The Following is an interview with Michael Sweeney, founder, author and primary developer for Trek Writer's Guild.
What's up with the new GoogleAds?
TWG - What's up with the new GoogleAds?
I lost my last web hosting client.
TWG - What does that have to do with TWGuild.com?
MS - Well, TWG has always been a pet project of mine, supported by my other income generating web clients and projects. I vowed that the time and money I spent on the site would never conflict with my needs for living a regular life. Most of the success that TWG has experienced has come out of that promise, including seeking out volunteer help for regular updates and content formatting.
Until now, actually paying for website hosting and service has been academic since I had web clients on the same server that paid the bill.
TWG - Why can't you just pay for the service out of your own pocket? Many fan fiction authors consider thier works a labor of love.
MS - Unfortunately, I can't romanticize about even the simplest costs right now. Things are tough all over. Gas prices are spiking up to and over 2 dollars a gallon for crying out loud.
Worse still, I'd be breaking my promise to myself.
TWG - Can't there be other options than those GoogleAds?
MS - Of course there are other options. There are always possibilities. Unfortunately, none of those other options has ever paid off. We've tried being Amazon Affiliates, selling Cafepress t-shirt and coffee mugs, and begged for Paypal donations.
None of those things has raise more than a few sheckles a year.
TWG - Webhosting can't cost that much. I saw an ad for $6 dollars a month. Why not move there?
MS - Moving isn't a real solution, it would merely defer the cost into the future, and still wouldn't solve the issue of paying for itself. Worse, moving is time consuming, laborious and always results in worse service and up front costs. Those $6 hosting accounts rarely have enough space or server requirements needed to run an advanced site like TWG.
Further, $6 times 12 is $72, plus whatever fees they add on for bandwidth. Its never as cheap as they say.
Do you have $72 dollars to give me?
TWG - Er, no... All my money is caught up in banana futures right now.
MS - Then you know how I feel.
TWG - How do you plan to handle any money generated by the GoogleAds?
MS - All money generated by TWGuild.com and its subsidiaries will be held in a Paypall account and go directly to paying for the hosting service only. The money will be accounted for every week and published on the new Goal sidebar.
TWG - How do you think authors and readers visiting TWGuild.com will feel about this new development?
MS - I have long advocated that the authors and readers are why this site is successful. At 15 thousand visitors a month TWG is a very popular website, and it could only be that way if people felt comfortable here.
We have a community here, a real group of like minded people. I want to make sure that everyone feels involved. Suddenly having paid ads shouldn't change that, and I won't let it.
TWG - Are there any hidden costs involved, or secret agendas here?
MS - If any new costs come up I will bring them to light and lay them on the table. I firmly believe that asking the community to participate in funding this site requires that we be clear and clean about all of our actions. The Renthelper.net server does not actually cost $30 a month, its more than that, and TWGuild.com is now the dominant drain on allocated bandwidth by a factor of 10.
TWG - You mentioned that its called the Renthelper.net server? Why isn't it called the TWGuild.com server? What's Renthelper.net?
MS - Renthelper.net is a online rental housing directory targeted at the city of Athens, Ohio. I started that site in college in 2000 and tried to make money with it. Outside of its own GoogleAds, it has never generated a penny. Sad, really, its a nice site.
TWG - If this Renthelper.net website is still running, shouldn't it pitch in to help pay for the service? What about the other websites you run on the server?
MS - Renthelper.net is still running, and it is also contributing to the GoogleAds fund. However, the traffic Renthelper.net garners is paltry compared to TWGuild.com. It will contribute to the greater goal, but not be accounted for here. As I said, I have prorated the Goal for TWGuild.com to account for my other projects and the resources they drain.
TWG - What would it take to go back to not having ads again?
MS - I would need to have a web generated income sufficient to cover the costs involved. A new web hosting or development client, donations, items bought through amazon.com or cafepress on a regular basis.
TWG - Several other websites have it set up so that you can donate money or subscribe and have ads removed for your visit? Can you do that?
MS - That feature is being added to the wish list for the next version of TWG. We do not currently have the resources to support such fine preference treatment.
TWG - How can we get rid of the ads NOW?
MS - The quickest way to get rid of the ads is to pitch in. The Renthelper.net server costs $30 dollars a month. If we can raise that money every month in donations I can pull the ads for the following month. This gives us 6 days before May starts to get them pulled for that whole month.
I have added a sidebar item, a little Money Thermometer, to keep track of both donations and GoogleAd money. At the end of every week, I will tally exactly how much of both we've received and how far thats gets us for the next month. I hope we can work this out.
TWG - So you're saying we could get rid of the ads immediately if we generated enough money through GoogleAds and donations?
MS - Yes, the GoogleAds are another form of public support, and will be counted towards the goal.
TWG - So, if everyone were to click the crap out of whatever boring GoogleAd we first find, we could drive up the money and get rid of the ads without donations!
MS - No, no, please don't do that! GoogleAds are very new and Google does not yet differentiate between enthusiasm and fraud. Anyone who thinks they are doing a favor by clicking an ad just to click is doing more damage than just ignoring the ads! Google has already suspended and cancelled dozens of accounts for various degrees of violation. Their rules are obtuse, and they are arbitrary!
TWG - Then what should we do?
MS - Please only click on ad links that you are actually interested in. Follow that interest all the way through and avoid clicking a link more than once a day at most. Google has been accused of quickly cancelling the more expensive accounts with no explaination. They do not have a mature enough system to deal with any type of cleverness, and will just shut us off if they feel taken advantage of.
TWG has been running a Banner Exchange for many years now and never seen a better conversion rate than 2%, impression to click ratio. I will be carefully monitoring the GoogleAd stats, and if the conversion rate spikes or comes through higher than 3% I will yank the ads to avoid being penalized.
I don't want to play any games over this matter, so please don't get clever. We need this to work.
TWG - It sounds like Google is pretty harsh about infractions? Are you sure this is a good solution?
MS - I didn't say it was a good idea. I said it was the last resort before shutting down.
TWG - Er... Right. What happens if GoogleAds don't pay off, or no one makes good with the donations?
MS - I hope we can work something out.
TWG - Worst case scenario?
MS - I'd prefer not to think about it.