The last month has brought a great deal of stress to something I would much rather enjoy in my spare time, namely the operation of my Web sites. While they did grow into a small side-business many years ago, and I've even relied on them at times when I wasn't working, they're still there for me to enjoy, not be a source of problems.
For the unaware, CoasterBuzz and the other sites show advertisements, sold by a number of different companies, and essentially "chained." So when one doesn't have an ad to show, it passes it down to the next company to show an ad. Fill rate, the percentage of impressions filled with ads, is obviously better when higher.
The advertising revenue pays for the rental of a server, the software it runs, and the bandwidth it requires. It also pays for the software required to develop the sites, and the computers that I do the work on (both tend to be on three-year cycles, software was last year, hardware is this year). For a lot of years, it was a losing proposition, but these days, there's usually enough left over that I can afford to at least reimburse myself for some of the travel and/or other equipment (like cameras).
In any case, for some time now I've been using Google's AdSense as the primary means of generating advertising revenue. Prior to the last six months, there were long-term swings up and down, mostly due to seasonal traffic and changes in the ad market. In recent months, the changes have been erratic, even on a daily basis. Some days I'd make a third of what I had the day before, with no change in traffic.
The reporting has been suspect as well. One day I have 80 clicks, the next day, 8. The single worst discrepancy started on February 9. At some point during that day, they changed how they calculated page views, showing a fraction of what they did the day before. These are all huge red flags.
The reporting issues are one thing, but now I believe they're taking money from me. The site just posted what I would be paid for last month, and it's half of what the reporting says I made. Small discrepancies are normal from auditing processes, but half is not normal. There are two huge implications here. The first is that if the reporting is that incorrect, I can't change the mix of where I'm sending ad impressions. If they can't get it done, I'll send them to someone who can. The second problem is that part of the revenue, for PointBuzz, is shared with my partner on that site. How do I know how much to send him if the amount Google pays me doesn't match the reporting?
The bottom line is that I'm frustrated and angry because I have no recourse. Unless you generate six figures with them annually, there are no human beings to ask to look into it. There's a part of me that wants to sue them in small claims court, but I hardly want to travel to California to do it. So I'm a little stuck right now. It's not even about the money, it's about the unethical and lopsided power they hold over content publishers.
I'm not sure what my next move is. I can't keep asking people to join CoasterBuzz Club, because I think that market is probably tapped. I'm going to need to get creative.