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Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Ho-Hum Week

It was another of those long, boring weeks when nothing interesting seems to happen on any front. My project kept moving along at its predictable, slow pace. There were lots of meetings nevertheless and that gave the nice illusion that things were proceeding at a good pace.

Unfortunately, I suspected that this project was going to be a boondoggle that would drag me into a quagmire that I can't get out of easily. This week sort of confirmed it for me. We have a weekly coordination meeting between the managers and project managers of this project from my department and the IT department. The IT people had canceled the previous couple of meetings and things to be discussed were piling up.

So, my manager and I drafted up a detailed agenda for this week's meeting including in it everything that we thought was slipping and needed to be tightened up on the IT side. We sent the agenda out to the IT folks on Wednesday, and then we waited. And waited. There was no word from them whatsoever. Finally on Friday, about 3 hours before the meeting, I walked over to the IT manager's office to figure out what was going on.

Fortunately, the manager was in her office. Unfortunately, the manager had not even opened the email with the agenda we had sent out on Wednesday. At my prompting, she finally opened it up in my presence. She gave it a superficial reading-through, then told me she and her team have no time for this meeting this week.

Obviously, several deadlines for this project are coming up by the end of this year and the first few months of next year, but I think I can forget about my project plan and its deadlines, and hunker down for a long and painful project that does not make any of its dates. More free time, I guess! You always have to look on the positive side of things, right?!!

At home, the kids continued to prepare for their math tests. In addition to the math olympiad, they also had to prepare for their standardized testing last week. They had standardized tests in Math and English. They scored well past the 99th percentile, but their raw scores did fall from what they had scored the last time they had taken the test. Not by much, but not by zero either. But they still scored the highest in their respective classes, so I did not feel too bad about it.

Truth be told, I was always in the top 5 in my class in Math and English when I was in school, but I could never consistently stay at the very top of my class in more than one test. So, it is difficult for me to be hypocritical and start lecturing the kids about their performance on these tests. After all, they try very hard and I am sure they are doing their very best.

There were several advancements on the blogging front this week. First of all, I edited each of my blog posts (there are now more than 290 posts in my blog) to add tags to the posts. Tags are keywords that tell readers what the post is about. The advantage with tagging blog posts is that blogger allows you to then create a list of clickable tags as a gadget in the sidebar of your blog.

When users click on a tag, they are then presented with all the blog posts with that tag in one page. This way users don't have to use the archive to search for posts corresponding to a topic to read them all. You can choose to make the tags gadget convey more information by making it a tag cloud. This way, tags with lots of posts become much bigger looking and tags with fewer posts appear smaller. You can see this addition to my blog just above the blog archive in the left sidebar of the blog.

After that, I did some research on why the Google Adsense ads on my blog were paying me peanuts for the clicks they were generating. When I started blogging, my traffic was much smaller, but my earnings were actually higher because each click on an ad earned me a dollar or more. Then a couple of months back, even though I was generating about 3 or 4 times the number of clicks, my earnings were a quarter to half of what they were earlier.

It was getting to the point were sometimes I was getting paid 2 or 3 cents per click. This was beyond insulting. Well, my research revealed that the adsense program does something called "smart pricing" when a site's click-through ratio falls below a certain rate. The details of this program are very hush-hush, but word leaks out, and from what was leaked out, here are the details:

If a site has less than about a 3% click-through rate (this is the ratio of clicks generated to number of ad impressions), then adsense flags the account for smart-pricing. Once the account undergoes smart-pricing, the earnings paid to the publisher for each click are about 5 to 10% of what they would normally get. This smart-pricing will cover all websites that publish ads under that adsense account (even if some of these sites have a higher than 3% click-through rate), and it will continue until the click-through ratio goes up.

The problem is that most blogs have pretty low click-through ratios. Sites that rely on search-engine driven traffic have high click-through ratios because users who reach such sites don't yet know exactly what they want (that is why they are searching). People who come to blogs come to them for the content, and are less likely to click on ads even when they are very relevant to the content on the sites. Google knows this and has decided to penalize blog owners by using smart-pricing.

I was incensed when I read through all this. Here I was, providing these advertisers a valuable service by placing their ads in front of my readership, and they decide to punish me by not paying me what they rightfully owe me for leads. Just because not as many people as they would like to actually click on the ads! Actually, that is not even true. Right now, I generate about 3 times as many leads as I used to generate in the first couple of months of my blogging. But my traffic (and therefore ad impressions) has grown ten-fold or more during this time (which has lead to my click-through ratio falling below some magical threshold), so these spoilt advertisers are miffed! The thing left such a bad taste in my mouth that I yanked all the adsense ads off my site!!

If they know how to play games, I do too. You see, smart-pricing continues as long as you continue to generate below-threshold click-throughs, but once you stop displaying ads, within a week or so, the smart-pricing falls off your account. So, I intend to wait for a couple of weeks, then turn the ads on again for a couple of weeks. Even though my click-through rate will be quite low during that time, I will yank the ads out before smart-pricing goes into effect on my account. So, I will probably generate a lot more earnings by just showing ads during one or two weeks each month to my viewers instead of showing ads to them throughout the month. As long as it keeps my advertisers happy, I am happy to be of service to them in small ways such as this!

If you own a blog, and are running adsense ads on it, you should take note of this. There are sites out there that talk extensively about smart-pricing. Some of them also talk about how to publish adsense ads only when the visitor comes from a search engine (it uses fancy Javascript, and implementing it requires that you be a little tech-savvy about these things). The logic is that when visitors come from a search engine, they click on ads more frequently than people who come to your ads from other sources (such as their own bookmarks). You can read about all this and more by just googling for "smart-pricing and google adsense" or equivalent words. Instead of going through the trouble required to show ads only to search engine visitors, I have taken a different tack to the problem. I will monitor my results and post back what I find.

As far as actual blogging is concerned, I published an article on selecting random rows out of a table using SQL in Microsoft Access. I did another Vedic Mathematics article on solving equations to my blog also. At this rate, I might have a Vedic Mathematics curriculum worth a year of two that I can use to offer classes to students who might be interested in mental math techniques. On Friday, I published a post about some funny street signs.

In the middle, I also finished evaluating the first of the four GPS units I had bought on Black Friday. I wrote up a detailed review on this GPS unit (Magellan SE4 GPS) and posted that also this week. I am in the process of writing up a review for the next unit which is currently undergoing evaluation in my vehicle. I hope to publish that review sometime in the coming week.

I wrote up posts on Access and Vedic Mathematics for the upcoming week, put together another post with more funny street signs and scheduled all of them for different days of the week. I have to proofread them all one last time before they go out.

As always, it is time to take care of the laundry, washing dishes, teaching the kids more math, get ready for another week at work, and so on and so forth. My brother-in-law and I are also involved in doing some research for a joint vacation during the week of Christmas or New Year. So, I have to sign off on this post and go take care of real-life. Yes, I do hate it when real-life intrudes upon the life I would love to lead, but such is life (rather, such is real-life)! Until next time . . .

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