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Making Sense Of Google AdSense Part 1: Is AdSense Right For You?

Christopher John Eggett's picture

AdSense, Google's display advertising platform, has a lot going for it, from the vast pool of advertisers it attracts to its excellent tracking and ease of set-up. 

You may have some concerns though. What about all those blogs with the terrible "one tip for a flat belly" ads running on them? Will your site immediately come to resemble one of those? Or worse, what if you get it right, but you've set up your ad templates in a way which sees you penalised by Google's recent Panda updates? Your hard-fought rankings could be savaged.

Savage Attack From Google Panda

Never fear though, we're on hand to offer advice and guidance as to what you need to consider before belly-flopping into the world of AdSense! 

This article is part one of a three part series:

Part 1: Is AdSense Right For You? (You Are Here!)

Part 2: Managing The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Part 3: Panda Problems: Laying Out Your Website To Avoid Panda Attack

How Does AdSense Work?

Google AdSense works by you, the ‘publisher’, placing a small snippet of code on your website to display any ads which AdSense wishes to deliver to your page. A pool of advertisers bid for these ad spaces on your, and others’, website. This collection of websites is known as the Google Display Network. The higher the quality of the publisher's website, and the tougher the competition for placement on that website, the higher the cost is to the advertiser and the more profit to be shared between the publisher and Google. Ads are placed on a publisher’s site based on page content and general site affinity - as well as things like the visitor's search history.

When a visitor to your site clicks on an ad you get paid, Google gets paid and hopefully the advertiser gets a customer. Sounds like winners all round surely? Yes, most of the time but there are some drawbacks  - we'll deal with these in the Limitations of AdSense section below.

Is AdSense Right For You?

Before you begin you need to know whether AdSense is an advertising solution that works for your website. There are two main types of websites out there – ‘ecommerce’ sites which directly sell services and goods, and ‘content’ websites such as blogs, forums and social sites.

If you run a content website you should feel confident that AdSense is for you. Why? Because you don't have another revenue stream to interrupt. AdSense is good for websites which don't have a direct way of making money through a product or service on offer.

In that case your consideration should not be so much whether display advertising is best for your website, but more whether AdSense display advertising is the best option for you: in most cases it will be at the very least a happy medium. Because of the sheer size of the AdSense network there's almost no limit to the kinds of niches which AdSense can find relevant ads for. Even if your direct ad sales pay better and are more directly relevant to your visitors, AdSense is a handy tool to fall back on for remnant or backfill campaigns (i.e. the impressions that remain once your premium advertisers have had their share).

However, if you do have a product to sell, or some other means of converting visitors into cash, then AdSense probably isn't for you.

Why You Shouldn't Use AdSense (Or Any Advertising) On Your Ecommerce Site

With an ecommerce site you're likely to have built your site as a funnel from the first landing page (e.g. via PPC, organic or direct traffic) through to your checkout/conversion page. You have probably spent a great deal of time working out what's the smoothest, quickest way to turn a fresh visitor into a customer. Sticking an ad on the page is like putting a "diversion" sign on the 100m track.

Every AdSense placement is an attempt to distract visitors from your website to their product page and into their funnel - and you certainly don't want that.

There's even a fair chance that your competitors are running AdSense campaigns which, as you're in the same industry, will have a great deal of relevancy to your site and your customers. You wouldn't want to advertise your competitors' products next to your own would you?

If that hasn't dissuaded you from running AdSense on an ecommerce site (or you have a hybrid site containing a mixture of content and ecommerce elements) here are a few quick rules to keep in mind:

1. Keep your competitors off the page: You can do this fairly easily within AdSense using the allow and block ads facility. We'll cover this in a later AdSense blog entry.

2. Don't advertise at key conversion points: This should be a no-brainer, but it's something that can slip through when defining advertising areas of a website template. Advertising on the checkout or shopping basket pages is the same as suggesting that the customer really must shop around first!

3. Don't place ads in better positions than products: Ad placement is a tricky proposition in the post-Google Panda world, but as a general rule of thumb they should be a secondary source of income and be treated as such.

AdSense - What You Need To Know

Once you've decided that AdSense is for you there are a few things you need to keep in mind regarding the rules and applications of AdSense.

Getting Set Up

Getting set up with AdSense is simple. Head over here and sign up with your Google account.  Once set up you can start creating ads on the "My Ads" page. Here you choose your ad type (text, image & rich media, or both), ad size, and if you're using text - the way that appears.

What's Best?

When it comes to AdSense ad units there's a desire to just put "the best" out there - whatever that is. It used to be that image/display advertising would bring better returns than text ads, but this isn't as clear cut any more. 

The position pushed by Google is that a mix of image and text ads is the best option as it makes the advertising pool massive - more advertisers means more bids for positions,  means the better rate you (and Google) get. While this may be the case it really does depend on your site. 

We suggest tracking performance over time and testing to see what combination of text and image advertising works for you. For example, you may want to test whether having text ads in one location improves the CPC of other ad units across the page or if visitors are more likely to be drawn to image ads when they're placed within text blocks.

Regarding ad sizes, this usually depends on the layout of your site, but a variety is encouraged. We've found that large MPUs (366x280) tend to earn a higher CPC than ads of other shapes and sizes - but this again may be due to their prominent positioning on most of the pages they're present on. Generally speaking however you want to tend towards larger, newer ad unit sizes as older sizes (such as 468x60 and 120x600) are no longer as widely supported by advertisers.

If you currently have an old template for your site which contains smaller, less popular ad-types, updating this to allow new ad formats can be a very quick way to improve AdSense revenues.

Limits of AdSense

There are a few limits to AdSense - and falling foul of Google's policies can see you booted out of the AdSense club pretty fast.

There is a maximum of 3 content ad units per page and only one of Google’s new, and frankly giant, 300x600px ad units per page. Google put limits on the number of units per page to avoid publishers putting dense collections of AdSense on a page making it impossible to avoid clicking ads (this is against the rules) or, alternatively, providing millions of unseen impression.

Other limits include not making your ads look like content (and vice versa), aligning images with ads so the images look like they're part of the ad, placing other websites displaying AdSense ads in frames on your site, placing ads on sites with pop-ups, reloading ads on a cycle or encouraging accidental clicks in any way. In short, if there is an obvious way to game Google AdSense, it's been tried already and you're not going to last long if you try it!

What Now?

If you intend to run AdSense on your site you should get started by designing or updating your ad template and have a good read of the Google AdSense Ad Placement Policies document. Once you've got AdSense running you should begin to test different combinations of ad type across your pages and optimize what works best for you.

Next: Managing The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Of Google AdSense