WheresGeorge.com Stamped Bills Earn Web Site at Least $7,600 per Month...With Free Advertising!

by Paula Neal Mooney

A curious thing happened the other morning after I bought stuff from a local cafe, mostly 'cause I need to break a 20.

The cashier handed me my change, which included the one dollar bill posted below with "WheresGeorge.com" stamped all over it.

I may have run across one of the estimated 103 million bills stamped with WheresGeorge.com before, but seeing as though I'm all into webmastering and viral marketing nowadays, this time I actually looked up the site.

Turns out WheresGeorge.com wasn't a political site about the man I voted for, but a site that tracks bills as they float across the country and beyond.

Fine and dandy -- I was more concerned with whether or not this viral form of marketing a website's URL on currency is legal or not -- because if it is, I'm all over it!

Hank Eskin, the WheresGeorge.com brainchild pictured above, says people tell him all the time that defacing dollar bills is illegal. But he claims it is not, as long as the money is still spendable.

And Claudia Dickens, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, agreed with Eskin, as quoted in The New York Times:

"According to the laws as they stand now, the practice is not illegal," she said.

As long as a person doesn't do any of these things to currency spelled out by the United States Secret Service, they should be good to go viral with stamped bills.

Yet the Secret Service reportedly hassled Hank Eskin to stop selling the WheresGeorge.com stamps that are still being sold by other people, saying that was using money for free advertising.

And Jim Mackin, an agent assigned to public affairs in the Washington office of the Secret Service, told the St. Louis Dispatch in 2002 that: "We would discourage anyone from participating in such a scheme."

Mackin said that violators who are caught are told to cease and desist - and usually do to avoid legal action.

Making Money with Money
All of this back and forth has not stopped WheresGeorge.com and all its imitators and followers from tracking currency as bills make their way across the globe.

Seeing as though I'm more obsessed lately with how much money bloggers and webmasters are making, I tried to track down Eskin's income from WheresGeorge.com, since I noticed he's running Google Adsense ads on the site.

What I did find were WheresGeorge.com's advertising rates, which give information about the site's pageviews and how much they charge in terms of CPM -- or cost per thousand impressions.

Plunking those numbers into a handy-dandy Google spreadsheet -- love em! -- I discovered that WheresGeorge.com could be pulling in anywhere from $7,600 (the presold WheresGeorge.com advertising space not listed as immediately available) up to $43,320 per month -- the revenue generated if all available slots were sold.

Not bad for Eskin, who says WheresGeorge.com is mainly a fun habit, and that he's not selling anything. And while the income generated by the site has been said to cover the cost of servers and such, I'll bet you a dollar to a donut -- as my mom was fond of saying -- that WheresGeorge.com's money is covering a whole lot more than that now, years later.

Good for Eskin for coming up with a fascinating and genius approach to free website marketing.

I would follow suit and go stamping a bunch of bills with PaulaNealMooney.com, but I prefer to keep the Secret Service where they belong, close to George W -- and I don't mean the one with WheresGeorge.com stamped near his face.


maurizio said…
Yeah..I hear about it some year ago.I thought it was illegal to print something on a note, though.

Anyway, if I were you, I wouldn't write who you voted for..especially on those years. :-)
Villager said…
I never heard of WheresGeorge.com before ... however, the most amazing thing about your post was the candor with which you noted your presidential choice in 2000 and 2004 [smile]!

peace, Villager
Tayo said…
The "fun" thing about WheresGeorge.com (aside from the viral marketing stuff, of course) is that you can track where the bill you enter has been. So far, the ones that I have tracked haven't been outside of Florida... or the people who received the bills have not been interested in tracking them. I don't know if it's wrong that I get a twinge of excitement when I come across a marked bill. :)

Either way, good for Eskin. I've never had any trouble spending a marked bill. After all, money is money as long as it's still whole and recognizable.
Laura said…
Fabulous reporting!! I had read about this before, but your piece has more detail and explanation.
Maurizio -
I does seem like a fun idea that's walking a fine line. And yeah, our voting record is quite intriguing...

Villager -
I voted for Gore in 2000, but I was happy that Georg W was in office during 9/11 -- but not during Hurricane Katrina. I couldn't believe that lack of a response! Still don't know the real story...

And the war on terror -- what can I say? I'm grateful Alito and Roberts sit on the Supreme Court, but I pray this war ends somehow. I'm praying so hard for those missing soldiers today.

Yeah, I didn't enter my bill to be tracked yet, but I think I will. Sounds like so much nerdy and curious fun.

Hi Laura
I just realized I haven't been to your blog in what seems like forever. Forgive me. I will be there today!

Take care all and thanks for commenting,
Donbizblogger said…
Hi Paula, I wanted to let all your friends know I'm moving closer to my goal of creating an online series called "Hey! Dad" . . . i've posted episode 1 and I'll be posting episode 2 in a day or two.
I'd love for people to comment about the idea . . .
zawadi said…
Hi Paula.
Never heard of the site either,but the man had a idea that worked. I'm no SEO expert, or Blog whiz, but it seems like anytime you give something away free, that's where the money is made. Take for example Yahoo and Craigslist. Last year I worked on a Blog introducing people who were new to adsense and the Info was all free and that was the most money I ever made in Ads. It's not one of my favorite topics, anymore(Adsense) because when I was done with that, the money stopped also lol the info was free where people usually saw paid programs to get them started. well anyway i'm rambling :()
Remember http://www.milliondollarhomepage.com/
This kid made a million just trying to get extra money for school... nice huh?
Vanessa said…
I've never heard of WheresGeorge.com either; thanks for the info.

Paula, I admire your boldness. You don't do "go along to get along", I like that. You know we really might be sisters --- gotta check our family trees. LOL

Bonnie Calhoun said…
ROFLOL...I'd leave Federal Reserve notes alone if I were you! The next thing we know, you're face will be on a milk carton, and the government will disavow any knowledge of your whereabouts!!!!
Steve Lorenz said…
I've come across a few of these bills. I think it's a pretty neat idea, and if the creator is cashing in a little on it, then so be it. It's an innovative idea and website.
AgentSully said…
very interesting. Makes a person think about what other kinds of truly out of the box ideas could be used for generating web traffic...hmmm...need to put some thought into that!!!
Great post!
This is quite ironic - Using money for free advertising!
JA Huber said…
I've received a bill with a similar site, never logged the bill, though. Wish I had :)
Hey Don -
I'd better head on over and check out "Hey! Dad" online.

Leah Rimeny (sp?) has some kind of online show like that for mothers.

You're right -- that's why I love giving away any info I can find to help people for free.

The guys who send me those teasing emails about how I can make a million dollar but don't tell me anything unless I send them $47 or $99 or whatever get on my nerves.

I -- like most people online -- just want the info for free!

Yep, Craigslist was genius, as well as milliondollarhomepage.com! Very nice.

And it's interesting that the money stopped with Google Adsense just when you were done teaching about it. God often does stuff like that when He's ready for us to move on to the next blessing. I love it! I love Him!

You never know, wouldn't it be funny if we were really sisters?

Papa was a rolling stone...

Bonnie Calhoun
I'm with you, I'm leaving the Federal Reserve notes alone!

Hey Steve
Yes, I believe WheresGeorge is so popular because it was an innovative idea and it looks so official -- as if the stamps are actually from an official government tracking study or something.

Who are you, my Digg fried? I'm getting more curious and curious.

I think I already know you...

Blog About Money Online aka Alex
It is delicious irony to use money for free advertising. Truly different.

Yeah, at first I thought to myself, "Who would go to all this trouble to log a bill?"

Now I still have the WheresGeorge.com stamped one in my wallet -- and I won't spend it till I log it and then see where it goes!

I'm hooked.

You have some great info here! I've read so many blogs on this subject and this is the first one I've bookmarked. Thank you for shareing.

love the "Ask short questions in the title that people want to know"

Keep up the great work.
Hank Eskin said…

Thanks for your comments about Where's George? You got most of the story correct. But instead of coming up with a wild-ass-guess of what my income from Where's George? may be based on one single outdated page on my site, a more responsible journalist would have just asked me.

That one page you found with ad rates, CPMs, and page views is really just for show in case someone, somewhere, wants to buy advertising on the site. But the REALITY is that I haven't sold one dime of advertising from that page or with those rates since before the dot-com crash in 2000. In fact, I haven't updated that page in at least four years. And the "Availability" terms are dynamically calculated to make it look like I have current ads sold at those rates. It's all about marketing the site to the marketers who might want to buy. But they don't. And as most website owners will attest, unless I have an extremely desirable demographic (which Where's George? does NOT have), there's no way I would ever get more than $1.00 CPM for ANYTHING on the site. And Google AdSense pays WAY WAY WAY less than that. So while you thinking I might be making a killing selling ads on the site, I'm not. Not even close. The site does generate enough funds to pay for the necessary hardware, bandwidth, software, and security. But not $43,000 per month. And not $7,600 per month either.

And I still run the site "on the side" and do other web and database consulting for income.

Finally, if you have any other questions you would like to know, instead of guessing, feel free to just ASK.

-Hank Eskin
Hi there Corporate Comedy Musician
Interesting handle. And thanks for bookmarking me.

What a wonderful compliment.

Yeah, the asking short questions in the title is a cool way to get good keywords all in the URL without looking like a total-headline-writing-goofball to our readers.

Hi Hank!
The pleasure is all mine. Thanks for stopping by my humble blog.

Anyhoo, who would've "thunk" that the advertising financials posted on your site weren't true?

I understand the game. (Don't look too closely at my subscriber count image, if you catch my drift.)

Okay, since you seem open and encouraged me to ASK, how 'bout you provide me with the accurate, updated financial details so I can add you to my next list of blogger and webmaster salaries?

Keep up the great work. I entered my bill into WheresGeorge.com and was curious to see where it had been.

Take care and Happy Happy Friday all,
Hank Eskin said…

Two things. First, sorry, I don't disclose my income or sources.

Second, could you please remove or blur the serial number of the bill image you have posted, since other people may attempt to enter that bill, generating fake hits.

Hello again, Hank

No problem on the income thingee.

And yes, I'll get that image's serial number blurred out soon and republish the post.

(I didn't even think of people entering that serial number.)

But as you know, the old pages that have been crawled and cached in Google might still show the original photo.

Take care,
Bro Robin said…
What a great marketing idea!
Bud said…
Great report...I have a bunch of 'georges' out there - since around 2002.

Just be sure to vote RON PAUL this time.


Your country thanks you!
You know, I saw that Ron Paul on part of the debates and then again on Bill Maher, and I gotta say I admire his honesty.

Imagine if he wins!
Weird Biz said…
I just wanted to say I nearly puked when I read that you voted for George W. How anyone could say that with any sort of pride at this point is beyond me. :(
jason said…
I have one of your bills but I don't know how to enter it for tracking! Please help!
Hey Jason - If you go to the WheresGeorge.com website, they have instructions on how to enter the bills online.

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