“Do you remember
When we fell in love...
We were young and innocent then
Do you remember how it all began…”
Michael Jackson

Recently, Yahoo shut down its publishers network, their contextual advertising alternative to Google AdSense. Reading that news caused me to reminisce about the time when all content wasn’t monetizeable and simple monetization wasn’t as easy as just slapping some code on the page and forgetting about it.

I discovered affiliate marketing at the beginning of 2003…about 6 months prior to the launch of AdSense. To make money online back then, I had to not only get a visitor to my page but convince them to take an action (which was usually purchasing a good, though occasionally, with affiliate programs like Club Mom, filling out a form). Because search engine algorithms were much simpler in 2003 (and I had yet to discover paid search), it wasn’t that difficult to bring targeted traffic to my pages. However, I had to make a visitor jump through two different hoops in order to make any money off of them…first, click on the link / banner on the page to send them to the merchant’s site and then, hope the merchant could convince them to buy something there. My content on the page also had to serve two purposes…to bring the visitor to me via SEO and to convince them to click through to the merchant. Sure, I made money but since my strategy was immediate cash instead of building sites for long-term value, these early affiliate efforts never amounted to much.

Everything changed when AdSense went live in the middle of 2003. I quickly realized that I could make money by publishing any content including content that didn’t related to sales of a particular product. On a page created purportedly to sell a product, even if I didn’t make a sale, I could still earn income. If the visitor didn’t like the products I was pushing, they could see the ads that AdSense presented and click on them if they felt that the merchant advertising through AdSense could better serve them. There was also a nascent science of figuring out what types of content was the most profitable to publish and to follow that lead.

Back then, many affiliate programs had horrible payouts because their competition was only other affiliate programs. When AdSense came about, many publishers realized that could make more by generating AdSense clicks than they could by selling products…and affiliate programs that didn’t adapt to the new reality likely went away.

Many complain that AdSense was the single biggest contributor to the rise of search engine spam which is certainly true. However, AdSense also allowed anybody to monetize content and people who knew nothing about Internet Marketing but could create awesome content and build an audience could be rewarded for their efforts.

I had great hope for the Yahoo Publishers Network when it opened and began to challenge Google. Like many, I though an AdSense contextual monopoly kept publisher payments low and competition would be good for folks like myself. For a long time, I did much better on YPN in many verticals and had some nice payouts from them. However, the better payouts crapped out and for the final 2 years of its short life, they were pretty pathetic.

I don’t do much affiliate marketing anymore and my AdSense earnings each month are rather modest. Apparently, AdCenter has an AdSense alternative I’ve yet to try…I’m sure I’ll check it out sometime. Right now, the depth and breadth of Internet Advertising is pretty staggering and lucrative for all involved…but some of us grizzled veterans remembering what it was like making money B.A. (Before AdSense) which gives us an interesting perspective on the current state of online monetization.