In a recent post on the Web Pedagogy for Educators blog, Carl Eneroth looked at converting "students/employees into customer driven content providers rather than teacher driven content receivers, using Web 2.0 technologies to offer educational services, financed through Google Adsense, to potential customers world-wide." This is an appealing idea and many who have started blogging over the last couple of years are facing the question of monetising their blogs to earn some money from their work. If people are providing something of value, then they should, in theory, be able to turn that into an economic value.
While welcoming the general thrust of his ideas about educational services on the web, I simply do not see that Adsense can finance this on any great scale. Any worthwhile educational service offered on the web involves a lot of work and I don't see many bloggers or other content providers being able to finance themselves this way and I think many are going to find themselves very disappointed with the results. He quotes the following guidelines from a video about making money from Adsense:
1. Placement of ads on the web-page
2. Using key-words that generates high return
3. Provide a lot of content
4. Keep track of performance
I have watched the video- it's a guide to making a lot of money from Adsense and the person says that he is making thousands of dollars from websites. However, only some of his tips are particularly relevant to a site offering educational services. Placing ads carefully and tracking their performance both make sense. The second point, though, is one that won't work for many sites- this video is about chasing the terms that are bringing in the money- a few months ago ambulance chasers were paying a lot for asbestos-related cancer. Creating educational sites around this concept will almost certainly lead to unnatural and stilted content, almost the opposite of what is intended by the Web 2.0 educationalists- take this example of a sponsored 'lesson'. Most websites try to catch search terms and optimise, but to be natural, it has to be withi the limits of the aims of the site.
Chasing high-paying Adsense terms is not conducive to natural content, and would probably lead to lots of lessons on alopecia and other topics. I certainly don't think it's a strategy that is likely to work very well. The last part about content is right- the person specifically talks about the need for thousands of pages of content and recommends a program that sells lots of html pages with content already written about hot topics to catch advertising revenue, which, again, is not a suitable approach for Web 2.0 educationalists. Therefore, they will have to generate thousands of pages themselves, a daunting task, yet without the content they will not be able in most cases to bring in the numbers of people to generate the click-through.
The Adsense terms of contract do not allow people to discuss click-through ratios so figures are hard to come by, and they will vary from site to site, but I think educational sites providing content and information are less likely to attract clicks on adverts than sites selling things. I am far more likely to hit adverts if I am trying to buy things than if I am getting information or an educational service, etc. A good educational site may well provide the user with little reason to go out of the site, which means that the click-through would be lower. Large sites with thousands of pages and a lot of traffic will make money, but smaller sites will mostly not. Monetising a site is not the same as professionalising it- many will only get their costs paid and maybe some more. Many of the bloggers are running hobby sites and advertising revenues could help cover costs and add an incentive to keep them running, but I really don't think that in the majority of cases of sites with relatively low levels of traffic that it will amount to more than pin money. We use Adsense on our site as a way of paying our costs, so I am all in favour of it as it has helped us greatly, but a blog with a few thousand visitors a year, or even a month, is unlikely to be fully compensated though Adsense.