ExpatForum Case Study
"A recommendation I would make to other publishers would be to think about and test your site as if you were an advertiser. Use AdWords and Google Ad Planner to see how your site is sold to potential advertisers. Pay attention and optimise the text shown in targetable channels and within Ad Planner. Doing this has significantly impacted our CPM revenue for the better."
Founder and MD, ExpatForum
At a glance
Bob Sheth started ExpatForum.com in 2007. “I set out to create the best community for expats to help and support each other where questions could be asked and answered by people with experience and knowledge,” he says. The underlying aims were to help people experiencing life in a new culture and to create a lifestyle internet business that could be easily scaled.
A warm welcome
When Bob set up his expat-centric website, he had no intention of becoming an advertising sales executive. “AdSense was installed on the site from day one and is one of our primary sources of revenue,” the founder reports. Google AdSense is a free programme that empowers online publishers to earn revenue by displaying relevant ads on a wide variety of online content. The tool offered Bob a way to show ads on ExpatForum suited to the content and interests of the site’s audience, and earn money from valid clicks and impressions.
The decision is one that’s paid off, especially because it has allowed Bob to focus his energies on developing the business rather than dealing directly with advertising clients. “I've seen AdSense revenues grow from less than $1 a day to many hundreds of dollars a day,” he says. “AdSense gives ExpatForum.com exposure to hundreds of relevant advertisers, which in turn provides us with consistent revenues. The revenue allows us to invest in better content, site performance and user experience. This investment keeps us growing which attracts more advertising. It’s the ultimate positive feedback loop for publishing, and AdSense plays a key role.”
Although setting up AdSense was simple, Bob realised that he needed to understand how to make it work best for the site, its users and potential advertisers. “After realising AdSense would be one of the larger revenue sources for ExpatForum.com I went into study mode, reading and consuming as much information as I could,” he recalls. “I read blogs, forums and case studies, and started networking with other big board administrators. This crowd focused wisdom gave me a starting point for key decisions on placement, styling, blending, sizes, number of ad units and channels. That was the starting point, and the end point was the realisation that there was never an end point. There is always more to learn, more tests to construct and more optimisation decisions to make.”
So, broadly speaking, what has he discovered? “Primarily we learned to look at each section of the site as a separate optimisation project. So for the homepage, news pages, forum homes and forum threads, each required their own testing and delivered very different results. It soon became evident that the 300x250 format was the best performing for us, when blended into news articles and placed on the top right of the content. We also learned that a 728x90 ad unit performed best at the end of the content piece. Using channels we also came to the conclusion that logged in members’ response to advertising was very different to guest visitors. This allowed us to optimise the advertising for both types of users.”
A warm welcome
Today, with close to one million visitors a month and over 130,000 members, ExpatForum continues to reap the benefits of AdSense. “The biggest impact on the business has been to save time,” Bob says. “The sales and revenue benefits of a program like AdSense are obvious. What's less obvious and just as important is the time – and therefore money – you save by not having to service the needs of hundreds of clients, not having to create hundreds of invoices, not having to worry about payment processing and fraud hassles and not having to chase up for payment and credit control.”
And as digital technologies continue to evolve, Bob has every reason to be enthusiastic about ExpatForum’s future. “The plans for the site include more steady growth, enhancing the user experience with improved design and content and trying to figure out the right strategy for our community with mobile and video,” Bob says. “Each one of these key points in the plan will include AdSense integration, testing and optimisation as part of the process.”