Digit’s Popat

Did the Indian tech magazine, Digit just get egg all over its face? Valleywag reported that Digit is running a cover story this month on Google Adsense’s click-fraud vulnerability. Now those with Adsense accounts and any experience of mischief or even plain misunderstanding know very well that Google takes utmost care in avoiding click fraud. It is also merciless in canceling your account even if it gets a hint of click fraud. This strategy undoubtedly has rubbed some publishers the wrong way but overall, it has strengthened Google’s image regarding tackling any kind of click fraud and their algorithms in detecting any mischief have reaching artificial-intelligence-type proportions.

So what is the basis of Digit’s decision to run this old story? Well, it seems a security analyst Manish Arora wrote a script to stimulate human behavior and game Google’s click-fraud detection algorithms. Now I’m sure you think Arora’s script worked and you also want a piece of that hack. But sorry to disappoint you, even Digit’s story tells us that the script didn’t work and Google promptly terminated Arora’s account regardless of the fact that according to him, he was doing so to test the vulnerability in their system. So why does Digit’s cover seem to suggest that Adsense has holes (complete with a graphic of the Google logo with a bullet hole)? Isn’t that merely misleading the public? Also, their website doesn’t seem to have the story online. Shame on you, Digit.

Can H1-B and F1 visa holders earn money online?

There are plenty of students and working professionals who are in the United States on an H1-B or F1 visa respectively. As in our recently concluded survey on DesiPundit, we noticed that many such individuals follows blogs closely and are also bloggers themselves. Chances are that they have chosen to monetize their blog either through Adsense or other advertising channels. The question, asked by Confused early Saturday morning was whether such income earned through blogs was legitimate and allowed under our visa status.

He sent me this link that explored the question of earning money via Adsense while being on a H1-B visa. The post cited well-known immigration attorney Shiela Murthy in the context of the 1099 tax form that you get for your Adsense or other online earnings:

A person on an H1B is not allowed to work on a 1099 at all. One who is on an EAD is allowed to work as an independent contractor if s/he is the I-485 dependent on the EAD and not the principal applicant for the Green Card, to be on the safe side. If the total time working was less than 180 days, there is possible hope to obtain the I-485 in the U.S. Otherwise, it adds complications and will not generally allow the person to obtain an approval of the I-485 from within the U.S. You should consult an immigration attorney to discuss this issue since it could have serious consequences.

So basically, if you are on a H1-B visa, you are authorized to work for only one those employers that sponsor your visa. You cannot be self-employed and earn additional income and doing so will render you out-of-status. Note that the I-485 mentioned above is a preliminary step in your Green Card processing. So what about F1 students? I did some digging around since that would directly affect a lot of students that blog and monetize their blogs. One respondent on an immigration visa forum said the following in response to 1099-related question for F1 visa holders:

An F1 visa does not allow you to take off campus employment anywhere or anytime you want. You can only take employment under specific circumstances, such as through OPT or CPT and there are hardship provisions too. But generally, an F1 student cannot simply go out and find employment. This is illegal. I would encourage you not to do this because it is a violation of your status.

That a student cannot work off-campus [during semesters] is common knowledge but is your blog earnings also off-campus? Well, technically it is since you are getting paid as a consultant by another company e.g. Google, Text Link Ads, Yahoo, etc. You can only earn money outside of your on-campus employment if you earn interest off your investments (movable and/or immovable) or savings. Visible Blog recommends another (risky) way by which you can register a company and hire someone at minimum wages to ‘run’ your blog. Your ‘company’ would earn money and you get a ‘passive’ income. However, as the blog rightly mentions, it is a risk. And you definitely don’t want to do that unless you are earning thousands everyday.

So what do you do? Should you yank off your monetizing avenues off your blog? If you hate any kind of risk then probably that is the best thing to do. However, the bureaucratic mess that the BCIS and IRS are, chances are that they never share information. Better still, if you earn less than $600 [per advertising program], you still have to report it. I’m sure most of us don’t earn that much. But if you do, you might want to either remove that option which I understand can be akin to killing the golden goose.

Finally, if you are earning $600 or less per advertising program, you might slip under the radar but understand that it is a risk and it might only be a problem if you are planning on applying for a Green Card later on. This is not legal advice and I don’t profess any deep knowledge on immigration law so if you know better, please feel free to discuss in the comments.

WordPress Plugins that I love

One of the primary reasons I love WordPress is the availability of literally hundreds of customizable plugins that enhance your blogging features and make presentation of your content interesting. Although I have a colophon page that gives you detailed information on my blog, I thought writing about few plugins that I have come to love.

Akismet and Spam Karma: These should be the first plugins that you install after you have set up your WordPress installation. It will save you lot of hassles and cause less spam stress. Akismet is now built in the WordPress 2.1. These plugins help protect your blog from comment and trackback spam. And trust me, there is plenty of it out there. Even if your best friend won’t comment on your posts, spammers are bound to.

Installation is easy although Akismet requires a API key that you can get for free when you register at WordPress.com. Spam Karma has a host of options that you can modify to adjust the severity of protection against spam.

A supporting plugin is the Auto-Close Comments which closes comments on your posts after 21 days of publication. Spammers are known to target old posts since these are indexed by Google and bloggers are less likely to notice spam. But use it with caution because you never know when one of your old posts might get its fifteen minutes of fame.

Feedburner Feed Replacement If you aren’t using Feedburner yet to manage your feeds, go now and set it up first. Go…I’ll wait. This plugin will then direct all feed traffic to Feedburner and you get to retain your ‘mydomain.com/feed’ address. Using Feedburner gives you a better and comprehensive look at your feed subscriptions i.e what RSS aggregators are readers using and what posts are they clicking through to, etc. And what’s more, their advertising program lets you insert ads in your feed in a relatively less intrusive manner.

Google Sitemaps: Admit it or not, unless you write intensely personal posts, you love random people discovering your blog through Google searches. So shouldn’t you make it easier for Google to index your content? Google Sitemaps creates a Google sitemap of your WordPress blog. It is like that motorcycle ad – install it, set it up, and forget it.

WP-Contact Form: Apart from comments, most bloggers like to hear from their readers via email. Or you want some contact information on your blog without exposing your email id. WP-Contact Form, one of the easiest plugins to set up inserts a contact form with basic fields that sends any comments to your email. A heightened security contact form is available at Dagon Design but I had problems with the captcha code not showing up on certain occasions.

aLinks: This is the most recent plugin that I have discovered and I have always been looking for something that this plugin does so well. Suppose you like to mention a certain blog or a website often in your posts but hate inserting the URL each time. With this plugin you can set it up such that each time you mention the keyword (e.g. ‘Ash’ to refer to Ash’s blog), the plugin automatically inserts the URL. You can set up many other keywords that you use often and save time as you write your posts.

In addition, you can also set up certain keywords like books, music, etc so that they link to related searches on Amazon. And you can specify your Associates ID in the settings so you earn a referral if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. There is a similar module you can install for Wikipedia links.

Adsense-Deluxe: If you are obsessed with optimizing your Adsense earnings on your blog, you must know that in-post ad blocks have the highest click-thrus and professional bloggers swear by these hacks. With this plugin, you can create customized blocks of code that you can insert within your posts by adding just one word of code. See the ad-code that I have inserted on your left. Also, this plugin works just as effectively for Yahoo Publisher ads. You can modify the code a little to wrap text around the ad block or to align it left or right of your text by inserting a<div>tag.

However don’t overdo the ad boxes and add at the most, one block per post (or two if the post is large). I have already received complaints that the intermittent ad blocks within posts are annoying. But then there are always browser workarounds for the astute reader, right?

Now for the pure time-pass plugins,

Popularity Contest: This is yet another new plugin I discovered via Uber Desi. The plugin uses the statistics/user behavior i.e. comments, trackbacks, views for each post to rank your posts. The other posts are ranked in accordance with the most popular post in percentage terms. You can also choose to display the list of Most Popular Posts on your blog [see sidebar and scroll down] or even popular posts in each category. You’ll love this plugin if you are a stat whore or love analyzing what your visitors are reading.

On a related note, Related Posts plugin keeps your readers on your blog by offering them a list of related posts based on keywords in the post they are currently reading. This is also helpful to the readers who might need additional information if they like your writing.

WP Movie Ratings: I was looking for a way to display the movies I have seen in recent times with a quick rating system and without actually reviewing them in depth. I found it first via Kottke’s blog. This plugin lets me share my quick opinions on a movie and even write a one-line review. All you need is an IMDB link to list the movie and rate the movie by selecting the appropriate rating from a drop-down box. Clean and elegant. You can select the number of movies you want to display and even number of stars[5 or 10] in your rating system.

Of course, there are tons of other WordPress Plugins that you may like. It also depends what theme you are using. Let me know what plugins do you swear by. Maybe I have not heard of it yet.

Hillary Clinton buys BlogAds

Hillary Clinton is expanding on her online campaign by actively using BlogAds for advertising. “She’s the first to buy some hi-rise units (150X600 plus 300 characters of text)”, says Henry Copeland [via].

BlogAds is an advertising network targeted toward highly trafficked blogs mostly political blogs that lets them choose ads according to their ideology. So if Hillary Clinton ads are appearing on liberal blogs like Daily Kos and Washington Monthly, you might be tempted to think that she is simply preaching to the converted. However, as she heads into the primary season, this strategy might work as her campaign website gets more eyeballs among Democratic voters. She might as well withdraw the ads after the primary campaign is over and probably buy Google Adwords. Imagine some undecided voter googling her name and clicking on the Google ad to her website. Provided the website is effectively designed, that might be the easiest way to convert voters.

I’m sure other candidates on either side of the aisle will jump on the bandwagon. Online advertising is going to experience a windfall this election season. I just hope some of them buy ads on the Yahoo Publisher Network too.

Microsoft ContentAds: Adsense Competitor

Techcrunch discovers that Microsoft has launched its contextual advertising platform, ContentAds. Currently only invitation-based [Jennifer Slegg has an invite], this move now throws the field of online advertising wide open. Yahoo! Publisher Network (on this site) has sadly not innovated much in the past year causing Google’s Adsense to wallop its ass badly.

But on the brighter side, more ad networks mean good news for publishers. Adsense has been the primary network so far although plenty of Adsense alternatives exist but sadly none compare. Microsoft’s entry will mean serious competition for Google; of course that is considering that Microsoft is serious about doing so. Let see if ContentAds reviews emerge in the next few days.

Google Adsense makes sense

It has been a month since I succumbed to the advertising devil in disguise. But in retrospective Google Adsense is indeed impressive and makes perfect sense for small-time publishers. Regular bloggers have achieved the tag of informal journalists and are publishing czars in their own right. But there is no free lunch in a capitalistic society. I moved to Typepad couple of months ago from Rediff for greater flexibility and customization of my blog. This additional coolness comes at a cost; $8.95 per month to be exact. Google Adsense gave me not only a way to cover the costs, but also superceded my expectations by making some more. In a nutshell, all visitors see the ads on my blog, some click on them, and advertisers are happy to get traffic on their commercial websites, even if the visitors don’t buy anything. They pay Google for customizing the ads, according to the content, for my blog and Google pays me a share. How much is Google paid and the percentage of my share is not clear yet.

But like the Discover Card ad smartly puts it, why not make money for the things you would do anyways? The ads are neither an eyesore nor impede the reader’s experience of my blog. It just sits there, waiting to be clicked. Everyone wins when the visitors click. Some regulars at my blog have been clicking, I presume, helping me to pay for my blog. Unfortunately, Google expressly prohibits me from posting my exact earnings (the few online terms of contract you have to actually read), so I can’t share that information.

Ever since I installed Adsense, I wanted to understand the relationship between the ads and the amount of money it generated for me. Initially, I thought it was the number of clicks and I was almost tempted to click away myself (damn! Google prohibits that too) but later on, I realized that it was the content of the ads that mattered. This is evident from the fact that Google prevents me from writing anything about gambling, online casinos or poker since those ads generate almost $8-10 per click (imagine the possibilities). Now I can never write about that report I did couple of years back on Internet Gambling. Certain other subjects also generate more revenue than others for e.g. electronics, cable television, marketing strategies, science, etc.

The basic fundamental is customizing your website or blog for keywords which are “low in supply and high in demand”. The topics I generally write about do not rank high in terms of revenue but I don’t think I will want to change the topics I cover. But for someone who already does write about stuff that generates high revenue, they would make a killing. My brother’s alumni site makes more than double than what I make on my blog although I have more than three times daily visitors. The fact that he refuses to move the high-earning keyword from his front page is another story. I cannot do that on my blog nor would I because it would defeat the entire purpose of my blog. Although the system is prone to fraudulent clicks, Google claims to have monitoring algorithms to keep an eye on abuse and they threaten to terminate the contract if they find anything suspicious. But so far, Google hasn’t troubled me so I think that everything is fine so far.

Finally, I cannot ask my visitors to click on the ads so I will not do that too. It is fun to see the customization of ads depending on the post; my rants on Bush display anti-Bush ads, book reviews display book vendor or fan sites ads, and so on. But if you have a blog/website that needs to be supported financially, check out Adsense. It doesn’t need any monitoring or maintenance jhanjhat although checking your earnings everyday can get addictive.

Google Adsense

After the latest addition on the left, there is a new entry on the right as well to balance out the act. Google Adsense makes a quiet (yeah, right!) entry on my blog. Of course, if you think that I have sold out and succumbed to the dangers of commercialization, you are right. Typepad expects to be paid every month and I guess it was high time, I found a way to make the blog self-sustaining. Google Adsense makes everyone happy.

Google strictly prohibits offering incentives for clicking on the ads so I am not offering any. Google also prevents me from asking/forcing/goading you to click on the ads, so I can’t do that either. But hope you are smart enough to get the drift. And don’t ask me how the hell did I get approved, because I did not send in any letter making my case, like Plumpernickel did. So I guess, I have nothing more to say but “Thanks a ton, Google”. I promise to buy stock as soon as I make enough from your Adsense.

So people, show me the money.

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