In the world of genealogy—especially the region where charges for copies of death certificates and marriage records add up—stumbling upon an online resource of public records for free is a delightful event. Once I find places like that, I am sure to park their web address in my Favorites file right away.
Now that I’ve been a frequent flier to some of these small, rather personal sites, I’ve gotten to know the people who gave of their time to make these resources available to others. The crux of the matter is that, while these people do what they do from the goodness of their hearts, it does, in the long run, end up costing them money.
Though generous to a fault, some of these site creators have had to scramble to find alternate ways to fund their hobby of giving to others. One such way is to place ads on their site, in the theory that these icons or clickable text messages will be revenue generators. At least, that is the hope.
However, in reality, some site owners find that the promise falls far short of the monthly web-server bills.
I really like finding free sites that further my genealogy research, so I’ve given this matter a lot of thought. The one sure solution to their problem is to charge for their services. If people value what they are finding, you would think they’d be willing to pay for more of it. But that doesn’t often happen. Even including a nice “donate here” button doesn’t make much of a difference.
So I tend to think pursuing why the ad-income solution doesn’t work is the better route to take in helping my resource-site friends stay in “business.”
The question is: why don’t the ads generate the necessary revenue? The simple answer is: because readers aren’t clicking through to the ad sites.
Why is this happening? Well, I can’t speak for others, but I’ve been researching genealogy since the wood-burning days of the hobby. Back when the internet world cooled enough for me to jump in, most revenue-generating resources looked like late-night real estate in Las Vegas: glaring, in-your-face, even offensive. The last thing in the world I would have considered doing back then would be to click on those pre-MySpace-style banners.
I’m afraid I’m not the only one who developed that non-clicking habit. I’m pretty sure there are others out there who decided they didn’t want to encourage those businesses of the neon-persuasion with any click-throughs.
And so, here we sit, happily compiling our genealogical databases for free, merrily progressing while oblivious to how near the brink our altruistic providers really are.
After I heard about that conundrum, I decided to change my ways. If I saw a business being advertised on a genealogy site that I might be in the market for, or a product I was interested in, I started tentatively clicking the link. True confession: the first time I clicked on an ad, I did so expecting my computer to blow up. I was just waiting for some apocalyptic sinister result to follow. But no endless stream of junk mail, no locked up task manager, no computer version of voice mail jail barraged me. I clicked in, read what I was interested in, made my decision, and left. Simple.
I started shedding my pre-conceived notion of looking at online ads because I realized that it was click-throughs that help my genealogy providers keep doing what they are good at doing. That also gave me the opportunity to open up to a whole new world of reliable small businesses online. In helping others, I helped myself to a wonderful array of marketplaces. After all, if I’m going to buy something anyhow, if I buy it via a click-through from a preferred data-provider’s website, I’m not only benefiting
myself, I’m helping a good site stay online. Even if I don’t buy, if I click through on a genealogy-provider’s site, it still benefits that website and its services. And that, like the proverbial ripple effect, in turn helps others.
Why do people hesitate to click through on ads on our favorite genealogy sites? I can’t answer fully for others—but I sure wish a lot of my fellow researchers would follow suit and, in the process, help support the sites that benefit us.