The surprising rebound of ad revenue

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, June 30, 2021, 2:00 PM | comments: 2

Ad revenue from my sites has been taking a gradual dump for years, but last year in the pandemic it got particularly bad because no one was advertising, and traffic to the sites tanked because theme parks weren't exactly something people were interested in when they couldn't visit them. As I wrap up June, I'm shocked to see that the rebound has been extraordinary. After losing money most of last year, things are in the green again. It'll probably take a year to make up for the losses, at least, but it's going in the right direction. Back in the good old days, a decade ago, I could pay my mortgage with the ad revenue profit. We're not back in that territory, but were it not for the previous losses, at least I could make a car payment now.

The raw numbers for June are nuts. CoasterBuzz revenue was up 240% over June last year, attributed to only a 31% rise in page views, but revenue per page was up 160%. The PointBuzz numbers are a little harder to figure out, because last year I moved the forums on to the hosted service and didn't have all of the traffic instrumentation moved over. Revenue I can tell is up 100%, with revenue per page up 180% on 25% fewer page views. I can't exactly explain that one, but it partly has to do with the way forum pages are infinite scroll, and there are more posts being made without refreshing the pages.

For additional context, CB is up 100% in revenue, PB up 20%, compared to 2019 (the last "normal" year), on 26% and 34% fewer visits, respectively. That unequivocally demonstrates a significant change for what traffic is worth these days, and that's an unexpected trend.

To go way back, it's harder to compare because of differences in tooling. June 2021 for both sites is down around 70% in page views compared to 2010, but only down around 40% in visits, and 10% down in users. The page views is easy to explain, because back then there was no infinite scroll in the forums, so that number isn't useful at all. The visits and users are a better story, though it says that there aren't significantly fewer people, they're just coming back less often. Regardless, the revenue compared to 2010 is down 42% across both sites (I had a mix of five ad providers in those days). So depending on how you measure it, users are more valuable, visits are about the same. If you want to account for the biggest change, the traffic almost doesn't matter. Now, two-thirds of traffic comes from mobile devices, and in 2010, it was essentially zero. That is your big change in behavior.

Early last year, I invested a lot of time into getting all of the things on modern frameworks and technology, the biggest part of that being to migrate everything to .NET Core, so it could run on Linux, which is cheaper. I also enabled some redundancy, so everything runs on two nodes, so one could die and no one would ever know. It also means I'm totally "cloud enabled," so I could scale up and out if I needed to, to the extent that I doubt the site would go down under an unexpected "traffic event" or inbound links.

Unfortunately, that redundancy, largely in support of the hosted forum app I never had the money to market, isn't free, so the timing of it was pretty bad. That's why I lost money last year. I've got a fighting chance of making it back this year, but every month will have to be good to get there.


Andrew Jones

June 30, 2021, 4:22 PM #

Any thoughts on the privatization push for advertizing on mobile platforms like iOS and Android? Do you think (or can you see) advertisers wanting to push ads to 'audiences' they can target (niche audiences like amusement parks/roller coasters in your case) in lew of Facebook or other tracked audience segmentation?


July 1, 2021, 1:26 PM #

It already happens to an extent with Google. They know a ton about the audience and target based on their interests, combined with the input of what the content is. Pre-pandemic, Disney was a huge advertiser, and not for anything specific that anyone had to do. The bigger problem is the same as it always has been: niche publishers don't have the resources or time to sell on their own behalf, so they can only do it via representation. I haven't had anything like that since 2012-ish.

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