeful that Google Contributor will be an amazing success. If everybody started using free ad blockers, I can assure you that talented content creators, many of whom are your friends and neighbors, would be crushed financially and would go out of business.
Yes, anything we can do to reward talented creators is long overdue. The concept of starving artists, and their kindred-soul starving website content creators, is something that should not exist.
Why we make some low-utility professions rich and starve the ones that truly enrich us (e.g. educators, artists, etc.) has always been a mystery to me.
So, godspeed Google Contributor. Great idea. I hope you do well.
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