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For a long time, I've been meaning to write a post explaining our stance on ads and website monetization in general. I just want to make sure everyone (those who will read this, at least) understands why we have ads on the website, how we obtain these ads, how much control we have over them, which ads we accept / do not accept, etc. I also want to say a few words about Ad Blockers and donations.
Why ads on Icy Veins Ads -- How does it all work? What ads do we allow on Icy Veins? How come I still see bad ads? How much control do you really have? How to report an ad? What do you think of Ad Blockers and what do you do against them? What about donations? Conclusion Why ads on Icy Veins?
Vlad and I work full time on this website. We put in as many hours as we would in any other job, if not more, which means that we need to have the same kind of income for us to be able to continue working on the site.
Eventually, we want to expand to other games (with the same approach) and hire people to help us, because there is only so much we can do with just two people working full time (even if we do receive quite a bit of help from our wonderful crew of moderators).
So, proper monetization of the website is important. To monetize the website only slightly, (for example, so that it pays for its server hosting) is not viable, because it would mean we would need to get full time jobs elsewhere and only work on the website in our spare time. This is something that we cannot do if we wish to maintain the standards of the website.
The easiest way to monetize a website like Icy Veins (with a lot of written content and nothing to sell) is to use ads, which we do. You could say that this is a necessary evil, although I don't think things should be seen this way. Advertising is not a bad thing in itself, but a lot of sites have abusive practices when it comes to ads, with popups and whatnots, which really damage the image people have of online advertising.
There are other ways, like donations (which we tried and were not very successful with; more on that later) or setting up a premium system, where users can pay to remove the ads and get some goodies. Premium systems do work, and we'll eventually get there, but it requires a significant development effort (that we will need to hire someone for).
Ads -- How does it all work?
We're too small to contact other companies to advertise on our website, so we need an intermediary. Larger (much larger) companies, like curse.com, have sales teams that are dedicated to the task. In our case, we work with Intergi Inc., an ad agency that is #1 in the US for advertisement on gaming websites. They do all the advertisement-related work and we share the revenues earned on Icy Veins. They negotiate with big companies in the video game industry (Blizzard, Activision, Bioware, Sony, etc.) to sell ad space on the sites they managed (including Icy Veins).
What ads do we allow on Icy Veins?
The ads we allow on Icy Veins are ads that we would not mind seeing on other websites. That is a rather vague and subjective statement, so I will try to clarify things, so that you can decide to contact us if you see something that isn't allowed.
There are two ad formats on the website, 728x90 and 300x250 (these sizes are in pixels). Anything different than this is not allowed and if you see ads that are bigger, then you should definitely notify us. That said, 300x600 ads may occasionally show up in 300x250 ad units, but only on pages where it will not break the design.
Regarding the content of the ads, we do not accept ads that auto play sound or video, popups, popunders (same as popups, but the ads open up in the background), interstitials (ads that show up before the page you're trying to browse loads). We try to avoid "con" ads, like the ones that tell you that you've won an iPad 2 or that you're the latest lottery winner, but as I'll explain in the next section, that is hard to do.
From time to time, there will be website takeovers. When this happens, the background of the website changes and features advertisement. The 728x90 and 300x250 ads will match the content of the background (and sometimes even complement it). You can often see that on mmo-champion.com or wowhead.com, so that shouldn't be anything new to gamers. All these takeovers are handled by Intergi, so they're exclusively for video games (they recently had one for Saints Row 4).
Here, you can see one that we have right now in a few European countries:
In my news about the new design, I mentioned that we had to make a design change for advertisement purposes. For a given takeover, there will be many other websites handled by Intergi that will participate, so there's a single background image and it only leaves about 1000 pixels in the middle for the site to fit in. Our previous design was larger than that, which made takeovers look really bad:
So, we had to reduce the width of the website to make takeovers fit. Well, we didn't "have" to, but no video game company wanted to pay to do takeovers on Icy Veins, and these takeovers bring money we simply cannot pass on.
How come I still see bad ads? How much control do you really have?
We have very little a priori control and the same goes for Intergi. One problem is that Intergi doesn't have enough video games ads to fill 100% of our impressions every day (it's usually the case for ad agencies that specialize in a particular domain), so they need to complement them with ads they get from Google and other 3rd parties. With these 3rd party advertisers, what we can do is very limited. We can ban ads when we see them on the website or when someone is kind enough to notify us (and even then, they need to describe the ad very very precisely, so that we can find it amongst the millions of ads proposed by these 3rd party networks).
So, there will always be bad ads, redirects/popups/etc. There are many checks, done at different levels to ensure that the ads are acceptable, but finding every bad ad is a very difficult task. Let me give you an example. A year ago, many MMO websites, including us, were seeing complaints from their users in the Netherlands browsing from mobile devices. These users were being redirected to pornographic websites when arriving on these MMO websites. People seeing the same ad from other countries or from the Netherlands but with a different device were not redirected. It took several weeks to track the ad that was causing that and finally get it removed. That's only one example, but you can see how sneaky people who submit bad ads can be.
How to report an ad?
Since we will always have bad ads coming up from time to time, it is important to notify us when you see them. See it as a collective effort to keep the internet clean. If a reader of a different website sees a bad ad and reports it, then chances are this bad ad will be banned across all advertisement networks and it will never make it to Icy Veins, and vice versa.
The easiest way for us to get an ad banned is to get a copy of the HTML code of the Icy Veins page where you saw the ad. To do that, you need to use the "Inspect" feature of your browser. All major browsers, except IE, have it. Simply right click the background of the website, and select "Inspect this element" (text may change depending on browser). Then, select the body tag, right click it, and choose "Copy HTML" or "Copy Inner HTML". Paste in a text editor (notepad being a good choice, for example), save the file and send it to us at email@example.com with a short description of what happened.
What do you think of Ad Blockers and what do you do against them?
About 35% of our readers use Ad Blockers to prevent the ads from showing on the website. This certainly means lost revenues, but we don't want to discriminate or take any kind of measure against it. Everyone should do as they feel and if they feel that their browsing experience on Icy Veins is better without ads, then so be it. Every reader is valuable to us, because it's not all about the ads and money. Many people who block the ads do contribute in other ways (forum posts, recommending the website, giving feedback, etc.), and that is totally fine with us.
As a result, we don't do anything against Ad Blockers and don't currently intend to ever do anything against them. We actually try to make the website look good even when Ad Blockers are used. We're aware that there is a slight issue on the right side of the website when using certain Ad Blockers (the highest box on the right side is 15 pixels lower than it should be), but we intend to remedy that in the near future.
There is one thing that we have in mind though. Every now and then, we would like to display a message to readers using Ad Blockers to remind them that they can whitelist our website if they wish so or make a donation (this message would display in the 728x90 ad unit below the navigation bar). We're still working on the content of the message. We need to be careful about the wording of this message, because the last thing we want is to coerce people into disabling their Ad Blockers by making them feel guilty (something some other websites do).
What about donations?
Donations are more than welcome We use Paypal and you can find links below for your currency (we only made links for currencies from the countries where we get the most visits from).
USD: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=ZGA8JSAUKTPUA EUR: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=CG2GSWAELN3NL GBP: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=MQH93TF3EC2VA AUD: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=8SEEMZN4HFVD2 CAD: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=U7QV8XYGA8HLQ SEK: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=E7EUPUBSQ3E56 Previously, we had a Paypal button on Icy Veins, but we were receiving maybe 2 or 3 donations a month, so we decided it wasn't really worth having a button for that on every single page of the website
Many readers have a bad opinion regarding advertising, and we can't really blame them for that. I simply hope that this post will have shed some light on how things work in the background and why we don't have much control over the ads. Things should get better and better though, as advertisement networks take more and more proactive measures against bad ads.