I’ve heard many stories about people making lots of money via Google’s AdWords and AdSense programs. Most people make this income via AdSense Arbitrage: buying AdWords for less than the income generated by the AdSense ads appearing on your site. You pocket the difference.

I don’t believe 1% of what I hear so I decided to research these claims. While researching I stumbled on Spyfu which offers a list of the most expensive keywords being used in AdWords. The astute reader familiar with Google’s AdWords and AdSense programs will immediately recognize the arbitrage opportunity.

Living in a vacation paradise, having a large selection of potential “stock” photos, knowing something about SEO, and having just received a gift certificate for 50€ in AdWords, I decided to try a little experiment. According to Spyfu.com, “hotels”, “travel”, “flights”, “rental”, “vacations”, “holidays” are among the higher paying keywords that one would associate with my collection of stock photos.

The goal is/was to spend (invest) the 50€ on AdWords at rates lower than what other advertisers are paying to have their ads appear on my site, and then hope that users either buy a license for my photographs or click on an advertisement. This is classic “arbitrage” but avoids breaking Google’s AdSense guidelines because the primary goal is to sell licenses and give users some pretty pictures to look at.

I set up a “stock photography” subsite on tedmasterweb.com with lots of pictures of landscapes here in the islands, in other parts of Europe and one of my dad’s farm outside Chicago. Nothing complicated, but fine tuned for SEO, ease of use, and directed at potential stock photo buyers or anyone who likes to look at pretty pictures of places they are going to visit.

At first the ads appearing on the site were all for financial-related things (like masters degrees and stock trading systems). I changed the subdirectory from “stock” to “stock-photography” and the ads, thankfully, changed to reflect more travel and graphic arts related offers. I also added a AdSense placement on the landing page (rather than just on the enlargement pages). These two changes improved my “conversions”. In just a couple of days I had 3 clicks on ads (whereas prior to the 50€ I went months without a single click!). This great article on another AdSense Arbitrage Experiment corroborates my findings (money can be made, but you’re likely going to lose at first).

In the end, as you might have guessed if you have any experience at all in this field, the experiment proved what any reasonable person would assume: My ROI on this so far is a loss of 48€ (plus the several hours I put in to setting everything up, which I could have billed at 70€/hour for any of my clients).

The next step, of course, will be to improve the quality of the textual content on each page so that it targets holiday travelers more directly and gets them to link to these pictures (and ultimately click on the ads too) and to target my keywords better (so that only very interested people click on my site). I’ll post an update at some point so stay tuned!

But before I go…

I also signed up for Google’s AdSense for domains since I had several domains I’d purchased as part of this same experiment (but a more developed version of it). We’ll see if this provides any additional income. Here are the domains in case you’re curious:

1. Stock holiday pictures (without hyphens)
2. Stock holiday photographs
3. Stock photography royalty free
4. Stock vacation pictures (without hyphens)
5. Stock vacation photographs

We’ll see how all this turns out, but the next time someone tells you they’re bringing in 4,000€/month in AdSense income, tell them you want to see their AdSense account before you’ll believe it.