Friday, May 05, 2006 

Uphook update #13

I am currently looking into a strong marketing and promotion strategy for UpHook. Since I have little experience with marketing-- I have been researching for the last few days to come up with some ideas. I managed to separate my task into two main parts-- Marketing and Publicity. Although publicity is considered part of marketing, I figured it was large enough to warrant its own individual focus. Marketing in this context refers to getting people interested in using my site, while publicity refers to generating buzz about my site. In this post, I will cover the skeleton of my marketing strategy:

I realized early on that marketing is a lot like fighting a war-- its not simply a matter of getting people to visit the site. Instead, I felt that marketing has a lot to do with competition. We are constantly competing for people's attention-- If I can get them looking my direction for long enough, there is a chance they'll be interested in visiting my site. It occurred to me that the best way to get attention is to get under someone's foot. I needed to attack some well-established service in order to draw attention toward my own. Below are the three things I plan to concentrate on:

Choose one target at a time
This is important to me because my site is so small. I'm the only one doing maintenance and it would be unwise to go picking fights with everyone. By only having one target at a time, I can concentrate all of my energy on what I'm doing without having to divide my efforts among multiple targets.

Choose one narrow point of attack and surprise attack it
This point brings to mind the theory of guerilla warfare. Instead of going all out and claiming my site trumps my competitor in all areas, it is easier for me to identify my site's strength (search and in-site-messaging) and attack a competitor that is weak in those areas. This gives me a valid point with which to argue and adds weight to my position. This tactic seems like it would work best if my target were much larger than me; they might not even pay attention to such a small site attacking one of its many (albeit average) features.

Leverage blogging for indirect attacks
This strategy involves making use of the viral nature of blogs. If my site is discussed in blogs as being a competitor to a larger site (even if the validity is stretched somewhat) I will be able to ride THEIR popularity to obtain more popularity. Getting compared to any larger competitor would automatically grab people's attention and make them interested in trying the site out for themselves. The interesting part is, any article that is read by enough people could have this effect-- not necessarily big news sites. This is why personal blogs and press releases are an indispensable tool for helping to market a small site.

Marketing involves careful planning-- there is a good chance I will change some of my strategy before I give it a trial run. However, it is always good to have a plan. Just because a site is small and not well known doesn't mean it doesn't have the potential to become large and in charge.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 

Uphook update #12

Today I submitted my site to a few more online directories to try to increase visibility. I also did some research on press release vendors-- one of the best ways to get your site promoted is to write a good in-depth press release about the SITE but pointed at the BLOG.

At least that’s my theory. If I can promote both of them, I might possibly reach a wider audience. People who like to read blogs but aren’t interested in a personals/dating site probably wont be interested much in the site itself, but they may find the blog an interesting read. Similarly, those people who just want to search for pictures and meet people might not have much of a need for a blog about the technicalities behind the site. So something that can drive traffic towards both of these simultaneously would be optimal.

Today, I also fixed a pretty large security flaw. Apparently, I didn't filter the user input as well as I thought. A stray apostrophe in the heading field was actually interpreted by my database as a control character. With the right input, someone could have compromised the database. But, it's pretty much fixed now-- just a few tweaks to the filtering function was all that was needed.

I also added a "quick-search" feature to the site. I was reluctant to do this because the search is weakened (not all fields are available). This means that all fields that aren’t listed as part of the quick-search will be defaulted to "nothing." This means that the only matches that will show up will be ones where those fields are unimportant to the poster (i.e. they selected "match all" when creating their post). Knowing that this would really weaken the search, and also knowing it would be pointless to try to include all search fields (which defeats the purpose of quick-search), I included the fields which I think are the most important-- age, gender, and location. With enough people posting, the quick-search would certainly be useful, since there would usually be a good amount of matches, even with a weekend search.

AdSense profits are...unimpressive. The excitement of getting your first few dollars quickly wears off after you realize how little you are actually getting. It has occurred to me that the path to making a large amount of money could be a very long and drawn-out process.

Fortunately for me, that’s not really a priority. I think it's more important for me to keep learning about website marketing and promotion. This entire thing has been a huge learning experience as well as another nice addition to my resume: Thousands of lines of code, robust security built-in, graphic design, site promotion and marketing, profitable revenue model, etc. Plus there's a chance that it WILL get really popular. I'm starting to think that getting attention before I have an established user base is a very very bad thing. It may be wise to stay under the radar and promote the site through forums and conversation, as opposed to blasting my site on every marketing article and press release site I can find. The problem is, I want people to know about UpHook-- but not so many people that I can't keep up and let the site grow as the number of users grows.

It's a tricky situation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 

[Getting The Most Out Of Adsense]: Top 10 Adsense Tools

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I would like to jump right into the content of this article-- some of the best tools around for getting the most out of Google's Adsense campaign. First, we'll start off with the tools in order of personal preference from less useful to most useful (since there is really no good way to compare a tool-- its all in how you use it anyway).

Contextual Ads Preview/Comparison Tool

This tool is helpful in comparing AdSense ads to those of other advertisement vendors (Chitika, Yahoo). You also have the ability to customize the colors and view what ads a certain URL would be likely to display. It's a pretty solid tool when planning what type of advertisements you want to put on your page (especially if you are trying to decide which vendor to sign up with).


The Blacklist basically gives you a list of AdWord publishers that have very low payouts. It is a fact that ad space is valuable-- I would rather fill my ad space with 3 publishers offering $0.50 per click than 3 publishers offering 1 or 2 cents. By providing a list of provider domains to avoid, you can filter your ads and have a greater chance of having high-paying publisher ads displayed on your site. According its website, Blacklist works by:

"...providing you with list of most commonly filtered websites whose webmasters use AdWords to attract visitors for low price click so they can convert it to high price click on their own MFA (Made for AdSense) site(s). In order to STOP these type of actions going on your sites, all you need to do is to paste our specially generated list to your AdSense Setup -> Competitive Ad Filter list. Your revenue should substantially increase."

Nuff said.

AdSense Calculator

This is one of my favorite tools-- it allows you to quickly calculate how much you can make given daily impressions, CTR, and CPC. Although it’s certainly easy to calculate the values yourself, this is a resource you can use to quickly get that info. It computes daily, monthly, and yearly data for both clicks and earnings.

From their website:

"It also serves as a tool that will allow Google AdSense users to take their current statistics and get an idea of how much they can expect to see daily, monthly and yearly. As well as those who are considering implementing AdSense on their site what results they are likely to see."

For those out there who like to speculate ("hmmm, if I had 3000 impressions and a CTR of 2% and average CPC of 30 cents, what could I make...?") this is THE tool for you-- quick, simple, and easy to use.


AdSense Sandbox

"This is a handy little utility if you would like to see what sort of Google AdSense ads are based on content or keywords. "

This tool lets you see LOTS of ads that Adsense may be displaying on a site. Why is this good? Simply put, you can look at ads that show up for your competitor's site. And why is THAT good? You can use it to help out your own ad campaign.

For example, I know Plenty of Fish (the free dating site with the ugly site design) makes a TON of money from ads. Since my site, UpHook, is in the same general category, I can look at what ads are showing up for them and see if those same sites show up on mine. If not, then I know I'm not really competing against them; and I also know that their ads are probably worth more per-click than my ads. In addition, this also gives me a list of what websites I may be competing against. And keeping an eye on one's competition is a smart move.

Adsense Preview Tool (explorer)

This tool is very similar to the Sandbox. The difference is that you can generate a preview of what ads may be displayed on a page much easier. Rather than visiting a website, you can bring up a pop-up window full of ad samples by right clicking and selecting the preview tool from the pop-up window.

The upside: It's easy to access and gives good information (see Tool #7)

The downside: It's for Internet Explorer

Adsense Notifier (firefox)

This is an invaluable too for OC people who check adsense stats every 5 minutes. Checking adsense habitually is a painful process—its like watching grass grow. But this handy little extension makes it less of a headache. The Notifier can sit in the bottom of your browser window and displays whatever stats you want-- total clicks, daily earnings, impressions, CTR, etc. Wondering if you made any more money yet? You can find out with a quick glance. It’s highly configurable and can save you bunch of time.

Competitive Ads Filter

Now we're getting to the heavy hitters. This tool is actually part of the Adsense setup manager, so you have to already have an AdSense account to use it. You can use the ad filter to block specific ads from appearing on your pages. Simply give the filter a list of URLs and they are effectively prevented from displaying on your site/blog. This can be useful for a few reasons:

1- You can prevent competition form advertising on your site. This could directly benefit from you by helping to ensure that people stay on your site and not jump on the first ad offering the same thing your site does. Due to the targeted-advertisement nature of AdSense, if you have a service site there is a good chance that your competition will have ads showing up on your site all the time. For example, all the ads that show up on my site (free personals, etc) are for other sites offering dating and personals and matchmaking, etc. For some people this is bad-- but for others it can be a good thing.

2- You can prevent irrelevant ads from being displayed. I mentioned this in a previous blog post-- there are some cases where you want to get rid of ads that don't really correlate well with your site content. Remember, AdSense is just a software system-- it tries to determine what ads to serve up based on some site content. There is a chance that it can guess wrong. And when that happens, you can use the filter to help correct things. Have a site about dogs being cooler than cats but AdSense shows a bunch of ads about pro-cat books? Just chug the bogus cat sites into the filter and you'll be all set.

3- You can block publishers that have low-paying ads. This is helpful in making sure you get the best value for your space. Using the Blacklist tool to get a list of low-paying publishers and plugging their domains into your competitive ads filter can quite possibly earn you more money in the long run.

These are all good uses for the filter, however, there is a drawback to using this tool-- if you are trying to filter entire groups of content by using the filter, you will only see temporary results. As more sites pop up, you will likely have to keep updating the filter. This is why this tool is best suited for blocking sites that are in direct competition with yours.

Word Tracker

I know some people who swear by this tool. Although you have to sign up to get unlimited access to the service, the trial will probably give provide enough useful information for you to enhance your AdSense experience. Word Tracker pretty much tells you how often people search for a specific keyword. It can also estimate how many competing sites use those keywords. This is probably the best tool to use before deciding what content to include on your page. If there are a lot of competitors, it may be better to target one of the less-searched-for words. Chances are, you will be able to get indexed higher in a search engine for those terms as opposed to going head-to-head with the competition for the popular words.

Obviously, this can drive traffic to your site. Users are more likely to visit matches that show up within the first 2 or 3 pages of a Google search than they are to visit matches on page 87. Why not opt for being indexed in the first 1-50 matches? Sure, you will get less searches overall, but you will be much more visible.

According to their website:

"Wordtracker helps website owners and search engine marketers identify keywords and phrases that are relevant to their or their client's business and most likely to be used as queries by search engine visitors."

This tool is can be used for things other than AdSense. However, it just so happens that popular search keywords are also popular AdSense keywords. Go figure.

Overture Bidding Tool

This tool gives you both suggested keywords AND sample bid amounts given a target word. Although Overture is NOT the same as AdSense, the keywords are almost the same as those suggested when signing up for an AdSense account. In addition, I've found that the bids listed are pretty darn close to those offered by AdWords publishers. Using this tool, it would be trivial to build a list of high-paying keywords that you would want to make sure you use in your content.

If you ensure that mostly high-paying ads are displayed on your site, you will be getting the most out of your ad space. Think about it-- a user isn’t going to know how much each ad is worth before they click it. They are likely to click on almost any ad that appeals to them. Why not make sure that those ads will pay the most money? Using the Overture bidding tool to get other suggested keywords is also useful-- however, be careful not to saturate your page content with a bunch of keywords. This can make your site/blog look tacky. A few here and there should be enough for the AdSense spider to throw up high-paying ads. Combined with the Blacklist, this is an excellent tool to use as an alternative to the AdWords Bidding Tool.

AdWords Bidding Tool/Traffic Estimator

This is probably the most useful tool out there. The only drawback is that you must have an AdWords account to get access to the information. I would suggest getting AdWords anyway, since it gives you a good idea of what publishers go through and what options they have when creating ads.

This bidding tool is THE resource for figuring out what keywords result in the highest paying AdSense ads. It's quite possible that all those pages and blogs that list the Top X-number of highest paying AdSense keywords use the bidding information found through AdWords or Overture. As a site/blog owner, its important to know what words you might want to emphasize in your content.

The traffic estimator will take a set of keywords and tell you the estimated average CPC based on current publisher bidding statistics. Knowing that the estimated CPC of my keywords can pull ads paying between $3 and $8 on average, I know that I am in a very good position to make money from my AdSense advertising. Although these CPCs are average values, and I'm sure Google will only show those ads on very well-performing sites, it at least lets me know what I have to look forward to when I start bringing in a larger amount of traffic.

Honorable Mentions:

The Heat Maps

Not really a tool. But for those people who don't know, this can increase your earnings substantially-- especially if you have ads in all the wrong places.


I don't really know much about this site, other than some people apparently bought the tool and use it to easily find the best keywords. I'm not big on buying stuff, so I wouldn't really use it. But if anybody is interested in trying (or has already tried) it and doesn't mind paying a few bucks, feel free to let me know if its worth the money. I’ve heard good things about it.


Getting the most out of AdSense hinges upon your ability to optimize. Using these tools can certainly help out. If you have (or plan to have) AdSense on your site/blog then I think its a very good idea to look at some of the tools out there and try to ensure that you are utilizing your ad space in a smart way.


Monday, April 17, 2006 

Uphook update #11

void main()

Today, I improved the website messaging system slightly. After looking at other personals sites, I saw that many people wrote something similar to:

"Your pic gets mine"


"Only responses w/ pics please"


"Don't reply unless you have a pic"

Now given my original messaging system, there would have to be an extra step before the poster could get a picture of the responder. First the responder would have to contact the poster. Then, the poster would have to allow the responder to have their email address so they can receive the pic. In order to eliminate this step, I integrated the ability to include a picture when sending a message to someone. The image is included as an attachment (just like regular email).

Now people can get right to it-- no dilly-dallying around with exchanging emails. You can send someone a picture just as easily as you can send them a message.

I also fixed a bug in the code that caused explorer to not render the profile lightboxes correctly. It seems like IE reads the CSS styles from the post page, as opposed to the lightbox page. While Mozilla reads them the other way around. I'm not sure which is correct, so I have redundant code in both files just in case. Better safe than sorry.

Next, I am considering an option to disable messages-- however this can be dangerous because there is no other way to retrieve the URL to manage a post (aside from bugging the admin). Plus, why make a post if you don't want people to respond? Isn't that the purpose of personal ads. If people want a place to post random stuff and not expect a response, they can go use a forum or post in their own blog or something.

However, I'll keep my ears open-- if its something most of the users want, I can certainly add the capability to disable messages. But in the interest of getting this thing marketed so it can attract some traffic, I think it can wait a while-- I have more important things to worry about.


Saturday, April 15, 2006 

[Adsense Profit to Pay Student Loans] : Filtering Targeted Ads

void main()

Today, I woke up and checked my Adsense account. A whopping $2.50! It was great. However, I still haven’t marketed the site-- so I have no idea where the clicks came from. But I sure aint complaining :-)

I ran a bunch of tests to make sure the submission of posts worked for all kinds of inputs. It turns out there were a few problems that I hadn't considered before.

  • The PHP DOM API that I use to parse the XML that stores the user's post assumes that the input file is UTF-8 encoded (as per the XML specifications). However, I write the file using the default encoding and when I read the data back to parse it (ISO-8859-1 encoding) the dom parser function complains. The solution was a simple conversion function built in to PHP -- utf8_encode(). I call this function on the input data prior to writing to the file and the problem was solved.

  • Another DOM problem surfaced when I was testing inputs with another character-- the ampersand. It turns out that all XML parsers treat single ampersands as special characters. The parser choked whenever it encountered one, so I had to figure out how to get around it. The solution was to incorporate another character replacement entry in the same function I use to strip PHP slashes and kill left brackets (to avoid bad html).

  • The default cut-off length for the input was too small. At first I thought 800 characters was plenty. However, it would be trivial to increase this amount, and some people like to write paragraphs or post poems on their posts. So I increased the maximum post size to 1500 characters to account for it.

Later on in the day, I was checking out the search page. Adsense was showing a bunch of horoscope ads, which I don't think pays as much as dating ads. Plus, I would want to keep the ads as consistent as possible-- most of the other pages show dating ads. I remembered seeing something about filtering when I was configuring my Adsense account, so I logged back in to see if I could do anything about the problem. I saw a section about a "competitive ad filter" and figured I'd check it out. Apparently, you can select which domains to prevent from showing ads on your site.

Great! So I went back to UpHook and grabbed the domain names of these horoscope sites. Then I put them in the filter and refreshed the search page. I didn't see any change-- but I guess it would probably take a while to have an effect. Either way, I realized just how powerful this could be. By restricting certain domains, you can probably force Adsense to display the next-best match for ads. In my case, this would be the dating and personals ads. I feel like this is just another small detail that could make a decent impact in Adsense revenue. After all, it's the little things that matter.


Friday, April 14, 2006 

[Adsense Profit to Pay Student Loans] : Optimizing Adsense

void main()

Today I earned a total of...$0. No surprise there-- nobody knows about UpHook yet. It's not heavily marketed. And even if it was, there aren't enough posts in it that people would stick around. What I need first are some seed posts. Then I'd need some way to drive people to the site. I can think of a good plan this weekend.

Today, I also optimized my Adsense ads. The original ads had a grayish background and blended in with a pre-defined ad section background (w/ rounded corners) that I had originally designed with the site. However, I figured I could do much better.

I first tried to change the color of the background theme for the ads section to a lighter color. But it really didn't look more blended in than the first attempt. So instead, I changed the color of the background to the same dark blue as the navigation bar. Then I changed the text to the same yellow that the site name is in. This looked "alright" but I thought it was a little awkward. So finally I just made the background completely white and formatted the text and title to match the general theme of the section headings for my site.

I don't really know how much of an effect this will have-- but I figured it would be wise to start off with Adsense as optimized as possible. According to other sources about Adsense, its VERY important to make sure the ads are blended well with the theme of the site-- and I think that’s what I accomplished.


Thursday, April 13, 2006 

[Adsense Profit to Pay Student Loans] : First Day Went Smooth as Butter

void main()

Today, I finished the rest of my site design and went live. I must say, I think I did a pretty decent job-- following my plan of having a minimalist site design.

At around 7pm, I signed up for a Google Adsense account. The plan for today was to apply so in a few days I could get approved and get the ads placed correctly. But to my surprise, I got the acceptance email less than 2 hours after I applied. That's awesome.

So I went ahead and designed the ads. The first one is placed at the top of the site, kind of like a banner. I know a lot of people mention making the ads look integrated into the site. I think I did a decent job of that. The color scheme fits-- however, when i designed the site, i added a distinct place for the ads. Well, the background of this designated section was a little darker than I thought it was-- don’t get me wrong, the ads look nice. The only problem is that it looks distinctly like an ad, not necessarily site content.

Its not as obtrusive, and its text based, and looks like if fits in with the site. The only difference is that the background isn’t white (like the rest of the site background).

If push comes to shove, I'll just lighten the background of the ad-section, which might help it blend in better.

I also added some horizontal ads at the bottom of profile pages. Since the profile pages are plain text black and white, i was able to fit the ads in very nicely. You can hardly tell its an add-- it almost looks like an option to "view more pics" of the user or something.

I got some of my friends to run through the site and give me feedback. Overall, I think I did a pretty good job. There are some non-critical things I’d like to fix-- mainly implementing a custom error.php page to serve up errors that people might run in to. i.e. somebody doesn’t have javascript, so they don’t enter a correct email and it isn’t caught by my javascript email verify function, I’ll need to let them know. But I want all errors to have a uniform page format. Which is why I want the dynamic php error page.

Anyway, tonight I’ll look into ways to get the site marketed a little. So far adsense has been a breeze to set up and get going.