‘Gray Googlers’ strike gold

‘Gray Googlers’ strike gold

By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
Oct. 26, 2007

LOS ANGELES – Jerry Alonzy figured he’d be working into his 70s at least.

As an independent handyman at the mercy of weather patterns near
Hartford, Conn., he’d always made a decent income that rarely grew.

Then he found Google (GOOG), and his life changed. Alonzy, 57, now
makes $120,000 a year from the ads Google places on his Natural
Handyman website, and he couldn’t be more thrilled.

"I put in two, maybe three hours a day on the site, and the checks pour in," he says. "What’s not to like?"

The Internet may be a young person’s medium, but the retired and
those nearing retirement such as Alonzy have found that they can work
the Web just as well. Sometimes, such "Gray Googlers" can live a
richer, more financially rewarding life than when they were supposedly
working.

"Google isn’t just for kids anymore," says Google executive Kim
Scott, who runs the company’s AdSense program, the ad platform that
provides the income for Web publishers such as Alonzy and others.

Take Jerrold Foutz. The former Boeing engineer, 75, started a
website a few years ago devoted to one of his passions – switching mode
power supplies, which help drive, for instance, the inside of video
cameras.

He put Google ads on his smpstech.com site four years ago. After
just one month, the first Google check was for $800. The second check
totaled $2,000.

"I thought, ‘Wow,’ " he said. "This was the most amazing thing that
ever happened to me. Something I thought would make $50 a year now
equals my Boeing retirement check."

That comes out to around $25,000 yearly.

Foutz’s experience is not an anomaly.

After Hope Pryor’s four kids left home, she grew intrigued with the
Internet and learned how to design a Web page. She didn’t want it to
focus on just her, so she posted some of her favorite recipes on the
site.

Now, her Cooks Recipes site is bringing in nearly $90,000 yearly,
mostly from Google ads. The holidays are the biggest-producing months
of the year.

"Last December alone, I netted $30,000 from Google," she says.
"There’s not too many people I know who can walk into a car dealership
and buy two vehicles at one time. I did just that recently."

While the upside of working with AdSense sounds exhilarating, it’s not that way for everybody.

Scott says she posted an unsold novel on Google and earns about $5 a
month from the AdSense ads on the site. Al Needham, 74, who runs a site
about the care of bees (bees-online.com) from his home near Boston,
reaps about $250 a month.

"Forget about getting rich overnight," says Alonzy. "It takes time to learn."

Jennifer Slegg, a consultant whose JenSense blog is devoted to tips for
using so-called contextual advertising, says the easy part is getting
AdSense up and running. Google provides computer code that must be
copied and pasted onto a website. Figuring out how to do that "is very
easy for new publishers."

Foutz says even if you’ve never cut and pasted code before (hint: On
Windows PCs, highlight the text, press Control C to copy, then Control
V to paste it), "Just follow what Google says. They have very
easy-to-understand instructions."

Hard work, big reward

Introduced in 2003, AdSense was an outgrowth of Google’s AdWords
program, which put sponsored ads at the top of search results at
Google’s own site. Google created AdSense as a way to expand beyond
search listings and onto hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs.

Google rivals Yahoo and MSN have similar programs, but they have found
limited acceptance on the Web, where Google dominates both search, with
more than 50% market share, and search advertising, with 90%.

Now everyone from big sites such as the New York Times and CNN.com to
mom and pop operations such as Cooks Recipes and Natural Handyman have
the familiar "Ads by Google" text-box somewhere on their site.

"With AdSense, we fund creativity on any topic," says Google’s Scott.
"If you have a subject you know something about, write about it, find a
like-minded audience on the Internet and we’ll take care of monetizing
the content."

Or, as Joel Comm, author of the AdSense guidebook The AdSense Code,
puts it: "People are amazed. They say, ‘Really, all I have to do is
write, Google will put ads on my site and pay me?’ Yes, it’s that
simple."

There is a little more to it. The folks who reap the biggest rewards
put in long hours setting up their site and feeding it lots of content.

"Write about what you know, write like mad and often," says Alonzy.
"The more you write, the more opportunities you have to make money. If
you post 500 pages on a topic, you’ll have 500 pages with ads, and many
more potential clicks."

Google’s computers scan the content on Web pages to match it with
appropriate advertisers. Articles on Alonzy’s website about how to keep
mice away might result in ads for pest control services, while a recipe
for turkey casserole at Cooks Recipes might generate ads for diet tips
and beauty makeovers.

"The beauty of our system is that we have so many advertisers," says
Scott. "The content may not change, but our ads change every day. So
you’ll always see something different there."

Slegg says the biggest mistake new AdSense publishers make is clicking
on AdSense ads – their own or others. That’s a big no-no in Googleland,
and can get you dumped from the program.

The computer won’t break

Alonzy and other Gray Googlers say they haven’t experienced any problems working in a young person’s world.

"Many people my age are scared of computers; they think they’re going
to break them," says Needham. "The computers aren’t going to break. But
you won’t find out unless you get in there and try."

At $250 a month, Needham’s site generates revenue in line with its niche audience of folks who want to learn about bees.

"I bring in enough to fund a free vacation to Key West every year for
the family," says Needham, a retired Department of Defense employee.

One stumbling block for many people is translating a great idea into a nice-looking Web page.

In the past, creating a Web page required knowledge of complicated HTML
computer code, or learning off-the-shelf Web design software such as
Microsoft’s FrontPage or Adobe’s Dreamweaver.

Now, Google and Yahoo have free tools to create Web pages or blogs. And
many Internet website-hosting companies (such as GoDaddy and Brinkster)
have online site creators that come as part of their monthly fees.
Apple’s iWeb is another such tool. With these, AdSense can be
automatically added to your pages with the click of a mouse.

"When you retire, you have to have some interests," says Needham. "This
is my indoor activity. I did a search online for how to create a
website and found lots of good help out there for nothing."

The Internet, he says, opened up a new world for him.

"I started searching for other sites about bees and met some people
from Australia with similar interests. We’ve since become friends, and
I went to Australia last year to visit."

The same thing happened with Gail Bjork, 63, who runs the Digicamhelp
site from her home base near Tampa. She designed her site but made a
friend online in Ireland who has since redesigned it for a more
professional sheen.

"My background was art," says Bjork. "I was an art teacher. I didn’t
know about code. My friend does. So now she handles the design, and I
operate the site."

Bjork is a former local school board member who ran a print shop with
her husband. A camera buff, she started the site because her friends
were always asking for photo tips.

"This started as something to help my friends, and I’ve gone from a
14-page site to one with over 700 pages," she says. "I’m legally
retired now – but not mentally."

Her site brings in around $1,500 a month. Bjork’s advice to others:
"For anyone, no matter what age they are, if they find something they
truly love, write about it. You have nothing to lose but time. And it
could really pay off."

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